The Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

Scriptures: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15:12-20; Lk 6:17-2

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

At age 16 Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was already a skilled pianist, but he was experiencing a troubled year. In the midst of the young Hungarian’s personal struggles, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to Budapest. Emil von Sauer was famous not only for his abilities; he was also the last surviving pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Von Sauer requested that Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann.

When he finished, von Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “My son,” he said, “when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, ‘Take good care of this kiss–it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play. I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”

How delightful! The master pianist, Sauer, passed on his blessing to the amateur, Foldes, with a kiss to the fellow’s forehead. Emil von Sauer, a German (1862-1942), had received the blessing from the famous Hungarian composer, Liszt (1811-1886); just as Liszt had received his blessing from the fabulous German composer, Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

I think several of our Scriptures today represent a kiss to our foreheads by our heavenly Father. One of my seminary professors used to greet me with a kiss to my forehead whenever we encountered each other at large church meetings after I had graduated. I always felt that his kiss represented God the Father’s blessing to me. In today’s lessons, God the Father and Jesus are telling us how to live a life that pleases Them. Their words, in Scripture, provide a pathway for us to God’s approval. Let’s examine them together:

In Jeremiah 17:5-10, the prophet shares with us the Father’s distinction between blessed and cursed people. Those who want to be blessed—kissed on their foreheads, as it were, by God—trust in Him. These folks are like trees planted by a consistent source of fresh water (lake, river, pond, or swamp). They don’t have to worry about heat or drought conditions. And—all things being equal, and given enough nutrients–they bear fruit at the appropriate season. In other words, they thrive!

Jeremiah contrasts these with the person who trusts instead in humankind, thinking they don’t need the Lord. We all know people like this. I have some in my extended family. They don’t believe they need God. Such a person, God says in verse 6 …will be like a bush in the wastelands; He [she] will not see prosperity when it comes. He [she] will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

We’ve all seen at least pictures of trees in such barren places. Their growth is stunted. They are but scraggly versions of what they could have become in a more hospitable environment. Surviving takes so much energy—using up all their resources– that they do not achieve their potential. Instead of receiving God’s kiss of blessing, they are cursed.

Jeremiah follows this contrast up with a warning: (v.9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? He is saying that we humans are adept at justifying what we want or desire, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others to get it. We may fool ourselves, and we may fool others, but we never fool God. Scripture tells us He is…the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:6). God asserts, in verse 10 I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. He reads our hearts, our motives, our thoughts like we might read a book on our Kindles or Notebooks. Psalm 139:3-4 tells us that nothing about us (thoughts or actions) is hidden from His sight.

Psalm 1 re-states the same message, as it contrasts the behaviors of a blessed or happy person with an ungodly person.

The wise person chooses to align his/her life with God’s teaching, not the culture’s. The foolish person, on the other hand, is captured by wickedness/sin or slavishly complies with cultural dictates. The righteous ultimately prosper; while the lives of the foolish are ultimately—in the words of Peter, Paul, and Mary or Bob Dylan, from the 1960’s–“blowing in the wind.” The much more stable, wise person finds joy in God’s Word and walks by faith in Him.

Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 explains why blessed persons believe in Jesus: because of His Resurrection. Paul was preaching against 3 philosophical views of death common to the folks of Corinth:

1. The Epicureans believed there was no existence beyond this life (therefore, no resurrection).

2. The Stoics believed the soul, at death, merged into the divine, losing all individuality and personality. Somehow we were all to merge with the universe.

3. The followers of Plato believed the spirit was immortal but the body (which was seen as evil and not worth saving) did not rise from the dead. Paul rightly preached the Christian view that there is a bodily resurrection.

The Greek words he used for resurrection were anastasis nekron. which iterally means the standing up of a body. When we die, our body is resurrected with our spirit. Furthermore, as proof, the resurrected Jesus appeared in His human body, complete with nail-holes and the spear wound to His side.

Paul says we can trust that Jesus truly did overcome death because He was seen after His resurrection by so many eye-witnesses:

1. Cephas (Peter); Paul doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene (John:20:10-19); the other Mary or Joanna (Luke 24:9-10); Salome (Mark 16:1); or the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35);

2. “the Twelve” to represent the 11 remaining disciples (Judas had already hanged himself);

3. 500 disciples who traveled on to meet Him in Galilee;

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

Jesus’ resurrection is a well-supported historical fact. There is more evidence, from Christian as well as non-Christian sources of the day, to prove Jesus came back from the dead than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar.

Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus preaches what have become known as the Lucan Beatitudes (as opposed to those cited in Matthew, chapters 5-6), from the Sermon on the Plain (vs. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). He promises that the poor, those who are hungry, those who grieve, and those who are persecuted for His sake will all be blessed. As in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah 17, He then contrasts between those who are blessed and those who at their deaths will be afflicted, despairing, and anguished (cursed): He says, Woe to the rich because they have already received their rewards on earth. Woe to the well-fed for they will go hungry later. Remember Jesus’ parable of Lazarus (the beggar) and Dives (the rich man)? The rich man died, went to hell, and implored of Abraham in heaven that he tell Lazarus to give him some water.

Abraham replied (Luke 16:25-26) …Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Woe to those who laugh now (the mockers) for they will mourn later. And woe to those who are highly regarded by the culture as this was true of the false prophets. They received the acclaim of unwise people but did not impress God.

So how might we anticipate receiving the kiss of God? I thank God it’s not based on how well we play the piano, as I can’t play a note! Rather, it appears that God is willing to bestow His blessing, His kiss, on those who…

1. Put their hope, their faith, their trust in God and Jesus rather than in people.

2. Try to live their lives according to God’s Word (the Bible), rather than what’s popular in the culture.

3. Believe in Jesus.

4. And look to Jesus, rather than to their own efforts, to fulfill them.

Holy Spirit, help this to be the case with all of us! May we each receive a kiss from God on our foreheads because we trust Him, love Him, and seek to do His will. May we each one day arrive in Heaven to hear from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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When Life Sends us Disappointment

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/30/2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Lk 4:21-30

The story is told that the devil was going out of business and would offer all his tools for sale to whomever would pay his price. On the night of the sale they were all attractively displayed—and a bad looking lot they were: Malice, Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Lust, Deceit and all the other implements of evil were spread out, each marked with its price. Apart from the rest lay a harmless looking wedge-shaped tool, much worn and priced higher than any of the others. Someone asked the devil what it was.

“That’s Disappointment,” was the reply.

“Why do you have it priced so high?”

“Because,” replied Satan, “it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s consciousness with that when I could not get near him with any of the other tools. When once inside I can use him in whatever way suits me best. It is so much worn because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people yet know it belongs to me.”

It hardly need be added that the devil’s price for disappointment was so high that it was never sold. He is still using it

This story puts disappointment in an interesting light, doesn’t it? We tend to think of it as a fact of life, something that happens to us from time to time. Those of us who are resilient, bounce back from disappointment; while those of us who aren’t may get so discouraged we give up and quit trying.

Our Old Testament and Gospel passages today have a lot to say to us about how we might deal with disappointment. Let’s take a look at them together:

A. Jeremiah 1:4-10 lays out God’s call to the young man, Jeremiah, to serve Him as a prophet. Jeremiah was probably somewhere between17-20 when God ordained him. He had already been serving as a priest in his home town of Anathoth, located just a few miles north of Jerusalem. King Josiah was on the throne then. He was just 22, in 626 BC, and reigned until he died at age 39. He and Jeremiah were contemporaries and probably friends. Jeremiah served all during the remainder of Josiah’s reign, and also during the reigns of kings Jehoahaz, and Jehoiakim (sons of Josiah), Jehoiachin (Josiah’s grandson), and Zedekiah (a third son of Josiah). Josiah was a good and godly king, and had led his people in a revival which turned their hearts back to God. His sons, however, were another story. Because of their idolatry and wicked behavior, God allowed the last to be defeated and carried off into slavery by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Notice how God called Jeremiah into His service: Verse 5: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. This verse gives me chill-bumps! It states that God knows us before we are even conceived, and that He has a plan for our lives. This is true for all of us, not just Jeremiah! The Lord tells Jeremiah He had determined–even before the young man’s birth–that he would become a prophet and deliver to His people God’s words.

Jeremiah is a humble young man who tells God, (v.6) I am only a child. He essentially says, “Yes, I will do it, but I am young and inexperienced; I won’t know what to say!” God’s response must have been very reassuring (v.7) Do not say,’ I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. In other words, the Lord was telling Jeremiah that He would supply the words he was to speak. Furthermore, God promised to take care of him, even though He was calling him to prophesy divine judgment on Judah and her heretical kings.

If we skipped ahead 40 years to the end of Jeremiah’s life and career, we would find that he apparently never made a single convert. After Josiah’s death, the people ignored or ridiculed his preaching entirely. He was rejected by his own countrymen, hated, beaten, put in stocks, trown into a dry well, imprisoned, and charged with being a traitor. He was later called “the prophet of the broken heart” because God’s judgments on his people—and their rejection of God–were so distressing to him. Once, King Jehoiakim cut his painstakingly hand-written, prophetic scrolls up. The king then destroyed them by throwing them into the fire (but God just retold the contents to Jeremiah so he could write them down again).

I don’t know about you, but though I would have been honored to speak the Lord’s words to His people, I would also have been very disappointed that my ministry would have had such little effect. What is noteworthy, though, is that Jeremiah may have gotten depressed, but he persisted! He may have been disappointed, but he kept on giving out God’s messages. He may have gotten discouraged, but he never gave up!

I think that he stands as an excellent example to us: He trusted in God’s promise to him and he persevered at a thankless task. Even though the apostle Paul wrote some 600 years later, I think what he said in 2 Timothy 4:7 was very appropriate for Jeremiah I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

B. Our Gospel lesson from Luke 4:21-30 picks up where we left off last week. Jesus had read His job description from Isaiah 61:1, and told the Nazarites, His friends and neighbors, that He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophesy. At first, they were impressed–until someone spoke up who reminded everyone that Jesus was the carpenter’s son. This man had placed Jesus in a box and would not consider that He might in fact be “more than a carpenter.” The nay-sayer was limited in his understanding and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah due to his own prejudices. The crowd in the synagogue were eager to see Him work some miracles, but they too were unwilling to alter their perceptions of Him. Mark tells us (Mark 6:5) He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them…due to their lack of faith. Perhaps the ones He healed had had long term illnesses and were desperate enough to put their faith in the “hometown boy” turned itinerant rabbi. What a blessing they got when He healed them but not the others.

Jesus really gets the crowd riled up when He reminds them (v.24) I tell you the truth…no prophet is accepted in his hometown. He is claiming He is a prophet. Again, this was outside the box they had constructed for Him. Then He further incenses them when He gives them two examples of “outsiders,” non-Jews God had provided for. There were many widows in need in Israel during the famine and drought of Elijah’s day, but God sent the prophet to minister to a Phoenician woman instead of an Israelite. Similarly, there were lots of Israelite lepers, but God chose to heal the Syrian general, Namaan. In other words, Jesus is warning them that God will not bless them if they do not believe in His Son. They became so angry by this point that they attempted to kill Him by tossing Him off a cliff.

The fact that He could just disappear from an angry mob should have expanded the box in which they had confined Him.

I could be wrong, but I would bet that Jesus was disappointed with their reaction to Him. He was obviously willing to heal many, but their contempt and anger, their lack of faith, limited what His heavenly Father would allow Him to do. Just as with Jeremiah, His own had rejected Him. So, He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

What is the example Jesus gives us in the face of disappointment and discouragement? Respond honestly, if given the opportunity. Then move on, move ahead with your ministry.

Jeremiah’s great example to us is to persist. Persist in being faithful. Persist in loving God and others. Persist in the office or role to which you have been called, whether that is as a Parent (be sure to watch the Christian movie, “Mom’s Night Out”), a Spouse; a Sibling, a Friend, a Pastor, healer, counselor, caregiver, etc. I remember as a young adult rebelling against the idea that we should “bloom where you are planted.” I strongly believed we should work hard to change the environment in which we found ourselves. I did not realize then that God has us each where He wants us. We are to do our best in that situation until He sovereignly leads us into a different environment. Like Jeremiah, we should persist in believing and trusting that God will and does care for you.

Jesus’ provides several great examples for us in today’s Gospel:

1. Speak the truth in love. He told them some truths they didn’t want to hear. He loved them as He told them, but they got angry and rejected His right, as God, to speak into their lives, and His true identity, because it was outside their usual way of thinking of Him. If we are to tell someone a tough truth, we need to be sure we can convey it from a place of love. If not, we are …only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). If not, we are meeting some ego needs and not treating the other with love.

2. If people are disinterested or belligerent, let them be.

Jesus didn’t argue with his former friends and neighbors. He ministered to those who were open to Him, and He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

3. If/when people disappoint us, we can respond like Abraham Lincoln. In 1858 the Illinois legislature, using an obscure statute, sent Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate instead of Lincoln, although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.” Lincoln didn’t hold a grudge. He didn’t seek revenge. Instead, like Jesus,

He trusted God and quietly and calmly went about his business. Then, 2 years later in 1860, he was elected President of the United States. We don’t know if he prayed for the Illinois legislature, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had as he was a great man of God. May we each be as gracious and Christ-centered. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Knowing Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/23/2022

Scriptures: Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; 1Cor 12:12-31a; Lk 4:14-21

The story is told of a man who found a young eagle that had fallen from its nest ….

“He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

Still it has the heart of an eagle,’ replied the naturalist, ‘and can surely be taught to fly.’ He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, ‘You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.

‘The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But the eagle was afraid of this unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away into the heavens.

‘It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.” (Theology News and Notes, October, 1976, quoted in Multnomah Message, Spring, 1993, p. 1).

The eagle had a case of confused identity. He didn’t know who he was—a chicken or an eagle. He didn’t know his purpose—to peck for food on the ground, like a strange domestic; or to soar the heavens as a magnificent raptor. We can often be like that, can’t we? We can limit who we are, and we can miss out on our purpose.

Let’s see what our Scripture passages today have to about our identity and our purpose.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Nehemiah 8:1-10, and takes place in Jerusalem in 445BC, roughly 2500 years ago. Jewish POW’s of first the Babylonian, then the Persian Empires, had been set free by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to return to their homeland. Under the oversight and direction of their governor, Nehemiah, they had completed the massive rebuilding of the city walls in just 52 days. Ezra, their priest had begun the sad reconstruction of the Temple, which would take many more years. We find them today assembled–on the equivalent of their New Year’s Day—inside the Water Gate (1 of the 12 refurbished gates of the city). You may recall that business, legal, and political matters were debated and decided, in those days, at the city gates. So this wasn’t just some narrow passageway, but a gate opening into a sizeable square or assembly area.

Again, they had to meet there because reconstruction of the Temple was not accomplished.

Ezra and Nehemiah had convened a “solemn assembly” of all the returning citizens. Scholars estimate some 49,000 men, women, and children of an age to understand [perhaps ages 8-10 and above], had gathered there—with someone providing child care for the younger ones. After 70 years of exile in a foreign nation, they may have held Bible studies there, but chances are good that they had not really been formally taught the Torah (the Law). The word has gotten around, however, that someone had found a copy of the Law of Moses during the Temple rebuilding project. The People wanted to know what it said. They realized they had been punished by God for their idolatry and for not obeying His Law. They wanted to be sure they didn’t err in the same way their grandparents had.

Notice what happens. Ezra proclaims God’s word, in a loud voice, from a raised platform (perhaps the first pulpit). The people remain standing, and quiet, and as they listen for some 4-6 hours! This is where the synagogue tradition of standing for the reading of Scripture began. In Eastern Orthodox congregations—and in the middle ages in Europe–people stood for the entire service. That’s why we find there large cathedrals with no pews. Today, we stand for the reading of the Gospel, the Creed, and communion. Standing is a sign of respect, a sign of reverence. These folks are hearing God’s word read to them—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—perhaps for the first time.

Additionally, there are Levites available to walk among the crowd and explain what God’s Word means. Scholars believe the people may not have understood the Hebrew, as they had probably been speaking Aramaic or even Persian/Farsi. So the teachers of the Law were there to answer questions and to explain. This is probably the most important job we pastors now do—explain the meaning of Scripture, as best as we can. The pre-Reformation Catholic Church had moved away from this important duty. The Protestant Reformers were thus insistent that we preach and explain God’s Word. This is why I park on the Scripture passages appointed for the day in all of my sermons. Like the people of Nehemiah’s day, we cannot obey God’s Word if we don’t know or understand it.

The people respond with AMEN, AMEN! May it be so, hands lifted, praising God. We say, Thanks be to God! following our reading of Scripture and hopefully we mean it. They then became convicted of their sinfulness. They now knew the standard. They also realized how far short of God’s standard they had lived, and how the sins of their forebears had led to the destruction of their country, and to their 70 year exile as a subjugated people. So, they prostrate themselves and cry tears of repentance. But Ezra, Nehemiah, the 13 on the platform, and the Levites among them, tell them not to grieve or mourn. For a time they had lost their identity and their purpose! But God brought them out of captivity. He once again delivered them and restored them. He hadn’t turned His back on them. And now they had a new chance to get it right. This, then, is an occasion to celebrate, to rejoice about the goodness and mercy of the Lord.

Nehemiah tells them, (v.10)—Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Just what does that mean? It doesn’t say, I bring God joy when I praise Him (though we probably do). It doesn’t say, My joy about God makes me strong (though it may). Both of the above statements begin in the wrong place: with ME. The true starting place, always, is with GOD. God’s joy is the foundation for our strength. So, what brings Him joy? When we remember our identity begins with our belief in Him, as His beloved children, and our purpose is to be obedient to Him.

B. Our Gospel lesson today comes from Luke 4:14-21. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth (following His baptism, 40 days in the wilderness, and probably the wedding at Cana. He goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His custom. The synagogue at Nazareth would have been His “home church.” When I visited my home church in Tallahassee from seminary in Pittsburgh, it was always such a blessing and a celebration to greet old friends. This must have been true for Jesus too as they invited Him to read the Scripture appointed for the day and to preach.

Now Jesus knows Who He is—the beloved Son of God. He also knows His mission–to redeem the world—which He no doubt came to grips with during His time of prayer, meditation, and temptation in the wilderness.

And He would have realized the Scripture, Isaiah 61:1-2a, was His mission-statement. He reads aloud for the congregation what Isaiah had predicted about Him 700-750 years before His birth: Anointed by the HS, He would…

[1] Preach good news to the poor (God loves you and has sent Me to save you);

[2] I will proclaim freedom to prisoners (people whose own sin has captured them);

[3] I will recover sight for the blind;

[4] I will release those who have been captured and injured by the sins of others;

[5] And I will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor: This is it! God has sent you the Messiah!

Then He sat down (the traditional posture of a teacher) and told them that what the prophet had predicted has now come true in Him. In other words, Jesus knows His identity and His purpose. Do we each know who we are and what we are called to do?

This week, let’s try to remember our true identity comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. Not from our profession;

2. Not from our marital status;

3. Not from our family name or our friendship circle;

4. Not from where we live;

5. Not from what sports team or political candidate we support;

6. Not even from our gender orientation.

7. No, we are children of God and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. That is our prime and most important identity.

And our purpose derives from that: We are here on earth, at this time and place, to know, love, and serve God. Christians means little Christs. We are to imitate Jesus in the way we behave.

Allow me to close with a story regarding the 19th century French artist Paul Gustave Dore, taken from Our Daily Bread, 01/06/1993. (Dore was famous as an illustrator of books, including the Bible, fairy tales, and other poems and novels of the day:

The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883) lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!

This week, let us remember, we are eagles called to be eagles, not chickens. May what we say and do reflect who we are. AMEN! (May it be so!)

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Filled Back Up

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 31, 2021

Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18; Ps 146; Heb 9:11-14; Mk 12:28-34

This morning, we encounter as our Old Testament lesson, the lovely story of the friendship of Ruth and Naomi. (Various verses from the book of Ruth are often quoted at weddings.) The context is provided right off the bat, in the first verse in the days that the Judges ruled…. This means it was after the Israelites had entered the Land of Promise, and after the death of Joshua, Moses’ successor. It was a very dark period of Hebrew history (1380-1050BC). It was dark because, just a few generations after entering the Land—and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and after seeing God’s signs and wonders—another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Isaelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:10-11).

In other words, they would sin mightily against all the commandments, but especially the first 4. They rejected God and got involved in idolatry (Baal worship=spiritual adultery). God would then say, OK, have it your way…(Ro 1:28-29) Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (sins against the last 6 commandments). God would then also remove His hand of protection from around them: He would allow Moabites to terrorize them; the Amalekites, Ammonites, or Philistines to subjugate them; the Midianites to raid them and cart off their crops, animals, and even their women and children. Sometimes God would not command rain to fall, which resulted in famine. They would then repent, beg for His help, swear again their allegiance to Him, and He would graciously rescue them. This would happen in about 40 year cycles, time for one generation to die off and be replaced by another.

When the story of Ruth begins, God has allowed a famine in the land. Scripture tells us that famine, locusts, or plagues are evidence of God’s judgment! So what should have been Israel’s response? 2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Even if they did not yet have 2 Chronicles to read, they had the 40 year cycles playing out in the book of Judges. The lesson, again and again, is Repent, pray, ask for God’s mercy.

Naomi and her family lived in Bethlehem in Judah, which means house of food/bread; in Judah which means praise. But, unfortunately, Naomi’s husband Elimelech (my God is King) decides not to repent, pray, and ask for God’s mercy, but rather to leave and head to Moab. YIKES! Understand that Elimelech leaves God’s protection and provision to move in with Israelite enemies/God’s enemies. He leaves the house of bread, in the region of praise, choosing not to wait on a miracle from God, but to leave the covenant community of Israel, and trust in his own resources; to do as he saw fit. He moves his family to the land of the Moabites, who were descended from Lot, born of incest. In Psalm 108:9, God says, Moab is my washpot garbage can. Willful Elimelech leaves the house of bread for the garbage can.

He takes with him Naomi (pleasant; Merry Sunshine!) and their two sons, Mahlon (sickly; weakling;) and Kilion (puny). Because of this fateful and foolish move, Naomi is reduced from fullness to emptiness: With 2 sons and a husband, Naomi leaves Bethlehem feeling “Full.” But, during their sojourn in Moab, she begins to empty. She has no additional children; her husband, Elimelech, dies; her two sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah—who are both lovely and loving, but who appear to be barren. Then, both young men die! Naomi winds up empty in Moab!

What does she decide to do? Like so many of us when life leaves us frustrated and alone, we either strike out for a new place/new beginning or we go back home, don’t we? She’s already done the former. So now it’s time to try the latter. She probably thought to herself, When was I last full? In Israel, when I lived among family; in Israel, where I had women friends; in Israel, where I lived under God’s protection. She may have even thought, Maybe the Lord allowed all of this because we didn’t trust Him

Did Naomi repent for having fled from the Promised Land? Did she pray? Did she ask for God’s forgiveness? It doesn’t seem like it because at first she returns to Bethlehem and tells the women there, call me Mara (bitter). Like a lot of us, rather than taking responsibility for being out of God’s will, she blames God for her misfortunes.

But our lesson today points to one benefit she has gained from her sojourn in the garbage pail: Ruth. Through Ruth, God begins to fill Naomi back up:

1.) First, consider Ruth’s character: She is compassionate. She knows Naomi is grieved and depressed, so she puts Naomi’s need for companionship and assistance ahead of her own comforts. This is what St. Paul would later define as agapao, a 1st Corinthians 1 type of love. She is also loyal. Maybe she had experienced first-hand Naomi’s kindnesses to her as a young bride. Perhaps Naomi had consoled her in her childlessness. Maybe Naomi had been very helpful to her during Mahlon’s illness and death. Scripture is silent on these points. Whatever had happened between them, it was enough for Ruth to prefer leaving her own homeland to venture to a land where she might be forever an outcast. I think that tells us she was courageous.

2.) Second, Ruth had become a God-follower, v.16–Your God will be my God…may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me. How had that happened? Probably because of Naomi’s example: Naomi tells the women of Bethlehem that she knows God has brought me back empty (Hmmm, that implies she prayed), and to call her Mara. But she seems also to have practiced St. Francis’ (much later advice: Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Even if her depression was talking most recently, Ruth had seen the true Naomi, before all of her misfortunes. Maybe God was telling Naomi, through Ruth’s presence, I have blessed you with a true-blue friend!

And that was just the beginning, wasn’t it? If you know the story of Ruth, you know that Naomi still held a deed to a family-owned, but mortgaged, tract of land. God supplies a kinsman redeemer (a foreshadowing of Christ), Boaz, who generously pays off the mortgage and marries Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law. We know God designed this because there was another fellow in the family who wanted the land, but not Ruth. Also, Boaz, an older guy, was rather amazed that this lovely young woman would desire him over guys her own age.

The childless Ruth bears a son to Boaz, Obed (servant of the Lord.) Obed is the father of Jesse, and the Grandfather of King David. More importantly, we know that Ruth and Boaz establish the line of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, out of which comes the Messiah, Jesus. The Lord fills Naomi back up–just like Job–really beyond anything she can ask or imagine.

Psalm 146 echoes the theme: Verses 5-6 say, Blessed is he [or she] whose help in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his [her] God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever. Verses 7-9 almost seem to have been composed for Naomi in particular: He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…the Lord…sustains the fatherless and the widow….

Hebrews 9:11-14 exhorts us to trust in Jesus’ saving power. While Naomi and Ruth’s time predated Christ’s by centuries, nevertheless they were redeemed by a prototype of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to know and to appreciate the fact that the blood Jesus shed to pay the penalty for our sins far surpasses the blood of animals to make atonement for us. Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer.

Mark 12:28-34 presents us with a lawyer (or teacher of the law) who confesses that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important to God than making burnt offerings (to remove the blot of sin) or sacrifices. Jesus commends him for his wisdom. Love of God—trust in God—and love of people are what most please God.

There are some wonderful lessons for us, given current events as well as our personal dilemmas and calamities:

1.) You may remember from last week, There is no situation I can get into that God cannot get me out of. If we trust in God, we will be all right. Elimelech and Naomi should have trusted in God. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had humbled themselves, repented, sought God, and prayed. He promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to hear, forgive, and heal if we do. However, because God is a redeemer, even though Naomi returned to Bethlehem minus a husband and two sons, she was richer for having a loyal, generous, and loving daughter-in-law. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and is included in the lineage of Jesus. Surely Naomi is in heaven rejoicing that that is the case!

2.) I am convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to our personal dilemmas. No matter what be-devils you—health issues, depression or crippling anxiety, family quarrels, money problems, unpleasant situations at work or in the neighborhood—bring all these issues to God’s attention. Repent of your sins. Ask for His help. Trust in His love. Then watch and see what He does.

3.) I am also convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to the trouble our country is in now. We need to confess our sins as a nation, to repent, and to return to our foundational beliefs in God. America was meant to be a “City set on a hill,” an example to the rest of the world of what a country can look like when it is focused on loving God and obeying His will. What we see now is a country that is suffering the consequences of being out of God’s will. He has lifted His hedge of protection from us. We are encountering all manner of troubles because we have walked away from Him. The answer, the antidote, is not to throw more money on our problems, but to return to the God who has purchased us with His own blood! Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31

The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy).  You may know the type.  They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer.  Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.

The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor.  The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students.  During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating.  He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone.  In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.

The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing.  The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.”  The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations!  You’ve failed it.  So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.”  The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?”  The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class.  What makes you think I would know your name?”  The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.

Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one.  We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come.  Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:

A.  Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17.  You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health.  Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed.  But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).

Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God.  He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!).  In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test.  So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face.  In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.

YIKES!  Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:

    #1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one!  As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself.  We must all go before God to plead guilty before him.  Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125).  We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    #2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility.  He is God; we are not! 

    #3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so.  Our God is not hiding from us.  In fact, He calls us to Himself.  If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal).  And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.

But praise God!  By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose.  Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is.  Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing.  But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life.  If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith.  If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.

If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties.  Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.

B.  Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.”  Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross.  Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross.  In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you?  He is feeling deserted and abandoned.  In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin.  He had personally done nothing to merit death.  In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty.  He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth.  Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress.  Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering.  By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man.  The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness.  He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others.  We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4.  How did Jesus know?  He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God.  Jesus asks him to give it up.  The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.

The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus.  At one time with me, it was my children.  I didn’t trust God to care for them.  I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them.  Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church.  I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy.  But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too.  The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold.  My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm.  Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake.  He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.

D.  The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith.  Scripture is more than words on a page.  It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us.  Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight.  If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short.  We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile.  God knows all about us.  Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.

None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.

Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials.  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile.  Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power.  Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”

Let us pray:  Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them.  We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins.  Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation.  Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not.  It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved.  Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You.  Amen! 

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Keeping the Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 29, 2021

Scriptures: Song of Songs 2:8-13; Ps 15; Jas 1:17-27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Recently I read Michael Youssef’s book, Saving Christianity (published in 2020). In it, he describes the factors that have led to a serious decline in membership and Sunday attendance in mainline Christian churches such as ours. Youssef is a naturalized US citizen from Egypt. He is the lead pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia (the Buckhead neighborhood). He left a mainline denomination to found his church in 1987. He departed because his superior (a Bishop or Superintendent, unnamed in his book) had rejected the Biblically-faithful notion that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father. Like too many mainline church leaders, that fellow (Youssef’s boss) did not believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. He also didn’t believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ. (I have served under several such leaders. Like Youssef, I had to walk away from their apostasy.) This leader mocked Youssef as he withdrew to plant the Church of the Apostles. Youssef started with fewer than 40 souls. But, through faithful Biblical preaching and teaching–and a vigorous, Christ-centered outreach to the surrounding community–His church has now grown to over 3000 members.

He believes–and I agree—that we cannot cherry-pick the Scriptures, taking in what we agree with and rejecting what we disagree with. There is no integrity to that. Just as Jesus is either God or a madman–but not simply a moral leader or a good teacher–there is also just one choice with the Bible. Either we accept the Bible as God’s word written, in its entirety, or we reject it.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are told in 2 Peter 2:1-2–But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even as far back as the first century, the Church was infiltrated by heretics who sought to either alter or water down the faith. Here Peter is warning the infant church to be wary of those who preach or teach false doctrines. Similarly, Jude, Jesus’ brother, warned in Jude 3-4–I…urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ as our only sovereign and Lord. The apostle John cautioned, in Revelation 22:18-19–And I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city which are described in this book. Clearly, we are not to add verses or subtract verses from the Bible. As I have urged before, if we don’t understand a Scripture passage, or don’t like it, we are to trust in God’s purposes for us, study the opinions of reliable Bible scholarly and commentators, and patiently wait upon the Holy Spirit to make its meaning clear. As Paul counsels Timothy, (2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Our passages assigned for today substantiate this approach. They also demonstrate to us the wisdom of Scripture:

A. Song of Songs 2:8-13–reaffirms to us that Jesus loves us.

This book is God’s endorsement for love and sensuality in the marital context. Like the “Beloved,” the newlywed wife depicted here, we are to eagerly anticipate being reunited with Christ. We don’t know where her groom had disappeared to, whether to military deployment, a business trip, or hospitalization, but she waits to hear his voice alerting her to his return. Similarly, Jesus is now physically separated from us, as He sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. But we can and do hear the Bridegroom’s or Jesus’ voice through God’s Word. We who believe in Jesus as our Savior, await his call to us—either from the grave or at the rapture—Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with Me. Our Lord wants us to dwell with Him in heaven.

B. Psalm 15–is a description of those who will dwell with God.

Verse 1 asks the question, Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? The remainder of the psalm provides the answer:

1. Those who are upright/righteous;

2. Those who speak truth;

3. Those who do not slander others or hold grudges;

4. Those who despise vile actions but honor righteous behavior;

5. Those who keep their oaths, even when it costs them;

6. Those who make an honest living and never accept a bribe.

The psalmist, King David, predates Jesus but nevertheless describes Christ’s character. We are to be like Jesus. Those who revere the Lord and who order their lives in accordance to His will can look forward to living with Jesus in heaven. Those who love Him and act like Him will dwell with God.

C. In our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1—8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus distinguishes between outward ritual (religion by rote) and heart attitudes. The Pharisees have come to listen but also to find fault. They fault Jesus because His disciples are not following one of their traditions, hand-washing before meals. This practice is wise, a fact which has certainly been reemphasized in this era of Covid. But in the arid Ancient Near East, water was hard to come by. However wise it is for one to wash hands before eating, Jesus reminded them that it is not mandated by Scripture.

Jesus then takes them to task and calls them hypocrites! He points out that they adhere to man-made rules but neglect their relationships with God and their family members. Jesus then goes on to list the sins that come from a wrong heart-attitude toward God and our relatives and neighbors:

1. Sexual immorality;

2. Theft;

3. Adultery;

4. Greed;

5. Malice;

6. Deceit;

7. Lewdness;

8. Envy;

9. Slander;

10. Arrogance and folly.

Notice, these behaviors and attitudes are nearly the opposite of those recommended by our psalmist, David. Jesus is saying, essentially, it’s not rule-keeping or going through the “holiness motions” that allows us to dwell with God, but rather the condition of our heart. Do we love Jesus? Do we ask the Holy Spirit to help us to think and to live like Jesus? Are we surrendered and obedient to the will of God?

D. Finally, James, the brother of Christ–ever offering us practical advice—reminds us in James 1:17-27–(verse 17)—Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

In other words, all good things come from God, who desires to bless us.

We can trust in Him because, unlike humans, He is always faithful and true.

James continues in verse 19–My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. He advises us to listen to God and others carefully. Truly hear someone out before composing a rebuttal or a come-back in your mind. Then take time to consider your response before speaking. We all know that once words are spoken, they are difficult to take back. Be careful about becoming angry, and careful with your anger expressions. It is not a sin to become angry, but so often it is what we do with our anger that offends God.

In verse 22 James admonishes us—Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says! We are not to be consumers of church services. We are to use what we learn on Sundays to guide the way we operate in our world. We need to “walk the walk.” If a nonbeliever were watching us, would they see enough evidence to assume we are followers of Jesus Christ?

Our passages today confirm for us that (1) Jesus loves us.

(2) We can believe that if we love Jesus, and behave like Him toward God and others, we will join Him in heaven. (3) Christ-like heart attitudes matter more to God than empty ritual and non-biblical tradition. (4) Our faith is evidenced in action.

Youssef believes the broader Christian Church is being decimated by “enemies from within,” by apostasy (false doctrines), and by our lack of respect for the Word of God. Our foes are those who call themselves Christians while divorcing themselves from the Biblical faith.

These folks are being deceived by the evil one (Remember from last week that we are in a spiritual battle). Youssef writes (p.93), If you abandon the foundation of Christianity—the Scriptures and the atoning death and resurrection of Christ—and replace the Christian gospel with the secular left agenda of Darwinism, climate change, identity politics, victim oppression politics, LGBTQ politics, and on and on, you will become the darling of the media and the leftist political establishment. You’ll be interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR, and you’ll write for the “Washington Post” and “New York Times,” and you’ll be praised by the “Daily Beast” and “Huffington Post.” You can call yourself a “person of good news,” but it won’t be the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

NO Sir, our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness! It is not politically correct these days to be a faith-filled, Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ (Remember, we are in a spiritual battle). But I would rather be out of step with the power-elites, the politically correct, and all the woke folks, than turn my back on Jesus Christ as revealed to us in Scripture, and as faithfully passed remembered and passed on to us by generation after generation of believers in the apostolic faith.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Armored Up!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 22/2021, 

Scriptures: Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

In his 2013 book titled Did the Devil Make me Do It?, Mike McKinley asks us to consider what would happen if the Devil told us the truth when he tempted us. He says it might sound something like this:

    Satan:  You should cheat on your spouse with that good looking gal/guy at the office/coffee shop/church, etc..

    Us:  I don’t think so.  It’s wrong and it would hurt my spouse.

    Satan:  Fair enough, you make a good point.  But look, I’ve run a cost-benefits analysis for you.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

        Benefits:  

            1.) A few moments of physical pleasure;

            2.) A temporary boost to self-esteem.

        Costs:  

            1.) Disobedience to God;

            2.) Sin, so separation from God;

            3.) Ruin or possibly even end your marriage;

            4.) Humiliate your spouse;

            5.) Mess up your kids’ lives;

            6.) Public embarrassment and exposure;

            7.) Could cost you your job (especially in a church);

            8.) Might mess up the life of your partner in sin;

            9.) You might get a sexually transmitted disease;

            10.) There could be an unwanted pregnancy;

            11.) Wreck your Christian witness to others…

    Us:  Wow, hmmm, a ratio of 2:11…No thanks!

But the problem for us, unfortunately, is that Satan is never honest with us. Jesus tells us in John 8:44 [The devil]…was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Later, in John 10:10, Jesus contrasts Himself, the Good Shepherd, with the devil, “the thief”, saying The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they [the sheep; us] may have life, and have it to the full.

    Both Jesus and Paul were very concerned that we believers would not be done in by the evil one.  In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul reminds us that we who love Christ are always, daily, sometimes moment to moment, in a spiritual battle!  The devil doesn’t have to work hard with those who belong to him anyway.  Instead he works tirelessly to pull the Lord’s faithful away from Him.  Thus, when we are frustrated in life, we need to consider not just what we see with our eyes or understand with our minds.  We also need to remember we live in a spiritual realm, in which both angels and demons operate.

C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Screwtape Letters: There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors ….. So, one mistake is to deny the existence of Satan and his demons. We may think he is a myth, a superstition, a made up entity—like the “Boogey Man”– intended to scare us into doing right. This is a grave and a naive blunder! A second error is to see demons, the Devil’s minions, behind every bush, and to deny our own personal responsibility for our actions. When Satan fell from heaven he took 1/3 of the angels with him. These became the demons he now commands. We need to remember, then, that God is both more powerful than he is—after all, God cast him out of heaven– and that the legions of angels outnumber demons by at least two to one. Regardless, we can’t just excuse ourselves by saying, “the Devil made me do it.” We have to remember that the Devil tempts us to sin, but we only sin when come into agreement with him and succumb to the temptation.

    To me the best proof for the existence of the Devil is that fact that Jesus, Peter, Paul, James and the Church—up until the Age of the Enlightenment, about 250 years ago–all believed that Satan and his demons were real:

    1.) I have already quoted to you from the Gospel of John what Jesus had to say about Satan.

    2.) After having been reconciled to Christ, Peter wrote (1 Pet 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith….

        3.) Paul Ephesians 4:27-27: In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

        4.) James, the brother of Christ Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.           

    So let’s look, verse by verse at what Paul is telling us in our New Testament passage today (Ephesians 6:10-20):

    Verse 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Our strength, in any conflict, in any attack from the evil one, comes from God.  We do not have the power to fight Satan on our own.  But God does!  Jesus does!  We know that Jesus does because He continuously cast out demons during His earthly ministry, and because as Paul reminds us in  Philippians 2:10 the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Satan and all of his demons must submit to Christ’s authority.  This is why we daily tell Satan to cease and desist from any temptation by calling upon the name of Jesus.

    Verse 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  God has given us spiritual armor because we are in a spiritual battle.  He has not left us defenseless.  He has provided protection for us.  We are to appropriate the armor and STAND We don’t have to beat a retreat.  We don’t have to engage in combat in our own strength.  We just have to take on a stance of strength and wait upon the Lord.  So often in the Old Testament, we see how God won the battle.  Numerous accounts of Israeli forces during the 1967 “Six Days War” tell of how they were outnumbered, but became invisible to their Arab foes; how they caused superior numbers of Arab soldiers to surrender, even though the Israelis were out of ammunition; how large angels dressed as soldiers protected them, etc.  The battle belonged to the Lord.

    Now why are we to stand?  Verse 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of wickedness.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood people!  Or even events!   It’s against the demonic.  As in any army, there are organized ranks in the demonic realm:

    1.) Rulers (principalities; king/princes) They have oversight of nations.

2.) Authorities (generals, lieutenants) demons who operate through seduced individuals and plague humankind;

3.) Powers of this dark world Satan; the power behind darkness;

    4.) Spiritual forces of wickedness these are pagan gods; witchcraft; wiccan; and voo-doo.

    Despite this army of evil, God expects us to stand verse 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when [not if] the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.  We are meant to utilize the armor He gives us (I put it on daily, in the name of Jesus).  We are told to stand 4 times in this passage.   

    Next Paul names the components of our protective armor:

    Verses14-15 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  The Belt of truth is The Word of God (the Bible).  To be armored up, we need to be reading our Bibles.  The Breastplate of Righteousness guards our heart.  Jesus Christ is our righteousness.  In baptism and in confirmation, we have put on Christ, we have been clothed in His righteousness.  As Peter says in today’s Gospel reading, (John 6:68-69)…Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.  It’s only in and through Jesus that our hearts are protected.  Our feet are shod with the readiness or preparation that comes from the Gospel of peace.  In other words, our feet are anchored when we stand upon the firm foundation, the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ, as revealed to us in Scripture.

    Verses 16-17 in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  The Shield of Faith probably refers to the shields carried by Roman soldiers of the time.  They were about the size of a door and made of leather that was soaked, before battle, in water so as to douse any flaming arrows that flew at them.  Similarly our faith keeps all of us fully protected against the “fiery darts” which are all of Satan’s schemes to defeat us.  The Helmet of Salvation is meant to protect our mortal minds.  When we are under spiritual attack, we want to focus on our faith in Christ, not on what Satan whispers or mutters in our ears.   The Sword of the Spirit, again, refers to the Word of God written.  Scripture and prayer are our only offensive weapons!  In His temptations, Jesus modeled for us defeating Satan’s attacks by quoting God’s word.  We can do this too.

    Verse 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  Again, prayer is our second offensive weapon in our spiritual battles.  It is truly the Christian’s nuclear option.  We are to pray for our families, our friends, our church, our state, our nation,

We do this each Sunday when we offer up our “Joys and Concerns” at the beginning of our worship service.  But we can also pray while driving our cars, taking a walk, cooking, washing dishes, weeding the garden, taking a shower.  This week, please be sure to pray for our soldiers and citizens stranded in Afghanistan, as well as those Afghani civilians who partnered with us over the past 20 years.  Pray for their safety and their rapid rescue.  Also, I urge you to pray for the protection of Afghani women and children under the control of the militant and often abusive Taliban.

    This side of heaven, we are in a spiritual battle.  This week, let’s take a look at our personal struggles.  Think about whether they are due to our own poor choices, or to some attack from the evil one.  Then, put on the full armor of God and stand firm, using your spiritual weapons, Scripture and prayer.  Amen!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Spiritual Wisdom

Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 15, 2021

Scriptures: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Ps 111; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58

About 30 years ago, before I attended seminary, I led a mental health team who treated residents of 4 nursing homes in and around Tallahassee, Florida. In this work, I learned a hymn I’d never heard before. My colleague who provided music therapy for those who had Alzheimer’s would play this hymn and the patients–even if they could not remember their children’s names–all remembered it and would sing along! I was amazed.

What can wash away my sins?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Such a great hymn and so true.  We were bought with a price and redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

    Our readings today have to do with gaining true wisdom, spiritual wisdom.  School began this past Tuesday here in North Florida.  The start of the school year always puts me in mind of our hopes that our children’s and grandchildren’s teachers and professors would…

    1.) Recognize and even appreciate their academic talents;     2.) Make allowances for and help them overcome their deficits. 

Some years back, I taught a male student at Santa Fe Community College who could not read.  He failed my first two exams.  After class following the second test, I asked him to verbally respond to the questions.  He knew the information completely.  He could remember the material but was sadly unable to “crack the written code.”  Some of my college students admitted they had never opened a book in high school; others realized, too late, they would have to study more to succeed in college. 

    3.) We also hope teachers and professors will not kill students’ desire to learn, nor their love for their God, their family, or their country.

We also hope that our kids/grandkids would be intent on being fully present; attentive; eager to learn; on time; well-behaved, and disciplined enough not to play games on their laptops or text on their cell phones. Wouldn’t it be great if students all sought wisdom in their educational endeavors? Similarly, wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers/professors also exhibited wisdom in both the presentation of material in their classes, and in their evaluations of how much their students have learned?

    I don’t know about you but I find it interesting that, just as school is starting, our lectionary readings–which cycle around every three years—contrast the two forms of wisdom, academic or secular wisdom and spiritual wisdom?  It’s no coincidence, but rather a “God-incidence.”

    Our Old Testament reading comes from 1 Kings 3:3-14. It narrates events from 970 BC, almost 3000 years ago.   Having ruled from 1010-970 BC, King David has died.  His two eldest sons predeceased him:  As you may remember from last week, Amnon—son of David’s 3rd wife–was killed by Absalom—son of his 4th wife, for having raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister.  Nine years later, Absalom was slain in a Civil War he had started to wrest the throne from his father.  The next son in line was Adonijah, the son of David’s 5th wife, Haggith.  But God had selected, and King David had crowned Solomon—son of Bathsheba, his 8th wife—as his successor.  (Remember that  David had been the runt of the litter, youngest of 8 boys, when he was chosen by the Lord to be King).  Once again, God jumps the “normal” order of succession to bring about His choice.  After all, the King of Israel was both a political and a theocratic or spiritual king, who ruled at God’s pleasure.  So, despite his birth order, Solomon has assumed the throne.

In some verses skipped, he takes as his wife, in a political alliance, the daughter of Pharaoh and not a believer in the God of Israel. We are told in verse 3 that he loved the Lord. Initially, then, he lived according to the Law of Moses—he kept God’s Law. However, he also worshipped the Lord in Canaanite “high places” which had been set apart for pagan gods of fertility. From the get-go, Solomon seemed to be hedging his bets. He appears to have had a weakness for women, lots of women (having accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines—many of whom worshipped pagan gods–by the end of his reign). So, over the long run, he did not remain loyal to God. He appears to have thought: I’ll follow the God of my father, David; but what can it hurt to honor other gods as well?

    This practice of mixing pagan elements with worshiping the One True God is called syncretism and is abhorrent to our God.  When I was in seminary, my daughter and I had a friend named Mrs. Wilson.  She was kind and generous to us, but she mixed her Roman Catholic beliefs in with the Hindu concept of reincarnation.  I remember asking her why she would want to risk returning to earth as a cockroach or a rat.  I assured her that Jesus Christ had done all the work necessary for her to reach heaven if she only put her trust in Him.  Such syncretism violates the 1st Commandment.  We are told (verse 5) that the syncretistic Solomon offered a very generous number (1000) of sacrifices to Israel’s God, Yahweh—but in a place devoted to pagan worship.  Thus Solomon ignores the urging of the one who wrote Psalm 111 who says, (verse 1) I will extol the LORD with all my heart, in the council of the upright and in the assembly.  The psalmist implores us to worship our God with single-minded devotion.

    Nevertheless, despite Solomon’s lack of a steadfast commitment to God alone, notice that God still planned to use him and to bless him.  This is good news to him and to us.  Except for Jesus Christ, there are no perfect people.  We tend to align ourselves along a continuum from not at all committed to God to totally sold out to God, and on any given day, we land somewhere in between–and often moving toward one pole or the other.  Even so, God chooses to use us.  How amazing!

That night, God spoke to Solomon in a dream. In what strikes me as a beautiful act of grace, God says to the not-quite-committed new king, (verse 5) Ask for whatever you want Me to give you. If I had been God, I doubt I would have been so generous. This guy is all too human—not as whole-heartedly faithful to God as his father David had been. Why should God trust him? Solomon, though, gives a great answer: Recognizing his limitations, he admits (verse 7), I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. He honestly admits he knows he is not yet equipped or experienced enough to rule. As Eugene Peterson, in his modern paraphrase of the Bible, restates it, I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘in’s’ and ‘outs’ of this job and the scope of it is intimidating. So please give me a God-listening-heart so I can rule your people well. He has asked for wisdom in judgment and in governmental leadership or statesmanship. He has asked to know what is the right thing to do as he rules. God is so pleased with this request that He rewards him. God notes that Solomon wasn’t moved by self-centered motives: a long life for himself, great personal wealth, or the deaths of his enemies. So the Lord grants his request, (v.12) I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Solomon will be the wisest king—other than Jesus—who ever lived!

However, he fails in moral leadership, in the way he lives his life. He asked for wisdom to govern well, not wisdom to guide his own personal life. That just occurred to me as I studied the passage this week. I had never seen it before. I always wondered how he could have messed up so badly and still been so wise. Under the influence of his foreign wives, he veers off into idolatry, and appears to have suffered from a sexual addiction. Perhaps Paul was thinking about Solomon as he wrote to the Ephesians in our New Testament lesson today (Ephesian 5:15-20). The apostle tells us Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise….Solomon had great wisdom for governing—oh, if we only had that in DC today! But he lacked a firm moral compass, rooted in faithfulness to the Lord. Believers who walk wisely, remain in the will of God. Jesus urges us in John 15:4 No branch can bear fruit by itself [“operating out of human wisdom”]; it [we, the branches] must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

King Solomon provides such a good lesson to us as someone who starts off pretty well, but ends up badly. Nevertheless, God knew he was inadequate and chose to work through him anyway. In a sense, all of us are inadequate to serve God. We can only go as far and as high as we do on our knees (in prayer and submission to God). We do best when we seek spiritual wisdom, God’s will. Again, the author of Psalm 111 writes, (verse 10) The fear of the Lord [awe, reverence for, respect of] is the beginning of wisdom. My Old Testament professor, Dr. Paul House, put it this way: Wisdom, even God-given wisdom, must be maintained by responsible human faithfulness. Serving God faithfully, according to Eugene Peterson, really is a long obedience in the same direction—us being obedient to accompany God in His direction.

    Jesus shocked His contemporaries by suggesting in today’s Gospel (John 6:51-58) that they feed on Him.  They didn’t understand that He meant spiritually.  We need to establish, nurse, and maintain a deep relationship with Him.  He is our source!  He is our Savior.  As the old hymn says, the shed blood of Christ protects and redeems us.  Recognizing and exhibiting gratitude for His great love for     us is true wisdom.

As your loved ones (or you yourself) begin the new school year, may you (and they) be endowed with Godly wisdom and an obedient heart, remaining faithful to the God who loves, equips, and blesses you.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Math

Pastor Sherry’s message for 7/25/2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 11:1-15; Ps 14; Eph 3:14-21; Jn 6:1-21

Last week, I shared about the ministry of Mother Theresa, one of my “Heroes of the Faith.” This week, I want to mention another: Heidi Baker. She and her husband, Rolland, are both Pentecostal pastors with Ph.D.’s in Theology from the London School of Theology. They are also missionaries with a heart for orphans and the poor. While praying one day, God had told Heidi that He was “giving them Mozambique”–which was, at the time, one of the poorest nations in the world. Heidi and Rolland have been living and serving in Mozambique, Africa, since 1995. She and Rolland house, feed, and educate orphan children. She has become a noted speaker and “the public face” of their ministry. Her method in Mozambique has been to train up children to pray for others. She teaches them to pray: They pray for the deaf to hear, and they do. They pray for the blind to see, and they do. They pray for the paralyzed to walk, and they do. She claims that God has raised over 100 people from the dead, through the prayers of her various prayer teams.

In this destitute country, God has worked thru her and her husband to establish schools; provide medical clinics; distribute food; drill wells; and provide physically and spiritually for over 3,000 orphans. The Bakers have raised up many indigenous pastors and have planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 Christian congregations in mozambique!

One of my favorite stories from her ministry is about a “multiplication miracle.” A woman from Texas was visiting with the Bakers and offered to fix them dinner. She prepared a wonderful meal for 5, Heidi, Rolland, their two children, and herself. When she called the Bakers in to eat, Heidi expressed initial dismay at the small quantity as they always fed their 250 orphans whenever they ate. Heidi immediately suggested they pray for more food, then she told the woman to keep ladling out food from the pots as the plates kept coming. The woman was amazed to discover the pots never emptied. The Lord had multiplied her dinner until all the children and adults present received food. (See her book, Compelled by Love, to read about this story and others.) Wouldn’t it have strengthened your faith to have witnessed that?

Our Gospel for today focuses one of Jesus’ multiplication miracles, the feeding of the 5,000 from John 6:1-21 (also recounted in the other three gospels). John tells us (v.4) the Passover Feast was near. Jesus is not in Jerusalem; rather, He is preaching and teaching in Galilee. As I shared last week, a huge crowd had followed Him. In His compassion, He knows they are hungry. Perhaps recalling the Exodus and Numbers about the daily manna from heaven, as well as Elijah’s encounter with the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24), Jesus tests the disciples, asking them where they might find bread (and meat) for the crowd to eat. A correct answer would have been, “Lord, you know,” or “Lord, You are able to provide. But instead of thinking of heavenly possibilities, they focus on the earthly realities. Philip and Andrew seem set on problem-solving. They assert in verse 7 that the group lacks the money to buy enough; but they also point out in verse 8 that they have inventoried the current supply and found some small provisions—5 hamburger-sized loaves and 2 small, dried fish–insufficient for the numbers of folks present

Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee (p.99 of his commentary on John) says the 12 desired to become Jesus’ Board of Directors, and thus formed a committee to look into the problem. McGee and others have defined a church committee as “a group of people who individually can do nothing, but collectively they decide nothing can be done” (Not my experience at WUMC). He also claims a church committee is “a group of people who take down minutes and waste hours.” Sure enough, the committee report is that feeding 5,000 men (approximately 15,000, if we conservatively add in 1 woman and 1 child per each male) is impossible. They recommend to Jesus that He send them home. They have resolved the issue without considering God’s maththe mathematics of a miracle.

Jesus resolves the problem in a way reminiscent of the Old and New Testament multiplication miracles: He provides for them abundantly, passing out more than enough bread and fish to go around. Just like at the wedding in Cana, where He turned 6 large jars of water into 100 gallons of the finest wine. Just like with the manna and quail in the desert, plenty for 1-2 million people, every day for 40 years! Just like with Elijah and the widow, enough oil and flour to make bread until the famine ended.

Jesus turns His wanna-be Board of Directors into a wait-staff. He has them distribute fish sandwiches to groups seated on the grounds. Then, in a wonderful display of God’s abundant provision, He has them pick up the left overs. Now we must bear in mind that these folks were not usually well-fed.

Given free food, you can imagine that they would have eaten their fill. Instead of gathering up bites left on their plates, they collected 12 baskets full of what were probably whole sandwiches. Again, as J. Vernon McGee says, “I tell you, if you have the 5 loaves plus the 2 fish plus Jesus, then you’ve got something, Friend. Without Him, you don’t have anything at all.”

Our God is a God of abundance. He desires to bless us, extravagantly.

Before we get carried away, however, let’s remember there are limits to God’s efforts to bless. These limits often arise from our own sin and our rejection of Him. This is the point, I think, of our Old Testament lesson today from 2 Samuel 11:1-15. Up to this point in 2nd Samuel, we have encountered David’s triumphs:

1.) Anointed King as a successor to Saul;

2.) Killing the giant, Goliath, in battle;

3.) Successfully eluding Saul’s jealous and zealous pursuit of him;

4.) Finally uniting all 12 tribes under his leadership;

5.) Subduing the enemies of Israel; and

6.) Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, his capital.

Now we see him plunge into trouble, the first act of a cascade of subsequent heartbreaks.

In what may have been a midlife crisis, David does not go off to battle against his lone unsubdued enemy, the Ammonites. He sends the army ahead without him. At home in his palace, he appears to be restless and bored. Rather than take his troubles to God, or ask what he might do to better his people, he takes a walk at night on his rooftop. From this height, he sees the lovely, we-presume-naked-Bathsheba, bathing on her rooftop. Rooftops were cool at night; perhaps she was trying to escape the heat. Where were her privacy screens? Now David has several other wives at this point (he is approximately 40YO), but he sees her and lusts after her.

Do you notice the connection between wealth, power, and boredom here? It has been my observation that the evil one uses this toxic combination to lead many into sexual sin. Look at the fall of Rome. Consider Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” in which rich, powerful men—like Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, and unnamed others–flew to an isolated Caribbean island to engage in illicit sexual activities with under-aged girls. The king summons Bathsheba to his palace and begins an affair with her. He is married, several times over. And so is she. Her husband is Uriah, a Hittite believer and one of David’s “Mighty Men” (body guards). Scholars also believe she was the daughter of another of his Mighty Men, Eliam. The couple’s actions thus hurt a number of people and seriously offend God. In one night, given moods of boredom and dissatisfaction, David sins colossally. He breaks the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th commandments.

He also misuses his God-given powers as king. He sent for Bathsheba. Was she a willing participant? Possibly, but we don’t know for sure. She becomes pregnant. Scripture is clear (v.4) that she was not impregnated by her husband, as her monthly cycle had just ended. Now David feels forced to mount a sophisticated cover-up.

Notice that God includes David’s (and Bathsheba’s) moral failure in Scripture. God neither denies it, excuses it, nor pretties it up. God desires to use it as instruction for us. As our Psalm (14) says, Only a fool believes there is no God. David authored this psalm. He knows that God is omniscient, all seeing, all knowing. But like so many of us when we embark on sin, he isn’t thinking of God’s response. Nevertheless, God sees and knows and holds David accountable.

Because we are in Christ, as Paul asserts in Ephesians 3:14-21, we are covered by His righteousness. This is great, good news! Unlike with King David, the penalty for our sins has been taken on for us by Jesus. The penalty for both David and Bathsheba was death. Because we believe in Jesus, however, we are spared. What we may not be able to dodge, though, is the Law of Sowing and Reaping. We reap what we sow. We are subject to the ripple-effect of our sins. I could be wrong, but, as I see it, the consequences of our sins often boomerang back upon us. As the culture puts it, “What goes around comes around.” We steal from someone, someone then later steals from us. We betray someone, someone later betrays us, etc. We might say that sin ripples are often a form of subtraction.

This week, let’s focus our attention on God’s multiplication. As with Mother Theresa and with Heidi and Rolland Baker, God wants to bless us. Let’s try not to fall into sin, but if we do, let’s be quick to repent and ask God’s forgiveness. We want to experience God’s blessings, not the adverse consequences of our poor choices. Let’s ask God the Holy Spirit to help us and let’s remember, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, our God…is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine….

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Faithfulness and Compassion

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 18,2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 7:1-17; Ps 89:20-37; Eph 2:1-13; Mk 6:30-34, 53-36

    One of my heroes of the faith is Mother Theresa.  She was a humble Catholic nun, an Albanian, who went to minister in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, in 1929 at the age of 19.  She taught school there for 17 years, until she had an encounter with Christ, in 1946, in which He called her to minister His love, His compassion, to the poor.  She began, by herself, to meet the physical needs of sick and dying children left on the streets. The Hindu faith ascribes to the notion of karma or fate.  So if you are left to die in the streets, that is your karma and no one is to intervene.  But Mother Theresa knew that Jesus would have us treat others—love others–as we do ourselves and not leave the sick and dying to cope on their own.  Her “hospice” ministry quickly expanded to sick and dying adults, as well.  As other women joined with her, she formed a new order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity. By the time she died in 1997, she had gathered 4,000 nuns into her order; established hospice and healing centers in 90 different countries; and she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1979).  The Roman Catholic Church elevated her to sainthood in 2006.

    Senator Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting her “House of Dying.”  There he saw dozens of sick children being cared for in their last days, and witnessed the poor line up by the hundreds, daily, to receive medical attention from her dispensary.  Watching her feed and nurse people left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers faced daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked.  Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”  As this story illustrates, Mother Theresa is best known for her compassion for “the least of these,”and her faithfulness to God.

    These are the twin themes of our Scriptures today:

    A.  2 Samuel 7:1-17 tells of the time, about 1,000BC, when King David decided to demonstrate His devotion to God by building Him a house (a Temple).  He revealed his plan to the prophet, Nathan, who agreed wholeheartedly.  But, as Nathan was taking his leave from the king, God grabs ahold of him and says, Go back!  Tell David I said “no.”  Furthermore, God adds, whoever said I needed a house?  For years, God had met with His people in a tent!  An advantage of a tent is that it’s mobile.  It demonstrated that God is not confined to one geographic area, as were the false gods and idols known to the people surrounding Israel.  So, God is essentially saying, While I appreciate the thought, I choose not be contained by humankind.  Afterall, He’d appeared to the Children of Israel in a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night as they traveled the Wilderness.  It was He who had told them to create the “Tent of Meeting,” in which He was present to them, but never confined.  This remained the case until God allows David’s son, Solomon, to build Him a Temple.  It also remained true until the Apostle John writes, in John 1:14, that–at the Advent of Jesus–The Word became flesh and dwelt (in the Greek, the word means tented; pitched His tent) among us —a tent of flesh!

God denied the gesture but Honored David’s love and devotion. He gives David more than he could have asked for or imagined. First, He calls David “His Servant.” This is a Biblical term of endearment which implies a special relationship with God. It is used only with regard to some patriarchs, several prophets, the nation of Israel, and Jesus. He says to Nathan, Tell David I will build him a house (a dynasty). David already has a luxurious palace. In the Hebrew, the word House (bayith) has 3 separate meanings: (1) It can mean David’s palace (verses 1-2); (2) Yahweh’s Temple (verses 5-7, 13); or, (3.)David’s dynasty (verses 11, 16, 18, 19, 25, 27, and twice in 29). This is the only royal house or dynasty that the Lord would ever sanction in perpetuity.

    Next, God sets out the terms of His Covenant with David, promising:

    1.) I will make your name great (famous/renown)

    2.) I will provide a place for My people (the present nation of Israel is a partial fulfillment of this; the ultimate fulfillment awaits the end of times);

    3.) I will give you rest from your enemies;

    4.) I will raise up offspring to succeed you (he did go on to have a number of sons);

    5.) I will establish the throne of your kingdom forever.  No one will usurp this throne.  The dynasty may fade—which it does–but it will not disappear completely.

    6.) I will be his Father/He will be My son.  This was true of David’s son, Solomon and later, of Jesus.

    7.) I will discipline Him….  David’s wicked descendants are later taken out by the Assyrians or the Babylonians.  When the sin of us all was laid upon Jesus, He is flogged and crucified.

    8.) But I will always love him!

    9.) Your throne will be established forever. The gospeler, Dr. Luke, tells us in Luke 1:32 that Gabriel told Mary, He [Jesus] shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of his father David.

    Needless to say, 2 Samuel 7 is a very important passage in the Old Testament.  It presents the Messianic Hope! Our God is a faithful, promise-keeping God.  He predicted that Messiah would arise from the tribe of Judah, David’s tribe, back in Genesis 49:10.  This theme of “Messianic Hope” is reiterated 4 times in Isaiah, 3 times in Jeremiah, 2 times in Ezekiel, several times in Daniel, and once each in Hosea, Amos, and Zechariah.  Jesus arrives in the New Testament and embodies and fulfills this promise.

    B.  Psalm 89:20-37 is what is called a maschil, an instructive psalm.  The portion appointed for today reviews and commends the Covenant that God made with David (as per our O.T. lesson).  King David will have a son (descendant) who will sit on the throne of the Universe! Verses 34-37 contain God’s promise or oath to King David.  In other words, Messiah (Jesus) will be a descendant of his.  The entire psalm declares God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises 10 times.

    C. Our Gospel lesson, Mark 6:30-34, 53-57, emphasizes Jesus’ love and compassion.  The point at which we find Him today, both He and His disciples are tired.  The disciples have just returned from having been sent out to teach, heal, and cast out demons.  They are euphoric.  But we all know that euphoria is often followed by exhaustion and a need for sleep. Immediately after being reunited, Jesus however is confronted with crowds of people seeking Him out.  So He takes the time to teach and feed 5,000 (probably closer to 15,000, counting women and children).  He and the disciples try again to have a respite, a mini-break, a time-out.  They even escape to sea and attempt to sail away from the crowds.  But the people run around the lake, searching Him out in the seaside towns until they locate Him.  

    We might say that Jesus was at the “Height of His fame.”  Mobs of folks were desperate to find Him in order to be inspired and comforted by His teaching; to experience His healing; and to encounter His love.  Verse 34 tells us…He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  God is love, even when He is tired.

    D. Finally, in our NT lesson, Ephesians 2:1-13, Paul declares some of the benefits to us of our God’s faithfulness and compassion:

Verses 4-5–But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace that you are saved.  God sent Jesus to earth to pay the penalty for our sins.  He saved us from the penalty—death—through Jesus’ substituting of Himself on the Cross for us.  The Father so loved us that He created and executed the plan to save our spiritual lives.  He saved us because we could not save ourselves.

    He also (verse 6) …raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus….Because we are in Christ (we have affirmed our faith in Him), we are heirs of heaven.

Our afterlife is assured!  Verse 7 goes on to tell us that these two great gifts are not due to us but entirely to God.  God has demonstrated His faithfulness to His promises to King David as well as His love and compassion for us.

    Now how are we to respond to God’s faithfulness and His compassion?  Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”  Most of us are not called to be a Mother Theresa.  However, we can each think of some small things we can do for others to demonstrate God’s love.  We can send a card, make a phone call, or take a meal to someone who is ill or to their family as they care for the sick one.  We can mail a card, place a call, or prepare a meal to take to those who are grieving.  Friday, a total stranger paid for my coffee at a hospital coffee shop.  I was visiting one of our parishioners and the barista could not make change for my twenty.  The guy next to me presented his credit card, saying when I thanked him, “Pay it forward.”  We can do kind things like that to pay God’s love forward.

    We can also be aware of God’s great faithfulness to us daily.  We can and should express our thanks and gratitude to Him everyday.  He never leaves or forsakes us.  While people may abandon us, God never does!  We can tell others about how He has been there for us.  This week and always, let us aspire to be known by our compassion and our faithfulness to our faithful and compassionate God. 

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams