Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Ps 42; Gal 3:23-29; Lk 8:26-39

What do we do when we are worn out and done in? Tired of carrying on? “On our last nerve”? Ready to “throw in the towel”? Frustrated and defeated? Out of our minds with anguish, or fear?

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, 1 Kings 19:1-18, presents us with just such a situation, and God’s rather surprising response.

The prophet, Elijah, has just enjoyed a miraculous victory over the false prophets of Baal. But then word comes to him that Queen Jezebel, a Baal-worshiper, has sworn to kill him for showing up her pagan priests.

Someone once said, Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles. (quoted by Delmer Chilton and John Fairless, The Lectionary Lab: Year C, 2015, p.217). Realizing she is a nasty, powerful, and vindictive woman, Elijah temporarily loses his religion and runs for his life. Without consulting the God he serves, he flees, then spends some time in the wilderness thinking over his situation, and decides he has had it with being a prophet. The life of a prophet is a difficult one. If you have ever been the truth speaker in a corrupt system, a badly run enterprise, or a vindictive clique, you know that truth-tellers (today we call them “whistle-blowers,” and they are protected by law) suffer. Later on, Jesus will famously say of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you….

So Elijah is burnt out, depressed, and done in, afraid for his life, and hopes to turn in his prophet’s credentials. When he finally talks to the Lord, he tells Him he would just as soon die as continue on. Notice what God does: God does not engage him in a “pity party,” reviewing and recounting with him his troubles. Instead, He sends him supernatural sustenance and deep, recuperative sleep. The divine menu is so nutritious, and the rest so restorative, that Elijah is able to travel to a mountain, on foot, 40 days’ distant. He locates a cave in Mt. Horeb and settles in to wait on God.

God meets him there and curiously—since God knows everything—asks him (v.9) What are you doing here, Elijah? This is similar to when God asked Adam and Eve, after they sinned, Where are you? Had God really lost Adam and Eve in the garden? No. He wanted to see if they would admit their sin to Him. God knows what Elijah is doing there, so He must be waiting to see if Elijah can figure it out for himself. Elijah asserts he has been zealous in doing God’s work, but has encountered a bunch of serious trouble as a result. God then reveals Himself to him, not in the great things (ferocious wind, earthquake, and fire, usually signs of God’s judgment) but in a still, small whisper. After revealing Himself, God asks the same question again, (v.13) What are you doing here, Elijah? Notice again that the Lord really doesn’t respond to Elijah’s litany of troubles.

Instead, He wants Elijah to refocus on his calling. He reconfirms his calling, and sends Elijah back to do the work of a prophet: (1) He is to anoint two kings, Hazael (over Syria, a non-believing nation), and Jehu (in Ahab’s place, over Israel)—just as the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and later, King David. A time will come when the Lord will tell Jehu to destroy Ahab’s dynasty (2 Kings 9:1-16), though Elijah will not be there to see it take place. And he is (2) to anoint his prophet successor, Elisha. Surprisingly, God appears to accept Elijah’s resignation. He reminds the prophet that He has reserved in Israel a remnant of 7,000 who love and worship Him.

What are the lessons we might take from this passage? First, God knows our struggles, our disappointments, our discouragement, our despair. Initially He may seem absent, but then He goes on to minister to our physical and psychological needs, restoring us, strengthening us. He often then reaffirms that to which He has called us.

As a single woman for over 40 years now, I have found the Lord always comes to my rescue economically, when I am down to my last few dollars. When I first hung out my shingle as a psychologist in 1991, I quickly found that if I needed $175 to pay my light bill, that amount is exactly what I made that day. He was teaching me to depend upon Him and He hasn’t failed me yet. Second, we may have come to the end of our rope, but God’s resources are vast and sufficient for our needs.

The journey God has us on is too great for us.

Elijah and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold us. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Third, even if we think we are outnumbered by evil-doers and are the only ones we know who still love Jesus, we can trust that there are many others as yet unknown to us—and that God’s got us!.

Psalm 42 contains the heart cry of someone who feels alone and abandoned by God. Now we know we worship the “with us” God, Emmanuel. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. So, like Elijah, even though we might fear the Lord has abandoned us, He has not. In verse 5, the psalmist asks himself why he is so bereft Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Then he provides his own antidote: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

If we ever feel like God has abandoned us, we have only to think deeply about the times in our past when He has been there for us. God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can also remember that Jesus has said (Matthew 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

Galatians 3:23-29 reminds us that we will never be abandoned by God because we are sons [and daughters] of His. Because we are “in Christ” by believing in Him, we are clothed with His righteousness. There are no “woke” divisions, no outcasts due to wrong political leanings, and no racial differences. In verse 28, Paul so famously states There is neither Jew nor Greek [no exclusions due to race or ethnicity], slave nor free [no exclusions due economic status], male nor female [no exclusions due to biological gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The only criterion for inclusion is our love of and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) today cites another particular case of a man who cannot claim membership in Christ’s Church because he is completely taken over by demons. Jesus, like God the Father with Elijah, is very calm and accommodating to the Demoniac. The poor man lacks any control over his life. He lives in isolation—never a good idea. Like lions who go after the sick and the lame, lagging behind the herd, the evil one picks us off when we are out of Christian fellowship. Even though the townspeople had tried to restrain him with chains, he uses superhuman strength to break them. I have witnessed this in the seriously mentally ill. They are often strong enough to break the holds of husky hospital attendants. This guy is so out of it that he cannot even tell Jesus his name. The strongest demon in him says his name is “Legion” (there were 6,000 soldiers in a Roman legion), meaning he is plagued by multitudes of demonic spirits. But Jesus, Who has power even over hordes of violent demons, casts them all out of him into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs then flee into the lake and drown. The demons are destroyed. The man is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus, but the Lord tells him (v.39) Return home and tell how much God has done for you. Jesus wants him to become an evangelist, and we can assume—in his gratitude—that he does.

We worship the God who sees us and who hears us. He knows when we have reached the end of our rope and are ready to let go.

Chuck Swindoll relates the following commentary: Perhaps you recall the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? R. C. Sproul [a famous Presbyterian preacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1900’s] had a great answer for that. Someone asked him on one occasion, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” (Quoted in Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.578). Or as Paul has written, Is any one without sin? No not one (Romans 3:10) and (Romans 3:23)…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think our tough times are tests, and no one escapes having them.

They may be sent by the evil one to discourage us and turn us away from God, but it seems that God allows them as a means of deepening our faith and of molding and shaping our character.

Nevertheless, our God is also the divine rescuer. He rescues a war-weary prophet. He restores a man totally overrun with demons.

Because we are His sons and daughters, He hears the cries of our hearts and responds.

The next time we find ourselves in a place of suffering, let’s try to have the attitude of today’s psalmist, as paraphrased in modern English by Eugene Peterson in The Message, p.965 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Certain Hope

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 28, 2021

Scriptures: Jer33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Lk 21:25-36

As I was listening to our anthem being sung this morning, the Lord changed my sermon. YIKES! I really don’t like last minute alterations—I feel unprepared– but I have to be obedient as He knows best. He wanted me to change the first story. He wanted me to tell you about George Muller. George was a German missionary from about the time of Charles Dickens (early 1800’S). He thought he was meant to go evangelize Jews, but the Lord told him, “No, I want you to go to England.” George did as he was told and discovered the huge number of orphans on the streets of London. If you’ve read Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, you know that Dickens did a great job of bringing the plight of abandoned children into public consciousness. George and his wife founded 5 or 6 orphanages, paid for entirely by donations and as a result of his intense prayer-times. Over the span of his life, he improved the plight of thousands of British orphans by feeding and housing them, teaching them about Jesus, educating them, and training them for trades or for service jobs. He rarely told anyone what he was praying for, but he experienced God answering his prayers, time after time. In his brief autobiography, he tells of having no bread or milk for breakfast for 250 orphans. He prayed for God’s supply and soon heard that a bakery truck had stopped with day old bread to offer for free. Immediately after, a mild wagon came by with extra milk to give away. The orphans were fed for another dad

I tell this story because George Muller had hope in God’s supply that was certain. He would send up a prayer and wait to see what God would do.

Now, having to wait is tough for most of us–for both kids as well as grownups. We look for the shortest lines in the grocery store or at Walmart, so we don’t have to wait. This time of year, we often have to wait at the P.O, the gas station, or even for parking spaces at the mall. And, of course, we wait on the arrival of Christmas! Few of us appear to be as positive and upbeat about waiting as was George Muller.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting on the arrival of Jesus. We prepare for His 1st Coming, at Christmas, as a helpless infant. He arrived in a small Hebrew backwater town, with a mission to save a sin-sick and lost world. We also await His 2nd Coming, when He will return to earth as a triumphant, all powerful king. His mission at that future time will be to judge the world and to create a heavenly, peaceful order. Our Scriptures today speak to both of Advents or Comings:

1. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, the prophet reminds us that the promised Messianic King (Jesus) will be coming. He will come from a righteous branch of King David’s family tree (a promise God made to David 1000 years earlier). This Messiah will save His people. Jumping ahead to the End Times, Jesus will be called “The Lord Our Righteousness.” At His Second Coming, Jerusalem will Live in safety. It doesn’t now, but it will then.

2. Our Psalm 25:1-10 is a plea from King David for God’s protection and love. In it David suggests that God has a purpose as He makes us wait: Waiting provides time/opportunity

a. To learn His ways more clearly (v.4) Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths.

c. To ask for His mercy, love, and forgiveness;

b. To trust in Him more deeply;

d. And to cling to hope due to His great faithfulness.

We can develop these skills by reading Scripture daily; by frequently praying to or talking with God; by remembering those times when God has shown up in our lives (These are usually pretty unique to each of us. I think it’s important to write them down on a 3×5 card and tape them to your bathroom mirror or to your car dashboard so you remember them—especially when you feel discouraged); and by hearing/reading the experiences others, like George Muller, have had with God. Remember our encounters with Christ, and those of others, helps to deepen and strengthen our faith, resulting in certain hope.

3. Our lesson from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 teaches us two other benefits of waiting: God uses the time to strengthen a heart of holiness in each of us. Waiting has been called “the crucible of the saints.” As we wait, God is molding/shaping our characters. He is also teaching us to abound in love; that is, to love Him and to love others better.

4. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36, Jesus gives us a few more clues as to what we can expect before His 2nd Coming: Just as buds on trees broadcast the coming of spring, we will know the end is near when, according to Peterson’s The Message It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking. Heavenly bodies [stars, planets, our moon], will be shaken, doing never-before-seen things. Worldwide, people will fear the roaring and tossing of the sea. This may mean an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. While God has promised never again to flood the whole earth, He still might allow frightening incursions of water into previously dry territory. I remember learning, when I lived in New Orleans, that the state of Louisiana tends to lose about 2.5 feet of beach to the Gulf of Mexico per year!

No matter what means He uses to signal the end, everyone—but especially non-believers–will be freaked. The Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) will come on a cloud. He will arrive with power and with great glory. Believers can and should rejoice!

We have every reason to Hope in Christ! Additionally, our hope can be certain, sure, accurate.

Our Lord Jesus taught in parables, stories, so let me share two stories of hope:

The first comes from the pen of Bernard Baruch (financial advisor to 2 wartime US presidents, Wilson and FDR) “A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach his majesty’s horse to fly within the year–on the condition that if he didn’t succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. “Within a year,” the man explained later, “the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. Furthermore, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.” The story is funny, but the man did see 4 possible reasons for a reprieve from death. Despite how improbable each was, he had hopel

The second is from Bits and Pieces, 1991 The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the [homebound] program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The [homebound] teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the [homebound] teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?” The boy interpreted the arrival of the homebound teacher as a reason to hope. As the old hymn states, Our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness!

We can, with confidence, hope in Jesus Christ because we know He came to rescue us from the penalty for our sins and to gain for us eternal life. Out of His great love for us, He left His heavenly prerogatives and became incarnate—took on flesh! So, this Advent Season, we celebrate His incarnation, His birthdate, at Christmas.

And because He accomplished these Biblical promises on His first trip here, fulfilling about 325 Old Testament prophesies, we can, with confidence, trust that He will come a second time, in glory, just as He predicted. In other words, if He fulfilled 325 prophesies about His earthly life on the first go-round, we can have certain hope that he will come again to fulfill the remaining 25 Old Testament prophesies. Amen and amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

True Security

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 5, 2021

Scriptures: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

The following story was included in an edition of Our Daily Bread:

A group of botanists went on an expedition into a hard-to-reach location in the Alps, searching for new varieties of flowers. One day as a scientist looked through his binoculars, he saw a beautiful, rare species growing at the bottom of a deep ravine. To reach it, someone would have to be lowered into that gorge. Noticing a local youngster standing nearby, the man asked him if he would help them get the flower. The boy was told that a rope would be tied around his waist and the men would then lower him to the floor of the canyon. Excited yet apprehensive about the adventure, the youngster peered thoughtfully into the chasm. “Wait,” he said, “I’ll be back,” and off he dashed. When he returned, he was accompanied by an older man. Approaching the head botanist, the boy said, “I’ll go over the cliff now and get the flower for you, but this man must hold onto the rope. He’s my dad!”

A story from an anonymous source recalls the initial construction on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently, no safety devices were used and 23 men fell to their deaths. For the final part of the project, however, a large net was used as a safety precaution. At least 10 men fell into it and were saved from certain death. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished after the net was installed. Why? Because the men had the assurance of their safety, and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project.

These stories illustrate so beautifully the source of our security in life. The boy could have trusted in the scientists as they were eager to obtain the rare bloom. But he knew he could feel true security only in his own father’s hands. The Golden Gate construction crew could have trusted in their own prowess and skills. Nevertheless, they performed more efficiently and effectively with the security provided by a safety net.

Last week, we looked at what it takes to dwell with God. This week, our Scriptures assert that God is our sure hands and our safety net.

A. Our OT lesson contains 6 Proverbs. Together these assert for us our God created all of us. Rich or poor, or in-betweens, He brought us into being; however, this doesn’t mean that He views all of us the same way. As verse 8 tells us, He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed. The Bible divides the people of this world into two camps: the righteous and evil-doers, sheep and goats. Those who are evil-doers will reap what they sow. God will both repay their evil with evil (Boomerang effect), and ultimately thwart/stymie/interrupt their ability to continue their evil practices. The righteous, on the other hand, will be blessed.

This point is reiterated in verses 22-23: Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. Yikes! Again we see the principle of reaping and sowing, of “what goes around comes around.” God oversees the world and punishes evil-doers, either in this world or the next. Even if we don’t see the evidence of this at present, the principle still holds—our God is in charge and we can count on His justice!

B. Psalm 125 is called the “Song of Security.” It asserts that

God protects and provides for us, and that the wicked, in eternal terms, have short shelf-lives. Think of the worst tyrants in history. Many were assassinated; many others went mad or took their own lives. True security comes from our intimate relationship with God. It is as rock solid as the mountains around Jerusalem. As Peterson paraphrases (The Message, p.1072), we can trust ultimately that God will round up the backsliders, corral them with the incorrigibles.

C. James 2:1-17 continues this theme. If he were present with us today he would tell us there is no “brotherhood of all humankind.” Instead, there are two kinds of folk: Good people and evil-doers, those who love God and those who reject Him. The “woke folk” would assert that this is intolerant and bigoted, prejudicial and inequitable. But the Bible asserts over and over again that we chose our path. God doesn’t coerce us to take one direction or the other. Our own choices place us on His team or off. We choose whether or not to join the “fellowship of believers.”

So, given this Biblical truth, James spends 11 verses telling us to be sure to demonstrate/live out loving our neighbor. We’re not to show favoritism to rich people over poor, attractive over unattractive folks.

If we are unmerciful and judgmental toward others, God will respond that same way toward us. In verse 13, James reminds us: Mercy triumphs over judgment!

D. Finally, John Mark (probably writing for Peter) shares with us two examples of Jesus’ mercy:

In the first, Jesus treks up to Tyre, north of Israel, to find respite and rest from the crowds following Him. Nevertheless, a Greek woman (according to Matthew) born and living in Syro-Phoenicia, tracks Him down. We don’t know if she believes in the Hebrew God, but she appears to have faith that Jesus can heal her demonized daughter. She garners His attention then enters into a debate with Him. He appears to tell her He isn’t meant to offer healing and salvation to non-Jews (the children at the table). She may not see herself as a dog–like the Jews of the time would have–but she argues that even they get the crumbs that the children drop while eating. In other words, she believes Jesus offers enough to go around to even her. (I remember how my toddler son, from his highchair, would take a bite then hand his cookies or biscuits to our German Shepherd. As a partner in crime, the dog would gently take and eat these offerings.) Jesus is impressed by her humility, her faith, and her perseverance. He assures her that her daughter is healed. He says she is healed from the distance, and Mark reports that the woman returned home to find it was true. As James would say, Mercy triumphs over judgment. Unlike His disciples, Jesus does not overlook the needs of the non-Jews who approach Him in faith. Our God’s mercy transcends the man-made boundaries of race, nationality, political affiliation, and gender.

Next Jesus travels back south to the Sea of Galilee–imagine how many miles He put on His sandals!–and east to the area known as the Decapolis (10 towns). Folks there ask Him to heal a deaf-mute man. Jesus takes the man out of the limelight (off TV, away from phone cameras). He puts His fingers in the guy’s ears first; then, in a way that seems very unsanitary to us, He places some of his spit on the man’s tongue. (This puts me in mind of “mom spit.” How many of us have had spots on our faces washed with mom-spit applied to her finger or thumb? They should examine its chemical properties to discover how it cleans.) Jesus exclaims Ephpatha! Open up! And the man’s hearing and his speech is restored. We don’t know if the guy was a believer, but his friends had faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. This is yet another example of Jesus’ mercy.

Intent on discovering His “healing method,” I once did a review of all of Jesus’ healings recorded in the 4 Gospels. I had to conclude there was no one method we could imitate. He healed some with a word, others with touch, still others with spit or the command to do something (pick up a mat, go see the priests, go wash, etc.). He even insisted that some healings came about due to prayer and fasting. Though His methods varied, what He did appears to have been tailored to meet the needs of each individual.

In conclusion, we can truly rest secure in the fact that our God loves us, protects us, and provides for us. Again the story is told from a daily devotional:

There is a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff, and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relieve his fear he asked, “How often do you change the rope?” The monk in charge replied, “Whenever it breaks!”

Thank God our God is more proactive than that group of monks!

Let us believe in what the psalmist asserts (125:1-2): Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. Jesus Christ is our safety net. Jesus Christ—not our bank accounts, our human contacts, our personal power, our intellect, our degrees, our influence, or safety features like security systems, guns, or non-frayed ropes–provides our true security. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Respect and Grace, Not Revenge.

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130

We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.

Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.

Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:

1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.

2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.

3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.

The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.

A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.

Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.

As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.

It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.

David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.

Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.

But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.

Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”

Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:

1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.

2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).

3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.

4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)

I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo not take revenge, my Friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!

In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

5

Come, Holy Spirit!

Pastor Sherry’s message for Pentecost Sunday—May 23, 2021

Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-35; 1 Jn 3:1-7; Jn 1526; 16:5-15

In 1995, Mark Batterson and a small team planted the National Community Church in a movie theatre on the Metro line (subway) in Washington, DC. It has since grown, through prayer and sovereign moves of the Holy Spirit, to 7 locations in and around DC, and ministers to around 3,000 members. This week, I reread 2 books Batterson has written: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day is based on 2 Samuel 23:20-21 Benaiah son of Jehoida was a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, who performed great exploits. He struck down two of Moab’s best men. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.

Benaiah, a mighty Hebrew warrior, chases a lion into a pit on a snowy day and kills it. Why would anyone do such a thing? Adult lions weigh about 500 pounds. Let’s guess that Benaiah weighed about 180. Clearly he was out-weighed by about 320 pounds. Add to that the fact that a lion’s paws, claws, and teeth were better suited to combat in a slippery environment than a man with no rifle or semi-automatic (but perhaps Benaiah had a spear or club). Whatever his weaponry, Benaiah slays the lion. Now I believe the Holy Spirit must have both led Benaiah to the pit, and empowered him with the courage and the skill to overcome the lion. This feat becomes the most prominent feature of his impressive resume. He is subsequently hired by King David to lead his body guard. Later, he rises to become the commander of the king’s armies.

Essentially, Batterson encourages us, in this book, to become “Lion Chasers,” pursuing the divine appointments, the God-given opportunities our Lord provides of us. He also points out how often “lion Chasers” are rewarded by the Lord.

In his book, Wild Goose Chase, Batterson distinguishes between a wild goose chase and chasing a wild goose. We tend to think of a wild goose chase as a fruitless endeavor, a waste of our time.

But the Celtic Christian name for the Holy Spirit is An Geadh-Glas, or the Wild Goose. Please understand that the Celts meant no disrespect. (The Lakota Sioux thought of the Holy Spirit as a buffalo, upon whom their plains existence depended entirely.) Like a wild goose (or a buffalo), the Holy Spirit is unpredictable, and out of our control—and sometimes even scary. But if we chase after Him, if we follow His nudges and urges, the Lord leads us into some amazing adventures.

Given this background, let’s look at our 1st reading, Acts 2:1-21: the empowerment of the HS at Pentecost. The context of this passage is that the 120 disciples, men and women, are praying in the Temple. Jesus had told them (Acts 1:4)àDo not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So they are being obedientàthey waited, they prayed. On Pentecost, 10 days after Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit shows up! This is a theophany! A God-sighting! And He arrives with significant supernatural fanfare, or signs and wonders.

(1) 1st sign (which was heard)àSuddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. This was no gentle breeze! Like tornados, it probably sounded like dozens of freight trains. God had done this beforeàEzekiel 37:9àGod sends the wind to raise the dry bones of Israel to life. When I was baptized by the Holy Spirit, I was at the beach with a group of friends who were praying for me. A moaning wind came up in my face. It was so strong that I could hardly breathe. Afterward, my friends denied having heard or felt it!

(2) 2nd sign (which was seen)àThey saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Imagine if you had been there! Fire over your head, fire over the heads of your friends, no one burning up! Wow! But God had done this before, tooàExodus 3:2-5àMoses and the burning bush. The bush was on fire, but it did not burn up. God used that bush to light a fire in Moses. In Isaiah 6àIsaiah’s callàIsaiah realizes he is a sinful man called to serve as the Lord’s prophet. An angel brings a burning coal and applies it to hislips and tongue. He is purified without being burned. He did, however, get fired up to serve the Lord!

​(3) 3rd sign (which was again heard)àAll of them were filled with the HS and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  They were all supernaturally empowered to do something they had never done before, speak ​in a foreign language.  Parthians, Medes, and folks from other nationalities visiting Jerusalem heard them praising God in their native tongues—and according to scholars, with the correct accents!  These foreign visitors realized something extraordinary was happening as they recognized the 120 as simple folk from Judea.  Now God had done this before as wellàIsaiah 50:4àThe Sovereign Lord gave me [Jesus and the prophet Isaiah] an instructed ​tongue; i.e., inspired speech.   I have heard of a number of incidents, especially from missionaries serving abroad, when they suddenly either spoke or understood a language they had never been taught.  Peter quotes the prophet Joel,(Acts 2:28)à[The Lord, speaking thru the prophet Joel, promises],…I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

The Holy Spirit did show up, big time, on the Day of Pentecost! But why would God go to all this trouble? (wind, fire, inspired speech?)

(1) Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian Church (Big C, all Christians despite denominational differences) and inaugurates “the Church Age” (which begins with Pentecost and will continue until the Rapture).

(2) The Holy Spirit empowers us to tell others about Jesus. The disciples were waiting, praying, in the Temple, when the Wild Goose manifested in these very surprising ways. Jesus had given them the Great Commission, Matt 28:18àGo and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Now, filled with the HS, the disciples began telling anyone who would listen about Jesus. Like Benaiah jumping into the pit, they rushed out, with great urgency, to share with others what God had done for them. Like Benaiah jumping into the pit, we need supernatural help to share our faith with others. We need God-given opportunites, divine appointments so we know with whom we are to share the Good News. We need instructed tongues, so we know what to say when we do share.

(3) Empowerment to do the kinds of things Jesus did for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Through our prayers and faith, God can use us to heal others. My friend and seminary buddy, Hazel, had a healing ministry in Charleston, SC. Through her prayers and those whom she trained, one person grew back a kidney; another had their gall bladder healed. A third was healed of Bi-polar Disorder; a 4th had a brain tumor shrink to nothing.

Similarly, Agnes Sanford, the wife of a clergyman, also had the gift of healing. Her parents were missionaries to China in the 1930’s and 40’s. Agnes laid hands on a crippled Chinese man when she was 3YO and he was healed. Her parents did not understand her gift (their theology taught that all the gifts of healing ended with the Apostles), and told her not to do it again. Later, as an adult during WW2, she suffered from depression until a pastor friend released her to work in her gifting. She laid hands on injured GI’s, prayed for them, and they were healed of either their physical or emotional problems.

Graham Cooke, a present-day British Christian healer has a gift of “prophetic healing.” In other words, in the healing conferences he leads, God tells him what is wrong with a person as they are coming forward to him for prayer. He relates the story of a man who came forward suffering from a long-standing porn addiction. As the man approached him, the Holy Spirit told Graham that God intended to heal him of his addiction. Indeed,Graham prayed and the guy was set free.

Through our faith and our obedience, we can be equipped by God to do things we would never have thought possible. The 120 were waiting in anticipation, but I bet when they awoke on Pentecost, they never thought they would be evangelizing in foreign languages later that morning. I doubt Benaiah anticipated slaying a lion with only a spear or a club that day. I grew up wanting to be a mother and a teacher, then later—when my high school students kept coming to me with their problems–a psychologist. God has given me gifts of teaching and wisdom to impart to those I counseled. Yet, here I am now serving Him and you as your pastor. The Holy Spirit also gifts us for specific ministries at different times of our lives.

Moving at the nudge/inspiration of the HS is like chasing a Wild Goose (the Celtic An Geadh-Glas). It is an adventure! We wore red in honor of Pentecost today. Red reminds us of the tongues of fire. Red reminds us of one of the ways God chooses to show up. This week, be sure to be aware of how God might show up in your life. Savor your divine appointments. Write them down so you remember them. Share them with others, as God directs you.

Let’s remember this week—and always—that our God empowers us through His Holy Spirit to both tell others about Jesus and to operate in the gifts He has given us. Even if it seems as scary as jumping in a pit with a lion on a snowy day, let’s look for God-given opportunities and divine appointments. And let’s ask Him for the courage of a Benaiah—and of a Mark Batterson–the courage to do what the Lord has given us to do.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

Thanks to the Geiger family for Pentecost altar flowers.

We Hate To Wait.

Pastor Sherry’s message from December 6, 2020.

Scriptures: Isa 40:1-11; PS 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Pet 3:8-15a; Mk 1:1-8

WE hate to wait, don’t we?  We are used to fast food, fast times in the ER,  ATM’s that work quickly, vending machines that pop out a soda or water in seconds, and rapid computer start-ups.   And we can get very impatient if things take longer than we expect them to.

But God doesn’t appear to mind having us wait.   First of all, He operates out of KYROS –God’s time, not KRONOSour time, chronological time.

Secondly, God has things to teach us while we wait.

Our Scriptures today all have something to tell us about waiting:

In 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Peter reminds us that God himself is patient.  He calculates time differently than we do–vv.8-9–With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 

It may seem like He is slow to keep His promises (a day is like 1000 years); but, even so, He patiently delays because He wants to give us time.  He wants everyone possible to come to a saving faith in His Son, Jesus.  Consider what God told Abraham about the Canaanites:  He said Abraham’s numerous descendants would sojourn as captives in Egypt for 400 years, until the time of the Canaanites had come to an end.  Apparently God was informing these pagans about Himself during that interval and they rejected Him.  He gave them 400 years to come to Him and they apparently refused.  So, when the Israelites came into the Land of Promise, God told them to wipe out all the tribes of nonbelievers who were there.  If you want to stop smoking, you don’t hang out with smokers.  If you want to quit drinking, you don’t hang around drinkers.  God wanted His chosen people to remain faithful to Him and not adopt pagan ways.  The Israelites were disobedient.  They fraternized with the non-believers then let live and became idolaters, bringing upon them God’s punishment.

On the other hand, when God takes action, the swiftness with which He moves will blow your hair back!  He’ll move when you least expect it, v.10–But the day of the LORD will come like a thief.  We’ll all be shocked at how quickly He acts then.  So, we need to be prepared, to be ready.  The season of Advent reminds us to prepare our hearts to celebrate His first coming, and to anticipate His second coming, His triumphant return in majesty and authority.  Thus, we might be able to better bear up under waiting if we can remind ourselves that God Himself is patient.

Our Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 40:1-11.  These famous words are sung in arias in Handel’s Messiah.  1st, the Lord speaks a word of reassurance:  verse 1–Comfort, comfort my people; speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

The double comfort is an emphatic reassurance of God’s tenderness and goodness.  God is announcing, through the prophet, that their 70 year captivity in Babylon is ended.  The people have paid for their sins, and God is about to engineer their release and return to Jerusalem.

Verses 3-5 explain that John the Baptist is going to show up and point out the Messiah.  Our Gospel (Mark 1:1-8) lesson echoes this passage and identifies John the Baptist as the long prophesied forerunner of Christ.  Mark quotes from Malachi 3:1–“See. I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.  Then Mark recites Isaiah 40:3A voice of one calling [John] in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.

            In verses 6-8–God reminds us of how short our lives are compared to the eternal value of God’s Word—His Word written, the Bible; and His Word made flesh, Jesus.  You may recognize verses 9-11 as another of the arias in Handel’s “Messiah.”  The prophet tells us that Jesus will come with power at His 2nd Coming; but He will be a tender and gentle shepherd during His 1st Coming.  In other words, we can wait patiently because wonderful things are sure to happenAnd did you notice that our God loves to comfort us!

            The portions of Psalm 85 we read today, remind us that God keeps His promises to His people:  Messiah is coming.  When He comes again, He will bring a world-wide peace.  Furthermore, the psalmist speaks of several qualities as if they were living beings, saying thatlove and faithfulness will meet at Jesus’ return;  righteousness and peace will kiss each other;faithfulness will spring forth from the earth;and righteousness will look down from heaven.  In other words,Jesus will arrive with these four attributes:  love for us;faithfulness to God’s direction;righteousness, or right living; and God’s deep shalom Peace.

Jesus is coming, John the Baptist will prepare folks for His arrival, and Christ will demonstrate peace, love, holiness, and faith.

We hate to wait, so what thoughts might help us wait with grace?  It has been said that we can bear any how if we know the why.

First, I believe we need to understand that waiting can reveal to us our true motives.  Waiting requires that we are committed enough to take some time for things to unfold.  If we cannot wait, we might just have to ask ourselves how committed we are to God or to someone else we are waiting upon.  If we are so “me focused” that we are impatient, we may lack that commitment and perhaps are unwilling to postpone our own gratification.

Second, waiting builds the spiritual fruit of patience.  The old saw goes, Don’t pray for patience.  If you do, God will put you in a situation that requires that you develop it.  God will and does answer that prayer, but you may wish He had taught you that virtue another way.

Third, waiting builds anticipation, so that we better appreciate those things that did not come to us immediately.  One Christmas, my daughter located all of her gifts that I had hidden away prior to wrapping them.  On Christmas morning, she asked where a purse was that I had gotten her.  I had forgotten it and even where I had put it.  She knew where it was and that gave her secret away.  I asked her if it had been worth it to have found everything ahead of time.  She was sorry that she had spoiled her surprises. Similarly I think when we have to work hard for something and wait to gain it, we tend to value it more when it comes to us.

Fourth, waiting builds intimacy with and dependence upon God.  As we wait, we either come to believe that God is not answering our prayers and lose heart—or even get angry with Him—or we deepen our faith in Him.  As we see Him then resolve what we had asked Him for, we become more dependent on Him, more surrendered to His will.

Finally, we want to remember that waiting is the crucible of the saints!  Waiting is a grand Biblical tradition:

  1. Abram waited 25 years for Isaac; (his descendants waited 440 years to inherit the Land).

2. Jacob, Abraham’s  grandson, worked for his shifty Uncle Laban 21 years                                before returning to “the Promised Land” as Israel.

3.  Moses waited 40 years + 40 more years (in the back of beyond as a

shepherd) before he led the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage.

4. King David was anointed by Samuel, then waited 20 years to actually become king.          

5.  Even Jesus waited.  He could have been teaching and preaching from age 12, but God sent Him back to Nazareth to grow in stature with God and humans before beginning His ministry at age 30.

Waiting molds and shapes our character.  God uses it to train us (to help us learn to trust him and to persevere in doing the right thing).  God uses the time to burn off such impurities as impatience, pride, lust, greed, etc.   God uses waiting to make us dependent upon Himself.  The prophet Isaiah extolls the value of waiting in Isaiah 40:31àThose who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not be faint.  The psalmist of Psalm 27:18 writesO tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong and He shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.

We have a God who keeps His promises, and who often requires us to wait!

Let us wait in faith.   Let us not grow anxious or weary, but, instead, let’s trust in God’s goodness and loving kindness towards us, and in His perfect timing!  Amen and Amen!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Grace versus Cancel Culture

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 8/30/2020

Scriptures: Ex 3:1-15; Ps 105:23-26; Ro 12:9-21; Matt 16:21-28

Recently I came across 2 examples of our current “cancel culture” at work. With the “cancel culture,” you are only as good as your social media account messages are PC.  Step out of line and your reputation is destroyed, while your future is threatened.

The first concerned a Jordanian-American named Natasha Tynes.  Tynes had researched and written about threats to free speech and a free press in Egypt and then had faced persecution in Egypt for it.  Back in the states again, she was riding the DC-area subway, the Metro, when she saw a transit worker eating in the train.  There are signs posted everywhere prohibiting this behavior, so Natasha confronted the worker and pointed out that she was violating the rules.  The worker rudely blew her off! Natasha said she frequently rides the subway hungry and so was frustrated that a person with the power to fine her for eating was herself violating the rules.  As a result, Natasha wrote a letter of complaint to the transit authorities, asking that they take some disciplinary action.  

She probably should have left the matter there, but she also “tweet-shamed” her by calling the woman out on line, including a picture of her eating on the train. Some 45 minutes later, Natasha rethought what she had done and deleted her tweet.  She also apologized on line for her actions, admitting she had responded out of a “short-lived expression of frustration.  In addition, she wrote the transit authority to ask them to overlook her complaint.  But the Twitter Mob turned on her, calling her “Metro-Molly.”  Ms. Tyne’s publisher learned of this “temptest in a teapot” and decided not to print her latest book. They claimed she had done “something truly horrible” and excused their decision to renege on their contract because Natasha “had threatened the transit worker’s health and safety.  What?

The second incident concerned that vocal young man from the Parkland high school shooting, Kyle Kashuv. We saw him interviewed on TV a number of times.  He received several offers of scholarships to college and turned them all down to attend Harvard.  Later, word got back to Harvard, via some of his classmates that Kashuv–a Jewish conservative–had made anti-semetic and racist comments in a private online chat back when he was 16 years old.  The young man apologized publically.  He even wrote a Harvard dean to admit his responsibility and to ask for forgiveness.

David French of the National Review reported that Kashuv did “everything we want a young man to do when he’s done something wrong.”  Nevertheless, Harvard believed his email remarks from several years younger were too egregious to forgive, and rescinded his admission.

 Recently, Kellyanne Conway resigned as advisor to the President when her 15 year old daughter “tweet-shamed” her and her husband on line.  I am not trying to draw in politics here.  Rather, I am making the point that people feel all too free to call one another out on line.  This teen has hurt her parents very publically by defaming their reputations.  I wonder how she will feel about this when she is 25 or 35, or a parent herself. Sadly, this child has not learned to live out Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12: V.14àBless those who [you believe] persecute you; bless and do not curse; v.16àLive in harmony with one another; and v.17+àDo not repay [even perceived] evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

This is where we are now.  A mistake, a lapse in judgment, can cost you everything today.  Thank God our Lord does not operate by cancel culture rules!  Let’s look at two He could have chosen to cancel, but didn’t, in today’s scripture passages:

First, we have Moses (Ex 3:1-15).  Last week, we saw this Hebrew slave kid rescued from the Nile, to be raised in Pharaoh’s own household.

By this week, he has advanced to the age of 40, and realized God has tapped him to champion his people, the Jews.  Without waiting on God’s direction, however, he kills an Egyptian overseer for beating a Hebrew slave. His own people, seeing him dressed as an Egyptian, fail to trust him, fearing he is an Egyptian murderer.  Furthermore, Pharaoh hears of the incident and wants to arrest him.  So Moses flees Egypt into the desert.  By attempting to do what he thought he should do, He finds himself driven away.

 He reaches Midian and rescues the 7 daughters of Reuel who were also doing what they were supposed to do—watering their sheep.  Moses observed some rowdy male shepherds attempting to push them aside to water their animals first.  Moses rescues the ladies and sends the ruffians packing.  Subsequently, he marries the eldest, Zipporah; soon has a son, Gershom (whose name means “sojourner” or “alien”—kinda suggests how Moses feels about living in Midian); and tends sheep, for another 40 years. Like King David, later, he is going to be called from tending a flock of animals to shepherding God’s people.

 In today’s passage, he encounters God (the preincarnate Christ) in aburning bush that does not burn up.  He is told to take his shoes off becausehe is in the presence of God, which makes the ground they are on holyindeed.  God calls him by name twice (make no mistake, our God knows our names!).  God also reveals who He is:  The God of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God shares that His name is, I am who I am; or, as some translations say, I will be who I will be.   In other words, as the passage states, He is the God who sees, thinks, hears, knows,remembers, and intervenes for His people.

God also reaffirms Moses’ call to deliver the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage.  Notice, God has not canceled him due to having murdered an Egyptian.  Instead God has hidden him out, in the back of the beyond for 40 years, so that the Pharaoh who sought to arrest him has had time to die and be replaced.  Additionally, those Israelite slaves who witnessed the murder have also passed on. God has made sure it is safe for Moses to return to Egypt.  And Moses has learned to wait on God.

Our Psalm mentions how God sent Moses, His servant, to set His people free.

 Now, let’s jump to our Gospel lesson from Matt 16:21-28.  Last week, we read how Peter confessed what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him:  that Jesus was/is the Messiah.  This week, Jesus begins to educate the Twelve regarding what God’s Messiah will do.  Despite their personal beliefs and expectations of Messiah, Jesus says He will die on a Roman cross, condemned by His own; He will die to redeem those very folks and all the rest of us too.  Like Moses before Him, Jesus is a shepherd, our shepherd and a deliverer, our deliverer.  Understandably, Rocky (Peter) is horrified! Like Moses, he gets ahead of himself.  Rather than taking in what Jesus is saying, he tries to talk Him out of it.  YIKES, Peter!  We don’t get to tell God what to do.  Jesus has just praised Rocky, but now he really tears into him—

He calls His dear friend Satan!  He rightly accuses him of interfering with God’s plan.  Whether he or we like it or not, God’s plan appears to require that we (v.24) deny [ourselves, our self-will], take up [our] Cross and follow [Jesus].  Like so many of us, Peter hears from God but he is also motivated by selfish self-interest and perhaps beguiled by the evil one.

 We know the outcome of both stories:  Moses leads the people out of Egypt—even though they wander in the desert for 40 years.  And Peter becomes a dynamic, faith-filled leader of the new Christian Church. God had grace, mercy, and forgiveness for them both!

What would have happened to Moses or to Peter—Rocky–if our Lord operated by the rules of cancel culture?  Cancel culture assumes—impossibly—that you can never make a mistake.  No grace or mercy is allowed for immaturity, anger, impetuousness.  Cancel Culture believes, Once a sinner, always a sinner.   You cannot even apologize and be forgiven.  As we have seen in the examples of Natasha, Kyle, and the Conways, judgment is swift and forgiveness is withheld!  Furthermore, cancel culture ruins the person’s future—despite a very productive present–based on one lapse in judgment or a perceived wrong response. 

Aren’t we glad our God does not operate that way?  Our God is characterized by love, grace, and mercy.  He keeps His promises and He forgives our sins.  He reinstates us. He uses us once we realize we cannot work out His program in our own strength.  Instead, we operate in His strength, surrendered to His will.  Thanks be to God that He has such patience, such forgiveness, such mercy for us.

This week, I challenge you to pray for Natasha Tynes and Kyle Kashuv, and any other victims of the media mob and the cancel culture.  Pray for peace and reconciliation between the senior Conways and their 15 year old daughter.  Let’s also be aware of God’s mercy.  And let’s be grateful that there is no cancel culture with our Lord!

 

c 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

Surrender … but hold on!

Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 2, 2020

Scriptures: Genesis 32:22-31; Ps 17:1-7

Can you remember how you felt when you knew you had to face some pretty unpleasant event?  I can think of two such events when I was a kid and even one as an adult.  When I was going into the 7th grade, my dad was transferred to Hawaii.  This was in the late 50’s when the islands were still a territory, not yet a state.  So we had to endure a series of painful immunizations.  I dreaded the days we had to present ourselves for those shots.  The anticipation was far worse than the actual event.  In another example, my brother and I had misbehaved badly for our mother.  When our abusive stepdad went out to sea, we both felt like the clamps had come off and I am sure we manipulated our mother something fierce.  One particular time, she threatened, “Just you want ‘til you dad comes home!”  She marked the days on the calendar.  We got more and more distressed as the weeks sped away and the date of his return loomed before us.  I am sure my brother and I were the only ones on the dock, as the ship came in, who were not celebrating its return.  He did beat us, rather severely.  I was only about 9-10, but I remember recognizing that my mother was a weak disciplinarian who never should have left the job to another.  Interestingly, she never seemed to be able to figure out why we didn’t love him better or have happier memories of our childhood.

As an adult, I had stood up as the lone dissenter in a vote for a new pastor.  The rest of the committee got very angry with me as we decided everything by unanimous vote; they perceived that I was holding up the process.  We eventually decided the matter by drawing lots—an old Biblical tradition—and the guy I felt so strongly about won the job unanimously!  Later the new pastor (who thought I was the lone holdout against him) told me I had to be reconciled with each of the other 11.  I did so, and believe me, I approached each individual appointment with anxiety.  The whole experience was an exercise in humility.

This is essentially the situation the patriarch Jacob faces in today’s OT Lesson, Genesis 32:22-31. He is returning to the Promised Land after 20 years of exile.

Recall that he was named “Jacob” (which meant heel grabber, deceiver) as the younger of a set of twins.  He later manipulated his slower, less cerebral brother, Esau, out of his birthright:  The lion’s share of their father’s property & livestock; but also the Covenantal relationship with God.  This is bad enough, but—with his mother’s complicity—he tricks/deceives his blind father into giving him his blessing!  His mother, Rebekah, should have known better.  God had told her that the older twin would serve the younger.  She should have remembered and waited on God to see how He meant to work this out.  Instead, the wily Jacob and his mother demonstrate no respect for Isaac, no love for Esau, and no faith in God.  Jacob gets the blessing, fraudulently, but he earns the murderous rage and hatred of his only sibling.  This forces him to flee the country—never to see his mother again.

As our passage from last week indicated, Jacob is taken to the Spiritual Woodshed by his mother’s brother, Uncle Laban (Let us all hope we never encounter an Uncle Laban in our lifetime):  Jacob agrees to work 7 years for the lovely Rachel, only to be given the less attractive, older sister, Leah, on his wedding night.  The deceiver is deceived!  Uncle Laban justifies his trickery with the custom that older daughters must marry before younger ones.  Once Jacob recovers from his shock and anger, he agrees to work another 7 years for his true love.  The two “sister wives”compete over who can give Jacob the most sons.  The ladies add two more “sister wives” to fuel the race.  Leah, the less valued wife, ends up with 6 sons and a daughter of her own, and two sons by a surrogate.  The favorite wife, Rachel, struggles with infertility, but has two surrogate sons and, finally, two sons of her own (dying as she gives birth to #2 after Jacob has settled in back home).

Once Jacob’s term of 14 years is up, he is forced to indenture himself to Laban for another 6 years, so as to amass sufficient resources to support 4 wives & 12 children.  Meanwhile, the jealousies, resentments, envy and animosity of the “sister wives” and their children continue to fester.  Laban keeps changing the terms of his contract with Jacob (10 times!), trying to cheat him.  We are talking a highly dysfunctional family here.  By the time of today’s lesson, Jacob has been out of the “Promised land” for 20 years.  Jacob, the “Trickster,” has been repeatedly tricked by an even cannier trickster.  I picture him as exhausted, harried, and burnt-out.

Now Jacob knows God has called him to return home, but what about the vengeful Esau?  When Jacob had last encountered his brother, Esau had been intent on killing him.  So Jacob has finally escaped one enemy—Uncle Laban—only to face another, Esau.  Just prior to today’s passage (Gen 32:9-12), Jacob prays a powerful prayer to God:  (1) He acknowledges how God has blessed him; (2) He reminds God that it is He who has called him home; and (3)He asks God to save him from his brother’s wrath.  He then sends his wives & family across the Jabbok (Wadi Zarqa, 20 mi. west of the Jordan).  Alone, he is suddenly grabbed by God!  He struggled all his life to prevail, no doubt thinking, “I can determine my destiny.”  1st, he had contended with Esau; 2nd, with Uncle Laban.  Now, he wrestles all night with the pre-incarnate Christ–Hosea 12:4-5 reports, He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought His favor.  He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with him—the LORD the God of hosts, the LORD is His name.

Now, finally Jacob realizes, God holds my destiny.  Actually, God is wrestling with one hand tied behind His back.  But Jacob won’t quit.  Jesus wants to go so He won’t be recognized.  Jacob has surrendered his will to God but he won’t let go of Him.  Jacob has become a perseverer.  Graciously, Jesus will not overrule Jacob’s will, so instead He puts his hip out of joint.  Jacob wisely asks for a blessing from the Divine Logos.  Jesus, who knows everything, asks him a rhetorical question, What is your name?  The Lord then changes his name from Jacob (Deceiver) to Israel (He who contends with God and men and overcomes).

By changing his name, Jesus is indicating that Jacob’s character has been purified. Jesus is also letting Jacob know that his future successes will result (Zechariah 4:6), ”Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.

Israel wants Jesus’ name but the LORD will not reveal it to him.  We cannot overcome or control God; instead, we yield and hold on!  This is both a spiritual victory for Israel and a demonstration of human frailty in the face of God.  God will superintend the reconciliation with his brother.  As my prayer partner likes to say, God rules and overrules the hearts of men and women.  The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, …He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  God had begun a good work in Jacob.

The spiritual woodshed was intended to transform him, mold and shape the deceptiveness out of him through adversity.  In wrestling with him, Jesus was saying—without words—your brother, Esau, will not overcome or kill you.  You do not need to fear him, because I and the angel armies are with you.

Among the many lessons of Jacob/Israel wrestling with God are these:

  • God accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way. He doesn’t overrule our will, but He will discipline us.  Until we are transformed by this discipline, often the things we most want are what elude us.
  • Nevertheless, He will persist with us, giving us enough lessons to bring us

around.

  • When we finally do surrender to Him, He then blesses us.  Jacob/Israel re-entered the Land with 11 sons and 1 daughter, lots of servants, huge numbers of sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and camels—enough excess to offer reparations to Esau—or at least “to sweeten” their first meeting.
  • I tell the clients I work with at Honey Lake Clinic, “If you want God to heal you, you have to set aside your ideas of how you will be healed and let God be God.” That is true for all of us. Not my will but yours be done, Oh Lord!  When we are dealing with God, our proper attitude needs to be one of surrender; surrender, but hold on!

 

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

 

 

The Original Sister Wives

Pastor Sherry’s Message for July 26, 2020

Scripture: Gen 29:15-28

Have any of you watched the reality TV series, “Sister Wives?’’  I’ve not watched it nor am I recommending it.  It apparently follows the lives of Kody Brown, his 4 wives, and their combined 18 children.  They call themselves practitioners of “Plural Marriage,” better known to the rest of us as “Polygamy.”  They claim they decided to film the show to explain their beliefs and to benefit their children—and to make some money!  Some say it has demonstrated the friendship bonds of the wives; while others contend it exposes the jealousies and hurts one would expect in such an arrangement.  It seems the first wife has infertility issues, and has had only one child.  Wives #2 and #3 have had 6 children each.  Wife #4 has three kids from a previous marriage and two now with Kody.  Their unusual lifestyle makes me wonder if they are aware of today’s Old Testament lesson.

Genesis 29:15-28 was written about 4,000 years ago and concerns the patriarch, Jacob.  In Genesis 25, you may remember that he talks his brother Esau into trading his birthright (the rights of his inheritance as the first born) for a pot of stew.  This exposes Esau as impulsive, a man ruled by his fleshly appetites.  It reveals that Esau had no regard for the Covenant Promises God had made with his Grandfather, Abraham or with his Father, Isaac.  Esau is contemptuous of his spiritual inheritance.  He is a non-believer, a man of little faith in God.  And it demonstrates that the quiet homeboy, Jacob, was capable of setting an effective trap for his brother, the hunter.  Perhaps Jacob was smarter that Esau?  By Genesis 27, Jacob poses as his brother and deceives their now blind father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing as well.  Their mother, Rebekah, collaborates in this deception.  They demonstrate no respect for Isaac and no love for Esau.  They also display no faith in God to provide a way to work out His own prophesy.  Jacob gets his father’s blessing, but also his brother’s enmity.  He has to flee the Land for his life (remember, Esau is an excellent hunter).  His mother, it will turn out, will never see Jacob again.

Now, in Chapter 29, we find Jacob outside “the Land,” seeking a wife from among his Uncle Laben’s (Mother Rebekah’s brother) people.  Jacob doesn’t yet know it, but he has entered God’s spiritual woodshed, and is about to be severely disciplined.  He sees the beautiful Rachel at the well.  Like his mother Rebekah, she was providing water for the flocks.  Jacob sees her and it is love at first sight!  Uncle Laben invites him into the extended family and offers to pay his for his work.   Jacob offers to work for 7 years in exchange for a marriage to Rachel.  Laben has many flocks of sheep, goats and cattle.  He also has two daughters:  Leah, the elder one, whose name means “COW,” and Rachel, the younger, whose name means “EWE.”  Leah was said to have weak eyes.  Her eyes may have been lovely and blue, but it appears she was otherwise unattractive.  Rachel, on the other hand, was lovely in form and beautiful.  Simply put, she was a knock-out!

Maybe Laben thought that someone else would offer for Leah in the meantime, but he makes the deal and Jacob works off his 7 year commitment.  In fact, Scripture tells us (v.20), So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.  (Jacob had fallen hard!)

The time for the marriage ceremony arrives and Jacob says, Give me my wife.  My time is completed and I want to lie with her.  Yikes!  He’s pretty clear on what he wants, isn’t he?!  Some commentators say he should have been more specific:  He should have said, Give me Rachel.  No one had offered for Leah in the interim, so wily Label gowns and veils her and stuffs her into the marital tent under the cover of night.  We assume Jacob consummated the marriage, believing he had in his arms his heart’s desire, only to wake the next morning and discover Leah in Rachel’s place!

Let’s think for a moment about how each player in this drama may have felt:  Laben was no doubt happy to have gotten his less desirable, elder daughter off his hands.  But what about Leah?  Did she sense ahead of time how Jacob might have blamed her?  Did she love him?  Had she hoped he could come to love her?  Or was she mainly a pawn of her Father’s and ashamed of the duplicity?  What about Rachel?  This was to have been her wedding.  Was she disappointed?  Relieved?  Jealous?  Angry at her father?  We don’t now.  She may have perhaps been proud because Jacob immediately agreed to work another 7 years to gain her.  What of Jacob?  Was he disappointed?  Aggrieved?  Furious!  Did he feel resentful and bitter toward Laban?  Resentful and bitter toward Leah?  Determined to marry Rachel whatever it took?  Did he understand that God had allowed the trickster (him) to be tricked?  It is after all no accident that the elder preceded the younger.  It was also no accident that though he had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he now had to work hard for 14 years to earn what he desired.

Ah, but the woodshed experienced didn’t end at the conclusion of 14 days and 2 marriage feasts:  No, we see the impact of unrequited love and a lack of appreciation.  Now we see the rivalry for Jacob’s love by the original “sister wives.”  (The reality TV series has nothing on this story!)  The Lord pities Leah because she is not loved. He blesses her with 4 sons:  (1) Reuben–the Lord sees affliction.  She says, (v.32) It is because the Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now. (2) Simeon–the Lord hears.  She explains (v.33), because the Lord heard that I am not loved, He gave me this one too.   (3) Levi (the priestly tribe)–hope for attachment.  Believing Jacob must surely come to love her now, she exclaims (v.34) Now at last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  (4) Judah (the royal tribe)–Praise for the Lord!  She then declared, (v.35) This time I will praise the Lord.  It appears that 4 sons later, she has given up on Jacob to affirm her worth and has learned to trust the Lord more.  She has become the truly more faith-filled wife.

Meanwhile, Rachel, the favored wife, is barren and envious of her sister.  She blames Jacob, but he seems to have no problem impregnating her sister.  So, like Grandmother Sarah, she gives her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate mother and 3rd wife.  Bilhah proceeds to bear two sons:  (5) Dan–God has vindicated.  Rachel celebrates his birth by saying (30:6), God has vindicated me.  He has listened to my pleas and given me a son.  (6) Naphtali–a mighty struggle.  Rachel exclaims, (v.8) I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won.  Leah appears to have perked up at this time, and re-enters the contest:  She offers her servant woman, Zilpah, as surrogate wife #4 to Jacob—just as in the reality TV program.  Zilpah bears two sons:  (7) Gad–good fortune.  Leah says (v.11), what a good fortune!  (8) Asher–happy one.  Again, Leah is delighted and says (v.13), How happy I am!  The women will call me happy! 

It’s the top of the 9th inning, and the score is Leah 4 sons +2 surrogates vs. Rachel’s 2 surrogates.  Leah proceeds to bear two more sons and a daughter, Dinah:  (9) Issachar–God has given me my reward; (10) Zebulon–God has endowed me with a good dowry.  Having borne him 6 + 2 sons, Leah sadly asserts (v.20), This time my husband will treat me with honor because I have borne him 6 sons.  By this point, God has taken pity on Rachel and opened her womb.  She already has the two surrogate sons from Bilhah, but now actually bears (11) Joseph (his father’s favorite and the Old Testament character who most closely represents Jesus).  His name means, May He add/increase.  Rachel has just given birth and she is already looking forward to another son!  She declares (v.24), God has taken away my disgrace.  May the Lord add to me another son.   He does allow her to conceive (12) Benjamin, but dies just after giving him birth.  Jacob names him Son of my right hand.

Move ahead 20 years later, Jacob returns to “the Land,” with large flocks and 12 sons, but what has he learned (and what have we learned)?

  • He has learned that God will not allow His people to secure His blessing through deceptive and manipulative means. What goes around comes around, or as Scripture puts it, we reap what we sow.  If we treat others with deceit, someone will eventually deceive us.  If we abandon others, we will in turn be abandoned.  If we betray someone, we too will eventually be betrayed.  I have seen it happen again and again.
  • God’s plan for marriage is one man and one woman because “Plural Marriage” doesn’t work (See Leviticus 18:18). It leads to heartbreak. There is a real danger in thwarting human affection.  Isaac’s and Rebekah’s favoritism; Jacob and Esau’s lack of love for each other; the sister wives’ jealous competition with each other; the enmity and jealousy between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel each result from unloving behavior and attitudes toward one another.  This plural arrangement leads to jealous, unholy competition, and family discord.  Jacob’ family is a train wreck!  TCL or reality TV can spin it any way they want, but you will not convince me that Polygamy or “Plural Marriage” works.  Truthfully, marriage is difficult enough with only one partner!   Jacob’s family saga demonstrates that God’s plan is the best plan!
  • Finally, the real message of grace here, though, is that God has mercy on the unloved wife and blesses her. He also eventually blesses the favored, but dishonored, beloved wife.  Lastly, He redeems their duel by using the 12 sons to create the 12 tribes of Israel.  Praise God we truly do serve a God who can and does redeem our messes.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Truth Stranger Than Fiction

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 5, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Ps 45:10-17; Ro 7:15-25a; Matt 11:16-19, 25-30

A nine year old boy was asked by his mother what he had learned that day in Sunday School. “Well mom,” he said, “our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely.  Then he radioed headquarters for reinforcements.  They sent bombers to blow up the bridge after the Israelites were saved.   Pharaoh’s chariot guys all drowned.

Mom asked, “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?”

Well no, Mom,” the boy declared in exasperation, “but if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”

 

Today, we have another Old Testament story that defies logic, unless you believe in a God of miracles.  Remember Isaac, the miraculous “child of promise,” born to parents aged 100 and 90?  Last week, we examined how God demanded that Abraham sacrifice this child to Him, but also rescued Isaac at the last minute by providing a ram to take his place.

Isaac is one of the 4 patriarchs of our faith, but Scripture only gives us a very few glimpses of him.  Nevertheless, we can infer that he was a good son, because he was obedient to his father Abraham—even given the threat of death.  And today’s passage reveals him as a man of faith, praying to God as his bride arrives on a camel.

Let’s examine the story in more depth, as I believe it reveals some principles we can live by today.  Abraham is concerned that Isaac have a wife…(v.1) now Abraham was now old and well advanced in years….He calls his trusty servant (Eliezar?) and tells him to journey to NW Mesopotamia (Syria) to find a good woman from among his extended clan (the people he left behind to follow God).  He does not want Isaac to marry a pagan Canaanite woman.  Nor does he want Isaac to journey outside the Land.  The servant prays to Abraham’s God and suggests a fairly complex sign by which he might recognize God’s choice of a bride for Isaac:  (1) She will offer him water to drink; (2) She will even draw water for his 10 camels; And (3) She will offer traditional ancient middle eastern hospitality including water for the feet; food/refreshments; and overnight accommodations for him and his animals.

When he arrives at the appropriate village, the servant encounters a beautiful young woman who does exactly that.  She gives him water.  She draws water for his animals.  She invites him home to meet her family and to partake of their hospitality.  This woman is Rebekah, Abraham’s great-niece, the virgin granddaughter of his brother.

Now of all the towns the servant could have visited, what are the chances that he would run into Abraham’s kin?  What are the chances that they would still even be alive?  God has clearly superintended this journey.  The servant recognizes this and offers praise and thanksgiving to God: (v.26)–Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ”Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my masters’ relatives.”

This woman, Rebekah, is clearly God’s choice for Isaac.  The servant tells her the story of how he decided to approach her—he’d asked God for a sign.  She doesn’t seem to have difficulty believing him. And he gives her a ring and two gold bracelets, as proof of Abraham’s wealth.  Her brother, Laban, shows up, hears the story, and also invites the servant home.  Once again, the servant shares his instructions with everyone.  Probably Rebekah is somewhere, outside the tent, listening in as the story is retold.  Everyone seems to agree she is God’s choice of a bride for Isaac.  Additionally, the servant has also filled them in on Isaac’s miraculous birth and his divine rescue.  The family appears to be impressed with the costly gifts he has bestowed on the maiden, signifying that Abraham is indeed as wealthy she the servant has claimed.  The bride-price is agreed upon, but by the next morning the family appears to back off a bit.

In an intimation of things to come—Uncle Laban will later renege on his agreement with Jacob, Rebekah’s as yet unborn son–the family urges the servant to wait another 10 days before departing.  Maybe they want to drive the bride-price up a bit.  No doubt concerned for Abraham’s age and health, the servant urges an immediate departure, with no delay.  Interestingly, the family suggests that Rebekah be consulted.  From what she’s heard and experienced, the young woman is ready to go! Maybe she fears her wily brother will somehow interfere with her opportunity.  Whatever the case, she is prepared to go off with a servant she barely knows, to a country she’s never seen, to meet a husband she’s only heard of.  What a brave young woman and what an adventure!

What principles might this story hold for us today?  1st, we note the faithfulness of the servant.  He’s given his word to Abraham to do his best; but otherwise he has no stake in the outcome.  Nevertheless, he works hard to fulfill his word.  He prays for the Lord’s favor.  He diligently repeats his instructions from Abe.  He obviously does not want to mess up!

This servant also moves at the leading of God, rather than his own fleshly desires or his fears.  He is willing to carry out the task his master, Abraham has given him and he appeals to Abraham’s God for help.  This is the antidote to our sinful fleshly desires, as given expression by Paul in Romans 7:15-25a.  The antidote to our self-will is obedience—obedience to Christ, cooperating with the transforming power of His Holy Spirit.

The example of this unnamed servant is about 4,000 years old.  2,000 years later, Jesus will say, Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

We are to keep our word.  Like Eliezer, we are to say what we mean and mean what we say.  This is the kind of behavior that helps others to trust us.

Second, I am struck with the willingness of Rebekah.  She doesn’t know Abraham from Adam’s house cat.  She is looking at marrying a dude she’s only just heard of and never seen. She will be making her home far away from her family, probably never seeing them again.  What convinces her to take the risk of leaving everything she has ever known?  Perhaps it was hearing the servant relate the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth. No doubt she also heard the story of his almost-sacrificial death, and been impressed with the fact that—while he could have overwhelmed his father’s strength, and taken himself off the altar–he instead chose to be obedient to and respectful of his father.  Maybe she rightfully understood that Isaac was special to God and wished to link her future to such an esteemed man.

And, if she were a woman of faith, she might have been able to see and understand how God had indeed chosen her to be Isaac’s mate.  After all, the servant had asked for a complex set of signs; and, without any prior knowledge of them, she had fulfilled each one.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced God providing you a sign, but I have.  My best buddy in seminary came from the Chicago area.  She was trying to verify if God was truly calling her to seminary.  She was walking the shores of Lake Michigan and asked God to affirm her call by proving a green rock among all the gray ones.  She was amazed and delighted to minutes later encounter a green rock—the only green rock–on the shore.  Not only that, the green rock was shaped like a triangle.  She understood this mean she was to attend Trinity out of the other 10 seminaries in our denomination.  Similarly, I asked God for direction as to which seminary He wanted me to attend.  I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, then.  Rarely does anyone in Tallahassee ever hear of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Trinity is located.  For weeks, my daughter and I were inundated with what we called our “Pittsburgh signs”:  PA license plates, bumper stickers for the Steelers or the Penguins; movies we rented that had been filmed in Pittsburgh or which featured the city; and magazine articles in doctor’s or dentist’s offices on some aspect of life in Pittsburgh. We laughingly told God we got it and He could stop the signs anytime. We were not too surprised when they dried up immediately!

Several years after arriving at seminary, my best buddy and I attended a healing conference.  We shared a motel room while there and I awoke one night to hear her crying.  She was in crisis, doubting her call, and worried she would graduate with a Masters of Divinity, but be unable to locate a Bishop willing to ordain her.  By this time I knew her well, was convinced she was called to ordained ministry, and—coming under conviction–told her she was not to look to the left or the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep her eyes on the Cross of Christ  She was to trust that the Lord had indeed called her. The next morning, while serving us communion, the lead pastor of the healing ocnference spoke directly to her and said, “You are not to look to the left or to the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep your eyes on the Cross of Christ.  You have been called into ministry and Jesus will see you through.”  She felt affirmed by this marvelous sign and so did I.  These experiences taught me that we can ask God for signs and He will and does respond.

Our Genesis lesson today has a happy ending.  It’s actually a love story!  Rebekah gets on her camel and rides to Israel and to Isaac.  The evening she arrives, Isaac is out praying.  He sees her and is intrigued.  She sees him, leaps off her camel (she’s impressively energetic, isn’t she?), and wraps herself in her veil, thus indicating she is a single woman.  The servant then relates the entire saga to Isaac.  Isaac obviously sees Rebekah as God’s answer to his prayers (& his father’s plans).  Verse 67 tells us, Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah [now dead], and he married Rebekah.  So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

In a number of ways, this story is stranger than fiction, but I believe the lessons are pretty clear:  (1) We want to be faithful to God; (2) We can ask Him for a sign; (3) We want to say yes to whatever He arranges for us; and (4) We can trust that there is a reward for our obedience.  Our God is good.  He desires our love and devotion to Him.  He takes good care of those who love and obey Him.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!  Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams