Becoming a Mature Follower of Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022

Scriptures: Hosea 1:2-10; Ps 85; Colossians 3:1-11; Lk 11:1-13

As I looked through my former sermons this week, I discovered that I had preached on the Hosea passage in 2016, and on Luke 11 in 2019. So, I believed the Lord was calling me to tackle the Epistle lesson with you today. It wasn’t until the passage was read this morning that I realized I had messed up. The passage appointed for today was Colossians 2:6-19. I am a highly intuitive person, focused on the “Big Picture” and not much given to details, so I mistakenly addressed the passage appointed for next Sunday, Colossians 3:1-11. I apologize. Perhaps the Lord meant for someone to focus on chapter 3 instead of the last half of chapter 2 today.

Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 pastoral letters (including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) written from prison in Ephesus.

Apparently, Paul never met in person with the church in Colosse (75-100 mi east of Ephesus). It had instead been planted by a disciple of his named Epaphrus. We could say that Paul was like a spiritual grandfather to this church.

His focus in this letter is becoming a mature believer in Christ. Many folks in Colosse had become as sick of the immoral excesses of paganism as we have of what we see/hear happening in DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. They were initially attracted to the high ethical standards offered by the Jewish faith. They looked at the Torah and were impressed with laws that said don’t do this or that, don’t taste this or that, or don’t handle this or that.

They saw these laws as a means of escaping the soul-killing, vapid, immoral world of paganism. It was as though they thought, Maybe keeping these rules will help us live a better life; and Perhaps keeping these rules will help us improve our spiritual lives.

But Paul tells them this way of thinking is an illusion, a dead-end. First of all, none of us can keep these rules perfectly. So we end up trading what Bishop. N.T. Wright calls, “a worldly self-indulgence of a sensual kind for a worldly self-indulgence of a spiritual kind” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, N.T. Wright, Westminister John Knox Press, 2002, p.174.)

We reduce our faith to keeping a set of earthly rules, and avoid developing the deep relationship God desires with us. Additionally, contrary to popular thought, rule-keeping doesn’t lead to holiness. Holiness requires that we die to self. Rule-keeping keeps our focus on ourselves. Holiness requires that we die to self and are raised to live for God. The Good News is that by being in Christ, we have the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit—if we ask for it—to help us live out our lives at a higher moral standard. It’s not a matter of trying harder in our own strength, but rather of cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul admonishes us to (verses 1-2) Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. And in verse 5, he adds Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. In verses 8-9, he adds to the list of behaviors to avoid, including anger, rage, wickedness, blasphemy, dirty talk, and lying. This is like putting aside an old set of tattered and soiled clothes and taking up and putting on your very best. In the 1st century church, folks being baptized showed up in their old clothes, were immersed in the waters of baptism, and then dressed in new, white garments, symbolizing their new status as followers of Christ Jesus.

If it’s not just rule-keeping, how do we proceed? We have to know what needs to be changed in order to cooperate with changing it.

Let’s look first at the main categories of sins that Paul lists here:

1. Sexual misbehavior–This one is tough because our culture today—like that of ancient Corinth or Colosse, is overly sexualized. Much of American advertising makes sexual appeals. It doesn’t take too many clicks on the internet before you stumble onto pornographic images. (I worry about what our children are being exposed to at too young an age.) But Paul means everything from sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication), to adultery, and even including sexual fantasies. Paul calls these behaviors idolatry because, as in all pagan worship, they require that you give your allegiance to something of this world rather than to our holy and supernatural Trinitarian God.

2. The 2nd category Paul cites are sins involving unedifying speech. This includes everything from angry, malicious speech to gossip, slander, and lying. Wouldn’t Paul have a fit over the way folks lie in Washington DC? When I taught Psychology at the community college in Gainesville, I heard my students punctuate their sentences with the “f” word. Reminding them that they were there to get a higher education, I challenged them to try to elevate their vocabulary by replacing that word with something more dignified. To my delight, they got the concept and did cuss much less in class.

Both sexual and verbal sins can tear a community apart. Years ago, before I went to seminary, I had a pastor with whom I was very close. He was like an older brother in the Lord. We met about once a month for breakfast, to talk over the Bible study I was leading and other leadership concerns of our church. I later discovered he had been fired by our bishop for having an affair with another woman in our congregation. He and I had met just the day before this took place. He had told me he had 3 things to tell me, but ran out of time to tell me the last. When I learned what had happened, I figured he was too ashamed to confess he had compromised his calling. His family was humiliated. We had a booming college ministry at the time. They were so disappointed in him that they said we were all hypocrites and left the church. Other adults left as well, and for the same reason. Our community was hurt by this one man’s sexual sin.

Paul presents the problem (these two very popular sin-groups) and their solution. In verse 10, he writes [since you have put on your new self]…which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Remember back to the 80’s and 90’s when people would ask, WWJD? What would Jesus do? It was a great slogan because it reminded us to stop and think before acting/speaking. It encouraged us to think about how Jesus might view our actions or our speech. Would He say, Well done, good and faithful servant? Or would He want us to, Go and sin no more? Again, as Bishop N.T. Wright says, “Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not to leave your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create. (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, pp. 179-180.) We think harder because we are not just considering what we want to do, but also what the Lord would desire of us. We know the truth because Scripture reveals it. Immoral behavior and malicious speech may feel good at first, but the truth is that they leave a bad aftertaste. Our consciences bother us. Then the Holy Spirit compels us to make amends, which humble and perhaps embarrass us further. In the long run, it is simply easier for us to train ourselves to avoid the behaviors Paul lists.

This is another way of saying we are growing in spiritual maturity. Consider these definitions of Christian maturity:

(1) Chuck Swindoll—One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

(2) Fred Cook—Maturity is the ability to do a job whether supervised or not; finish it once started; carry money without spending it; and …bear an injustice without wanting to get even. If Cook is correct, his definition is quite an indictment of our current culture, isn’t it? We are trying to get along with a huge number of spiritually immature persons.

(3) John McNaughton—Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.

(4) Anonymous—Maturity is moving from a soft skin-tough heart to a tough skin-soft heart (This one requires some pondering).

When we are followers of Jesus Christ, trying to think like Jesus and live in ways that please Him, we might come to say like John Newton🡪 I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.370.)

The Apostle Paul wanted the Colossian Church—and us—to grow in spiritual maturity. This is not an easy task. It involves self-denial. It can and often does involve pain. The devotional, Today in the Word, printed a story years ago (1987) about how a mother eagle encourages her chicks to leave the nest:

Though many of us have seen pictures of a huge eagle’s nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff, few of us have gotten a glimpse inside. When a mother eagle builds her nest she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs. By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That’s when the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” With her strong talons she begins pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As more of the bedding gets plucked up, the nest becomes more uncomfortable for the young eagles. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the growing eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.

It’s not easy to mature spiritually, but we can attain it—or at least move toward it—by cooperating with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Like the mother eagle, He can and does comfort us when we are afflicted (hungry, lonely, tired, etc); but also like her, He can and does afflict us when we get too comfortable. This side of heaven, we don’t attain perfection. Nevertheless, we want to be like John Newton, the former captain of a British slave ship, who repented, came to Christ, and was ordained. He is also the one who wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace”. Remember he said, I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was…. Hopefully, day by day, we are making progress in becoming more and more like Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 5:27-39; Ps 150; Rev 1:4-8; Jn 20:19-31

I don’t know much about organs—the musical instrument—but I have read that among the many “stops” on most organs there are 4 of particular importance:

1. The Diapason or principal stop, which appears to heighten volume;

2. The Flute stop, which gives us the tones of a flute;

3. The String stop, which gives us the tones of string instruments like the violin, viola, etc.;

4. and the Vox Humana (the Human voice), which, ironically, is very seldom in tune. It seems if it is tuned when the temperature is cold, it will go out of tune when the environment warms up. If tuned when warm, it goes out of tune when the AC is turned on. This is such a lovely image of us, isn’t it? We easily get out of tune with God.

The Bible commentator, J. Vernon McGee uses the metaphor of these 4 stops to explain the meaning behind Psalm 150. He says opening up the Diapason/principal stop is like when Jesus stepped up to speak creation into existence. It burst forth in all of its glory! Stars, space, earth all sang out praises to God the Father. Remember, Paul said (Romans 8:19-22) that all creation groans as it awaits Jesus’ 2nd Coming. And Jesus told the Pharisees that even the rocks would cry out if He forbade His disciples from praising Him (Luke 19:40). The Flute stop, when opened, sounded like birds and angel choirs who then added their songs of praise. When the String stop was opened, light hummed across the universe, and all of creation sang in harmony to the Lord!

(Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee, Commentary on Psalms, pp.191-192.)

As Psalm 150:6 says Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! You see, we were created to worship God. He is both our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps you remember the Westminster Shorter Catechism question–written in 1646 by a team of Anglicans and Presbyterians, containing 107 questions that explain Christian doctrine– “What is the chief end [purpose] of man [kind]? The answer is, It is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” By glorify is meant that we give Him the weight He is due because He is preeminent over all other things. Because of His supremacy, we are to praise Him/delight in Him always.

When the Vox Humana was added, however, it was found to be out of tune. We human beings are often out of step with God and out of tune.

So the question presents itself, “How do we humans stay in tune with creation and with God?”

A. Psalm 150 tells us we stay in tune with God when we praise Him and when we allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

Many folks today are out of tune with God because they either do not know Him; or, they do not respect Him. Many rich folks believe their money and their ingenuity are all they need. Similarly, numerous university professors, scientists, and medical doctors believe their intelligence saves them. Other folks use drugs, alcohol, serial love affairs, and other addictions to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives. They don’t trust God to help them, so they rely on whatever they can find to comfort themselves or numb themselves out.

Thus, McGee writes in his commentary on Psalm 150, p.194 “Today you and I are living in a created universe that is actually singing praise to God. But men are out of tune. Man is in discord. God’s great purpose is to bring man back into the harmony of heaven.” That is why Jesus went to the Cross, died, and rose again. His costly and loving sacrifice brought those of us who believe in Him back into tune with God and with the universe.

B. The apostles knew this. In our Acts 5:27-39 passage, we read of the account of early persecution of the enfant Christian Church. Led by the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin convenes to reemphasize to the apostles—who they have arrested–that they should stop teaching in Jesus’ name.

Peter and the other 10 reply (v.29) We must obey God rather than men! Jesus had told them (in the Great Commission) to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Teaching and preaching in the Temple was their faithful response to the first part of this command.

Their insistence on continuing, despite the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of them, infuriated the Jewish leaders. Some hotheads among them urged them to execute them. But Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, recommended a wiser course of action (vv.38-39)…in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (The presence of Christ-followers to this day proves Gamaliel right.) Gamaliel prevailed and the apostles kept right on preaching the Gospel.

Even though they were flogged, they rejoiced due to their release, but also due to God’s power over the views of men, and because they had shared in some of Jesus’ suffering (the flogging). They had seen the Resurrected Christ! They were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And they were very clear about their purpose. Obeying Jesus, whatever the cost, was how they stayed in tune with Jesus.

C. Our Gospel lesson, John 20:19-32, recounts the need for the apostles, but especially for Thomas, to see and to touch the risen Christ. The 10 believed because they saw Him and interacted with Him on Easter Day. Because Thomas was absent at the time, he missed out. But once he touched Jesus, a week later, he knew the resurrection stories were true.

He then exclaims (v.28) My Lord and my God! This is a profound and a beautiful expression of his faith. But notice that Jesus goes on to bless all of us who have not seen Him in the flesh–who have not touched His crucifixion wounds—and yet we believe. Clearly, Jesus commends faith that arises out of something beyond physical experience. As the writer to the Hebrews asserts (11:1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. You just know that you know, even if you can’t always explain it to someone else. We stay in tune with Jesus when we believe in Him.

D. In Revelation 1:4-8, the apostle John journeys into heaven (in a vision) where he sees that Jesus is the One Who is all He claimed to be:

1. He is the faithful witness the One who came from heaven to earth to reveal and explain to us the Truth.

2. He is the firstborn from the dead the first to rise from the dead and never to die again. Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus were all raised from the dead by Jesus. However, unlike Jesus, they all experienced death a second time. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ overcame death for Himself and for us.

3. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth the rightful heir to the promised eternal throne of King David.

4. He is (v.8) the Alpha and the Omega…the One who is [currently in heaven], and who was [walked the earth 2000+ years ago], and who is to come, the Almighty.

In verse 4, John mentions the seven spirits before His [God the Father’s] throne. This means the complete Holy Spirit, not that there are 7 separate Holy Spirits. The number 7, to the Hebrews, meant either perfection or completeness. Consider how often 7—for completeness–appears in the context of God’s dealings with humankind: The Sabbath and worship of God occur on the 7th day (We Christ-followers changed it to the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.) In Joseph’s Egypt, there were 7 years of plenty and 7 of famine. Namaan the Syrian was told to wash in the Jordan 7 times to be healed of his leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, was crazy for 7 years. There are 7 Beatitudes in Matthew. There are 7 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Seven loaves (and 2 fish) fed the 5,000. Jesus made 7 statements from the Cross. (See J. Vernon McGee, Commentary on Revelation, p.39.) And John reports in his Gospel that Jesus made 7 “I am” statements, all ways of saying He was and is God. So, we stay in tune with Jesus when we believe He is completely and thoroughly God, as well as man.

Our scripture passages today all attest to the ways we can stay in tune with our God:

1. When we praise God and allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

2. When we obey God.

3. When we learn to enjoy God first of all.

Think of what He has done and continues to do for us. It is human nature to think we experience joy when we meet our needs first. But the paradox is the Truth: When we learn to enjoy God above self (and others), we tap into the “organ stop” that blasts out joy.

4. When we believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh.

5. When we believe because we know Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all and the end-all, the completeness of God.

Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Easter Punctuation

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/17/22,

Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 188:1-2, 14-24; 1Cor 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Remember the days of punctuation marks? Now we tend to use emojis. But try to recall the time when a comma, a period, a question mark, and an exclamation point were commonly used and meant something. Now ask yourself, “Easter morning: Would I describe my response to this day with a period, a comma, an ! or a ?” If it’s just another day, having no real meaning for you, then a period will do. But maybe a comma better describes it…it gives you a pause as you think about it, but then you rapidly move on to the next thought or activity, and the next, etc. Non-believers, if they consider it at all, would probably use a ? Huh?

This week I saw one of those episodes on the news where they ask folks on the street what they think of certain issues. This time, the interviewer asked people in a New York City park what Easter was. Sadly, most didn’t know. A few said it’s about the bunny, finding eggs, and eating chocolate. Only one woman said that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We truly are living in a post-Christian America. But for those of us who love Jesus, Easter deserves a series of exclamation points. Fireworks emojis might also capture it. You may even throw in some smiley faces with hearts and praying hands.

But to the eyewitness disciples that original Easter, their morning was punctuated first by a period. They thought Jesus was dead, gone, buried, period. End of story. Their expectations of Him as their Messiah were disappointed. They were overwhelmed with dejection, grief and sorrow. Then the women arrive and tell what seems an unbelievable or even a crazy tale. His tomb is empty? A question mark at this point is more distressing than a period. A ? introduces doubt; it’s perplexing. Where could His body be? Who might have taken it? And why?

But thank God for angels, supernatural messengers (that requires an exclamation point)! Two angels are present to say (Luke 24:5-6) Why [?] do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ [?] The angels ask them a question, but they also expect them to remember what Jesus had said to them, repeatedly. OK, now they remember—thanks for reminding us! Even so, Peter and John (John 20:8) race to the tomb to see for themselves. Later that evening, the resurrected Jesus appears to the others. As is common with many folks, the disciples only believe when they can see for themselves. (Joe LoMusio, as quoted by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.171-172}.

By the end of Easter Day, the periods are gone. The question marks have been satisfactorily resolved. As our readings today attest, there remain, instead, several massive exclamation points! Alleluia, He is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

St. Luke, in Acts 10:34-43, wants us to know that one reason for an exclamation point was that Jesus’ death on the Cross—followed by His resurrection–had opened the way for Gentiles, like ourselves, to gain entrance into God’s Kingdom. As we have often noted, ethnic divisions were deeply ingrained in the Jews and others in 1st century Israel. For them, there were only two categories: Jews (the chosen people) and Gentiles (everyone else). Knowing this, Peter is surprised to be summoned to the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius (who commanded and led over 600 soldiers). His household already knew about and believed in Jesus. Peter enters his home and announces: (v.34) I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.

His sermon from verses 36-43 is truly a great summary of the entire Gospel. In short, he says Jesus lived and walked among us, preaching, teaching, healing, and doing miracles; He died on the Cross for our sins;

Then He rose again, demonstrating His power over sin and death. Following Peter’s sermon, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his “congregation.” Peter considered this to be the Gentile Pentecost, and proceeded to baptize these Roman believers into the enfant Christian Church.

Scholars tell us that Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, was a Hillel psalm. This meant it was one of several psalms sung from memory at the Passover meal. Jesus would have sung it with the apostles after they drank the final cup of wine at their Seder supper. The psalm celebrates the victory of a reigning king who had once been looked down upon by rival nations.

Several verses are particularly meaningful when viewed in the light of the resurrection: Verse 18 reads (and prophetically, Jesus would be the speaker) I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord…He has not given Me over to death. Jesus was laid dead into a tomb; but He did not remain there as we would. Instead, He rose again, overcoming death! And, in verses 22-23 He says the stone [the Rock: Jesus] the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah; they rejected the cornerstone. Later, Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:4 As you come to Him [Jesus], The Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…. So a 2nd exclamation point is that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (from the Psalms).

Third, St. Paul exhorts us to believe (in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) that Jesus’ resurrection is the defining moment of Christianity.

First, (vv.5-8) he catalogues who all saw Jesus following His resurrection:

1. Peter,

2. The 12 minus Judas;

3. More than 500 disciples;

4. His brother, James;

5. And Paul himself.

Scholars tell us there is more eye-witness evidence that Jesus lived after His resurrection than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar (and many other important historical persons). There are many ancient manuscripts (all in museums now) that cite Christ’s resurrection. Josh and Sean McDowell, who wrote More than a Carpenter, researched proof of the resurrection and spent more than 700 hours discovering how well validated it is.

Next, in verses 13-19, Paul asserts that our entire faith depends upon the truth of the resurrection: Verse 14 If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is incontrovertibly true and forms the basis of our belief in Him. We worship a God who has the power to bring His Son back from the dead. I want a strong, powerful God like that, don’t you? We worship a God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His one and only Son to redeem us. We worship Jesus, the One and Only, the God Who—due to His self-sacrificing love for us and His obedience to His Father–was willing to suffer to cover the cost of our sins. The sinless Son of God gave up His life so we might have new life, and have it abundantly. We can connect directly with the Father because Jesus opened the way for us (As He hung on the cross, the Temple curtain—a huge thick drape of goat’s hair—was torn in two). We can anticipate being resurrected because Jesus opened the way for us. And, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, He will destroy death…Praise God!

I’ve already commented extensively on our Gospel lesson today. Let me just add how ironic it is that the first to disbelieve Jesus’ resurrection were the apostles themselves. They didn’t believe the reports of the women who saw the open and empty tomb. Even after Peter viewed the physical evidence, he had to go off by himself to puzzle out what it meant. However, let’s offer them some grace—though difficult to believe, Jesus’ resurrection is nevertheless true, and they eventually got it!

As we wish one another Happy Resurrection Day, let us punctuate the day with exclamation marks as we remember the lyrics to an old Welsh Easter hymn:

We welcome glad Easter when Jesus arose

And won a great victory over His foes.

Then raise your glad voices, all Christians in song.

Bring glad Easter tidings to Jesus your King.

We tell how the women came early that day

And there at the tomb found the stone rolled away.

We sing of the angel who said: ‘Do not fear!

Your Savior is risen and He is not here.

We think of the promise which Jesus did give:

That he who believes in Me shall also live.’

Someone named S. Lewis Johnson has said (I don’t know who he is but I want to give him credit), “The Resurrection is God’s Amen! to Christ’s statement, “It is finished.” Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen Indeed! Thanks be to God!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Normally, I like to begin my sermons with a story, or a real life application of our Scripture passages. But on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, I want to review: Remember, our focus has been on using the 40 days of Lent as a time for “spiritual house-cleaning”–a time to consider and confess our sins; a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God. Two weeks ago, I preached about several ways the Bible suggests we can respond to temptation. Last week, I concentrated on how (and why) we want to pursue full-on access to God.

This week our Scriptures center on two additional but related themes: 1. How we attempt to meet our spiritual hungers; and 2, repenting or perishing.

A. Our Isaiah 55:1-9 passage reiterates the truth that we, ourselves, decide whether or not we will come to God. No one can do this for us. The prophet presents God’s offer of salvation as if He were extending to us free food to eat and no cost water, wine, and milk to drink. The food and drink he refers to are not the physical, material substances themselves, but are metaphors for the spiritual nourishment God has for us. St. Augustine (354-430) taught that there is a God-shaped hole in us (I think it is located somewhere in our chest area) that only God can fill. We work hard in life to fill it with other things (idols), but none of these truly satisfies or fills the hole up.

Given that truth, our God does not want us to pursue these false gods. “Rather,” He says in verse 3🡪Give ear and come to Me; hear Me that your soul may live. False gods—like materialism, money, sex, power, influence, popularity, and intellectualism—are all dead ends. They ultimately leave us feeling disillusioned, empty, and dissatisfied. The American millionaire, Jay Gould (1836-1892, his assets then converted to today’s values= $78.3 billion) said as he lay dying, “I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.” Similarly the poet, Lord Byron, had fame creative genius, money, position, and lived a life of pleasure, yet he wrote in his poem, “On my Thirty-Sixth Year,” “The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone.” (J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on Isaiah 55, p.130). The day I defended my doctoral dissertation, my committee turned to me and each one shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Adams!” I walked out of that experience feeling ecstatic, proud of that achievement. About 2-3 days later, however, I thought to myself, “Now what?” That great feeling of accomplishment did not last. But God offers us, through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and our Bible reading, food for thought and living water that truly sustains us, more than money, fame, pleasure, or accomplishments.

Isaiah also urges us to be ready for God’s deliverance from captivity in Babylon for the Jews (this was the short term prophesy, as Isaiah wrote this before the Jewish population was carried off into captivity). Before He “lowered the boom” on them (enacted punishment) for their continued idolatry, God was already promising them a return to the land (70 years later, allowing the generation of the idolaters to die off). The prophet also foresaw a coming redemption from sin and death with Jesus’ 1st Advent (this is a mid-range prophesy which unfolded 700-750 years later). Finally, he forecasts judgment for us at Jesus’ 2nd Coming (this is the long term prophesy, which has not yet been fulfilled). This is why he says in verse 6🡪Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. In God’s mind, our opportunity to choose Him is time-limited (there is an expiration date). We are to remember that we don’t think on the same level or in the same way as He does.

B. David wrote Psalm 63 from the desert, as he was being pursued by the jealous and murderous King Saul. You would therefore think his first plea would be for God to “save his neck” (protect him from his enemy). Instead, his first request of God is for greater intimacy with Him (verses 1-2)🡪…earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You. He wants to see God (as do we all). He desires full-on access to God. If he can be close to God, he insists that (v.50)🡪My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….(another food/drink image).

He only refers to God’s protection of him by verses 7-8🡪Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Even then, David does not ask for God’s protection and defense; instead, he regards it as a “given,” already believing that God will take care of him. Oh, if we all only had faith like that!

C. Paul gives us a history lesson in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He recounts how the ancient Israelites blew off (dismissed and ignored) God. Verse 1🡪…our forefathers were all under the cloud…they all passed through the sea. He is saying that they were guided by God (His cloud by day, His pillar of fire by night) as they escaped slavery in Egypt. He also miraculously opened the Red Sea for them to cross. God ordained Moses as their leader. So, in a sense they… were baptized into Moses, meaning they identified with him as their leader—just as we identify with Jesus as our leader and submit to His authority in our own baptism. He goes on to recount in verse 3🡪They ate the same spiritual food [the manna] and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Remember how Jesus offers the woman at the well (John 4:10) living water, free flowing water that never runs out? This is eternal life. Also recall that He refers to Himself as (John 6:35) the bread of life. He is both our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. In a sense, God gave the Israelites in the wilderness Holy Communion before Jesus would later invent it. They had God’s direction, protection, and provision. Nevertheless, as Peterson puts it (The Message, v.11) But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

Paul then goes on to list the ways they rebelled against God:

1.) Some became idolaters (Golden calf) (Exodus 32);

2.) Some committed sexual immorality (during pagan fertility rites)—23,000-24,000 died (Numbers 15:1-9).

3.) Some tested God (regarding food) He sent a wasting disease one time; poisonous snakes another (see Psalm 78:18; 95:9; and 106:14).

4.) Some even complained against God He sent a destroying angel (Numbers 16:41; 21:5-6).

When I was a child, I wrongly assumed that God indiscriminately killed off (smote) a bunch of folks and I felt sorry for them. I have since come to realize that God knows our hearts. He was well aware of who, among the 2 million coming out of Egypt, was guilty of great sin against Him. He singled out only the guilty for punishment, punishment they had been warned would take place. There would have been no cases of mistaken identity or guys punished who were not guilty. Don’t we wish this were so in our court systems today?

Next Paul says (v.11) These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. We can learn vicariously from their experiences. Unfortunately, we are just as capable of messing up as they were and yet, we have Jesus—the fulfillment of the ages. Thank God for Jesus, the fulfillment of over 325 prophesies from the Old Testament! He is our divine rescuer.

Paul concludes that he doesn’t want us to become overly confident, to be naïve, or to think we are exempt from temptations. Instead, he wants us to realize that our Lord never allows us to be tempted without providing us a way out. He is for us, not against us. He will rescue us if we but ask.

D. Jesus is very clear in the Gospel of Luke (13:1-9) that the time for choosing Him is now—Repent or Perish! He lists 2 examples of folks who died untimely deaths. He says their deaths were not due to their sinfulness. His point is that their deaths were unexpected. Since we don’t know the day or time that we will die, we want to get right with God and remain right with God. His fig-tree parable is a metaphor for the nation of Israel. God planted them and provided for them, but they had not gotten themselves right with God. Jesus was implying they still had time. God was/is mighty patient with them/us; but their time was running out, as is ours. For them, time ran out 35 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the population

We don’t want to run out of time! We want to turn away from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and choose God’s free gifts of spiritual food and drink for our souls. This is the only thing that fills up the God-shaped hole in our lives. We want to see God and to be satisfied with intimacy with Him. We don’t want to rebel from God, taking His grace for granted, and sinfully cut ourselves off from Him to perish.

Perhaps you have heard this story: The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!”

Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a seaman third class.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship!”

Then the reply came: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse.”

(As read in Chuck Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.539-540.)

There is no safety or peace in rebellion from God. I believe we want to repent and to choose life, not perish!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

Scriptures: Joel; 2:1-2, 12-17; Ps 51:1-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:10; Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Chuck Swindoll relates a story about John D. Rockefeller, (worth 418 billion in 2020 dollars) who built the Standard Oil gas and oil empire of 1870-1911. He was told one day that one of his executives had made a $2 million mistake (a big deal today, but even bigger in the 1880’s-1890’s). As with many such powerful men, Rockefeller was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He worked hard himself, and he demanded hard work and perfection from his employees as well. All the other executives were sure he was enraged and would definitely fire the man who had made the costly error. They all did their best to avoid the boss the day the costly error came to light–except for one vice president who had a scheduled appointment with Rockefeller that afternoon.

When the associate entered the boss’ office, Rockefeller eyed him and asked if he had heard of the massive loss. The vice president steadied himself, said he had heard, and braced to witness the boss’ explosion.

Instead, Rockefeller, replied, “Well, I have been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.215).

How magnanimous of Rockefeller! Kind of reminds us of our God, doesn’t it? Let’s see what our readings tonight tell us of God’s forgiveness.

1. In Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 the minor prophet is prophesying to the Southern Kingdom that The Day of the Lord—the day of judgment –is coming. In the short term, Judah will be overrun by locusts, resulting in widespread famine. But this is also a metaphor for the long-term prophesy that the Babylonians will invade/take over the Promised Land, unless they change their ways. So his message—from the Lord—is that they need to repent while they still have time. They can avoid locusts, famine, and a Babylonian takeover if they will…

a.) Return to the Lord (stop their worship of idols);

b.) Confess their sins; and

c.) Declare a holy fast, to demonstrate their renewed commitment to God.

Joel reminds them—and us–that God will give them another chance: Verse 13b says He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…[and] He relents from sending calamity. In other words, God loves them and wants them to draw near to Him, to avoid His judgment. Our culture today is in a similar fix: We have stopped worshipping the One True God. Instead, we have made idols of money, influence, power, materialism, our own intellects, sexual experiences, etc. Like them, if we want to please God, we need to humble ourselves before Him, admit our sins and failures, and ask His forgiveness.

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to avoid God’s wrath and discipline, but they—and we–need to get busy! We need to ask ourselves, in the past year, have we been more concerned with the things of this world than with the things of God? This past year has the Lord always taken 1st place in our hearts? Or have we allowed other priorities, or our worries, to crowd Him out? Have we been so focused on those priorities and fears that we have neglected to nurture our vital relationship with Jesus?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual house-cleaning lasting 40 days. Scholars have traced its observance to the early 100’s (Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of it). The 40 days are a reminder of the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ashes are applied to the forehead, in the sign of the Cross, to remind us of the truth from Gen 3:19 (as told to Adam and Eve by God) Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. The ashes are a sign of our repentance and our sorrow for our sins. As such, they remind us of the need to maintain our commitment to love and please Almighty God.

2. David’s sorrow for his sins is perfectly recalled in Psalm 51.

The prophet Nathan has confronted him about his sins of coveting Uriah the Hittite’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba; and of his subsequent adultery with her and murder of her warrior husband. His lament to God provides a perfect example of how we should feel about our own sins. He takes personal responsibility—he doesn’t blame Bathsheba or any others. He humbly pleads with God to forgive him and to cleanse his heart (v.10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [right] spirit within me. David ended his life as a man after God’s own heart. This means that despite his sins, he pleased the Lord. We too, following David’s humble and heartfelt example, restore ourselves into God’s favor.

3. Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. We do this by remembering that Jesus, who was sinless, took on all our sins so that we could stand before God with clear consciences and clean hearts. Paul also tells us we do this by not allowing anything to displace our focus on God.

Do you recognize the theme running through these passages? Remember what Jesus has done for us. Keep God 1st in our lives. Humble ourselves, taking frequent inventories of our sins. Seek God’s face and ask His forgiveness.

4. In Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus tells us how to best go about fasting and doing good in God’s name. We are to fast and practice good deeds quietly, without fanfare. He assures us that even if no one else notices, God does. And that this is how we store up lasting treasure for ourselves in heaven. It’s not how we get ourselves to heaven because Jesus has already done that for us. But it both blesses God’s heart and draws us closer to Him.

Again, today we begin the season of Lent. Instead of the usual agreement to fast, I am asking us all to add something. This will involve a sacrifice of time and energy, but you will be amazed at how it will bless others, and at how God will bless you because of it. I am asking you to pray daily for the people on our prayer list; for the women, children, and elderly of the war-torn country of Ukraine; and that our country would return to Christ.

Rather than pray, you may choose instead to make a list of all those you have not forgiven, and make a commitment to forgive them–a practice that will draw you closer to Christ. Let’s please the Lord by being as magnanimous as John D. Rockefeller. Let’s please the Lord by praying for others. Let’s please the Lord by forgiving others as He has forgiven us. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

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

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Believe in Jesus.

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Claimed!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 9, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 43:1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8:14-17; Lk 3:15-22

I told this story a few years back, but I believe it bears retelling: A young woman was applying to college. She was uncomfortable with the question on the admission form, Are you a leader? She figured colleges were looking for leaders, but she was also pretty clear that she wasn’t one. She filled the form in honestly by answering the question with a “No.” As a result, she expected to be rejected. What a surprise when she got back this response: Dear Applicant, a careful review of this year’s application forms reveals that we will be accepting 1,452 new leaders. We are also accepting you because we feel it is important that these 1,452 have at least one follower.

In our Gospel today (LK 3:15-17, 21-22), John the Baptist makes it clear that he is not the leader—the Promised Messiah—but rather His devoted follower. John, Jesus‘ cousin, is baptizing Israelites in the Jordan. Now we know that baptism is a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of an important, inward, spiritual truth. By being dunked (or sprinkled like we do), the people were indicating their intention to die to their sins. Going under the water indicated symbolically their decision to turn away from or die to their sins. Coming up out of the water symbolized their decision to commit their lives to God. In other words, John was preaching a revival and encouraging everyone who heard him to be baptized—both as a sign of their repentance (sorrow for sin) and of their desire to live a changed life.

Apparently, he preaches so effectively and so convincingly that the crowd began to wonder aloud if he could be the coming Messiah. He heard their murmurings and replied, “No, no no…not me! I’m just the warm-up act. I’m baptizing you with water…but Someone mightier is coming after me Who…” (according to Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message)…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He is going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper perspective before God; everything false He’ll put out with the trash to be burned. John the Baptist is saying, “I’m not the Messiah, but only the prelude to what Jesus will accomplish in the lives of those willing to believe in Him.”

The difference between Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s baptisms is this: John’s baptism was about jettisoning the old life. In the movie, O Brother, where art thou?, the fugitive convict, Delmar, gets baptized in a river. Returning to his other 2 convict buddies, he is filled with joy! He exclaims, “I have been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” Another convict pipes up, “Uh, Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” Delmar replies, “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too.”

As far as we know, Jesus never baptized anyone with water. Instead, He imparted to them the Holy Spirit. He gave them/us the supernatural power to live a new life. Again, John’s baptism jettisoned the old life; Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a new one–a life in which we love and serve God and others.

Now Luke is not telling this story chronologically, because after he tells us that King Herod had John the Baptist arrested, Jesus comes on the scene to be baptized. Regardless of the order of events, Jesus was without sin, so what did He have to die to in baptism? What old life was He getting rid of? Matthew’s Gospel tells us He submitted to John’s water baptism to fulfill all righteousness (3:15); that is, to identify with our sinful natures; and to model for all the way we should turn to God. Notice that while He was being baptized by John, the rest of the Trinity showed up as well: The Holy Spirit took on the form of the white dove and hovered over His head, indicating that Jesus was now empowered for ministry. Some apocryphal gospels (not considered accurate enough to have been included in the “canon” of Scripture) describe Jesus healing birds and transforming things into butterflies as a child. This cannot be as He had not yet been baptized in the Spirit. When the dove descended upon Him, the God-man Jesus was then plugged into His supernatural power source. Additionally, the Father’s voice (which we have been told in Ps 29 is exceedingly powerful) pronounced: You are my Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased!

Wow, just before He begins His ministry of saving humankind, Jesus heard a powerful affirmation from His Father! He receives this wonderful blessing, His Father’s statement that He was not just pleased with Him, but well pleased.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard that from your earthly father? My step-father never even told me he loved me, but my Heavenly Father has. Modern psychology tells us that it is the father in the family—not the mother–who conveys to children their self-esteem. Isn’t it true that we all need our Father’s blessing to feel confident and good about ourselves? One of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. John Rogers, conveyed the Father’s blessing to me every time I saw him after graduating. We would occasionally see one another at a clergy conference. He would come up to me, cup my face in his large hands, and kiss me on the forehead. I believed then and still do that the Lord used him to let me know He loved and approved of me. I pray you have had someone similar to do the same in your life!

Our Acts lesson (8:14-17) describes a situation in which a deacon, Philip, has baptized new Samaritan converts with water, and the Apostles Peter and John show up to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. You may recall (from Acts 7) that a deacon, named Stephen, was stoned to death in Jerusalem, with Saul (soon to become Paul) presiding over his execution.

This begins the first persecution of the early Church, with Jews beating, imprisoning, and killing Christ-followers. Why would God allow this to happen in His enfant church? He allowed it to prompt them to leave their Holy Huddle in Jerusalem and to take the Gospel—as Jesus commanded them (Acts 1:8)–to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

So Philip, a 2nd deacon, goes to a city in Samaria. We are told, in verses 5-8, that he preached the Word, performed miracles, healed the sick, and cast out demons there—what a powerful ministry! And…there was great joy in that city! Later, the apostles Peter and John are sent to check into this “city-wide-revival.” They approved Philip’s work, then went on to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. Why follow up water-baptism with a baptism in the Holy Spirit? Remember, John the Baptist baptized with water, representing repentance for and cleansing from sin; representing a turning away from the pre-baptism life. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

In our modern service of baptism, while sprinkling water on head of the person being baptized , we baptize him/her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after this, I make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead (with oil that has been blessed) and say, “_______, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and claimed as Christ’s own forever.” To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is like having the dove descend upon us as happened with Jesus. It means we have been claimed and adopted, by God–through the saving work of Jesus–as His beloved daughters and sons. It also means we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others and to minister to them in Christ’s love.

So, all of us in this congregation have been baptized by both water and by the Holy Spirit (If you doubt this, please remain after church and I will pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit). Let us remember verse 1 from Isaiah 43–Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; You are mine! We have been claimed by God, through Jesus, and are now commissioned and empowered for ministry. This new year, let’s look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus and His impact on our lives. Let’s be like the fellow in the story of a father and son who “…arrived in a small western town looking for an uncle whom they had never seen. Suddenly, the father, pointing across the square to a man who was walking away from them, exclaimed, “There goes my uncle!” His son asked, “How do you know when you have not seen him before?” “Son, I know him because he walks exactly like my father.” If we walk in the Spirit, the world should know us by our walk (Related by Lee Roberson in, The Gold Mine , 2000, Sword of the Spirit Publishers). Amen. May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Math

Pastor Sherry’s message for 7/25/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.) Anointed King as a successor to Saul;

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

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

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

5.) Subduing the enemies of Israel; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams