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

Advertisement

Resisting Temptation

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 6, 2022

Scriptures: Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-16; Ro 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright once wrote, “I can resist everything but temptation.” The story is told of a pastor who stayed in a moderately-priced Bed and Breakfast (B&B). He noticed at breakfast that the table was set with a lovely pewter salt and pepper set and with a matching pewter cream pitcher. He coveted the beautiful items before him and thought to himself how easily he could hide them away in his suitcase. He told himself the inn would hardly miss them. Then he thought some more and decided–if his theft became known–that it would…

1.) Definitely damage his Christian example to the inn-keeper,

2.) Scandalize his congregation,

3.) Form a terrible example to his children,

4.) And embarrass his wife and himself.

So he talked himself out of pilfering the items. Later, on a Sunday like today, when the Gospel centered on Jesus’ temptations, he told of his own temptation at the B&B. He wanted his congregation to know that we all–even including their pastor–could be tempted, but that the Christ-like response was to turn away from the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

A week later, a package arrived addressed to him. It contained that very set of dining accessories that he had been tempted to steal. Some kind soul in his congregation wanted him to have the pewter items he had loved at the inn, purchased them from the BNB, and sent them to him. The next Sunday he mentioned how grateful he was that someone had sent him the items from the BNB…and then went on to state that he had recently seen a new Lexus he loved (as recorded by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.560).

Temptations are all around us, aren’t they? Are we like Oscar Wilde, unable to resist any? I hope not…and yet some temptations are very difficult to overcome.

Last year, on the First Sunday of Lent, I focused on how Jesus’ temptations were aimed by Satan at Jesus physically (turn stones into bread), psychologically (impress the crowd by jumping from a great height and being saved by angels), and spiritually (worship the devil, not God)—and that the evil one targets us in these ways also. This year, I want to focus on what Scripture tells us about how to overcome temptations:

1. Our Old Testament lesson, from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, focuses on our need to express our gratitude to God. In this passage, Moses was reminding the Israelites to offer to God always the first and finest of their harvest. This was a tangible means of expressing to the Lord their gratitude for all He had done for them:

a. He had fashioned them into a nation — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not Israelites (until God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). They were wandering Arameans (Syrians). 90 + Joseph, his wife and their 2 sons, or 94 of them sojourned in Egypt, where the Egyptians referred to them as He-bar-ew. 400 years later, they exited that country numbering 2 million Israelites.

b. He had led them out of slavery through Moses’ leadership at God’s direction.

c. He had tested and strengthened them during their wilderness wanderings.

d. And He had brought them, after 40 years, into (v.9)…a land flowing with milk and honey. As a kid, I took this literally and envisioned rapid rivers of milk and sluggish rivers of honey all over the Canaanite landscape. This phrase is metaphorical, however, meaning a peaceful, prosperous land. Cows don’t produce milk in chaotic conditions. Bees don’t settle in and manufacture honey when agitated. God was leading them to a new (to them), peaceful land where they could unpack their belongings and set down roots.

If they couldn’t think of anything to thank God for, Moses was suggesting they express gratitude to God for rescue and deliverance; for gracious provision (manna from heaven and water from rock); for His guidance and protection; for His love for them as individuals and as His chosen people.

Gratitude is a very fine place to hang our hats. To be grateful forces us to remember when God has met us and cared for us. Gratitude is also a good means of overcoming temptation. Temptation always focuses on what we do not have at the moment and creates an appetite for it. Gratitude reminds us to be content with what we have—you could say it helps settle cravings, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.

2. Psalm 91 lays out for us beautifully how extensive is God’s protection of us. J. Vernon McGee talks about how many servicemen he knew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who would meditate upon and pray verses from this psalm daily—and then lived to tell their story.

Verse 3 asserts Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare [this can be any kind of trap], and from the deadly pestilence [Covid 19, poisonous gases, and other biological warfare]. Verse 5 declares You will not fear the terror of night [bombing, shelling, saboteurs] nor the arrow that flies by day [bullets or missiles]. Verse 13 proclaims You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent [any fierce enemy known for its strength/lethality]. How reassuring, how comforting to quote to self or comrades the following:

Verse 4 He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. This brings to mind how some bird mothers will cover their chicks as fire sweeps over them. The mother sacrifices her life to keep her babies alive.

Verse 7 promises ten thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Why? The answer if found in verse 14 “Because He loves me,” says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.’ Here are 2 keys to God’s protection: Loving God, and having respect and reverence for, faith in His name. We can pray these same verses for the Ukrainians currently fighting to save their country. On a less drastic front, we can pray these same verses asking God to protect us from our many temptations.

3. In Romans 10:8-13, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. He points out how easy it is to be saved: Verses 9-10 avow …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. It’s not a matter of impressing God with your goodness or your ability to keep the rules. It’s not even a matter of regular church attendance or of receiving the sacraments—though both are very helpful to us. The thief on the Cross may never have attended Synagogue, nor was her probably baptized, yet Jesus told him his belief in Christ would place him in paradise that day. It’s a matter only of saying yes to Jesus: Believing He was resurrected from the dead, and inviting Him into your heart. And, if we aren’t already convinced, Paul reminds us (v.13) …for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As I have said here before many times, God has made it easy. It is only skeptical people who want to make it more difficult than it is.

4. Jesus’ temptation by Satan is covered in 3 of the 4 Gospels– Matthew, Mark, and Luke—who were all concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ humanity. Each gospel assures us that Jesus was tempted as we are. We are only told of 3 major temptations, but we can be confident that our Lord was constantly bombarded by the evil one for 40 days–and did not succumb.

He is our model for overcoming temptation. First, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism just prior to His 40 days in the desert. We too are empowered by the Spirit. We can’t often overcome temptation just by our own will-power. When I worked as a psychologist at a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction, I often told the clients that if will power were sufficient to free them, they would already be free. For many people, will-power is not enough. We need the power of God to break free. The right thing to do is often the difficult thing to do…we need God’s help to do the right thing. Who did the pastor in my opening story think reminded him of the consequences of his proposed theft? That wasn’t just his own thinking. That was the Holy Spirit bringing to his mind all of the negative consequences of his proposed theft.

Second, Jesus was committed to following the Father’s will. This is a tough one for many of us. To discover God’s will for us, we need to read the Bible often to learn God’s general will for us; and then pray and listen to learn God’s will for us in a specific situation. The Rev. Mike Flynn, a famous American faith healer, says he envisions Jesus on His heavenly throne, looks to His face, asks if he should take a certain action, and looks to see if Jesus nods “yes” or shakes His head, “no.” Then he does what he believes the Lord has told him.

Third, Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan! Jesus countered every test with a verse from Scripture. Satan can cause us—like Eve in the garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”—to mistrust God if we do not know His Word well. The Bible teaches us to know God’s character, and to recognize His Word, so that if someone tells us something is OK to do, we can extrapolate correctly what God would want us to do or to avoid. A lot of contemporary fictional works (novels, TV shows, and movies) promote sex outside of marriage as normative and right—just as they excuse abortion and encourage curses that abuse God’s name. These are sins. But we know that while God loves the sinner, He still is the final word on what constitutes sin, and He wants us to avoid these actions/behaviors/attitudes.

I remember when I first moved to assist at a church in New Orleans in 2003. The church clerical staff was reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and thought it was true. I was appalled! Brown was raised a Christian, but totally misrepresents the truth of Christ in his novel. Skillfully weaving in fact with fiction, the author claims in his novel that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to cover up the “fact” that Jesus bore a child with Mary Magdalene. Lord have mercy! Jesus Christ was sinless! He would never had had sex with a disciple only to abandon her and the child—afterall, he made provisions for His widowed mother from the Cross. My boss and I spent time with the staff to point out to them the errors and heresy in the novel. It became clear to me then that it is difficult to discern truth from error if you don’t know Scripture.

So how might we overcome temptation? We can…

1. Express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.

This involves being mindful of and thankful for our many blessings. Each day recently, I awake, turn on the news, and praise God that the Ukrainians have held out against a massive aggressor for another day. Pray that these brave Ukrainians might have water, heat, food, electricity, medicine, and safety—all things we take for granted.

2. Pray for the Ukrainians to be protected and pray that God would continue to protect us from the assaults of our enemies, both human and demonic.

3. Rest in the knowledge that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

We can also look to Jesus’ example: He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was obedient to God’s will. And He responded to Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. As we work on our spiritual inventory this Lent, let’s put into practice the strategies our God has given us to overcome temptation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over temptations] through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©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

Changing our Lives for the Better

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 2, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 31:7-14; Ps 147:12-20; Eph 1:3-19; Jn 1:1-18

The story is told….of a guy named Bill who called his folks to wish them a Happy New Year. His dad answered the phone. Bill said, “So, dad, what’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2022?” His dad answered, “To make your mother as happy as I can each day of this new year.” When Bill’s mother got on the line, he asked her the same question: “Mom, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” His mom replied, “Why, to make sure your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”

An unknown wit has added, “Dear Lord, my prayer for this New Year is to develop a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix these up like You did in 2021.”

This is the time of year that we resolve to begin again to make a better person of ourselves: Perhaps we resolve to be less critical of others and more grace-filled. Perhaps we choose to tame our tempers or our frustrations with others. We may decide to count to 10, to perfect deep breathing (inhale through the nose to a count of four; hold for a count of 4; exhale from the mouth to a count of 5). It is a robust finding in both psychological and medical research that these techniques lower our blood pressure and our respirations, and help us to relax. We may try to breathe out anger, then breathe in peace. Maybe we resolve to read a Bible passage each day, or to pray more regularly. Maybe we aim to become less self-focused and more loving towards others, more Christ-like.

Whatever resolutions you have made—and I hope you have made some—our Scriptures today focus on changing our lives for the better.

A. Jeremiah 31:7-14, our Old Testament lesson, is derived from a dark time in the history of Judah/Jerusalem (around 587 BC). A wicked nonbeliever, a puppet king, Zedekiah rules. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) has already been destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians (722 BC). As onlookers, the citizens of the Southern Kingdom have learned nothing from Israel’s example. So now King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians is attacking Jerusalem. His 30 month siege resulted in horrible deprivation. Those within Jerusalem’s walls had plenty of water from a natural spring. What they began to lack, though, was food. By the time the Babylonian king broke through the city walls, some had been reduced to eating their children. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the Temple, and carted off all the able-bodied to Babylon.

In the midst of this awful set of circumstances, Jeremiah is prophesying beyond this horrible time to reassure the people of God’s love. Yes, their idolatry (spiritual adultery) has brought upon them God’s just punishment. But the Lord wants them to know—that at some future date– He will gather them up from wherever they are and return them to “the Holy Land.” Furthermore, embedded in this message of comfort are indications of Jesus’ 1st and 2nd Comings. Yes, God will punish the idolaters; but because He still loves them, He will not abandon them. God says, through the prophet, (v.13) I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow

History tells us God did not give up on His Chosen People! God has not abandoned we true believers either! He sent Jesus Christ to change their lives for the better. He has sent Jesus Christ and He has changed our lives forever! Think back to when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Haven’t you changed? I have. A show of hands in our congregation confirms that you too have changed, often radically, since being “born again” in Christ.

B. Ps 147 is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator, for His special grace extended to Israel (and by extension to us). It affirms that God controls the universe and all that is in it. Verse 2 reaffirms that the Lord loves Israel, His Chosen People. Just as in the Jeremiah passage, the psalmist prophesies that God will re-gather His people. He also states that God… heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

A time is coming (2nd Advent of Christ) when God will again visit His people. He will then bless us with peace, plenty, and protection/safety. These actions will certainly change their lives (and ours) for the better.

C. In Ephesians 1:3-19, our New Testament lesson, Paul prays for this church out of his love for them (which he models for us). He wants the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and us) internally, spiritually, so that they might be rooted and grounded in Christ and rooted and grounded in love. Paul wants them to be so firmly established as Christians that they never doubt God’s love for them.

Finally he prays that they (and we) might be (v.19) filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. If they—and we—are internally strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in Christ and grounded in love, as well as filled with the fullness of God, we are going to be radically different, phenomenally better persons! And the impact we have on others will also generate positive changes in them.

D. Finally in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, John 1:1-18, the apostle John wants us to be assured that Jesus Christ was not just present at Creation, but that He spoke Creation into existence. This is why He is called “The Word,” or “the Word made flesh.” The Word spoke and creation came into being. Additionally, John wants us to know that Jesus both brings forth life and is Himself light. John admits that not everyone—then or now–will believe in Jesus, but for those of us who do, we will become/we are children of God. We will have seen God the Father in the face and in the actions of Jesus, His Son.

And, by implication, this faith of ours in Jesus will change our lives for the better.

As we say goodbye to 2021 and embark on what will unfold in 2022, let’s be intentional about changing our lives for the better.

Let’s follow the advice offered by Frances Ridley Havergal in his poem entitled “New Year’s Wishes”:

What shall I wish thee? Treasures of earth?

Songs in the springtime, pleasure and mirth?

Flowers on thy pathway, skies ever clear?

Would this insure thee a happy New Year?

What shall I wish thee? What can be found

Bringing thee sunshine all the year round?

Where is the treasure, lasting and dear,

That shall insure thee a happy New Year?

Faith that increaseth, waking in light;

Hope that aboundeth, happy and bright;

Love that is perfect, casting out fear;

These shall insure thee a happy New Year.

Peace in the Saviour, rest at His feet,

Smile on His countenance, radiant and sweet.

Joy in His presence, Christ ever near!

This will insure thee a happy New Year

In 2022, we have a new opportunity to change our lives for the better. Really, it all hinges on loving God and loving others more. I know I must sound like a broken record to you, as I say this to you repeatedly. But God is love and we worship Him, the God of love. He wants us to become more loving. By being grounded in the love of Jesus, we can change ourselves for the better; and our demonstrations of love will make a more positive impact on the people with whom we interact. If you doubt your ability to do this, remember, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Epiphany

Broken Promises and Second Chances

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 4, 2020

Scriptures: Ex 20:1-21; Matt 21:1-14

The story goes that a Jewish medieval astrologer, named Moshe, prophesied that the king’s favorite horse would die soon. The king got really angry with Moshe, both because his horse did die shortly after Moshe had foretold, and because the king believed Moshe’s prophecy had brought about his horse’s death.  So the angry king summoned Moshe to present himself immediately and demanded of the astrologer, “Prophet, tell me when you will die.”  Being a shrewd man, Moshe figured out this meant that the king intended to kill him, so he thought fast and replied, “I don’t know when I will die, but I do know that whenever that happens, the king will die 3 days later.”  Needless to say, the clever Moshe lived a long life.

In our Gospel today (Matt 21”33-46), Jesus is similarly prophesying the future fate of His enemies, the Jewish religious leaders, through a parable.  Jesus tells them and us that the King (God) created a lovely vineyard (the nation of Israel).  Referencing the Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), which I read last week, Jesus’ listeners in the Temple would have known He was talking about the nation and God the Father.  They would have remembered the passage and its description of the loving care with which God established His vineyard:  He terraced the land;

  • He removed the rocks and stacked them to form walls around the vineyard;
  • He planted the vines, watered, fertilized and pruned them. 
  • Additionally, He built a watchtower within it from which to see thieves trying to steal His grapes, or anyone who would want to damage or destroy the vineyard.

But despite all God’s loving concern, the vineyard only yielded sour/wild grapes. So, fed up, God allows ruin to come the His vineyard.  He removes His “umbrella of protection” over it.  The wall is broken down; the vineyard is trampled; no rain falls to irrigate it; and thorns and thistles compete with and eventually replace the choice vines.  In fact, Israel was destroyed by Assyrian invaders in 722 BC, and Judah by Babylonian invaders in 587 BC.  They had by then enjoyed many more that second chances.

Now Jesus essentially retells that story with some new details:

Jesus says the King was absent.  We know that God is omnipresent, always around/with us.  But the Jewish religious leadership had encouraged a distant relationship with God in which obeying rules substituted for personal contact.  Consider how the people at the end of our Exodus passage today want God to remain far from them.  His thundering and lightnings scared them, so they asked Moses to speak to God so they did not have to deal with Him directly.  They felt safer having an intercessor speaking to God for them.  (By the way, don’t many of us also fear intimacy with God?)

Now, the King had entered into a sharecropping kind of arrangement with the tenants (Jewish religious leadership).  They were to manage the vineyard, but also pay Him a certain percentage every year; i.e., they were to worship only Him, in a heartfelt way, and give Him the tithe off the top.

Because God provided sun, rain, protection, and blessing, they should have been willing to give Him what He asked.  However, they beat one prophet, killed a 2nd, and stoned a 3rd.  It’s bad enough that they were ungrateful; but they also abused the very ones God sent to set them straight, to hold them accountable.  Nevertheless, our longsuffering God then provided them a second chance and sent another delegation of perhaps more noteworthy prophets.  But the result was the same.  These leaders abused them as well.  Finally, in a surprising move, God then sends His Son.  Perhaps they thought the King was dead?  With a weird sort of logic, they decide they can kill the Son and inherit the vineyard.  If there is no heir, they reasoned they could claim the land because they had worked it (assuming possession is 9/10ths of the law). So they indeed kill the Son–Jesus is now, within the parable, predicting His death at their hands.

Then Jesus asks the crowd (including the leaders), …when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?

They knew.  They knew and replied that, (v.41) He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and He will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give Him His share of the crop at harvest time.

These new tenants will be Gentile believers and Jewish ones too. These will be the yet to be birthed Christian Church.

Now Jesus lowers the boom:  He reminds them of the capstone, the cornerstone from Psalm 118:21-22.  There is a foundational rock that will carry the weight ofthis Church.  That Rock is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And He prophesies, Therefore, I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but He on whom it falls will be crushed.   The Jews who reject Christ as Messiah will lose out.  Christ will invest instead in those who follow Him, Messianic Jews and non-Jewish “Christ-followers.”  Accepting Jesus is the watershed choice, the crucial decision-point.The religious leadership rejected Jesus and one generation later, divine judgment was meted out upon them:  Titus of Rome staged a 3 year siege of Jerusalem.  Historians believe there were by then as many as 1 million personswithin the walls of the city.  Titus cut off their food supply, hoping to starve them into surrender.  Historians report some were reduced to cannibalism.  When the Roman forces did eventually break through the city walls and gates, Titus’ forceskilled the sick, the very young, and the elderly, and enslaved and deported the remaining inhabitants.  He also totally demolished the Temple,even to plowing up the Temple foundation and burning the marble stones.  Everything Jesus foretold came to be.

I could be wrong, but I think the Christian Church needs to consider long and hard how similar we have become to those ancient Jewish leaders.  Have we moved to a cultural faith, going through empty motions?  Or are we maintaining a vibrant, living relationship with Jesus?  I don’t believe God will spare us any more than He did Jerusalem, if our sins are similar to theirs.  This is why I have called upon us to pray for revival in our country.  This is why I have urged us to become aware of our sins and to confess them daily to God.  This is why I have encouraged us to ask God to forgive us for walking so far from Him.  We have broken our promises to God and badly need another, second chance.

There is a song, “The Heart of Worship” that bears on this issue:

         When the music fades and all is stripped away,

And I simply come, longing just to bring something that’s of worth,

That will bless Your heart…

I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have

required.

You search much deeper within…You’re looking into my heart…Thru the way

things appear.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship,

Cuz it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

We don’t have to be shrewd, like Moshe.  We won’t be able to out-think God anyway.  We just need to love our God and serve Him as He desires.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams