God’s Generosity Towards Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 31, 2022

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Ps 107:1-9. 43; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21

The missionary, Jim Elliott, killed (in 1957 at age of 28) while attempting to witness to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What does this mean? Elliot lived this out, didn’t he? He gave up his life in service to God. We all know life is fragile. We act like we can control the number of our days, but the truth is that we could each—God forbid—be run over by a truck tomorrow. None of us knows for sure when we will die. So Jim Elliot gave up what he couldn’t keep (his life) to honor God and to gain–due to his heart-attitude—what he could not lose (his salvation/his position as an adopted son of God). This guy was sold out to God! Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If we can believe what others tell us about Jim Elliott, he was willing to die to help spread the Gospel. By the way, his widow, Elizabeth Elliott, continued Jim’s work with the Auca’s and ended up converting his murderer (and others) to Christ. Jim Elliot lived a short life of incredible generosity toward God and others.

Let me share another illustration of generosity:

“Two young men [were] working their way through Stanford University [members of its 1st class in 1895]. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition [There was no “GoFundMe” at that time]. The great pianist’s manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. “No,” replied Paderewski, “that won’t do.” Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: “Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest.” The years rolled by–years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came [WWI], and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. {After appealing to this man], thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” was Mr. Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole.” (True story, prior to Hoover serving as our 31st president from 1929-1933, from the website www.sermonillustrations.com).

Later in his life, the former college student from Stanford was able to repay the Polish Premier for his earlier generosity.

Three of our lessons for today center on the heart—attitude of generosity.

A. In Hosea 11:1-11, the prophet not only speaks for God, but he also lives out a metaphor of God’s love for His people. In chapter 1, which we read last week, God tells Hosea to marry a whore, a woman who will be repeatedly unfaithful to him. What a dreadful assignment! God used Hosea’s tragic marital life to demonstrate to the Northern Kingdom how He felt about their idolatry—or what God considers “spiritual adultery.”

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, humiliated him time and again by running around with other men. By Jewish law, Hosea was justified in stoning her to death. But God told him to break the law God Himself had created in order to make his life an object lesson for the people. So, Hosea remained faithful, as does our God, to a spouse who was a serial or repeated adulterer.

Gomer bore him 3 children, but he could not be sure they were his. God had him name his 2 boys and 1 girl names that reflected the Lord’s increasing disappointment with and distress over Israel:

1.) A son, Jezreel, whose name meant God scatters;

2.) A daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, whose name meant not loved; and

3.) A second son, Lo-Ammi, whose name meant not My people. God was saying to the people of the Northern Kingdom, I have faithfully loved you, but you have been consistently and blatantly unfaithful to Me. I am withdrawing from you. I will scatter you.

Now, 10 chapters later, God changes the metaphor from a marital relationship to a parent-child relationship. He poignantly recalls (vv.3-4) It was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He freed them, loved them, healed them, led them, and fed them. And how did they respond to His continuous, long-suffering, fatherly love for them? They left Him to take up with pagan gods.

So God names the nation He will use as His method of discipline: Defeat at the hands of the brutal Assyrians. This punishment, finally meted out in 722BC, was not simply meant as just retribution for their on-going betrayals. Rather, it was meant by God to be remedial. God used their defeat by the Assyrian army as a last resort to teach lessons they had rebelliously refused to learn. Our God means what He says. When I first taught high school (1970), my principal told me to always mean what I said to students and to say only what I meant. Otherwise, she said the students would not respect me or trust me. She was right. If I said a certain consequence would follow an act of disrespect or disruption, I had to enforce that consequence even if it meant punishing my favorite student. (Often I found the kids I liked the best were the first ones to try me.) Like a teacher who is firm and in control of her classroom, God loves us but will not tolerate our disobedience and disrespect forever. He is a God of love and mercy, but He will also act to bring about reformation of our character and our morals.

B. Psalm 107 celebrates the goodness of the Lord, in that He hears our prayers and saves us. The Psalm rejoices over God’s saving interventions on behalf of the Israelites in the past. Even though they were often disobedient, He provided for them, guided them, and protected them. He was justified in destroying them, but chose not to due to His love for them.

I believe this is a prophetic message for us today too. Due to His great love for us, our God continues to provide for and to protect us. He is extraordinarily patient with us. But as with the Israelites, there comes a time when He disciplines us to reform our characters.

This is why we pray for His continued mercy. This is why we weekly (and daily) pray for our nation to return to God.

C. In our Gospel passage, Luke 12:13-21, Jesus provides us with a lesson regarding those who are selfish and self-focused. We are meant by God to act generously toward God and others. Those who don’t, like the rich guy in the parable, will not be able to hold onto their wealth and possessions forever. He blithely assumed that he would continue to be blessed as he greedily horded all of his profits to himself. He probably never considered that it could all end for him at his sudden death. Jesus calls him a fool! Let’s think back to the Jim Elliott quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot trust we will keep our wealth. The stock market can crash; inflation cheapens what we have; expected inheritance checks fail to arrive (the deceased may have spent it all before dying; fire, rust, rot, floods, tornadoes, volcanos, and hurricanes can reduce what we own to nothing. While there are no u-hauls carrying our wealth with us in the afterlife, we can trust that God will reward us for being generous toward Him and others.

Our God is generous even as He disciplines us. He gave Israel—and He has given us—dozens and dozens of warnings of coming punishment. In the 350 years from 750-400BC, He sent 12 Minor Prophets and 4 Major ones to warn the people not to stray from Him. There was no social media then and no cable news networks, yet those folks cannot claim they were not warned. 16 prophets in 350 years amount to approximately one every 20 years. Most of them prophesied over a number of years, so their warnings overlapped. The people were not ignorant of God’s displeasure. They simply didn’t care. So He took them to the proverbial woodshed for a thorough thrashing.

And so that we know He means what He says—so that we discover that He is indeed trustworthy and true—He will eventually lower the boom on us as well. As much as we don’t want the discipline we have coming, He punishes us because He loves us: (Hebrews 12:5) My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son [or daughter].

We are wise to trust in His generosity towards us. We are also wise to fight against any tendencies we have toward greed and selfish self-interest. We can learn to be content with what we have.

We can commit to give to others in need out of our excess; i.e., rather than stock-pile it, we can give it away to others. And we can discipline ourselves to gift God with a tithe of all He has given us. Scripture says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). This means He owns all wealth. He gifts us with some of it. As a way to demonstrate our continued trust in His provision, and as a spiritual discipline, He wants us to give back to Him a portion…not because He needs it, but because we do.

Let’s pray:

Thank you, oh Lord, for Your incredible generosity towards us! We are exceedingly grateful. Help us to be generous toward You and toward others, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen

©️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

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

God’s Faithfulness and Compassion

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 18,2021

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

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

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

    These are the twin themes of our Scriptures today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    8.) But I will always love him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Anomalies for Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for May 2, 2021

 Scriptures: Acts 8:26-40, 1 Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:1-8

         The other day I bumped into an old friend, a pastor I have          known for years.  We chatted about our families and our churches.  Then we got to laughing about our surprising career paths.  He has been called out after 4+ years of retirement to serve his former church again (as they search for another pastor); while I, an Anglican, am pastoring a Methodist Church.  He commented that it seems a happy fit—since I’m in my 6th year here at WUMC.  I bragged on you, telling him that you love Jesus, love Scripture, and love each other (& me, I        hope).

         Thinking over the unusual turns my life has taken, he said, “Sherry, you have always been an anomaly.”  Now I could have been insulted as an anomaly can be       defined as a defect.  But since he’s a big tease, I knew he was probably thinking more along the lines of “being different,” “unique,” “unexpected,” or     “outside the norm.”  My Anglican Bishop has said he thinks I have “the spirit of Deborah,” the only female judge or national leader in the book of Judges.  She was certainly unique and so clearly outside the norm.

         Though I have chuckled over my friend’s assessment, it has since struck me that following Jesus makes us each an anomaly.

Think about it:  If we love Jesus, we live out values different than the mainstream; we behave in such a way that we almost no longer fit in with present day American culture.  I have another friend who often says our Christian values so set us apart that we are like cultural dinosaurs (Though neither extinct nor obsolete).  Knowing y’all, I don’t think you would disagree.

         Our Scriptures today share some ways we are gonna be countercultural–we are gonna be anomalies–if we love Jesus:

         Acts 8:26-40 In this passage, Dr. Luke describes deacon Philip’s encounter with a fellow returning from Jerusalem to Ethiopia.  The context of this encounter is the persecution against Christians—followers of “The Way” as it was first called–that had broken out in Jerusalem, beginning with the stoning of Stephen, another deacon.  One would think, “This is terrible! What a tragedy!”  But remember that Jesus had told them they were to take the Gospel beyond Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Instead, they had remained in a “holy huddle,” hunkered down with like-believers.  God uses the persecution to scatter or push the disciples out into other Jewish then non-Jewish areas.

         Philip (not the Apostle, but a guy in the 2nd tier, a deacon) goes first to Samaria.  In verses 5-8, before this passage, we are told   that he preached the Word, healed the sick, and cast out demons!  He’s not God but–empowered by the Holy Spirit–he is doing the work Jesus did.  And he was doing it very well!  Secular wisdom would say, “He’s a success. Keep him there, growing the church bigger and bigger!”  But God, thru the Holy Spirit, sends him off in another direction.

         The Holy Spirit sends Philip on a divine appointment.  Have you ever had one of those?  You are frustrated when your car breaks down, but then have an opportunity to talk to the tow truck driver, or the mechanic, about the Lord.  You are about to leave the house when a distressed friend calls in a dither. You speak to them, calm them down, and pray for them.  In these and similar events, you realize after that those were not coincidences.  No, they were nudges to kindness and service, divine appointments, ordained by God.

         Philip was serving in Samaria, to the north, but was then sent to the Gaza Road, way to the South.  The Holy Spiritdirects him to the Ethiopian governmental official.  The guy was a North African believer in the God of the Jews.  Notice:  He has already encountered the Word of God.  As he is chauffeured along in his chariot (perhaps the equivalent of a stretch limo) he is reading Isaiah 53, the last of the 4 Suffering Servant Songs—all of which predict Jesus.  However, he is understandably confused.  Is the prophet Isaiah talking about himself or of someone else?  He already has a hunger to know more about God.  Running alongside the chariot, Philip offers to help him.  Notice: the Holy Spirit has prompted the Ethiopian official to be curious about Scripture.  Notice again: God has prompted Philip to be right there to explain.  This is truly an appointment that God has arranged.

         Philip does such a good job of explaining the Gospel—Jesus lived, died for our sins, and came back to life, all so that all of us who believe in Jesus could become close to the Father—that the guy wants to become a Christ-follower.  He asks to be baptized, and Philip obliges him (and the Lord).

         Interestingly, instead of continuing on toward Ethiopia, Philip is then whisked away to a Philistine city, Ashdod, to further evangelize.  We have absolutely no idea how many Samaritans or Philistines came to Christ through the ministry of Philip.  Early Church history does tell us, though, that the first big church was built in North Africa!  That Ethiopian went home and told many others about Jesus.  Even today, 2100 years later, 62.8% of Ethiopians are Christians (while 34.6% are Muslims).

         1 John 4:7-21 John, the Apostle of love, sets out several counter-cultural realities about AGAPEO love (not philios [brotherly or sisterly] or [sexual] eros).  In verse 7 he affirms that love comes from God, because God is love.  In other words, love is not our initiative.  Human beings did not invent it.  In verse 12 he states that whenever we demonstrate love, we are imitating God.  In verse 14 he reminds us that God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus to redeem us.  Furthermore, in verses 16-17 he assures us thatone of the ways we see/experience/and cooperate with God is by taking loving action.   Aren’t we touched when we see a TV ad as touching as the old Budweiser ones?  Remember the one featuring the Clydesdale pony who, as a grown up horse, leaves the parade to find and to nuzzle his former trainer?)   How about those rare TV news stories in which someone has done something generous or unexpectedly kind for someone else?  Those are examples of love in action.

         Now James, Jesus’ brother, states in his epistle (1:17) Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  In other words, if you are moved to do something generous or kind, it is because the Holy Spirit has inspired you to do so.  And this is counter-cultural.  Without God in our lives prompting us to love, Isa 64:6 …all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  If youwatch the news, it’s hard to see any love in action.  I think ofSilicon Valley CEO’s and Wall Street magnates who behave unscrupulously then donate a huge amount of cash to some charitable enterprise.  Their actions look loving, but unless Jesus is at the center of their giving, according to Isaiah their gifts are like “dirty diapers” (the literal translation of filthy rags).  Loving actions are anomalies our God wants us to demonstrate all the time.

Finally, in verse 18, the Apostle writes, There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear.  Knowing that God loves us can keep us from caving into fear.  God’s perfect love for us casts out our fear.  As a survivor of repeated childhood trauma, I grew up always afraid of the dark.  This changed for me when I developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I still pray for Him to keep me safe at night.  He hasn’t ever let me down. I’m no longer afraid at night.

         Now, if we live on a daily diet of the news, we can become          fearful of many things–Everything from nuclear holocaust to being mugged, to dying from the Covid.  But if we can focus on God’s love for us, we can enjoy freedom from these kinds of anxieties. The peace that passes all understanding is clearly countercultural—and if we abide in it, we will be perceived as anomalies.

         In John 15:1-8 Jesus asserts that, I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.  Last Sunday, in a terrific sermon, Ken told you about Jesus’ 7 I am statements in John’s Gospel.  Any believing Jew of that day would have known that God the Father referred to Himself as I am (or The Great I AM).  So any Jew paying attention to Jesus’ 7 I am sayings would understand that He was equating Himself with     God. Since many of them did not believe He was God, they charged Him with and executed Him for blasphemy.  We know He was speaking the truth because He is God.

         Not only this, but He is referring to Himself as the true or genuine Israel.  All throughout the Old Testament, the vineyard or grape vines are a metaphor for the Israelite nation.  If Jesus is the authentic, genuine Israelite, it is because He has loved His Father, been obedient to His Father, and loved and served His people.  They have not done likewise, though that is what God wanted from them.

         Additionally, He is saying that we can do nothing of any significance apart from Him.  This is so congruent with the concept from Isaiah 64:6.

Our culture would have us believe that “Might makes right”; or “The one with the most money, most expensive toys, or the most political power wins.  But we anomalies know that none of that stuff will get us to Heaven!  We can take no U-Hauls with us into the afterlife, right?  In this life, money, power, fame, even health can all be lost.  But a vital relationship with Jesus will see us through this life and safely into the next. 

         If loving Jesus makes us anomalies, well so be it!  I don’t know about you, but I would rather love Jesus and live outside the current norms than be a cultural conformist without Him.  Remember those critters called lemmings?  When they overpopulate, they run themselves off cliffs into the sea to drown.  I wonder if any unique, non-normative lemmings stand off to the side and say to themselves, “What are you all doing?  That way leads to death!  Not me, Buddy!” 

         This week, try to be aware of when God shifts your direction; when He provides you with a divine appointment.  Let’s try also to be countercultural people who daily demonstrate God’s love in word and in deed.

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

We Can’t Outgive God

Pastor Sherry’s Message for December 20, 2020

Scriptures: 2 Sam 7:1-11, 16; Ps89:1-4, 19-26; Lk 1:26-38

How many of you are aware of the Jan Karon series about the town of Mitford, in western North Carolina, and the pastor there named Father (Fr.) Timothy Kavanaugh?  Karon has now published 14 books in this series.  They are “clean,” Christ-centered, and heart-warming stories. In seminary, many of us hoped to serve at a parish like Mitford (the church there is called “Lord’s Chapel”).  We would have done much better, however, had we hoped we would be more like Fr. Tim himself.  Karon’s Fr. Tim is modest and self-effacing.  He is honest but also tactful.  He is inordinately patient with the elderly, children, and even unruly pets.  He displays a great sense of humor.  He has a pastor’s heart for his people, and he clearly loves Almighty God!

I recently read the 12th book in the series titled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, and what I found to be most noteworthy is Fr. Tim’s remarkable prayer life.  Fr. Tim frequently lifts up the needs of his parishioners.  He prays with them, he prays for them while engaged in other activities, and his favorite come-back for a prayer request is, “Consider it done!”  A Bible-believing Episcopal priest, he has memorized many of his denomination’s beautiful prayers called “Collects.”  Quite a few were written by Archbishop Cranmer following the Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500’s.  Fr. Tim wakes up and ends his days reciting them.  He praises God when things go well.  He often prays what he calls the prayer that never fails: Lord, thy will be done….

Isn’t it true that most of us pray for help when our world is looking grim?  Or we pray to know God’s will when facing a big decision.  We may even remember to thank and praise Him for the wonderful moments, the miraculous events, the blessings in our lives.  But do we ever think to ask Him what He’d have us to do bless Him?  “Lord, how can we give back to You?”  Or, “What could we do that would please You?”

Today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Sam 7:1-11+16) sheds some light on what tends to happen when someone wants to gift God.

We are presented with King David, who lived about 1,000 years before the 1st Coming of Jesus.  Though he was a member of the tribe of Judah, he united all12 tribes to form the nation of Israel.  He also established Jerusalem as his capital.  With God’s help, he subdued all of Israel’s enemies and, at the time of this passage, is experiencing an unprecedented period of peace.  Furthermore, he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and danced before it, worshipping God as it entered the city.  He composed some great worship music, many examples of which are preserved for us as Psalms.  As you can imagine, our passage finds him very grateful to God for having blessed him in all of these ways.

My favorite Bible Commentator, Dr. J. Vernon McGee, suggests it might have been on a rare stormy or rainy day that the king spent some time and energy comparing his situation in his palace with that of God’s in the Ark.  He may have fretted, “Here I am sitting in this lovely cedar-lined palace, dry and warm, while God’s Ark sits out in the rain.  That is hardly right.  Why don’t I build God a house?”  Truly, the “tent” which held the Ark was not covered.  Nevertheless, David doesn’t pause to ask God if this is something that will please or bless Him.  He just assumes it will.  To King David, it probably seemed like a slam-dunk.

Even the prophet, Nathan, agreed with the idea, saying essentially, “Great concept!  Run with it!”  But God grabs ahold of Nathan and says, Go back!  Tell David I said “no.”  Furthermore, God adds, whoever said I needed a house?  For years, God had lived in a tent!  It has the advantages of being mobile, flexible, and portable (Other people groups in that day believed their local gods were confined to one geographic area; but the Hebrew God went all over the place).  God is saying, essentially, I appreciate the thought, but I will not be contained by humankind.

Afterall, He’d manifested as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  When He gave directions for them to build the “Tent of Meeting”—in which He met with and spoke to Moses and Joshua– He was present but not confined by the tent.  All of this was so until God allowed David’s son, Solomon, to build His Temple; and until informs us in John 1:14–The Word became flesh and dwelt (tented; pitched His tent) among us–a tent of flesh!

God denied the gesture but honored David’s intention.  He then proceeds to give David more than he could have asked for or imagined.

  1. First, He calls David “Servant.”  This is actually a Biblical term of endearment indicating a special relationship between a person and the Lord.  Typically it is used only with some patriarchs, the prophets, the nation of Israel, and Jesus.
  2. Next he tells Nathan, “Tell David I will build him a house” (dynasty).  David already has a luxurious palace.  The word House is bayith in Hebrew.  It has 3 meanings:  (1) David’s palace (vv.1-2); (2)Yahweh’s Temple (vv. 5-7, 13); and (3)David’s dynasty (vv.11, 16, 18, 19, 25-27, 2 times in 29).  This is the only royal house that the Lord would ever sanction in perpetuity.
  3. God then sets out the terms of His Covenant with David.  God promises:

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

   2.) I will provide a place for My people;

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

4.) I will raise up offspring to succeed you;

5.) I will establish the throne of your kingdom forever.  This means that God would not allow anyone to usurp David’s throne from him.  It also means that while the dynasty may fade, it will not disappear completely.

6.) I will be his Father/He will be My son.  God will father Solomon after David passes away.  And later, God will be/is still the Father of Jesus.                         

7.) I will discipline Him….God allows David’s wicked descendants to be taken out by the Assyrians or the Babylonians.  And much late–though He was without sin–Jesus is flogged and crucified.

 8.) But I will always love him!

9.) Your throne will be established forever:  In Luke 1:32–Gabriel says to Mary, He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of his father David.

         This 2 Samuel 7 passage is a very important section in the Old Testament as it expresses the Messianic Hope!  Our God is a Promise-Keeping God.  He placed the scepter (symbol of kingly power and rule) in the tribe of Judah way back in Genesis 49:10.  This Messianic Hope is reiterated time and time again in the Old Testament: 4 times in Isaiah; 3 times in Jeremiah; 2 times in Ezekiel; and once each in Hosea, Amos, and Zechariah.

Additionally, this passage shapes our Christian understanding of Jesus Christ:

  1. He is a son of (descendant of) David;
  2. One who will rise up from the dead;
  3. He is the capstone or cornerstone of the House of GodàJohn 2:19–Destroy this Temple (His body) and I (Jesus) will raise it again in 3 days.
  4. He is the possessor of a throneàRevelation 3:21–To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne…
  5. He rules over an eternal Kingdom:
  6. Jn 18:36–Jesus said, My Kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, My servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But My kingdom is from another place.
  7. Matt 28:28–And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
  8. He is the Son of God:
  9. Mark 1:1–The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  10. Acts 9:20–At once [Paul] began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God.
  11. He is also the product of an “immaculate,” miraculous
  12. conception since God is His Father.
 

Now what does this mean to us today?  For one thing, our God keeps His promises, both to David and to us!  Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is descended from King David’s line.  He thus fulfills all of the Old Testament prophesies about His identity.  Just as He was the hope for David (and for many down through the ages), He is our hope, right now!  He has made us for relationship with Himself.  He loves us with a steadfast and loyal love. He is faithful and true.  He will never leave or forsake us.

For another, we can never out-give God.  Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from the penalty for our sins.  The great temple built by Solomon (later rebuilt by Herod the Great) is gone (destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and not yet to this day rebuilt.)  The point of that is thatGod’s house is not a building!  Now, it’s us.  By the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit, our bodies are God’s temple.

I think the literary character, Fr. Tim Kavanaugh, truly demonstrates how to live and pray in a way that honors God.  As we approach Christmas this week, let’s come to God with grateful hearts.  Like dear, humble Mary, let’s seek to do God’s will at all times.  And, while we can’t out-give God, let’s ask Him how we might bless Him this Christmas.  Amen.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams