Unshakable Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 7, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 1:1-20; Ps 50; Heb 11:1-16; Lk 12:32-40

Years ago, Paul Harvey shared the story about a 3 year old boy who accompanied his mother to the grocery store. Before entering the store, she gave him strict instructions not to even ask for chocolate chip cookies—his favorites. She put him in the cart and they proceeded up and down the aisles, as she gathered her groceries.

He was doing fine until they reached the cookie and cracker aisle. He saw the bag of his favorite kind and asked his mother if she would buy them for him. She reminded him of what she had told him prior to entering the store, and said, “No.” He was disappointed but soon distracted as she wheeled him by other displays. Realizing she had forgotten soup crackers, she returned to the cookie aisle.

Once again, he asked, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Again, his mother held firm: “No,” she said, and she reiterated, “we are not buying any cookies today.”

Finally, they arrived at the check-out counter. The boy, an experienced shopper, knew this is his last chance. As his Mom was unloading the contents of her buggy, he stood up in the seat and yelled, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the check-out area stared, then broke into laughs and clapped. And while Mom gaped with open-mouth, 23 shoppers soon presented him with 23 bags of chocolate chip cookies.

I love this story! I shared it about 3 years ago as an illustration of the power of prayer. But today, I want to point out that this child knew that if he asked for something in Jesus’ name, he would get it. His mom had taught him about Jesus, and he had developed a child’s unshakable faith.

All of our Scripture passages today confirm our need for unshakable faith. Now this is not to say we never have doubts. Most of us ebb and flow, having unshakable faith some of the time and then less enduring faith at others. When we have doubts, we need to read Scripture, pray for faith—it is a spiritual gift—and remember that the devil’s first interaction with Eve in the Garden of Eden was to cast doubt on God’s goodness and on His word. Are our doubts legitimate or are they suggested to us by the evil one?

A. Our Isaiah (1:1-20) lesson reveals God’s deep unhappiness with the folks in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) because–like their brothers from the Northern Kingdom–they were headed, wheels off, toward the theological cliff. Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah condemns them for their rebellion against the Lord. They have disobeyed Him. They have rejected Him and have turned their backs on Him. Yet they still go through the religious motions. Their Temple rites are impeccable.

Their sacrifices are given in the prescribed manner, according to what is laid out in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But their hearts are far from God and He knows it! Their whole problem is spiritual apostasy. Religion without relationship is rebellion. They have the form of worship but not the substance. They are phonies and fakers—hypocrites–and they aren’t fooling God!

Even so, the Lord is willing to reason with them, in the heavenly courtroom. He is judge and He calls the rest of His creation as witnesses in the “trial” of His people. In verse 18, God says Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Even now, at the 11th hour, He is willing to rescue them from plunging over the cliff. He says (vv.19-20) If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. How patient! How longsuffering! How loving, merciful, and willing to forgive! God is giving them yet another chance to demonstrate their obedience and unshakable faith in Him.

B. Similarly, Psalm 50 warns us of God’s coming judgment. As in Isaiah 1, the Lord calls for the heavens and the earth—all of His creation—to witness His righteous accusations against His people. Do you see the consistency of Scripture? Here we have two accounts, written by two different persons at separate times, but visualizing God bringing righteous accusations against His Chosen Ones in a court of law. Again, the people have been disobedient. They have rejected the Lord and continually violate His Law. They are apostate! They are neither faithful nor faith-filled. Furthermore, God does not need their sacrifices (v.13) If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. God is spirit. Does He even have to eat? If so, would He require our help? Not really, as every plant and animal on earth belongs to Him.

Instead, what God wants is for them to develop and live out unshakable faith in Him. This kind of faith is life-changing. This kind of faith is pleasing to God.

C. The Hebrews lesson comes from Chapter #11, or what is known as “the faith hall of fame.” The author of Hebrews first defines faith (v.1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Then he (or she) posits that (v.2) This is what the ancients were commended for. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham predated the incarnation of Jesus, as did all of the Old Testament patriarchs and heroes. They lived before Jesus came to earth. Nevertheless, we are assured that their faith—being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not live to see—saved them.

Notice, with each patriarch, the verse begins with…

1.) oVerse 4–By faith, Abel…

2.) Verse 5–By faith, Enoch…

3.) Verse 7–By faith, Noah…

4.) Verse 8–By faith, Abraham….

Each of these men are examples to us of unshakable faith. That’s why they are included in the faith hall of fame. The writer to the Hebrews sums up the importance of faith in one sentence: (v.6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and the He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Again, our unshakable faith pleases God. Paul declares in Romans 10:9 …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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’

Unshakable faith saved those who came before Jesus’ 1st Coming and saves us who now have the benefit of His model and teaching.

D. In our Gospel lesson today, Luke 12:32-40, Jesus makes two points: First, He wants us to not put our trust in things/possessions that are transitory. As I said last week, none of us will be taking a U-Haul to heaven. Things can be swept away, like the homes and goods of those poor folks flooded out recently in Eastern Kentucky. Things can rot and be ruined. Money can be lost.

When I went to seminary in 1996, I had a 401K account with $28,000 in it. My 13 year old daughter got sick and we had no health insurance. I had to cash in that retirement account to afford her care as we searched all over for a diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment. She had Chronic Fatigue (practically unknown then) and something called POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; i.e., her blood pressure varied in unexplained and unexpected ways. If she stood too long, she grew faint. She could not sit through a school day, so I had to home-school her. Praise God there were seminarians who helped. A former math teacher tutored her in Algebra; a missionary to Tanzania who spoke French helped her keep up her foreign language; two wives of seminarians, who were certified teachers, taught her Biology and English, respectively. I coached her in Social Studies. God provided in such a way that she was able to take her GED and pass out of high school without attending.

Additionally, when I left seminary, the college I worked at—Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa—had paid into a retirement account for me (I directed their counseling center by day and took seminary classes at night and during the summers). That account, when I finished my training in ministry, contained $28,000. How’s that for identifying the hand of God? The Lord had replaced my retirement funds! That and a number of other events have led me to have unshakable faith in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We are to trust in God’s care and provision for us. Jesus says in verse 32–Do not be afraid little flock [believers], for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom [God’s rule and reign on earth].

And, secondly, He wants us to trust in and be ready for His 2nd Coming. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding in which He is the bridegroom and we are the servants. In Ancient Near Eastern weddings, the celebrations could continue, at the bride’s family’s home, for a week. Meanwhile, servants back at the groom’s house—where the newlyweds would live in a room he had added (imagine all of your adult life with your in-laws)—would not know when he might actually leave the celebration to return home with his new bride. So, servants needed to stay ready, like a baby-sitter—don’t be asleep or have a boyfriend over when the parents get home; or like teens when their folks are away—don’t be having a party. In this particular parable, Jesus says the Master will be delighted if he arrives home to find everyone ready to greet him. In fact—since the Master is Jesus—He will serve the servants (in John 13:4-16, He washes their feet).

Therefore, we need to be ready whether He (Jesus) comes again at the 2nd watch, 9:00 pm, or the 3rd watch, 3;00 am, today or tomorrow or months from now. Jesus is not a thief, but His 2nd Coming will be much like that of a thief in the night. No thief tells you when he/she plans to burgle your home. Why? Because if we knew when and what time some bad actor was coming to rob us, we would be prepared. We would have some brawny friends and probably a gun or two (and a cell-phone to record the event).

Perhaps you saw the video this week of the 80 year old liquor store owner who fired at a young felon trying to rob his store? He was prepared. Interestingly, the crook ran out and jumped into a BMW station-wagon. That’s a pretty pricey get-a-way vehicle. But I diverge.

The important point is that Christ’s return is certain, but the time and the day is not. So, we want to exercise a faith that is…sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

As I have said before, and often, the US is in a similar position now to Judah back then. Our challenge is how to develop an unshakable faith in Jesus. What can help us do this?:

First , we can pray. Faith is a spiritual gift that God would love to give us. We can ask Him for unshakable faith.

Second, we can remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. In his commentary on Isaiah 1, J. Vernon McGee cites a helpful poem:

Philosophy says: Think your way out.

Indulgence says: Drink your way out.

Politics says: Spend your way out.

Science says: Invent your way out.

Industry says: Work your way out.

Communism says: Strike your way out.

Fascism says: Bluff [or bully] your way out.

Militarism says: Fight your way out.

The Bible says: Pray your way out, but

Jesus Christ says: I am the way [out]….

(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.29.)

God’s judgment is coming, but our faith in Him, through the work of Christ on the Cross, saves us.

Third, we can also try to live a life like the Old Testament saints from Hebrews 11, …being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham did not live to see and learn about Jesus. They came way before Jesus’ time on earth, but they hoped for God’s eventual rescue of humankind. No matter their difficult circumstances—and they each had some–they trusted (believed) in God’s goodness and His loving kindness. When we nurture an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, we have gained our way out of the troubles of this world.

Finally, we can offer to God our sincere, heartfelt worship. No empty rituals, but actions that speak louder than our words. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

Dire Warnings

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 10, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever noticed that sometimes authorities/experts misdirect us? Some examples of this include the following:

1. In my training as a psychologist in the late 1980’s, we were told not to talk to people about their spiritual beliefs. Supposedly, it was none of our business and not germane to emotional or cognitive struggles. But then I came to realize—thru experience—that at the root of most emotional problems is a misperception (or two or three) about God. True healing requires that we talk these through.

2. Consider the Covid advice and the mandates. We were told to close the churches so as not to spread the virus. But the history of the Christian Church in the first and second centuries demonstrates that the Church grew because Christians helped tend the sick through two vicious plagues. Scripture tells us (Hebrews 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. And Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. That’s why we reopened so much sooner than most others around us.

3. You have probably heard the adage, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” This is good advice when raising teenagers. However, my son and I have each written 2 books mostly during the hours from 10pm-2:00 am. As “night owls,” we are most creative then. Additionally, no one else is awake to interrupt or to distract us.

4. I have also heard church authorities tell preachers not to touch on political issues in their sermons. It is often true that if you criticize one party, you run the risk of alienating those who favor it. But you may have noticed that I do criticize what appears to me to be corruption, collusion, and outright fraud and deception—in whichever party—because these behaviors are opposed to, are antithetical to the Christian life. There comes a time when, as a pastor, I have to point out for us how our culture is veering off into directions that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t want for you to be conned or misled. And I have to please the Lord, even if it “ruffles the feathers” of some.

Consider the current push toward Socialism—and ultimately Communism—by the “Progressives” in our culture today. This week I read a book called The Naked Communist: Exposing Communism and Restoring Freedom. It was written in 1958 by an FBI agent tasked with investigating communist efforts in the U.S., and updated/reprinted 7 more times (most recently in 2017) by W. Cleon Skousen (and his son, Paul). Dr. Ben Carson says it lays out the whole “Progressive” plan for America. I believe Skousen (and Carson) are right.

Skousen reveals 45 goals of Communism designed to take over the US, and asserts that 44 of them have already been at least partially achieved. Consider the following for example:

#15 Capture one or both of the political parties in US;

#17 Get control of the schools, especially through rewriting history;

#20 Infiltrate the press;

#25 & #26 Breakdown cultural standards of sexual morality; promote pornography, alternate forms of sexual expression, and promiscuity as normal, natural, and healthy.

#27 Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social religion;” discredit the Bible.

#28 Eliminate prayer or any type of religious expression in the schools, as a violation of the separation of church and state. I remember when I first arrived in Florida in the mid-1970’s and was teaching in public high school, we began each day with prayer and a Bible verse.

#29 Discredit the American Founding Fathers.

#40 Discredit the American family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce. Florida has “No Fault” divorce, which means a divorce can be granted if only one person wants the marriage to end. Traditional grounds like adultery or cruelty are no longer required.

#42 Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition.

If we examine current trends in the US, we can recognize, with Skousen, how many of these goals have already been achieved in our country.

This brings me to our Old Testament lesson for today: Amos 7:7-17. Amos was a farmer and herdsman, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who God ordained as a prophet and sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (His name, Amos, means burden-bearer.) He was a commoner, not of the priestly or political classes. He was an outsider. He prophesized during the reigns of King Ussiah—a good king–in Judah (790-740BC) and of Jeroboam II—a bad king– in Israel (793-753). This was a time of prosperity and security in both kingdoms. Biblical scholars tell us that luxury abounded; that making money had become more important than worshipping God; and that empty “ritual religion” and other forms of spirituality were popular, but belief in and obedience to God was waning. The rich exploited the poor. The judicial system was corrupt, offering one standard for the rich and the influential, and another for the poor. Injustice was rampant, as the peoples’ moral fiber had eroded. Sound familiar?

So God sent Amos to declare His judgment on Israel. He issued a call to repentance. He urged Israelites to seek God sincerely. His job was to warn the Northern Kingdom that God was losing patience with them. The Lord told him to prophesy that that God’s judgment was looming. He was to issue the dire warning that their end was coming. God always gives us plenty of warning before He enacts His judgment. Amos addressed Israel from 760-750BC. The Northern Kingdom was defeated and either killed or carried off by Assyria in 722BC.

In this morning’s reading, we have one of Amos’ warnings. God tells him His judgment is like holding a plumb line to a building or to a strip of wallpaper. If a line is plumb, it hangs vertically and is “straight.” I have hung wall-paper a number of times in my life, and I always snapped a blue chalk-line to ensure the first strip went up plumb. God uses this same image in the prophesies of Isaiah (28:16-19), Jeremiah (31:38-39), and Zechariah (2:1-5) to indicate that He is getting ready to render a judgment. The plumb line is God’s ethical standard, which the people have failed to meet.

Then the passage moves to communications between Amos and Amaziah, the pagan priest of Bethel (King Jeroboam’s Chapel): Amaziah reports Amos to the king, but distorts the prophet’s message (an early example of fake news). He accuses Amos of conspiracy against the King. He misquotes Amos, exaggerating and personalizing the prophet’s predictions. The prophet never says Jeroboam will be killed in battle; instead, Amos predicts Jeroboam’s “house” or dynasty will fall by the sword.

Amaziah brings the King’s message to Amos–>Go back where you belong. Amaziah was no doubt refined, well-educated, perhaps even charismatic and given to flowery speech—we recognize the type, slick and persuasive. He probably considered Amos a country “rube,” a “deplorable,” someone beneath his contempt. He implies Amos is a prophet for hire, being paid to bring bad news—or, worse yet, a fanatic. But Amos answers him, calmly, with modesty and moderation: No, I am not seminary trained nor the son of a prophet. I’m here because the God you no longer worship told me to come. Amos then pronounces God’s judgment against the real false authority, the pagan priest:

1.) Amaziah will die in captivity;

2.) His wife will be reduced to prostitution to survive;

3.) His sons and daughters will be killed (by the blood-thirsty and vicious Assyrians);

4.) His land will be divided (remember, a Levite never had land);

5.) And Israel will be exiled.

Notice that Amaziah had position, wealth, authority, and reputation—but was still dead wrong. Amos lacked these human credentials, but had the true word and the blessing of God Almighty!

If we compare this portion of Scripture with the Communist goals for America cited by Skousen, you can see that, first of all, we (America) are out of plumb with God. Tragically, our culture has wandered far from God’s will. In 2017, polls reported that 32% of US adults under 30 have no religious affiliation. In a recent interview of random strangers on the street in New York, I heard a guy say he did not know who the interviewer meant when he asked him about God. He’d not heard of God. Church attendance is down in most all denominations. Many of those who left with the quarantines/shutdowns have not returned.

Secondly, this means, I believe, that our country is headed toward God’s judgment. Please understand that the Progressive agenda is at best socialist and at worst communist. Both are anti-God and anti-Christianity. This is why we earnestly pray each Sunday for a revival of American faith in Jesus. This is why we pray that the crooks, the dishonest, and the ungodly in both parties in our country would be voted out of office and replaced with Godly persons who love Jesus and love the USA.

This is why we pray for a decline in violence and a rebirth of national respect for life and the rights of others.

Finally, we have to wonder what we can do. Our God issues dire warnings before He brings on His judgment. We need to consider ourselves warned. So, we can…

1. Refuse to be bullied by the progressive culture.

2. Decide, will you obey humans or obey God?

3. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana humorously says, “Eat your veggies and vote them out of office!”

4. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14 …if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Ask God to forgive the sins of our country.

The Lord views us both individually and as a national group, so we can take it on ourselves to ask forgiveness for our national sins. Look around, think about it, and you will know what they are. We can also pray diligently and seek His face.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God Hates Pride (Proverbs 16:18)

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 3, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 5:1-19; Ps 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Lk 10:1-20

The following is a true story. I shared this with you some years back, but it’s a good one that I think is worth another hearing:

A Granny-lady from Florida approached her car and was shocked to see two men sitting in it. She pulled her pistol out of her pocket-book, pointed it at them, and said, “I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” They immediately jumped out of the car and ran like mad! Relieved—and somewhat proud—she put her key in the ignition only to find it did not fit. Looking around in frustration, she then saw her own car several spaces away (You know how all silver or white SUV’s look the same!) Later, a booking Sargent at the local police station doubled over, laughing, as the 2 pale men reported a car-jacking by a “crazed, white-haired elderly woman, Caucasian, 5’ tall, wearing glasses, and carrying a large handgun. When questioned, the granny pleaded a “senior moment;” No charges were filed.

This is a funny story, isn’t it? It’s amusing precisely because it’s unexpected. The woman had to admit she was wrong—some find this very hard to do. The men were smart to remove themselves quickly. This is the kind of thing that their family and friends probably teased them about later. The lady was elderly. She was no doubt smaller and frailer than either one of them, but they wisely recognized her power differential. They were not too proud to run.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today both demonstrate our Lord’s view of human pride. Let’s look at them together.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of Naaman, the Syrian general.

We begin in the year 852 BC. Israel and Syria (Aram) had been at war for most of that decade. At the time of this passage, they are enjoying an uneasy truce. Naaman was the very competent commander of the Syrian armies. He had the respect of his King, Ben Haddad II. He was viewed by those who knew him as an honorable man, an effective leader, and a valiant warrior. But he was also afflicted with leprosy. In Israel, he would have had to have quit the military to live in seclusion. Gentiles, however, did not tend to separate out those with skin diseases in those days. Did he actually have Hansen’s Disease, or what we today call “Leprosy?” Scholars are not sure. He may have had a chronic skin rash, like eczema or psoriasis, or even some sort of allergic reaction, like hives. Whatever the cause, he was dogged by this condition and apparently seemed eager to acquire a healing. He learns from his wife, who has a Hebrew slave girl, that there is a prophet in Israel, Elisha, to whom he could go to ask for his healing. So we have a proud, accomplished, but desperate man going along with the suggestion of a little slave girl.

His King gives him leave to go to Israel. He carries with him a letter saying words to the effect that, Here’s my general who comes in peace.…He also brings along a generous payment: 750# of silver; 150# of gold; and 10 sets of clothing. Relying on the usual diplomatic channels (go to the king 1st), he presents himself to the Joram, the King of Israel. Joram is Ahab’s and Jezebel’s son (he ruled 11 years, from 852-841BC. He was not as evil as his father and mother, but also not a true believer in God. King Joram freaks out when this very successful, powerful enemy warrior shows up! Joram, in his panic, forgets Elisha. He mistakenly believes Naaman expects him to heal him, saying Am I God? He is afraid his inability to effect a healing will become a reason to break off diplomatic relations and will precipitate a renewal of war. He tears his garments not in grief, but in frustration and despair. Elisha hears of the General’s visit (the Northern Kingdom was a small country).

Elisha chides the king (verse 8) Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a prophet in Israel. Joram should have prayed, rather than freaking out! He should have called upon the prophet as God’s spokesperson.

In verse 9, Chariots blazing, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s like a rock star! He has the retinue, the diplomatic power, and the wealth of a famous person. He proudly expects to be treated quickly and effectively. But, God intends to heal him as well as to humble him: (1.) The prophet does not even come to greet him, or to offer the barest of hospitality—water, oil, a kiss of greeting; (2.) He instead sends him a message by a servant (v.10) Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed: The grand man feels disrespected! He was used to being accorded what we refer to today as “all due respect.” He was expecting some religious ceremony (verse 11) I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. And why should he wash in the piddley, muddy Jordan when there are cleaner, clearer, grander rivers in Damascus? He explodes into a fit of temper!

Notice that once again, a servant intervenes. Trusted underlings urge restraint and obedience: (verse 13) …if the prophet had said do some great thing, would you not have done it? So, in verse 14 he obediently and humbly washes 7 times in the Jordan and is cleansed/healed of his skin disease. Naaman then praises God (verse 15a) Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. The great man has been humbled. He now has some new attitudes and has taken on some new behaviors.

His obedience, not the prophet’s ritual, had led to his healing. He was healed when he put aside his pride, his prejudice (against the Jordan), his preconceived notions (the prophet must perform some sort of ritual); and his pushback against simplicity. He was healed when he decided to trust in what his servants told him about the Hebrew God. He suddenly became so devoted to the God of the Hebrews that he carts back a wagon-load of Israelite soil to Syria. Many ancient peoples believed their gods were territorial, to be powerful only on their own soil. He does not yet know that the Hebrew God is God of all the earth, unlimited by country boundary-lines. And he promises that when he has to attend his king in Baal-worship, he will instead be praying in secret to the One True God. Naaman has been healed, humbled, and converted.

Our Gospel lesson today is from Luke 10:1-20 and it reveals a lesson similar to that of our passage from 2 Kings. 72 disciples are sent out in pairs to preach, teach, heal and deliver folks from demons. Jesus tells them to go where they are received (the way has been prepared); and to depend entirely on God for their provision. They come back rejoicing in their success, even over demons. There is a natural tendency to rejoice in our successes, isn’t there? But Jesus reminds them that they belong to God; that is, they are doing God’s work through the power of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want to get “the big head,” thinking our successes in ministry come from our own efforts.

Jesus then goes on to prophecy the future judgment of 3 Jewish communities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Unlike Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, they have each had the opportunity to see Jesus and witness His teachings, healings, and miracles. Nevertheless, He knows they will have each rejected Him following His death on the Cross. As He says, rejecting Him is the same as rejecting God the Father. This is a case of hanging onto human pride (I know what is best for me.), leads to losing an opportunity for salvation.

Our God hates human pride: We are to put it to death. We are to stomp it out in ourselves. We are to smother or crush it. We are to be humble. Someone has once said, “Pride is the difference between what you are and what you think you are.”

It turns out that Samuel Morse was originally a painter of some renown. He was painting a portrait out of town when his wife became ill. Sadly she died before he’d even learned of her illness. Heartbroken, he set aside his painting and dedicated himself to developing a means of communicating, rapidly, over great distances. He eventually invented both the telegraph and the means to transmit messages on it, Morse Code. Even though he became very famous for these inventions, he remained humble, saying, “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.” Morse had the right heart attitude.

Consider the following poem by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr.:

Sometime when you are feeling important,

Sometime when your ego’s way up;

Sometime when you take it for granted

That you are the prize-winning “pup”;

Sometime when you feel that your absence

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions,

And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to your wrist.

Now pull it out fast and the hole that remains

Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.

You may splash all you please as you enter,

And stir up the water galore,

But STOP and you’ll find in a minute,

It’s back where it was before.

Borrowed from Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.467).

Let us Pray: Lord, we humbly ask You to help us to give God the glory for whatever we do of merit. We also ask, in Jesus’ name, that You would please save us all from the sin of pride! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. When we obey God.

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Looking for Jesus

Pastor Sherry’s message for 04/10/2022

Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Lk 23:1-49

Two of my favorite Bible commentators, the Rev. John Fearless (a Baptist) and the Rev. Delmer Chilton (a Lutheran), who call themselves “Two Bubbas and a Bible”), recount the following story:

“…an American was vacationing in a small [Danish] fishing village. On Sunday, he attended services in the ancient church, which dated back almost a thousand years. He went early so as to see everything. There was one thing that stood out. During the prelude, everyone who came in stopped halfway down the aisle and, turning to the right, bowed in the direction of the blank wall. Everybody, no exceptions. When the choir and the pastor came in, they too stopped and bowed to the blank wall. After the service, the visitor stood outside and talked to a few folks who knew English and eventually he asked them about the practice of bowing to the blank wall.

“And they all said, “We don’t know, we’ve always done that.” He asked the pastor. He said, “I don’t know. They were doing that when I came and I saw no reason to stop them.” The pastor did promise to find out and write the visitor.

“A few months later he received a letter from the Danish pastor. When the church was built, around the year 1150AD, there had been a mural of the Madonna and Child painted on that spot on the wall. At the time of the Reformation, when the Danish church went from Catholic to Lutheran, the mural was painted over and the people were instructed to stop bowing to the wall. But the people of the village ignored a long line of ministers telling them to stop bowing to the wall, until the clergy gave up, and eventually the people and the pastors all bowed to the wall and all forgot why.”

(Fearless & Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year C, 2015, pp.142-143)

I think this story provides such a good example of how our expectations and habitual ways of acting—even if incorrect—get set into stone. This is Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They welcomed Him as King and Redeemer, laying palm fronds at the feet of the donkey on which He rode and shouting “Hosanannas,”—the Hebrew version of “hurray” or “glory be!” Jewish kings traditionally rode donkeys rather than large white chargers (horses), as we would imagine. So, He entered the Holy City as Israelites would have expected of a King. Then, as they observed Him teach daily in the Temple, we see some become more and more disappointed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders find Him intelligent and extremely knowledgeable about Scripture—and able to cast out demons and heal people– but not their idea of the Messiah they expected, so they charged Him with blasphemy.

Judas, too, expected a military Messiah who would rid the Jews of pagan Roman control. Over time, he lost faith in Jesus’ meek and mild approach. He wanted the King Jesus we will see in the end times, at His second advent, coming to slay evil doers. Surely some of the crowd that gathered at His trials felt similarly. The Messiah Jesus demonstrated was not the Messiah they wanted. So they would rid themselves of Him, and continue, figuratively, their empty, vapid practice of “bowing to the blank wall.” They are still waiting for the Messiah. (Please understand I am not mocking the current practice of Jewish worshippers who pray at the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem. Although it is a blank wall, it is also the remains of the Temple and they gather there to pray not to the wall but to our God.)

Just prior to our Isaiah passage today (50:4-9a), in verses 1-3, God explains why He has set Israel aside: It is precisely because they rejected His Son, Jesus. Persisting in “bowing to the blank wall,” they overlooked how perfectly Jesus’ life fulfilled Isaiah’s descriptions of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 50 contains the 3rd of 4 Servant Songs. All four, written some 700 years before Christ, describe exactly how the Messiah would behave. Biblical scholars tell us the Jews did not know what to make of these passages. Some parts seem predictive of the prophet Isaiah’s life, but most descriptions contained therein do not fit him. They do fit Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking (thru the prophet). In verses 4-5 He says the Father has given Him an “instructed tongue.” He steeped Himself in Scripture study, during His years as a carpenter, before beginning His public ministry, so He knew God’s Word. Then God guided His actions thru prayer The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears. Jesus conversed often with His Father; He listened to and obeyed God’s directions.

Jesus asserts I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

The Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all record His treatment at the hands of His enemies (v.6) I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. He could have resisted them (John 19:11), or disappeared as He had in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30); but He knew He had to die on the cross to save us from the penalty God’s justice demanded for our sins.

Isaiah further records that because Jesus trusted in God, His Father, He was able to suffer through what they did to Him (v.7b-9) Therefore have I set My face like flint [He was determined], and I know I will not be put to shame. He Who vindicates Me is near…It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. They may not have seen Him as their Messiah, but He is God’s Messiah and He is our Messiah.

Psalm 31 was written by King David as a prayer for deliverance from his enemies. The portion we read responsively today (vv.9-16) seems to speak prophetically for both David and, later, Jesus. In verses 9-10, they both are asking for God’s mercy because they are exhausted physically and emotionally. In verses 11-12, David and Jesus both express grief at being abandoned by their friends in their time of need (remember Peter, James and John fell asleep in the Garden and only John stood as a witness at the foot of Jesus’ cross).

Despite their grim circumstances and their despair, however, both Jesus and David exclaim (vv.14-15) I trust in You O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands….Actually the number of our days are all in God’s hands. No wonder God considered David, “a man after My [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). No wonder God honored Jesus’ great faith and obedience.

Paul describes Jesus’ great faith and obedience in Philippians 2:5-11. Scholars believe this was originally a hymn sung by the early Christian Church that Paul is quoting to make his point. He wants us to have the same attitude as Jesus: Be humble; Be guided by agapeo love, that longsuffering, loyal, merciful, grace-filled love that God has for all of us. Further, he wants us to be cognizant of Jesus’ great sacrifice of Himself for us: He left His heavenly prerogatives behind—but not His divinity–when He left heaven for His incarnation. The King of the Universe became a servant so as to…(1) walk among us; (2) experience life as we do; and (3) to die—though sinless–as a criminal to redeem us.

God the Father then exalted Him such that at His name, every knee in the universe will [someday] bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. This means all evil doers. This means all atheists and nonbelievers.

This means everyone who worships other gods. All of them, and all of us, will agree that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Our Gospel passage is the Passion of Christ according to Luke (23:1-49). It’s a long passage in which Dr. Luke leads us from Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin to His death on the Cross and burial in the tomb.

Remember, Luke’s motive was to write an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry by interviewing Jesus’ contemporaries, followers, and relatives. He compiled and recorded eye-witness testimony from those who were there. So we learn some in the Sanhedrin paid for slanderers to bring false accusations against Him. They claimed He …subverted our nation, though He never incited violence. They lied and claimed He…opposes paying taxes to Caesar, when He had in fact produced a fish with a coin in its mouth to (Matthew 22:21), Render to Caesar what is Caeser’s; i.e., to pay the tax. They charged Him with falsely claiming to be the Messiah when He was and is the Messiah.

Pilate tried to get the mob to back off, but they pressured him to crucify Him—just a few days following His triumphal entry into the city.

Jesus hung on the Cross from 9am until 3:00pm. Darkness covered the land from noon until 3. He called out to God, surrendering His spirit to the Father.

We also learned that a Pharisee named Joseph of Arimathea (a town 20 mi. NW of Jerusalem) laid His body in a new tomb, just before the Sabbath began. Jesus was the passover Lamb, slain to save us from death.

As John the Baptist proclaimed (John 1:29) Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Are we like the folks in Jerusalem, looking for our idea of Jesus? In looking for the Jesus we have placed in a box bordered by our own expectations, are we overlooking the One who is real and true? This Holy Week, we want to look for Him as He reveals Himself… in the Scriptures; in prayer; in our worship together (Good Friday service at noon; Easter Sunday); and in our lives.

We want to cast off all of our mistaken ideas of Who we imagined He is (stop bowing to the blank wall) and come to terms with the reality of Who He is:

(1) Suffered, crucified for our sakes;

(2) Risen, glorified, opening the way to heaven for us;

(3) Later resurrected as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

We want to say, like Jesus and like King David, in Psalm 31:16) Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Full-on Access to God

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 13, 2022

Scriptures: Gen 15:1-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 13:31-35

Children who have been taught about God have such lovely and simple faith in Him. Consider these letters written to God by kids (Google “Kids’ letters to God” to find more):

1. Dear Lord, Thank you for the nice day today. You even fooled the TV weatherman. Hank (7YO)

2. Dear Lord, Do you ever get mad? My mother gets mad all the time but she is only human. Yours truly, Kevin (8YO)

3. Dear God, How did you know you were God? Charles (9YO)

4. Dear God, I bet it is very hard to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in my family and I can never do it. Nan (8YO)

5. Dear God, My brother won’t let me play with his video games. Will you make him share? Love, Janey (6YO)

6. Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. James (8YO)

7. Dear God, Can you guess what is the biggest river of all of them? The Amazon. You ought to be able to because You made it. Ha, Ha. Guess who?

These letters are precious, aren’t they? The kids who wrote them have such simple faith. They see God as Someone to Whom they can take any complaint or concern. They think of God as Someone to Whom they can ask a question and expect an answer; Someone who will make things right;

Someone with Whom they can enjoy a joke or a riddle. They believe, rightly, that they have complete access to God—He is as close as a prayer, a letter, or a text. What happens to us in that we grow up and lose a sense of our full-on access to God? Maybe we think our concerns are too unimportant compared to those of the universe, or maybe we never developed the belief that we could just talk with God in the first place?

Nevertheless, Jesus applauded this kind of faith in us (Matt18:23) I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants us to have childlike faith in Him. He wants us to believe we have full-on access to Him.

Each of our Scripture passages today challenge us to believe in our full-on access to Jesus:

1.) In Genesis 15:1-19, God tells Abram (in what is His 4th appearance to him)—Abram who is still awaiting the Child of Promise—that He, God, is Abram’s shield and greatest treasure. In other words, God is Abram’s king or sovereign (shield)—as He is ours. God also wants Abram to know that He keeps His promises. The Lord reiterates that the heir, Isaac, is coming, as are many, many other descendants (v.3)🡪…look up at the heavens and count the stars—indeed if you can count them…So shall your offspring be. God also re-promises this wandering Aramean extensive properties of his own.

Abram has not yet seen either of these come true, but he believes in, trusts in God. In verse 6 we are told Abram believed the Lord, and He [God] credited it to him as righteousness. Jesus had not yet come to earth to redeem us, yet God saved Abram due to his faith (and his obedience). As I said here last week, our salvation is never due to our goodness or to our efforts, but always due to our God’s grace-filled response to our faith in Him. So, will we see Abraham in heaven? YES, we will!

Notice one other point: God reiterates His promises to Abram by literally “cutting a covenant” with him. In the Ancient Near East at that time, when you made a binding agreement with someone, you literally cut animal sacrifices in two and walked between them. You were saying, by so doing, “If I break this agreement, may I die as have these animals.” In this case, God was swearing an oath to Abram on God’s own life. Remarkable!

Also, the forms He used to represent Himself (remember, God is Spirit) are symbolic of the coming Christ: The smoking firepot represents the judgment Jesus will invoke at His 2nd Coming. The burning lamp represents Jesus as the light of the world. We could say, then, that God as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, swore an oath with Abram. Jesus is surely our King and our greatest treasure!

2.) King David wrote Psalm 27. In the first 6 verses, David expresses his confident reliance upon the Lord. In verses 7-12, he then goes on to pray for deliverance from treacherous enemies. Interestingly, these enemies have leveled false charges against King David. As King Solomon would later write (Ecclesiastes 1:9)🡪What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. This is so like what we witness today, isn’t it, where politicians from one faction conjure up lies and conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting their opponents, and vice versa?

But in verse 4, David articulates his primary desire: One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. King David desires full-on access to God. He’s got wealth and political power through his throne; He’s got either a land at peace, or military victories; He’s got wives and concubines as well as a bunch of kids (potential heirs). But more than these usual things people yearn for, before anything else, David desires intimate communication with the Lord.

3.) Our New Testament passage today is from Philippians. Just prior to today’s reading, in vv.13-14, Paul asserts🡪…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. What goal is he talking about? Intimacy with Jesus. He wants to be as close to Jesus as possible because as he goes on to say (v.20)🡪Our citizenship is in heaven. All that goes on here is a testing, a proving ground for rewards given us later in heaven. Those who don’t pass the test are what Paul calls (vv.18-19)…enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach [meaning satisfying their physical and emotional needs], and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

We don’t want to be like these folks. We want to keep our focus on the things of God, and the will of God.

4.) And if we were not clear on this, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, in Luke 13:31-35. Jesus is praying as He overlooks the city from some height. He is grieved because He knows what is to come:

His betrayal, a series of kangeroo trials, beatings, having His beard torn out, spit upon His face, and crucifixion. The city He has come to die for will soon reject Him. He is grieved because he knows that Jerusalem—the capital city of God’s chosen people—were not desperate enough to seek His face. They preferred to protect their idea of God while refusing and discarding the One Who was God. By discarding Jesus, they gave up a prime opportunity for full-on access to God.

On this, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, as we continue our spiritual housecleaning, we should be asking ourselves, “Where are we in relation to Jesus?” Chuck Swindoll shares the following story of a couple driving home one night from having celebrated their 25th anniversary: The wife was seated across the car, near the passenger side door, and the husband was seated behind the steering wheel as he was the designated driver. The wife said, “with a bit of heartache, ‘Honey, remember when we used to sit really close together in the car?’ And without a hesitation, her husband replied, ‘Well, Honey, I never moved. I’ve been right here all this time.’ ” (Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p.307.) That’s how Our God is with us. He’s not moved away from us; we have distanced ourselves from Him.

Like Abram, King David, and St. Paul, we need to adjust our sights or our postures and pursue full-on access to Him. Abram trusted in God’s promises to him. Like Abram we can believe what God has told us, and trust in Him to fulfill His promises to us. David trusted in God’s protection and desired emotional and spiritual closeness with the Lord. He trusted God to protect him because God had done so in the past. David desired to stick to the Lord like glue—again he knew from experience that this is the best of all places to be. Similarly, Paul pursued closeness to God before all things.

He describes this pursuit like an Olympic race. We can imagine him pumping his arms and legs, breathing quickly and shallowly, focusing completely on the finish-line, straining forward as he crosses over. Like Paul, we want to (v.12)…press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

May our faith be as strong as these “Biblical greats.” May we seek full-on access with God like the children whose letters I read. This Lent, may it be so. May we wholeheartedly press on toward full-on access to Our God.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

When Life Sends us Disappointment

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/30/2022

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

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

“That’s Disappointment,” was the reply.

“Why do you have it priced so high?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Knowing Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/23/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] I will recover sight for the blind;

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

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

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

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

1. Not from our profession;

2. Not from our marital status;

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

4. Not from where we live;

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

6. Not even from our gender orientation.

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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