The Message: The Power of an Interruption, Mark 5:31-45

Sermon:          The Power of an Interruption
Scripture:        Mark 5:31-45
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:                 July 1, 2018, Communion Sunday

You may listen or watch the service by clicking here.

This morning, we are picking up in the Story in a flurry of boat crossings for Jesus and the disciples. Last week, we noted how Jesus and the disciples encountered the powerful storm that almost swamped their boat and Jesus, who we thought was asleep at the wheel, in fact, had total control of the situation as well as nature.  Since that time, they have crossed back to the western side of Galilee to the area of the Gerasenes and Jesus has cast out demons into a herd of pigs who ran into the sea and drown. The townspeople there, upset and annoyed at the loss of income floating dead off the coast, begged Jesus to leave the area and so he has crossed over the Galilee yet again.  This is where we pick up in Mark 5:21-43. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Mark 5:21-43

                  21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”     35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.[1]

Interrumpitur vita. Life Interrupted. This is the type of life Jesus lived every single day.  In our text this morning, there are at least five interruptions that take place where poor Jesus can hardly get a word in edgewise.

Jesus no sooner gets off the boat and begins teaching when he is interrupted by Jairus, the synagogue ruler.  His daughter is deathly ill and begs Jesus to come and heal her. Interruption one (v.23).

While Jesus was making his way to heal the girl, a huge crowd follows him and is pressing in on him.  In the midst of this thronging mob, a woman whose life was interrupted for some twelve years with a non-stop menstrual condition risks her life and joins in the crowd to simply touch Jesus’ garments.  As the group makes it way to Jairus’ house, the bleeding, might I add – ceremonially unclean Jewish woman- in a last ditch-effort for life touches the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus feels the power leave him and he stops dead in his tracks and looks back around knowing someone with faith reached out to him (v. 28). Interruption two.

As Jesus is intently scanning the crowd for the person who touched them, the ever impatient and clueless disciples start riding Jesus about, “What do you mean, ‘Who touched me?’ Look around Jesus!  Who hasn’t touched you!” Now Jesus’ eyes were scanning the crowd and the disciples were trying to get Jesus back on schedule, back onto the itinerary to Jairus’ house (v. 31). Interruption three.

Ignoring the haranguing disciples, Jesus locates the woman who touched him and was in the middle of declaring her well and giving her a blessing of peace, when all of a sudden, people ran from Jairus’ house, interrupted his blessing of the woman to say that Jairus’ daughter had already died (v. 35). Interruption four.

Finally, Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house looking for the little girl when he runs into a mob of mourners who had already gathered at the home. Before Jesus can get to the little girl’s room, he first has to clear the house of all the people cramming into the place wailing and mourning; in the process of doing so, the people begin to laugh at Jesus and deride him as a fool (v. 40). Interruption five.

How well do you handle interruptions in your life? Jesus cannot walk two hundred yards without being interrupted some five times.  Everyone is pulling at and on him. Everyone is trying to get something from him. He focuses in on one thing and someone rips his attention away to someone or something else.  Have you ever felt that way in your life?  Think of a moment when you have been incessantly interrupted; what did you feel like?  What was your blood pressure doing?  How was your temper handling yet another knock on your door? How did you feel when you finally opened your mouth to respond?

A young couple finally puts the kids to sleep and they now have some alone time together.  They begin snuggling up and then they hear, “Mommy!”

You make it through the traumatizing efforts of going to the airport, dropping your car, checking your bags, being cavity searched by the TSA, and even got your coffee and sandwich at the deli. You board the plan and get the last overhead space for your carryon above your seat. You are now finally settling into your seat before take-off as you pull out your sandwich and take that first luscious bite of roast beef with heavy mayo and are in heaven. You’re about to take off when a member of the flight crew walks up and says, “Gee, Mr. Roberts, you’ve just been reassigned to another flight later tonight.”  How’s that blood pressure doing now?

Interruptions.  They are a part of life.  They can irritate you. They can snap you out of being zoned out. They can jolt you to see things or people you’ve never seen before. They can scare you. The question for us, though, is how do we handle them?

Years ago I was called to the hospital by a young couple I had married and the woman was in the midst of labor.  Things were not going well and I was asked to come to see them. Upon arriving, I was met by the mother’s daddy, the grandfather. He was a nice guy and a psychologist from Birmingham. His face was long when he met me and said, “Patrick, our grandson was born a few minutes ago. My daughter is doing fine but the baby has Down’s Syndrome.” I remained silent; what was I to say? Granddad continued, “We had dreams for what this little boy would grow up to be and do and now those dreams are gone. But you know what, Patrick, now is the time to dream new dreams!” He smiled. I was struck down and humbled at his wisdom.

Interruptions into our expected, ordinary routines are going to happen.  It’s how we respond to those interrupted expectations and routines that matter. If we are honest, most of life’s interruptions are mere inconveniences and annoyances. Yet, there are some interruptions in life that are life-changing.  What determines what we do when those moments come? It all depends if you and I are willing to dream new dreams and seek the Lord to redeem those interruptions!

Interruptions are those moments in our lives when you and I are given the chance to grow our character and spiritual depth. I love what the late C.S. Lewis wrote, “The great thing if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life.”[2]  So, I don’t place blame on God for the interruption of job loss, health tragedy or crisis, or death in the family; these are threads that make up the fabric of our life. God, however, takes the time to stop in the crowd and helps us redeem those interruptions and weaves those threads together to become healed and full of peace.

As you and I come to the Table this morning, I invite you to reflect on how you respond to the interruptions in your life. I’m talking about the little intrusions that are tossed at your throughout your day as well as those big, life-changing interruptions that change your world. The Good News is that God is in the thronging chaos with us and when he feels us reach out in hope and faith, the Lord stops and looks around for you and me to bring a word of healing and peace.  How we handle life’s large and small interruptions speak volumes about our spiritual depth and character.  As you come to the Table, think about, “What does my life speak?”  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis. Accessed on 6/29/18 at https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/interruptions.

The Message: Does it Ever Feel Like Jesus is Asleep at the Wheel?, Mark 4.35-41

Sermon:        Does it ever feel like Jesus is asleep at the wheel?
Scripture:    Mark 4:35-41
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:             June 24, 2018

You may watch or listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Mark 4.35-41

 35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” [i]

It was Christmas break of my Freshman year at college and I returned home after a difficult semester.  I drove some 20 miles to go meet up with some old high school friends to catch up and catch up we did. The next thing we knew it was after 2 in the morning and I had some thirty minutes to get home.  I should’ve known better.  Leaving my friends, I got into my faded red 1962 VW Beetle with Sears red shag carpet tiles on the floorboards and curved roof.  I was tired.

I started off just fine. The roads were pretty empty and quiet as I traveled about fifteen miles before I fell asleep, ever so briefly, behind the wheel of my car.  I know I fell asleep because I was jolted awake when the right front tire went off the road and the old Beetle’s suspension, or lack thereof I should say, bounced my head against the roof and woke me up.  Being startled, I did the one thing you’re never supposed to do when you drift onto a road’s shoulder and that is to oversteer in the opposite direction to get back on the road.  I jerked the wheel hard to my left and the old faded red 1962 VW Beetle decked out with Sears red shag carpet squares begin spinning 360’s on Old Alabama Road and then flipped over three times before landing on its side forty feet off the road between two massive oak trees.  By this time, I was fully awake and realized what happened.  While in shock, I kicked the door open above me and slipped out the top of the car.  I grabbed the floorboard and somehow managed to flip the car back on its wheels, got in, turned the key and the now crushed faded red 1962 VW with Sears red shag carpet squares started!  I gently but very much awake drove the remaining 6 or so miles home and parked the car the last time.  It was totaled.

I learned so much that night.  I grew up that night. I learned that falling asleep at the wheel in the middle of nowhere at 2 in the morning is a very sobering and scary thing and place to be.  You feel totally out of control and your natural instinct is to oversteer and overcompensate in order to prevent an accident; it is just this particular instinct to overreact that actually causes the problem.  I learned that night that when confronted with a crisis, you will have better outcomes physically and emotionally if you remain calm.  I’ve learned that to be true when driving a car, riding a motorcycle or even getting through the day with challenging team meetings.

Have you ever felt that at times your life was in the midst of careening out of control in a flip and roll cycle?  If we are all honest, we would all say, ‘yes.’

You walk in one day and your boss lets you know your services are no longer needed.

You get a routine physical and discover certain levels within your body are out of whack and new tests need to be ordered.

You arrive home one afternoon to discover that your spouse has had a heart attack out back in the garden.

Your retirement funds have been absconded and lost in a Ponzi scheme.

You feel like life is spinning out of control.  You feel as though wave after wave of trouble and problems are breaking upon you one after the other.  Like the disciples, you look heavenward and desperately cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?!”  Sometimes we feel as though Jesus fell asleep at the wheel, and in our Story today, we realize that he literally did!

The Sea of Galilee is circled with mountainous regions that rise up on its eastern, northern, and western sides.  The hot air from the deserts come up and over the hills and mix with the colder air from the high mountainous regions of the north and nasty squalls come out of nowhere.  Living in Florida, we know what that is like, don’t we?  One minute we are playing in the water at the beach and the next minute from out of nowhere a thunderstorm develops and lightening knocks an entire building’s cooling tower and AC like what happened to the Neumann Center yesterday. In a blink of an eye, your world gets turned upside down and inside out. And at that moment, we cry out to God, “Don’t you care we are perishing down here!?”

Jesus has been having an extended teaching and preaching tour among the villages of the northwestern and northern parts of Galilee near the town of Capernaum.  It’s late in the day and he hops into a boat with the disciples and we read in Mark how an armada of Jesus seekers follow them. The fact is, Jesus and the others set out at night to cross over to the far eastern shore of the Galilee from the north.  If you read the scriptures long enough, you begin to understand that in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments, good things don’t typically happen at night.  For our ancient brothers and sisters, the night was a time of shadows and foggy vision.  Furthermore, Jesus and the others went out into the night on the chaotic and unpredictable waters of the Sea of Galilee. Mark has painted a verbal picture setting up the first-century perfect storm! Like a Greek chorus who shouts instructions to the actors, we want to yell, “Wait till morning Jesus!  There’s no rush to cross the sea at night!  We’ve heard of the weather forecast and we’re telling you to please wait ‘till morning!”  But Jesus is tired.  He’s had a full day and he feels the need to be alone and quiet.  He needs rest and gets in the boat and off he goes.

Now at this point, I want us to notice where Jesus was on the boat. Excavations on the Galilee have found boats of his time that he would’ve used was some 27 feet long and Jesus was situated in a strategic place. Well, back in Jesus’ day, the boat was steered from the back or the stern.  This is where the rudder is but it is also where the one steering, the helmsman, would be.  So where is it we find Jesus in our Story this morning?  Jesus is fast asleep at the wheel and seems to be doing a poor job with his divine cruise control!  The boat is sinking!  The storm is brewing, and water is slamming into and over the sides!  This story of Jesus on the water, with shades of the Jonah Story all along the edges, looks as though the boat is going down. Things are spinning out of control.  All seems desperate and lost.  In the midst of the watery chaos, the disciples collapse into a full-blown panic and start yelling at Jesus to wake up and do something!

And he does.  In fact, he does that which only God can do: He exercises control over the perilous realms of nature.  Just as God, whose Spirit hovered over Creation’s watery chaos and brought forth order and beauty, so Jesus wakes up and commands the watery chaos to be still; one can even translate it as Jesus telling the chaos and storm to literally “Shut-up!” [2]  And it does. And so too do the disciples in the boat.

Jesus’ outburst is one that calmed two things that night.  First, it calmed the storm and crashing waves.  Second and perhaps more importantly, Jesus drastically shut the disciples up in order for them to stop and realize how far they had to go in their faith development.  There are two types of fear described in our Story today.  There is a cowardly fear for losing one’s skin that describes the disciples’ response to the storm, and then, there is flat out terrorizing run for your life fear. The disciples realize Jesus has a spiritual gift set that extends way beyond being pretty good in the pulpit! You see, the disciples were scared of the storm and swamping boat however they were lose-control-of-your-bodily-functions terrified at what Jesus just did! Jesus’ abrupt demand for silence is to jar the disciples’ out of a worldly based hopelessness and complacency and snap them back into the present reality of God’s providential care and concern.  As Episcopal priest, Mark Edington says, “Here is the conundrum: Jesus has godlike authority over the primordial chaos; he is king of the created order. Yet the immediate response to this demonstration of kingly power is not joy, not praise, not acclaim, but fear.”[3]

Friends, fear is not necessarily a bad thing as it reminds us to pay attention. Fear can either incapacitate you or it can be a dynamic catalyst for change. The key to handling and encountering fear is that once it gets our attention, we then have to decide how we are going to relate to that which is creating the fear. Do we relate with spiritual hopelessness and fear as the disciples did and complain to God, “Don’t you care we are perishing?” Or perhaps, do we relate with Jesus with the confidence that indeed, he’s got the whole, wide world in his hands?  Fear is not a bad thing; how we relate to it determines how it will affect us. Is it hopeless fear that God has abandoned us or is it faithful confidence that indeed nothing can separate us from the love of God, not job losses, cancer, knee replacements, divorces, strokes, nor overdue taxes and bills!  We may get the feeling Jesus is asleep at the wheel and life is spinning out of control, but the reality is he is situated in the stern of our life’s ship and has the wheel firmly in hand! Let’s remind ourselves, shall we?  Join me in this!

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”

He’s got the whole world in his hands he’s got the whole wild world in his hands
He’s got the whole wild world in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands

He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands he’s got the little bitty baby in his hands
He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…

He’s got you and me brother in his hands he’s got you and me sister in his hands
He’s got you and me brother in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…

He’s got everybody here in his hands he’s got everybody here in his hands
He’s got everybody here in his hands he’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…

What are your fears sisters and brothers?  Believe the Good News:  Jesus is not asleep at the wheel, but he is what?  He’s got the whole world in his hands!  Sometimes my friends, we just need to be reminded of this fact that we often forget when life gets a little swirly. Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
www.firstpres.cc
patrickw@firstpres.cc

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[i] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Joel Marcus, Mark I-VIII, from the Anchor Bible Commentary Volume 27 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 339.

[3] Bartlett, David L. and Taylor, Barbara Brown (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 5887-5889). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Let’s Talk About Suicide. Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain: We are to Have Good Hope for All!, Matthew 27:3-10

Sermon:          Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain: We Are to Have Good Hope for All!
Scripture:        Matthew 27.3-10
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date:                 June 17, 2018, Father’s Day

This morning, we are going to be looking at a text, which I must admit, I have never preached on before.  Turn in your Bible to Matthew 27: 3-20.  We are deviating from the lectionary text in order to look at an issue that has been in the news the past few weeks.  We are going to frame our thoughts around the title, “Judas Iscariot, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain:  We Are to Have Good Hope for All” this morning, we are going to address the issue of suicide and see what scripture might have to say.

Our community in Broward County knows all too well the pain from senseless deaths.  On Valentine’s Day this year, 17 people were gunned down at a Parkland High School which has lit the fires nationally as a debate for common sense gun laws.  According to the Washington Post, 141 children, educators, and bystanders have been killed in our schools with another 287 injured.[1]  Our country is up in arms over such a statistic as well it should be!  The media and our politicians have been vocal on what some have called an epidemic.  As horrible as those numbers are, did you know that in 2017 alone, 45,000 died from suicide?[2]  Sixty-two percent or roughly 28,000 of those people died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.[3]  The majority who harm themselves are male but the number of women in middle age is expanding quickly.[4]  To put it in perspective, the number of people who die by suicide in our country is about one third (1/3) of the total population of the city limits of Fort Lauderdale.  Where’s the press on that?  Where is the civil discourse and angst about that?  I’ll tell you where it is; its’ buried in the fact for why we don’t have many sermons on Matthew 27: 3-10 because the issue of suicide is one of those taboo topics.  As a result of the stigma placed upon those who choose self-harm and destruction, we choose not to talk about it until someone famous like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain do the unthinkable.  Our silence on the subject simply adds to the stigma of surrounding it.  Beloved, we can ill-afford to be silent any longer as our silence only contributes to spiritual, social and emotional misunderstandings of suicide.  Let’s look at our text in Matthew.  It’s a text we know about but often skip over:

Matthew 27.3-10

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”[5]

As we look at this text, I am in no way saying what Judas did was right, either in betraying Jesus or in taking his own life.  I do believe, however, Judas’ story gives those of us in the Christian community a better understanding as to why he chose the path he did.  Our text is illustrative.

Judas comes as a man saturated with guilt and shame.  His fervent hopes for who and what Jesus was to be and do were not realized.  He knows he lived as a disciple but like many in the church today, his name was on the rolls, but he didn’t really know what discipleship meant for him.  When his role as a disciple didn’t mesh with what Jesus intended, Judas quickly bailed out and arranged for Jesus’ arrest.  In the ensuing time between selling Jesus out and coming back to the religious authorities, Judas’ spirit was crushed and overwhelmed.  The horrible weight of what he had done and the pain it was causing Judas became intolerable, and Judas, with the mantle of guilt and shame tries to do something about it.  When Judas saw that his actions were going to cost Jesus His life, Judas’ despair drove him to action.  What does our text say?

The first thing our text says in verse 3 is that when Judas saw the outcomes of his selfishness, he repented.  Isn’t that what Jesus wants all people to do? Repent?  Judas in his spiritual and emotional crisis turned around 180⁰ in the other direction.  He fully embraced and acknowledged his selfishness.  The word for “repent” Matthew uses is one that describes a turning around because of deep shame and sadness; in other words, it’s a word that indicates a deep remorse for what he did.

The second reality we note is that Judas didn’t keep his remorse to himself. He goes to the Jewish religious leaders and tries to make restitution for what he did.  He tries to give back the 30 pieces of silver he sold Jesus out for in the first place.  In his state of mind, in the despairing swamp of pain in his soul, he tried to rectify the problem the only way he knew how.

Judas then does a third thing:  He publicly confesses his sin to the religious authorities and the Chief Priest.  He publicly admitted his sin against Jesus to the very ones who in Jewish law could forgive him.  He’s doing what Jesus told many others to do:  go and show yourself to the chief priests.  And it’s right here that all the wheels fall off the wagon.

Judas repents, tries to recompense for his actions, and then publicly confesses his sin to the chief priests.  He admits he has sinned by betraying innocent blood and then the ones who had the power and ability to forgive him, to release him from his burden, did what?  They smugly reply in verse 4, “What is that to us? See to it yourself!”  What does that mean, “See to it yourself”? The religious community had trusted in, the community who encouraged him to commit the sin of betrayal in the first place gives him the flippant answer, “It’s your problem; deal with it yourself.”  It’s at this point, beloved, we have in scripture an anatomy of suicide.

A broken person gives off signals they are in pain and seeks those in their community for help.  The people in the trusted community either can’t see the pain or chooses to ignore the pain in the other.  Judas the betrayer and the shattered, when ignored by the people in his community, withdraws to be all by himself.  It’s in that moment of sheer loneliness and despair that he takes his own life.  This Story that’s already full of so much pain and tragedy only becomes more mired in even greater pain and tragedy.  What can we learn from all this, beloved?

We learn that Judas’ suicide is not the unforgivable sin our culture and faith traditions have made it be.  Jesus in Mark 3: 29 tells us the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Suicide is not the unpardonable sin, so brothers and sisters, we need to have good hope for all!  Suicide is the result of a mental illness whereby a person cannot physiologically or emotionally to handle the onslaught of pain and despair in their lives. When a person feels that level of loneliness and hopelessness, he or she takes things into their own hands.  As a person who struggles with PTSD and my own mental illness, I can tell you that depression is one of the most narcissistic conditions known to humanity.  When you are lost in the mire of depression, you cannot see or hear anyone other than yourself. The lonely, depressed, hopeless person is reduced to being only focused on his or her pain and despair. It’s hard to see or hear others. In their minds, no one can understand what they are experiencing; as a result, they withdraw from others and their psyche runs away from them.  Suicide is caused by a brokenness, an illness, in our human condition.  It is not an unforgivable sin but it’s a sin and lack of confidence in God nonetheless.

We also learn from our text that those who do harm themselves are in desperate need of intentional, caring community.  As a faith community and as a culture, we must stop stigmatizing mental illness. We stigmatize mental illness when we tell hopeless people, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

We stigmatize mental illness when our insurance systems see it solely as a behavioral issue apart from its biological and physiological consequences and treat it as a lesser medical condition such as cancer or diabetes.

We stigmatize mental illness when we trivially call people “nut jobs” or “whackos”.

We stigmatize mental illness when we see it as something to be ashamed of and hidden and never talked about in our families or churches.

As a faith community, we are on notice not to repeat the sin of the chief priests and blow people off who show signs of emotional brokenness and leave them alone to figure it out on their own.  Our silence on this matter and pretending it does not exist is no longer an option.  So, Church, what are we to do?

Let’s be alert to those in our communities and circles of influence.  Do those we know all of a sudden seem grossly overwhelmed by life’s circumstances?  Do they forget details for the easy-to-remember items? Are they tired all the time and complain of not enough rest? Is there a change in their eating habits? Well, then talk with them about it.

Are there people you know who seem to have uncharacteristically withdrawn into themselves at work, home or at school? These are the people who are usually in the middle of a crowd working the room but now they are sitting off by themselves along the wall. These are the students or employees who typically are first to chime in on new projects and ideas but lately, they have become more silent, maybe even sullen. Then talk with them about your observations.  Check in with them and see how they’re doing.

Have you spent time with someone and the words they use to describe their life and situation seem so dark and heavy they are unable to see any light or hope?  Are they using a lot of first-person pronouns like “I” or “me” in their conversations?  Are their discussions loaded with superlatives like “should” or
“must.”[6]  Then lovingly look them in the eyes and quietly ask, “You seem pretty overwhelmed right now; have you thought of hurting yourself?”  If they hesitate or say ‘yes,’ then assure them you will walk with them until they are feeling whole again as you help them find clinical help and guidance.

Church, we have to be looking out for and listening to each other.  Ultimately, what a suicidal person chooses to do or not is totally up to them and is their responsibility; if a person is going to go and do a selfish act of self-harm, then there is nothing you can do about it.  Yet, you and I are the embodiment of patient, grace-full love to other sheep like us who are broken and weighed down.  Let’s pledge to be more attentive to the bleating sheep whose cries are cries of pain and let them know all hear them.  We may not be able to “fix” their pain, but at least we can embody Jesus as they go through it.  If you or someone you know is talking, thinking or fantasizing about self-harm, please let me know.  For you see, because we have a friend like Jesus, we are to have good hope for all.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Wrisley@outlook.com
Wrisley.org

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] John Woodrow Cox, Steven Rich, Allyson Chiu, John Muyskens and Monica Ulmanu, More than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine, The Washington Post, May 25, 2018.  Accessed on 6/14/2018 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.71568092eaf0.

[2] Ritu Prasad, Why US Suicide Rate is on the Rise, BBC News, June 8, 2018.  Accessed 6/14/18 at

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rhitu Chatterjee, US Suicide Rates are Rising Faster Among Women than Men, NPR, June 14, 2018. Accessed on 6/14/18 at  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/14/619338703/u-s-suicides-rates-are-rising-faster-among-women-than-men

[5] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[6] Elizabeth Bernstein, The Words That Can Signal if You’re Depressed, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2018.  Accessed on 6/14/18 at https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-words-that-can-signal-youre-depressed-1528724000.

The Message: How to Stay Focused on the Source #3: It’s Who We Are; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6

Sermon:          How to Stay Focused on the Source #3: It’s Who We Are
Scripture:       2 Corinthians 4.3-6
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:               February 11, 2018, Transfiguration Sunday

You may watch or listen to the message here.

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.[1]

One of the highlights of this past week was to stop by the Daddy-Daughter Valentines Dance and seeing all the dads, granddads, and uncles there dressed up with their girls in their finest. A flood of memories washed over me as I walked around the room greeting everyone; I found myself back at the time when my girls were their age; you see, I am a proud dad of two incredible daughters.

One of the memories that came up for me was when my girls both tried to learn how to play musical instruments. Lauren, when she was in second grade, tried to learn viola. Now Lauren over the years has shown to be an extremely talented woman in many, many areas but the viola wasn’t one of them.  She practiced and practiced and just got frustrated and stopped playing because the sound emitting from that viola sounded like squealing cats. Kelly and I were all too happy for her to try picking up some other new talent! Little did we know her little sister, Kate, was watching.

Kate decided that she too wanted to learn an instrument and we thought to ourselves, “greeaaat.” Kate wanted to learn piano.  Now this wasn’t a bad thing really because we could get her an electronic keyboard to practice on daily; those keyboards have sound jacks in the side the student can plug in headphones to hear themselves play and we didn’t have to endure the hours and hours of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, which we learned by the way, was written by Mozart. We finally got an incredible teacher for her, Natasha, who was trained in the Moscow Conservatory. She was a great teacher.  She took the time to teach Kate the knowledge and theory of the music, how the particular composer wrote scores in a way that brought out certain musical themes. She taught Kate how to play on the keyboard with her hands right over the tops of the keys allowing her fingers to play the notes with finesse and a light touch.

And she made Kate practice. Like every parent of a child learning an instrument, we made it through the Twinkle, Twinkle and Mary Had a Little Lamb stages. For us, it was like an audible game of Donkey Kong and we could not wait for Kate to get to the next level! And she did with ever-increasing frequency to boot! She soaked in Natasha’s knowledge of theory and practiced her heart out. And then something happened. Kate was no longer learning to play the piano; she had become a pianist! By the time she reached high school, she had scores from Bach and Beethoven memorized so that when she sat down to play, she felt the music, she expressed the music through the piano.  It was a beautiful transformation and metamorphosis to hear and witness!

Beloved, this is what we have been addressing the last few weeks. We began together by learning there are ten solid stones that we are to build our Christian faith in Christ upon. These stones are the knowledge and theory we each have of God. Building upon that foundational knowledge, we discovered last week that we are to express that knowledge and test it out by way of some basic Christian practices like worship, Bible Study, exercising our Spiritual gifts and financial resources, caring for one another in biblical community, serving others in Christian service as the hands and feet of Christ, and advancing our faith through spiritual retreat to name a few.

We have been reminding ourselves that in order to maintain focus on the Source of our Faith in Jesus Christ, we have to know certain things (orthodoxy) and then we express what we know and believe through practical experiences (orthopraxy).   Think of it this way: What we learn in our head is reinforced when it is expressed through our ‘hands’ over repetition. And then over time, something magical, marvelous and divine happens: Our knowledge and all of our practicing will eventually enable us to ‘live the music’ of our Christian life.  We no longer know facts and theories about God. We no longer are practicing our faith in order to become more like Jesus. No, there’s a change that happens. We become the music, we become manifestations of Jesus to the world.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  It’s the day we remember that Jesus was transformed before the disciples and they beheld him, experienced him, as the Christ of God. Our scripture this morning from Paul talks about this as well. He is reminding us that as God shines upon and in our lives, specifically in our hearts, then the glory of God shines back out with the light of Christ to others! People encounter you or me and they know they have experienced something different. It’s not that they experience a different form of you or me; what they realize is that through us they have felt the Presence of the Holy even if it’s but only for a moment.

Paul describes it as, “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It’s another one of those instances when Hollywood ripped off a biblical idea in the old movie, E.T., when Neil Diamond sings, “Turn on your Heartlight.”  You see, it’s not enough to know about God in Jesus Christ.  It’s not enough to practice living a life like Jesus lived for the sake of imitating him. The goal is that what we know about God and how we practice our faith transforms, transfigures our heart’s holy glow in our everyday lives. Our knowledge of the faith, our practice of our faith, over time through the Holy Spirit, change who we are on the inside.

Think for a moment with me of those people you know that when you are around them, you experience something that’s really different, and as a result, you become changed, too. You know what it’s like to encounter that type of Christ-follower.  They’re different.  They’re different, not in some obnoxious, odiferous way that smells of all the culture’s negative connotations of Christians as self-righteous, overly pietistic, intolerant moral do-gooders that sit in judgment over everyone else! On the contrary, they smell the aroma of Christ. We see the glory of God reflected off the face of Jesus in them. All of their knowledge, all of their combined life’s Christian practices have made them “become the music” and have transfigured them to reflect the glory of God! When you and I are around these people who have become the living music of Christ in the world, we know that we are in the presence of a loving person.

We know that we are in the presence of a joy-full person.

We know that we are in the presence of a peaceful person.

We know that we are in the presence of a patient, unhurried person.

We know that we are in the presence of a humble person.

We know that we are in the presence of a faith-full person.

We know that we are in the presence of a forgiving person.

We know that we are in the presence of a self-controlled person.

We know that we are in the presence of a thank-full person.

We know that we are in the presence of a sacrificial person.

When we are mingling with those types of people, we, in turn, become more loving, more joy-full and peaceful, more patient, humble, and forgiving, faithful, self-controlled and sacrificial people as well.

Jesus knew the Law of the Jews.  He practiced what he knew among all the people he hung with. It’s at that point, Jesus “becomes the music” for all those he encounters. All of his knowledge of God, the way he practices what he believes about God, has transformed and transfigured Jesus into the person he is in God.

What we know shapes what we do and what we know and do then shapes who we are in our virtuous center called the heart. Then something else happens! We are transformed as well because the more we reflect and express the light of Christ, that will then further transform what we think we know about God, how we practice our faith in God and eventually transform the music our Christian life continues to play to the world. It becomes an ecstatic ongoing transformation of who each of us is, who we are as a church, in Jesus.

So, let’s learn about those ten stones to build our knowledge of God in Christ.  Let’s practice over and over again those ten spiritual disciplines about what we believe. And eventually, beloved, our lives and this church will display shine and play ten basic melodies of who God is.  So, let’s begin the journey!  Who is with me?  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
pwrisley@drew.edu
wrisley.org

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.  All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

The Message: How to Stay Focused on the Source #2: It’s What We Do – Developing a Rule for Faith and Life, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Sermon:          How to Stay Focused on the Source No. 2:
                           It’s What We Do. Developing a Rule for Faith and Life
Scripture:        1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date:                 February 4, 2018, Communion Sunday

Our scripture this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.  Turn to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  Listen to the Word of God!

1 Corinthians 9.24-27 

24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Today we are picking up in the second message in a series on how we are to stay focused on the Source of our Faith, Jesus Christ. Last week, we noted ten stones of basic Christian knowledge each of us are to lay to build a strong foundation for our faith. At the very minimum, we heard that we each need to know something of the Bible, the nature of God, the human condition, Jesus, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Christian vocation, the spiritual world, and the Future. This foundation creates for you and me our understanding of orthodoxy, or better yet, our good beliefs. The problem with orthodoxy is even the Devil understood what sound beliefs were.  It’s one thing to know the right thing; it’s entirely different to actually do it and live it out.

This morning, we are going to look at what we build upon that foundation, that orthodoxy we know, and these are the ten basic expressions of living our faith out in daily lives. These ten basic Christian practices are tangible ways you and I can enflesh our faith and make it real. These practices are designed to take us out of our heads with what we know and throw us into the world, so we express what we know through what we do!  Good orthodoxy generates active orthopraxy; in other words, our good doctrine generates active practice in our daily life.

The Winter Olympic Games are about to begin in Korea this week and there was an article on the Norwegian ski team’s training regimen. After hours of lifting weights, skiing, and training, they finish their day with refreshing ice baths! It’s not exactly how I would want to finish my day on the slopes; but the athletes realize that in order to be competitive and stand a chance against others, they have to take charge of their body and make it yield to their purposes. In order to live out their physical prowess, they have to become disciplined and intentional with what they do with and to their bodies. It’s not enough to know how to ski well; unless they practice what they know the skiers will never be any better than anyone else.

This is what the Apostle Paul is getting at in our message today. Yes, he knows Jesus. Yes, he has faith. Yes, has the Spirit. He has the pedigree of being a Hebrew of Hebrews. He has the knowledge and critical understanding of the Jewish Law and Torah. Yet, Paul realizes that unless he trains how to apply his knowledge of Jesus, his faith, and all of his vast theological head knowledge, he is no better off than before. Paul knows that he knows that he knows that good orthodoxy, good thinking leads to orthopraxy, good practice.

Paul realizes that good, sound orthodox knowledge about God is nigh worthless if that knowledge is not enfleshed and put into practice.  Again, I go back to Jesus’ temptations after his baptism.  The Devil knew all the right answers and could quote the Bible as good as any Southern Baptist from Georgia; the problem was he did not practice what he preached!

Paul is reminding the Corinthians that in order to live the Christian life, they need to hit the spiritual gymnasium. It’s not enough to know that God is love; it requires us to figure out how to express that Godly love to the most ungodly people around us.  That takes practice.

A market report showed that last year, Americans spent over $52 billion dollars on sports equipment and gym memberships.[1] I don’t knock anyone who has done that as I wish all the sports I competed in did not ruin my hips so I could go to the gym; I simply mention it to ask how much are we Christ-Followers investing in going to our spiritual gymnasiums?  Is it comparable? Have we become spiritual consumers that practice our faith when it’s convenient and works well with the Little League schedule?  Do our spiritual disciplines and practices compare to the time we are spending at LA Fitness?

Centuries ago, the ancient church fathers and mothers developed the notion of a spiritual rule for faith and life.  Essentially, a spiritual rule for faith and life would be like a training schedule a trainer would give you when you went to work out in the gym.  Instead of telling you to run this far, do this many sets of weights, and stretch these muscles, a spiritual rule for faith and life is a way for a Christ-Follower to outline what spiritual goals they want to accomplish.  It outlines their plan to stay spiritually fit and applying the knowledge they have acquired.

My rule for faith and life, for example, means that six out of seven mornings a week, I commit to prayerfully reading the scripture with the lectionary and having prayer for one hour before I leave the house.  I worship in community at least once a week. I give back the financial blessings I’ve been given so that others will be blessed as well.  My goal is to read 40 books a year to stretch my theological muscles. I share what Jesus has done and is doing in my life with others I meet at restaurants or in other social gatherings. I attempt to get away alone three times a year for a few days to really focus on my relationship with God in prayer.  These are some of the items I strive for in my spiritual rule for faith and life.  What is on your training schedule for your rule of faith and life?

What we know impacts what we do. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. Over the course of our time together, we are going to intentionally learn about and practice ten basic Christian practices that will serve as your spiritual gym membership routine. What are those ten practices?

  1. Worship in community and alone
  2. Christ-Followership imitating Jesus
  3. Prayer
  4. Bible Study
  5. Advancing our faith and the Kingdom through personal Retreat
  6. Caring for others in Biblical Community
  7. Trusteeship of Our Spiritual Gifts
  8. Active Christian Service and Mission
  9. Winsomely sharing our faith
  10. Trusteeship of Our Finances and Possessions

Beloved, what is your spiritual rule for faith and life?  How are you putting what you know about God in Christ to work in faithful Christian practice? Which of the ten basic spiritual practices are you willing to put on your daily regimen to help you live out your life of Christ with your neighbor?

The late Greek Orthodox staretz[2] or holy man, Porphyrios once said, “When people are empty of Christ, a thousand and one other things come and fill them up: jealousies, hatreds, boredoms, melancholy, resentment, a worldly outlook, worldly pleasures. Try to fill your soul with Christ so it’s not empty.”

Friends, our spiritual practices and rules for faith and life are not meant to be shallow acts of works righteousness; they are instead a way to fill ourselves up with Christ and exercise what we know about God. Our practices help us learn how to better express God and His purposes to those around us.  As a pastor reminded us at presbytery yesterday, there can be no growth, no change without a little pain.  Spiritual practices and rule for faith and life are not easy to keep; they are not meant to be.  They are designed to help us grow deeper, grow stronger.

Today we experience a practice Jesus himself practiced. It’s a totally self-emptying for the benefit of others through the Lord’s Supper.  In this meal, he is broken and given to you and me so that we might become fuller of the love, grace, and peace of Jesus Christ. As it cost him to practice his faith, so too does it cost us.  What’s your rule for faith and life?

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Wrisley@outlook.com
Wrisley.org

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] $100 billion — that’s how much Americans spent on sports over the past 12 months, Published: Sept 12, 2017, 4:25 p.m. ET, by Steven Kutz, Market Watch. Posted on https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-much-americans-spend-on-sports-in-one-chart-2017-09-11 and accessed on 2/4/18.

[2] Also written as ‘starets,’ please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starets.

The Message: How to Stay Focused on the Source No. 1: It’s What We Know, 1 Corinthians 8.1-13

Sermon: How to Stay Focused on the Source No. 1: It’s What We Know
Scripture: I Corinthians 8.1-13
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: January 28, 2018

Once upon a time, there was a story reported some years ago from California about fishermen feeding pelicans. The fishermen would bring in their catch, clean the fish and toss the waste into the water and the pelicans waited and had a hand-filleted meal every day! Soon the pelicans just kind of hung out all day waiting for the boats to return for dinner. Why hunt for fish when it was being slopped to them in the water? Well, over time, the fishermen started selling the fish byproducts and stopped throwing them to the birds. The birds didn’t know what to do; they just hung out each day waiting for the catch, but it never came. They grew emaciated. They forgot how to fish! City officials had to bring in pelicans from other locations to re-teach the lazy ones how to fish again. I want us to place this story about the Pelicans forgetting how to fish for themselves and place it right over here on a shelf for a few minutes; we will come back to it shortly.

Last week we began our journey together by looking at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel that painted the overall theme and overture to his Story. We noted Jesus came proclaiming the Good News which entailed two parts. One was the call for us to totally change the way we see and experience God and the world about us. You’ll remember that’s we said the word “repent” means. Two, we learned that first and foremost the Good News Jesus announced was not about personal salvation per se; rather, the Good News is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. As followers of Christ, we know the inbreaking of the reign of God is demonstrably shown in Jesus. I issued a call for all of us to return to the Source, Ad Fontem, who is what? Jesus!

This morning we are going to begin a three-week series at looking at how we stay focused on the Source. At the end of our three weeks, we will learn what is required for us to have a healthy discipleship and Christ-Followership that will serve as the boundaries to keep us in the pasture of God’s holy pleasure and purpose. This morning, we are going to look at the importance of our basic knowledge of our Christian faith. It’s a topic Paul begins to look at in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians and he continues to unpack it in today’s text which is 1 Corinthians 8.1-13. Go ahead and turn in your Bible there.

Now the Corinthians were an interesting little church located on an isthmus that was also cross-roads for commerce, trading, and travel. People came there in boats and on foot and it had an international flavor. The Corinthian church meant well enough but when in doubt, they kind of did their own thing and unfortunately, it usually conflicted with a healthy walk in Christ. Because the city was a cultural melting pot, the members of the church picked and chose their syncretic beliefs to suited them. They took a little from the Greek traditions, local folklore, or Jewish faith and blended it all together into a spiritual bouillabaisse. Furthermore, the church members were often fraught with divisions because they fought over petty-minded things like whose preacher was better – ours or yours! If the ancient churches can be compared to people, the Corinthian churches were Paul’s problem children. Listen to the Word of the Lord:

1 Corinthians 8.1-13
8.1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

At first blush, we may think this passage is about food, but it is not. Professor of New Testament at Boston University, Dr. James Sampley, indicates that Paul is using this food illustration as a metaphor to indicate what constitutes proper relationships among people in a community. It’s not a story about what we eat as it is a story about how we use our new life, freedom and knowledge of Christ in the presence of others. You see, the Corinthians were comprised of prigs, spiritual know-it-alls, who felt they knew better or were better than anyone else. Instead of using their newfound life, freedom and knowledge of Christ in humble acts of service for others, they used their new life, freedom and knowledge as an excuse for free license to do whatever they wanted because they did feel they “knew” more than everyone else. Isn’t it wonderful there are not those type of people in the Christian church anymore?

So, though they know that eating idol meat does not matter a hoot in the eyes of God, they eat it even though they know it scandalized other Christians who do not know as much about their faith as they do. Their basic Christian knowledge led them to think they were superior to everyone around them; the more knowledge you had meant you had a higher status in the community. To all of this, Paul addresses all the blow-hard know-it-alls and says in verse 1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He’s saying quite literally, “Knowledge blows yourself up with pride, but love lays the foundation for all things.”

One of the reasons I am a Presbyterian is because the Presbyterian Church doesn’t ask its members or clergy to park their brains at the door; indeed, the Presbyterian Church is a church that beseeches her members to engage in theology! The depths and mysteries of God are rich and deep and there is so much to learn and the more we learn the basics of what sustains our faith the better equipped we will be in living it out in love.

Beloved, the purpose of knowledge is not to puff us Christians up with spiritual pride where we act like we know better than all those sorry people who don’t believe like we do; the purpose of knowledge is to learn how to correctly express love to one another. Hear that again, knowledge’s purpose is not about gaining facts but in learning how to better express God’s love to one another.

As we return to the source of our faith in Jesus Christ, we will as a church begin looking at ten basic theological stones we build our Christian life upon so that we can better love God and our neighbor. There are many more than ten but if we can get a grasp on just ten, we will be doing very well. So, let’s introduce those ten stones of spiritual knowledge we need to know about and have fun seeing what we really know about them.

Let’s start with the Bible. Answer these questions true or false:

a. Christians only need to really pay attention to the New Testament (false)
b. The Bible’s interpretation is best left to professionals (false)
c. Is best read alone (false)
d. Christians are known as “People of the Book.” (false)

Second, let’s look at what we know about the attributes of God. True or False – God is:

a. Omnipotent (true)
b. Omniscient (true)
c. Limited in power (false but can choose to limit his power)
d. Has been known to repent Himself (true)

Third, what do you know about the Human Condition:

a. Sin is what people do (true)
b. Sin describes a condition that is part of each person (true)
c. Original Sin precedes original blessing (false)
d. Sin is both personal and social (true)

Fourth, what do we know about Jesus? As we look at Jesus:

a. His family thought he had a mental disorder (true)
b. He was a Christian (false)
c. Is biblically reported to have stopped in situations and ask, “What would Jesus do?” (false)
d. Is a Way, a Truth, and a Life? (false)

The fifth stone is salvation. So with salvation, we know that –

a. Our actions and good behavior justify us before God (false)
b. Baptism is necessary for salvation (false)
c. Occurs at the moment we die (false)
d. Affects our personal ethics (true)

The sixth stone of our foundation that we need to know about is The Holy Spirit:

a. Is male? (false)
b. Only came into play and importance after Jesus’ resurrection? (false)
c. The Holy Spirit’s power is less than the Father and the Son’s? (false)
d. Personally prays for you and me? (true)

The seventh stone is what we know about the Church:

a. Should be easy to join but a challenge to be a part of? (true)
b. Is a voluntary organization and is “optional” for people to be a real Christian? (false)
c. There are indicators whether a church is a real church or not? (true – do you know what they are?)
d. Is a perfect institution in an imperfect world? (false)

The eighth important stone we build our faith upon is our understanding of Christian Vocation. So,

a. Only clergy have a real “call” from God (false)
b. Speaking in tongues is the highest and best spiritual gift (false)
c. Worship is primarily for our benefit and experience (false)
d. The chief purpose for a person’s existence is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. (true)

The last two stones on what we are to know about God are often neglected by Presbyterians and other Mainline Churches. The ninth stone of our basic Christian knowledge has to do with what we know about concerning the spiritual world:

a. “The Devil” is simply a name given to a psychological phenomenon that describes bad things? (false)
b. Dante’s’ Inferno biblically describes the biblical reality of “Hell”? (false)
c. We live in the midst of two-time dimensions: Chronos and Kairos? (true)
d. “Angel” means “destroyer”? (false)

The tenth stone our basic Christian knowledge is built upon has to deal with The Future:

a. The term “rapture” appears in the Bible. (false)
b. When “The Final Judgment” comes, God will destroy everything. (false)
c. We must give an account for every careless, hurtful word we speak about others. (true)
d. We will experience Easter and our only our souls will be raised to heaven. (false)

Beloved, how firm is your spiritual foundation? Is it built on adequate knowledge that is able to help you learn how to love others for Christ’s sake, or, is it superficial knowledge that gives you enough ammunition to judge other people?

My friends, you have heard me speak to you for two weeks on two concepts that build on one another. First, Jesus is calling us back to the source our faith – ad fontem – back to the bubbling, refreshing spring water that gives eternal life. Second, we hear this morning from Paul about how we can begin doing that and that is by being intentional on how we build that foundation of our knowledge of God. The deal is we are all to be practicing, functional theologians! It is not going happen if you drop the kids off at Sunday school while you run over to get coffee at Starbucks. It is not going happen if you compartmentalize your faith and keep it solely a Sunday morning affair. It is not going to happen unless you’re (w)holy dissatisfied where your faith is and begin poking around the foundations on which its built.

Now let’s go back to our Pelican story from a few minutes ago. If you’ll remember, the birds began dying because they became lazy and forgot how to fish. Friends, it’s my contention the American church and Christians are in the sorry state we are in because we, like the pelicans, have become lazy and have forgotten how to fish!

Oh, my beloved, for too long we’ve been leeching off the scraps thrown at us by our culture. For too long we’ve ridden the coattails of our parents’ faith instead of building our own. For too long we’ve let others tell us what we’re to believe, how we’re to act. For too long we’ve left our brains at the door of the church and have neglected the knowledge, the foundation of what we believe about Jesus and God. So, as we continue to grow together, we are going to be intentional in learning about the ten stones that build our foundational Christian knowledge. Deal? Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
405 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
pwrisley@drew.edu
http://www.wrisley.org
http://www.firstpres.cc

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.