The Message: Who Do We Work For?, Philippians 1.1-8

Sermon:           Who Do We Work For?
Scripture:        Philippians 1.1-8
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                 September 17, 2017

You may listen to the Sermon by clicking here.

One of my favorite paintings is the one of the Apostle Paul by Dutch painter Rembrandt. Paul is sitting in his cell and the room is lit by soft candlelight. He is pushed back slightly from his desk slouched over a bit while his right hand, dangling at his side, holds a pen.  His white hair frames a kind but beleaguered face that is full of lines of wisdom and sadness.  Hanging behind him in the corner is a small sword. I love this picture because it shows Paul as a vulnerable and real human being as opposed to the fiery Apostle that went around stirring everyone up.

rembrandt-paul-at-writing-desk-854x1019x72

It’s a picture of an old man whose face shows the wear and tear of what a life in ministry can produce. Paul, at an age where he cannot do much more, is pictured writing his love letters to the churches he helped establish.[1]
This morning, we are going to begin a series of messages that will take us through one of the most loving and tender books in the Bible as we tarry in Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. This is a church located just miles from the Aegean Sea in today’s Greece.  Located on the ancient Egnation Way that connected Italy in the west to modern-day Istanbul on the east, it was a merchant town of about 10,000 people located about 800 miles due east of Rome.

Paul is presumably writing from his jail cell in Rome while he waits to face the Caesar about the charges leveled against him. He writes the church in Philippi for several reasons.

First, the Philippian church was a generous church. They were the only church in the day that sent Paul gifts to support his ministry. Not only did they send financial gifts, but they sent a member of the church to Rome to help care for Paul’s needs whose name was Epaphroditus. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a thank you letter for the gifts and for sending their friend to him.

A second reason for the letter was to address an issue that may have been burning below the surface in the Philippian church and that issue dealt with the tension between unity in Christ and divisiveness in the church.

Can you imagine that happening in a church?

We are not exactly certain what the divisiveness was but many conjectures that it was a result of some unhealthy preaching and teaching that was going on that was contradicting Paul’s views of who Jesus is.

A third possible reason for this loving letter is that Paul senses there are those in the church who are actively working against him and the letter is his way of reminding the Philippians how special they are to him and his ministry.[2]  Let’s listen to the opening verses of Philippians from verses 1 – 8. Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 1:1-8

1.1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. [3]

In the midst of our digital age, our culture has lost its ability to write well; we write in snippets with a cultural shorthand as opposed to sitting down and writing a well thought out letter.  It takes time to write a thoughtful letter and its time most of us fail to invest in. Even handwriting is being excluded from many students in elementary education as the students are taught to type instead! In Paul’s day, however, he had all the time he needed to write and writing a letter followed certain forms.  Today we are looking at the very opening of Paul’s letter.

The letter opens with who the writer is along with his or her title.  Next, the recipient of the letter is mentioned and then it concludes with a greeting of some sort.  Paul follows this form perfectly but he adds a spiritual twist to it.

Letters in antiquity were generally sent under the name of one person but this is the one letter of Paul’s where he includes Timothy as an equal colleague.  Not only that, he indicates that their title is “servants of Christ.” They were servants of Christ but the original texts describe them as “slaves for Christ.”  There is no doubt as to whom they work and labor for in their ministry.  It’s not for the Philippian church any more than it was for the Ephesian church; as leaders of the flock, Paul and Timothy were conscripted by Jesus for a purpose. Who do they work for? Jesus. Who do they work with?  The church.

Sadly today, we have subconsciously turned that around in our thinking.  Today, who do the pastors work for?  The members of the Church.  Who do they work with? Hopefully, Jesus. This is something pastors of all Christian traditions must face daily. It is so easy to confuse the demands of church busy-ness with the edict of Christ to go, tell, baptize and make disciples of the nations, or at least, in the neighborhood.  When pastors and their congregations forget who works for whom, ministry becomes compromised.

One of my favorite writers is Welsh poet, R. S. Thomas. His words are full of grit and hardship wafting up from the mores and dales of his native land in Wales.  Here is part of a poem called, The Minister.

…The (Church) choose their pastors as they chose their horses
For hard work. But the last one died
Sooner than they expected; nothing sinister,
You understand, but just the natural
Breaking of the heart beneath a load
Unfit for horses. ‘Ay, he’s a good ‘un,’
Job Davies had said, and Job was a master
Hand at choosing a nag or a pastor.

And Job was right, but he forgot,
They all forgot that even a pastor
Is a man first and a minister after,
Although he wears the sober armour
Of God, and wields the fiery tongue
Of God, and listens to the voice
Of God, the voice no others listen to;
The voice that is the well-kept secret
Of man, like Santa Claus,
Or where baby came from;
The secret waiting to be told
When we are older and can stand the truth.[4]

“Patrick and Michael, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the saints, i.e. holy ones, in the church of DeLand!” Like Paul, Michael’s call, my call, is to be the slave and servant of Christ with you, the members of this incredible church First Presbyterian Church. As a result, we will not always say or do what you want us to say or do as we are slaves of Christ and not of the congregation.  Our preaching may pinch at times because we cannot help it; the Gospel, Jesus, demands a response and change from those who encounter it.  The temptation is for pastors and preachers to cave into congregational peer pressure so we don’t offend the big givers or make people mad.  Yes, there is a place for tact but tact cannot invalidate or contradict whom we work for: Jesus.

One example of this is how I have chosen to respond to the whole Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.  There were members of the church who left because I did not stand up and condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling. “You’re not taking a Christian stand!” I was told. It is during moments like this Michael and I are forced to remember, we are slaves and servants of Christ and not of influential congregational members. The people who left did so because they were not able to see I was a slave of Christ.

In my attempts to be true as a servant of Christ with the people in the church, I have equally offended all sides of this issue. You see, one of the ordination vows Michael and I made was to promise to work for the unity of the church. When I was told to preach against gay marriage, I was being asked to split a congregation; you see, we have several gay members and visitors and if I condemn them, how does that advance the Kingdom of Grace?  On the other hand, when asked to perform a gay wedding, I replied to the sweet couple that frankly, I could not do it because it would split the congregation. Ironically, it is the same reason I use for both sides of the issue! I am, Michael is, a slave and servant of Christ and we are working with you in making ministry happen. Our goal is to mobilize each of us in this room to be active, vibrant movers and shakers in the Kingdom of Heaven in and through this place. This is a theme Paul develops in his letter to the Philippians.

Beloved, who do you work for? You see, not only is Michael and I slaves and servants of Jesus Christ, but all who call upon that wonderful Name becomes a slave and servant of Jesus Christ. That simple reality requires all of us to ponder and decide where our ultimate allegiance is; is it to Christian fundamentalism or liberalism? Is it a board or to the Body of Christ?  Is it to my class, Bible study, opinion or political affiliation? Or is it to Jesus? Our allegiance is not to a cause; our allegiance is to the God-Who-Comes-Down in the person of the Nazarene.  Beloved, we are all bondservants of the Christ to be in ministry with others. Who do you work for, beloved?

I close with another poem by R.S. Thomas. It’s entitled The Country Clergy. Let the words wash over you like a warm washcloth on your face helping you to wake up.  It reads…

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. The left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten.  God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.[5]

Who do you work for, beloved? Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] See Acts 16.

[2] See Craddock.

[3] 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.

[4] R. S. Thomas. Collected Poems 1945-1990 (London: Phoenix, 1993), 42-43.

[5] Ibid., 82

The Message: Have you checked the condition of your heart’s filters today?, Matthew 15:10-20

Sermon:          Have you checked the conditions of your filters lately?
Scripture:        Matthew 15.10-20
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               August 20, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Last week, we spent time in Romans looking at the centrality of the Word in our worship and devotional life; we noted how the first mark of the church is when the Word of God is faithfully preached and it is faithfully heard.  Today, we are going to look at the words we use in our everyday life to determine if they are consistent with the Word our hearts have been exposed to in that time of devotion and worship.

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 15.  We will read verses 10 through 20.  In all fairness, the power of this Parable of the Mouth[1] is better understood when taken in the larger context of verses 1 through 28.  The reading is long and I encourage you to go home and read all of it applying what you hear this morning with what you read. Because of its length, we will focus on just the ten middle verses.

As you hear this text, keep in mind that Jesus is in a large group of people including everyday folks as well as the notoriously described Pharisees and Scribes.  The Jewish religious leaders have just arrived from Jerusalem and immediately jump on Jesus’ case by complaining that his disciples aren’t washing their hands before they eat, thereby, in their opinion, disregarding the Law of Moses on being ritually pure. Jesus goes on to school the religious leaders in the dietary law’s intent but also reminds them of the Torah’s overall purpose.    This is where we pick up in the Story.

Matthew 15.10-20

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”[2]

We had just moved into our new home in Celebration, Florida in November of 1996. Boxes were still getting unpacked and things were still getting put away.  Our two girls who were very young were still exploring the little nooks and crannies of the place when one night, one of them came down the stairs before bed and said with the cutest Cindy Loo Who voice, “Daddy, something is wrong with the toilet.”  Thinking to myself, “Yeah, I know what’s wrong with the toilet,” I follow her upstairs and sure enough, it wasn’t flushed.  I press the handle again and experienced that horrible painfully slow moment and feeling of dread one has when the water is rising every so precariously to the top of the rim.  Gratefully, it stopped just in time but it failed to go down either. I made the decision to wait until the morning to see if the water would go down before I tried anything. Standing there, I noticed the bath water had not drained from the tub either.  “Katie, why didn’t you let the water out of the tub?”  Her little voice responded, “But I did, daddy.”

Uh-oh. Something much bigger was going on than a little too much toilet paper. I surveyed the situation, turned-off the light and closed the door.  “I’ll call the builder in the morning.”

The crew foreman from David Weekly homes came over the next day and looked at what was going on; he complained our kids were throwing stuff down the pipes and it was our fault the system locked up. I disagreed but let them do their work and we would sort it out later. An hour later the foreman walks into the dining room directly beneath the girls’ bathroom and gives me a serious look saying, “We got a problem.”

Great.

He quickly goes out to his truck, fetches a ladder, a drill, and an industrial sized plastic waste can. Now, I don’t know much about being a handyman but I did know enough as a new homeowner this did not look too good. Climbing the ladder, the foreman was again griping about my daughters when he put the drill to the ceiling it exploded; I knew I shouldn’t have laughed but come on!  This guy has been grumping about my kids for the last ninety minutes and now he was covered in Katie’s bath water among other things. We are talking the grayest of gray water was pouring into our dining room.  Some of it made it to the trash can he brought in; most of it did not. After a moment of stunned silence, all I could manage was, “You know, I’m not paying for that.”

I learned two very important lessons that day.  First, it was not my girls who caused the problem but the cleaning crew that prepped the house before we moved in.  It seems they used large cloth rags and flushed them into the system clogging it up.  The second thing I learned was though it does matter what goes into the system, it’s what comes out when there’s no filter to catch it that will cause a stinky mess.

And Jesus’ first words to the disciples in our text today are, “Listen and understand!” Literally, he is saying, “Hey! Listen up and all of you get on the same page as I am on this!” He then goes on to tell his disciples it is not the food that goes into a person that defiles him or her; rather, it is the gray water that comes back out of the mouth that defiles them.

The word defile is interesting. Today we understand that to defile something means to make dirty or impure.  In Jesus’ day, to defile something literally meant to take something set apart, special or distinct and make it common or ordinary.  The religious leaders believed washed hands kept a person set apart, special, un-common or pure.  Washed hands reflected how you as a person were standing out over and against the common person.  The tradition of hand washing was to make you pure or righteous before God. The religious leaders were upset because Jesus’ disciples were acting very common – dare I say pagan-like?-  for not setting themselves apart; they were, therefore, offending God with dirty, common hands.  This is why Jesus initially exclaims, “Listen up and understand!”

Jesus wanted the disciples, wants us, to see that the serious religious leaders were majoring in the minors and not in the majors.  They had totally missed the point. The thing that defiles or makes a person common, unholy or impure is not what is eaten or how it is eaten but are the very words that emit from one’s mouth bubbling up through the spring of a person’s heart. Whitworth University professor Dale Bruner remarks, “The major pollutant in social life is words.”[3]  Does the spring of our heart produce life-giving water, or, does is dump out a disgusting backflow of brackish gray water?

Words.  Words matter.  Word’s carelessly used or spoken.  Words, when given with a certain tone or look, can cause pain and hurt. All we need to do is remind ourselves of what happened in Charlottesville last week and note how high-visibility leaders in our country responded to the situation with their own words that compounded the problem. Today’s social media from Face Book, Yik Yak[4], or Instagram can be beneficial but oftentimes these sites are used among our young people as a means to bully, shame, or post hate.  What emerges from our hearts through our words carry power – a power to bring life or power to pollute and destroy. Life-giving words are Christ-like; words that destroy are abusive, corrosive and deadly like the radioactive water coming out from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan years ago. It is water that kills at best or causes abnormal mutations of living things at worst![5]

In the beginning, out of God’s heart, He spoke and created all that was, is, and will ever be and it was all good!  The Apostle John reminds us in his gospel that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God…and what came into being with him was life and that life was the light of all people![6] Words bring life, my beloved. Yet we also learn in the early Story of Genesis how the serpent uses words to create in Eve and Adam doubt, enmity and challenges God’s character.  Words matter.

Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was heaven-bent on refocusing the peoples’ understanding that words, the Law and Torah, were meant to bring people life!  The Holy Word was meant to bring people closer to God and to one another as opposed to building walls between the two. The Words of God speaking Creation into existence were thought-full and deliberate to the point that any scientist would say that the order of creation in Genesis makes perfect sense and logic. Words bubbling from our heart and expressed to God and to others matter.  Words define who we are in the core of our very being deep in our soul.

This isn’t the first-time Jesus has spoken about the power of words to the religious officials and the disciples. Earlier in Matthew 12.36, Jesus flatly remarks: I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  Words matter.  Say that two-word sentence with me! Words matter!

Beloved, what type of spiritual filtration system do you have for your heart? A good filter keeps unhealthy things out of the heart and makes sure whatever impurities that get do get in don’t come back out. A good filter keeps the gray water from exploding back out onto others causing a nasty mess.

In Florida, we are reminded to check our air conditioner’s filter to make sure it’s clean so the unit doesn’t freeze and lock up.  It’s no different for Christ-Followers.  We are called to check the air-filters of our hearts. What do we look for to see if our heart’s filters are working well? Let me provide us with a four-point systems’ check that we can run anytime to check our spiritual filtration system.

Systems’ Check One: Do your words build others up or do they tear others down?

Systems’ Check Two: Do your words glorify God or do they glorify you and your position?

Systems’ Check Three: Do your words bring life and healing or do they cause pain, shame, or suffering?

Systems’ Check Four: Do your words bring people together in reconciliation or do they tear communities apart because our hearts are filled with hubris and pride?

Build up. Glorify God. Bring Life.  Reconcile.

This week, I pray the Holy Spirit will haunt us as we take the filters of hearts and really examine them through the questions I just asked. If they tear down, glorifies anything other than our Lord God, cause pain, or rip apart relationship, it’s time to pull our heart’s filter out and clean it well by scrubbing it down with the spiritual Clorox of prayers of repentance and for holy indwelling.  We do this because words matter.

All of God’s people say, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.  All rights reserved.

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook. Matthew 13 – 28, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 92.

[2] 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.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Bruner, 94.

[4] Yik Yak suffered its own self-destruction because of its abuse.  See USA Today, April 28, 2017, at https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2017/04/28/yik-yak-shut-down/101045670/

[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster.

[6] See John 1:1-5.

Preaching: The First Mark of the Church; Romans 10:5-15

Sermon:          Preaching: The First Mark of the True Church
Scripture:       Romans 10:5-15
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                August 13, 2016

You may click here to listen to the sermon.

Turn in your pew Bible to page 921 where we will read and hear the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Christ-followers gathered in Rome.  The book of Romans is one of the most theologically packed and dense Christian witnesses in the New Testament. Many people tend to pick and choose parts of Romans to look at but it’s only fair to do that if we keep the overall purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans in its proper context.

Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews who was knocked up on the side of the head by Christ Jesus on the way to Damascus, Syria. He knew the Torah, the Jewish Law, better than most people as he was, as he describes himself, “A Pharisee, a son of Pharisees!”[1] He knew the commandments of God inside and out. Paul is best described as a Jewish Christian; he was steeped in the Jewish ways and culture and knew the Jewish understanding of Messiah but he also built on that knowledge and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic promise.  We read in Romans 9.2ff., “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself was accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people (i.e. the Jews).”

Much of Romans is dealing with Paul’s argument that the Jews are the people of God’s adoption bound by the covenant promise given through the Patriarchs and then through Moses and the Law.  The Jews are the soil from which the Messiah would sprout and make himself known to the world.  As such, Romans is a book where Paul essentially reminds the Roman Christians, “We are to have good hope for the people of Israel and that God is not done with them yet!”  And this is where we pick up in the Story.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Romans 10:5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [2]

The last line Paul quotes from is from Isaiah 52. For the Jew, it would be a well-known line from the Prophet that God is promising salvation to those in exile and will restore the people back vis-à-vis a Messiah.  The people have been in captivity and slavery for so long and now God has declared their salvation and restoration is at hand!  This is the Jewish gospel.  Paul is expanding on that distinctly Jewish gospel and declares that the ultimate fulfillment of salvation, healing and wholeness is in and through Jesus Christ. The good news is that all people are brought under the salvific umbrella of Jesus. Yet for this to happen, the Good News must be proclaimed! As Paul says today, “How are they to hear without someone to proclaim Jesus?  How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? Oh, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This morning we are going to look at this issue of proclamation and preaching that Paul brings up in our text.  Specifically, we will cover four main bases that speak to the importance and understanding of what proclamation is and is not.

The first base we will cover regards proclamation or preaching is to determine what proclamation is in our Reformed tradition. A friend of mine recently pondered online whether the Protestant understanding of preaching in worship is really nothing more than just a lecture.[3] I replied that preaching is more proclamation, or as the Greek’s and ancients describe it, kerygma. Proclamation, or the sermon, is different from a lecture.  A lecture is the dispersion of facts and ideas. The sermon is designed to highlight and unpack the salvific works of God as they are attested to in scripture and through Jesus Christ. Now some may say it’s the same as calling a tomato or a to-maa-toe but there is a difference. Sermons belong in worship; lectures do not.

All bona fide sermons proclaim Christ but the same cannot be said of lectures. The demise of the Western Church I think can be tied to the fact that for the last 100 years, preachers have been lecturing on interesting ideas or have fashioned slick religious TED talks but the proclamation of Jesus has been lacking.  Generally speaking, Fundamentalists have high jacked the sermon for moral instruction while Progressives have used it to push social causes; both morals and causes are important but unless the proclamation is tying it back into the way Holy Spirit is revealing Jesus and his gospel to our particular time and place, it’s nothing but a lecture. In another one of the Apostle Paul letters to the recalcitrant church in Corinth, he provides the definitive purpose for proclamation or the sermon; he writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ…we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] The purpose of the sermon is to help people become reconciled to God in their work, in their play, in their rest, and in their social life.

The second base we want to cover is that preaching is vital for the church. In our Reformed Christian heritage, the three marks, or notes, of the true church’s existence is when at least three things happen: The Word is faithfully proclaimed and faithfully heard; the sacraments are administered; and when there is discipline and order in the fellowship. [5]

Sermons are a part of worship not as a form of slow, numbing punishment whereby the preacher waxes on to wear you down so you’ll finally succumb to the altar call on the 8 verse of singing, Just as I Am; sermons are a vital part of worship because they should prophetically declare what Sunday school and confirmation teachers are teaching, what the foundation our acts of mission and Christian service stand upon, confirm or disprove what our theological studies are for as well as how we read and interpret our devotional material. Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof remarks that when the preacher fails in his or her proclamation of the Good News, he or she fails to give the interpretive lens for the people of the Church to understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey to each of us in all our devotional and missional endeavors.[6]

The third base we need to cover about proclamation and preaching is that it will often cause you to get uncomfortable. My former colleague, the late Dr. Frank Harrington, tells the story of how he was preaching on the need for people to respond to God’s call and challenged them to think about heading out into the mission field.  Following church that day, a young woman in college was sitting with her family at Sunday dinner and said, “The sermon really spoke to me today. I feel truly convicted and I think God is telling me to go into foreign missions when I graduate.”  The table conversation grew quiet until the father at the head of the table clears his throat and says, “Oh now honey, Dr. Harrington was only preaching.”

Only preaching. I would dare say he was!

Preaching in worship points the Church to Jesus Christ and how it’s God’s desire to reconcile the world to Himself and to one another.  If we’re honest, that is not always going to be easy to listen to week after week.  Paul’s preaching had a way of making people upset because he challenged the status quo of the religious institutions and that of the proper relationship to the state.  His preaching often times got him beat up or run out of town. John the Baptist’s preaching got his head cut off.  Jesus’ preaching had him run out of this home synagogue and nearly tossed over the side of a mountain!  This is what generally happens when the proclamation of Christ is declared: people will get unnerved or upset because the Gospel challenges the core of our personal way of seeing God’s purpose in the world; those divine purposes are generally at odds with what our culture says they should be and so we struggle and don’t like what the preacher says.

Sermons point to Jesus and the ways God interacts with our world. You are not always going to like what we preachers have to say. The Holy Spirit is ever trying to help us grow in faith, enlarge our holy vision of God, of others and of the world. The Spirit of God through the church’s sermons are going to convict us on whether our professed life in Jesus Christ is actually matching our lived and expressed life of Christ Jesus.  It’s going to compare and contrast how you and I, how the culture interprets life events with the attitudes and proclamation of the prophets of Scripture that have spoken over the millennia.

Now that we have rounded the third base and are headed to home, we are reminded that preaching is about the message and not the preacher.  Let me give a word about the difference between good and bad sermons and good and bad preachers. A talented good preacher can have all the skills of rhetoric and communication but still deliver a bad sermon; conversely, a poor preacher that speaks so as we watch paint dry can have a good sermon. I have heard many a poorly delivered message (and have given many of them myself!) but I can still hear the proclamation of Jesus. It’s led me to the place in my ministry that when a person says, “That was a good sermon or a bad sermon preacher” that I immediately run through a two-question checklist in my head:  Was I faithful in declaring gospel: yes or no? If yes, then does that person’s reaction say more about me or about where they are in their spiritual life right now?

Yes, I have an obligation in leading worship in preparing the best I can.  But remember this, too: You have an obligation in preparing for and participating in worship! The first mark of the true church is when the Gospel is faithfully preached AND heard!  So, the music, whether it’s contemporary or traditional, the prayers, the liturgy and drama are not for our enjoyment or for our entertainment; they are the means by which we worship God. The preachers, liturgists, readers, musicians, organists are here to point to the gracious character and reality of our loving God. If we draw attention to our sermons or music or prayers more than we point you to God, then we have failed you as leaders of worship.

Then again, for some of you, I may be only preaching. Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] See Acts 23:6.
[2] 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. Paul is referring to Isaiah 52.7.
[3] The quote from a very affable Hellenist Rebbe, AR, is “Am I too bold to suggest that sermons are lectures and not worship?”
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:20.
[5] The Scotts Confession, Chapter XVIII,  3.18,
[6] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith. An Introduction to the Study of Faith. Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986),100.

The Message: Getting Broken to Let the Light Shine, Matthew 14.13-21

Sermon:          Getting Broken to Let the Light Shine
Scripture:        Matthew 14:13-21
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                August 6, 2017, Communion Sunday

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Turn once again in your Bible to Matthew’s Gospel.  For the past few weeks, Michael has been looking at some parables in Matthew 13 describing what people do when they hear the Word of God as well as stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  Matthew then has Jesus making a brief stop in his hometown where he is summarily dismissed by the folks he grew up with.  Matthew then moves into the next chapter by looking at the fate of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist as he is beheaded by King Herod because Herod, in a moment of passion, makes a hyperbolic promise to his step-daughter for the sensual dance she has just provided Herod and his guests. He is so overwhelmed by her dance that he blurts out, “Wow!  Incredible! I’ll give you anything you want for that dance – up to half of my kingdom!” The step-daughter calls his bluff and replies, “Okay, daddy.  Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter!”  Herod had no choice to but to abide by his amoral daughter’s wish so as not to lose face in front of his party guests.  John the Baptist – the one who God sent to prepare the way, to be the spiritual rooster that crowed to wake people up – is dead. And now, as the late Paul Harvey would say on his radio program, “Here is the rest of the Story!

We are picking up with Matthew 14 beginning with verse 13. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 14:13-21

14.13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. [1]

So, Jesus has been blown-off by the people in his hometown of Nazareth[2].  His cousin John, the one who was to get people ready for the Messiah’s return, has just been murdered for sport. By all appearances, things are not looking too good for Jesus and his fledgling movement. People are either hot or cold towards what he says and the ones who were hot about it were violent in expressing their feelings.  Jesus, the man, is soaking all this in.

If we were walking along next to him, we might see in his face a sad resignation that people just aren’t getting it. Parts of his message expressed through his teaching and works are getting through, but it seems at this point, people are only responding to the degree that they can benefit from Jesus. We look in Jesus’s eyes and see frustration, fatigue, and feelings of loss.

So, what does he do?  He tries to disappear. The words from David’s Psalm 55:4-8 come to mind in this instance.  I can imagine Jesus reflecting,

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’

Have you ever had those moments when things in life weren’t going your way and you simply had to get off and be alone?  You needed time to think. Pray. Grouse. Shake your fist at God and yell, “What gives?” You need to hear the crashing sound of silence or the lapping of the water on the side of a boat that brings serenity to your soul. This is what Jesus is experiencing now. As soon as he heard about cousin John’s death he needed to get away and simply ‘be.’ But something interesting happens.

Verse 13 says, “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him.”  There are two possible ways to read this line and it revolves around what the crowds are responding to in the story.  The first part of the verse indicates that when Jesus heard ‘it’, i.e. the news of John’s death, he had to get away. What is the ‘it’ the crowds are responding to at this point?

On one hand, when the crowds heard ‘it’, i.e. Jesus had left, they went searching for him.  On the other hand, one can easily understand the reading as though once the crowd, like Jesus, heard ‘it’, i.e. John the Baptist had been killed, they too needed to go and discover what all this meant and so they naturally went to find Jesus who might give some answers. This fits nicely with the storyline and they are every bit as anxious about the situation as Jesus is. Whereas there were two Jewish spiritual reformers shaking things up in Judea, now there is only one figurehead in front of this new spiritual movement and it’s Jesus. It makes perfect sense for the people to follow the leader to see what is going to happen next.

Jesus slips off in a boat and makes his way to an unidentified location across the water.  The anxious crowd, upwards between five to seven thousand people, are moving along the coastline trying to spot where Jesus was headed. Jesus lands the boat and sees all the people and puts his own grief on hold, puts all the questions rattling around his brain on pause, and immediately does what he does best: He has deep compassion for the people.  He heals them.  He casts out spirits.  He encourages.  He inspires. He begins to prepare for their future, too.

John’s death seems to be a wake-up call of sorts for Jesus.  Yes, he knew he and the Message of Compassion and Justice would be met with some resistance but this whole thing with Herod and John seems to have taken it to a new, violent level of resistance. In some way, John’s death was foreshadowing Jesus’ own and in his deep places, Jesus knew that, too. It is easy to imagine our Lord looking at the crowds and then at the motley crew we know as the Twelve and Jesus reflecting, “What have I gotten you into?”

The feeding of the 5,000, the only Story aside the Easter account, is in all four Gospels. For the early church, this was a pivotal Story.  Did you ever stop to wonder why?

It is not only a Story that foreshadows the Lord’s Supper whereby Jesus gives himself totally to the cause by becoming broken and shared among those around the Table, it is a Story in which Jesus demonstrates that for the movement to continue forward in his absence, for the movement to endure, the Twelve would need to learn how to carry forward on their own.  The feeding of the 5,000 is not only for the benefit of the ones who are getting fed with bread and fish; it is a Story designed to teach the Twelve disciples and ultimately you and me a valuable lesson about following Jesus.

Confronted with the crowds, the late hour of the day, and the lack of provisions,

the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away so they can go feed themselves. Jesus astutely turns the problem back to the disciples: You give them something to eat.  Jesus realizes his fate would be along the lines of his cousin John’s. The disciples needed to begin seeing they could carry the message of restoration and reform forward themselves.  The simple lesson Jesus is offering the disciples is this:  Look for opportunities God can use to create miracles and understand that in order to be effective, they will need to give thanks to God and then allow themselves to be broken and shared among the people. Following Christ is not for the faint of heart; it is demanding and it will cost you your very life.

Look for opportunities. Give thanks. Be broken and shared.

Jesus was indicating what would not only happen to him but he was showing his disciples what is required for us in our life.  We are to look for opportunities to serve others, we are to give God thanks for those opportunities presented, and we are to be broken and shared among the people in compassionate, active love.

What opportunities are available in your own personal life that God can use for the Kingdom of heaven’s ends? Like the little boy and the fish, it’s right there if we only look!

Is your allegiance to Jesus deep enough to give God thanks as you are broken and given to others for the sake of Christ and for his love of others around us?

Come to the Table of Grace and Call this morning, my friends! Jesus is showing us how we are to live as Christ-followers and as a church.  What needs to be broken in you so that you can feed others in the name of the Holy One? Pride? Greed? Feelings of inconvenience? Hate and prejudice? Lust? Power? Come to the Table and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the opportunities before you and this church, so that you can be – that we can be as a Body of Christ – broken in order to be shared and be a blessing to others. The Table is a great place to remember our brokenness so that we can let the Light of Christ Shine in and through us.  So be it.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, 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.

[2] Mathew 13:53-58.

The Message: An Impetuous Choice Cannot Be Undone; Genesis 25:19-34

Sermon:      An Impetuous Choice Cannot Be Undone

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Photo Credit: Instagram from nashi_svyatini

Scripture:   Genesis 25:19-34
Preacher:    Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:    First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:            July 16, 2017,

 

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

This morning, we are reading a foundational Story in scripture that outlines three primary biblical themes. First, it narrows down the lineage of Jesus and the Messiah. Second, it outlines the tensions between God’s chosen people the Hebrews and their life-long nemesis the Edomites. Third, it begins to solidify the fact that God uses grossly broken, fallible, unlikely people to accomplish His plans.

Our Story this morning describes what we would call a classic dysfunctional family: We have a cut-throat sibling rivalry; the parents choose favorites amongst their children; there is deception; there are impetuous, rash decisions; and then there is the sin of all sins in any relationship, family members joining alliances and triangulating against other members of the family. Isaac and Rebekah’s family puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional family” and the good news is, God will still use that brokenness to accomplish the Kingdom of Heaven’s ends.  Turn to Genesis 25 and we will begin with verse 19.  I would very much encourage you to go home and read this family’s whole Story which runs through Genesis 50. It contains three generations of one family; it runs like the TV show Dallas in all its sordid details. If after you read it and tell me, “I don’t see why the Old Testament is worth reading or is boring” then we need to have coffee together! As my former Hebrew professor, David Gunn would wistfully say in his Australian accent, “These are just whopping good tales!”  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Genesis 25:19-34

 19These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”

24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. [1]

Even before the twins were born, they were struggling and fighting with one another. Even in the womb, momma Rebekah already knew she had a tempest in a teapot brewing. Twins, seemingly the same but who are oh so different. Even at birth, this set of twins will struggle with each other to be the first one out. Jacob, whose very name means “to grab at the heel” or “strive against” tried valiantly to be the first one born but his brother Esau was positioned ahead of him.  Esau, who came out all red and hairy as an infant may not have been the prettiest baby to look at but he grew up strong and became his daddy’s favorite.  He liked to go hunt, kill stuff and to be out as we would say “tromping in the wilderness” doing all types of manly-man things. Based on Scripture’s description of the two, they were most likely fraternal twins and not identical. Esau was the Grizzly Adams outdoorsman.

Then there was Jacob. Jacob is described as a “quiet man living in the tents.”  Quiet is an interesting Hebrew word in that it means one who is complete, perfect, morally innocent and ethically pure.  The funny thing is, the more we get to know Jacob, we know that Jacob fails to live into that description at the outset. While Esau was happy to be out hunting and chasing animals on wilderness adventures, Jacob, the supplanter was happy to hang around the tents with all the women learning about home economics as well as being tuned into all the family scuttlebutt.  Jacob was shrewd and he used this to his advantage.

Esau was daddy’s favorite and Jacob was a momma’s boy. Esau loved to dote on his daddy Isaac and bring him hunting trophies but Jacob listened and learned from the women; it is while remaining in the camp among the tents Jacob learned to be a political animal.

It’s important to note that in our Story, God is using the main female character to implement His plan of salvation history. Rebekah, as any smart married man would say, wears the pants in the family; she is the one who orchestrates the events that unfold over the next nine chapters in her family history which in turn impact the Storyline of Christ centuries later. Yes, Isaac and Rebekah’s family would give any marriage and family therapist lifelong job security. And yet, in the midst of this stew of family goulash, in the midst of all the conniving, deceiving and favoritism, God works in the swirliness of this broken family to ultimately redeem humanity. It may be our dysfunction but God will turn it to His opportunity in spite of us.

Today’s Story has the family in the midst of their everyday routines.  Jacob is hanging around camp and Esau has been out hunting. Esau has been traipsing through the wilderness looking for food to bring home and it seems he was not too successful. He returns home totally exhausted and spent to the point where he really is not thinking clearly. He comes home, plops down, and begins sniffing the air: Ah, Jacob has been cooking! “Hey Jacob, give me some of that red stuff to eat! I’m starved!” Jacob was all too ready to oblige his brother and by having control of the kitchen, Jacob exerts some power over the Esau, who is now nicknamed Edom which means ‘red’.  Today we would nickname Esau, “Red.”

Whether it began as a joke or not, the situation soon becomes a life-changing moment for the family and for all salvation history, Jacob replies, “Sure, Red, I’ll give you some of this stew – and let me tell you it’s delicious!  Everybody loved it, daddy particularly.  But I tell you what, before I give you any of this luscious red stew, you have to sell me your birthright.”

Let’s put this in perspective.  Let’s say your late great aunt Milly died and let left you $4 million dollars. Now you have a brother or sister who is not in on the money’s disbursement and they are left off the estate. Imagine calling them up and telling them, “hey I just got $4million from Aunt Milly and you didn’t get anything.  What I was thinking, why don’t you take me to lunch at the finest Scottish restaurant in town, McDonald’s, buy me lunch and I will give the $4 million dollars in return.”  Shaking your head in disbelief, you repeat back to them what you heard: “You’re going to give me $4 million dollars if I take you to McDonald’s and buy you a McRib sandwich?  That’s crazy!”  Yup, it is crazy but this is exactly what Esau did with Jacob.

Birthrights were a big deal in antiquity. The rights of the firstborn son in any family were substantial as they were entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. The one who owns the birthright not only becomes wealthy but he also becomes the de facto family leader and patriarch. And yet, here we have heel-grabbing Jacob making a such a preposterous proposition to his brother over a bowl of red bean soup that anyone who overheard this conversation would immediately shake their head and look at Jacob and say, “What? You want Red to sell you his birthright for a bowl of stew!?  I don’t care how good it is but it’s not worth a birthright! You’re nuts!  Red’s not that stupid!”

Or is he? Will Red bite the bait? Sadly, we discover he is. Was Jacob kidding with him or did he shrewdly know his brother so well that he dared to ask the question?  We don’t know.  All we know is that Red took the bait, swore away his birthright, ate the red stew, drank up heavily, and then got up to leave. Esau, Red, was overwhelmed with his immediate physical gratification and needs that he took no thought of his future.  He defines the Me Generation in that he wants whatever he wants when he wants and he wants it right now! “What good is my birthright now? Daddy’s still alive and I’m starving now!” So he sold his birthright for a moment of sensual pleasure. He sold his birthright thereby selling off his very future for the most basic and common of all meals – soup!  At least if he was going to sell it for food, make sure it’s a feast fit for a king with lamb, beef, succulent herbs and side dishes. Not so with Red, with Esau.  His lack of discipline, prudence, and vision for the future caused him to flippantly disdain his birthright.

As renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, notes in his brilliant commentary on Genesis, “What is clear is that Jacob, in contrast to Esau, believes in futures to which Esau is indifferent.”[2]  He goes on to say that Jacob at least knew of the future promise of God and patiently waits for those promises to unfold.  Esau, Red, on the other hand, compromises “the faith for the sake of easier gains: pottage.  Esau becomes a type for those who do not trust the promise (of God) and accommodate themselves. The issue for (us) is how to believe (in) the promises seriously enough to withstand alternative forms of (self-gratification) which are available and within our control.”[3]

So, first the bad news; the bad news is that an impetuous choice the likes Esau made cannot be undone.  It has lasting consequences.  But second, the good news: The Good News is that any impetuous action we take, no matter how much it thwarts our future, no matter how much it hurts us or another person, it cannot thwart the purposes and future God already is creating in the midst of our current life or mess. We may act out of anger, impure motives, resentment or contempt, but the good news is, as we are reminded at the very end of Genesis, that though others mean things for evil, the Lord intends it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people.[4]

Beloved, in the bulletin, is a picture I found on Instagram.  It’s a picture of a German Shepherd that in a moment of rage and hunger leaps off a high cliff to snatch a bird out of the air. The picture does not reveal what happens next but we know:  Birds can fly but German Shepherds cannot. Beloved, are you like the German shepherd in the picture which is a metaphor for Esau, or are you developing the spiritual discipline of praying and patiently waiting for God to reveal His promises to you in your life?  Church, have you ever sold your birthright?  Have you ever sold Christ out in a moment of anger, passion, or impetuousness?  Let all of us be assured that if have – and all of us have at one time or another – it’s not too late to get it back!  You see, what we do not see an image of the Christ who catches that German Shepherd when it fell; it’s the same Christ who catches us when we fall as well.

Perhaps you may want to cut that picture out and place it in your Bible or on your mirror to remind you to wait patiently for the Lord.  And all God’s people say, Amen!

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, 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.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for teaching and preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 219.

[3] Ibid., 220. Words in parenthesis were added by me for rhetorical clarification.

[4] Genesis 50:21.

Have you ever felt like you are staring at the back of God’s head? (Feeling forgotten by God), Psalm 13

Sermon:        Have you ever felt like you are staring at the back of God’s head?
Scripture:     Psalm 13
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              July 2, 2017, Communion

You may listen to the sermon here:

This morning’s preaching text is printed in your bulletin. I encourage you to read it from your devotional Bible later today and note the differences in how it is presented.[1] Today we will read Psalm 13 from Peterson’s The Message.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Psalm 13, The Message

1-2 Long enough, God—ic-ma173-icon-holy-seraphim-sarov-deathyou’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.

3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
or laugh when I fall on my face.

5-6 I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.[2]

“Long enough, God, long enough!”  Have you ever uttered that flavor of a prayer beforeGod?

Long enough, God, you’re ignoring me!

Long enough, God, people are speaking all kinds of lies about me at work!

Long enough, God, I’m tired of the gossip spoken about me and my family all the time!

Long enough, God, I’m anxious about not being able to pay my bills on time!

Long enough, God, my body cannot go through any more tests, procedures, or pain anymore!

Long enough, God, the anguish of my beloved’s death bitingly stings my soul to the point of no relief.

Long enough, God…hey God, are you even listening to me?

Long enough, God, are you even there?

Long enough, God, I’m tired of staring at the back of your head; turn around and look me in the eye face-to-face!

All of us at one time or another has had, is, or will have these types of prayers escape our lips.  It doesn’t mean we are faith-less people or bad people; feelings of abandonment by the Ultimate Source of Life is endemic to our human condition. Even Atheists and Agnostics, those who don’t believe in any Higher Power or those who do not know what Higher Power to be in relationship with at all will at some point in their life encounter one of Life’s realities, drop their hands, droop their shoulders, and lift their faces heavenward and cry, “Long enough, God.  This is too much for me to bear!  If you’re out there, I’m talking to you so this is a good opportunity to prove yourself to me!”  Today’s psalm is a song of lament, a prayer of beseeching God’s presence and care when life feels overwhelming.  It’s in the Scriptures because it’s a universal cry that even the biggest, roughest, toughest spiritual giants among us have even prayed. I love what the great Reformer, John Calvin wrote about the psalms. He says, “The Psalms are an anatomy of all parts of the soul.”[3]  Oh what comfort that brings us!

There’s comfort as a person of faith to be able to approach the Lord so honestly with raw fear and emotion in times of uncertainty in our life. There’s comfort knowing that God is big enough to absorb those flashes of doubt in what is normally a solid faith in our life. There’s comfort in the fact that like the psalmist, there are those moments we feel we are looking at God’s backside and are desperate for Him to turn around and look at us; just imagine what it is like for those who don’t even think or consider God is in the same room; at least we see God’s backside!

The psalmist is pouring their heart out to God to please take notice of them, acknowledge them, and rescue them.  He or she is demanding that God pay attention to their plight. But then there is a shift in the song and prayer. At the very end of the lament the worshipper cries with celebratory tones in verses 5 and 6:

I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.

I like to refer to this as the “even though but still aspect” of a follower’s spiritual journey. This aspect is all throughout the Bible, too.  For example, Even though I failed my exam, I still know that you are in control of my life!  Even though the bank account is almost overdrawn, I still thank you for providing for me out of your provisions from only you know where that will see me through.  Even though the chemo stings and the radiation burns or causes me gross fatigue, I still know Whose I am and will not waiver.  Even though the shadows of depression are overwhelming me, I still know that you have been to the depths of that hell yourself in Jesus and I get the privilege of feeling the depth of feeling you feel.  The psalmist, even though in the waves of those most desperate times and situations, still knows that God is bigger than any obstacle or problem he or she will ever face. We must note that the psalmist does not say how God specifically answers their prayers but only that they are answered.  We do not know if the psalmist got what they wanted from their prayers or whether God granted them what they needed in their prayers; all we know is that the psalmist, even though in the moans and deepest cries for help, they still had confidence and assurance the Lord is in the process of answering those prayers.

Beloved, what are the “Even though but still” moments in your life right now? Think about a moment. Think to yourself of a dire or less than positive situation you are in now and turn it into a prayer. Pray, “even though such-and-such is happening, I still know in the end you will look at me in the eyes and answer my prayer according to your glorious riches and purposes!”

How can you or I even dare think we can pray to God like that? We dare to pray and believe it because our Jesus prayed the same thing in Gethsemane and on the Cross. “Even though I am scared to death, I still pray not my will but Thine be done!”  “Even though they have beat me, spit on me, and taunt me, I still believe you will not hold this against them.”

How can you or I even dare think in those moments when we feel God has turned his back on us God will still answer our prayer and make good on His promise to restore our lives and restore the light in our eyes to look at life again? Because even though, while we were yet sinners and alienated from God and one another, God still came down to live, walk, and to die among us in Jesus Christ.

We know that in the middle of our doubts, Jesus sits at the Table of God and says, “Beloved, even though battered by life, come and sit with me now.”

We know that when we feel the Lord has his back to us, he smiles lovingly and says, “Beloved, my back was turned just a moment to prepare your meal and banquet that we may dine together and celebrate the Light in your Life! I didn’t leave; I was getting something prepared just for you!”

I invite you to eat of the Lord’s Table this day, my friends. Come scared and leave assured. Come broken and leave being whole. Come with your doubts and leave with assurance.  Listen to the Christ as he says to you, “Silly one, come up here and sit next to me and tell me what’s going on in your day; I want to hear it from you.”

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley,org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] See, for example, how the NRSV translates it: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?  Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.  But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord,  because he has dealt bountifully with me.
[2] The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.
[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Preface on the introduction of Community.

Sermon #2 on Mission: When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon #2 on Mission:  When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon:        When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point
Scripture:    Matthew 10:24-39
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:          June 25, 2017, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 7

Last week we began looking at the second major sermon in Matthew’s Gospel as we started delving into Jesus’ focus on mission.  We noted how Jesus called out twelve Apostles who then received their marching orders from Jesus to go out to preach and heal.  We particularly noted why mission matters to Christ, what the first step is in any form of mission we undertake, and we looked at the overall purpose of mission in God’s eyes.  Today, we are continuing along in the same sermon Jesus was giving last week but as you see today, the focus has shifted to what you and I can expect in undertaking mission in the world.  Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Matthew 10:24-39

 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.[1]

There is so much meat in this text that it would appear to be an overstuffed sandwich! There are so many “hot topics” Jesus raises from God’s Providence, human fear to cross-bearing! You would think it easy to make our lection a shorter reading but as I dug into it, I realized Jesus’ words must be taken as a whole unit. Why? Because Jesus wants his disciples to know that when the going gets tough (and it most definitely will), then the tough are called to stay on point.

It’s a little different from our colloquial saying that says when the going gets tough the tough get going. When the going gets tough and the tough get going, we hear it as a call to gather up strength from whatever source you can and keep on going forward no matter what. If you were running a marathon and at mile 16 I yell at you, “Hey Martha, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” you would hear that as a personal encouragement to reach down inside yourself and pull some more up the bottom. This in and of itself is not a bad thing to do per se but this is not what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to understand.  You see, when the tough get going they could change their direction and go the other way or take an alternate way and path they were originally taking. Contrary to this Jesus is telling the disciples that when the going gets tough, the disciples are to stay focused and on point. As a racehorse has blinders on to prevent them seeing the neighboring horses immediately on their left and right, the blinders help the horse not to become distracted and stay focused on the course they are running because they are running for a purpose and have a goal to succeed.

Today’s scripture outlines how Jesus wants his disciples to stay focused and on point.  Let’s briefly look at the two blinders Jesus uses to keep the disciples focused and then we will identify the goal Jesus wants us to achieve in our mission.

Blinder number one: Verses 24 – 31 have Jesus reminding the disciples that they are not going to experience anything different than Jesus himself has experienced. Jesus reminds them as he was called names and maligned and so will the disciples.  We see this clearly in Matthew a few chapters ahead when the religious officials tell people Jesus is really Beelzbul, i.e. Satan, God’s arch-enemy.[2]

There is an interesting word-play with the name Beelzbul.  In antiquity, names meant something. So for example, my name Patrick means ‘the one who is noble’ and I would try to live into that name’s meaning.  Beelzbul refers to Satan, God’s enemy, but it also means, ‘god of the dung heap.’ So the theological literalists of his day would be calling Jesus Satan or comparing him to Satan, while others who simply did not take Jesus seriously derisively called him this to infer he was the god, lord of the dung pile. Consequently, Jesus was seen as a threat at worst or not taken seriously as a joke at best. He’s either Satan or lord of the piles.  Either way, people will hear and see his message as a threat and/or a joke.

Jesus is reminding you and me that our life of mission will have the same effects his did in both positive and negative ways.  The disciples will preach and they will heal but Jesus is reminding us that we are to remember that people will take the gospel message as a threat or they will see it, and us (the Church), as a joke. We see this happening today all over America. It is because of this fact, disciples are to remember the intentional loving care of God for them. He is telling them you will be treated as I am treated, i.e. with contempt or disdain, but you will also be cared for by the all-encompassing Providential Care of God!  Does not the Father in heaven care for the sparrow?  Does not the Father in heaven know how many hairs are on top of our heads? The answer is yes, most definitely, but keep shouting the message from the rooftops anyway! You’ll be treated as I am treated but stay on point and tell the Story openly for all to hear!  There’s the first horse blinder keeping our eyes focused ahead.

The second blinder offered to keep our goal in sight is found in verses 34 – 39.  It’s the blinder that reminds us that being a disciple takes hard work and we are to expect that fact. American Christianity has become Joel Osteened to the point that we believe once we follow Jesus, we can sit back and expect the material blessing faucet to be turned on over us. Our lives of discipleship will be happy, easy, and our lives will be overwhelmed with material prosperity. Jesus is saying that is a bunch of hooey.

He’s reminding the disciples that their work will disrupt and cause problems in the most basic and most important aspect of their very social structure: It’s going to threaten Jewish family loyalty. The old ways of believing God will bless you if you behave correctly are being replaced with Jesus’ words of God’s desire for us to live lovingly and justly with each other.  It’s not that Jesus wants families and the social structure of the Jewish community ripped apart; Jesus is simply stating the reality of what will happen.

The status quo, the peaceable way things are, is to be overturned. When the ethic and character of God expressed through love and justice is introduced, people, systems, groups, churches, and social structures get uncomfortable. We like it when the boat isn’t rocked. Yet, Jesus is reminding us that the status quo of judging others for their sexual orientation and not seeing them as a child of God makes a mockery of the power of the Cross. He is reminding us that the status quo of our nation’s tendency to overlook the poor because it affects our personal bottom line is unethical. He is reminding us that the oft-used excuse that it’s too hard to change the social structures to care for the least of these just will not cut it anymore. Jesus is reminding us that the message of love and justice is hard.  We will be maligned.  We will be taunted.  We will be accused of being out of touch. We are to keep our race blinders on and keep moving toward the goal of his message: Reconciliation, love, and justice.

Blinder one keeping us focused: When the going gets tough, the tough are reminded that we are experiencing what Jesus did and God has our backs. Blinder two keeping us focused:  When the going gets tough, we are not to be surprised when the world pushes back against the message of Christ.  So what is the goal these blinders are directing us toward down that race track?

Verses 32 and 33 say, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Our goal is that when the going gets tough, the tough stay on point, they stay on focus and that means to acknowledge, affirm, and show allegiance to Jesus and his way of reconciliation, love, and justice.  We deny Jesus when we fail to reconcile with our kids, spouse, neighbors, coworkers, or fellow Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the political aisle. We deny Jesus when we fail to show love to the invisible ones among us. We deny Jesus when we fall back solely with a ‘what’s in for me” mindset and fail to execute biblical ethics and justice for our neighbor.

When the going gets tough, the tough keep on point and purpose. Jesus isn’t asking you or me to do anything he has not done himself. It’s not easy but God is in control. It’s not easy because demonstrating love, reconciliation and justice make everyone uncomfortable. Our text today leaves us a question to wrestle with this week: In my life, in this church’s life, am I, are we, staying on point and acknowledging the Christ or are we denying him before the Father and the world? Let’s remember Jesus’ words that those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for his sake will find it.

Let’s pray.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, 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.

[2] See Matthew 12:24, 27.