Christmas was different this year

Christmas was different this year.

This Christmas was void of any trappings from the cultural myth of Christmas this year.  There were no lights strung or stockings hung with care.  The ornaments we have been collecting throughout our now adult daughters’ lives were not unwrapped from last year and the Christmas boxes remained in the garage. There was one small candle a friend from Fort Lauderdale sent; it was a silent sentinel on the television stand.

A Facebook post I placed on my page this year garnered only three responses once it was put up.  It depicts a contemporary version of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem whereupon “Jose’ and Maria” are standing out in the rain in front of a closed 7-11 using a pay phone. Maria is sitting side-saddle on a muted pink horse that requires quarters to be deposited in it before it will ‘give her a ride.’  Behind them is the neon sign from Dave’s City Motel.  The look on their faces is desperate. Entitled, “Jose’ y Maria” and sketched by Everett Patterson, it serves as a dramatic foil to the cultural myths and Western projections on what Christmas is all about in our own time; we easily forget, for example, that Joseph and Mary were really “people of color” who were refugees following the decrees of an oppressive political ruler. I personally loved this portrayal of the Holy Family because it is so raw and real.  Yet, people on Facebook did not appreciate either its rawness nor realness; give us instead a happy, sterile understanding of Christmas because Jesus is the reason for the season, right? Well…

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We tend to have lost our way and have bought into the cultural trappings of Christmas.  But what if we were to pause a moment during these 12 Days of Christmas and truly ponder what the original Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were like.  Unlike our westernized, consumer-tinged view of these special days, the first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were not all glorious and festive as we like to think they were.

We forget that a young girl who could’ve won your high school Sophomore class’s homecoming winner was nine-months pregnant on a seventy-mile donkey ride from up north and was about to burst. Water breaking and screaming in labor is not usually in our sterile Christmas memories. Aside from a shepherd or two, there were no farm hands hanging outside the manger’s windows like Dorothy’s friends in Kansas when she wakes up from Oz. A small fire is more likely than strung lights and lanterns which is probably just as well; it’s horrible enough to be relegated to deliver your baby in a dirty manger but to see the manure piles and molting animals as well would be too much for the Holy Couple to bear. Contrary to our Christmas pageants, the misnomered Three Kings do not even show up until two years later.  But we like the Christmas dramas we portray today!  They are pretty and adorable.  They are clean and marketed. And it’s high time we pause to remember this is not what it was like for this teenaged girl and the young man whose fiancee’ was about to gush forth new life.  We tend to forget about the pains and trauma of birth.  We somehow neglect to remember that Mary’s birth in that stall was just as a bloody mess as anyone’s would be today. But it’s Christmas.  We’re supposed to be happy.  We’re supposed to be all giddy and joyful. We are to look our best and enjoy our presents and holiday food and drink.

This Christmas was different than former years.  I left my current position as a pastor of a church on December 3 in order to gear up for a new call and placement in south Florida after the first of the year.  When a pastor leaves his or her church, they really have to leave it and break ties in hard and painful ways.  A good pastor knows the church she just left is not her church but is God’s.  A caring pastor knows that he cannot preach one Sunday and then sit in the pews of the same church next week as though nothing has happened.  When a pastor and their family leaves a church, there needs to be a clean break. The breaks are not easy nor are they comfortable but necessary they are. The break was made. Hoping to use this downtime as a way for me and my bride to take a breath and look towards making our move, Reality intervened.

One of the strongest women I have known became ill.  We have spent three and half decades together besting the odds of life and her health.  We first met in our junior year of college.  I asked her twin sister out for a date a few months prior to her arrival and was shot down.  “But I have a twin sister you might like!” my now sister-in-law said.  I married a twin.

While sister Kathy was away at college, Kelly stayed back in Atlanta undertaking a dual vocation of going to college while also spending full-time fighting for her life.  Late in her senior year in high school, she developed a cough the doctors thought was related to post-nasal drip or mono.  The problem is, it never went away.  An x-ray showed a fist-sized, inoperable tumor in her chest that was closing up the bronchial passage; further tests indicated she had full blown non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  After she fought the illness for two years at Emory Hospital with thousands of rads of chest radiation and chemotherapy protocol that would be considered inhumane today, she left to join her sister at college whereupon we soon met and fell in love.

Kelly was different from other girls I had gone out with before. She cried at the sight of beautiful sunsets and treated each day by gloating over it like a woman admiring a rose for the first time. Waves of young hopefulness lifted us to marriage but to be honest, I never thought we would be married that long. Throughout the rest of college and into our early years as a couple, she often developed lumps in her neck or other parts of her body that we would have to go through weeks of testing and waiting to see if the lumps were benign. She had minor surgeries here and there to pull hyperactive lymph nodes out and by Grace, they always came back from the lab “negative.”  At least until she was 35.

The call came one morning at home. She answered the phone and the longer the conversation went on, the more somber her tone became.  She hung the phone back up on the wall, looked at me and said, “I’ve got breast cancer.” My fears were becoming realized.  The cause?  Radiation to her chest 18 years earlier.  Her job was to overcome cancer again and she did.  Following a double mastectomy and brutal reconstructive surgery and several months of healing, Kelly returned to her healthy self.  This whole incident taught us something, though: Even cures for healing have consequences. What helped to save her before was mounting to rise up and try to kill her when she was not looking.  For the next ten years life went on with all of its family ups and downs but we began to notice Kelly was getting fatigued more easily.  Back to the doctor she went, and this time, we learned the radiation from 28 years earlier that caused the breast cancer also has caused heart damage: Her aortal valve was closing up.  So, at the young age of 45, the strongest woman I have ever known had open heart surgery and got a new cow valve that had a shelf-life of 12 to 15 years.

In case you ever wanted to know, a cow valve lasted about 11 years in Kelly.  So, for the last year, we have been slowly monitoring her health as the valve she replaced years ago was closing up again.  The atrophying cow valve mooed loudly just a week after I gave my last sermon at the church.  The ties had been broken. Kelly’s heart began to become more broken, too; she went into congestive heart failure.

Christmas was different this year. We did not have a church community we could throw ourselves in as we were in between calls. The power of fellowship from a community of faith cannot be understated; one of the glaring differences this year was the lack of community we could lean into and draw strength from.  It is not that our old church meant to neglect us; they simply did not know as the necessary cut in ties was made.  Our new church family four hours away was, well, four hours away. They were eager to be present for us but the distance was a factor. The spiritual strength of the tangible, gathered community was absent this year and its absence was a huge presence in our lives.

Christmas was different this year as well because I wondered if Kelly was going to get through this.  Even the medical community went on hiatus over the holidays and it was hard to get medical advice and assistance.  She was not sleeping well.  She coughed and hacked and got to the point she could not catch her breath.  Her energy was nil and her chest raced at any amount of exertion.  Shopping for gifts and merrymaking was the furthest thing in our minds; I was wondering whether to check in on her if she slept past 8:30 to see if she was still breathing. This Christmas the issues of life and mortality took center stage. There was no tree. There were no presents exchanged.  For the first time in over 35 years, I was not in church or leading the Christmas Eve service.  Yes, Christmas was different this year. There were no lights or glitter but a simple daily step-by-step through Advent wondering if there really was Christmas hope.

The absence of all the traditional trappings of Christmas this Advent and Christmas made Christmas different this year.  It forced me to think about what it means to wait for the Child to be born or if my wife was going to live another day. It forced me to reflect during Advent on what it was like to live in a darkened Christmas like Mary and Joseph when all they could cling to were some promises from an angel and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit that the little child born among the dung and straw would rewire and reboot the Cosmic System.

Christmas was different this year because I learned that Advent and Christmas are not about lights, glitz, parties and booze and gift exchanges. It is not about spending money or buying obligatory gifts for people you really would rather not to recognize but feel socially obligated to do so.  Christmas is about the rawness of life and all of life’s challenges.  It’s about the scream of the anguish of a mother giving birth and an anxious baby crying as it catches his breath for the very first time. Christmas is not about God coming in a parade but about coming and dwelling among very ordinary people like Joseph and Mary in a small barn. The spectacular power of Christmas is that God chose to live among us in a rather unspectacular way in a world where life is tenuous, health is precarious, and having a roof over your head is a gift indeed.  It makes me wonder if Charles Dickens messed up the ending of his infamous, A Christmas Carol; as it is, the ending is too neatly tied up and satisfying.  Perhaps it might have a more powerful impact if the redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge had to be the Christ to Bob Cratchit and his family while they come to grips with where God was in the midst of the darkest moments of humanity’s frailness on Christmas morning at the death of Tiny Tim. Then perhaps, we might truly understand and comprehend the profundity of gift giving on Christmas day.

The only Christmas decoration we had up this year was a little candle placed on the TV console a friend from Fort Lauderdale sent us.  The little candle’s Light was all that we needed. Christmas was different this year and I am glad; I got back to its gritty roots once more and saw the penetrating Light in a world of doubt, hopelessness and darkness.

Copyright 2017 by Patrick H. Wrisley

The Message: New Beginnings, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Sermon:       New Beginnings
Scripture:    1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:             December 3, 2017, Advent 1 Year B

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1.1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.[1]

Advent. It is the season of preparation that technically begins on November 30 with the Feast of Saint Andrew named after Jesus’ first disciple and the first evangelist who went out and told his brother Simon Peter about this person he had found. Advent.  It means waiting. Watching.

Each Sunday in Advent has its own particular focus as well. The middle two Sundays focus on John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way and the final Sunday in Advent focuses on the events about to take place in Bethlehem. Today, the first Sunday in Advent, the focus is on the inevitable return of Jesus at the culmination of time. It’s a reminder that even though it feels like Jesus is taking his sweet time in coming back, we are reminded to be alert and attentive in this waiting time between the already and the not yet.

Advent. Being Alert. Becoming Attentive. This is what Paul is writing to the Corinthians today. He founded the church some time ago and now he’s getting reports that the body is reverting back to living the pre-Christian way of life and following the cultural ways of behaving such as sowing mistrust and bickering with each other. People are choosing up sides which pastor they like better. Paul’s words today are words designed to remind the people of First Church Corinth that their transformation and salvation is a result of God’s gracious love to them and that God has bequeathed to each of them spiritual gifts to help benefit others in the church community while they collectively wait for the time when Jesus comes again in glory.

Dirk Lange, Professor of Mission and Worship at Luther Theological Seminary comments, “The entire letter (of Corinthians) is focused on building the community into the testimony it has already received, strengthening the Gospel witness in its midst.” He says the revelation of Jesus Christ we are all waiting for during the Advent season, (is) the reminder we are to claim as normal and ordinary the very characteristic of Christian living in every season of the church year![2]

Advent. Being Alert. Becoming Attentive. It’s a time to slow down and take stock.  It’s a time to remember we are not to hurry about distractedly with a hopeless sense of urgency whereby in our frenetic busyness we miss the point of what God is trying to say, do, or communicate. You see, if we get this Advent thing right, it leads to fresh new beginnings and hopefulness that the world has been nibbling away on for the last twelve months since last Christmas.

Advent. Being Alert. Becoming Attentive.  It’s hard enough this time of year when commercials for Christmas begin airing before Thanksgiving arrives! Black Friday, Small Store Saturday, Cyber Monday, and then the fist-fights in Wal-Mart over TVs and children’s toys. Add to that the tremor caused by a pastor saying he is leaving his congregation weeks before Christmas; it causes people to be, quite frankly, very distracted.

What’s the church going to do? What about Pastor Michael? Can we hurry up and get him to be the pastor? Is the Session on top of this? What’s going to happen to our ministries? With all of these distractions and concerns, as your pastor I tell you, beloved:

Advent. Be Alert. Become Attentive. Take a breath and wait with eager expectation for all that God has planned for this church!  This is what Paul was telling the Corinthians when he writes them in verse 12 saying, “What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,” or ‘I follow Cephas,” or ‘I follow Patrick,’ or even ‘I follow Michael!’” Paul is telling them, telling you and me, do not get distracted on the things that are not enduring or which cause divisions and factions and alliances and cliques; instead, focus on using your God-given spiritual gifts, literally, your God-breathed charisma, on building up the church and her ministry until Jesus comes to welcome all of us home!

Advent.  Be Alert.  Become Attentive.  Let God work in God’s time and don’t try to hurry it along. Advent is a time of discerning and waiting and First Pres DeLand has entered into an extended time of Advent as you wait, be alert, and become attentive to what God wants you to do and be in the next phase of ministry.  For example, many of you are assuming my brother Michael is going to automatically be acclaimed as your new pastor and leader but both he and I say to you, Wait! Be Alert.  Become Attentive!  When we rush things, we often tend to miss the ques the Holy Spirit is sending us. The church is not about me or Michael or even you; Paul reminds us the Church is about the Presence of the Living Christ among us in this community. This is what Advent asks us to attend to during this season of waiting; it just so happens that First Pres’ season of Advent is going to last longer than Christmas. You need time to advent, to wait. You need time to be alert. You need time to become attentive to the Spirit. And you know what? So does, Michael. Don’t you dare rob him of his advent and waiting time. Allow him the time to be alert. Allow him the time to become attentive to God’s call which may or may not be here in DeLand.

Friends, Paul labored in the ministry fields of Corinth for a long time but he was appointed by God to be an Apostle; an apostle literally means “a sent one.”  He was wired up by God to be a Preacher of the gospel news of Jesus Christ. Similar to big “A” Apostle Paul, I am just a little ‘a’ apostle. God’s Spirit has been, is and continue will be upon me as an apostle who is sent and driven by God to places to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Spirit has driven me from the mountains of north Georgia to Buckhead in Atlanta to the largest Presbyterian churches in the nation. God’s Spirit drove me to Celebration where he used me and my family to build the first church in Disney World.  He then took this southern boy and sent him to the extreme Pacific Northwest and then lovingly brought us home again South to DeLand. Now, unexpectedly, God tells Kelly and me to go even further south to Lauderdale and share the news there.  I am a preacher and a sent one; what else can I do but go where God tells me to go? As I go to my new beginning, so God is preparing you and this church for yours.  But it’s Advent. It’s time to be alert. It’s time to become attentive to what Good News Story our Lord wants to express through you next. But right now, it’s about Advent. It’s about waiting.

This morning we gather about the Table for our dinner.  What a wonderful thing for us to share with each other as we commune with one another around the banquet table of Christ. It’s a day we share a common blessed meal with those saints who have gone before us upon whose shoulders we stand like Nan Courtney, Bill Dreggors, Virginia Threlkeld, Margaret Jacob, and Cameron Huster Beck. Like our beloved friends and late pastors Hugh Ash, Ed Hallman, and Richard Hills, we wait…we advent…we are alert and attentive to the coming time when Jesus will come in Glory and bring to completion wonderful act of redemption.

Beloved, breathe. Wait. Be alert. Become attentive. And in this time of waiting and dining at the Table, remember the Spirit of God is in this place. Remember that all of us are both redeemed saints and redeemed sinners. Remember that all of us have been spiritually gifted to help others around us as together we wait and see in order to taste that the Lord is good! I am an evangelist, apostle, and preacher.  What’s your gift to be shared with those gathered around you today?  Remember, Jesus stands at the door of your heart and knocks and wants to have Supper with you. He invites you to the Table of waiting and hope.  Come!

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] Dirk G. Lange, The Working Preacher: Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, November 27, 2011. Accessed on December 2, 2017 from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1131

Wading Across the (New) River, Joshua 1.1-9

Sermon:        Wading Across the (New) River Together
Scripture:     Joshua 1.1-9
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale
Date:              November 19, 2017

I just graduated high school when the love of my life broke up with me. I must have moped around for a good while because many of my good friends just shook their head at me and said, “Wrisley, get over it! Just go and ask someone out for crying out loud!”

So, I did.

She was a pretty girl. A blind date someone set me up on.  I go to her house and knock on the door and the potentially new Mrs. Wrisley opened it up and began snickering at me as I handed her a flower in a vase. Now I can say for all guys out there, this is not the greeting one wants to have on a blind date! I looked at her quizzically and said, “What are you laughing at!?”  She composed herself and said, “Oh I’m sorry; you’re just so, so short; I thought you’d be taller!”  I put on a fake smile and looked at her 6’ 2” foot-tall frame and thought to myself, “Just shoot me now.”

I take her to a nice dinner and a movie at this large mall in Atlanta called Phipps Plaza. As we were about to go down the escalator she paused and said, “Let me go first and you go behind me; you will look taller.”  Fake smile again. Going down I thought to myself, “Wonder if anyone would notice if I just pushed her just a little bit?”  Don’t worry.  I didn’t. I didn’t know much about the dating scene at the time but one thing I did know: She was NOT going to be the future Mrs. Wrisley!

So here we are – you and me. This date has been arranged and we’ve agreed to meet. The door has opened up and now we are staring facing one another. I look at you and see you’re a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ and you may be looking at me going, “He’s so, so short! I thought he’d be taller!”  I hope not. The last time I heard that, the date did not go so well.

New beginnings can be awkward at first. Will we like each other?  Will we speak the needed love languages to one another? We may ponder, “Can I trust this person to stand beside me through thick and thin?”  All of these are natural questions for us to have of one another. Well, this morning’s scripture Story is one that paints a picture of a new leader taking the reins of a community and this new leader follows in the shadow of someone who had some mighty large shoes to fill!

Turn in your Bible to Joshua 1.1-9.  Our Story is picking up immediately after the great leader, Moses, has died.  Moses.  The Moses. The “I’m going to get in the face of Pharaoh Moses.”  The parting of the Red Sea Moses.  The beholding the Holy One in the burning bush Moses.  The Moses who led this loosely knit band of Hebrews through the desert for forty years and has brought the people to what is today’s Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan river just north of today’s Dead Sea. Now God immediately taps Joshua on the shoulder and says, “Ok son, you’re it.”

“Me?” we can hear Joshua mutter. And God’s answer is “Yup, you.”  Our scripture this morning is God’s answer to Joshua’s questions of “You want me to do what, God?”  Hear the Word of the Lord!

Joshua 1.1-9

1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2“My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”[1]

Did you notice what God does and does not tell Joshua?

God does not tell Joshua to go on retreat and think about it.  God does not tell Joshua to form a committee and talk about it. God does not tell Joshua to rehash the last forty years of history – all the good and all the bad and tragedy they’ve gone through in the past. God tells Joshua and the people pretty much the same thing Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 at the Great Commission.  The first word out of Jesus’ mouth is, “Go!”  It seems that God’s strategy is pretty basic and consistent throughout history. God tells the leaders and the people to get up and go. So, let’s briefly look at what God is telling Joshua and Hebrews. He gives them two commands and a promise.

The first command he gives Joshua, as well as the people, is to go forth but be strong and courageous!  God says this in rapid-fire staccato fashion three times in three verses. For Joshua, he must be wondering if he will be able to pull it off. He wonders, “Will I have the moxie and giftedness to provide for this community as Moses did? Will God provide mighty wonders and signs through me as he did with Moses?  Will God make good on his promises to the people through little old me?  And God replies, “be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”

Yet, the community of Hebrews had their own issues going on, too! They were wondering, “Can Joshua pull it off like Moses did?”  They are also wondering, “Will God perform signs and wonders through this guy Joshua like Moses did when we got into dire straits in the wilderness?”  They wonder if God will accompany them as they march west into the Land of Canaan or will they have to venture on their own. And God replies, “be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”

Let’s face it:  there are haunting realities in the past of this community of faith that have been difficult for you, the members of First Pres. The numbers if the church pews here have, like the Hebrews going through the desert, have been thinned over the years. The remnant who are left wonder if this short, stocky guy can pull it off! As your possible new pastoral leader, I shake in my boots with regards to that history as well, your expectations, and the opportunities before this church; I know that I will have to earn my trust from you and to prove my commitment the cause and God’s Missio Dei, God’s mission, through this place. Each of us come with our own hopes, fears, and dreams. But here we are today.  God telling me, God asking you, to walk with one another and together wade into the river crossing to the other side. And what does God say to you and me? “Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”

Yet, there is another command God gives Joshua and the people. God says, “Act in accordance with the Law…Do not turn from it to the right or to the left…and meditate on day and night.”  This command is not a command demanding that we drop everything and return to some form of spiritual or theological fundamentalism; God’s command is one that is reminding Joshua and his community to be laser-focused on the one necessary thing: The way of life grounded and grown in the soil of God as opposed to the soil of culture or personal self-interest.  You see, God knows all too well how the people felt that they knew better than God with how to relate with one another and to the world.  They heard Moses talk about the Ten Suggestions as opposed to the Ten Commandments and by confusing what they heard, they made a pluperfect mess of things.  Even Aaron, who was a good enough guy as far as it goes, felt the need to give into the pressure of the people and let them make a golden calf while Moses was taking a long time up on the mountain with the Lord.  The Law of God is not to be some lugubrious weight to carry in order to be loved by God; the Law is meant to be the way for the people and her leadership to keep laser-focused on God’s love relationship with them.

I love how verse 8 says, “You shall meditate on it day and night.”  With all the new popularity of meditation these days, we think it to mean to enter into a Zennish form of no mind or Buddhist Nirvana. The Hebrew word for meditation is the same word that is used to describe a lion standing guard over her prey while making guttural roaring noises.  For us, the connotation of meditation is that we are to stand guard over the laws and ways of God and do all we can to keep them safe.  It means reading them.  It means studying them.  It means ruminating over them like a cow chews her cud over and over and over again.  For Christ-Followers, that ultimate commandment is to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And where do we go to become bathed in that message?  The scriptures! My prayer is that we will become a congregation of who falls in love with Scripture all over again so that we will learn how to be the hands and feet of Christ in this broken and hurting world! It’s a call our early Reformers cried out in the 16th Century; the cried, “Ad fontes!” – Return to the Source, the spring of life found in the Scriptures!

The first command God gives Joshua and the people is this: Be strong and courageous; no fear for I am with you wherever you go!  The second command God give Joshua and the people:  Keep focused on my Scriptures and let them become a part of who you are!  And it’s at this point we come to the promise in our Story.

Note with me verse three. The way it is written should cause us pause because this verse is clearly the promise God has waiting for the called community and for First Pres Fort Lauderdale.  It reads, “Every place the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised Moses.”  Hear that again:  Every place the sole of your foot will tread upon (that’s future tense), I have already given you as I promised Moses (that’s past tense).  Can you hear what God is promising?  He’s telling Joshua and the misfit Hebrews to wade across the river to the other side and claim all God has had waiting for them!  The deal is to be strong and courageous and keep focused on God’s ways and plans!  If we do that, it will be like finding a ruby under every rock in a North Carolina mountain stream! All we have to do is go and start flipping over some rocks!

Beloved, I humbly come before you today. I’m definitely no Moses and not a Joshua either.  I’m just a short stocky guy who rides a Hog who loves Jesus and is passionate about telling others about him.  Why are Kelly and I here today with you?  Because like you, we are standing on the banks of the Jordan, or in this case, the New River, and we look across wondering what God has waiting for us over there.  It will require us to step out together in faith. It will require us to trust one another and display courage and strength.  It will require us to focus on the ways and character of God through the scriptures as opposed to the cacophony of the surrounding culture.  Kelly and I are here today saying we are willing to make the sacrifice to get wet and wade across the river you.  Now it’s up to you.  Personally, I hope we will cross that river together and claim the promises of ministry that God already has waiting for us.  And all of God’s people say, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 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] 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.