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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, what do you know about the Human Condition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The seventh stone is what we know about the Church:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Message: What’s Your Pole Star?, Mark 1:14-20

Sermon:      The Pole Star
Scripture:   Mark 1:14-20
Preacher:    Patrick H. Wrisley, D. Min.
Location:     First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date:             January 21, 2018

In the midst of preparing for this morning, I received an email from a preacher-friend of mine that simply said, “Praying for you as you prepare and deliver sermon Sunday. Don’t blow it!” Oh my, no pressure there is there? There’s a panoply of passages or texts we could look at on our first Sunday together but I’m going to stick to the one the lectionary is providing for today in Mark 1. Turn in your Bible to Mark 1.14-26. Our text highlights one simple idea that makes my job easier today and it’s perfect starting place for you and me to begin a long-lasting relationship together.

The Story of Mark is a fast-paced Story that focuses on one person and one major point. He crafts his carefully chosen words to indicate that things are different now; he is trying to convey that our very world has changed and his Gospel Story is an invitation to join in that new difference and distinctiveness. It focuses on one person, Jesus, and it makes one major point that the Kingdom of God is among us. These two realities are the power that turn all of our worlds upside down. We pick up in the Story immediately following Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John. John has since been arrested and thrown in prison because his preaching began to pinch the religious and secular powers of his time. The Baptist is introduced by Mark and is then quickly escorted off the narrative stage and the main character and purpose of the Story is brought in to focus. Listen to the Word of God!

Mark 1:14-26

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (1)

Time and familiarity with today’s scripture has had the unfortunate result of our losing the sharp edge of our Story. We hear these words and can imagine Jesus walking about the breezy shore of the Galilee with the birds flying and all and he calls the first four disciples as he jauntily takes a walk on the beach. We get caught up wondering if Jesus already knew them or not since they responded so passively. The fact is, it does not really matter if Jesus already knew the four as the point of the encounter is much sharper and edgier.

We are being invited by Mark to see that Jesus was out and about with everyday people in the middle of their everyday lives. Jesus was out meeting people where they were in the larger community. The Good News of God came to Jesus and Jesus didn’t keep it to himself. He proclaimed it.

Now it’s helpful to note that there is a huge difference between proclaiming something and teaching something. Teaching helps others learn facts and nuances and assists in helping us learn how to think. We are taught something and then we are left to determine whether or not it is “true.”

Proclaiming is different. When Jesus comes proclaiming in Mark’s Story, he is declaring Truth whether or not we determine that we agree with his facts are or not. Proclamation is immutable Truth. Proclamation is not debatable. No matter what you say or try to prove, the thing proclaimed is the real deal. Let’s say you and I are looking up at the blue sky and I tell you, “Look, the sky is neon green.” You would look at me and say, “No it’s not. It’s blue. No matter how hard I try to convince you the sky is neon green the fact remains the sky is still blue. Just because I argue against you does not change the reality of the thing at hand. Jesus comes proclaiming in our Story.

And what immutable Truth is he proclaiming? The Good News. And what is the Good News? He is not coming on the scene and proclaiming what Western Christianity has long proffered as the “Good News” is that if we believe in him then we have eternal life through his work on the Cross – which we do big time, by the way! The deal is though, that’s not the Good News he was proclaiming. The Good News Jesus is declaring is that now is the opportune time and we are to see, experience, and enter into the movement of God’s in breaking, present kingdom in the here and now! Jesus does not begin his ministry by asking people whether they are going to heaven or hell; he begins by declaring the immutable truth that whether you want to embrace it or not, the very kingdom, the very presence of God, is in and among the people right this very minute!

Mark’s Gospel is loaded with urgency. Whereas the religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees want to debate facts on when the reign of God will show up, Jesus’ very first words are, “Hey everyone! Turn around and look at life in a new way: Quit debating and talking about the reign of God but look! The Kingdom of God is among you now!” We tend to hear the word ‘repent’ and think of how we should stop sinning. The word ‘repent’ feels so lugubrious and heavy; no one wants to hear about repentance because it feels like such a downer. Beloved, the word repent is so much richer than that simple meaning. It means to stop what you’re doing, turn around in the opposite direction and gain an entirely new perspective, a totally new view of God, of neighbor, and of our daily life. So, when the four fishermen hear Jesus say, “Come, follow me,” they are being told in the imperative to drop what they’re doing and is culturally expected of them and turn towards an entirely new way of living, loving, and sharing life. Why are they to do that? Because the Kingdom of God is at hand! Let me share with you my paraphrase of today’s text from Mark and listen to hear what I am suggesting the text is telling us today.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee declaring the good news that God is doing a new thing, saying the Good News is this:
Now is the opportune time,
The Kingdom of God has joined you,
Reorient yourself and give allegiance to God’s new way of living.
As Jesus was walking and living out this new life by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fisherman. And Jesus called out to them and yelled, “C’mon and fall in behind me and I will make you fish for people!” And immediately they abandoned and cut ties with their past and followed him.
As he went a little further, he saw James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boats restoring the nets. Immediately he yelled out to them, and they abandoned their daddy Zebedee in the boat with the day-laborers and followed him.

Simon and Andrew heard the urgency in Jesus’ call and cut ties with their professional past and followed him. James and John hear Jesus’ call and they not only abandoned the family business but also their own dad, the paterfamilias – the patriarch of the earthly family – to go and follow Jesus. It cost each of the four something very dramatic. Their following Jesus redefined the way they lived their life, the way they understood their relationship with neighbor as well as what it meant to be a follower of God; in other words, their following of the call of Jesus changed their present-day life; Jesus spent more time talking about what it means to be “saved” in this life in the present tense as opposed to the afterlife. Salvation, wholeness, is a present reality for Jesus and in order to experience that we have to reorient ourselves, let go of what we think defines us and how we think we define God and follow Jesus.

Professional fishing defined and directed the four disciples’ lives. What defines and directs your life and mine? Does your hobby define who you are or does Jesus define your hobby?

Do your business dealings define who you are and your success or does Jesus define you and your business dealings that demonstrate the kingdom of God is among us?

Do the activities you do with your family define who you are or does Jesus define your family and what it is that directs your family life?

Do the good works you do through civic clubs and organizations define who you are or does Jesus define the work you do in our civic clubs and community service?

Do your investments define who you are and what you believe or does Jesus give meaning to your investments, wealth, savings and what you spend your money on?

Jesus asked the four fishermen to decide that day to publicly indicate what defines them – Their work? Their family? The culture’s expectations? Or will he, Jesus, define and direct what they to do, say, live, and love?

The great church historian Alister McGrath indicates that back in the early Reformation, the first Protestants rallied around a saying, “ad fontes,” Latin words that literally mean a returning to the fountainhead and sources of the Christian faith, which for them, were the original Old and New Testament scriptures as opposed to blindly adhering to a Papal bull or mandate.(2)  Mark is advocating not a return to the sources per se; Mark is advocating “ad fontem” – a return to the Source of our faith which is Jesus. Ad fontem means Jesus shines light on all our relationships with God and each other, with family, business or philanthropic experiences and not the other way around. The proclamation in Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Source, the foil, the ruler by which we measure our faithfulness and service. One can be a great teacher, Rotarian, Bible Study Fellowship attender, mom or dad, Habitat builder and still be a lousy Christ-Follower if Jesus is not defining your work, your teaching, your parenting and/or your civic activity.

In my pocket I carry a small compass with me wherever I go. Whenever I am in a meeting, out and about, spending money or talking with others, I will place my hand in my right pocket and fumble around with this little compass. Why? I do this because whenever I feel or look at my compass, I am reminded of Ad Fontem, the Source of my faith which is Jesus. Just as the compass points to magnetic north and helps us navigate our way by the Pole Star, the North Star, Polaris, the compass in my pocket reminds me that in all I do or say, I will follow the direction of my spiritual pole star, i.e. Jesus. If I follow my compass and the direction its pointed, I will always find my way back home to the Lord’s loving arms who will always show me the way and how I am to live.

As a spin on the popular phrase from the Capital One credit card commercials, “What’s in your wallet?”, I ask each of us, “What’s in your pocket or purse that reminds you who, where or what your Pole Star is?”

Repent, beloved, i.e. reorient yourselves to seeing God and neighbor in new ways! The Kingdom of God is among us this very moment! And all of God’s people say, Amen.

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

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

(1)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) Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought. An Introduction. Fourth Ed., (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2012), 40.