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

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

You may watch or listen to the message here.

2 Corinthians 4.3-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 9.24-27 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, what do you know about the Human Condition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The seventh stone is what we know about the Church:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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…

25396251_10155761603935999_4142545185293627808_n

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