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

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

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

So, I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua 1.1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commitment Sunday: Hilarious Giving!, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Sermon:          Giving Hilariously         
Scripture:       2 Corinthians 9.6-15
Preacher:        Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Location:         First Presbyterian Church
Occasion:        Commitment Sunday
Date:                 November 12, 2017

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

                   6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift![i]

Once upon a time, there was a Priest, a Presbyterian minister and a Rabbi who walk into a bar and they begin talking with each other.  The Rabbi posed an interesting question for their little theology-on-tap session.  He asked, “What do you think our congregants would say about each of us as they walk by our open casket at our own funeral?”

The Priest, dear Father O’Malley said, “I hope they would say I was a caring parish priest who devotedly led his people in Mass and was there to support them all the days of their life.”

The minister, Pastor Nancy said, “When my people walk by, I hope they would say she lived her faith consistently both at home and at church, that she was a good mother and wife, and that she was dedicated to preaching the Gospel with passion and intelligence.”

The Rabbi listened intently and thought over the question he and Pastor Nancy and declared, “Well!  When my people walk by me at my funeral, I want to hear them say, ‘Look!  He’s moving!’”

Let me ask you this my beloved, what is it that you want to hear folks say about you at your funeral?  Many of us have been to a funeral before and we will hear eulogies, i.e. words spoken by friends and loved ones of the deceased expressing gratitude and admiration for the one who has died.  Well, let me let you in on a little secret:  Our word for eulogy comes from the ancient root of the word generosity!  That’s right!  Eulogia means to praise or invoke a blessing.

Paul has been going on and on about the Macedonian church’s rich generosity in chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians; in fact, eulogia, generosity, is used four times in our nine verses this morning. It makes me want to ask, “What type of generosity do we want to be known by? What type of eulogy can be delivered by our giving? Are we generous or tight-fisted sowers of God’s gifts?”

Author William R. Phillippe relates the story of a plane crash in Charlotte years ago.  He writes, “When the landing gear of US Airways Flight 479 collapsed and the crew ordered an evacuation down the emergency slides, almost half the passengers reacted by grabbing for their carry-on luggage…one man grabbed two bags. Another struggled with a large bag.  A woman blocked the aisle struggling to get a garment bag out of an overhead bin.”[ii]

A woman blocked the aisle preventing an emergency evacuation of a crashed plane as she struggled to remove a garment bag from the overhead bin.  It’ll make you think twice as you sit down in your airline seat, won’t it?  But are we really that different?  Don’t we cling to our money and possessions as tightly as this woman clings tightly to her garment bag?

This is what Paul was chiding the Corinthian church about when he keeps telling them, “You reap what you sow!”  In other words, it’s easy Corinthian church to talk a big game about how you’re planning to give but it’s another thing to give to the poor in Jerusalem like you promised you would and make good on your promises. Paul is telling them that any farmer worth her or his salt is not going to spend all that time in preparing the field, clearing out the rocks and weeds, furrowing the ground, only to toss a few seeds into the ground.  Why go through all that effort only to drop a few seeds and glean a meager, thin crop?  No, a farmer tends to the field in order to plant as much seed as he or she can in order to gather the highest yield possible.

And then Paul moves his argument to another level – one which he has mentioned in chapter 8 and now again in a direct imperative:  Each person should give what he or she has decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion (vs. 7).  Yes, the Macedonian church has given proportionately higher than their big city First Church cousin in Corinth.  Yes, the Macedonians gave above what they were asked and then sacrificially gave even beyond their means.  But no, Paul wasn’t holding the Corinthian Church to the same high sacrificial level.  He was telling them to give what they could out of the means they had.

The words he uses in verse seven are revealing.  First, he tells them not to give reluctantly.  The word Paul uses here is used to describe someone who is in mourning over a loss through grief. It has the connotation of deep heaviness, sorrow, and pain. Yet, it can also mean to cause someone annoyance. I’ve known many people over the years who get very annoyed when the preacher starts talking about money and giving the two times a year we do it!  Second, Paul tells them not to give under compulsion.  In other words, it’s not like tax imposed by the government or tariff charged by a provider. The gift is not to cause distress or put the giver in hard straits. The gift is not to be given out of necessity resulting from guilt-laden “shoulds” and “ought’s.”

Sadly though, this how many in the church hear the words about giving. People get annoyed when the Preacher or church talks about money. We think all this money-talk is nothing more than about guilt-inducing “should” and “ought’s” and we have divorced it from the second part of the verse which declares, “For God loves a cheerful giver.”

Another way to translate that verse is, “For God loves a person who gives hilariously.”  The word we translate ‘cheerful’ is the same word we get our English ‘hilarious’ from.  It seems we’ve been missing the point, my beloved!

We’re not to give out of heavy guilt.

We’re not to give that will cause us distress or dire straits.

We’re not to give with guilt-induced “should” and “outght’s.”

No, we’re called to give hilariously! We’re to give cheerfully and joyfully!

Think for a moment of the last time you really let it go and laughed becoming totally one in the moment. Think of the time you just were so overwhelmed with joy that you bent over grabbing your knees or held your chest and couldn’t stop laughing.  When was the last time you were overcome with such unbridled joy that your eyes welled-up with tears from a deep sense of well-being and joy?  This is what Paul is talking about.  This is the type of giver God has dreams about.  Please notice I didn’t say, “This is the type of GIFT God dreams about” but rather, “This is the type of GIVER God dreams about.”

Think about that moment you felt unbridled joy and hilarity for a moment.  In that moment, we lose thought of everything else except for the reason that caused us joy.  Our body is loose, our hands are open.  We are relaxed and receptive. We cease thinking of ourselves and simply revel in the moment of joy.  We delight in something that was said or done to or with us. What a model for giving, eh?

When we give cheerfully, hilariously, joyfully, we develop an attitude about giving we’ve never had before.  We cease giving out of guilt. We cease giving out of annoyance.  Yes, when we give cheerfully and hilariously we give with our hands open realizing all we have is God’s anyway.  We are relaxed about our giving because our faith tells us that God will not disappoint us.  We cheerfully sow our gifted seeds because we know that the fruit of the crop of faithful stewardship we’ve planted will make God have joy, delight, and laugh with hilarity as He sees how those gifts compassionately help others. God will fall over Himself laughing with joy as He feels our joyful gratitude for the faith we’ve shown in Him because we are tossing seed everywhere to bless others in His Name.  Hilarious giving isn’t so much what we do; rather, it reflects who we are at our core being and is a mirror of how much allegiance and faith we really have in God.

Beloved, when we give, we are not giving to budgets as that is not what our Lord has in mind.  Giving cheerfully, joyfully, hilariously to God is a testament to our gratitude for all God has done for us. When we give to budgets grounded in guilt and duty, we are not giving cheerfully.  When we give to the missional work of God’s church in a spirit of joy and cheerfulness, then our giving has become a lifestyle reflecting who each of us are in the center heart.

How do you know if you’re giving hilariously or not?  If you understand your Estimate of Giving cards to be “Thank You” notes to our Lord for all he has done for you, then you get it and cheerful, hilarious giving is now a part of your lifestyle.

Let’s make today a celebration of all God has done, is doing, and will yet do in and through you and through this great church!

Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Boulevard
DeLand, FL 32724
Wrisley.org

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

[i] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
[ii] William R. Phillippe, A Stewardship Scrapbook (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999), 124.  Accessed from www.homileticsonline on November 9, 2008.

The Attitude for Giving: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Sermon:          Today, Tomorrow, Together – The Attitude for Giving
Scripture:        2 Corinthians 8.1-9
Preacher:        Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                November 5, 2017

You may listen to the Sermon here.

My beloved, this morning we are going to look at one of the dirty words you can’t say in church.  Last February, we spent time looking at the first dirty word people don’t like speaking in church and that was the E-Word: Evangelism.  This morning we are going to begin a two-week look at two other dirty words for many in the Church: S and M – Stewardship and money!  Christian stewardship is a Christian practice that has brought much conversation and strife in the life of the Christian church for the last 2,000 years. People typically hate it when the proverbial pledge season arrives.  “My money is my business.”  “The church is always asking for money.”  “Why can’t we focus on the real Gospel message?”  Well, the reality is, money isn’t your business, it’s God’s business! Our finances are a deeply spiritual issue.  The fact our giving is $53,000 below budget is a spiritual issue. The church will always raise the need for funds because it’s about the Missio Dei, the mission of God, in the world.  The what and how Christ-followers relate to their money is a deeply spiritual issue as it is one of the measures of our fidelity to God.

We’re going to spend the next two weeks in the book of 2 Corinthians spending time in it to determine a biblical understanding of money and our relationship to it both personally and corporately as a Body of Christ.  Go ahead and turn to 2 Corinthians 8.1-9.

Corinth is located on an isthmus and is a strategic crossroads for both land and sea; as such, it was an active commercial center.  One could make the comparison that the Corinthian church was what we would call the large, more prosperous downtown church as compared to the small, often poorer churches in the small towns and byways like the churches in the backwater areas of Macedonia.  It was a church whose members had heard of Paul’s list of spiritual gifts as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13.  The members of the Corinthian churches seemed to be the movers and shakers of the day – gifted with the gifts of deep faith, of wise Christian rhetoricians, of intelligently gifted people whose very intellects raised them in social status in comparison to the masses.

It’s a church that knew it had resources and it openly declared it wanted to share those resources with other Christians.  Sadly though, the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions comes into play.  Their talk of a pledge campaign to help the poor in Jerusalem hadn’t materialized into results.  So, Paul sends Titus on a couple of trips to make sure the Corinthians are going to make good on their promises of support for the poor.  This is where we pick up in the story.

As we listen to this text I’d like for us to keep author Timothy Bagwell’s words in mind.  He says, “Jesus avoided conversations that tried to persuade by analyzing fine points of the law.  Rather, Jesus helped people picture the Kingdom of God, and he incited them to see themselves in the picture.”[1]  So my beloved, listen to the Word of the Lord and see yourself in this picture!

2 Corinthians 8.1-9

             And now brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that our God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in a rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.  So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.  But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

            I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.[2]

So, my friends, where do we see ourselves in this picture?  Where do we see First Presbyterian Church?  I’ve been mulling over this text and the picture that I see Paul painting in the first nine verses is the biblical attitude Christ-followers and churches are to have with respect to giving.  Let’s walk through our text and highlight three attitudes presented in the text.

The first giving attitude is found in verses 2 and 3:  We’re to give what we have and not what we don’t. Ironically, Paul uses the smaller, poorer churches as the bar to measure the generosity of the larger churches like Corinth. The Macedonian churches were small, they were steeped in gross poverty but they possessed something the big city/suburban Corinthian church didn’t have:  A joyful spirit of giving that poured forth rich generosity.   I find it interesting that their joy is directly related to their giving habits.  Though they didn’t have much but they gave from what they had.  The Macedonian churches had heard how the Corinthians had decided to make a pledge and then take up an offering for the Jerusalem poor. The Macedonians wanted to join with the Corinthians in making a gift as well to show their gratitude to God. The Macedonians were under no illusion that their gift could match what the richer, larger Corinthian church could provide but what they lacked in amount was made up from their liberality.  Their liberality with what they had produced an exuberant joy in them. It wasn’t the amount that gave them joy – they gave what they had according to their means; rather, it was their commitment and making good on that commitment that brought the Macedonians overflowing joy.

My friends, let’s all of us give from what we have and not from what we don’t.  This year, Paul reminds every single one of us to come together to make a difference with what we have. It is not fair to those who are sacrificially giving to bear the entire burden of bestowing generosity to others for God when each of us has a responsibility to take part in it.  Even the widow gave a simple mite and it was counted to her as righteousness.[3]  Beloved, all of us are called to give from what we have and not from what we don’t. That’s not the Preacher talking, it’s Paul my Beloved.

The second giving attitude is found in verse 4:  A giving spirit begins with a personal enthusiastic desire to give as opposed to giving with a spirit of guilt. We read how the Macedonians, entirely on their own volition, pleaded and begged for the privilege of giving. Pleaded to give.  Begged to give.  The members of the church pleaded and begged to give.  That’s the sweetest music a pastor would love to hear!  How’s that for an attitude for Christ-Followers to have?

What would the Kingdom be like in West Volusia County and beyond if members of this congregation enthusiastically begged and pleaded, not for the chance to give but for the privilege, the privilege to give to the work of God through this congregation!  Beloved, if God saw that everyone in this church was faithfully giving what we each had no matter how little or much that is, God would see in us as a congregation an eagerness for the Kingdom and a dynamic demonstration of our faith.  If we witnessed to God in this way, God will throw open the floodgates of heaven in order that we might be blessed to be a blessing to others.

The third giving attitude we learn of is found in verse 5: The first act of giving is to give our very selves totally to the Lord. Why would Paul include this?  You would think it would be an obvious issue to folks.  “Of course, Paul, I’ve given myself to the Lord that’s why I’m giving through the Church!”  Paul replies to the Corinthians, to us, “Really? You haven’t made good on your pledge yet!”

Paul reminds the Corinthians how the Macedonian giving was a natural overflow of their commitment to the Lordship of Christ.  The first century Christian understood Lordship in ways we don’t.  We give our leaders ‘votes’ but we don’t pledge our lives to them. I don’t think any of us in this room would pledge our very lives to our President and Congress at the moment! You see, pledged lives are what the Lord requires.  When we say, Jesus is Lord, it means we hand over everything to him – our lives, our families, our jobs, our finances, our talents and spiritual gifts.  When we say, Jesus is Lord, we sign the deed of everything we own and hand it all over to him.  It’s no longer ours; we sign it back over to God.

But American Christ-Followers like the concept of Jesus as Savior more than Jesus as Lord.  We want to be saved.  We want to go to heaven.  We want to have our prayers heard and answered.  We want to be delivered from hardship.  We want all the benefits of our Divine Life Savings policy.   But we fail to remember the Lordship part.  We make Jesus’ Lordship provisional depending upon our circumstances or convenience.  We forget that our Lord doesn’t understand provisional lordship and is grossly puzzled why we do.

Paul and church leaders from time immemorial have heard statements like, “I don’t like the pastor so I’m not going to give.”  “I’ll simply give of occasional volunteer time in lieu of any money.”  “I don’t like the ministries we support so I’m not going to give.”  “I’m sick of money talk so I’m just not going to give.”

Whenever Jesus, not Paul, not me, hears these arguments, the Lord says deep in himself, “Don’t they realize they’re not holding out on my church but they’re cheating me!  They’re withholding from their Lord!”

Beloved, our heart, life, body, soul, checkbook, house, car, children, job, boat, motorcycle, jet ski, hunting gear, or cabin are turned over to Christ’s care and use when we profess him Savior and Lord.  The beauty of it is that when we realize it’s all the Lord’s, we relate to all those items differently.  We realize we’re Jesus’ stewards of the blessings we have been given from our checkbook, house, car, children, job, boat, motorcycle, jet ski, hunting gear, or cabin and invest them and in them, not for ourselves, but for our Lord.[4]

Biographer Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Kennedy grew up living the life of a privileged child of wealth.  He rarely carried cash but relied on those in his entourage to pick up his tabs.  One day, Robert went to the Catholic Church for Mass.  When the offering plate came by, Kennedy looked at his friend who tossed in a $1.00 bill into the plate on Kennedy’s behalf.  Kennedy leaned over and whispered, “Don’t you think I’d be more generous than that?”[5]

You got to love it! What if we were to place ourselves in a similar situation like Kennedy and we asked the person next to us to place an offering into the plate on our behalf? What if we asked the person next to us to fill out our Estimate of Giving and pledge card for us? How much would he or she put in for you based on their understanding of your generosity?  Interesting question, isn’t it?

Beloved, remember: All Jesus asks is that we treat him though he was really our Lord and eagerly seek ways to invest his money that we have been entrusted with.  My prayer is that we as a church, and each of us as Christ-Followers, will gain a Macedonian spirit of giving.  And all of God’s people said – Amen!

Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Boulevard
DeLand, FL 32724
wrisley.org

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

[1] Timothy Bagwell, Preaching for Giving: Proclaiming Financial Stewardship With Holy Boldness (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1993), 55.

[2] Scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.  I added sisters for inclusivity.

[3] See Mark 12.41-44.

[4] There are two more attitudes of giving in our text today. The fourth attitude from verse 7 is:  Our giving is a spiritual gift that God expects us to use.  The fifth attitude is in verses 8 and 9: Giving of our financial means is a tangible expression of love expressed through the Church for the benefit of others.

[5] Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (Touchstone Books, 2002).  Accessed from HomileticsOnline on 11/5/08 at http://www.homileticsonline.org.

Reformation Sunday: The Importance of Being Students of History , Romans 1:16-17

Sermon:        Reformation Sunday: The Importance of Being Students of History
Scripture:     Romans 1:16-17
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              October 29, 2017

We live in a historical moment when our country is basked in the tumultuous throes of learning how to be sensitive and respectful of others while at the same time reassessing the symbols of our own history. A good example of this recently is how the Confederate Battle Flag has been sensibly removed from some state’s flags like the Georgia State flag. For some, the Confederate Flag is a sign of their cultural heritage; they know the rest of the country looks at the South as an odd duck and for some Southerners, the Confederate Flag highlights our oddity.  For others, however, the Confederate Flag represents a tragic time in our history when one race enslaved another race.  For yet others, the Confederate flag has been assimilated and reinterpreted to be a symbol of white privilege and hubris.

This has also spilled into the issues of statues in many community’s public squares that remember the leaders of the Old South like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The push is to tear them down and remove them from public view. I have no problem renaming Nathan Bedford Forest middle-school in a predominantly black school district as he was the founder of the KKK. What I do believe all of us need to be aware of, however, is the danger of revising the parts of history we do not like or forgetting our history altogether.  We are damned to repeat history if we fail to remember and study it.

Students of history. The very word ‘student’ describes a mentality of a person who has to work at learning, understanding, and appropriating facts and knowledge into one’s life and the world. If you are a student, it is axiomatic that it requires work and effort. Beloved, today is the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation and I wonder how many of us fully understand the significance of that historical moment that ushered the modern world out of the Dark Ages and led us to the Enlightenment.

Luther was a student of history. He was a brilliant thinker and had his mind sharpened as an Augustinian monk and seminary professor in his homeland of Germany and his mind was always churning. Eric Metaxas, in his wonderful new book, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, describes how Luther pondering on our scripture text today, Romans 1.16-17, launched his part of the Reformation Fire.

According to history, Luther went to the special place many people have incredible epiphanies and insights: The bathroom.  You know that’s true for yourself!  You are taking a shower and boom! A flash of insight shoots through your head. Or, as in Luther’s case, as he was sitting in the Cloaca Tower at the Black Cloister in Wittenberg Germany in early 1517, the realization that the Church had lost its moorings to her own history in Christ came rising from within him.[1] Paul’s words from Romans 1.16-17 kept rattling around in his head.  Our scripture reads:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ [2]

The righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith. These are words that hardly sound like the kindling that set fire to the events that changed the world. Yet, if we look at these words from Romans as students of Scripture and as students of history as Luther was, it becomes all clear.

As a student of the Scripture, Luther remembered the prophet Habakkuk who wrote during the time the Babylonians came to ransack Jerusalem and take the people hostage. In the midst of those dark times, God was reminding the prophet and the Jewish people that the “righteous shall live by faith.”[3] Luther was also living in dark times, what we call the late Dark Ages, and this verse jumped at him.  Why?

Well, Luther was also a student of religious history. For him, in Metaxes’ words, Luther remembered that, “God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption.”[4]  For Luther and other early Reformers in Europe at the time, he was reminded that salvation and wholeness begin and end with God’s love, God’s faith, in humankind and not our broken ability to earn that love and salvation from performing good moral or biblical works. The Reformation Church’s battle cry was “Sola Fide!”, by faith alone!

In Luther’s day, the Pope and the various kings and leaders throughout Europe were odd bedfellows.  The Roman church needed the vassal leaders throughout the land to keep the church in power.  The practice of the sale of indulgences began to rise as a way to pay for the Vatican’s building program in Rome as well as to line the pockets and treasuries of the kings and politicians in the remote parts of the empire. Let me clearly state that the Catholic Church does not adhere to this practice anymore!

Let’s say you have a crazy Uncle Bob or Aunt Mary who lived a shady life and have died. You could by an Indulgence, a piece of paper, that indicated you paid such-and-such to the Church and in return, you have purchased enough redemption points to get Uncle Bob or Aunt Mary out of purgatory and set their spirits on the way to heaven.  Another reason Indulgences were popular is that if you yourself committed a horrible sin, you could purchase redemption points that will clean your sin-slate.

Well, as a student of scripture and as a student of history, Luther, theologically speaking, realized this was just whack.  Scriptures and history remind us that in Christ, God came to freely give to us what we ourselves could not afford to buy: Relationship with the Holy One. What hit Luther that day in the bathroom was that you cannot buy that which is free!  It’s all about faith for faith; God’s faith in us brings about our faith in God in the midst of our own spiritual, social, economic dark ages.[5] We are made righteous, the fifty-cent word for “brought into right relationship,” through our faith in God’s faith expressed to us in Christ Jesus. You do not need a piece of paper to get crazy Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary out of hell because God first went to hell himself in Christ Jesus to get Bob and Mary out personally.  God’s faith in humanity stems from His love for us and His covenant promises made to us. Salvation is God’s gift to us; salvation is not our gift to God but our faith is!

So, as all of this stewed within Luther, he posted the infamous 95 Theses on the community’s village bulletin board: The church doors. These theses were not so much a battle cry against the Pope as they were an invitation to the community, full of seminary students, to come and debate and discuss these issues. Today we would say that Professor Luther posted topics for a lecture series but no one showed up for the class.  Luther never meant his 95 arguments about scriptural and historical issues to be the battle cry to leave the Roman Church; what happened was that someone copied the 95 Theses and because the printing press was recently invented, they were mass produced and sent all over Europe without Luther’s knowledge or permission. In modern parlance, we would say Luther sent an email to the academic community in Wittenberg but then it got copied and went viral in ways Luther never imagined.[6]  He did not want to leave the Catholic Church; Luther wanted to call the Church to reform and reflect on its ways so that it would be a healthier church.

It is thanks to Luther and others like him such as Calvin, Hus, and Knox that launched not only a spiritual enlightenment but an artistic, philosophical, intellectual and political enlightenment as well. The early Reformers and the divine-timing of the printing press got the word out quickly. It drove to the rise of universities where not just monks went to school but the larger population went as well because now people were taught to read in their own languages which spurred forth even more spiritual, social, intellectual and political breakthroughs.

Beloved, today is a reminder for us to be more like the Reformers.  We are being called back to become students again – students of Holy Scripture as well as students of our own spiritual histories and backgrounds. We will discover that Church is more than position statements on ethical or moral causes; we will remind ourselves that it is God’s initiating faith and love for you and me that gives rise in our faith in God, and in turn, with one another. It’s only when students engage the scripture and history that we become able to change agents for Christ in the world.  Beloved, you are a Reformer!  Now let’s go and prepare for that task by once becoming students of our Scriptures and our religious history! And all God’s people say, Amen.

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

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

[1]Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (pp. 95-96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Luther, in his own words reflects on the moment, “Diese Kunst hat mir der Spiritus Sanctus auf diss Cloaca eingeben” which means, “The Holy Spirit gave me this art in [or upon] the cloaca”…Cloaca was the ancient Latin term for “sewer” and at the time of Luther had come to mean “outhouse.”

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

[3] Habakkuk 2.4.

[4] Metaxas, 97.

[5] Dunn, James D. G. Word Biblical Commentary. Romans 1-8, (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing Co., 1988), 43-44.

[6] Metaxas, 108.

The Church Ladies, Philippians 4.1-9

Sermon:        The Church Ladies
Scripture:     Philippians 4.1-9
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Date:              October 15, 2017

 

The-Church-Lady

Years ago, former cast member for Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey, played a character called the Church Lady and the Church Lady hosted a little television show called, Church Chat; she was always dressed in penitential purple and had a way of making everyone she spoke with feel less of a person by the time they finished the interview. The character was a wonderful form of artistic hyperbole that pushed the far limits of the culture’s view of life in the church. It portrayed Christians as boorish, judgmental, petty, and who are intentionally looking for little things to become upset about. Sadly, Carvey’s character was so popular because it resonated with people out in the world and how they view our life in the Christian community.

Church Ladies.  All churches have them.  These are the well-meaning ones who “know better than anyone else” on how things are to operate in the church.  They have opinions on what’s proper procedure and protocol and vocalize definite attitudes about how Jesus is to be interpreted and how the coffee is to be made in that place.

I look over the churches I’ve served for 35 years and I can pick out who all the church ladies were and what their particular issues and hot-topic were at the time.  I learned early in ministry that if you are going to get along in a congregation as a new pastor, you had better find out who the church ladies are and get on their good side! These are people who have called me out in public forums for unintentionally forgetting to list their ministry in a list of ministries we were celebrating. They are the ones who stop by your office and leave a book on grammar with the secretary and tells her, “Tell the pastor to read this.”  They are the ones who walk into the church manse during dinner time while your family is trying to eat and complain about the way you handled a situation with another member of the church who just happens to be their second-cousin Frances.  They are the ones who put money in an envelope and slide it under the office door anonymously telling you to get a haircut.  Church ladies hold official or unofficial places of power and leadership in the church community. They can be eccentric and loving at best or they can be very divisive to the community at worst. This is what Paul is dealing with in Philippians.

There are two de facto leaders in the Philippian church everyone knows and Paul is left with no choice but to come out and address them directly by name in the letter. Throughout the letter, Paul has been addressing the issues of his love for the people there and the gratitude he has for them in sharing his financial support in the Gospel while he sits in a Roman prison cell. The letter goes on to address spiritual and theological issues that were being proffered about that were undermining the gospel news of grace through allegiance to Jesus Christ and these teachers were encouraging folks to follow old Jewish religious rites instead. And the final reason Paul wrote the letter is that he has heard there is dissension in the ranks and he is imploring the community to be of one mind and one spirit in promoting the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Indeed, in chapter 1:15ff., Paul describes how there were preachers and teachers who were performing their duties out of rivalry and selfish ambition while others were preaching and teaching from sincere, loving motives. The kicker comes in verse 18 when Paul declares: “What then? Only in that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that, I rejoice!”

The deal for Paul is that nothing is to get in the way of proclaiming the grace-full message of wholeness and salvation in Christ. Nothing. Not personal agendas or wish-dreams.  Not interpretations of Christian dogmatics nor personal interpretations of good preaching versus bad preaching.  Nothing is to usurp the prominence and preeminence of Jesus.  Nothing.

Just to make sure you heard me, what is more, important to Jesus for Paul?  Nothing! Absolutely! This leads us to today’s text where we read about our first-century church ladies.  Listen to the Word of God. I am reading from Presbyterian pastor/author/treasure Eugene Peterson’s version of the scripture called, The Message. Listen!

Philippians 4:1-9, The Message (MSG)

4.1 My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.

I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.

And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. [1]

There are two things to note immediately. One, the church ladies in our Story are named as leadership of the church. They are described as standing, running, working together side-by-side with the Apostle Paul, Clement and the other “veterans” striving for the ministry. The imagery is all athletic and Paul says the Euodia and Syntyche were equally equipped with all the other leaders to fulfill and lead the work of ministry.  And perhaps this is why Paul calls them out in his letter by name.  Euodia and Syntyche are leaders and as such, they need to lead by positive example.

The second item to note about our text is that Paul’s words are not just to the “church ladies” of the congregation. He’s writing to all of us in places of leadership in the church whether a man or a woman.  Bill Self, long retired pastor of the huge Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta once remarked of the group he called the “disgruntled men’s cigarette-butt stompers” who would gather in the parking lot and would gossip and supplant others in the church. So, lest we forget, there are Church Men just as much as there are Church Ladies. Paul is talking to all of them, all of us, who have parts in leadership.

What’s he saying to them? In verses 4-5 Paul implores them,

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Paul is telling the church to revel in God each and every day and do so in a way that works alongside with people they may disagree with but who are still brothers and sisters in the Lord. Euodia and Syntyche may have their differences but they are told to place their individual differences, feelings of entitlement and being correct and push them to the background. They are not to work against one another but alongside each other for the real purpose of the church community in Philippi which is to focus on and revel in Christ Jesus.

Have you ever wondered why the two women disagreed?  We may not know what the one hot-button issue was at the time but we do know that if a person takes a strong personal stance on an issue or belief, it is because there is not only a personal feeling “I’m right!” but there is a subterranean fear that says, “the other side is going to win.” Paul is trying to encourage the church to see the only other side there is to be concerned about is the side that is against God in Christ.  Quit working against one another and instead work with one another for the common goal in Christ!  Consequently, he reminds the Church in verses 6-7:

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Paul tells the Philippians to quit worrying about who is right and who is wrong and lift it to God in unifying prayer.  When that happens, a sense of God’s wholeness, completeness, dare we say, peacefulness? alights on the Body of believers. The fears of forfeiting our personal issues, ambitions, agendas, and dogmatics will not become so important once they are brought up under the light of Jesus Christ’s illuminating Presence.

Today’s lectionary passage is a vital one for those of us in Mainline churches today. It serves as a lighthouse marking the way of the safe course. You see, American churches are not only under the pressures from outside the church in our culture trying to rip it apart but it’s also under strain from the inside out as our mutual Euodias and Syntyches, the church’s own leadership – lay or otherwise – are taking sides against one another pushing their own causes. Those of us in the Church have lost sight of the Lighthouse, i.e. Christ, and have looked instead to multiple-placed buoys of issues or political agendas in the channel which bob up and down in the waves to guide our course.  We get distracted from a safe course because we are so trying, straining to see when our buoy, or rather, my issue, bobs up into view that we will end up crashing the ship on the rocks because we failed to look at the one constant, the Lighthouse, to guide our way. If you don’t believe me, look at the state of American Christianity today.

Church, we have been watching and have become worked up over multiple issues for the last fifty years.  It’s not to say that some of those issues aren’t important to look at but they are still subsidiary issues compared to the Christ. Economics, social reconciliation and justice, race, and gender issues are all important issues but they must be seen with the Light of Christ illuminating them and not vice-versa. Issues of the day will come and go but the Christ is always the same. Paul is imploring Euodia and Syntyche to grab their differences, the personal buoys they are hung up on, and drag them along together to the beach where the Light of Christ can shine down on them together.

So, I leave this question for the Holy Spirit to haunt you with this week. Are you a Euodia and Syntyche that is sucking the life and energy out of the Christian community you’re in? Are you one of Dr. Self’s “disgruntled men’s cigarette-butt stompers” meeting in the parking lot pulling attention away from Christ Jesus onto your particular “thing”? If so, speaking on Paul’s behalf, then stop it!  The world has enough problems without us Christians creating our own. How can the Church be the Light on a hill for Christ if we cannot get along ourselves? A new generation is watching; what will they see? Let it be.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Walking into the Future Facing Backwards is a Dangerous Thing to Do!, Philippians 3:4b-14

Sermon:          Walking Into the Future Facing Backwards is a Dangerous Thing to Do!
Scripture:        Philippians 3:4b-14
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                  October 8, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

There was a time in my ministry when I used to go to pastoral conferences but the same thing happened over and over again and I got tired of going.  You see, when you go a pastor’s conference you run into a bunch of other pastors which is not a bad thing, mind you, but then it begins to become all types of competition in the breakout sessions.  You introduce yourself and they do the same.  It immediately begins to devolve into some form of Freudian competition where he or she begins to brag about their church and its ministries, its size, and how impressive a pastor they are.  It got to be very old and I quit going to them.

This is what Paul is dealing with in the Philippian church, too.  There were people who were emerging as bigger, better, more theologically and doctrinally correct than Paul, or so they claimed.  They began to call into Paul’s credentials and credibility and Paul, and I can see his head and closing his eyes with a sigh, has to produce his resume and curriculum vitae. This leads to our text this morning.  Turn in your Bible to Philippians 3 beginning with the latter part of verse 4.  Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.[1]

Paul is not preaching some prosperity gospel that if you live a good life or a certain type of life you will be blessed by God with material riches; on the contrary, he is reminding the people that the true path to God is by following Christ Jesus’ example. It’s not about living a life that follows every jot and tittle of the Law to complete some Divine scorecard; no, it’s about giving up one’s position of power and privilege to become a servant of the Master. It’s about cutting all cords to what we think is owed to us by others or society in general and rely on the gracious provision of God. It requires a Christ-Follower to make ethical and moral choices in a world where morals and ethics are now based on how a person personally feels at the time in how their behaviour or attitudes affect them over and against how their behaviour and attitudes affect others. Living as a Christian requires us to turn around and walk against the flow of the crowds indicating we are different and are heading to a better destination. He is telling them that to pledge one’s life and allegiance to Christ Jesus means one must rely completely on God’s grace and mercy as opposed to one’s own merits in living a “good life.” Paul then goes on to tell the church the only way they as a congregation and as individual believers can accomplish this shift; it’s a shift that will not be easy. Look at verses 13 and 14.  Paul says,

13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Forgetting what lies behind.  What did that mean for Paul? In his day, “to forget”, meant to release something or someone to oblivion. A few years ago, a movie was released with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock called Gravity. The story revolves around what happens when astronaut crew members on a space-walk outside of the International Space Station encounter a large asteroid shower pummeling the space station.  The space station begins to disintegrate and the only remaining survivors, Bullock and Clooney of course, tether themselves together as they float off into oblivion, total silence and nothingness.  This is what Paul is talking about.  When he says he is forgetting everything that lies behind him, he is saying that he cuts it off into oblivion, nothingness, lost.

He is a member of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  It matters little to him now.

He is born from the tribe of Benjamin.  In Paul’s mind, so what?

He is a Hebrew of Hebrews. He cuts it off into oblivion.

He is a Pharisee, a scholar and strict follower of the Torah, the Law. It means absolutely nothing to him and its cast into oblivion.

He is passionate about his Jewish faith and goes so far as to persecute who don’t follow the rules. He recasts that former passion into the opposite direction.

He is totally blameless with his following the Law and is considered righteous by every Jewish standard of the day. For Paul, it means nothing at all.

Paul goes so far as to say that not only is he forgetting all those accomplishments and his spiritual and cultural pedigree, he counts all those things as pure rubbish. Our English word ‘rubbish’ makes us think of what we find at the local dump. In Paul’s time, the word ‘rubbish’ meant human excrement. And why is he forgetting all his achievements?  First, they were his own self-righteous achievements based on the notion that, “If I do certain religious activities I will be loved by God.”  Second, Paul has come to realize salvation is a gift freely given by God and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. Paul knew all his accomplishments of the past meant nothing at all compared to the high calling of Christ Jesus his Lord. Forgetting what was in the past meant that Paul had to turn around and face in an entirely different direction. He would cease ‘doing religion’ and turn in the direction of Christ Jesus to live a life of sacrificial allegiance to the Lord.  Paul discovered a vital spiritual and life principle and it’s this: You cannot walk into the future facing backwards.

Think about that for a moment. You cannot walk into the future facing backwards. Why is that? Well, imagine you and me go for a walk in downtown DeLand. Imagine the people on the sidewalk, the tables from the restaurants taking up space on the sidewalk, all the cars and intersections, not to mention the wares of the merchants positioned by opened doors and sidewalk sales. As we are about to take our first steps past Hunter’s Restaurant across Rich Avenue, I tell you, ‘Before we go any further, I need you to turn around and walk through town backwards based on what you think you remember is in the way.”  What do you think would happen as you made your way?  You will fall, trip, crash into things and people making yourself uncomfortable and the people you run into will be none-too-pleased either. What will those people yell at you as you walk into them backwards?  “Hey (insert your favourite derisive term), what are you doing walk backwards!? Turn around before you hurt yourself and somebody else!”

Walking through town facing backwards is a pretty silly and dangerous thing to do but let me let you in a little secret: All of us do that time to time in our own lives.  Instead of forgetting what lies behind, we cling to the past in unhealthy ways that inhibit our spiritual, emotional, or social growth.  Let’s look at a few examples.

Regret.  There are those people we have hurt or passed by, opportunities we have missed or ignored in the past we regret not pursuing. We get mired in, “I wish I did such-in-such back then because my life would be better now.” When we walk into the future facing backwards at our regret for what should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been or done, we miss the opportunities God has placed in front of us if we would only turn around!

Remorse. There are those moments in our lives we are locked up in remorse for what we have done or left undone in the past. Instead of swimming in the grace God bestows on us in Christ, we walk into the future facing backwards with guilt and remorse for what we did or did not do or say.

Anger.  Anger is another one of those feelings and attitudes that force us to walk into the future facing backwards. Someone or something has hurt us badly in the past; we have been emotionally, financially, or perhaps even physically violated.  We are consumed with horrible thoughts towards people who caused us this unfair pain and we seethe. The anger prevents us from developing new relationships, makes us distrustful of others, and leery of making or receiving commitments. Anger eventually turns in on itself and manifests itself as a deep-seeded depression. Walking into the future facing backwards at old anger and resentments means you are carrying a very heavy load that will cause you to miss your step and fall; all that we have to do is put the anger down and release it into forgiveness as we face forward to a lighter, brighter tomorrow.

Loss. Loss is another issue that keeps us walking into the future facing backwards. Instead of grieving and incorporating the loss into our lives, we grow sad or resentful because of it. It means seeing life as hopeless and hapless. All we have to do is turn around and walk forward and our sense of loss is bathed in the warm waters of Christ’s love and we can begin incorporating that loss into our lives resurrecting hope when there was none.

Nostalgia, also known as the “the good old days.”  The nostalgic dreaming of the good old days is a way to walk into the future facing backwards.  Nostalgia is simply a wanting to go back home or to a time that never really existed in the first place.  We create a past in our minds that help us remember redemptive and positive times.  “Oh, don’t you remember when the church did this or did that? Weren’t those days the best days of the church?”  Walking into the future facing backwards with nostalgic thinking will cause us to trip over new opportunities waiting for us in the future but we will miss them because we have fallen fanny-over-tea kettle on top of them.

The Peter-Pan syndrome.  This is a way we walk into the future facing backwards because we refuse to grow up and mature in our social, emotional, professional or spiritual lives.  Change is hard and so to escape the chipping away of old habits or ways we look at the world, we find it easier to stay stuck where we are.  We remained mired in either/or thinking, right/wrong thinking, you/me or us/them thinking instead of facing forward into the teaching of the Holy Spirit that your box, your world, your thinking is too small. Like Paul, we need to let go of the past and lean into the exciting mind and spirit-blowing power of God and see the world, people, and God with new eyes and perspectives.  This was Paul’s issue and if God can work with Paul in his stubborn ways, then there is great hope God will do the same for us!

Regret. Remorse. Anger. Loss. Nostalgia. Peter Pan syndrome.  None of these is bad in and of themselves; it’s the power they have at keeping us stuck in the past that is the problem.  What, beloved, is causing you to walk into the future facing backwards?  What do you and I need to let go of so that we can turn and walk into God’s glorious Presence in the now and in tomorrow? Let us let that question lean on us a little bit this week.

Forgetting what lies behind, let’s strain forward to the wonderful life ahead awaiting us in Christ. And all of God’s people say, Amen.

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

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

[1] 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.