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.

The Message: Empty is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing, Philippians 2.1-11

Sermon:        Empty is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
Scripture:     Philippians 2.1-13
Preacher:      Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:       First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              October 1, 2017, World Communion Sunday

You may listen to the sermon here.

We’ve just come through a tumultuous time in Florida with the onslaught of Hurricane Irma. For the week leading up to the landfall, it seems like everyone put their life on hold and began prepping for what might happen.  Normally sane people began to do insane things like fighting over toilet paper and peanut butter at Publix while others began to brandish weapons at a nearby gas station because someone cut in front of them in line. Lowes and Home Depot became madhouses as folks were stocking up on batteries, water, plywood, and generators.

IMG_2374

A scarcity of supplies and empty shelves soon became the norm.  I cut my study leave short to drive back from north Georgia to secure the house.  When I arrived Tuesday night a week before the storm hit, there were already gas lines as I passed through Astor and Barberville; even though I had been on the road for over eight hours the first thing I did when I got to DeLand is find a gas station with the shortest line and filled up. I immediately left RaceTrac and went to Publix to pick up some supplies and you would have thought it was Toys R Us on Christmas Eve! Water: out. Prepared whole chickens: Out. Vegetables: Going fast.  Milk: scarce. Beer and wine: thinning out. Ice: forget it. Charcoal: Out. In fact, I took a picture of the charcoal aisle at Publix with its linear feet of massive but empty shelves and put it on Instagram only to have CNN pick it up and run it on the news!  Scarcity was leading to desperation and hoarding.

Yet, there are other types of emptiness, too.  There is financial emptiness when we simply do not have or feel we have enough to get by.  We see how everyone else around us is doing and they seem to be doing fine so why can’t I be as well?  It’s not fair! Why should my bank accounts be empty when everyone else’s seem so full?  A feeling of financial emptiness can create resentment towards others in the community. Financial emptiness can cause one to focus on what he or she does not have instead of what they’ve already got. It’s like the old Cheryl Crow song, Soak Up the Sun, where she sings:

I don’t have digital
I don’t have diddly squat
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got.

Then there is emotional emptiness, too.  It’s an emptiness that feels heavy and dark. It’s an emptiness that feels there is not enough in this whole world to slake its thirst and craving for something but that “something” evades them.  It’s an emptiness that unwittingly sucks the energy from other people around us.  It’s an emptiness that masks itself in sadness, irritability, anger or passive aggressiveness.

There also is relational emptiness. We look around us and it seems like everyone else is a couple.  Everyone else has friends.  Everyone else has a support system. Everyone, that is, except me. This emptiness manifests itself in a person feeling victimized, jealous, hurt, spiteful, or just deeply depressed and isolated.

Finally, there is spiritual emptiness.  Spiritual emptiness is seen in people who love the things and ways of culture for themselves as opposed to gaining life through a community in sacrifice. Spiritual emptiness is seen in our propensity for libertine living because we are searching for something, indeed, Something, to fill this gaping void in our souls. This is an emptiness that causes people to become selfish, greedy, and prideful. This is an emptiness which causes a person to lead a life that’s “all about me” versus “it’s really about us.” It’s an emptiness that abuses people, enslaves people, and wipes out the Imago Dei, the very Image of God, in others and our environment.  This is the emptiness Paul is describing in today’s text.  It’s also an emptiness that Paul points to as possible Easter-moment, a time when rebirth can occur.

This morning we are continuing our study of Philippians with what is thought to be one of the earliest credos or corporate statements of faith in the early Church.  Paul is addressing some unspecified problems going on in the Philippian church and we begin to see what those issues are revolving around in our text today.  We will be reading from The Message Bible and the text is printed in your bulletin wrap for your convenience.  Listen to the Word of the Lord from Philippians 2.1-11.

2.1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. [1]

It appears there were some in the Philippian church who were in fact spiritually empty because they were too full of themselves.  These church folks were concerned about their understanding of Jesus over and against your understanding of Jesus. They were pushing themselves up the ladder of influence and notoriety to become the power players swaying to shape other Christian’s views and loyalty.  They wanted the power.  They wanted to control and be in charge.  They would accomplish this even to the point of disparaging the founder of their local Church, Paul himself and Paul would not fall for their baiting tactics.

What does Paul do?  Paul describes the spiritual emptiness that must take place to be full of the power and presence of God and he looks to Jesus as the example to do it.  Paul reminds them Jesus had equal status with God but he “set aside the privileges of deity and became human.” And as our text reminds us, “It was a very humbling process.”  The original language describes this setting aside his deity as a total emptying of himself – a pouring out.[2] Imagine a pitcher of water being drained to the dregs.  This is what the Eternal Christ did!  He emptied himself of being God to become fully human which in turn enables you and me to become fully re-engaged in a relationship with God the Father again!

Christ Jesus emptied himself of Divine privileges in order that our fallen humanity could regain ours. Christ humbled himself so that you and I could be lifted up. God became a bona fide human being like you and me so as to completely relate with what we feel, think, believe, and experience in order to redeem those feelings, thoughts, and experiences we have.

Church, God emptied himself so that you and I, indeed, this whole wonderful creation, could become full of God.  Jesus emptied himself so that we could become filled. Yet, there is one thing necessary before this can happen.  We must follow the Christ’s example.

Each one of us must pour our inner self out in order to become full of Holy Spirit and Christ. We are being called to pour out our self-importance.  We are being called to kill our overfed egos.  We are being called to empty out any sense of entitlement from deep within us and refill ourselves with love for God and neighbor.  We are called to set aside any privileges we think we have or are owed and run straight to the back of the line and push and encourage others to go first.  It’s only when we are empty of ourselves, wish dreams, lusts, drives for power and success that we become available vessels of love and grace for the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, Jesus emptied himself, poured himself out for you and for me.  The question for you and I is what exactly each of us need to pour out in our own lives that is getting in the way and displacing the infilling of the Holy Spirit of Christ in our hearts and souls.  What is occupying our spirits and souls that is displacing room for Jesus?

This morning is Worldwide Communion Sunday, a day when Christians around the world from all traditions empty themselves of their dogma and traditions and become truly one in Christ and one with the whole Church.  As you prepare to receive the meal, be asking our Lord what you need to purge in our life – feelings, behaviors, or experiences – that are getting in the way of your infilling of the Holy Spirit.  Come to the Table empty.  Leave the Table full of Christ. 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 Message, (Colorado Springs: NavPress).

[2] The Greek term Paul uses is kenosis.

The Message: Gospel-worthy Living; Philippians 1:20-30

Sermon:       Gospel Worthy
Scripture:    Philippians 1.20-30
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              September 24, 2017

You may listen to the Message by clicking here.

Let me set this morning’s message up with this:  It’s not about me!  Repeat that together, “It’s not about me!” That’s correct, it’s not about just you because it’s about us!  So, is this about “you?” “No, it’s not about me!”  Good!

not about me

Last week we began considering the book of Philippians and noted straightaway individual words in a letter are never wasted.  We focused on the first three verses of Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi he penned while he was a prisoner in Caesar’s prison under the supervision of the Imperial Guard.

Do you remember what Paul’s words were?

From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to the saints (i.e. set apart ones) in Christ Jesus in Philippi.

Paul is reminding the church who Paul and Timothy work for and who their ultimate responsibility is invested in: Christ Jesus. This is a theme he repeats throughout the letter as Paul is trying to remind the church that there are many opinions and theologies floating around in the Church, and regardless of what people think of him or Timothy, they are bondservants of the Lord and not the people.  This realization frees up Paul and his colleagues because they are not going to take to heart personal attacks on their faith, character or work. You see, they know all too well it’s not about “me!”

Today, we are picking up a little later in chapter one after Paul has acknowledged there may be some divisions in the church because of rival gospels being shared.  One version of the gospel circulating there says you must follow Jewish customs of circumcision and the likes in order to be a Christian while another rival group says those Jewish customs are not necessary. Paul also says how there are some preachers and teachers in the church who preach Christ for selfish gain as well as preachers and teachers who teach for the genuine purpose of proclaiming the Good News. At this point, Paul declares it doesn’t matter if Christ is preached with pure or impure motives but that Jesus the Christ is proclaimed in every single way possible![1]  Paul trusts the Holy Spirit will work the motives and the Truth to the surface just as long as Jesus is proclaimed. This is where we pick up today.  Turn to Philippians 1:20-30.  We will be focusing on verses 27 and look at the Christian propensity of keeping spiritual score.  Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 1:20-30

20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. [2]

The key sentence for us is verse 20 which is the fuse that blows this text up.  It is where Paul declares that it is his expectation and hope to speak with all boldness that Christ will be exalted and lifted up. It’s all about Christ and not about Paul. This is all that matters to Paul and Timothy. Sure, he would rather rest from his earthly labors and struggles and be at One with the exalted Christ in glory but Paul knows his call is not about his wish dreams and desires; his life is all about what God wants from him to accomplish for the Gospel’s sake, even if it means he must go through human suffering and discomfort to get it done. After all, in Paul’s mind, why should his life be any different from the suffering Jesus’ went through? He knows it’s not about “me.”

Built upon his appeal to exalt Christ, Paul then shifts focus and directs his appeal to the members of the church; in other words, Paul is speaking to you and me.  Slide your finger to verses 27 and 28. Let’s drill down a bit. Let me give you a very literal reading of these verses:

Only, live and act like a citizen whose behavior is congruous with the Gospel of Christ Jesus; whether I’m physically there or not, I will hear how you are not giving up a single inch in your reflection of the very spiritual nature of Jesus, a community that is synchronized and dancing to the same spiritual tune with a singularly pulsing Jesus-centered life; and don’t be scared of those in the church and world who set themselves up to oppose you.[3]

Paul has just given us the definition of a Gospel-worthy life. We often think a life worthy of the Gospel means exhibiting certain our moral or ethical behaviors to the world; it’s interesting to note that Paul is telling us that Gospel-worthy living does involve the displaying of certain behaviors but they are not the ones the Christians tend to focus upon. We Christian-types like to look at the bottom line behavior of folks:  Are they good or bad? Are they moral, immoral or amoral?  Are they ethical or unethical?  We like to measure Gospel-worthy living with a pietistic scorecard with points added or deducted based on our “good Christian behavior.” We tend to make it all about “me” and how “I” behave or misbehave.

Let’s say you cuss in front of your children or grandchildren, you deduct two points on your spiritual scorecard.  If you lust after someone, that’s an automatic deduct of 25 points!  Give a street person a manna bag with water and basic provisions, however, you get 10 points added and if you actually stop and speak with that homeless person making him or her feel like a real human being, you get a bonus +15 points!  At the end of the day, God tallies up the score and then places it in a heavenly Excel spreadsheet so at the time of death, God can average out your cumulative spiritual score. This kind of spiritual thinking makes our faith “all about me” instead of our allegiance to God. Friends, so many Christians do this and all it results in is a mass expression of missing the point through self-focused musings.

For Paul and Timothy, a Gospel-worthy life is not one based on personal moral do’s and don’ts per se. Lest we forget, Paul is writing to a community, a group.  We read his words at home by ourselves and think he’s writing to “me;” never mind the “you” in our text is plural and not singular! Gospel-worthy living is less about personal behavior as it is about a communal expression of the Spirit of Jesus Christ to the world. So, what does Gospel-worthy living look like? Verses 27 and 28 hold the key.

To begin with, a spiritual community’s life is Gospel-worthy, it’s living a life worthy of the Gospel, when it’s lived congruently with the type of community Jesus was trying to establish.  What type of community is that like?  Jesus developed an upside-down community where the poor are blessed and the rich are humbled. It’s a community where those in power give it up and enable those from the margins to get to the front of the line.  It’s when a community seeks to work together helping a person change from the inside out in order to make the entire community stronger and more spiritually fit.  It’s when a community tells one another, “I’m sorry and I love you” as opposed to “I’ll never forgive you and I hate you.”  A Gospel-worthy life is expressed when the community turns its gaze from within itself to the dying world outside her boundaries. It’s a community where people move from being tight-fisted to one knowing that everything it has is God’s and is a gift from God. It’s a community that speaks Truth in Love. It’s a community that measures success not in size or numbers but in its reliance on Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, a spiritual community’s life is seen as a life worthy of the Gospel, i.e. Gospel-worthy, when it refuses to give up a single inch in its reflection of the very spiritual nature of Jesus. The waves of the world and Western culture batter the church of Jesus to the point where the Church acts like it is more in retreat than it is advancing. The Church is more likely to adapt to culture than insisting the culture adapt to the Gospel-worthy life of Jesus Christ. For the sake of being seeker or user-friendly, the Church has lost the meaning of sanctuary, i.e. a place that is safe and is instead being morphed into place where the cut-throat ways of the corporate world with alliances, cliques, secret deals are being made to the exclusion of other members. On the contrary, a Gospel-worthy life is one that reflects the spiritual nature of Jesus in community but sadly that is a nature that can only be assumed through hard work, effort and sacrifice. It means reading your Bible which most Christians in the Church don’t do.  It’s means serving others even when it’s not convenient. It means learning with others what it means to a spiritual change agent in the world in lieu of trying to figure it out on one’s own. It means a community that is not hasty but seeks to listen to the needs of the broken around them.

Third, a Gospel-worthy community is one that works together in spiritual and relational synchronicity towards a singular purpose of being more like Jesus.  It’s not a Church that promotes programs but one that provides ministry opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world. Churches today seem to compete against one another as opposed to being unified in a singular purpose of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. Instead of the Church of Jesus Christ acting as the Light on the Hill in our world, it has contented itself to simply becoming singular fireflies that only come out one season of the year and occasionally flash light for those who happen to see it. A Gospel-worthy community puts Jesus first, in the center, at the top!

Finally, a life worthy of the Gospel is a life in community that is expressed when the Church lives without fear. What can the world do that God cannot overwhelm or overcome? The Church doesn’t have to fear the State removing the 10 commandments at the courthouse because it has taught and planted those commandments in the heart of her members. The Church does not have to live in fear of being marginalized by society, the news, or other cultures; a Gospel-worthy Church will always be attacked and humiliated by people in the larger world. If Jesus’ own family thought at one time he was crazy we can guarantee our neighbors, the news, and the politicos will think we are, too! Personally, I am all too happy to be seen as an iconoclast!

Beloved, personal piety is important – please don’t misunderstand me; but personal piety for the sake of personal piety is spiritual narcissism. It’s only when I take my spiritual giftedness and add it to yours, and yours, and yours that we become One in Christ Jesus. The question before us is what each of us is individually bringing to the larger community called First Presbyterian that highlights to our neighborhood, DeLand, Volusia County and beyond that we are a Gospel-worthy community? Gospel-worthy living is more about how to live in community being a Light on the Hill than it is being a sporadic, flickering firefly that comes and goes.

This is what Paul was getting at in our text today.  Amen.

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

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

[1] See Philippians 1.15-18.

[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] This my personal translation.

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

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

You may listen to the Sermon by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you imagine that happening in a church?

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

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

Philippians 1:1-8

1.1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you work for, beloved? Amen.

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

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

[1] See Acts 16.

[2] See Craddock.

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

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

[5] Ibid., 82

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

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

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

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

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

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

Matthew 15.10-20

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

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

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

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

Great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build up. Glorify God. Bring Life.  Reconcile.

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

All of God’s people say, Amen.

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

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

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

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

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Bruner, 94.

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

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

[6] See John 1:1-5.

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

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

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

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

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

Matthew 14:13-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Mathew 13:53-58.

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

Sermon:      An Impetuous Choice Cannot Be Undone

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Photo Credit: Instagram from nashi_svyatini

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

 

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

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

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

Genesis 25:19-34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Genesis 50:21.