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

The Trinity and the Law of Three

The Trinity and the Law of Three

Sermon:          The Trinity and Law of Three
Scripture:       Genesis 1.1-5
Preacher:       Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               June 11, 2017, Trinity Sunday

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Today on the church calendar we are taking the time to pause and celebrate Trinity Sunday. Following immediately last Sunday’s Pentecost celebration, Trinity Sunday is a day we remember the character and type of God we love and serve. The Trinity has been much debated by scholars and religious greats for 2,000 years and I do not kid myself into thinking I have anything important to add.  Yet, I want us to think critically on the Trinity and today’s scripture passage will provide us the foundation from which to look at the oft-ignored Trinity of God.

This morning’s scripture is a timeless old passage many people have heard before. I am speaking of the first description of Creation in our Bible. This morning, the lectionary has us reading through the entire week of Creation which goes into chapter two of Genesis but I will be reading simply the first five verses of Genesis 1.

1:1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. 3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.[1]

The Creation.  I am choosing to only read the first five verses because the Creation Story itself gets people thinking about all sorts of things, some of which are not too helpful. Engaged discussion on the Creation has often brought disagreements between fellow Christians as well as derision from those outside the Church. Why is this?

Well, we tend to look at life through binary lenses and we bring those binary lenses into our reading of Scripture.  For example, a binary way of looking at the world sees things as either this way or that way. Complex issues are reduced to either black or white; now I don’t know too many people whose lives are as simple as black or white.  I imagine everyone here would say that his or her life has many different shades of gray in them!  So, with the Creation accounts, our human tendency is to assume one of two positions as we read this Story.  On one hand, we read the Story from a pre-critical point of view and understand that the earth is only between 6 and 10,000 years old according to the biblical accounts of Creation and the history of humankind in the Bible. Pre-critical readers understand that each day of creation was a literal day and it took God six full days to create the universe and humankind.[2]

On the other hand, others will read this Story from a second point of view called a critical reading of the Story.  They are going to point to the sciences of geology and biology and argue that the world is really 4.5 billion years old. They are going to see the comparison and contrasts with the Hebrew telling of creation with other ancient creation narratives from other cultures.  A critical reader will hold that the Hebrews took elements of the ancient Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and rewrote it in a way that highlighted the Jewish understanding of a monotheistic God.

Consequently, when we look at the world through binary lenses, our faith and intellect are forced to choose between this way of understanding Creation (i.e. six literal days) or that way of understanding of Creation (i.e. the Hebrews co-opting another culture’s narrative). Binary thinking often posits two sides against the other.  Either “I’m right and you’re wrong” or “you’re wrong and I’m right!”  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a third way to approach the scriptures? There is.

You see, a third way of hearing our text today is simply taking what the pre-critical and critical reader say for what they describe.  Together, pre-critical reading leads to a critical reading that ultimately delivers us to a third, post-critical way of reading Scripture; post-critical reading also called a literary reading of the text, is simply looking at what the Scripture says about God’s relationship to His creation and to people.  A third way of approaching scripture does not bog itself down into the minutia as to whether or not the world is 6,000 years old or 4.5 billion years old.  A literary reader may find it interesting that the Hebrews may have taken passages of her Creation Story from the Gilgamesh narrative.  But what the third way of reading scripture does is to force us to intellectually, spiritually and emotionally reflect on how this creative God and this Story is active in our lives this very moment. It reads the Bible as it is at face value.  This third way of approaching Scripture opens up new understandings and possibilities for ministry!

Are you still not sure about the challenges of looking at the world through binary, black and white lenses?  Look at our country’s election this past year.  Look at the recent election in Great Britain this week!  It was the Labor party over and against the Conservative party.  It was the Democrats over and against the Republicans. The binary way thinking and looking at the world and values has shut down Washington as opposing sides of Congress draw lines against each other.  Today’s elected officials seem to have forgotten how the Founding Fathers understood that American Democracy would only work when both sides could come together and compromise thereby creating a fresh, new way forward. The political term we use is a bipartisan stance worked out through a compromise which can only occur when there is an engaged relationship with the other.[3] The authors of our Constitution seemed to understand either/or thinking would not make our country great.  They assumed our leaders would be virtuous enough, humble enough to come together in a relationship and honorably move forward with an as yet undiscovered new way through a dilemma.

It’s at this point I want to remind us that as Christ-followers, we do not look at the world through binary lenses.  Our Christian faith is built upon a ternary understanding of God and the universe; our view of the world is built upon the Law of Three, i.e. the Trinity. Sadly though, many Christian profess Trinitarian thinking but live a functional binary spiritual relationship with God focusing solely upon God the Father and God the Son, Jesus to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they focus on God the Father and God the Holy Spirit but cut Jesus out as being superfluous. Somehow, we forget the way forward is made possible by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves us from dualistic thinking of this or that to a both-and-even-more possibility!

We see this in today’s scripture. It was not just God the Father who created the heavens and earth.  The scripture says “God” created, breathed life in the universe.  In Genesis 1.26, the scripture relates that on the sixth day of creation, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”  Here is one of the first overt references to the Trinitarian Godhead. God did not say, “Let me make humankind in MY image” but instead, “Let’s make people in OUR image.”  And like our text today indicates, it’s the Father and Son manifest in Holy Spirit who broods, floats, relaxes and hovers over the chaos and bringing form and life from a previously empty state of being.

Scholar and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, says that in this way, the third force, i.e. the Holy Spirit, acts as a midwife for the Father and Son. It acts on the desires of the fullness of God to bring into life something brand new.[4]

The Law of Three and the Trinity is a dynamic process that brings birth, growth, and change.  The interplay and relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit are generative in that together they create something new, a fourth previously unseen way forward! Their interplay at Creation brought forth the universe and all life.  It is inherent in the Law of Three to spin its collective energy outward in ever-widening circles of artistic, creative newness.

The Reverend Bourgeault gives us examples.  When a seed, the earth, and the sun come together, a fourth item is created called a sprout.  When flour, water, and a fire’s heat is added, a fourth is created called bread.  When a plaintiff, a defendant, and a Judge come together, a fourth way is created called a resolution.  When a ship’s sails, keel and helmsman work in synchronicity, a ship’s course is created and sustained.[5] When a proton, a neutron, and electron have interplay, a fourth entity called an atom is formed.[6]  When God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dance together, light emerges and creation is formed. The Law of Three means the whole Christian notion of Trinity is not some ancient theological abstract; on the contrary, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit spins and dances and encounters a church or a person, a fourth way forward presents itself through new life, new energy, or a possibility for new ministry to be born![7]

This past Christmas season, I was sitting on our patio watching a fire in the pit.  There were two logs left and their light grew dim and the crackling sounds were no longer heard.  I’ve learned through years of camping about the law of three.  I’ve seen many fires that dwindle down to two pieces of wood and the fire begins to die out.  What is needed is a third log tossed at an angle onto the two and energy is formed and new flames burst up, more heat is generated, and the crackles and pops begin again.  It’s the Law of Three.[8]

Christian mystics believe the whole universe is held together by the Trinitarian dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  They believe that we need to become re-enchanted with the mysterious Law of Three and the Trinity in order to apply it to all aspects of our lives new options for ministry, for reconciliation, and for healing will reveal themselves to us.

Politically, it reminds us to work together for compromise so that we can generate a fourth new totally unforeseen way that’s beyond liberal and conservative that is indeed called just.

Environmentally, it reminds us to move beyond either believing in climate change or denying climate change whereby we can come together and create a fourth way forward that meets humanity’s needs while ensuring our planet will be available for future generations.

Spiritually, it means we suspend reading our Bibles pre-critically or critically and instead look at what God is actually trying to get across to us in the scripture. Spiritually it means we cease and desist saying some people are more deserving of God’s love while saying certain others are not worthy of grace at all; instead we are called to intentionally express that love of God in ways we never imagined! Spiritually, it means that Christianity’s opposing sides need to work together and generate a fourth winsome and gracious expression of God’s presence in ministry to people who have fallen through the cracks or pushed to the margins because of our own infighting.

Beloved, thanks for hanging in there with me through this very thought-full subject.  My prayer is that as each of us leaves today, we will be thinking about the Trinity in brand new ways. Specifically, I want us to leave and ask ourselves how the Triune God is working in your life this very day? What new thing, new ministry, new relationship is the creative expression of God trying to have you display? What new fourth way forward is God’s Trinity and the Law of three churning up in you?  Let’s pray.

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 by Eugene Peterson.

[2] Please see http://www.icr.org/article/how-old-earth-according-bible/ accessed on 6/9/2017.

[3] Richard Rohr, with Mike Morrell. The Divine Dance.  The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016), 93.

[4] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Boston: Shambhala, 2013), 45

[5] Ibid., 15-17.

[6] Rohr, 70.

[7] Bourgeault says, “The interweaving of the three produces a fourth in a new dimension…The first and most important point is that linking the Trinity to the Law of Three adds predicative capacity. It explains why the inherent dynamism that Bruteau calls agape love must create new worlds; why it cannot remain locked up with a great intra-Trinitarian circulation.” Bourgeault, 89.

[8] Retired firefighter and church member, Walter Kahr, reminded me that when learning how to put out fires, firemen and firewomen are told that a fire is made up of three parts: Material, Oxygen, and a heat source. When approaching a fire, the goal is to separate one of these three from the other two.

Sermon preached by our Youth Elder, Turn Left, Luke 19:1-10, on Youth Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon:       Turn Left
Text:              Luke 19.1-10
Preacher:     R.J. Chapman, Elder
Location:     First Pres DeLand, FL
Date:             April 23, 2017, Youth Sunday

*This sermon is written by one of First Pres’ Elders who prepared this for delivery on Youth Sunday at the church.  Mr. Chapman is 17 years old and is a senior at University High School.

So this summer I had the pleasure of going to Presbyterian Youth Triennium in Indiana. It was a wonderful experience and besides growing me in my faith, I reflected on everything I had learned at our church over my 12 years of attending.

First Pres is accepting of all who walk through our doors and we would like to send them on their way having shown them the love and hospitality of God, and whereby they carry that message out into the world. At the end of the week this idea was highlighted when the speaker Tony De la Rosa gave a speech saying all that he had done to set up the event, everything the PCUSA is doing in the world, and all the help he had along the way. But he also shared his own personal story, when his own faith and character were doubted by those in the church.

As I listened to this kind, caring, faithful, and biblically knowledgeable man, I could not understand why he would be treated with doubt. He then shared why… He is gay. Which takes us to our scripture for today. Turn in your bibles to Luke 19 4-10 of Zacchaeus. Jesus on his journey through Jericho did a lot, made the blind see, healed the sick, cast out demons which is all well and good no one would get mad at you for that but then there’s Zacchaeus. He was short, the highest paid person in the area thanks to taxing trade on spice and perfume, mind you that’s without cheating people out of their money. Zacchaeus tried to see Jesus as he passed by. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Luke 19:1-10

“So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Now, something I learned while preparing this sermon is the name “Zacchaeus” is Hebrew word for pure or innocent. We know the man Zacchaeus was far from that as he was a terribly selfish person. So then why call him Zacchaeus? Well, he was pure, he had been made new by the Lord, all his past transgressions and mistakes were washed away by Jesus. He was no longer the selfish narcissistic man he was before, God opened his eyes and he devoted himself to the Lord.

Now when I was getting ready to get on the plane to go to Indiana I felt like I knew what I was doing, I’m going to be cool up there I’ve got all these new friends it’ll probably just be a church service and then I’ll go hang out with the guys. That’s pretty selfish, right? Granted I didn’t know what to expect but thinking I’d just hang out all day and not do anything is pretty self-centered. When I got there after going through the endless fields of corn and soybeans the first day I was struck with the power of God in that place. Just the amount of people there, then seeing them fill a whole auditorium to praise the Lord together, having my soul renewed with beautiful music and impactful sermons from preachers I had never seen before… and then that first night, I got lost… very, very lost.

I was trying to go back to my dorm after meeting with our small groups I was out for about 2 hours by myself in a foreign place with no one to help me. Now you’re probably thinking how could you possibly get lost, just follow the flow of people, well that’s exactly what I did. I turned left trying to avoid the kids who had climbed a tree to look for their friends and ended up missing my friends who were waiting for me a short distance away. I chatted with some nice guys from New Jersey on my walk and as we were about to part ways one guy asked me “what floor are you on” I respond “the 7th”. He replied “Are you messing with me right now? There are only 3 floors”.

After getting over the initial panic and frantic phone calls to try and get back to my room before curfew I realized very quickly, I had everything wrong. We all must make that realization at some point and I feel like God has a pretty good formula on when to give us a little shove when we need it. A while ago I was driving home from a tuba lesson and I took the front entrance to my neighborhood. This entrance just so happens to have a mosque off to the left of it, now normally I would’ve driven right by but something in my head just said: “turn left”. Now, this isn’t some glorious temple structure with a gold dome for a roof, it’s a three-story office building they bought out, none the less I was terrified. I had never been to a mosque before didn’t know barely anything about the religion didn’t know what to do. I left my shoes at the door and walked up the stairwell to what kind of welcome I didn’t know. As soon as I walked in I was met by a man named ray, he invited me to pray with him for his brother I law who was in a terrible car accident. Ray showed me his faith, offered me a warm meal and met all my ignorance with love and compassion, making the experience that much more humbling and humiliating.

Zacchaeus’s magical shove was climbing the fig tree and getting called out by Jesus. But you want to know the funny part about when stuff like that happens, God always shows us some love and hopes we do the same. Jesus sat down with Zacchaeus after that huge public embarrassment and told him he still loved him and wanted him to follow him.

Thanks to a staff member named Diane, who coincidentally lived in the same dorm as me and was also lost, I’m not still wandering aimlessly in Indiana.

Thanks to Ray I made some new friends learned a little bit and gained some humility.

And thanks to Mr. De La Rosa of the PCUSA Mission Board who is doing the Lord’s work all around the world.

God always needs to take us out of our comfort zone, he calls us to love everyone because it’s not easy, it’s hard, but he never leaves our side, he will always be there to help us in the end and show us his love and strength. It’s about us learning to meet people where they are just as God does, not involving our personal belief except for our faith in God, just going into a situation like a scared short tax collector or a frantic teenager calling his momma. If Ray or any number of people were to stroll through those doors right now, could you talk to them, not even about faith but make him feel welcome in our church, have a simple conversation, could you do it like ray did for me.

Go make that left turn, climb the fig tree, have your Dian show you the way back home and do Gods work in the world. So I invite you this week to do exactly that, get out of your comfort zone with Christ, don’t climb a fig tree necessarily or fly to Indiana and get lost, but it could be something as simple as making a left turn, getting out of your car to give a homeless person a manna bag instead of just looking the other way. Be safe, but do something that will put you in a situation where you will have no other option but to throw yourself at the Lord and listen. Make good on that promise you make to every child Baptized in the church and extend it to everyone in the world, Christian or not. If you think someone could use the love of God in their life, don’t force it down their throat but make it known through your actions. You could be the hands and feet of the Lord in someone’s life, carrying the good news of the gospel and the love of God to them in what could be their darkest hour. All it could take is just a simple left turn. I am grateful to have a church that taught and modeled for me acceptance, and I think others are, too.

Mr. R.J. Chapman, Elder
First Pres DeLand
725 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, FL 32720
http://www.fpcdeland.org

Reflection on the third of Jesus’ Seven Last Words: Woman, behold your son…Behold your mother. – John 19:26, 27

Message:      Good Friday Reflection on John 19.26, 27
Text:              When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved    standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Preacher:    Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Pres DeLand
Date:            April 14, 2017, Good Friday

Mother Mary, Aunt Mary, and his Anam Cara or soul friend, Mary Magdalene, were standing off some ways from the bloody spectacle of three crucified men. With them was Jesus’ best friend and soul brother, John Zebedee, who appears to have fled Gethsemane the night before at the arrest and ran to the safety and comfort of those who are closest to Jesus – his family and his closest soul sister.  I can’t imagine they slept well that night because of the shock and fear enveloping them.  No doubt, John was pumped for details about all that happened in the Garden hours earlier.

“Did Jesus get hurt?”

“Did anyone stand up for him?”

“Who turned him into the religious officials?”

I can picture John, all shook up, afraid and in the dark about everything that’s happened trying to answer their interrogations.  By this time in the afternoon, their worst fears were becoming reality:  Jesus had been given a death sentence.

So those who had the most intimate emotional connection with Jesus went to see what was happening.  It’s not a sight any parent would want to see of their child.  It’s not a scene best friends would care to witness but the four of them came anyway.  They had to come and see for themselves.  Numb with shock, they stumbled to Golgotha to see with their own eyes what they have heard rumors about from others. This is what they saw.

Three crosses are placed near one another with Jesus impaled on the middle one.  The three men were bloodied, sweaty and struggling to get enough energy to push up on a small board with their nailed feet so they could lift themselves up to breath.  Carrion fowl already smelled the blood and were patiently waiting their turn to swoop down onto the bodies.  Soldiers were using Jesus clothes as barter for their gambling habit under Jesus’ gaze. They could see pieces of skin dangling up under his arms from the beating he received from the Roman whips tipped with bone and rock as he received 39 lashes. The air was full of moaning, crying, taunting and cruel laughter.  In a word, horrific.

And then the unexpected happens.  Head lowered in pain and exhaustion, Jesus lifts his eyes and sees the ones he loves. His heart is stirred.  Love begins swelling up from his gut and tears of relief and joy blur his vision. You see, his mother, Aunt Mary, Mary Magdalene and John believed themselves helpless watching from a distance; after all, what could they do except watch it all unfold?  What they neglected to understand was their simple presence with Jesus on the Cross was their way of saying, “Jesus, we love you” and it was a message Jesus received loud and clear.  During the Son of Man’s darkest hour, he sees that the ones he loves have not forgotten him and their love for him transcended their fears for their own personal safety. In Jesus’ mind, four broken, scared people who dared to join him at the Cross were enough to inspire him, enough to give him hope that all was not done in vain. And there, during the final moments of his life, he once again shows love to others.

“Momma, John is my soul brother and he is now your son.  John, this is my mother and from now she’s your momma.  Take care of her.”

Now it was finished. He could let go now. He has taken care of the last untended detail.  Like a good boy, he is making sure his mother is cared for. And Mary in her own simple way of being present with her son at his death is also taking care of him. He would hold on to that memory to get him through the rest of the day.  Would only our presence tonight do the same thing.  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
First Pres DeLand
724 North Woodland Avenue
DeLand, FL 32720
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.

Maundy Thursday Reflections: Matthew 26:31-25

Sermon:          Maundy Thursday Reflections
Text:                Matthew 26:30-36
Preacher:       Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:       First Pres DeLand
Date:               April 13, 2017, Maundy Thursday

For the last two months, we as a congregation have been looking earnestly at what it means to be called by God.  We learned that our primary call is to love the Lord our God with everything in us.  We are then to turn that love outward in expressions of grace and care to those sisters and brothers about us whether we know them or not.  Well, Maundy Thursday is like a semester final to see how well they both learned and lived out their call; tonight, we witness how well the first twelve disciples did in their test as to knowing what their calls were.  Tonight, we see that when the tires of their discipleship hit the hard realities of life’s road, they each failed miserably.

Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the Triduum – the three days leading up to Easter morning – is a disciple’s final exam in Christ-followership.  It is our exam on whether or not we fully understand and grasp God’s call upon our lives.  The question looms before us:  Will you or I do any better than the Twelve?

Having just finished reinterpreting the Passover meal, Jesus takes the disciples to a place adjacent to Jerusalem and the Temple.  There on the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus looks across the Kedron Valley to look at Jerusalem softly glowing in the night’s light. The disciples are confused at all that is going on and they are totally clueless as to what is about to happen next. Gazing west towards Jerusalem, Jesus comes right out and paints the picture.

31Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.[1]

Those of us from the South listen to Peter and we slowly shake our heads and say with provincial sarcasm, “Bless your heart.”  We realize that Peter, ironically, is committing the very same sin as Judas committed as well as the sin our first parents in the Garden of Eden did:  He is guilty of hubris.  You know, hubris.  The prideful knowledge that one has when he or she knows better than everyone else around them.  Adam and Eve tried to eat of the fruit of knowledge because they wanted to know what God knows.  It was a classic fail.

Then there’s Judas. Judas, one of Jesus’ Twelve who believed he knew how Jesus should act and behave more than Jesus did himself and sold Jesus out to the authorities for thirty coins. Again, it was a classic fail.

Now Peter.  Peter raises himself above the other disciples and boldly declares in verse 32, “Even if THEY desert you, I will never desert you!” Dear Peter. He keeps piling it up on himself when in verse 35 he blurts out, “I will not deny you!”  I don’t think Peter was trying to throw the other disciples under the bus by inferring he was better than they; rather, it appears Peter had an overstated understanding of his own sense call with Jesus.  I think he believed, like many of us do if we are honest, that he “got” Jesus and what Jesus was and is all about. In his mind, he has figured out what it means to follow Jesus. Perhaps it is because Jesus called him The Rock of the Church; maybe it was because Peter was one of the Fab Four[2] key disciples Jesus always called upon.  Sweet Peter. He felt so confident in his walk and relationship with Jesus. Sadly, like those before him, Peter’s answer and subsequent actions both italicized and bolded the indicia of his hubris.  It, too, was a classic fail.

Peter and the other disciples failed the test that night.  When presented with their call to love the Lord God at all costs, they turned tail and ran for their own lives. They all denied him.  I have no doubt Peter and the others have ringing in the back of their minds Jesus’ words from an earlier Story when Jesus shared, “The one that denies me before others shall be denied before the angels of God.”[3]

Beloved, tonight reminds us that we have failed, are failing, and will fail the exam, the test as well.  Tonight, is the night Jesus asks you and me at the Table: Whom or what do you follow?  Before we proudly exclaim like Peter, “Of course it’s you, Lord!”, perhaps we need to hold our tongues and be honest with ourselves, with one another, and most importantly, with God. We know what our call is.  We know who it is we are to follow and love. Yet each of us in our own ways in the specific circumstances of our lives has denied him, too.  Just like Adam and Eve, Judas, and Peter before us, we fail classically at it as well.

Beloved, as we make our way through the Triduum, let us prayerfully reflect whether or not we take our calls seriously. Let us prayerfully reflect if Jesus is the core of your life and mine or is Jesus and our life in Christ a simple add-on.

Let the Spirit speak to each of us. Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
First Pres DeLand
724 North Woodland Avenue
DeLand, FL 32720
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] Matthew 26:31-35, NRSV.
[2] I.e. Peter, Andrew, James and John Zebedee.
[3] See Luke 12.9.

The Message: Live!, Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Where is God in our spiritually dry moments?)

Sermon:          Live! (Where is God in our spiritually dry moments?)
Scripture:       Ezekiel 37:1-14
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               April 2, 2017, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

This morning’s scripture is one of the classical Biblical texts that conjures up vivid scenes in its writing.  The prophet Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is given vivid stories and word pictures that convey God’s words to the people scattered in exile.  Exile from the Promised Land occurred when the people of Israel wanted an earthly king like all the other nations in lieu of God being their King; the problem was that once the kings got in place, the nation of Israel began to hit the skids because of corrupt leadership that split the nation into the northern nation of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah.  Once the nation was split, they were easy pickings for Persian and Egyptian armies. The Hebrews were scattered and most were taken as exile slaves in what it today’s Iraq.

Ezekiel writes to a people who have lost hope.  They have been overrun and swallowed up into a culture that is not their own, a culture that does not share its same values, ways of life, or understanding of living and worshipping the Divine. As a distinct people of God with their own nation, they were dead.  We pick up in our colorful Story with words of hope and promise from God; indeed, some believe these are the first allusions to resurrection life in the Hebrew scriptures.  As you listen, listen for the three parts of the Story: The prophecy; the reshaping of the people; and the Spirit being breathed upon them giving new life and identity. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 37.1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.[1]

You know what time of year it is?  It is the time of year when people are starting to feel tired.  Spring breaks are over and teachers, professors, and students are grinding it out to get through the end of the school year. Youth sports is at a fever pitch as the cheer teams, cross country and track teams, baseball, volleyball, softball and lacrosse teams are trying to wind up the season.  Parents are exhausted from hauling carpools from one part of the county or state to the other. College football teams are winding up Spring training before they leave for the summer. Snowbirds are packing up their things and are preparing to head back north for reasons unbeknownst to me.  The Church year is winding down and teachers and volunteers are pooped. But Easter is coming and so we must press on forward. These activities are not bad things in and of themselves but can they can leave us feeling tired.  These are the everyday things that can cause us to become tired.  Add to these activities those items you and I cannot control and we begin to feel like a valley of dry bones in our souls.

Last weekend two Stetson students felt so burdened and emotionally dry and spent they took their own lives.

A four-year-old child died in his bed making a parent’s worst nightmare become true.

A sister saint of this church died during her operation.

Marriages are under strain and the phantom of infidelity overshadows relationships.

Diagnoses of life-changing or life-threatening medical conditions intrude into easygoing, carefree routines and our lives are brought up short as though we have been hit in the gut. These are things that have just happened this week in our community.

My soul’s bones feel parched.  Bleached.  Dried out.

Can you relate?

Ezekiel’s vision is a comfort for those of us who are languishing in a spiritual, emotional, physical, or social desert.  They are comforting words to those of us who are struggling to get through the day at a time of year the heat of life begins to sap our strength away.  The comfort is that God will not only hold us together and reconstitute our broken frames but God breathes the same Creative breath and Spirit into us that God breathed at Creation.  God’s breath brings life to our parched and dried out lives.

But how?  I want to know how God does this when everything feels so dry. And as I was standing in the valley of the dry bones of my soul this week, I began to see how God pulls it off. I can tell you how it happened for me but the reality is that you must experience it and figure it out for yourself.  You see, God will reveal and deliver the living, recreating breath when the moments of your life seem to be the driest and darkest; the dry bones will live when we relax, sit still and then receive the love of God through the Spirit. Let’s break that down a bit.

God reveals himself to us not just when things are bad but God fully discloses himself when bad things have turned even worse.  Ezekiel didn’t see corpses in his vision but he saw a condition that was beyond that of death:  He saw the blanched bones of a nation bleached white in the scorching heat.  There were no bodies but bone remnants that had already been picked over by the birds and rotted by weather. In other words, the very hope of the nation of Israel was one step away from being dried up and blown away into total non-existence.  And this is the environment God uses to reveal himself and recreate life from apparent total despair.

Beloved, the words of comfort for our soul’s dry bones is that when all not only seems dead and gone but our very broken soul’s existence feels it is about to be blown away in the dust, that is the environment God shows his divine power most clearly.  It is when we know there is nothing left to do, no one left to count on that we begin to resign ourselves to the inevitability that we cannot do it on our own;  it’s then and only then we have we made the necessary room for the dynamic power of God to show up.  It’s only when there is no more left to us that we create room and space for God to be God.  When everything in life seems to go our way, we are more prone to miss the Presence of the Holy in our lives because of the lack of problems and hardship.  God is surely there in those bright, good times but we are too busy with the bright good times to notice.  It’s only when the valley is empty, where the wind is hot, and the soul is like a dried, bleached bone left in the sun that we are brought to a place of reliance on the re-creative breath of the Spirit.

It’s in the valley of the dry bones of our spirit and soul that the environment is set for us to receive the extravagant love of God.  It is for the love of his covenant people Israel that God wants to restore their spirit and bring them back to life.  It is for the love of his people that God goes to the most barren, dry, hot, parched places and breathes new life into them.  His breath is life!  He tells them to, “Live!”, and that command initiates from the Lord’s love of the people.

Today, we have a tangible example of how God restores our souls.  The Table set before us was given under the direst condition: The very death of the Son of God. It was only when the earthly Jesus totally surrendered all to God that he could say to you and me, “This is my body and my blood which is for you.”  It’s only in Jesus’ darkest hour, in humanity’s most tragic moment, that the Love of God could be seen and experienced so dramatically and brightly.

Is your soul bone dry?  Are there moments when you wonder if God is even around or even cares?  If so, those are the moments you are to pay attention.  Those are the moments God will use to re-form us, reshape us, re-ligament us and re-create us. God will do it in the shared expression of love those placed in our lives who will demonstrate it to us.

The Table reminds us God is most clearly present and visible when life seems to be at its worst and most desperate; it demands that we remember that God is most clearly present in sacrificial love.  When there is darkness, look for the light of Love and there my beloved, you will see dry bones live.

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

© 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.

Series on Call #5: Are you a settler or a wanderer? Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14

Sermon:          Are you a Settler or a Wanderer?
Scripture:       Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                March 19, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

As we continue our study of call today, the first thing we need to remind ourselves is that the American Church will only begin living out its call in the world when it realizes that to be a Christian today means to be living in a community of exile.  This goes against everything we have been told growing up in this country.  We have been taught to believe that we were founded as a Christian country and our values stem from the Judeo-Christian ethic (whatever that means).  I would suggest that we are instead a nation founded upon and living in the world with Christianity-ish values.[1]

If we use our primary call, as Labberton suggests, to love the Lord our God, and then in turn, love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must admit we are falling far short of that stated American mythology that we are a Christian nation. We have used the concept of Manifest Destiny to justify that as American Christians, we are living in the Promised Land just as the Jews of the first generation after Moses inherited Canaan.  The problem is, human nature, or if you prefer, our sin nature, gets in the way.  The Jews that captured Canaan had a difficult time remembering the Laws of God and their failure to live in God’s way got them sent into exile.  They altered their call of God to love Him and others into a patchwork quilt of religious, social and cultural beliefs that benefitted themselves at the expense of loving God or neighbor.

We have done the same thing in our own country.  We took the 15th-century notion of a Doctrine of Discovery instituted by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 and canonized it into American law by our Supreme Court in 1823.  Pope Alexander’s bull stated that land inhabited by non-Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed and exploited by Christian conquerors. It stated that the Christian religion should be expanded at all costs and that all “barbarous nations” be brought to the faith.  If the newly conquered nations and people did not submit to the faith, they could, with the clear conscience of those conquering the new lands, be executed and their native land taken away.  Our nation codified the Doctrine of Discovery with the Johnson and McIntosh case of 1823 when Chief Court Justice John Marshall wrote the unanimous opinion that “The principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to new world lands.”[2]

Oh my.

I don’t know about you but that does not sound like a nation founded on Christian values to me; these are the same Christian values that enslaved other people, denigrated women and exploited child labor. This sounds nothing like a nation founded on the primary call to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught. To that end, I would say that our country, indeed American Christianity is living in exile from any Promised Land we think God has bestowed upon us.  We are a people living in exile.

This is where we find the prophet Jeremiah in today’s text.  He is speaking to those who forsook their love of God and neighbor, their very first call, by chasing other gods and taking respite in an undisciplined life and culture that took them away from the Promised Land and placed them amid enemy territory.  Our scripture today are words of encouragement to those Jews in exile that though they are living in exile now, the time will come when God will bring them back home.  Our text today has God through Jeremiah reminding them how to live their lives in an exiled land.  Let’s listen to the Word of the Lord and see if we can figure out how it applies to where we are today in 21st century American Christendom.

Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14

29.1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.10For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.[3]

Beloved, we live in a land where false prophets and diviners among us are preaching that bigger is better, the most powerful are the most important, people get what they deserve, and that we are not our brother or sister’s keeper.  These are the ones who declare that accumulation of stuff is our American birthright and that our Constitutional right for our pursuit of happiness overrides the basic Gospel Story of Jesus who pursued relationship with God and others at the cost of his life. American Christianity has built her churches to look like and emulate shopping malls where one can feed from a smorgasbord of programs and services that fit one’s tastes; indeed, we use consumeristic jargon to describe how we church shop, hop, and plop looking for the perfect community. We are, my friends, a community of faith living in exile from God’s understanding of the Promised Land.  As Labberton reminds us, our culture has “Groomed us to think optimistically about our lives and future.  Our faith today is seen as a means to fulfill this dream.”  He goes on to make the bold statement, “Christians are virtually indistinguishable from anyone else in culture.”[4]

Again: oh my.

In our study of our call, both as a Church and as individuals, it is vital for us to know where we live.  If we think we live in the Promised Land, we develop a whole set of questions and mindsets with which to see the world.  If we acknowledge we live in exile, then we relate with the world, culture, neighbor and God in an entirely different way. We are reminded that the Church cannot live out its vocation of loving God with all we have and loving others with all we have if we do not know where we live.  “The gift of exilic living is that it exposes believers to the school of authentic faith.”[5]  In other words, if we are living our faith as though we are foreigners in a foreign land, then the expression of our faith gets amplified both in the lives of our neighbor and in the life of any local church.

Our exilic faith forces us to see the world as it really is, including the church’s place in the world, and it challenges our Promised Land faith of abundance and forces us to drink from the culture’s cow trampled streams; in other words, it reminds us our calls are real and costly and they demand that we get out of our comfort zones and places of safety both as a church and as individual Christ-Followers.  For the Jews in Babylon, life was not about overcoming, overtaking and dominating the Babylonians; on the contrary, their life was to be lived in obedience to their primary call of God which is to love God and to love others on God’s behalf in the midst of their Babylonian life.

Why is it important to know where we live as a Church?  It is important because our spiritual life develops as a direct result of the context we find ourselves in; if the context is changed from Promised Land to living in Exile, then our spiritual lives will need to respond to life’s changing cultural conditions and develop new spiritual practices that emanate from that context.[6]  Knowing where we live means we know how to best live out our call in the midst of living as strangers in a strange land.

This past week, our Cuba mission team reported on their experiences from their visit there a month ago.  They described how time seems to have been frozen in the late 1940’s and ‘50’s because of the revolution. Vintage cars roll along the streets.  Beautiful old buildings are deteriorating from neglect.  The churches which have been kept silent for decades have had to learn to live and express its faith and call within a hostile climate whereby a Christian is persecuted at worst or kept down in the lower economic classes at best.  It was the same way when I visited the churches of Eastern Germany before the Berlin Wall came down: The Church had to move underground to survive.  It was costly and risky to live out one’s faith in God and in Jesus. How, my friends, does our culture, our society, demand that we adapt and change how we live and express our faith today? Then again, has that question even popped up on our spiritual radar screens?

The great quote my generation learned came from the lips of the late Judy Garland.  “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.”  We live in a post-Christian nation and world friends.  The Church’s voice has been muted and the transforming message of the life-changing gospel is earnestly being repressed as being out of touch, irrelevant, or a joke; sadly, the Church’s lap is where much of that blame is placed.  The church can continue to live as though it is still living in a nostalgic yesterday that never really existed or it can recognize and embrace its primary call from God which is to be an ardent, dynamic community of disciples who are being obedient and loving towards the Lord and to a world around us even though it may not want or even recognize their need for that love. The church in America may be in decline and dying as scholars say but the Good News of new life in Christ cannot be vanquished.  The challenge of our call today is to rise up to that challenge and declare the Good News.

Just as Jeremiah instructed the exiled Jews to get on with living their life in a strange land, so we are called to live as bright, aromatic, multicolored lives of faith where we are right now.  It may not be popular.  It may not be well-received.  It may not be easy and neither might we see any success from our efforts.  Our call demands that we be the enfleshed Christ in the world we find ourselves.  It’s like Dr. Labberton says, God’s strategy is to use unexpected people to embody unexpected love.[7] The question is whether we are or are we simply pretending to do so?  The Holy Spirit add understanding to these words.  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 Inventing a Christian America by Steven K. Green (Oxford, 2015) at https://www.amazon.com/Inventing-Christian-America-Religious-Founding/dp/0190230975/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489855649&sr=8-1&keywords=Inventing+a+Christian+America+by+Steven+K.+Green.
[2] I first learned of the Doctrine of Discovery in Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration. How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian.   Please see https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/imperial-rivalries/resources/doctrine-discovery-1493.
[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] Mark Labberton.  Called. The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 52-53.
[5] Ibid. 56.
[6] 57.
[7] 59.