The Church Ladies, Philippians 4.1-9

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

 

The-Church-Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

Preaching: The First Mark of the Church; Romans 10:5-15

Sermon:          Preaching: The First Mark of the True Church
Scripture:       Romans 10:5-15
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                August 13, 2016

You may click here to listen to the sermon.

Turn in your pew Bible to page 921 where we will read and hear the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Christ-followers gathered in Rome.  The book of Romans is one of the most theologically packed and dense Christian witnesses in the New Testament. Many people tend to pick and choose parts of Romans to look at but it’s only fair to do that if we keep the overall purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans in its proper context.

Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews who was knocked up on the side of the head by Christ Jesus on the way to Damascus, Syria. He knew the Torah, the Jewish Law, better than most people as he was, as he describes himself, “A Pharisee, a son of Pharisees!”[1] He knew the commandments of God inside and out. Paul is best described as a Jewish Christian; he was steeped in the Jewish ways and culture and knew the Jewish understanding of Messiah but he also built on that knowledge and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic promise.  We read in Romans 9.2ff., “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself was accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people (i.e. the Jews).”

Much of Romans is dealing with Paul’s argument that the Jews are the people of God’s adoption bound by the covenant promise given through the Patriarchs and then through Moses and the Law.  The Jews are the soil from which the Messiah would sprout and make himself known to the world.  As such, Romans is a book where Paul essentially reminds the Roman Christians, “We are to have good hope for the people of Israel and that God is not done with them yet!”  And this is where we pick up in the Story.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Romans 10:5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [2]

The last line Paul quotes from is from Isaiah 52. For the Jew, it would be a well-known line from the Prophet that God is promising salvation to those in exile and will restore the people back vis-à-vis a Messiah.  The people have been in captivity and slavery for so long and now God has declared their salvation and restoration is at hand!  This is the Jewish gospel.  Paul is expanding on that distinctly Jewish gospel and declares that the ultimate fulfillment of salvation, healing and wholeness is in and through Jesus Christ. The good news is that all people are brought under the salvific umbrella of Jesus. Yet for this to happen, the Good News must be proclaimed! As Paul says today, “How are they to hear without someone to proclaim Jesus?  How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? Oh, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This morning we are going to look at this issue of proclamation and preaching that Paul brings up in our text.  Specifically, we will cover four main bases that speak to the importance and understanding of what proclamation is and is not.

The first base we will cover regards proclamation or preaching is to determine what proclamation is in our Reformed tradition. A friend of mine recently pondered online whether the Protestant understanding of preaching in worship is really nothing more than just a lecture.[3] I replied that preaching is more proclamation, or as the Greek’s and ancients describe it, kerygma. Proclamation, or the sermon, is different from a lecture.  A lecture is the dispersion of facts and ideas. The sermon is designed to highlight and unpack the salvific works of God as they are attested to in scripture and through Jesus Christ. Now some may say it’s the same as calling a tomato or a to-maa-toe but there is a difference. Sermons belong in worship; lectures do not.

All bona fide sermons proclaim Christ but the same cannot be said of lectures. The demise of the Western Church I think can be tied to the fact that for the last 100 years, preachers have been lecturing on interesting ideas or have fashioned slick religious TED talks but the proclamation of Jesus has been lacking.  Generally speaking, Fundamentalists have high jacked the sermon for moral instruction while Progressives have used it to push social causes; both morals and causes are important but unless the proclamation is tying it back into the way Holy Spirit is revealing Jesus and his gospel to our particular time and place, it’s nothing but a lecture. In another one of the Apostle Paul letters to the recalcitrant church in Corinth, he provides the definitive purpose for proclamation or the sermon; he writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ…we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] The purpose of the sermon is to help people become reconciled to God in their work, in their play, in their rest, and in their social life.

The second base we want to cover is that preaching is vital for the church. In our Reformed Christian heritage, the three marks, or notes, of the true church’s existence is when at least three things happen: The Word is faithfully proclaimed and faithfully heard; the sacraments are administered; and when there is discipline and order in the fellowship. [5]

Sermons are a part of worship not as a form of slow, numbing punishment whereby the preacher waxes on to wear you down so you’ll finally succumb to the altar call on the 8 verse of singing, Just as I Am; sermons are a vital part of worship because they should prophetically declare what Sunday school and confirmation teachers are teaching, what the foundation our acts of mission and Christian service stand upon, confirm or disprove what our theological studies are for as well as how we read and interpret our devotional material. Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof remarks that when the preacher fails in his or her proclamation of the Good News, he or she fails to give the interpretive lens for the people of the Church to understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey to each of us in all our devotional and missional endeavors.[6]

The third base we need to cover about proclamation and preaching is that it will often cause you to get uncomfortable. My former colleague, the late Dr. Frank Harrington, tells the story of how he was preaching on the need for people to respond to God’s call and challenged them to think about heading out into the mission field.  Following church that day, a young woman in college was sitting with her family at Sunday dinner and said, “The sermon really spoke to me today. I feel truly convicted and I think God is telling me to go into foreign missions when I graduate.”  The table conversation grew quiet until the father at the head of the table clears his throat and says, “Oh now honey, Dr. Harrington was only preaching.”

Only preaching. I would dare say he was!

Preaching in worship points the Church to Jesus Christ and how it’s God’s desire to reconcile the world to Himself and to one another.  If we’re honest, that is not always going to be easy to listen to week after week.  Paul’s preaching had a way of making people upset because he challenged the status quo of the religious institutions and that of the proper relationship to the state.  His preaching often times got him beat up or run out of town. John the Baptist’s preaching got his head cut off.  Jesus’ preaching had him run out of this home synagogue and nearly tossed over the side of a mountain!  This is what generally happens when the proclamation of Christ is declared: people will get unnerved or upset because the Gospel challenges the core of our personal way of seeing God’s purpose in the world; those divine purposes are generally at odds with what our culture says they should be and so we struggle and don’t like what the preacher says.

Sermons point to Jesus and the ways God interacts with our world. You are not always going to like what we preachers have to say. The Holy Spirit is ever trying to help us grow in faith, enlarge our holy vision of God, of others and of the world. The Spirit of God through the church’s sermons are going to convict us on whether our professed life in Jesus Christ is actually matching our lived and expressed life of Christ Jesus.  It’s going to compare and contrast how you and I, how the culture interprets life events with the attitudes and proclamation of the prophets of Scripture that have spoken over the millennia.

Now that we have rounded the third base and are headed to home, we are reminded that preaching is about the message and not the preacher.  Let me give a word about the difference between good and bad sermons and good and bad preachers. A talented good preacher can have all the skills of rhetoric and communication but still deliver a bad sermon; conversely, a poor preacher that speaks so as we watch paint dry can have a good sermon. I have heard many a poorly delivered message (and have given many of them myself!) but I can still hear the proclamation of Jesus. It’s led me to the place in my ministry that when a person says, “That was a good sermon or a bad sermon preacher” that I immediately run through a two-question checklist in my head:  Was I faithful in declaring gospel: yes or no? If yes, then does that person’s reaction say more about me or about where they are in their spiritual life right now?

Yes, I have an obligation in leading worship in preparing the best I can.  But remember this, too: You have an obligation in preparing for and participating in worship! The first mark of the true church is when the Gospel is faithfully preached AND heard!  So, the music, whether it’s contemporary or traditional, the prayers, the liturgy and drama are not for our enjoyment or for our entertainment; they are the means by which we worship God. The preachers, liturgists, readers, musicians, organists are here to point to the gracious character and reality of our loving God. If we draw attention to our sermons or music or prayers more than we point you to God, then we have failed you as leaders of worship.

Then again, for some of you, I may be only preaching. 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 23:6.
[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. Paul is referring to Isaiah 52.7.
[3] The quote from a very affable Hellenist Rebbe, AR, is “Am I too bold to suggest that sermons are lectures and not worship?”
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:20.
[5] The Scotts Confession, Chapter XVIII,  3.18,
[6] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith. An Introduction to the Study of Faith. Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986),100.