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

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

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

So, I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua 1.1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – A Series on Call #6: So, Get on With It!, Ephesians 5:6-16

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Sermon:       Series on Call #6: So, Get on With It!
Scripture:    Ephesians 5:6-16
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:             March 26, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

This morning, we are culminating our six-week walk through the issue of God’s call on our lives and upon the church.  We have been studying Mark Labberton’s book, Called[1]. The Our scripture this morning is the culmination of Paul’s arguments in his Ephesian letter that God has proven his radical love for us in and through Jesus Christ, and as such, our lives need to be reflecting that fact. This is where the rubber hits the road with our understanding, pursuit and living out our call and vocation by God both as a church and as individual disciples.

Our scripture reading is from Ephesians 5.6-16 and we are going to hear it from a different version than we normally hear the scripture read in worship.  Presbyterian pastor, scholar, and new church planter Eugene Peterson wrote a translation of the Bible his parishioners in Maryland could better understand by using modern vernacular. The result is the Message version of the Bible. I have put it in your bulletin so we can all follow along. Listen, Church, to what the Spirit says each of us.

Ephesians 5:6-16

6-7 Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.

8-10 You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

11-16 Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

The first place to begin is with a simple statement that simply says, “I am a Christian.”  When we make that public statement, it is more than making a statement of what we believe; on the contrary, it’s a dramatic statement on who we are and who it is we follow.  Our life with God is first and foremost a life of following Jesus. Just as Labberton reminds us in the book, Called, Jesus does not tell people to “believe me” but he says to “follow me.”[2]  Our walk with God is first about following Jesus in relationship.  To say that we are a Christian is a radical cultural, social, political and spiritual statement. It is a total breaking with the past and reorienting our lives around God’s call or vocation for us.  Our call and vocation do not emerge from what we believe; on the contrary, it develops and emerges based upon Whose we are and Who it is we follow and have relationship with in this life.

“I am a Christian.”  Say that out loud with me, “I am a Christian.” When you and I say that sentence, we are making a declaration about the orientation of our entire life. It’s a life-altering statement to make but do we realize it when we say it?  As Paul writes in our scripture today,

8-10 You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

The power of our individual calls, as well as a call as a church, stems from the basic statement, “I am a Christian.”  Everything changes! Our values and priorities. Our relationship with God and with how we relate to others.  Our sense of ethics and what is just as well as what is not. Our habits, how we spend and invest our resources in time, talent and finances.  Everything changes when we say, “I am a Christian.”

But does it really when the rubber hits the road?

Discovering our call requires two actions. First, we are called to focus on what Labberton describes as First Things. Once we focus on the First Things, then and only then, do each of us individually and as a congregation, focus on what he refers to as the Next Things.[3]

Hopefully, by now you know what First Things are since we have been journeying with our series on call for the last six weeks.  The First Thing both in a congregation’s and a Christian’s life is to be in love with God through Jesus Christ. We are no longer fumbling around in the murkiness but we are walking boldly in the Light of God. We know who we are because we know Whose we are and that makes being a Christian such a radical thing, unlike the way the world see Christians today.  Why is Pope Francis such a controversial Pope to the entrenched order of the Catholic See?  It’s because Pope Francis is living his love out like Jesus did and many in the world who want to follow a Catholic religion are being shown by the Pope what it means to live a Christian faith stemming from loving Jesus first! Emerging from our first love, we then begin looking at the Next Things of our calls.

Next Things emerge from the tended fields of our love of God whereby the intersection of our life’s events, jobs, marriages, singleness, friendships, school, advocacy work or just plain life circumstances all come together allowing us to share that love of God with others.  Pope Francis’ call is expressed through his love of Jesus which happens to be the Pope of the worldwide Catholic Church.  His call is that being Pope-ish means being like Jesus.  My call, for example, bubbles up from my passion for God and need of God’s love and then it is expressed through the expression of my love for people, my sensitivities, my gifts of leadership and rhetoric.

Your call is expressed through the First Thing of loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Your secondary call is expressed through the Next Thing of your unique combination of gifts and graces as they express your love of God in Christ to others in your particular context.

So think with me out loud.  Your primary call is to what? “Love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  What’s your Next Thing?  Your personal sense of call arises from the grounding of loving God first and then is expressed to loving others with your particular passions, gifts, graces, context and life circumstances.  So, what’s your next thing?  Can you identify it yet?  If so, like Paul says, then let’s get on with it!

But our calls are not just about what we personally do.  Our calls are grounded in the community of God called the Church. The community of the church gives locus, shape, and impetus for our personal calls to be used. As such, what is this church’s call for the future?  What are we here for anyway?  Would there be a hole left in the community with the absence of First Pres DeLand? Would anyone notice we did not exist?

My friends, this is why we have been spending so much time this Lenten season addressing the issue of call.  It’s an issue that forces us to name our loyalties in this life: Is our loyalty to God or are our loyalties to our own personal passions, interests or “wish dreams” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls them? Am I as a Christian using my gifts and graces to make me feel good or are my gifts and graces being used as a basis to share my passionate love of God with others around me?  Is it about “me” or is it about “us”?

Following Easter, my friends, we are going to have two gatherings as a church to hear what you are discerning God telling us to get about doing in our life together and in life with our community.  God wants you and me to thrive and to live and not just simply to get along, survive and get by.  But doing so means focusing on our first love which is Jesus.  Doing so means looking forward not backward, heavenward, not inward, and towards a purpose and not a guess.  The whole purpose of meeting in small groups is to explore our love of God and to learn about God’s call for you in this place at this time.  Hopefully, by the time we gather in our congregational gatherings later in April, we have been discerning who God is calling us to be and are able to share with what you are feeling God is calling us to do as a church as we move forward.  After all, we make a mockery of Lent, Holy Week and Easter if we don’t, as Paul reminds us this morning, get on with it.

The Holy Spirit give 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]Mark Labberton. Called. The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014).
[2] Ibid., 71.
[3] See 87-88.

Series on Call #2: The Responsibilities of an Ambassador, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Sermon:       Series on Call #2:  The Responsibilities of an Ambassador
Scripture:    2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:             February 26, 2017, Transfiguration Sunday

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

This morning we are continuing in our series on what it means to be called by God. Using Mark Labberton’s book entitled Called, we are meandering our way through Lent exploring God’s call upon us.  If you are reading the book, today’s message is focusing on his chapter 2, “We are called to flourish.” Continue reading “Series on Call #2: The Responsibilities of an Ambassador, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21”

Series on Call: What’s All the Fuss About Having a Call?, Matthew 4.18-23

Sermon:          Series on Our Calling:  #1:  What’s all the fuss about call?
Scripture:
       Matthew 4.18-23
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                February 19, 2017

You may listen to the message bly clicking here.

Continue reading “Series on Call: What’s All the Fuss About Having a Call?, Matthew 4.18-23”