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.

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: 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

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

The Message: Be the Light! Unpacking the Beatitudes

You may listen to the Sermon by clicking here.

Sermon:         Be the Light 
Text:                Matthew 5:13-20
Preacher:       Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:       First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, FL
Date:               January 5, 2017, Epiphany 5, Communion Sunday

Years ago when I was avidly backpacking, I carried with me a light that was the envy of everyone I met on the trail.  Instead of using batteries, my little lantern burned off another energy source which at first blush sounds crazy.  You see, I used to pack with a calcium carbide lantern.  It’s the same little lantern miners use.

Unlike batteries which get used up or a gas fuel source that would run out, a calcium carbide lantern worked on just two ingredients: Little rocks of calcium carbide and water.  You place a few pieces of calcium carbide in the bottom of the lantern and then just add water.  The mixture produces a gas which emits at the top of the lantern and once lit, burns for hours. I didn’t have to worry about batteries or kerosene; all I needed were my rocks and some water. Whoever would have thought the phrase, “Just add water” would generate fire and light?

Today’s text from Matthew’s Beatitudes describes what it means for you and me, this church, to be light.  Being light is synonymous with the theologically loaded word “righteous.”  Just as unlikely that a mineral mixed with water produces light, so the concept of what it means for us to be righteous is not immediately recognizable at first glance; as rocks and water create fire, righteousness is not made up of what we think it is either.

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 5:13. Jesus is up on a hillside above the seaport village of Capernaum located at the 12 o’clock position on the Sea of Galilee. We read last week the series of “Blessed ares…” and today we are picking up right where that left off.  Let’s refresh our memory with the “Blessed ares…”.

Jesus begins his sermon in chapter five by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are those who hunger after righteousness…blessed are the merciful…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are those who are persecuted for showing righteousness…blessed are those when you are reviled because of me.”  Now, let’s listen to what Jesus says next.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Light is a big deal for the Jews. They would have heard Jesus’ words and reflect back on the text in Isaiah 49.6 that says, “I will make you (O Israel) as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  Isaiah the prophet was reminding those Jews held in exile’s captivity that they would be restored to Jerusalem; furthermore, it is through them the world would come to see and learn about the Lord God.  They were to be lighting up the Lord of Hosts so that all could believe and live in the unity, grace, gaze and care of God’s provision.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

What happened was when the Exiles got back to Jerusalem, they took the notion of being a light to the nations and codified it into a list of do’s and don’ts. They said that to be a real believer, one had to do right things; what Jesus is saying today is that they got it wrong; what Jesus is stressing is that in order to be the light of the world, his followers would have to live out from the right way of viewing and understanding life.

The Jewish religious leaders felt that doing the right things – a very will-full and intellectual matter – made one righteous, i.e. made one right with God.  Jesus, on the other hand, was stressing that being made right with God is not about mental assent to do the right things; on the contrary, Jesus was stressing that in order for his followers to be the light to the world and to the nations, they are to live the right way as guided by their heart.

For the religious leaders, living righteously was a matter of personally following the Law for their personal piety’s sake and because the Law demanded it.

For Jesus and his followers, living righteously was a matter of humbly living out the “Blessed ares…” in relation to God and to one another; this is what it means to be righteous. Righteousness, or right living before God, requires the intellect for action but righteousness’ birthing ground is in a person’s heart.  Lest we forget, the people in Jesus’ day believed that God resided within a person in their heart as opposed to their head. Righteousness describes how a person sees and lives out their life in a God-oriented direction as opposed to doing “the right things.” Righteousness is way and attitude towards living life; it’s not about moral checklists.  Righteousness describes who a person is and to Whom a person belongs more than it describes what a person does or does not do. Our actions of what we do or do not do stem from who we are in our heart and core. The soil our actions are grown in is either self-righteous or is light-generating righteousness.  Jesus prefers the latter.

Being the light of the world means we humbly live poor in spirit; that we are in touch with the suffering in the world; that we are not driven to gain power or to have power over others; it means we desire to cultivate a relationship with God in our heart; being righteous means that we are merciful and kind to others; being the light, being righteous demands that we keep our hearts swept clean for God’s presence and trust God to hold us close even though the world reacts against us because the light reflects a different quality of life to the world that people would rather ignore. Jesus’ very life and progression to the Cross and his crucifixion are an example of what righteousness means; His very life and death are a reflection of the Beatitude’s “Blessed ares…”

He is telling us that our very life, our very difficulties, our triumphs are to be a reflection of the “Blessed ares…”  This, my beloved, is what Jesus means when he says our righteousness needs to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  Entering the Kingdom of Heaven is not about doing right things; entering the Kingdom of Heaven is about living rightly with our hearts calibrated to Jesus and to the “Blessed ares…” just as Jesus’ heart was.  Righteousness is more than doing good; righteousness means living well and humbly from the depth of one’s heart out of gratitude for God and for the desire of sharing that Light of God with others.

The scribes and Pharisees were living self-righteously for their benefit; Jesus tells you and me to live out the “Blessed ares…” in order to be the light source for others to learn about God’s righteousness. It’s either self-righteousness for my salvation or other-directed-righteousness for the declaration of salvation for others.  The Law was not meant to be some high-level Trigonometry test we have to pass in order to get from here to heaven.  The Law was originally designed to show people how to cultivate a humble heart so as to live right with God and with our neighbor. Oh my, haven’t we messed that up over the last several hundred years!

The Pharisees and Scribes believed righteousness meant living separated from “those type of people” like the leper, the prostitute, the unclean and the ordinary.  Jesus understood righteousness to mean living one’s life emanating the love, grace and glory of God in the very midst of the ordinary people, the unclean, the prostitute and the leper. Christ-following lives are lived in the midst of the world’s daily grind and as such, appear as bright lights of hope in the face of other people’s despair or are a fragrant sweet smelling breeze that comes from out of nowhere to revive the tired and fainthearted.

Preparing ourselves to receive this powerful meal means we pause and ask ourselves: Does my spiritual life show that I am simply punching a check-list of what I am supposed to do, or, does my Christ-following life reflect a righteousness that is attempting to live into the “Blessed ares…”? Remember: Righteousness is not for the self; righteousness is the light of God’s face shared with others.  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, FL
724 North Woodland Boulevard
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 in DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

All scripture is from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

The Church’s Ten-Letter Dirty Word (E-v-a-n-g-e-l-i-s-m)

Sermon: The Church’s Dirty Ten-Letter Word
Scripture: John 1.37-42
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, FL
Date: January 15, 2017, The Second Sunday of Epiphany

This morning, we are going to begin with the end in mind. I’m going to give you four words which are the answers to what we will be unpacking today. So, if you are the type who likes to write notes, here are the four words you to shape your outline: Know; Embrace; Meet; and Introduce. Now that you have all the answers, let’s jump into the question!

Back in the ancient times, i.e. 1972, the late comedian George Carlin had a famous sketch on the “Seven Bad Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The amazing thing is you still cannot say them on TV! But let me ask you this: Did you know the Church of Jesus Christ has at least three words people would rather not be said in church, particularly from the pulpit?

The first dirty word people don’t like to hear from the pulpit is repent. People wince at that word because it reminds them they are to stop what they are doing and turn around and live in a different way. It means to cease and desist with behaviors that demean the image of God in others as well as in ourselves. Though ‘repent’ is a word people don’t like to say in church, it’s a good word. We need to be able to say it. So, say it with me: Repent. That was not so bad, was it?

The second dirty word people don’t like to hear from the pulpit or in church is the word money, or its pseudonym, Stewardship. People hate it when the church talks about money and stewardship. We shouldn’t talk about it because that’s my personal business, thank you very much! I find it ironic that people will tell their pastors the most intimate details of their lives but when they find out their pastor knows how much they give to the church budget, they go nuts! Money or stewardship is a dirty word in church for most people. Go ahead and say this offensive word: Stewardship. Good, you’re getting the hang of it!

The third dirty word people do not like to hear in church or even think about is the ten-letter word that strikes fear in the masses. It’s the word Evangelism. Evangelism is a dirty word to many in the church because they feel evangelism is manipulative, pushy, or confrontational. Many believe that evangelism means cramming one’s faith beliefs don’t the throats of others and that if they don’t listen to us then they are going to hell. I mean really, who wants to tell someone about Jesus if we think that if they reject what we say we might be responsible for their eternal life?  Evangelism literally means “to Good News someone.”

Friends, we have a distorted understanding of Evangelism and today’s scripture in John can help us sort out the mess of what evangelism is and isn’t as well as provide us a user-friendly model to follow. So, let’s say together the ten-letter dirty word people don’t like to say: Evangelism!

Our text today has John the Baptist talking to the people who are following him and have responded to his call for baptism for the remittance of sins. In verse 1.29, John proclaims to those who are following him, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” as he is pointing to Jesus walking by the group. In the group that heard John say this was a man named Andrew and some unnamed disciple. And this brings us to our text today. Listen to the Word of God!

John 1:37-42

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Looking at our text, I want to lift some observations for us that hopefully will demystify evangelism as well as help each of us see how we can be a witness for Good News. I want us to realize that evangelism is not rocket science nor is it the duty of a select few in the church.

Our Story has John the Baptizer pointing out Jesus to Andrew and to the other unnamed disciple and Andrew and the other immediately began following Jesus. I love what happens next. Jesus notices them following and he takes the initiative to stop what he is doing and asks them the one penetrating question every one of us, indeed, all people wrestle to answer. Jesus asks rather directly: What are you looking for (v. 38)? The first observation is that before we can tell others about what God has done in our life, we need to first understand what we are looking to experience from listening to and searching for in Jesus. It’s vital for each of us to ponder the question Jesus asked Andrew: What are you looking for? Why are you on a quest to know God? Why are you following Jesus? How do you answer that question? Once you can answer why you are following Jesus, then you are ready for evangelism.

This leads us to our second observation: Andrew was not completely sure what he was looking for but Andrew did have a yearning for something deeper in his life. Jesus asks him, “Andy, what are you looking for?” and Andrew has one of the oddest responses in Scripture. Did Andrew ask Jesus if he was the Messiah? No. Did Andrew ask Jesus to perform a miracle? No. Andrew asked, of all things, “Where are you staying?” I’m not sure that would be the one question I would ask the Savior of the world if I had the chance but for Andrew, knowing where Jesus was staying was enough. Andrew was not sure of the full ramifications of what it meant that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He has not witnessed, per John’s Story, any miracle or healing. He has simply experienced the presence of Jesus and that was enough. He couldn’t put words to it but he knew that there was something different about this man which made Andrew want to spend more time with him. Andrew, whom I like to call The Patron Saint of Evangelism, reminds us that we are to embrace the fact we will not have all the answers when we tell people about our experience with Jesus. That, my friends, is very okay!

The third observation about evangelism in our Story is that Jesus met Andrew where Andrew was in his life. Andrew didn’t have all the answers and for Jesus was that was just fine. Andrew at this point did not even have good questions and for Jesus that was just fine, too! Jesus wasn’t pushy or demeaning. He didn’t respond with, “Andrew, c’mon! That’s the dumbest question anyone could ask me!” Jesus met Andrew right where Andrew was and he was still a little perplexed, questioning and wondering.

Andrew and the other disciple went with Jesus and spent the day with him. We have no idea what they talked about. We can presume that since they spent the day together and the text mentions, “it was four o’clock in the afternoon” that Andrew, the other disciple, and Jesus worshiped together for the Jewish prayer hour held at three o’clock. They spent time together. They built a relationship with one another. In this light, when we read in other Gospels how Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and sees Andrew fishing and calls out to him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people!”, it is not surprising Andrew dropped what he was doing and followed. Jesus was patient. Relationships take time before a call to discipleship can be offered and answered.

The final observation we note about evangelism from our Story is that Andrew’s style of evangelism was to first go to someone he already knew, i.e. his brother, Simon and all he did was to introduce Simon and Jesus to one another. “Simon, this is Jesus, the one I told you about and Jesus this is my brother, Simon.” Andrew then backs off. Andrew didn’t convert, cajole, shame, or push Simon to believe. He simply introduced the two of them and let Jesus take over. Andrew reminds us we are not responsible for another’s conversion but Jesus is. There is no need to beat, cajole, deride, shame and push people into following Christ! No, all we are asked to do is make a non-threatening introduction and let God take over.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again: This church is one generation away from extinction. Sadly, that’s not only a prediction for our church but for the overall Church of Jesus Christ. The Christian church does not have a healthy understanding of evangelism or the Gospel and a result, people are turned off to the Christian faith, have little or no faith in the institution of Church, or perceive Christians to be hypocritical judges of others who act like theological know-it-alls. We need to overcome the notion that evangelism is a dirty word and a duty exercised by only a few. We first begin learning to know why we are looking for and drawn to Jesus and then follow our scripture Story’s lead by

• responding to Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” the best we can;
• embracing the fact that belief in Jesus does not mean we have all the answers and are not expected to give all the answers when we share the winsome Story of the Gospel with others;
• meeting people where they are and then build relationships with them;
• Introducing people in our current networks of relationships to Jesus’ winsome way of life and then back off.

Is that too awfully difficult? Know why we believe; embrace you don’t have all the answers and neither do others; meet people where they are and then develop relationships; introduce them to God but let God do the work of transformation.

This week, I want each of us to ponder the question Jesus asked and discern why we are drawn to him. I want us to ponder who we know or with whom we can build a natural relationship with so that the Spirit can provide an opportunity for us to simply ask the other one question: I’m in a community of folks who are looking to better understand God. Would you like to meet me for worship, Bible Study, feeding the homeless, taking flowers to the homebound….

No beloved, Evangelism is not rocket science. It’s all about knowing, embracing, meeting and introducing. For Christ’s sake, the Church’s sake, won’t you join me in doing it? And all of God’s people said, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pastor@fpcdstaff.org
http://phwrisley.blogspot.com

© 2016 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.

Our Thankfulness Requires a Rest. Reflections on Psalm 46

Sermon:          Our Thankfulness Requires a Rest
Scripture:        Psalm 46
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               November 20, 2016, Christ the King Sunday, Proper 29

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.           Selah

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.        Selah

8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.            Selah[1]

Today is the very last Sunday on the Christian calendar.  It is known as Christ the King Sunday and it culminates the divine drama that has unfolded before us since the first Sunday in Advent last November. Advent is the time on the calendar we prepare for the inbreaking of God into our world on Christmas and Advent begins next week. We then make our way through the through the season of Epiphany when people finally begin to recognize who Jesus is.  It’s at this point we begin our long walk through Lent as we learn about the sacrifice required to reunite all of God’s people back to one another and to the Lord God Himself.  The dark days of Lent culminate with the empty tomb on Easter morning and Christ’s resurrection. Following the time of celebrating Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, the Church remembers her birthday on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the people.  In the summer months, we enter a long stretch of time called “Ordinary Time” when Christians look at the life of Jesus, the Covenant people of Israel and what it means to live in the world as a Christ-follower.  So today, we end our Church year with a celebration that the child born of Mary lived, died, rose, and ascended to God and is now reigning in the heavenly realms literally holding the whole wide world in his hands. It’s a day we celebrate that Christ reigns supreme!  And the people said, Selah! “Selah?” you ask?  Hold onto that for a moment; we will get to it in a minute.

Today’s lectionary text is one that many of us have heard before whether we knew where it came from or not.  It was the basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and it is also known for one of the most memorized scripture verses in the Bible:  Be still and know that I am God (vs. 10).

What did this Psalm, or song, mean for those in Israel who first heard it?  Let’s get into their ancient-thinking heads a moment and then see how it connects with us today.

First and foremost, the song’s very opening line tells us that for the ancient Jew, this was a song that affirmed the heart of their faith. The Creator God is a God of solace, fortitude and safety for the people. The psalm leads with this because it serves as the reminder for what is to follow in verses 2 through 3 as well as in verses 4 through 9.

Verses 2 and 3 speak of the calamities of a world falling apart.  In their ancient understanding, the mountains were The Pillars of the Earth holding the heavens in their place.  Should The Pillars of the Earth fall, what hope do they have for survival?  The water was the place of chaos and uncertainty.  Water was destructive, swallowed ships and was the source of sea creatures who were large and foreboding. The sea was a dangerous place and the way the psalmist describes events in verses 2 and 3, it sounds very much to what today’s Christians hear in the New Testament book of Revelation.  These are apocalyptic words which describe the destruction of everything they knew and loved.

If you look in your Bible you will see a word that might be italicized and it stands alone at the end of verse 3.  It’s the word, Selah.  It occurs some 71 times in the psalms and it is one of those ancient Hebrew words that has never been fully translated.  So why is it there?  Scholars believe that Selah is a musical notation that simply means to stop and pause.  It serves as an “amen” of sorts that functions like a musical rest note in the middle of the psalm.  What is it that we are to stop, pause and reflect about? Selah points us back to the very first affirmation of our text today which declares, “God is our refuge a very present help in time of trouble” – a promise that repeats a variation of God’s protection at the end of each stanza in the song.

The psalmist has the people sing that even though the end of the world seems near, although Mother Nature seems to be collapsing in on herself, we are not to have fear because God is our place of refuge and is our source of strength.

And all the people of God say, “Selah!”

Stop.  Reflect on what verses 1 through 3 mean to you.

Then the song continues with verse 4.  We read of a river that flows from the city of God, Zion, Jerusalem.  The stream from Zion is a metaphor for God’s refreshing goodness and these waters will flow even bringing comfort and solace even though the chaos waters of life outside of the city gates feel like they will overwhelm us.  We read how God is in the midst of Jerusalem and even though the world seems falling apart, Zion will not be moved.

Verses 6 through 9 go on to describe to the ancient Jew how there are wars all around them.  Nations are rising up against the people of God.  Rulers will rule who will do whatever they can to overthrow the power of God and the holy city of Zion. And then once more we are given the assurance in verse 7 that Yahweh himself is with us and the God of Jacob will be our protection.

And then there is that word again – Selah.  Once again we are asked to pause and let the reality of verses 4 through 7 sink into the depths of our being.  Yahweh is with us so there is nothing to fear from our political or national leaders, because ultimately, they are not in control of our, nor the world’s, destiny.

And all the people of God say, “Selah!”

Stop.  Reflect on what verses 4 through 7 mean to you.

The final stanza of our song goes on to do two things. First, verses 8 and 9 go on to reaffirm the power and majesty of God and how God is the One who is in ultimate control of the Earth. It affirms that God is greater than any President, Congress, Politburo, dictator or queen and king. Second, verse 10 is a verse that contains two imperatives directing the people to, “Be still” and it demands that we are “to know” God and that God alone is to be worshipped.

These demands are set off with the only quotation marks in our song; it’s a writer’s technique inviting us to slow down, pay attention and ask, “To whom are the quoted words directed towards?” One particular group these words are declared to are the Jews themselves.  They are, in the midst of all the chaos they are undergoing, told to pause, stop, and remember Whose they are in the midst of the chaos: They are the Lord God’s; they are the beloved of the Most High Creator God! In the midst of life’s swirliness, you and I are also beckoned to drop what we are doing and remember Whose we are and that the One who loves us will never let us go.

The other group verse 10 is directed towards are the kings, rulers, presidents and nations of the world. The cultural leaders are being forcefully reminded to literally cease and desist what they are doing and know God is God and that the Almighty is in control.  The ancient Jews heard this as more than just “quiet yourselves for some meditation;” the power of the Hebrew is a command to drop whatever it is your holding onto and pay attention! Like a police officer encountering someone with a weapon, the demand is made to “Drop it right there!”

And all the people of God say together, “Selah!”

Stop a moment.  Reflect on what verses 10 and 11 mean to you.

Beloved, we begin “The Holiday Season” this week.  There are two very distinct and very different agendas that are paralleling one another and each of us is asked to choose which agenda we will participate in. One path is marked out by our compass-less culture demanding we be rampant consumers of food, goods, and stuff.  The other path follows the Church calendar and invites us to slow down and walk through this compass-less world and look at it, experience it, and revel in it with the eyes of God.  Let’s remember that “the holidays” literally meant “the holy days” long before Black Friday and Cyber Monday ever were thought about.

My prayer this week as we each approach Thanksgiving and the holidays that we will write into our daily routine those Selah moments whereby we stop and reflect upon all God has done, is doing, and will do in each of our lives.  For those of you who find Thanksgiving and holidays hard, my prayer is your Selah-moments will help you to redeem your sense of loss or sadness.  For those of you who love this time of year, my prayer is your Selah-moments will be a time to reflect upon the blessings you have been given.  For all of us, my prayer is that this Thanksgiving, we each will be still, that we will cease and desist all our worrying, fretting, scampering, cooking, napping and shopping to silence our hearts so that we can hear the heartbeat of God.

Selah

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

© 2016 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.