Walking into the Future Facing Backwards is a Dangerous Thing to Do!, Philippians 3:4b-14

Sermon:          Walking Into the Future Facing Backwards is a Dangerous Thing to Do!
Scripture:        Philippians 3:4b-14
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                  October 8, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

There was a time in my ministry when I used to go to pastoral conferences but the same thing happened over and over again and I got tired of going.  You see, when you go a pastor’s conference you run into a bunch of other pastors which is not a bad thing, mind you, but then it begins to become all types of competition in the breakout sessions.  You introduce yourself and they do the same.  It immediately begins to devolve into some form of Freudian competition where he or she begins to brag about their church and its ministries, its size, and how impressive a pastor they are.  It got to be very old and I quit going to them.

This is what Paul is dealing with in the Philippian church, too.  There were people who were emerging as bigger, better, more theologically and doctrinally correct than Paul, or so they claimed.  They began to call into Paul’s credentials and credibility and Paul, and I can see his head and closing his eyes with a sigh, has to produce his resume and curriculum vitae. This leads to our text this morning.  Turn in your Bible to Philippians 3 beginning with the latter part of verse 4.  Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.[1]

Paul is not preaching some prosperity gospel that if you live a good life or a certain type of life you will be blessed by God with material riches; on the contrary, he is reminding the people that the true path to God is by following Christ Jesus’ example. It’s not about living a life that follows every jot and tittle of the Law to complete some Divine scorecard; no, it’s about giving up one’s position of power and privilege to become a servant of the Master. It’s about cutting all cords to what we think is owed to us by others or society in general and rely on the gracious provision of God. It requires a Christ-Follower to make ethical and moral choices in a world where morals and ethics are now based on how a person personally feels at the time in how their behaviour or attitudes affect them over and against how their behaviour and attitudes affect others. Living as a Christian requires us to turn around and walk against the flow of the crowds indicating we are different and are heading to a better destination. He is telling them that to pledge one’s life and allegiance to Christ Jesus means one must rely completely on God’s grace and mercy as opposed to one’s own merits in living a “good life.” Paul then goes on to tell the church the only way they as a congregation and as individual believers can accomplish this shift; it’s a shift that will not be easy. Look at verses 13 and 14.  Paul says,

13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Forgetting what lies behind.  What did that mean for Paul? In his day, “to forget”, meant to release something or someone to oblivion. A few years ago, a movie was released with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock called Gravity. The story revolves around what happens when astronaut crew members on a space-walk outside of the International Space Station encounter a large asteroid shower pummeling the space station.  The space station begins to disintegrate and the only remaining survivors, Bullock and Clooney of course, tether themselves together as they float off into oblivion, total silence and nothingness.  This is what Paul is talking about.  When he says he is forgetting everything that lies behind him, he is saying that he cuts it off into oblivion, nothingness, lost.

He is a member of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  It matters little to him now.

He is born from the tribe of Benjamin.  In Paul’s mind, so what?

He is a Hebrew of Hebrews. He cuts it off into oblivion.

He is a Pharisee, a scholar and strict follower of the Torah, the Law. It means absolutely nothing to him and its cast into oblivion.

He is passionate about his Jewish faith and goes so far as to persecute who don’t follow the rules. He recasts that former passion into the opposite direction.

He is totally blameless with his following the Law and is considered righteous by every Jewish standard of the day. For Paul, it means nothing at all.

Paul goes so far as to say that not only is he forgetting all those accomplishments and his spiritual and cultural pedigree, he counts all those things as pure rubbish. Our English word ‘rubbish’ makes us think of what we find at the local dump. In Paul’s time, the word ‘rubbish’ meant human excrement. And why is he forgetting all his achievements?  First, they were his own self-righteous achievements based on the notion that, “If I do certain religious activities I will be loved by God.”  Second, Paul has come to realize salvation is a gift freely given by God and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. Paul knew all his accomplishments of the past meant nothing at all compared to the high calling of Christ Jesus his Lord. Forgetting what was in the past meant that Paul had to turn around and face in an entirely different direction. He would cease ‘doing religion’ and turn in the direction of Christ Jesus to live a life of sacrificial allegiance to the Lord.  Paul discovered a vital spiritual and life principle and it’s this: You cannot walk into the future facing backwards.

Think about that for a moment. You cannot walk into the future facing backwards. Why is that? Well, imagine you and me go for a walk in downtown DeLand. Imagine the people on the sidewalk, the tables from the restaurants taking up space on the sidewalk, all the cars and intersections, not to mention the wares of the merchants positioned by opened doors and sidewalk sales. As we are about to take our first steps past Hunter’s Restaurant across Rich Avenue, I tell you, ‘Before we go any further, I need you to turn around and walk through town backwards based on what you think you remember is in the way.”  What do you think would happen as you made your way?  You will fall, trip, crash into things and people making yourself uncomfortable and the people you run into will be none-too-pleased either. What will those people yell at you as you walk into them backwards?  “Hey (insert your favourite derisive term), what are you doing walk backwards!? Turn around before you hurt yourself and somebody else!”

Walking through town facing backwards is a pretty silly and dangerous thing to do but let me let you in a little secret: All of us do that time to time in our own lives.  Instead of forgetting what lies behind, we cling to the past in unhealthy ways that inhibit our spiritual, emotional, or social growth.  Let’s look at a few examples.

Regret.  There are those people we have hurt or passed by, opportunities we have missed or ignored in the past we regret not pursuing. We get mired in, “I wish I did such-in-such back then because my life would be better now.” When we walk into the future facing backwards at our regret for what should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been or done, we miss the opportunities God has placed in front of us if we would only turn around!

Remorse. There are those moments in our lives we are locked up in remorse for what we have done or left undone in the past. Instead of swimming in the grace God bestows on us in Christ, we walk into the future facing backwards with guilt and remorse for what we did or did not do or say.

Anger.  Anger is another one of those feelings and attitudes that force us to walk into the future facing backwards. Someone or something has hurt us badly in the past; we have been emotionally, financially, or perhaps even physically violated.  We are consumed with horrible thoughts towards people who caused us this unfair pain and we seethe. The anger prevents us from developing new relationships, makes us distrustful of others, and leery of making or receiving commitments. Anger eventually turns in on itself and manifests itself as a deep-seeded depression. Walking into the future facing backwards at old anger and resentments means you are carrying a very heavy load that will cause you to miss your step and fall; all that we have to do is put the anger down and release it into forgiveness as we face forward to a lighter, brighter tomorrow.

Loss. Loss is another issue that keeps us walking into the future facing backwards. Instead of grieving and incorporating the loss into our lives, we grow sad or resentful because of it. It means seeing life as hopeless and hapless. All we have to do is turn around and walk forward and our sense of loss is bathed in the warm waters of Christ’s love and we can begin incorporating that loss into our lives resurrecting hope when there was none.

Nostalgia, also known as the “the good old days.”  The nostalgic dreaming of the good old days is a way to walk into the future facing backwards.  Nostalgia is simply a wanting to go back home or to a time that never really existed in the first place.  We create a past in our minds that help us remember redemptive and positive times.  “Oh, don’t you remember when the church did this or did that? Weren’t those days the best days of the church?”  Walking into the future facing backwards with nostalgic thinking will cause us to trip over new opportunities waiting for us in the future but we will miss them because we have fallen fanny-over-tea kettle on top of them.

The Peter-Pan syndrome.  This is a way we walk into the future facing backwards because we refuse to grow up and mature in our social, emotional, professional or spiritual lives.  Change is hard and so to escape the chipping away of old habits or ways we look at the world, we find it easier to stay stuck where we are.  We remained mired in either/or thinking, right/wrong thinking, you/me or us/them thinking instead of facing forward into the teaching of the Holy Spirit that your box, your world, your thinking is too small. Like Paul, we need to let go of the past and lean into the exciting mind and spirit-blowing power of God and see the world, people, and God with new eyes and perspectives.  This was Paul’s issue and if God can work with Paul in his stubborn ways, then there is great hope God will do the same for us!

Regret. Remorse. Anger. Loss. Nostalgia. Peter Pan syndrome.  None of these is bad in and of themselves; it’s the power they have at keeping us stuck in the past that is the problem.  What, beloved, is causing you to walk into the future facing backwards?  What do you and I need to let go of so that we can turn and walk into God’s glorious Presence in the now and in tomorrow? Let us let that question lean on us a little bit this week.

Forgetting what lies behind, let’s strain forward to the wonderful life ahead awaiting us in Christ. And all of God’s people say, Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

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

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

Matthew 14:13-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Mathew 13:53-58.

Sermon #2 on Mission: When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon #2 on Mission:  When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon:        When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point
Scripture:    Matthew 10:24-39
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:          June 25, 2017, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 7

Last week we began looking at the second major sermon in Matthew’s Gospel as we started delving into Jesus’ focus on mission.  We noted how Jesus called out twelve Apostles who then received their marching orders from Jesus to go out to preach and heal.  We particularly noted why mission matters to Christ, what the first step is in any form of mission we undertake, and we looked at the overall purpose of mission in God’s eyes.  Today, we are continuing along in the same sermon Jesus was giving last week but as you see today, the focus has shifted to what you and I can expect in undertaking mission in the world.  Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Matthew 10:24-39

 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.[1]

There is so much meat in this text that it would appear to be an overstuffed sandwich! There are so many “hot topics” Jesus raises from God’s Providence, human fear to cross-bearing! You would think it easy to make our lection a shorter reading but as I dug into it, I realized Jesus’ words must be taken as a whole unit. Why? Because Jesus wants his disciples to know that when the going gets tough (and it most definitely will), then the tough are called to stay on point.

It’s a little different from our colloquial saying that says when the going gets tough the tough get going. When the going gets tough and the tough get going, we hear it as a call to gather up strength from whatever source you can and keep on going forward no matter what. If you were running a marathon and at mile 16 I yell at you, “Hey Martha, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” you would hear that as a personal encouragement to reach down inside yourself and pull some more up the bottom. This in and of itself is not a bad thing to do per se but this is not what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to understand.  You see, when the tough get going they could change their direction and go the other way or take an alternate way and path they were originally taking. Contrary to this Jesus is telling the disciples that when the going gets tough, the disciples are to stay focused and on point. As a racehorse has blinders on to prevent them seeing the neighboring horses immediately on their left and right, the blinders help the horse not to become distracted and stay focused on the course they are running because they are running for a purpose and have a goal to succeed.

Today’s scripture outlines how Jesus wants his disciples to stay focused and on point.  Let’s briefly look at the two blinders Jesus uses to keep the disciples focused and then we will identify the goal Jesus wants us to achieve in our mission.

Blinder number one: Verses 24 – 31 have Jesus reminding the disciples that they are not going to experience anything different than Jesus himself has experienced. Jesus reminds them as he was called names and maligned and so will the disciples.  We see this clearly in Matthew a few chapters ahead when the religious officials tell people Jesus is really Beelzbul, i.e. Satan, God’s arch-enemy.[2]

There is an interesting word-play with the name Beelzbul.  In antiquity, names meant something. So for example, my name Patrick means ‘the one who is noble’ and I would try to live into that name’s meaning.  Beelzbul refers to Satan, God’s enemy, but it also means, ‘god of the dung heap.’ So the theological literalists of his day would be calling Jesus Satan or comparing him to Satan, while others who simply did not take Jesus seriously derisively called him this to infer he was the god, lord of the dung pile. Consequently, Jesus was seen as a threat at worst or not taken seriously as a joke at best. He’s either Satan or lord of the piles.  Either way, people will hear and see his message as a threat and/or a joke.

Jesus is reminding you and me that our life of mission will have the same effects his did in both positive and negative ways.  The disciples will preach and they will heal but Jesus is reminding us that we are to remember that people will take the gospel message as a threat or they will see it, and us (the Church), as a joke. We see this happening today all over America. It is because of this fact, disciples are to remember the intentional loving care of God for them. He is telling them you will be treated as I am treated, i.e. with contempt or disdain, but you will also be cared for by the all-encompassing Providential Care of God!  Does not the Father in heaven care for the sparrow?  Does not the Father in heaven know how many hairs are on top of our heads? The answer is yes, most definitely, but keep shouting the message from the rooftops anyway! You’ll be treated as I am treated but stay on point and tell the Story openly for all to hear!  There’s the first horse blinder keeping our eyes focused ahead.

The second blinder offered to keep our goal in sight is found in verses 34 – 39.  It’s the blinder that reminds us that being a disciple takes hard work and we are to expect that fact. American Christianity has become Joel Osteened to the point that we believe once we follow Jesus, we can sit back and expect the material blessing faucet to be turned on over us. Our lives of discipleship will be happy, easy, and our lives will be overwhelmed with material prosperity. Jesus is saying that is a bunch of hooey.

He’s reminding the disciples that their work will disrupt and cause problems in the most basic and most important aspect of their very social structure: It’s going to threaten Jewish family loyalty. The old ways of believing God will bless you if you behave correctly are being replaced with Jesus’ words of God’s desire for us to live lovingly and justly with each other.  It’s not that Jesus wants families and the social structure of the Jewish community ripped apart; Jesus is simply stating the reality of what will happen.

The status quo, the peaceable way things are, is to be overturned. When the ethic and character of God expressed through love and justice is introduced, people, systems, groups, churches, and social structures get uncomfortable. We like it when the boat isn’t rocked. Yet, Jesus is reminding us that the status quo of judging others for their sexual orientation and not seeing them as a child of God makes a mockery of the power of the Cross. He is reminding us that the status quo of our nation’s tendency to overlook the poor because it affects our personal bottom line is unethical. He is reminding us that the oft-used excuse that it’s too hard to change the social structures to care for the least of these just will not cut it anymore. Jesus is reminding us that the message of love and justice is hard.  We will be maligned.  We will be taunted.  We will be accused of being out of touch. We are to keep our race blinders on and keep moving toward the goal of his message: Reconciliation, love, and justice.

Blinder one keeping us focused: When the going gets tough, the tough are reminded that we are experiencing what Jesus did and God has our backs. Blinder two keeping us focused:  When the going gets tough, we are not to be surprised when the world pushes back against the message of Christ.  So what is the goal these blinders are directing us toward down that race track?

Verses 32 and 33 say, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Our goal is that when the going gets tough, the tough stay on point, they stay on focus and that means to acknowledge, affirm, and show allegiance to Jesus and his way of reconciliation, love, and justice.  We deny Jesus when we fail to reconcile with our kids, spouse, neighbors, coworkers, or fellow Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the political aisle. We deny Jesus when we fail to show love to the invisible ones among us. We deny Jesus when we fall back solely with a ‘what’s in for me” mindset and fail to execute biblical ethics and justice for our neighbor.

When the going gets tough, the tough keep on point and purpose. Jesus isn’t asking you or me to do anything he has not done himself. It’s not easy but God is in control. It’s not easy because demonstrating love, reconciliation and justice make everyone uncomfortable. Our text today leaves us a question to wrestle with this week: In my life, in this church’s life, am I, are we, staying on point and acknowledging the Christ or are we denying him before the Father and the world? Let’s remember Jesus’ words that those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for his sake will find it.

Let’s pray.

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

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

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

[2] See Matthew 12:24, 27.

The Easter Message: No Fear, Go, Tell and See!, Matthew 28:1-10

Sermon:          Go and Live!
Scripture:       Matthew 28.1-10
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday, Year A

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Our scripture this morning is one of the most detailed accounts of Easter morning that we have.  Each of the four Gospels has their own slant on the day and Matthew’s is one that invites us into the Story and sends us back out on a journey.  If you are able, please stand and listen to the Gospel words for this incredible day from Matthew 28:1-10.

Matthew 28:1-10

28.1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”[1]

Good morning my friends.  He is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)  You can do better than that, can’t you?  He is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) Matthew’s version of Easter morning includes all sorts lightening and earthquakes – which are all ancient writing techniques used to indicate that something supernatural is going on and as hearers of the story, we are to pause and listen.[2]  The last earthquake in Matthew’s Story was upon Jesus’ death.  Now there is more rumbling and quaking but this time it is the Roman guards watching at the tomb!  They were shaking and their faces looked like dead men. Matthew is using irony to paint the picture that those who are alive act like they’re dead and the dead one in the tomb is alive!

This morning, I want to briefly highlight four commands used in our brief narrative that capture the Easter message: No fear; go; tell; and see.

The joy of Easter is found in the command that both the Angel and Jesus declare:  No fear! The good news of Easter is that all those things that cause us fear in this world have been vanquished by the resurrection! If the worst thing that can happen in this life is to die then Easter serves as the reminder that death has been taken off the table!  Easter is the day we celebrate the full-circling of God who being born a person like you and me, lived like you and me, who died like you and me but who unlike you and I has been raised to new life! The gap between heaven and earth has been bridged and that bridging of time and space by the resurrected Jesus means our lives take on new meaning this very day!

Did you notice what Jesus’ first word was to the two women?  Jesus approaches them and in nuances our English Bibles do not convey, he walks up and simply says, “Hi!”  It is the same greeting you and I would use to meet someone we know on the street on the way to lunch.  He simply says, “Hi, Mary.”  What a wonderfully down-to-earth human greeting! There is no fear conveyed in his greeting.  There is no condemnation in his greeting.  There is no pretense or power being lorded over the women in the greeting.  He simply, calmly greets them, “Hi.”

The last word Jesus spoke while alive in Matthew was his cry from the Cross to God when he exclaimed, “Why? Why have you forsaken me, God?!”  Now the “why” has been answered through the journey of death and now Jesus’ first word from the grave is a warm, very kind and unassuming, “Hi.” Jesus’ fear has been vanquished; what fears do we have that need vanquishing, beloved?  Jesus invites you and me this Easter to move from the “why” of fear to bask in the gentle “hi!” from God![3]

The second command both Jesus and the angel issue is to go. We typically think Jesus and the angel immediately tell the women to go out into all the nations and declare the resurrection but that comes later in Matthew’s Story.  At this point in Matthew’s Story, the command to go is aimed to simply go to the current Christian community.  They are to go and tell all the ones who turned tail and ran nights ago when the arrest went down. Yes, the angel invited them to “come and see” where he lay and prove to themselves he was not there!  Their proof was an empty tomb but they were not to stay there and ponder it all.  They were not to stay there and marvel at the rock rolled away or make fun of the Roman soldiers who now acted like scared children instead of the fearsome power Caesar’s army.  They were to go and to get on with it.

The third command was to tell! They were to go to the other members of the current faith community and tell them what they had seen. They are told to go and declare, “He is risen!” (He is risen, indeed!) to the scattered community of believers who have lost hope in a better future.  They are to go and tell the other Christ-followers that the Story is not over but is still alive.  They are to go to the other disciples and declare that Jesus is indeed who and what he said he was! People are reconnected to God in ways they haven’t been since before the Garden of Eden disaster.  They are to go and exclaim that death is not the final word in our lives and that there is a Holy One who is above and beyond our time and place Who indeed holds the whole wide world in His hands!  They are to go and tell the disciples that there is purpose in this life of ours and that purpose is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we are to be the gracious ambassadors of Jesus’ love to the world.  They were to declare that each of us are God’s agent of change in the world and that the Christian community is called to be God’s presence where we live, work, and play.

The final command is that we are not only to go and tell but that we are to see for ourselves what the women have experienced.  We can hear their story, believe or disbelieve their story, but the fact is, unless we go to Galilee and see for ourselves, the women’s announcement is nothing but an idle tale of someone else’s experience. Like Peter, James, John, Andrew and the others, we too must hit the road and go discover Jesus for our own.  We can hear the stories.  We can believe or disbelieve the stories; yet, unless we go and take that long walk to Galilee and go looking for the risen Christ, we will not know if the women’s tales are true or not.  As biblical scholar Dale Brunner comments, “Only faith, that is to say, only a walk to Galilee, will let us see Jesus.”[4]

Let’s be honest: It’s easy to feel the Presence of the Risen Christ in church on Easter Sunday or Christmas; it’s a whole lot harder when you’re sitting in the divorce court or in a funeral home’s casket display room. It’s a lot harder walking to your car from a doctor’s visit being told you need to tests run because something looks suspicious.  Yet it is only when we walk through the uneven and potholed roads of our life that we are given the chance to see and experience the power of the Risen Christ in action. We can hear others tell the Story but it is only when we begin walking and experiencing our mundane, everyday existence that we will meet the power of Christ in our own life.

I can tell you not to fear death but unless you walk to Galilee, you cannot learn to be fearless yourself.

I can tell you how in the darkest places of my depression I am able to feel the tears of God and transform my depression into a gift but unless you walk to your own Galilee and experience the tears of God for yourself, you cannot be transformed from the inside out.

I can tell you about a peace that overwhelms you in life’s hard battles but unless you walk to Galilee, you cannot accept my word for yourself, nor the angel’s or Mary’s words for that matter.

Church, do you remember how on Maundy Thursday at the Last Supper Jesus told Peter and the others that on that very night, the shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered and how all of them would become deserters of him?[5]  Today, Jesus is commanding the women to go and do what the men failed to do, i.e. follow him.  It was the women who were the apostles to the apostles and were given the task to gather up all the scattered and lost sheep, those Christ-following disciples who went into hiding in order to reconstitute and re-birth the community of believers.  Well, churches on Easter are like the first disciples going to Galilee to see Jesus for themselves. All of the scattered and missing members and guests have come home!  And, it’s wonderful!

The words of the angel, “He is risen!” have brought you here one more time to experience the Christ. The invitation from Mary to us has been accepted. Now it’s up to each of us to leave this day as a reconstituted community of Christ-Followers and tell others the wonderful news, “He is risen!” (He is risen, indeed!)

Amen.

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

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

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] See Matthew 27:46. Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. A Commentary. Volume 2, The Church Book. Matthew 13-28 revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 786.
[3] Ibid., 795
[4] Ibid., 793.
[5] Matthew 26:31.