Commitment Sunday: Hilarious Giving!, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Sermon:          Giving Hilariously         
Scripture:       2 Corinthians 9.6-15
Preacher:        Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Location:         First Presbyterian Church
Occasion:        Commitment Sunday
Date:                 November 12, 2017

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

                   6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift![i]

Once upon a time, there was a Priest, a Presbyterian minister and a Rabbi who walk into a bar and they begin talking with each other.  The Rabbi posed an interesting question for their little theology-on-tap session.  He asked, “What do you think our congregants would say about each of us as they walk by our open casket at our own funeral?”

The Priest, dear Father O’Malley said, “I hope they would say I was a caring parish priest who devotedly led his people in Mass and was there to support them all the days of their life.”

The minister, Pastor Nancy said, “When my people walk by, I hope they would say she lived her faith consistently both at home and at church, that she was a good mother and wife, and that she was dedicated to preaching the Gospel with passion and intelligence.”

The Rabbi listened intently and thought over the question he and Pastor Nancy and declared, “Well!  When my people walk by me at my funeral, I want to hear them say, ‘Look!  He’s moving!’”

Let me ask you this my beloved, what is it that you want to hear folks say about you at your funeral?  Many of us have been to a funeral before and we will hear eulogies, i.e. words spoken by friends and loved ones of the deceased expressing gratitude and admiration for the one who has died.  Well, let me let you in on a little secret:  Our word for eulogy comes from the ancient root of the word generosity!  That’s right!  Eulogia means to praise or invoke a blessing.

Paul has been going on and on about the Macedonian church’s rich generosity in chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians; in fact, eulogia, generosity, is used four times in our nine verses this morning. It makes me want to ask, “What type of generosity do we want to be known by? What type of eulogy can be delivered by our giving? Are we generous or tight-fisted sowers of God’s gifts?”

Author William R. Phillippe relates the story of a plane crash in Charlotte years ago.  He writes, “When the landing gear of US Airways Flight 479 collapsed and the crew ordered an evacuation down the emergency slides, almost half the passengers reacted by grabbing for their carry-on luggage…one man grabbed two bags. Another struggled with a large bag.  A woman blocked the aisle struggling to get a garment bag out of an overhead bin.”[ii]

A woman blocked the aisle preventing an emergency evacuation of a crashed plane as she struggled to remove a garment bag from the overhead bin.  It’ll make you think twice as you sit down in your airline seat, won’t it?  But are we really that different?  Don’t we cling to our money and possessions as tightly as this woman clings tightly to her garment bag?

This is what Paul was chiding the Corinthian church about when he keeps telling them, “You reap what you sow!”  In other words, it’s easy Corinthian church to talk a big game about how you’re planning to give but it’s another thing to give to the poor in Jerusalem like you promised you would and make good on your promises. Paul is telling them that any farmer worth her or his salt is not going to spend all that time in preparing the field, clearing out the rocks and weeds, furrowing the ground, only to toss a few seeds into the ground.  Why go through all that effort only to drop a few seeds and glean a meager, thin crop?  No, a farmer tends to the field in order to plant as much seed as he or she can in order to gather the highest yield possible.

And then Paul moves his argument to another level – one which he has mentioned in chapter 8 and now again in a direct imperative:  Each person should give what he or she has decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion (vs. 7).  Yes, the Macedonian church has given proportionately higher than their big city First Church cousin in Corinth.  Yes, the Macedonians gave above what they were asked and then sacrificially gave even beyond their means.  But no, Paul wasn’t holding the Corinthian Church to the same high sacrificial level.  He was telling them to give what they could out of the means they had.

The words he uses in verse seven are revealing.  First, he tells them not to give reluctantly.  The word Paul uses here is used to describe someone who is in mourning over a loss through grief. It has the connotation of deep heaviness, sorrow, and pain. Yet, it can also mean to cause someone annoyance. I’ve known many people over the years who get very annoyed when the preacher starts talking about money and giving the two times a year we do it!  Second, Paul tells them not to give under compulsion.  In other words, it’s not like tax imposed by the government or tariff charged by a provider. The gift is not to cause distress or put the giver in hard straits. The gift is not to be given out of necessity resulting from guilt-laden “shoulds” and “ought’s.”

Sadly though, this how many in the church hear the words about giving. People get annoyed when the Preacher or church talks about money. We think all this money-talk is nothing more than about guilt-inducing “should” and “ought’s” and we have divorced it from the second part of the verse which declares, “For God loves a cheerful giver.”

Another way to translate that verse is, “For God loves a person who gives hilariously.”  The word we translate ‘cheerful’ is the same word we get our English ‘hilarious’ from.  It seems we’ve been missing the point, my beloved!

We’re not to give out of heavy guilt.

We’re not to give that will cause us distress or dire straits.

We’re not to give with guilt-induced “should” and “outght’s.”

No, we’re called to give hilariously! We’re to give cheerfully and joyfully!

Think for a moment of the last time you really let it go and laughed becoming totally one in the moment. Think of the time you just were so overwhelmed with joy that you bent over grabbing your knees or held your chest and couldn’t stop laughing.  When was the last time you were overcome with such unbridled joy that your eyes welled-up with tears from a deep sense of well-being and joy?  This is what Paul is talking about.  This is the type of giver God has dreams about.  Please notice I didn’t say, “This is the type of GIFT God dreams about” but rather, “This is the type of GIVER God dreams about.”

Think about that moment you felt unbridled joy and hilarity for a moment.  In that moment, we lose thought of everything else except for the reason that caused us joy.  Our body is loose, our hands are open.  We are relaxed and receptive. We cease thinking of ourselves and simply revel in the moment of joy.  We delight in something that was said or done to or with us. What a model for giving, eh?

When we give cheerfully, hilariously, joyfully, we develop an attitude about giving we’ve never had before.  We cease giving out of guilt. We cease giving out of annoyance.  Yes, when we give cheerfully and hilariously we give with our hands open realizing all we have is God’s anyway.  We are relaxed about our giving because our faith tells us that God will not disappoint us.  We cheerfully sow our gifted seeds because we know that the fruit of the crop of faithful stewardship we’ve planted will make God have joy, delight, and laugh with hilarity as He sees how those gifts compassionately help others. God will fall over Himself laughing with joy as He feels our joyful gratitude for the faith we’ve shown in Him because we are tossing seed everywhere to bless others in His Name.  Hilarious giving isn’t so much what we do; rather, it reflects who we are at our core being and is a mirror of how much allegiance and faith we really have in God.

Beloved, when we give, we are not giving to budgets as that is not what our Lord has in mind.  Giving cheerfully, joyfully, hilariously to God is a testament to our gratitude for all God has done for us. When we give to budgets grounded in guilt and duty, we are not giving cheerfully.  When we give to the missional work of God’s church in a spirit of joy and cheerfulness, then our giving has become a lifestyle reflecting who each of us are in the center heart.

How do you know if you’re giving hilariously or not?  If you understand your Estimate of Giving cards to be “Thank You” notes to our Lord for all he has done for you, then you get it and cheerful, hilarious giving is now a part of your lifestyle.

Let’s make today a celebration of all God has done, is doing, and will yet do in and through you and through this great church!

Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Boulevard
DeLand, FL 32724
Wrisley.org

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

[i] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
[ii] William R. Phillippe, A Stewardship Scrapbook (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999), 124.  Accessed from www.homileticsonline on November 9, 2008.

The Attitude for Giving: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Sermon:          Today, Tomorrow, Together – The Attitude for Giving
Scripture:        2 Corinthians 8.1-9
Preacher:        Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                November 5, 2017

You may listen to the Sermon here.

My beloved, this morning we are going to look at one of the dirty words you can’t say in church.  Last February, we spent time looking at the first dirty word people don’t like speaking in church and that was the E-Word: Evangelism.  This morning we are going to begin a two-week look at two other dirty words for many in the Church: S and M – Stewardship and money!  Christian stewardship is a Christian practice that has brought much conversation and strife in the life of the Christian church for the last 2,000 years. People typically hate it when the proverbial pledge season arrives.  “My money is my business.”  “The church is always asking for money.”  “Why can’t we focus on the real Gospel message?”  Well, the reality is, money isn’t your business, it’s God’s business! Our finances are a deeply spiritual issue.  The fact our giving is $53,000 below budget is a spiritual issue. The church will always raise the need for funds because it’s about the Missio Dei, the mission of God, in the world.  The what and how Christ-followers relate to their money is a deeply spiritual issue as it is one of the measures of our fidelity to God.

We’re going to spend the next two weeks in the book of 2 Corinthians spending time in it to determine a biblical understanding of money and our relationship to it both personally and corporately as a Body of Christ.  Go ahead and turn to 2 Corinthians 8.1-9.

Corinth is located on an isthmus and is a strategic crossroads for both land and sea; as such, it was an active commercial center.  One could make the comparison that the Corinthian church was what we would call the large, more prosperous downtown church as compared to the small, often poorer churches in the small towns and byways like the churches in the backwater areas of Macedonia.  It was a church whose members had heard of Paul’s list of spiritual gifts as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13.  The members of the Corinthian churches seemed to be the movers and shakers of the day – gifted with the gifts of deep faith, of wise Christian rhetoricians, of intelligently gifted people whose very intellects raised them in social status in comparison to the masses.

It’s a church that knew it had resources and it openly declared it wanted to share those resources with other Christians.  Sadly though, the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions comes into play.  Their talk of a pledge campaign to help the poor in Jerusalem hadn’t materialized into results.  So, Paul sends Titus on a couple of trips to make sure the Corinthians are going to make good on their promises of support for the poor.  This is where we pick up in the story.

As we listen to this text I’d like for us to keep author Timothy Bagwell’s words in mind.  He says, “Jesus avoided conversations that tried to persuade by analyzing fine points of the law.  Rather, Jesus helped people picture the Kingdom of God, and he incited them to see themselves in the picture.”[1]  So my beloved, listen to the Word of the Lord and see yourself in this picture!

2 Corinthians 8.1-9

             And now brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that our God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in a rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.  So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.  But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

            I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.[2]

So, my friends, where do we see ourselves in this picture?  Where do we see First Presbyterian Church?  I’ve been mulling over this text and the picture that I see Paul painting in the first nine verses is the biblical attitude Christ-followers and churches are to have with respect to giving.  Let’s walk through our text and highlight three attitudes presented in the text.

The first giving attitude is found in verses 2 and 3:  We’re to give what we have and not what we don’t. Ironically, Paul uses the smaller, poorer churches as the bar to measure the generosity of the larger churches like Corinth. The Macedonian churches were small, they were steeped in gross poverty but they possessed something the big city/suburban Corinthian church didn’t have:  A joyful spirit of giving that poured forth rich generosity.   I find it interesting that their joy is directly related to their giving habits.  Though they didn’t have much but they gave from what they had.  The Macedonian churches had heard how the Corinthians had decided to make a pledge and then take up an offering for the Jerusalem poor. The Macedonians wanted to join with the Corinthians in making a gift as well to show their gratitude to God. The Macedonians were under no illusion that their gift could match what the richer, larger Corinthian church could provide but what they lacked in amount was made up from their liberality.  Their liberality with what they had produced an exuberant joy in them. It wasn’t the amount that gave them joy – they gave what they had according to their means; rather, it was their commitment and making good on that commitment that brought the Macedonians overflowing joy.

My friends, let’s all of us give from what we have and not from what we don’t.  This year, Paul reminds every single one of us to come together to make a difference with what we have. It is not fair to those who are sacrificially giving to bear the entire burden of bestowing generosity to others for God when each of us has a responsibility to take part in it.  Even the widow gave a simple mite and it was counted to her as righteousness.[3]  Beloved, all of us are called to give from what we have and not from what we don’t. That’s not the Preacher talking, it’s Paul my Beloved.

The second giving attitude is found in verse 4:  A giving spirit begins with a personal enthusiastic desire to give as opposed to giving with a spirit of guilt. We read how the Macedonians, entirely on their own volition, pleaded and begged for the privilege of giving. Pleaded to give.  Begged to give.  The members of the church pleaded and begged to give.  That’s the sweetest music a pastor would love to hear!  How’s that for an attitude for Christ-Followers to have?

What would the Kingdom be like in West Volusia County and beyond if members of this congregation enthusiastically begged and pleaded, not for the chance to give but for the privilege, the privilege to give to the work of God through this congregation!  Beloved, if God saw that everyone in this church was faithfully giving what we each had no matter how little or much that is, God would see in us as a congregation an eagerness for the Kingdom and a dynamic demonstration of our faith.  If we witnessed to God in this way, God will throw open the floodgates of heaven in order that we might be blessed to be a blessing to others.

The third giving attitude we learn of is found in verse 5: The first act of giving is to give our very selves totally to the Lord. Why would Paul include this?  You would think it would be an obvious issue to folks.  “Of course, Paul, I’ve given myself to the Lord that’s why I’m giving through the Church!”  Paul replies to the Corinthians, to us, “Really? You haven’t made good on your pledge yet!”

Paul reminds the Corinthians how the Macedonian giving was a natural overflow of their commitment to the Lordship of Christ.  The first century Christian understood Lordship in ways we don’t.  We give our leaders ‘votes’ but we don’t pledge our lives to them. I don’t think any of us in this room would pledge our very lives to our President and Congress at the moment! You see, pledged lives are what the Lord requires.  When we say, Jesus is Lord, it means we hand over everything to him – our lives, our families, our jobs, our finances, our talents and spiritual gifts.  When we say, Jesus is Lord, we sign the deed of everything we own and hand it all over to him.  It’s no longer ours; we sign it back over to God.

But American Christ-Followers like the concept of Jesus as Savior more than Jesus as Lord.  We want to be saved.  We want to go to heaven.  We want to have our prayers heard and answered.  We want to be delivered from hardship.  We want all the benefits of our Divine Life Savings policy.   But we fail to remember the Lordship part.  We make Jesus’ Lordship provisional depending upon our circumstances or convenience.  We forget that our Lord doesn’t understand provisional lordship and is grossly puzzled why we do.

Paul and church leaders from time immemorial have heard statements like, “I don’t like the pastor so I’m not going to give.”  “I’ll simply give of occasional volunteer time in lieu of any money.”  “I don’t like the ministries we support so I’m not going to give.”  “I’m sick of money talk so I’m just not going to give.”

Whenever Jesus, not Paul, not me, hears these arguments, the Lord says deep in himself, “Don’t they realize they’re not holding out on my church but they’re cheating me!  They’re withholding from their Lord!”

Beloved, our heart, life, body, soul, checkbook, house, car, children, job, boat, motorcycle, jet ski, hunting gear, or cabin are turned over to Christ’s care and use when we profess him Savior and Lord.  The beauty of it is that when we realize it’s all the Lord’s, we relate to all those items differently.  We realize we’re Jesus’ stewards of the blessings we have been given from our checkbook, house, car, children, job, boat, motorcycle, jet ski, hunting gear, or cabin and invest them and in them, not for ourselves, but for our Lord.[4]

Biographer Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Kennedy grew up living the life of a privileged child of wealth.  He rarely carried cash but relied on those in his entourage to pick up his tabs.  One day, Robert went to the Catholic Church for Mass.  When the offering plate came by, Kennedy looked at his friend who tossed in a $1.00 bill into the plate on Kennedy’s behalf.  Kennedy leaned over and whispered, “Don’t you think I’d be more generous than that?”[5]

You got to love it! What if we were to place ourselves in a similar situation like Kennedy and we asked the person next to us to place an offering into the plate on our behalf? What if we asked the person next to us to fill out our Estimate of Giving and pledge card for us? How much would he or she put in for you based on their understanding of your generosity?  Interesting question, isn’t it?

Beloved, remember: All Jesus asks is that we treat him though he was really our Lord and eagerly seek ways to invest his money that we have been entrusted with.  My prayer is that we as a church, and each of us as Christ-Followers, will gain a Macedonian spirit of giving.  And all of God’s people said – Amen!

Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Boulevard
DeLand, FL 32724
wrisley.org

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

[1] Timothy Bagwell, Preaching for Giving: Proclaiming Financial Stewardship With Holy Boldness (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1993), 55.

[2] Scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.  I added sisters for inclusivity.

[3] See Mark 12.41-44.

[4] There are two more attitudes of giving in our text today. The fourth attitude from verse 7 is:  Our giving is a spiritual gift that God expects us to use.  The fifth attitude is in verses 8 and 9: Giving of our financial means is a tangible expression of love expressed through the Church for the benefit of others.

[5] Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (Touchstone Books, 2002).  Accessed from HomileticsOnline on 11/5/08 at http://www.homileticsonline.org.

Reformation Sunday: The Importance of Being Students of History , Romans 1:16-17

Sermon:        Reformation Sunday: The Importance of Being Students of History
Scripture:     Romans 1:16-17
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              October 29, 2017

We live in a historical moment when our country is basked in the tumultuous throes of learning how to be sensitive and respectful of others while at the same time reassessing the symbols of our own history. A good example of this recently is how the Confederate Battle Flag has been sensibly removed from some state’s flags like the Georgia State flag. For some, the Confederate Flag is a sign of their cultural heritage; they know the rest of the country looks at the South as an odd duck and for some Southerners, the Confederate Flag highlights our oddity.  For others, however, the Confederate Flag represents a tragic time in our history when one race enslaved another race.  For yet others, the Confederate flag has been assimilated and reinterpreted to be a symbol of white privilege and hubris.

This has also spilled into the issues of statues in many community’s public squares that remember the leaders of the Old South like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The push is to tear them down and remove them from public view. I have no problem renaming Nathan Bedford Forest middle-school in a predominantly black school district as he was the founder of the KKK. What I do believe all of us need to be aware of, however, is the danger of revising the parts of history we do not like or forgetting our history altogether.  We are damned to repeat history if we fail to remember and study it.

Students of history. The very word ‘student’ describes a mentality of a person who has to work at learning, understanding, and appropriating facts and knowledge into one’s life and the world. If you are a student, it is axiomatic that it requires work and effort. Beloved, today is the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation and I wonder how many of us fully understand the significance of that historical moment that ushered the modern world out of the Dark Ages and led us to the Enlightenment.

Luther was a student of history. He was a brilliant thinker and had his mind sharpened as an Augustinian monk and seminary professor in his homeland of Germany and his mind was always churning. Eric Metaxas, in his wonderful new book, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, describes how Luther pondering on our scripture text today, Romans 1.16-17, launched his part of the Reformation Fire.

According to history, Luther went to the special place many people have incredible epiphanies and insights: The bathroom.  You know that’s true for yourself!  You are taking a shower and boom! A flash of insight shoots through your head. Or, as in Luther’s case, as he was sitting in the Cloaca Tower at the Black Cloister in Wittenberg Germany in early 1517, the realization that the Church had lost its moorings to her own history in Christ came rising from within him.[1] Paul’s words from Romans 1.16-17 kept rattling around in his head.  Our scripture reads:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ [2]

The righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith. These are words that hardly sound like the kindling that set fire to the events that changed the world. Yet, if we look at these words from Romans as students of Scripture and as students of history as Luther was, it becomes all clear.

As a student of the Scripture, Luther remembered the prophet Habakkuk who wrote during the time the Babylonians came to ransack Jerusalem and take the people hostage. In the midst of those dark times, God was reminding the prophet and the Jewish people that the “righteous shall live by faith.”[3] Luther was also living in dark times, what we call the late Dark Ages, and this verse jumped at him.  Why?

Well, Luther was also a student of religious history. For him, in Metaxes’ words, Luther remembered that, “God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption.”[4]  For Luther and other early Reformers in Europe at the time, he was reminded that salvation and wholeness begin and end with God’s love, God’s faith, in humankind and not our broken ability to earn that love and salvation from performing good moral or biblical works. The Reformation Church’s battle cry was “Sola Fide!”, by faith alone!

In Luther’s day, the Pope and the various kings and leaders throughout Europe were odd bedfellows.  The Roman church needed the vassal leaders throughout the land to keep the church in power.  The practice of the sale of indulgences began to rise as a way to pay for the Vatican’s building program in Rome as well as to line the pockets and treasuries of the kings and politicians in the remote parts of the empire. Let me clearly state that the Catholic Church does not adhere to this practice anymore!

Let’s say you have a crazy Uncle Bob or Aunt Mary who lived a shady life and have died. You could by an Indulgence, a piece of paper, that indicated you paid such-and-such to the Church and in return, you have purchased enough redemption points to get Uncle Bob or Aunt Mary out of purgatory and set their spirits on the way to heaven.  Another reason Indulgences were popular is that if you yourself committed a horrible sin, you could purchase redemption points that will clean your sin-slate.

Well, as a student of scripture and as a student of history, Luther, theologically speaking, realized this was just whack.  Scriptures and history remind us that in Christ, God came to freely give to us what we ourselves could not afford to buy: Relationship with the Holy One. What hit Luther that day in the bathroom was that you cannot buy that which is free!  It’s all about faith for faith; God’s faith in us brings about our faith in God in the midst of our own spiritual, social, economic dark ages.[5] We are made righteous, the fifty-cent word for “brought into right relationship,” through our faith in God’s faith expressed to us in Christ Jesus. You do not need a piece of paper to get crazy Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary out of hell because God first went to hell himself in Christ Jesus to get Bob and Mary out personally.  God’s faith in humanity stems from His love for us and His covenant promises made to us. Salvation is God’s gift to us; salvation is not our gift to God but our faith is!

So, as all of this stewed within Luther, he posted the infamous 95 Theses on the community’s village bulletin board: The church doors. These theses were not so much a battle cry against the Pope as they were an invitation to the community, full of seminary students, to come and debate and discuss these issues. Today we would say that Professor Luther posted topics for a lecture series but no one showed up for the class.  Luther never meant his 95 arguments about scriptural and historical issues to be the battle cry to leave the Roman Church; what happened was that someone copied the 95 Theses and because the printing press was recently invented, they were mass produced and sent all over Europe without Luther’s knowledge or permission. In modern parlance, we would say Luther sent an email to the academic community in Wittenberg but then it got copied and went viral in ways Luther never imagined.[6]  He did not want to leave the Catholic Church; Luther wanted to call the Church to reform and reflect on its ways so that it would be a healthier church.

It is thanks to Luther and others like him such as Calvin, Hus, and Knox that launched not only a spiritual enlightenment but an artistic, philosophical, intellectual and political enlightenment as well. The early Reformers and the divine-timing of the printing press got the word out quickly. It drove to the rise of universities where not just monks went to school but the larger population went as well because now people were taught to read in their own languages which spurred forth even more spiritual, social, intellectual and political breakthroughs.

Beloved, today is a reminder for us to be more like the Reformers.  We are being called back to become students again – students of Holy Scripture as well as students of our own spiritual histories and backgrounds. We will discover that Church is more than position statements on ethical or moral causes; we will remind ourselves that it is God’s initiating faith and love for you and me that gives rise in our faith in God, and in turn, with one another. It’s only when students engage the scripture and history that we become able to change agents for Christ in the world.  Beloved, you are a Reformer!  Now let’s go and prepare for that task by once becoming students of our Scriptures and our religious history! And all 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]Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (pp. 95-96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Luther, in his own words reflects on the moment, “Diese Kunst hat mir der Spiritus Sanctus auf diss Cloaca eingeben” which means, “The Holy Spirit gave me this art in [or upon] the cloaca”…Cloaca was the ancient Latin term for “sewer” and at the time of Luther had come to mean “outhouse.”

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

[3] Habakkuk 2.4.

[4] Metaxas, 97.

[5] Dunn, James D. G. Word Biblical Commentary. Romans 1-8, (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing Co., 1988), 43-44.

[6] Metaxas, 108.

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: Gospel-worthy Living; Philippians 1:20-30

Sermon:       Gospel Worthy
Scripture:    Philippians 1.20-30
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              September 24, 2017

You may listen to the Message by clicking here.

Let me set this morning’s message up with this:  It’s not about me!  Repeat that together, “It’s not about me!” That’s correct, it’s not about just you because it’s about us!  So, is this about “you?” “No, it’s not about me!”  Good!

not about me

Last week we began considering the book of Philippians and noted straightaway individual words in a letter are never wasted.  We focused on the first three verses of Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi he penned while he was a prisoner in Caesar’s prison under the supervision of the Imperial Guard.

Do you remember what Paul’s words were?

From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to the saints (i.e. set apart ones) in Christ Jesus in Philippi.

Paul is reminding the church who Paul and Timothy work for and who their ultimate responsibility is invested in: Christ Jesus. This is a theme he repeats throughout the letter as Paul is trying to remind the church that there are many opinions and theologies floating around in the Church, and regardless of what people think of him or Timothy, they are bondservants of the Lord and not the people.  This realization frees up Paul and his colleagues because they are not going to take to heart personal attacks on their faith, character or work. You see, they know all too well it’s not about “me!”

Today, we are picking up a little later in chapter one after Paul has acknowledged there may be some divisions in the church because of rival gospels being shared.  One version of the gospel circulating there says you must follow Jewish customs of circumcision and the likes in order to be a Christian while another rival group says those Jewish customs are not necessary. Paul also says how there are some preachers and teachers in the church who preach Christ for selfish gain as well as preachers and teachers who teach for the genuine purpose of proclaiming the Good News. At this point, Paul declares it doesn’t matter if Christ is preached with pure or impure motives but that Jesus the Christ is proclaimed in every single way possible![1]  Paul trusts the Holy Spirit will work the motives and the Truth to the surface just as long as Jesus is proclaimed. This is where we pick up today.  Turn to Philippians 1:20-30.  We will be focusing on verses 27 and look at the Christian propensity of keeping spiritual score.  Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 1:20-30

20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. [2]

The key sentence for us is verse 20 which is the fuse that blows this text up.  It is where Paul declares that it is his expectation and hope to speak with all boldness that Christ will be exalted and lifted up. It’s all about Christ and not about Paul. This is all that matters to Paul and Timothy. Sure, he would rather rest from his earthly labors and struggles and be at One with the exalted Christ in glory but Paul knows his call is not about his wish dreams and desires; his life is all about what God wants from him to accomplish for the Gospel’s sake, even if it means he must go through human suffering and discomfort to get it done. After all, in Paul’s mind, why should his life be any different from the suffering Jesus’ went through? He knows it’s not about “me.”

Built upon his appeal to exalt Christ, Paul then shifts focus and directs his appeal to the members of the church; in other words, Paul is speaking to you and me.  Slide your finger to verses 27 and 28. Let’s drill down a bit. Let me give you a very literal reading of these verses:

Only, live and act like a citizen whose behavior is congruous with the Gospel of Christ Jesus; whether I’m physically there or not, I will hear how you are not giving up a single inch in your reflection of the very spiritual nature of Jesus, a community that is synchronized and dancing to the same spiritual tune with a singularly pulsing Jesus-centered life; and don’t be scared of those in the church and world who set themselves up to oppose you.[3]

Paul has just given us the definition of a Gospel-worthy life. We often think a life worthy of the Gospel means exhibiting certain our moral or ethical behaviors to the world; it’s interesting to note that Paul is telling us that Gospel-worthy living does involve the displaying of certain behaviors but they are not the ones the Christians tend to focus upon. We Christian-types like to look at the bottom line behavior of folks:  Are they good or bad? Are they moral, immoral or amoral?  Are they ethical or unethical?  We like to measure Gospel-worthy living with a pietistic scorecard with points added or deducted based on our “good Christian behavior.” We tend to make it all about “me” and how “I” behave or misbehave.

Let’s say you cuss in front of your children or grandchildren, you deduct two points on your spiritual scorecard.  If you lust after someone, that’s an automatic deduct of 25 points!  Give a street person a manna bag with water and basic provisions, however, you get 10 points added and if you actually stop and speak with that homeless person making him or her feel like a real human being, you get a bonus +15 points!  At the end of the day, God tallies up the score and then places it in a heavenly Excel spreadsheet so at the time of death, God can average out your cumulative spiritual score. This kind of spiritual thinking makes our faith “all about me” instead of our allegiance to God. Friends, so many Christians do this and all it results in is a mass expression of missing the point through self-focused musings.

For Paul and Timothy, a Gospel-worthy life is not one based on personal moral do’s and don’ts per se. Lest we forget, Paul is writing to a community, a group.  We read his words at home by ourselves and think he’s writing to “me;” never mind the “you” in our text is plural and not singular! Gospel-worthy living is less about personal behavior as it is about a communal expression of the Spirit of Jesus Christ to the world. So, what does Gospel-worthy living look like? Verses 27 and 28 hold the key.

To begin with, a spiritual community’s life is Gospel-worthy, it’s living a life worthy of the Gospel, when it’s lived congruently with the type of community Jesus was trying to establish.  What type of community is that like?  Jesus developed an upside-down community where the poor are blessed and the rich are humbled. It’s a community where those in power give it up and enable those from the margins to get to the front of the line.  It’s when a community seeks to work together helping a person change from the inside out in order to make the entire community stronger and more spiritually fit.  It’s when a community tells one another, “I’m sorry and I love you” as opposed to “I’ll never forgive you and I hate you.”  A Gospel-worthy life is expressed when the community turns its gaze from within itself to the dying world outside her boundaries. It’s a community where people move from being tight-fisted to one knowing that everything it has is God’s and is a gift from God. It’s a community that speaks Truth in Love. It’s a community that measures success not in size or numbers but in its reliance on Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, a spiritual community’s life is seen as a life worthy of the Gospel, i.e. Gospel-worthy, when it refuses to give up a single inch in its reflection of the very spiritual nature of Jesus. The waves of the world and Western culture batter the church of Jesus to the point where the Church acts like it is more in retreat than it is advancing. The Church is more likely to adapt to culture than insisting the culture adapt to the Gospel-worthy life of Jesus Christ. For the sake of being seeker or user-friendly, the Church has lost the meaning of sanctuary, i.e. a place that is safe and is instead being morphed into place where the cut-throat ways of the corporate world with alliances, cliques, secret deals are being made to the exclusion of other members. On the contrary, a Gospel-worthy life is one that reflects the spiritual nature of Jesus in community but sadly that is a nature that can only be assumed through hard work, effort and sacrifice. It means reading your Bible which most Christians in the Church don’t do.  It’s means serving others even when it’s not convenient. It means learning with others what it means to a spiritual change agent in the world in lieu of trying to figure it out on one’s own. It means a community that is not hasty but seeks to listen to the needs of the broken around them.

Third, a Gospel-worthy community is one that works together in spiritual and relational synchronicity towards a singular purpose of being more like Jesus.  It’s not a Church that promotes programs but one that provides ministry opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world. Churches today seem to compete against one another as opposed to being unified in a singular purpose of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. Instead of the Church of Jesus Christ acting as the Light on the Hill in our world, it has contented itself to simply becoming singular fireflies that only come out one season of the year and occasionally flash light for those who happen to see it. A Gospel-worthy community puts Jesus first, in the center, at the top!

Finally, a life worthy of the Gospel is a life in community that is expressed when the Church lives without fear. What can the world do that God cannot overwhelm or overcome? The Church doesn’t have to fear the State removing the 10 commandments at the courthouse because it has taught and planted those commandments in the heart of her members. The Church does not have to live in fear of being marginalized by society, the news, or other cultures; a Gospel-worthy Church will always be attacked and humiliated by people in the larger world. If Jesus’ own family thought at one time he was crazy we can guarantee our neighbors, the news, and the politicos will think we are, too! Personally, I am all too happy to be seen as an iconoclast!

Beloved, personal piety is important – please don’t misunderstand me; but personal piety for the sake of personal piety is spiritual narcissism. It’s only when I take my spiritual giftedness and add it to yours, and yours, and yours that we become One in Christ Jesus. The question before us is what each of us is individually bringing to the larger community called First Presbyterian that highlights to our neighborhood, DeLand, Volusia County and beyond that we are a Gospel-worthy community? Gospel-worthy living is more about how to live in community being a Light on the Hill than it is being a sporadic, flickering firefly that comes and goes.

This is what Paul was getting at in our text today.  Amen.

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

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

[1] See Philippians 1.15-18.

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

[3] This my personal translation.