The Message: Have you checked the condition of your heart’s filters today?, Matthew 15:10-20

Sermon:          Have you checked the conditions of your filters lately?
Scripture:        Matthew 15.10-20
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               August 20, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Last week, we spent time in Romans looking at the centrality of the Word in our worship and devotional life; we noted how the first mark of the church is when the Word of God is faithfully preached and it is faithfully heard.  Today, we are going to look at the words we use in our everyday life to determine if they are consistent with the Word our hearts have been exposed to in that time of devotion and worship.

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 15.  We will read verses 10 through 20.  In all fairness, the power of this Parable of the Mouth[1] is better understood when taken in the larger context of verses 1 through 28.  The reading is long and I encourage you to go home and read all of it applying what you hear this morning with what you read. Because of its length, we will focus on just the ten middle verses.

As you hear this text, keep in mind that Jesus is in a large group of people including everyday folks as well as the notoriously described Pharisees and Scribes.  The Jewish religious leaders have just arrived from Jerusalem and immediately jump on Jesus’ case by complaining that his disciples aren’t washing their hands before they eat, thereby, in their opinion, disregarding the Law of Moses on being ritually pure. Jesus goes on to school the religious leaders in the dietary law’s intent but also reminds them of the Torah’s overall purpose.    This is where we pick up in the Story.

Matthew 15.10-20

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”[2]

We had just moved into our new home in Celebration, Florida in November of 1996. Boxes were still getting unpacked and things were still getting put away.  Our two girls who were very young were still exploring the little nooks and crannies of the place when one night, one of them came down the stairs before bed and said with the cutest Cindy Loo Who voice, “Daddy, something is wrong with the toilet.”  Thinking to myself, “Yeah, I know what’s wrong with the toilet,” I follow her upstairs and sure enough, it wasn’t flushed.  I press the handle again and experienced that horrible painfully slow moment and feeling of dread one has when the water is rising every so precariously to the top of the rim.  Gratefully, it stopped just in time but it failed to go down either. I made the decision to wait until the morning to see if the water would go down before I tried anything. Standing there, I noticed the bath water had not drained from the tub either.  “Katie, why didn’t you let the water out of the tub?”  Her little voice responded, “But I did, daddy.”

Uh-oh. Something much bigger was going on than a little too much toilet paper. I surveyed the situation, turned-off the light and closed the door.  “I’ll call the builder in the morning.”

The crew foreman from David Weekly homes came over the next day and looked at what was going on; he complained our kids were throwing stuff down the pipes and it was our fault the system locked up. I disagreed but let them do their work and we would sort it out later. An hour later the foreman walks into the dining room directly beneath the girls’ bathroom and gives me a serious look saying, “We got a problem.”

Great.

He quickly goes out to his truck, fetches a ladder, a drill, and an industrial sized plastic waste can. Now, I don’t know much about being a handyman but I did know enough as a new homeowner this did not look too good. Climbing the ladder, the foreman was again griping about my daughters when he put the drill to the ceiling it exploded; I knew I shouldn’t have laughed but come on!  This guy has been grumping about my kids for the last ninety minutes and now he was covered in Katie’s bath water among other things. We are talking the grayest of gray water was pouring into our dining room.  Some of it made it to the trash can he brought in; most of it did not. After a moment of stunned silence, all I could manage was, “You know, I’m not paying for that.”

I learned two very important lessons that day.  First, it was not my girls who caused the problem but the cleaning crew that prepped the house before we moved in.  It seems they used large cloth rags and flushed them into the system clogging it up.  The second thing I learned was though it does matter what goes into the system, it’s what comes out when there’s no filter to catch it that will cause a stinky mess.

And Jesus’ first words to the disciples in our text today are, “Listen and understand!” Literally, he is saying, “Hey! Listen up and all of you get on the same page as I am on this!” He then goes on to tell his disciples it is not the food that goes into a person that defiles him or her; rather, it is the gray water that comes back out of the mouth that defiles them.

The word defile is interesting. Today we understand that to defile something means to make dirty or impure.  In Jesus’ day, to defile something literally meant to take something set apart, special or distinct and make it common or ordinary.  The religious leaders believed washed hands kept a person set apart, special, un-common or pure.  Washed hands reflected how you as a person were standing out over and against the common person.  The tradition of hand washing was to make you pure or righteous before God. The religious leaders were upset because Jesus’ disciples were acting very common – dare I say pagan-like?-  for not setting themselves apart; they were, therefore, offending God with dirty, common hands.  This is why Jesus initially exclaims, “Listen up and understand!”

Jesus wanted the disciples, wants us, to see that the serious religious leaders were majoring in the minors and not in the majors.  They had totally missed the point. The thing that defiles or makes a person common, unholy or impure is not what is eaten or how it is eaten but are the very words that emit from one’s mouth bubbling up through the spring of a person’s heart. Whitworth University professor Dale Bruner remarks, “The major pollutant in social life is words.”[3]  Does the spring of our heart produce life-giving water, or, does is dump out a disgusting backflow of brackish gray water?

Words.  Words matter.  Word’s carelessly used or spoken.  Words, when given with a certain tone or look, can cause pain and hurt. All we need to do is remind ourselves of what happened in Charlottesville last week and note how high-visibility leaders in our country responded to the situation with their own words that compounded the problem. Today’s social media from Face Book, Yik Yak[4], or Instagram can be beneficial but oftentimes these sites are used among our young people as a means to bully, shame, or post hate.  What emerges from our hearts through our words carry power – a power to bring life or power to pollute and destroy. Life-giving words are Christ-like; words that destroy are abusive, corrosive and deadly like the radioactive water coming out from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan years ago. It is water that kills at best or causes abnormal mutations of living things at worst![5]

In the beginning, out of God’s heart, He spoke and created all that was, is, and will ever be and it was all good!  The Apostle John reminds us in his gospel that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God…and what came into being with him was life and that life was the light of all people![6] Words bring life, my beloved. Yet we also learn in the early Story of Genesis how the serpent uses words to create in Eve and Adam doubt, enmity and challenges God’s character.  Words matter.

Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was heaven-bent on refocusing the peoples’ understanding that words, the Law and Torah, were meant to bring people life!  The Holy Word was meant to bring people closer to God and to one another as opposed to building walls between the two. The Words of God speaking Creation into existence were thought-full and deliberate to the point that any scientist would say that the order of creation in Genesis makes perfect sense and logic. Words bubbling from our heart and expressed to God and to others matter.  Words define who we are in the core of our very being deep in our soul.

This isn’t the first-time Jesus has spoken about the power of words to the religious officials and the disciples. Earlier in Matthew 12.36, Jesus flatly remarks: I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  Words matter.  Say that two-word sentence with me! Words matter!

Beloved, what type of spiritual filtration system do you have for your heart? A good filter keeps unhealthy things out of the heart and makes sure whatever impurities that get do get in don’t come back out. A good filter keeps the gray water from exploding back out onto others causing a nasty mess.

In Florida, we are reminded to check our air conditioner’s filter to make sure it’s clean so the unit doesn’t freeze and lock up.  It’s no different for Christ-Followers.  We are called to check the air-filters of our hearts. What do we look for to see if our heart’s filters are working well? Let me provide us with a four-point systems’ check that we can run anytime to check our spiritual filtration system.

Systems’ Check One: Do your words build others up or do they tear others down?

Systems’ Check Two: Do your words glorify God or do they glorify you and your position?

Systems’ Check Three: Do your words bring life and healing or do they cause pain, shame, or suffering?

Systems’ Check Four: Do your words bring people together in reconciliation or do they tear communities apart because our hearts are filled with hubris and pride?

Build up. Glorify God. Bring Life.  Reconcile.

This week, I pray the Holy Spirit will haunt us as we take the filters of hearts and really examine them through the questions I just asked. If they tear down, glorifies anything other than our Lord God, cause pain, or rip apart relationship, it’s time to pull our heart’s filter out and clean it well by scrubbing it down with the spiritual Clorox of prayers of repentance and for holy indwelling.  We do this because words matter.

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] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook. Matthew 13 – 28, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 92.

[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.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Bruner, 94.

[4] Yik Yak suffered its own self-destruction because of its abuse.  See USA Today, April 28, 2017, at https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2017/04/28/yik-yak-shut-down/101045670/

[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster.

[6] See John 1:1-5.

Abundant Life and Our Habit of Following the Stranger’s Voice, John 10:1-10

Sermon:          Our Habit of Following the Stranger’s Voice
Scripture:        John 10:1-10
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                May 7, 2017, The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Communion

 Turn in your Bible to John 10.  Let me set up the scene while you’re getting there.  In order for chapter 10 to make any sense, we need to know what’s going on in the chapter before it.  You see, when placed together, chapters 9 and 10 create a drama in three distinct acts.[1]

Act One is from verses 9.1-12.  It’s a Story whereby a man who was born blind was healed with a little of Jesus’ spit that was rubbed on his eyes.  Miraculously, the man was able to see for the very first time in his life and the crowd was going crazy over it.

Act Two is from verses 9.13-41.  This part of the Story reminds us that no good deed ever goes unpunished.  You see, Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath which was considered a violation of the Law Code for doing any work on God’s day.  The healed blind man was brought before the Pharisees and religious leaders and was demanded to explain what happened. Sadly, the Pharisees and others did not like the man’s explanation and called for the healed blind man’s parents to come and testify. The parents, who did not want any problems with the religious officials appeared before the court and said, “Hey, he’s of legal age and isn’t our responsibility so take it up with him!  We had nothing to do with his healing!”  So, the religious officials call the healed blind man back to appear before the court, who by this time was pretty much over having the best day of his life ruined by the religious buzzkills.  He finally told the Pharisees, “If this man, i.e. Jesus, was not from God, he could do nothing.”  Well, the Pharisees got upset for being schooled by the illiterate healed blind man and kicked him out of the community.

Act Three is where we pick up today.  Jesus hears the healed blind man has been excommunicated for giving God the glory for the healing and seeks him out. Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and the man declares, “I believe it’s you, Jesus!”  Some Pharisees heard this and confronted Jesus about it and he tells them, “This blind man sees and yet you who are the keepers of the Law are blind as bats about the Ways of God and your sin remains!”  This is where we pick up in the Story today.  Remember, Jesus is speaking to the religious officials in our Story. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

John 10:1-10

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.[2]

Some of you may not know but I married a twin. I first asked Kelly’s twin sister Kathy out on a date and she shot me down as she was already dating somebody; graciously, however, she suggested I meet her twin sister when she arrived for the next quarter in a few weeks. It was the proverbial love at first sight, at least for her! Ha! Me, too! It was only after we started dating that I learned there are certain challenges when dating a twin.  For example, it was hard for me to tell the two of them apart on the telephone whenever I called. I thought I recognized Kelly’s voice from her sister, Kathy’s, but there were a few times in the early stages of our relationship Kathy led me on a time or two.  It was only after getting to know Kelly and spending time with her that I was able to discern the subtle nuances of each of their voices.

Beloved, this is what Jesus is telling us today. This is what he was telling the Pharisees centuries ago. The religious officials who were to be shepherding the people with the Words and Ways of God corrupted the message ever so subtly. Over the centuries, they transformed God’s covenant of loving relationship with the chosen people into a relationship conditioned on proper spiritual and physical behaviors. The Pharisees made God’s Word to mean that if you do certain things and behave in a certain way, then you can have a relationship with God. Jesus turned what they said upside down. Jesus proclaimed that if you have a meaningful relationship God, then a person’s behaviors will naturally fall into place.

Hence, the fact the blind man was healed on the Sabbath was a violation of behavior that there should not be any work on the Sabbath because it pollutes the day’s holiness; Jesus, on the other hand, declared that the healing of a broken man and restoring him to health and relationship with God’s community will prompt the healed man to live a God-honoring life. It’s here that Jesus goes and really stirs the proverbial pudding raising the ire of the Pharisees.  Aristotle’s first rule of rhetoric is to know your audience before speaking to them and Jesus had his audience nailed.  He was speaking to the supposed shepherds of the flock of David. He was speaking to those who were entrusted by God with the care of the Jewish people.

We miss the shock value of Jesus’ words today that were clearly heard by the Pharisees because they knew their Hebrew scriptures. As Jesus spoke, I must believe the Pharisees had churning around in the back of their mind the words of God spoken by Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel some 600 years earlier wrote in Ezekiel 34 the following condemnation from God to the religious leaders of his day.  God declares,

1The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals…10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

It’s at this point Jesus begins speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, the gate to a place of safety and the caretaker of the Sheep.  Jesus was announcing that from now on, the voice the sheep will hear is a voice of love and grace, a voice of concern and care, and a voice of protection and solace. It would be a voice of comfort and not a voice of burden.  It would be a voice correction and not a voice of retribution.  It would be a voice of grace and not a voice seeking personal gain.  Jesus’ words were the equivalent of a rhetorical slap across the face of those religious leaders in charge because they knew the rest of Ezekiel 34 where God declares,

15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

If we are honest, we will admit it is often hard for us to discern the stranger’s, the thief’s voice, from the voice of the Shepherd who wants to care for us.  On one hand, we hear the stranger’s subtle voice because our lives have been inundated by the din of our world; on the other hand, we hear the subtle voice of the thief within the church itself. Like the times of both Ezekiel and of Jesus, some things just don’t change.

The voices of the culture wooing us away from abundant life are many.

There’s the voice of, “If it feels good, do it.”

There’s the voice of, “Bigger is better.”

There’s the voice of, “The more you have, the happier you are.”

There’s the voice of, “My way is the best way” which is similar to the voice that says, “If it does not harm anyone else then what’s the problem?”

There’s the voice of, “The product and result are more important than the people who are involved in the process.”

But the church also declares strange, thieving voices that compete with the words of the Good Shepherd.  There are elements in the church that have reimagined the voices of the Pharisees like the voice of the Prosperity Gospel that declares God will abundantly bless you with physical and tangible blessings if you have enough faith.  These are the ones who forget that Jesus was born surrounded by manure, was homeless, and who did not own a thing other than his clothes.

There’s the strange, thieving voice in the church that says if you don’t believe like I believe or do what I do then you’re not a real Christian at best or you’re going to hell at worst. These are the ones who obviously have not read our Story about the Good Shepherd today.[3]

There’s the strange, thieving voice in the church that dares to lift the so-called charismatic gifts above the supreme charismatic gift all Christ-followers are to demonstrate and that is self-sacrificing, intentional, inconvenient agape love.[4]

There’s the thieving, strange voice in some churches that tell you that it’s okay to believe whatever you want to believe about Jesus but who ignore the Lord’s words in today’s scripture whereby Jesus says he is the gatekeeper and caretaker of the sheep. Jesus is not a way but the Way. How God works that out, I don’t know as that is God’s work. I believe the demise of the American church began decades ago when we ceased to unequivocally declare loud and clear that Jesus is the gate and that whoever enters through that gate will be made healthy and whole.

The Good News of our Story is that Jesus comes to give us abundant life.  We tend to think of abundant life as that when God pours blessings upon blessings in our life like the Kia Soul commercial that has it compared to a Nissan and both are filled with Skittles and the Kia has so much more room to hold more!  Friends, our understanding of abundant life is too westernized, too Americanized.  We think abundant life is about more and more when it really is about less and less.

Abundant life is the embracing of the simple gifts of life that God provides.  UCC pastor, Dr. Shannon Michael Pater says that throughout John’s gospel, Jesus outlines the abundant life in clear but simple ways. He is the water of life (4.14); he is the bread of life (6.35); he is the light of the world (9.5); and today he is the gate, gatekeeper, and shepherd.  Living abundant life is about the simple basics of drinking water from the Spring of Living Water.  Living an abundant life means breaking and eating the body of the Lord Jesus Christ in a community of fellow believers manifesting the Holy Spirit’s presence.  Living abundantly means sunbathing (pun intended) in the Light of the World so that in turn we as Christ-Followers will shine it upon others.

This morning, we come to the Table provided for and prepared by Christ to remind us what abundant living truly is. Abundant life is simple. Abundant life is sacrificial. Abundant life is life-giving to others.  As we come this morning, let’s ask ourselves which voices we are listening to in the world. Today, let’s make the commitment to earnestly listen for the Shepherd’s voice. 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] Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year A Volume 2) (Kindle Location 16078). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.  Article by Shannon Michael Pater.
[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] Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 16105-16107). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition. Ibid.
[4] See 1 Corinthians 13 en toto. Speaking in tongues is fine but Paul insists that love trumps it in the gifts department.

The Message: Be the Light! Unpacking the Beatitudes

You may listen to the Sermon by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:13-20

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

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

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

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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