The Message: Who Do We Work For?, Philippians 1.1-8

Sermon:           Who Do We Work For?
Scripture:        Philippians 1.1-8
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                 September 17, 2017

You may listen to the Sermon by clicking here.

One of my favorite paintings is the one of the Apostle Paul by Dutch painter Rembrandt. Paul is sitting in his cell and the room is lit by soft candlelight. He is pushed back slightly from his desk slouched over a bit while his right hand, dangling at his side, holds a pen.  His white hair frames a kind but beleaguered face that is full of lines of wisdom and sadness.  Hanging behind him in the corner is a small sword. I love this picture because it shows Paul as a vulnerable and real human being as opposed to the fiery Apostle that went around stirring everyone up.

rembrandt-paul-at-writing-desk-854x1019x72

It’s a picture of an old man whose face shows the wear and tear of what a life in ministry can produce. Paul, at an age where he cannot do much more, is pictured writing his love letters to the churches he helped establish.[1]
This morning, we are going to begin a series of messages that will take us through one of the most loving and tender books in the Bible as we tarry in Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. This is a church located just miles from the Aegean Sea in today’s Greece.  Located on the ancient Egnation Way that connected Italy in the west to modern-day Istanbul on the east, it was a merchant town of about 10,000 people located about 800 miles due east of Rome.

Paul is presumably writing from his jail cell in Rome while he waits to face the Caesar about the charges leveled against him. He writes the church in Philippi for several reasons.

First, the Philippian church was a generous church. They were the only church in the day that sent Paul gifts to support his ministry. Not only did they send financial gifts, but they sent a member of the church to Rome to help care for Paul’s needs whose name was Epaphroditus. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a thank you letter for the gifts and for sending their friend to him.

A second reason for the letter was to address an issue that may have been burning below the surface in the Philippian church and that issue dealt with the tension between unity in Christ and divisiveness in the church.

Can you imagine that happening in a church?

We are not exactly certain what the divisiveness was but many conjectures that it was a result of some unhealthy preaching and teaching that was going on that was contradicting Paul’s views of who Jesus is.

A third possible reason for this loving letter is that Paul senses there are those in the church who are actively working against him and the letter is his way of reminding the Philippians how special they are to him and his ministry.[2]  Let’s listen to the opening verses of Philippians from verses 1 – 8. Hear the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 1:1-8

1.1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. [3]

In the midst of our digital age, our culture has lost its ability to write well; we write in snippets with a cultural shorthand as opposed to sitting down and writing a well thought out letter.  It takes time to write a thoughtful letter and its time most of us fail to invest in. Even handwriting is being excluded from many students in elementary education as the students are taught to type instead! In Paul’s day, however, he had all the time he needed to write and writing a letter followed certain forms.  Today we are looking at the very opening of Paul’s letter.

The letter opens with who the writer is along with his or her title.  Next, the recipient of the letter is mentioned and then it concludes with a greeting of some sort.  Paul follows this form perfectly but he adds a spiritual twist to it.

Letters in antiquity were generally sent under the name of one person but this is the one letter of Paul’s where he includes Timothy as an equal colleague.  Not only that, he indicates that their title is “servants of Christ.” They were servants of Christ but the original texts describe them as “slaves for Christ.”  There is no doubt as to whom they work and labor for in their ministry.  It’s not for the Philippian church any more than it was for the Ephesian church; as leaders of the flock, Paul and Timothy were conscripted by Jesus for a purpose. Who do they work for? Jesus. Who do they work with?  The church.

Sadly today, we have subconsciously turned that around in our thinking.  Today, who do the pastors work for?  The members of the Church.  Who do they work with? Hopefully, Jesus. This is something pastors of all Christian traditions must face daily. It is so easy to confuse the demands of church busy-ness with the edict of Christ to go, tell, baptize and make disciples of the nations, or at least, in the neighborhood.  When pastors and their congregations forget who works for whom, ministry becomes compromised.

One of my favorite writers is Welsh poet, R. S. Thomas. His words are full of grit and hardship wafting up from the mores and dales of his native land in Wales.  Here is part of a poem called, The Minister.

…The (Church) choose their pastors as they chose their horses
For hard work. But the last one died
Sooner than they expected; nothing sinister,
You understand, but just the natural
Breaking of the heart beneath a load
Unfit for horses. ‘Ay, he’s a good ‘un,’
Job Davies had said, and Job was a master
Hand at choosing a nag or a pastor.

And Job was right, but he forgot,
They all forgot that even a pastor
Is a man first and a minister after,
Although he wears the sober armour
Of God, and wields the fiery tongue
Of God, and listens to the voice
Of God, the voice no others listen to;
The voice that is the well-kept secret
Of man, like Santa Claus,
Or where baby came from;
The secret waiting to be told
When we are older and can stand the truth.[4]

“Patrick and Michael, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the saints, i.e. holy ones, in the church of DeLand!” Like Paul, Michael’s call, my call, is to be the slave and servant of Christ with you, the members of this incredible church First Presbyterian Church. As a result, we will not always say or do what you want us to say or do as we are slaves of Christ and not of the congregation.  Our preaching may pinch at times because we cannot help it; the Gospel, Jesus, demands a response and change from those who encounter it.  The temptation is for pastors and preachers to cave into congregational peer pressure so we don’t offend the big givers or make people mad.  Yes, there is a place for tact but tact cannot invalidate or contradict whom we work for: Jesus.

One example of this is how I have chosen to respond to the whole Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.  There were members of the church who left because I did not stand up and condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling. “You’re not taking a Christian stand!” I was told. It is during moments like this Michael and I are forced to remember, we are slaves and servants of Christ and not of influential congregational members. The people who left did so because they were not able to see I was a slave of Christ.

In my attempts to be true as a servant of Christ with the people in the church, I have equally offended all sides of this issue. You see, one of the ordination vows Michael and I made was to promise to work for the unity of the church. When I was told to preach against gay marriage, I was being asked to split a congregation; you see, we have several gay members and visitors and if I condemn them, how does that advance the Kingdom of Grace?  On the other hand, when asked to perform a gay wedding, I replied to the sweet couple that frankly, I could not do it because it would split the congregation. Ironically, it is the same reason I use for both sides of the issue! I am, Michael is, a slave and servant of Christ and we are working with you in making ministry happen. Our goal is to mobilize each of us in this room to be active, vibrant movers and shakers in the Kingdom of Heaven in and through this place. This is a theme Paul develops in his letter to the Philippians.

Beloved, who do you work for? You see, not only is Michael and I slaves and servants of Jesus Christ, but all who call upon that wonderful Name becomes a slave and servant of Jesus Christ. That simple reality requires all of us to ponder and decide where our ultimate allegiance is; is it to Christian fundamentalism or liberalism? Is it a board or to the Body of Christ?  Is it to my class, Bible study, opinion or political affiliation? Or is it to Jesus? Our allegiance is not to a cause; our allegiance is to the God-Who-Comes-Down in the person of the Nazarene.  Beloved, we are all bondservants of the Christ to be in ministry with others. Who do you work for, beloved?

I close with another poem by R.S. Thomas. It’s entitled The Country Clergy. Let the words wash over you like a warm washcloth on your face helping you to wake up.  It reads…

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. The left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten.  God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.[5]

Who do you work for, beloved? 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 Acts 16.

[2] See Craddock.

[3] 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.

[4] R. S. Thomas. Collected Poems 1945-1990 (London: Phoenix, 1993), 42-43.

[5] Ibid., 82

Preaching: The First Mark of the Church; Romans 10:5-15

Sermon:          Preaching: The First Mark of the True Church
Scripture:       Romans 10:5-15
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                August 13, 2016

You may click here to listen to the sermon.

Turn in your pew Bible to page 921 where we will read and hear the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Christ-followers gathered in Rome.  The book of Romans is one of the most theologically packed and dense Christian witnesses in the New Testament. Many people tend to pick and choose parts of Romans to look at but it’s only fair to do that if we keep the overall purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans in its proper context.

Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews who was knocked up on the side of the head by Christ Jesus on the way to Damascus, Syria. He knew the Torah, the Jewish Law, better than most people as he was, as he describes himself, “A Pharisee, a son of Pharisees!”[1] He knew the commandments of God inside and out. Paul is best described as a Jewish Christian; he was steeped in the Jewish ways and culture and knew the Jewish understanding of Messiah but he also built on that knowledge and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic promise.  We read in Romans 9.2ff., “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself was accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people (i.e. the Jews).”

Much of Romans is dealing with Paul’s argument that the Jews are the people of God’s adoption bound by the covenant promise given through the Patriarchs and then through Moses and the Law.  The Jews are the soil from which the Messiah would sprout and make himself known to the world.  As such, Romans is a book where Paul essentially reminds the Roman Christians, “We are to have good hope for the people of Israel and that God is not done with them yet!”  And this is where we pick up in the Story.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Romans 10:5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [2]

The last line Paul quotes from is from Isaiah 52. For the Jew, it would be a well-known line from the Prophet that God is promising salvation to those in exile and will restore the people back vis-à-vis a Messiah.  The people have been in captivity and slavery for so long and now God has declared their salvation and restoration is at hand!  This is the Jewish gospel.  Paul is expanding on that distinctly Jewish gospel and declares that the ultimate fulfillment of salvation, healing and wholeness is in and through Jesus Christ. The good news is that all people are brought under the salvific umbrella of Jesus. Yet for this to happen, the Good News must be proclaimed! As Paul says today, “How are they to hear without someone to proclaim Jesus?  How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? Oh, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This morning we are going to look at this issue of proclamation and preaching that Paul brings up in our text.  Specifically, we will cover four main bases that speak to the importance and understanding of what proclamation is and is not.

The first base we will cover regards proclamation or preaching is to determine what proclamation is in our Reformed tradition. A friend of mine recently pondered online whether the Protestant understanding of preaching in worship is really nothing more than just a lecture.[3] I replied that preaching is more proclamation, or as the Greek’s and ancients describe it, kerygma. Proclamation, or the sermon, is different from a lecture.  A lecture is the dispersion of facts and ideas. The sermon is designed to highlight and unpack the salvific works of God as they are attested to in scripture and through Jesus Christ. Now some may say it’s the same as calling a tomato or a to-maa-toe but there is a difference. Sermons belong in worship; lectures do not.

All bona fide sermons proclaim Christ but the same cannot be said of lectures. The demise of the Western Church I think can be tied to the fact that for the last 100 years, preachers have been lecturing on interesting ideas or have fashioned slick religious TED talks but the proclamation of Jesus has been lacking.  Generally speaking, Fundamentalists have high jacked the sermon for moral instruction while Progressives have used it to push social causes; both morals and causes are important but unless the proclamation is tying it back into the way Holy Spirit is revealing Jesus and his gospel to our particular time and place, it’s nothing but a lecture. In another one of the Apostle Paul letters to the recalcitrant church in Corinth, he provides the definitive purpose for proclamation or the sermon; he writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ…we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] The purpose of the sermon is to help people become reconciled to God in their work, in their play, in their rest, and in their social life.

The second base we want to cover is that preaching is vital for the church. In our Reformed Christian heritage, the three marks, or notes, of the true church’s existence is when at least three things happen: The Word is faithfully proclaimed and faithfully heard; the sacraments are administered; and when there is discipline and order in the fellowship. [5]

Sermons are a part of worship not as a form of slow, numbing punishment whereby the preacher waxes on to wear you down so you’ll finally succumb to the altar call on the 8 verse of singing, Just as I Am; sermons are a vital part of worship because they should prophetically declare what Sunday school and confirmation teachers are teaching, what the foundation our acts of mission and Christian service stand upon, confirm or disprove what our theological studies are for as well as how we read and interpret our devotional material. Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof remarks that when the preacher fails in his or her proclamation of the Good News, he or she fails to give the interpretive lens for the people of the Church to understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey to each of us in all our devotional and missional endeavors.[6]

The third base we need to cover about proclamation and preaching is that it will often cause you to get uncomfortable. My former colleague, the late Dr. Frank Harrington, tells the story of how he was preaching on the need for people to respond to God’s call and challenged them to think about heading out into the mission field.  Following church that day, a young woman in college was sitting with her family at Sunday dinner and said, “The sermon really spoke to me today. I feel truly convicted and I think God is telling me to go into foreign missions when I graduate.”  The table conversation grew quiet until the father at the head of the table clears his throat and says, “Oh now honey, Dr. Harrington was only preaching.”

Only preaching. I would dare say he was!

Preaching in worship points the Church to Jesus Christ and how it’s God’s desire to reconcile the world to Himself and to one another.  If we’re honest, that is not always going to be easy to listen to week after week.  Paul’s preaching had a way of making people upset because he challenged the status quo of the religious institutions and that of the proper relationship to the state.  His preaching often times got him beat up or run out of town. John the Baptist’s preaching got his head cut off.  Jesus’ preaching had him run out of this home synagogue and nearly tossed over the side of a mountain!  This is what generally happens when the proclamation of Christ is declared: people will get unnerved or upset because the Gospel challenges the core of our personal way of seeing God’s purpose in the world; those divine purposes are generally at odds with what our culture says they should be and so we struggle and don’t like what the preacher says.

Sermons point to Jesus and the ways God interacts with our world. You are not always going to like what we preachers have to say. The Holy Spirit is ever trying to help us grow in faith, enlarge our holy vision of God, of others and of the world. The Spirit of God through the church’s sermons are going to convict us on whether our professed life in Jesus Christ is actually matching our lived and expressed life of Christ Jesus.  It’s going to compare and contrast how you and I, how the culture interprets life events with the attitudes and proclamation of the prophets of Scripture that have spoken over the millennia.

Now that we have rounded the third base and are headed to home, we are reminded that preaching is about the message and not the preacher.  Let me give a word about the difference between good and bad sermons and good and bad preachers. A talented good preacher can have all the skills of rhetoric and communication but still deliver a bad sermon; conversely, a poor preacher that speaks so as we watch paint dry can have a good sermon. I have heard many a poorly delivered message (and have given many of them myself!) but I can still hear the proclamation of Jesus. It’s led me to the place in my ministry that when a person says, “That was a good sermon or a bad sermon preacher” that I immediately run through a two-question checklist in my head:  Was I faithful in declaring gospel: yes or no? If yes, then does that person’s reaction say more about me or about where they are in their spiritual life right now?

Yes, I have an obligation in leading worship in preparing the best I can.  But remember this, too: You have an obligation in preparing for and participating in worship! The first mark of the true church is when the Gospel is faithfully preached AND heard!  So, the music, whether it’s contemporary or traditional, the prayers, the liturgy and drama are not for our enjoyment or for our entertainment; they are the means by which we worship God. The preachers, liturgists, readers, musicians, organists are here to point to the gracious character and reality of our loving God. If we draw attention to our sermons or music or prayers more than we point you to God, then we have failed you as leaders of worship.

Then again, for some of you, I may be only preaching. 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 Acts 23:6.
[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. Paul is referring to Isaiah 52.7.
[3] The quote from a very affable Hellenist Rebbe, AR, is “Am I too bold to suggest that sermons are lectures and not worship?”
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:20.
[5] The Scotts Confession, Chapter XVIII,  3.18,
[6] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith. An Introduction to the Study of Faith. Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986),100.