Monday, June 26, 2017

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

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

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

Matthew 10:24-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray.

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

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

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

[2] See Matthew 12:24, 27.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sermon preached by our Youth Elder, Turn Left, Luke 19:1-10, on Youth Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon:       Turn Left
Text:              Luke 19.1-10
Preacher:     R.J. Chapman, Elder
Location:     First Pres DeLand, FL
Date:             April 23, 2017, Youth Sunday

*This sermon is written by one of First Pres’ Elders who prepared this for delivery on Youth Sunday at the church.  Mr. Chapman is 17 years old and is a senior at University High School.

So this summer I had the pleasure of going to Presbyterian Youth Triennium in Indiana. It was a wonderful experience and besides growing me in my faith, I reflected on everything I had learned at our church over my 12 years of attending.

First Pres is accepting of all who walk through our doors and we would like to send them on their way having shown them the love and hospitality of God, and whereby they carry that message out into the world. At the end of the week this idea was highlighted when the speaker Tony De la Rosa gave a speech saying all that he had done to set up the event, everything the PCUSA is doing in the world, and all the help he had along the way. But he also shared his own personal story, when his own faith and character were doubted by those in the church.

As I listened to this kind, caring, faithful, and biblically knowledgeable man, I could not understand why he would be treated with doubt. He then shared why… He is gay. Which takes us to our scripture for today. Turn in your bibles to Luke 19 4-10 of Zacchaeus. Jesus on his journey through Jericho did a lot, made the blind see, healed the sick, cast out demons which is all well and good no one would get mad at you for that but then there’s Zacchaeus. He was short, the highest paid person in the area thanks to taxing trade on spice and perfume, mind you that’s without cheating people out of their money. Zacchaeus tried to see Jesus as he passed by. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Luke 19:1-10

“So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Now, something I learned while preparing this sermon is the name “Zacchaeus” is Hebrew word for pure or innocent. We know the man Zacchaeus was far from that as he was a terribly selfish person. So then why call him Zacchaeus? Well, he was pure, he had been made new by the Lord, all his past transgressions and mistakes were washed away by Jesus. He was no longer the selfish narcissistic man he was before, God opened his eyes and he devoted himself to the Lord.

Now when I was getting ready to get on the plane to go to Indiana I felt like I knew what I was doing, I’m going to be cool up there I’ve got all these new friends it’ll probably just be a church service and then I’ll go hang out with the guys. That’s pretty selfish, right? Granted I didn’t know what to expect but thinking I’d just hang out all day and not do anything is pretty self-centered. When I got there after going through the endless fields of corn and soybeans the first day I was struck with the power of God in that place. Just the amount of people there, then seeing them fill a whole auditorium to praise the Lord together, having my soul renewed with beautiful music and impactful sermons from preachers I had never seen before… and then that first night, I got lost… very, very lost.

I was trying to go back to my dorm after meeting with our small groups I was out for about 2 hours by myself in a foreign place with no one to help me. Now you’re probably thinking how could you possibly get lost, just follow the flow of people, well that’s exactly what I did. I turned left trying to avoid the kids who had climbed a tree to look for their friends and ended up missing my friends who were waiting for me a short distance away. I chatted with some nice guys from New Jersey on my walk and as we were about to part ways one guy asked me “what floor are you on” I respond “the 7th”. He replied “Are you messing with me right now? There are only 3 floors”.

After getting over the initial panic and frantic phone calls to try and get back to my room before curfew I realized very quickly, I had everything wrong. We all must make that realization at some point and I feel like God has a pretty good formula on when to give us a little shove when we need it. A while ago I was driving home from a tuba lesson and I took the front entrance to my neighborhood. This entrance just so happens to have a mosque off to the left of it, now normally I would’ve driven right by but something in my head just said: “turn left”. Now, this isn’t some glorious temple structure with a gold dome for a roof, it’s a three-story office building they bought out, none the less I was terrified. I had never been to a mosque before didn’t know barely anything about the religion didn’t know what to do. I left my shoes at the door and walked up the stairwell to what kind of welcome I didn’t know. As soon as I walked in I was met by a man named ray, he invited me to pray with him for his brother I law who was in a terrible car accident. Ray showed me his faith, offered me a warm meal and met all my ignorance with love and compassion, making the experience that much more humbling and humiliating.

Zacchaeus’s magical shove was climbing the fig tree and getting called out by Jesus. But you want to know the funny part about when stuff like that happens, God always shows us some love and hopes we do the same. Jesus sat down with Zacchaeus after that huge public embarrassment and told him he still loved him and wanted him to follow him.

Thanks to a staff member named Diane, who coincidentally lived in the same dorm as me and was also lost, I’m not still wandering aimlessly in Indiana.

Thanks to Ray I made some new friends learned a little bit and gained some humility.

And thanks to Mr. De La Rosa of the PCUSA Mission Board who is doing the Lord’s work all around the world.

God always needs to take us out of our comfort zone, he calls us to love everyone because it’s not easy, it’s hard, but he never leaves our side, he will always be there to help us in the end and show us his love and strength. It’s about us learning to meet people where they are just as God does, not involving our personal belief except for our faith in God, just going into a situation like a scared short tax collector or a frantic teenager calling his momma. If Ray or any number of people were to stroll through those doors right now, could you talk to them, not even about faith but make him feel welcome in our church, have a simple conversation, could you do it like ray did for me.

Go make that left turn, climb the fig tree, have your Dian show you the way back home and do Gods work in the world. So I invite you this week to do exactly that, get out of your comfort zone with Christ, don’t climb a fig tree necessarily or fly to Indiana and get lost, but it could be something as simple as making a left turn, getting out of your car to give a homeless person a manna bag instead of just looking the other way. Be safe, but do something that will put you in a situation where you will have no other option but to throw yourself at the Lord and listen. Make good on that promise you make to every child Baptized in the church and extend it to everyone in the world, Christian or not. If you think someone could use the love of God in their life, don’t force it down their throat but make it known through your actions. You could be the hands and feet of the Lord in someone’s life, carrying the good news of the gospel and the love of God to them in what could be their darkest hour. All it could take is just a simple left turn. I am grateful to have a church that taught and modeled for me acceptance, and I think others are, too.

Mr. R.J. Chapman, Elder
First Pres DeLand
725 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, FL 32720
http://ift.tt/2oN8sDP


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

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

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

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

Matthew 28:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reflection on the third of Jesus’ Seven Last Words: Woman, behold your son…Behold your mother. – John 19:26, 27

Message:      Good Friday Reflection on John 19.26, 27
Text:              When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved    standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Preacher:    Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Pres DeLand
Date:            April 14, 2017, Good Friday

Mother Mary, Aunt Mary, and his Anam Cara or soul friend, Mary Magdalene, were standing off some ways from the bloody spectacle of three crucified men. With them was Jesus’ best friend and soul brother, John Zebedee, who appears to have fled Gethsemane the night before at the arrest and ran to the safety and comfort of those who are closest to Jesus – his family and his closest soul sister.  I can’t imagine they slept well that night because of the shock and fear enveloping them.  No doubt, John was pumped for details about all that happened in the Garden hours earlier.

“Did Jesus get hurt?”

“Did anyone stand up for him?”

“Who turned him into the religious officials?”

I can picture John, all shook up, afraid and in the dark about everything that’s happened trying to answer their interrogations.  By this time in the afternoon, their worst fears were becoming reality:  Jesus had been given a death sentence.

So those who had the most intimate emotional connection with Jesus went to see what was happening.  It’s not a sight any parent would want to see of their child.  It’s not a scene best friends would care to witness but the four of them came anyway.  They had to come and see for themselves.  Numb with shock, they stumbled to Golgotha to see with their own eyes what they have heard rumors about from others. This is what they saw.

Three crosses are placed near one another with Jesus impaled on the middle one.  The three men were bloodied, sweaty and struggling to get enough energy to push up on a small board with their nailed feet so they could lift themselves up to breath.  Carrion fowl already smelled the blood and were patiently waiting their turn to swoop down onto the bodies.  Soldiers were using Jesus clothes as barter for their gambling habit under Jesus’ gaze. They could see pieces of skin dangling up under his arms from the beating he received from the Roman whips tipped with bone and rock as he received 39 lashes. The air was full of moaning, crying, taunting and cruel laughter.  In a word, horrific.

And then the unexpected happens.  Head lowered in pain and exhaustion, Jesus lifts his eyes and sees the ones he loves. His heart is stirred.  Love begins swelling up from his gut and tears of relief and joy blur his vision. You see, his mother, Aunt Mary, Mary Magdalene and John believed themselves helpless watching from a distance; after all, what could they do except watch it all unfold?  What they neglected to understand was their simple presence with Jesus on the Cross was their way of saying, “Jesus, we love you” and it was a message Jesus received loud and clear.  During the Son of Man’s darkest hour, he sees that the ones he loves have not forgotten him and their love for him transcended their fears for their own personal safety. In Jesus’ mind, four broken, scared people who dared to join him at the Cross were enough to inspire him, enough to give him hope that all was not done in vain. And there, during the final moments of his life, he once again shows love to others.

“Momma, John is my soul brother and he is now your son.  John, this is my mother and from now she’s your momma.  Take care of her.”

Now it was finished. He could let go now. He has taken care of the last untended detail.  Like a good boy, he is making sure his mother is cared for. And Mary in her own simple way of being present with her son at his death is also taking care of him. He would hold on to that memory to get him through the rest of the day.  Would only our presence tonight do the same thing.  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
First Pres DeLand
724 North Woodland Avenue
DeLand, FL 32720
Wrisley.org

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


Friday, April 14, 2017

Maundy Thursday Reflections: Matthew 26:31-25

Sermon:          Maundy Thursday Reflections
Text:                Matthew 26:30-36
Preacher:       Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:       First Pres DeLand
Date:               April 13, 2017, Maundy Thursday

For the last two months, we as a congregation have been looking earnestly at what it means to be called by God.  We learned that our primary call is to love the Lord our God with everything in us.  We are then to turn that love outward in expressions of grace and care to those sisters and brothers about us whether we know them or not.  Well, Maundy Thursday is like a semester final to see how well they both learned and lived out their call; tonight, we witness how well the first twelve disciples did in their test as to knowing what their calls were.  Tonight, we see that when the tires of their discipleship hit the hard realities of life’s road, they each failed miserably.

Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the Triduum – the three days leading up to Easter morning – is a disciple’s final exam in Christ-followership.  It is our exam on whether or not we fully understand and grasp God’s call upon our lives.  The question looms before us:  Will you or I do any better than the Twelve?

Having just finished reinterpreting the Passover meal, Jesus takes the disciples to a place adjacent to Jerusalem and the Temple.  There on the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus looks across the Kedron Valley to look at Jerusalem softly glowing in the night’s light. The disciples are confused at all that is going on and they are totally clueless as to what is about to happen next. Gazing west towards Jerusalem, Jesus comes right out and paints the picture.

31Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.[1]

Those of us from the South listen to Peter and we slowly shake our heads and say with provincial sarcasm, “Bless your heart.”  We realize that Peter, ironically, is committing the very same sin as Judas committed as well as the sin our first parents in the Garden of Eden did:  He is guilty of hubris.  You know, hubris.  The prideful knowledge that one has when he or she knows better than everyone else around them.  Adam and Eve tried to eat of the fruit of knowledge because they wanted to know what God knows.  It was a classic fail.

Then there’s Judas. Judas, one of Jesus’ Twelve who believed he knew how Jesus should act and behave more than Jesus did himself and sold Jesus out to the authorities for thirty coins. Again, it was a classic fail.

Now Peter.  Peter raises himself above the other disciples and boldly declares in verse 32, “Even if THEY desert you, I will never desert you!” Dear Peter. He keeps piling it up on himself when in verse 35 he blurts out, “I will not deny you!”  I don’t think Peter was trying to throw the other disciples under the bus by inferring he was better than they; rather, it appears Peter had an overstated understanding of his own sense call with Jesus.  I think he believed, like many of us do if we are honest, that he “got” Jesus and what Jesus was and is all about. In his mind, he has figured out what it means to follow Jesus. Perhaps it is because Jesus called him The Rock of the Church; maybe it was because Peter was one of the Fab Four[2] key disciples Jesus always called upon.  Sweet Peter. He felt so confident in his walk and relationship with Jesus. Sadly, like those before him, Peter’s answer and subsequent actions both italicized and bolded the indicia of his hubris.  It, too, was a classic fail.

Peter and the other disciples failed the test that night.  When presented with their call to love the Lord God at all costs, they turned tail and ran for their own lives. They all denied him.  I have no doubt Peter and the others have ringing in the back of their minds Jesus’ words from an earlier Story when Jesus shared, “The one that denies me before others shall be denied before the angels of God.”[3]

Beloved, tonight reminds us that we have failed, are failing, and will fail the exam, the test as well.  Tonight, is the night Jesus asks you and me at the Table: Whom or what do you follow?  Before we proudly exclaim like Peter, “Of course it’s you, Lord!”, perhaps we need to hold our tongues and be honest with ourselves, with one another, and most importantly, with God. We know what our call is.  We know who it is we are to follow and love. Yet each of us in our own ways in the specific circumstances of our lives has denied him, too.  Just like Adam and Eve, Judas, and Peter before us, we fail classically at it as well.

Beloved, as we make our way through the Triduum, let us prayerfully reflect whether or not we take our calls seriously. Let us prayerfully reflect if Jesus is the core of your life and mine or is Jesus and our life in Christ a simple add-on.

Let the Spirit speak to each of us. Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
First Pres DeLand
724 North Woodland Avenue
DeLand, FL 32720
Wrisley.org

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

[1] Matthew 26:31-35, NRSV.
[2] I.e. Peter, Andrew, James and John Zebedee.
[3] See Luke 12.9.


Monday, March 27, 2017

The Message – A Series on Call #6: So, Get on With It!, Ephesians 5:6-16

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Sermon:       Series on Call #6: So, Get on With It!
Scripture:    Ephesians 5:6-16
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:             March 26, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

This morning, we are culminating our six-week walk through the issue of God’s call on our lives and upon the church.  We have been studying Mark Labberton’s book, Called[1]. The Our scripture this morning is the culmination of Paul’s arguments in his Ephesian letter that God has proven his radical love for us in and through Jesus Christ, and as such, our lives need to be reflecting that fact. This is where the rubber hits the road with our understanding, pursuit and living out our call and vocation by God both as a church and as individual disciples.

Our scripture reading is from Ephesians 5.6-16 and we are going to hear it from a different version than we normally hear the scripture read in worship.  Presbyterian pastor, scholar, and new church planter Eugene Peterson wrote a translation of the Bible his parishioners in Maryland could better understand by using modern vernacular. The result is the Message version of the Bible. I have put it in your bulletin so we can all follow along. Listen, Church, to what the Spirit says each of us.

Ephesians 5:6-16

6-7 Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.

8-10 You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

11-16 Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

The first place to begin is with a simple statement that simply says, “I am a Christian.”  When we make that public statement, it is more than making a statement of what we believe; on the contrary, it’s a dramatic statement on who we are and who it is we follow.  Our life with God is first and foremost a life of following Jesus. Just as Labberton reminds us in the book, Called, Jesus does not tell people to “believe me” but he says to “follow me.”[2]  Our walk with God is first about following Jesus in relationship.  To say that we are a Christian is a radical cultural, social, political and spiritual statement. It is a total breaking with the past and reorienting our lives around God’s call or vocation for us.  Our call and vocation do not emerge from what we believe; on the contrary, it develops and emerges based upon Whose we are and Who it is we follow and have relationship with in this life.

“I am a Christian.”  Say that out loud with me, “I am a Christian.” When you and I say that sentence, we are making a declaration about the orientation of our entire life. It’s a life-altering statement to make but do we realize it when we say it?  As Paul writes in our scripture today,

8-10 You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

The power of our individual calls, as well as a call as a church, stems from the basic statement, “I am a Christian.”  Everything changes! Our values and priorities. Our relationship with God and with how we relate to others.  Our sense of ethics and what is just as well as what is not. Our habits, how we spend and invest our resources in time, talent and finances.  Everything changes when we say, “I am a Christian.”

But does it really when the rubber hits the road?

Discovering our call requires two actions. First, we are called to focus on what Labberton describes as First Things. Once we focus on the First Things, then and only then, do each of us individually and as a congregation, focus on what he refers to as the Next Things.[3]

Hopefully, by now you know what First Things are since we have been journeying with our series on call for the last six weeks.  The First Thing both in a congregation’s and a Christian’s life is to be in love with God through Jesus Christ. We are no longer fumbling around in the murkiness but we are walking boldly in the Light of God. We know who we are because we know Whose we are and that makes being a Christian such a radical thing, unlike the way the world see Christians today.  Why is Pope Francis such a controversial Pope to the entrenched order of the Catholic See?  It’s because Pope Francis is living his love out like Jesus did and many in the world who want to follow a Catholic religion are being shown by the Pope what it means to live a Christian faith stemming from loving Jesus first! Emerging from our first love, we then begin looking at the Next Things of our calls.

Next Things emerge from the tended fields of our love of God whereby the intersection of our life’s events, jobs, marriages, singleness, friendships, school, advocacy work or just plain life circumstances all come together allowing us to share that love of God with others.  Pope Francis’ call is expressed through his love of Jesus which happens to be the Pope of the worldwide Catholic Church.  His call is that being Pope-ish means being like Jesus.  My call, for example, bubbles up from my passion for God and need of God’s love and then it is expressed through the expression of my love for people, my sensitivities, my gifts of leadership and rhetoric.

Your call is expressed through the First Thing of loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Your secondary call is expressed through the Next Thing of your unique combination of gifts and graces as they express your love of God in Christ to others in your particular context.

So think with me out loud.  Your primary call is to what? “Love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  What’s your Next Thing?  Your personal sense of call arises from the grounding of loving God first and then is expressed to loving others with your particular passions, gifts, graces, context and life circumstances.  So, what’s your next thing?  Can you identify it yet?  If so, like Paul says, then let’s get on with it!

But our calls are not just about what we personally do.  Our calls are grounded in the community of God called the Church. The community of the church gives locus, shape, and impetus for our personal calls to be used. As such, what is this church’s call for the future?  What are we here for anyway?  Would there be a hole left in the community with the absence of First Pres DeLand? Would anyone notice we did not exist?

My friends, this is why we have been spending so much time this Lenten season addressing the issue of call.  It’s an issue that forces us to name our loyalties in this life: Is our loyalty to God or are our loyalties to our own personal passions, interests or “wish dreams” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls them? Am I as a Christian using my gifts and graces to make me feel good or are my gifts and graces being used as a basis to share my passionate love of God with others around me?  Is it about “me” or is it about “us”?

Following Easter, my friends, we are going to have two gatherings as a church to hear what you are discerning God telling us to get about doing in our life together and in life with our community.  God wants you and me to thrive and to live and not just simply to get along, survive and get by.  But doing so means focusing on our first love which is Jesus.  Doing so means looking forward not backward, heavenward, not inward, and towards a purpose and not a guess.  The whole purpose of meeting in small groups is to explore our love of God and to learn about God’s call for you in this place at this time.  Hopefully, by the time we gather in our congregational gatherings later in April, we have been discerning who God is calling us to be and are able to share with what you are feeling God is calling us to do as a church as we move forward.  After all, we make a mockery of Lent, Holy Week and Easter if we don’t, as Paul reminds us this morning, get on with it.

The Holy Spirit give understanding to these words. 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]Mark Labberton. Called. The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014).
[2] Ibid., 71.
[3] See 87-88.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Series on Call #5: Are you a settler or a wanderer? Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14

Sermon:          Are you a Settler or a Wanderer?
Scripture:       Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                March 19, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

As we continue our study of call today, the first thing we need to remind ourselves is that the American Church will only begin living out its call in the world when it realizes that to be a Christian today means to be living in a community of exile.  This goes against everything we have been told growing up in this country.  We have been taught to believe that we were founded as a Christian country and our values stem from the Judeo-Christian ethic (whatever that means).  I would suggest that we are instead a nation founded upon and living in the world with Christianity-ish values.[1]

If we use our primary call, as Labberton suggests, to love the Lord our God, and then in turn, love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must admit we are falling far short of that stated American mythology that we are a Christian nation. We have used the concept of Manifest Destiny to justify that as American Christians, we are living in the Promised Land just as the Jews of the first generation after Moses inherited Canaan.  The problem is, human nature, or if you prefer, our sin nature, gets in the way.  The Jews that captured Canaan had a difficult time remembering the Laws of God and their failure to live in God’s way got them sent into exile.  They altered their call of God to love Him and others into a patchwork quilt of religious, social and cultural beliefs that benefitted themselves at the expense of loving God or neighbor.

We have done the same thing in our own country.  We took the 15th-century notion of a Doctrine of Discovery instituted by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 and canonized it into American law by our Supreme Court in 1823.  Pope Alexander’s bull stated that land inhabited by non-Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed and exploited by Christian conquerors. It stated that the Christian religion should be expanded at all costs and that all “barbarous nations” be brought to the faith.  If the newly conquered nations and people did not submit to the faith, they could, with the clear conscience of those conquering the new lands, be executed and their native land taken away.  Our nation codified the Doctrine of Discovery with the Johnson and McIntosh case of 1823 when Chief Court Justice John Marshall wrote the unanimous opinion that “The principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to new world lands.”[2]

Oh my.

I don’t know about you but that does not sound like a nation founded on Christian values to me; these are the same Christian values that enslaved other people, denigrated women and exploited child labor. This sounds nothing like a nation founded on the primary call to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught. To that end, I would say that our country, indeed American Christianity is living in exile from any Promised Land we think God has bestowed upon us.  We are a people living in exile.

This is where we find the prophet Jeremiah in today’s text.  He is speaking to those who forsook their love of God and neighbor, their very first call, by chasing other gods and taking respite in an undisciplined life and culture that took them away from the Promised Land and placed them amid enemy territory.  Our scripture today are words of encouragement to those Jews in exile that though they are living in exile now, the time will come when God will bring them back home.  Our text today has God through Jeremiah reminding them how to live their lives in an exiled land.  Let’s listen to the Word of the Lord and see if we can figure out how it applies to where we are today in 21st century American Christendom.

Jeremiah 29.1, 4-14

29.1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.10For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.[3]

Beloved, we live in a land where false prophets and diviners among us are preaching that bigger is better, the most powerful are the most important, people get what they deserve, and that we are not our brother or sister’s keeper.  These are the ones who declare that accumulation of stuff is our American birthright and that our Constitutional right for our pursuit of happiness overrides the basic Gospel Story of Jesus who pursued relationship with God and others at the cost of his life. American Christianity has built her churches to look like and emulate shopping malls where one can feed from a smorgasbord of programs and services that fit one’s tastes; indeed, we use consumeristic jargon to describe how we church shop, hop, and plop looking for the perfect community. We are, my friends, a community of faith living in exile from God’s understanding of the Promised Land.  As Labberton reminds us, our culture has “Groomed us to think optimistically about our lives and future.  Our faith today is seen as a means to fulfill this dream.”  He goes on to make the bold statement, “Christians are virtually indistinguishable from anyone else in culture.”[4]

Again: oh my.

In our study of our call, both as a Church and as individuals, it is vital for us to know where we live.  If we think we live in the Promised Land, we develop a whole set of questions and mindsets with which to see the world.  If we acknowledge we live in exile, then we relate with the world, culture, neighbor and God in an entirely different way. We are reminded that the Church cannot live out its vocation of loving God with all we have and loving others with all we have if we do not know where we live.  “The gift of exilic living is that it exposes believers to the school of authentic faith.”[5]  In other words, if we are living our faith as though we are foreigners in a foreign land, then the expression of our faith gets amplified both in the lives of our neighbor and in the life of any local church.

Our exilic faith forces us to see the world as it really is, including the church’s place in the world, and it challenges our Promised Land faith of abundance and forces us to drink from the culture’s cow trampled streams; in other words, it reminds us our calls are real and costly and they demand that we get out of our comfort zones and places of safety both as a church and as individual Christ-Followers.  For the Jews in Babylon, life was not about overcoming, overtaking and dominating the Babylonians; on the contrary, their life was to be lived in obedience to their primary call of God which is to love God and to love others on God’s behalf in the midst of their Babylonian life.

Why is it important to know where we live as a Church?  It is important because our spiritual life develops as a direct result of the context we find ourselves in; if the context is changed from Promised Land to living in Exile, then our spiritual lives will need to respond to life’s changing cultural conditions and develop new spiritual practices that emanate from that context.[6]  Knowing where we live means we know how to best live out our call in the midst of living as strangers in a strange land.

This past week, our Cuba mission team reported on their experiences from their visit there a month ago.  They described how time seems to have been frozen in the late 1940’s and ‘50’s because of the revolution. Vintage cars roll along the streets.  Beautiful old buildings are deteriorating from neglect.  The churches which have been kept silent for decades have had to learn to live and express its faith and call within a hostile climate whereby a Christian is persecuted at worst or kept down in the lower economic classes at best.  It was the same way when I visited the churches of Eastern Germany before the Berlin Wall came down: The Church had to move underground to survive.  It was costly and risky to live out one’s faith in God and in Jesus. How, my friends, does our culture, our society, demand that we adapt and change how we live and express our faith today? Then again, has that question even popped up on our spiritual radar screens?

The great quote my generation learned came from the lips of the late Judy Garland.  “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.”  We live in a post-Christian nation and world friends.  The Church’s voice has been muted and the transforming message of the life-changing gospel is earnestly being repressed as being out of touch, irrelevant, or a joke; sadly, the Church’s lap is where much of that blame is placed.  The church can continue to live as though it is still living in a nostalgic yesterday that never really existed or it can recognize and embrace its primary call from God which is to be an ardent, dynamic community of disciples who are being obedient and loving towards the Lord and to a world around us even though it may not want or even recognize their need for that love. The church in America may be in decline and dying as scholars say but the Good News of new life in Christ cannot be vanquished.  The challenge of our call today is to rise up to that challenge and declare the Good News.

Just as Jeremiah instructed the exiled Jews to get on with living their life in a strange land, so we are called to live as bright, aromatic, multicolored lives of faith where we are right now.  It may not be popular.  It may not be well-received.  It may not be easy and neither might we see any success from our efforts.  Our call demands that we be the enfleshed Christ in the world we find ourselves.  It’s like Dr. Labberton says, God’s strategy is to use unexpected people to embody unexpected love.[7] The question is whether we are or are we simply pretending to do so?  The Holy Spirit add understanding to these words.  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 Inventing a Christian America by Steven K. Green (Oxford, 2015) at http://ift.tt/2n73PGu.
[2] I first learned of the Doctrine of Discovery in Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration. How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian.   Please see http://ift.tt/1NVgUHO.
[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] Mark Labberton.  Called. The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 52-53.
[5] Ibid. 56.
[6] 57.
[7] 59.


Monday, January 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 1:37-42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pastor@fpcdstaff.org
http://ift.tt/28JiBKN

© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, January 9, 2017

The Message – Are You a Victim of Spiritual Identity Theft?

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Sermon:          Are You a Victim of Spiritual Identity Theft?
Scripture:        Matthew 3.:13-17
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               January 8, 2017, The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday on the liturgical calendar, several possible directions could be taken. Some years, the scripture has us focus on the “three kings” who come to pay Jesus homage as a baby. Other years, the scripture will have us focus on the epiphany of Jesus as revealed in his baptism that is what we are reading about today.  Today’s Story is a Story whereby Jesus’ true identity is revealed and now that his identity is known, he begins his earthly ministry.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 3:13-17

3:13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1]

Some weeks ago, we looked at the first portion of Matthew 3 as it described the first-century prophet, John the Baptist. We found John down by the Jordan river baptizing people and warning those church officials from Jerusalem that in order to be baptized, i.e. washed and incorporated into a new community, they would have to repent and live life differently.  Today we are picking up with Matthew 3:13 whereupon we read how Jesus travels southwestward from the Galilee and comes to be baptized by John himself.

If you’re like me, you may wonder why Jesus needs to be baptized in the first place.  It’s surely not for the remission of sins as Jesus was blameless in this regard; John balks at baptizing Jesus just for this reason (cf. v. 14).  Jesus submits to baptism because, as we read, it fulfills all righteousness.  “Fulfilling all righteousness” does not mean what we make it out to be in today’s vernacular. Today, we use the term to “fulfill all righteousness” as a way to say “Go ahead and check off the box so we can keep on going.”  This is not what Jesus meant at all.  You see, Jesus was baptized for the same reason he was born: God in Jesus wanted to identify in every single way with what it meant to be a human being.  Just as those who flocked to John were to strike out on a new life path and journey, so Jesus was baptized to reinforce that for all of us that turning towards a new life path, direction and vision was essential in following the ways of God and he would personally show us how to do it! This is what it means to fulfill all righteousness.

One of the most meaningful ministries I have witnessed any church conduct with its community is what we are doing with the ministry, I-Dignity[2]. It’s one of those ministries you do not see in many places but it is so vital for those in the community.  There are many church food closets and feeding resources in the overall Christian community in America but one area that has been neglected over the decades is what our scripture is talking about in today’s lesson: A ministry of identity.

I-Dignity is designed to help those with no official identification documents obtain legal proof of who they are in the eyes of the law. Try cashing a check without a driver’s license and see how much the teller will give you.  Attempt to rent an apartment with no proof as to who you are; no scrupulous landlord would rent to people she did not know.  Go to the hospital and attempt to get quality medical care without any identification; see how far that will get you in most places.  Imagine applying for a job without any form of ID; no employer will speak to you. This church is involved in I-Dignity because it is a foundational ministry that lets those with no legal identity become a person in the eyes of banks, employers, and hospitals. In our society, you do not exist unless you can prove your identity.

History has shown us unique ways on how people have identified others or themselves.  Some are noble and some are ignoble. Our own country has a history of branding slaves which was not so much about identifying who a person was but rather who that person belonged to in the eyes of the law.  In the 1930’s and ‘40’s we saw how Jewish, Russian, or Gay prisoners in concentration camps were tattooed with their own serial number and their identity was simply a form of fastidious record keeping.  Today, our identities are wrapped up in our Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, Internet Protocol addresses and even our fingerprints or eye scans. Surely our identity is more than just proof of who we are by way of a brand, tattoo or a series of randomly selected numbers!

Another way people choose their identity is through their work or vocation or status in the community.  They choose to wrap themselves up in what they do for a living or for the civic organizations they champion.  Don’t believe me?  What is often the first question a person is asked when they attend a party or social gathering?  “So, tell me, Patrick, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a preacher.”

“Oh.  Can you excuse me a moment?”

When people find out that I am a minister they oftentimes will get this pale look on their face, become real quiet, or mutter, “Hey, I’m sorry about that joke I just told out loud.”  People tend to define one another by what they do or don’t do.  “Bob’s a banker.  This guy is homeless. You’re a Preacher?!”

“No, my name is Patrick; I’m named after my mom, Patricia, who almost died from an appendicitis while pregnant with me.  I’m a regular guy just like you who is trying to get by in this crazy world of ours.”

Nowadays, a person’s identity is something that is attempted to be stolen in order to be sold or used.  One site reports that over 15 million Americans have their identity stolen in a year.[3]  In 2014, identity theft cost American victims some $15.4 billion![4]  Identity theft is a big deal today.  Thieves scour the web looking how to steal our social security numbers and credit card accounts with their hacking; meanwhile, we Americans blissfully allow business like Face Book and Google track our web surfing and buying habits in order to make a composite profile of each of us so they can strategically target their advertising based on our online habits!  Our identity is threatened by both benign and malevolent sources in the world and we are constantly being warned to be careful about it.  We are reminded to check our credit scores to see if our ID has been stolen and misused.

It makes me wonder.  Do we give that much thought or attention to protecting and assessing our personal Christian identity?  In baptism, we die to the old life and rise from the waters re-clothed with the Spirit of Grace. Do our lives reflect that to the world and people around us?  If not, then has our Christian identity been stolen and misused?

Identity theft occurs in our spiritual life, beloved. The culture has robbed us of our Christian identity. Simply look at three “Christian” holidays that have been hijacked from us:  Easter is more about bunnies and chocolate than the powerful resurrection news of the risen Christ; Halloween has usurped All Saints Eve. In lieu of celebrating the Christian saints who have died and now rest from their labors, our country recently spent $8.4 billion in candy, costumes and decorations in 2016[5] for a holiday that often celebrates fear, gore, and horror; and then there is Christmas.

Friends, the culture has robbed the identity of meaningful Christian discipleship in our day but if we are honest, the Church of Jesus Christ in our country has not displayed a healthy Christian identity either.  Too often American/Western Christianity has wrapped itself in the flags of political partisanship, bibliolatry at the expense of love for neighbor, and exclusion of others based on sex, gender, ethnicity, or economic class.  We have lost our Christian identity to the cause célèbre whether in worship styles or in what we invest our time and energy. The Church has not done a good job of protecting Jesus’ identity in the world. When God spoke from the heavens the day Jesus was baptized, God was publicly announcing Jesus’ true identity.  This man is not just a son of a Nazarene carpenter; Jesus is indeed the very Son of the Holy I Am! From that point on in Matthew’s gospel Story, we see how Jesus immediately began living into the identity proclaimed at his baptism.

On this weekend of Epiphany 2017, we are being asked to take a breath and ponder our true identity and determine if we are living into our identity given at baptism.  We are being asked to determine if our identity is based upon what we do, i.e. a professor, student, real estate professional or is it based on our life situation like being sick or healthy, rich or poor, homeless or housed. Or, we are to reflect whether our identity based upon who and whose we are, i.e. sons and daughters of God.  You see, baptisms are more than a mini debutante where children and adults are introduced to the world; baptism is the dramatic moment God through the Holy Spirit claim and shapes our identity in and through Jesus Christ.  This week, we are being asked to reflect upon what identity we project to others. Do our lives show we are cultural Christians or that we are active Christ-Followers?  There is a difference, you know. Today, I urge you to go home and reflect with God in prayer, “Lord, what do you see as my identity?”  Our job is to listen for God’s reply.  If we listen closely, quietly, we will hear God whisper in response, “My beloved, you are my son and daughter. Live into the identity I’ve given you!”

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

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

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] Please read more about I-Dignity and the work it is doing at http://idignity.org/.
[3] See http://ift.tt/11cjgsD. Accessed 1/7/2017.
[4] See http://ift.tt/2j03PXJ.  Accessed 1/7/2017.
[5] See http://ift.tt/2ja1YN2. Accessed on 1/7/2017.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Our Thankfulness Requires a Rest. Reflections on Psalm 46

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

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Psalm 46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selah

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

© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

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