The Pastoral Prayer for Sunday, May 8, 2022

            Almighty God who placed all the planets and the stars in their places and yet know each of your beloved by their name, we come to celebrate your love and goodness as we pause and worship you. You are among us in this sanctuary this morning as you are also in the tunnels in Mariupol. There is no place we can go that you’re not already there waiting for us!

            We gather this day, led by the Holy Spirit, as your people. Each of us comes with our own reasons for attending today. Some gather because this is the only time of the week they are surrounded by others. Some come to seek a sense of peace that only you can provide. We gather today because we want to hear your Word spoken to us and shape our lives. Still, others come for release from the pain caused by a loved one’s death, a divorce or breakup, the loss of a job, or the diagnosis of a serious illness or condition. For whatever reason we’ve come, honor it and receive it as praise and thanksgiving.

            For the fearful ones, fill them with the peace that surpasses our understanding.

            For the grieving, wipe their tears, re-instill Easter hope, and give them Easter eyes.

            To all who are lonely, grant them the comfort of this community of saints.

            For the sick, bring wholeness and comfort and give them your healing presence, reminding them healing takes on many forms; give them the grace to see and experience it.

            For the addict, release them from the bonds that drag them into the depths of Sheol.

            For the abused, help them to overcome their trauma and let them see a beautiful future once again both emotionally and physically.

            For the spiritually lost or complacent, fill them with the fire of your Spirit that will break the bonds of a hardened or apathetic life.

            Jesus, lover of our soul, we pray for those caught in the crosshairs of war in Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, and  Ethiopia. Lord, hasten the day when swords are beaten into plowshares and weapons of destruction are no more.

            Give our leaders and politicians a heart of justice and truth and purge them of all ignoble power and pride.

            To you, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, was, and will always be, we lift our prayers to you and pray as Jesus taught us…

…Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever! Amen.

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Meeting Us Where We Are, John 21:15-19

A message preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, May 1, 2022

If we peer down from 40K feet, we can see how John’s gospel begins and ends very neatly and includes both a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue, which begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God” sets up the rest of the gospel Story by explaining who Jesus is. The rest of the Story in John unpacks Jesus’ purpose. Today, we are looking at the epilogue, the ending of John’s Story, and what I want us to get out of is this: God goes out of God’s way to meet us where we are in life.

Chapter 21 highlights two characters. The first is Peter and the second is the Apostle, John. Our text this morning is about Peter, and we join the Apostles in having breakfast with Jesus on the beach. Before we hear this morning’s text, it’s helpful to remember the very last words Peter spoke to Jesus during the Last Supper as Jesus was telling the disciples what is about to happen. Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going…why can’t I follow you now? I will lay my life down for you!”  Jesus looking at Peter simply replies, “Truly, truly I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”[1] Listen to the Word of the Lord!

John 21:15-19

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”[2]

Oh, dear Peter. We Southerners have a little saying we have when someone we are with does or says something really dumb. We smile and simply say, “Bless his heart.” A second one like it is, “God, love ya’.” As we look down upon this scene in John, we see the group finishing up breakfast when in the middle of it all, Jesus turns to Peter and has “the talk” with him. We find Peter experiencing one of these “bless your heart” moments.

Over the course of Lent, I have been watching a series on Jesus’ life with the Twelve. One of you told me about it and I love it. It’s called The Chosen[3] and it’s an app you can download to your device at the Google or Apple stores; it is the first television series to be completely crowdfunded by viewers. I have to say, the portrayal of the characters and their personalities is refreshing. For example, the guy who plays the disciple Matthew portrays him as a lonely, outcast, highly functional autistic Jewish tax collector. It’s brilliant. Throughout the story, the brash and always ready to get into a fight, Peter, belittles Matthew incessantly for being a traitor to his fellow Jews by taking taxes for Rome from his own Jewish people. Peter comes across as a cocksure tough guy who tries to live into Jesus’ mandate to be the Rock. Many scholars believe that Jesus’ three difficult questions to Peter are a way to counterbalance Peter’s three previous denials.  In John 18 when the rooster crows, Peter betrays Jesus. Our Story today is the Story of reconciliation and restoration of Peter into the Fellowship as its leader.[4] New Testament scholar, the late Raymond Brown notes, “The choice of Peter is a demonstration of God’s working in the weak things of the world.”[5] In other words, friends, if there is hope for Peter, then there sure is hope for people like you and me.

I love this Story in John because it’s a Story where once again we are reminded that the Great God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, comes and meets us where we are in our life. God takes the initiative. God searches us out and finds us amid our everyday, mundane lives…just like he did with Peter and the others. Our Story today has the Lord God physically going to where Peter was and is seeking him out. We are reminded that God comes to where you and I physically are, too, in our board rooms, classrooms, examining rooms, or standing in line at Trader Joe’s. Is our spiritual life tuned enough to be able to see him? But our Story holds another clue as to how God comes to meet us where we are; we can hear how Jesus meets us spiritually where we are by looking at how the conversation in our Story is actually written.  

We have a set of three questions and three commands. At first, they appear to be the same command but at closer reading, they are subtlety very different. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times with a growing sense of guilt and sadness, Peter declares, “O Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus then replies with three commands to Peter after each profession of love: Feed my lambs; tend to my sheep; feed my sheep.

Unfortunately, in the English language, there is only one word for love – Love. In the original language of John’s Gospel, there are at least three words for love. First, there is eros, which is sensual love. Next, there is phileo which is where the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, gets its name. And then there is agape which is a love that is intentional, inconvenient, sacrificial, and an all-encompassing love that extended to people in a Spirit of Grace.  Our text uses two of these expressions of love, agape, and phileo, in Jesus’ conversation with Peter. Now, there is debate among scholars as to whether this means anything because, they say, these two types of love are sometimes used synonymously in the Story.[6] This is where I disagree with the modern scholars and agree more with the pre-modern ones. You see, when someone is writing a story, the author is very intentional and economical in the words he or she chooses to place in the narrative. The Gospel of John was carefully written with words that are unique to John’s Story in order to tease out who Jesus was and is as well as to outline Jesus’ purpose. I personally think John’s use of the different words for love is intentional; they are words that are supposed to make a point that God spiritually meets us where we are as well.

Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love, i.e., agape me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love, i.e., phileo, you!” A second time Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you agape me?” And once again, Peter replies again, “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you.”

Let’s pause: Jesus is asking Simon Peter if Peter has the love for him that expresses itself through sacrifice, inconvenience, intentionality, and grace like Jesus’ love was shown to Peter on the Cross. Peter’s reply is, “Lord, you know I love you like a brother.” Peter pulls up short. Whereas he brashly told Jesus during the Lord’s Supper that he would be willing to die for him, Peter now simply, and quite honestly, I’ll add, admits he loves Jesus as a dear friend. And then finally, Jesus asks Simon one more time, “Simon, son of John, do you phileo me? Do you love me as a brother and dear friend?” This is where John changes it up here! He uses a different word for love and then Peters bursts out and says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I phileo you, love you as a soul brother and dear friend.”

I believe John was very intentional in the way he wrote this conversation. Jesus adjusted his expectations of Simon based on where Simon was at the time. Jesus meets Simon Peter right where he was in his faith development. If Peter could not promise agape love to Jesus, he could at least provide love as a best friend and soul brother. And Jesus received that love. Jesus adapted to where Simon spiritually was at that point in Simon’s faith.

Beloved, what does this all say about God and God’s relationship with you? It says God will physically come to where you are in your life and life’s circumstances and meet you there. It says God has high expectations for us as disciples but that the Lord shows us enough agape love to adjust his expectations of where we are in our faith walk. It says that God doesn’t want us to fail and flail; the Lord wants a relationship with you and me and purposefully seeks us out.

So, my sisters and brothers, in just a moment you are about to have a meal with Jesus. As you eat of the bread and drink from the cup this morning, listen for Jesus asking you, me, “Patrick Hurd Wrisley, do you love me with agape-type love?” How shall I answer? How shall you? Beloved, the Lord meets us where we are and then takes us by the hand and leads us to where he wants us to be. Communion is God’s gift to remind us of that fact. Pray with me. 

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] John 13:36-38

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

[3] To see or learn more about The Chosen, please see

[4] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, p 806.

[5] Frederick Dale Bruner, John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans’s Publishing, 2012), p. 1225.

[6] Ibid.

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Easter Eyes, Luke 24:1-12

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, Easter 2022

Luke 24:1-12: 24.1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 1

Easter has taken on new significance this year for me and my family. You helped me just two weeks ago celebrate my wife, Kelly’s, life, and her entry into her own Easter reality. This Easter, you might say, I am paying more attention to what it’s all about and what it means practically for you and me. Let’s remember beloved, Easter forces the people of God to see differently. I mean, everything. Easter is God’s ophthalmological procedure whereby we see everything anew, different, and more clearly. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Joanna along with the other women entered the tomb and were given Easter eyes1. Peter as he ran to the tomb and peered in inspecting everything, he was given Easter eyes. The other disciples locked into the basement of their home refusing to believe or even examine the women’s Story, remain stuck with their spiritual cataracts, and fail to comprehend anything differently; that Sunday morning was just another ordinary day; to them, the women’s Story was nothing but twaddle. You see, a person must personally explore the meaning of Easter on his or her own. God will honor a person’s desire to find the deep meaning of Easter with the gift of Easter Eyes. So, beloved, have you begun to look at the world through your Easter eyes? Does the resurrection make you look and see your life, death, and the world differently?

Yet, before one receives the gift of Easter eyes, he or she must go through a crisis. For the women and the others, their crisis was the death of their Master, Jesus.

You cannot see it but on my left shoulder are the two Chinese characters which depict the word crisis. One character represents risk. The second Chinese character represents opportunity. When these two characters are written together, it is translated as crisis. 3 Over the Triduum, the three days comprising this Easter weekend caused a crisis; before us then, is the reality of both risk and opportunity. What do we do with this crisis? How does it place you at risk? What are the opportunities it opens for you? What do we do with this crisis?

There was the risk the Jewish people would break out in rebellion against the empire. There was a risk on God’s part for allowing his only beloved son to be nailed to a Roman instrument of death. The religious officials were aware of the risk of having their stronghold on the Jewish faith highjacked by some backwater Rabbi from Nazareth. But Jesus, amid all the risk to his life and friends, saw an opportunity. Jesus saw the opportunity to redefine, realign, and restore humanity and the created order back to stasis – to equilibrium – where once again the peace and reign of God would thrive, not in following an exaggerated Book of Order called the Law, but in modeling the very character of God to each other and to the earth with selfless love. The Triduum, the Three Days from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter morning was a cataclysmic crisis of universal order! There was a risk but oh, look at the opportunity the empty tomb provides! We can see clearly again! We can live again in the fullness of joy and confidence that nothing can separate you and me from the longing love of God through Jesus.

Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Charlotte, Pendleton Peery, notes that “We tend to see the resurrection as the epilogue to the story of Jesus’ life and death. Through our ordered worship and well-rehearsed liturgical routines, we work our way right up to the empty tomb of Easter morning, only to walk away from the experience as if nothing has changed.”4 He’s right. We have the tendency to work our way up to Easter and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and then that’s it. Life returns to the way it was before. The chocolate eggs have been eaten and the baskets are put away until next year. Oh, my friends, we’ve got it all wrong! The Easter Story is not an epilogue to Jesus’ Story; Easter initiates an entirely new beginning of a new chapter in the Divine Story of our lives.

A former professor of mine and Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, indicates that Easter morning, the empty tomb, is the initiation of a new world order occurring right now and it highlights a way of living and dying that is strikingly different from the culture surrounding us. He says, “The new truth of Jesus…is that self-giving love is the wave of the future, and we are called to follow. The Lord of the cosmos has signed on to this alternative we see in Jesus because love is the very character of God.”5 He indicates that Easter causes you and I to stand with our feet in two different worlds: One foot stands in the world of our popular culture and the other foot stands in the inaugurating Kingdom and the world of promise. We stand with feet placed firmly in both and now, Church, we are left with the choice. Do we rest our gaze on the broken, self-seeking, bleak, and depressing world, or do we like the women, fall with our faces to the ground and remember what Jesus has taught and promised us and then run and tell those we know that everything has changed! We remind ourselves and others that Jesus in his Easter provides us our Easter, too! And we begin to live that transformed life once we fully embrace Easter as the new Story, the new way of living with God and one another. We see the world, each other, God, with Easter eyes!

Have you ever had one of those experiences whereupon you have looked at something or someone and it made such a mark in you that you cannot unsee it? One of those experiences was seeing the birth of my girls. It totally changed the way I see the world and human life. I cannot unsee the painful determination in Kelly’s face as she labored or Lauren and Kate’s faces when the doctor held them up the first time. This is what the women at the tomb experienced that morning. This is what Peter saw when he investigated the empty tomb with a pile of empty grave clothes sitting there. The women, Peter, all knew that they have seen something extraordinary and now they cannot unsee it. They may not have fully understood at the time what the empty tomb meant but its emptiness jolted them to look at their everyday life in a whole new way. It jolted them to begin looking for Jesus with their new Easter eyes. It jolted them to remember all that Jesus told them, taught them, and demonstrated to them. Does the Story, the news that the tomb is empty, still jolt us today?

In the ancient language of the New Testament, the word for ‘grave’ or ‘tomb’ and the word for ‘remember’ originate from the same root word. When one remembers, he or she is transported back to a specific time and place. A grave, a sepulcher, is a place one goes to relive the memory and preserve those moments of the person buried there. Well, our Story this morning says, “Remember what Jesus told you; there’s nothing to be seen here; He has risen, and the tomb is empty!” What does Jesus want the women, Peter, along with you and me to remember? He’s not there. He’s out loving on the people once again and he’s expecting us, Church, to be out doing the same!

He wants us to use our new Easter eyes to see those around us as walking images of God in our midst and then treat them that way. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the systems of injustice, inequality, and greed and do something about them, by addressing them, and by flipping the tables of the status quo just like Jesus did. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the light of promise, possibility, and hope the empty tomb provides. He wants us to wake up each morning with the light of love on our faces so that when the world tries to assault us with war and images of war, with sickness or death, we face them with full confidence that nothing can prevent the ways and will of God from taking place. As one scholar wrote, we are a people “That refuses to participate in the anxiety of the world, because it’s a world that imitates birds and lilies in the sure confidence that God in heaven knows our needs and supplies them.” 6

Yes, this Easter is different for me this year. My bedroom is empty, Kelly’s not there. But I expected that. I am at peace with that simply because I remembered Jesus’ promise. I see everything now through Easter eyes and I know I will see her and the risen Christ again. I just must keep remembering the power of the Easter promise.

Blessings and happiness to you this Easter Sunday and the Holy Spirit give you Easter Eyes! Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 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 I am indebted to my colleague and friend, Dr. Robbie Carol, for this phrase ‘Easter Eyes’. It was in the title of a sermon he preached in 1987 at the Decatur First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

3 See The literal reading for the second character that we read as opportunity is ‘a change point.’

4 Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 948 (

5 Brueggemann, Walter. A Way other than Our Own (p. 86). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

6 Ibid,

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Stepping through the Door, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

A sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on March 27, 2022

Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. Paul is writing to the church describing his intent to come and see them, but he has been delayed in leaving. Immediately preceding our text today, Paul reminds the church that what keeps him and his companions going in the face of hostile persecution. “The love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that…he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

This is important for us to remember. Paul’s motivation for doing what he’s doing is because Christ’s love is urging him forward so that he can tell as many people as possible that Jesus died and was raised for all people. Paul wants people to experience the same life change he has experienced himself. Let’s now turn our attention to today’s reading beginning with verse 16.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[1]

After a very emotional ten days, I drove my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter to the airport as they had to get back home to work. They also had to get back before this blizzard hit Boston. Time slowed down for me once I kissed them goodbye and started back home. It was Sunday morning and the streets were pretty clear but I drove slowly nonetheless. You see, I really did not want to go home but I must. I walked slowly from the car to the front door of the apartment and literally froze as I grabbed the door latch. My hand was shaking as I held the handle for about twenty to thirty seconds before I walked into our apartment all alone for the first time since Kelly’s death; as I stepped through the threshold, I was very conscious of stepping out of a wonderful past while heading into a very unknown and perhaps a very lonely future. It was one of those moments you do not forget as it gets etched into your memory. Walking through that door I realized my life was forever changed.

Beloved, this is what Paul is describing today in our text. He’s saying that when a person is pursued by the love of God and they turn to embrace Jesus, their life is never the same.  As Paul puts it, he or she becomes a new creation; it’s a funny word Paul uses for ‘creation.’ It’s the ancient root word for cosmos; in other words, a person’s entire universe, world, environment get a heavenly reboot and a new operating system is installed. Paul reminds us that our old life dies because of Jesus’ death on the Cross; through the Risen Christ, an entirely new life begins for us. Everything in our lives has changed as we step into a redeemed future; each of our lives will never be the same again.

At least they shouldn’t be. Frankly this is why Paul is writing the Corinthians. He’s reminding them that a relationship with Christ demands a life that is different from those that are, as Paul says, in the world. It’s a new life not because it’s some quid pro quo arrangement with God where we are made whole and are saved so therefore, we have to act in a certain way to continue being loved; on the contrary, our lives are so radically different because they are lives full of divine peace and joy.

Friends, our lives will change in at least three ways after we embrace Jesus. First, the way we see the world, others, God, and issues of injustice changes. The second thing that changes is our language and the way we speak of God, of others, of the world, and its injustices. Finally, our community changes because the virtues our old networks and groups value do not fulfill the same type of values our Christ-infused life embrace. Get embraced by Jesus and the way see, the way you speak, and the people you hang out change.[2]

It’s at this point we need to pause, sit back, close your eyes a moment, and take a breath. In the silence you experience as you retire to the back of your mind to ponder, I want each of us to reflect upon questions like these: Do I see others from a worldly point of view or through the eyes and understanding of God’s? Does my life outwardly demonstrate that I am a brand-new creation, that I have had a total system reboot, and live a light that reflects the healing love of the Lord? Then again, I need to ask if there’s really no difference in the tone and texture of my life after I have professed to follow Jesus? Can the people I encounter around the kitchen table, the board room table, the check-out line, or in the classroom even tell I am any different from the rest of the dog-eat-dog frenzy in the world? Does the way I speak about others, social issues, politics, or social justice change?

Paul is reminding us that Christ reconciled us to God. As such, our new life in Christ is one that has the specific ministry of sharing the unmerited love from God we received with others. This ministry we have been given is part and parcel of this change of ours as we step through the door to Jesus. He says that when we fall in line behind Jesus, we are sent out, not as apostles per se; rather, we are sent out as ambassadors of Christ in the world. For what it’s worth, the word for ambassador Paul uses in the original language is where we get the word presbyterian. Paul is calling us to literally be presbyterians in the world spreading a message of reconciliation. If love is the highest spiritual gift all Christ-followers are given, the delivery system to share that love is through the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation literally means ensuring that the books are in order, where all the debits and credits line up evenly. Balance is restored, not only in the accounting ledgers but more importantly in our relationship with God and those around us.

It means restoring balance and reconciliation with those we know and with those we don’t know. Restoring balance and reconciliation of not only individuals but of communities. Restoring balance and reconciliation with people we may not like very much as well as with people we feel a sense of hatred toward. Scholar Casey Thompson reminds us, “For once we have discerned Jesus to be the Savior of the world, we cannot limit our estimate of other human beings—the born or unborn, exploiters or murderers, terrorists or militarists, frauds or failures—as dwelling beyond his reach. We cannot see any person as anything other than a creature for whom Christ has died and risen, and thus as one meant also to become “a new creation.””[3]

Yesterday, the Session examined this incredible Confirmation class. One of the things we had them do was recite the Apostles Creed. When they were done, I asked a question that was not on their exam. Basically, I wanted to see how well they engaged in doing theology. So, I asked them, “Why did Jesus descend into hell?” Their answers were profound.

Jesus descended into hell because “He didn’t want to leave anyone out who may not have had a second chance.” Another replied, “Because he descended into hell, it reminds us that there is no place too dark and scary that God can’t go.” Wow. Just wow.

This is what Paul is talking about. Because God was/is/ and shall actively go to people as well as to the spiritually dark and scary places to reconcile the winners and losers, the pious and the misfits, the Republicans and the Democrats, as well as the Russians and the Ukrainians to both himself and to one another. God does this through Spirit in and through each one of us here.

Today, these young men and women have embraced Jesus just like you. Today they have been and are reconciled to God. Now, it’s their turn to be vital presbyterians, ambassadors, engaging in a ministry of reconciling others to God as they are. Their profession of faith is their stepping through the door leaving the past and walking into a new life and future; their lives will never be the same because their lives will never be the same.

Can people tell we have been reconciled to God? Can they experience in us that our lives are not the same? How effective of an ambassador am I?  Do we see and speak about God, people, or institutions differently than before we met Jesus? These are all relevant questions to ponder on this fifth Sunday of Lent. Let us pray. 

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 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] I read this by Rev. Dr. Alan J.  Roxburgh in a book that has been misplaced. I wish I could remember the book! He is the one who highlighted these changes in newly faithed people.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide by David L. Bartlett,  Barbara Brown Bartlett .

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He Came Down and Then He Looked Up, Luke 6:17-26

A sermon preached by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., on February 13, 2022

If you would rather listen to the service and sermon, please click here.

Growing up in north Georgia gave me ample opportunity to go ambling through the woods and mountains. Over the years I began to have a close affinity with the rugged Appalachians of Georgia, Tennessee, and western North Carolina. I particularly loved them when it was overcast or in the winter months when the tourists were gone, and all the leaves were stripped off the trees revealing the rugged landscape of the Blue Ridge. The Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains were the places I would go to find myself and ponder life. In my early years, I left the Mother Church and wandered into Mother Nature. God felt so much larger than the walls of a sanctuary, and the dear Reverend who was pastor of the church I belonged to was a nice enough guy and all but he looked and acted as though he was cut straight from casting at Disney.  He was too polished, too perfect, and too strait-laced; my life at the time was a mess and I needed something more than a spit-and-polish pastor and a congregation who tried to outdo themselves in wearing their Sunday best. My heart was yearning for something more, something larger, something wilder.

The southern Appalachian Mountains and woods became to me a vast, great cathedral where an untamed and whimsical Spirit lived, taught, and played. The older I became, the more I discovered the Cherokee had a name for the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge. It was there amid the upper elevations that the Cherokee believed the Great Spirit lived and they referred to the area as the Thundering Mountains. If you wanted to be stripped of yourself and come face to face with God, you wandered and spent time in the Thundering Mountains. It was the Great Cathedral of the Thundering Mountains that I encountered God who brought me back to the church and a larger vision of who and what a pastor should be.

In retrospect, I imagine that’s why I connected so well with Jesus.  He took off and headed into the wilderness and the mountains to get away from the people and to encounter a wild and whimsical God who had not been domesticated by all the religious leaders of the day. It was there his faith was forged through prayer and temptation as well as with solitude and discipline. Jesus knew, however, that as fulfilling the wilderness and the mountains could be, he would have to come back down “into the real world” and be about his work. This is where we pick up in the Story today. Jesus and the disciples have gone up a mountain and it’s during this respite he chose twelve of the men to be his apostles. Listen to what happens next beginning with Luke 6:17.

Luke 6:17-26

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.[1]

He came down with them and looked up. Very unassuming words but are powerful in their explanation of who Jesus was and what he taught. Today’s scripture from Luke is often referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew 5 through 7, it’s called The Sermon on the Mount. If you have not had a chance to compare these two sermons with their beatitudes, I strongly encourage you to do so. They are similar but they are way so different. Matthew has Jesus going up the mountain and sitting down and the people came to him. The image is of a Rabbi looking down over the multitudes and teaching as his voice flowed down the mountainside. In Luke, Jesus comes down from the mountain and wades into the midst of the people waiting for him.

In Matthew, the beatitudes are phrased in spiritual overtones like, “blessed are the poor in spirit” or “blessed are the gentle in spirit for they shall inherit the earth.” Luke’s version is more down-to-earth and raw. Luke doesn’t spiritualize the beatitudes like Matthew; no, Luke keeps it real and in the present tense. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, you shall laugh.” Gone are the generalities of Matthew where Jesus speaks non-specifically and says, “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, the peacemakers, the merciful.”  Luke contextualizes it and adds the second person plural “you” that causes it to become personal, real, and quite immediate.

In Matthew, the crowd is made up of his disciples.  In Luke, the crowd is composed of both his disciples as well as the looky-loos from around a sixty-mile radius who simply wanted to check Jesus out or be healed by him. Whereas in Matthew, we would say, “Jesus has just been a preaching!”, in Luke’s version, Jesus is moving in and out of the people healing them, ministering to them personally, and grounds his beatitudes to what he is doing right then. For Luke, the healing and compassion lavished on the people preclude any sermon that Jesus gives. The image we have is Jesus kneeling down in the midst of this sea of broken humanity healing someone and then the scripture says, “he looked up at his disciples and said.” Jesus is not talking generally about the poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the persecuted of the future; Jesus is telling his disciples, “Blessed are all these poor people, blessed be all these hungry people, blessed be all these emotionally torn up people, and blessed are these folks who are reviled by others.”

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to be comparing and contrasting Jewish law and tradition with how God really intended the Law and tradition to be interpreted and lived out. Luke, however, does something totally different. Luke goes on to add a list of woes to contrast his list of blessings. This is where Jesus goes from preaching to meddling. “Woe to you who are rich now…woe to you who are fat, full, and happy now…woe to you laughing now…woe to you when people speak well of you now.”

Now, let’s get this straight, Jesus’ rhetorical use of naming opposites with his blessings and woes is not celebrating poverty and neither is he saying to be rich is a bad thing in and of itself. What Jesus is saying is that the family of God includes the poor and the rich, the hungry and the sated, the grieving and the mirthful, and those of ill repute as well as though of high social standing. He is reminding you and me that those of us on the positive side of the equation have a responsibility to model Jesus’ habits and wade into the midst of the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the reviled and minister to them right outside our doors. Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain is to jolt you and me out of complacency and our own sense of self-satisfaction with our life. Jesus is challenging the ancient Jewish notion that those who experience ease and prosperity are that way because God approves of their life and blesses them; the Sermon on the Plain turns that notion on its head and demands that we followers of Jesus understand that God is a God of the underdog. God will always side, stand with, and care for the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the reviled. The whole point of the Sermon on the Plain is that we, sisters and brothers of the Church, are to do the exact same thing.

Jesus looks up at his disciple and provides them with blessings and woes. Another way to hear that is Jesus provides his disciples with blessings and ‘wake-ups’. Wake-up those of you who are rich. Wake-up those who are full and stuffed with food. Wake-up all of you who frolic in all the pleasures your good life provides you. Wake-up all of you who are self-satisfied in your fine reputations. Wake-up. Wake-up. Wake-up. Come on down from your Thundering Mountains and wake-up. All who have ears, let them hear. Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 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.

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