Let’s Pause and Take a Look at the Familiar, Luke 11:1-13.

A sermon preached on July 24, 2022, by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Before I launch into the sermon, I want to try an experiment. Humor me and say together the Lord’s Prayer out loud…

Did you hear it? The prayer moves along in a ta-da, ta-da, tada, ta-da, daaaa. You ended it on the downbeat. Beloved, when the early church began using this prayer as a way of codifying its Christian identity, it added to it a doxology – “To Thine be the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen!” Friends, dosxologies don’t end on a down-note, a down-beat. Doxologies are a form praise. Instead of rattling the prayer off by rote and ending it on a downbeat, each word of the Lord’s prayer is to be said as though you and I were telling it to Jesus face-to-face. It ends with a crescendo of praise, “TO THINE IS THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, AMEN!!” The prayer Jesus taught his friends ends on an up-note, an upbeat.

It’s my contention that we approach this wonderful prayer as well as many aspects of our spiritual life out of a sense of rote. We simply go through the motions. The prayer, the liturgy, has become too familiar to us and over time it’s lost its meaning and power. So today, we are going to slow down and pause. We are going to look at the familiar once more and see if can recapture the power of prayer.

This morning we are looking at Luke 11:1-13. Immediately following last week’s reading of Martha and today, we find Jesus at prayer.

Prayer is an important topic for Luke, and we find Jesus and others in prayer often woven through both Luke and Acts. Luke opens his Story with Zechariah praying in the Temple when an angel tells him his post-menopausal wife is going to give birth to a little boy and Luke’s gospel ends with the disciples gathering at the Temple together in worship and prayer following the resurrection. Prayer is vital for Luke. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Luke 11:1-13

11.1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” [1]

The disciples ask Jesus a reasonable question: How are we to pray? It was not uncommon for students of prominent rabbis and teachers to learn “the method” of prayer their teacher proscribed. John the Baptist has told his disciples how to pray and now Jesus’ disciples want to know what their teacher says about it. They personally witness that prayer is important to Jesus because we find Jesus in Luke’s Story praying all the time whether over people he meets, in the Garden when he was betrayed, and a prayer were the last words he uttered before he died on the Cross. Prayer was central to Jesus as much his breathing in the air. [2]

“Lord, teach us to prayer, just as John taught his disciples.” What does Jesus’ teach them, teach us, about how to pray? Jesus teaches us prayer is simple, prayer is trinitarian in its expression, and prayer is persistent.

Jesus teaches us prayer is simple. So many people have a hard time praying out loud; they become self-conscious and worry they’re doing it wrong. The great news is this: There’s no wrong way of doing it! If we understand that our prayers are simply our way of invoking and sitting in God’s presence, then we realize prayer is really uncomplicated. Hear that again: Prayer is simply asking God to sit in the Lord’s presence with everything we bring with us and with everything we are.

In my first church out of seminary, there was an old saint of the congregation named Mary England.  She was in her 80’s but no one could keep up with her. Her nickname was “Flash.” One Sunday after church, Flash pulled me aside. Smiling that sweet, soft smile of hers, she told me, “Preacher, you’re new at this and let me give you a word of advice: Stand up to be seen; speak out to be heard; and sit down to be appreciated.” She patted my chest with her right hand and walked off.  It was the wisest preaching advice I ever had received! In essence, this is what Jesus is telling us – when you pray, keep it simple and to the point.

When we pray, Jesus is telling us to boldly approach the Creator of all that is, was, and ever shall be with an intimate, “Daddy, in heaven…” When he tells us to pray to the Father, he’s telling us the recipient of our prayers loves us deeply as a parent loves their child. When we approach God this way, it’s just like a preschooler who inquisitively asks, “Momma, why is such and such.” Jesus is showing us how to bring God down to our intimate level. We simply pray with the trust of a child that God bends down to listen intently to what we have to say when we open our mouth and hearts in prayer.

In this simplicity, we pray for the basics: Food; forgiveness; and boundaries. His simple prayer is to beseech God for just what we need to get by because by doing so, we personally demonstrate our trust that God will provide the rest. A simple prayer is an expression of the depth to our faith; we know that when gives us what we need, that ultimately it will lead to God’s abundant blessings.

So our prayers are to be simple, but Jesus secondly indicates our prayers should have a trinitarian shape to them. Our prayers include God, ourselves, and they also include our neighbor. Prayer is not a binary exchange between just me and God. Prayer seeks to include God, those around me, and how I relate relate with those about me. Individually, we ask for the basics (give us our daily bread) but we also plead for reconciliation with God and with our neighbor (forgive us our sins as we forgive those indebted to us). The whole notion of ‘shalom’ or peace-fullness is when all is in balance. We experience shalom when we are personally right with the Lord but also when we are right with our neighbor.

When Jesus tells us to forgive debts, his Jewish audience hear the words from Leviticus 25 when Moses talks about the Jubilee year. The Jubilee year occurred every fifty years and it was a time Hebrew society was brought back to balance. All debts were wiped clean. If your family got in a bind and had to give your property away to pay a debt, at Jubilee your property came back to you. If you had an indentured servant, at Jubilee the person was released from their service to you and could return to their family. All debts were cancelled. All debts were wiped clean. Jubilee was a societal re-boot button.

When our debts are forgiven, our personal relationship with God is brought back into balance.  In turn, you and I are told to seek out the one next to us and bring about balance in that relationship as well. As God forgives you and me through Jesus’ work on the Cross, so we are to follow Jesus’ example and forgive those who we have wronged or who have wronged us. Simple prayer is about you, me, and God – all three.

Finally, we learn our prayer are to be persistent. We are to ask, to seek, and to knock on God’s door. We are to have the expectation that when we call out for help, God will respond to us and provide our needs just as a parent loves and responds to their child. Ask, seek, and knock! We are to be persistent. The parable about the person banging on his neighbor’s door at midnight is telling us that God knows what we need, and God will provide it.

You see, everyone who lived in Jesus’ time knew the importance of hospitality to the stranger. If a guest came to your home, it was your duty and responsibility to drop everything and tend to their needs regardless of the inconvenience it brings you. The point of the parable is that as his door was getting pounded on, the grumpy guy in bed was of course expected to help his neighbor entertain his guest. If you failed to show hospitality, it brought dishonor not only to your home but to your entire village. The parable is telling us, “Of course God will tend to your persistence because that’s what is expected.”

“Well, this is all good preacher, but what if I pray simply to our Lord, pray for balance and restored relationship with God and with those around me, and what if I pray persistently but all my prayers appear to go unanswered?”

Fair question. I would say that our perceived unanswered prayers reveal more about us than they do about God’s lack of attention to detail. Remember how we said earlier prayer is asking God to simply to come and sit in the His presence bringing everything we are and have. I surmise that our apparent unanswered prayers are being answered but we must continue in faithfulness to keep looking for answers to questions we may not yet know we are looking for. When God’s answers seem silent, then it’s our task to delve spiritually deeper into ourselves and look for the answers and maybe even new questions. Not hearing God’s answers to our prayers is an invitation for us to deepen our spiritual depth.

Beloved, this week, let’s all pause and take a good, long look at the familiar, i.e., how we pray. It’s all so simple. It’s all so trinitarian in its perichoretic dance about you, me, and God. It’s all so persistent with asking, seeking, and knocking. And don’t forget, to see and embrace answered prayer requires our hard, spiritual work. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., 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] See Allan J. Culpepper in Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year C, Volume 3, Season after Pentecost by Thomas G. Long https://a.co/31pV3Ix.

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A Crash Course in Spiritual Formation, Amos 8:1-13

A sermon delivered by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on July 17, 2022

The lectionary readings this week provided two very different types of reading for us this morning. On one hand, there is the well-known text of Martha and Mary entertaining Jesus as their house guest. On the other hand, we also have a difficult somewhat hard to hear diatribe from a southern upstart preacher from Judah who was told to travel north to the country of Israel and have a good, old-fashioned “come- to-Jesus meeting” with the folks there. It would have been easy to look at the Martha and Mary text and have a message on what the picture of true discipleship is like as Mary sat as a student at the feet of the great rabbi. Spirit pushed me towards the more meddlesome Amos text.

Amos was a shepherd and groundskeeper turned prophet. A prophet’s prophetic message does one of three things. The message tells of what is happening in the future. The message serves as a reminder to the people what truth really is. Finally, sometimes it’s both.  Today’s text is both. Amos is describing events of Israel’s coming exile as well as exposing the hard truth the people of God are totally missing the point of what it means to be the people of God. Amos’ prophetic message is both truth-telling and future-telling.

As we listen to the scripture, it’s important to remember Amos is using the literary device of hyperbole. Hyperbole is speech that grossly exaggerates the details of a story to make a simple point people will remember. Listen to the Word of the Lord and see if you can determine the point he’s trying to make.

Amos 8:1-12

            8.1This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”

            4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

            11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.[1]

So, the truth Amos is preaching is that the people of Israel have lost their spiritual/ethical way; they practice Sabbath, which is good, but they sit in church and scheme of ways to exploit and take advantage of their neighbor once church lets out. Yet, Amos is also forecasting what is going to happen in the future because the people have tossed the word of God behind their back like trash and are living a faithful life as an Israelite without any moral or ethical substance. The result is the nation is going to be destroyed and taken into exile.

In essence, our Story this morning is a story of the integrity of one’s character. Integrity is when our inner world of spirituality, morals, and social ethics are consistent with our outward expressions of that spirituality, those morals, and our social ethics to those around us. When our inner, deeply held values match our outward expression of those values, then a person acts with integrity. The lack of integrity is when one’s professed values and beliefs don’t match their outward expression or behavior. Amos is railing at the people that they have lost their integrity. They may gather together for Sabbath and go through the routines of worship but when they leave to go home, they leave all sense of moral ethics back in the pew at church. As I am fond of saying, they are all driveshaft but no engine. They are all tall hat but no saddle. They are Israelites in name only. They have lost their integrity of what it means to be a people of God and what it means to live in relationship with their neighbor. They are Israelites in name only. You see, to be an Israelite means you follow the one true God and that you live your personal and communal life according to a set standard of moral values and ethics. It was called the Law. Because you were part of a special community and people, you made it a priority to both personally and culturally look out for one another. To survive as a nation of Israel, they must look out for all the people in their midst. They were to make sure the laws were upheld with and for all the people. They were to take care of the poor among them. They were responsible for the widows, the homeless, and they were to treat with dignity and respect the foreigners who wanted to live with them. They were to use balanced scales and proper measures in the marketplace. They were expected to give people real food and not some cheap substitute for it. Amos is telling them if you are going to be called the people of God, you sure as heck better act like it.

But they don’t. They have lost their spiritual and social integrity. The consequences of which will result in a total collapse of their culture and the city in which they live; Jerusalem will be destroyed. Their praise songs will turn into woeful dirges. And it will be so bleak, they will have lost so much of their integrity, they will eventually forget about God and will fail to hear God’s voice, God’s word.

But let’s face it, Amos declared these words almost 3,000 years ago. What do they have to do with us?

Beloved, in Jesus, God has sent his own Son to be divine prophetic voice that is truth and speaks truth. It’s a prophetic voice that foretells of a time when we will each face the throne of God and will have to give an accounting for our own integrity – both personally and corporately as the Church, the people of Jesus.

The text this morning is speaking truth to us. It calls us to plumb the depth of our own spiritual, ethical, and moral integrity. Does what we profess about Jesus, does the way we worship Jesus, does how we treat the alien, the poor, the homeless, the person of color, the gay person, those we do business with — match and balance the simple measure Jesus provides us which is to love one another? You know, I have heard people say, “Well Preacher, I love those type of people, but…” Friends, whenever you add ‘but’ as a qualifier for love as it is expressed in justice and ethics, you know you have some remedial spiritual homework to do! Love does not have any ‘buts’ to it!

This morning’s text is a crash course in spiritual formation. It reminds us that our inner world and outward expression need to be in synch. It reminds us that it’s not only enough to know Jesus is the world’s savior, as a community called the holy catholic, apostolic church, we are supposed to live like it. It reminds us that all our good orthodoxy, all the doctrines and what we know about God, is totally worthless if we fail to express and live what we know out in our neighborhood. Orthodoxy demands good orthopraxy.  Good doctrine and beliefs demand corresponding spiritual expression and practice.

It’s time the Church consider the quality of its spiritual formation. It’s time for individual Christians to consider the quality of their own spiritual formation. It’s time we as a nation whose identity is bound up in our Constitution and Bill of Rights take stock of our civic formation as well. Is what we espouse in our Constitution being fully lived out and shared equally in our communities? Frankly, this whole text this morning forces me to ask if the Church in America, if our nation as whole, has lost its integrity? Are we heading to the point where we getting so off course, we will fail to hear the Word of God? Will we fail to follow our nation’s Constitution that demands equal rights and opportunities for all or are we in danger of forgetting that, too?

Will Willimon, the former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, says, “One way you can tell the difference between a true and living God and a dead and fake god is that the false god will never tell you anything that will make you angry and uncomfortable!”[2] The Holy Spirit make each one of us uncomfortable today as we leave and mull our integrity and our spiritual formation. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.

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

[1] New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

[2] Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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The Pastoral Prayer for Sunday, July 10, 2022

O God who is, who was, and who forever—shall be, we humbly gather as your Church whether participating at home or in-person. Our very act of worship sends shudders through the spiritual realms because your people have gathered to celebrate you, to love you, and to be empowered by Spirit to leave this place loving even the most difficult to love. Our very act of worship is our simple but effective way of helping to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in Fort Lauderdale and beyond.

Lord of Hosts, we pray for this planet you have charged us to care for and to tend. Forgive our flippancy towards our natural resources and remind us those resources have limits. Convict each of us and help us evaluate the quality of our stewardship of our lands and waters.

Furthermore, enable us to be good caregivers of our communities and how they are governed and led. The Apostle Paul reminds us to obey our leaders in government; Lord, we pray for judges, commissioners, mayors, senators, and congressmen and raise up women and men who are worthy to follow. Help us to unwind the American flag from the Christian cause and stem the tide of those like Christian Nationalists who try to conscript Jesus into their agenda. As grateful as we are for the privilege of living in America, Jesus, it is you and only you who is Lord of the Church and indeed all creation.

Spirit of Peace, we pray for those caught in the conflict of war. We lift the innocents who are dying in Syria, Ethiopia, Korea, and Ukraine. We pray against aggressive countries that seek to control, abuse and kill to seek power and control over others and their lands.

Meddlesome God who pricks our hearts and consciences, help your Church to humbly admit that it portrays conflicting values on ethical Issues. For example, we proclaim the right to life while pushing for capital punishment; we condemn Putin for invading another country but fail to confess we have done that to indigenous people in our own land. We proclaim unity and equality but continue to segregate and discriminate subtly with our words, lack of social involvement, or deeply held opinions.

Jesus, oh Precious One, mold us into the Body of Christ, the Church, we can become. Enlarge our vision and instill in us a spirit of boldness and passion that move our feet, open our hands, and breaks our hearts for the Samaritans in our midst. Tear down walls of division and infuse us with the Spirit of inclusion, tolerance, and love all centered around Jesus.

In the quiet of our hearts, we personally pray specifically for —

Those families grieving the death of a loved one…

Individuals waiting for medical test results and who are scared…

Single parents trying to provide for their families…

For healing in relationships of those who are splitting apart…

The children and adults who suffer from emotional trauma and depression…

For the people who are held back by fear while feeling your encouragement to step out and risk…

And finally, we lift up to you the names of those we each know who need your touch.

O Lord, in sure and certain hope and trust, we offer these prayers to you. Hear us now as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray —

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 us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
forever and ever.

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Joy Comes in the Morning, Psalm 30

A sermon preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, July 3, 2022.

Psalm 30

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.[i]

One of the many reasons I appreciate the faith I am gifted with is that honest Christianity embraces the totality of one’s life. In other words, our faith, when it’s not distorted and littered about with prosperity gospel offings, is one that embraces the honest flow of life. The tide flows in and the tide flows out. The clouds come and bring rain and the sky clears and the sun appears again. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. A woman dies but her granddaughter is born. Life has a rhythm to it. Like the wise teacher who wrote the biblical book, Ecclesiastes, reminds us, that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.[ii] I say all this to not belabor the obvious but as a reminder. For some reason, scores of Christians believe in the notion that because they are beloved by Jesus, Jesus will then suspend the natural forces and prevent them from having tough times in their life.

“Preacher, I’ve lived a good life and treated others nicely, so why is God doing this to me now?”

“Preacher, I have faith, so why did cancer take my child from me?”

“Preacher, I’m a good person; why did God allow me to get fired?”

“Preacher!”…what would you and I say?

This morning’s Psalm contains one of the most profoundly beautiful statements in the Bible. It’s a statement that proclaims the sheer consistency of God’s presence in our lives during their ups and their downs. It’s right there in verse 5: Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

The biblical paraphrase, The Message, reads it, “He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”

Finally, a Catholic version of the Hebrew Scriptures, The Knox Version of the Bible, says, “Sorrow is but the guest of a night, and joy comes in the morning.” Now that’s a translation that gets the point across! Hard times, sadness may be our house guest for a night but in the morning, they’ll have their bags packed up and head on down the road.

Growing up, being the youngest of four siblings, whenever in-laws came over, I was the one that got kicked out of my bedroom so Aunt Louise or Uncle Jack could have my bed. I loved Aunt Louise and Uncle Jack but I was delighted when they finally left so I could get my room back! This is what the psalmist is trying to tell us. Weeping, the hard realities of life may overwhelm us now, but with help from the faithful ones in the congregation, we are to hang on because those times of weeping and sadness will also check out and leave us be. The sky will clear, and the winds will calm down and the sea shall once again be calm.

The psalmist gives us two tools within Psalm 30 we are to use while we wait during those dark moments and difficult times. First, we are to surround our circumstances with thanks and praise. The second tool we are to use is brutal honesty with God.

The very first and last line of our text today is about praising God with a worshipful heart. The psalmist looked back over his life and remembered how God answered his prayers before by lifting him out of the depths of despair and helped maintain his honor in the presence of those who hated him. He praises God for delivering his life from the pit, literally Sheol – the place of the dead. He called out for God’s mercy and presence and then thanks God for always being there.

It’s right here, beloved, we all can learn a lesson from the psalmist. He doesn’t sing praises and prayers to God to keep him out of life’s messes; rather, he is exalting others in the congregation to join him in thanking God despite of life’s messes and hardships. Our life in Jesus is to be lived with bookends of thanks and praise whether good times or bad.

The second tool available to us in the psalm is the psalmist is brutally honest with God and calls God out in the midst of the difficulty. He reminds the Lord that should evil befall him, and he dies, the dust of his grave is not capable to sing God praises like he can. During distress, he’s honest with God and prays what he deeply feels. God can take it and understands when we grow impatient with answers to prayer we are waiting for in our lives.

When my oldest daughter was about three years old, we were out on a playground.  It was getting late, and dinner was about to be ready so I said, “Okay, Lauren, we need to go wash up for dinner.”  She responded with an emphatic, “No!” and she just plopped straight to the ground. Lauren was a fiercely independent little girl, so I said one more time, “Sweetheart, momma’s got dinner ready. We need to go inside now.” Again, she retorted with, “No!” but this time flipped on her stomach in the dirt. The only thing left to do was to reach down into my daddy tool chest and pull out the deep-voiced, stern, “Lauren, we are going in now” which seemed like a good thing to do at first, but it flipped a switch in her and she began kicking and pounding the ground with loud wailing tears. I shook my head, bent over, and picked her up. Her hands were still pounding, and the feet were still kicking and flailing. I turned her to face me and now I was the target of her blows. The thing is, the harder she kicked, pounded, and wailed, I simply pulled her closer to me and enveloped her in my arms. She finally went limp and stopped and hugged me back. Beloved, this is what God does with us when we get angry or hurt and raise a fist to God demanding, “What gives?”  God can take it.  God can absorb it and simply pulls us tighter into his chest until we calm down and instinctively hug him back.

There’s something about those two tools, thanksgiving, and honesty, that give us the ability to say with firm belief, “Weeping, sadness, heartache may be a houseguest for the night, but the dawning new day brings renewed confidence and joy the nighttime prevented me from seeing.” Weeping may remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

This is a lesson my life has learned this year as I watched my wife slowly die. Holding her hand, stroking her hair, giving her sips of water as she struggled to breathe had filled with my heart and soul weeping at what was happening to her and my loss. And yet for Kelly, it was her death that brought her joy in the morning. In wonder I remind myself God was with us both at the same time.

This is what our Supper is about. The night Jesus died, he and the disciples wept. He experienced pain and cried to the Father, “Take this cup from me!” His Father didn’t. Like all people, just like you and me one day, the Son of God died. All seemed dark, lost, and scary. But then something happened.

Easter! Sunday morning came and Heavens tears of sadness were turned to tears of wonder and joy! All of Jesus’ troubles, all his pain, all his suffering were no match for new, resurrected life. The simple meal given by him at night to his disciples in tears is now a joyful celebration of a new day, a promise of new life. Come, my beloved. Let us examine ourselves and with thanksgiving, come to the Table of Heaven’s new, bright day! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.

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

[i]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.

[ii] See Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

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Some Umpires Call Balls, Some Call Strikes, I Call’em as I See‘em; Luke 8:26-39

A message preached by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on June 19, 2022.

This morning, we find Jesus and the Twelve disembarking a boat on the east/southeast portion of the Sea of Galilee. This is Jesus’ first foray into Gentile territory. The group has just experienced a harrowing storm the evening before. As their boat was getting swamped with water, they woke Jesus up from a snooze and he immediately calms the raging storm. This is where we pick up in the Story. Hear the Word of the Lord!

Luke 8:26-39

26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time, he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Yesterday, the disciples witnessed Jesus take command of the natural elements and calm a storm. Now they see how Jesus commands the evil spirits who run amuck in the world. You must wonder what was churning in the disciples’ minds about this point. What did they see going on from their first-century Jewish perspective?

The first thing they would note is they’re not in Kansas anymore! They have traveled from the safety of their homes with all their familiar Jewish customs and ways and are not pulling the boat to shore in Gentile territory. You know those Gentiles, right? They were seen back then in Jewish eyes as “those kinds of people.” We don’t hang with the likes of them because they don’t see or understand God like we do. They’re different from you and me. They are not as spiritually pure and clean as we are; in fact, we’re better than those Gentiles are by virtue of our birth.

Not only have Jesus and the disciples landed in Gentile territory but they have set ashore in what we would call the wrong part of town. Of all places for their boat to land, it just had to get moored in a Cemetery and a Gentile one at that! But things appear to go from bad to worse. Now, some wild, hollering, buck-naked nut-job begins running towards them as the welcome party!

It’s interesting to note that even before the wild man uttered a word to Jesus, Jesus had already begun commanding the demons to leave the man. Jesus takes the initiative even before he was asked to; it’s a comfort to us because we see that God is working out the messes in our life even before we open our mouths in prayer.

Wild Man must have been a sight. His countrymen did not understand him and saw him as a threat to their own community and villages and then bound him with chains and got him as far away from the civilized population as they could. Wild Man’s countrymen incarcerate him in the lifeless environment outside of town. Ironically, they did not know what to do with him after he had been cleaned up, dressed, and sitting in his right mind. They were agitated and fearful of the positive changes that had taken place. The status quo had been shaken.

We also learn Wild Man’s malady has a name. Legion. Some people have migraines, others have slipped discs, but this man was inflicted with Legion. It’s right here we need to pause.  If we zoom up to 40,000 feet and look down on this scene, we will remember the history of the location where all this took place. Along this side of the Sea of Galilee, the Roman military had swept in and violently captured all the land. It was referred to as the Decapolis, The Ten Cities Region. Now the residents of this part of Palestine may not have been Jewish but they were also oppressed and subdued by the imperial power that smothered the whole area.[1] We also see from this 40,000-foot perspective that Wild Man’s malady is named after the brutal keepers of the peace for the Empire – the feared Roman Legion. A Roman Legion was comprised of anywhere from 4,500 to 6,000-foot soldiers along with several hundred horsemen and they had one job: They were a well-oiled and efficient killing machine whose sole purpose was to strike fear into the hearts of all their opponents and subjects. Legion. Let’s return to the cemetery once more.

The temptation in understanding our text today is to over-spiritualize it and get caught up in the fact Jesus has authority over spiritual powers and demons. I think Luke, a writer who was writing to a gentile, Romanized audience, uses his skill in crafting a story that had a not-very-subtle point: This Jesus movement is really a subversive movement that is more powerful than the Roman occupiers and empire. In other words, beloved, Jesus confronts and overturns the corrupt powers of the world’s empires. It is a Story that pits the Kingdom of God over and against the systems, kingdoms, and politics of this time and realm.

Our Story is one where Jesus is pointing out, calling out, the social system that keeps the marginalized incarcerated and shoved to the outskirts of society. He’s calling out a system that would rather have this Wild Man full of demons chained up and out of the way and have all their pigs to keep their local economy going rather than celebrate this human being’s recovery and a reintroduction to society.  Jesus is calling out systems that put self above others. Jesus calls out those systems that perpetuate the causes that keep the marginalized on the margins. Jesus is calling out the system of the fat and happy status quo.[2]

Today is Juneteenth, a day that is often referred to as Black Independence Day, when in June 1865, Union troops finally made it to Galveston, Texas to announce the slave’s emancipation. Today is a big deal to our black brothers and sisters. It’s a day when I as a person who was blessed to be born an upper-middle-class white man celebrate those blessings and make sure all God’s children have access to those blessings I have had. Today is a day I must critically look at myself and determine how I have contributed to systemic racism and prejudice. I may not be a slave owner but how have I unknowingly placed people of color, people of other sexual orientation, or who are of a different nationality than me into stereotypical categories of how society defines them? What about you? Have you ever thought about it?  How has the church?

Have you ever heard of the Doctrine of Discovery? I don’t remember learning it in my history classes growing up but I have since learned the church had its own hand in fomenting the system of class division and racism. In 1455 Pope Nicholas V issued a proclamation called Romanus Pontifex which gave European kings and monarchs the right to go to new countries and enslave, plunder, or even kill indigenous populations – all in the name of Jesus.

The Doctrine of Discovery states that Christians can, “Invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Muslims and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all moveable and immovable goods whatsoever held and passed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to supply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.[3]  The concept of European white privilege was promulgated through decrees like the Doctrine of Discovery. The roots of systemic racism, beloved, had its gensis from the Church.

But how does that happen? How do these concepts become systemic in people’s minds and cultures? Sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman made the point that our social systems and the construction of our social reality are a result of the interface of three influences. The process begins with a person or group’s externalization (expression) of ideas. Over a period, those ideas are then institutionalized, and concretized, by a community system.  And finally, the institution’s support of those values has the capacity to then internalize (think, “inject into”) those ideas into an individual’s identity and value-set.[4]   So, for example, Pope Nicholas externalized his desire for financial gain and popular support and those desires were then institutionalized first by the Church, the Kingdoms of Portugal and Spain and then were later internalized by later generations of individuals who inherited those beliefs and values. Over time, their future generations embedded those behaviors as “normal” and accepted. Even the Presbyterian Church in the mid-1800s split over slavery and abolition and did not reunite until the mid-1980s.  Look at Nazi Germany: Hitler externalized values of Arian superiority and the empire attempted to institutionalize those beliefs into the German churches to be an arm of Hitler’s Reich; the hope was with the blessing of the church, members would internalize those beliefs and thereby bless the extermination of Jews in the Second World War. Churches today are still wrestling with old stereotypes such as can women be in church leadership, or can gay people really be a good Christians and parents? Really?

Sisters and brothers, let us remember Jesus wants the Church, wants you and me, to transform unjust systems of power into egalitarian systems of grace. We are called to honestly reflect in ourselves about whether our heart breaks for the things that break God’s heart. Legion, beloved, can be exorcised and healed. But Church, it starts with us.

You know, some umpires are prone to call balls a lot. Others are prone to call strikes. You, me, the Church, needs to call ‘em the way we see ‘‘em. And like Jesus, call out Legion when we see it. It is time for us to speak up and speak out. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.

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

[1]  Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 1 (p. 540). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[2] The Rev. Dr. Otis T. Moss, III, A lecture given May 18, 2022 at the Festival of Homiletics, Denver, CO, “Dancing in the Darkness: Daring to Preach While Staring Into the Void.” Dr. Moss provided a wonderful exegetical analysis of this text.

[3] Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration. How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 77.

[4] Mark Charles and Soon-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths. The Ongoing, Dehumanizing legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 2019), 24-29.

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