Suffer Not the Little Children, Matthew 19:13-15

A meditation delivered for The Hanging of the Greens, 11/28/2021 by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

This evening’s text is best understood if it’s placed next to its sister verse that was introduced in the previous chapter in Matthew.  Jesus, along with Peter, James and John come down from the mountain where Jesus has been transfigured before their very eyes. They come down off the mountain and Jesus is immediately confronted by the needs of the crowds.  He performs some healing and then has a series of teachings leading up to our primary text.

It appears that some of the disciples were more concerned about their place in Jesus’ power structure than they were about Jesus’s idea of what the Kingdom of Heaven would be like. In Matthew 18:1ff., we read

18.1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Jesus then spells out teaching on God’s extravagant love for the lost, how the culture of Jesus’ realm is based on forgiveness and grace, and how God demands fidelity from his beloved. It’s right here at Matthew 19.13-15 that Jesus continues to remind his closest followers on what it means live in a world where God rules supreme. Hear the scripture:

Matthew 19:13-15

13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.[1]

We get the feeling the disciples really don’t listen very well.

You see, Matthew is redefining the primary character trait necessary for people to display in the community Jesus is founding and the social structure of Jesus’ community begins with humility. In order for Jesus to be Lord in their lives, the disciples would have to get over themselves and check their egos and old social habits at the door. Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven the disciples ask? Jesus pulls aside a little child and declares the greatest in heaven is like this child who approaches God humbly, meekly, and full of awe and wonder. A child in the first century lived solely at the whim of their parents or slave owners. They had no civil rights as we think of them today. They were lowest of the social pecking order and did what they were told. So, when Jesus physically pulls a child aside and declares you have to become like this child to live in my community, you would think they would have understood his rather radical object lesson.  They didn’t.

We meet the kids again in Matthew 19. This time, people were actively bringing children to be blessed and prayed over by Jesus. And yet, we hear that the same disciples who recently heard and saw about what it means to follow Jesus with a live example of child being singled out are now shewing the children away. Matthew says in verse 13 the disciples rebuked those who were bringing the kids; in other words, they were not being gentle about their consternation and made it abundantly clear. And once again, Jesus responds to the disciple’s prideful ignorance and encourages the children to come. “Don’t hinder them,” Jesus says, “For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”  What did Jesus mean by this?

I imagine Jesus was looking at the disciples with a steely focused stink-eye during this particular conversation. Once again, the disciples are given a living object lesson that the community Jesus is creating is one that is totally upside down to the one they were living in. It’s community where the simple and humble ones are held up as examples for us to follow.  It’s a community where there is no room nor patience for people with power trips and big egos.  It’s a community where power is measured with gentleness, meekness, trust, and with a sense of awe and wonder. It’s a community where the first will be last and the last will be first.

Sadly, after over two millennia neither the Church nor Jesus’ disciples who comprise her have heard and believed this lesson.  We still value power over others instead of walking beside and empowering others. We still value those with impressive resumes and credentials over those who don’t. We still value and pay attention more to the social influencers than to the humble servant of God who disposes of their self-dignity and performs difficult tasks of ministry and service away from the eyes and accolades of others.

And so, on the very first day of the church’s new calendar year, we pause to stop and bless our newborns. Their very presence demonstrates with bright boldness what it is to be a member of Jesus’ community.  These infants have to be held because they cannot stand on their own. There in the parent’s arms we see a living symbol of what it means to be loved by God and receive the gift of grace; all these newborns can do is to receive being held. They don’t reason their way there and neither are they able to do anything to prove they should be loved. Their egos have not been muddied up by the swirl of the world and neither have they learned anything more than gentleness, meekness, and reliance on someone other than themselves. These little ones can teach you and me a lot, if unlike the first disciples, we will listen to them.

© 2021Patrick H. Wrisley. 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] 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.

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Reign of Christ Sunday, The Sound of Silence, John 18:33-38

Sermon delivered by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min. on November 21, 2021

Today is the church’s New Year’s Eve. Today marks the final day of the church’s liturgical calendar year as we prepare to flip the page to a new season that inaugurates the advent, the coming of Jesus. Next Sunday, we begin our walk to Bethlehem; today, we culminate the church year by celebrating the cosmic reign of Christ over all that is, was, and is yet to be.

Our text this morning seems to come from an odd location in the Jesus Story as it is Jesus’ trial before Pontus Pilate on the day he was executed. It’s a conversation about who is in charge and directing our lives, Caesar and the kingdom of Rome, or was it Jesus and reign on God. As you listen to the interchange, notice how the conversation is like the old Abbott and Costello schtick, “Who’s on first?” in that a conversation is going on but those talking with each other are talking about two entirely different things. Hear the Word of the Lord.

John 18:33-38

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”  After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.[1]

As we hear this Story, it’s helpful to remember that it serves as a freeze-frame in the midst of a flurry of activity. Jesus has had dinner with his disciples; they have gone to the garden later that night for prayer; Jesus was arrested, and the disciples prepare for an armed confrontation with the mob; Jesus is hauled before and whisked between two different religious tribunals where he’s interrogated and beaten. By this time, the sun has come up and he is finally dragged to the Roman Governor for a verdict regarding sedition; ironically, because the religious authorities didn’t want to get ceremonially impure by stepping foot in Pilate’s palace, Pilate pulls Jesus inside in order to have a conversation without all the yelling and screaming outside. Finally, some quiet.

Finally, Jesus can converse rationally with another person. Or can he?

People carry their own agendas into the conversations they begin, and Pilate was no different. His agenda was quite simply to keep the peace and politically keep all the players happy from the Jewish leaders to the Jewish people. Pilate only wanted to keep his political clout with the Emperor and the way to do that is to keep the people in line. In Matthew’s account, Pilate’s wife even sent him a note during this conversation urging him, “Don’t do anything to do with this innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”[2] Pilate ignored the advice of his wife, which after all these years of marriage I have learned is not a good thing to do! Pilate was only concerned about Pilate; he just had to make sure Jesus was not a political rival. So, the questioning began. “Are you the king of the Jews?” And it’s at this point Jesus takes control of the conversation and makes it personal.

Jesus does not answer yes or no but simply throws the question back to Pilate so he would have to wrestle with the answer. Jesus moves the conversation from the theoretical and makes it a personal conversation with what Pilate is thinking and feeling. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” By this time, Pilate is hooked and realizes he is not dealing with some country hayseed from Galilee. Pilate presses Jesus, “What have you done?”

Jesus doesn’t answer that question directly either as he knows that he is not before Pilate for anything he has done; no, Jesus is standing before Pilate for who he, Jesus, is. “My kingdom is not from this world…my kingdom is not from here.” Jesus’ response to Pilate is a question he poses to you and me. As Professor and pastor, Rodger Y. Nishioka says, the essence of Jesus and Pilate’s conversation boils down to a question of belonging.3

Either a person belongs to the realm of worldly, culturally driven rules or one submits to the realm of God and lives by heaven’s rules. Jesus has just elevated the meaning of their conversation and in the process, he elevates his conversation with each of us and the church. Friends, the question Jesus raises on this Christ the King Sunday is the question of fidelity and belonging: Are we sons and daughters of the earthly realm or the heavenly realm? Jesus frankly informs Pilate his Kingdom is not of this world because if it was, Jesus would not be in this predicament.

“So, you’re a king?”

 “You say I am a king. For this reason, I was born…to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus did not say, “whoever listens to the truth listens to me.” Neither did Jesus say, “whoever talks about the truth listens to me.” Nope, Jesus makes it crystal clear it’s only those who belong to the truth listen and hear Jesus.

What happens next is the question each of us must answer.  Pilate immediately asks Jesus, “What is truth?” And what was Jesus’ answer? Silence. Dead silence.

Presbyterian minister and author, Frederick Buechner, describes this scene like this: Pilate asks, “What is truth?” and for years there have been politicians, scientists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and so on to tell him. The sound they make is like the sound of crickets chirping. Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s question. He just stands there. Stands, and stands there.” Later, Buechner says, “Pilate asks his famous question, “What is truth?”, and Jesus answers him with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence.”[4]

Silence is one of those things that causes many people great anxiety. People do not know what to do with silence. If the silence feels like it’s going too long, we get uncomfortable and fill it with noise or distraction. Silence is that moment when you and I can turn everything off and simply listen. Silence in our screened digital world is truly a gift should we embrace it. It’s in the necessary sound of silence that you and I are asked to do what Pilate had to do. Silence allows us to reflect upon who we belong to, who this church belongs to. Silence forces us to ask ourselves, “What is truth?”

On this Christ the King Sunday when we are invited into the sound of silence to truly listen, to really determine who’s we are and what truth we follow. As we walk out the door today, we are thrown into a world that will shout at us about where our allegiance should lie. Do we get caught in the riptide of a swirly, distracting cultural Christmas or do we consciously slow down and thoughtfully make our way through Advent?

Beloved, this week as we begin our tryptophan-laced sprint to the new year, your pastor is asking you to pull aside and listen to the sound of silence. Listen to your life, Church, and hear what it tells you and others about whose kingdom you belong to and reflect. Jesus is silently standing with us in silence to hear what we have to say. Amen.

© 2021 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] Matthew 27:19.

[3] See Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor.

[4] These quotes were taken from Buechner’s reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary themes “Weekly Sermon Illustration: Truth — Frederick Buechner” found at www.FrederickBuechner.com.

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The Provocateur; Hebrews 10:19-25

Delivered November 14, 2021 by Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.  

            Our text this morning comes from Hebrews. Thought to be written thirty-five years or so after Jesus’ death, it is written by an anonymous writer who modern scholars simply call, The Preacher. It is written in a very Jewish style of writing called midrash whereupon a writer will quote scripture and then unpack the meaning of what the teaching is about. Although the original recipients of the letter are not known, what we do know that it is written to a church that gone through a difficult time. Its major themes are that followers of Christ have gone through the wilderness of suffering as the Hebrews did but it’s different now; instead of having to offer sacrifices to God all the time to atone for our sins, we have a priest of our own flesh, Jesus, who as God’s Son, freely gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus is pictured as the great high priest who has entered the Holy of Holies and paid for our sin once and for all.  

            Today’s verses were written by an early church preacher trying to remind the people of the new life they’ve been given through Christ, and as such, they should not lose heart. Hear the Word of the Lord.

Hebrews 10:19-25

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.[1]

            Friends, the Preacher is using these words as a pep-talk to his or her people in the pew. Homiletics Professor at the Candler School of Theology, Thomas Long, says, “The preacher is actually addressing a very common and familiar pastoral problem: congregational decline. His congregation is basically tired and discouraged—tired of trying to live the Christian life in a culture that offers no support for it and discouraged about the way evil still seems to persist in the world. As a result, the congregation has begun to question the value of being followers of Christ. Attendance at worship has begun to falter (10: 25), zeal for mission has waned, and the kind of congregational life that is rich with love and compassion has begun to dissipate (10: 24).”[2]

            Do you think this resonates with pastors and their churches today? Can I get an, Amen?! Churches across the United States were already in a state of decline and then the pandemic hit. Now pastors and church leaders are wondering, “Will folks come back home?”  The Preacher’s words of encouragement are what the 21st century church needs to hear. So, what are those words we need to hear?

            The church needs to hear the hope that Jesus has already won the battle and as Christians, we are to live in that victory. Verse 19 reminds us that we have access to God in the sanctuary of the Almighty because of what Christ has accomplished for us. The veil of separation that hangs between us and God has been ripped in two because of Christ. When the Preacher in verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope,” this is what he is talking about. When the church is tired, it’s to look at Jesus and remember! It’s to look at Jesus and draw strength and hope amid swirly despair.

            Then the Preacher tells the church to do something else. In verse 24 the Preacher tells the church to provoke one another to love and good deeds. It’s a call for Christian provocateurs! Provocateur comes from the Latin word provocare which means to ‘call forth’ or to ‘call out.’ It means to incite someone to action.  In the language of the New Testament, it means to irritate. The call is for those of us in church to irritate and incite action from one another for the purpose of expressing ministries of compassion and service through mission. It’s like the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”  In other words, it’s easy when things seem hard and at times futile to fall back into an attitude of defeat. This is what was happening to the church the Preacher was writing to centuries ago. The antidote to despair is for members of the church to incite one another to get about the work of the church which is ministry of service and compassion. Why do you think we have been holding up of the flag of “Just Say, Yes!” the last six months?  Your church leadership has been trying to provoke the membership of the church back into action and help you dislodge from the hopeless, despairing mindset of the pandemic! We’ve been trying to provoke you in the name of Jesus!

            Remember the hope we have in Christ. Provoke one another to demonstrate love in service and compassion. Now third, the Preacher in verse 25 reminds the church to not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some. One of the biggest challenges birthed over the last 20 months has birthed is our tendency to isolate and “do it my way.” Frankly, during a world pandemic we had to do that in order to stay healthy and figure out how to live life from home. We have become adept with technology that has kept us in digital touch with others; I am grateful for that. The shadow side to our self-sufficient isolation is that if it is continued for the long haul, it can lead to apathy at best and laziness at worst.

            I get it. There’s nothing like making a nice breakfast, sipping on coffee, and snuggling on the couch as you worship from home. We are grateful for that technology! But you can’t swing a hammer on a Habitat house from your den. You can’t prepare 1,000 turkey dinners to be put together and delivered next Saturday morning from your living room. You can’t feel the raw power and emotion of our choir in worship from your bedroom. Sisters and brothers, a community of faith is meant to be together. Remote worship is a wonderful tool when you can’t be there in person.  Remote worship is a way to augment one’s spiritual life. But Christians are made for community. Jesus and his fellow Jews travelled 60 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem to worship with the other Jews for worship, but people can’t get from Pompano to their local church for worship. The Preacher is calling us to be together, meet in fellowship, worship, and service.

            Lastly, the Preacher tells his tired church community in verse 25 to be encouraging each other until Christ comes in glory.  The word encourage literally means to en-strengthen another. As a community, we are called to strengthen one another with words of hope, words of grace, and words of encouragement. As a community we are to come alongside the broken ones in our midst and give them strength they don’t have themselves. This is why the church is called the body of Christ. It takes all of us to usher in the ways of God. When one member of the church gets tired and discouraged, another member comes alongside and keeps the other motivated and going. When the encourager gets worn down, the receiver of their care in turn provides care to them. When we encourage each other, we generate a flywheel-effect of grace occurs and creates its own energy and momentum.

            The Preacher’s words from Hebrews are apt this morning. We are to hold onto the promise and hope Jesus, the Great High Priest, offers us. We are to provoke one another to accomplish loving ministries of compassion and service. We are to be about meeting with others in community. And we are to actively encourage each other.  This my beloved is what the Preacher says Church is all about. Let it be.

© 2021 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] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor. See https://a.co/1GOXxU6.

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What’s Love Got to Do With It?, Mark 12:28-34

See also Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Leviticus 19:18, 34

Listen for the Word of the Lord from Mark 12:28 – 34.

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another…

 Now before we go any further, we need to pause and ask who the scribe heard arguing with Jesus. You see, once Jesus healed Blind Bartimaeus in Jericho last week, the whole group trudged the long, hot 18-mile road up the mountains to Jerusalem. We find Jesus in the Temple area during the beginning of the Passover celebrations, and no sooner has he arrived than the entrenched religious and political establishment begin arguing with him.

First it was the Pharisees and the Herodians who were trying to get Jesus to trip up about paying taxes to Rome. Then a group called the Sadducees, who don’t believe in life after death, began nit-noiding Jesus on issues on the idea of resurrection. The crowds are all pushing and shoving to see the upstart Rabbi take on the religious and cultural elite. The crowds were blown away by Jesus’ teachings and healings; it was a carnival atmosphere. It’s at this point a scribe, a Jewish theologian and teacher of the Jewish Law, approaches Jesus and asks him a penetrating question. Unlike the other absurd questions the other groups asked him, the scribe approaches Jesus with a question of honest substance.  Jesus responds by quoting Hebrew scripture the Scribe would know all too well. Let’s continue with the scripture reading.

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.[1]

In 1986, Ike and Tina Turner released a hit called, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Do you remember the refrain? “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion? What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”[2] Well, Tina, I’ve got to disagree with you on three fronts. 

First, love is not a second-hand emotion. Our scripture reminds us that it’s top tier! Second, love is so much more than an emotion; yes, it describes how we feel but love is better understood as a verb. In both the Hebrew and Greek texts, love is a verb, not a noun! Third, love does indeed break hearts and it’s the broken heart that is the engine propelling love outward. I want to spend the rest of our time together looking at the fact that love is a verb and that our breaking hearts are the engine to moves love to action.

Love is a verb. Love as a concept is noun. Love is. As a concept, as a noun, love is not a bad thing at all. It’s pleasant to think about. It’s lovely to read and write about it. Yet, love as a concept, as a noun, is impotent if it does not do something. Love moves from a noun, a concept, to a verb when love is expressed in action.

I can tell you, “I love you” but it’s only when I show you in tangible ways that I love you does love become real and true.

I can say, “I love my neighbor” but it’s only when I demonstrate that love does it become tangible and real.

I can say, “I love the least of these who are in prison, love those who are hungry, and love those are naked” but it’s only when I empty my pockets before I go and minister to those behind prison bars, it’s only when I see the face of a child whose parent is incarcerated open an Angel Tree gift, or become a pen-pal with an inmate does love become enfleshed. Our love for the hungry is shown in my personal attempt to curb food waste and seek out ways and means to put food in the mouths of the hungry. Our love for those who are naked means working against systems that exploit child labor or deny a living wage for people to live and get by on.

Years ago, I heard the story of a little girl who was beginning to sleep on her own in her own bed in her very own bedroom. Mom and dad said prayers with her, kissed her goodnight, put on a little light, and went to bed. A little while later, the father heard muffled crying coming from his daughter’s bedroom and goes to see what the matter was. “Sweetheart, daddy’s here. Everything is fine.”

“Daddy, I got scared.”

“Well Little Bit, you know God is with you and watching over you.  You’re never alone.” And the little girl looked up at her daddy with her arms stretched out saying, “I know daddy, but I needed to feel the love of someone with skin on.”  Love must be enfleshed.

The ancient root for the Hebrew word for love is helpful here; it has shades of meaning that we miss. One meaning is this: do you remember the first time your eyes saw the love of your life? There’s that moment when you find yourself unconsciously catching your breath because you are stirred so much. It’s a breathing that expresses itself in sighs and moans words cannot express. In Arabic and Hebrew, the root word for love means “to seed, germinate, or to be verdant, alive.”3 The Greek word for love that we know so well, agape, is not just a feeling of your heart towards another, agape is an active, demonstrable, inconvenient, and sacrificial expression of care for another, perhaps even to those people you really dislike and detest, too. This is word both Jesus and the scribe are using in today’s Story.

Christ-like love is a verb and is expressed outwards towards other people and their lives. But what gives power to love? It’s a broken heart.

Friends, a broken heart is the engine and motivation that puts love in action. Earlier in Mark’s gospel in chapter six, Jesus crosses the Galilee with his disciples and lands on the other shore. While he was disembarking, people were swarming to him in droves and the text says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” A literal reading of that would be that when Jesus saw the large crowd, he felt for them so much his stomach hurt. The ancients believed the place where a person feels love, compassion and pity was in a person’s gut, literally in their bowels. In our culture, we think of the heart as the place where a person feels love and compassion for others.  Wherever you want to place it, the point is this: Love arises out of a physical, visceral action that occurs in our body. When Tina Turner sang, “Who needs a heart because a heart can be broken,” she failed to realize she was hitting the nail on the head! Broken hearts move people to action.

When you and I pass a homeless woman sleeping in her car with her child, our hearts should be broken and torn apart prompting us to do something about homeless families.

When you see the news about how Afghan women who are resorting to sell their infants in order to raise money to buy food for the rest of her starving family, our hearts should be broken and torn apart prompting us into some type action.

When you witness the ugly, outward signs of bigotry towards the aliens and immigrants who are fleeing for a safer, better life, when you see the outward signs of bigotry towards people of a different sexual orientation, skin color, or religious heritage, our hearts need to be broken and town apart.

Beloved, what do we think God sees in the humanity He created as we are hell-bent on killing each other, hating each other, and consuming our natural resources until they are depleted?  God’s heart is broken, and that brokenness moved God to action by becoming one of us, a man, Jesus, whose heart was broken as well. Friends, God knows all about broken hearts because God’s heart has been and shattered as well. God knew that we too needed to be loved by someone with skin on!

A broken heart is the catalyst in making love more than a concept but an active, engaging, inconvenient, self-sacrificing verb.

So, on this All Hallows Eve, throughout this week, let the Holy Spirit haunt you as you reflect upon what breaks your heart and whether that broken heart is energizing you to put skin on that love and do something. Do I live as though love was a concept or a verb? Do I just talk about love and give it lip-service or am I actually loving towards others? So, let it be.

© 2021 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]Accessed on 10/30/2021 at  https://g.co/kgs/fRqvRo.

3 See https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h157/kjv/wlc/0-1/.

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Sermon: Throwing It All Behind, Mark 10:42-56

  A sermon preached on October 24, 2021 by Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

No doubt you have seen one of the many homeless men and women on Broward streets who either carry a backpack with all their l possessions in it or push an old grocery cart that is piled high with clothes, blankets, plastic and the likes. They move from place to place so they don’t get in trouble for trespassing for one thing and they make their way to fresh places to ask passersby for spare change or something to eat. Take a moment and picture one of these people you have recently passed. What did you think when you saw him or her? Did you feel pity? Perhaps you thought to yourself, “If they spent the amount of time walking the streets looking for a job instead, they wouldn’t be in this situation.” Then again, as you walk by him or her on the street and get a whiff of their oder, you might think, “I can’t stand being near this person! Oh, the smell; why don’t you take a bath?”, forgetting at that moment that they are homeless and wouldn’t smell so ripe if they had a safe place to stay to begin with.

This morning’s text introduces us to a man who was looked upon in Jesus’ day in similar ways many in our culture look at the homeless in Broward County. He had a disability which didn’t allow him to work. He had no sense of how he looked and came across to others. He carried his earthly possessions with him for fear others would steal them if he left them someplace. Turn in your Bible to Mark 10:46-52 and let’s hear the Story of blind Bartimaeus.

This section of the Story in Mark’s gospel began all the way back in Mark 8:22 where we were first introduced to another blind man in the village of Bethsaida. In between these two stories of blind men is a series of teaching and events that have highlighted who Jesus was and what his purpose was supposed to accomplish. If you want to know Jesus’ true identity, you read the stories sandwiched between these two blind men healing stories.

Jesus has made it pretty clear what was about to take place and what he came to do.  Three times he tells his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days, rise again.”[1] The first time Jesus reveals his identity and purpose, he gets rebuked by Peter. The second time he reveals his identity and purpose, the disciples immediately began bickering amongst themselves as to which one of the Twelve was the greatest disciple.  The third time Jesus reveals his identity and purpose, the Zebedee brothers began talking about which one of them was going to be Jesus’ right-hand man when Jesus took power from the Romans. In each and every instance, those who could plainly see and hear all Jesus did and was doing were totally clueless as to who Jesus was. As New Testament scholar and Episcopal priest, Andrew K. Adam writes, “Mark deploys these healing stories to underline the contrast between outsiders who see Jesus and insiders who remain blind to his true identity.”[2] This brings us to our text this morning. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Mark 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “Rabbouni, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.[3]

There are so many rich subtleties in our Story today. One of the things I encourage those studying the Bible is that when a writer mentions a geographical location or the name of a town or city, pause and ask yourself, “Why?” In our instance, the first words in our text provide a valuable clue. “They came to Jericho.”

If you were Jewish and heard the city of Jericho, what comes to mind? You would remember that Jericho was the first city the Israelites came to as they entered into the Promised Land after Moses died. It was their first military triumph as they began to live into a new phase in their relationship with the Lord. And who led the Israelites over the Jordan river to capture the city of Jericho? God’s appointed leader, Joshua. And who is leading the people in Jericho up to Jerusalem in our Story today?  Jesus, whose name in Hebrew is, “Joshua.” Mark is trying to get our attention, my friends. Can you and I make out what is going on in the Story? Do we see it any better than those accompanying Jesus that day centuries ago?

The disciples have been travelling with Jesus three years now and we have wonder if they simply became so overly familiar with Jesus that they missed his distinctiveness and took for granted all they heard, saw, and experienced? Did the disciples get to the point in their relationship with Jesus that would say to others, “Oh, that? Jesus says that kind of stuff all the time. Just hold on a bit and watch what he does with a little bit of water, a few fish and a loaf of bread!” It did, after all, take a blind man in Mark’s Story, to show us what it means to really see Jesus and learn his identity.

Many of us have followed Jesus a long time as well and today’s lesson is a grand reminder to each of us to ask ourselves whether we have become a tad bit too familiar in our thinking and living with Jesus, like the disciples. I say that because it would seem to me that with all the self-proclaimed Christians in Fort Lauderdale and south Florida that we would be making a bigger impact in our community and world if we really took Jesus and his identity more seriously. Maybe Christians today need to stop, close our eyes, and re-envision and restore who this Joshua truly is in the eyes of God. Perhaps like Bartimaeus, we need to become blind in order to really see Jesus again.

Perhaps we need to become blind to the notion that what we have and consume is a result of our efforts and remind ourselves all we have is a gift from the hand of God.

Perhaps we need to become blind to our own sense of self-righteousness and learn humility and the downward way.

Perhaps we need become blind in order to unwrap the flag from around Jesus and let his own sense of ethics and justice become the norm as opposed to what will benefit me.

Perhaps we need to become blind in order that we can see our need to unplug and go analog and actually sit down and have thoughtful conversations with those in our families, friends and co-workers about Jesus and spiritual things.

I love Bartimaeus. He got it. When he heard Jesus’ voice, he bolted up and cried out, “Son of David, have mercy upon me!” Bartimaeus is the only one in Mark’s gospel who calls Jesus, Son of David. It’s a royal title. It’s the title of the predicted coming Messiah. He saw who Jesus really was.  He knew Jesus’ identity while his disciples argued about who will be the greatest when Jesus comes into his own. When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, those around him tried to shut him up and rebuked him. Bartimaeus called even louder to make sure Jesus could hear his profession of faith; we are to remember that’s what calling Jesus the “Son of David” is; it’s a statement that God is saving his beloved through Jesus.

The quiet punchline in our Story this morning is that when Jesus calls Bartimaeus forward, Mark makes sure we know, “That throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Remember earlier when I mentioned that Bartimaeus was looked upon as we look upon the broken and lost ones being homeless and surviving on the scraps from others? The punchline is that his cloak was most likely the only thing he owned. His cloak sheltered him from the weather. It provided warmth while he slept. And when Jesus calls, he casts off his only possession in order fully follow Jesus. He threw everything behind to follow Jesus and got his sight back. Wow.[4]

And we are just simply asking folks to fill out an estimate of giving card for next year.  Beloved, what are you willing to let go to follow Jesus? Amen.

© 2021 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] So, Mark 8:31. See also Mark 9.30-32, 10.32-34.

[2] Article written by A.K.A. Adam in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor. See https://a.co/hYFe3Ot.

[3] 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.

[4] Lincoln Galloway writes, “The blind man is portrayed as a model of Christian discipleship. He comes to Jesus and does so by casting aside his cloak. It is quite reasonable to regard his cloak as representing his most treasured possession. It has kept him warm through the cold nights. It may also hold the meager spoils of his begging. In his act of throwing off his cloak, we see the image of one who leaves his former life behind. To those who have always known honor, power, affluence, and prestige, this image reminds us of the transforming effect of the gospel to call forth a life of renunciation and dramatic change.” See, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor at https://a.co/3WtwKgy.

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