Whatever you do, don’t hit the snooze button! Matthew 24:36-44

A sermon delivered by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., on November 27, 2022, Advent 1, Year A

Gather around and let me tell you a Christmas story! It’s from Matthew 24:36-44.  Listen carefully!

Matthew 24:36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.[1]

            How’s that for a scripture text to get you ready for Christmas! It seems a little odd to begin this season of preparation by looking at what many people call, The Rapture, but this is where we start our journey. Episcopal priest and author, Fleming Rutledge, reminds us that this season of Advent forces us to look at God through the lenses of the past, the present, and the future. She reminds us, that “Advent calls for a life lived on the edge all the time, shaped by the cross not only on Good Friday but whoever and whenever we are, proclaiming his death to the be the turn of the ages “until he comes again.”” [2] The first Sunday in Advent begins by looking into the imminent future when Jesus comes again in judgment.

            Alas, people in Church today really don’t like to talk about God’s judgment; it sounds so harsh and very un-good-newsy. But beloved, we need to pause and remember that when the season of Advent asks us to remember the coming judgment of God, it’s always on the Sunday when the Church lights the candle of hope! For some reason, we have translated ‘judgment’ to mean ‘condemnation’ thereby losing all concept of hope. Think about it: Who is hopeful for being condemned?

            Rutledge writes, “The Christian hope is founded on the promise of God that all things will be made new according to his righteousness. All references to judgment in the Bible should be understood in the context of God’s righteousness – not just his being righteous but his ‘making right’ all that has been wrong.”[3] Consequently, Advent is the season of the church year we remind ourselves that Immanuel, God-with-us, whom we celebrate on Christmas Day is the one and the same Divine Logos who stands at both the beginning of time as well as its end. Advent is a time for us to honestly remember that all of God’s creation, all our concept of time, is lovingly embraced and encircled by the loving arms of Christ and for that, we are hopeful.

            Stephen Covey made famous the line that in order to live a successful and productive life, we need to begin our planning with the end in mind. We are to begin remembering that our lives, our time, are moving to history’s denouement when God will make all things new and redeem all that is full of sorrow, brokenness, and pain and replace them with faith, hope, and love. English playwright, critic, and poet, W. H. Auden, refers to Advent, as this time of waiting, The Time Being, when you and I are awaiting the return of the Child Immanuel. He writes, “The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.”[4]

            This Time Being is what Jesus is speaking of today in Matthew 24. We tend to forget that when Jesus is speaking of the future time of judgment, he uses it as a foil for his disciples to reflect upon their lives at the moment, in the current Time Being.

            So, Jesus talks about the days of Noah before the great flood when people were eating and drinking, getting married, and living life when, after ignoring Noah’s call to prepare for the coming flood, were all swept away.  Eating, drinking, and getting married are mentioned to remind us that in the midst of our everyday life, at a time least expected, God returns and shouts, “Honey, I’m home!”

            Jesus then goes on to share how men and women will be about their everyday routines of going to work and doing their chores when suddenly, “one will be taken and the other will be left.” Those people who are taken to appear before the judgment seat of Christ are not judged by whether a person believed the right things about God with correct doctrine but each person will be measured by the standard of how well we loved God and our neighbor as we have loved ourselves. It’s the rubric Jesus set in John 15.[5]  The rapture, as it is popularly called and so grossly misunderstood, is not so much about personal piety as it is about our personal and social ethics; in other words, are we loving others as God is loving us?

            One commentator wrote, “Believers are judged not so much by how well they are prepared to enter heaven but by how much they have been attending to the concerns of others in the community. Along those lines, discipleship is not an event or a phase but a constant state of being prepared and committed to fellow humans.”[6] Once again, we are reminded of Auden’s understanding of our Time Being. How are we living our lives with love and justice in our time of simply being ourselves in our everyday hum-drum of eating, drinking, getting married, working the farm, or preparing food for dinner?

            Our focus this month in spiritual formation is called, Advent in Plain Sight. We have study guides available for you if you would like them as well as daily devotionals for each day in Advent written by your fellow brothers and sisters of First Pres. Advent in Plain Sight is designed for us to look at everyday objects and note how they remind us of what this season is about. So, for example, at Wednesday Night Live, we will be looking at items such as a belt, a tree, and even a tear and see how these everyday items can become icons, i.e. signs pointing to deeper advent reality of Jesus coming into the world. As I was thinking about this morning’s message, the item, icon that our scripture lifts up as an everyday reminder to prepare for Jesus’ coming is a plain old alarm clock. An alarm clock. A loud, obnoxious alarm clock.

            Years ago, someone gave me a giant Harley Davidson wall clock. Each hour was represented by a picture of a different type of vintage Harley motorcycle. The beauty of this magnificent clock is that a loud revving motorcycle engine would be the chime for each hour! All day long, Harleys were roaring through the entire office area. Personally, I loved it but my other colleagues – well, not so much. I knew it was time to get rid of it when during one emotional pastoral counseling session as this woman was pouring her heart out about her husband’s affair and their impending divorce, the hour ‘chimed’ at the worst possible moment of her story.

            Twice in three verses, Jesus reminds the disciples to keep awake. Stay alert and ready. Set your alarm to get yourself out of bed because the Lord is coming at an hour we do not know or expect. Dale Bruner, a retired professor at Whitworth University says two Protestant Reformers remind Christian disciples to be awake. John Calvin said, “Jesus wished them (the disciples) to be so uncertain of his coming that from day to day they should be intently waiting.” Bruner then cites Martin Luther who quipped that Christians should live as if Jesus died this morning, risen this afternoon, and was coming this evening.

            Jesus is asking us to wake up and stay alert. He is asking us to be ready for the time he comes in judgment. He is telling us he is coming again and as such it gives us hope. Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense who had a way with words tried to say the same thing Jesus was saying at an intelligence briefing during the Iraq War. He said, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”[7]

            Personally, I think Jesus said it better. Jesus says, “Church, don’t you dare hit the snooze button because God is coming. This you know. You just don’t know when. So, wake up and be alert!”

            Beloved, this is a text of great hope. God is coming again and will welcome us home for good. Yes, there will be judgment but not condemnation. There will be a review of how we spent our Time Being awake. Are our Advent preparations getting caught up in the gross commercialization of the season, or are we preparing for our Lord’s return with lives full of justice and mercy to those we rub shoulders with every single day? In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.

© 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] Fleming Rutledge, Advent. The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 7.

[3] Ibid, 23.

[4] W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. See https://www.thepoetryhour.com/poems/for-the-time-being-a-christmas-oratorio. Accessed 11/23/2022.

[5] John 15:12-17: 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (NIV)

[6] Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year A, Volume 1, Advent through Epiphany by Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, et al.

[7] Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson https://a.co/inDssr8

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Our Opportunity to Witness, Luke 21:5-19

A sermon delivered on November 13, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Our journey in Luke’s gospel is quickly ending as the church year officially ends next week with Christ the King Sunday. The lectionary has had us wading through his version of the Jesus narrative this year and as we make our way toward 2023 and a new year of readings, where we will be diving into Matthew’s gospel.

For the last few months, we have been on a road trip with Jesus that began north in the regions of Galilee, and we have followed him southward along the Jordan river to the village of Jericho, and now he has joined the throngs of people on the way to the Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus has situated himself in and around the Temple courts. People are coming and going, shoving this way and that. Lambs are baying and you can distinctly hear the sound of doves flapping their wings and cooing. Jesus has attracted a huge throng of people that have gathered around to hear what he is going to say, or even better, wanting to see what he might do! The religious leaders are there to see if they can stump him and tease him into incriminating himself with false teaching. Jesus’ disciples, meanwhile, were still clueless about what was going on but kept thinking about how they were going to figure in Jesus’ new government. The energy and excitement in the city are palpable. Think Carnival!  This morning we find Jesus near the spot people gave their religious offerings and noted the depth of sacrifice a poor widow made compared to a rich man who could afford to give out of his largesse. This is where we pick up in Luke 21.5-19. Hear the Word of the Lord.

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. [1]

So here you are taking in the city. It’s a beautiful day and you can feel the festive atmosphere. You don’t get to the city often but here you are in Jerusalem during the Passover festival. You’re taking in the sights and sounds and getting caught up in it. You and I stop, and we have to shield our eyes because of the gold lining the walls of the Temple are glaring from the sun’s light. Giant, white-cut stones the size of minivans are used to build the walls of the city. We sit back and sigh out loud, “Jes-usss, just look at this place!” It’s then Jesus turns his face towards us with that look that communicates, “Really?”

You and I are in the carnival and feel the energy. Jesus begins to speak, and the gravity of his words is so jarring that the rest of the world melts away and we are just hanging on his every word ignoring the chaos about us. We were thinking we were talking about architecture and aesthetics; Jesus uses the moment to talk about the hard realities of life for those in the early church as well as his proclamation for the impending destruction of Jerusalem which came to be some forty years later. 

Our text has Jesus make three predictions for people who comprise the church both yesterday and in the future. He then speaks of an opportunity for the Church when those predictions become real. Finally, Jesus offers us a hopeful promise.

First, Jesus makes three dire predictions. One, people will come after him who will threaten to lead astray the life of his new community of followers. He is warning the people of his day, as well as you and me, that we are to keep our eye on Jesus and not imposters. Others will come along looking for power and fame and pretend to be leaders they aren’t.  Indeed, some crazy guy with a Messiah complex actually led 6,000 Jewish refugees into the temple in AD 70 while it was being destroyed, and ancient historian Josephus indicates they all burned to death following that false messiah.[2]

Jesus then goes on to make two other predictions. There will be war and unrest among the major national players of the world, and there will be signs seen in cataclysmic natural disasters that point to the coming of God. To put the proverbial cherry on the cake, Jesus then reminds his listeners that people will turn on one another and will hate you and me, run us down, and arrest us simply because we wear the title, Christian.

It’s right here I want to hit the pause button.

Let’s stop for a moment. When we hear these portents of things to come, we hear all these warnings and you and I immediately think Jesus is talking about “those people” in the future when the Big Apocalypse occurs — You know, the whole, “When Jesus comes again” thing. I suppose we could read our text that way. But why would Luke have Jesus make predictions about a future you and I will never see or experience in our lifetimes? Why is it we read this and think it’s about ‘other Christians’ in the distant future? What if it was not only written to Christians in the future but was written for the Church today living in the present moment? Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is telling you and me the hard realities of what it means to live as a Christ-follower. Beloved, we have Jesus telling the Church God’s expectations for us when the world turns sideways.

I mean, in our time we have witnessed religious leaders get populations all frothed up about God’s coming again. We peruse our current headlines from around the world and hear of the brutality of war from Ethiopia to eastern Ukraine. You and I live in Florida so don’t go telling us about natural disasters!

So, what’s Luke trying to do? Luke is telling you and me that when these signs take place (and on this side of history each of us knows national unrest, wars, and natural disasters have occurred continuously since Jesus made these predictions), we are expected to be witnesses for Jesus in the world in the midst of our suffering and hardships today.

Professor Nancy Wakefield of Wabash College writes, “Testimony is usually reserved for the stories that declare how God brought the faithful out of slavery into freedom, how God made a way when there was no way; how God acted to save a distressed people. The peculiar words of Jesus in this passage, however, tell us that when we experience destruction, betrayal, and loss, we are to see these times as opportunities to testify.”[3]

 Each of us experiences suffering in our lives. Each of us witnesses the betrayal and brutality of other human beings. Each of us hurts or has been hurt. Jesus expects you and me to take those hurts and share with others how we have been transformed by them. In a world of natural, national, and personal disasters, Jesus wants you and me in our specific hurt and pain to share with others the hope we have and drew from in Christ in spite of those sufferings. It’s only through Jesus that death has lost its power and influence. It’s only through Jesus the suffering in our world is redeemed. It’s only through Jesus that sense can be made of nonsense and hope bud and grow from the tiniest seed.

What is your specific witness Jesus is or can use to bring healing and hope to those around you, to those who are upset with you, to those who are persecuting you? Where has God worked Easter miracles in your life’s garbage and trauma? What word of hope can you share and give to others stemming from the pain in your life?

Beloved, Jesus gives us three predictions about how we will experience troubles in our life. Jesus reminds us of his expectation we are to witness and share what he has done in our lives in the midst of the pain and suffering. But I want to end my thoughts by lifting up his promise given to the Church, given to each of us.

Yes, false prophets will arise and try to gain our attention and pull us off the path. Yes, there will be rogue rulers and politicians who foster war and hatred of others. Yes, there are and will continue to be natural disasters from hurricanes hitting in November to water levels dropping dangerously low with wildfires scorching the land. But! But he gives us a promise in the last two lines of our text: Not a hair on your head will perish, beloved. Stand firm, beloved, tell your Story, and give your witness because when you do, you will gain a more textured and full abundant life!  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A sermon preached by © 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301 on November 13, 2022.  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] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible. The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (New York: Doubleday Books, 1986), 1,335.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, https://a.co/6EcqIy6.

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The Juxtaposition Between Joy and Grumbling, Luke 19:1-10

A sermon delivered on October 30, 2022 by Patrick H. Wrisley

            We pick up in the Story with Jesus just a day or two away from his  entering into Jerusalem on what we traditionally call Palm Sunday. At the moment, we find Jesus and his disciples somewhat east/northeast of Jerusalem roughly twenty miles away down along the Jordan river in the town of Jericho. He’s been heading south from the Galilee and as he goes, we hear how the crowds are becoming larger and larger the further along he travels. People are on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover festival and observant Jews from all parts of Israel were headed to the holy city. Add to that electric atmosphere Jesus’ exploding popularity as he makes his way south.

            If we are careful readers of the text, we can begin to see how Luke as the Storyteller is slowing the action down in the narrative wanting us to pay attention to the details. Like tapping the breaks on a car to gently slow the momentum forward, Luke inserts two Jericho stories back to back forcing us as readers to drop to a lower gear as the narrative’s speed shifts. Think of it like this: When I am out riding country roads on my motorcycle, Bella, I’ll zip along at a nice clip to get to where I am going. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you enter into a small town that posts a 25 mph sign, I gear down immediately because these little country Florida towns are speed traps! This is what Luke is doing. In verses 18:35 we note how, “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging.” He cries out for healing and Jesus literally stopped in the middle of the road and gave the man his sight back. “When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” Now, our text for today from Luke 19:1-10. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Luke 19:1-10

19.1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

            In your imagination, place yourself in the Story. Word has hit the city Jesus has just healed a blind man just a bit north of there. The roads are packed with pilgrims going to Jerusalem and word is spreading quickly through the throngs. As people watched this interchange between Jesus and Zacchaeus, we are told in verse 11, “While they were listening to Jesus’ interchange with Zacchaeus, he went on to tell them a parable, because the people thought that the kingdom of God was to appear at once!” Can you feel the energy? Can you feel the excitement? Do we fully understand that for the Jew of that day, the kingdom of God coming at once was as much a political statement as it was a spiritual one? Coursing through the growing throngs is this building anticipation of an impending Independence Day and regaining control of their homeland both politically with this possible new messiah and spiritually in that God’s anointed was among the crowds rubbing shoulders with the people?

            If you were right there when all this was going down, what would you be seeing and experiencing? Try to freeze that action in your mind. People up close to Jesus were pushing forward to see him, to touch him. It’s very loud as people are yelling to get his attention and yelling in excitement at what they were seeing. People in the back of the crowds hear something is going on ahead and they pick up their pace and the mass of people begins to get pressed in tighter as they enter Jericho. We woke up this morning to read how at least 151 people died in Seoul Korea last night from a crowd surge at Halloween festivities. Well, the crowd was thronging, surging as the pilgrims pushed their way to see Jesus and head to Passover celebrations. As we watch Jesus go by, we begin to see people descend into the parade from all sides. And like every crowd, you had the joyous multitudes of well-wishers and then you had the grumblers who kept on the periphery complaining about the crowds, complaining about this so-called kingdom of God and this pauper prince who was stirring things up. The grumblers long for quiet stability. They love predictability and the quiet ebbs and flows of a mundane life. They are the keepers of the status quo because change is uncomfortable and inconvenient because it forces you to exert effort to adapt to the coming changes.

            So, what do you do if you are a little person who is more or less despised by the people in the city because you are the chief tax collector working on Rome’s behalf to raise revenue from your own countryman? You too feel the excitement of the crowds. You too experience the electricity in the air. You too have heard Stories about the itinerant Rabbi Jesus who confounds the religious establishment, heals the broken, and preaches a simple message that people are to be gracious and patient with each other, that we are love one another, that we are to grow the circle wide and embrace others who may not be just like me into the throng. You want to see who this was Jesus, too!

            Zacchaeus was no fool and didn’t just fall off a turnip truck.  He knew his miserable reputation among the people and was well aware of his short stature but what he lacked in height he made up with shrewdness. He would pre-position himself down the road a bit, climb a tree and wait as the crowds and Jesus come to him.

            At this point, we do not know of Zacchaeus’ intentions and attitudes towards Jesus. Was he really interested in this new, controversial Rabbi or was he just another looky loo on the parade route trying to get a glimpse of the latest cause celebre? We honestly don’t know. What we do know  is this: Even though Zacchaeus didn’t know who Jesus really was, Jesus knew Zacchaeus. We know Jesus is the one who initiated a relationship with Zacchaeus. We know that Jesus felt strongly about the need to get to know the pariah of the local community. We know that Jesus spent the day with him and most likely had a meal with him as well. We know that Zacchaeus was thrilled to respond to Jesus’ request and we also know that others in the thronging crowd began to gripe and grumble that “This Jesus is the guest of a sinner…one of THOSE people!”  And finally, we know that wholeness was restored between Zacchaeus and the people and between Zacchaeus and God as well.

In verse 7, we read that when Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus’ company that, “”all who saw it,” not some who saw it, not a few that saw it, but “all who saw it began to grumble.” They grumbled that Jesus would associate with this man whose very life actively declares his corruptness. And yet, we actively see Jesus trying to reconcile those who are on the outside with those who are on the inside. We see Jesus tearing town barriers of division and then bring healing and reconciling among the people. We see people like Zacchaeus who were flat out joyous to have Jesus do what he did but we also see those on the side who grumbled about Jesus’ behavior.

            In a recent conversation with the General Presbyter from neighboring Peace River Presbytery, Melana Scruggs, she indicated 49% of mainline pastors are leaving the ministry. Why? Because they are burned out from trying to appease the grumblers in the church who are upset the status quo is being challenged and they simply don’t like it. They are too comfortable with the ways things are and do not want to expend the energy to grow, change and make room for others to join them on the pew. They are opposed to fresh ideas, or even God-forbid, they are reticent to admit that they may be wrong!

            As tempting as it was to compose a sermon and address the question, “If Jesus invited himself to your house for dinner, what would you talk about?”, I realized the all too prevalent notion in many Christian circles and churches who grumble about the grace extended to “those people” who are obviously “sinners” and are left wondering, “Who invited THEM here? Who said it was okay for us to do THAT for them?” The juxtaposition of joy and grumbling so close to one another in the text just begged to be explored.

            Today, we are voting upon whether or not to change our churches leadership model to having co-pastors in lieu of the senior pastor. Looking over the five years I’ve journeyed with you, I have seen a metamorphosis that’s been subtle but one that is ever so noticeable. Let me explain. Almost two months ago, church leadership held a leadership advance where we asked an outside consultant to come and help us wrestle with issues of church identity and the future. Some weeks after the event in August, Nic was talking with the consultant while reflecting on the weekend, and the consultant made an observation about you, Church, that I think is beautiful and precious. He called you an “Obliterating categories” congregation.

            He said, “Here I was leading a large group of leaders of all different ages and sexes. Over here, there was an older matriarch of the church having meaningful dialogue with a young gay man about how the church can address the community at large and the conversation wasn’t a big deal. I saw people engaging together as a body to dream about your church’s identity and future.  And then at worship, I encounter a worship experience that contains elements of southern evangelicalism combined with a thoughtful, reformed, inclusive voice. There were no signs or flags about what you believed; you were living it out together. I’ve never seen that before in the churches in our denomination. You’re doing it different. You’re obliterating categories in quiet non-intrusive ways. You’re just being yourselves.”

            This causes me to be joyful. It communicates to me that folks here are becoming more joyful, egalitarian, inclusive and patient with each other as together, we walk side by side trying to live in love as Jesus asks us to do. It causes me to be joyful because it demonstrates as a congregation you are growing deeper in your imitation of Jesus. It causes me joy because the cacophony of grumbling is replaced with sounds of gratitude and thanksgiving. 

            So beloved, as we each leave today, let us reflect upon the juxtaposition of our expressed joy and our expressed grumbling. Let’s ask ourselves, “Am I a part of obliterating categories or am I pushing for the old status quo?”  The Spirit give us wisdom and grace in these things. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 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.

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A Pastoral Note to Members of First Pres FTL on the Proposed Restructuring of Pastoral Leadership

October 17, 2022

Dear members and friends,

I want to share with you some exciting news about the pastoral leadership of FPC! When I became your pastor five years ago, a part of my call to our church was to mentor Nic Merchant as he grew into his role as Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation. The hope was that maybe one day, just maybe, he would be able to return and pastor First Presbyterian Church himself. I took my charge seriously.

Over the last several years, I have attempted to dismantle an old hierarchical system of leadership and replace it with a team-based collaborative model of leadership. Dr. Masten, Rev. Merchant, and I have been operating out of this model for over three years. On paper, I am the Pastor/Head of Staff; in reality, I’m a coach encouraging all the players to move cohesively in the same direction. Pastorally, we three have been collaboratively leading FPC and you may not have even noticed it. If you haven’t been aware that is how the church is being pastorally led, good! It means it’s working! 

When Kelly died early this year, it was a trigger for me to begin thinking about, “What happens if something happens to me?  What happens with the church? Will FPC lose the progress the congregation has made the last five years?” It was apparent as a leader, I needed to plan for my succession for when God calls me away.

Purposefully working with the Chair of the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and with General Presbytery, Dr. Daris Bultena, I began working on a model that would, in my opinion, be best for our church for the time I leave. And please hear me loud and clear: I am not hearing God calling me to leave our church! Leaders lead and that is all I am attempting to do.

The Session has approved a proposal to adapt our current leadership model from Pastor/Head of Staff to a Co-Pastor and an Associate Pastor model whereby Nic Merchant and I become Co-Pastors (co-equal) and Dr. Masten continues as the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care.

I am posting on our church website and on my personal website, patrickhwrisley.com, the same document presented to our Session and the COM so you can learn exactly what they learned. It addresses The Why, The Rationale, identify the pros and cons of the proposal, an outline of the process, and a few sundry notes on the process. 

Your pastors will be leading a Q&A during Wednesday Night Live Dinner this week, at the Cottage at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 26th and are available to discuss this with any of you who have questions.

Building the Kingdom together,

Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor and Teaching Elder

The Proposal for Adapting FPC’s Current Pastoral Model

  1. Introduce a motion for consideration regarding the pastoral structure of First Presbyterian Church. To present the rationale for this motion.
  2. To begin discussing this motion, Moderator Wrisley hands off the moderatorial duties of the Session to Dr. Daris Bultena, Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, in order that Pastor Wrisley may speak to the motion.
  3. Pastors Masten, Merchant, and Wrisley are excused to permit free discussion among the Session members regarding the motion.

MOTION:  The members of the Session of First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale recommend to the congregation that we call Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley as Co-Pastors whose terms as Co-Pastors commence on ­­­January 1, 2023. The Session’s vote to act upon this motion shall occur at the next regularly scheduled Session meeting on August 25, 2022.

The Why

The purpose of changing the pastoral model for it to provide First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale an operative and smooth transition plan.

It is no secret that Dr. Wrisley has experienced a tumultuous year with caring for Kelly and walking with her through her death. Although he has no immediate plans to move on as he feels there is still some work he needs to complete, he is fully aware within the next few years he will be transitioning to a different call and location.

As he approaches his sixth year at FPC, Dr. Wrisley has witnessed congregational transformation from a community with multiple silos becoming unified, purposeful teams that are speaking off the same script. Disunity has given way to working together towards a common goal. Rancor among the staff is non-existent and the once damaged relationship with the Presbytery of Tropical Florida is healed; the church and the presbytery are now enthusiastic partners in ministry.  The last thing Dr. Wrisley wants to see is all this good constructive work jeopardized due to a typical, long, and drawn-out search process for a new Head of Staff/Pastor. The co-pastor model provides the seamless transition for pastoral leadership moving forward.

The Rationale


The Pastor Nominating Committee that called Dr. Wrisley to become Pastor/HOS of First Presbyterian Church expressed its desire that during Wrisley’s tenure that he would mentor Nic Merchant and help him grow as a leader, pastor, and preacher for the church’s benefit. Running concurrently with the Pastor Nominating Committee was the church’s Associate Pastor for a Designated Term Committee that was interviewing candidates as well; Merchant was one of those candidates up for consideration and Wrisley was excited to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Merchant should that be the guidance of the Spirit through the APDTNC. It was. A year later, the church appointed a APNC to search for an Associate Pastor for Congregational Care who was distinctly qualified to meet the pastoral care needs of the congregation. The APNC located and called Rev. Dr. Pam Masten, a Board-Certified Chaplain, to fill this role.

Current Perichoretic Leadership Structure

The church administrative structure is currently: Pastor/Head of Staff, Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation, and Pastor for Congregational Care. Wrisley as HOS operates this leadership structure with a collaborative style of leadership, i.e., the ultimate “buck stops at his desk;” functionally, FPC’s three pastors operate under a trinitarian model where each one has their special giftedness, but like the Trinity, the three pastors move in a fluid, complementary rhythm of leadership and decision making. On paper, there appears to be a hierarchy; in reality, a perichoresis occurs – a fluid back-and-forth of leadership between the three pastors. The perichoretic model is a consensus-building model. In the event a thorny issue arises, the three pastors will each bring their attention to the issue; ultimately, the Co-Pastors will need to make a final decision based on consensus. It is important for the Session to understand that Dr. Masten has been included in these conversations and is aware of its coming before Session.

This model of leadership demands that all three pastors leave their egos at the door and approach their duties and relationships with each other with the utmost humility in a spirit of self-emptying kenosis. First Pres has achieved a point where the entire pastoral staff mutually respects the gifts and graces of his or her colleagues and works towards the common goal of moving the Kingdom of God forward. Each of FPC’s pastors realizes, affirms, and lives out their ministry understanding that it’s not about “them” but is for the purpose of advancing the church’s four-fold mission of leading people to Christ, helping others learn about their faith, living a Christ-centered life, and loving our neighbors through ministries of service and compassion.

This pastoral team will continue to work under this perichoretic model, and each pastor will continue to work with the same team assignments they are currently assigned. The most visible change to the congregation will be that the co-pastors shall split the preaching and moderatorial duties of Session and the Congregation.

The Pros and Cons

The Pros

It provides the church with a pastoral succession plan.

An internal hire leverages already-established relationships and networks.

The maintenance of church momentum continues because there is not a lengthy process of selecting a PNC, writing mission studies, advertising, and interviews; if anything, it should provide a boost in congregational momentum and energy.

The co-pastor model is more efficient in terms of using members’ time and energy for ministry purposes and creativity versus devoting time to a search.

The process is completed in a matter of a few months versus 18 to 24 months (It took 5 years to secure Dr. Wrisley). The cost of transitioning to this new model does not incur the cost of a national search.

There is a dwindling pool of qualified pastoral leaders to be chosen from in the larger church that would be qualified to serve as Head of Staff.

The Cons

The method of pastoral succession does not permit a church in transition to engage with the discerning process of finding a candidate for the job.

The method of pastoral succession does not permit Rev. Merchant and his family the opportunity to listen for a new call or direction God may want to lead them.

Dr. Wrisley does not achieve professional benefits from this model and in fact, has reduced status.

Is the church limiting itself from hearing other voices speaking into the congregational system?

The Process

  1. The Session meets in an executive session to hear the proposal. The Session will take one month to personally pray and ask for God’s discernment. It will meet again on Thursday, August 25, 2022, to vote on the proposal. If the vote is affirmative, General Presbyter/Stated Clerk Daris Bultena contacts the Committee on the Minister (COM), and the closing minutes from the Executive Session of July 28, 2022, are entered into the overall minutes of the August 25th Session meeting along with this document. 
  2. The COM meets on October 6 to hear the proposal and then provides the Session the needed information in order to call a Congregational Meeting. A Congregational Meeting is called for Sunday, October 30, immediately following the 11:00 a.m. service to enact the Session’s recommendation to the congregation.
  3. Motion: Do we the members of First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale call Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley to the position of Co-Pastors whose terms as Co-Pastor commence on ­­­January 1, 2023?
  4. There is needed a simple majority from the congregation for the motion to pass.
  5. During this time the congregation, would hear and determine the Co-Pastor’s Terms of Call that would be effective 1/1/2023.
  6. If the congregation votes in the affirmative, General Presbyter Bultena will petition that the COM concur in the matter and discern if said committee shall refer the matter to a Presbytery Assembly or act in its usual and customary manner (as the Presbytery); the committee shall by supermajority allow the change in strategy for the mission under the Word of First Presbyterian Church.  
  7. The COM then makes the motion to ratify First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale’s call for Nicholas B. Merchant and Patrick H. Wrisley to the position of Co-Pastor on November 12, 2022, Presbytery Assembly; the change in leadership model would commence on January 1, 2023 

There must be a ¾ affirmative vote of the Presbytery to approve the call.

The Session will determine a date to formally install Dr. Wrisley and Rev. Merchant to this new position early in 2023.

Miscellaneous Notes on the Process

  1. There is no need for a Pastoral Nominating Committee nor a lengthy mission study and search process as this is a request of Session.  We are not calling new individuals but are simply changing the model of ministry within the church itself. Instead of being a church with a Pastor and two Associate Pastors, we become a church with two Co-Pastors and one Associate Pastor.
  2. The Head of COM recommends that Nic’s salary be immediately raised by $10,000. The co-pastors’ wages are not equal because of the education, experience, and years in ordained ministry Wrisley has accumulated. A compensation rationale should accompany the final request that comes before the COM.
  3. Job expectations need to be clearly lined out. The Head of COM strongly recommends that each of the current pastor’s job responsibilities remain the same concerning those already working on individual teams and projects. Other duties such as serving as Session Moderator, leading Staff meetings, preaching, teaching, and visioning will be done with synchronistic collaboration between the Co-Pastors and the Associate Pastor of Congregational Care. There will be a season of onboarding Nic into the more prominent roles of leadership in the church.
  4. The chair of COM strongly recommends that all three First Presbyterian Church pastors be assigned a professional coach to work through the issues of the transition. The General Presbyter can facilitate this process. In addition to individual coaching, it is recommended that a mutual periodic coaching opportunity be sought among the co-pastors as an accountability and relationship enhancement avenue.  
  5. The Session and the congregation need to be aware that the genesis of this new proposed model for pastoral leadership came from the current Pastor, Dr. Patrick Wrisley.  

Respectfully submitted,

The Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Moderator, Pastor/Head of Staff

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But the other nine, where are they? Luke 17:11-19

A sermon delivered by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min on October 9, 2022.

This morning we immediately pick up where we left off last week and we are going to learn about what it means to give God glory and praise. Last week, Jesus told his disciples not to fret about the faith they don’t have; rather, they are to focus on the faith they’ve got and put it to work. Today’s scripture has the group on the move.

We learn this morning that Jesus and his companions were heading south moving from Galilee in the north towards Jericho and ultimately, Jerusalem in the south. Our text has him walking along this boundary line between the Jewish-populated region of boundary lineGalilee and the land of the Jewish pariah, Samaria. Our scripture this morning not only reminds us Jesus was heading to Jerusalem one final time, but it also shines light upon Luke’s writing in Acts about where the Church is supposed to go following Jesus’ resurrection; specifically, the community of faith is to reach out to “those other people”, that impure collection of people called the Gentiles. Who were the Gentiles? Everyone but the people of Israel. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Luke 17:11-19

17.11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” [1]

Misery does indeed make strange bedfellows because what we have is two groups of people who normally despised one another huddling together to create a community of ceremonially unclean exiles. On the one hand, it would appear there are at least nine Jews in the group because Jesus tells them to follow the edict spelled out in Leviticus 14 and be declared clean and free of disease by a priest. On the other hand, we are flat-out told there was a Samaritan in the bunch as well. Jews and a Samaritan formed their own community bound together by their mutual illness and the need for safety. What binds them together is their mutual misery and cultural ostracization that transcends ethnicity and nationality. Think of it in today’s terms: You have nine Jews who were formerly in the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, and a lone Palestinian Muslim from the Gaza Strip forced to live together on the margin of society because they are despised by their own people.

Following proper social protocol, the ten maintained their respectful distance away from Jesus and the others so as not to make Jesus and the disciples ceremonially unclean as well. It would be like you and me going to visit the doctor but having to speak to her through a speaker and bulletproof glass at a drive-through window. It’s at this point the ten cry out a request, a prayer, each and every one of us have prayed in our life at some point: Oh Jesus! Have mercy upon me!

If we let the text speak for itself, we note the ten afflicted men did not specifically ask to be healed per se; no, they simply ask for mercy. To show mercy to someone means to pause and express compassion while attempting to alleviate hardship. Luke doesn’t tell us what they wanted exactly but he does tell us what Jesus perceived they needed: restoration back with their community. They needed to be reunited with their families and friends and have the opportunity to engage others in the marketplace. Jesus saw they needed to be pulled from the ranks of the marginalized and be re-established as an equal to everyone else. We know this by Jesus’ simple command to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus does not say, “Be healed!” but rather he tells them to go show the priests they are okay. The priest then checks off their healed condition and pronounces them ceremonially clean and that was the ticket for their life to get back to normal.

If you were Jewish, you would hear Jesus’ words as sensible words. The Jewish people had priests they could go to and get the clearance to rejoin the community. But who does the Samaritan go to? He surely would not be welcomed by the Jewish priest for a declaration of purity because his just being a Samaritan made him unclean in the priest’s eyes, to begin with.

We read that the ten were made clean while they obediently followed Jesus’ instructions. All ten lepers did exactly as Jesus told them. “Jesus tells me to go show myself to a priest for reasons unbeknownst to me so I’m going to go!” In their expression of their obedience, they were healed. In their process of being healed, they were once again engrafted into their Jewish culture. But what did that mean for the Samaritan? Now that the nine were eligible to be declared pure by the priests, their newly declared ritual purity would demand they part ways with their Samaritan colleague. In other words, they could be sick together without any problem, but they could not live a reconciled life with each other. The marginalization of the other did not disappear in the eyes of the nine. Bob may be healed but Bob still is a Samaritan, one of “those people.”

What we see is that those who are marginalized by the world perhaps understand their faith the best. Bob the Samaritan leper may not have had a priest to go to and see but he was aware enough to go back to Jesus and say thank you and praise what the Lord had done.

The great Oxford don, C.S. Lewis, observed the relationship between people who expressed gratitude and their positive well-being. He writes, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise,” he says, “seems to be (one’s) inner health made audible.”[2] I like that! One’s outpouring of praise to God is a barometer of a person’s spiritual and emotional health!

If we slow down at this point and look at our story more carefully, we can also see the essence of what a Christ-follower’s life is to be all about. First, the Samaritan stopped and turned around. He changed his orientation and his direction. Second, he gave God glory and thanked God for the obvious blessing he received. Isn’t that a summary of what the Gospels are saying to us? From the very beginning of the Story in Luke, John the Baptist called people to “turn around” and reorient their life back to God. The lowly shepherds who were the first witnesses of the baby Jesus’ birth went about glorifying God thanking God for all the things they had seen and heard. Turning around and thanking, glorifying God for God’s mercy. It’s pretty basic, beloved. The reception of a blessing should lead to a transformed life of both blessing and gratitude which leads to an enhancement of one’s spiritual depth.

Fred Craddock, former professor for preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta comments on this story by saying, “What we have, then, is a story about ten being healed and one being saved.”[3] All the men in their obedience were healed but it’s only in the Samaritan’s turning around and thanking God he was healed in the spiritual sense. Jesus’ last words in verse 19 of the Story today literally reads, “Resurrect yourself and go; your faith has healed you, literally, saved you.” All ten in their obedience were cleansed but only the one Samaritan knew to yoke together obedience to faith and give credit to where credit was due: To God. When he fell at Jesus’ feet, he acknowledged his healing was from beyond himself and that it truly was an act of mercy. His act of obedience and his faithful response not only reconciled him to his community but more importantly, declared his reliance upon God’s gifts and mercy and restored his relationship with God.

Beloved, for 110 years, people have given themselves and their gifts to demonstrate their gratitude to God for all the blessings we as a church has enjoyed. You and I are sitting in a room that was literally built from the DNA and the raw material of other disciples’ joyful thankfulness. It’s because of their joyful thankfulness that we have been given and entrusted with the saving hope and grace of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, how are we both individually and corporately, not only obeying God but turning back around in thankfulness and glorifying the Lord with praise? You have heard me tell you how we can do it many times over the last five years.  We give God glory when we like the Samaritan fall at Jesus’ feet and truly worship him. 

We glorify God by becoming wholly uncomfortable with where we are in our faith and truly desire to grow deeper and wider. If you are practicing your faith and still understand God as you did 5, 10, 15 or so more years ago, then you have a problem. You’re stuck and your spiritual life is stunted.  We glorify God when we grow the faith we have.

We glorify God when we intentionally care for one another, look out for each other, and seek the best in our brothers and sisters.

We glorify God when we actively become the hands and feet of Jesus and serve others, the marginalized in the community, with acts of service and compassion.

We glorify God when we share what we have experienced in our faith in the community and invite others to partake in what we have experienced.

And yes, friends, we glorify God through our financial giving. If we like the Samaritan know that all we have is a result of God’s gracefulness to us, then we hold those resources loosely and look for ways to invest in Kingdom work. The measure of your giving is a measure of your spiritual maturity.  You know, people don’t think about dropping $200.00 for a dinner for two on Las Olas Boulevard but when the offering plate goes by, people wonder, “Do I drop the in ones I have or the $20.00 bill?” Giving is a spiritual issue, folks.

Our homework as we leave today is to reflect on the many ways God has blessed us individually and as a church. How well are we glorifying and praising God like the Samaritan? I have just provided you with the yardstick now it’s up to each of us to start measuring. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 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] Feasting on the Word— Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year C) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor https://a.co/cqn5ZmM. Originally cited from C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: G. Bles, 1958), 78-81. The word in parentheses was added by me for rhetorical clarity.

[3] Fred Craddock, Luke. Interpretation. A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 203.

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