Message: The Good Shepherd’s Job Description; John 10:11-18

A Sermon preached on April 25, 2021 by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Open your Bible to John chapter ten. Today’s scripture is sandwiched between two extended stories on either side of it.  In chapter nine, we find a hapless man Jesus cured of blindness; in the midst of his excitement of being able to see again, he is harangued by the Jerusalem religious leadership for healing on the Sabbath. In chapter eleven we have Jesus experiencing the death of his best friend Lazarus who he then raises from the dead. Tucked in between these two amazing stories is a conversation Jesus is having with the newly healed formerly blind man and the other disciples. A smattering of religious rule-keeper and enforcers were there, too. Let’s pick up in the conversation with verse 11. Hear the Word of the Lord!

John 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”[1]

            Today the Church throughout the world celebrates what it called Good Shepherd Sunday.  Every year on the fourth Sunday following Easter, the Church catholic pulls aside to remind itself not only the glories of Easter but it also remembers the character and type of God who would dare to be born among mortals, live among them, and then die for them in order to bridge the insurmountable distance between heaven and Earth to bring the two sides together.

            Who was gathered together this conversation? On one hand, there were the religiously serious who felt that there is a God “out there” but this God was a fickle, demanding God that smote you if you did not tow the right religious line and do the right thing. On the other hand, there were those philosopher types who believed God wound up the universe like a giant clock, got the whole thing ticking away and then sat back to watch human history unfold.  These two types of spiritual outlooks are alive and well today, too.  Added to these two views are those who have no spiritual worldview at all and do not believe God even exists! All of these folks were alive and well during Jesus’ day as well.

            Good Shepherd Sunday is the reminder that all three of these of outlooks on spiritual things exist in the world this very moment and Good Shepherd Sunday is the corrective lens through we which we are invited to look and see a gracious fourth alternative of God: God as Good Shepherd. Instead of believing there is no such thing as God, or if you do then that God is an angry smiter or is a disinterested grandparent, Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us of a fourth way to experience God and relate with the world.

            Now for those who are like me and grew up in the suburbs of a large city, we may not be too familiar with the pastoral imagery Jesus is outlining. I am more aware of the rhythms of the city than I am of the pastoral rhythms of farm life. So I need a little help in understanding God as Good Shepherd.

            The first thing I note is that we are to be grateful that Jesus did not say he was the Good Border Collie. I love border collies, mind you. They are wickedly smart, highly energetic and love to herd up the sheep. Did I mention they have these beautiful piercing blue eyes as well?  They look right into your soul. The deal is, however, these dogs are bred to herd up the sheep. These never-tiring dogs will run circle after circle after circle around the sheep to keep them together.  The sheep, who do not see very well, experience this forty-pound furry tornado that just nips at your hindquarters if you straggle outside the herd too far. The border collie isn’t all that interested in the sheep per se other than they need to be herded and kept together at all costs.  Border collies do what they do very efficiently out of instinct. It’s not that they really care for the sheep; the sheep exist only to be herded. 

            The second thing to note is that if we are honest, we all have experienced or know about pastors or churches who think Jesus said he was the Good Border Collie.  You know, these pastors, churches and Christians don’t really act like they care for the sheep at all but run frenetic circles around the people nipping at them to behave and act like a certain type of Christian. Border Collies will totally exhaust you if you do not keep them busy. They want to enforce order and keep the sheep in line and are unyielding in that effort. Border Collie pastors, Christians and churches generate a fear-based devotion on behalf of the sheep as opposed to relationship-based ones.

            No, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”  Psalm 23 and John 10 gives us an idea of the Good Shepherd’s job description.  The shepherd leads the sheep to come to quiet places to rest and replenish with cool grass and fresh water.  The shepherd has a vested interest in the sheep and will go out of their way to defend those sheep from predators or thieves, even risking their lives to do so.

            Pastor/Professor/Author Barbara Brown Taylor shares the story of a friend of hers who grew up on a sheep ranch out west.  She asked her friend, “Are sheep really as dumb as people say they are?”  Her friend laughed and told her the whole dumb-sheep myth was started by cattle ranchers. The cattle ranchers portrayed the sheep as dumb because they did not behave like the rancher’s cattle behaved. Taylor shares it this way: Cows are herded from the rear with shouts and prods from the cowboys. But that does not work with sheep. If you stand behind sheep making noises, they will just run around behind you. They actually prefer to be led. Cows can be pushed; sheep must be led. Sheep will not go anywhere that someone else—their trusted shepherd—does not go first, to show them that everything is all right. Taylor goes on to say, “Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to.[2]

There is that word again: relationship. The Good Shepherd nurtures a relationship with the sheep. The Shepherd will go and scratch and rub the sheep. He or she will clean their eyes if they develop a bunch of gunk in them. They will shear the sheep so that their wool doesn’t become too heavy and hinder their ability to live vitally. The shepherd talks with and interacts with the sheep in order to foster familiarity with them.  With that familiarity comes trust in the relationship so that when the shepherd speaks and calls to the sheep, they trust the voice that is calling out to them.

My friends, still yourself this moment. Ask yourself, “Does God even exist?”

Ask yourself, “Is the God I envision an angry, wrathful, vengeful God jotting down all the strikes against me to settle some future spiritual score?”

Ask yourself, “Is God just sitting back watching my life simply unfold into the chaotic swirl of a post-COVID world?”

Jesus reminds us to pause and listen for the Shepherd’s voice.  He’s calling your name. He’s vested in you and will die for you. He will feed you, clothe you, refresh you and comfort you. The Good Shepherd will do it for you even if you are not paying attention to him because he loves you. Oh my fellow sweet, smelly sheep, if we would just be quiet and listen for the Shepherd’s voice we could hear him calling our very own name right now. Shh…listen! 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] Barbara Brown Taylor from her sermon, “The Voice of the Shepherd.”  Cited at Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor https://a.co/hWtTf1g.

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The Message: What Does Easter Have to Do With Church?, Acts 4:32-37

Sermon delivered April 11, 2021 by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

  Acts 4:32-37

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.[1]

         It’s time for Rip Van Winkle to wake up. You remember Rip Van Winkle, don’t you?  It’s the story of a man who walks into the Catskill mountains with his dog and meets a group of mountain dwarves. Rip enjoys their hospitality and falls fast asleep and sleeps for over twenty years.  He wakes up and his dog is gone, the dwarves have disappeared, he’s grown a long grey beard, and his musket is rusted and rotted. He makes his way out of the woods to discover that his wife has since died and that he slept through the entire Revolutionary War! Everything has changed!

            Over the past few weeks, the Gallup Poll released some startling trends facing us as a country.  It revealed that in 1999, American membership in church, synagogue or mosque was roughly 70% of our population; today, twenty-two years later, membership and allegiance to a spiritual organization has plummeted to 47% of our population![2] Friends, it’s time for Rip Van Winkle, in other words, it’s time for the Church, to wake up! The world around has changed and we have been caught sleeping.

            Today’s scripture texts highlight the brilliance of the people who composed the lectionary we follow. Last week we celebrated the resurrected Jesus and derived comfort knowing that the power of sin and death have been conquered and that we who love God back will live with God for eternity. This is incredibly good news and is why it’s called, The Gospel! The challenge is, however, we fall into the tendency to make Easter and the resurrection all about each of us individually. Easter becomes about my salvation, my relationship with Jesus, my spot in heaven. It is all these things but there’s more. Those who put together the lectionary knew this and that’s why our scripture texts this week shift from “me” to “we.” It’s a shift from the individual to the power of the resurrected community.

            Psalm 133 that we heard a few minutes ago is one of the Psalms of Ascent. The psalms of ascent were sung by those Jews making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the religious festivals. They would sing these psalms as a way to encourage each other on the hard trip through the wilderness and up and over the mountains while getting there. Psalm 133 reminds the pilgrims, “How beautiful it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!” They would sing this song as a reminder that there were times in their shared history they didn’t get along so now when they are, it’s like an anointed blessing of oil poured over the head of Aaron! It’s extravagant, aromatic, and festive!

            Our Story from Acts picks up on that, too.  It’s a Story about community making a pilgrimage through life together with Jesus as the focal point. It’s a Story about a group of people who took seriously the words of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you.”  It’s a group of people who understood that the Spirit of God is able to transform and stir up an entire city when the faithful community, the Church, begin living a corporate expression of Christ’s love.

            Pastor/Author/Teacher Brian McLaren writes in his book, The Great Spiritual Migration, “When people climb out of their all-too-familiar ruts of the religious left and right, Christian faith can actually be interesting again.”[3] What he’s saying is that Church folks like to gather around issues or causes first and then figure out how to love others within the boundaries of their particular causes and agendas. Our scripture says it is the other way around; the Church fulfills and lives its purpose when it shares the love of Jesus first. Christianity in America has been sullied in that we have made it all about “me.”

            Hey Church, let me remind us, Rip, it’s time to wake up. It’s time we move from ‘me’ to ‘we’.  The Easter Story is a Story that gives life to the Church!  The Easter Story unleashes the Holy Spirit who then weaves your gifts and graces with her gifts and graces and then again with his gifts and graces and then transformation and new life, resurrection, occurs in community!

            Friends, we live in a time when Church, spiritual community, is seen as optional. “I can find God on my own. I don’t need to go to worship; I can sit on the beach or my boat instead. I don’t need to give to the church because I know better how to spend my money.”  Our scripture today reminds us community is not optional and that spiritual community is a nuclear reactor for generating Holy Spirit power in Fort Lauderdale and beyond! It reminds us that our personal spiritual life is inextricably tied to one another’s.

            What is written in our text? “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” The text then goes on to say two more times how people sold their property and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  Now before we go and start thinking this is a biblical call for communism, let’s stop. What these verses are declaring is that when members of the Church, the spiritual community, start re-ligamenting and attaching themselves unselfishly, humbly, lovingly to each other and for each other in the name of Jesus, then the Spirit of Jesus brings life and resurrection to that community. New life emerges.

            We hear each week how your offering is combined with the gifts of others that in turn have tremendous impact in our community. Will you give?

            We heard John Ripley this morning talk about the importance of listening for God’s call to be a church leader using your particular giftedness to move the community forward. Will you lead?

            We are about to ordain and install three people who are placing themselves at the disposal of Christ in loving service to you, the Church. Will you serve?

            Easter is so much more than just my personal spiritual salvation or your personal salvation; Easter encompasses the transforming our whole community so we can share God’s graceful love with others.

            Beloved Church, it’s time to wake up and step out in resurrection power into our part of the world!  And all God’s people 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] See the article by Ross Douthat, The New York Times, “Can the Meritocracy Find God?” April 10, 2021. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/opinion/sunday/religion-meritocracy-god.html

[3] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration. How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian (New York: NY, Convergent Books, 2016), 175.

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Where am I in the Story?, John 20:1-18

A sermon delivered on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Friends, as we listen to the Gospel account in John, I want you to be asking yourself, “Where am I in the midst of this Story?” Listen to the Word of the Lord!

John 20:1-18

20.1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.[1]

Two years ago today.  That was the last time we were gathered together on this lawn. Two years ago. A lot has happened since we last gathered for Easter together, hasn’t it?  What’s gone on in your life? Since the last time we’ve met on Easter morning, I have lost my dad to COVID and my mother to cancer; indeed, many of us have lost someone since then.  Some of you have welcomed one, even two new children to your family. Others of you have experienced strokes or heart attacks and have fought your way back to health. Then there are those of you who have lost their jobs and have been rehired while others are still waiting for work. Think about the changes your life has undergone since the last time we gathered together here for Easter two years ago.

Reflect upon all those changes we have endured individually as well as socially. Not one of us has escaped them! And yet, in the midst of all the swirliness, one thing stands as a constant sentinel in time that no matter what life hurls against our life’s battered doors, we shall be immovable with the love of God in Jesus Christ on Easter morning! While the world and circumstances have changed over the last two years since we gathered on this lawn, the one constant that pulls us together, is that death and the lasting effects of suffering have been upended and conquered because of Easter day.  Because he lives, we live. Why? Because he is risen! And the people say together, “He is risen, indeed!”

Unlike Mary, Peter and John the Beloved, we can anticipate this glorious day in ways they could not that first Easter morning.  Mary made her way to the tomb expecting it to be sealed and guarded.  Peter, John and the others had no intention of leaving their self-induced lockdown for fear of being arrested.  Their lives were in turmoil and the city of Jerusalem was swirling with political intrigue, conspiracy theories and paranoia.  Jesus was dead; what hope was there?  The first Easter morning came as a surprise for Mary, Peter, John and the others. They had already settled back into life’s anxious routines by the time Sunday morning rolled around.

Before Mary and the other women could sit shiva as is Jewish custom and truly grieve Jesus’ death, they had to ensure he had a proper ceremonial washing, anointing and burial. It makes perfect sense that they would come in the cool of pre-dawn to work in close quarters with a three-day old dead body. Once the sun came up and the heat of the day began to rise, well, their task would become more unbearable.

Upon discovering the tomb entrance was open and empty, she races to tell the frightened, huddled disciples the news of Jesus’ absence. Peter and John bolt out and run to the tomb and I have this wonderful image in my mind of a heavier built Peter plodding his way along huffing and puffing while John is in a full sprint.  Peter goes into the tomb and John follows. They behold the folded graveclothes and scripture says they believed but did not fully understand. So what did they do? They simply came, saw, and then went back home.  Mary stayed behind.

Mary stayed behind and let the weight of that first Easter morning settle in a bit. She lingered at the tomb and prayed the most beautiful prayer through the rawness of her upspoken tears. It was in the midst of her lingering at the tomb that first Easter morning she received a second gift and surprise: She beheld Jesus himself! And did you notice when it clicked for Mary and she recognized Jesus?  It was when he spoke her name, “Maria!”

Beloved, where are you in this Story?  What did you come out to see this Easter morning? What were your expectations? What are your expectations for Easter? Do you even have any?  The larger question for you and me is whether we respond like Mary or do we respond like Peter and John? Peter and John looked around and believed, but frankly we are not sure what it is they believed. Was it they believed Mary because Jesus wasn’t there? Was it they believed Jesus was alive? We are not sure but we are sure of one thing: They experienced that first Easter morning and simply went home.  They did not know what to make of it all nor did they understand the scriptures, we are reminded, that he had to rise from the dead. They came, they saw, and they went home.

What did Mary do? Mary came, saw, and lingered at the tomb the first Easter morning. She honored the moment and wrapped herself up in its uncertainty and it was in the midst of her lingering she encountered Jesus.  It was while she tarried at the tomb she gets a glimpse of the risen Christ and then recognizes him when he speaks her name.

So here you and I are once again on this lawn on Easter morning.  Much has happened since the last time we were here together.  By God’s grace, we are able to actually worship together this glorious blustery morning. But it’s also by God’s grace, you and I are invited to determine what to do with what we encounter this morning.

Do we simply go home and live life as though it’s business as usual as the disciples did, or do we hang around a bit and linger in the Easter moment?  This year we have been given the grace to be together again.  There is no more living life as though everything is going back to normal and it will be business as usual.  Easter is the time when we can pause and linger awhile, and in the midst of that uncertain waiting, Jesus will show up to you and speak your name.  Jesus will appear to you and wipe away your tears and hold you close.  Jesus will look at you in the eyes and say, “Beloved, go and tell my brothers and sisters.”

            “What shall I say, Lord?”

            “Tell them, ‘He is risen!’”

            And the people say, “He is risen, indeed!” 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.

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The Message: The Cost to See Jesus; John 12:20-26

Preached by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min. on March 21, 2021

            The row between Jesus and the religious officials is growing and we join the Story after Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival. The crowds are full and they have heard the rumors that Jesus has raised his best friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Jesus’ mere presence is causing an uproar. I will begin my reading with John 12:19 – 26. Hear the Word of the Lord!

John 12:20-26

                  12:19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him!” 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.[1]

Our text this morning is a major turning point in John’s narrative and this shift is demonstrated three different ways in our brief seven verses.  First, we have the introduction of Greek God-fearers who seek to know about Jesus.  They go hunt down Philip, also of Greek descent, to see Jesus for themselves. The Pharisee’s words prove to be true:  People from the larger, Greek-speaking world, are beginning to hear the Gospel. 

Second, there is a trigger phrase John has used in his Gospel several times when Jesus has been in tough straights.  Though the people have been upset with Jesus before, John always made sure that we knew, “The hour had not yet come.”  Well, that’s all changed because in verse 23, Jesus reminds the disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Third, our text this morning highlights a shift in John’s Story as it summarizes three sobering truths for those of us, who like the Greeks, want to see Jesus. These three truths are John’s way of making sure we who wish to see Jesus are truly up for the task. Standing like a Drill Sargent face to face with a fresh Marine recruit, verses 24-26 are John’s ways of asking, “Do YOU have what it takes to do this!?”  This, my friends, is what we are going to look at this morning. You see, these three verses add up the cost for you and me to come and see Jesus. The rest of John’s gospel story has Jesus personally showing you and me how to do it through his own example.

Unbeknownst to many of you, there is a little message that is inscribed on pulpits that you never see. It’s been carved into the wood or placed on brass plaques on pulpits from all the various Christian traditions from Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, to Baptists. Sometimes it placed on the lectern itself so you are forced to see it as you preach like it is on our pulpit. Other churches have it placed more discreetly on the back of the pulpit furniture so it’s eye height as the preacher sits in the chair behind it and sees it before she gets up to preach. The “secret” message only preachers see? It’s six simple words taken from today’s text: Sir, we wish to see Jesus.

These six words stare at preachers from pulpits to remind us that the world, i.e. you, are eagerly searching for the grace and power of God in your life that is manifested in Jesus. You eagerly want to be touched by his touch, embraced by his arms, have your face cradled in his hands as well. Every time we pastors preach, we are reminded that you, beloved, want to see Jesus and it’s up to us as the preachers of the Good News to paint you an accurate picture of who Jesus is and what Jesus requires of us. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” is the warning label on church pulpits that as pastors, we had better get it right.

Unfortunately, too often we have not done a very good job at accurately showing Jesus to others. In many churches, Jesus has left the building and isn’t talked about much at all. Other times, preachers have wrapped Jesus up in the American flag and have paraded him around to create a hostile Christian nationalism. Then there is the soft, silky Armani Suit Jesus of the prosperity Gospel that preachers highlight that says if you give your money, you will be blessed with blessings. Too often we preachers, out of fear of offending members of our churches, preach a watered-down and diluted Jesus to make him more palatable for you; you see, if we make Jesus palatable to you, comfortable for you, then you’re more apt to give to or join the church! On behalf of preachers everywhere, I say for all of us, “We repent.” When we dilute Jesus and the Gospel, we are showing a disservice to you and we are dishonoring the Christ. Our reading from John verses 24 to 26 demonstrate what it really takes to see Jesus; these few verses remind us that the six words, “Sir, I wish to see Jesus” truly is warning label not to be taken lightly!

Verse 24. Jesus says, “Listen up and pay close attention: I tell you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

The cost to see Jesus means a hard spiritual reboot.  It means life is not solely about me and my needs; no, life is meant to be lived as life together – you and me side-by-side.  I give up of parts of myself in order to compensate for the parts you lack in yourself. You give of yourself in order to compensate for the parts lacking in me. This is what Jesus did; it’s what we are called to do as well. I have to die so that together we can live! You have to die to self in order that together we can live! This is a high price to pay in order to see Jesus.

Verse 25.  Jesus says, “Hey listen up and pay close attention: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

If the first cost to see Jesus is a spiritual reboot, the second cost to see Jesus is an entire reinstall of the hardware, software and operating system! Jesus is telling the disciples that those who befriend and love the way the world as it is and currently works have already lost what it means to truly live today. Like our world, Jesus’ world was full of consumerism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, racism, and every other -ism there is out there. The cost to seeing Jesus is for you and me to name and claim all those -isms of our world that we cling to so desperately and swap them out with a new, Spirit-guided operating system that values sacrificial love and justice for the ‘least of these’ in our midst. This is a high price to see Jesus.

Verse 26.  Jesus says, “Hey listen up and pay close attention! Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

The cost to see Jesus in this verse is that we must follow Jesus where he goes; and where does he go from here in John’s Gospel? Jesus travels to the Cross. In order to see Jesus, you and I must follow him to his Cross as well as our own. Easy-going, laissez faire Christianity is an oxymoron; it does not exist, beloved. Jesus-following faith pinches a bit, my friends! This is a high price to see Jesus.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

As your pastor and preacher, I pray I preach the full picture of Jesus and what it means to follow him in a life of love, service, and joy. I pray that I paint all the colors of what it means to live an eternal life this very day. I pray that I do not lead you on a primrose path of convenient Christ-followership that makes you feel all comfortable and cozy.  If so, I have failed and I repent.

But if I have preached faithfully, well …

There is a cost to see Jesus.  His gift of new and eternal life is free for the taking but we have to get up and out of our seats and pursue it. It requires us to reboot, reinstall, and follow his directions.  As a preacher, I do not know how to make it any more clear than that.  And all of God’s people say together, “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.

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The Message: Patio Time, John 3:14-21

A sermon delivered on March 14, 2021 by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

In just two chapters, John’s densely packed gospel has already revealed Jesus’ true origins as the Eternal Word from the beginning[1]. It has shown us how Jesus calls together a community of disciples of ordinary people to follow him[2]. It highlights who Jesus is as Messiah as he turned water into wine[3]. It revealed last week his destiny as he cleared the Temple and gave us a glimpse of what he came to do with a reference to his resurrection[4]. Now as we move into chapter three, John reveals to us “why” of Jesus.

Turn in your Bible to John 3:14-21. Our Story today is a part of an extended conversation between Jesus and a Jewish religious scholar named Nicodemus. We note at the beginning of chapter 3, Nicodemus has come over one evening and is engaging Jesus in some thoughtful conversation about what it means to be born spiritually and in the midst of their visit, Jesus outlines the “why”, the purpose of his coming.  Listen to the Word of the Lord:

John 3:14-21

 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” [5]

Ever since I was a teenager, I have longed and loved for the ability to get away with someone and sit around a campfire. After football season was over, my buddy Dave and I would load up his used car and go camping in the north Georgia mountains. We would often sit under the cold dark night sky listening to a fire crackle; sometimes we talked but oftentimes we would sit in the silence and listen to the dreams God was instilling in our adolescent hearts. Sitting alone in the dark in the mountains can be a scary thing but the fire and its light create a circle of light that feels secure. The glow of the light creates a place of refuge and safety where the world falls away and you are suspended in time that very moment feeling the fire’s warmth as you hear the wood crackle breaking the night’s silence. The troubles of our teenaged-angst ridden world like the pressures of high school, working, wondering if my old high school flame, Marian Chan, was going to dump me, or us trying to figure out what we were supposed to be when we grew up – all of it seemed to melt away during those moments. It’s been over fifty years and I still travel back to those campfires in my mind.

Throughout my life and spiritual walk, I have sought to recreate those moments with those I love. A portion of my days has always included time of just sitting with those I care about and be with one another. I don’t sit around campfires anymore; after all, we do live in Florida! I’ve discovered a lit candle flickering on the table while on the patio works just fine.

Patio time. Through the years my days have developed a rhythm of devotion and prayer in the morning and patio time in the evening. Patio times are those moments when Kelly and I sit outside and simply be together and share what is most deeply impressed upon our hearts. Sitting in the patio’s candlelight over the years, we have strategized on how to raise our daughters and worked out things in our marriage. We have shared our fears of illness and death and what we want life to be. In the patio time’s silence, we have heard how God was speaking to each of us and discerned what God is calling us to do today. My daughters and I shared patio time as they grew up. The older they became, we would sit on the patio by candlelight and talk about their day, their dreams, and their boyfriends. Oftentimes, we would just sit together – a daddy and his girl – enjoying the presence of the other.

Over the years, I have also had special patio time with members of my churches. We sit and chat, sometimes enjoy a good cigar, and around the lit candle on the table, you share with me your hopes, your dreams, yours joys and your fears. The light’s glow creates a space of safety and comfort and you can just simply be your true self.  Patio time.

We have in our text today a snapshot of Jesus’ version of patio time. Nicodemus, a ruler and noted rabbi of the Jews comes to Jesus and wants to visit around the fire. Some take the fact that Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night points to his fear of being found out by the other Pharisees. Maybe. I like to think that maybe Nicodemus knows, that like you and me, that at the end of a busy day, one just needs someplace, someone safe to let your hair down with. Nicodemus was wise enough to know that in order to truly understand his spiritual life and faith in God, he would need time to pull away from the day’s bustle and have a conversation with Jesus.

 Nicodemus shows up three times in John’s gospel. He next shows up in chapter seven when he is sticking up for Jesus as others were trying to get Jesus arrested and then later on in chapter 19 when Nicodemus joins another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea, in asking Pilate for Jesus’ dead body in order to bury him.  Nicodemus is introduced in our patio time story this morning and we see the depth of his discipleship grow deeper in his other gospel appearances. He moves from asking about faith and belief to dynamically living that faith and belief out in defending Jesus publicly and by honoring him with a decent burial.

Now, like many of you, Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a man who already has faith in God. He already had an active spiritual life! But something was lacking. The Spirit in Nicodemus was needling him to delve deeper and move beyond the letter of the Torah and seek its deeper Truth.  Something in him wants to move beyond his first level thinking and delve deeper. First level thinking is when you and I take for fact that what we just see in front of us. What’s needed is second level thinking where we push beyond what we think we see and know and actively burrow to experience Truth at a more profound level[6].  This is why Nicodemus was looking for patio time with Jesus.

Jesus says, “A person must be born from above” and Nicodemus asks, “What do you mean? How is that possible?” Jesus replies that, “Just like Moses lifted the serpent up in the wilderness to heal the people, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that those who see and believe will have eternal life” (3:15).  And it’s at this point Jesus reveals his purpose and the “why” of his life and coming:

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

Jesus reveals during his patio time that God so loves the entire cosmos that everyone, not just the children of Abraham, who believe in him will have eternal life; indeed, the Son of God does not condemn the world but is willing to die to save it. Jesus is pushing Nicodemus to grow beyond the first level thinking and spirituality of simply following the Law; Jesus is pushing Nicodemus to a deeper, more thoughtful, critical and active life of discipleship in living out the Law with others.  Lest we forget, believing is a verb and not a noun. Believing is about living out one’s faith in ever deepening, penetrating ways. Believing is not signing onto a bunch of propositions like following the Ten Commandments; no, believing is living into the active life of the one whom we believe in and that’s Jesus. Jesus took Nicodemus where he was and in that patio time gave him the room and the tools to grow deeper, grow more mature, in his spiritual life.

Beloved, as we journey to the Cross together this Lent, I encourage you to engage in some patio time with someone you know and trust and invite the Spirit of Jesus to join you. In the intimacy of your fire or candle’s glow, I want you to plumb with one another how you can deepen your understanding of the Lord. Are you still a first-level thinking disciple or are you letting Spirit guide you to places you never dreamed you would go? In this patio time, just like Nicodemus, assess what you think you believe and know as true and let Jesus expand and challenge your thinking of what you think “you know” about God. During this patio time with Jesus and someone you trust, plumb the depth of your belief – is your belief an active verb or simply a static object, a noun.  Go find your patios my beloved and Jesus will meet you there!

© 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] John 1.1-28.

[2] John 1:29-51.

[3] John 2:1-11.

[4] John 2:12-23.

[5] 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.

[6] Read https://fs.blog/2016/04/second-order-thinking/.

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