Sermon: Nothing Works if We Don’t’ Get the Basics Right
Scripture: Psalm 133; Philippians 3:17- 4:3
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: August 16, 2020
Today’s Psalm, coupled with the Philippians text, shape the thoughts we are going to explore this morning as we look at the fact that nothing works if we don’t get the basics right. For the Apostle Paul, it’s the basic reminder that Christ-Followers are members of the citizenry of heaven. Let’s read what it is from the Psalm’s perspective.
Psalm 133 is a from a group of Psalms that are called “Songs of Ascent.” The Songs of Ascent were the various Psalms the Jewish people sang as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the major religious festivals. Members from all the different tribes would join in a singular voice singing praises to God for all God had done, is doing, and will do, not just in their personal lives but as a nation. Listen to this brief psalm and listen for God’s reminder to us; hear the Word of the Lord.
1How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
3It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
This is a song the people would sing as they made their way to the Temple. They sang it as a reminder that through their history together, God wove them from a scattered group of people called Hebrews and made them a unified nation of Jews. I may be from the tribe of Judah but I sing with one voice with my brothers and sisters from the tribe of Asher, Dan, Benjamin, and Naphtali. We may live in different areas in Palestine but we are all united together as members of one nation. Our Psalm describes what it looks like when the people live together in unity by using two similes of abundance.
When sisters and brothers dwell and get along, it is like the extravagant oil that is used to ordain and set Aaron apart for his work. There is so much oil it rolls down his face, through his beard, and soaks into his clothes.
When brothers and sisters live in unity, their very community sounds like a well-practiced symphony of grace that starts in the mountain snows and flows down into the dusty valleys below bringing life where life may appear tenuous and doubtful. One scholar writes, “When unity settles in a community—be it family, church, or even a nation—it brings blessing and great joy to everyone” but especially to God.
The Psalmist reminds us that yes, we may be different but there is beauty when that diverse uniqueness comes together and finds its oneness, its connectedness that is centered on worshipping the Lord God. The Apostle Paul reminds us that even though Euodia and Syntyche may disagree, they will come together and conform as mutual citizens of heaven and show the world there is another, a better way.
Last Monday morning I followed my daily routine. Every morning upon waking, I will make the coffee and then scan the headlines to see what has happened overnight. If I have time before the coffee pot finishes brewing, I will quickly scan Facebook or Instagram to see what’s up with those I know. When the coffee is finally made, I grab two mug-fulls and head upstairs into my study for scripture reading and prayer.
This past Monday morning, I followed my routine and made it to my chair for prayer but I was heartbroken and all I could do is sit there and stew. I even had a moment of professional despair as I pondered, “What good has my three decades of ministry produced if my people, my sheep, my flock are saying these things about each other?”
I closed my eyes and saw your faces sitting across and next to one another in worship. I saw the faces of congregants of the many churches I served over the many years in a similar way. Faces of people who loved each other. People who sacrificed their time and money for the cause of Christ in the community with each other. People who took time praying for one another and with each other while studying the Holy Scriptures learning about the engine of God’s heart which is love. With eyes closed, I saw you stand up and point a finger at the person you take communion with and declare, “You’re a left-wing, pinko-communist!” while the other stands up and shouts, “You’re a right-wing fascist!” One side declares to the other how unchristian, how “Satan-filled”, how ungodly, how stupid their brother or sister is because they don’t see the world like us. In my meditation that morning, this scene of bickering turned arguing with one another just broke my heart.
Jesus was nowhere to be found in the words you used against one another in my meditation. It’s what caused me to have a crisis of call and wonder, “Why do I even bother to try?”
What led me down that path during my Monday morning prayers this week is Facebook. Social media. I was reading vitriol being espoused in rants, commentaries, and reposted newspaper articles from members of my churches over the years towards others that lacked any godly substance or edification at all. With my mouth agape, I thought to myself, “These aren’t the people I see on Sunday morning in worship, at a prayer meeting, Bible study, or while serving others!” And yet, your voice, your words, were on full display on social media. The words I read and the posts I watched did not match the people whose faces receive communion from my hands in worship together. There is a disconnect. I tried to imagine what it would be like if you could stand up, look at another church member in the eye across from where you sit, and tell them how radically un-Chrisitan, Fascist, Communistic, left, or ring-wing extremist militants they are face to face. “That would never happen in real life in church!” I reminded myself. It was then the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, “Preacher, it already is happening on Facebook.” I wondered to myself how sensible, reasonable people I know from the church can lose all their sensibility and emotional filters when they go online and don’t have to look at someone in the eye?
Serendipitously, or better, Providentially, our General Presbyter, Daris Bultena, raised these issues for a group of clergy and laypeople the very next day at a regularly scheduled meeting. The way he put it was that when it comes to social media, your personal “brand” comes first and is more important than the “content” of what you post. In other words, we need to ask ourselves if how we portray ourselves online with what we are posting is consistent with the men and women we say we are as Christians and followers of Jesus. You see, this is what got me so upset in my prayer time Monday. There was a gross inconsistency between the people I know my members to really be and with who they appear to be based upon what they’re posting online. There’s a gap.
Beloved, we are living in one hell of a year that has been beset with all sorts of physical, emotional, communal, financial, and spiritual pain and it is only August! We are at the door of a Fall season that is dripping wet with political bitterness, fear of the pandemic mixed with the flu, and with the fact that as a group, many white people like me have yet to face up to the fact that as a culture, we have not treated people of color very well and have caused them harm and angst. Friends, we have a long way to go before we sing “Auld Lang Syne!” so let’s use today as a pause button to recalibrate our life so our “inner” spiritual, ethical world matches what we show others in our “outside” public world. In other words, does the brand of being a Christian match the content of being a Christian by what we see say, by what we post, by how we love? Is the Christian example we display online marked by the threads of sacrificial love, justice, and reconciliation, or, displayed by the knots that reflect bitterness derived from hubris, moral superiority, and my sense of self-entitlement at the expense of others?
Friends, we are all brothers and sisters together. Some are Republican and some are Democrat. Some are straight and some are gay. Some are happy and some are filled with depression. Some are white Caucasians while others are black, or brown. But in this Church and in the world, we are all followers of Jesus Christ and the world, our very country, needs us to act like it and show others what it means. Can I get an “Amen”?
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 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.