The Pastoral Prayer for Sunday, May 16, 2021

Holy One from on high, as the new day dawns, it is all we can do but lift up our hands and hearts to you in praise and gratitude. You have sheltered us through the night and have brought us safely to this new day! O glory be! 

Lord we celebrate that as a nation we can wake up to a world that is striving to return to a semblance of old familiarity; while some of us may want to re-engage others with the enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever puppy, help us to be mindful of those who are still timid and anxious as all of us walk into the post-pandemic world.

In particular, we celebrate those who have put on their Easter life like Claudia Willey and Joyce Jones and thank you for the eternal life you make available through your Son, Jesus.

We celebrate those who have undergone successful surgeries and procedures for issues like brain cancer, aneurisms, heart irregularities, or hips and knees.

We celebrate those women and men who suffer from addictions and have found solace and healing through such organizations like AA.

We celebrate students of all ages who are taking milestone steps by graduating from kindergarten or graduating with a terminal doctoral degree.

We celebrate our educators on all levels who have had to learn to new teaching methods on the fly and adjust to a rapidly change educational environment.  And as we celebrate, we also commend the students who have not flourished during this time of COVID; grant them encouragement and resources to help them grow.

We commend our local, state, and national leaders to you; instill in them wisdom, compassion, and justice.

We commend to our tired but ever-loyal servants in healthcare from our doctors, nurses to the quiet souls who clean a hospital room’s bathroom; give them an injection of strength and hope.

Prince of Peace, we commend to you those places in our community and throughout the world that are fraught with violence and war like in South America, northern Africa, and in Palestine/Israel; surround the innocent with your sheltering wings of protection from bullets, bombs or injustice.

Father of Tender mercies, we ask your special blessing upon those who are getting older in years and whose once strong bodies are feeling the affects of age and a long life; assuage their physical pain and discomfort and may their spirit be vital in your Spirit. We ask all these things in the name of the One who taught us to pray – Our Father…

Copyright May 16, 2021, Patrick H. Wrisley.

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No Masks – What It Does and Does Not Mean for In-Person Worship

This week the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines that indicate that those people who have been thoroughly vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus are safe to gather in crowds and indoors without using them except in certain locations. The Session agreed that beginning today, we would follow those CDC recommendations.  Let me share with you what that means and doesn’t mean.

  • It means if you are duly vaccinated, you can worship sans a mask.
  • It means you do not have to preregister to attend worship.
  • It means if you are not vaccinated, we ask you to respect your fellow worshippers and wear a mask and seriously consider getting a vaccine.
  • It means if you feel safer wearing a mask to worship, by all means do so and you will be respected for that decision!
  • It means if you or a family member are not feeling well, you should stay home and watch the service via Livestream.
  • It means that those of you who like to watch the service in your pajamas that you have the chance to come and have fellowship once again at the church, but please put on a pair of pants or a dress first!
  • It means that if the pandemic comes roaring back, everything is on the table for reassessment.

On the other hand,

  • It does not mean we are checking vaccine cards at the door; each of us out of our own Christian duty to love one another will abide by an honor system.  
  • It does not mean that everything will immediately “get back to normal” with the rest of church ministry and programming on site; the Task Force for Reopening continues to meet and will make recommendations to the Session for an orderly, systematic re-opening of the facility and ministries. For example, the rule of sitting in assigned areas will probably be done away with by the next Task Force Meeting and that recommendation will be given to Session for approval. Please exercise patience.

Beloved, we are responding to a dynamic and fluid health situation. Our goal is to ensure we are able to provide members and guests with vital worship, fellowship, and ministry opportunities in a safe and meaningful manner. I’m excited with all that’s coming up in this church’s life!  I am excited to see our choirs again!  I’m excited to see people’s actual faces once more! I’m excited at all God has planned to for us as a congregation.

Still in One Piece, the Preacher

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Pastoral Prayer for May 9, 2021

Almighty God of Beauty and Justice, we dare to come and share our hearts and souls with you in prayer. We come grateful for a time and a place of worship as we celebrate that you are God, and we are not. As a doting Mother lifts her child upon her lap to tenderly read them a story, lift us into your very Presence now and reveal yourself, your words and your will to us this day.

         Lord of all, our world is so small and fragile. Our penchant for over consumption and waste not only affects our planet’s resources but impacts the lives of those who are the world’s most vulnerable. Spirit, help us to become frugal stewards of the gifts you provide and thankful for those who provide them.

         Prince of Peace, we pray for your world where political, spiritual or economic hubris cause conflict and war. Our elementary thinking of “I’m right” and “you’re wrong” cause the death of schoolgirls in Afghanistan as well as tears the fabric of this nation’s very republic. Replace our pride with gentle, reasonable humility that seeks to serve our neighbor with the love that you yourself suffered to demonstrate to us. We pray your churches throughout the world would be lighthouses of grace in a dreary world that is often overshadowed with sickness, death, bigotry, and apathy. We pray you would make each one of us vessels of love and transformation wherever we are and with whomever we are with; lay upon us the expectation that we are your needed and required agents of change in the world instead of leaving the task for someone else.

         Specifically, Jesus, we pray for all those who are sick and for those who are dying…

         We pray for families struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table…  

         We pray for our local, state and federal leaders and that they would lead with justice and fairness instead of political ambition…

         We pray for our police officers, firefighters, and first-responders – that you would keep them safe and ever mindful and in control during duress and pressure…

         We pray for those who serve our country in the military…

         We pray for those women in our lives who have shaped us, nurtured us, protected us and loved us…

         Finally, we pray for those who are immediately around us whether at home, in the next apartment, or the neighboring pew…

            Now hear us as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught his friends to pray…

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

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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

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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

[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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