There are some things we simply must do for ourselves; Luke 17:5-10

A sermon delivered October 2, 2022, by Patrick H Wrisley, D.Min.

This morning is world communion Sunday. It’s a day the catholic, i.e. universal church pauses to remember it does not operate in an isolated vacuum. Today Christians of all types from around the world cease talking about their differences with other Christian faiths and come together and share communion celebrating our common family DNA and genealogical ties to Jesus. We meet each other at the common space we share called the communion table.

Communion, particularly worldwide communion, is all about relationships. God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another. Our scripture text today comes from the Gospel of Luke. It’s a text that highlights these three interconnected relationships.

As I stuck my hands into the mud of this scripture, I quickly discovered that Luke 17:1-10 are not four disparate, non-related stories but are instead woven together to highlight these three relationships of God with us, of us with God, and each of us with one another. So, although the lectionary directs us to look at verses 5-10, we are going to look at the whole unit of these four teachings Jesus provides. It will help the lectionary text make more sense.

Before hearing the scripture, I want to remind you that Jesus is once again using the rhetorical technique of hyperbole in order to get his point across. He is exaggerating in each of these teachings to get his point across to even the most clueless of his followers. Hear the Word of the Lord beginning with 17:1.

Luke 17:5-10

17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for sin are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If a brother or sister sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me; put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”[1]

Don’t be the source of someone’s moral failure.

Our well of forgiving another person is bottomless.

To these two commands, the disciples throw up their hands and exclaim, “Jesus! Increase our faith!” To which Jesus replies, for all practical purposes, “You’ve got all the faith you need, just obediently get about using it.”

Our passage this morning is about God’s relationship with us. Jesus is asking you and me to stop and understand that God is not asking us to do anything God has not already done for us which is God actively blessing and forgiving us.

Our passage this morning is about our relationship with God in that we are called to be obedient and live the life we are directed to live, not because we will get any special spiritual perks, but solely because we are fortunate enough to be a part of the family and covenant people of God.

Our passage this morning is about our relationships with one another and how we are not to be one of those people, one of “those Christian hypocrites” that says one thing but acts in a totally different way altogether. We are to help one another walk a smooth spiritual path and not lead people down trails where they will stumble and fall. These are relationships with other people we don’t like, agree with, understand, or even tolerate and yet we are to open up our wells of forgiveness and grace to them as God has opened up the heavenly wellspring of grace and forgiveness to us.

The disciples cried, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus replies, “Put some feet under your convictions and live obedient lives listening to the voice of the Holy One.”  It’s right here we are to pause and understand a person of faith is not a person who achieves of destination – I’ve arrived at faith! No, faith is a life-long journey where we are daily exercising our belief through obedience to God.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is demonstrated when we forgive those people in our lives who have caused us much hurt and pain. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. I cannot forget the incidences of abuse I suffered in my younger years, but I can unhook myself from them. The word Jesus uses for forgiveness in our text literally means to let go, to send away. It’s the same word used for a couple divorcing one another. The pains of repeated insults and abuse a person may experience cannot be forgotten; those scars become a part of who we are. We can, however, choose to put the feelings of hate, animosity, and revenge down and walk away from them. We can consciously let them go and divorce, separate ourselves from their toxicity.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is committing to daily waking up and living a life God expects of us as we build and work towards a loving relationship with our neighbor.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is when a person continues to press ahead even though he or she does all the right things, lives a good, decent life, and tries to follow the Lord but feels their prayers are going unanswered.

Faith is a noun but putting faith to work means living out one’s steadfast belief. Believing is a verb and it’s a word that has feet under it! The late Southern author Flannery O’Conner, in her short story, “The Habit of Being,”  writes, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.  It’s much harder to believe than not to believe.  If you feel you can’t believe it, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”[2] 

Beloved, faith is a loving, generous gift from God given to us. But hear this: God cannot use our gift of faith for us; no, we have to exercise and practice that faith both as a community known as the Church and individually in the manner in which we live. Faith is a gift given to us for our relationships with God and others. There are some actions in our life we simply have to do ourselves; no one can do them for us.

But how? How, Jesus?

And Jesus replies, “Take, eat. This is my body which if broken and shared with you. Take, drink. This is the cup of the new covenant of sacrificial love and forgiveness given for you. This table is nourishment for the life-long journey ahead where we discover faith by simply living out the life we are called to live. In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. So let it be.

© 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]Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[2]  As quoted in For All the Saints. A Prayer Book for and By the Church, Volume III: Year 2, Advent to the Day of Pentecost by Frederick Schumacher with Dorothy A. Zelenko (Dehli, NY: The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2006), 963.

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Sometimes, God, Has Us Do Things That Just Don’t Make Sense; Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15

A sermon preached on September 25, 2022 by Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Sometimes, God has us do things that just don’t make a lot of sense. This is the first word I must say in regard to this morning’s scripture from the lectionary. Turn in your Bible to Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15. As you’re turning there, let me give you some context.

Jeremiah was known as the Weeping Prophet because frankly, almost all of his prophecies were of the gloom and doom variety. He foretold how the Lord God, because of Judah’s rampant lust to pursue foreign gods and flagrant disregard of the covenant made with Moses, was going to let the Babylonians lay siege against the city of Jerusalem and take her people into exile.

The regular folks looked at Jeremiah as we would look at a street corner preacher carrying a sign that said, “The end is near! Are you ready?” The political establishment was grossly annoyed at Jeremiah and were tired of his constant complaining about the spiritual and ethical state of things in the southern kingdom of Judah. The king of Judah at this time is Zedekiah. With respect to Jeremiah? He’s not a fan. Not only did Jeremiah stir up angst among the people of the city, Jeremiah was thrown into jail because he dared to tell the king in affect, “Listen, the city is going to fall and you, O king, will be taken prisoner of war and marched down to Babylon and await for whatever punishment the Lord God has waiting for you.” These are not the words that will endear yourself to those in charge.

The year is is thought to be 588 years before the time of Jesus and at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the Babylonians were building siege mounds up against the walls of Jerusalem. In antiquity, an attacking force would build up earthen works that built a giant ramp up to the top of a city’s walls so the opposing army could march up the ramp and take charge of the city literally from the top down. This is what was happening to Jerusalem at that moment. The siege works were under construction and Jeremiah was held prisoner in the King Zedekiah’s palace court. Listen to the Word of the Lord and see if it makes any sense to you.

Jeremiah 32:1-3,6-15

32.1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, “Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it…

 6Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” 

8Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. 

9And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.[i]

Let’s make this real: You are hunkered down in Kiev listening to the explosions around you caused by Putin’s missiles. In the midst of the bombardment, you decide to buy from a relative a piece of land in eastern Ukraine that is already under Russian occupation. This relative of yours sneaks through enemy lines and come to see you in Kiev with the offer. So, with the sounds of war all around you, you gather some cash, a notary public, and several witnesses to watch and back-up what is taking place. You then give the signed deed and bill of sale to a trusted colleague and friend for safekeeping.

Now, just ask yourself, “Does it make any sense to do a land sale in the middle of siege warfare for a plot of ground behind enemy lines?” You would think there are other issues more pressing as a result of the shelling. Those around you are scratching their heads as the earth shakes from the bombardment, “What the heck are you doing?”

Friends, what are we to make of this Story? This Story reminds us, Church, how we as people and as a community of faith respond to chaotic times. It’s a Story that beckons us to look for the presence of God in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. It’s a Story that reminds us we are to share our Story for the sake of the Church that has yet to be born.

It’s a Story that beckons us to look for the presence of God in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.In 1946, renowned Austrian psychologist and prisoner of war Viktor Frankl who being held in Auschwitz, wrote a memoir about his experiences in that horrible Nazi concentration camp during WWII. Surrounded by brutality and death all around him, Frankl was reduced to trying to make sense of the suffering and asked the existential question: In the midst of the sea of suffering around him, he began looking at how do people get their sense of meaning and purpose from?

Frankl believed you and I get our meaning from three places: Purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of despair. He noted that every person, every single day, has an opportunity to make a purposeful decision to determine whether or not he or she capitulates and gives up to whatever is trying to rob of us of our personal sense of self. I am so mindful of what my wife Kelly taught me and the girls throughout her life. “I can let cancer and heart failure define me and who I am, or I can choose to define what cancer and heart failure is to me.” She never let her illness define who she was a wife, mother, sister, friend, and woman of God.

Viktor Frankl says it this way: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.[2]  

Jeremiah chose to hear God’s voice in the midst of war and chaos in order to declare a word of hope to a hopeless despairing people whose city was about to taken by the enemy. In order to communicate that sense of hope, Jeremiah bought land to keep it in the family and to show God is not done with us yet. He knew he would never see the plot of land he purchased. But he made sure his secretary and assistant Baruch kept the deeds in a safe location for the future because God promises, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (vs. 15).

The late British Old Testament historian, Ronald Clements, noted about our text, “All the more significant therefore was Jeremiah’s concern to ground hope on a deeper and more lasting foundation (than wishful thinking). Hope was no longer the short-lived possibility of averting or postponing disaster, but rather (hope is) a discovery that there was no disaster that could take away a hope founded on God.”[3] In other words, our hope comes from beyond ourselves and crashes into our lives as the “word from the Lord.” Our hope is grounded in the sovereign, gracious heart of God and bestowed to us as a gift. We are to be aware of the fact that it is the Spirit of God that births the hope within us that we know that we know that we know that the power of the Holy Trinity has our future held gingerly in Its hand. Hope acknowledges that we live in between the already and the not yet and that in the end, regardless of what assails us, we are God’s beloved and we know God holds our hand when we walk through the turbulent waters and the fire; we shall not drown or be burned by fire, because as Isaiah reminds us,

I will strengthen you; I will help you;

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.[4]

Yet, beloved, our text not only reminds us of how we find meaning in troubled times, but it reminds us of that we each have a duty to share that hope and entrust it to a new generation. Jeremiah entrusted the land’s bill of sale and deed to Baruch for safe keeping. Jeremiah knew he would not see the restoration of Israel, but he wanted to share hope with the following generations of Jews to remind them of God’s faithfulness.

The question that haunts me and is the same question that I want to haunt you is this: Who am I leaving this deeded word of hope to so they will know and experience God’s faithfulness as I have? Yes, the world and church in America feel like they are getting sucked down a drain, but do communicate to those around us? Do we show our children, our grandchildren, our community that we are throwing our hands up in despair or capitulation, or do we point out God’s presence in the unexpected and help others learn how to see and experience hope-full grace?

Think, Church, and reflect Beloved, and ask yourself, “Can I look for hope given by God in the midst of today’s swirliness?” And then ask yourself, “Who is my Baruch? How am I passing the faith and certainty of God’s hope to a future generation?”  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33301 and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1]New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[2] See Accessed on 9/23/2022.

[3] R.E. Clements, Jeremiah, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 195. Words in parentheses were added by me for rhetorical purposes.

[4] Isaiah 41:10

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The Essence of the Winsome News We are to Share!, 1 Timothy 2:1-7

A sermon delivered on September 18, 2022, by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Our text this morning comes from one of three pastoral letters written by the Apostle Paul to aspiring leaders in the early church. The Pastoral Epistles comprise 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. They contain sage advice from an older, seasoned pastor written to the new generation of leadership that is beginning to emerge in the early church. It’s analogous to me, having moved away, sitting down to write Nic a letter on what’s important to this faith community and how to lead this church. The Pastorals are Paul’s notes of encouragement to younger leaders.

Paul’s focus in 1 Timothy is to help Timothy learn how to deal with difficult, divisive members of the church who are using their leadership in the church as a means to teach inaccurate information about the Gospel.[1] Paul’s words to Timothy leading a church in Ephesus are reminding him how to live and act in the community called Church. He’s asking Timothy to step up and into vital leadership in order to ensure the pure Gospel message is communicated. Turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2.1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.[2]

Our portion of the letter today contains two crucial lessons for us. Lesson 1: Paul reveals the first priority of any Christian community. Lesson 2: This lesson outlines in seven short verses four foundational spiritual truths that comprise the Gospel message Timothy is to use.  You see, some people in the church were pushing their way into leadership, teaching patently false notions about Jesus, and giving a distorted view of the grace-filled Gospel Story. Lesson 2 in our text is Timothy’s rebuttal to those false teachers.

So, what is the most important thing for the people of the Church to do according to the Apostle Paul? The foundational truth Timothy must learn is that the Church is to make prayer its number one priority.

Honestly, Paul is giving Timothy, he’s giving us, a helpful reminder as to what the content of our prayers is to be. Most often, our prayers are directed heavenward for our personal benefit. We pray for a better job, a better paycheck, a better relationship with our spouse or kids, a successful winning game…add your own.  Think of your prayers, Church. For whose benefit and behalf are they directed to God? Is it solely for you or is it for everyone else? Paul says it to be for everyone else. I’m not suggesting we are not to pray for our particular, individual needs; I am saying that our pattern for prayer needs to follow the Jesus model of living: He lived to share love with others. He humbled himself as a servant of others. He sacrificed himself so that others, people like you and me, can live. The Knox translation of the Bible says it this way in verses 1 and 2:

This, first of all, I ask; that petition, prayer, entreaty, and thanksgiving should be offered for all mankind, especially for kings and others in high station, so that we can live a calm and tranquil life, as dutifully and decently as we may!

Now we may be tempted to break down the four different prayers Paul writes about, i.e., supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving, and understand what those mean. The problem is that when we do that, we are engaging in an exercise of missing the point. Paul is saying the church’s number one priority is to pray all different types of prayer as a foundation of its worship. Furthermore, they are prayers directed on behalf of certain people.

Church, who are we to pray for? We are to pray for all humankind as well as those who are leaders in our society and political sphere. Did you notice who was excluded from the list? Ourselves. The Church’s prayers are directed for the benefit of others. The Church isn’t praying for itself but for everyone else in the world who are part of the Church or for those who are not. The Church’s number one task is to pray for all people. We are to pray for people we like and for those we dislike. We are to pray for those of like minds as well as for those who think contrary to what we believe. We are to pray for the Ukrainians and at the same time, we are to pray for the Russian soldiers and mercenaries who are brutally torturing innocent people. We are to pray for everyone.

We are also to be specific and pray for our leaders in society even if we believe they are jerks and are acting out of their own self-interest. He’s telling the Ephesians to pray for Caesar and the Roman guards. He’s telling the Jewish believers to pray for the Gentile believers in power. He’s telling you and me to pray for Putin and Zelensky. Democrats are to pray for their Republican counterparts and vice-versa. We are to pray for our police and fire chiefs, mayors, and city council members. And why are we to pray for them?

We are not praying for their cause. We are not praying for their success and prosperity. We are not praying for them because we agree with them or disagree with them and want them to see things our way. No, we lift all types of prayers for humankind and those in charge and rulers so that we, the Church, the Body of Christ, may live quiet, peaceable lives in a manner God finds appealing and beneficial. We are to pray for our Kings, Presidents, governors, and the like so that under their leadership, the Church can quietly be about the business of doing the ministry of Jesus to the people in the world. We pray for our leaders so that the environment is conducive to sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

So why is this important? Because verse 4 reminds us God, “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Paul calls the Church to pray for society’s leaders for the sole, evangelistic purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus to those who are deaf to whispers of the Spirit. Beloved, this church, the Episcopal church across the street, First Baptist, First Methodist, and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church are to be praying for our leaders so that we can live unhindered Christian lives in order to share the Gospel and radically burn this town down with the flames of the Holy Spirit.

Now, switching our gears a little bit, we will look at Lesson 2. If we slide our finger back a few paragraphs to the first chapter, we note that Paul was encouraging Timothy to teach sound doctrine to the Church with love as its foundation. Our scripture today not only tells the Church to pray for an environment where we can winsomely share the Good News but in verses 5 and 6, Paul gives us the kernel, the essence of what that winsome news is. He gives Timothy the answer to those false teachers referenced in the first chapter. Paul is reminding Timothy and the Church, that the Winsome News of the Gospel is to share with others that –

There is only One God, and his Savior is Jesus;

There is but one mediator standing in the gap between the Divine and all humankind;

That Jesus was indeed a true human being, a flesh and blood man; and,

This man Jesus humbled himself in love for us in order for him to be the ransom, the payoff, for all people.

So, beloved, this is the essence of the Christian message.  There is One God and Savior who became a human being in order to hold heaven and Earth together by ransoming, giving up his rights as God so that you and I can live to tell others the Winsome News of salvation.

Church, Paul gave us our marching orders this morning. We are called to pray for everyone we see in the world, including our civic leaders, so that we can share the Winsome News of God’s presence and work in Jesus of Nazareth, the man who is also the Beloved, God himself. So, let’s all say that we will commit to doing this as a church. Can you do that? 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] See 1 Timothy 1:3-11.

[2] 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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110 Years and Counting!, Luke 15:1-10

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Patrick H Wrisley, September 11, 2022

This morning, it’s helpful if we begin right where we left off last week. Immediately preceding our text this morning are two pivotal Stories.  First, Jesus tells the Story of a man who tells his servants to go out into the community and invite his friends to a banquet. When all those on the guest list make excuses as to why they cannot come, the man then tells the servants to go out again and compel any and every single person on the street or in the allies to come to the feast. The upshot is the community’s most marginalized are invited to the feast and banquet.  The parable of the banquet is quickly followed by last week’s teaching of Jesus telling his would-be followers what is required of us if they decide to join his group and become a disciple. We noted how Jesus used hyperbole to get the point across that in order to follow him, each of us will need to place every little aspect of our lives under his Lordship. This all sets up for our Story today.  Listen to the Words of the Lord from Luke 15.1-10.  

Luke 15:1-10

15.1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinner and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”[1]

What we have this morning is Jesus doing rounds with the ensconced religious status quo telling two parables of similar structure that speak to lost items that are found — A single sheep and a single coin. If we are not careful readers, we will fall for Luke’s sleight of hand and focus on the lost and found but totally miss the point of the parables which are actually about the character and ways of God.

The first parable about a lost sheep is in and of itself quite puzzling. A shepherd who has 100 sheep has one sheep go astray. We read how this shepherd left unattended and unprotected 99% of his capital, i.e., his sheep, in order to recoup a potential 1% loss. Think about that: This shepherd is willing to risk his or her entire flock of food, clothing, and sustenance in order to backtrack and locate one single sheep.  Add to that is the genuine possibility that the entire flock of sheep is not even his but someone else’s who has hired the shepherd to do this grunt work for them. Shepherds were, after all, a cagey and suspect bunch of people in those days and often were not seen as the most reliable of people. So here is a guy who was probably picked up early that morning at the daily labor pool and then was left in charge of 100 sheep. He’s got one job: Watch the sheep. One job. Watch the sheep.

And what does our hapless shepherd do? He leaves the entire flock unattended while he goes in search of one wayward lamb. What would happen if the flock’s owner decided to pop in and check on matters. He sees the shepherd has left his post and then he becomes absolutely livid. We can hear him ranting on the hillside, “I gave that guy one job and that was watching over my sheep and this jerk left his post exposing my entire flock to danger!”       

Then there is the story of the woman who has lost 10% of her savings and then tears the house up to find it. Like the shepherd, she is dauntless in her effort to find that coin.  She stops everything she is doing and throws herself into the task of reclaiming that one coin.

So, what are we to make of this Story? What are we supposed to get out of it? Why did Jesus tell these stories to begin with? Let’s remember the scene: Jesus is surrounded by what would be considered first-century low-lives.

It was a bunch of tax collectors who were despised because the overall Jewish population felt that they had sold out and were working for the Romans exploiting their own people. Then there is that catch-all term ‘sinners’. The best way to understand who the sinners are is for you to think of a group of individuals that immediately pop into your mind that just rankle you at the thought of them. Maybe it’s the homeless guy working the intersection of Broward and Federal who is using the beat-up handwritten sign asking for money. Maybe it’s those people who voted for “Brandon” or it’s those who voted for Trump. Maybe it’s the illegal alien, undocumented worker, or migrant in our midst we feel is leeching off the system. Maybe it’s the dishonest developer who used inferior products in your condo building and whose neck you want to ring. Maybe it’s “that group” that is other-sexed than you and you just can’t understand why they are who they are. Who are the people you count as ‘sinners’ that would be part of Jesus’ audience that day?

The beautiful trick this parable plays on us is that whoever we think a sinner is in God’s sight and we place them in that category, we have to immediately stop and place ourselves in line next to them. Honestly, who are you and I to determine who is a bona fide ‘sinner’ or not? Friends, as soon as we choose to determine who sinners are according to our personal criteria, then we automatically become a sinner in our own right because our hubris declares us a sinner as well.

Yet, along with the sinners gathering around Jesus to experience Jesus are the grumpy, grumbling, stodgy, uptight, religious old guard who is complaining off to the side griping about how “we surely have never done this before!”

And it’s at this point the power of the parable’s point comes crashing on top of us! Jesus is telling the uptight leaders of the synagogue “who have never done it that way before” that they have a small view of God. I mean, really, what idiot would leave 99% of their capital investment unprotected to go find that one wayward sheep? God would! And furthermore, who has the audacity to compare Mighty God, Yahweh, to a fretful woman tearing her house inside out looking for a coin?  Jesus would.

Beloved, the wonderful, winsome news of our Story today is that Jesus is describing a God who is not wrathful or vengeful. He is painting a picture of a God who does what no one expects in the search of those stray sheep like you and me. God will illogically leave the 99 to find the one. And the power of this parable is that as we hear the Story and assume we are one of the 99 that are left behind, the implication of Jesus’ words indicts us indicating that we too are the wayward ones, we are the dukk. We are the lost coin God is anxiously searching for.

God is the lover pursuing his beloved and when the beloved is found, he or she is brought back to the community of the other sheep, added back to the purse with the other coins. It’s not just that we are rescued and found but it’s about our reintroduction and reconciliation with the larger community of God that’s called the Church. The single sheep isn’t rescued for its own sake; the lone sheep is rescued for the sake of the whole flock. The party over the found coin is not about just the coin; it’s about adding the coin back to the purse which makes the whole purse more valuable.

One hundred ten years, Church. For 110 years God has been using this community called First Presbyterian to search for that one wayward lamb in our midst and bring him or her back into the community of Christ-followers. Fort Lauderdale would be diminished if over the last 110 years this church was not here making a difference in southeast Florida in her ministries of service and compassion. This morning as we come to the Table of the Lord, we are joining with all those members who have come before us and have established this faith community.  Today we come, we come to celebrate their hope, faith, and efforts as we pledge along with them that we will do the same. Come, let’s eat from the Table of the Lord! In the Name of the One who Is, Was, and Ever shall be. Amen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33301, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1]New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Making Sure the Math is Right, Luke 14:25-33

A sermon delivered on September 4, 2022, by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley

Both of today’s biblical readings deal with making choices. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is instructing the Hebrews that life with God requires them to make a conscious choice each and every day to follow God. Moses declares, “Now choose life, to that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice and hold fast to him.”[1] Choosing life was not just saying you would do so, for the Hebrews it meant actively shaping their life around fulfilling the Law shared by Moses. Choosing was never meant to be a passive activity where you sit back in your chair looking at a bunch of options and saying, “I like that one!” Choosing life meant that a person actively demonstrated their choice by the way they lived. What makes the Hebrews stand out in the ancient world is that they actively lived their faith out demonstrating certain ethics and behavior based upon their belief in a liberating God.

Luke precedes our Story today with Jesus telling a parable about a great banquet. A man throws this huge blowout of a party with food and drink and tells his servants to take the guest list and personally invite all his closest, chosen friends to come; one after the other kept making lame excuses as to why they couldn’t attend. This incensed the master of the house and he tells his servants, “Forget the guest list and those ingrates. Go out into the streets and bring the nobodies of the community to my banquet.” He commands his servants to go out into the country lanes and byways and compel people to come to his party. As for the originally invited guests who may change their mind and want to come once they see how extravagant the banquet they will be told, “No, you will not take part in the master’s party.”

Luke 14:25-33 is Jesus’ call to all his fellow Jews, i.e., the ones who have been consciously invited to the banquet, to come and follow him. It’s Jesus’ ‘choose life’ declaration to his contemporary Jewish people. Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is definitely his way of telling his people to choose life but it comes across much harsher than Moses’s words and has a bite to it. Listen out for the three times Jesus declares ‘you cannot be my disciple if…” Hear the Word of the Lord!

Luke 14:25-33

 25 Now large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.[2]

So, let’s get this straight. Jesus is telling us that in order to be his disciple we must 1) hate those we love the most, 2) carry a cross, a terrifying reminder of a brutal death, and 3) get rid of all we own. And while we are at it, we are to sit down and do the math to calculate and seriously consider whether or not we have the resources required to be a disciple. Did Jesus really just say that?

The challenge many people have today is that they don’t read the Bible very well. We tend to read the news and other books with the awareness that the author uses certain forms of communication and speech to get their point across.

We know, for example, that when we go to a restaurant that proudly declares on its door, “Home of the World’s Greatest Hamburger!” Is simply an exaggeration that their burgers are really, really good and we need to try them. Or it’s like a car dealership that declares, “We’ve got the best prices in the state and give you the no haggle promise!”  Right. Anyone who has bought a car knows that’s just a giant fish tale! The dealership will always try to add and tack on some extra something to get the cost up. Each of us knows that every car dealership cannot have the best price in the state, and we sure know there will be haggling of some sort.

Out in the world, we are aware of the use of hyperbole, i.e., the art of telling something that is so awfully exaggerated we know it’s not meant to be taken as literally but is simply a form of expression that goes to the extreme at making a point.[3] We read stories, articles, and books and can pick up the use of hyperbole, the use of sarcasm, as well as similes, and metaphors. What many fail to do, sadly, is take those common, everyday critical reading skills and apply them to the Bible.

Is Jesus telling us to really hate our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, and old grandma we affectionately call, Nana? Of course, not; Jesus is using the rhetorical device of hyperbole. He is exaggerating to the point of being absurd to get the point across that becoming his disciple means putting him first and above all else in our life. The Jewish life is built around the family and its roots in the community and was your key to survival; if all the members of your family were dead, you were adopted by another relative to be a part of their family community. Methodist pastor, Mark Ralls, reminds us, “The point is not how we relate to members of our family, but how we respond to the call of God. A uniquely challenging divine call invites an unqualified human response.”[4]  Jesus simply asks that we reflect upon our most dear relationships and understand that we are to love and commit to him even more.

This leads to the second demand in our short text. Does he literally expect you and me to go fashion a cross and carry it around our back? Of course not. Once again, Jesus is using hyperbole. He’s not only giving us a glimpse as to what is about to happen to him; it’s Jesus’ way of saying death is a part of discipleship and must occur in our lives. Death to unhealthy attitudes that tear down relationships rather than building them up. The death of partisan morals, and ethics and reclaiming of biblical ones. The death of our own ego and self so that Spirit can fully direct our lives. There has to be death before there is resurrection. We must endure Good Friday before we can celebrate Easter.

At this point, Jesus provides two quick comments about doing the correct math in assessing if we truly have what it takes to follow through on our commitment to him. Referring to the house building and attacking an opposing army are two abrupt reminders of counting the cost before starting out. 

For us, it means we reflect upon such questions, “Have I thought about the lifestyle I have and how that will change when I accept Christ?” “Have I thought about what this means to my family if one day I come in and tell them, “I love you, but I love Jesus even more?”  “Have I computed how my discipleship impacts the way I use my money and material things?”  “Have I thought about how my life walking with Christ will impact where and how I work and conduct business at the office?” Jesus is hammering the point home, “That before you get on the road with me, you better do the math! You better count the cost.”

The third demand in our text is that after we count the cost of following Jesus, we must give up our possessions. Not some of them or a few of them; Jesus demands that we give up all of them. Is he asking us to go liquidate all our assets before we can be his disciple? Of course not. He is demanding, however, that we place God above everything else in our life. We are declaring him Lord of not only our life but all that is contained in our life. That means cars, boats, second homes, investment accounts, pots, pans, electronics, businesses — whatever we possess must be held loosely and given over to God; we are to remember that all we have is on loan from God and is not ours, to begin with. Jesus is telling us we cannot hold his hand if we are clutching our stuff.

Beloved, Jesus is asking us to do the math and count the cost of following him; he uses hyperbole to get the point across. He is telling you and me that our faith is not first and foremost a mental assent to believe in him; no, today Jesus is telling us that being his disciple means we daily are to emulate and join in the way he lived his own life. Jesus loved God more than his own mother, father, and siblings. Jesus literally carried the Cross where he demonstrated how much he loved us. Jesus had no possessions of his own which enabled him to travel light and allowed him to focus on the relationships with his Father and the people he encountered. John Burgess writes, “The disciple must leave everything behind. One enters into a new life that breaks decisively with what one has been before.” He goes on to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke of “costly grace” and says, “It is costly because it costs people their lives; it is grace because it thereby makes them live.”[5]

What I want us to do today or sometime this week is reflect upon how we personally respond to the demands Jesus makes of us from today’s Story in Luke. Does our Christian walk demonstrate convenient, cheap-graced love for Jesus, or does it reflect a holy life that cost us something? Let’s each identify one simple way we can live a life of discipleship that really costs us something. What say, you? 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] Deuteronomy 30:19-20a.

[2] 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.

[3] “Hyperbole is the opposite of understatement. It is a bold exaggeration used for dramatic effect. If you are an outsider unfamiliar with the linguistic rules of the game, it can be infuriating.” See,  Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson

[4] See Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson,

[5]John Burgess, Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson. See

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