Easter Eyes, Luke 24:1-12

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley, Easter 2022

Luke 24:1-12: 24.1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 1

Easter has taken on new significance this year for me and my family. You helped me just two weeks ago celebrate my wife, Kelly’s, life, and her entry into her own Easter reality. This Easter, you might say, I am paying more attention to what it’s all about and what it means practically for you and me. Let’s remember beloved, Easter forces the people of God to see differently. I mean, everything. Easter is God’s ophthalmological procedure whereby we see everything anew, different, and more clearly. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Joanna along with the other women entered the tomb and were given Easter eyes1. Peter as he ran to the tomb and peered in inspecting everything, he was given Easter eyes. The other disciples locked into the basement of their home refusing to believe or even examine the women’s Story, remain stuck with their spiritual cataracts, and fail to comprehend anything differently; that Sunday morning was just another ordinary day; to them, the women’s Story was nothing but twaddle. You see, a person must personally explore the meaning of Easter on his or her own. God will honor a person’s desire to find the deep meaning of Easter with the gift of Easter Eyes. So, beloved, have you begun to look at the world through your Easter eyes? Does the resurrection make you look and see your life, death, and the world differently?

Yet, before one receives the gift of Easter eyes, he or she must go through a crisis. For the women and the others, their crisis was the death of their Master, Jesus.

You cannot see it but on my left shoulder are the two Chinese characters which depict the word crisis. One character represents risk. The second Chinese character represents opportunity. When these two characters are written together, it is translated as crisis. 3 Over the Triduum, the three days comprising this Easter weekend caused a crisis; before us then, is the reality of both risk and opportunity. What do we do with this crisis? How does it place you at risk? What are the opportunities it opens for you? What do we do with this crisis?

There was the risk the Jewish people would break out in rebellion against the empire. There was a risk on God’s part for allowing his only beloved son to be nailed to a Roman instrument of death. The religious officials were aware of the risk of having their stronghold on the Jewish faith highjacked by some backwater Rabbi from Nazareth. But Jesus, amid all the risk to his life and friends, saw an opportunity. Jesus saw the opportunity to redefine, realign, and restore humanity and the created order back to stasis – to equilibrium – where once again the peace and reign of God would thrive, not in following an exaggerated Book of Order called the Law, but in modeling the very character of God to each other and to the earth with selfless love. The Triduum, the Three Days from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter morning was a cataclysmic crisis of universal order! There was a risk but oh, look at the opportunity the empty tomb provides! We can see clearly again! We can live again in the fullness of joy and confidence that nothing can separate you and me from the longing love of God through Jesus.

Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Charlotte, Pendleton Peery, notes that “We tend to see the resurrection as the epilogue to the story of Jesus’ life and death. Through our ordered worship and well-rehearsed liturgical routines, we work our way right up to the empty tomb of Easter morning, only to walk away from the experience as if nothing has changed.”4 He’s right. We have the tendency to work our way up to Easter and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and then that’s it. Life returns to the way it was before. The chocolate eggs have been eaten and the baskets are put away until next year. Oh, my friends, we’ve got it all wrong! The Easter Story is not an epilogue to Jesus’ Story; Easter initiates an entirely new beginning of a new chapter in the Divine Story of our lives.

A former professor of mine and Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, indicates that Easter morning, the empty tomb, is the initiation of a new world order occurring right now and it highlights a way of living and dying that is strikingly different from the culture surrounding us. He says, “The new truth of Jesus…is that self-giving love is the wave of the future, and we are called to follow. The Lord of the cosmos has signed on to this alternative we see in Jesus because love is the very character of God.”5 He indicates that Easter causes you and I to stand with our feet in two different worlds: One foot stands in the world of our popular culture and the other foot stands in the inaugurating Kingdom and the world of promise. We stand with feet placed firmly in both and now, Church, we are left with the choice. Do we rest our gaze on the broken, self-seeking, bleak, and depressing world, or do we like the women, fall with our faces to the ground and remember what Jesus has taught and promised us and then run and tell those we know that everything has changed! We remind ourselves and others that Jesus in his Easter provides us our Easter, too! And we begin to live that transformed life once we fully embrace Easter as the new Story, the new way of living with God and one another. We see the world, each other, God, with Easter eyes!

Have you ever had one of those experiences whereupon you have looked at something or someone and it made such a mark in you that you cannot unsee it? One of those experiences was seeing the birth of my girls. It totally changed the way I see the world and human life. I cannot unsee the painful determination in Kelly’s face as she labored or Lauren and Kate’s faces when the doctor held them up the first time. This is what the women at the tomb experienced that morning. This is what Peter saw when he investigated the empty tomb with a pile of empty grave clothes sitting there. The women, Peter, all knew that they have seen something extraordinary and now they cannot unsee it. They may not have fully understood at the time what the empty tomb meant but its emptiness jolted them to look at their everyday life in a whole new way. It jolted them to begin looking for Jesus with their new Easter eyes. It jolted them to remember all that Jesus told them, taught them, and demonstrated to them. Does the Story, the news that the tomb is empty, still jolt us today?

In the ancient language of the New Testament, the word for ‘grave’ or ‘tomb’ and the word for ‘remember’ originate from the same root word. When one remembers, he or she is transported back to a specific time and place. A grave, a sepulcher, is a place one goes to relive the memory and preserve those moments of the person buried there. Well, our Story this morning says, “Remember what Jesus told you; there’s nothing to be seen here; He has risen, and the tomb is empty!” What does Jesus want the women, Peter, along with you and me to remember? He’s not there. He’s out loving on the people once again and he’s expecting us, Church, to be out doing the same!

He wants us to use our new Easter eyes to see those around us as walking images of God in our midst and then treat them that way. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the systems of injustice, inequality, and greed and do something about them, by addressing them, and by flipping the tables of the status quo just like Jesus did. He wants us to use our Easter eyes to see the light of promise, possibility, and hope the empty tomb provides. He wants us to wake up each morning with the light of love on our faces so that when the world tries to assault us with war and images of war, with sickness or death, we face them with full confidence that nothing can prevent the ways and will of God from taking place. As one scholar wrote, we are a people “That refuses to participate in the anxiety of the world, because it’s a world that imitates birds and lilies in the sure confidence that God in heaven knows our needs and supplies them.” 6

Yes, this Easter is different for me this year. My bedroom is empty, Kelly’s not there. But I expected that. I am at peace with that simply because I remembered Jesus’ promise. I see everything now through Easter eyes and I know I will see her and the risen Christ again. I just must keep remembering the power of the Easter promise.

Blessings and happiness to you this Easter Sunday and the Holy Spirit give you Easter Eyes! Amen.

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

1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 I am indebted to my colleague and friend, Dr. Robbie Carol, for this phrase ‘Easter Eyes’. It was in the title of a sermon he preached in 1987 at the Decatur First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

3 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22. The literal reading for the second character that we read as opportunity is ‘a change point.’

4 Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 948 (https://a.co/2jlyxm3).

5 Brueggemann, Walter. A Way other than Our Own (p. 86). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

6 Ibid, https://a.co/gpM7aqc.

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Stepping through the Door, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

A sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley on March 27, 2022

Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. Paul is writing to the church describing his intent to come and see them, but he has been delayed in leaving. Immediately preceding our text today, Paul reminds the church that what keeps him and his companions going in the face of hostile persecution. “The love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that…he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

This is important for us to remember. Paul’s motivation for doing what he’s doing is because Christ’s love is urging him forward so that he can tell as many people as possible that Jesus died and was raised for all people. Paul wants people to experience the same life change he has experienced himself. Let’s now turn our attention to today’s reading beginning with verse 16.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[1]

After a very emotional ten days, I drove my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter to the airport as they had to get back home to work. They also had to get back before this blizzard hit Boston. Time slowed down for me once I kissed them goodbye and started back home. It was Sunday morning and the streets were pretty clear but I drove slowly nonetheless. You see, I really did not want to go home but I must. I walked slowly from the car to the front door of the apartment and literally froze as I grabbed the door latch. My hand was shaking as I held the handle for about twenty to thirty seconds before I walked into our apartment all alone for the first time since Kelly’s death; as I stepped through the threshold, I was very conscious of stepping out of a wonderful past while heading into a very unknown and perhaps a very lonely future. It was one of those moments you do not forget as it gets etched into your memory. Walking through that door I realized my life was forever changed.

Beloved, this is what Paul is describing today in our text. He’s saying that when a person is pursued by the love of God and they turn to embrace Jesus, their life is never the same.  As Paul puts it, he or she becomes a new creation; it’s a funny word Paul uses for ‘creation.’ It’s the ancient root word for cosmos; in other words, a person’s entire universe, world, environment get a heavenly reboot and a new operating system is installed. Paul reminds us that our old life dies because of Jesus’ death on the Cross; through the Risen Christ, an entirely new life begins for us. Everything in our lives has changed as we step into a redeemed future; each of our lives will never be the same again.

At least they shouldn’t be. Frankly this is why Paul is writing the Corinthians. He’s reminding them that a relationship with Christ demands a life that is different from those that are, as Paul says, in the world. It’s a new life not because it’s some quid pro quo arrangement with God where we are made whole and are saved so therefore, we have to act in a certain way to continue being loved; on the contrary, our lives are so radically different because they are lives full of divine peace and joy.

Friends, our lives will change in at least three ways after we embrace Jesus. First, the way we see the world, others, God, and issues of injustice changes. The second thing that changes is our language and the way we speak of God, of others, of the world, and its injustices. Finally, our community changes because the virtues our old networks and groups value do not fulfill the same type of values our Christ-infused life embrace. Get embraced by Jesus and the way see, the way you speak, and the people you hang out change.[2]

It’s at this point we need to pause, sit back, close your eyes a moment, and take a breath. In the silence you experience as you retire to the back of your mind to ponder, I want each of us to reflect upon questions like these: Do I see others from a worldly point of view or through the eyes and understanding of God’s? Does my life outwardly demonstrate that I am a brand-new creation, that I have had a total system reboot, and live a light that reflects the healing love of the Lord? Then again, I need to ask if there’s really no difference in the tone and texture of my life after I have professed to follow Jesus? Can the people I encounter around the kitchen table, the board room table, the check-out line, or in the classroom even tell I am any different from the rest of the dog-eat-dog frenzy in the world? Does the way I speak about others, social issues, politics, or social justice change?

Paul is reminding us that Christ reconciled us to God. As such, our new life in Christ is one that has the specific ministry of sharing the unmerited love from God we received with others. This ministry we have been given is part and parcel of this change of ours as we step through the door to Jesus. He says that when we fall in line behind Jesus, we are sent out, not as apostles per se; rather, we are sent out as ambassadors of Christ in the world. For what it’s worth, the word for ambassador Paul uses in the original language is where we get the word presbyterian. Paul is calling us to literally be presbyterians in the world spreading a message of reconciliation. If love is the highest spiritual gift all Christ-followers are given, the delivery system to share that love is through the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation literally means ensuring that the books are in order, where all the debits and credits line up evenly. Balance is restored, not only in the accounting ledgers but more importantly in our relationship with God and those around us.

It means restoring balance and reconciliation with those we know and with those we don’t know. Restoring balance and reconciliation of not only individuals but of communities. Restoring balance and reconciliation with people we may not like very much as well as with people we feel a sense of hatred toward. Scholar Casey Thompson reminds us, “For once we have discerned Jesus to be the Savior of the world, we cannot limit our estimate of other human beings—the born or unborn, exploiters or murderers, terrorists or militarists, frauds or failures—as dwelling beyond his reach. We cannot see any person as anything other than a creature for whom Christ has died and risen, and thus as one meant also to become “a new creation.””[3]

Yesterday, the Session examined this incredible Confirmation class. One of the things we had them do was recite the Apostles Creed. When they were done, I asked a question that was not on their exam. Basically, I wanted to see how well they engaged in doing theology. So, I asked them, “Why did Jesus descend into hell?” Their answers were profound.

Jesus descended into hell because “He didn’t want to leave anyone out who may not have had a second chance.” Another replied, “Because he descended into hell, it reminds us that there is no place too dark and scary that God can’t go.” Wow. Just wow.

This is what Paul is talking about. Because God was/is/ and shall actively go to people as well as to the spiritually dark and scary places to reconcile the winners and losers, the pious and the misfits, the Republicans and the Democrats, as well as the Russians and the Ukrainians to both himself and to one another. God does this through Spirit in and through each one of us here.

Today, these young men and women have embraced Jesus just like you. Today they have been and are reconciled to God. Now, it’s their turn to be vital presbyterians, ambassadors, engaging in a ministry of reconciling others to God as they are. Their profession of faith is their stepping through the door leaving the past and walking into a new life and future; their lives will never be the same because their lives will never be the same.

Can people tell we have been reconciled to God? Can they experience in us that our lives are not the same? How effective of an ambassador am I?  Do we see and speak about God, people, or institutions differently than before we met Jesus? These are all relevant questions to ponder on this fifth Sunday of Lent. Let us pray. 

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

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

[2] I read this by Rev. Dr. Alan J.  Roxburgh in a book that has been misplaced. I wish I could remember the book! He is the one who highlighted these changes in newly faithed people.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide by David L. Bartlett,  Barbara Brown Bartlett .https://a.co/4NevUkz

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He Came Down and Then He Looked Up, Luke 6:17-26

A sermon preached by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., on February 13, 2022

If you would rather listen to the service and sermon, please click here.

Growing up in north Georgia gave me ample opportunity to go ambling through the woods and mountains. Over the years I began to have a close affinity with the rugged Appalachians of Georgia, Tennessee, and western North Carolina. I particularly loved them when it was overcast or in the winter months when the tourists were gone, and all the leaves were stripped off the trees revealing the rugged landscape of the Blue Ridge. The Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains were the places I would go to find myself and ponder life. In my early years, I left the Mother Church and wandered into Mother Nature. God felt so much larger than the walls of a sanctuary, and the dear Reverend who was pastor of the church I belonged to was a nice enough guy and all but he looked and acted as though he was cut straight from casting at Disney.  He was too polished, too perfect, and too strait-laced; my life at the time was a mess and I needed something more than a spit-and-polish pastor and a congregation who tried to outdo themselves in wearing their Sunday best. My heart was yearning for something more, something larger, something wilder.

The southern Appalachian Mountains and woods became to me a vast, great cathedral where an untamed and whimsical Spirit lived, taught, and played. The older I became, the more I discovered the Cherokee had a name for the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge. It was there amid the upper elevations that the Cherokee believed the Great Spirit lived and they referred to the area as the Thundering Mountains. If you wanted to be stripped of yourself and come face to face with God, you wandered and spent time in the Thundering Mountains. It was the Great Cathedral of the Thundering Mountains that I encountered God who brought me back to the church and a larger vision of who and what a pastor should be.

In retrospect, I imagine that’s why I connected so well with Jesus.  He took off and headed into the wilderness and the mountains to get away from the people and to encounter a wild and whimsical God who had not been domesticated by all the religious leaders of the day. It was there his faith was forged through prayer and temptation as well as with solitude and discipline. Jesus knew, however, that as fulfilling the wilderness and the mountains could be, he would have to come back down “into the real world” and be about his work. This is where we pick up in the Story today. Jesus and the disciples have gone up a mountain and it’s during this respite he chose twelve of the men to be his apostles. Listen to what happens next beginning with Luke 6:17.

Luke 6:17-26

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.[1]

He came down with them and looked up. Very unassuming words but are powerful in their explanation of who Jesus was and what he taught. Today’s scripture from Luke is often referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew 5 through 7, it’s called The Sermon on the Mount. If you have not had a chance to compare these two sermons with their beatitudes, I strongly encourage you to do so. They are similar but they are way so different. Matthew has Jesus going up the mountain and sitting down and the people came to him. The image is of a Rabbi looking down over the multitudes and teaching as his voice flowed down the mountainside. In Luke, Jesus comes down from the mountain and wades into the midst of the people waiting for him.

In Matthew, the beatitudes are phrased in spiritual overtones like, “blessed are the poor in spirit” or “blessed are the gentle in spirit for they shall inherit the earth.” Luke’s version is more down-to-earth and raw. Luke doesn’t spiritualize the beatitudes like Matthew; no, Luke keeps it real and in the present tense. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, you shall laugh.” Gone are the generalities of Matthew where Jesus speaks non-specifically and says, “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, the peacemakers, the merciful.”  Luke contextualizes it and adds the second person plural “you” that causes it to become personal, real, and quite immediate.

In Matthew, the crowd is made up of his disciples.  In Luke, the crowd is composed of both his disciples as well as the looky-loos from around a sixty-mile radius who simply wanted to check Jesus out or be healed by him. Whereas in Matthew, we would say, “Jesus has just been a preaching!”, in Luke’s version, Jesus is moving in and out of the people healing them, ministering to them personally, and grounds his beatitudes to what he is doing right then. For Luke, the healing and compassion lavished on the people preclude any sermon that Jesus gives. The image we have is Jesus kneeling down in the midst of this sea of broken humanity healing someone and then the scripture says, “he looked up at his disciples and said.” Jesus is not talking generally about the poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the persecuted of the future; Jesus is telling his disciples, “Blessed are all these poor people, blessed be all these hungry people, blessed be all these emotionally torn up people, and blessed are these folks who are reviled by others.”

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to be comparing and contrasting Jewish law and tradition with how God really intended the Law and tradition to be interpreted and lived out. Luke, however, does something totally different. Luke goes on to add a list of woes to contrast his list of blessings. This is where Jesus goes from preaching to meddling. “Woe to you who are rich now…woe to you who are fat, full, and happy now…woe to you laughing now…woe to you when people speak well of you now.”

Now, let’s get this straight, Jesus’ rhetorical use of naming opposites with his blessings and woes is not celebrating poverty and neither is he saying to be rich is a bad thing in and of itself. What Jesus is saying is that the family of God includes the poor and the rich, the hungry and the sated, the grieving and the mirthful, and those of ill repute as well as though of high social standing. He is reminding you and me that those of us on the positive side of the equation have a responsibility to model Jesus’ habits and wade into the midst of the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the reviled and minister to them right outside our doors. Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain is to jolt you and me out of complacency and our own sense of self-satisfaction with our life. Jesus is challenging the ancient Jewish notion that those who experience ease and prosperity are that way because God approves of their life and blesses them; the Sermon on the Plain turns that notion on its head and demands that we followers of Jesus understand that God is a God of the underdog. God will always side, stand with, and care for the poor, the hungry, the broken, and the reviled. The whole point of the Sermon on the Plain is that we, sisters and brothers of the Church, are to do the exact same thing.

Jesus looks up at his disciple and provides them with blessings and woes. Another way to hear that is Jesus provides his disciples with blessings and ‘wake-ups’. Wake-up those of you who are rich. Wake-up those who are full and stuffed with food. Wake-up all of you who frolic in all the pleasures your good life provides you. Wake-up all of you who are self-satisfied in your fine reputations. Wake-up. Wake-up. Wake-up. Come on down from your Thundering Mountains and wake-up. All who have ears, let them hear. Amen.

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

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

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A Disciple’s Job Description and What to Do With It, Luke 5.1-11

A sermon delivered February 6, 2022, by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

(If you wish to watch and listen to the sermon, please click here.)

Our reading this morning is from Luke’s gospel, and we pick up early in the Story. Jesus has already struck out on his own in the region of Galilee and has been teaching, healing, and casting out evil spirits. He’s already begun raising the ire of his fellow Jews to the point the people in his hometown of Nazareth have already tried to throw him off a cliff for his Messianic assertions. We finally arrive in the Story when Jesus begins calling specific followers to be his disciples. As you listen, pay attention to what the three basic qualities of discipleship are and how those qualities enable us to see and respond to God’s presence. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Luke 5:1-11

5.1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.[1]

Today marks the fifth Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The Christian calendar begins with the season of Advent, then Christmas, and then Epiphany. In other words, we intentionally move from preparing for the coming of God to welcoming the presence of God in the Christ child, and now, people are beginning to see and experience Jesus as the promised one of God. Epiphany is the time on the Christian calendar when we begin seeing Jesus as the manifestation of God among us and that’s exactly what happened in our text this morning.

Epiphanies are personal experiences that are presented to each of us that demand our personal response to them. You only know if you have experienced an epiphany or revelation of God’s presence after the fact. God provides both the environment for the epiphany to occur as well as the specific manifestation of the divine Presence. It’s up to the individual to recognize what has just happened because God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. With epiphanies, God leaves us a gift in plain sight but it’s up to each of us to be alert and aware to recognize them.

This morning, we find Jesus teaching from a boat. He asks Peter to put out into deep water and drop the nets. Jesus is setting the stage for an epiphany to occur for Peter but now it’s up to Peter. Peter and his companions have been up all-night fishing with no luck and now Jesus wants them to head back out. Peter and the others have had abysmal luck and they’re tired, but they’ll humor this itinerant Preacher. “Drop the nets here,” Jesus tells them. They begin hauling in so many fish that their boats begin sinking. The epiphany has been given by Jesus. What will the fisherman do with it?

On one hand, they could write the catch off as simply just good luck. They could have interpreted what just happened as a matter of fact: This Preacher is a pretty good fishing guide and wow, what a score!

On the other hand, they could have seen it as a glimpse of the extraordinary amid the mundane. This is what Peter did; this was Peter’s epiphany, and we don’t know if the others got it or not. The circumstances and events all wove themselves together for Simon Peter and he was able to see the manifestation of God in Jesus sitting in his boat. We are not sure the other fisherman, presumably James and John Zebedee, got it or not. All we know is that Peter experienced and claimed an epiphany. Jesus set the stage; Peter had to put all the pieces together and decide what to do with it.

Peter, the first called male disciple of Jesus, has already exhibited two out of the three qualifications of a disciple at this point that enabled him to “get” the epiphany presented.  The first thing Peter did, the first qualification of being a disciple was that he obeyed what Jesus asked. The encounter could have gone this way: Simon Peter put out to deep water and let down your nets. It’s at this point Peter could have very well answered, “Ya’ know, Jesus, that really just doesn’t work for me right now.” And as we have come to know Peter over the years, all we can do is utter, “Thank God, he chose wisely this time!” Peter obeyed what was asked of him. It was a crazy suggestion, but he went along with it when suddenly, God showed up and Peter saw it. This is where many people get to in accomplishing this first qualification of being a disciple. Jesus calls and people will say, “Okay.” But it’s the second qualification of discipleship many people fail at accomplishing.

The second quality a disciple demonstrates that enables him or her to fully grasp an epiphany is they openly confess to what they have seen. Jesus set the stage.  Peter obeyed and saw the epiphany. The next step is for Peter to confess what he has seen. Our Story says that when Peter saw the boats getting swamped with the huge haul of fish and Jesus sitting there watching, most likely with a little grin on his face, Peter confesses to Jesus that he sees what the epiphany is: It’s none other than the presence of God in his midst. The other fisherman experienced the catch, but Simon Peter is the only one who is recorded as having had the epiphany and that’s when he confesses, “Lord, please go away from me as I am a sinful man” he embraces the revelation.

It’s one thing to experience an event. It becomes an epiphany when we ascribe credit for what it is we are experiencing as that which is from the Lord. Peter obeyed. Peter confessed. Now, there is one more exhibition of discipleship that needs to occur for the epiphanic cycle to be complete. Peter followed Jesus.

Beloved, this is the one piece of a disciple’s job description that is ignored or omitted. We obey Jesus. We confess Jesus. Yet, it’s this following Jesus that’s hard to do. You see, if we are given an epiphany, we are expected to do something with it. What good would the catching of all those fish be and Peter’s realization of who Jesus is if it all remained on that boat? What if Simon didn’t tell a single soul about what he recognized and experienced? He was given a glimpse of the presence and gracious provision of God and now he’s responsible to do something with that.

Our Story says Peter and his business colleagues got back to shore and followed Jesus for the purpose of catching people alive as fishers of people. Peter was given the epiphany for a reason; Jesus asks him to do something with it. And Peter did and his business partners went along as well.

What are the epiphanies God has provided you, my friends? Can you remember God creating the environment for you to experience a revelation of the Divine Presence? Did you have this epiphany and confess to God what it was you experienced? But the most important question of all is, what did you do with the epiphany that was shared with you? Did you stay put where you were, or did you set out and follow where it would lead you? As we come to this Lord’s Table, let’s reflect upon these things and keep our eyes open for God’s presence! Amen.

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

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

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Strive for the Greater Gifts and I Will Show You a More Excellent Way!, 1 Corinthians,12:31-13:13

 A sermon delivered January 30, 2022 by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Paul has a problem with the Corinthian Church. If the Corinthian Church was Presbyterian, it would probably have an Administrative Commission come in and take control of it because it was so unruly. Last week, we noted there were all types of divisions within the community. They were segregated by ethnicity, wealth, social status, and between slave owners and slaves themselves. Those who had higher social, economic, political clout got their way with how the church operated, where people sat worship, and when they could receive the Lord’s Supper. The church members even segregated themselves with assumptions about whose spiritual gifts were better and more important than other people’s gifts[1]. All of this is the impetus for Paul’s writing the letters to First Church Corinth.

This morning, our scripture reading is one that you have probably heard at weddings all the time but unfortunately do not hear the context for what it’s saying.  Well, today you’re going to get the context. As you listen to our scripture, I invite you to listen out for the issues of segregation by spiritual gifts and what Paul says is really most important. As I read our text, I am going to parenthetically add words in the reading that are not actually there in the original text but are understood as being there by the Corinthians when they heard the letter read[2]. You will be able to pick it up. Listen to the Word of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 13.1 If I speak in the GIFT OF tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have THE GIFT prophetic powers, and THE GIFT TO understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have THE GIFT OF all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I HAVE THE GIFT OF BEING ABLE TO give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF Love never ends. But as for THE GIFT OF prophecy (ies), they will come to an end; as for THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SPEAKING IN tongues, they will cease; as for THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes I.E. WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three SPIRITUAL GIFTS; and the greatest of these GIFTS is love.[3]

Verses 1 through 3 outline what the Church felt were the more important and desirable spiritual gifts. For the Corinthians, the gift of speaking in tongues, i.e. an unintelligible form of prayer language, was the most important gift. This is followed by the prestige of the gift of prophecy, followed by the gift of faith, and finally the gift of giving things away and liberality.

In verses 4 through 7 Paul then inserts what love looks like. In the biblical paraphrase The Message, the late pastor/linguist/author Eugene Peterson describes love like this and writes:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.[4]

It’s in chapter 13’s last paragraph Paul contextualizes love and ranks it as not just a feeling or attitude but is insisting it is the spiritual gift above all others. All the talk about looking in the mirror dimly and thinking like a child and then growing mature is Paul’s shorthand way of saying, “One day, when Jesus comes again, the only gifts that really matter are faith, hope, and love but the most vital, important gift for all members of the church to possess and share is the gift of love.” You see, there will not be any need for mysterious prayer language or the need for prophecies. We no longer will be searching and seeking knowledge because we will be in the presence of Knowledge itself. You see, God wants his beloved to have the same gift God has exhibited since the foundation of time itself: Love. When we meet Jesus one day, we will experience first-hand the most precious gift God gives his beloved: Love.

On this beautiful morning when iguanas rain from the trees,[5] I am aware that the English language has more words to describe the temperature than we do for the word ‘love.’ There is freezing, cold, cool, tepid, warm, hot, scalding. Love?  The only we have for love is just plain old love. The only way we differentiate between different types of love is the tone behind how we say it.

“I love you!”

“Hey, baby, I luuvvve you.”

“Hey man, I love ya’!”

The problem in our culture is that we use the same word for love to describe everything from gelato, our dog, a TV show, the weather, and football to our spouse or partner. The word is bantered about like a shuttlecock in a badminton match. In Paul’s time, there were over four different words to define love. Eros, or romantic passionate love. Storge which is the natural affection one has for something nice or pleasant like a sunset or a delicious meal. Phileo, which describes the affection between two close friends. Finally, there is agape. This word for love was not used often in ancient Greek literature but it is used over 300 times in the New Testament.[6] Do you wonder why?  I believe it’s because agape describes the very essence and character of Jesus, of God.

Agape love is intentional, sacrificial, difficult, and costs the giver something. It is totally other-focused and is often inconvenient to express. Agape love requires the lover to totally empty his or herself for the sake of another. You see, this is the depth of love Jesus demonstrated to you and me.

The whole upshot is this: When the Church, those rapscallion Corinthians of First Church Corinth as well as First Pres Fort Lauderdale, manifest the gift of love to one another and to the world, all forms of division and segregation cease; all of those doctrinal issues and arguments we think are so important don’t really matter at the end. The Church becomes the living essence of being Jesus in the world.

Friends, look around the room right now. You see the faces of people who have certain spiritual gifts among us. Some are great teachers. Others are great givers, while others have the spiritual gift of service or evangelism. No one’s gift is better than anyone else’s gift. They are all needed to make a unified demonstration of Jesus in our community.

Think of it this way: In order to graduate spiritual high school, a Christ-Follower needs to know and use his or her spiritual gift God has given them.  In order to graduate spiritual college, a follower of Jesus worships and serves in a community and live agapegetically! Ha! I just made up a new word! When we do that, we are working with God to show the community, show the world, a little of what heaven will is like. So, the question for each of us to ask this week is: Do I speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child, or do I see clearly and am a graduated adult in Christ?

© 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] “Chapters 12 through 14 concern the presumed hierarchy of spiritual gifts within the community, gifts that lent status to some and second-class citizenship to others, thereby causing divisions.” See, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: 1 (p. 217). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[2] I have added these parenthetical words by making them all caps.  This is a text that is often read out of context at wedding. The insertion of these words reinserts the contextual background of spiritual gifts as opposed to looking at love as some sappy emotion.

[3] 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. PLEASE NOTE: Words in parentheses are not in the original Greek text.

[4] The Message(MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson.

[5] https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/brrr-it-got-so-cold-in-florida-iguanas-fell-from-trees/2675477/?_osource=SocialFlowFB_MIBrand&fbclid=IwAR0FjxYJ89zZiU0wMTGuThoDOYHvWIX_cON3FcQkKsybugKJVT4GXTSjJRk

[6] Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: 1 (p. 216). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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