Sermon: David’s Polygraph; Psalm 26

Sermon reached by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., October 3, 2021

Have you ever had to undergo a lie-detector test? A lie-detector, or a polygraph, is a machine that a person is connected to which measures perspiration and changes in heart rhythm and blood pressure. If you answer incorrectly, i.e., tell a lie, a little needle with ink goes up and down in a certain way on a piece of paper to highlight whether you have spoken the truth or not. Polygraphs have been challenged over the years for their inaccuracies even to the point they are not allowed in court cases anymore as definitive evidence. While growing up, though, I learned there are other forms of polygraphs that did not require putting a band around your chest to measure respiration and the like. The polygraph I had to deal with was a carbon unit about 5 feet 3 inches tall. This polygraph was called, “Mom.”

My mother could always tell when one of us kids was lying. Just like a regular polygraph, she could judge our respiration, heart rate, and our pupil dilation to know whether we were telling the truth or not.  She could just look at us and know if we weren’t telling the truth. She was good.   

One Halloween after my parents’ divorce when I was 11, my best friend, Michael Golson and I were going out together that night and get into some mischief. I dressed up like a soldier with a green beret and olive drab fatigue pants that had these huge pockets on both sides of the legs. The pants were very baggy on the sides. Earlier in the day, Mike and I went to Mr. Ezzard’s country store off Mt. Paron Road and bought a couple dozen eggs apiece.

As the cool Atlanta Halloween Eve began to show dusk, I went to my room and put on my costume.  To make it look truly authentic, I even took some of my mom’s mascara and rubbed it on my face like camouflage. Before leaving my room, I carefully loaded up my cargo pockets on both legs with the eggs I bought earlier.

Momma was in the kitchen, and I was walked through the room I said, “I’ll see you later mom! Mike and I are going trick or treating tonight!”  She waved and after a brief pause said, “Wait a minute honey, I want to kiss you good-bye.”  Even at 11 years old, I was able to look down physically on my mom. She looks up at me and says, “Have a good time, honey.” She reached up to kiss my cheek and then she bent over and started vigorously slapping up and down my pants’ legs. She stood up again and looked at me and said, “I can’t stop what you are going to get into tonight, but I know I can trust you, right?” Nodding my head up and down I simply said, “Yes, ma’am” whereupon the pushed me out the door and locked it as the egg yolks were running down my legs that cool night. I don’t know how she did it, but she was an incredible, living polygraph machine.

Sometimes polygraphs are machines and sometimes they are a feisty 5’3” divorced women. And as we will hear today in our lesson, David gives us a polygraph to use to measure our honesty with God as well.  Turn in your Bible to Psalm 26, a Psalm of King David. Hear the Word of the Lord!

  Psalm 26

1 Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.[a]

I do not sit with the worthless,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites;
I hate the company of evildoers,
    and will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence,
    and go around your altar, O Lord,
singing aloud a song of thanksgiving,
    and telling all your wondrous deeds.

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
    and the place where your glory abides.
Do not sweep me away with sinners,
    nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10 those in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.[1]

So, let’s unpack this Psalm of David and see how it’s an ancient polygraph. The first thing we notice as we look at this Psalm is that David is making some very impressive comments about himself in his hymn to God. I picked up at least a dozen self-ingratiating remarks David has written down about himself.

  • He lives with integrity and has literally never slipped up in his trust in God.
  • He’s so confident in his “faith walk” he uses legal language as though he were talking to a court judge demanding the judge, i.e., God, scrutinize his life, check out the evidence of his righteousness, and tells God in effect, “Prove me wrong!”.
  • He brags about directing his life in love as he walks in faithfulness.
  • David declares that he doesn’t hang out with liars and is not a hypocrite.
  • He brags to God that he detests those people who are injurious of others and never affiliates with immoral behaving people.
  • He tells God that he is ritualistically pure and can come into the very presence of God at the altar.
  • David reminds God that he is an enthusiastic worshipper and worships in the right way.
  • He sings songs telling others how much God has blessed him and declares to all who will listen all the great things God has done.
  • He reminds God how much he loves the Tabernacle where God lives and then asks the Lord for special blessings because, well, David is a such a good, righteous guy that he deserves it!

Who couldn’t love a guy like that!? He sounds like one of those prosperity preachers we get on late-night TV with the big hair and slick looking Armani suits. David: What a guy! His prayer is so full of himself! David paints himself in this Psalm as the Uber-God-follower in that he does everything right in the eyes of the Lord. Oh, if only you and I could live a life like David’s!  If only we could walk with integrity, justice and righteousness like David does. If only our lives revolved around joyfully worshipping in the house where God abides and sing songs of all God has done for us! If only we could be like David, the man after God’s own heart!

But now, we pause and take a breath. It’s important that we need to remind ourselves that David himself didn’t live the life he is telling God he lives. His conversation with God stretches the truth just a wee bit. Lest we forget, David who wrote Psalm 26 is the same David who wrote Psalm 51 which is a tragic prayer of confession for the messed-up life he has lived. Psalm 51 reminds us David’s great moral and ethical failures with the whole Bathsheba and Uriah stories. In 2 Samuel 14, David showed laziness when other kings went to battle. David lusted, committed adultery, lied, gathered accomplices to enter the lie and conspiracy he was weaving, and set up the murder of his neighbor in Jerusalem. This is the David we meet in the scriptures!  David was far from perfect! So which Psalm is the right one?  Is David the man of Psalm 26 or is David the man who acknowledges his treachery and sin of Psalm 51? The reality is, he’s both.

David knew he was, as I remind us often, both a saint as well as a sinner. He knew he was chosen by God as well as a broken human being who needed God’s love and protection. Psalm 26 is the Psalm that describes the man David strives to be. He writes down a hymn of what a life with God should be like for all of us. It’s a psalm you and I can use as a centuries-old polygraph holding us accountable to what a dedicated follower of Jesus should look like. Each verse in the Psalm 26 is a measure for our truthfulness in how well we are walking, living, loving, and being like Jesus.

This morning I invite you to keep your Bible open to Psalm 26 and use it to reflect upon your life. Simply ask yourself, “Am I?” or “Do I?” before each verse. So, for example, as you look at verse one, pray, “Do I walk in my integrity and have trusted in the Lord with my whole heart?” Or take verse two and ask, “Am I able to have the Lord test and probe my inner heart and thoughts?  What will the Lord find?” You can do this with any of the 12 verses of the Psalm.  The deal is this, though: If you answer yes, then honestly reflect on how you have. If you answer no, then you must ask the Spirit to reveal how you can. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, be it.

© 2021 October 3, 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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Sermon: C’mon, God! Gimme a Break!, Numbers 11:10-17, 24-25

Today, we are going to look at religious community and its relationship with its leadership.  Let’s begin with Numbers 11.4. The King James Version has it read, “And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting…”. The New Revised reads, “The rabble among them had a strong craving.” You see, as the Hebrews left Egypt, a group of folks who weren’t a part of the group got swept up with them on their exodus. They’re called the ‘mixed multitude’ or rabble and even riffraff in some translations. It was the grumbling, complaining non-Hebrew rabble that was complaining about the poor food provisions in the wilderness that started stirring up the Hebrews and got them complaining, too. Just like a little spark can get a fire going, so can negative, complaining grumblers. Negativity is a dangerous virus. It is deadly and spreads quickly.

Beginning with verse 10, we find Moses dealing with the whiney multitudes. Hear the Word of the Lord.

Numbers 11:10-17, 24-25

10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased.11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

16So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.

24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.[1]

It just takes a little spark to get the fire going the old folk Church song reminds us. It takes just a small group of people to set a whole community on fire with gossip, grousing, and complaining. Our story has three different complaints in it. First, the rabble and then the Hebrews begin complaining to Moses about the quality of their provisions. Next, God starts complaining to Moses about the peoples’ gross ingratitude for all the mighty works God has done to bring them out of bondage. And third, Moses hits the proverbial wall; he’s had it and complains to God for making him the leader of this loose group of twelve tribes of Jacob. In essence, Moses declares to the Lord, “C’mon, God, gimme a break! I cannot carry these people all by myself; I need some help!”

Today’s Story from Numbers is a story about leadership and its relationship with the faith community. Pastor and former editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, Jill Duffield, reminds us that by the time we meet Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness, they are no longer being chased by Pharaoh and his army. The Egyptians are no longer a threat to the Hebrews; instead, “now it’s God’s own chosen ones who are posing the greatest obstacles in reaching the promised land!”[2]  Let’s first look at the issues of a community of faith and then we will look at its leadership.

As we look at the faith community, we see they were throwing up obstacles in reaching God’s goal of promised land.

First, in Number we hear in Numbers 11 of a longing for the things of yesterday; the problem is, it is a romanticized longing for what the Hebrews built up in their minds what they want to remember but what they remember is not really what was going on in real life. The riffraff and the Hebrews in verse 4 cry out, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” Is their memory that short? Have they forgotten they were slaves who worked under the whip? Have they forgotten their food was free because they were conscripted labor for Pharaoh’s army? The people have painted this vision of a yesterday that really never was.

One obstacle that inhibits a faith community’s progress and growth is that it’s always looking backward and comparing itself to yesterday. Churches are very guilty of this spiritual nostalgia. “I remember when…” “Well, we used to do such and such like…” “We used to have packed pews on Sundays…” Looking backwards to celebrate past successes is fine. Looking backwards to learn is fine.  Looking backward with a nostalgic romanticism is counterproductive.

I remember when we had packed pews. But do you also remember the dissension among the members in the church pews and parking lot?

I remember when we gave XYZ to missions. But do you remember that the budget was carried by a few wealthy families so you didn’t have to give as much?

I remember when the Kirk Singers had 70 kids! But do you remember that back then, the pressures on young people were not as great as today? The demands of all the extracurricular activates, volunteer hours needed to graduate, homework, family time…it’s tough to be a kid these days.

A second obstacle inhibiting the community to move forward is that present troubles often overshadow the blessings a community has already been given.  The Hebrews seem to have forgotten they prayed for and received deliverance from bondage and slavery. They seem to have forgotten how God parted the Red Sea and they escaped on dry land as they were pursued by an army. They seem to have developed amnesia about how God made water gush out of the rocks so the people could quench their thirst. They seem to have forgotten how when they were hungry, God provided manna, bread from heaven, to feed them on their journey. Beloved, when the going gets tough, what is it that we forget? What are the blessings God has provided us even in the midst of our church’s hardship?

The third obstacle inhibiting the community to reach the promised land is negative attitude that is underlying their questions. We are not to fault the Hebrews for asking, “Hey God, what’s up?” We cannot fault Moses looking heavenward and demanding to God, “Hey, Lord! Gimme a break!”  What we can fault them for is the attitude that, “If I (personally) cannot see an obvious solution, there is no solution possible.”[3]  A negative, fatalistic attitude has the power to limit the scope of our vision and narrow down the possibilities. Negative attitudes move us to binary thinking whereby we see outcomes as either yes or no, this or that, it’s black or it’s white, it’s right or it’s wrong. Binary attitudes limit our scope and ability to see God’s visions.

This past week I was talking with a staff member about their ministry and they were lamenting the fact that because of the church’s COVID protocols, they were not able to serve food at their event. “If people cannot go through the line to get their food, it’ll be a problem. They love Chef Phil’s food! So, I guess we either have food or we don’t.” After a moment I asked, “What’s a third option? You can have food, or you can choose not to have food. What’s a third way?” You could see the lightbulb go off and they said, “We can prepackage the meals and bring them to their tables for them!” Bingo! The staff member took a binary problem and created a third way out of it.

Nostalgia, forgetfulness, and negative binary thinking are obstacles to the Hebrews and they are obstacles for any church. Moses was worn out from it all and needed help.  So, because God is a God who answers prayers, God provides a solution.

The solution is that God had Moses call out seventy elders or officers from the midst of the people.  God would take some of the spirit that was in Moses and distribute it to these elders and officers so that they too shall bear the burden and weight of responsibility of the people; Moses will remain at point but Moses is not alone anymore. Leadership is now shared.

This morning, you the members of this faith community called First Pres, will confirm God’s Spirit moving out over our people and choosing the next group of church officers. They are chosen, not because they are popular, not because they are rich, not because they’re spiritual giants…no, they are simply called as they are by God through the voice of this people to help carry the burden of leadership of this community. They are women and men who have said Yes! to answering the call of leadership.

But friends, you not only confirm their leadership; you also make a promise not to throw out those obstacles that hinder the community’s progress with distorted nostalgia, with your forgetfulness of the blessings we have been given, and with negative, binary thinking.  And what does the people of God say? The people of God say, Amen.

© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

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

[2] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Location 10305). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 337). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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Sermon: Strive to Be Last in Line!, Mark 9:30-37

A sermon delivered by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley on Sunday, September 19, 2021

Today’s text is about expectations versus reality. Have you ever experienced a gap between what you expected and the reality you experienced? Say you have planned a fancy vacation and booked a room at a swanky resort. The resort is right on the water and opens up to this incredible vista of aqua blue water. Gorgeous Royal Palms are along the beach front and you are already imagining what those swaying palms against that backdrop of blue is going to look like as the sun slowly dips below the western horizon. You have seen the pictures and brochures; you have read all of the online reviews. People describe sitting on their balcony watching the sunsets as they sip their refreshments with little umbrellas in them and eat fancy cheeses. You’re absolutely pumped to go!

Vacation time finally arrives, and you travel several hours to get to this exotic location. You pull in and they open your car door for you and whisk you inside to this beautiful lobby area with island music playing and birds flying around.  You check in and are escorted to your room. The person carrying your bags opens the door and the room is everything you thought it would be! It’s gorgeous! You walk over to open the blinds, and as you fling them wide open, you’re hit with this incredible eastern view of the parking lot, the HVAC towers, and the trash compactor. There is a collision of your expectations and the sheer reality you experience.  This, my friends, is what is going on in the scripture today.

Last week, we met Jesus and his closest disciples walking the roads of Galilee and he was using this time to really focus on teaching them the intimate things he wants them to know. He has told them he would undergo suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders, be killed and after three days, he would rise. Peter scolds Jesus for saying this and Jesus quickly put Peter in his place. This is the journey the Messiah must take. He is trying to tell them this is the journey they, indeed we, must make as well.

This morning, we find Jesus and the disciples, the twelve apostles, on the road again. Once again, he is focusing his time and attention on them so they will understand what is about to take place. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”[1]

Today’s scripture is shaped like a sandwich with two pieces of bread called reality stuffed with a filling of expectations.

Reality slice number one: for the second time Jesus says he is going to be betrayed, that he will be killed and in three days rise again. Sadly, no one was listening or paying attention. No one thought to simply stop and say, “Jesus, this is the second time you’ve brought this up; what are you trying to tell us?”

Expectation: The disciples, the Apostles mind you, simply do not hear what Jesus is saying.  Now for the second time, Jesus has given a Stygian description of what is about to happen. You would think the Apostles would use their time on the road to press Jesus on what this all meant. They didn’t. Instead, we see this group walking on the dusty roads of Palestine and the disciples are pulling back on their pace as Jesus walks ahead with purpose. Instead of talking about what all this means with Jesus, they are already using this opportunity to size up who will be the group leader after Jesus is gone. The disciples were expecting great things for themselves. They saw themselves as rising in power and influence.

And then comes the second slice of reality: Jesus calls them out on it and they are ashamed of what they were talking about. It’s at this point Jesus schools them in what a life of faith looks like: Those who want to be the greatest must be last and servant of all. To drive the point home, he takes a child, perhaps and infant or toddler, and picks him or her up in his arms. And then, telling this group who was secretly planning who would be in charge once Jesus is gone, that, “Whoever welcomes any such child in my name welcomes me and welcomes the one who sent me.”

I imagine one could hear a proverbial pin drop. You see, a child had no social standing in the first century. They were used for work, they were hired out, they were sold to pay a parent’s debt. They were the most vulnerable in the society. It’s not like today where children are loved and doted on by their parents; children back then ranked up there with peasants, the impoverished, and the cultural bottom of the barrel.

The way our Story is structured highlights the gap between reality and expectation. It’s not about greatness or prestige any more than it is about power and influence. It’s about humility, sacrificing, suffering, and serving to others on God’s behalf. 

One of the ways I process scripture is to study the text and then write a prayer about what it says to me. I did this for today’s text, and I want to share it with you. Perhaps you can hear how to relate the text to your life as I did to mine. As I reflected upon today’s scripture, I wrote:

Lord Jesus, I receive great comfort from knowing the Apostles are as totally clueless about your ways as I am.  What a motley group you have to work with to share the Winsome News to the world. On one hand, it’s amazing how much good and grace has been generated by your disciples over the years. On the other hand, frankly, it is amazing anything substantive has been done in your Name because of our penchant to get “it” wrong and screw it up. This is the second time in Mark’s Story where you have tried to put it out there frankly, openly, and obviously about what is going to happen to you. You are to be betrayed, given up and over to oppressive powers, both politically and religiously, mocked and then killed. Meanwhile, the ones to whom you are leaving the proverbial keys to the car with after you are gone are arguing with each other about which one of them is greatest. When all of you finally get home, you have them pegged dead to rights; you know full well about what they were bantering about on the road. After all the personal time you have spent with them, they have failed to listen or learn from the stories you have shared, the miracles you have done, or the instruction you have given them. Sadly, or better, unfortunately, they will have to learn the hard way about what it means to live, be Iike, and serve like you. They, actually, we, will also be betrayed and given up to those who will judge us because of you, who will abuse and mock us like you, and will have to die in some way in our life for you; like you, we do this in order that the circle of grace can be enlarged bigger, wider, more capacious to include as many broken, cast away ones as we can. If we do not go out of our way to love the most vulnerable people we see in our world, and should we fail to understand that true greatness is found in humility whereby we run to the end of the line to the neglected and forgotten ones, then we too will find ourselves drawn outside the circle of grace. None of this will ever make sense to the people and to the ways of the world; we pray you will reveal the beauty of this great reversal as we strive to gather as many into the kindom of Jesus as we can. Help us to empty us of us that we can be totally available to be filled by you. Amen.

Beloved, for Christ’s sake, let’ strive to be the last in line!

© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

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

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Sermon: Who Do You Say That I Am?, Mark 8:27-33

A sermon delivered on September 12, 2021 by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley

Mark 8 is smack the middle of Mark’s fast-paced Gospel, and it is in this chapter the whole story pivots as Jesus fully reveals who he is and how this revelation disturbs the political and religious status quo. Jesus waits until he is as far as he possibly could get from Jerusalem to directly reveal his identity to the disciples. The group is making their way up to Caesarea Philippi which is located some 20 to 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  Like any group of people who know each other well, we can imagine the banter going back and forth between the disciples as they make their way north. We pick up in the story when Jesus lobs a question out for the group to think about. Listen to our text from Mark 8:27-33.

Mark 8:27-33

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”[1]

 “Who do you say that I am?” It is a simple enough question. Thus far in Mark’s Story we get several glimpses of who people thought Jesus was. Who was Jesus?  We have come to know he was a healer. He was a sage teacher. He was a troublemaker for the Jewish authorities. People came to Jesus because of what he could do for them. So, Jesus takes this opportunity to ask his closest friends about who others think he is.

His disciples share that some people think he is a reincarnated John the Baptist who is calling people to repent.  Some people say he is Elijah come back from the dead and would be a thorn in the Roman government’s side challenging their power. Yet others felt Jesus was a prophet who spoke truth to power and foretold the actions of God. And then Jesus flips the question. “Who do you say that I am?

Have you ever gone to a party or a social function where people do not know you?  What’s usually the first question you get asked? “Hi, what do you do?”  People identify us for what we do.  It’s hard for me to go to those situations because when I answer, “I am a pastor,” I get one or two general responses.  Either the person will want to talk about their spiritual conundrums or what they think about God, which by the way, is not a bad things at all, or else their faces go pale and are thinking, “I don’t want to talk to a pastor right now…he is going to judge me,” as they excuse themselves to use the restroom. For doctors, once people know you are a doctor, they will ask you medical questions. If you are a lawyer, they hit you up for free legal advice.  

Why do we do that? We go and meet someone and the first thing we do is ask them what they do.  We pry to find out what function they serve in the world and then we identify them with that function. When strangers ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a pastor, they get all weird and start relating with me differently.  They hide their drink behind their back.  They will apologize for the off-color joke they just said.  Oh, how I wish that when I go to social functions people would meet me for the first time and ask, “Tell me about who you are, Patrick.”

What a novel question! You see, I am so much more than what I do for a living. Being pastor is a function I fulfill. It is a part of who I am but I am so much more! I am a man who seeks to love God and to love others. I am a man who is deeply sensitive and feels the pain of others. To my family, I’m not a pastor to them; I am dad, a spouse who takes the trash out, and a grandfather! I am a frustrated poet and motorcycle enthusiast. I am so much more than what I do for a living.

Beloved, this is what Jesus is asking the disciples. He isn’t asking them about what function he fills as a preacher, teacher, prophet or healer; Jesus is asking them, “Who am I!? Who do you think I am?”  It’s a question Jesus asks not to learn what they think he does; rather, it’s a question Jesus asks to determine who they think he is at the core of his essence. It’s about Jesus’ identity.

Church historian, Diana Butler Bass, in her wonderful book, Freeing Jesus, notes the Apostle Paul’s first encounter with Jesus following his conversion. She writes, “He asked, “Who are you?” not “What are you doing?” or “Why are you talking to me?”  “Who” is a relational question, a question that opens us toward companionship…It is the question we try to answer whenever we meet someone new; if we find out “who” is sitting across from us, we might know how to proceed with whatever comes next. To know “who” is an invitation into a relationship that can…change us, often sending our lives onto a completely unexpected path.”[2]

Peter, presumably speaking up on behalf of the group nails the answer to the “who” question – “Jesus, you are Messiah!”  Messiah hearkens back to the description of God’s Son in Psalm 2.  It brings to their minds the prophetic words of Jeremiah 23:5-6 that talk about the Righteous Branch that will come from the line of David and lead the people of Israel with justice and righteousness. For Peter and the others to declare Jesus is Messiah was to declare that his identity is the divinely appointed Anointed One. Messiah is a liberator who sets captives free and leads them on a path towards God. Messiahs generate followers. Did you know that Messiah, translated “Christ”, is the four Gospel’s most common descriptor of who Jesus is? Interestingly, he is only described as Savior three times in just two of the gospels.[3]

Bless Peter’s heart. God love him. He answered the “who” question correctly; however, he completely flubbed about what that means. When Jesus tells them what is going to happen to him because of who he is as Messiah, Peter pulls Jesus aside and admonishes him; you see, Jesus’ understanding of Messiah did not jibe with Peter’s.      Peter wanted a Jesus that would accommodate his needs. He wanted to mold Jesus into his opinion of what Jesus should be.  And as we read in our Story, Jesus will have none of it.

So, beloved, on this communion Sunday, we are taking the disciples’ place alongside Jesus on the road. All of a sudden, Jesus stops and turns to you placing his hand gently on your arm and asks, “Beloved, who do you say that I am?”  Remember, he’s not asking you to describe what he does; no, he’s inviting you into a relationship with who he is. The question for you and me is how do we answer? Do we understand Jesus to be Messiah, or do we like Peter and others try to make Jesus into who we want and expect him to be?  As we share the meal, I invite you to seriously contemplate who Jesus is to you. The more challenging question, however, is whether or not the way we live our everyday lives reflect that understanding. Holy Spirit, come!

© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

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

[2] Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence (New York: HarperOne Publishers, 2021), xxv.

[3] The word for savior, soter, occurs only in Luke 1:47, 2:11 and in John 4:42.

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The Sermon: Truth & Consequences; Ephesians 6:10-20

A sermon preached by Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., August 22, 2021

This morning we are winding up our study of Ephesians.  So far, Paul has encouraged the church to stand firm in their faith in the Gospel and in the first half of the letter he has been teaching them what grace is and how we through Christ have experienced that grace. The second half of the letter has Paul telling the Church that because of the grace we have received and now understand, the visible changes in our new life with Christ should be obvious to the larger community. Our changed lives become vehicles of grace emanating from the church outward in the community. Like the old hymn proclaims, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Today, Paul finishes his letter by making it very Crayola, i.e., very easy to understand, that there are consequences when Christians and the Church start living lives that shine and share the extravagant love of God. Listen to the Word of the Lord and see if you can figure what those consequences are!

Ephesians 6:10-20

            10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.[1]

            When I do premarital counseling with couples, I always ask them how they think their life is going to change now that they are together, especially when it comes to their individual families. Interestingly, I often hear, “Well Johnny and I have known each other for years and so we know each other’s families; nothing is going to change at all!”  I then ask them, “So, who are you going to spend Thanksgiving with this year?  What about Christmas?”  This is when the counseling gets very interesting!

            “My parent’s house for sure!  I’ve never missed a Christmas with them!” The other replies, “This is the first I’ve heard of that!” It’s at this point we are off to the races! I’ve learned to use a disarming question about the holidays to teach the couple a little about family systems.

            The first thing I have the couple do is to imagine their newly married family as a little boat like a canoe.  His mom and dad, siblings and grandparents are all crammed in one canoe over here and her family is all in a canoe over there. I remind them that when they get married, they are getting out of their family of origin’s canoe and step into their very own newly christened canoe.

            Tell me, Beloved, what happens when you stand up in a canoe? It rocks! When mommy sees her beloved baby boy stand up in the family canoe to get into a new canoe “with her!” it can get dicey!  Momma may tell her son to sit back down because he’s rocking the boat. Meanwhile, the new bride has already taken her place in the couple’s new canoe and now her new husband is trying to balance getting out of his family of origin’s boat and step into the empty seat in the bride’s canoe.  Think about that picture for a minute. If you were in that situation, what would you be thinking, feeling, and saying? Exactly!

            You see, starting a new family, even a new team at your job, causes people to shift their seats on the boat.  Sometimes family members get angry because the person is stepping out of their family’s boat and into their own. Changes in any system causes reactions throughout the whole system whether it’s a family or a new work team at the office. When a marriage happens, the boat rocks and people are often telling us to sit down so, “My boat doesn’t tip over. YOU don’t want that to happen to me, do you?”

            Families, God love them, each have their own degree of dysfunction baked right into them and that dysfunction will try to keep everybody in their seat on their family’s particular boat. There is that delicate time in marriage when the bride and groom are stepping out into their own vessel, and all are three boats rocking at once. If families are not aware of these realities, there will a lot of hurt feelings and the family dysfunction will perpetuate itself. All of this to say, there is more going on in the bride and groom’s lives than having a lovely ceremony. Their decision to get married creates consequences not only for the couple but for the whole family system.

            Friends, this is what Paul is trying to convey to the Church. He is telling us that when we learn about the grace of Jesus, when we embrace the grace of Jesus, then there are consequences that ripple outward we may not be aware of at the time. So, Paul charges the Church and Christians, “Be strong in the Lord!”

            “But why, Paul?”

            His answer is one we may have a hard time hearing in our time but it’s one we ignore to our own peril. You see, we are to be strong in the Lord in order to stand against the wiles of the devil. Now before you go rolling your eyes and tune me out, I’m asking you to hang with me a moment. You see, the devil is the one who is telling at us to sit down in our old seat and quit rocking the boat!

            When we hear the word, “devil”, we 1) think of a red guy with horns, spikey tail and a pitchfork, 2) we think of the old Flip Wilson show where he passes the blame for every bad thing he does and declare, “The devil made me do it!” or 3) as C.S. Lewis in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, reminds us, we are prone to not take the devil seriously at all. Let’s reframe this whole ‘devil’ thing.

            To begin with, if you believe in Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, then you are acknowledging you live and believe in a spiritual world. If you believe in Christ but don’t believe you’re in a spiritual world, then you indicate you really don’t think Jesus is who he says he is. To say you are a Christian means you acknowledge that there are realities you and I cannot readily see. Paul call’s these ‘principalities and powers’ and “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6.12).  Those forces seep into our earthly realm as expressions of evil in the forms of bigotry, violence, disunity, factional rivalries, greed, hubris; you get what I am talking about it.  This is what Paul is warning us about. Evil will manifest itself in the Church, in our communities, in our homes or offices and Paul wants us to be prepared and strong in the Lord.  He wants us to be able to stand against the “wiles” of the devil.

            I love that word, “wiles.” We don’t get to use it much, and as such, I had to look up what it really meant. Well, our weekly fun New Testament word for this week is wiles! It comes from the same root word we our word ‘method.’[2] So literally, Paul is telling us to prepare ourselves so we can withstand the methods, the various ways, evil will wrestle with us.  So how do we do that?  Twice in our text, Paul implores us to put on the whole armor of God. Each of the accoutrements of our armor is defensive, except the Sword of the Spirit which is both offensive and defensive. Put on your armor, Church, and be prepared to defend yourselves from the evil that will make its way to your front door! Be alert, Paul tells us, because evil will sow itself very subtly in our lives. For example, you don’t have to kill someone with a gun when you can destroy them with well-placed lies in the form of gossip. Evil’s methods are subtle, and it will do whatever it can to thwart us and the Church in accomplishing its mission.

            Our text has Paul reminding us that as we defend ourselves, we are also to be intentional about going on the offensive. How? Persevere in prayer for the saints, i.e., for fellow members of the Church, this Church. He also says to pray for the church leaders so that we don’t get mired down in the minutia of busy work but are freed up to boldly speak the winsome Good News to fellow members of the church and in the community!

            Friends, when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus there is an automatic ‘no’ that gets voiced in the heavenly realms we may not hear. It’s the voice of evil telling us to sit back down in our seat and quit rocking the boat. There are manifest consequences when we share the winsome grace of God.

So, our work this week is to pause and inspect our armor. Examine your faith and note where it needs buttressing. Think about the methods evil is attempting to subtly involve you in.  And lastly, beloved, pray for each other. Pray for the Church. Pray for your pastors that we may boldly proclaim the winsome news of Christ! Pray for your church leaders for wisdom, courage, and discernment. If you will agree to this homework, then declare, “Amen!”

© 2021 August 22, 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]The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by 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] Methodeia. See the Greek at

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