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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

1 Peter 5:1-14
47-Ord23-G-Year B
Rally Day
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
September 7, 2003

To those of you who are newly ordained and installed elders,

You are about to embark on a three-year journey. Three years sounds like a long time today. Three years from now it’ll be 2006. Remember when 2006 sounded like the galactic future, with George Jetson and flying cars? Now it sounds like the year a lot of us will finish paying for the minivans we bought in 2001. 2006 will be here before you know it. And between now and then, those of you serving on Session will have voted on renovations to the nurseries and the Old Fellowship Hall, sanctuary flooring, and adding a skybox to the Choir Loft. (I’m joking about the skybox. But when you think about that, sanctuary flooring doesn’t seem like such a big deal.) By 2006, you will have given your blessing to baptizing an entire herd of new babies. Whoever said Presbyterians aren’t productive didn’t know what they were talking about. By 2006 those of you who are new to church government will have a new appreciation for everything that goes on behind the scenes. From the abject tedium of budget negotiations to the absolute thrill of meeting with a Confirmation Class of sixth-graders standing before you and professing their faith in Jesus Christ, you will have seen more, and learned more about your church than you could imagine. I hold up to you the words of 1 Peter 5:1-14, and I wish for you as Peter did, peace to all of you.

To those of you who have affirmed the ordination and installation of these elders,

You have given your “yes” to these people. You have said, “I do,” to them, and taken them, before God, as your lawfully appointed church leadership. Uphold your vows to them. Pray for them. Support them. Remind them that God has a reason for calling them. They are to be servant-leaders. They are to be both servants and leaders. Don’t let them lean too far in either direction. Look at their names on the back of the bulletin. When you see them doing something good, tell them so. Call them, write them a note, shake their hands. In verse 14, Peter suggests a kiss of love. Yet another time when a literal interpretation of the Bible is problematic. Whether you agree or disagree with their decisions, rest assured that your Session members are doing their very best to find and follow the will of God.

Now, to those of you who are Sunday School Teachers, Youth Group Leaders, Children’s Church teachers, Nursery volunteers, and behind-the-scenes coordinators of all these:

God bless you. The words of 1 Peter apply in all respects to you. Substitute the word “teachers” for “elders” and it works just perfectly. On those days when the kids have had too much sugar, or when the babies won’t stop crying, remember verse 10, which says, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” The King James Version says God will “settle” you. All Youth Group leaders ought to get a tattoo of that one. If you are a teacher, in whatever role, know that God has named you to a most high calling. For to you God has entrusted our children. To you God has entrusted our adults who want to keep learning. Tend well the flock that is in your charge. In due time, scripture says, God will exalt you. And you students, no matter what your age, accept the authority of your teachers and clothe yourselves in humility in your dealings with one another. Every single one of us is a work in progress. All of us are students. All of us are still learning to be “church,” and we’re going to keep learning how to be church for the rest of our lives.

To the Choir, I say, welcome back. Having worship without the choir is like letting ten pounds of air out of your tires and expecting to get the same mileage. You inspire us. Your spirit is contagious and your ministry is obvious. Keep growing and we may well have to consider those skyboxes.

To all the church, whether you’re a teacher or a learner, or an elder, or a younger – or even if you’re just here for the barbecue, let the words of 1 Peter be your guide. Discipline yourselves. Keep alert. Cast your anxiety on God, because he cares for you. God will “settle” you. And in God’s due time you will find the peace that passes all understanding.

Today a new church year begins. Let a new year of the church begin in you. And to God be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, September 01, 2003

John 6:56-69
45-Ord21-G-Year B
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
James McTyre
August 24, 2003

Getting the relationship right.

Jesus told his disciples hard words about his relationship to God. And because of his hard words to them, the Bible says, “many of his disciples turned back, and no longer went about with him.”

In this day and age, it’s difficult to imagine the church wanting to say anything that’s going to turn people away. Fewer and fewer people attend worship on Sunday mornings. And so church signs have begun to resemble commercial billboards, with catchy phrases to lure people in. “Good seats still available,” some of them say. “Wal-Mart’s not the only saving place,” says another. And then there’s the number one church sign of the apocalypse, “For all you do, his blood’s for you.” I am not making these up. I’m proud to serve a church whose sign is both tastefully attractive and blessedly un-catch-phrasey. If you ever drive up and see the sign saying something like, “Communion Sunday – over a billion served,” you can be sure that I’m no longer the pastor.

Ironically, it’s the churches that claim to make no accommodation to culture that depend the most on the catch-phrases of culture for their advertising. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has done almost everything it can to avoid going that route; and we have the membership trends to prove it. In a culture based on service industries, in a world where user-friendliness is a top priority, it’s hard for churches to compete. It’s hard for churches not to want to compete, as if the one with the most members wins. It’s hard to imagine the church wanting to say anything that’s going to turn people away – or stifle people’s enthusiasm – but that’s exactly what our founder, Jesus Christ, did. Now, he didn’t turn people away because of their weakness or unsuitability. After all, he refused to turn away even the one who would betray him, Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. Rather, Jesus was unafraid to turn people away because in a catchy-sign world that worships customer service, he chose to serve God above everyone else. He got the relationship right.

As we conduct ourselves as a church, as we live in our families, as we go about our days, getting the relationship right – is the most important thing. It’s also the hardest thing. But it’s the thing that Jesus was all about. It cost him. It cost him followers. It cost him his life. But getting the relationship right was his everything. We are Jesus’ modern-day disciples. We follow Jesus not when we’re strongest, or most worthy, or most catchy. We follow Jesus on those blessed days when we get the relationship right, and serve God above everyone else.

When I lived in Texas, I once went to a church where the minister was giving the children’s sermon. He pulled out a football. To show you how old I am, he told the kids the football was autographed by Roger Staubach, and they all went, “oooooh.” You say that now and they say, “whooooo?” These days you’d want a football signed by Peyton Manning. You hold a football signed by a Hall of Famer and pretty much anything you say is golden. And it’s a credit to this minister that after nearly 20 years I still remember exactly what he said.

He told the kids (and the grown-ups, too): “When we come to worship, we have to get the relationship right. When we’re in worship, the ministers (plural ministers – this church had about 20 of them) and the choir directors and the choirs – they’re like the coaches. They wave their arms a lot, and sing and occasionally get all red in the face, and pace back and forth – they’re like the coaches who tell us what to do. You, the kids and the grown-ups in the congregation, you who sit in the pews – you’re like the players out on the field. You’re the ones who are doing the real work of worship. You’re the ones trying to execute the plays and connect.”

“But God – God is like the folks up in the stands. Whatever we do down on the field, we’re doing it for God, who’s up there, watching and hoping that we’ll do well. And depending on how we do our work down on the field of worship, God stands up and cheers. We hope God doesn’t go, “Booooo.” “So when you come to worship on Sunday mornings, you need to think. Is God cheering because of what I’ve done? Or is God going home early? We’ve got to get the relationship right.”

So many times we get it backwards, don’t we? We think we’re the audience who watches what’s going on. We need to be careful about that. I know some of you don’t like hearing applause in worship, because your mother taught you it was tacky.
“Don’t clap – you’ll wake up your father.” We need to be careful when we feel the urge to applaud, not because we might wake someone up, and not because it isn’t deserved. We need to be careful because it puts us in the wrong place in the relationship. Scott and I have talked about this numerous times, how what we do is worship coaching, and not a performance. We certainly don’t want to do anything to stifle enthusiasm, but we want to make sure the relationship is right. People say, “Well, what do we do when the music makes us want to cheer?” as it so often does. I think that it’s not so much that we want to clap; it’s just that we don’t know what else to do. Our culture has conditioned us to have a very limited range of response. It’s either “Yea!” or “Boo!” At Montreat, they tell the congregation to go, [hand wave]. I think that’s just strange behavior.

It’s really not that complicated. We worship-coach people can see it in your eyes. We can feel it in your spirit. We can hear it when Carla finishes an Offertory and the whole place goes, “Wwwwwww.” Close your eyes and listen for the sound of God clapping. Don’t be afraid of the silence. God will fill our silence. And be sure to find the musician, or the kids, or the choir after worship and say, “You really made me think about God today.” That’s enough. Really. Because that’s what we’re here to do. When anything else happens, something in the relationship isn’t right. Someone from the field is trying to get up into the stands.

We are a service and entertainment oriented culture. It shows up in our daily lives as well. The temptation is always there to turn marriages, or parenting, or growing up into a show put on for our enjoyment. How many times have we heard ourselves saying or thinking, “I am not here to cater to your every need?” Our kids usually don’t believe us when we say it, but we try to make the point. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of watching someone serve us. It’s so easy to get angry at God for not living up to our expectations. The relationship can get out of whack so easily.

When Jesus told his followers that the road would be hard, a lot of them turned away, and no longer went about with him. In other words, they broke off the relationship. Jesus looked at his chosen twelve, including the one who would betray him. He asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter, the one who would deny even knowing him, answered, “Lord, to whom can we go?” What simple truth. Even the ones who mess up the relationship know that Jesus is the only one, the only one, who can order and point their lives the right direction. It isn’t that Jesus is more catchy or more entertaining. It’s not even that they wouldn’t rather follow someone else. It’s just that Jesus is the only game in town and these twelve guys know it. Jesus is the one who makes them think about God. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” They got the relationship right. And that’s the thing Jesus is all about.

When someone does something that makes you think about God, tell them. Write them a note. Give them a call. Let them know they’re doing something that puts you in right relationship with God. “You made me think about God today.” Say that to your husband or your wife. It’ll definitely freak them out. Let them know that because of their inspiration, you’re wanting to serve God more. And this will be a sign unto you, and unto them, as well. By the grace of God, it will be all the sign they need.
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