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

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Date: 12/26/2004
Feast: 1st s a Chr Day
Church: Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
James McTyre
Bible text: Matt. 2:13-23

What a horrible passage to be reading the day after Christmas. The Lectionary of scriptures read around the world whisks us up quickly – very quickly, too quickly – from the glory and peace of the manger to the rush to escape the evil king Herod. But events in the Bible move fast. Almost too fast. The glory of Christmas ought to last longer. It’s as if not even God can make the world slow down. But then, maybe God’s not trying to.

Some photographer ought to do a photo essay on before and after Christmas pictures of peoples’ living rooms. Have a picture from about 6PM on Christmas Eve, with the children pressed and dressed, the packages wrapped and arranged in a three-quarters circle around the tree, the stockings all hung by the chimney with care. And then have a picture from about 10AM on Christmas day, after Santa’s Rapid Assault Sleigh has exploded. Toys, boxes, paper everywhere. Two thousand of those little attachments that hold toys so tightly in their boxes that only a Tennessee Titan with wire cutters can liberate the toy for the crying child. How quickly our homes go from Currier & Ives to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. You know the guys who work the garbage trucks for BFI have to dread this coming week. So much for their vacation.

Is it just me, or does it seem as though Christmas comes earlier and leaves faster every year? The birth of Heaven’s King gets vacuumed away by other kings who won’t let our attention go for more than a few sublime minutes. The decorations come down. The schools start back. Work keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny. Christmas is just a momentary pause button before the Herods of our day start gobbling up our time and energy all over again. Wouldn’t a really great Christmas present be a real, honest-to-goodness break? A gap? A time of absolutely nothing? There’s something compulsive, or paranoid about human nature, though, that is deeply afraid of gaps. Maybe with reason. And maybe because we just don’t know what to do with them.

Like today’s scripture. For a lot of us, the whole story of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus’ flight to Egypt is an awkward gap, a horrible bump, in the otherwise smoothly unfolding story of the singing angels, glorious star, and obedient boy Jesus growing in wisdom and stature. Today’s scripture is like CNN breaking into the middle of the Bing Crosby Christmas Special. It’s bad news. An ugly gap. Why can’t the Bible just be nice? Why doesn’t God make things stay happy?

I think this gap is inserted into scripture to remind us that without due diligence on our part, Christmas will be taken away. I think this gap is here to tell us that we have to protect the child Jesus, that WE have to protect the baby, because there are kings, earthly lords of treasure and trash, consumers of time and space, whose only purpose is to steal him away. And, I think this gap is here to prove to us that even in the Bible, especially in the Bible, the Christmas story isn’t a fairy tale; it’s real life. Real life is messy. Real life has holes in it. Even the perfection of Christmas can have holes, and still be perfect.

I think most of us have the idea that somehow, somewhere out there is a perfect Christmas, and if we can just get our hands on it, we have made it. We each have our own ideas of what the perfect Christmas would be, and unfortunately sometimes people – maybe people in our own families – have different ideas than we do. That’s probably one of the big reasons families get into, er, discussions at Christmas. Thoughts that maybe packing somebody off to Egypt might not such a bad idea. It’s not that we don’t want to stand in the kitchen cooking all day, or that we don’t want to get up at 5AM and open presents – it’s just that our ideas of Christmas perfection are different, and everyone has to lobby for their vote for perfection in their own particular way. And so there are gaps in Christmas joy and cheer. That’s life. Right?

Michael Williams, the storyteller and Methodist minister who we had here at Enrichment Dinner a couple of years ago, tells a story of a Christmas tree – how it fit into the story of the flight to Egypt, and how gaps are gifts. It goes like this…

When I was young, I used to come home every Christmas. My dad and I would go out looking for a Christmas tree. It was part of our family’s Christmas ritual. We would go across the hill and down through the field behind our house. Into some property that belonged to some friends of ours who said we could cut the trees there.

As we would walk, we would talk. My dad would tell me about his great-grandfather, and his grandfather. The people of our family who had lived in that part of the country. Sometimes we would walk by a house that his grandfather, my great-grandfather, had lived in as a child. The house was ramshackle and broken-down now, but I could just imagine what it was like, Christmas a hundred or more years ago when they would go out searching for a Christmas tree.

It was one of the most special parts of my young life. When I would get home from college, my father would usually wait until I arrived to go get the Christmas tree. And on a cold, frosty day we would walk down across the hill and through the woods. We were looking for one, very special tree. Not just any tree, but the perfect Christmas tree. You know what they look like – full, all the way around, without a gap, or a limb missing, or a hole somewhere.

We walked for miles. We looked at what seemed to be hundreds of trees – and there was never a perfect one. We would get one that was pretty good. We would cut it and bring it home. One of us carrying the stump end where it had been cut. The other reaching through the branches, usually through the gap or the hole that was there, to hold the other end of the trunk. And we would carry it home. We would set it up at home and we would try to turn the gap toward the corner so no one could see it. If there were two gaps we would try to fill the other one up with various kinds of decorations. Sometimes we did pretty well at that, and sometimes you could still tell that there was a branch missing. If neighbors were rude enough to mention it, we would be a bit embarrassed. But usually they didn’t. They simply celebrated with us around our tree.

Here’s a story about the Christmas tree. It may be one you already know. I wish I had known it when I was young and going searching for trees with my dad.

It seems that as Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus were running to escape the soldiers of Herod – running to save the child’s life – running toward Egypt – the hoofbeats of the soldiers came closer… and closer… and closer…

… and when danger was immanent, when they knew there was no chance for them to get away… they looked for a place to hide. There was a grove of trees, of cedar trees. Now, in those days, the cedars didn’t stay green the year long. They were like other trees and dropped their needles. But there was enough greenery left for this man and this woman and this child…

…to move back in among the branches of this tree and hide there, hoping that the soldiers wouldn’t be able to see them.

There they waited. The hoofbeats grew louder… and louder… and louder… coming closer… and closer… and closer…

…until finally they could see the soldiers on their horses pass by. They sat, with breaths held, until the soldiers were gone. It was almost as if the branches of the tree moved to enclose them… to hide there.

After the soldiers were gone, Joseph and Mary and the baby slipped out from the tree. As Joseph prepared for the rest of the trip, Mary turned back. She looked at the tree, at the gap where it had closed its branches… and said, “Tree, thank you for the kindness you’ve shown. From now on you will not drop your needles as other trees drop their leaves. You will be ever-green. And when people see the gaps in your limbs, they will know that they are there because of the kindness you showed to a poor family running from soldiers to protect their child. That you enclosed us in your limbs and saved our lives.

Williams ends the story by saying, “I wish I had known that story when I was young and looking for trees. I don’t think I would have been so concerned about looking for the perfect one. When we got it home, I don’t think I would have cared if we put the gap to the corner. In fact, I think I might have wanted that gap right out front where everyone could see. And when neighbors came by, and when they said, “Look! There’s a gap in your tree!” I would say, “Yes. Indeed there is. Let me tell you a story of how that gap came to be.”

Maybe your Christmas was just perfect. I hope it was. I hope your Christmas was just the most beautiful, seamless, unblemished celebration you’ve ever had. I really do.

But if, for whatever reason, there were gaps in the rejoicing, gaps in the perfection – maybe you can let those gaps become a reminder of salvation. Salvation for you, or someone else.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Date: 12/19/2004
Feast: 4th s of adv
Church: LHPC
Bible text: Matt. 1:18-25
Theme: Love

Isaiah 7:10-16 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.


Are you ready for Christmas? Got all your presents bought? Got your meal plan diagramed and assignments delivered? In those regards, you may be ready for Christmas. I seriously doubt Joseph was ready for Christmas, in any regard. I doubt he had much more than a dream of what he was in for. And that may not have been a bad thing.

Matthew 1:18-25 (KJV)
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. [19] Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. [20] But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. [21] And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. [22] Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, [23] Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [24] Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: [25] And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Joseph “knew not” Mary. Nor did he know Jesus. This child of the Holy Ghost was to be born into Joseph’s house and lineage. But then again, not. On Christmas, Joseph would have his baby boy. But then again, not. Known, and not known. His, and not his. Cradled in his fatherly arms, wrapping an infant hand around his daddy’s little finger, looking into his eyes – a son. And a stranger.

In Joseph, we see the mystery of Christmas. As much as we might think we know everything about Christmas – after all, it’s pretty much the same every year, isn’t it? As much as we might think we know everything about Christmas, we’re all a lot more Joseph than Mary. Mary had a visit from an angel. Mary carried the child for nine months. Mary could feel when he would kick and when he would roll over. Mary could whisper lullabies as she touched her round tummy.

Joseph had a dream. And as real as a dream might be, dreams take us to places we can’t know. Not really know. The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream. The Lord told him what to do, what to name the child, what to believe – but in a dream. You know what it’s like to wake up after a particularly vivid dream. What’s the first thing you ask yourself? “Was that real? Or did I only dream that?” You don’t know. You want to know. But you can’t know. Because it’s a dream.

When it comes to Christmas, we’re a lot more Joseph than Mary. We know a little about Christmas, but what we don’t know about Christmas would fill volumes. We have Christmas dreams. And every year we play out the dream, play at the dream, hoping to get it right. We might be dreaming of a White Christmas just like the ones we used to know. We might have visions of sugarplums. We might have this mental image of the perfect family gathering, with a perfect Christmas dinner, with gifts that fit so perfectly that nothing has to be returned, alleluia. We stage Christmas pageants. And we all have our own little Christmas dramas, complete with a colorful cast of characters (or a cast of colorful characters), many of whom are related to us.

But even with all this, we barely pierce the surface of Christmas. We imagine. We dream. Yet as with Joseph, Christmas is close, but never quite close enough. We’re like kids with our faces pressed up against the window glass on the first snowy morning of the year; our own breath fogs up our view of what we’re longing to touch. We’re only human. We want God. We want to feel complete. We want peace, hope, joy and love. We really want them, and we want them real. So we dream. But this reality always wakes us up a split second too soon. Like Joseph, we’re startled back to wrangling with grumpy innkeepers, donkeys that won’t budge, and worries of what the neighbors might be saying beneath their breath. What do we do with this Jesus situation? Do we put it away privily? How do we really keep Christmas in our hearts, instead of only in our dreams?

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not…. God sent Joseph a wakeup call. “Joseph!” – God’s angel knows his name. “Joseph, thou son of David!” – Uh oh, the angel even knows his daddy. Actually, his great-great-great-great granddaddy. “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not!” Oh, right. A fine thing to say to someone in his pajamas.

God knows Joseph. God knows Joseph’s name. God calls Joseph by name. Joseph is not merely the one-thousandth customer through the door. God has chosen him, and God knows who he is.

Joseph, son of David. Whoa. You remember David. David the shepherd boy. David the little guy that everyone laughed at when he said he could slay the giant Goliath. David who was late to the meeting the day they anointed him king. David who built an empire from the smallest of tribes. Yeah. That David. Joseph, you remember him now don’t you? Joseph, do you remember that David’s blood runs through your veins? Joseph do you remember that Jesus isn’t the only child of God in this house? Joseph, do you know that God has chosen you for a purpose and that you, little old you, are going to have a very important part of something so great you can’t begin to imagine?

In all the Bible, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus never even speaks a word? He pretty much disappears from the story early on in Jesus’ life. He may have died young, leaving a wife and family to care for themselves. We don’t know. Joseph himself is kind of a mystery.

But what we do know about Joseph is this: God knew Joseph. God knew Joseph well enough to entrust God’s only Son to his care. God knew Joseph and knew the kind of stuff he was made of. Joseph wasn’t a king. Joseph wasn’t wealthy. Joseph didn’t have clout.

Joseph had a dream.

And Joseph had enough courage to stick with Mary, and stick with Jesus, and stick with God’s dream, even though in a million years he could never have been ready for Christmas. Fear not, Joseph, son of David. Don’t be afraid of Christmas.

Jesus is God’s only Son. But Jesus is not the only child of God in this house, either. You are a child of God. And God knows your name. God knows your daddy’s name, and your mama’s name. God knows what kind of stuff runs through your veins. God knows the good, the bad and the ugly about you. God knows you’re better than some and worse than others. And you know what else? It doesn’t matter. God has a dream. God has a dream of Christmas. God has a dream where everyone matters, whether they’re born in a mansion or a manger. And you are part of that dream.

Are you ready for Christmas? You may well have the presents brought. You might have the menu printed. But what you don’t know about Christmas, what you can’t prepare for, is infinitely greater than what you can know and what you can prepare for. What we accomplish at Christmas is so little. The miracle of Christmas is that it comes, whether you’re ready or not. The mystery of Christmas is that its dream becomes reality – is a reality. And you don’t have to be afraid. You may not be great; but you’re good enough for God. You’re good enough for this baby Jesus… even if your name isn’t Joseph. Every year God gives us all the chance to be surrogate mothers and fathers to this child. Every year God again makes us adoptive brothers and sisters to this baby. Sure, we’re new to the family. What we don’t know about God and God’s ways would fill volumes. But God’s not asking us to know everything. God’s not asking us to be completely prepared. God is simply asking us to listen to the angels, to rejoice in the mystery, and to be glad for all we don’t know.

The night Jesus was born, Joseph held a stranger in his arms. Or maybe the stranger held Joseph. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Date: 11/28/2004
Feast: 1st s of advent, year A
James McTyre
Church: Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Bible text: Matt. 24:36-44 (see also Mark 13:24-37, Year B)
Theme: Hope

How do you know what's coming? It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (everywhere you go). We're lighting candles and singing the GOOD hymns. Not that all the others aren't good, but there's just something about those Christmas carols. In the church we try to remind you that it's not really Christmas season yet. We try. We say, "Wait! Hold on! Thanksgiving was only last Thursday. There are 26 more shopping days left to go. 26 more days of Advent. Some preachers won't even let their congregations sing Christmas carols until after Christmas Day. They make people sing Advent carols. Mean preachers. Bad, bad. Destined for short tenures. You know how many good Advent carols there are? Two. We’re singing both of them today. Two millennia of Christendom and two singable Advent carols are all we have. That ought to tell us something. We know what's coming. And we're ready for it to be here.

How do you know what's coming? Today’s scripture is either really good news or really bad news in that department. Jesus says not even HE knows about the day and the hour of “that day.” Well, which day? The end of the world day? Some people are sure this is what he’s talking about. The day of the rapture day? Some are sure this is what he’s talking about. Churches have divided into 31 flavors based on scripture like this. There are Premillennialists, Postmillennialists, Premillennialist-pretribulationalists, -midtribulationists, -postribulationists, and optimistic Amillennialists. (And we think Presbyterian is hard to spell. Try fitting one of those on a sign.) And then there are the rest of us who not only don’t know when Christ is returning, we can’t even remember which day to set out the garbage cans. Racing to the end of the driveway when we hear the BFI truck – there’s a lovely metaphor for so many of our lives.

We know what's coming this Christmas season because the same things happen every Christmas season. All this stuff about two in the field, two women grinding meal, and one left behind. It's the stuff of Kirk Cameron movies. It's the topic for other preachers in other denominations. Good Presbyterians that we are, we know what's coming because we plan what's coming. Scott & Cheryl & Carla & I – we’ve got it all on charts. We’ve made our lists, checked the twice, and posted them on the church web site.

We know what’s coming at Christmas. We save. We buy. We call the bank to up our credit limit. We make lists for Santa and go to the mall so our kids can hand him the printouts. Christmas is a time of no surprises, or few surprises. We tell the jolly old elf what we want and then sit back and let him do his thing. We know it's Christmas because there aren't surprises unless we say there are going to be surprises, and if there are surprises, we darn well better know what they're going to be.

We know it's Christmas because the same things happen every year. We're comfortable with them. We're OK with tradition. Yes, the Christ baby surprised everyone that first Christmas day, but one surprise in 2000 years is enough. Christmas is our great festival of predictability. We like it that way.

So what do we do with scripture that tells us that Christ's advent is utterly unpredictable – even to him? What do we do with scripture that tells us while Christ's coming is good, it's not exactly pleasant by our standards? What happens when the Word of God goes against everything we expect -- in the busiest holiday season of the year? Christ and Christmas are on a collision course. Someday all that we can prepare for will run headlong into all that we can't. And scripture tells us what we can't prepare for will win. How do we know what's going to happen? Not because we've put it on layaway. Not because we've done it that way for 1000 years. We know what's going to happen because God says it's going to happen. Maybe that's the biggest surprise of all. What God says is going to happen will happen. And God's happening will wipe out everything we think we're prepared for.

Praying, and watching for God's kingdom to come is not the prayer of the man (or woman) who has everything. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is not the prayer of the child who carefully peels back just enough tape on the corner of a present. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is the prayer of someone whose life is predictable only in its chaos. When we reach the point of knowing in our hearts that things aren't how they're supposed to be... When we reach the point of hoping for hope itself... God's promises of universal surprise begin to pull us through. God's promises of a new heaven and a new earth pull us into hope that we can't buy, make, bake, or charge. God's promise of change gives us life when our plans fall dead. When we honestly don't know what's going to happen... When we truly can't plan our way around the block, the Holy Spirit whispers the advent carol to us: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Knoxville-ille. That mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Louisville." It isn't a carol of birth; it's a carol of rebirth. And no wonder there aren't many good ones. They're almost too honest to sing. Advent strips us down beneath the jolly stuff we want to wear. Advent sings straight at the heart. Like an arrow to the soul, Advent sings songs only God knows how to write. They’re a little out of our range. They’re a little out of our key. We don't know exactly how they're going to go. But we know they will. Not because we can sing, or live, or plan our days so carefully. Advent will come in God's way, in God's time, because God says it will.

How do we know what's going to happen this Christmas? We all have our ideas about that. But how do we know what's going to happen in Advent? How do we know what's going to happen when Christ returns – to earth, to our homes... to you, and to your yearning heart? Miracle of miracles we don't know. We can't know. Not even Jesus knows. But God knows. And God says, "Just you wait. Just you watch. You'll see."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Date: 11/21/2004
Feast: Christ the King
Church: LHPC
Bible text: Luke 2:1-19, Luke 23:33-43
Theme: Dedication Sunday

READ1: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

READR2: When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

READ1: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

READR2: Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

READ1: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

READR2: And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"

READ1: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

READR2: The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"

READ1: But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."

READR2: There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

READ1: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

READR2: One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"

READ1: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

READR2: But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."

READ1: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

READR2: Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

READ1: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

READR2: He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Everything always seems to come at once. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to over the past couple of weeks who’ve said this. And they’re not saying it because they’re excited – “I’m overcome with glee!” No, they usually say it with a sigh, and an ironic smile that says, “I’m holding up, but somebody really needs to talk to God about scheduling.”

Maybe your life runs in neat little rows. You complete Task A, then move on to Task B, and so on. Your spirit is meditative and sublime. If so, keep it to yourself. Because the holidays are coming soon. Which for most of us means whatever illusions of order we have are about to get blasted out of the water. Between now and the first of the year, chances are that everything will seem to come at once, extra much, extra fast, with extra gravy. So let’s all take a deep breath… and square our shoulders… and get ready for the ride.

On the church calendar, today is Christ the King Sunday. And on Christ the King, we’re given scriptures of Christ’s birth and Christ’s death. We get the manger AND we get the cross, all at once. We go from angels singing glory to criminals mocking God. We get a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and soldiers casting lots for his clothing. We get the shepherds with good news of great joy, and the crowds feasting on the sour wine of senseless tragedy. On this Sunday before Advent, the Sunday before the holiday season gets going in earnest, the scriptures do a time-compress from the beginning of Jesus’ life to its end. And when events get so conspicuously crunched together, one of two things happens. Chaos erupts. Chaos erupts and the voices just crash together, going, “Glory Hallelujah, Crucify crucify, Ho-ho-ho, Happy Thanksgiving, don’t eat too much dear, Peace and goodwill, Hurry Mom get the parking space, Only five shopping days left, God bless us every one. Chaos. Chaos erupts… or... the other thing that can happen when human events crunch together is God transcends. God transcends the chaos. God transcends the chaos of even the Savior’s life so through the thick, confusing blur of everything happening at once, the stillness of the eternal begins to shine through.

Christ was born a king. But if you look at the events of his life, things sure don’t look very kingly. From the cradle to the cross, the wild mix of highs and lows look anything but royal. Things don’t add up for the Son of God the way you’d think they should. And yet, in the end, everything does work out. God transcends.

For you and me – folks who on a regular basis feel like we’re taking a deep breath and squaring our shoulders for this week’s episode of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the kingship of Christ – Christ the King – is a very good thing. It says – Yup, things may feel pretty chaotic. Things may seem out of control, or overwhelming, or just annoyingly out of order. But God’s not asking you to put all things right. God’s not asking you to solve the world’s problems, and maybe not even all of your own. What Christ the King says is that there’s more to life than the sum total of its events. Even when it seems everything’s happening all at once and things are spinning out of control, there IS something that does NOT change, there IS something sure, something trustworthy, something infinite. That something is God. And if we can brace ourselves on that one sure thing, we’ll become transcendent, too.


Where do you find stability in a shaky world? That’s a tough one. Some people have given up on anything resembling stability. They’ve resigned themselves to the fads of the day and the whims of the moment. They just smile and go on, because what else can you do?

Like many of you, I, too, was overcome with glee that the long-awaited “Spongebob The Movie,” finally opened this weekend. I read a review – and you have to wonder why anyone would need to write a review of “Spongebob the Movie,” much less read one – which declared that Spongebob is exactly what the world needs – absorbency and childishness. Absorbency to soak up our messes and childishness to teach us that it’s OK to float along the shallow surface of trouble with a smile on your face. I had no idea Spongebob Squarepants was so deep (pardon the pun).

While other people have gone 180 degrees the opposite direction. Instead of ignoring the world, they hold the world in contempt. Extreme fundamentalists -- whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, whatever – have such hatred for “the world,” that there’s little redemption to be found in this life, and even less worth redeeming. Where scripture says “hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good,” they hate what is evil and can’t find anything good.

But life deserves more than blissful ignorance, just as it merits more than destructive hatred. Transcendent moments come when we realize that our bliss and our hatred, our highs and our lows have more in common than we’d expect. We cry at weddings, we laugh at funerals, and those are the moments we remember the most. They’re the times when the extremes come together, and something true and transcendent becomes real enough to touch.

Anyone who’s ever owned a house, or a car, or a computer knows it’s true – everything does fall apart at once. We get older and we go to the doctor, and they tell us the same thing about our bodies. But on the other hand, there are times when it seems everything comes together at once, when the blessings of a moment might be enough to last a lifetime. You could call them transcendent moments, you could call them “God” moments, you could call them “Christ the King” moments, as well. From birth to death, from ancient history to “infinity and beyond,” you realize that you’re part of something greater, and – for a moment – you’re greater because of that.


Jesus took the bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body, broken for you.” I wonder how his hands looked as they cradled and offered the bread. Carpenter’s hands. Peaceful hands. Hands weathered by the road. Hands that healed the blind and lame. Hands that holding out to them the bread of life. These were the hands that not all that long ago would have wrapped their gentle, newborn grip around mother Mary’s little finger. These were hands that not too long from now Jesus would show them as proof of eternal life, hands with nail holes, hands with wounds that would not heal. From birth to death to beyond death, these hands would be changed, would cause change. They would bring the world’s greatest love and bear the world’s ugliest shame. And yet, they were the same hands, the hands of Christ the King.

But that night, these hands that held the fate of the world were just the hands that broke the bread. A simple act, with simple words in which everything came together. As the world swirled around them, these hands were an island of peace, the hurricane's eye in the midst of the storm.

Before you get swept away in the holiday flood, let the hands of Christ the King hold you for a moment. Let them cradle you, and comfort you, because that's what everything is really all about. From your birth, to your death, to beyond -- barely a blink of God's eye -- everything that we are comes together in the mercy and love of Christ. He makes us whole. He keeps us from flying apart. He gives us the daily bread to make it through. He helps us transcend the extremes, and find peace in the simplest things.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Date: 11/14/2004
Feast: 33rd s in o
Church: LHPC
Bible text: Matt 25:14-30
Theme: Stewardship of Talents

Are there treasures in your attic? Of course there are. Otherwise, you’d have cleaned everything out and thrown it away years ago. Skinny ties, floral print coolots, green leisure suits – everyone knows that if you just hold onto it long enough, someday it’ll come back in style. Someday you’ll need spare parts from a broken waffle iron. Someday, all that stuff will be worth something. To somebody.

Have you seen that show, “Treasures In Your Attic?” People show up with a painting their grandmother bought at a flea market in 1963 for five dollars, and it turns out to be a lost Rembrandt, and boom! The couple who came in wearing overalls are walking out millionaires. The most common reaction of people watching the show is, “I used to have one of those!” Closely followed by, “But you made me throw it out.” This is reality TV at its best. None of us are ever going to get a job with Donald Trump. None of us are going to win a million dollars by surviving with swimsuit models on a tropical island. But everybody has stuff. And if you have enough stuff, some of it’s got to be a treasure.

Tough stuff. Jesus tells a parable about the stuff three stewards were given by their master. It flies in the face of a “Treasures In Your Attic” philosophy. The steward who buried the stuff in the ground and gave it back in mint condition not only gets his stuff taken away, he’s tossed into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And lo, the other stewards are thinking, “I am going to kiss my investment planner.”

I can’t imagine this is the moral to the story that Jesus wants us to take home. The rich get richer and the poor get tossed. If you’re a talented person with good stuff, God wants you to develop your talents and get more stuff, so God can take it when he gets back. No. This is a parable. This isn’t about investment strategies, or maximizing your self-worth. It’s about stewardship. The whole concept of stewardship is like one of those treasures in the attic that we barely remember we have. But it’s there. And that’s good news.


What’s a steward, anyway? Properly speaking, a steward is someone who minds somebody else’s business. From the get-go, that sounds dangerous. Interesting, but dangerous. “Mind your own business, dear,” mother always said. In old England, stewards were upper-class managers of the estate. In other times, stewards were those in charge of provisions and meals on a sailing ship, like Gopher on the Love Boat. We used to have stewardesses on airplanes. Now we have flight attendants trained to drop you like a bad habit. Our national steward, Martha Stewart, is behind bars for having too many talents. Stewardship is a term that doesn’t get much good use outside of church. And in church, too often stewardship is just a euphemism for fund-raising.

A truer understanding of stewardship would be if you took all the stuff from your attic, and put it in your neighbor’s attic – and your neighbor put all his stuff in yours. Then you’d both be stewards, minding each others’ business. It’d probably be whole lot of fun combing through their stuff, too. Who knows what treasures you’d find? And if you were a good steward, you’d pull their stuff out of the dusty old boxes, clean it, polish it, fix it up so it’s as good as new. You’d take the best stuff to “Antiques Roadshow,” and have it appraised. And if it’s really worth something, you might take the proceeds from the sale of the stuff and set up a trust fund so your neighbor’s kids can go to college and learn more stuff.

A steward, then, isn’t someone who maximizes her own potential, or his own self-worth, or her own treasures. A steward is someone who maximizes someone else’s potential, someone else’s self-worth, someone else’s treasures and talents. A steward is someone who cares enough to be a good neighbor. A steward acts in love and concern, not for what she’s getting out of the transaction, but for what she might be able to raise for her friend. To be a good steward is one of the highest Christian callings there can be. And in that sense, it’s always stewardship season.


This is NOT the message you’ll hear if you go to the mall. This is NOT the message you’ll see on your television. This is NOT the message you’ll watch on an advertisement, or read on a billboard. This world is about as anti-stewardship as a world can get.

If we were to each sit down and take an inventory of all of our stuff, what would we learn about ourselves? I think about so much of the stuff I just absolutely had to have because it would make my life better, or easier, or more productive. I don’t want to think too much about it, because it would give me a headache. We all buy stuff because we want it. It has nothing to do with rational thought. We don’t stop and say, “Yes, I want it, but will I still need it, or use it, six months from now? Will I be able to find it seven months from now? Will it end up in my attic? Could I get it into my neighbor’s attic without him knowing?” We buy stuff because it’s cool, or pretty, or it matches our shoes. And if we can afford it and it makes us happier, or better-looking, or more productive, there’s no harm in that.

But where the danger lies is that mindless consumption consumes us. And I don’t mean that it’s wrong to have, say, an iPod. iPods are cool. All your kids should have one. But a mind overtaken with mindless consumption is a mind that’s had the concept of stewardship surgically removed. It’s just gone. And the empty space left where stewardship used to be gets rented out real fast to the next cool, must-have item on the market. Without stewardship, we are hollow. Without a sense of stewardship, we exist for our own tastes, we serve our own tastes, we worship our own tastes. We consume ourselves.


In the parable, the would-be steward who hid his master’s talent under a rock was scared. He was afraid because he knew his master was a harsh man and he was afraid of messing up. So he played it safe. He played it safe for himself, and he played it safe with his master’s talent. Nothing wrong with playing it safe. Except that the man wasn’t asked to be a safe-keeper. He was asked to be a steward.

Jesus’ final commandment to his disciples made it plain that he saw himself as a steward, and he expected them to be stewards, too. Jesus’ final commandment was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” [Mt 28:19]

Jesus’ commandment wasn’t, “Stay at home. Play it safe. Don’t get around sinful people because they’ll just mess you up.” Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples – his marching orders for you and me – just makes plainer the inherent danger of stewardship. It says Jesus is entrusting you with his authority, all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is telling you to take care of his words for a while. Take care of his care, take care of his love, take care of his commandments. Treat them like a priceless treasure, and don’t you dare hide them away in your attic. Be a steward who takes care of business on God’s behalf, and pursue God’s purposes as relentlessly, and with as much self-sacrifice as did Jesus Christ himself.

Michael said last Sunday, “There’s never enough time.” But if there were, we’d all develop our God-given talents a little more. At least, that’s what we say. If we had more time, we’d learn to dance, or take up watercolor painting, or read a book. We’d spend more time with the people we love. Again, that’s what our intentions would be. And if by our example someone learned that it’s OK to dance or paint, or read or love a little more, so much the better. But even that misses the stewardship boat.

According to the Bible, you are your brother’s keeper, and you are your neighbor’s steward. Not only are you entrusted with God’s love and care, you are the vessel for carrying that love and care. You’re the steward who serves God’s mercy and grace. You’re the manager tasked with showing a return on that love and care, and mercy and grace. Will you multiply God’s talents by sharing them? Or will you stow them in the attic until they’re worth a little more?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Date: 10/26/2004
Feast: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Church: Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Bible text: Luke 6:20-31, Ezekiel 37:1-10
Theme: All Saints/All Hallows Eve
James McTyre

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Retailers will be "goblin" up sales this Halloween as consumers are expected to spend a little bit extra on scary costumes and tasty treats. According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2004 Halloween survey, total Halloween spending is estimated to grow 5.4 percent to $3.12 billion from $2.96 billion last year. The recent survey found that the average consumer plans to spend $43.57 on Halloween merchandise this year, up from $41.77 in 2003. Halloween continues to be the second-biggest decorating holiday next to the winter holidays. Nearly 61.8 percent of consumers said they planned to decorate their homes and yards with spooky themes, the study said.

Every so often Halloween falls on a Sunday. And with 61.8% of you decorating your homes and yards with spooky themes, it seems appropriate to give the holiday its due, and tell a ghost story. The Bible has some good ghost stories. One of its best is when Ezekiel saw a vision of dry bones rising up from the earth. A skeleton dance worthy of today's computer-generated horror movies. But instead of trying to scare people to death, Ezekiel's ghost story scares us to life.

Ezekiel sees a vision. God shows him a vast field of bones. These are the remains of fallen warriors, left by their enemy where they lay, deprived of all dignity, not even given a decent burial. Which may well be how the Babylonians left things when they leveled Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, and marched all the surviving Israelites into captivity. Ezekiel speaks to the captive children of the children of that Israel. And God's voice through Ezekiel declares that these dry bones are all of Israel, Israel destroyed, Israel forsaken, Israel left for dead. God declares that a holy wind will blow across the dry bones of Israel. The breath of God will knit the bones together, wrap skin around them, and new life will come again to God's people. The hopeless captives won't just be set free, they'll be resurrected, re-created as God's chosen.

To the captive Israelites, this oracle must have sounded like a wild ghost story. They might have gotten a good laugh at crazy Ezekiel and his visions. They might have looked at their thick-muscled Babylonian captors and thought, "Ezekiel! Hush! Be quiet before someone hears you!"

But through Ezekiel, God called the Israelites to look beyond their fears. God called them to look beyond the confines of Babylon, beyond the limits of their hope. God called them to see things that aren't possible in this world. And so, not only their homes and yards, but their whole existence was decorated with the spooky theme of life beyond death. Ezekiel's ghost story would turn into a life story so hopeful... it was scary.


Halloween has a bad reputation where churches are concerned. I don't know if this is true everywhere, but in the Southern US, if you have a "Halloween" party at your church, people will think you worship the devil. So, not to scare anyone, we changed the name to, "Fall Festival." We still let the kids dress up like witches and load up on candy; but it seems more wholesome. Ironically, "Halloween" is a Christian holiday, invented to replace the pagan fall festivals of Europe.

Another ghost story, this one about Halloween's history. Back 2000 years ago, the Celts of Western Europe celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with -- and often brought -- human death. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain (sow-in), when it was believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble, damaging crops, and toilet-papering trees, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, the Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

On Samhain, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their home hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

But then, around 43 A.D., the Romans took over Europe, and incorporated their own fall festivals into Samhain. One of these was the day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and so Samhain became a festival where you bobbed for apples as you were wearing your animal heads and skins. Those wacky Romans.

But by the 800s, Christianity had spread into the Celtic-Roman lands. In the seventh century, hoping to replace Samhain, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints' Day, a time to honor Christian saints and martyrs. In Europe the day was called All-hallowmas, or All-hallows. The fall festival, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church made November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated much like Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Spiderman, and Disney Princesses came later. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas (similar to "Christmas"). [Information on Halloween taken from The History Channel's website.]

And while these days no one complains much about the commercialization of Halloween, somewhere along the way, the Christian holiday turned too creepy for a lot of Christians. Which is sad. Because the intent of Halloween and its ghost stories is much like the vision of Ezekiel. The intent of Halloween is to help us see beyond this frightening life, to point us beyond the darkness of death. The intent of Halloween is a ghost story that turns into a life story so hopeful... it's scary.


Over the centuries, as the church has awakened from All-hallows Eve, on All Saints' Day, it has read the words of Jesus that we heard read today. These were words that no doubt echoed in the ears of martyrs and missionaries, the saints who sacrificed their lives to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets."

And when the disciples first heard these words, they may have raised their eyebrows and thought, "Jesus, hush! Be quiet before someone hears you!" What they didn't know was that Jesus was telling a life story. A story of life beyond death. A story of resurrection and re-creation for people like you and me. A life story for everyone who faces the demons of illness, the devils of hopelessness, and the dark winter of death. "Blessed are you." Jesus not only tells the story, Jesus is the story. Jesus is the story of how the line between the living and the dead and the living-again did become blurred, so that instead of focusing on our fears, we can set our eyes on God.

Halloween (and All Saints') is worth so much more than 3.12 billion dollars in annual holiday spending. Halloween is about so much more than going, "Boo!" Today's All-hallows Eve and tomorrow's All-hallows are there to remind us. They're there to reassure us that the spirits of the saints who have gone before us are never gone away from us. The saints of this congregation, the saints of your own lives -- their goodness lives on, even though they may no longer be with us in the flesh. And that is not a ghost story. It's a life story.

And so we remember. We remember the ordinary men and women who by the grace of God have become saints, both in our hearts and in communion around God's heavenly table. We thank God that by the mystery of Resurrection they live and breathe again, in a new life. And we praise God for the promise that someday we'll join in that communion of saints... in a place where there are no tears and nothing, not even death, can scare us.

Let us pray. Almighty God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit --
It is truly right and our greatest joy
to give you thanks and praise,
eternal God, creator and ruler of the universe.
At your word the earth was made
and spun on its course among the planets.
Your hand formed us from the dust of the earth
and set us among all your creatures
to love and serve you.

Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with angels and archangels
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
who forever sing to the glory of your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

May we know Christ's redemptive love
and live a new life in him.
Help us who recognize our living Lord,
to see and serve him in all whose lives are broken.
Give us who are fed at his hand,
grace to share our bread with the hungry
and with the hungry of heart.
Keep us faithful in your service
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we shall feast with all your saints
in the joy of your eternal realm.

Through Christ,
all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father,
with the Holy Spirit in the holy church,
now and forever. Amen.
[Prayer adapted from Book of Common Worship, Great Communion, Easter 1]

Thursday, October 14, 2004

53-ORD29-G-C-2004 Luke 18:1-8
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
October 17, 2004

If someone disrespectful can grant mercy, if someone unjust can grant justice… imagine the mercy and the justice God can grant. If someone without hope can keep praying, if someone without answers can keep asking… imagine what people with hope and with answers can do. Be persistent, says Jesus. Be persistent as God is persistent.

The Bible tells us Jesus used this parable to teach the disciples they needed to pray all the time and not to lose heart. If you look at paintings of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you might come away thinking these guys were supermen of faith. The painters make them look so noble. They look like kings, the kind of people you’d expect to find sitting at the right and left hand of Jesus in heaven. But if you look at the Bible’s portrait of these men who would be saints, you might come away thinking, “These guys had just as many problems as I do. They jockeyed for position. They gossiped about lesser folks. They got grumpy when their stomachs rumbled. They forgot about Jesus, or pretended not to know him when push came to shove.

And so the Bible lets us listen in on a pep talk Jesus gave his disciples. Are you having trouble praying? (He asks them.) Are you frustrated because God’s not handing out answers? Are you thinking you could probably do just as well on your own?

Jesus may have seen the disciples looking tired. A disciple too tired for discipline is a contradiction in terms. In our world, if we want to see how well a person is doing, we don’t just look at them – we take a poll. “Matthew and Mark dropped three percentage points last week, while Judas got a post-convention bounce.” And while their world lacked the sophistication of scientific polling techniques, these guys could fairly well watch the signs and tell how things were going. “Caesar is up, Jesus is down.” Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Their prayers went up…. Their prayers went up…. I said, their prayers went up… and nothing changed. Caesar’s still gaining ground, and the crowds are saying Jesus might be just about done with his fifteen minutes of fame. So, the disciples get tired. They start to give up their short-lived disciplines. They begin to wonder what the god one county over might be working on.

How different is that from us? Listen to the kids who say things like, “Oh, that’s just SO third week of September.” Patience is not our strong suit. We get frustrated when we have to hold for unusually long wait times for the next available customer service representative. Waiting on God, waiting on answers to prayers can take an awfully long time. And when your soul is aching, no amount of soothing hold music will keep the peace.

“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
“But, Lord, I’ve been praying for years.”
“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
“But Lord, nothing changes. What’s the use?”
“Keep at it,” Jesus says.
Keep at it like a persistent widow with an unjust judge who’s holding up her inheritance.
Keep at it like a dog pulling on an old sock.
Keep at it like someone who is sick and tired of being sick and tired and won’t even let God off the hook until she gets some satisfaction.
Even if you’ve given up on prayer, even if it seems totally futile, Keep at it.

In the Bible, Jesus is saying this to the disciples. As we read these words, though, he’s talking to us.


The root of all kinds of evil is impatience. We baptized little Eric today, and I could tell he appreciated it. He’s got two older sisters. He’s gonna need it. It won’t be too long before he’ll reach the age when he starts getting impatient with them. It won’t be long before his sisters start getting impatient with him, if they haven’t already. A toy will need sharing, food will need preparing, baby brother will get daring – and someone will start blaring.

So it is with people of all ages. It’s not the “thing” that gets us; it’s waiting for the thing. We don’t mind being on hold (so much) if we really do have faith that there IS someone at the other end of the line who isn’t just eating Doritos and laughing at the pretty blinking lights. But when that faith runs low, impatience starts to mount, and normally peace-loving adults turn into tantrum-tossing two year-olds. I know, I know: the Bible says money is the root of all kinds of evil. But there are lots of kinds of evil; impatience is the root of just as many kinds, if not more. They say, “Patience is a virtue.” But patience with persistence is a discipline. Even people who aren’t very virtuous can have patience if they think there’ll be satisfaction at the end of the line. Faith is hope in something greater; but faith is also patience in the lesser things. Faith is the discipline to “get up and do it again, amen,” even if your head tells you it’s futile. Faith is doing something not because you’re so obsessed with justice, not because you’re so darn nice, but because your heart won’t let you do anything else. Sometimes the only right thing to do is wait (and pray) until the right thing is done. Patience takes practice. Patience sometimes needs a cheerleader – someone like Jesus, saying, “Keep at it!” And so he does.

The earliest lessons we learn in patience aren’t very different from the ones we re-learn in the school of hard knocks. Baptism in our church is a one-time thing. God reaches out to wash us clean, and we lift up ourselves and our children in response. God gets the god-part right the first time. We, however, have to do, and re-do, and re-do, and re-do our part of the equation. From our earliest days to our last, we’re constantly in a battle to persist in the face of our own impatience. From earliest days to our last, we’re in a battle to persevere in the face of our own evils. We MUST lift ourselves up in response to God – over and over again, because we’re sinful. Sin is letting go. Sin is letting down our resolve. If we let go of our patience, we let go of God. God doesn’t necessarily dispense miracles every time we drop in a dime, or a dollar or a check. We’re not God’s boss and we’re not God. But even in the face of our rudest impatience, our backest back-turning, God perseveres, God persists. Even though we try to shake it off, baptism sticks.


Prophet Isaiah writes: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant.... It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt -- a covenant that they broke…. But this is the covenant that I will make… after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

What the Prophet writes, and what Jesus confirms, is that God is devilishly persistent. What the Prophet writes and what Jesus confirms is that there will indeed come a day when we won’t have to worry about unanswered prayer. There will indeed come a day when we don’t have to pump ourselves up. There will indeed come a day when our confidence will be unshakable, our spirit will be indomitable, and there won’t be any question whether we’re going to “keep at it,” because “it” will be written on our hearts and burned into our minds.

We call that day, “heaven.” The word of Jesus Christ to his disciples, and his word to us, is that the kingdom of heaven starts right here. Right now. It flows out of the waters of baptism. And even though we may feel in our lives as if we’re forever swimming upstream, “heaven” is the promise that we can relax – and let the flow of God take us where it may – without having to worry about where we’ll end up. Besides, we already know where we’re going to end up because the kingdom of heaven is already breaking through. The waters of baptism, the bread, the cup, the cross, the book – all of these are signs. All of these are signs that things are in your favor, and the polls are looking pretty good.

Does this mean that you can cruise along on Christ’s mercy and let sin have its way with you? Not on your life. We MUST persist against our own tendencies. We must persevere in prayer. We must focus ourselves on the goal. The difference is, it’s not our own goal. The goal God sets before us is the goal of Jesus Christ, the goal of the cross, the goal of self-denying glory. With hard heads and warm hearts, our Savior calls us to set our eyes on the kingdom of heaven, and to keep at it – day after day after day.

God does not give up on you; don’t give up on yourself. God does not give up on hope; don’t you give up on hope, either. Persist, persist, persist in your prayers and on your dreams. And when you start to sink low, let the waters of baptism help you float.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Luke 17:11-19 “Ten Percent”
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
October 10, 2004

One in ten. Ten Percent. That’s how many of the people with leprosy Jesus healed who turned around and came back to praise God and to say thank you. And it makes me wonder. Is the percentage still accurate? How many people do you know who live lives of gratitude and praise? Half? Four out of ten? Three out of ten? Two? Is the world still such an ungrateful, un-praising place that only one in ten people recognize the goodness of God for what it is? And if so, which part of the ratio do you fall into? Are you the one? Or are you one of the other nine, who go on about their way, clueless of the grace that heals you, and makes you whole?

A faithful life is a life of gratitude. A life of gratitude is a life of open eyes. If you want to grow in your faith, if you want God’s Holy Spirit to flourish within you, be the one – the one who sees God and says, “Thank you.”
I would wager that ninety percent of the time, we’re just as ungrateful as the devout lepers who never said thank you to Jesus. It’s not personal. It’s not that we don’t love God. It’s not that we’re mean or cruel or unkind people. It’s just that ninety percent of the time, we’re on to something else before we stop. We never open our eyes and look around at the grace that sustains us every single day.

Today’s Top Ten List from the home office in South Knoxville, Tennessee: The Top Ten Reasons We Don’t Say “Thank You” to God.
Number 10: “Oops! I did it again!” The response of countless husbands and Britney Spears (who can’t seem to remember if she has a husband).
Number 9: I wrote a note. But my dog ate it and/or my little sister colored on it. – oldies but goodies no matter what our age.
Number 8: Because our doctor says we have Gratitude Deficit Disorder.
Number 7: I left a voice mail, Lord; didn’t you check your messages?
Number 6: Because we’re sinful. Sorry.
Number 5: Because there’s no time for anything else on the schedule.
Number 4: Because we figure it’s just dumb luck when something good happens.
Number 3: Because we’re spoiled.
Number 2: Because God will still be there tomorrow, so what’s the rush?
And the Number 1 Reason we don’t say Thank You to God is… you fill in the blank.

And so it goes. For every good thing that happens to us, there must be at least nine reasons why we don’t see it as the goodness of a loving and merciful God. It’s not that we don’t want to be grateful. It’s not that we’re bad. But you know the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” With God being out of sight so much of the time, how could saying “thank you” to God be at the top of our minds? The problem is not so much the desire, but the seeing.

Seeing plays an important role in today’s scripture. Jesus sees the lepers. Jesus tells the lepers to show themselves to the priests. The one leper sees that he has been healed, and turns around. Throughout the Gospel According to Luke, seeing is believing. Believing is recognizing the Lord, recognizing God’s goodness for what it is.

Professional horse racers put blinders on the horses, to keep them from seeing the competition, to make them run faster. How many of us go through life with blinders on? Shutting out the competition we know is right on our tail? Running faster because we don’t have to look around? How many of us narrow our perspective so that we see what we want to see, or need to see, and no more? Even Jesus was on his way from one place to another, and had to have his attention grabbed by the lepers calling out in one voice, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” If even Jesus’ attention needs to be grabbed once in a while, there’s hope for the rest of us, don’t you think?

Faith is like a precious jewel with many facets, many sides. Most of us don’t see more than a couple. Many people think of faith as obedience, obedience to rules and commandments. Driving past our local Apostolic Church of God of Prophesy last week, their sign said, “Faith is the ability not to panic.” Faith is calm. Faith is courage. And yes, those are sides of it. But at its core, faith is simple awareness. Simply being aware that the Great I Am is. And awareness leads to gratitude. For so many of us, the time for prayer, the time for study, the time for saying thank you to God – these are the first things on our lists, but the last things to get done. We shove them down because there are so many other immediate concerns. We don’t want to; it just happens. We ask how we’re supposed to make more time for God in our lives, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe instead of making time for God, we need to concentrate on the time God has made for us. All our time, every day, is a gift from God. At times of birth and times of death, we gather together and say in one voice that life itself is a miracle. Baptisms and funerals always seem to be the holy times we don’t forget. But what about all the time in between? What about today, and tomorrow, and the day after that? Aren’t those days miraculous in and of themselves?

A couple of years ago, someone emailed me a forward of a forward. As internet theology goes, it’s not bad. It’s about seeing the blessings in each day.
It goes like this:

If you've ever wondered why my reply is always "I'm Blessed" when someone asks how I am, here is why:

If you own just one Bible, you are abundantly blessed, 1/3 of the world does not have access to even one.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive the week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people around the world.

If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest or torture of death, you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy.

If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.

If you can hold someone's hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer God's healing touch.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all.

Maybe you’re a person for whom “quiet time” is a contradiction in terms. If you’re like most, you spend incalculably more time washing dishes, creating reports, attending meetings, or sitting in classrooms than communing with God. Ninety percent (or more) of your life is time you don’t choose to spend with God. And yet, God is choosing to spend one hundred percent of your time with you, even as you do all those things. Be thankful. Be blessed. Be aware.

The leper who saw that he was cured and turned around and changed his path, was, the Bible points out, a foreigner. Maybe seeing the spirit of God is something foreign to you. Devote yourself to doing something foreign, something as strangely out of place as seeing God in the time of your days. Do it even ten percent of the time. You will, as did the leper, amaze Christ. And Christ, in turn, will amaze you.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Luke 17:1-10 Forgiveness & Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, October 3, 2004

This morning, churches all around the world are celebrating Communion. We celebrate the goodness of Christ that we share around a common table. Do you remember when the Millennium came? Do you remember when the TV channels were showing the year 2000 beginning in every time zone? Every hour, the fireworks flew and more people partied. If TV were covering World Communion, then every hour today, we’d see the cup poured and the bread broken, from Australia to India to Africa to Europe to the US to the Philippines.

And if, this morning, TV were covering World Communion, then every hour, we’d very likely hear same the scriptures we heard this morning, read hour after hour in language after language. And it would be a wonderful thing to behold. Or would it?

This morning, the Lectionary – where churches around the world (including this one) get their scriptures – has paired together two of the most difficult passages in all the Bible. Psalm 137 and Luke 17. Psalm 137 recounts the insult and injury of the Hebrew people. Slaves in Babylon taunted by their captors – “Sing us one of your happy little songs about God.” And boy, do they sing. The psalm ends on the bitterest of notes: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” People who think gangsta rock is mean ought to read the Bible. And then, we turn to the New Testament of Jesus Christ – and the music gets even harder. Jesus says, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” “Lord, increase our faith!” the disciples say. Lord, yes.

Lord, increase our faith, we disciples say, on the hour, round the clock, around the world. Lord, increase our faith when Sudanese relief workers bury more children. Lord, increase our faith when we see blindfolded American hostages one minute and Abu Ghraib prison the next. Lord, increase our faith when we see video of Russian schoolchildren, and replays of 9-11, and our blood boils over the flames of righteous revenge. Lord, increase our faith when in the face of all this, you tell us forgive, forgive, forgive… forgive, forgive, forgive… and forgive – seven times or more, every day.

To these pleas for increased faith, Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…!” Some of us have more faith, some of us have less, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that we all are people of little-faith (as opposed to big-faith). If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus says… what does he say? In Matthew he says you could move mountains. In Luke, he says we could move mulberry trees. Mountains, mulberry trees – either one is pretty good. You “little-faithed ones,” he says, you may not think so, but your faith is good enough to accomplish the impossible. And what’s the impossible? In this case, the impossible is reconciling the right of revenge with the duty of forgiveness. Both of which are in the Bible, both of which present themselves 24/7 in 2004, and both of which make it hard – if not impossible – to be a human being who stands for justice… and a disciple who stands for our Lord, at the same time. Lord, increase our faith.


The Sunday School asked the lady who had just celebrated her 50th anniversary how she and her husband managed to stay married all these years. “In any of those 50 years,” they asked, “did you ever think of getting a divorce?” “Divorce?” she said, “Never. Murder? Often.”

I’m guessing that in the past week or month, if not the last few hours, you may have felt like wringing someone’s neck. Maybe the neck of someone you’re related to. Maybe the neck of someone you used to be related to. And the only thing separating you from incarceration is a thin line of personal restraint and the fear of getting a bad lawyer.

The Israelites who sang the cruel song of Psalm 137 were slaves. They weren’t in a position to act on the longings of their darkened hearts. That didn’t stop them from letting their hatred boil up; but it did stop the hatred from boiling over. Sometimes faithful people feel so bad about getting angry. We think anger is a sin, so we get angry at ourselves for being angry in the first place and so we sin twice. And if you’re really into it, you get angry at yourself for being angry at yourself for being angry at someone else. Bad, bad, bad; three times bad. Part of our Old Testament heritage is belief in a God who is just. We believe in a God who gets angry, a God who hears his children’s cries for justice. Whether we cry out in pain, whether we cry out in anger, God hears the cries of the children of Babylon. God hears the cries of the children of Nuremberg. God hears the cries of the mothers of Beslan. Our God is not deaf. Our God doesn’t turn a deaf ear or close a blind eye when humans are horribly inhuman. God wouldn’t be God – God would be less than righteous– if God weren’t stirred to anger over the evil people can do to one another. And we would be less than God’s children if we weren’t stirred to cry out, or sing out, or march out against all the evil that men and women do.

“But…” The Apostle Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Sometimes anger, ironically, is the only thing that keeps devilish sin from taking over. The world may be a dangerous place now, but we can only imagine how much darker it would be if you of “The Greatest Generation” hadn’t channeled your anger into the battles of World War II. Anger is more than just a part of being human. Sometimes it’s part of being just, being righteous. But anger for its own sake IS sinful. Anger for its own sake makes vengeance, not God, its only end. Anger for its own sake blots out the light of God that might otherwise break through the darkness. No matter how much evil you might wish on your worst enemy, the point at which you break through the last, thin line of restraint is the moment the devil takes you over. It’s the point, in Biblical terms, when you turn your back on God, when you repent of God himself.

God is both just and forgiving. God gets angry over the stupid things we do. But God also forgives when we turn back around from turning our backs on God. When we repent, the God of perfect justice is also the God of perfect forgiveness. How can that be? If we ask God’s forgiveness seven times a day, seven days a week, doesn’t justice demand that at some point God’s going to say, “Enough!”? I have a feeling Jesus would say, “Why are you asking? Is it because you want to know the limits of God’s forgiveness? Or is it because you want to know a reasonable limit for your own?” If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. So if you have enough faith to repent, you probably have enough faith to grow a conscience… the fifth, sixth, or seventh time today you invoke the wrath of God. Probably.


The sacrament we celebrate today, the Lord’s Supper, is a gift born out of both anger and forgiveness. God was so mad at our inhumanity, that God himself came to redeem the mustard seeds of humaneness that were left. With God’s own body broken, God’s own blood poured out, God shows us the heights of perfect justice and the depths of perfect mercy. In the end, justice and mercy, anger and repentance are two sides of the same coin… and if you ask me how can this be, I’ll say, I don’t completely know. But I know more about it than I knew ten years ago. And, God willing, I’ll understand it more ten years from today. God’s anger and God’s forgiveness meet at this table. Our repentance and our sins meet at this table. And at this cross. And in these waters of baptism. These are the boundaries of human understanding. These are where we can almost reach out and touch heaven.

The Apostle Paul tells us we’re supposed to prepare ourselves for Communion (1 Corinthians 11:28) by examining our hearts. Is there someone whose neck you’d like to wring so much that the anger is eating you alive? Does your taste for blood make you push away the body and blood not of vengeance but of sacrifice? Do you feel guilty that you can’t swallow the whole loaf of God’s mercy? God’s not asking you to do that. If you just take a bit of Jesus the size of a mustard seed into your heart, you can move mulberry trees, or mountains, or even yourself.

In the end, even righteous anger is swallowed up by righteousness. In the end the unrighteousness that we’ve suffered is swallowed up by God’s justice. In the end human hatred will dissolve like a morning mist fades in the light of the sun. A sun that rises every hour, on a different part of this world. A sun that illumines the good – and the bad – of our lives.

O Lord, increase our faith. And help the mustard seeds of our faith to grow.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Luke 13:10-17 Healing of the Woman
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, September 26, 2004

School has started back. Which means the cold and flu season is about to start for those of you who go to school. The cold & flu season is about to start for those of you who have kids in school, and for those of you who teach school, and for anyone who even drives past a school. If you have to drive past a school, it’s really best to roll up your windows and hold your breath. We tell the kids, “Wash your hands, use your Kleenex, and if you have to touch anyone, wear these rubber gloves.”

Back in my high school biology class, our teacher had us scrape cultures from a bar of soap from the school bathroom. We put the shavings in a Petrie dish, and put the dish in a warm, dark cabinet. About a week later, we opened the cabinet, and the dish was covered in these yukky, green moldy boil-looking growths. Some of them had teeth.

The germs are more concentrated at school. But they're everywhere. Even the most obsessive germaphobics can't stay away from them. Sooner or later, you're going to catch something that'll make you feel like a leaky truck has been driven up your nostrils.

So, we get used to it. We figure getting sick is just a part of life. We spend untold billions on medicine (at least our family seems to), and even the best of these drugs can't stop the dripping and sneezing; they just make us not mind it as much.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

Here was a woman who, somewhere along the way, eighteen years ago, had caught something. Probably caught it from her first-grader and didn't get rid of it until he graduated college. She was bent over and unable to stand up straight. Jesus sets her free from her ailment. He lays hands on her, and immediately, she stands up straight and begins praising God.

Would that all our sickness was so easily cured. If only Jesus were here to “shout it out,” or lift us up so that we could be germ and symptom-free. But he is here, we believe. Do we have sick bodies and/or sick spirits because our faith isn't strong enough to form a protective shield? Is it our fault? Or are our problems the side effect of walking into any room with any other people? Is illness just a part of life? Both and all are true. Jesus is here. AND the stuff of other people rubs off on us as soon as they walk in the door.

How do we find the healing that the woman in this scripture found? How do we get Jesus to do the same thing for us? And if, by some miracle, we get what we want, what happens then?


“Asylum” is what people seek when they’re trying to escape the madness in a foreign country. An asylum is also where we used to send people to escape their madness, to keep it hidden away. Originally, the word meant “sanctuary.” It meant an inviolable place of refuge. Likewise, a “sanctuary” originally meant a place of protection and immunity. Healing and worship have always gone hand in hand. It wasn’t all that long ago that if you wanted to get well, you didn’t go to a doctor; you went to your priest.

A big reason we have places like this sanctuary is because people get injured over the course of a year, or a month, or a week. Some of our bruises and breaks -- breakups and breakdownssome of the marks are visible. People rub up against us, rub us the wrong way, and before we know it we're bent over. Spiritually (or emotionally) we’re unable to stand up straight. Or we hang with the wrong people and we lose track of which way is up, which way is right and which is wrong. And sometimes – maybe more often than not – we make ourselves physically sick. We swallow antacids and chase away the symptoms. We don’t get better, but we don’t mind as much. Basically, stress is a part of life in 2004, you know. If you can't get with the program, get out of the way, or get a good cardiologist.

I wonder if for eighteen years, that's what the woman at the synagogue had been told. “Sorry, sister. That's the breaks. We don't blame you for your problems, but we can't solve them, either. “We're good listeners, we'll help you get a nice cane. But beyond that, well….”

And then Jesus came as the guest preacher one weekend. And he healed her. We know exactly what she did next. Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. She may have even done a little dance, raised the roof, so to speak. She was healed. She was “set free.” She was standing tall and proud and glorifying her Lord. Amen, sister! Somebody shout!

Even among decent and orderly Presbyterians, there is a spirit longing to be set free. Maybe the spirit has been silenced by physical problems. Maybe spiritual. Maybe emotional. Maybe the economic burdens on our shoulders have bent our backs. It’s usually some combination of the above. Whatever the reason, the #1 symptom of someone whose back is bent is that she only looks down. She only sees earthly dirt, and earthly paths, and earthly grounds for decision. What she needs is someone to tell her she's set free to see. She needs someone to tell her there's heaven above and glory around. She needs eyes to look into and arms to fall around her – none of which can happen with a back bent low. No matter what shape we're in, we all need Christ to set us free.

We all need God's hope, and God's help, and God's healing touch. We all need to hear those words shouted out of the crowd in our direction, “Woman – Man – You are set free from your ailment. “You are more than a doctor's report. “You are more than your bank account. “You are more than your kids or your parents say you are. “You are more than the earth you stare at could ever have produced. “You belong to God. You are free.”

We find healing like that through faith. It's faith healing, but not the kind the people on TV practice. Instead of faith healing, it's more like healing faith. And you get it because it rubs off on you. Just by being around Jesus. Just by being around scripture. Just by knowing that a greater world is around you – a greater world than the one beneath your feet. The woman might only have been passing by the synagogue that day, but faith found her, and gave her the strength to look up. And be free.


But here's the problem, for any of us who might experience this redeeming, freeing love of Christ. The grumpy leaders of the synagogue got mad about it. “Six days to do your healing, Jesus. Six days to do your healing and you have to go and do it on the one day we say not to. Harumph!”

The earth truly is magnetic. It wants to pull our eyes back down again. It wants us to see only what it shows us. Herds of people like people who go with the herd. Herds fight against free spirits who dance, then, wherever they may be. So if God does set your soul free from whatever ailment might be upon you, you'd better keep it to yourself. You'd better keep quiet about it if you don't want some grumpy person cursing you in God's name, or cursing God in yours.

Or, you can dance. The devil may care, but who cares about that? If you’ve experienced the healing love of Jesus Christ, and you want to tell the world, go for it, sister. Healing and worship go hand in hand, arm in arm, soul in soul, and you’d have to be crazy not to want to tell the world. If the woman who was healed was one of those people who catch every germ that comes her way, you have to wonder what she did. Maybe she holed up and never came out again.

Or maybe she just went another way. Jesus offers us all another way to go. Jesus offers all of us healing that's different from earthly healing, because our ailments are different from earthly ailments. Jesus sets us free. Jesus calls our spirits to be set free. Jesus calls us to look up, look around, look in different places for life.

There's the old joke, “Doctor it hurts when I do this.” “Well, then,” says the doctor, “don't do that.” The problem is, most of us don't know what else to do than whatever it is we always do. And still we wonder why we don't feel any better, or feel any happier than last year. Do something different. Look toward Jesus. Look up toward God. Look around at a wonderful, mystical world that's so much more than the ground beneath your feet. Dance. Stand up straight and begin praising God. And God will find you. And set you free.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Luke 16 01-13 Dishonest Manager
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, September 19, 2004

“Omarosa – you’re a disaster. You mishandled the Jessica Simpson concert and cost Kwame success. You lied over dinner, lied repeatedly, and neglected your duties to your team. You’ve been in the boardroom more times than I can count. But, Omarosa – You knew you were in trouble. You called up your corporate sponsors and got attractive endorsement deals. You courted a talk show producer. Somebody’s going to pay you to write a book. You’ve minimized your liabilities and leveraged your future success. And so, Omarosa – I’m going to make you my Apprentice. And to Bill and Kwame and all the other Apprentice wannabes, I have to say, ‘You’re fired.’”

There’s a new season of The Apprentice going. Donald Trump is making a mint off of his weekly game show-slash-soap opera. And if you didn’t get all the references in the previous little monologue, you’re obviously not with the program. Literally. It would take too long to explain the heights and depths of Omarosa’s incompetence, The Donald’s arrogance, and the show’s strange appeal. But what doesn’t take explanation is that there’s something fascinating about watching even dishonest businesspeople maximize potential and pull victory out of failure.

So, Jesus tells the parable of a First Century apprentice. There’s a scoundrel of a manager who steals from his boss’s bank account. He’s a weasel. The boss investigates and uncovers the swindling. Does the boss tell him, “You’re fired?” No. He gives him a corner office and the key to the executive washroom.

Somewhere in a minimum security prison this morning, there’s a former captain of industry who’s reading this same passage in his Gideon Bible and thinking – “Why couldn’t my lawyer have read this to the jury?” But you and I know Jesus would never encourage anyone to swindle their way into success. Jesus wasn’t teaching at business school. Jesus was teaching life school. The moral to the story isn’t that opportunists get the fatted calf and the golden parachute. No. The moral to the story is that the court of God’s justice is always open. God doesn’t slam the cell door before we have another chance. There may come a day when God looks at the record of our humanity and says, “You’re fired.” But a far more likely scenario is that we slam the door shut on ourselves by giving up too soon. “Look how wily and determined the scoundrels are,” Jesus says. “Why can’t God’s people be at least as determined in the direction of God?”

So, here in Jesus’ story of praise for a dishonest person, is a stealth indictment of honest, churchgoing people. How dare we let the scoundrels exercise all the creativity while we sit on our hands waiting for God to do something! Why can’t the people of God be at least an equal and opposite force, rivaling sin with wily and imaginative good?


“O naïve little preacher-boy. Doest thou have no common sense? How simple and ignorant thou art.” Idealism. I mean, the thought that God’s people might eradicate evil by practicing group hugs. Silly man.

It’s the echoes of the Pharisees. In the verse right after the passage we read, it says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.” “Poor Amish Jesus isn’t living in the real world,” they think. “Dude, if you’re going to compete in a global market, you have to pay the pipers.” I’m not precisely sure what they meant, but I think Jesus means this: We fire ourselves a whole lot faster than God fires us. We have a naïve and simple view of God if we think God’s limited by our choices.

Choices. You and I have almost infinite choices compared with people in many parts of the world. Lexus, Mercedes, or Ford? McDonalds, Mexican, or Chinese food? Louis Vuitton or Wal-Mart? This land of opportunity has turned into a land of choice.

What we lack is the same thing the Pharisees lacked: not choices; alternatives. What alternatives are there to the mainstream ways of operating? Where is the un-common sense to help us wade through the thick sludge of choices that paralyze us right out of hope? The alternative to the real world’s ways of doing business and doing life are in the same place they were for his disciples, way back when. The alternative to the real world is the realer world. The alternative to hopelessness was – the alternative to sleaziness is – the alternative to evil always will be: the cross.

The cross speaks its word of alternatives – whether we’re addicted to choices or if we have very few. I wonder what people in, say, rural India think a wealth of choices would be? Clean drinking water? A job? A home? What word of hope do we say to them? If we’re people of Christ, it’d better be more creative than Hollywood slogans and a handful of outsourced jobs. What word of hope do we say to ourselves when we see through the maze of meaningless choices that change nothing? The only alternative is Christ. The only alternative to the world’s ways lead us to the cross. If you, or I, people of great choice – or people of no choice – if we want success, we have to get an alternative definition of success than the one the world feeds us.

And that’s what Christ is preaching in his parable of the crooked manager. The story’s not about this-worldly right & wrong. It’s nowhere near that limited. The story’s about the alternative. “Do not love the world or the things in the world,” says the Apostle John. [1 John 2:15-17] Set your sights on another master, a loving master. Set your sights NOT on the master of Wall Street, but on the master of All Streets. If victory over death can come from a cross, then hope can come from hopelessness, life can come from lifelessness, and a whole different perspective can come to people who can’t see past the end of their noses.


You’ve got a lot of choices facing you this week. If you’re a kid, you’ve got choices. You’ve got to choose if you’re going to sneak a peek at the quiz answers of the kid next to you. You’ve got to choose if you’re going to try to steal someone else’s boyfriend, or tell your parents where you really went.

If you’re an adult, you’ve pretty much got the same choices, just on a bigger scale. Your choices involve family, co-workers, income – lawyers. “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not gain influence by spreading vicious gossip, even if it’s true, and really, really good,” – you know the rules. If any of your choices direct you into the footsteps of the dishonest manager, stop and ask yourself, “Is this really the way I want to get ahead?” God put a conscience into your head, and it’s usually pretty accurate.

But God is not hosting a game show-slash-soap opera. God’s not playing a game, and God doesn’t want you to play games. God presents us an alternative to this world’s games, an alternative to this world’s shows.

The cross of Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re fired.” The cross of Jesus tells us we’re all working for God – and God is working for us. You are a child of God and there is nothing you can do to downsize your status.

But being a child of God, there is something you can do. You can proclaim that your choices, your money, your life – all of it is put into service for God, because all of it belongs to God in the first place. That may sound simple, but it’s a life-changing, earth-changing alternative. Any two year-old can scream, “Mine!” and most of them do. It takes a person of maturity to get beyond what’s mine, beyond what’s yours and say, “It’s all God’s.” All of it. Everything.

Yes, you’ve got a lot of choices in front of you this week. Choice A, Choice B. Maybe even all the way down to Choice Double Z. You’ve got a lot of choices in front of you; God’s challenge is to put your choices behind you. Put your choices behind you, knowing that 99% of them are trivial – and put the cross before you. Your life will change the minute you realize your life isn’t yours in the first place. Be who God intends you to be. Be a loving child, be a loving parent, be a loving co-worker. Be a loving enemy if you have to. Be NOT conformed by the ways of this world, but be transformed by the ways of Jesus Christ. [Rom 12:2, parap.]

No, you’re not fired. You’re not hired.

You’re not an apprentice. You’re a disciple.

And you’ve already got the job.