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

Thursday, March 04, 2004

18-L2-P-C Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 & Luke 13:31-35
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
March 7, 2004

"Today and tomorrow, I must be moving," Jesus tells the Pharisees. Today and tomorrow he'll cast out demons and cure the sick. This day and the next day. On the third day, he'll be finished. But until that third day, he's walking, he's moving, he's on his way, taking the presence of God to the people who need God. Jesus will go where he's needed until he’s finished, even if it's to Jerusalem, the place where prophets tend to get finished off. Jesus is on the move.

This Sunday, our church is on the move. Here we are, in the fellowship hall. We're worshiping in a room with backboards. Which I think is kind of cool. I don't know if I'd want to do it all the time, but once every couple of years is OK with me. It reminds me of Moses and the Israelites. God told them to move and they moved when the Spirit said, "Move." Carried around the Ark of the Covenant, and wherever they'd set it down, that's where they'd worship. God was portable back in the old days.

So here we are in the fellowship hall. We brought just enough stuff to remind us that this is a room of worship. We're in a room where families eat dinners, a room where short Caucasians play basketball, a room where kids scream and run and play Duck-Duck-Goose. Our worship is just portable enough that we can carry it off -- as Jesus said -- wherever two or three are gathered together. Jesus is still on the move. And the Spirit can move us wherever we may be.

God moves. God moves along with us. God moves even when the moves get dangerous. Even though the third day is approaching, even though our sins might threaten to rip God's heart in two, God keeps up with us, God moves ahead of us. God never sits still for long. And neither should we if we're the body of Christ.


Every time I passed by the sanctuary doors last week, I couldn't help but look inside. Do you have any idea how empty a sanctuary looks when the floor and the pews have been taken out? It looks smaller, for one, which surprised me. Most rooms look bigger without furniture. But with no floor and no pews, the sanctuary looked surprisingly small, and dark, and empty. I took pictures, because it was just creepy. Oh sure, there was plenty of space to move around in; but there was no place for Jesus to move. No place for people to sit. No Bibles for people to read. No hymnals for people to complain about when we sing a real clinker. (And that happens so rarely now that I'm no longer in charge of picking hymns, praise the Lord.) It was a room stripped clean of places for two or three to gather together and to move, and talk, and whisper, and sing when the Spirit says to. It was still. It felt wrong. Because Jesus told us, today and tomorrow he's not going to be still.

The "today and tomorrow" of which Jesus spoke is what we've translated into the season of Lent. This is the Second Sunday of Lent. These are days when we're supposed to get ready for the big "third day" that's coming -- the age of Jesus' death and resurrection. I say death and resurrection because you can't have one without the other. You think of Jesus' death on the cross, and it makes you say, "Yes, but he rose from the tomb." You think of Jesus rising from the tomb and you have to say, "Yes, but why did he have to do that?” In the days before Easter, Jesus got ready by moving around, even when he knew it wasn't safe and Herod was out to get him. Jesus wasn't going to be still.

So on one hand, it's appropriate that on a Sunday in Lent, we've moved worship to a place where people don't normally sit still. It reminds us that Jesus was into fellowship, and into sitting with children, and probably would have been just as comfortable in a room with fold-up basketball goals as anywhere else. But on the other hand, you come here at, say, 9:00 in the morning on any day of the week, and this Fellowship Hall is just a big, empty room, too. Without two or three, or 150 gathered together, there's space, but there's no place for Jesus to move in. Without you, without your worship, there are no hearts to open, no spirits to fill. And no Jesus.

The problem with the Pharisees -- who, interestingly enough were coming to help save Jesus (take THAT Mr. Mel Gibson) -- the problem with temple worship in Jerusalem was exactly that: it was temple worship. People were paralyzed into worshiping the temple, worshiping the building, worshiping the rules, instead of worshiping God and God's rule. Nobody moved. Nobody WAS moved by the act of worship. How could they? They might get something dirty. The people had lost the sense of God's portability. They had forgotten that they could worship God wherever they were, whoever they were. They had forgotten that God was with them today and tomorrow, casting out their demons and curing their ills. They'd forgotten that what makes any worship space worshipful is the living Spirit of God that passes through us and moves among us whenever we come together in the name of Jesus Christ. We can worship Jesus in a Fellowship Hall. We can worship Jesus in a hospital room. Because wherever we go, if we go in Jesus' name, the Holy Spirit goes with us, before us and behind us, filling our otherwise empty, empty spaces.


God has always been on the move. The Old Testament scripture we read today sounds kind of weird. God said to Abram, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And Abram brought him all these and cut them in two (except for the birds, which was too yucky – go figure), laying each half over against the other. And when night fell, a smoking fire pot and a torch passed between the pieces.

This was an old, old custom – a sign of covenant and peace between two parties. The animals would be cut in half, and the one making the covenant would walk between the two halves, saying, essentially, “If I break this covenant, let ME be split in half.” The fire and smoke (which was how God appeared back in the old days) was a moving, living promise from the creator of the universe that if God broke his covenant, let Him be cut in half.

During Lent, we remember how God in Jesus Christ would rather die than break his covenant with us. During Lent we remember how WE’RE the ones who have broken the covenant with God, how we’re the ones who deserve being split in two. But in Jesus, God takes the punishment of a broken covenant upon himself. God in Jesus walks the line between the broken halves of our existence, passes between our meaningless sacrifices, in order to create a new covenant – one that will go with us wherever we go. God has always been on the move, even when God’s moves take God into awful places of death and sacrifice. God has always been on the move, in order to keep a covenant promise we just can’t keep.


Next Sunday, we’re going to move again. We’ll move back to the Sanctuary, and frankly, I can’t wait. It’s going to be magnificent. It’s going to look like a whole new place. No more bare, empty spaces. No more crumbling linoleum.

But what’s even more exciting is the promise that as we move, Jesus is going to move right along with us. We’ll worship; and he’ll be there. We’ll pray; and he’ll listen. We’ll ask forgiveness, and he’ll forgive. We’ll move. The look of our sanctuary will change. But Jesus will move right along with us. He’ll fill all our empty spaces with the Holy Spirit. He’ll keep that covenant even though our sins might threaten to cut his heart in two. Jesus will be God-with-us, Emmanuel. God will move us. And by the grace of God we’ll keep being moved. To God be the glory forever and ever.