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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 Christmas Eve Sermon

2008 Christmas Eve Sermon

Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.

On this night, for one hour, more or less, we are silent, and all is calm. Pretty calm. Kids are wiggling in their mothers' laps. Many are stretching their toes to reach the pew in front of them. (The kids, not the mothers.) Some, having given their feet a good rest, are now rhythmically kicking the pew. Wooden pews make a good, resonant sound when struck with uncomfortable shoes. We all know church is the last place kids want to be on Christmas Eve. That's OK. Adversity teaches character. We're pretty calm. And somewhat silent. Half of us have had the creeping crud since early November. Christmas Eve services are always punctuated by coughs, sneezes, and snorts. At least one cell phone always goes off. Answer it. On Christmas Eve it could be a call from God. We're pretty calm. We're reasonably silent. And how bright you all look. Grammatically the song should go, all ARE bright. Because we is. We're pretty calm, reasonably silent, and just as bright as a roomful of Presbyterians can be.

Except. Except the song isn't about the people who gathered 'round yon virgin mother and child. The song isn't about the us; it's about the night. It's not, "Silent us, holy us: all are calm, and in-ge-ni-ous." The song is about the night. The night is silent. The night is holy. The night is calm. The night is bright.

Somewhere along the way, Christmas got changed. Christmas Eve got changed from being about the night to being about us. Christmas got changed from being about Jesus to being about us. Our presents. Our purchases. Our adventures in competitive decorating. Our sense of satisfaction. Our feelings of disappointment. We find ourselves ranking Christmases. How did this year compare to 1975? Was the pie as good as his mother's? Was it a good Christmas, or a bad Christmas?

But listen to the song, the holiest of songs that we end the service with every year. It's not about us. Christmas Eve is about the night. The silent night, the holy night. Christmas Eve is about the night... and the day that follows.


One of the unplanned traditions of our family is being the last to leave the church on Christmas Eve. We're usually the ones who turn off the lights and lock the doors. It's really very sublime. I can't speak for Kristen and the girls, but I, for one, love the silence. The holiness of the night echoes in solitary footsteps through the halls. The streets on the way home are nearly empty. Ministers and the drive through workers at Krystal are among the lucky few blessed to know. "O, little town of Mrrrrvul, how still we see thee lie." Flashing traffic signals of red and green, gently blowing in the breeze. Step out of the car and the chill of the air fills your chest with its sacred stillness. You sigh, and the smoke of the Holy Spirit swirls before you. All the words have been said, all the songs have been sung, there's nothing but quiet in the visible breath of the silent, holy night.

God is so quiet.

Bethlehem was so crowded there was no room at the inn. There was a manger full of animals. The city couldn't possibly have been quiet. But listen to the songs of Christmas Eve. None of them mention the noise of the streets. None of them mention the grumbling citizens forced to return home to be taxed. The songs are all about the silent streets, the little baby who no crying he makes. Still, still, still. Let all mortal flesh keep silent. Even the angels we hear on high sing not boldly, but so sweetly over the plains. No crashing cymbals. No trumpets. The Christmas Eve songwriters know we're singing about a God who's best described by silence.

God is so quiet.

When we're waiting for God, when we're waiting for a sign from God, when we're waiting for relief from God, the silence of God is maddening. You know how it is to want something so badly, and to not have any idea if you're going to get it. An answered prayer. A loved one home. A day of good health. You pray and you pray, and still, God is so... silent. And yet, on Christmas Eve, that same silence is holy. Maybe it's because the rest of the year we're not really so sure our prayers will be answered. So the silence is frustrating, angering. But on Christmas Eve we don't just believe - we really, really know - God will be with us when the morning comes. On Christmas Eve we don't just endure, we enjoy, we give thanks for a silent night of God. We praise God for the silence of this holy night. Because we have faith, because we know morning light will break through the darkness. Be still, scripture says. Be still and KNOW that I am God.

God is so quiet.

It might be possible to know God when we're not still. But our chances of knowing God are so much greater if we can be still and silent in those dark nights of the soul. Those nights become not just bearable, but holy, when their quiet reminds us of God who is quiet. Just as God came to Bethlehem, a taxed and crowded place, so God comes to us in the midst of our chaos. God turns a long night of waiting into the dawn of joy. We know we want to believe that, but on Christmas Eve we know it. The silence will be filled, the darkness will be overcome with light. The silent night is holy, because we know Christmas will be here tomorrow. Day follows night.


At our house tomorrow, the breaking dawn will bring the noisy sounds of ripping paper, torn ribbons and excited squeals. And then Kristen and the girls will wake up and things will really get loud. This is our puppy's first Christmas, so I'm pretty sure chasing will be involved. "Catch him before he eats Polly Pocket!" And Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap will be wond'ring aloud if we ever will nap.

Somewhere, a Krystal drive-thru worker will be heading home with a leftover sack of ten. Her Christmas may not be as loud, but we pray it'll be fulfilling. As you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for all the people who are working tonight or tomorrow. Say a prayer for all the people who don't have a place to work. Say a prayer for all the people who don't have a bright and noisy Christmas morning. Pray for them God's Christmas hope for all the world - that where there is darkness, there will be light. That where God is too silent, the angels will keep watch until the morning dawns. Because as much as we love the holiness of the night, the day of Christ is lovelier. The silent night may be holy, but the day of Christ is holier. All may be calm and all may be bright, but on the day of Christ's coming, all will see and all will know - the mountains will sing and the earth will rejoice in Christ its newborn, resurrected King.

Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. Tomorrow, all will be bright. Tomorrow all will be brighter and holier than we could ever imagine. Let all the earth rejoice. Rejoice in your heart. Rejoice in your songs. Rejoice in the light of the candle that tomorrow will shine over all the earth. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008-12-21 Luke 1:26-38 "Love"

2008-12-21 Luke 1:26-38 "Love"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today, we light the fourth candle of Advent. In the weeks leading up to today, we've lit a candle for hope, for peace, for joy, and this week, love. Before we leap forward into the obvious love of Christ, we should step back, and see how love has brought us here in the first place. Think about that: love has brought us here in the first place.

We began our scriptures today with a psalm about the steadfast love of God, Psalm 89.

89:1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my
mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

89:2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as
firm as the heavens.

89:3 You said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my
servant David:

89:4 'I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all

Now flash forward to the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

It's usually a bigger deal to us that God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin, than the fact that God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph who was of the house and lineage of David with whom God had sworn an everlasting covenant. Good gossip trumps good ancestry every time. It's only human nature to marvel at a relationship's short-term mechanics rather than study the long-range planning that forged the relationship in the first place. What we read in the gospel isn't an angelic whim. Mary wasn't chosen because God pulled her name out of a hat. Nor was Joseph simply the lottery-winning legacy of the house of David. God's steadfast love is woven into the fabric of the history of God's people, of which Mary and Joseph are but one, albeit very prominent string. God's steadfast love begins long before Mary, long before Joseph. God's steadfast love is established, and God's steadfast love endures, forever. When we read the story of Mary in the context of the Psalm, we see a bigger picture.

What about our love, and our loves? How big is our picture? Sometimes our love and our loves endure forever. Sometimes they flame out after a few years. Sometimes our loves break our hearts. When we feel love toward someone, or when we receive the love of another, it feels as though we're tapping into the power of the universe. Love is mystifying, love is wonderful, love is scary - all at the same time. Love compels us to ask Mary's question, "How can this be?" We don't know. Is love random, or is love predestined? We don't know. Whatever love is, we know it's bigger than we are. Love expands our personal world, and at the same time makes the world a smaller place. We care about people apart from us. We make them part of our our story. In turn, we become part of their story.

Imagine God's love as seen through a movie camera. For a moment, God's love zooms in on Mary and on Joseph. But just as they come into focus, God zooms back out. As soon as Mary and Joseph start to wonder how these personal things can be, God shows them something beyond their dreams. Mary and Joseph have love for God. But these two are also only two souls in a sea of countless more. God's love narrows down on two young people on their way to Bethlehem. But through these two, God's love expands, stretching its view across time and around worlds.

As we look at the candle of love, we focus on its flame. Isn't that where your eyes are drawn? We don't think about the wick. We don't see how its strands were woven together. We don't see the machines or the people who dip the candle in a wax mold. We don't worry about the trucks or trains or boats that brought it from its place of origin to our sanctuary. We see the flame. But even if that's all we see, we should also think about the heavenly meaning of the flame. We see the flicker of one candle, but we can also imagine how it's part of an eternal flame, representing a house and lineage great enough to hold us all. That candle over there shines with God's love for you. But it also shines with God's love for all the people around you. And it shines for all the people over there, way off on the other side of the sanctuary. And it shines for all the people not here. And it shines for all the people way on the other side of the tracks, wherever that is. God's love shines so great we have to say, as Mary did, "How can this be?"

Think about the means God uses to show love to this world. It doesn't make any sense. Think for a moment: if you were God and you wanted to show your love to the whole world, would you choose a young girl and her husband-to-be, a couple of donkey-riders, she very pregnant, and he a bewildered almost-father who talks to angels in his dreams? These are not people of stature. They don't own a religious broadcasting TV network. They don't pray with presidents. How can this be? Perhaps Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, but so were a lot of other people. It's as if God is intentionally looking for ones least expected to bring the loving Savior into the world.

Think back to David. King David. The greatest king of Israel, anointed by God and chosen as the one to lead God's people into the future. How did God choose him? The story is way back in the Old Testament. God needed a new king, because the old king, Saul, was crazy. So God told the priest, Samuel, to go out one day and anoint a new king. Samuel called Mr. Jesse, because Jesse had a bunch of strong, good-looking sons. Back then, if you had a house full of strong, good-looking sons, you were top dog. So the priest Samuel told Jesse to parade his strong, good-looking sons before him, one at a time, so Samuel could discern God's voice saying, "That one." One by one, the boys stood before the priest. How about this one? Nope. Okay, how about this one? Ummm, nope. Son after son passed before the priest, until they all had been turned down. Priest Samuel said to Jesse, "Don't you have ANY other sons?" And Jesse said, "Well, I do have one more, his name is David. He's out in the field, tending the sheep while we're here at the king auditions. But you wouldn't want him. Scrawny, sunburned little guy. Are you sure you don't want to check one of these other boys one more time?" Priest Samuel said no. Go get the boy. So they did. David stood before Samuel and God whispered in Samuel's ear: "That one." The least expected turned out to be the chosen one.

Whatever else you might say about God, God is consistent. Just as King David, the least expected, was called up to service, so also were Mary and Joseph. So being of the house and lineage of David doesn't simply mean you have the right DNA. It also means you're one of the unexpected. God chooses the unexpected, over and over again. From this long line of Unexpecteds, God picks Joseph and Mary to be the agents of his love to the whole world.

Who would you least expect to show you love this Christmas? Who are your Unexpecteds?

You might have a few enemies. You probably don't expect a pile of presents from them. Jesus said to love our enemies and to pray for them. That doesn't make any sense, either. A lot of times we twist that command into veiled manipulation. We've tried arguing. That hasn't worked. So as a measure of last resort, we try it Jesus' way. Maybe if we're nice enough to our enemies, they'll be grateful for our kindness and begin to see things our way. It has been known to work. But we know Christmas isn't about winning friends and influencing people. Christmas is about love, unexpected love, brought in unexpected ways, by unexpected people. God loves your enemies. Jesus loves your enemies. What can you learn from seeing God's love for and through Unexpecteds? Maybe it isn't wise or healthy or even safe for you to try to share love with all your enemies. Some enemies are dangerous. But if you believe that God loves your enemies even if you can't, and if you also believe that God loves you, too, you're starting to zoom out to the bigger picture of God's love. God's love is about more than you. God's love is about more than your enemies. That concept in itself is unexpected. God's love is so much bigger than our expectations.

How big are your expectations?

In today's economy, in these days of lower values and lower earnings, one of the first personal things to be lowered are our expectations. Those of you who remember living with substantially less, those of you who remember the Great Depression and its effects might say a general lowering of expectations would be a good thing. We can live with less, and maybe there are some who especially should. Maybe the best gift we can give ourselves this year would be both halves of our credit cards, one half in each hand. Economically and materially, lowering our expectations, reducing our appetites could be our healthiest move.

But what about your expectations of God? We know that in times of lowered physical expectations, our spiritual hopes go up. That's common sense. When the good is taken away, when life gives us less, we pray more. At least prayer is still free. But just because the number of our prayers goes up doesn't mean our expectations increase as well. We just bug God more. Kind of how we bug the home repairman who never returns our calls. Eventually, we start calling him every day. Maybe if we irritate him enough, he'll relent, and finish the construction project. If we really believed Mr. Fix-it was conscientious, we wouldn't have to bug him so much. At first the calls to his voice mail are nice. "Hey. Just wanted to make sure you remembered there's a person-shaped hole in our back porch." But over time our messages get shorter and testier. Eventually, we give up and start asking friends who they'd recommend. What do you do, when times are tough, and God seems to be letting your prayers go to the machine? If God doesn't answer in a professional and timely manner, will your expectations of God begin to fall? Will you start to think, maybe God isn't so powerful after all? Maybe God doesn't really love me.

Our expectations of God are very small, and very focused. Usually they're focused on ourselves. As if God has no one else in the universe to worry about. And in a way, that's true. God the omnipotent hears your prayers and knows your every need. The problem is if that's true for you, it's also true for the person on the other side of the sanctuary, and on the other side of the world. God hears everyone's prayers and knows everyone's needs. It's not just about you. The situation is complicated. God loves you. And God loves countless other people. We know that, but we don't always expect that. We expect too little of God.

Some of us complain because Christmas season seems to begin earlier every year. It used to be the stores would wait until after Thanksgiving to put up decorations and start having sales. Now, it's the day after Halloween. In Pigeon Forge, there are Christmas stores open year-round. We complain because Christmas comes too early. We barely even have a clue.

Christmas in the Bible started way before Mary and Joseph. You can trace God's Christmas plans back through Joseph's house and lineage back to King David. David was part of Christmas. He didn't know it. And back beyond David, you've got his father, Jesse, and the priest Samuel. And back beyond him, you've got the priest Eli, and Samuel's mother, Hannah. And back beyond them, you've got the original Joseph, another dreamer, with his coat of many colors. And back beyond him, you've got Jacob and Esau, and Abraham and Sarah. In the Gospel According to John, which we'll read on Christmas Eve, it says Jesus was the Word, and the Word was with God in the Beginning, the Beginning of everything. And nothing in the universe was made without the Word, who is Christ the Lord. Christmas is old. Christmas started way before you. Christmas is part of the biggest picture you could ever imagine. The love of God is the bigger than your wildest expectations.

How can all this be? The angel Gabriel's answer to Mary was, "Nothing is impossible with God." Which is another way of saying, "Mary. Raise your expectations."

That candle of love burns over there. God's love burns just as bright for you and for me as it did for Mary and Joseph. Don't believe me? Raise your expectations.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2008-12-07 Mark 1:1-8

2008-12-07 Mark 1:1-8 "Peace"
Second Sunday of Advent
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today we lit the Advent Candle for Peace. Last week, we lit a candle for Hope. This week, Peace.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, the peace of God passes all understanding. That's a good thing. Because one of the things we understand is how it feels to have no peace. We understand how it feels to live in a world where peace is an endangered resource. We understand the anxiety of a threatened income. We understand how it sounds to hear reports from Mumbai, and from Baghdad. It's especially fitting that we should be talking about peace today, Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, "a date that will live in infamy." Infamy's datebook is growing. We understand -- that if there is peace, it passes understanding how it can come at all to a world so shrouded in infamy. It passes all understanding how that candle over there can keep glowing, how its flame can keep burning. It passes understanding why we still bother to light it. But we do. And it does burn. Perhaps the greatest gift of the human mind is that it knows it doesn't know everything. We understand there are things beyond understanding. There are things so great that our minds lack the capacity to contain them. Peace is at the top of that list. We know we want it, but we don't know how to get it. And if we should find peace, we can't understand how to hold onto it. How can we light a candle of Peace? And why do we keep lighting it year, after year?

In the Gospel According to Mark, the good news of Jesus Christ begins with a proclamation of peace. Like a ghost, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming ancient words of peace. Come to the waters. Come to the waters of baptism. Come to the waters and find the peace of repentance. Like a ghost of Christmases that had never come to be, John cries out from beyond the grave of Israel's hope, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." John is resurrecting the voice of peace in a land that can't understand it, to a people who barely remember it.

A long, long time ago, generations before John appeared, the Prophet Isaiah stood on the temple steps and called out peace. Isaiah didn't bring peace. Isaiah announced peace. Isaiah didn't preach the peace of understanding. He preached the peace that passes understanding. He proclaimed the peace of God. God would bring peace. God would bring peace to a people wounded by their own injustice, people devoured by their own appetites, people defeated by their own offenses. Isaiah proclaimed that God would bring peace to these people. Comfort, comfort my people, God had spoken to Isaiah. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her
penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. And then a voice cries out. Whose voice? A voice from this world? A voice from heaven? Isaiah doesn't say. A voice cries out, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make
straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the
uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it
together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5)

The voice in the wilderness, maybe the voice OF the wilderness cries out peace. Not because people have turned peaceful. Not because evil has been eradicated. Peace comes because the mouth of the Lord has spoken peace. After years of speaking anger, after decades of speaking punishment, God's mouth speaks peace.

So often, we judge peace by the absence of arguments with the people who tick us off. It's a fragile peace. We avoid certain subjects. We don't wear certain clothes. We look the other way when they do something offensive. Yes, they put the toilet paper on so it rolls down the back, instead of over the top, the way God intended. We let it go. We make a temporary peace. We craft mutually agreed restraining orders against our own, but mainly their demons. You do your stuff, and I'll do mine. We'll be at peace. Or at least, we won't be at war.

The voice in the wilderness, the mouth of the Lord cries out peace. For years, God has exacted vengeance upon these people. They have received from the Lord's hand double for all their sins. Peace with God is not the lack of arguments. You can argue with God all you want. Declare war on God if you want. Many do. What Isaiah's voice cries is that God is finished arguing with us. God is finished with anger. God is finished with punishment. Instead, God is going to speak peace. Comfort, comfort my people, God says. Therefore there is peace. God has worn out all other alternatives.

So years, decades, centuries later, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness. Another voice in the wilderness crying out. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. God is coming. God is coming directly to you. God doesn't want any interference from the sinful wrinkles of human existence. God wants to come straight into your heart and mind with peace that passes all understanding. Certainly with peace that passes yours and mine. There will be peace because God declares peace. You might still want to fight with your neighbor. You might still want to fight with God. But God will fight no more with you. God is tired of anger. God is tired of punishment. John tells us that from now on, if God is going to speak with us, God is going to speak in peace. God knows we aren't used to thinking this way. So God sends a messenger, John - and Isaiah before him - to get us ready for the peace we can't understand, the peace of Christ, that passes all understanding.

We light the candle of peace. We don't light the candle for the limited, fragile peace we can make. We light a candle for the lasting peace God has declared. Because God declares peace it's now safe. It's now safe for us walk toward the waters. It's safe for us to walk toward the waters that will wash our sins away. God declares peace, and now we can dare to approach God. It's safe for us to receive a flowing assurance of pardon. God declares peace.

If you are a little confused by the idea that God has declared peace with you -- even though you may not feel peaceful -- if that confuses you a little, then good. God's action, especially God's peace, passes understanding. You and I don't deserve the peace and forgiveness of God. And yet we've been granted it. God intends to bewilder us with peace. We aren't supposed to understand God's forgiveness. We're supposed to marvel. We're supposed to praise. We're supposed to come to the waters that flow through the tracks of the Holy Spirit and repent of everything we understand too well.

Every year, we light that candle of Peace. Every year we pray for an end to wars, to animosity, to injury. We could light a million candles, but still there would be no peace. There would still be wars, animosity, and injury. They'd be better lit. But still they would exist. Maybe our first job is only that - to light the candles. Maybe our first job is to light a million candles of peace so that we and all the world can see how much hurt there is. Because if you don't see the hurt, you can't dress the wounds. If you pretend there's peace, where there's not, you're living in the dark. We light this candle, year after year, in the hope that maybe it'll help us see how much further we have to go. You are probably not the person who's going to bring lasting peace to the world. You probably aren't the person who's going to bring peace to Iraq, Afghanistan, and everywhere else wars are fought. If you are, would you please get to work. You are the person who can hold a light over you own hot and cold wars. You are the person, the only person, who can shed new light on the distance between you and your enemies. If you can see the distance, you can start walking it, one step at a time. So maybe next year, when you see that candle of Peace, it'll have burned away a few of the sins that hold you back from making peace.

But whatever light of peace we can make, is eclipsed by the radiance of the peace that passes understanding. The peace of Christ is with you, whether your own life is peaceful or not. Whether or not you're at peace with yourself, God is at peace with you. God may not like the things you do, but God is at peace with you. Wrap your mind around that little paradox. We light the candle of peace because Christ is God's declaration of peace, once and for all, with all of us. We light the candle of peace because we know Christ Jesus. We know he comes to bring peace. We know he is God's peace. We know Christ. That candle burns because his Spirit burns. We light it to remind our own spirits that the light of forgiveness is shining, no matter what we do, or think.

Like John the Baptist, we are wilderness people. We're not living in the Promised Land, although this particular land does have its good days. And for that we are thankful. John "appeared" in the wilderness. For us, it's more like the wilderness appears around us. One day we wake up and we don't understand how we got here, and we don't know what we're supposed to do next. And more than that, people are mad at us. And we're mad back at them. Sometimes we know why, and sometimes it doesn't matter. This is good land, but it's not the Promised Land. We're wilderness people. If we're very still, we can hear a voice. That voice in the wilderness crying, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." The Peace of Christ isn't only coming; it's already here. Hold up a candle. Turn on a light. You'll see.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2008-11-Mark 13:24-37

2008-11-30 Mark 13:24-37
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Good morning.

Anybody else feeling a little worn out today?

Giving thanks takes it out of you. You get extra points for being here the Sunday after Thanksgiving. All that turkey and pumpkin pie. Laying on the couch, falling asleep watching football games you don't really care about. Any of you feel like you've spent the last three days in the kitchen? Thanksgiving - it takes a toll. But now comes the best part, turkey sandwiches. Turkey sandwiches on white bread with may-o-naise.

The president-elect made news last week when he said the economy needs a "jolt." Scripture's a jolt today. Just about the time you get all warm and cozy after three grueling days of giving thanks, just about the time you start thinking of relaxing for one day of rest you come to church and instead you get a serious jolt.

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be
shaken...." But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor
the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."

Um. Merry Christmas.

So much for a peaceful Sabbath. Who picks these Lectionary passages, anyway? Ebenezer Scrooge? The church in its centuries of wisdom looks at the weeks leading up to Christmas, the four Sundays of Advent and delivers a taser-sized jolt. You think it's time to nap? the scriptures say. You think it's time to let down? You think you've got a minute to plan out your offense through Christmas, Hannukkah and Kwaanza? Think again. Scripture's bringing us a big-ol can of Jolt Cola, with caffeine, taurine, and Vitamin Gee You Better Get Yourself Movin' Now.

But why? Why the jolt? Why the jolt at precisely the time when we want peace? Why the anxiety when what we really want is children's laughter and chestnuts roasting on an open fire? This little apocalypse at the front-end of Advent is an alarm bell for our souls. Anybody like hearing the alarm clock go off in the morning? This little apocalypse at the beginning of Advent is our wake-up call. Before you sleepwalk through all the stuff you think you have to do in these coming weeks, before you step along with the rest of the revenge of the shopping zombies, wake up. Wake up and remember! Remember why we have Christmas in the first place. Is it because of all the stuff we can plan and buy and cook? Sometimes we're tempted to think so. But we know it's not. Christmas is about Jesus. And Jesus is about God. And God is about the stuff we can't do. God's jolt is the gift of hope.


This morning we lit a candle of hope.

What do you hope for? If you ask the kids, they probably have a list. Or two. But we all have our lists, at any age. Only, as we get older the list might not have as many things you can get at the store. Health. Savings. A sense of accomplishment. Joy. Those don't exactly fit in Santa's bag. That's the difference between a wish and a hope. We might wish for an iPod Touch. We might wish for a Nintendo Wii. Not that I would ever wish for either of these. But for those of you interested, they are available on eBay with free shipping if you order this week. And if you've ever ordered online, you know that at just about every store, if you don't want to buy something right away, you can click to add it to your "Wish List." In all the places I've visited online, I've never seen a store with a "Hope List." Wishes are stuff we know we really don't need, but would be cool to have. Hope is the stuff we long for. You can get your wishes filled at Macy's or Home Depot or CarMax. Hope is tougher to find in retail.

Where do you find hope? Maybe right here, in church. I hope so. Maybe you find hope in the pages of scripture. Maybe your hope comes from sharing stories with other people who've made it through, or from just knowing that there are people who hope you make it through, and want to help, whatever your situation. If you were new to church, you might think it strange that something as big as hope would come through such fragile vessels, as fragile as the crackly pages of a book, or the veined hand of an elder. You might think hope would come packaged and warrantied - read these verses, say these prayers, associate with these people and you'll have boatloads of hope, or your money back. But hope itself is too fragile for that kind of treatment. Hope has to be passed along with such care. Hope is like a shaky hand lighting a candle's flame. You just have to hope you meet the match to the wick long enough for the flame to ignite. Hope is gently passed through a handshake or a hug, through eye contact that says, "I really am glad to see you." Hope sits by a hospital bed. Hope cries at a funeral. Hope soars with the choir's harmony and dances on piano keys. Hope is that scripture you've heard a million times and suddenly get, for no apparent reason, just the right word at the right time. Hope defies explanation, defies rational thought, but hope is real. You know it when you feel it. And you know when you need it. The first candle of Advent is a candle of hope.


The scripture from Mark, this little apocalypse described by Jesus, doesn't sound cheerily hopeful.

"...the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be

It sounds as if Jesus is saying the end is coming. Like the signs on Alcoa Highway after church say, "Be Prepared to Stop." That's exactly what Jesus is saying. The end is coming, soon. But he's not saying it the way the guy with the sign on Market Square, walking in circles is saying it. Because the apocalypse Jesus is describing is a sign, not just of endings, but of a grand, new beginning.

"...the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be
shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from
the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven."

What's ending is the need for wishes. What's ending is the pandemic of hopelessness. What's ending is the search for hope because here, descending from the clouds with power and glory is hope. Hope tangible, hope touchable, hope real, live and in person. Hope that we can hold onto. Hope that holds onto us. God's hope in the new day of a new heaven and a new earth is hope that will never, ever let us go. God's hope is hope that rips through all the packaged wishes. God's hope is hope that tears apart the gray skies and shines like radiant diamonds of new life, not from some distant tomorrow, but within our grasp and forever. No more fragile hope. No more broken hope. No more hearts that yearn for something just out of reach. Hope clear. Hope defined. Hope alive.

Scripture jolts us awake to a new morning, a new life in Christ Jesus. The old life is gone, a new life has begun, in Christ Jesus we are alive, in him we hope. Not as the world hopes. But as those who aren't troubled, as those who aren't afraid of what tomorrow might bring. Because our hope doesn't come from things seen, but from things lived, and shared, and new.


If you are worn out. If the idea of Christmas stresses you out. Start your Advent Season with a jolt. Christ's coming isn't something you can bring. Christ's coming isn't something you can usher in, as in, "Oh my gosh, we hung the garlands wrong - Christmas isn't coming this year!") Christmas doesn't need you. Christ doesn't need you. And yet he chooses you. And he wants you to hope in his word. He wants you to find hope in scripture, and church, and even (and maybe especially) a few strangers, a few unexpected mercies. Christ wants you to find hope in God. Christ's hope should shake up your world. Christ's coming will shake up our world. Christ will bring us hope. So be ready.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008-11-23 Lk 02 14 "The Angels' Song"

2008-11-23 Lk 02 14 "The Angels' Song"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

We've been talking about stewardship through the songs of the Bible over these past weeks. First Hannah's Song, then Mary's Song, then Zechariah's Song. Today, we read the Angels' Song. It goes like this: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" (Or, as many of us learned it, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." I like the King James Version better. That's the way Linus read it.)

But wait! It's not even Thanksgiving and we're reading Christmas passages. Now, please don't think the church is getting to be like the stores. We're not going to start putting out Christmas decorations the day after Halloween or anything. Poor stores, poor economy. They're doing everything they can to get people out stimulating the economy. 'Tis better to buy than to receive. But that's not what we're about. We're not reading the Angels' Song in the context of Christmas Season; we're reading it in the context of Stewardship Season. At Christmas Season, we celebrate what the angels sang. In Stewardship Season, the emphasis goes to what the shepherds did after the song.

The shepherds' response comes in the two verses after the song: 2:15-16 - 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. And then add verse 17: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child.

What do you do when the angels have left and gone back up into heaven? How do you work with the silence of the angels? Here's the thing: at Christmas, God brings good news of glory in the highest and peace and goodwill toward all. But the rest of the year, what do we do with that song? How do we keep it alive in our heads when there's so much the opposite of peace and goodwill going on in the world? That's the Stewardship Question. What do we do in the absence of angels?


I'd like to launch a preemptive first strike against the post-Christmas let-down. You know the "Post-Christmas Let-down." It starts Christmas afternoon. It's about 4PM, and the kids are already stealthily eying the bottom of the tree, just in case - just in case - one more present might have been missed. Just in case, sometime around lunch, Santa made a U-turn and brought them the cell phone they really wanted. Or -- the day toward the end of the week when you start putting the decorations back in the storage boxes. (End of the week... maybe it's that day in March, for you.) The lights come down, the snow globes go back to their containers, the Elf on the Shelf becomes the Elf in Trapped in Bubble Wrap. All creation heaves a sigh of relieved melancholy. We made it. Another Christmas down. Dasher and Dancer and even the Baby Jesus in the nativity go back to their attic stable. Until next year. Goodbye, Christmas. Hello, real world.

Eww, Reverend Gloomy Gus. But you know the feeling, don't you? That post-Christmas pensive that sits in the bottom of your stomach, that makes you say, "Wow, was it only a week ago that we were ringing bells and clinking glasses of good cheer?" I want to launch a preemptive first strike against just that. Why? Because if you're prone to feeling this way, you're an angel. You come out for Christmas, and then you go back to heaven for the rest of the year. Isn't that what the angels did? They came out and sang a song - one measley verse - shortest song of all the ones we've read - and then *poof* back to the cloud. We get that feeling of post-Christmas melancholy because we want to be angels - but we're not. We're not angels. Not yet. So don't try to be an angel; be a shepherd. We're shepherds in this life, not angels. The angels make the announcement of Christmas and then vanish. But it's the shepherds who hear, and then go. That's their job: The shepherds go. They go to see the Baby Jesus. The see him, and Mary and Joseph. And then they go again. They go tell the world what they've seen. Does the Bible ever say they stop? No. Don't try to be an angel; the angel choir's job is finished as soon as the song is over. Be a shepherd. The shepherds' job starts on Christmas and when does it end? Never. The shepherds are like the Energizer Bunny; they keep going, and going, and going. That's their job, and it never ends. At least it doesn't end in this life. It ends when they qualify for the angel choir, and that's a long time from now.

So, plan ahead, not for Christmas, because that'll take care of itself. Plan ahead to beat the after-Christmas blues by setting your mind not on being an angel, but on being a shepherd. Hear the songs. See the Baby Jesus. Praise him at his cradle. And then go. And keep going, and going, and going. Go tell the world. Be an angel at Christmas if you want to. If you're a kid, be an angel before Christmas. But after Christmas, leave the angels behind. Be a shepherd.


People who want to tell the world about Jesus a lot of times get a bad reputation. It's because their actions don't match up with their words. They talk a good Jesus game, but then it turns out they're seriously less than angels. That's a shame. It's awful when a few bad apples make everyone think twice about saying the good news. So we figure instead of talking too much about Jesus, we'll show people through our actions. Our song goes, "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love." And that's great. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. (OK, not all my song allusions come from The Summer of Love. I like Coldplay, too.) The world needs more loving people. But what would have happened if the shepherds had said, "We want people to know about the birth of the Baby Jesus, but we don't want to be pushy about it. It turns people off when you're pushy about religion. Maybe could send a chain email to everyone in our address book. Something like, Jesus is born... pass this on to five friends or your computer will crash at midnight." And thank goodness the shepherds weren't Presbyterians. They would have heard the angel choir sing its anthem and said, "My goodness. That was enjoyable. I'm clapping in my heart."

The shepherds heard the song of the angels and got busy. They got up out of their pews and went to see for themselves. And then they spread the good news. One day they were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night and the next morning -- they were evangelists. Last night - shepherds; today - missionaries. The shepherds were transformed into stewards. Overnight the presence of Jesus turned them into stewards who instead of tending flocks, went out and found them.


"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

OK, there it is, folks. The angels' song. I won't sing it. It might send you running for the doors, but not in a good way. It's a very short song. So what that tells me is that you don't have to memorize the Bible to be a good shepherd, or be a good steward. You don't have to be an expert in Christianity to be an evangelist. It's relatively unskilled labor. What the brevity of the angel's song also tells me is that just a little is enough. Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. We don't need any mountains moved. We just need a world where peace and goodwill are heard and shared and spread through all the land. God gave you hands and feet, and also a mouth to do that with.

And one more thing about the angels' song and how it got delivered. You know, if you're in the business of spreading the news that the Messiah, the son of God is born, who's resume are you going to look more closely at? A heavenly host of operatic angels? Or a flock of uneducated shepherds? Hmm.  You know, even back then, God could have probably circled the world with angels. God could have taken all the guesswork out of the announcement. What would you respond better to? "Bernie, there's a shepherd at the door who says he's seen Jesus. Should I let him in?" Or, "Come quick! There are angels descending on clouds all around"? All of this tells me that for whatever reason angels don't do so well in earth's atmosphere. Or maybe the earth just can't handle that much heaven. For whatever reason, you don't get that many angels and they don't stick around nearly as long as you'd like. So when the angels do come, you've gotta listen up. Their songs are short so you can learn them quick. And then when the angels are gone, it's your turn. In the absence of angels, we're not supposed to turn into some heavenly host. That job's above way above our pay scale. In the absence of angels, we're supposed to keep singing their song as best we know how. We're supposed to be shepherds, stewards, who carry the tune. You and I, we carry the angels' tune in whatever clumsy, skilled, on-the-mark or out-of-tune way we can.

Stewardship is about taking something that you know isn't yours, and caring for it. It's about sharing what you have because someone shared with you. It's about singing like an angel, even if you look like a shepherd.

The final irony of all this is that the angels' song never was the angels' song to begin with. It was God's song. God taught it to the angels one Christmas night. And then the angels taught it to the shepherds. And the shepherds taught it others, who taught it to others, who eventually taught it to you. And you, in this life, have a few years to teach some other people the song, too. How does it go? Oh yeah: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

Say it with me: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all."

Wow. Whatdaya know. You sound just like... angels.

Friday, November 07, 2008

2008-11-09 Luke 01 39-56 "Mary's Song"

2008-11-09 Luke 01 39-56 "Mary's Song"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

All this month, we're looking at Stewardship through the songs of the Bible. The Bible's a great songbook. The passages that you see written in poem form are all songs. They may not sound like songs to us. They sound great in the original Hebrew. In English translation, they lose the rhythm and rhyme. Which is a shame. The Bible rocks and we barely even know it. It's not all, "Thou shalt not..." and "Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob..." Our Christian faith, and the Jewish faith before and along with us, is a singing faith.

Last week we talked about Hannah's Song. We even read it a second time today. And then we read the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you put the two songs side by side, you can see how much they have in common. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, they have so much in common that some scholars think it's the same song, just rewritten. You have to remember, there's very little new in the New Testament. So much of the New Testament is Old Testament in a different key. As the Choir would say, it's modulated.

If you want to do some Bible study at home, take the bulletin and look up Hannah's Song in First Samuel. Then look up Mary's Song in Luke. Mark your place and flip back and forth between the two. They're almost identical, certainly in theme, if not precise wording. The difference is in who's singing.

Hannah is a woman who has prayed and prayed for a child. Then, when she finally does have the child, she gives him up, to have him become a member of the priesthood. Mary is a woman who wasn't at all ready for a child, wasn't planning for a child, wasn't in a situation to have a child. In Stewardship terms, Hannah sings when she completes her pledge; Mary sings when she fills out her pledge card. Did you sing when you got your pledge card in the mail last week? Maybe you sang, "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me." Or maybe Dolly Parton's, "Here You Come Again."

Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, an old woman who's past the age of having children greets Mary, a girl too young to be having children. Elizabeth greets her by saying, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And then, on that cue, Mary bursts forth with her song.

We'll get to the song in a minute. What I really want to concentrate on is the cue, the line that sent Mary into songs of praise. Because this line, spoken by Elizabeth, explains not only Mary, but explains stewardship, in the key of Mary.

If anyone could have been singing, "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me," it would have been Mary. Betrothed, but not married, promised but not yet with her husband, a single mom-to-be in a culture that really, really didn't handle that well, Mary could easily have been singing, "Nobody knows the trouble I seen." Mary had seen an angel. The angel brought what could have been big trouble.

Remember how the story goes?

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

I'll bet. Perplexed and ponderous at the least.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

Remember the angel's parting words to Mary? Because they're critical.

"For nothing will be impossible with God."

And Mary says, "Here am I" - the classic response of whom? The prophets. All the great prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses - whenever God first spoke to the great prophets, their response was the simple line, "Here I am." Mary says, "Here I am." We get our song, "Here I Am, Lord," from this great line. Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

An angel of the Lord has brought Mary a message. An angel of the Lord has brought her a promise. And Mary very simply responds, "OK." She says it a little more artistically. "Let it be with me according to your word." OK. Whose word? The angel's word. "Let it be with me according to your word." In other words, the angel tells Mary something out-of-this-world incredible, and Mary believes. If she didn't believe, the word would have been trouble. But Mary does believe. Mary takes the angel at his word. She says, "OK."

Now, back to Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she greets her cousin, Elizabeth. What's Elizabeth's cue that sends Mary into this magnificent song, the song of Hannah, the song of prophesy, the song of scripture from beginning to end? Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who believed - believed what? Believed that there would be - there would be what? A fulfillment - a fulfillment of what? A fulfillment of what was spoken to her - by whom? By the Lord."

"Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And then, on cue, Mary bursts into this magnificent song that's often called, "The Magnificat." Hannah (the Old Testament singer of this song) was blessed by God when she kept her promise, when she gave up her son. Mary (the New Testament singer) is blessed by God when she believes God's promise. From Hannah in the Old Testament to Mary in the New, the song remains the same. But the source of joy has changed. And for that reason for the song has changed. The song may sound the same, but the big difference is that while it used to be sung out of joy for what a person could do, with God's help, now it's being sung out of joy of what God will do if we will simply say, "OK." This verse of Stewardship isn't so much our wanting, our receiving, our giving (as we talked about last Sunday), this verse of the Stewardship Song is about God doing. This verse of the Stewardship Song is about believing in what God will do, if we will just say, "OK."

Here's the good news: God has a promise. God has a plan. And while we may not know everything about that plan... and remember, Mary didn't know anything about God's plan for her child, Jesus... The good news is God has a plan. And while we may not know everything, or much of anything about that plan, that doesn't change the fact that God has a plan. God has a promise. Your role is not to try to improve on God's plan. Your job is not to say, "OK, Lord, that sounds good, but what if you also did this..." That's not your job. That's not what God is asking of you. You don't have to be some genius who solves the economic crisis. If you are, great. Get to work. But according to Mary's song and what leads up to it, your role is to simply say, "OK." I believe. I believe God has a promise. I believe God has a plan. Your role is to believe God has a promise and a plan... and not get in God's way. Your role is to say, "OK, Lord. Here am I. Let it be with me according to your word."

Stewardship in the key of Mary is about believing there is good news, and then offering yourself as a willing participant in God's work. If you can do that, just that, I believe you'll get the blessing that came also to Mary: "Blessed are you who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you by the Lord."


What do you believe? What do you really believe God is capable of doing?

One of the things Linda Payne, our church's Designated Prayer, our DP, constantly teaches me is the need to be still and wait for a word from God. Every time we do VespersOn!, and every time she teaches a Bible study, Linda talks about, "Be still and wait for the Lord." Just irritates the hound out of me. But I know she's right.

How many of you are good at being still and waiting on God? How many of you are good at being still? That's the reason church seems so long. You've got to be still on a wooden bench for an hour. Sometimes longer. Being still is hard work. But it's not just about being still. It's about being still and waiting for a word from God. How many of you would say you're really good not just at being still but at being still and waiting? Oh yeah, and it's waiting for a word from God who speaks sometimes through angels, sometimes through people who don't look or sound anything like God, sometimes through fall colors, sometimes through books, your neighbor, your mother, your kids, your best friend, and your worst enemy. Like most people over 30, God just doesn't get text messaging. Which would be so much simpler. If we're honest, not many of us are really good at being still and waiting on God.

If Mary is an example worth following (and I'm pretty sure the Blessed Holy Mother of the Savior is), then even before we start believing whatever word of God comes to us, we have to learn to be still, to be open, to be receptive to the idea that there IS a word of God that's going to come to us. We have to be still and wait.

You have to be still and wait for God, but how? The answer is: expectantly.

There has to be a reason God keeps choosing all these expectant mothers as the ones who bear the good news to the world. Men would never wait nine months for a birth. The species never would have made it past Adam. Those who are in tune with God - whether they're women or men - those who are in tune with God are those who know how to wait, expectantly. Hopefully.

You've heard the saying, good luck comes to those who prepare for it. God comes to those who watch for God. If you believe that somehow, nine months from now, nine years from now, something good is going to happen, you'll wait with expectation and with hope. If you don't believe God is at work in your life, you won't see God at work in your life. Mary could have seen her situation as really grave. Instead, she chose to be receptive to God, and to wait for God.

You have to be still and wait for God expectantly and hopefully. You have to first believe that God is capable of great, good things. That's the first stanza in stewardship in the key of Mary.

But what do you really believe God is capable of?

Mary sang. She sang a song of hope.

 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
      from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
      but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
      but has sent the rich away empty.

If you do a line-by-line comparison of Hannah's song to Mary's, the big difference is that Hannah sings that all these things are happening, or will happen. In Mary's song, she sings an answer to Hannah, saying that the Lord HAS performed mighty deeds, the Lord HAS brought down rulers, the Lord HAS filled the hungry with good things and HAS sent the rich away empty. Hannah's song and Mary's song are like bookends on the mighty works of God.

Mary's looking back and seeing that God really has been at work in her life, and in the world. Mary's looking back and seeing that God hasn't forgotten God's promises, that God hasn't left human beings out in the cold, all alone. Mary looks back and sees with eyes of faith that God is alive and at work, even though it sure doesn't look that way so much of the time.

We dream what God is capable of doing by remembering what God has done. We can be hopeful about the future when we see the past through eyes of faith. We may not know exactly how the next verse will go, but we can make a pretty accurate prediction based on the last.

So, stewardship in the key of Mary goes like this: Mary waited, Mary listened. Mary believed. Mary looked back for signs of God and then looked forward in expectation. This is how Mary became a steward of God, a bearer of God, whose soul magnified the Lord.

In the key of Mary, stewardship isn't so much about your work, your giving; it's about God's work, God's giving, God's songwriting. And the best news: God's giving you a part to sing. God wants to make you a singer, a steward.

You think, "Who me? I can't carry a tune." I'm not a great prayer. I'm not a great Bible scholar. Well, neither was Mary.

You already have everything you need to be a steward of God. You've got a lifetime of experience. You've got the promise that the Holy Spirit is at work in you, growing in you, ready to be borne forth and see the light of day. You may not think you do but you do have an hour, or a half-hour, or a minute, or even a few seconds to reflect on the things God has done, or might be doing in your life. You can have the same blessing that Elizabeth gave to Mary: "Blessed is she, Blessed is he, who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her [or to him] by the Lord."

I have no doubt that somehow God is speaking to you. I believe that some person or some event in your life was really God dressed up like someone else, promising to do great things with you. I believe that.

I believe that whatever you have, whatever spark or dream or blessing God has placed with you or within you can grow. Your quiet, perplexed, ponderous hope is God's hope. Your song is God's song. Your life is God's life in your personal key. I believe that you can be a great steward of a greater God.

Sing your song of stewardship. Let your spirit magnify the Lord, just like Mary did. Let your spirit magnify the Lord, because the world needs a magnified Lord right now. And so do you. And so do the people around you.

Friday, October 31, 2008

2008-11-02 Hannah's Song

2008-11-02 Hannah's Song
1 Samuel 1, 2:1-10
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

This Stewardship Season, we're looking at songs of the Bible. Hannah's song, Mary's song, Zechariah's song, and the angels' song. This week is Hannah. There are a lot of songs in the Bible, a lot more than most people realize. A lot of the Bible reads like a Broadway musical. You know how in a musical, all the action and dialogue is just lead-up to the big number? Lots of the Bible is like that. The songs are the thing. And that tells us a lot about our faith. We're a singing faith. The people of God are singers. Always have been. Why? It just seems like singers are always a little closer to God than the rest of the population. That's why the choir's up in a loft. They're just that much closer to the Almighty.

When we first meet Hannah, she's low. She's singing the blues. She's
crying. She's weeping. Hannah's weeping because she feels like a
failure. Her husband's other wife was a breeder. Big time. She taunted Hannah for having no children. Made her life miserable.

If you were a woman back in Hannah's time, having children was your job.
Working outside the home meant having your baby while you were harvesting crops. Having MALE children was huge. If you were a woman and you didn't
produce male offspring (and isn't that such a sweet way of putting it?) -- if you were a woman and you didn't produce male offspring
for your husband, you failed.

When we first meet
Hannah, she's weeping. She's weeping because of the mean things her husband's other wife, the...
not-very-nice-woman... was saying to her. Her husband tried saying comforting things. He tells Hannah, "But you have me. Am I not worth more than ten children?" And then she really starts crying. Thanks a lot, Mr. Sensitivity.

Like so many women in the Bible, Hannah turns her blues into a prayer. She prays and prays and prays. She prays to God and says, "O Lord, if I can just have one child, I'll give him back to you. I promise." With the help of their priest, who apparently was an excellent marriage counselor, Hannah and her husband eventually do have a baby. She names him Samu-el, which means, "I  have asked him of the Lord."

For three years Hannah nurses the child - not uncommon in those days. For three years she cares for Samuel even as she's preparing him to be given away. After three years, she takes him by the hand up the mountain, and does the impossible. Hannah keeps her promise and gives the child up to become a member of the priestly order.

I would think that at this point, Hannah would be singing the blues more than ever. I'd expect her to be moaning the blues. But she doesn't. Her song has one stanza where she even mentions herself, and that's all. After one brief self-mention, Hannah launches into an anthem of praise where it's all about God and God alone. Mama's blues are just the opening chords of worldwide praise.

Hannah is an extreme example of stewardship. Her story's a large example so we can see what's involved. Hannah's song of stewardship has three verses: Wanting something very badly, getting what you want, and realizing what you've got wasn't ever yours to begin with. It's not the easiest song, but it's one that's sung and re-sung all throughout the Bible.


Are any of you big fans of the blues? I wouldn't expect so in a church so... pale. Until Yanni comes out with a blues album, most of us aren't going to have a lot of it in our collections. Anyone have The White Album? Figures. But from The Beatles to Elvis to Clapton to Sheryl Crow, all the great rock and rollers were birthed by the blues.

As close as I can figure, all blues songs are variations on about three themes. I ain't got no baby, I miss my baby, or my baby done me wrong. They're pretty much the same themes as pop music, and a lot of country music, too. Hannah was singing the I ain't got no baby blues.

Of course, it doesn't have to be so literal. We all understand what it means not to have what we want. It doesn't have to be offspring. It could be a fulfilling job. A golden retirement. Getting into the college you really had your heart set on. Hannah's blues can apply to anybody. Your baby might be any number of things you've had your heart set on that you believe if you could somehow get or achieve or give birth to, you'd be successful, you'd be a success.

And so the first verse of stewardship is realizing you don't have everything you want. The first verse is about unfulfilled yearning. And if you don't have this first step, you can't enjoy the second verse.


The second verse in Hannah's song is a total change of tune. Instead of the wallowing in the blues, she gets what she wants. She has her baby, Samuel. Now what's she singing? If she's like most mamas, she's singing lullabies. She's learning the Barney songs. She's buying Wiggles videos. Her songs are songs of fulfillment, songs of hope. No more blues. She's singing happy songs. "I love you, you love me. We're a happy fam-i-ly."

Do you ever feel guilty about having nice things? You work, you save until you can get what you want. And then there's always someone who says, "Well, when I was you age, I sure never had a... flat screen TV." That's because they were only invented five years ago. I'm pretty sure the church has had something to do with why we feel guilty about having good stuff. You know, Jesus never had a cell phone, with unlimited texting. WWJB, What Would Jesus Buy?

The Bible doesn't say a word about Hannah and Samuel's home life, but I'm guessing that after wanting this child so badly, her years with him were pretty happy. One of the gentle mercies of this story is that God doesn't yank the child out of her arms as soon as he's born. God lets Hannah set her own schedule in fulfilling her promise. God lets her enjoy the child she's waited so long to have. God shares. God can wait.

I think all of us know our life isn't permanent. I think we all know that God's going to be calling us home. Some of us have returned to God sooner than others. We can either live our lives with dread of what's coming, or we can enjoy every single day for what it is, a gift. We can appreciate what we have with gratitude because we've sung the blues verse and we know how good it is to have our empty hearts filled.

The second verse of stewardship is song of rich joy. Not a song of ha-ha-look-what-I-have-that-you-don't, like the other wife sung to Hannah for so many years. But a song of joy for whatever good things have come our way. A song of realizing how much value the good things have. Because if you don't have this verse, you can't sing the third one.


The third verse in Hannah's song is the hardest. It has to be. After praying and praying for a child, and then after having Samuel and caring for him for three brief but joyful years, Hannah fulfills her promise to God. She packs up young Samuel and trudges up the mountain to place where Eli the Priest lives. Can you imagine how long that walk must have been? Can you imagine Hannah's heart, her mother's heart, being broken in two? Walking up the hill to the place where she's going to give away the most precious thing she's ever known, her baby boy?

I can imagine Hannah singing the blues, like never before. I can imagine Hannah singing a children's song, wiping off the tears between each line. But it's at this heart-breaking, climactic moment that the Bible really, truly bursts into song. In the Bible, this is where Hannah really, truly finds her song.

And it goes,

"My heart rejoices in the LORD;
       in the LORD my strength is lifted high."

And it goes on,

He raises the poor from the dust
       and lifts the needy from the ashes;
       he seats them with princes
       and has them inherit a throne of honor.
       "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's;
       upon them he has set the world.

 He will guard the feet of his saints,
       but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.
       "It is not by strength that one prevails;

Hannah's song in its fullness, in its third and concluding verse, is different. It's not the blues, and it's not about her joy, although that's where it picks up after verse two and starts. The third verse of stewardship isn't about sadness or about joy. The third verse of stewardship is about praise. Praise. Praise of God. Praise for all God has done. Praise for God doing what we can't. Praise for God lifting up the poor and weak and hurting. Praise for God silencing the proud in justice. The third verse of stewardship its about taking what's most valuable... and giving it away. Giving it away not because we're expecting something in return, but because we've yearned for it, we've enjoyed it while we could, and now we want that joy to grow. Now it's someone else's turn.

A few years ago, Sting had a song called, "If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free." ("Free, free, set them free.") As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with Hannah, or Samuel, or the Bible for that matter. But it has everthing to do with this last verse of the Bible's stewardship musical. Setting something you love free isn't about turning your back on them, or pretending they never existed. It's about watching them toddle up that hill in front of you, knowing you've done everything you can, and now it's up to them. Setting free what you value is about taking what you've cultivated, and sharing it. Setting free those valuable things is about releasing your hopes, your labor, your good gifts, and letting them grow... in God's hands.

In the third verse, the one who has lifted us from the blues and shown us good now receives back what never was ours in the first place. The song of stewardship comes full circle as you take what you have and help someone who's yearning and singing the blues.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008-10-26 Le 19 01-02 15-18 And Justice For All

2008-10-26 “And
Justice for All”

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian
Church (USA)

A few weeks ago, I
thought it would be a good idea to subscribe to the web site, FactCheck.org. FactCheck.org does research on everything the two
presidential candidates are saying (usually about each other) and
then publishes how what they say stands up to the facts. I thought, "I want to know the truth; I want to be an informed voter." So I subscribed to their email FactCheck alert service. Not long after that, the emails started popping.
Bing! Obama said this about McCain and it's not completely true. Bing! McCain
said this about Obama and it's not completely true. Bing! A fact check. Bing, bing! More facts. It was very
interesting. For about three days. After about three days, I got really depressed reading about all the distortions. Keeping up with all these facts just wore me out. I figured if I wanted to have any confidence at
all in my vote I should stop paying attention to the facts. So, I
unsubscribed from FactCheck.org. And I'm much happier.

I keep thinking of Jack Nicholson's line from "A Few Good Men," when he shouts, "You can't handle the truth!" And maybe that's right. Maybe our world of politics, bailouts, and international affairs has gotten so complicated that even if we could get the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we couldn't handle it. Our faces would melt like the Nazi in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The world's too complicated. (Can I get an Amen?) Checking the facts is too exhausting. (Am I right?) Truth, justice and the American Way sound wonderful, but who knows what those mean anymore? There's just too much to know.

By no means are we the first generation to think this way. In the Bible, the Pharisees were the fact-checkers of Jesus's day. They thought they could catch Jesus in a distortion of the truth. So they sent their best - the Bible says "lawyer" but that's a bad translation - it's more like they sent their best religious fact-checker, rule-keeper, holier-than-thou Presbyterian preacher - to interview him with a super-tricky question. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

The Pharisees didn't want to know. They didn't want to know the truth. They just wanted to hear what Jesus said so they could cry out in a low-tech media chorus, "Gotcha!" Bing! Bing! Bing! And then they could go back to being happy again. Not because they knew the truth, but because they had proved Jesus didn't.

All of this strikes at the heart of how the world operates, and apparently the way it always has operated. The world says: When things are complicated, it doesn't matter if you understand the truth. The world says, it doesn't matter if you're right... what matters is whether you can prove your opponent wrong. It doesn't matter if you understand the truth, it doesn't matter if you're right, if you can prove your opponent wrong. That's what the world says.

But here's what the Bible says: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The world doesn't care as much about the facts as it does about proving its opponents wrong. Jesus knows the facts, and still wants us to love each other, anyway. If you are dead-set on catching your opponent in some "gotcha," in proving your neighbor wrong, you can't love him, you can't love her. If, on the other hand, you're set on loving your neighbor, you no longer have an opponent, and you're set on proving what's right.

The world has one way of life; the Bible has another. The most important fact-checking we have to do is to check which way we're living.


I love the book of Leviticus. But I'm a Bible nerd. In seminary they assigned us (OK, they forced us) to read Leviticus front to back. Some people cheated and got the Cliff's Notes. Not me. I was fascinated by all the rules and regulations, mainly because so many of them are so weird. Like Leviticus 13:40, about how to tell the difference between a man who's unclean and a man who's simply bald. Leviticus 13:40, "If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is not unclean." Good news. Throw away the Rogaine. Or Leviticus 19:19, "You shall not put on a garment made of two different materials." Does God really care whether you wear 100% wool or a cotton-poly blend? Is elastic around the waist OK? If you wear a plaid flannel shirt do you have to wear plaid pants? This stuff is fascinating. To a very small group of people.

But tucked away between all the weird social rules are glimpses of the truth, plain and simple. Leviticus 19:1, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." Leviticus 19:18, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." There it is. Truth, plain and simple. "Bing!"

Apparently, Jesus didn't care so much what kind of clothes you wore or how much hair was on your head. You could wear a leisure suit, with mis-matched socks, and have a two-hair combover, ... as long as you loved God and loved your neighbor as yourself.

Now stop right there. Let's do some fact-checking. Does this mean Jesus is saying some rules in the Bible are more important than others? Well, yeah, that's exactly what he's saying. He's saying that even if you keep 100 weird, obscure, cultural rules from Leviticus but you don't love God or love your neighbor, you don't know the truth. He knew that frankly, sometimes, it's much easier to keep obscure rules than to handle the truth of the greatest ones.


So how do you know if you're doing OK? How do you know the difference between the really important things and those that aren't? Leviticus gives us a clue.

Jesus knew his Bible (duh!). He might have thought the Bible-nerd Pharisees knew it too, so he didn't recite all of Leviticus 19:18. The whole verse of Leviticus 19:18, which talks about loving your neighbor as yourself says this, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord."

Jesus recited the second half, maybe because he thought the first half is a given. But the first half is how we get twisted into the "gotcha" way of the world. The first half is how we twist the Bible into a tool for fact-checking instead of a means to love.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people," says the first half of Leviticus 19:18. If you take vengeance or if you bear a grudge, what are you basically saying? You're saying, "I'm right... and this other schmuck is wrong. And I can prove it." That's the world's way of thinking. It doesn't matter if you're really right, as long as you can prove you're righter than your neighbor. It is emotionally impossible to love someone when you're thinking this way about them. You cannot love someone and want to extract vengeance on them. You can't love someone and hold a grudge against them. You can't love someone and want to show them how much holier you are than they are.

The Pharisees ask Jesus what's the greatest commandment, and he gives them, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Why is that the greatest? Because it sounds the nicest? Because it's easy to remember? No. It's the greatest commandment because if you love God and if you love your neighbor, you automatically rule out living by the way of the world. If you love God and love your neighbor, you automatically rule out living by the rules that say the truth doesn't matter as long as you can prove your opponent wrong. If you love God and neighbor, you automatically rule out seeing anyone as an opponent. That's why this commandment is so crucial. Not because living by it gets you more points with God, but because if you live this way it has to change your life, completely. Because now you're living under God's rules, not the world's so-called facts. If you love God (with all your heart, mind and soul) and if you love your neighbor (as yourself), it changes everything about you.

So, how do you know if you're doing OK at keeping the greatest commandment? How do you know if you're living according to God's love instead of the world's "gotchas"? How many grudges do you hold? How many people would you like to extract just a little vengeance upon? Are you more interested in fact-checking (or "information-spreading") than showing people kindness, whether or not you get any kindness back in return? Here's something Jesus doesn't tell the Pharisees: this living by loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself? It's hard. It's hard because the world doesn't work this way, very often. And when it does, it's usually because a handful of people seeking justice in God's terms make things work. God's love is justice without grudges, justice without vengeance - and that's rare. But it can happen.

Do some fact-checking on yourself. Next time you feel a pang of a grudge, next time you get the urge for vengeance, next time you feel a relatively-not-all-that particularly ugly "gotcha" coming on, ask yourself, Why? What's making me feel this way? What's making me want to assist this person in receiving his or her comeuppance? You may not get the whole answer, but at least you're noticing when you're not being as loving as God would have you. It's hard. But it can happen.

Justice isn't so much about checking the facts on other people; it's about checking the facts on ourselves. It's about reigning in those impulses that pull us away from loving God and loving our neighbors.

Friday, October 17, 2008

2008-10-19 Ex Not the Face of God

Exodus 33:12-23 “Not the Face of God”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

October 19, 2008

I love the earthy stories of the Old Testament and this is one of the earthiest. In the early stories of the Old Testament, especially the stories concerning Moses, God's not only earthy, God is earth-ly. In Exodus, God shows a lot of the same frustration, same anger, same joy – and even the same confusion – you and I go through on a daily basis. And a lot of this frustration, anger, joy and confusion revolves around God and the Israelites getting to know each other, getting to where they can work together, and be strong together.

In these early days of the Bible, there's a relationship being formed. The Israelites are getting to know God. God's getting to know the Israelites. It's kind of like they're on a date. What's your name? Where do you live? Can I call you, and if so, what's the best way to get in touch? In today's scripture they're specifically working on, How can I be sure I can trust you? And, What do you really look like?

As we celebrate our 51st anniversary as a church, it's kind of providential that this scripture came up in the lectionary of readings. I didn't pick it; it's the assigned reading for today. Coincidence? I think not. The good thing is, after 51 years together, we're still here, we're still together, and we're still getting to know God. The earthiness of God and Moses has a ton of light to shed on the earthliness of our own relationship as a church.

First Big Question: How can I be sure I can trust you?

Moses has a special relationship with God. Moses is always very deferential, but he's also unafraid to challenge God and to remind God of God's promises.

12 Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.

“You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.

“Remember that this nation is your people."

I think a lot of the time, in our minds, we place God on a throne so far up in heaven that we wouldn't dare speak to God this plainly. We think it's sinful to say, “Um, excuse me, your most Almighty-ness, but we have a problem here.” Moses, speaking on behalf of God's people, wasn't afraid to press God for answers.

Moses says, “Lord, you've told me to lead these people, but you haven't told me who you're going to send with me to help me get the job done.” Moses says, “And, also, you've said you know my name and you like me, but I need to know a little more about you, so I'll know what else you like.”

Listen to God's answer, because it's very instructive:

14 The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."

First, “My Presence with go with you.” In the Bible, the word “Presence” is capitalized. And that's no accident. When God speaks to Moses about how God's Presence (with a capital P) with go with him, it's crucial to the relationship.

A lot of times God feels distant. We know God is with us – in Spirit, at least that's what we're told to believe. But “in Spirit's” kind of vague. We know we should believe God's present with us, but it would be nice to know exactly where and how. That's what Moses wants to know. God says, “My Presence (with a capital P) will go with you.”

It's one thing to tell your kid, “Good luck at the soccer game. I'll be thinking about you.” It's another thing to sit out in the rain, in the cold, in a bent-up lawn chair, cheering for them, even when they score a goal for the opposing team. “Good luck, I'll be thinking about you,” is being present – in spirit. Soaked to the skin and still screaming your lungs out is being Present with a capital P.

God's not going to just send the Israelites out and be wishing them the very best, promising to check in every once in a while. God's going to be capital P Present. When they trudge through the rain, God's going to trudge with them. When they dance at the riverside, God's going to dance with them. God's real, honest-to-goodness Presence will be there.

Over these past 51 years – at births and baptisms, in hospital rooms and at gravesides, at pot-luck dinners, and Family Camps, at committee meetings and in worship – God's capital P presence has been with us. If it hadn't, we wouldn't be here today. The Israelites would never have made it fourty years and Lake Hills Presbyterian Church would never have made it 51 without the Capital P presence of God.

First, God says, “My Presence will go with you,” and (second), “I will give you rest.”

“I will give you rest.”

That's kind of a strange thing to say. I'd expect something like, “My Presence will go with you, 'and you'll be #1.' You'll be the belle of the ball. You'll be popular. You'll be successful. You'll have three worship services and a tram system in the parking lot.

But no, that's not the benefit of God's capital P presence. God will be with the Israelites, and God will give them rest.

This is pretty practical good news. The Israelites are out there, schlepping through the wilderness. They need rest after 40 years of wondering. On a physical level, they're tired. Their feet hurt. Rest is a good thing.

But I also think God's promise of rest is spiritual. Spiritually, God'll give the people rest.

Do you ever wonder if your faith is good enough? Do you ever wonder if your faith is strong enough? Do you ever wonder if you shouldn't be studying the Bible more, or praying better prayers, or cooking more casseroles for people in crisis? On one hand, maybe that's your conscience nudging you. Maybe you should be working harder at your faith and giving away more casseroles. But maybe also you feel like you're already doing every single thing you know how to do. You're racing to remember where you're supposed to be next, you've got a to-do list as long as your arm, or your leg, and you think, “When am I going to possibly find the time to be a better person of faith?”

God's promise is, “My Presence will be with you... and I will give you rest.” Hmm. If God's willing to give you a break, maybe you should give yourself a break, too. Maybe your faith is only the size of a mustard seed, as Jesus will later say. At least you have faith, and at least you're willing to do something to help it grow. You're here. You're present. That counts.

Joel Hanisek, who grew up in our church, is now the Presbyterian Church's Representative to the United Nations. From time to time, I'll send him an email saying, “Um, excuse me. There's still war in the Middle East. Russia's invading it's neighbors. Might you need to be cutting back on those coffee breaks?” And Joel always answers back something like, “You know, you're right. I'll get Ahamedinejad on the phone right now and put a stop to all this.”

It may not be the point that a person of faith has to solve all the world's problems. Maybe it's enough for people of faith to be present, to presently bear witness to God's capital P presence in the world, and to remind the world that we're not in this all by ourselves.

I think a lot of times we have church envy. We look at churches that are ten times our size and worry, “What are we doing wrong?” And the answer may be, “Maybe that's not the kind of church God's calling us to be. Maybe God's calling us to be present right here, with each other, as best we can.” Now, I don't think that ever means being complacent. But maybe God is OK with us being who we are, where we are, and wants to let us rest assured.

The first big question of Moses to God is, “How can I be sure I trust you?” And the answer is, “Because my presence will be with you, and I will give you rest.”

Second big question: What do you really look like?

The scene that follows is unique in all the Bible. There's nothing else like it.

18 Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."

19 And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

21 Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."

Moses can't see God face on, because it would kill him. So God covers Moses' eyes with his hand, and when it's safe Moses will get to see God's back.

This is so incredible. How many times have you wanted to see God? How many times have you wanted God to show up and say, “Here I am. This is what you should do. This is how you should be. These are the choices you should make. And this is what I'm going to do.”?? That's all Moses wanted. And God said, “I'd be glad to do that, but it would kill you. You couldn't handle it.”

It's not that God wants to be secretive; it's that we're fragile. And so to protect us, God puts a hand over our eyes, until it's safe.

Have you ever had one of those bizarre coincidences when you think, “OK, God. That was creepy. You can come out now.”?? A friend shows up at just the right time. You have some chance encounter that seems way too planned to have been an accident. I used to have a wise, old minister who taught me the saying, “Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.”

And then after the fact, minutes – days – years later – God removes the hand from our eyes and we think, no, we know, “That was God! God did that!” It's so much easier to see God's back. We're trying so hard to see God coming at us, when God's there all along, in the rear-view mirror.

We look at pictures – we saw some slides this morning and we're going to see a different presentation tonight at our pot-luck dinner – we look at these pictures of 51 years of church, and people always say, “Wow. We've done a lot.” And we have. But more than that, we look back at these pictures and we're reminded how God has been there, how God has been present with a capital P, even though we were doing whatever we were doing. So we care for each other. Sometimes we've fought with each other. We care for our world. We raise up and send out new generations of people to care, to fight, to love as the people of God, sometimes realizing what we're doing but more often just doing it because that's what we've always done. Every now and then, sometimes at a retrospective Birthday Dinner, God removes the holy hand from our eyes and we see, and we say, “Wow. You know what? That was God. That was God at work. It wasn't just us, and it wasn't just coincidence.

That's just the way God looks. And for our own protection, that's just the way we see God.

Of course, with Moses and the Israelites, God was getting the relationship started. Eventually, God would be seen in person, in Jesus Christ, and seeing him wouldn't kill anyone. Quite the opposite: Jesus would be the one who defeats our frailties, even our death, and brings life. Jesus would be the consummation of the answers to the questions, How can we trust God, and How does God look.

But the story doesn't end there. After Jesus, the capital P presence of God gets re-written in the Capital S Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, we can catch a passing glimpse of God right now. We can catch a passing glimpse of God in each other's eyes. We catch a passing glimpse of God in shared memories, and in the laughter of our children, and in the wisdom of aging saints. The Capital S Spirit of God keeps us going, 51 years, and into the future we're not strong enough to see. We trust, we hope, we know God. We see God in our rear-view mirrors, and we know we will see God, face to face. And in that our church, and you, and I, can rest assured.