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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2009-01-18 New Look Sermon

2009-01-18 John 1:43-51
"A Fantastic New Look (in about an hour)"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

The nation's #1 eyewear professionals are marketing their new line of glasses frames. It goes like this. "Chic. Elegant. Bold. Seize the year with a fresh new look." But wait, there's more. At the nation's #1 eyewear professionals, you can become chic, elegant, bold and seize the year with a fresh new look... here's the best part... in about an hour. How long does church last? About an hour. It just seems longer. If the optometrist can make you look chic, elegant and bold, think what Jesus ought to be able to do. Today, in about an hour, Jesus is going to give you a fantastic-er new vision.

(Check your watches. How we doing on time?)


Vision is a central theme of John 1:43-51. The words see and saw are used six times. More if "finding" is the same as "seeing." Jesus sees Philip. Philip sees Nathaniel. Philip tells Nathaniel, "Come and see." Jesus sees Nathaniel. Nathaniel says, "Where did you see me?" Jesus says, "I saw you under the fig tree." Nathaniel says, "I see. You're the Son of God!" Jesus says, "So you see. You'll see heaven before I see you off." In this passage, vision is crucial. When it starts, vision is physical. One guy sees another, and so on. But by the end, once Nathaniel sees Jesus, vision isn't just physical, it's spiritual. Nathaniel doesn't just get a new look; he gets a new way of looking.

On its surface, the story of Jesus, Philip and Nathaniel sounds like the story of introductions. "Hi, nice to meet you." "Hi, saw you under the tree." "Nathaniel, Philip. Philip, Nathaniel. Nathaniel, Jesus. Jesus... ahp. Already knows everybody." That's on the surface. And yes, it's pretty amazing that Jesus already seems to know everybody before they're introduced. Certainly impresses Nathaniel. Seeing and knowing are intertwined here. Which is a clue to the Bible's real intentions.

This is actually a healing story. Doesn't sound like it, but it is. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus healing blind people. Nathaniel isn't physically blind. He can see the world just fine, thank
you very much. He knows the sophisticated people come from his
hometown, and all the rednecks live in Nazareth. "Can anything good
come out of NAZARETH?" he asks. Nathaniel can see. But he hasn't seen
Jesus, yet. And when he does see Jesus, Jesus gives Nathaniel a whole
new look. Or maybe it's more correct to say, Jesus gives him a whole
new outlook. Now, Nathaniel sees and Nathaniel knows. That's the kind of healing all of us need. Jesus heals Nathaniel's outlook. In about an hour.


In this day and age, it's relatively simple to change your looks. Surgery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, braces, implants. Some people even... exercise. Oprah's going to change her looks yet again this season. Millions will watch. We live in an age of physical miracles. It's simple to change your looks. All you need is Oprah's money. Just a new pair of glasses can make you more elegant, more chic, and more bold. That's important. If you look marvelous you feel marvelous. If you feel marvelous, you're more marvelous to be around. If new glasses are all it takes, get two pair. Your family will thank you.

These days everybody's getting those little narrow framed glasses. You know, the Sarah Palin kind? Worked for her. If you had glasses during the 1970's go back and look at some pictures of yourself. Didn't we all look like bugs? Those great big, teardrop shapes. Thank Elton John for that. And before then, what was the look? Those 1950's ladies' glasses with the heavy frames and rhinestones that pointed up on the sides. Now, there was a vision statement. Before that, the style was what, monocles? They made people want to invade France. In a few more years we'll probably all have bionic implants, like The Six Million Dollar Man. That's gonna be cool. Eyewear has its own history of fashion. Fashion changes. Our looks change. It's simple to change your fashion or your looks. All you need is a quick makeover.

Jesus changed people. Jesus changes people. But Jesus doesn't do makeovers. In the Gospels, Jesus helped people see better, but he didn't make them look better. If you want to look better, go to the mall. Jesus won't give you good looks. Seeing Jesus will give you better vision. Jesus will give you A vision. Anyone can change their style, their looks, for a few years, or a few months. Jesus can change your outlook forever.


Jesus told Nathaniel he'd give him a vision. Heaven opening and "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Does that mean Nathaniel's going to literally see that? I don't know. Jesus spoke in riddles a lot of the time, and maybe he's purposely trying to make us scratch our heads here. Maybe what he's telling Nathaniel is, "You think it's something to see the Son of Man coming out of that hick town, Nazareth? Wait until you see heaven itself coming out of the Son of Man." Wouldn't that be a sight? Actually, no. In this world, that would be a vision.

Any of you ever work with a visionary? They are so annoying. Just about the time you get everything nailed down, in pops Mr. or Mrs. Visionary, with a big V on their chest, to remind you you're not seeing the big picture. You're not dreaming big enough. Especially when you work in the church, visionaries are such a pain. You get everything properly written out in rules and regulations, you get all your overtures decent and in order. And then Super Vision Person flies in to remind you that in the hour you spent working on your church protocols, 20,000 children died of easily preventable water-borne bacteria.

In our society, we've changed the meaning of the words super and vision. Put 'em together and what have you got? Supervision. Anyone work for a supervisor? The exact opposite of a visionary. What's a supervisor's function? Filling you with visions of heaven? No. Keeping you in your cube. Making you walk the straight and narrow for the good of the hive. Supervisors oversee busy bees. Which is good. If there were no supervisors, who would you ask to talk to when the drones on the phone won't help you? "Let me talk to your supervisor!" Makes you feel like your moving right up the chain of command. Riiiiight. Narrowly focused supervision hasn't made the world that super of a place. Jesus won't give you a corner office with a great view. Jesus gives people vision. Jesus gives people pretty other-worldly vision.


When you look at the world, what do you see? A place that's blooming with excitement and opportunity? Or a place that's swirling down the toilet? When you look at yourself, who do you see? A person of unlimited potential? Or a person who's run out of ideas and energy? When Jesus looks at you, like he looked at Nathaniel, when Jesus looks at you, who do you think he sees? Nathaniel was a stuck-up little smart guy who sat on his rear end under the fig tree making sarcastic remarks about Jesus' hometown. So what. Jesus didn't correct him. He didn't show Nathaniel analysis of the graduation rates at Nazareth High compared to the national averages. He just saw Nathaniel, for who he was. And Nathaniel saw Jesus saw him for who he was. Which impressed Nathaniel. But not Jesus. Jesus saw Nathaniel seeing himself clearly and promised Nathaniel some super visions. No more fig tree cubicles for you, Mr. Nathaniel.

When you see Jesus, who do see? Do you see him as the window to heaven, through whom angels descend to earth and ascend to heaven on a continual basis? Or do you see Jesus as yet another dead end? Is Jesus just another set of supervisory rules? Is he a fashion statement, as in, "I'm a Christian, are you one, too? Really?" Is Jesus just one of many ways of seeing the world? Or is Jesus your seer, your one who sees through your bad and your good, the one who sees you, and knows you? Is Jesus the one who calls you to see visions of something greater than the way things are and always have been? Is Jesus the one who calls you to be something other than you are and always have been?


At the beginning of the sermon I made the bold, but not so chic or elegant statement that Jesus is going to send you out of here today with a new look in about an hour. Because if they eyeglass makers can do it, Jesus can, too. Jesus is actually much more impressive than that. Jesus doesn't need an hour. He just needs your attention for a moment. Because if you get a vision, a glimpse of how things are through him, you've got your new outlook.

You might not be able to see him so well, but Jesus is here. He promised us, "Wherever two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them." He's here. He's here and he's calling you by name. Nathaniel, Philip. Laura, Michelle. Chamique. Plaxico. Jesus is here and he knows your name, and he's calling it, and yes, he knows who you are. He's got a new outlook for you. One that's not based on what you can get at the mall or how well your supervisor says you're doing. It's an outlook that makes you question the way things are. It's an outlook that begs you to see, through him, how things are going to be.

The offer will not expire at midnight. You might, but the offer won't. Jesus is here and he's calling your name. And you're thinking, "Lord, did you see me sitting in the pew at the Presbyterian church? Not out under a tree. I'm here. In church. On the coldest weekend of the year, Lord. See?" That's great, and I personally am glad you're here. But I'm afraid it's not going to impress Jesus all that much. Jesus knows not only where you're seated, but he also knows where you stand. No matter where you stand, there's probably some fashion of the day framing you in its own desires. Fashionable clothes, the fashion of the neighborhood, or the country, or the times.

Here's Jesus' deal. And it starts the moment you say, "OK." OK to him, OK to his vision for you. Jesus' deal is a bold new outlook. It starts the moment you say, "The world is not my master; Jesus is." It starts the moment you say, "I am not my master; Jesus is." There's the deal, there's the outlook. It will cost you something. I'll cost you the way you see yourself. It may cost you a lot of how you see the world. But when the exchange is a vision of heaven, well maybe that's not as tough a choice as it sounds.

If you walk out of here today, thinking, I want Jesus to determine how I see the world, and how I see heaven... If you walk out of here today thinking that, committing yourself to that idea... you've got it. You'll have what Nathaniel had. You'll have what you need to see what you need to see. That could be a whole new look for you. Try it on. See for yourself.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2009-01-11 Mk 01 04-11 Big Brown Paper Bag

Mark 1:4-11 Big Brown Paper Bag

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA

Jan 11, 2009

Today's sermon is brought to you by, "Big Brown Paper Bag."
When you've got a multitude of sins to cover, get a Big Brown Paper

Man seated at table. Woman standing

Man: Mmmm. I do love these ribs. Slathered with sauce
and dripping with golden goodness.
Woman: Thanks, darling.
Nothing's too good for my sweetie.
Man: And thanks for this
brand-new tie from the Men's department at Wal-mart. It looks like it
cost a bundle.
Woman: Oh, I know it's an unnecessary expenditure.
Sometimes I go a little crazy with the debit card. I just think of it
as my personal jump-start to the economy.
Man: Fashionable, and
fiscally responsible. Honey, you're too good for me.
Woman: Have
some more ribs, dear. I have another slab in the oven.
Mmmmph. Mmmmmph. OH NO!

(cue the organ. soap opera

Woman: Sweet pea! What's wrong?
Man: I can't tell
Woman: Go ahead. Say it.
Man: I accidentally dripped a
huge rib sauce stain on my brand-new tie. Whatever shall I do?

Man: I know. I saw this on TV once. If I rub it with
the palm of my hand, the stain will transfer to my

Woman: OH NO!

(cue the organ. soap
opera stunner.)

Man: That didn't work. I know. I saw this on
the Internet. I'll cover it with a Post-it note.

Woman: OH

(cue the organ. soap opera stunner.)

Man: Now the
Post-it note is soaked with rib sauce stain, too. I know. I saw this
on SportsCenter. I'll shout it out. "Out with thee, darn

Woman: OH NO!

(cue the organ. soap opera

Man: That didn't work, either. I know. I saw this on
HGTV. I'll pound it out. (pick up hammer, hammers on tie).


(cue the organ. soap opera stunner.)

Man: That
didn't work, either. I don't know what to do! Can somebody please
help me?

Woman: Don't worry, dear. I have just the thing right
here. (picks up large brown paper bag) It's something I picked up at
the grocery store yesterday, for just such an emergency.
What's it called?
Woman: It's called... a big brown paper
Man: Oh honey. You're the greatest. How does it work?
It's so simple. Here. Just put the big brown paper bag over your
head. That way, you can't see the stain, and if anyone else does,
they won't know who you are. (puts bag over his head)
Man: Wow,
sweetheart! This is perfect. (stands)
Woman: Our lives are now
complete. One more stain disaster solved!
Man: (wandering around)
Thank you. And thanks to a big brown paper bag!

(cue the
organ. soap opera finishing note)

Woman: Just watch out for
the basement stairs, dear.

Today's sermon is brought to you by, "Big Brown Paper Bag."
When you've got a multitude of sins to cover, get a Big Brown Paper


That's right, folks. When you've got a multitude
of sins to cover, get a Big Brown Paper Bag. Available at fine
grocery stores everywhere. Not to be confused with Thin Little
Plastic Bag, which is bad for the environment and may be dangerous to
your health. Don't use Big Brown Paper Bag if you're claustrophobic,
pregnant, or carrying small children. As with any remedy, consult
your doctor to see if you're healthy enough for Big Brown Paper Bag.
If you experience shame or guilt lasting more than three hours, call
your minister immediately. It's ready for you when you're ready to
hide. Big Brown Paper Bag.

In this world, it's easier to write comedy about
how we hide our sin than a serious sermon about its implications. I
don't know about you, but I stopped watching the news this week.
After a while, it just gets to be too much. Ash spills in Roane
County. Businesses closing left and right. In Gaza, children found
clinging to their dead mother's arms. If that's not enough to make
you want to stick your head in a paper bag, I don't know what is.

You think, we don't come to church to be made to
feel bad. We get enough of that the other six days of the week. We
come to church to have our burdens lightened. To feel better about
ourselves and about our future. To get our sin removed. Rubbed out.
Shouted out. Transferred out. We come to the waters to be refreshed
for our journey, renewed so we can make it through the wilderness
outside. I know. I do it, too. It's time we take our head out of the

I'm not exactly sure why Jesus came to John to be
baptized. He didn't need it. He didn't have any sins to confess. I
don't know exactly why Jesus came to be baptized, but I'm pretty sure
it wasn't so he could feel better about himself. I'm pretty sure he
did it at least as a demonstration of how to take off the bag. I
think Jesus was getting baptized not so his sins could be washed
away, but because he wanted to show us a way of life where we didn't
wander around blindly stumbling into the sin we chose not to see. I
think Jesus was showing us all how to take our heads out of the bag.

If you go to the children's section at the
discount store, they have socks with the days of the week printed on
them. You wear Monday's socks on Monday, Tuesday's socks on Tuesday,
and on for each of the seven days. They ought to have these for
grown-ups. It would help you remember what day it is. If you got up
one morning and put Monday on one foot and Wednesday on the other,
you'd know right away there was disorder and chaos in your life. Back
in Genesis, in the first chapter, that's what God did. God separated
the watery chaos from itself. God put Monday where Monday should go,
and Tuesday where it should go, and day and night where they should
go. And God said it was good. Separating the waters from the waters,
the days from the night, separating the light from the dark, the
dirty from the clean. That's good. Separating what's the right path,
and what's the wrong -- how much of your time does that take?
Wouldn't it be good if you had someone to do that for you?

A couple of trillion years later, Jesus rose up
from the water. He shook his head and splashed the water to the left
and to the right, and God said, "That's my boy." That's
what God did a million years before. Jesus did it again. Except that
Jesus didn't make a new world out of nothing. He took the nothing
that had sneaked into the world and made it worth something. Jesus
took what was broken and out of sync, and put it together in a new

Once we take our heads out of the bag, we realize
how much we're broken. We see the stains of our own sin pasted onto
us in the most embarrassing places. We can try to cover it up. Beat
it up. Shout at it and make ourselves and the people around us
miserable. We can ignore the sin. Just put the bag back on and go on
as though everything's OK. You can do that most places. But if you
think you can get away with that stuff with the baptismal font and
the table of the Lord's Last Supper in front of you, if you think
that's stuff's worth anything when you look at the cross, you know,
you've come to the wrong place. Jesus isn't gonna buy it. And he's
sure not selling paper bags.

The point of baptism, the point of church, isn't
to make us feel good about ourselves. The point of Jesus being
baptized wasn't to show off what a good son he was. The point is
realizing we don't know which way is up and which way is down. Not
really. Not on our own. The point is admitting to ourselves that on
our own we're lost. We need God to separate the waters from the
waters and lift us out.

If your life is filled with collisions, take off
the bag. In the end there's you and there's God. One more thing about
what God said to Jesus at the moment of his baptism. God said, "I'm
pleased with you." In the gospel, Jesus hadn't done anything
yet. He hadn't preached, teached, or been crucified. Why was God

I'm sure God is pleased when we do great, good
things. I'm sure God is pleased when we help install clean water
systems. I'm sure God is pleased when we get along with each other
and get along with the earth and the people in it. But I also think
God is pleased when we stick our heads out of the chaos. God is
pleased when we lift up our eyes to God and say, "I can't work
this. I can't work this on my own. I can't work this without you,
Lord." I think that's what really pleases God. More than all the
good we do and more than all the evil we avoid. I think God is most
pleased when we lift up our eyes and see God. We can't do that if
we're busy cleaning ourselves up and making ourselves look good. We
don't have the skills to pull off that many things at once. 

If you want to please God in the coming year, stop
worry about pleasing God in the coming year. Set aside all the fears
and concentrate on pleasing God today. And when tomorrow comes, you
can think about pleasing God on that day. Separate the days from the
days. Separate the waters from the waters. Let God pull you out of
the muck. Just get your head out of the bag. And see.