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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17 - Love one another as I have loved you
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

I recently finished reading a book called, The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs. Jacobs is a very secular writer for Esquire magazine. If you've ever read Esquire magazine, you know it's not exactly Focus on the Family. Jacobs took on the project of keeping all the commandments of the Bible as literally as possible for one year. The book is his journal. Jacobs spends most of his time in the Old Testament. Makes sense. He doesn't trim his beard, especially its corners, for the whole year (Leviticus 21). He doesn't wear clothes made from two different fabrics (Leviticus 19). (By the way, Leviticus 19 also prohibits the mating of two kinds of animals. Bad news for the designer dog industry. No more Cockapoos, Labradoodles, or Dorkies). Jacobs comes as close as he can to stoning an unrighteous person. One day, on a bench in Central Park, when he's sitting next to a self-affirming unrighteous guy, he bends down and throws some pea gravel on the man's shoes. Which only made the guy more unrighteous. Jacobs wasn't averse to stoning, in general. He just didn't want anyone to get hurt. He spends a lot of his year finding and keeping the most obscure Biblical laws, which makes for pretty entertaining reading. But Jacobs also learns some positive lessons from the rules of scripture. He starts honoring his mother and father and not taking them so much for granted. He observes the Sabbath. He tithes 10% of his income. He spends a lot of his year investigating why in the world some of these commands are in the Bible in the first place. He talks to Jews, Christians, priests, rabbis, conservatives, liberals. And a few people who defy rational explanation. He hears the liberals criticize the fundamentalists for being too harsh. He hears the fundamentalists criticize the liberals for being flakes. He hears everybody claim their reading of the Bible is the truthiest. And he discovers that everyone - from the most way-out universalist to the most hellfire literalist - everyone picks and chooses the commandments they think are most important.

What commandments do YOU think are most important? By the way, there are way, way more than ten. That's just how many would fit on two stone tablets. There are countless commandments in the Bible. There are rules covering everything from male pattern baldness to caring for illegal aliens. You say, well, the Big 10 are the most important. But nowhere in the Bible does God ever say, "Keep my Ten Commandments." God says, "Keep my commandments." God doesn't differentiate. God doesn't rank. The Bible says, "Do not murder." (Exodus 20:13) (Anyone murder anyone this week?) But the Bible also says, "Do not gossip." (Ephesians 4:31). (Anyone gossiped this week? Anyone glance at People magazine at the checkout line?)

Jesus was a Biblical literalist. He said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). And Jesus amplified the commandments that said it's not just in your actions that you break the law of God, you break the law of God when you even THINK about breaking the law of God. Not just your actions, but even your thoughts break the commandments of God. If you even THINK evil thoughts about someone, it's as good as committing murder (Matthew 5:22). Jesus didn't say, "Let's brainstorm some healthier ways to channel our anger"; Jesus said, "Nope. You've already killed them in your heart." Jesus didn't discriminate. Unlike we, who get all huffy when someone we don't like breaks one of the commandments we do like... gotcha!... unlike us, Jesus says no commandment is less important than any other.

But Jesus is a complicated man. (Would it be fair to say that Jesus is complicated? Would you agree with that?) Jesus is capable of holding two true, but seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time. So Jesus can say, "Not one jot shall be stricken from the law," as well as the kinds of ideas that bring us to today's scripture lesson. When some experts in keeping the commandments ask him, "What's the greatest commandment?" Jesus didn't say, "All of them." He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." And he also added to it Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So on the one hand, Jesus can say that not one word shall be stricken from the law AND on the other hand he can say that there is one greatest commandment (well, actually two put together), and it's not even in the Big Ten. Jesus knows the laws of the Bible well enough to say that not one is less important than another, BUT that one or two capture the importance of the law more than all the others.

The point of the laws in the Bible isn't to weed out the bad people. Because if God's grading our thoughts as well as our actions, not many of us would be able to throw the first stone.

The point of the laws in the Bible isn't to make us holy. Only God can make us holy.

The point of the laws in the Bible isn't to give God places to check off on our heavenly scorecard. God doesn't keep count of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:19).

The point of all the laws in all the Bible boil down to one sentence in today's scripture. John 15:12. Jesus says, "This - THIS - is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

You know how at football stadiums sometimes they'll give everyone on one side a card to hold? They hand it to you and it's just an orange card, or a white card. And you sit next to a row of people who have orange cards or white cards. And you know everybody's card is important, you just don't know exactly why. And then, all at one time, the announcer gives the signal and everyone holds up their card. And if you're looking from the other side of the stadium, or down from above, or up on the Jumbotron, all the cards together spell out a message. Usually it's a message for the opposing team and it's not very Biblical. The individual laws of the Bible are like those individual cards. On their own, they're kind of confusing. On their own, they make us wonder, why is this important? But when you put all those cards together, when you hold up all the commandments and laws of scripture together, they spell out one, giant word. When you put all the words of the Bible together, the word it spells out is: love. Love.

You may not have murdered anyone this week. But have you loved the people you'd like to murder?

You may not have said evil things about anyone this week. But have you said any loving things about those people?

You may not have hurt anyone this week. But have you helped anyone? Especially, have you helped anyone who can't help you back?

Love doesn't mean condoning, or excusing, or mindlessly ignoring other people's meanness.

But love does mean praying for people. And caring for people. And being generally loving to people. Even if we don't like them.

Jesus said, "If you keep my commandments, you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and live in his love." He said, "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." And then he said, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Love is complicated. Sometimes we sit in the wrong seats, or we refuse to hold up our cards, and so the message gets twisted. The message of love is still there. We've just messed it up through our own confusion or stubborness. God's message of love is still there. Jesus' commandment of love is still there. We won't be able to mess it up forever.

Whoever you are, I'm pretty sure you've got enough pressure on you already. You're worrying about paying your bills. You're worried about your kids. You're worried about your health. You're worried you're not worried enough. You've got deadlines. You've got people expecting things from you. I'm pretty sure the last thing you need from church is a preacher telling you you need to start worrying more. Besides, I don't think that's what Jesus wants from his church in the first place. I think what Jesus wants from his church is a bunch of people who are willing to be friends to their friends. Maybe not take them for granted so much. I think what Jesus wants from his church is people who are willing to be friends to the friendless. I think he wants people who are willing to be friends even to the unfriendly. In short, I think Jesus wants his church to love. Plain and simple: love. Love one another as he loves you. Jesus said these things so his joy would be complete in us, and we would be complete in joy. Not to weigh us down, but to set us free.

Let's pray...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

John 17 1-11 Mother's Day

John 17 1-11
Mother's Day
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 12, 2002

John 17:1-11. A reading from the Revised Mother's Version.

After all these things, she looks up to heaven and sighs.
Instead of having authority over all people, she has authority over two or three.
Two of them are too small to safely sit in a front seat, and one of them hasn't even transitioned to a booster seat.
They take time.
Endless time.
Morning time.
Night time.
All the in-between time.
All the time after time after everyone else in the civilized world has gone to bed.
Time to fold the underwear.
Time to pick up the movement-sensitive action figures that scream, "Hey! Wrestle this!" and shock her out of her skin at 11:45 at night.
They take the time that it takes to bake three dozen chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow's school party that she found out about at bedtime tonight.

The third one over whom she has authority is two years older than she is and thinks the world revolves around his 12-hour-a-day job.
He comes home and flops on the couch and drops his stinking feet on the coffee table that she's spent half an hour excavating from beneath mail, Barbie shoes and countless unread magazines.
What he doesn't know is that without her authority he would cease to exist, dissolving into a belching shell of a college sophomore with underarm stains and wrinkled slacks and socks that don't come close to matching.

She knows this is not eternal life, but it feels endless.
Always unfinished.
And she knows that after a few hours of sleep with one ear awake, she's going to get up and resume the work that has been given her to do,
that at some point she must have chosen to do out of love or something like it.
She is neither the Father nor the Son.
She is not completely the daughter, although she hears the ghost of her previous self in her own daughter's voice.
She is certainly not the daughter she used to be.
She is the mother.
And from her all life proceeds and to her all life shall return, usually in need of a bath or a ride to a soccer game.
She would love to be glorious.
She would love to be glamorous.
She would love for someone to glorify her in their presence, like they did in the years B.C. (Before Children, that is).
Not that she doesn't love her world.
Not that she would choose to be anywhere or anyone else.  
She doesn't do it for the glory.
But for the life of her she can't remember why she does do it.
Except that maybe someday she will be glorified in those whom she has been given.
As long as she has breath, as long as she has influence, she will see that they will be protected.
If she has anything to say about it, they will be one.
She is the Mother.
Today is her day.
Tonight is her night.
And as she looks up to heaven and sighs, heaven sighs right back.
God the Father, God the Son --
God the worrier, God the provider --
God the protector, God the listener --
God the mother --
wants exactly no more and no less than she does for her family:
A kingdom come where no more will need to be done.
She is the mother.
And today is her day.

Mother's Day is one of those days that strikes fear in the hearts of preachers everywhere.
Because no matter what we say, it's never going to be enough.
And heaven help us if we say too much --
especially on a day when the average wait for a restaurant table is 10 minutes short of eternity.
I considered chucking the whole Mother's Day theme and preaching on something safe, like, Leviticus.
But today's assigned Lectionary passage, Jesus' prayer for his disciples in John 17, has so many echoes of what I know the mothers here today pray for their own children.
"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me. They were yours, and you gave them to me. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have have given to them."
"I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and all yours are mine."
And whether or not we children have always glorified our mothers in the things we have done, today is our day to see the glory in what THEY have done.

All mothers are different.
Some mothers have the patience of Job.
And some mothers have the rage of Goliath.
Some mothers bring home a paycheck.
Some mothers are doctors.
Some mothers are teachers.
Some are clerks or accountants or police officers.

Some mothers are strictly non-profit.
They administrate a home and volunteer in about five different organizations.
Some mothers can bake a dozen cookies and sew on a button at the same time and with both their eyes closed.
Some mothers are better at home maintenance and lawn care.
Some mothers can recall every minute of the birthing process in excruciating 256-color detail.
Some mothers can describe the excruciating wait and red tape of the adoption process.
Some mothers have a man around the house.
Some mothers do all the parenting themselves.
Some mothers live in nursing homes.
Some mothers are grandmothers.
And some mothers aren't so grand.
Some mothers live with Jesus in heaven.
All mothers are different.

But all mothers are also the same.
Even though they're all different, they all compare themselves to each other, and worry that something critical has been left undone.
They feel the burden of having a child that is theirs and yet isn't.
Some days the kids are a gift from God, and some days they're a curse of Satan.
All mothers would like a little more time, whether it's time to call their own, or time to correct some past mistake, or time to catch up on the thirty-thousand other things waiting on the list.
And whether they are mothers by birth, by adoption, or by association, all mothers love.
They love in times of poetry and fingerpaints.
And they love despite.
They love in spite.

In spite of the ways they had and would disappoint, Jesus loved his disciples.
In spite of the times when the glory and poetry of God's presence went straight over their heads, Jesus prayed for his disciples.
He called them his own.
He called them his children.
And in spite of their failings, he lived to instill in them something of what had been given to him.
Was he successful?
Some days more than others, as the world judges success.
In our own lives, some days more than others Jesus is judged successful at making his glory known.
And so even now, he lifts his eyes to heaven, and sighs, and prays for his children.
I would think he prays for his mothers, too.
"And now I am no longer in the world, but they (these moms) are in the world.... Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.... so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves."
May we all have a glorious Mother's Day.
And may we all have the glory of Christ, the Glory of God, in all that we are and all that we do.
And to all you mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day.