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

Saturday, June 27, 2009

2009-06-28 Mark 5:21-43 The Ones As G...

2009-06-28 Mark 5:21-43 The Ones As Good As Dead
James McTyre
Lake Hills PCUSA

The gospel lesson - more correctly, the good news lesson - today is about two people. It's about two people who everyone else thought were as good as dead. One of them actually was dead. But effectively speaking, the community put both of them in the grave. Prematurely. The community had declared them dead about twelve years, and two hours, too soon.

Any of you ever get tired of waiting for the doctor to see you? You're sitting in a cold room, with your shirt off - or, more than that, depending on the kind of doctor. You're in a cold room, partially clothed, either sitting on paper, or in paper, or both. You've read an outdated issue of People Magazine cover to cover. That's killed about, what, 15 minutes? You've examined all the doctor's diplomas. Figured out his or her approximate age based on graduation dates. Younger than Doogie Howser.

Anyone been there? Here's a little secret: the doctors don't like you waiting around any more than you do. The doctors would love to get to you quicker. But was a demonic guy in Room 666, and they had to lay hands on him. And on the way to your room, someone grabbed his lab coat and made her move a mountain of paperwork. If you're ever thinking, "Gee, I wish I could see more boils," follow your doctor around for a day.

In today's gospel lesson, Jesus isn't Preacher Jesus, he's Doctor Jesus. And everyone's paging Dr. Jesus at the same time. And like most physicians - through no fault of his own - Jesus is running late. About 12 years and two hours late. He's on his way to help one patient, and another grabs his lab coat. He stops to help this one, and that one dies in the meantime. I wonder how many doctors feel like Jesus, and really wish they didn't. I wonder how many docs are tired of feeling like Jesus in that someone else always wants something more, and someone else is waiting, and they never get the chance to be the miracle worker they dreamed about being in med school. They'd love the chance to work miracles, but the "system" turns them into scribes and Pharisees.

The illnesses in today's gospel lesson were physical. But like most physical illnesses, they're the window into spiritual issues. And whether we're on our deathbeds or fit as a fiddle, the spiritual issues are chronic. We have to deal with the spiritual issues, because they're symptoms of being human.

Time. Time is the first symptom of our humanity. None of us have enough. You think you have troubles with time? Think about Jesus. Seated at the right hand of God. The Alpha and the Omega. Who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things were created. Timeless, infinite Jesus, gives up all that to become human. Timeless, infinite Jesus descends into a world where no matter what else, there's never enough time. You can't do much with power and glory if you don't have time. It's a symptom of being human.

Earnestness. Another symptom of being human. Earnestness, or the lack thereof. Jesus turns to the woman who grabbed his cloak and says, "Your faith has made you well." We wonder: Did Jesus heal her? Or was her faith so earnest that her faith healed her? Jairus, whose daughter was near death, came to Jesus. He fell at Jesus' feet, and, the Bible even says it, Jairus "earnestly pleaded with him. "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." The second symptom of being human is doubting our own earnestness. There's never enough time, and there's never enough earnestness.

A lot of people are afraid to fly in airplanes. For a lot of people it's a claustrophobia thing: the fear of being compressed in a tin can 20,000 feet above ground. Doesn't sound that irrational to me. A lot of people are afraid of flying because they're afraid if they think about the plane crashing, their thoughts could make it happen. It's not that they're afraid of dying, they're afraid of taking all those nice people down with them. They prefer smaller planes.

Doctors call this "magical thinking." Magical thinking means that if you earnestly think about something, it'll happen. And, conversely, if you don't think about something happening, it won't. For instance, if you don't think about losing your job, you won't. If you don't think about having enough money for retirement, you will. If you don't worry about your cholesterol, you can eat all the fried Twinkies you want. Pretty ridiculous, right?

But how many of us hear about these people in the Bible and believe that if we just pray with their earnestness, if we purge all doubt from our minds, God will answer our prayers with a yes?

So when we pray, and someone doesn't get better, we think it's our fault. How many people silently carry around the baggage of that doomed flight, because that's what they infer from the stories in the Bible?

What if Jairus, running to find Jesus, had tripped and broken his leg along the way? What if he hadn't found Jesus? What if more people had touched the cloak of Jesus in the crowd and it slowed him down so much that he forgot where he was going? What if, what if, what if? And what if Jairus carried around the guilt of his daughter's preventable death for the rest of his life?

Not only do we never have enough time, we also never have enough earnestness. As soon as we try to think something good into happening, or think something bad out of happening, we think about ourselves thinking and doubt enters our mind. Are we weak because we doubt? Or is earnestness and the lack thereof a symptom of being human?

I'm not saying we should stop praying. Not in the least. In fact, I think our recognition of our human limitations is reason we should pray all the more. I'm not saying we should stop praying; I'm saying we should stop awarding ourselves responsibility when our prayers get answered, and when they don't. God's power does not pivot on the artistry of your prayers. God already knows what you need; the question is, do you? We pray not because we're so superhuman and earnest, but because we're not.

Don't you know the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years had been praying as earnestly as she could all that time? Don't you know Jairus had been asking God to help his daughter? Of course they had. Did the accumulated weight of their prayers cause a miracle to happen? I don't know. Ask the lady two doors down suffering from the same illness. Ask the father in the next county who's also praying at his daughter's bedside. I do know this: because that woman and because that man had been praying, when the healings did occur, they recognized the miracles as miracles. I know that because they had been praying, when the miracles did happen, they weren't still blaming themselves, and they weren't spitefully asking Jesus, "What took you so long?" They were thankful. Because they had been chasing Jesus and pulling on Jesus, when the miracles did happen, they were ready. They were ready not to take the credit or the blame for themselves. They were ready to be thankful.

Maybe the woman two doors down who missed Jesus because the other lady was ahead of her, and maybe the father in the next county who got word of the first father, maybe they had been praying just enough that they were thankful, too. Thankful that someone else had gotten healing. Thankful that someone else had found what they also needed.

NBC did a bold thing last night. While just about every other TV network, cable outlet, and Internet space was covering the death of Michael Jackson, NBC took the bold move of NOT covering that story. Instead they re-ran the show, "Farrah's Story." Farrah's Story is a video documentary about Farrah Fawcett's battle with cancer. It's really, really hard to watch. But it's also more inspiring than I had ever imagined. I imagined a celebrity with big hair milking the spotlight one more time. Instead I saw a woman of faith, great faith in her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, praying for the strength to cling to life one more day, one day at a time. Farrah never got the physical healing she was praying for. But her prayers were answered. Because at some point, the human symptoms of time and earnestness became for her, irrelevant.

And there, I think, is the good news in this gospel story. Pressed by time, judged by their earnestness, the woman, the father, and his daughter had their prayers answered by the one human being for whom time and earnestness were, irrelevant.

Whatever you're praying to Jesus to do, pray as though your earnestness and your schedule had nothing to do with your prayers. Pray as though your doubt and your calendar are both irrelevant. Will your prayers change the outcome? I don't know. But I do know your prayers will change the way you judge the outcome. Physical healing isn't easy. But it can happen. Spiritual healing, healing of your heart, healing of your soul - that can take a lot longer. But it's never too late. My prayer for you is that you will keep praying, and that you will find the healing of the good physician, for whom time and earnestness are mere symptoms of a life left behind.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009-06-21 David and Goliath

2009-06-21 David and Goliath
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

"He was over 9 feet tall. He wore a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing 125 pounds. On his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed 15 pounds."

And you're on the Israelite battle lines. Every morning you suit up fo abattle that never comes. Every morning, you go put on your armor. You strap on your shin guards. You snap the chin strap and adjust your helmet. And you go stand in line. And you wait.

You look over at the Philistines. The dirty, rotten, stinking Philistines. And you see a person. About your height, about your size, adjusting the strap on his helmet, and shifting from side to side in his boots. Man, it's hot. It's already been a long tim since breakfast. And the biscuits and cream cheese your mother sent by way of your scrawny little brother didn't last long.

You march when they say march. You break when they break. And you'll die when they say die.

I try to put myself in the story of David & Goliath. I'm not tall enough to be Goliath. Probably not tall enough to be David. Maybe the paranoid, delusional Saul. Who spent all his days pacing back & forth in his office, mutering to himself, and updating his Twitter status.

Not a hero, not the villain, occasionally the muttering bureaucrat, but if I were to honestly place myself in the story, I think most days I'd be one of David's brothers. But probably not even that well-known. In the closing credits, I'd be Short Israelite #621. Not mean enough, to be Goliath, not brave enough to be David, not yet crazy enough to be Saul - I'd be one of the countless number lining up to watch the battle that doesn't happen.

Click on the news. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. North Korea. Heath care, job loss, foreclosures. Get up, dress up, line up, wait. Get up, dress up, line up, wait. Most of us aren't David. We aren't Goliath.We're just doing the best we can to hold the line while we wait for someody else to make a move. Look at the story: There was only one David, one Goliath, one mama back home making biscuts. Everyone else, the overwhelming majority, were just doing the best they could to keep things from blowing up. Preserving the status quo. It wasn't great status but it was quo. You know quo. Quo is go. We need mo' quo.

Or do we?

The story of David & Goliath is so stirring, even 3000 years later, because as much as we know quo, we also hate it. We all long for that one, brave little David to step up and take a stand. Take a stand against the big bullies, sure. But there are aleays more giants. What we really want is one of our own, maybe the smallest, to take a stand against the mighty status quo. Because if just one can steup up, especially a scrawny, weak one, if just one can steup up and dare to challenge the monotony, maybe there is hope.

So from the stands, we cheer for Susan Boyle, the Scottish lady with a houseful of cats, one long eyebrow, and the voice of an angel. We pull for the Tampa Bay Rays, Gonzaga basket ball, and anyone who's playing Florida. And it's not just because we want to ee the Goliath dynasty fall. Well, sometimes we do. If it's the New England Patriots or Steve Spurrier. It's not just that we want to see the big guys fall. We want something older, and more primal. We want the underdog to rise up because of a deep-seated, God-given hunch. The hunch that earthly power is an illusion. That faith, hope and courage are stronger than any foe. That giants will fall and the meek shall inherit the earth. That the status quo of the way things have always been can be blown away by one single breath of God.

"David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give all of you into our hands."

Not by earthly power. But by the breath of God.

All of you can probably think of at least one modern-day David & Goliath story. Here's one of my favorites.

In Rochester, New York, Greece-Athena High School has a new, most unlikely hero. A special ed student by the name of Jason McElway. Jason was the basketball team manager. For four years, he assisted the coach, helping with whatever the team needed. Getting them motivated. Handing out water. And just being enthusiastic. Very enthusiastic.

Despite being born with autism, Jason never had a problem expressing himself at basketball games. His father was always concerned Jason might get a technical because he yelled so much.

Because he'd been so devoted to the team, for the last game of the season, the coach decided to let Jason actually suit up. Not to play, necessarily, but just to let him feel what it's like to wear a jersey. At least, that was the plan. But with 4 minutes left to go, the coach stood up, and called Jason's number. Jason, after years of fetching water, and towling off other people's sweat, was actually in a game.

His first shot was a 20-footer from the right baseline. An airball, totally off the mark. His second shot missed, too. But the third was the charm. A 3-pointer, nothing but net. But Jason wasn't done yet. Not by a longshot. Jason ended up shooting six 3-pointers. One rightafter the other. A new School record. He had 20 points total, in 4 minutes. A new school record. And each time a shot went in, his teammates, and the crowd, went a little crazier. His last basket, right at the buzzer, created total, bench-clearing, stand-emptying mayhem.

Because he is autistic, Jason says he's used to feeling different. But never this different. Never as different as the day the crowd lifted him onto their shoulders, and celebrated Jason's victory.

*As reported by Scott Pelley, CBS News:

The status quo says special ed kids can't keep up with the rest of us. The status quo says, "Sorry. You're too small. You're too weak. You're too different." God says, "Ah, you're just my type."