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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mark 09 38-41 Not One of Us

Mark 09 38-41 Not One of Us
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
September 27, 2009

I love the names in today's scriptures. Eldad, Medad, and the Unknown Exorcist. Sounds like an an act on Israel's Got Talent. If they were on Israel's Got Talent, they would have gotten buzzes from Piers, Sharon, and The Hoff. Sorry guys. You may be able to prophesy, you may be able to cast out demons, but you're just not the kind of act we're looking for. Good luck, and thanks for playing.

Eldad and Medad get no mention anywhere else in the Bible. Although in Jewish literature Eldad and Medad are credited with predicting a war with Gog and Magog. I think the ancient rabbis - who were known for their wordplay - just wanted an excuse to say Eldad, Medad, Gog and Magog all in the same sentence. All the strangest names in the Bible in one place. The Bible remembers Eldad and Medad because they were doing good works for God, but the elders of Israel wanted them to stop. Literally, they wanted Eldad and Medad to stop because they didn't have the right credentials. He wasn't one of them.

And then the Unknown Exorcist. Tried to do some good works by casting out demons, but he still got gonged. The disciples come running to Jesus, asking, "Do you want us to stop him?" Why do they want to stop him? Literally, they wanted to stop him because he didn't have the right credentials. He wasn't one of them.

This unnamed guy and Eldad and Medad are centuries apart in the Bible, but related just the same. And all of them are related to anyone who tries to do good works, but gets booed because he or she missed a meeting. Because he or she doesn't have the right credentials. Because he or she isn't "one of us."


A friend of mine, a Baptist minister, told me this happened to him. He said:

 I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. 

So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!" 

 "Why shouldn't I?" he said. 

 I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" 

 He said, "Like what?" 

 I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?" 

 He said, "Religious." 

 I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" 

 He said, "Christian." 

 I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Potestant?" 

 He said, "Protestant." 

 I said, "Me too! Are you Presbyterian or Baptist?" 

 He said, "Baptist!" 

 I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?" 

 He said, "Baptist church of god!" 

 I said, "Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?" 

 He said,"Reformed Baptist church of god!" 

 I said, "Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?" 

 He said, "Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!" 

 I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

OK. I just made that last part up.

You could do the joke with Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbyterian Church in America, and Evangelical Presbyterians of the New School Calvinism. But somehow it's just funnier when it's Baptists. There's more of them.

In the United States, there are more than 20 flavors of Presbyterian. Most of us don't realize that. In Knoxville alone there are 4 or 5 kinds. PCUSA, PCA, EPC, CPC. We're the PCUSA, Presbyterians in the USA. Which is totally different than those other Presbyterians. We're the biggest. We're #1. We have the most members and an excellent pension plan. We have women preachers. Back in the Civil War we split into the Northern Presbyterians (UPCUSA) and the Southern Presbyterians (PCUS). It took us until 1983 to decide the war was over and we could reunite. But we're back and we're bad. We're 1.15% of the total US population.

And you think the Baptists are good at splitting? Ha. So many different kinds of Presbyterians have split off from our "mainline" that according to Wikipedia, Presbyterians are sometimes called the "Split P's". Which is better than our other name, the "Frozen Peas." It's doubtful we'll ever be mistaken for the Black Eyed Peas. 

The problem with both peas and Presbyterians is that to the untrained eye, they all look pretty much alike. Those PCA-ers and EPC-ers look amazingly similar to us PCUSA-ers. We all have a higher than average number of teachers in the pews and Lexuses in the parking lot. We all believe steadfastly in the sovereignty of God, think John Calvin is the cat's pajamas, and descend theologically, if not genetically, from men wearing kilts. We're not afraid of a good fight, which is why so many of us populated Appalachia. So, yes, to the untrained eye, we do look alike. But as I've said before, woe to any PCA preacher-boy who wants to date one of our daughters. I just don't think that kind of interfaith relationship's going to work out.

You know the fastest-growing church-related group in the United States? "None of the Above." Actually, they're not church-related at all. They're church-unrelated. Among religious people in America, about 78% are Christian, with the remainder divided between Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and others. But all together, those religious people are only half the population. Around 1/2 of the U.S. population identify themselves as being alienated from organized religion.

Around 1/2 of the American population say they're alienated from organized religion.

I'll bet organized religion helped them.

And why do people get turned off from the church? The answers are pretty predictable. Because the churches are always fighting. Because these people are "different" and the church doesn't seem to have a place for them. Because the church has standards - written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken - we have standards... that are more important to us than the people we exclude.


You could say it's just human nature. It's just human nature to divide into tribes or denominations. That's why God invented 31 flavors. Baptists like water, Episcopalians like wine, and Presbyterians like... meetings.

It's just human nature. You look at neighborhoods and there's always somebody who doesn't quite fit in. Someone who wants to paint their house purple and put the sofa on the lawn. I grew up in West Virginia. There were neighborhoods where if you didn't have a Trans Am up on blocks in your driveway you were viewed with great suspicion.

Maybe it's group dynamics, but there's always one person in an office who might truly be from another planet. There's always one kid in the classroom who's the butt of all the jokes. All it takes is a little organization by the people on the inside to put in writing what keeps them on the inside, and there you go.

"Teacher, there's a man casting out demons in your name, but he's not one of us. Should we stop him?"

"Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying about God again. Should we stop them?"

It's not because they're doing anything wrong. It's because... they're not one of us. How do we know they're not one of us? Because we know who we are. And they're clearly not... one of us.


So the question is, does our definition of who we are exclude who they are? Whoever "they" might be?

Our church lost a good member this past week, Sam Frame. Most of you probably never met Sam. He sang in the choir. He was very, very quiet. He kept to himself. He was in many ways a sad and broken outsider. Sam died the week before last. 

One of the times I was most proud of this church was when Sam was first visiting this church last year. He had visited a few times. He had spoken with a few of you. Handshakes, hello, introductions. Nothing fancy, just smiles and a few, "Good to see you again's." Sam was shaking my hand on the way out of the sanctuary one Sunday morning and he told me he wanted to join the church. With tears in his eyes, he told me, "I think I've found a home." 

The way we break down the walls between "us" and "them" is through simple kindness. The way we break down the walls between any "us" and any "them" is to not stop them from being who they are. The way we break down the walls between us and them is to welcome them with a hand or a hug. The way we break down the walls is to confess to God and to ourselves that in our hearts, we're as much them as they are.

I was proud of you, but I was also proud of Sam. We're so used to being here that we forget how much courage it takes to walk through the doors of a church you've never entered before. We forget how much courage it takes to say "Yes" when the Choir Director invites you to come join the choir. We forget that whatever other inspiration they might have had, Eldad,  Medad, and the Unknown Exorcist were brave. They were brave to take on the message of God without a community to support them. They were brave to do what they did in the name of God. 

Maybe that man in the gospels who was casting out demons has a name after all. Maybe his name is Sam. Maybe right now he's taking his place at that heavenly table, sitting next to Eldad and Medad and countless others who weren't afraid to do the work of God with no sides, no walls, no credentials except the work they were doing in God's name. 

About 50% of the American population are outsiders. Most of them aren't as brave as Sam Frame. They need your help. They need to know that organized religion isn't nearly as organized as they think. In fact, some of us are downright dis-organized. Some of us proudly practice Disorganized Religion, and I think Jesus is OK with that. It could be that Jesus, and Moses, and God like us that way. It could be God prefers us just disorganized enough that we lose track of what makes us "us" and what makes them "them" to the point that we have trouble distinguishing between the two.

God bless the Eldads and Medads who don't fit in. God bless the ones brave enough to set aside their demons and do the work of Jesus Christ. God bless us when we're brave enough to open our hearts and doors and join the outsiders, whether they join us or we join them in the No Side of the God who created us all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

September 20, 2009

Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection

 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Who Is the Greatest?

 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Jesus asked the disciples, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 

It's been a bad couple of weeks for feet. They keep getting stuck in people's mouths. Usually when cameras are rolling and microphones are on.

You've got the pride of South Carolina, Rep. Joe Wilson, shouting "You lie!" at the President.

You've got Serena Williams, sounding off at a line judge, more like a roller derby  queen than a tennis star.

You've got Kanye West spoiling the moment at the Video Music Awards for sweet little Taylor Swift.

They shoved their feet in their mouths arguing, basically, that they each were right. That they were smarter. That they knew better... than the President, the line judge, and whoever makes decisions about music videos no one has seen.

All were arguing that they're the greatest, the King of the world until the Republican Party, the USTA, and Jay Leno make them apologize. 

And you have to wonder, even after apologizing: Do they get it? Are the apologies sincere? Are they truly remorseful or are they just going through the motions in order to save their hides?

In other words, are the apologies as self-serving as the outbursts? Are the apologies just exchanging one foot in the mouth for a better smelling one?

Jesus asks the disciples, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Oops. Didn't know the teacher was listening. Didn't know the microphone was still on. I don't know about his feet, but Jesus had really good ears.

To really catch the ignorance of the disciples, bless their hearts, you have to read this in context. Immediately before this spirited, manly debate about who's #1, Jesus, in the previous verses, was teaching them that ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 

Those of you who teach school, do you find yourselves teaching your students that one, essential thing that you know is going to be critical to them getting a good grade, that one thing that will make the whole semester understandable, and you look out at these blessed little children, the future of our country, the planet's hope for tomorrow, and see them staring off into space, counting the ceiling tiles, gazing at the girl or guy two seats over, or, best of all, yawning? It explains a lot of road rage. And the three-day waiting period.

So Jesus explains to the apostles how he is going to suffer and die and in 3 days rise from the grave for them, and did they get it?

But wait: here's the best part. It's fine to apply yourself to what your teacher is saying and not understand. Especially if it's something like Calculus or World Salvation. But the very next sentence of scripture says...

But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

You know the saying, "There's no such thing as a stupid question." Those of you who are teachers know, that's not true. But it seems to me the apostles must have been very afraid of Jesus. 

You don't think of that very often. We always think of the Jesus and his apostles as friends. Buddies. But apparently not. Twice in this passage alone, they don't ask questions and they don't answer his questions because they're afraid.

What could they be afraid of? This is sweet Jesus, meek and mild, right? So are they afraid of their own ignorance? Are they afraid of losing face (among the other disciples) by admitting their... density?

Arguments over how great you are, are always motivated by fear. Think about it. If you weren't so afraid of being wrong, you wouldn't be so hot to prove how right you are.

Think about a time when you got yourself in trouble by blurting out something dumb. Come on, everybody's done it. 

You don't have to ask why you did it. A lot of times we blame it on the atmosphere. You got carried away in the heat of the moment. It's global warming's fault. Penguins can blame the heat of the moment. Climate change is no excuse for you losing your cool. "I got carried away in the heat of the moment" isn't a reason why. It's just admitting you pulled the trigger on your tongue.

The real reason why is always the same. Fear. When you lose your cool, don't ask why. Ask, "What was I afraid of?"

When you're arguing over dumb things, you're afraid of not being #1. Afraid of not being the person with right answers, the person who solves the problems once and for all. 

You get mad at teachers when your kids aren't #1. When they unfairly keep your offspring from honors and awards, so they can't get into the right college, so they'll never get a good job, so they'll move back home, and move you into a nursing home where the temperature's always too hot and you'll spend your golden years red-faced and sweaty, being given blood pressure medicine you don't need. That's why those kindergarten citizenship awards are so important.

If people only understood how much is on the line, they'd understand when you yelled at the librarian for fining you 25 cents on an overdue book, or the officemate for taking your red Swingline stapler.

It's fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of the future. Fear of looking dumb.

So what do we do? We open our mouths and make ourselves look really dumb. Instead of just us being embarrassed, we open our mouths and yell at the line judge and now the whole world is embarrassed for us.

So Jesus takes a little child and puts it among them, and says, THIS is how you're supposed to be.

Everybody remembers those passages that say we're supposed to be like little children. To have faith as a small child. Sweet and innocent. But again, put this in context. Being like a child is Part B. It comes after Part A, where the apostles are having an argument over which one of them is the greatest. So, being like a little child doesn't just come out of the blue. It's a response to arrogant, self-protecting fear.

In Bible times, children weren't so cute. They were tiny adults who weren't old enough to work or have babies. They weren't deductions, they were liabilities. Children had less status than slaves. To understand how they thought about children in Bible times, take away the cute factor, and focus on their inability to produce or reproduce.

So when Jesus says to be like children, he's not so much idealizing or romanticizing childhood or childlike faith. Rather, he's shaming grown-up arrogance.

So faith may be about belief and trust. But it's also about humility

So what if you're so close to Jesus you can hear his footsteps? If you're a jerk, it makes very little difference.

A person of great humility may be worth more to God than a person of great faith.

Think about that. Maybe you're not "feeling it" when it comes to faith. Maybe you don't have a personal friendship with Jesus the way others do. Maybe you're not the greatest when it comes to belief & faith.

Maybe the best prayer you can pray is, "O Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." (Which is also in the Bible.) Maybe you have a lot more unbelief than great belief.

Don't be ashamed, don't be feeling inadequate. If you have trouble believing and understanding, let you humility see you through.

We spend so much time in so many churches worrying about getting our belief right. You have to say the right prayers the right way at the right time. Churches worry about defining themselves as liberal or conservative, evangelical or mainline, yada, yada, yada. Jesus ends his lesson to his apostles saying to them, "It's not about you. It's not about how right or important or self-actualized you are."

Jesus ends his lesson to his apostles with the child in his arms. He says to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Right faith isn't about being number 1 in belief. Right faith isn't about about being number 1 in stature. Right faith is about welcoming the zeroes. Right faith is about welcoming the people who have no one else to welcome them.

Jesus's solution to foot-in-mouth disease is to take your feet out of your mouth and put them on the road. Put them on the road where the people nobody talks to live. Put them on the road where the kid who doesn't have any friends lives. Put them on the road to people who need an ounce of kindness. Take your feet out of your mouth and put them on the road where Jesus walked. And then, whether your power of belief is great or not-so-great, your feet will be on the path of Jesus.