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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2008-11-30 Luke 21:25-36

2008-11-30 Luke 21:25-36

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.

Because Thanksgiving is hard.

You have to eat all that turkey and pumpkin pie.

You have to lay on the couch, and fall 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.

After all this Thanks and Giving, the scripture today's a little bit of a jolt.

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.

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.


Those don't exactly fit in Santa's bag.

That's the difference between a wish and a hope.

You might wish for a Barbie Glamor Camper.

(Who in the world ever thought the words “glamor” and “camper” could go together?)

Or maybe a Barbie Totally Stylin Tattoo Doll.

(Honestly, they really make a Totally Stylin Tattoo Barbie. Goes so well with Multiple Body-pierce Ken.)

If you do your shopping online, you know that every store checkout area has something whimsically called, your "Wish List."

If you want to think about a purchase, or if you want to email it to someone buying you presents, you click, “Add to my Wish List.”

I have yet to see 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 Nieman-Marcus or Home Depot or Sea Ray.

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.

These days, people go “Church Shopping.”

If you had never been to a church before, if you browsed your way in the front door for the first time, you might think it strange that something as big as hope would come through 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.

Hope's 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 hope 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, this little apocalypse described by Jesus, doesn't sound all that hopeful.

"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

It sounds as if Jesus is saying the end is coming.

Like the signs outside Sevier Heights 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.

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

What Jesus is saying will end is the need for wishes.

What Jesus is saying will end 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 rips through all the packaged wishes.

God's hope 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.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please allow me to introduce myself,

2009-11-22 John 18:33-37
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Quick -- other than Christ, name another famous king (modern).

  • King Hussein of Jordan
  • The Lion King
  • Michael Jackson, the King of Pop
  • Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll
  • The guy on 'The King of Queens,' Kevin (what's his name)

It's hard to name kings these days, much less any popular kings. We think of kings we think of outdated governments. Kings rule imaginary places, like Narnia. Or oppressive places, like Uganda. Kings are old-fashioned, primitive. When they're powerful, they're one step above military dictators. When they're weak, they've got that Prince Charles thing going.

We, on the other hand -- we pledge allegiance to the flag, not to any one person. We elect our own leaders. We're a democracy, not a monarchy. Democracy, good. Monarchy, bad.

So when we try to talk about Christ as King, we have a kind of built-in barrier. We have deep biases against kings and kingships. But on the other hand, we affirm Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, pretty often. One of our best songs says it - over, and over. ("And He shall reign forever and ever.") Monarchy bad. Eternal monarchy very good. This is one of those things that if you think too hard about, thou shalt get a headache. I think Christ the King is one of those things we don't think about because we don't like headaches.

Jesus must have been a real headache for Pontius Pilate. Jesus - and his supposed kingship - must have been a real pain in the neck. Not that Pilate deserves a lot of sympathy. But I think the dialog between Jesus and Pilate isn't that far from the contradictions we wrestle with when our hearts call Jesus king, but our minds are skeptical of kings. For Pilate, it was reversed: Pilate believed in kings (or caesars), but he was sceptical of Jesus.

I also think that too much of the time we have more in common with Pilate than we do with Jesus, and that causes headaches for the people who want to be our co-Pilates. Pilate and Jesus, ruler and subject. Pilate was the ruler, and Jesus was his subject. Or was it the other way around? Jesus was the ruler and Pilate was the subject. Which is it? Which is the truth?

This is a puzzling little passage from the Bible. I feel pretty certain that's the way God intended it.


It's good to be king. King of the castle. King of the hill. "King of the road."
Steven King, B. B. King, Larry King.
King Kong, Smoothie King, King Ranch Casserole.

All good, but none serious monarchs. In our world, Democracy is king. In a democracy, who has the real power? (Insurance lobbyists. Someone in Shanghai.) OK, who's supposed to have the real power? We are. We, the people. We're the ones who are supposed to be king. We get to choose our own leaders. We get to manage our own lives. We get to decide our own future. Right? Well, that's the way it was presented in the textbooks. Books don't lie. Right?

We're all kind of wrestling with these contradictions. We the people are supposed to be the ones in charge, but more and more it seems like no one is. (And that's not intended as a criticism of the President, because I'll bet he feels that way more than any of us. "Who do I have to talk to to get something done?") When everyone's king, no one's king, because there's no one to rule. Pilate asks, "What is truth?" When you don't know what's up, when you don't know what or who's in charge, when you don't know what or whom to believe, truth is meaningless. The only power is what you can cling to.

Do you ever have days when you feel utterly powerless? You raise your kids well, and they still make dumb decisions. You balance your checkbook, and your husband forgets to tell you about the new golf clubs that make the account go boing. You exercise, you eat low-fat foods that taste like cardboard, you floss. You go to church, you tithe 10% of your income, you always drop coins in the Salvation Army bucket. And then, in the shower, you find a lump. A drunk driver comes the wrong direction. In a split second, your life changes. You're not king anymore. Not even close.

It's good to be king. It's fun to convince yourself you're king. But in our quiet moments, in our moments of truth, we know whatever kingship we have is hanging by a thread, if that much. Add to that a growing suspicion that no one's in charge, or that all the ones who are in charge are looking out for their own interests, and you can get a real headache.


We say the Apostles' Creed every Sunday. In the Creed, which we say every Sunday, five people or
persons are identified by name. First, there's God, the Father
Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We're all familiar with him. Then
there's Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. That's two. ...who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost. That's three. And born of the Virgin Mary.
She's number four.

Lastly, one final person, number five: Pontius Pilate. Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried."

right up there with the names of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit, just slightly after the Virgin Mary, is Pontius Pilate. Pilate
from Pontus. We say his name every week, as if he was a vitally
important man. A big shot. A king.

That's a sad irony. Pilate IS important in the story of our
faith. He's the one who allowed Christ to be crucified, dead, and
buried. But in the scale of human history, Pilate was a
middle-governing-body bureaucrat. He was a paper-shuffler. He was at
best the Michael Scott of the Roman Empire. (Michael Scott is the
incompetent middle-manager on TV's 'The Office.') At worst, Pilate was a
cruel dictator, a bully who tried to compensate for his own weakness by
stomping on powerless subjects. But even at his worst, Pilate doesn't
begin to compare to Idi Amin or Hitler or even Sadaam Hussein. He didn't have the power to be nearly as bad as he thought he was. Pilate
wasn't sent to Judea to think. His job was to be the face of the Roman
government, and to keep the Jews from causing Caesar headaches.

And yet, there Pilate is, one of only five names in the most common creed of the church.

Did Pilate actually crucify Jesus? No. Pilate washed his hands of responsibility. Washed his hands and sealed his fate. Pilates' great sin was preserving his delusion of power. Pilate was looking out for his own interests. And so, Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried.

A delusion of power made Jesus suffer. A delusion of power crucified Jesus. Whenever we forget the thread of separation between our own power and our powerlessness, Jesus suffers. Whenever we thrive on the illusion of our own kingship, Jesus is crucified. Whenever we hurt others because we have the power, Jesus dies.

In this way, we have too much in common with Pontus Pilate. It's not really that good to be king, after all.


If Pilate wanted to be famous, wanted to be remembered forever more, he certainly got his wish. Here's a basic rule: Unless you're the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, or the Virgin Mary, you don't want your name in a creed. Kind of like how it's a good day if you wake up and your name isn't in the newspaper. If you're on the front page or in the obituaries, it's probably not going to be a good day.

But here's the greatest irony of all. If Pilate had embraced his powerlessness, if Pilate had just proclaimed that Christ WAS king, Pilate might have been forgotten. If not forgotten, at least not mentioned ever single Sunday in a very unflattering light.

If protecting our illusions of power causes Jesus to suffer, what, then, does accepting our powerlessness do? If our quest for power decreases, does Jesus increase?

In another passage, the Bible says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." What if Pilate had embraced his own powerlessness and - at the same time - clung to the power of Christ?

We'll never know the answer to that question. Pilate made his choice.

You, however, you have a second chance. You, who wrestle with your own feelings of powerlessness, you have a choice. You can get depressed over your lack of power. You can get angry, and resentful, and Scrooge-like. Or, you can embrace your powerlessness. Embrace your weakness in the face of this world. Give up trying to be king. Give up trying to be Queen. Let go of your frustration with what is versus how you'd wish it to be and hold on to the one, eternal power that faces you, faces us all, this day. Embrace the truth of Jesus Christ not because he's going to make you powerful and remembered, but because he can make your weakness be forgotten. Embrace the power of Jesus because in him, and in him alone, you can do all things, you can do enough, through Christ who strengthens you.


Jesus gave Pilate headaches because he would never come out and say he was king. What Pilate couldn't get was that it was his own job to say whether or not Jesus was king. Pilate couldn't say. And so his fate was sealed.

What about you? Maybe it's really easy for you to say, "Jesus Christ is king." Maybe it's so easy you don't even have to think about it. But when you pay your bills and see where your money goes, who's your king? When you spend time raging against changes you can't control, who's your king? When you go to bed and lie awake worrying, who's your king?

Jesus doesn't promise everything's going to turn out alright in this world. In fact, he's really not all that encouraging about how this earthly life's going to go. Maybe because he knows how many powers we have to kiss up to. Maybe because he knows how hard it is to let go of our illusions. Maybe because he knows that we'll all suffer under the powers of Pilates.

And so Jesus never promises we'll be kings or queens of our own kingdoms. Instead, he gives us a choice. Do we hold onto our illusions of power? Or do we embrace his? Do we generate our own strength, or will we be strengthened through him? Do we hate what makes us weak, or in our weakness, do we find redemption?

So when we're faced with questions like this, it's a good thing to ask ourselves, W.W.P.D? What would Pilate do? Deny your inner Pilate and you'll lay claim to strength beyond your kingly dreams.

It's good to be king. But think about it. If you're king, what's Jesus? You know what Pilate said. Today's your chance to say something else.