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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Riding the Hypocricycle

2010-06-27 Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
James McTyre

Gal 5:1, 13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

The works of the flesh are pretty obvious. But for those of you who have trouble remembering, the Bible has a big list. So we can self-identify. It's a NOT to-do list. It reads like an episode of Jersey Shore. Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, etc. etc. etc. See it all on the next season of “The Real Housewives of Sevier County.” Now that would be some reality TV. Painful reality.

Now that you've heard the Top Ten List (or the Bottom Ten NOT to-do list), I know many of you are stealing a nonchalant glance at the person down the pew from you. Just wondering. Or maybe you already know, or think you know. Lakemoor Hills is a small community. And we have the Internet. If you are an idolatrous, licentious, angry, envious, fractious, quarreling, jealous, loose, impure, drunken sorcerer... invite us to your next party. No, just kidding. We don't really want to come. But we would like to see the pictures on Facebook. Just keep the music down. Don't make us call the cops. Don't trash your front yard and everything will be just fine. You'll have your life. We'll have ours. See you at Food City.

I don't know if this is completely true, but from what I hear, people who don't go to church often think people who do go to church are all a bunch of impure, idolatrous, hostile, drunken sorcerers, who one hour a week pretend to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient and kind. Sadly, on occasion, that has proven to be true. It's just like how there are lots of people from cultured areas of the country, like, New Jersey, who watched “Hee Haw” and think that's how everyone in Tennessee looks and talks.

I love it when we travel and someone asks where I'm from and I say, “Tennessee,” and they say, “That's funny, you don't sound like you're from Tennessee.” And I say, “That's because I'm originally from West Virginia.” In West Virginia, we hold our pinkies out when we eat souffle. With Grey Poupon.

It's amazing how people can see a couple of impure, idolatrous, drunken sorcerers (and who hasn't?) pretending to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind church-going folk, and draw the conclusion that that's how everyone who goes to church must be. We've all heard it: “I'm not going to church. They're all just a bunch of hypocrites.” What better place for hypocrites to be? Maybe some of that love, joy, peace, patience and kindness will stick. I can safely and gladly say that, here at Lake Hills, there is not one impure, idolatrous, hostile, drunken sorcerer. To the best of my knowledge that is true. On the other hand, there's not one of us who hasn't jumped to the conclusion about someone else, that they're impure, idolatrous, etc., etc., etc. And on yet another other hand - third hand - there's not one of us who hasn't dabbled, or dreamed, or spoken in hushed tones out of the corner of our mouth – let's be honest – about something on the Bottom Ten NOT to-do list.

The Bible says, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.”

On one hand, you can pat yourself on the back that you aren't as bad as the collective whole of the Bottom Ten NOT to-do list. But on the other hand, we're all enslaved. We're enslaved to hypocrisy. We're enslaved by the hypocrisy of others. We're enslaved by our own hypocrisy.

How do we break free?


The Bible says, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”

The Bible says we are all enslaved. That sounds funny to us, free people, living in the freest country on earth. But the Bible says it. So how are we all enslaved? Certainly, we're not physically enslaved. We are enslaved by our minds. Or let me say it this way: we're enslaved by the limits of our minds. Our minds are tied up by our ideas about other people. Our minds are on the invisible leash of preconceived notions. Our minds are duct-taped to the chair of our prejudices. Our minds are chained up, enslaved by rules formed from exceptional bad examples. We all do it. It comes from the gaps.

We have gaps in our knowledge. How many people are in the world? A whole bunch. How many people are in our neighborhood? A slightly smaller bunch. We can't know everybody. We can't know everything. A lot of us barely know our next-door neighbors. So there are gaps. There are gaps in our knowledge of people and things. We don't like gaps. Gaps make us feel uncomfortable. Gaps make us feel stupid. So we fill in the gaps with guesses. Some guesses might be OK. Some might be almost totally wrong. And even if we know our guesses are wrong, we can live with that. We are more comfortable with the guesses than with the gaps.

For example, there are some Tennesseans – and West Virginians – who look and sound like they walked off the set of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” There are Mexicans who are in this country illegally. There are Muslims who are terrorists. There are oil company executives who are yacht-sailing goofballs. There are politicians who are corrupt. There are ministers who are slime balls. And, yes, there are people who go to church not out of faith, but out of the need to see and be seen. There are people who go to church to exercise their pointer fingers. They go to church because they get a thrill out of publicly pointing their fingers at people who might or might not be exercising fingers at them. Yes, these things are true. These examples exist and sadly can be found without turning over too many slimy rocks. These examples make for good television, and good barber shop conversations. But as true as a few sensational ideas might be, they are only a small part of a bigger story we don't have the ability to completely know. Jumping to conclusions based on one or two bad examples is a sign of a lazy mind. Lazy minds fill in the gaps with bad examples instead of taking the time to find good ones.

People from Blount County are bad drivers. I confess, I used to believe that, when I lived in Knox County. Someone would pull out in front of me, and I'd see the license plate and say, "Aha!" Now I live in Blount County. It seems like everyone who pulls out in front of me is from Knox County. There is the possibility that they're ALL bad drivers. Or it could be that the bad ones are the ones I notice, wherever I am.

We notice the bad examples. And then we make guesses and generalizations about them all. We'd rather fill in our knowledge with guesses than live with the gaps. Why is that? I don't know. But I know that my mind is very easily enslaved, willingly enslaved, by its limits.

“For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.”

“Do you go to church?”
“Well yes, I do.”
“Then, why are you so annoying?”
“I don't know. I guess I'm stuck. One day I do good, the next I do bad, because I think I'm better than I am, but I'm not...”
and on and on it goes. We get stuck on the cycle of hypocrisy. The hypocricycle.

Other people see our hypocrisy. Don't deceive yourself. Other people are watching. It's not just because you're paranoid. The people who don't go to church see what the people who do go to church do, and what the people who don't go to church say about the people who do go to church is, "Aha! See? Hypocrites." The correct response is not to get mad or defensive. Just say, "Yes. You're right. I am a hypocrite. I go to church so I can learn how to stop." And if you're feeling a little cheeky, you can add, "What do you do?"

Tended wounds heal quicker. Anyone who attempts to gain spiritual freedom is going to realize that they're riding the hypocricycle. Better to accept it than try to fool yourself. If you accept your fault, and accept that it IS your fault, you're taking a step toward freedom. But the Bible cautions us. It says, "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.”

Even if we accept our hypocrisy, and begin to work toward eliminating it somehow, the great temptation is to misuse our new freedom by becoming self-indulgent. We misuse our freedom by becoming self-indulgent to the point of becoming proud. We become proud of how free and enlightened and good we have become. We judge ourselves with leniency. In fact, we might judge that we've become so good the rules don't apply to us anymore. And if the rules don't apply to us then we're free to become impure, idolatrous sorcerers, etc. etc. And then the cycle of enslavement to freedom back to enslavement recreates itself. The hypocricycle gets stuck in an infinite loop.


So is it even possible to remove ourselves from the cycle of our own hypocrisy? Does it take some kind of magic? Does it take a miracle? The truth, according to the Bible is that it takes neither. It simply takes dedicating yourself to a diet of fruit.

It says:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 
In other words, everybody knows the fruit of the Spirit is good for you. There's no law against these because everyone knows these are good. The Bible goes on to say:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

It takes work to set your mind beyond its limits. It takes work to see love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness because the world, which is not of the Spirit tells you, "Fill the gaps with the examples of the bad." The world, which is not of the Spirit tells you, "Let your mind be lazy." The world tells you see the negative in one and throw it like a shadow over them all." and worst of all, the world, which is not of the Spirit, tells you, "You're not like them. You're better. You can have your own set of rules." It takes work, and courage to choose to go against the crowd and be guided not by the world, but by the Spirit. It's a simple answer. But sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest.

Your mind doesn't have to be a slave to its own limits. You can break free. We know this because Jesus Christ has crucified the power of the flesh. We know we can be free because those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Does that mean we can live without temptation? Does that mean we'll never again be hypocrites who fail to live up to their churchy ideals? Of course not. But what it does mean is that our failings do not define us. Our failings do not define us. Instead who we are comes from whom we follow. Who we are comes from the Spirit, not from the weakness of our flesh. You can choose to be guided by the Spirit, today and every day. You can choose to live by the rule of love, the rule that overcomes all exceptions.

Let's pray.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wade in the Water

John 5:1-9 Man healed at pool of Bethesda
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 16, 2004

Wade in the water,
wade in the water, children
Wade in the water,
God's gonna trouble the water.
Yes, when you're a dad, you get to listen to all kinds of music.
This was on one of the girls' CDs that we used to listen to in the minivan on the way to Parents' Day Out.
I'd drop them off, and then two or three miles down the road, realize the CD was still playing.
And not only was it playing, I'd been singing along with it the whole time.

At the pool of Bethesda, there weren't any happy kids, singing, swaying or having fun with dad.
The pool of Bethesda was more like a nursing home.
The people who couldn't be cured any other way came to the pool hoping to find a miracle.
We'd look at a sight like this with pity.
Poor superstitious people, with no affordable health insurance, no retirement savings, and no prescription drug plan.
A sad place.
At the pool of Bethesda -- and this is where it gets even more pathetic – like the wave pool at Dolly's Splash Country turned evil -- the legend went that at unpredictable times, an angel would "trouble" the waters.
The people would see the water moving and then the blind, lame and leprous would race to see who could wade in first.
The person who won would be cured.
And everyone else would hobble back and wait until the horn blew and the waves splashed again.
The pool of Bethesda was filled with troubling waters not so much by the presence, but by the absence of angels among those who were too ill to outwit, outrace and outplay.

And so a man who couldn't walk complained to Jesus, "Sir, when the water is troubled I have no one to put me into the pool.
“But while I am coming another steps down before me."
The pool had been torturing this guy for thirty-eight years.
Thirty-eight years is a long time.
He should have come up with a strategy.
Like Tonya Harding. Knock the other guys in the kneecap.
Jesus simply asked, "Do you want to be healed?"

Do you want to be healed?
Well, of course he wanted to be healed.
He had laid at the poolside for thirty-eight troubling years, waiting to win just one race instead of always being a such a "loser."
What a silly question.

The trouble God brought to the waters that day wasn't from the fingertip of any dark angel.
Oh, God troubled the waters alright, but troubled them by challenging them, challenging the belief that they were the only good way to be healed.
God troubled the age-old belief in the waters with a question that a ten year-old could have asked, "Do you want to be healed?"


They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
That is not the definition of insanity.
I looked it up.
Seven times.
In the same dictionary.
I fully expected exactly the same answer each time.
If it had changed, or I thought it had changed, THAT would be a sign of insanity.
So applying logic, then, this would make the definition of sanity doing the same thing over and over because you know you're going to get the same results.
Like watching "Gilligan's Island."
Or eating at McDonalds.
You always know what you're gonna get.
What could be more sane?

For a lot of us, sanity means not having our waters troubled.
Smooth sailing is good sailing.
Sanity means dancing along with life because we've got a groove going, and even if we don't particularly like the song we're moving to, as Sonny Bono said, the beat goes on.
Stopping and changing something that ain't broke would be, like, crazy.
People would laugh.

The truth is a lot of times we stick with things that are broke because it's less trouble than trying to fix them.
At least we know what we're dealing with.
So a man doesn't go to the doctor for that pain in his chest, because it always goes away after a couple of days.
Or a woman goes home to a man she's afraid of.
Or a teenager calls himself a "loser" because that's what someone said in so many words.
You stick with something broken long enough, you wrap your brain around it so many ways, and after a while it's hard to tell what's crazy and what's sane.

It takes tremendous patience to sit and wait for the angels to come and save us.
It takes tremendous dedication to tremendous consistency, consistency for consistency's sake, because that's what everyone else is doing.
But sometimes it takes tremendously simple faith to do as the man at the pool of Bethesda, and get up and walk away.

The Bible doesn't say what the rest of the people at the pool whispered to each other after the man walked away with Jesus.
"He'll be back, just you wait."
"Stinkin' TV evangelist.
Had that guy planted for 38 years."
"Why didn't Jesus come to me?"
Or did each morning see fewer and fewer people there until one day the pool just dried up, and people said,
"Wow. How could we have ever been so crazy?"


Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God's gonna trouble the water.

The old song is really a twist on the reality of the Bible story.
Because the people at the pool didn't wade in the water.
They waited by the water.
"Wait by the water. Wait by the water, children."
Just sit and wait.

But the real song sings this passage the way Jesus might have, and twists the peoples' "sane" reality into the reality of God.
Jesus would have stepped forward, and started the song, and taken the man by the hand.
And he would have stood and taken another hand, and that person would have stood and taken another hand, and so on.
Until all of them were standing and singing and walking into the un-troubled waters as one.
"Wade in the water, children!"
And all of them would be healed.
All of them would sing and dance in the waters, clapping their hands, and swaying and splashing to the rhythm of God's beautiful song.
Wouldn't that be a sight.

But you know.
Crazy stuff like that doesn't really happen.
People would laugh.
And so we wait.
And Jesus wonders, "Do you want to be healed?"

Don't wait.
Be healed.