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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, 2011

Merry Christmas, Whoever You Are

2011-12-24 Christmas Eve Sermon
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Merry Christmas. Whoever you are.

If you're one of those people who come to church every time the doors open, Merry Christmas.

If you've memorized large portions of the Bible, Merry Christmas. 

Or maybe you're not that into church, but you're in town and you don't want your mom mad at you on Christmas Eve.
Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas if you're watching online and it's just you and the computer and your mouse at home tonight.

Merry Christmas if you're getting older and it's really close to bedtime.

Merry Christmas if you're young and they're telling you to be quiet and sit still

on the one night of the year when it's physically impossible to be quiet and sit still,
and you're thinking of Santa and new toys,
and the last place on earth you want to be is at church listening to the preacher go on about Jesus.

Oh, I know. 

Back when the earth was young and I was a boy, I felt the same way, too. 

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas, whoever you are.

And it works, whoever you are. 

Because I this is the one night of the year when the things that make us different don't really matter.

You might be wild about Christmas, crazy about God and have that joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart.

Or you might feel kind of indifferent.

You might be mad at God, or disappointed by God, or not even all that familiar with God.

You know what?

That's OK.

Because whoever you are, or wherever you are, or however you are, on this night, tonight, this night of nights, God comes to you.

That's what Christmas is all about.

God comes to us.

Whoever we are.


If you were God -
and maybe you think you are -
you've got to model yourself after someone...

If you were God, Creator of the earth, and the sun, and the galaxies full of stars and everything there is...

If you were God and you wanted to come to earth in the fullness of your glory, to reveal to human beings who you really, truly are,

in your wildest imagination, do you think you possibly would ever choose to come as...

a baby?

That's why you're not God.

We'd probably choose something with loud music and a light show, more like halftime at the Super Bowl.

So right away, we learn something about God and about ourselves.

I don't think it's that God's trying to be ironic.

We've just convinced ourselves that God's always going to do things our way, when in truth, God is trying to invite us to see in a different way.

God's way. 

Instead of commanding our devotion, God invites our attention the way a newborn baby does, just by being itself.

God chooses to draw close to us in the rawest, truest, simplest form we can possibly understand.

God chooses to come close to us as a newborn child.

Totally defenseless.

Totally dependent.

Totally agenda-less.

Totally guilt-less.
God comes to us, where we are, whoever we are, and God chooses to do it as a baby.

Now, some of you know firsthand how babies are.
You're really, really grateful we have a nursery.
The idea of God coming as a baby makes you tired.

Maybe you're not into babies, because you're they're kind of scary, and you're going to drop them, or they're going to drop something on you.
The idea of God coming as a baby makes you nervous.

I'd tell you to think of God in a different way, but the Christmas story just doesn't work with puppies or kittens.

I used to be scared of babies, too.

And then we had kids and real fast you realize you're too tired to be scared.

You just do.
You just care.
You just take care.

Because... you love them.
Because they need you to.

In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, there are lots of times when God's just at wits' end over the infant people Israel.

There are times when God, or God's messengers, like Moses, literally ask, "What am I going to do with these people?"

So when the time is right for God to really, truly teach us about how our relationship to God really, truly works, we're sent an infant.

"Oh, so, God...
"Oh, so, that's how you've been feeling, God? All these years?

"All the time when we were sure we were doing things your way because that's what seemed the best way to us?
"All those times when we were fussy, or rude to you, or forgetful about you?


"You mean we kind of wear you out, God?
"You mean we get on your nerves?

"You mean we're exhausting, but that you keep on loving us because that's just what you do?"

"Oh. Sorry, God. I guess we just didn't think it was that... personal."

God coming as a baby shows us a lot about God.
It shows us God is personal.
God is loving.
God is caring, for all the whomevers.


There are a lot of whoevers in Christmas.

And God comes to them however.

In the Bible, God comes in human form to Mary, who is expecting a baby.

Those of you who have experienced the peaceful bliss of pregnancy know how serene and composed that time is.

Especially the last few weeks, days, and hours.

Especially if you're riding cross-country, on a donkey.

In the Bible, God comes in human form to Joseph.
A carpenter.
A man who's really not trained in religious matters.
God came to him in a dream and explained the plan.
By Christmas night, that dream must have seemed an awfully long time ago.
I'm guessing by the time they made it to Bethlehem, Joseph was too tired to be scared.

In the Bible, God comes in human form to shepherds.
Men working the night shift.
Bored and staring at the sky.
They saw a star.
And then they saw angels.
And then they ran as fast as they could to see the sign of hope that God sent to them.

In the Bible, God comes in human form to three kings.
Three wise men.
Three magi.
Whatever you learned they were in Sunday School.
They were sent as part of a mad dictator's plot against his own people.
They brought gifts.
And they learned just enough about how God is to go home by a different way.

Craftsmen, laborers, academics, a stay-at-home mom, who would probably have rather stayed at home.

God came to all of them on Christmas night.

Some of them dreamed about God, pondered God in their hearts.

Some of them were just doing what they were ordered to do by the government, like it or not.

Some of them were bored, working on a night when everybody else was home.

God came to all of them on Christmas night.

Whoever they were, however they were found, God drew near to them.

God came to them in a way they weren't expecting, not because God was trying to be tricky, but because God is God, and they weren't.

God wanted to be known, and understood.

God wanted the relationship to be understood.

So God chose a way they could understand, whoever they were.


Somewhere between perfect belief and perfect unbelief, is your belief.

Somewhere between sinner and saint, are you.

I guess it's just human nature to compare ourselves to the people around us.

Maybe you're seeing some people tonight you haven't seen in a while and you're thinking,

"I'll never be as good as he is,"

or, "At least I'm not that messed up."

If I could get you to do one thing tonight, if I could give you one gift tonight, it would be for you to put all that comparison stuff on "Pause."

Maybe even on "Stop."

Because I think what God was trying to say two-thousand and twelve years ago, and what I think God's trying to say on this Christmas Eve is that He'll find you.

God will come to you, God will draw near to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however you are.

God is personal.
God is loving.
And you need God's love.

The way an infant needs a parent.

The way a parent needs and loves back. 


We spend so much time trying to justify ourselves.

We spend so many days of the year trying to analyze and rationalize and explain who we are and why our way is the right way.

Maybe God listens to all that stuff, all that stuff going on in our minds and coming out of our mouths.

But I really have to believe that in the end, it just doesn't matter.

Because God comes to us,
Christmas comes to us,
salvation comes to us,
whoever we are. 
God comes in a way we can understand.

So, whatever it means to you, however you need to hear it:

Merry Christmas.

Whoever you are.

Please pray with me:
Loving, Creator God,
we praise you for the stars of night, for the star that leads us toward you.
But even if we're afraid to get too close, thank you for drawing close to us.
Whoever we are, however we are, we thank you for coming to earth in a form we can understand,
and in a way that teaches us how our relationship is supposed to be.
In Jesus' name.


James McTyre
@jamesmctyre3 (tw)
865.268.9628 (gv)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011-12-18 4th Advent Sermon

Voices of Christmas: The Star
Isaiah 40:26a, 28a, Psalm 19:2-4
Luke 2:8-20

I am the voice of the star, the voice of all that God has made.
I am the voice of the heavens, declaring God's glory.
I am the voice of the skies, proclaiming the work of his hands.
I am the voice of the ocean waves, thunderously applauding God's Might.
I am the voice of the lion, the eagle, the whale, and the whisper of the butterfly.
I am the voice of all creation and I bear witness to God's majesty.
For all that God has made, I am the voice of the star.
With everything that has breath, I am the voice that praises the Creator born into his own creation.


Each Sunday this month, we've been listening to The Voices of Christmas. We've heard from Israel, from Isaiah, and then, last Sunday, from our own Angel Chorus when our Choir sang a Cantata, entitled, "The Voices of Christmas." It's almost as if we planned it. The voice parts have been read aloud by narrators, but if you look at the scriptures in the Bible, they're written as poetry and were originally intended to be sung. Israel sings. Isaiah sings. Mary sings. And in today's reading, all the world sings praise to God, our creator. Even the butterflies. Even the whales. Even the rocks.

I like to sing. I think I sound better than rocks. But just because a person enjoys doing something doesn't mean he or she does it well. Like, singing. I like to sing, even though our daughters say it hurts their ears and makes them cry. If I don't practice, how will I ever improve? A little encouragement from loved ones might help.

Or maybe I should just quit. Maybe I should accept as fact the opinion that the sound of two rocks beaten together is qualitatively better than my singing. I'm guessing that most of you who don't sing have made similar choices. I see you, during the hymns. I see your sad eyes, staring at the floor. I know what you've been through. Your family made faces. Your dog howled. Your music teacher gave your parents' money back. Oh I know.

When you were a child and knew not the stinging darts of disapproval, you dreamed of stage and spotlight. But then, you grew up. You put away childish things. Because it's better to put dreams away than be embarrassed by them. Right?


I wonder how many people stopped waiting for their Savior, because it was just too embarrassing. I wonder how many people gave up singing for a Messiah because it was too childish. I wonder how many of us give in to despair, I wonder how many of us give way to sensibility, I wonder how many of us stop singing God's praise because someone made fun or might make fun of how we sound, or how we look, or we're worried what people might say.

As far as we can tell, humans are the only part of God's creation that can feel ashamed for how we are. And that's not all bad. Sometimes people do shameful things and should feel ashamed. But far, far more often is that we innocently, maybe even joyfully express who we are and what we feel, and then the group or the person we were trying to impress laughs at us, or is embarrassed by us, or turns away from us. And we swear by all that's in us that we'll never let that happen again. We put away the music. We give up the dance. We put away the dreams. We hide those crazy ideas. We put away the childish things, and grow up.

But, the rocks aren't ashamed when they get stepped on. The trees aren't ashamed when their leaves fall off. The moon's not ashamed when it's eclipsed into darkness. The tide's not ashamed when it goes out.The bird's not ashamed when it has to fly south. And we don't feel ashamed for them, we the inventors and masters of shame, not even we shame them for a less-than-optimal performance. They're just being the way God made them. In fact some people see beauty in nature's ebbing. The poets and artists - themselves often shamed for not having more practical majors - those romantic misfits see eternal beauty in these things, hear in them God's song of eternal and everlasting love, and so they sing out in biblical praise,

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; 
who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever....
(Psalm 136)

We worship the God whose steadfast love endures forever, even in the leaves that fall, even in the moon that hides, even in the birds who no longer sing. So why is it that we let OUR songs of praise be cut short by the longing to be liked, the pressure to be productive, the urge to be adult? Why are we so afraid?

If the singers and poets, if the the psalmists and the prophets, if they had been ashamed of who they were, half the Bible would disappear.


Pablo Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

Jesus said something like that. There was the time people were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples (the budding professional religious grown-ups) saw it, they sternly (because that's how grown-ups talk, isnt it? They sternly) ordered them to stop. But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:15-17)

Big people, beware. The kingdom of heaven is kind of like the good rides at Dollywood, except in reverse. "If you are TALLER than this sign, you may not enter." Those of us who are vertically challenged are going, "Yeah! Hope you giants like it warm." But we know Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Heaven doesn't have maximum height restrictions. Or minimum seriousness restrictions. Jesus is not talking about getting you into heaven; he's talking about getting heaven into you. And if the kingdom of God is really going to be within you, as Jesus told us, you've got to have some imagination to play with.

You know how kids have those awesome imaginations? Give them a box, and they'll play for hours. Give them an Xbox and... Bad example. Kids have these awesome imaginations and can see stuff that isn't there. That doesn't mean it's not real. The Apostle Paul said something like that. He wrote a letter to the church in Corinth telling them that they should hold onto their hope, hold onto their dreams because, "we (meaning, we Christians) look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)

If you're a Christian, you have to believe in things we light candles for. Things like, hope, peace, joy, and love. You can't see these things. But you can feel them. And you can definitely feel when they're not there. Too often, they're the first things grown-ups cut.

We were at a band concert a couple of weeks ago, and one of the band directors got up to do his speech. I say, "his speech," because he gives the same one pretty much every time. (Probably what people who come on Christmas Eve say about me.) He's well known for his, "we must support the arts in public education" speech. And, you know, when you're speaking to an auditorium filled with parents and grandparents whose kids are sitting up on the stage, well, it's a little easier sell than the state legislature. So, the band director stands up, and I'm thinking, here we go again. And he starts talking about how great it is to work with such special children, and he means "special" in a good way, and how glad he is to see us all here. Yada, yada, yada.

And he gets to where we all know he's going, "Yes, we all know how hard economic times are right now. Everyone's talking about making sacrifices. Everyone's talking about making cuts. And we all know the first thing to get cut is always... joy."

Joy??? That is not the usual support the arts speech.

The first thing to get cut is always... joy.

Suddenly, I realize, he's not speaking, he's preaching. And he's good. He makes me wonder, why is it that those things that are childlike always fall under "discretionary." Does anyone really believe joy is optional? Would you want to live without hope, without peace, without joy or without love? A lot of people do. But not by choice. Someone, somewhere along the way has told them, "No. You can't have those things. No, you can't feel that way. No, you can't do that. It's childish. It's embarrassing. Grow up.

So, there are shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And one of them gets a priority message on his Blackberry. There's going to be a mandatory staff meeting (staff, get it?) in Bethlehem, in the manger behind the inn. They'll need to bring copies of their monthly TPS reports and expense vouchers. They're going to have to share the conference space with a donkey. And an unmarried couple who may be giving birth. And the shepherds look at one another and go, "Sigh. It's always something." Isn't that how grown-ups get notified? Isn't that how we respond?

Here's what really happened. There was a star. And then an angel came. And then a whole choir of heavenly host appeared in the clouds and started singing. And the shepherds said, "Holy smokes! Let's go see what this is all about!" And they hitched up their robes and ran. And they shouted. Laughing all the way. That's not in the Bible, but that's exactly what they did. You know how I know? Because that's what a child would do.

Unashamed. Unembarrassed. Of course that's how the first people who saw Jesus were. They always are.


I'm talking now to those of you who are grown-ups. I'm guessing there's something you used to just love doing, something that brought you good tidings of great joy that you've given up, because it's too frivolous. Or put away, because there's just not enough time, or not enough money to enjoy. You know how I know? Because those are always the first things to get cut.

Jesus, faith, God. Those are "first things," wouldn't you say? Joy. Hope, peace and love. Wouldn't you say those are priority things, important things, "first things," too? What a shame if we let ourselves get so serious, we let those get cut? We might even say it would be, shameful. Ironic.

You know, the opposite of joy isn't sadness. The opposite of joy is seriousness. The deeply serious are always cutting those "first things" first because... they're too childish, or too time-consuming, or too wasteful. We grown-ups understand these things.

If you're a grown-up, I want you to think about something. I want you to think about your choices, here in this week before Christmas. I want you to think about the choices you make this week. Think about your choices as you're making them, whatever they are. Serious, trivial, almost unconscious. I want you to think about your choices and ask yourself if you're choosing to hold onto the "first things" of God, or if you're letting them get cut. Think about the choices you're making and ask yourself if you're choosing things that are seen over things that are unseen. Ask yourself if you're choosing hope, peace, joy, or love... or something else. Something more mature. Something less embarrassing. Something no so... shameful.

For an awful, awful lot of grown-ups shame and guilt, or the worry about being shamed or found guilty, are the #1 and #2 first things on your mind. Maybe you've done some shameful things in your life. And maybe you're carrying that guilt on your shoulders, like a 100 pound backpack, everywhere you go. You can almost feel it, weighing on you, pressing on you.

Which is funny. Because to the rest of us, it's invisible. I wonder. At what point did you stop believing in the good things that are unseen and start believing in the bad ones?

At what age do we trade the dreams for the shame?


Last Sunday night, we had a talent show here in the sanctuary. Maybe it's kind of odd to have a talent show to help us celebrate Christmas, but then again, maybe not. It was a great time. I, personally, really enjoyed being a horse's front-end, for a change.

I want to say something especially to you kids who sang, or danced, or played instruments. You were awesome. We are so proud of you all. Thank you, for sharing your gifts. Which is what Christmas is about, isn't it? Sharing gifts that God gives us. If you're a kid, and you've got talent, whether you share it on stage, or on a soccer field, or in a classroom, or however. If you're a kid and you've got talent - and you do - keep practicing, keep learning, keep having fun with it, and most of all, keep sharing it. We grown-ups need you to.

I didn't know they were going to do this, but our Tech Team decided it would be a good idea to broadcast the talent show live, across the Internet, to the world. Or, at least, those of the world with computers, who tuned in to our website. We got a comment back from one of our Internet viewers, who said, "It was so refreshing to see a church having that much fun together."

It kind of made me sad, because I realized this person's church must not have that much fun together. They must not have much joy in being church. And it made me grateful to be here. And it made me want to never take one second of our joy for granted.

Maybe my singing brings me more joy than it does the people around me. Maybe my gift is appreciating those who DO have beautiful singing voices. Every single one of us has the gift, which practiced well can become a talent, every one of us has the talent of giving thanks. Every one of us has the talent for giving thanks for God's hope, giving thanks for God's peace, giving thanks for God's joy, and and giving thanks for God's love. Every one of us has the gift, the talent, for giving thanks for God's love as it sings forth from rocks and trees, from lakes and streams, from oceans and from butterfly wings. From stars, from angels, from heavenly choirs.

And even from each other.

Sent with Writer.

- James

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011-12-04 Second Sunday of Advent - Peace

2011-12-04 Second Sunday of Advent
"The Voices of Christmas: Isaiah"
Dr. James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Isaiah 40:3-5
3 A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together...."

Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' " 4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

I am the voice of Isaiah, the voice of all who encourage others.
I am the voice of the volunteer in the soup kitchen satisfying another's hunger.
I am the voice of the therapist restoring someone's peace of mind.
I am the voice of the pastor visiting the homebound.
I am the voice of the counselor listening to those bound by addiction.
For all who encourage others, I am the voice of Isaiah.
I am the voice that answers your cries, "Prepare your hearts. The One you have longed for is near!"


We're doing a series of messages in Advent built around the text of the choir's Cantata they're going to be singing next Sunday, called, "The Voices of Christmas." These are built around the text of the Cantata, not the music. You really don't want me singing.

Last Sunday we talked about the voice of the biblical nation, Israel. We talked about how Israel cried out to God for help and over the course of calling out, learned to wait, and to wait with hope.

Today, Barry & Kathy lit the candle of Peace. The voice we hear today is the voice of Isaiah. The text of the Cantata tells us that Isaiah is the voice of all who encourage others.

You speak in Isaiah's voice when you help restore someone's PEACE of mind. You speak in Isaiah's voice when you serve food to the hungry. You speak in the voice of Isaiah when you visit the homebound and the sick. You speak in the voice of Isaiah when you listen and care for people with addictions.

Isaiah brings PEACE because his voice answers your cries for help, saying, "Prepare your hearts. The one you have WAITED for is near!" Prepare your hearts with PEACE.


Did you know, Christmas is, like, 21 days away?

Did my saying that raise everyone's blood pressure 10 points? "21 days? What are we doing here?" There's a house to decorate! There's a tree to trim! There are presents to buy and I'm low on pepper spray!

You know, every year at this time, preachers all around the world stand up and say things like, "Advent is the time of PEACE. Advent is the time of WAITING, waiting with hope and joy."

No it's not. I don't know anyone who's extra meditative this month. I know people who are extra medicated this month. But that's not the same thing.

Christmas makes a lot of people very anxious. Christmas makes a fair number of people clinically depressed. Even if you're neither extreme, it's hard to separate yourself from people who are. You're going to run into them if you go to Wal-Mart, or if you go to work, or if you attend school, or if you have relatives.

So, then the preacher stands up during Advent and says, "God wants you to be PEACEFUL, God wants you to WAIT with hope." Really? It's amazing preachers don't get pepper sprayed more than we do.

The last thing in the world I want to do is to make you feel guilty about feeling anxious. The last thing I want to do is make you feel guilty because you're wound up kinda tight, or wound down to where you're too overwhelmed to move. That doesn't help any of us. If you leave today, feeling more anxious, feeling more depressed, and on top of that feeling guilty because you're anxious or depressed because you're not as PEACEFUL as God says you ought to be, I've messed up.

I really wish I had a magic bucket. I wish I had a magic, bottomless bucket where you could empty out and throw in it all the stuff that makes you anxious, or depressed, or stressed, or messed up. We could pass the magic bucket around and whatever is making you worried, or unhappy, or freaked out, you could dump it in the bucket and hear it go, "Clank." And then we'd take the bucket and pour it in the lake, with all the other toxic stuff. And it would wash downstream to Chattanooga. Let them have it. I wish there were some magic bucket or quick way to help you get all that junk out of your heads and out of your hearts and off your chests so we could all really enjoy Advent season and Christmas the way God intended. Stress-free. Worry-free. Singing carols and holding hands. Full of nothing but HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, world without end, amen.

I wish I could do that. I wish I could just hand out that kind of PEACE. I wish I had a magic bucket, or a magic wand, or a magic scripture verse that would just get us all straightened out, and all cleaned up, and all just ready, for Christmas.

You know what? I think God wishes that, too.


So, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness of Judea, along the banks of the River Jordan. John appears and says, "Make straight the pathway of the Lord." He says, "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near." And people from all over come to him. People from all over come to him because they know they need their twisted-up hearts to be straightened out. People form all over come to John down by the river, because they know they need to get themselves cleaned up. They want to wash off all their anxiety, all their depression, all the junk that's weighing them down. Wash it off and let it flow down the river, away.

You know, one of the words we don't talk about much these days is the word, REPENT. If someone's having troubles, we tell them, "You need to go talk to a therapist." Which is good. Or we say, "You need to take a vacation." Which is good. Or we say, "You need to get away from those people, or from that person, who's messing you up." Which again, is good. But rarely do we tell anyone, "You need to REPENT."

Ironically, though, when God wanted people to get ready for Jesus, when God wanted people ready for Christmas, God sent John the Baptist, and that's exactly what John said to do. To REPENT.

I think we preachers, as much fun and as profitable as it can be to make people feel guilty and anxious and depressed (all at the same time, if you're really good)... I think we preachers have abused the word, REPENT. Because, in the Bible, when people like Isaiah or John the Baptist said to repent, they didn't mean it like that. They didn't mean it to make people feel bad. How you FELT wasn't really that important.

In the Bible, repentance isn't something you FEEL as much as something you DO.

In the Bible, repentance works like this. First, you go public. If you're repenting in your mind, you're not really repenting. You're just thinking about repenting. If you want to repent the way God intended, you've got to go public. In the Gospel According to Matthew, you went down to the river with John the Baptist, and you publicly confessed. You publicly said,
I've wronged someone.
I've cheated someone.
I've cheated ON someone.
I've lied to someone.
I've stolen from someone.
I've gossiped about someone behind his back, or behind her back.
I've sat and stewed for hours, days, months about how I'm going to get revenge on someone.
I've wasted so much time rehearsing what I wish I had said to someone.
I've ignored my own someones.
I've hidden dark stuff from someone.

In the Bible, that's the first step in repentance. Public confession. But that's just the start.

In the Bible, repentance is a two-step process. First, you publicly confess what you've done. Second, you right your wrong. And more, you right your wrong with interest.

Something we probably don't think too much about when we say the Lord's Prayer every week is, "Forgive us our debts... as we forgive our debtors." You see, when you wrong someone, you're in their debt. You've taken something from them, whether they know it or not. Maybe you've taken the chance for a full relationship. Maybe you've taken real money. Maybe you've taken something else, but you are confessing and accepting the fact that you are in debt.

So, to do repentance like it is in the Bible, after you've done the first half, which is confessing the debt you've gotten yourself into, the second half is paying it back. With interest.

Now, think about this. In Bible terms, what you FEEL really ISN'T as important as what you DO to try to pay back your debt. You might feel guilty, you might feel anxious, you might feel sorry, you might feel ashamed, but that's not the point. That's a by-product that means your conscience hasn't withered up completely. The point of repentance isn't what you FEEL, it's what you DO - what you DO - to try, try, to make things right.

You say it publicly. You work to pay off what you've taken, with interest. And then you let the water wash the bucket full of junk away. Repentance is not magic. Not by a long shot. Repentance will probably cause you some short-term complications.

But after you've emptied that bucket out, and the waters of your baptism have washed away the mess, suddenly you've got some room for something else.


If you had a magic bucket, what would you put in it? If you could dump thing that's causing you anxiety, or causing you depression, or causing you guilt, causing you problems, what would it look like, as it clanked into the hole?

What scares you the most about letting it go? You don't want it. So why are you holding onto it so tightly? Why have you held onto it for so long? Isn't it time to dump it? Isn't it time to confess it? Isn't it time to repay the debt it's brought you? Isn't it time to repent?

Do you know what the penalty is for not getting everything just perfect at Christmas? Do you know what the penalty for that is?

Absolutely nothing.

Take that anxiety. Take that worry. Take that guilt. And throw it in the bucket.

Oh, and, if we're going by the Bible, which we should be, it won't clank when it hits the bottom.

It'll splash.

With the waters of baptism. With the waters of repentance.


The voice of Isaiah that we read from the Cantata text talks about encouragement. Isaiah sings of encouraging those who volunteer in food kitchens to encourage people who are hungry. Isaiah sings of therapists who encourage people's minds and hearts. Isaiah sings of people who visit the sick, the homebound. Isaiah sings of people who listen to those with addictions.

If you've ever done any of those, you know they're not easy. They're often very, very hard. Encouragement isn't magic. Peace is hard work. That's why we light candles for PEACE.

Before the angels sing. Before the shepherds kneel. Before the kings bring gifts. Before the Prince of Peace is born, his cousin calls us to repent. To let the waters wash away the things that keep us from PEACE.


Will you pray with me?

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, we begin our confession before you. Give us the strength, the courage, the hope, to continue our confession before the people and the places who really deserve it. Help us to pay off the debts we owe them, with interest. Make us models of your peace, examples of those who repent, not just in mind, but in action. It is in your name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Voices of Christmas - Israel

First Sunday in Advent
The Voices of Christmas: Israel
Dr. James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Psalms 130:5-8
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

6 my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

and with him is great power to redeem.

8 It is he who will redeem Israel

from all its iniquities.

Isaiah 30:18b
For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Luke 7:18-23

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 20 When the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?' " 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."


In two Sundays, the Sunday after next, December 11, the Choir will sing its annual Cantata. "The Voices of Christmas." I'll be around for the prayers and the offering - preachers always are - but everything else in worship will be in the hands of Scott and Carla and the Choir. The Cantata is one of those special Sundays a lot of people really love. Me too. The only thing I wish is that it could be more than one Sunday. I know a lot of you do too.

So this year, we decided to do something about that. This year, the theme for worship for the entire month of December is, "The Voices of Christmas." The scriptures and themes for worship every Sunday of this month will come from the spoken parts of the Cantata, read by the Cantata narrators, George and Wanda. Each week, they're reading a set of scripture from the Cantata, and I'm basing my messages on it.

On one hand, it's kind of a preview of coming attractions. But on the other hand, it's a statement that the voices of Christmas are too big, too loud, to rich to be contained on one Sunday.

So, today, the voice of Christmas we heard is the voice of Israel, which says...

[insert reading from Cantata text here.]


Today the Crumptons lit the candle of Hope. Isaiah sings a song of hope. But Isaiah's song is also a song of waiting. It's a song of waiting... with hope.

"Blessed are all those who.... wait... [for the Lord].

John tells his disciples to go ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come? Or are we to... wait... for another?"

I loved in last Sunday's Children's Sermon, Roseanne asked the kids what holiday was coming up, and they said, "Christmas!" Kind of skipped right over the thing we had last Thursday. People complain about that. When you start playing Bing Crosby the day after Halloween, Thanksgiving gets lost in the hubbub.

Here's my idea. I think we all know this isn't a fight we're going to win. So what if, instead of complaining about how retail Christmas is crowding out Thanksgiving, we just moved Thanksgiving? To a better date? What if we moved Thanksgiving to, say, late January, or early February? Like, Thursday before the Super Bowl. If you're going to clean the house for one party, why not have two? Just get more chips for Thanksgiving, and your Super Bowl shopping is done.

Besides, wouldn't it make more sense to give thanks AFTER you got the toys you've waited for? Instead of giving thanks while you're waiting, give thanks after Santa's brought you the Blu-Ray player. Instead of giving thanks before you get jewelry, before you get a flat-screen TV, or an iPad, or a Kindle, or a Lego Hogwarts Castle, or a dried-fruit basket, or bacon-flavored lip balm, or a toaster that toasts a UT Power T into each slice of bread ($33.95 at amazon.com, but supplies are limited. Oh Lord. Everyone's pulling out their smart phones now)... instead of giving thanks before you get these life-changing gifts, wouldn't it make more sense to do Thanksgiving after? Wouldn't it make more sense to do Thanksgiving after you get what what you've been waiting for?

I know what you're thinking. How can one man come up with so many good ideas? You're welcome.

We kind of do that, though. Don't we? When do you thank someone? Unless you're playing tennis at the club, it's after they've done something nice for you. We say, "Thank you," and there's always a "for something" that follows. Thank you... for fixing my car. Thank you... for getting me a gift. Thank you... for cleaning your room without me asking. Thank you... for giving me a ride to the grocery store. There's always a "for something" that follows "Thank you." Which means in real time, the thing we're thankful for came first.

The car was fixed. The gift was received. The room was cleaned. The ride was given. So... thank you. Thank you for what you've already done. We've been waiting, now the "for something" is here. We have what we wanted. The wait is over. So, thank you.

When you think about how we operate, it makes sense. After you get what you want, after you get what you've been waiting for, give thanks. That's how we operate.

But it's not how God operates.


I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.

We might wait to give thanks until after we get what we're waiting for. But that's not the way the Bible works. The Psalm is Israel's voice. The biblical nation of Israel is calling out for God's help. Israel is waiting.

The nation of Israel, God's people in the Bible, spent way more time split up, way more time taken captive, way more time fighting for its life than as a sovereign nation. But here's the thing. Israel is called to give thanks. The Psalm is Israel calling out thanks for God's steadfast love.

And it's calling out thanksgiving before Christmas. Calling out thanksgiving before a single gift has been opened. Calling out thanksgiving while it waits.


What are you waiting for? Really. What is it that would make you the way you really, really want to be? Maybe it's something you can wrap up and put under a tree. Maybe. But I bet not.

I bet what you're really, really waiting for is something better than any gift you could get at Christmas. What you're really waiting for is something more abstract. More abstract, but also more real.

What are you waiting for? Really? Is it hope? Is it peace? Is it joy? Is it love? You don't really want something someone can buy for you. Oh, sure, those things are fun. It's always good to get new toys. But seriously, are the toys going to satisfy your heart? Really?

What is it you really want? You want your kids to respect you? You want your parents to listen to you? You want someone to cry with you? You want a friend to make you laugh?

You want to wake up in the morning and not hurt? You want something productive to do with all your boredom?

What do you want, really? What are you waiting for, really?

You see, here's what the Bible tells us to do. Here's what the Bible tells us to do. And, seriously, it doesn't make sense. Not in the retail world. The Bible tells us to give thanks. The Bible tells us to give thanks before we get what we want. And even more crazy is this: The Bible tells us to give thanks while we're waiting.

How are we supposed to do that? How are we supposed to give thanks for what we haven't got? Is that supposed to schmooze God into giving us what we really want?

Do you think God falls for schmooze? Really?

We're so used to thinking retail the words of the Bible seem crazy. You don't give thanks for something you don't have. What does that mean? How can you give thanks for something you don't have?

I guess you give thanks for something God has.

You see, most of the time, when there's thanksgiving in the Bible, it's not because God has done something really nice for the people of Israel. Sometimes yes. And because they're polite and their mamas raised them right, they know to say, "Thank you," and to write a handwritten note (not an email or a Facebook post), because that's what people with manners do.

Most of the time when there's thanksgiving in the Bible, it's not because of what God has done. Most of the time when there's thanksgiving in the Bible, it's because of what God is. Because of who God is. And because of who God can be when we... wait.

Israel gives thanks because with the Lord there is steadfast love. Israel gives thanks because with God there is great power to redeem. Israel gives thanks because with God there's enough love, with God there's enough mercy to take what is broken... to take what is displaced... to take what is beaten up... to take what's worn down... and make it new. Make it whole. We give thanks because God can love, God can redeem, in spite of our faults, in spite of our brokenness. We give thanks because we don't have everything we want, and because God does. We give thanks because we don't have everything we want, and because God has promised the one who is to come, and after whom we don't have to wait for another.

Our hope is in the Lord, the Bible says. The maker of heaven and earth. And so we wait. More than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning.

Give thanks. Give thanks because waiting, as long and as painful as waiting might be... give thanks because in God your waiting is never, ever wasted.

What do you want, really? What are you waiting for, really?

You might be able to get whatever it is for Christmas. And if so, I really hope you get it. And I hope it makes you blissfully happy for the rest of your life. But on the chance that you don't get it... on the chance that whatever it is doesn't make you nearly as happy as you thought it would... well, maybe what you were asking for wasn't really what you wanted, after all. You will never be able to possess all you want. You'll never be able to get everything you need.

But you can still give thanks. You can always give thanks for what God has. For what God has promised to share with you in Jesus Christ.

Let's pray.

Gracious and merciful God. We thank you. We thank you for your goodness and your kindness. We thank you for your love and for your redemption. Help us to wait with thanksgiving instead of waiting to give thanks for what we're given. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011-11-13 Confessions of a Savaholic

Mark 6:7-9
7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;
9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.


So, why did Jesus send his disciples out with practically nothing? No food, no backpack, no money. Sandals, and probably not the all-terrain kind. No Chacos. None of those rubber shoes with the toes in them. One set of clothes. No jacket. He did let them carry a staff for self-defense. As if someone was going to try to rob a couple of guys with no bread, no bag, no money, and Wal-mart sandals. Jesus had a wicked sense of humor.

So, why? Why did he send his disciples out so ill-equipped? The typical answer is, what? So they'd have to rely on God. So they'd have to rely on other people. So they'd have to rely on their wits. That's the typical answer. And to a large extent it's true: when you get stripped down until nothing's left, when as they say in AA you hit "rock bottom," that's when you find your higher power. That's when you find your true purpose. That's when you maybe even find God. Maybe when Jesus sent the disciples out with authority over the unclean spirits. But which ones? The ones with power over other people? Maybe. Or maybe he really sent them out to do battle with the unclean spirits within themselves.

Maybe their authority began the moment they dared to leave everything else behind.


How many of you have ever watched the TED Talks on the Internet? TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference to encourage the spread of ideas. The free distribution of Ideas Worth Spreading is their mission. They've had people from Billy Graham to Bill Gates, talking about their ideas. www.TED.com is the website. I really encourage all of you to take a look and browse through these amazing presentations.

So, anyway, I'm at my desk last week, thinking about today's message which a few weeks ago I very smartly titled, "Confessions of a Savaholic." Why? Because it's kind of the opposite of last week's "Confessions of a Shopaholic." Titles really get in the way of thinking sometimes. They sound interesting on paper. So, anyway, I'm sitting in front of the computer, and I'm not getting very far with my ideas, so I decide to distract myself (or maybe procrastinate?) by watching a TED talk. Normal people play Angry Birds. Sometimes I do that, too. And almost accidentally, I clicked on this talk by writer and designer, Graham Hill. And here's his 5 minute, 49 second talk about the stuff we might leave behind.


So, I see Graham Hill's talk. And I'm thinking about the box. And I'm imagining that even that one box of his is way bigger than what the disciples would have needed to carry their stuff when Jesus sent them out into the world. And it occurs to me that maybe I'm thinking about this scripture from the point of view of someone who has boxes and boxes of stuff. Which I do. And a house-full of stuff, and a car-full of stuff, including enough french fries between the seats to exist for a week. And an office full of stuff.

And so it hits me that maybe Jesus is not sending the disciples out stuff-free in order to make them self-reliant, or even God-reliant. Or even to cast out demons. Maybe Jesus is smarter. Maybe Jesus is after something else.

I watch this Graham Hill's talk and suddenly it dawns on me. Maybe Jesus is sending them out to battle the unclean spirits without stuff because stuff IS the unclean spirit. Maybe stuff IS unclean. Maybe stuff is the source of the disciples' trouble. Maybe it's the source of my trouble. And maybe it's the source of yours, too.

Now, if this is Jesus' point, then you know what? The disciples passed the test the minute they set aside their stuff. The minute they walked away from their stuff and stepped out on their journey, they got an "A". They did it. It would be just like Jesus to do something tricky like that. "Oh and, hey guys, don't forget your staffs, so you can fight off all the people who want your stuff!"

So after a while they come back after their Survivorman journeys and tell Jesus the results. One says "Oh, I was awesome! I kicked some unclean spirit backside!" Another says, "Well, I didn't do so great." And Jesus says, "Hey, guess what! It wasn't about THOSE unclean spirits. You passed the test the minute you stepped out of camp. You passed the test the minute you walked away from all your... stuff. (Oh, and by the way guys, while you were gone, I gave away all your stuff to the poor.)"

What if Jesus was like that?


So, I hear that we Americans have 3 times the storage space that we did 50 years ago. And public storage buildings, too. And then I hear the parable about the guy who was doing so well that he built more better barns for all his stuff. And I think, "Wow. That sounds familiar."

Remember what he said: 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.' (All my stuff.)

'And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' And I think, "Wow. That sounds pretty darn good to me."

Pretty darn familiar.

But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

And you hear scriptures like that (especially during stewardship season) and you think, "Oh, Lord. I know where he's going with this. Get the checkbook out and maybe he'll let us go on time."

No. Preachers do enjoy making people feel guilty, but that's not the point of this sermon. I promise I'll do another one to make you feel really guilty. Hopefully this sermon's different. Because when you take Jesus' stuff-free disciple challenge and you combine it with the parable of the guy with the storage units, the message isn't about guilt. It's not an effort to make you feel bad for having so much stuff. Instead, it's a lifeline of hope. Jesus doesn't want you to have guilt; Jesus wants you to have freedom. There's still time. It's a message that, you know what, there's still time to free yourself from the weight of all that stuff. You don't have to be like the rich fool. You can be like the disciples, who just simply, walked away.


The parable of the rich fool. You know what another title might be? "Stuff makes you stupid." Really. It does. I started looking around my office. You know how many preaching robes I have now? Four. There's the one I got when I first became a preacher. Another one that's white, which I don't think I've ever worn once. There's the lightweight choir robe I stole from Scott and Carla with the hole in the sleeve where I got too close to an Advent Candle and almost set myself on fire. And then there's this one. Four robes. That's not only unnecessary; it's stupid. I can't wear more than one at a time. Why not donate a couple to a new preacher-boy or girl graduating from seminary with $20,000 in debt? You know what? I think I will.

You probably don't have a stack of preacher robes at home. But I'll bet you have more winter coats than you can wear at one time. How many do you need? Really? Don't wait, because, as the parable warns, the week after next might be too late.

I doubt that any of you will totally walk away from everything. But are there things you can walk away from? Are there things you can give away? Can you start there?


Imagine if our whole church started giving our extra stuff away this week... how much would it be? If we took it as a challenge, maybe even a friendly competition, how liberating, how exciting, how joyful and kind of even, fun, could it be?

How much lighter would you feel? How much cleaner would you feel, if you walked away from a few boxes of your unclean spirits?

Now, it's probably true that the disciples didn't have that much stuff to start with. Which, in a way, might have made walking away from it that much harder. But once they did, one they found out how much they didn't need, I'm betting they figured out what they really did need.

How about you? What can you live without? And in living without it, what will you find out you really need?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

2011-11-06 Confessions of a Shopaholic.txt

2011-11-06 Confessions of a Shopaholic
James 4:1-3, Matthew 6:25-33
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

James 4
1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Matthew 6
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


We're in a series of messages called, "Saints Alive! Living Generously," which, coincidentally, is the theme of our Stewardship Season (wow, how did that happen?). The Stewardship Committee has lined up speakers to begin worship each Sunday with a Call to Stewardship to talk to us all about the joy and responsibility of giving to God and giving to your church. And I, for one, am so grateful.

I am so grateful for Scott, and Peggy, and all the people working on Stewardship because your preacher is about the absolute last person in the world who should be talking to anyone about money. If that's what you want to learn, we can get some Dave Ramsey videos, maybe get some of you who are savvy to lead a seminar on wealth management - that's the new term for it, "wealth management," which assumes you don't have to manage your poverty, I guess. As a general rule, you do not want to get your financial advice from a preacher. And I know a lot of preachers. Trust me, we're just not built that way.

Except, and this is a big exception to the rule, the greatest preacher in the history of the world - Jesus - talked a lot about money. Jesus - the greatest preacher ever - talked more about money than he talked about heaven, more about money than he talked about hell, Jesus talked more about money than any other topic in the gospels... AND he talked more about money than anyone else in the Bible.

And let me say this, too. If you've been taught that Jesus didn't like money, if you've been taught that Jesus didn't use money, or that he thought it was dirty and bad and something you shouldn't talk about in church, that's just wrong. Some of Jesus' best friends were wealthy. The famous two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, the original deadbeat, were not only some of Jesus' best friends, they also supported his ministry with their wealth. Jesus ate at the homes of wealthy people all the time. Jesus did not dislike money. And if you were taught that in church, I'm sorry, because it's just wrong.

If anything, Jesus taught that we should look very closely at a person and how he or she uses money, and we should look very closely at ourselves and how we use our money because, Jesus said, "For where your treasure is (where your money is), there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34).

Jesus didn't dislike money; he used money. He used money to support his ministry. (After all he had disciples, and twelve guys are going to eat like... twelve guys.) But more importantly, Jesus used money as a gauge. Jesus used money as a telescopic lens to zoom in on the heart. Jesus used money as an X-ray machine to see into a person's heart. Because where our money goes, he said, our hearts follow. If you want to know where a person's heart is, check out his money. Check out how she spends her money. Check out how she saves her money. Check out how he gives away his money. That's how the person's heart is. That's where a person's heart is. Jesus used money as a heart monitor.

So here's where I think it's not only OK, but necessary to talk about money in church. Because in church we talk about the heart. In church, we talk about your heart. But in church we don't talk about that organ that pumps blood. That's your cardiologist. We talk about your heart as that inner being, your heart as that inner core, your heart as that spirit that defines who you really, really are. Your heart is not just your blood-pumper. Your heart is not just your brain and all the stuff you think really hard about. Your heart is your essence. Your heart is the part of you specially crafted by the hand of God. You can't see it on a CAT scan. They can't see it when you go through airport security. Your heart is the deepest, truest you. Your heart is what makes you, you. The heart is the essence within. You can't see the heart.

Except, Jesus said, your heart can be monitored by looking at your... treasure. Want to see what's in a person's heart? Look for their treasure.

Jesus was painfully clear about this. He said, "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil...." (Luke 6:45) Why? Because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

So, whether you're a stock market genius. Whether you lose every penny you ever get. Whether you secretly feel under the pew cushions when you sit down. Whether you kiss every dollar and rub it against your cheek. Whether you give it all away to the poor, or to give it your kids, or give it to the pharmacy, or give it to the government. Whatever your skill or relationship or love or hate to money is, we're all in the same boat. We're all equal in that our money is directly attached to our hearts. "For where your treasure is (where your money is), there your heart will be also."


I guess all of us still get physical mail delivered. Snail mail. That part of the government's still in business, this year. Our physical mail is either one of two kinds: Bills, to tell us where our money is owed; and Catalogs to tell us where our money can be spent. So we can get more bills. It's November, so the catalogs are starting out outnumber the bills. Catalogs of clothes. Catalogs of creepy dolls that look just like you. Catalogs of home decorations. Catalogs of gadgets. Catalogs of pet supplies. So much paper. Our family, alone, is responsible for the destruction of three Brazilian villages.

(I almost said Amazon villages. But kids these days think "Amazon" is a web site where you stay up to 3am buying stuff. "Oh, wow. They named a river for it?")

You know that compulsive buying urge in the pit of your stomach? I get it over gadgets. Some people get it over golf clubs. Or shoes. Or Vera Bradley. Or books. Or cars. Or antiques. Or firearms. Some people, when they're out in their cars with nothing to do, their cars just autopilot their way to Bass Pro, or Best Buy, or Kohl's, or Abercrombie, or Apple, or Dillard's, or Jared, or Claire's. (Is anyone else salivating?) It's like they have a secret homing signal. ("Cosmetics." "Fishing equipment." "Yes, Master.")

And once the urge takes hold, it's like this irresistible force. And you start making rationalizations about how you've really EARNED that shopping expedition, how you really DESRVE that thing, that trinket, that gateway to personal fulfillment. Yes, just this one more thing and then I shall be complete.

And a little voice says, "No you won't." And you tell that voice to hush because it's on SALE, so it's like you're SUPPOSED to have it. And the little voice says, "But don't you also have to buy FOOD?" And you say, "But that's why God invented credit cards."

And the voice says, "Why do you worry so much about these things?" And you say, "Hey! Whose voice is this, anyway? Who let you inside my head?"

And Jesus says, "I'm not in your head. I'm in your heart."

"And your heart is having an attack. Because right now your heart and your treasure is on a store shelf. And I," (and this is Jesus talking), "I want to know... why? Why do you worry about this stuff? Why do you worry about stuff?"


I'm paraphrasing. Here's what he really says.

He says,

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"

The Apostle James really hit it on the head, he said,

"Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?"

Here's the thing. You may think there's sort of this quiet little conflict or urge or craving going on inside you that no one else has to know about until they see the thing, or until the statement comes,

you may think you're keeping it to yourself, and that you and you alone have the power to do that, but you're wrong.

If you are conflicted about your treasure in your heart, it seeps out, and the cravings at war within you cause conflicts and disputes in your other relationships.

If you are conflicted about your treasure in your heart, not only is your heart under attack, but so are your eyes, and so is your mind.

Because if you are conflicted about your treasure in your heart, you won't be able to notice the lilies of the field, or the birds of the air. You won't be able to notice the natural and freely given goodness of God, your Heavenly Father, because you're so consumed by your consumer consumption.

It's like an illness and it infects the heart. Not your blood-pumper heart, your essence heart, your inmost spirit-heart. It's like an illness, infecting your heart and its number one symptom is confusion. It leads to secondary symptoms, like grumpiness, envy, and depriving other people of fun stuff because you can't have yours. But those are secondary symptoms. The number one symptom is... confusion. We get confused about where our treasure is. We get confused about our treasure and we get confused about what's in our heart.



Where's your treasure? What treasures do you worry about? What shopaholic urges get you on autopilot? What gets your heart confused?

Jesus says that where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Your treasures are your heart monitor. Maybe the treatment for disease of the heart is to swap out our treasures. Maybe we can force our minds, force our tastes, force our wills to change about what we treasure and what we don't. Maybe we can change what we treasure. That's one approach. Maybe we can do, like, shock aversion therapy. Every time we get near an iPod or get near a new purse, we have this little thing that gives us a shock. Or maybe we can give our spouses or our best friends tasers to just take us out. (And some of you wives are thinking, "Yeah." The church does not condone the tasing of husbands.)

Maybe we can change our treasures.
Or maybe we can change our hearts.

Maybe you deal with that shopaholic thing all the time and maybe you really do need some professional help. Or maybe it just jumps up and grabs you every once in a while. The right way to deal with it - as it is with everything we can put -aholic after - starts with confession.

And I'm not talking about confession to God. God already knows. I'm talking about confession to the people affected by your spending. Confession to the people affected by your confusion, your worry, your obsession. Jesus already knows you worry about clothes and trends and trinkets and stuff. He knows you worry about that stuff more than you see the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. So you've got nothing to confess to him. Confess to the people who are affected by your heart.


We are part of a consumer culture. And while the recession has changed a lot of our spending habits, I'm not so sure it's changed our wanting habits. The treasures are still out there. It's just that now they're farther out of reach. Maybe that's why our nation seems so grumpy lately. We still want the same treasures, but now we can't get them. I don't know. It just seems to me that as a people, we've got some real heart problems. And if Jesus is right - and he usually is - our heart problems are always connected to our treasure problems.

There's one place in worship every week when the church gets it right. There's one place where we get our hearts and our treasures in the right place. And it's usually the only place in worship where we expose our treasures. That is, unless you've been texting each other on your treasured cell phones during the sermon. The church gets its heart right when we collect the offering and then, immediately after, sing, "Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow." That's a living lesson each week on heart-healthy behavior. For about five minutes, our hearts and our treasures are in the same place.

What if every purchase you made, you sang, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," as the cashier was swiping your debit card? Probably not the best idea to sing it out loud. (On one knee. Into a portable microphone.) Sing it quietly, to yourself. What if, every time the urge to buy clenched our stomachs, we sang it, to ourselves, or maybe out loud in the car if you're alone? Would it help eliminate some confusion? Would it help make us aware of how our treasures line up with our hearts?

It's just an idea.

"But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness...."

Sent with Writer.

- James

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Saints' Day

Matthew 22.34-39
All Saints' Day
October 30, 2011
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

We celebrate All Saints' Day today.
To say, "Saints," always generates some confusion, because people are used to "saints" in the way the Roman Catholic Church thinks of saints.
Like Saint Teresa, or Saint Christopher.
In the Presbyterian Church, we don't have canonized saints as they do in the Catholic church.
Not that our way is better.
It's just a different way of defining a saint.
In our tradition, a saint is someone who perseveres.
We think of a saint as someone who lives a life worthy of praise.
Someone who is worth remembering when this life is over and they've moved on to their eternal home.
So, in our tradition, we have a lot of saints.
Some of them are saints in spite of the adversity they've had in their lives.
And some of them are saints in spite of the adversity they've created in other people's lives.
They're saints in spite of themselves.

Presbyterians have a lot of saints, among both the living and the dead.
We have a lot of examples of worthwhile lives that we shouldn't, that we couldn't, that we dare not forget.
Saints aren't perfect people.
We know that.
We're all a mix -- two parts sinner and one part saint.
We miss ballgames.
We forget to call on a birthday.
We let our vices get the best of us.
And then we turn around and do something absolutely saintly in spite of ourselves.
No, saints aren't perfect.
But they are good.
And their goodness leaves its mark on us, sometimes even if we don't want it to.
So in the Presbyterian church there are aren't really any rules about who gets to be a saint and who doesn't.
There are no councils, no votes, no declarations from General Assembly.
Some people might find that frustrating.
Simply put, if the balance of the good we choose to remember outweighs the sins we choose to forget, we anoint someone a saint.
It's up to us as much as it's up to them, and probably more.
Love, forgiveness, and kindness are, in the end, the only rules of all the saints.

The religious leaders of Jesus' day had come up with 613 equally important commandments for anyone who wanted their life to count.
Of the 613, 248 were positive commands, the "Thou shalts."
248 was also the number of body parts they had counted on the human body.
To their credit, the scribes were more interested in teaching what you should do with your body parts than what you shouldn't.
The remaining 365 commandments were negative, the "Thou shalt nots."
There was one "Thou shalt not," for each of the 365 days of the year.
It's not a bad system.
Except that keeping track of 613 equally important commandments would be paralyzing.
Everything you should do would be countermanded by something you shouldn't do.
It's also not a bad system if you're a scribe and you want to maintain your job security.
It's a great system for keeping people off balance.
Create worry.
It works.
Create guilt.
Guilt is a great way to keep religion in business.
Make people worry themselves to death over whether they've forgotten one thing that's going to eternally condemn their souls.
That's the ticket.
As in many societies, the people who would be saints wrote the rules and the sinners paid the bills.

So, armed with 613 often conflicting, equally important rules, they went to Jesus.
"Teacher," they said.
"What is the most important commandment?"
In the Gospel According to Luke, the question is phrased, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Either way the point is the same.
"What do I have to do to make my life count?"
"What do I have to do to become a saint?"
So here's what Jesus did.
He picked (actually) two commandments that weren't even among their 613, glomed them together, and came up with something completely different.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself."
Doesn't sound so ground-breaking to us.
But to the people who had bet their livelihoods and their lives on the 613, Jesus had just broken all the rules.
They must have been thinking, "Why, anyone can do that."
\Which was exactly the point.
Anyone can.
And everyone does, once in a while.
We just hope someone's watching when we do.

You remember John Brichetto?
He was a saint.
And he's probably spinning in his grave for me to say that, but, it's the truth.
One time, John told me that he was tired of going to funerals where he doesn't know the person under discussion.
Oh, he thought he knew them.
May have grown up with them.
But the way the preacher goes on and on about how saintly they were, he'd turn around in his seat and wonder, "Did I come to right place?"
John told me he'd already written down verbatim what I was supposed to say at his funeral. And if I varied one word from the text, he'd jump up and get me.
THAT would be a good Halloween story.
Ironically, when the time came, no one could find this supposed script John said he had written.
Which is a good lesson for us all.
If you want to write down exactly what the preacher's supposed to say, put it someplace safe.
Don't take it with you.

More often than not, as we're planning for visitations and for funerals, families apologize for laughing too much.
Between the laughter, between the tears, stories of the real person rise to the top.
These are the really good ones.
Memories are distilled.
In our memories, the two parts sinner get washed away, and the one part saint ascends.
Exactly like Jesus said it would.

The moments when we've loved God with purity, the days when we've treated our neighbor (our husbands, our wives, our friends, our enemies) as well or better than ourselves.
These are the most important things.
These are the keys to eternal life.
These are the things that make a saint.

Sinner or saint -- sinner AND saint -- even our smallest acts of love and goodness outlive us.
Love lives on.
Love stays.
Love counts for more than all we can do to mess ourselves up.

On All Saints' Day, we remember the marks of goodness.
And we remember the goodness of God on which the saints arise.

There are a bunch of saints in this room, right now.
And most of them would say, "Heck, I'm no saint."
That's usually the first sign you are one, if not to yourself, then to someone else.
We honored two of our church's saints today, two who have gone on to their seats at God's eternal table.
If you want to honor them, if you want to honor the people who are saints in your life, then be an example, yourself.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself."
You don't know how those two simple acts of love will change the life of someone who looks to you as an example.
Let the saints inspire you.
And let the saintliness of Christ be your guide.

Sent with Writer.

- James

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finding Your Way, Part 4: Walk Humbly With Your God

Finding Your Way, Part 4: Walk Humbly With Your God
Micah 6:6-8, Matthew 11:25-30

Micah 6:8
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 11:25-30
New International Version (NIV)
The Father Revealed in the Son

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


So today we're on the final part of a series called, "Finding Your Way." It's based on the idea that even though you can find direction for life in about a million places - like, the barber shop, the beauty salon, the soccer game, lunch with friends, meetings with co-workers, talk radio, the school restroom, the other kids in your day care, Twitter, Facebook, Us Magazine weekly, your husband, your wife, your grandmother, your tattooed neighbor who never wears a shirt and is always on the front porch, shouting into his cell phone...

This series of messages is based on the idea that even though you can find direction out there from about a million places, that ultimately, God's direction is better. God's direction is better than Cosmo, better than GQ, better than Rush Limbaugh, better than Jon Stewart... God's direction better than anybody and anyplace else.

A long time ago, about two-thousand, five-hundred years ago, give or take a year, the prophet Micah, speaking on behalf of God, gave some direction for finding your way through all the advice the world has to offer. Micah, speaking on behalf of God, gave guidance for finding your way when there's NO advice. Micah, speaking on behalf of God, gave direction when you know in your gut you're getting BAD advice. And Micah's direction for life was pretty simple. Micah, speaking on behalf of God, gave us some requirements for being a quality human being. And it went like this:

What does the Lord require of you, O mortal?

He addresses it to "O mortal." Not iMortal. Not M Mortal. O mortal. When Micah-slash-God asks this rhetorical question, it's addressed not to just one person, not just us, not them, those "they" people over there. This isn't just what God requires of the people on this side of the sanctuary. This isn't just what God requires of the people in the back row of the Choir. This is addressed to "O mortal." Hello, O. Micah-slash-God means, "Everybody." All y'all. And all them. God's giving direction to every single human being on the face of the planet.

What does the Lord require of you, O mortal? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

That's it: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.

And I suppose the way it says, "Your" God, you might argue that this three-part vision statement applies to all people of all religions. And every major religion on earth has some variant of this statement, so it's not unique. But we're not those other religions. We're followers of the God for whom Micah spoke. We're followers of the God who said these words. We're followers of Jesus, who lived these words to perfection. So, if we are Christians, if we are followers of the God of Jesus Christ, these are not nuggets of helpful advice. These are requirements.

You, and you, and I, are REQUIRED to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Our God. You, plural. WE are REQUIRED as a group, required as a people, required as a church that's part of Christ's church universal to: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

So, in the previous weeks, we've done justice and we've loved kindness. Check. And check. At least, I hope we have. Today we're walking humbly with our God.


Body language tells us a lot about people. You can tell in an instant when someone is NOT walking humbly, right? People who do NOT walk humbly walk with attitude. They have a swagger. Actually, I think that's pronounced, "Swaggah." Quarterbacks. Models. Billionaires. They've got serious swag. It's men who tug on their shirt cuffs a lot. It's women who carry very tiny purses.

It's hard to walk with attitude when your purse is large enough to carry your kid's soccer pads. Hard to maintain attitude when you get in a meeting and realize your business suit is covered in dog hair. Hard to be cool when your emergency phone calls are about bringing home more toilet paper. Really quick. It's hard to walk with attitude if you're walking with a cane, unless you're British, or Dumbledore.

I don't usually hang out with models or billionaires. Maybe you do. The people I normally hang out with tend to walk more carefully. Maybe it's because they're wearing bifocals. Or maybe it's because of the time they walked face-first into the stop sign they forgot was behind them. One person I got behind last week was involved in a meandering phone call and likewise was mindlessly wandering to the left, to the right, left, no, right again, as if there was no one else in the world. There's a difference between walking with attitude and walking clueless.

I know people who walk with attitude with God. I also know people who walk cluelessly with God. I know people who walk as though God, or life in general, has placed the weight of the world on their shoulders.

How's your walk going?


Back in Bible times, when people carried water, instead of cell phones, they had yokes that they'd brace over their shoulders and hang their buckets from each end. It was pretty good technology. It kept you in shape and it kept you in balance. It gave you the power to carry at least twice what you ordinarily could. Your yoke made you stronger. Your yoke gave purpose to your walk.

About 500 years after Micah, Jesus talked about walking humbly, too. He used the image of a yoke. He said,

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

People who carried yokes were obviously humble. If you had attitude, you had someone else carrying your yoke for you. If you had a yoke, you put stuff on it you didn't mind the world seeing. You carried your water, maybe your food. You didn't hang flat-screen TVs from a yoke. You carried essentials. And, by the very nature of the technology, you carried it humbly.

So when Jesus says to "take my yoke upon you" he's saying to not worry about letting the world see what you've got on you. And what do you have? You've got the good news of Jesus Christ. The one who comes to relieve the burdens of the people who've got the whole world on their shoulders.

When Jesus says to "take my yoke upon you," he's also saying someone who walks with Christ walks humbly. In other words, lose the attitude, take on the yoke.

Jesus says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." In other words, if you're all grumpy, and judgmental, and burdened with enduring this wretched world, you may have picked up the wrong yoke at baggage claim.

On the other hand, it's still a yoke. Your yoke's not a joke and it's OK not to be doing that coat-hanger Christian smile all the time.

Carrying a yoke takes a sense of balance. And if your sense of life feels out of balance, that's sign number one you could use an adjustment. Or someone to help you carry your burdens, whatever they are.


Because, you see, ultimately, it's not how YOU walk, or how much justice YOU do, or how much kindness YOU feel all tingly and loving about. If you do walk humbly, and if you do love kindness and if you do do justice, awesome. Remember, though, this isn't about iMortal; it's about O Mortal.

If we take the book of Micah, or the preachings of Jesus and if we think they're written specifically for me, or for you, then we miss the whole point. Unlike all the other advice in the world, the Bible isn't a book about self-improvement. Oprah's about self-improvement. Jesus is not Oprah. Jesus is about something else. God is about something greater than self-improvement. God is about something greater than self-preservation.

The Bible speaks to all of us, together. Micah spoke to his whole nation. The Bible speaks to our nation. The Bible speaks to our world. And it says, "You want a place you can be proud of? Then do justice. Not just with O. J. Simpson and Muammar Gaddafi and Lindsay Lohan. Do justice with your family. Do justice with the people who don't have health care. Do justice with people who don't have jobs.

The Bible speaks to our world. And it says, "You want a place you can be proud of? Then love kindness. And not just with the people who are kind to you first. Or who you're relatively sure can repay their debt of kindness back to you. Be kind to the people who don't deserve kindness. Be kind to the people who'll never know you're being kind. Be kind, even if it means not giving people what they say they want because in the end what they want would hurt them."

And, the Bible speaks to our world. And it says, "You want a place you can be proud of? Then walk humbly with your God. And maybe, in 2011, that means letting other people walk humbly with their god, or their interpretation of God, and not getting all defensive about it. It means walking with balance. Walking with neither attitude nor chronic unhappiness. It means helping people who are out of balance, or carrying more than they can handle.


We as individuals, can always tell how far away from the mark we are, or how close we are, if we measure ourselves by the question: "Am I doing justice? Am I loving kindness? Am I walking humbly with our God?"

As a church, the same questions apply, too. We can tell how well we're doing by asking how we're doing. Are we as a congregation doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God?

And, as a church, we can be modern-day Micahs. We can ask of our society, our culture, our government, "Are we doing justice, are we loving kindness, and are we walking humbly with our God? Really?"

But I phrased the question the wrong way. I said, "We can," we can, we can. But that's wrong. Because if we're followers of Christ, if we're people who walk, if we're people who find our way in the footsteps of Jesus, then this is not optional. This is not a "we can." This is a "we must." Because all this stuff is required of you, O Mortal.

So take that yoke upon you. And may we all do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Sent with Writer.

- James

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finding Your Way (Part 3) Love Kindness

Finding Your Way, Part 3: Love Kindness
Micah 6:6-8, Luke 6:27-36

Micah 6:8

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Luke 6:27-36
    27 "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
   32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

So today we're on Part Three of a series called, "Finding Your Way." 
It's a study of the Book of Micah. 
Micah's a small book by a Minor Prophet. 
But his message is huge and timeless. 
"What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" is Micah, chapter 6, verse 8. 
Last week we did justice. 
This week we're loving kindness.

I hope you've been reading Micah at home, because there's much more to him than we can get to on Sunday mornings. 
If you haven't and you want to catch up, just go to our website, www.lakehillspres.org, and click on Worship. 
You can read Micah right there, on the computer. 
You can even have Micah read aloud to you by a guy who sounds remarkably like Darth Vader. 

Finding Your Way is easy. 
Finding direction is easy to do. 
All you have to do is follow the crowd. 
If you want to find direction all you have to do is exactly the same thing everybody around you is doing. 
Surely, your family, your neighbors, your city, your entire country can't be wrong. 
If you want guidance, if you want direction for life, just follow the people, follow the fads, follow the money. 
Find out what the cool people are doing and do that. 

That's pretty much what people in the twin countries of Israel and Judah were doing back when God called Micah to prophesy to them around 700 BC. 
They were carried away, getting rich. 
They were carried away keeping the poor people poor. 
They were carried away listening to preachers who preached that everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be. 
God says, "Don't go changing to try and please me. I love you just the way you are."

So God sent Micah to tell them, "No."

We're working through Micah, and in particular, working through the summary message of chapter 6, verse 8: 
Do justice, Love kindness, Walk humbly with your God. 
This morning our message is "Love Kindness." 
And my first thought is, 
"This should be a short one." 
Everybody loves kindness, right? 
Anybody not like kindness? 
Anybody ever said, "Oh, I can't stand her!  She's just so... kind!"?? 
OK, maybe you HAVE said that, but that's a sermon on jealousy, and Micah doesn't talk about that. 
Even your grouchy neighbor, who keeps the footballs kicked over his fence, the one who yells, "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!" even he likes kindness, especially when it's directed at him.

I can't preach on kindness without thinking of Blance DuBois' famous line from "A Streetcar Named Desire." 
Remember it? 
"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." 
Yes, thank goodness for good, Christian men. 
Whose kindness do you depend upon?


Blanche isn't all that far from the truth, for all of us. 
We all depend in one way or another upon the kindness of strangers. 
We don't know who installed the gas lines down our streets and into our homes. 
But we trust that they knew what they were doing. 
We don't know who programs the acceleration units in our cars, but we're kinda sure we'd know if there had been a recall.
We don't know who writes our textbooks, but we hope they're historically accurate and mathematically correct.
We hope our water is drinkable, our beef is edible, our medicines are medicinal, and our daughters are impregnable.

We don't know who sewed our clothes. 
We don't know who made our electronics. 
We see "Hecho in Mexico" or El Salvador, or China, or Korea and we don't stop to ask if the person making whatever it was adequately paid or even out of their teens.
We depend on strangers and we depend on their kindness more and more, and more.
And... at the same time we depend on strangers more and more, and more... 
at the same time we're dependent on strangers more and more, and more...
it seems to me that at the same time we fear strangers more and more, and more.
It's like we're saying to the strangers, 
"We will depend on your kindness, or at least your tacit cooperation, but we are very scared of what you could do, and what you might do, if you stop playing nice."
I think - 
and hang with me for a minute on this - 
I think that the world (left on its own) does not teach us to love kindness. 
I think that the world (left on its own) teaches us to suspect kindness... 
I think the world teaches us to be suspicious of kindness... 
instead of loving it.  

Micah preached that we should love kindness. 
That is true. 
But Micah also preached God's justice. 
Reading Micah and knowing how the world is, I think it's fair to say that wherever there is injustice, kindness is not loved. 
Wherever there is injustice, kindness is suspect. 
Wherever there is injustice, people who might be kind and loving turn suspicious, turn worried, turn hostile. 
If you are suspicious, worried, or hostile, you will hold back your kindness. 
If you are suspicious, worried, or hostile, you cannot love kindness.

God loves kindness. 
Jesus loves kindness. 
Micah loved kindness. 
In fact - did you know this from your reading on our website? - 
Micah's name literally means, "Who is like God?" 
The name Micah is a question, "Who is like God?"
If we don't love kindness, then the answer is, "Nobody." 
If we don't love kindness, then we are not like God. 
If we are suspicious, if we are worried, if we are hostile, we physically cannot love kindness. 
We will withhold our kindness. 
We are not like God.


Oh, man. 
This easy, short little message just grew sharp teeth. 
I am so sorry, because on the inside I really, really want to say something like, "But it's OK. Jesus loves you. Jesus forgives us. Let's go to lunch." 

Unfortunately, we're working with the Bible, here. 
Unfortunately, we're working with Jesus, and Jesus just takes Micah's nice little saying about "love kindness," and makes it much, much worse. 
Jesus makes loving kindness hard. 
You think Micah was tough? 
You think, "Who is like God?" was rough? 
Try the guy "Who Is God."

Jesus says this. 
He says, "But I say to you that listen"
(In other words, I say to you who haven't already mentally checked out), 
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you."
Jesus who IS God says, 
"...love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
What kind of world does Jesus think he's living in?
What kind of world does Jesus think WE'RE living in?
I don't know. Maybe... God's?
Jesus is saying some really, real world stuff here.
He's saying, You know that nice little tacit cooperation you have with the strangers whose kindness you depend on? 
You know, the strangers who build your cars, and make your clothes, and solder your circuits, and grow your food, and wait on your table? 
You know, THOSE strangers? 
The ones you depend on whether you admit it or not? 

Jesus is saying, You know what? 
Your neat little arrangement is going to break down. 
You can't depend on their kindness. 
You can't trust that they have your best interests at heart. 
The system will crash. 
And you know what you have to do?
You have to love them.
You have to love them, anyway.
You have to show them that you love kindness, whether they get it, or whether they give it, or not.
That's what Jesus says we have to do. 
Fully expecting nothing in return.
The world tells us, "Go ahead. Turn suspicious, turn worried, turn hostile.
Jesus says, "Turn kinder." 
Jesus says to turn to the people we know are going to break their side of the bargain, and love them, expecting absolutely nothing in return.
Do justice. Love kindness.
"Who is like God?"
How about you? How about us?


But what if people don't want your kindness?

I know people... you probably know people, too... who have a really hard time accepting kindness. 
They have a hard time accepting kindness from strangers. 
But they have an even harder time even accepting kindness from their family or friends, from the people who are trying so hard to love them.

Why is that? 
Why is accepting kindness so hard?
Maybe it's not because they're suspicious, worried, and hostile toward other people. 
Maybe because they're suspicious and hostile about themselves.
"You wouldn't be so nice to me if you knew how I really am." 
And so they push people away who would share some loving kindness.
Have you ever done that?
Have you ever been on the receiving end of that?

A lot of times the people who need your help the most know, deep down, they need your help so badly. 
But they keep pushing you away, for your own protection.
Have you ever felt that way toward someone who wants to show loving kindness to you?

Or maybe someone hurt you so badly that you'll never, ever, ever trust them again. 
Maybe you have such disgust for someone that the mere mention of their name makes your stomach boil.
I think Jesus would probably say, "So?"
We think love is always an emotion. 
With flowers and restaurants and jewelry. 
To the best of my knowledge, not once did Jesus ever give anyone flowers or jewelry. 
And yet he says to love them, to love kindness.

You don't have to "feel" love to "do" loving things.
So what if that person makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? 
You don't have to feel loving towards them in order to show them loving kindness.

Kindness of strangers? 
That's actually pretty easy.
The kindness of people we know a little too well?
Or the kindness of people who know us a little too well?
That's a bit tougher.
Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy. 
This is hard.
Maybe that's why Jesus ended by saying, Oh mercy, mercy, mercy. 
He said, "Be merciful, then, just as God is merciful."
God knows this is hard stuff.


We've got a lot of kind, loving people here, at Lake Hills Presbyterian Church. 
And that's a wonderful thing. 
You would hope that people who come to church would be kind and loving. 
Not just here, but you'd hope that people at all churches are kind and loving, just as Jesus was kind and loving.

Because if you're a Christian, if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, then, really, you don't have any choice. 
If you've signed on as a follower of Christ, then you have to be kind and loving, as he was. 
Whether you like it or not. 
Whether you feel kind and loving or not. 
If you signed up to be a follower of Jesus, that's just what you have to do, even if you don't like doing it sometimes. 
I think we forget that doing justice and loving kindness is not optional. 
Doing justice and loving kindness is not dependent on our mood.
The other thing I think we forget, too, is that doing justice and loving kindness is not normal behavior. 
Doing justice and loving kindness like Micah did, and like Jesus did, is kind of weird. 
We forget that as Christians, we're supposed to be weird. 
Not normal.
Some of you are thinking, "Whew! At least I've got that part right." 
Yes, we are supposed to be odd. 
But in a good way. 
The way Jesus was odd.

Now, maybe you're already an expert in being weird this way. 
But here's what I'd like all of us to do this week. 
Try being even more odd. 
Try bucking the world's system by being loving, and loving the kindness you receive, and loving people in kindness even if you don't like them. 
Can you do that? 
Will you try it?
But here's the deal.
Don't do it because the preacher's asking you to. 
Do it because it's what the Lord requires of you. 
The Lord requires of you... 
to do justice, whether you receive it or not. 
The Lord requires of you... 
to love kindness, whether it's returned or not. 

Lord, have mercy. 
And the Lord does. 
Whether we accept it, or not.
Whether the world accepts it or not.