About Me

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

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Something Else Over Which We Have No Control

2011-06-05 Acts 1:6-14
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sometimes we do responsive readings in worship. Today, we're going to do a different kind of responsive reading. This is going to be a responsive reading not of scripture, but of the news. Your unison response will be, "Something else, over which, we have no control." Ready, go: "Something else, over which, we have no control."

The World Health Organization announced that the E. coli bacteria in Europe is "a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before" with ''various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing''.
"Something else, over which, we have no control."

A new study shows your cell phone might be carcinogenic, but probably not that much.

"Something else, over which, we have no control."

Congress argues over raising the national debt ceiling.

"Something else, over which, we have no control."

Tornadoes tear through Massachusetts.

"Something else, over which, we have no control."

Thousands flee Yemeni capital as battles rage.

"Something else, over which, we have no control."

I had a conversation with a friend who's a couple of years older about the need to subscribe to the newspaper anymore. He said he'd stop, but he doesn't like reading Obituaries online. I like reading our local paper because the Blount County Police Blotter can be really entertaining. You read both the Obituaries and the Police Blotter to make sure you're not in them. And then, there's the yard sale section.

But, honestly, most of the news is stuff over which we have no control. Muammar Gaddafi does something terrible, and yes, it makes us sad, but it's not as if your or I can  send Seal Team Six on a housecall.

Volcanoes in Iceland. No control. You recover from hip replacement, and then your rotator cuff stops rotating. No control. The cute boy from Science Class finally calls you, and then your parents schedule a dinner with your grandparents the same night he's supposed to take you to "X-Men: First Class."

Something else, over which, we have no control.

It can get kind of depressing if you think about it too much. You wonder, is God on vacation or something? When's God going to fix things?

If you look at the Book of Acts, which is more properly titled, "The Acts of the Apostles," the writer, Luke, hits this very same question head-on in the first verses of the first chapter. Because he knows these are the questions that are on everybody's mind. "We have no control; when is God going to fix everything?"

"So when they (the 11 remaining Apostles) had come together..."

(Which means, when they were brave enough to come out from behind their locked doors, because their world was just as crazy and dangerous as ours.)

"So when they (the 11 remaining Apostles) had come together, they asked him..."

(That is, they asked the resurrected Jesus who was standing among them.)

"...they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"

You see, every time these Apostles pick up their newspapers, something terrible is on the front page, some friend of theirs is in the Police Blotter, and they're hoping their names aren't in the Obituaries. For them, everything is something else, over which, they have no control. The Roman Army is in charge. They live in an occupied territory. The government's beginning to think, "Hmmm. We have lions. We have Christians. How could we use these?" So, the first thing on the Apostles' minds is, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Israel has actually been its own kingdom twice in its history. Once, during King David, and again during the Maccabees. The rest of the time, Israel's been ruled by foreign dictators. The Apostles aren't being spiritual, as in, "Lord, is this the time when you're going to come live down in my heart to stay?" They'd prefer to be like modern-day Egyptians, tweeting the revolution on their cell phones. The question they're asking is, "Lord, is this the time YOU'RE going to overthrow our Roman overlords and put us in charge of our holy land?" The question of the day isn't spiritual; it's political. These people want control. They want something, over which, they have their own control. And they're hoping Jesus will hand it to them. Is this why you're here, Lord? Is this the time?

This is what people were talking about in Israel in the 60's. Not the 1960's, the original 60's. But, ironically, they were talking about it in the 1960's, too. In America, in the 1960's students used to gather in coffee houses to ask, "Is this the time when we'll restore our country to the people?" These days, I see a group of senior guys gathering at Panera every Wednesday, with Tea Party materials, and they're asking, "Is this the time when we'll restore our country to the people?"

Once again, we see that the Bible is spot-on in naming the questions people ask, in every age, and in every nation. And in this case, the question is, "Lord, when are you going to fix our country?"

"Lord, the government won't listen to us."
"Lord, there aren't enough jobs."
"Lord, the banks are foreclosing."
"Lord, there aren't enough jobs."
"Lord, there are just too many things, over which, we have no control."

And Jesus gives what must have been a deeply disappointing answer.

Verse 1:7 - He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."

In other places, Jesus talks about God's calendar, and he says, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36).

In other words, "I don't know."

There's a shocker. Jesus has no more control over these things than the Apostles. We'd expect him to. We'd want him to. But he doesn't. Even Jesus is something else, over which, we have no control. He's not being coy. He just doesn't know.


Pause for a moment and let that sink in. There's at least one question Jesus doesn't know the answer to.

When you're trying to be a teacher, or a preacher, or a parent, isn't that the hardest answer? So you make something up. Or you say, "I don't know; but your mother does." We'll go to such ridiculous lengths to maintain the illusion of authority, to maintain the appearance of control. It often takes more courage to admit there are questions you don't know than to make something up, so you can maintain the illusion of authority.

Jesus gave up authority. That was his way. He gave up his authority before the religious leaders. He gave up authority before the Roman government. We're always asking when our kingdom is going to be restored, and Jesus is giving away whatever authority we want him to keep for himself and give to us.

Here's what he gives us instead. And believe me, this one verse, the verse that's on the cover of your bulletin, has inspired more people than any political rallying cry.

Verse 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus says, "you will receive power." Is it possible to have power without control? That's a question for the coffee shop. Or a Dr. Gant class.

"...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;"
Do you have a schedule for that one, Jesus? Um, no. Sorry, boys.

"...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea..."
In the holy capital city, and in all of what's left of the kingdom of Israel, the Apostles and their friends will be WITNESSES - MY witnesses, Jesus says. Which means in the place where they're looking for control, they'll have power to stand up and talk about faith. In the place where Jesus is crucified, they'll have power to do his works - works of love, works of compassion, works of justice.

But wait, there's more.
"...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea... and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

You remember Samaria? Home of the Good Samaritan? There's the rub. There were no good Samaritans, except dead ones. Samaritans were evil, dirty, disgusting people who believed in the wrong scriptures. Samaritans were enemy combatants. So, yes, they'd have to love their enemies, just like Jesus had taught them. The power to witness, but maybe not control.

"...and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Yes, they thought the earth had ends. That's something else Jesus didn't know.

To the Ends of the Earth is the title of one of Marj Carpenter's books. You may remember Marj. She's the feisty lady from Texas who came and spoke at Enrichment Dinner a few years ago. She writes in her book,

"The Presbyterians (Prebyterians, as she says it) have opened more mission fields than any other church in history. We have taken very seriously the commission to go into all nations and take the gospel to all people, and we don't even know we've done it. Actually, of any church I know, the Presbyterians have done the best job of taking mission out into all the world, but the Presbyterians have also done the worst job of relating to their own denomination what they have done well."

If we have power without control, it's the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can proclaim it with words, if necessary. We can also proclaim the gospel with hammer and nails. We can proclaim the gospel by building sewage systems and water purification programs. We can proclaim the gospel by standing up for justice, working without thanks to practice kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

We've got a crew of mission workers going this week to our Presbytery's camp, Camp John Knox. And they're going to be sweating and, as one of the kids told another this week, working their butts off. And, they'll celebrate the gifts of creation by jumping in a lake, and water skiing on it, too. It's good for kids to suffer. But it's also good for them to play. It's good for adults, too. So if you get a chance to drive over to Camp John Knox this week and lend a hand, or just watch in amazement at what they're getting done, take it. I'm planning on driving over on Wednesday at 10am if you'd like to carpool. We'll be back by 2pm.

By the end of the week, they will not have done anything to solve the crisis in Syria. They will not have stopped a tornado. They will not have solved the national debt crisis. They will not have cured E. coli, or made cell phones safer, or stopped a congressman from tweeting pictures that may or may not have been of himself, he can't say for sure.

But they will have served Jesus Christ. They will have served Jesus Christ as witnesses by helping build up a place where people can go and find the power of the Holy Spirit.

That Holy Spirit. It's another thing, over which, we have no control. And that's a good thing.


If you're feeling as though the world or your tiny slice of it is out of control, you're in good company.

You're right there with

Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

For people without any control, they did pretty well. Can you have as much impact as they did on the world?

I don't know.

And neither do you.

That's not for you to worry about. That's not for you to know. What IS for you to know is that even without authority, even without control, you do have the power of the Holy Spirit, just as powerfully as they did. The Bible tells us so.

If you feel as though you'd like to do something, if you feel like you'd really could do something good in the name of Jesus Christ, let go of your illusion of control. You illusions are what's holding you back. Whether you're afraid, or whether you just don't like trying things when you don't know how they're going to turn out, it's OK. Everybody feels the same way. Let yourself go, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

- James