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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Where's Jesus? Part 1

2012-04-22 Where's Jesus? Part 1 - Introduction
James McTyre
Psalm 130:1-6
Luke 24:1-12


   Good morning! 
   How are you? 
   Everybody doing good? 
   As Paul tells me, "Tolerably well"? 
   Art says, "Peachy." Linda says she's "WONNNDERFUL!"
   I'd tell you what Sharon says, but I can't say those words in church. 
   But, basically, everybody's doing alright? 
   Then this is going to be a very short sermon.
   Which is a shame, because I was really excited about it. 
   We're working on a whole month of sermons between now and Pentecost, which in my country we call Memorial Day weekend. 
   The series is called, "Where's Jesus?" 
   Kind of like, "Where's Waldo?" if we worshiped Waldo. 
   There was (and still is) a Christian group called the Waldensians. 
   Their founder was Peter Waldo. 
   Where are they, you ask? 
   In the 13th century a lot of them were branded heretics and burned at the stake. 
   They went into hiding. 
   They dressed and behaved so they'd be indistinguishable from other people. 
   I am serious about this. 
   Their minister was called a barba, and he would move from town to town under cover of darkness so he couldn't be found. 
   I know. 
   The parallels are shocking. 
   Many Waldensians became Presbyterians. 
   In North Carolina, there's the town of Valdese, where some of them settled in the 1700s. 
   And you'll find some Waldensian Presbyterian Churches around there, too. 
   Long before it was known for basketball 
   (that is, if you ignore the Charlotte Bobcats, and most people do), 
   North Carolina was a hotbed for rebellious Presbyterians and Waldensians. 
   And what did they do with the wildest, most rebellious ones? 
   They sent them to Tennessee, of course. 
   Where they became Wolunteers. 
   Who loved a good fight. 
   And wore so much orange it was impossible to tell them apart when they got into a crowd. 
   Just like Waldo. 
   They not only looked the same, they all said, "I'm fine, I'm good," when you asked them how they were. 
   And they came to church where that's what they told the preacher when he asked. 
   And that's how we all came to be here today. 
   We are fine. 
   We are dandy. 
   We are peachy.
   But if you think saying that's going to get you out of a sermon, I have to disappoint you yet again. 
   Because the simple question, "Where's Jesus?" runs through all the scripture between Easter and Pentecost. 
   The disciples thought everything was over. 
   It wasn't fine. 
   But it was short. 
   Jesus had been crucified and was in the tomb. 
   One and done. 
   Time to go home. 
   But then some of them went to the tomb. 
   And it was empty. 
   And they were - as the Bible says so politely - they were "perplexed." 
   I'll bet they were. 
   And then some. 
   They scratched their heads. 
   They stammered around. 
   They talked to the angels. 
   They ran in circles. 
   Because they were trying to answer the question, "Where's Jesus?"
   I think that's why a lot of us come to church. 
   Because even now, we're asking, "Where's Jesus?" 
   We figure, he's gotta be at church. 
   So we go to church and do we find Jesus? 
   But sometimes all we find is a bunch of people. 
   Who are just as "perplexed" as we are. 
   And that's disappointing. 
   And it's why a lot of people don't come back. 
   They were looking for Jesus and all they found were confused people who looked a lot like them.
   So we go to the mountains where we can find Jesus outside, in the purple mountain majesties. 
   But there's been a mulch fire. 
   And you can't breathe. 
   It's not as majestic as you thought. 
   It's all people in airbrushed T-shirts and flip-flops that are too small for their feet. 
   Eating kettle korn. 
   Sorry, that's my prejudice about Gatlinburg. 
   They all look alike. 
   How can you find Jesus among the perplexing throng?
   So we get away. 
   We put in the earbuds and go to our quiet place, our happy place. 
   We get into our deep thoughts about ourselves, about life, and about why God made us the way we are. 
   But after a while, all the thoughts start looping back around. 
   All the ideas and all the excuses begin to sound alike. 
   You get too deep into yourself, it turns into an echo chamber. 
   Is Jesus there? 
   Only if he sounds a lot like you, or looks a lot like you, or is indistinguishable from you. 
   We do those kind of things, don't we? 
   Am I kinda right? 
   We spend a lot of time asking the same questions the disciples did after Easter. 
   "Where's Jesus?" 
   And you know what? 
   These Bible disciples were at least as perplexed as we are. 
   Maybe more. 
   So it's good to listen to them. 
   It's good to think about how they eventually did find Jesus. 
   It's good to know that Jesus eventually found THEM. 
   A lot of times in some really unexpected places. 
   A lot of times, they thought Jesus was someone else. 
   Or "their eyes were kept from seeing him." 
   He blended in. 
   He seemed indistinguishable. 
   He was hard to find.
   Thomas Merton, one of the great seekers of God, wrote this...
   If I find Him with great ease, perhaps He is not my God.
   If I cannot hope to find Him at all, is He my God?
   If I find Him wherever I wish, have I found Him?
   Now, there's more to Merton's poem than that, but that's all I want to share today.
    That's enough deep thought before noon. 
   So let's talk about something else.
   Some of you are really skilled at golf. 
   At least, you're more skilled than others. 
   Did you get up one morning and say, "I'm going to go shoot a 65?" 
   Probably not. 
   Unless you're playing a nine-hole course.
   Although I love that scene in The Matrix where they plug Keanu Reeves up to a computer for a few seconds and then he announces, "I know kung fu." 
   Wouldn't it be great if that's all it took? 
   Some of you are really skilled at cooking. 
   At church dinners people line up for your bread, or your lasagne, or your Triple Chocolate Sin Cake. 
   Did you just unplug yourself one day and announce, "I know French pastry?" 
   Probably not. 
   Some of you are really good at math. 
   The rest of us hate you. 
   Or are perplexed by you. 
   One of our church members for whom I've done some Computer Ministry told me, "I may not be able to log on, but I know how to plant corn, hoe a garden, and milk a cow." 
   Did she just wake up one morning knowing those things? 
   Probably not.
   We don't expect to know how to play golf, or kung fu, or math, or cooking, or cow milking without ever practicing. 
   That would be ridiculous. 
   Maybe dangerous. 
   Even finding Waldo, especially toward the pages near the end of the book, takes practice. 
   Why would we ever expect to find God... 
   why would we ever be able to find Jesus... 
   how would we ever expect to feel the Holy Spirit... 
   with less work? 
   If God were so simple, he wouldn't be God. 
   If it was super-easy to find Jesus, what would be the point? 
   Because we'd be smarter than God. 
   We'd be more adept than Jesus. 
   We'd find him before the first page. 
   Do you think it's going to be easy? 
   Do you get mad at God because Jesus is so hard to find? 
   Do you ever get mad at the Holy Spirit because it's so indistinguishable from things that are not?
   If I find Him with great ease, perhaps He is not my God.
   If I cannot hope to find Him at all, is He my God?
   If I find Him wherever I wish, have I found Him?
   So, this is what I'm excited about. 
   I want you over the next weeks to really, really think about how you search for God. 
   I want you to really, really try to answer the question, "Where's Jesus?" 
   And we have some guides for you.
   First, you'll see the bulletin insert. 
   It's from a book by John Ortberg, who's also a preacher. 
   It's OK. 
   He's at least as Waldo-insian as we are. 
   The book is titled, God is Closer Than You Think. 
   You should buy a copy, if you don't already have one. 
   You may already have it because I know two of our Sunday School classes either have studied or are studying Jesus by using this book as a guide. 
   Second, the bulletin insert. 
   Ortberg has written a list of basic, foundational guidelines for finding Jesus. 
   Tape it to your mirror. 
   Not your rear-view mirror. 
   That would be dangerous. 
   Tape it to the mirror you look at when you're frantically trying to get out the door. 
   And read it. 
   Read it every day. 
   If you don't have time every day to read one bulletin insert, you don't have the time to find Jesus.
   Third, as we go through this series, you're going to hear people from our own congregation share their own secrets -
    although that's not really the right word, because they're not secrets - 
   their own strategies - 
   for finding Jesus. 
   So it won't just be me preaching at you. 
   It'll be a real person, talking about real life, and real faith. 
   Someone who is (dot, dot, dot), just like you. 
   You know, when preachers tell you things, you go, "Yeah, but he only works one day a week. 
   "Of course he has time to think about Jesus." 
   These will be testimonials from real people, not actor portrayals, who are - truth be told - 
   much better than I am at finding Jesus in the middle of life's indistinguishable crowd.
   And, finally, you can join with the kids in finding Jesus every week. 
   I didn't want to tell that to the kids, because if grown-ups are doing it, it takes all the fun away. 
   But you can look for the picture of Jesus, too. 
   Just act casual about it. 
   And then you can come tell me, "I found Jesus," just like the kids. 
   So, what we're going to do is play, "Where's Jesus?" between now and Pentecost, Memorial Day weekend.
    And I believe - I hope and I really do believe - you will finish these weeks more skilled, more adept, more faithful, in finding Jesus. 
   You'll have some real-world tools that you can take home with you. 
   Some tools you can sharpen throughout the week. 
   And then come back and tell us where you found Jesus.
   Ready? Are you ready to go? 
   1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
   Let's be amazed again. 
   Let's be perplexed together. 
   Let's go find Where's Jesus. 
   He may be closer than you think.