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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012-09-16 Why - Do the Innocent Suffer (jamesmctyre.postthisblog@blogger.com)

Document 2012-09-16 Why - Do the Innocent Suffer
2012-09-16 Why - Do the Innocent Suffer

2012-09-16 “Why?: Why Do The Innocent Suffer?”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Genesis 1:27-28

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."


First John, Chapter 1, Verses 5-9

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.



Why: Why Do the Innocent Suffer?

Why: Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered?

Why: Why Can't I See God's Will for My Life?

Why: Why God's Love Prevails


So we’re starting this series of four sermons called, “Why?” I’m thinking next month’s series should be, “Why Not?” Or, “Because I said so.” You know. Those are the stock answers you get, more times than not, when you ask, “Why?” It’s a limited stock. I think we can do better.


“Why?” Good question.

Well, before we can answer, we’ve gotta know a little more. Like, “How old are you?” And, “What’s happening to make you ask, ‘Why?’”

Kids ask “Why?” a lot. If you’ve got kids or grandkids, or if you’re going to do Children’s Church this year, you must be prepared to be asked, “Why?” When kids are little, it’s cute. And, there are answers. They ask things like, “Why is the sky blue?” You can Google that. They ask, “Why do I have to take a bath?” There’s an answer. “Because, Mommy wants ten minutes to herself.” This is why God invented bath toys. We don’t really care if kids get clean or not. We just want to sit with a box of Cheez-Its and stare at the wall. When kids are little, “Why?” has answers.

When they’re little, the innocence of curiosity is so sweet. But then they get older. “Why?” grows teeth. “Why?” turns into a challenge to authority, that is, yours. Got teenagers? They don’t care why the sky’s blue. And they can Google a whole lot faster than you. When older kids ask, “Why?” it’s a declaration of independence. It’s a campaign for cosmic justice. “My friend, [Name withheld for legal reasons] gets to [dot, dot, dot]. Why... can’t I?” And it’s hard to know if there’s a question mark or an exclamation point at the end. “Why?” is defiance. “Why? is a demand for justice.

Then. You get a little older. “Why?” changes again. It started out as curiosity, then turned into a call for justice. You get older, you see how life goes. Things seem so random. You watch your friends struggle. You witness tragedies. You work your hardest, you do your best and get nothing in return. “Why?” turns into a deep sigh, or a high shout, or a long moan from the winding road that goes on and on forever. “Why?” isn’t so much a question anymore. It’s not looking for an answer. It’s not looking for a fight. It’s you saying that the unfairness is wearing you out. “Why?” is part of grieving the world you get.

“Why?” can be a search for answers. “Why?” can be a call for justice. “Why?” can be a head-shaking exhale at how random and unfair life can be. “Why?” means different things at different ages, and in different situations. “Why?” has layers. The layer you’re on depends a lot on your age and your experience.

So, having said all that, here’s why (why?) I think it’s really important for us to talk about this stuff. “Why?” can mean so many things, depending on the circumstances. “Why?” is a big, deep question. And here’s the reason it’s important to talk about this. Even though “Why?” is a big, deep question, I think - actually, I believe - our responses to this big, deep question, keep getting skimmed off the surface of the same old small, shallow pond. I think most of our answers to this big, deep question, can be carried in a couple of leaky buckets. Buckets of, “Because.” “Because I said so, that’s why.” “Because God said so.” Or, when those aren’t good enough, “Why not?” I think it’s important to talk about the question, “Why?” because our answers - if they’re not the parroting of an expert or a search engine - our answers - “Because,” “Because I said so, that’s why,” “Because God said so.” Or, “Why not?” - OUR ANSWERS are essentially thinly disguised and slightly more polite ways of saying, “Don’t. Ask. Why.”

“Why?” is a deep and dangerous question. It deserves better. And that’s where we’re going with this series.

OK. Now the disclaimer. Like on the drug commercials. Thinking “Why?” may cause mood swings, chest pains, headaches, nausea, and doubt. But it can also cause excitement and spiritual growth. You’ve gotta ask yourself if you’re healthy enough for this kind of exercise. You’re limited by how deep you want to go. We’re also limited by the fact that after a certain amount of time, people start involuntarily checking their watches and their cell phones. Worship shalt not exceed 60 minutes. So, you may get more questions than answers in the sermon time.

But fear not. First, you can buy the book, Why? Making Sense of God’s Will by Adam Hamilton. That’s the basis for these sermons. Some weeks the sermons will stick to the text a little better than others. That’s because your preacher is easily distracted. Get the book and read along because the first four chapters are the basis for today’s message and the next three, and it’s much deeper and more succinct than I.

And, second, you can attend the Sunday School class for grown-ups called, “Connections,” which is studying the book and (gulp) the sermons and seeing how they might or might not address your deep questions of “Why?” We just don’t have time in the ten to twenty minutes of a sermon (probably closer to twenty) to go into as much depth as you might like. So, buy the book. Read the sermons online at the church website. Attend the Sunday School class. You won’t get answers to all your questions, but you may expand your stock.


So, today it’s “Why?” “Why Do the Innocent Suffer?”

Last week our nation remembered the tragedy of 9/11. People gathered in New York City, Washington DC, and near Shanksville, PA, to remember those who lost their lives that day and in the days that followed. Eleven years later, we’re still asking, “Why?”

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Libya was attacked, and Americans were killed, including our Ambassador. Again, the question was, “Why?”

Why would human beings commit such evil against each other? Why? And, why would God - a supposedly loving and compassionate God who cares for the sparrows, welcomes the children, and heals the sick - why would God allow such evil?

I remember back to right after 9/11 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A lot of preachers had some pretty shallow answers. It kind of boiled down to two. The first was that, “It’s God’s will. The terrorists meant it for evil, but God will someday reveal that it was meant for good. The underlying message is, “Sorry. You’re just not smart enough to get it; You can’t handle the truth.” And the bottom line is: “Do NOT question God.”

Which, is kind of like saying, “Because.” Frankly, I would think the Almighty should be smart enough, creative enough, to come up with a better way to accomplish something good than by murdering 2000 innocent victims. To me, that would be a pretty “puny god.”

The second answer that a lot of preachers preached (and some still do) was that 9/11 happened to punish America for its sins. God used the terrorists of Al Qaeda to teach us to stop being so secular and start being more obedient. Funny. That’s exactly what Osama Bin Laden said. He wanted to use his minions to punish America for its sins and teach us to bow down to his impression of god. I don’t want to worship any god who has that much in common with a madman.

Pay attention to quick, shallow answers. No surprise. quick, shallow answers to hard questions always agree with the opinions of the people handing them out. It’s like they’ve created God in their own image.

The marvelous writer, Anne Lamott, once said: “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

The very first pages of the Bible talk about the question, “Why?” and about who created whom in whose image. From the beginning, this stuff all goes together.


The Book of Genesis has two creation stories. A lot of people don’t realize that. Genesis 1 is a psalm, probably written around 500 BC. Genesis 2, where we’re introduced to the first dysfunctional family, Adam and Eve, was cut and pasted from a much, much older source. Genesis 1, which the editors arranged as the first creation story, was written in a time when people were really wondering, “Why?” And they were wondering it a lot.

Genesis 1 was written as a structured, musical psalm, a poem. It was meant to reassure the faithful people of God that even though the world looked like a mess, and even though life seemed totally random, there was and is and ever will be an order to things. And the order goes like this:

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

Bear in mind that God created human beings - male and female simultaneously and equal - in God’s image. And not the other way around. Remember, when God agrees 100% with you, you may want to check that out.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

So, what does that mean, to “have dominion”?

Think about Jesus. Jesus had dominion. Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That’s dominion. Terrorists, dictators, and tyrants don’t want dominion. They want domination. Global domination. Dominion means taking care of something on God’s behalf. Domination means destroying anyone who gets in your way, just “because.” Because it’s simpler than answering, “Why?”

In Genesis, we start at the start. We start at the very beginning, because it’s a very good place to start. God creates a doe, a deer, a female deer. God creates rays, the golden drops of sun. And then God creates Me - and you - human beings, male and female, and gives us dominion. Our job is to take care of the earth, and “subdue it,” which means, to give it order. That’s our job. To deliver God’s order. We’re the servers who deliver God’s order. That’s the limit of our dominion.

OK. Are you with me so far? Now. Jump ahead to Jesus. Jesus comes along at the other end of the Bible, and nails down God’s order to just a few requests. This is what order and dominion look like, according to Jesus. And if you want to trust him, and follow him, here’s what Jesus would do.

Jesus says, in Luke 4:18 -

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed...

In Matthew 25, Jesus says,

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' ... 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.'

I don’t know if you noticed what’s going on here, but God’s being really smart. God’s taking the question, “Why?” and turning it around, and handing it back to us.

God sees all the evil that men - and women - do. God looks at us. And God asks the very same question we keep asking God. God asks us, “Why?”


Thousands and thousands of years after God created, men and women, there are still poor people who need good news. Thousands of years after God blessed men and women, there are still captives who need liberty. Thousands of years after God handed men and women dominion, there are captives who need liberty, blind who need sight, prisoners who need freedom, hungry people who need food and water, sick people who need healing, and prisoners who need dignity.

And I would think that after a few thousand years, God’s completely within his rights to ask you and ask me, “Why?” Why? Why are there so many people who call themselves Christian, and yet why are there are still so many poor, so many captives, so many hungry, so many sick, so many oppressed? Why is that, y’all? How long is it going to take you to deliver my order? How much more time do you need? Why?

As impatient and as frustrated as we get with God, imagine how frustrated God has to get with us servers. And yet, we still expect our tip.


Look. You and I are not going to solve all the world’s problems. We can barely solve our own problems. But just because you’re not Jesus doesn’t give you the right to give up your dominion. Don’t mistake your dominion for domination. You can’t erase the world’s problems. God’s not calling you to do that. But God is giving you authority. God’s giving you the authority over your tiny little sphere of influence. And thank God our spheres of influence aren’t bigger than they are. That’s a gift in itself.

The innocent suffer. Go ahead and ask, “Why?” But why stop there? God’s gift to us is the authority to go beyond “Why?” God’s gift to us is the dominion to ask not only “Why?” but, “What?” What? What can I do? What can you do? What can we do together, to minister to the poor, to heal the sick, to free the oppressed, to release the captive in our sphere of influence? It’s OK to ask “Why do the innocent suffer?” but the greater question - the question that you have the dominion, that you have authority to answer - is, “What?” “What can I do about it?” What can WE do about it, together?

This coming year, we’re working on a Habitat for Humanity project. That’s a great beginning. We’re serving food to the homeless at the Volunteer Ministry Center. Another great beginning. We’re teaching kids about love and compassion and justice. Another great beginning. We’re singing and praying in praise of God. Another great beginning. But remember, this is the authority we got in Genesis. We can do more. We can do better. You can do better. God has given you a brain to ask, “What?” and hands and feet to deliver God’s promise.

And really. When all is said and done, which do you think God wants us to do? To sit around wondering “Why do the innocent suffer?” Or to go get up and heal some of the innocents’ suffering?

Why do the innocent suffer? It’s a good question. What’s your answer?

Let’s pray.

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Make a Joyful Noise That’s More Than Just Noise

2012-09-09 "Make a Joyful Noise That's More Than Just Noise"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rally Day

Hang on, everybody. Because today, on Rally Day, we're going to have not ONE scripture reading, or even TWO. We're going to have SIX. And five them are going to come from the Old Testament. Woohoo.

Everybody always talks about how we're supposed to obey scripture. If you see something once or twice in scripture, you figure, God wants you to do it, but would probably be forgiving if you mess up. But, when you see the same thing, three, four, five or more times in scripture, you'd likely think God's pretty serious about that one. So, here is a command from God made five times in scripture. Ask yourself, if you've obeyed God on this one, even once, today.

Psalm 100:1 (ESV)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Psalm 98:6 (ESV)
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Psalm 95:1 (ESV)
...let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Psalm 95:2 (ESV)
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him...!
Psalm 98:4 (ESV)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

So, ask yourself, when you sang today, were you really thankful? Did you really make a joyful noise? Really?


Mark 12:28-31
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?"29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."


Hey, it's Rally Day! The choir's back. Can I get an Amen? Bells are ringing! Can I get another Amen? (That's about a year's quota for Presbyterians.)

Let's do some real rally stuff. Gimme a "P." Gimme an "r". Gimme an "e". Gimme an... "sbyterian." What's it spell? I don't know, either. Sounded like, "Presblyentiahnlaba."

It's Rally Day, and that's the kind of stuff people do at rallies. Cheer. Yell. Spell things. Get pumped up. Get themselves in the spirit. Maybe we should have tailgating before worship. That'd get people in the spirit.

You know what to do at a rally before a game. But it's a little weird in church. Because, in church, you don't know if it's OK to make a lot of noise and shake your pom poms.

It's not like at a football game. Could you imagine being at Neyland Stadium, UT scores a touchdown, and 106,000 people wonder, "Is it OK to applaud? I mean, we're in a football game."

I'm just thankful it's considered bad form to boo in church. Or yell from your seat. "That sermon's incomplete! He never had full possession!" ("Possession." Another word that means something else in church.)

Presbyterians get a bad rap. Misinformed people call us, "The Frozen Chosen," because they think we never get excited. Yeah, as if all of you took a vow of silence yesterday afternoon. C'mon. Some of us are hoarse from yelling so much yesterday. Some people might not even be here because they were so thawed yesterday. "Presbyterians Gone Wild." You've seen the video. Love the scene where they pass the offering plate down the same row twice. Outrageous.

It's not fair to pick on one denomination, or even religion. Everyone who goes to church, or synagogue, or temple, or Mass puts on their best behavior. Unless you're Pentecostal or Sufi Islam, where they do a lot of shouting or spinning and dancing, worship pretty universally means sitting still, being quiet, and behaving as if God's watching - very, very closely. Don't talk. Don't turn around. Don't write notes. Don't text. Don't check email. Do not EVER fall asleep. (And yet we wonder why people don't come.)

One of the reasons people don't come to church is that there IS this disconnect between the way we act in church and the way we act the other six days of the week. But why is that so bad? For example. If you have relatives coming to visit next weekend that you haven't seen in a long while, how are you going to spend your spare time this week? Cleaning house. Getting the kids cleaned and pressed. Maybe give yourself a trip to the stylist. Does that mean your visit next weekend is fake? Or does it mean that you're trying to be your best for the ones who are important to you?

Or, another example. When you go to someone else's house, do you behave the way you do in your own home? Do you shuffle around in a stained undershirt and leave empty cans on the coffee table? Probably not, if you want to be invited back.

So, here we are, invited guests in God's house, on the annual Day of Rally. And it CAN be confusing. Because in scripture, God tells us, again, and again, and again - at least five times - to, "Make a joyful noise (exclamation point!)." To, "Enter God's house with thanksgiving." To come into God's place with praise, with loud shouts, and songs of joy. But this is not a game. We're supposed to be different in worship. We're supposed to be on our best behavior in church because we are invited guests. Worship reminds us that we need to work on ourselves. That we need to conduct ourselves in ways that are divinely UN-usual. So the noises we make on Sunday morning, joyful as they may be, are supposed to be different than the ones we make the other six and one-half days of the week. Even on Rally Day.


What kind of noises do you make? Don't demonstrate. To each his own, or her own. Whatever they are, they probably aren't all that joyful. They might even be unholy. I make a lot of grumpy noises. Grouchy noises. Complaining noises. Why? Because everybody makes them. And it's so easy to go along with the crowd.

There's a lot of random noise, too. It's neither good nor bad. It's just noise. The indistinct noise of the crowd. It has no meaning. No value. It's just noise. Like when kids who are learning to talk simply talk because they can. Not to pick too much on one group, but I'm convinced a lot of politicians talk simply to show that they do indeed have verbal skills. They want to prove they're so much more evolved than the silent antelope, or giraffes.

The Bible is painfully clear. We are to make a joyful noise. All the earth is to make a joyful noise in praise of its creator. Not grumpy noise. Not noise-noise. Joyful noise. But what does that mean? Especially in church?

Some churches seem to give more points for volume than content. Other churches spend more time taking roll and counting heads than getting into them. Other churches take great pains to disturb neither the furniture nor their neighbors, as if the point is to come and leave without anyone knowing you've been there. Some churches try to make as little noise as possible. Others never stop making noise.

What kind of noise do you make for God? Is it joyful? Is it grouchy? Is it random? Is it noise for its own sake? Is your God-noise just an extended echo of the sounds you make everywhere else?

Jesus had an idea about how to really rally for God. Jesus talked about how to make a really joyful, joyful noise. And, no surprise, it sounds different than the noise we're used to making.


In Mark 12:28, there's a story about people arguing with Jesus. They were challenging him with questions. And, things were getting loud. So loud, in fact, that a scribe - one of the men whose job it was to keep the noise down - came up to them, and put a question to Jesus. Here's how it goes:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?"

Now, Jesus is really smart. I guess that goes with the territory. Jesus quotes scripture. The scripture doesn't start out saying, shout, yell, accuse, hiccup, yawn, or shush.

29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear' -

'Hear, O Israel...'

The genesis of joyful noise is to hear.

Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Joyful noise doesn't start with shout, yell, accuse, hiccup, yawn, or shush.

It starts with, "Hear." And hear this.

The Lord is one. And you shall love God. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There's no commandment greater.

So. It turns out joyful noise isn't noisy. Joyful noise is a love song. Joyful noise is the sound of hearing. (Ooh, that's zen-like.) If you're sitting in church, joyful noise is the sound of people working especially hard to hear, and to take God's commandments to heart. Because in church, you hear the reminders - or maybe you hear for the first time - that you really have only two basic commandments. Two commandments. That's all.

Love God.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Which means, you're going to cut your neighbor some slack, just like you do yourself.

Love God. Love neighbor. If you do that, then, the sounds of God and the people around will be very joyful. You'll be joyful, too. Love God. Love neighbor. And your life will be a joyful noise unto God, the rock of your salvation.


In the Bible it says at least five times that we're to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. That we're to enter his gates, that we're to come into God's house, with thanksgiving. That we're supposed to enter God's house singing loud songs of praise. Like a joyful noise rally. And that's all well and good. For the people who show up.

Jesus finishes the song. The Psalms tell us how to ENTER God's house. Jesus tells us how we're supposed to EXIT God's house. Jesus tells us how we're to enter the rest of God's creation the other six and one-half days of the week. We're to take the love we hear in church, and share it with our neighbor.

That might be hard to hear, but it's pretty simple to understand. Go out from here and love God; and love your neighbor, the same way you love yourself.

Can you imagine? If every church? If every follower of Jesus did just those two things? Every day? Can you imagine the joyful noise that would echo the world over?

I want to ask you to make a commitment today. And I know it gets scary when the preacher says stuff like that. I want to ask you to make a commitment today. I want to ask you to make a commitment to God that no matter what kind of noise surrounds you, that you'll make a joyful noise. That no matter what kind of noise other people try to jam into your head, you'll do your very best to reply by loving God, and by loving your neighbor as yourself. Can you make that commitment today? I hope so. I hope you will. Because I think that would be the best Rally Day ever.

James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
Presbytery of East Tennessee