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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon Too

   2014-06-22 Philippians 4:1-9

   “How to Train Your Dragon Too”

   James McTyre

   Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

  

   The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians: Rejoice. Rejoice always. I'll say it again: Rejoice.

  

   Obviously, Paul hasn't been watching the news lately.

   Missing airplanes, war in Iraq.

   Weird new viruses from pigs and mosquitos.

   Weird old germs in California. (I’m thinking of Whooping Cough).

   There's a lot of anxiety in the world right now because we don't know what the future's going to be.

  

   Of course, we know we never really know what the future's going to be.

   We know that.

   We earn, we plan, we invest, we save – hoping that the future's on some predictably smooth trajectory.

   We hope the future stretches out before us like an Arizona highway.

   Unfortunately, the future often looks more like Highway 129 around Lake Fontana (“The Tail of the Dragon”).

  

   Back when we were new, and young, Kristen & I drove that road, The Dragon.

   Silly us. We thought it was for cars.

   We were coming back from gambling in North Carolina (just kidding; that was another trip), and Kristen, who was in charge of the map (this is before GPS took over my soul), says, “Hey. I think I found a short cut.”

   And on Stone Age maps, it looked like a straight line.

   That's because they can't draw lines that small.

   After about 10 minutes on The Dragon (about half a mile), we started saying, “It’s gotta straighten out soon.”

   It never does.

   After every turn we’d say, “It’s gotta straighten out soon,” and then burst into hysterical laughter.

   Was this the laughter of rejoicing?

   No, but the extra oxygen kept us from getting car sick.

   We were laughing at the map.

   We were laughing at ourselves for being so na├»ve, so hopelessly optimistic that what we originally thought, or what we desperately hoped, would turn out to be true.

   It never does.

   At least, not immediately. Not on that road.

  

   In time, we made it back.

   (Obviously.)

   About the time you pop up in Maryville, whose highways look like Arizona's by comparison, the road does straighten out, you release your grip on the steering wheel, and you curse Robert Frost for all that “Road Less Travelled” hooey.

  

   It's easy to rejoice when you can see miles in every direction.

   It's easy to rejoice when you know what's coming your way.

   It's easy to rejoice when someone hands you a roadmap, microscopically precise in every twist and turn.

   But what happens to our rejoicing when we think we're on Easy Street and it turns out we're riding the Tail of the Dragon?

   How do you tame the dragons of anxiety?

   How do you rejoice when there’s nothing joyful on the map?

   How do you train your dragon?

  

   ---

   Sometimes people say the Bible is like a roadmap.

   If you follow the commandments, you’ll get to your little Presbyterian destination.

   It’s predestined.

   Except it doesn’t always work that way.

   Like, a one year-old gets inoperable cancer.

   Where did that come from, and why did it come at all?

   We wonder, How did we end up here?

   It would be easy to curse the mapmaker.

   Who hasn't wished that the Bible was more direct and more precise? 

   But more often than not, the lines in the Bible from Point A to Point B are thick brushstrokes.

   We end up on some ridiculous road, and it’s up to us to figure out the fine points as the dragon tails whip us back and forth.

   So, the Bible says, rejoice.

   Rejoice, I say, rejoice!

   Sounds like simple directions.

   Rejoice, dangit!

   That’s what’s wrong with you.

   The Bible says to rejoice, and you must not be rejoicing enough.

   You must have done something wrong somewhere along the road, like trying to take a shortcut.

   Any of you ever hear nonsense like that?

   Any of you ever get bit by those dragons?

   Does getting burned by fire breathers make you feel better?

   (Didn’t think so.)

   ---

  

   I'm a man.

   Raise your hand if you’re one.

   The theory has been advanced – accepted as fact by some – that men will never ask directions.

   Spatial profiling, I tell you.

   They say it’s because we're obstinate.

   Untrue.

   We're optimistic.

   Something in the Y chromosome makes us believe that if we just drive a little farther, we'll get where we're supposed to be.

   We're optimists.

  

   The Bible tells us, rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, Rejoice.”

   And it's true: If you keep rejoicing long enough, eventually something good will come up that's worth rejoicing over and then you can say to all the people who called you obstinate, “See? I told you so.”

  

   The Bible says Rejoice.

   But it also says – Jesus himself says – to laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry.

   Rejoicing isn’t always so simple.

   How do you keep rejoicing when the road throws you a horrible curve?

   Well, maybe you're not supposed to rejoice when things are unrejoicable.

   It's not fair that any of us should ever get stuck in the valleys.

   We'd like to take a short cut over the mountaintops, we long to, but there isn't one.

   We can curse the curves, but that won't straighten them.

   We can ignore the turns, pretend they aren't there, but it won't take long before we end up in a ditch.

   Optimism to the extreme is ignorance with a smile.

   

   Rejoice, rejoice always – sounds like a simple answer.

   Except that in some circumstances, rejoicing isn't the appropriate answer.

   It’s complicated.

   The road is complicated, and the dragons are real.

  

   

   It's instructive to step back and see where Paul is in his journey of faith when he wrote this very hopeful, joyful letter to the Philippians.

   On the beach with Filipinos? No.

   The country club? Eh. Try again.

   Would it surprise you to know that Paul wrote this letter from prison?

   In a manner of speaking, you could say he had been put in prison for rejoicing too much in Christ.

   In prison for following his beliefs, and still he says, “Rejoice.”

   How can he possibly say that?

   Paul has run into a dead end, and yet he says, “Rejoice.”

   Why?

  

   If Paul can rejoice from his prison cell, it's not because of his navigation skills.

   I think it’s more like he’s come to the conclusion that he has no sense of direction whatsoever.

   If Paul can rejoice it's because he's no longer depending on his own optimism, his own intelligence, his own plans, his own map.

   If Paul can rejoice – and he can – it's because he believes God is more than a mapmaker.

   Paul rejoices because there are choices, everyday choices, there are choices in his roads.

   Paul rejoices because there are choices between hope and hopelessness, between joy and bitterness, between lost and found.

   Paul may not know where these choices will take him, but he rejoices that there are choices.

   So he writes:

  

   Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

   This is not, “Cheer up, things could be worse.”

   This is a letter from prison, from the end of the road, rock bottom, the dragon’s stinking backside.

   Paul is saying, “I can't control anything. I can't control anything around me, but I can control what I choose to think about.

   “And I'm going to set my mind on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable.

   In other words, Paul says, “I'm going to set my mind on Christ.”

   Christ who was crucified.

   Christ who spent three days under the dirt.

   Christ who was raised and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

   Ignorance isn't bliss.

   Ignoring or arguing with dragons isn't the answer.

   Cursing the map or the mapmaker isn't the answer.

   You may not be able to tame or redraw the dragons in your road.

   But you can train the ones in your mind.

   Even when the road seems like it’s going nowhere, the blessing is that we can still choose to rejoice.

   Rejoice, not because the road is so straight, but because in Christ we believe there’s something else, something more than life’s ugliest untamed  dragons.

   Rejoice, because the God of peace, who has seen the worst, is riding with you, no matter where you think you’re heading.