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Emotional Mechanics

“Emotional Mechanics” 2 Samuel 18:1-15, 33 © 8.12.18 Ordinary 19B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

When I was a little boy, I delighted in taking things apart, mainly my toys. Trouble was, I couldn’t put them back together again. So, with my hopelessly disassembled plaything in hand, I would go to my mama, wanting her to restore the plane or truck to its former glory. Later on, when I was a little older, and constantly mixed up and anxious, it wasn’t toys but tattered feelings and dashed expectations I took to Mama. Whatever the problem, she was the one who could fix things, I thought.

If I cried to Mama, King David ran to his commanders Joab, Ittai, and Abishai. He wanted someone to rescue him from the outcome of his actions. Or should I say, inaction.

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The Magnet of Love

“The Magnet of Love” John 6:22-35, 41-51 © 8.5.18 Ordinary 18B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Canadian pop and country singer k.d.lang’s first hit in the early ‘90s was entitled “Constant Craving.” In one line, she mused: “Maybe a great magnet pulls all souls towards truth or maybe it is life itself that feeds wisdom to its youth.” What lang wondered about and didn’t or couldn’t name, our Lord and the gospel writer are certain of. There is indeed One who like a cosmic magnet draws humanity to life and truth, and that’s the God who sent his Son Jesus among us.

C.S. Lewis once spoke of his conversion as his having been “dragged kicking and screaming to the altar.” That famous writer may speak the language of coercion, but the text and other witnesses do not. The scholastics, theologians of an earlier day, talked about “irresistible grace,” a notion distorted by less capable minds into the taking away of choice in our dealings with God, as if he comes to dwell within us whether we wish it or not. Grace is indeed irresistible, but only because what God offers us is such a wonderful delight that we want it more than anything. Only because we’re touched by someone who captures our imaginations and envelopes us with love beyond our dreams. Only because his teaching is so life-giving and life-enhancing. The God whose love we know in Christ is no sinister force, no giant gaslighting scam artist, drawing us in with a web of lies and deceit, capturing us in a place and a relationship from which there’s no escape. We bond with this God and he with us because of the sheer joy of it, the deep sense of giftedness and peace that’s ours when we know God in Christ.

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The Andrew Viewpoint

“The Andrew Viewpoint” John 6:1-15 and Ephesians 3:14-21 © 7.29.18 Ordinary 17B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

It was late afternoon, and people were hungry.

Jesus turned first to Philip, whose hometown was nearby. Our Lord trusted his advice; in this location, he’d know about the markets. “Philip, where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip must have wondered whether Jesus had jumped the gun a little. A better question would have been “Where are we going to get the money to buy these folks some food?” Philip answered in those terms: “A person would have to work the better part of a year just to get enough for each one to have a little.”

Andrew heard the conversation, and offered a suggestion. It was far-fetched, but better than nothing. “There’s a little boy here with five loaves and two fish.” Still, he had his doubts: “They won’t go very far with all these people.”

Jesus liked the idea, though, and got everyone seated. He took the little bit that had been offered and thanked God for it.

We know the result. Everybody had enough, and there were twelve baskets of fragments gathered up, so that nothing would be lost, as Jesus put it.

Of course, knowing that our Lord could feed them, which meant he could supply other needs as well, everyone wanted to make him king. Somehow they’d force him to rule and fight for them, if necessary. But Jesus was well aware that popularity can be as dangerous as hostility. So, the story ends with our Lord fleeing into the mountains alone.

As familiar as this tale is, it still holds possibilities for a fresh word from God every time we read and hear it. Let me suggest to you this morning that we mine it for clues about how we use the resources God provides us.

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Raising the Walking Dead

“Raising the Walking Dead” Ephesians 2:1-22 © 7.22.18 Ordinary 16B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Near the end of the 15th century, a publication called The Nuremburg Chronicle reported that Europe was depressed, with no sense of the future. We might say the whole culture was stuck in a rut, or to change the metaphor, barren of possibility, unable to conceive anything new. But the following year, the Chronicle noted how everyone was “all agog.” A transformation in outlook had somehow occurred that spurred a remarkable process of change the like of which had not been seen before.

Fast forward to sometime in the 20th century and the dilemma of a well-known company traditionally noted for its cake mixes. They needed to expand their product line and gain more customers, but the man who made a number of decisions about such matters saw little future for products that required busy women to expend a substantial amount of time in order to make a tasty and attractive cake. So, instead of selling mixes, he thought, the company would sell goods which required no other preparation than popping them in the microwave. The market did grow, but not in the way the executive suggested.

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Insistent Praise

“Insistent Praise” 2 Samuel 7:18-29 and Ephesians 1:3-14 © 7.15.18 Ordinary 15B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Previously in the saga of King David, two weeks ago, he was facing a crisis of faith. Newly crowned as sovereign of Israel, David was seeking to consolidate all power in Jerusalem, his new capital. In order to centralize the worship of the nation, he decided to bring the ark of the covenant into the city. An enterprise that began with dancing, though, soon turned into mourning, as Uzzah lay dead, victim of a petulant God who punished him for touching the precious sacred object without proper ritual credentials.

That incident left David shaken and angry. It was only after three months of grieving and soul searching that the king finally brought the covenant symbol into his city. The dancing had resumed.

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Mystics of the Quotidian

“Mystics of the Quotidian” Mark 6:1-13 © 7.8.18 Ordinary 14B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Every Wednesday and Sunday, as I come into town, I’m greeted by a big green sign that proclaims Amory the home of Trent Harmon, “the last American Idol.” Prior to Harmon’s win in the TV competition, he came to town and did a concert. The Monroe Journal said: “March 26, 2016 will forever be known as Trent Harmon Day in Amory, as per a resolution presented by Mayor Brad Blalock in front of gobs of Harmon fans crammed in Frisco Park. An estimated 5,000 fans came from near and far to line a parade route, shout screams synonymous with a boy band sighting and give an overwhelmingly hospitable welcome fit for a king” (http://www.djournal.com/monroe/news/amory-welcomes-back-its-hometown-hero/article_312ec094-e4f7-59f9-855e-5bfa73044e36.html). Traci Huguley said at the time about fundraising for the parade: “Everybody is working together. All churches and sorts of people are coming together. It’s the most unifying thing that could happen for our town”  (https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/local/2016/03/25/amory-mccomb-brace-idol-homecoming/82255976/). Harmon was a hometown hero.

Back in my day, Albany, GA, where I grew up, claimed country singer Ray Stevens in the same way. Some of you may recall that he had a string of novelty hits like “Guitarzan” and “Ahab the Arab,” along with more serious works like “Everything is Beautiful” and “Mr. Businessman.” Everybody said Stevens’ real name was “Ray Ragsdale” and that he was from out at Kinchafoonee Creek. (Yes, that’s a real place.) I was never sure whether the rumors of his origins were true, but when Stevens did a concert in the local high school auditorium, the mayor gave him the key to the city.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, the mayor made sure to be out of town on business, and calls to his assistants went right to voicemail. There were no cheering crowds. Nobody hung out a big banner saying “Welcome home, Jesus” or came up to him on the street asking for his autograph. Not even an offer to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on old times. Yes, he was well-known and had “made good,” as we would say. But the folks in Nazareth were not particularly pleased. As someone has said, their reaction was somewhere between amazement and annoyance. They were somewhat skeptical that the neighborhood kid who had played in their streets and grew up building chests and tables had anything wise and fascinating to say. He was no rabbi, no legal expert; what could he know?

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The God You Touch

“The God You Touch” 2 Samuel 6:1-19; Mark 5:21-43 © 7.1.18 Ordinary 13B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that it’s full of violence, bloodshed, and general carnage, so much so that Phyllis Trible many years ago wrote a book entitled Texts of Terror. Just look at Judges in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New. Usually somebody convinced that he has a holy mission wreaks havoc in the name of God, alone or with others. Or at least, as in Revelation, he predicts the bloody demise of those seen as God’s enemies, who will be slain by Jesus, the Lion of God. The beautiful passages in the prophets describing the faithful love of God and his welcome to strangers and the marginalized get overshadowed by gruesome tales of holy war and the utter destruction of the heathen. As Mark Twain had it: “[In the Old Testament] God is always punishing…punishing innocent children…punishing unoffending populations… even descending to wreak havoc upon harmless calves and lambs…. If God had a motto, it would have read: ‘Let no innocent person escape.’”

Twain’s argument is given weight by the story of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant. As the ornate box, a kind of portable throne for God, was being moved from the home of Abinadab, Uzzah’s father, the oxen pulling the cart stumble and the Ark shifts in the wagon. Uzzah, out of respect for the religious artifact, puts out his hand to steady it. And zap! According to the tale, God kills him for being so insolent as to touch something sacred.

We’re rightly incensed at such a crude and primitive understanding of God and the holy. How can the deity whose actions are so cruel and barbaric be the same one who sent Jesus among us? And that’s a legitimate question. Some in the early Church said he was not. But there’s another way to look at the story.

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