Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon for April 22, 2108; Acts 4:1-13

Rev. George N. Miller
Acts 4:1-13
April 22, 2018

A woman went to her mother to talk about her life and how things had become so hard for her.

She didn’t know how she was going to make it. She wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting, struggling, and it seemed as one problem arose right after another problem was solved.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high flame.

Soon the pots came to boil.

In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil. Twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners.

She fished the carrots out and placed
them on a plate. She pulled the eggs out and put them in a bowl. She ladled the coffee out and into a mug.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She noted that they were soft.

The mother asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the egg was hard boiled.

The mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter asked "What does it mean?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. But each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, in the boiling water, it softened and became mushy.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its interior, but after enduring the hot water, its insides were hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique. After being in the boiling water, they changed the water, infusing it with their own rich uniqueness.

"Which are you?" the mother asked her daughter. "When adversity boils around you, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"

Which are you?

Are you most like the carrot that seems strong, but with adversity wilts and loses strength?

Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a hardship you become hardened and tough?

Are you the coffee grounds, changing with the situation, able to transform the surroundings and yourself through the process?

When the hour is the hottest and trials are their greatest, can you elevate yourself to another level?

In today’s reading, the disciples find themselves in hot water.

The disciples are continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ. They’ve healed a lame man inside the Temple. But the people in power aren’t too happy about this, so they’re locked up.

The next day Peter and John are brought before the high court, and they’re asked “By what power do you have to do what you’ve done?”

Peter, cool as cool can be, says to the court “The good we have done was done through the power of Jesus Christ, the one you treated like a common crook. It is Christ alone who offers salvation.”

This surprises the council.

Here they are, a court made up of the wealthiest, most powerful people, and they have just been told off by a fisherman.

The court wants to punish the disciples, but they knew it would make matters worse, so they let them off with a warning.

But the disciples go right back to preaching, teaching and healing.

By the next chapter they are arrested again. Peter tells the court “We must obey the God of our ancestors, the one who raised Jesus from the grave.”

This time the court wants to kill them, but one man convinces them “If you pay them no mind, eventually they will fade away.”

So the disciples are given another warning, along with a brutal flogging.

But being as stubborn and sure of their faith as they are, the disciples go right back to teaching, preaching and healing.

Here we witness the awesome power of Christianity. After having Jesus crucified, after the disciples are arrested and flogged, everyone should have just called it a day, given up and gone home.

But our spiritual ancestors were not carrots or eggs, they were more like coffee, and because of this Christianity grew from 12 to 100 to 5,000 and beyond.

How could this possibly be?

So many other religions have come and gone, but Christianity grew and thrived, even while existing in social and political pots of boiling water.

Not only has our faith survived, but it has changed the culture around it.

This story is part of our collective heritage, and it is an example of what life is like.

If you read the Book of Acts, you’ll witness how the disciples are always meeting and overcoming obstacles.

In Acts we come across every day folk that begin as no different than us, who allow themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit in all situations.

Acts is an adventurous book with scenes of miraculous healing, heart pounding ship wrecks, and constant run-ins with the law.

In many ways the disciples become models for how we can face challenges.

Now, some of you may be wondering- when will we stand before a court due to our faith?

When are we ever going to be flogged because of our faith?

But we do stand before a court almost every day, don’t we?

It’s called the Court of Life.

The Court of Circumstances.

The Court of Cancer and Chronic Illnesses.

The Court of Accidents and Economics.

The Court of Prejudice and Sexism.

The Court of Aging and Mortality.

We symbolically stand before all kinds of courts all the time even if we don’t realize it.

There are those of us who are standing before the Court of Health. Our bodies are changing and going through things we never signed up for.

We age, our eyes dim, our hearing goes. We stand up and something squeaks, we sit down and something else pops.

We stand before the Court of Health which says “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.”

Or like the disciples we can find a way to say “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, and as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

There are other courts we stand before.

Some of us may be standing before the Court of Family Life.

This particular court tells us that our children are struggling or our parents are aging. It tells us that our siblings are dealing with sickness, memories are being erased, and feuds are continuing to pull apart and destroy.

We stand before the Court of Family which tells us that “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.” Or we can reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, as long as I have hope, I will never be alone.”

There is also the Court of Cultural Climate.

It tells us that no one will ever get along, that one side is wrong all the time, that the issues are too great, our differences are too divisive, and our nation is doomed to not survive.

This court tries to scare everyone and says “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.” Or we can find our own way to reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

We each live our lives in symbolic pots of water.

Sometimes everything is OK and we are not even aware that water is around us.

Sometimes the pots are lukewarm; sometimes they are boiling hot.

When this happens, and the initial shock of our situation subsides, what do we do?

If we’re not careful, we can be like the carrots and become soft and weak, leached all of valuable nutrients.

We can be like the egg and create such a tough interior that no one else can ever get through or make us feel good again.

Or, we can learn to faithfully ride the scalding current and work with the situation, like the coffee beans, finding a way to both transform the situation and to be transformed by it.

Through the Book of Acts and the example of the disciples we see one way to do it.

We see how we can welcome the Holy Spirit, trust it to move in our lives, and to fill us with that cool courage that Peter and the others had.

We also learn how to see our troubles through the scope of time.

To realize that we are all involved in the Christian story, and we already know the ultimate outcome: God prevails, evil loses, and the joy of Christ endures forever.

Life is difficult. Just as much as we win, there is also defeat.

But even situations that seem to be absolute defeat, God can turn into victory.

Even with despair, God can bring out hope.

Even when there seems to be astounding loss there can be ecstatic love.

Today we experience the disciples in boiling pots of water, but instead of becoming mush or hardening their hearts, they became coolly courageous.

No matter what court they stood before, they survived the situation and in doing so they changed the world around them.

When the waters around us begin to boil, may we muster up our courage, harness our strength, and allow God’s Spirit to take us to that higher level, in which we too can change and flavor the world around us.

For that we can say thanks be to God who gives us strength, to Christ who offers us salvation, and the Holy Spirit that fills us with courage.

Amen and amen.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Message 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Rev. George Miller
April 1, 2018
Mark 16:1-8

Though we live in a rapidly changing technological world of Snapchat, Firestick, and Amazon Prime, I’m still a little bit old-school.

I get Netflix through the mail, my DVD player also plays videotapes, and I prefer to read books made of paper that can be held, bent and written in.

So when my Emerson 6 CD Direct Access Changer System, circa 2004, decided to stop working, I was not happy.

For weeks there were some problems: the tray eject would stop half way through or a CD wouldn’t play.

No problem, it was easy to fix; nothing that a good whack on the side or tap on the top could not fix.

But then last week, at an inopportune time, it decided to die. It was the day the Adoption Specialist was coming over to update my Home Study so I could continue the adoption process.

On her last visit, she wrote that my home had a calm, warm atmosphere, due to the music I played.

Sooo, I had to make sure she got to experience my smooth grooves once again.

There was the most perfect line-up of CDs ready in the player, but when I hit play, nothing.

First the screen said no CD. Then when the changer button was pushed, it just whirred and clicked.

Wanting nothing more than to present a calm and warm environment to the Adoption Specialist I whacked the side of the stereo. I smacked the top! One hand, two hand; three times, four!

No luck.

I shut it off, unplugged it, said my prayers, doing all I could, until finally, a CD began to play, and not wanting to take any chances, I just hit “repeat”.

The next day a representative from Home Depot come over to give a quote on new windows. I decided to turn on the CD player.

But this time, not only wouldn’t it play, the changer wouldn’t move, whir or do anything.

I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to head to Habitat for Humanity to get a new stereo, or go online and fork over $200 for a brand new one.

Home Depot comes over, does what they do, giving a quote $11,000 to replace 13 windows!

Not today!!!

So when they left, with sticker shock rattling my spirit, and an uneasy silence in my home, I looked over at that Emerson 6 CD Direct Access Changer System, circa 2004, and thought:

“Oh, you may be playing dead, but I’m gonna figure out a way to make you work!”

And with a sense of fear and purpose born out of that sticker shock, I went to task taking that sucker apart.

Me: who just a few weeks ago had to ask someone at the hardware store what was the difference was between 2 light bulbs,

and just a few months ago learned that there are screws with drill bits built into them…

I was going to fix that CD player!!!

I took it apart, lifted the top of the stereo…

…and I was transfixed by what I saw.

First, I found the causes of the problem- one CD was laying on top of another, while one CD stood at a slant between the trays, preventing it from moving.

With one mystery solved and easily fixed, I sought out the answer to another mystery: how do multi-CD players actually work?

With the Mr. Emerson plugged in, 5 of the 6 CD trays loaded, and the top off, I began hitting all the buttons.

It may sound silly, but for me to see how the trays turned, how they ejected out, how the CDS were lifted up and spun fascinated me.

I was surprised that when the “stop” button was hit, the CD was not dropped back into place, but kept suspended, until the next instruction was given.

I learned that the CDs were played from the back of the machine, not from the front as I would have assumed.

I discovered that though the tray ejection was clunky and slow, it was nowhere near broken, and if well cared for, the system will last a long, long time.

I also discovered something else- the inside of the CD player reminded me very much like a tomb.

There was nothing super fancy about it. There was nothing colorful about it; nothing that seemed alive.

There were 6 slots to place 6 CDs, but I only had 5, and the slot that was empty seemed really, really bare.

And the CDs themselves; they’re basically nothing: flat, lifeless discs with somewhat shiny backs that have little smudges and scratches.

The stereo is basically a CD cemetery, until you hit play, the trays shift, a beam of light hits the disc, and then…sweet, sweet sounds emerge.

In some ways I felt like I experienced my own technological type of resurrection, but of course, Easter is in no ways at all like a CD player.

Easter is like nothing at all.

Easter is a day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and unlike a light bulb, or a screw, or a CD player, the Resurrection is not something anyone can truly figure out at all.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a narrative that is easy to take apart; it is not an electronic that’s easy to assemble.

The Resurrection is one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

Why can we say that?

Because none of the parts fit.

All 4 of the Gospels tell about the Resurrection completely different.

When you read Mathew, Mark, Luke and John it’s not clear just how many days Jesus was really dead. Or who went to the tomb. Or who was at the tomb.

Or, who this guy inside the tomb?

What does it mean to say Jesus has been raised? Like a zombie, or a ghost, or like Frankenstein?

Theories abound and people make assumptions, but that is all they are- assumptions, because no one really knows, and unlike CD players and light bulbs,

I don’t think we’re supposed to know.

And if you notice, the way in which Mark tells his version of the resurrection is very curious.

Mark was the 1st of the Gospel writers to write his account down, and almost all scholars agree that his story ends right here, at verse 8, with the expression “for they were afraid.”

There is no vision of the Resurrected Christ, there is no appearance of Peter, there are no tears in the garden.

Just this scene of three women fleeing in fear from the tomb where the body of Jesus once laid.

“…for they were afraid” is how Mark ends his account of his Gospel.

And we wonder- why fear? How is fear a proper way to end a story about Easter Sunday? How can fear connect us to Good News?

…I’ve been thinking about this all week, and came to this conclusion- “Who says fear is such a bad thing?”

After all, emotions are just emotions, neither good nor bad, until we attach qualifiers to them.

Think about the times you’ve been afraid and how it may have saved your life.

The time you just didn’t feel right walking down a street and something inside you said to leave, now.

The time you didn’t feel safe driving your car and sure enough there was an accident or the check engine came on.

That’s fear as intuition, meant to keep us alive and well.

Then there is the kind of fear that’s attached to new beginnings, or something good that is about to happen.

For those who’ve been happily married, think of that sense of fear the night before and the day of your wedding; jitters that cause one to wonder if they’re doing the right thing.

For those who decide to go back to school or to seek out a new career- there’s an element of fear that can certainly freeze you in your tracks:

Am I doing the right thing? Am I too old? Can I still learn?

For those who have children, and either went through pregnancy or the adoption process, think of all the fear and mystery that was involved.

The not knowing, the waiting, the hoping, the worrying.

For anyone who buys a home- there are all sorts of fears. Can we afford it? Will the closing go smooth? How do we move all our stuff in?

These are just 4 life events that almost always involve some sort of fear, but they can also involve and create some kind of joy, happiness, and glee.

Mark chooses to tell the Easter story through the lens of fear, and in doing so, he lets us know that sometimes being afraid is ok.

When the women flee from the tomb full of terror and amazement, it meant they were very much alive.

It meant they were present.

It meant there was still much more of the story to be told.

And their fear signaled something new- that Jesus was no longer tied down to an earthly realm and limited to bodily form.

Yes- Mark tells us about the Resurrection and chooses to talk about fear. But that is not such a bad thing.

Fear can be used to dismantle systems that no longer work

Fear can be used to create new beginnings.

Fear can push one to discover that they are smarter, stronger, more capable of success than they ever thought before.

Fear can be used to change the world.

Fear can make complacent people get involved to go out and vote, or inspire students to march.

Fear is almost a component of anything worth doing.

Think of our Shepherd’s Pantry. How worried people were in the beginning. How it took a year of meetings to get it off the ground.

How people were afraid it wouldn’t work; we were afraid the money would run out; we were afraid the people would not come.

And look where we are now- feeding over 100 families a month with over $5,000 in our account.

…“Go to Galilee, and there you will see him,” the women are told.

Though they flee in fear, there is no doubt that this fear allowed them to go out into the world and experience Christ in a whole new way.

Perhaps this fear allowed them to discover how Christ is there in the wilderness and the seashores, how Christ is there in the community and in our homes.

How even in death, and in illness, in the unknown and in things that seem broken, and beyond repair- Christ is there.

The Resurrection will always be a mystery, but what a wonderful mystery it is, because no matter how it is told, it is a reminder that God is not done amazing us.

And if we learn how to embrace our fears, we can even amaze ourselves.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Palm Sunday Message; Mark 11:1-11

Rev. George Miller
March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11

(This character sermon was 1st given in 2015, yet feels timely. This is the rebooted version with some changes made.)

The weather’s been grey for the past few days, unsure of what it wants to do. Dark and cloudy, with hints of rain.

Seems about right.

It’s like the world is ready for some thing; as if the old is dying to make room for the new.

Whatever it is, it’s got to be better that what we have now.

Things have been dreary; blah.

Tired of work. Tired of earning just enough for my daily bread. Tired of paying all these dang taxes.

Tired of being tired.

We could us a holiday. A celebration.

Thankfully, Passover is here.

That’s the time we gather with family and friends to remember how God heard our cries; how God sent us Moses and Miriam so we could be free.

Free from Egypt; free to cross the Red Sea; free to be something more.

Passover is a time of celebration. Folk we ain’t seen in a while coming back to town to worship at the Temple.

We sing songs, tell stories, eat good food.

Despite the grey and the current circumstances, we celebrate.

Of course, the news that thousands of us are descending upon the city doesn’t sit well with the Romans; they get a little scared; a little jumpy.

They’ve done their best to beat us down, to take away our voting rights, to unfairly tax us and to find new ways to steal our land.

But I tell you what- Rome may tax our land and tax our home, but Rome cannot own our heart, or own our soul.

We belong to God.

So every Passover, as kinfolk gather, we all wonder if this’ll be the year we’ll finally revolt and say “no more!”

And today, while Pilate entered the city from the west on his pompous steed, another kind of King entered from the east: a man we call Jesus.

Except instead of being a rich governor, Jesus is a poor peasant.

Instead of living in a castle, he sleeps wherever his head can find rest.

Instead of only caring about his cronies, he cares about everyone.

We’ve been hearing about Jesus for a while now; how he’s like no one else.

-He stands up to the religious and political hypocrites. He eats with regular folk, like you and I. He brings healing to all, no matter if they are a servant, a soldier, or a son.

Some say he embodies the wisdom of God. Some say he’s a reflection of God’s Love.

Others say he is the Messiah- the one we’ve all been waiting for to set us free from Rome’s choke-hold.

So when news go out that Jesus and his gang of merry men were coming into town for the Passover, we knew things were gonna get good.

Word was that Jesus was entering from the east, from the Mount of Olives, the place the prophets had written about.

So we gathered to greet him; we gathered to cheer him on. Not the hoity-toitys out to kiss Rome’s butt.

But the regular folk.

Those who worked the land. Those who weren’t afraid to get dirt under their nails.

Those struggling for their daily bread, those struggling with debt, those who were paying high taxes, and those who had mortgaged off their family land.

We gathered to celebrate this man who was going to change our lives forever.

It was a celebration, and ya’ll know what it’s like when people get together for a good time: things just happen, a spark of energy hits the air.

Someone began to sing “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

Another voice joined in signing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Someone else sang out “Hosanna! Hosanna! David’s kingdom is near!”

“Hosanna! Hosanna!” they sang out, and it sounded just about right.

“Hosanna” is just a fancy way of saying “Help!”

“Hosanna” is just a way to say “Lord save us!”

That’s what we were singing “Lord-help us! Lord, save us! Hosanna!”

For those living with hunger-“Hosanna!”

For those in unfair debt- “Hosanna!”

For those blind, deaf, lame, and bent over with shame- “Hosanna!”

For those lost in the wilderness, locked up in jail, sick, or sailors whose ships had sunk- “Hosanna!”

“Hosanna! Hosanna” we sang.

Then the celebration really kicked in.

Some took off their coats to place before the animal Jesus was riding.

But I am too poor to even have a coat.
What was I to give?

I’m not a magi able to offer gifts of frankincense and myrrh. I’m not a drummer boy able to supply a song.

I’m not a beautiful woman with long hair that can be used to wash his feet.

I looked to sky for help, and that’s when I saw the palms growing on the tree. How abundant they were.

I thought of how the palms were like me- hearty and able to endure.

They can grow in the extreme heat. They can handle intense rain; they can handle the long, dry spells.

And through it all, they are green, and they are alive!

Green- the color of life.

So I ran onto into the road, in front of Jesus, in front of his colt, and I placed the palm branch down, humbly stating “Hosanna” or “Help.”

Who could have guessed what happened next-

Others just like me- destitute, lost, lonely, afraid- followed suit; they climbed up the trees, they ran into the nearby fields.

They took whatever they could find- grass, straw, leaves, branches, the riches of the land, and we laid all that we had before the Lord.

We sang and we celebrated and for that brief moment we were One¬, with a feeling that anything is possible and the grey skies are gone forever.

…of course no grey sky is ever gone completely.

As Passover week continues, an odd air of uncertainty has appeared.

You know how sometimes you can just tell something’s not right, even if you’re not entirely sure why?

That’s how things have been since Sunday.

After Jesus entered into Jerusalem, there’s been buzzing on the street, and not the good kind.

Some say that Rome is upset with his teachings. Some say our religious leaders ain’t too happy with him.

Some claim that Jesus is unruly; he’s riling the masses and stirring things up.

There’s even whispers that Rome is constructing a cross for Jesus, a sure sign that he’s got them feeling scared.

Jesus isn’t helping matters.

One moment he’s teaching about love, the next he’s shaming the scribes.

One moment he’s pointing out how much people are putting into the offering plate, the next moment he’s telling us the Temple will be destroyed.

That ain’t good.

The other night, a woman came and anointed Jesus just as one would a dead body.

It feels as if the songs of celebration have been silenced.

It’s as if the hosannas have made way to hopelessness.

Ominous clouds are forming; seems a storm is a brewing. Something bad is sure to happen.

What does this all mean? What does the rest of the week hold? How will the events unfold? What’s next?

I don’t know; we don’t know.

Only God knows; only God knows…

Monday, March 19, 2018

Is God the Least Successful Entity Of All Time? March 18, 2018 Sermon on Jeremiah 31:31-34

Rev. George Miller
March 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31-34

How do we define success?

Is it arriving at a place you set out for? Is it following through with something you said? Is it having a long career?

How do we measure the worth of a journey, a goal, a calling?

And if the journey, goal, or vision is not achieved as we might have assumed or anticipated is it folly, worthless, or bitter defeat?

I ask this because as Americans living in a technological age, with Common Core Classes, job performance reviews, and a whole industry based on polls and opinions,

we seem to be so, so focused on end products, bottom lines, and seeable results…

…and yet, we are said to be a largely Christian country, in which our beliefs are based on a book full of failure.

Moses- never did get into the Promised Land.

Paul- never did get to visit that church in Rome as planned.

Jesus- barely got to see more than Jerusalem before he was crucified.

Would you call men who were hung on a cross, incarcerated by the state, or died in the wilderness as success stories?

Yet we base our entire faith on these 3 individuals.

We believe in Moses, a man who set out to bring people to the Promised Land, who fooled a Pharaoh, met with the Mighty upon a mountain, who never, ever got to step a single, solitary foot into the Land of Milk and Honey.

We believe in Paul, a world traveler, who wrote to a congregation that soon he’ll be traveling to Spain and he’ll see them right after he takes a collection for the poor.

Instead, he is arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Rome as a prisoner, and is executed.

Who was it that once said “I like people who weren’t captured.”?

We believe in Jesus, a man whose entire ministry was no more than 1-3 years.

He had no church, no home, no wife, no kids, no real career, who purposely journeys to the place he know he will be captured and killed, hung between two common thieves.

Who does that?

How is that success?

Imagine what the trolls on FaceBook would say if Moses, Paul, or Jesus were alive today!

Since we’re talking about failed missions- what about God?

God is perhaps the least successful entity of all time.

Why do I say that?

Look at God’s track record-

Creates a garden that is so, so good, yet brother kills brother, while Adam and Eve eat from the one tree they were told not to.

Makes a promise to Abraham and Sarah that they will have land, have descendents more numerous than the stars, and a family that will bless the world.

Yet it takes decades before they even have one child, and both die centuries before any of the promises come true.

Then there is the whole fiasco about God looking down upon a raggedy bunch of no-counts, hearing their cries, delivering them from slavery, giving them clear instructions on stone, leading them to a land that already had homes and farms built and ready to go…

…and then watching as they turn their back on everything, act as if they have amnesia, and cheat on God with false gods full of flash and fake promises.

God gives them chance after chance after chance to get it right, and they keep cheating, and cheating, and cheating.

Does that sound like a healthy, successful track record or relationship to you?

Then there’s today’s reading, Jeremiah 31. Oh, it sounds lovely; sounds beautiful. But it’s based on yet again another failed attempt of faithfulness.

The people of Judah were supposed to live a life focused on God, a life in which they were to do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with the Lord.

But they continued to miss the mark, they continue to rebel, they continued to do things that twisted and contorted their spirits, and caused them to be bowed down with sin and shame.

This makes them vulnerable to outside forces, and they fall victims to their enemies who come and destroy all that God has worked so hard for.

Though this is another failure, akin to Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden, God chooses not to give up on the people.

He comes up with a new plan, a new attempt to win them over.

God says “Don’t worry. I’m about to do something new. Instead of stone or papyrus that you got to lug around, I am going to make a new covenant with you.”

“This covenant, this promise, will be written with your heart, inside of you, so that as long as you live you will never be without it.”

“Like permanent eye-liner, or a pacemaker, you don’t have to worry because this new covenant will act like a spiritual GPS that will always lead you home and will always lead you right back to me.”

“And you and I, me and thee- well we will be happy, happy, happy for the rest of eternity.”

….How do you think that went for God?

Think it worked?

Think that 2,500 years ago, when this was most likely written, the people unequivocally did get right with God in which they did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with the Lord?

Think they stayed faithful to God and didn’t wonder back to false idols and worship foolish deities?

Think they honored the elderly, cared for the children?

Think they welcomed foreigners with open arms, provided food and medicine to the hungry and sick?

Think they paid a living wage, charged fair prices, and kept the covenant in their heart???

…Heck no!!!

They went right back to the same ol’, same ol’, eventually leading God to send God’s Son, to do what?

Walk in our midst. Share in our joy. Point us towards heaven. Turn little into much.

How did that turn out???...

…Yes, Moses never did make it into the Promised Land. Paul never made it to that church on his way to Spain.

Jesus ended his mortal ministry nailed to a cross.

All while God’s people kept doing what they do.

So- is God the biggest fool?

The ultimate enabler?

Least likely to run a successful cooperation?

Thought about these things on Tuesday, after our Bible Study.

What is this written on the heart thing and is a worth a darn?

Then Wednesday came along; the day we stood in solidarity with our students.

Would it make any kind of difference? Standing outside for 17 minutes? Silent? White shirt? Chime?

Most of my adult life I’ve wondered if things like vigils, marches, and letters to the editor, do a nab dab thing.

Come to discover it does.

Please allow me a few more minutes to explain. I can’t speak for the others who were there. But for me this is how Wednesday went-

We gather in a circle. Say a few words. Offer a prayer. Walk to the corner of Hammock and Hope. Close our eyes.

1st minute- I got this.

2nd minute- am I keeping correct time?

3rd minute- ooh, the sun feels good, and someone just honked their horn.

4th minute- wind.

Following minutes-
sound of cars passing, so many cars
a bird chirping
Am I ringing too loud, too soft?

My heart…

…is this writing on my heart?

Stand tall.
Shoulders back.

It doesn’t matter how many people are here- There are cars seeing us
There are people in those cars
What are the people thinking?

Will their seeing us standing in silence affect how they will interact with the next people they meet?

Writing on my heart…is this God writing on my heart?

Chime
Breath

Open my eyes to get a peek-
We’re all together
Silent
Still.
Strong.
Real strong

Done.
Glow on faces
Smiles
Sense of zen for the rest of the day

During this time, it felt like God was writing on my heart. And at least for that one day, I felt like I was more present, more at peace, more nice.

Perhaps this scripture is not meant to be taken concretely as a one-time deal.

Perhaps Jeremiah 31 is about how God writes on our heart again and again, non-stop, every day.

Again and again and again, God is writing on our heart.

And why not- God’s got all day.

God’s got all night.

God’s got all time.

God’s in no rush.

God’s got no quota to fill. God’s got no set place to be.

God’s got no employer; God’s got no board of directors to answer to.

What God DOES have is GRACE.
Abundant.
Limitless.
And amazing…

What may appear to be folly, God sees as wisdom.

What we see as worthless, God sees as more precious than diamonds and pearls.

What we see as bitter defeat, God claims as sweet, sweet victory.

So as we continue the Lenten Season, as we look at events like Marjory Stoneman, as we look at events that are unfolding here or at nations abroad,

As we look at events in our own lives, our own family, our own local community,

May we realize it is not always about the getting there. It is not always about the follow through. It is not always about the accomplishments we can check off our list.

It’s that YOU began. It’s that YOU were HERE at all!

It’s the blessed assurance that God is not located in a book, or locked in a box, or controlled by a bishop-

But that God is right here; right here in YOUR heart.

And her heart, and his heart, and in my heart.

And no thing, no event can ever, ever make that fact untrue, or foolish, or unwise.

And for that, we can say “Amen” and “amen.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When Crying "Help" Is the Most We Can Do; Psalm 107:1-9, sermon for March 11, 2018

Rev. George Miller
March 11, 2018
Psalm 107:1-9

Today’s Psalm was designed to be sung in the Temple, and it plays out like its’ own little action movie.

Read all of Psalm 107 and you’ll see that is features folk who’ve been lost in a wilderness, people who’ve been in prison, souls who’ve been sick, and even sailors that were in shipwrecks.

One reads it and can’t help but to think “Wow, this congregation was a real exciting bunch!”

Makes me wonder what kind of scenarios Psalm 107 would address if it was written today:

“Some wandered south on 27,
There were those who passed
swiftly by on the right;
those who drove ever so-slowly
on the left.
Then I cried out to the Lord,
and God brought me to the CVS.”

Or:

“Some wheezed and coughed
Near the citrus groves;
their insides full of phlegm,
their head stuffed and sorrowful.
Then they cried out to the Lord,
and Claritin gave them a
24 hour reprieve.”

Or:

“Some hid in horror in the school halls,
the sounds of gunfire filling their ears.
Afterwards, they cried out to the lawmakers, adults, and teachers,
but their voices felt unheard
or denied…”

Life is hard. There is no denying that.

Whether one is battling the weather, facing many tasks, or dealing with current relations, there has never been an easy time to be alive.

Sure, we can point to the 60’s, but let’s not forget:

images of Vietnam that played out on TV, teenagers protesting segregation who were met with water hoses and biting dogs, or bomb drills in school, in which students had to pretend that a desk could do anything at all.

We can look at the 40’s as a much simpler time, but let’s not forget:

all the young men we sent off to war to battle a tyrant who was placing Jewish people in ovens, or those of Japanese descent who were put into internment camps, or the requirement to reuse and recycle things like aluminum foil, tin cans and rubber.

Was there ever a simpler time?

Truth is that many of our ancestors had it so bad oversees that they came to America hoping to have a better life.

Those that survived worked dangerous, low paying jobs, or spent hours out in the fields.

So, we have never really had “good old days.”

There has never really been a perfect time, a Camelot, or a Wakanda, in which everything was good for everybody all the time.

What most of us have had are hopes, dreams…and God.

Going back to Psalm 107, it’s a communal song, but more than that- it is a communal calling out to the Lord.

It’s about having nothing left but the hope of hopelessness that causes one to cry to God “Help!”

And to trust that God hears, God sees, God acts.

To trust that God delivers, God frees, God heals, and God saves.

Read all of Psalm 107, and you’ll discover something interesting-

We are not told why God delivers, frees, heals, or saves these individuals.

We are not told that any of the people in this song were of the right faith, we are not told if any of them lived the right lives, we are not told that they were free from sin.

We are not told that they made the mark, followed all the orders, or stood upright, straight and tall.

No.

We are told one thing and one thing only about these people facing their own disaster-

Each and every one of them lifted up their voices and cried out to the Lord in distress.

In fact the phrase “Then they cried to the Lord” is repeated 4 separate times is this Psalm-

Some wandered in desert wastes, hungry and thirsty, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) delivered them from their distress.

Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) saved them from their distress.

Some were sick, loathing any kind of food, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) saved them from their distress.

Some went down to the sea in ships, they mounted up to the heavens, they were down to the depths, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) bought them out from their distress.

Each and every time they face a certain peril, they face a certain death, and God brings salvation, God gives them life…

…It has been said that there are only 2 kinds of prayers:

Help, help, help.

And thanks, thanks, thanks.

Here in Psalm 107 we hear the most elemental form of prayer there is-

A crying out for help.

A singing forth of thanks.

There is nothing here that says in order for God to act or save one must have the proper doctrine, or the right version of the Bible, or membership to the right denomination, or the right amount filled in on their Pledge Cards.

The only thing here is “help.”

How simple. How revolutionary.

And yet, we see this in the ministry of Jesus.

The many who came to the home of Simon’s Mother-In-Law who were sick and demon possessed.

There is no word that anyone was made to make a pledge of faith or to prove their authenticity.

Jesus saw, he heard, he acted on their behalf.

The leper who comes to Jesus begging him with all humility “If you chose, you could make me clean.”

To which the Son of God says “I do chose.”

Or the day a foreign woman of a completely different faith begged to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus was moved to bring about wholeness and healing into the life of the child…

…As a pastor I am amazed at how many people come to me to say “Pastor, can you pray for me.”

Or “Pastor, I need your prayers.” Or “I know God will listen to you.”

When the truth is that God listens to all.

There are no magic words. There is no required degree.

There is no right or wrong physical stance. There is no right or wrong political party.

All that is needed during those times of distress is a heart, a body, a spirit that is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

All that’s needed is the audacity, the humility, and the courage to cry out to God.

To cry “Help!”

To cry “Save!”

To cry “I’m in pain.”

Because God hears.
God sees.
God acts.

God delivers.
God frees.
God heals.

God saves.

God turns dry spots into an oasis of hope.

God takes the hungry and finds a way to make their bellies full.

God takes the distressed and makes them glad…

…Life has always been hard.

Times have always been full of waste lands, prisons, sickness and shipwrecks.

But God is always steadfast and sure.

God is always seeing and sweet.

Hearing us when we have the courage to say “Help!”

Delighting when we say “Thanks…”

For that, we can say amen and amen.