Monday, July 24, 2017

Trauma and the Tears of Esau; Sermon on Genesis 25:19-28

Rev. George Miller
July 23, 2017
Genesis 25:19-28

In the Jewish faith, there is something called “midrash.” Midrash are stories created by rabbis to explore scripture and deepen the story.

For example, in 70 CE the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army, leaving the holy City of God in shambles. The destruction of this sacred site meant that a truly traumatic catastrophe had fallen upon the Children of Israel.

And so, the rabbis created a midrash in which they pictured God watching this calamity and becoming overwhelmed with grief.

The archangel came, fell upon his face, and spoke to God- “Master of the Universe, let me weep, but you must not weep.”

God replied “If you do not let me weep, I will go into a place where you have no authority to enter, and weep there.”

This particular midrash imagines God sitting, weeping with us, for us, and refusing to be consoled.

There is another midrash that deals with sorrow. It says that the people of God will not enter into a time of peace until the tears of Esau have ceased.

The people of God will not enter into a time of peace until the tears of Esau are no more.

Let us explore what this means, but first we have to go back, way back in time, to Genesis 12, where it all begins.

Once upon a time, God calls a man named Abraham to get up and go, go to the land of Canaan in which he will have land, he will have a child, and his family will bless all the families of the world.

But things don’t go so well. He and his wife Sarah face a lot of obstacles. They’re childless. They get caught up with local politics. He has a son with another woman.

Sarah gets pregnant at an old age. She demands that Abraham sends his first son into the wilderness, and then Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his other son, Isaac.

If you were to make a list of traumatic events for a family to face, there’s a whole lot happening here.

Fortunately, God was just testing Abraham, so his son lives. But imagine what it would be like for Isaac knowing that at one time his Daddy tried to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.

Then Isaac loses his mother, watches his daddy get remarried and have 6 more kids. At 40 he’s sent away to find a wife, falls in love with a woman named Rebekah, and his dad dies.

Life is like that- isn’t it?

But at least now Isaac has someone to love him. Good news- Rebekah is smart, beautiful and everything a man could hope for; bad news is that just like Sarah, she is unable to have kids.

Isaac is earnest in prayers to be a Daddy. Good news- after 20 years of being childless, Rebekah becomes pregnant, and it’s with twins.

Bad news- before they’re born they are already fighting in the womb.

“If this is the way it is, why should I even live?” asks Rebekah.

We have heard this story so many times, but have we ever stopped to hear just how…traumatic this all is: a family so full of generational dysfunction that doesn’t seem to go away.

-A grandfather who abruptly left home, had a child with another woman and sent that child out into the wilderness to fend for itself.

-A son who at a young age was bound by his father and placed on top of a wooden altar to be sacrificed.

-A set of twins who are fighting so much within their mother’s womb that she wishes she was dead.

And even after they are born, things don’t go so well. The first born, Esau, is his Daddy’s favorite. The second born, Jacob, is loved more by his Mom.

Read further and there’s the time Esau gladly sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew.

Then the time Jacob pretended to be his brother and fooled his dying father into giving him the blessing which he knew rightfully belonged to his brother Esau.

Isaac and Esau realize they have been tricked by Rebekah and Jacob, but there is nothing they can do to undo this dysfunctional deed.

In a heartbreaking moment, Esau, deeply hurt by this unjust act, betrayed by his very own brother, begs and pleads to his dying father, “Have you only one blessing, Daddy? Bless me also, Father. Bless me also.”

But when the blessing does not come, Esau lifts up his voice and weeps, tears welling up from his stomach, his soul, his wounded spirit, falling out of his eyes, running down his cheeks, falling on the floor.

The Jewish midrash says that salvation will not come to the world until the tears of Esau have ceased.

The stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs are powerful tales to be told.

They are about real people facing real situations, in which they act in very real, human ways. Sometimes in ways we can admire, sometimes in ways we can detest.

These stories are filled with people who are living with all kinds of trauma: the trauma they create, the kind they are born into, the kind that just happens.

Moving to new locations, rocky marriages, political events, issues of fertility, and problematic births can all be traumatic.

Being almost killed by your father, tricked by your mother, deceived by your brother are not the sort of things one can easily overcome, forgive, or forget.

All these events can linger, fester, and have long lasting effects.

Time does not heal all wounds, and not talking about them doesn’t mean they never happened.

And what role does God play in all of this?

How do we feel about a God that would tell an elderly couple to get up and move to a place they have never been?

How do we feel about a God that would test someone’s faith by asking them to tie their son up as a sacrifice?

How do we feel about a God who tells a pregnant woman in pain that she has two nations in her belly who will always be at war against one another?

And how do we interpret the actions of this dysfunctional family? Are they actually doing God wants or what they desire to do?

Are there times along the way in which they only heard what they wanted to hear and not what God actually said?

And what do we make of their actions?

There is one way of reading these stories in Genesis that says these family members are lying, cheating and acting unjustly to achieve what God wants…

…Then there is another reading that says even in the midst of these family members lying, cheating and acting unjustly, God is able to somehow, someway still act to achieve God’s will and bring good news into the world.

These stories can be used to validate unhealthy behavior and to say “See- that’s what God wants.”

OR, they can be used to show that even when we act abusively, when we act unwisely, when we make unjust decisions, God is still able to move through the chaos and bring forth new life, new beginnings, and resurrection.

The midrash we shared earlier says that salvation will come to the world when the tears of Esau stop flowing.

This can mean that it is only when our enemies stop hurting that we will stop hurting too.

It means that like it or not, we are tied to our arch-rivals, and only when the tears on both sides cease will peace come about.

Because of the most recent General Synod, I wonder if this midrash can have another meaning as well.

Maybe it also means that the world will not experience redemption until after the tears of the traumatized, the abused, and the unjustly treated stop to fall.

Maybe Esau’s tears can represent anyone, anywhere, at anytime, who has been unfairly un-blessed.

Think of the Resolutions that the UCC recently passed at our General Synod.

-The Resolution for “A More Just Economy…” advocating for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour.

-The Resolution supporting “Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect” which calls us to acknowledge that 1 out of 6 boys and 1 out of 4 girls has been sexually abused.

Talk about shells in our teeth and the tears of brother Esau.

Other resolutions spoke out against the use of “Corporal Punishment of Children” in schools and institutions; an issue that is timely for Highlands County.

As well as Resolutions that spoke of standing with workers that picked tomatoes for Wendy’s, studying gun violence as a health issue, and advocating for children living under Israeli Military Occupation.

These resolutions confront the issues of trauma, dysfunction, injustice, and conceit.

They place shells in our teeth and ask us to acknowledge the tears in Esau’s eyes.

The stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob remind us that no family is perfect; no dynasty is without dysfunction, no society is without secrets.

They also invite us to wrestle with and to ask the hard questions, like-

How does God work through it all?

How do the wounds of Jesus bring about peace and resurrection?

How does the Holy Spirit refresh and restore such situations?

Maybe, just maybe, when dysfunction, when trauma enters into our family, and enters into our lives, and we are sitting there, weeping, God is sitting right there with us, weeping too.

Maybe God also wept when Esau was unjustly tricked out of his blessing.

Maybe it is only when Esau, and our enemies, and all those who have been traumatized have stopped weeping, that God will stop weeping also.

Amen and amen.

(I am thankful for “Tears of Sorrow, Tears of Redemption” by Rabbi Toba Spitzer that gave insight into the above midrashs; and Rabbi Spitzer’s permission to share them.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Answer: YOU. Question: WHAT DOES GOD WANT; July 16, 2017 Sermon on Micah 6:6-8

Rev. George Miller
July 16, 2017
Micah 6:6-8

Once upon a time a young woman had just come back from the 31st UCC General Synod in Baltimore.

She had the chance to attend meetings, vote on resolutions, and learn that if you eat real seafood, you are going to get shells in your teeth.

While at Synod, she heard a lot about doing justice, loving kindness, and the claim that God is Still Speaking.

A pastor said that God speaks to each and every one of us, and it takes great humility and faith to listen to the Holy One’s voice.

The woman felt inspired; how couldn’t she when surrounded by 3,000 like minded people in a city alive with music, food, and fellowship?

“But,” she wondered, “Will God still speak to me even when I return to my home town, with my own people?”

When she came back from General Synod, and resumed the everydayness of everyday life, she kept wondering “Does God still speak to people?”

One night she went out with friends for coffee, and around 11 pm she left the local Starbucks to head home.

The questions stayed in her head: “Does God still speak to people?”

Sitting in her car, she began to pray. “God, if you are indeed still speaking, speak to me, and I will humble myself enough to obey.”

As she drove down the main highway towards downtown, she had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk.

She shook her head. “God-is that you?” No reply, so she continued home, but again the thought came into her head to stop and get a gallon of milk.

She thought of the stories from the Bible, remembering the one about Samuel who didn’t recognize the voice of God until he sought advice from Eli.

“OK God,” she said, “In case this is you, I will buy the milk.” After all, this odd thought did not require much work or money, and she could always use the milk in her morning coffee.

With the gallon container in the passenger seat of her car, she continued home, but as she crossed Seventh Street, she felt that urge again, this time saying “Turn down that street.”

Half jokingly she said, “Ok God, if this is your will, I will.” But she could feel the shells gathering in her teeth.

She drove several blocks when suddenly she felt, clear as day, that she was to stop. She pulled over to the curb and looked around.

The businesses were closed; lights were out indicating that people were already asleep.

Again, she felt that voice say “Go and give the milk to the people who live across the street.”

The young woman looked at the house. “Lord, this is insane,” she said. “The people who live there don’t know me. They’re probably asleep, and if I wake them up they’ll be all sorts of angry, and I will look stupid.”

Again, she felt like she should give them the milk. “OK, OK God – if this is you and you want me to look crazy, I will humble myself and give them the milk. But if they don’t answer right away, I am outta here!”

So she walked across the street, rang the bell.

“Who is it? What do you want?” A young man opened the door, looking a whole sort of haggard and not too keen that a stranger was standing on his stoop.

“What is it?” he asked.

The young woman thrust out the gallon of milk. “Here, I brought this to you.”

Without a word, the man took the gallon of milk and rushed down the hallway, shouting. From the kitchen came a woman carrying a child.

The child was crying.

The man had tears streaming down his face and began half speaking, half sobbing. “We were just praying. We had some big bills to pay this month and we ran out of money. We don’t have any milk for our child.”

“We were asking God to show us how to get some milk. We asked God to send us an angel. Are you an Angel?”

The shells in the woman’s teeth suddenly seemed a whole lot smaller, and with a spirit of compassionate generosity, she reached into her purse, and pulled out all the cash she had.

She placed the money into the hands of the young man, walked over and kissed both the mother and child on their forehead, and she turned and walked back to her car.

Tears of many meanings streamed down her face. As she drove home, it was now God’s time to listen to what she wanted to speak…

Over the last few months we’ve been on an odyssey; a journey that has taken us from mountain tops to lands of delight. We have talked about spice and light, generosity and shells in our teeth.

Friday, we concluded our annual Vacation Bible School in which our children learned the answer to perhaps the most important question of them all- “What does the Lord require of you?”

The answer is simpler than simple.

But before we get to that answer, another story.

Once upon a time there was a nation of people. People who had forgotten what it was like to be loved by the Lord.

Because they had forgotten what it was like to be loved, they found love in the unhealthiest of ways.

They only worried about what was in it for them. They cheated one another. They weighted down their market-place scales. They scrimped on paying livable wages to their employees.

They took advantage of immigrants. They cut services to the orphans, the poor, the elderly, the widows, and widowers. They were frenemies with foreign governments and fought amongst themselves.

One day, God had enough of their foolishness, and took them to court.

“Oh my people,” God said with a broken heart. “What have I done to you that you treat one another so bad? Have I asked of you too much?”

God, acting as God’s own defense lawyer, says to the people “I freed you from slavery; I brought you out of Egypt. I sent you shepherds; I found ways to protect you, all so you could know me and how generous I am.”

This speech moves the people, and out of their materialistic brokenness, they respond the best way they could.

“Oh God, we are sorry. What can we give you to make things better? Will a dozen roses make up for our adulterous spirits? Or maybe you’d like to go out for a nice bbq dinner at Sonny’s?”

The people realize just how much they have strayed from God, so they up the ante of things they are willing to give to God to make the situation right.

“Would you like it if we gave you an entire ranch in Wauchula with thousands of rams? Or maybe you’d like 10,000 jars of cologne, and perfume, and body lotion and cocoa butter?”

To which God says “No. I don’t want things. I don’t want items. I don’t want store bought merchandise. ”

“All I want…is you.”

“I want you. Give me you.”

“I don’t need fancy foods. I don’t need guilt-based goods. I don’t need you to go broke, or go into debt, or take out a loan to earn my love.”

“What do I want?” says God, “Simple- I want you.”

“That’s all I ever wanted.”

“I wanted to walk with you in the cool breeze of the garden. I wanted to feed and care for you in the wilderness. I wanted to worship with you in the Promised Land.”

God stands before the people in court and gives the answer to perhaps the most important question of all time-

“What does the Lord require of you?”

“…You. But the best version of you that there can possibly be.”

God wants you- the you that is just, the you that is kind, the you who is willing to walk humbly.

God does not want a thing. God does not want an item. God does not want a gift card or a gemstone.

God wants the genuine you.

The you who is willing to accept God’s generosity.

The you who is willing to sit and be with God on the mountain, or down at the seashore, or in the kitchen, or on the city sidewalk, or working in the garden or the workbench.

God wants the genuine you.

The you who is willing to be still and listen for that still speaking voice.

The you who isn’t afraid to get shells in your teeth.

The you who is willing to let the cats loose from the chancel.

The you who is Left Shark.

The you who is scared and unsure and seeking and afraid of silence.

God also wants the you who is capable of being confident and cool and kind and calm.

Yes- God cares deeply about kindness, God cares greatly about justice.

God cares about how we treat one another; God cares that we do the right thing, even when it is not popular, or easy, or shell-free.

But first and foremost, God wants us.

God wants to love us so that we can love the Lord right back, and in return love one another.

God is indeed still speaking. God is indeed still acting.

God is still asking us for the same thing that was asked from our ancestors oh so long ago.

Today- are you willing to give God the greatest gift of all?

Are you willing to give God you?

Amen and amen.

July 14, 2017 Letter to the Editor, News-Sun

"Thank you" to Michael Gerson for saying what needs to be said in his guest column. Unfortunately, our elected President is acting in ways that are questionable, compulsive, and abusive. Regardless of what the President's policies are, or what party he belongs, it is clear through his tweets, public interactions, and isolating behaviors (both on a personal and international level), that we are witnessing, as Gerson states, "a public breakdown." As a pastor, I have observed families that live with, make excuses for, and enable such behaviors, often times trying to pretend they don't exist, or attacking the person who says "This is not healthy, adult behavior." In my pastoral opinion, what we are witnessing as an American family is our patriarch behaving in ways that are abusive, manipulative, fear-based, and fascist-like. The lies upon lies upon lies can not be disputed- they are there for all to see, read, and re-watch on YouTube. For the sake of the American family, it seems time for all members, from the Republicans to the Democrats to the Independenst to come together and say "We are One, and how our President is acting, speaking, and tweeting is not healthy or OK." It seems like we are at the time of intervention. Respectfully submitted, Rev. George Miller, Emmanuel United Church of Christ

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Crab Shells In Our Teeth; Sermon for July 9, 2017; UCC General Synod Reflections

Rev. George Miller
July 9, 2017
Psalm 46

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

When these words were written, it was clear that the city in reference was Jerusalem, where God’s holy temple sat upon the hill, glittering in the sunlight.

“Come behold the works of the Lord…” the psalmist invites us to sing out.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

There is a river…

While it’s true that the author of Psalm 46 was talking about Jerusalem, it’s safe to say that the city of God does not have to be a fixed, physical position.

The city can be any place, because God is everywhere. The city can be for all time, because God is timeless. The city can be inhabited by all kinds of people, because all kinds of people belong to God.

It can be said that anywhere in which there is justice, in which there is kindness, in which folks walk humbly with the Lord, it is a city of God.

Last week the United Church of Christ had our national meeting by the bay in beautiful Baltimore, and it was, without a doubt, a city of God.

Now I’ve never been to Baltimore; knew nothing about Baltimore; had zero expectations about Baltimore.

But let me tell you- it was love the moment the soles of my feet touched the sidewalk.

Baltimore is alive, with music coming from street musicians and passing cars; Baltimore is alive with food and seasonings, and spice.

The first night in Baltimore I went to a sidewalk cafe, enjoying the chance to have crab chowder and oyster po’boy at 10 pm.

At some point during the meal, a piece of crab shell got caught in my throat.

I tried everything I could to dislodge it- gulped down water, sipped more soup. When that didn’t work, I coughed, gagged, tried to burp.

Nothing. The crab shell was there, small and sharp. I thought to myself- “Oh Lord, please don’t let this be the way my life ends!”

After minutes of gulping and coughing, sipping and gagging, I tried a new approach, and took a big ol’ bite of that oyster po’boy, which did the trick.

Crab shell gone, and like Toni Braxton, I was able to breathe again.

The next day I shared my experience with a local. Know what they said?

“That’s how you know you’re eating real crab.”

That comment was what I needed to hear- if you are going to be in Baltimore, eating real seafood, you’re going to get shells.

So from that point on, meals were eaten with intentionality. By the last day, I was a pro, eating crab cakes in little bites, paying attention to what I was doing, so when a little crunch or two or three of shell came along, it was no big deal, and I did what needed to be done.

Baltimore meals are best treated as intentional experiences in which you are to be present, aware, and in the moment.

If you are eating real seafood you will get shells in your teeth…

The same can be said about being a citizen of God’s city.

If you are truly being guided by the Holy Spirit…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly following Jesus Christ…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly doing what God requires…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

And if you don’t get shells in your teeth, there’s a chance that what you’re doing is fake ministry and you’re being fake church, because when you deal with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

Jesus is the perfect example. Look at all he did, and how it led him to the cross constructed by people who couldn’t handle just how real he was.

If you are truly doing the work of the Lord, you will truly get shells in your teeth.

And folks, let it be known that at General Synod 31 there were many, many shells.

For example, we passed 14 Resolutions.

Resolutions are statements that speak to the local church on how to reflect and act upon issues of theological, moral, and ethical matters.

Resolutions of Witness require a 2/3 vote to pass, with delegates casting votes based on their Christian conviction and witness to Jesus Christ.

Today we’ll discuss 2 of the Resolutions that were passed.

The 1st is for “A More Just Economy: $15 Minimum Wage, Living Wages and Job Creation.”

It speaks to the local church that we should support workers’ efforts for better wages and working conditions, and that we advocate for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP.

There were those who spoke in support of it. There were those who said that $15 in one state does not translate to the same cost of living in another. There were those who said that such a demand can affect small towns and local business owners.

Then there was me.

Nervous as heck, I stood at mic 4 with a shell in my teeth and said-

“I’m in favor of this resolution, but I don’t believe in being hypercritical…How can we tell other businesses what to pay their employees if we do not do the same with our administrative assistants, our cleaning services, and the people who mow our lawn? …Before we tell people what to do in their house, we have to do the same in our house.”

People nodded and showed their agreement; the resolution passed with more than a 2/3 vote.

So now, we as a local church, are asked to consider- are we willing to support efforts for better working conditions and for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP?

Cough, cough. Is that a shell in our teeth?

And if we are going to tell McDonalds and Burger King what to pay their people, are we willing to pay our Office Administrator and cleaning person $15 as well?

Cough, cough, cough- excuse me- I think there’s a whole crab claw in our teeth.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

Then there was the “Resolution of Witness in Support of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect.”

I sat on that committee and the Resolution was passed overwhelmingly with much compassion and support.

This resolution is important for many reasons- it is the first time in American history that a religious organization has publicly made a statement showing solidarity with, acceptance of, and support of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and neglect.

This is a “living with” resolution, one that says it is time for churches to stop being silent about a reality that is full of many, many sharp and painful shells-

1 in 6 boys are sexually abused, as are 1 in 4 girls, meaning there are 40 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The presenter of this resolution called it the “Greatest Secret Rights Movement.”

Half of rape victims are under 12; for those under 12 the largest age group is 4.

4 years old.

The shells in our teeth are so big it’s nearly impossible to stand before you and speak this information.

Studies show how this trauma affects bodies, affects health care system, affects a child’s ability to learn, to trust, to live.

Studies show that because the abuse is often kept a secret, the children grow into adults in which the long lingering effects of the trauma affects relationships, employment, education, institutions, and the legal system.

The shells around this subject are many, but it did not stop our denomination from being present, being aware, and being intentional.

By passing this resolution, the United Church of Christ is saying to each and every adult survivor-

You are not alone. You are not at fault. You do not have to be ashamed. You do not have to keep this a secret. You are welcome here.

The passing of this Resolution encourages the denomination and local congregation to train its members and ministers on how to respond positively to those adults who self-disclose, and to validate their worth.

…“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…” Thus says the words of Psalm 46.

Beloved members of the Emmanuel Community know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are many. If we truly embrace these gifts…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we truly follow the teachings of Jesus, being the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart of Christ…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly doing what God requires- justice, kindness, walking humbly with the Lord…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly a citizen of the Heavenly City, we will get shells in your teeth.

Because when you share the Good News and be the Good News with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

And that’s Ok- because it means we are being intentional and true, present and aware.

It also means that we are truly doing the work of the Lord, and the Living Waters are running through.

For that we can say Amen and amen.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Intentionality; Romans 6:1-11

Rev. George Miller
June 25, 2017
Romans 6:1-11

Intentionality.

When we last gathered in worship, we discussed work. Today we discuss the intentionality behind the work.

But 1st- a true-life example.

On Tuesday a large envelope appeared in the mail, exquisitely detailed with calligraphy and a hand drawn bouquet of flowers.

Inside was a post card announcement about an upcoming event, a personally laminated copy of the ticket, a letter of instruction, and a frameable print-out of a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Touched by the class and amount of work done by the sender, I contacted her to give my thanks.

Her response was humble- “I was just in the mood. I want those I know who are coming…to know I care…It’s nice to have people we enjoy around us.”

Her generosity, rooted in love and thankfulness, branched out to others, intentionally expressing “I care for you.”

Intentionality.

The author of today’s reading is very intentional in his theology and purpose of composition.

Romans is an undisputed letter of Paul, addressing several issues- sin, grace, baptism, and the Crucifixion.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Paul writes. These are, after all, the views of a man living 2,000 years ago, speaking about cosmic events that, for him, were new and very local.

Paul is writing through the lenses of his culture, his time, his biases, and what he thinks his Still Speaking God is saying.

He does not have centuries of Christian study behind him, or knowledge of modern medicine, or the latest psychological studies about behavior or the brain.

Paul knows what he knows, and there is an intentionality to his opinions.

For example- his view of baptism. He doesn’t treat it as an afterthought or just a simple ritual.

Paul does not approach baptism as a pre-cursor to having cake or getting gifts.

For Paul, baptism is not just an act- it is an identity.

Baptism is expressed as intentionally becoming a part of Christ; to intentionally die on the cross with Jesus, to intentionally rise up from the waters, resurrected with the Lord, a brand new person, dead to the power of sin’s hold.

I appreciate Paul’s notion that baptism alters our present and shapes our future, and the importance he places on baptism- how it unites us to Christ, unites us to one another, and opens us up to new life, freedom, and the eternal.

Paul’s view of baptism reflects an experience that took place 3 weeks ago at Jacksonville Beach.

I was there for a boundary workshop, and the night before I went for a walk along the shore. What I saw in the surf surprised me- hundreds of people gathered around the water.

Baptisms were taking place for the congregants of a church made up primarily of people from Slavic descent.

It was beautiful.

Teenagers gathered in groups of four based on their gender. They all wore white, from top to bottom; the girls in dresses that would do for a prom or a wedding, the boys in jeans and pants

The girls held hands; the boys wrapped their arms around one another.

Each group of four made their way to the surf while loved ones surrounded them with flowers and music.

One by one, each teen waded into the waves by themselves, making their way to the baptizer. They were leaned back into the ocean, and when they emerged from the waters, they were greeted with the applause and cheers of the crowd.

These young adults were not only being intentionally baptized into the life of Christ, but they were being brought into the life of their community, as parents and relatives, some of them clearly from the mother-country were there to show their support.

Intentionality.

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we come to church? Why do we do the work we do? Why do we make offerings? Why do we sign up to bring in food or to sit on a committee?

Why are we here?

Why now?

Why with this particular group of believers, seekers, sinners, saints, and sojourners?

Why Christ? Why not Zeus, or Vishnu, or the tree outside, or yourself?

What is our intentionality?

Is it to placate an angry entity? To please a personal savior? To seek a spirit? To give thanks to a generous god?

What is our intention for being here?

To seek wisdom? To share in the wonder? To be spiritually strengthened? To feel safe?

Why are we here?

Is it because that’s what we’ve always done? Is it because there’s nothing else going on? Is it to experience an oasis in the midst of a desert?

Is it because of a hunger, a thirst, a loss, a gain, a question, an answer?

Why do we do what we do, and what is our intentionality?

Think of how the Gospels portray Jesus. How intentional he always seemed to be, even when he was interrupted, even when he acted extemporaneously.

If Jesus was about to speak to the masses he made a way onto a boat, or up a mountain, or sat upon the earth.

If Jesus was about to do a miracle, he focused his attention on God, gave thanks, included others, made it a teachable moment, or a time of celebration.

Jesus is always portrayed as aware, in control, as fully present and completely rooted in God.

What is our intentionality?

Is God pleased with empty rituals or does God enjoy genuine acts of gratitude?

Is Christ calling us to say words of “Yes” that we don’t mean, or to do ministry that we actually feel?

Is the Paraklete expecting us to speak up about the things we know nothing about, or to become courageous about the things we truly care for?

Does God want us to be puppets that are going through the motions of faith?

Or does God want us to be like surfers, playfully and intentionally riding the waves of the Holy Spirit, wherever they may lead?

Yes, work may be an important component of our faith, but so is the intention and heart behind it.

In conclusion, remember that packet of mail that was referred to earlier? Inside was a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Here is what it said-

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”

In other words- if the intent is love, then love is what is accomplished.

Can we get an “amen”? Let us all say “Amen.”