Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sermon for Jan 21, 2018; Mark 1:14-20

Rev. George Miller
January 21, 2018
Mark 1:14-20

(This is a character sermon in 4 parts)

Simon:
I remember the day I answered the call to follow Jesus. I was on the sea.

I love the sea.

The waves. The sounds. The feel of the sun against your skin.

I love how the sea is always changing, never the same. It’s rough, it’s calm, it roars, it ripples.

Casting your net into the great unknown, discovering the treasures you’ll pull up- fish of all shapes and sizes.

Getting your hands dirty, coming home smelling like the water.

Ahhh…..paradise.

So when Jesus came along and invited me and my brother Andrew to leave all this behind, I struggled.

He was asking me to do the hardest thing I could think of- to leave behind what I love the most.

To leave behind the water and to enter the world of the land, to work with people and forget about the fish, the seagulls, and the shells along the shore.

The decision to follow Jesus was not an easy thing for me to do. It was a true sacrifice, and a change in my life.

But here’s the thing- by following Jesus I have become more me than me.

I am happy.

And this is what I discovered- the thing I was so afraid of losing is still there.

Not every day, but in a new way, and with new meaning.

For example, that time when Jesus was teaching all day. When evening arrived he invited us to take a boat to the other side.

A great storm arose and though we were so deathly afraid, Jesus rebuked the wind and he said to the sea “Peace! Be still.”

The winds stopped, the waters listened, and we made it to the other side…

I hold that memory very dear, and will always remember the day I decided to follow Jesus.

Andrew:
I remember the day I answered the call to follow Jesus. I was on the sea.

I hate the sea.

The waves. The sounds. The feel of the sun against your skin.

I hate how the sea is always changing, never the same. It’s rough, it’s calm, it roars, it ripples.

Casting your net into the great unknown, not knowing what you’ll get, if you’ll get anything at all.

Getting your hands dirty, coming home smelling like the water.

Ick…..hell.

So when Jesus came along and invited me and my brother Simon to leave all this behind, I said “Heck yeah!”

He was asking me to do the easiest thing I could think of- to leave behind what I hate the most.

What do I like? I love being one with the land. Put me in the woods.

Woods don’t change- you got trees, you got rocks, you got dirt.

Give me a bow and arrow, and I’m as happy as can be-

Listening to the songs of the birds, the wind through the leaves, that hush when a deer comes by, just you and that buck, eye to eye.

To leave the behind the water and be on dry land, to work with people and forget about the fish, the seagulls, and the shells along the shore-

The decision to follow Jesus was such an easy thing for me to do. It was no sacrifice at all.

But here’s the thing- by following Jesus I have become more me than me.

I am happy. Content.

And this is what I discovered- the thing I most hated is not so bad after all.

Now that I’m not on the sea every day, I can appreciate it in a new way.

For example, that time when Jesus was teaching. He was beside the sea and this huge crowd of folk gathered.

From where I stood, I could see with new eyes the way the water rolled upon the shore. How the waves created the perfect accompaniment to his words about sowing seeds and lamps under a bushel.

When evening arrived, and the sun began to set, the orange, pink and yellows that filled the sky, behind his head, giving Jesus a halo.

How he taught that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which puts forth great branches and becomes a place for all the birds of the air...

I hold that memory very dear, and will always remember the day I decided to follow Jesus.

James:
I remember the day I answered the call to follow Jesus. I was on the sea.

Mending our nets. Well, not our nets, but our father’s nets.

My father is Zebedee and he owns a fishing business and I’m the oldest son.

I despise what I do.

As the oldest son, I’m expected to follow in my father’s footsteps and take over the family business when he’s gone, regardless if I want to or not.

I don’t want to.

I hate fishing. I hate the nets.

Casting your net into the great unknown, pulling up all kinds of fish, then having to fix and mend the nets because God forbid Dad spends any money on buying new ones.

My Dad is old skool and is all about tradition.

But I don’t care about tradition. I want to do something new. I want to do something exciting. I want to see the world and go on adventures

I want to do something in which I am more than Zebedee’s son or John’s older brother.

I hate taking instruction from my Dad and being expected to watch over my baby brother.

So when Jesus came along and asked me and my brother John to leave all this behind, I was surprised- someone was finally asking me what I wanted to do.

I was being given a choice. I could say yes, I could say no.

The decision to follow Jesus was an empowering thing for me to do. It meant taking control of my identity, and a change in my life.

By following Jesus I have become more me than me.

I am happy. Content. Active.

And this is what I discovered- I can work with my brother without being in charge of my brother.

For example, that time Jesus instructed us to go out into the villages teaching, two by two.

We were to bring nothing for the journey- no bag, no bread, no dollar bills.

Just two of us, going on adventures, town to town, meeting new folks, having new experiences, and telling them about the goodness of God.

I chose John to go with me, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

I enjoyed getting to know him in a different way, working alongside one another, doing something new.

It was no longer about tradition, or the family business or first born/second born.

It was about being peers.

I remember the first house we entered in which John took the lead, and I could stand back and observe…

I hold that memory very dear, and will always remember the day I decided to follow Jesus.

John:
I remember the day I answered the call to follow Jesus. I was on the sea.

Mending our nets. Well, not our nets, but our father’s nets.

My father is Zebedee and he owns a fishing business and I’m the younger son.

I actually kind of like what I do; I like working with my brother and my Dad.

Here’s what I don’t like- being expected to be so serious all the time. Like catching fish and mending nets is that hard.

As the younger son, I’m not expected to follow in my father’s footsteps and take over the family business when he’s gone, regardless if I want to or not.

To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t mind taking over the family business if Dad allowed me to.

I like fishing. I don’t mind the nets.

Casting your net into the great unknown, pulling up all kinds of fish.

But do we have to fix them all the time? Like, can’t Dad spend some money on buying new ones?

Does everything have to be about work, work, work, work, work?

Know what else I don’t like?

Taking orders from my older brother James.

I like him, he’s cool. But just because he’s older than me doesn’t mean he’s smarter, or better, or my boss.

But that’s how it is. When Dad’s not telling me what to do, James is.

And it’s annoying.

Do this. Don’t do that.

Be serious. Don’t go so slow.

I want to do something in which I am more than Zebedee’s son or James’ kid brother.

So when Jesus came along and asked me and James to leave all this behind, I was like “Finally! -Someone who thinks I have a brain in my head!”

The decision to follow Jesus was a cool thing to do.

Sure, I felt bad leaving Dad behind with the help, and I was worried I’d still be stuck in my brother’s shadow.

But hey- it sounded fun.

By following Jesus I have become more me than me.

I am happy. Content. Active. Equal.

And this is what I discovered- my brother and I are actually a good team.

For example, there was that time Jesus instructed us to go out into the villages teaching, two by two.

I chose James to go with me, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

Then there was that time we decided to work together as a team, and we approached Jesus, together, and asked that he do something for us.

We asked that we could sit with Jesus in his glory, one on his right hand, one on his left.

Jesus didn’t give us the answer we wanted, but it felt so good to work as one, and even when the other disciples got mad at us, my brother and I stayed unified, like true partners.

It was no longer about family business or first born/second born, but my brother and I as one...

I hold that memory very dear, and will always remember the day I decided to follow Jesus.

…and what about you?

Have you decided to follow Jesus?

Do you remember the day you answered the call?

Were you happy or sad, angry or glad?

Were you casting or mending, working or fixing?

Comfortable in your identity or wondering who you were?

What are the things you have given up? What are the things you have discovered?

If you were standing up here today, what would you say?

Amen and amen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

HOPE Even When the Heart Hurts; Jan 14, 2018 sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Jan 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-11

This is one of the hardest sermons I’ve ever written. Last Sunday I began planning a light-hearted character-based message to carry on the feeling of good will from last week’s wonderful worship service.

Then Thursday happened-

It was reported that President Trump, during a meeting with lawmakers, referred to the entire continent of Africa, as well as the nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti, as cesspool countries.

And my heart broke.

It’s been broken ever since.

I have too many friends of African descent, love too many people from these countries to not feel as if they have been personally hurt.

If the reporting of this statement is true, and if it was truly stated, then…

…What is a pastor to do?

To not acknowledge it in a pastoral manner means I am complicit or in agreement with the spirit of the statement.

To acknowledge it and challenge it head on in a pastoral manner means the possibility of rubbing people the wrong way.

There are those who believe all manner of politics should be left out of church.

But today, today we are not talking about policies, or programs, or who to vote for, but to admit, before God, that we all heard with our own ears, and read with our own eyes what our nation’s president supposedly said in regards to

1 billion, two hundred and 48 million people, not counting those who call these nations their ancestral home.

It’s supposedly been said, it’s been reported, so what do we do?

We could talk about how almost all of us have ancestors who came from places that were once deemed to be cesspool countries.

We could talk about how no one is perfect and how we have all said and done things that were hurtful and could’ve been damaging if someone else shared them.

We could talk about the reality that there are nations filled with people living in less than choice conditions and what does Christ call us to do.

This morning, we will turn to our scripture, realizing how timely this story actually is, as it deals head on with the very themes of hearing and seeing.

It’s about 3,050 years ago and it is turbulent times for the nation of Israel.

They have been struggling so much as a people. They’ve lost sight of who they are. Morale is low; frustrations are high.

Their main place of worship hasn’t been helping the matter.

Eli, the chief priest, has lost his zeal for ministry. He’s become more worried about the whos and whats of ministry as opposed to the whys of what he’s called to do.

Eli’s sons are also priests, but they have become the most corrupt group of men you can meet.

They steal the best parts of the sacrifices. They threaten people to increase their offerings.

They are having sex with women right in the doorway to the sanctuary.

Eli is complicit in all of this. He knows his sons are scoundrels. He has heard about their antics but he fails to stop them and eventually turns a blind eye.

No wonder we are told that the word of the Lord was rare; no wonder people were barely able to dream dreams.

But…there was HOPE, as there is always hope when one is worshipping the God of New Beginnings.

Turns out that Eli has an apprentice-a young boy named Samuel, a child conceived against all odds who was generously offered by his mother to be a servant to the Lord.

What happens next no one could have expected.

In the dark of night, as the light of God barely burns, the Lord calls Sleepy Samuel 3x, and 3x Sleepy Samuel goes to Eli, assuming it is him.

In the dead of night, as the light of God barely burns, Eli, the supposed spiritual leader of the nation, proves to be so blind and so spiritually deaf, that he fails to realize God is STILL SPEAKING and capable of calling out to this child.

Finally, Eli realizes what’s going on and gives Samuel the proper guidance of what to say.

So the next time God speaks to Sleepy Samuel, and stands right over the boy’s body, Sleepy Samuel with strength and wisdom beyond his years says “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And God of Creation, Liberation, and THE Resurrection, says “See- I am about to do a new thing that will make all ya’ll ears tingle!”

And with that, new hope enters into the nation of Israel and the people of God…

This deeply spiritual scripture is about so many things:

-The dangers of turning your eyes from current realities so much so that you literally become blind to what’s around you.

-The sad soullessness of a nation that occurs when corruption and abuse from leadership is allowed.

BUT- today’s scripture is also about HOPE. Hope that brings about new beginnings and goes beyond popular expectations.

Yes- Eli has done a horrible job as head priest.

Yes- Eli’s children have abused their power by taking from the common person and having illicit affairs.

Yes- it appears as if the word of God is rare, dreams are rare, compassion is rare, but God is not completely absent, God is not at all defeated, and God is most certainly not gone.

As verse 3 states- when today’s story begins, the lamp of God had not yet gone out.

Some will interpret verse 3 literally, seeing this as a temporal reference to fixed time on a clock.

But others see verse 3 as a metaphor, a symbol, a poetic way of saying that the light of God has not been fully extinguished.

Though the nation seems to be in darkness, though the leaders were blind to corruption, though the house of worship was no longer just, kind, or humble, God-

Well God still shone.

Though the eyes of those who should have seen were dim, God’s light still burned on.

Though the ears of those who should have known what they were hearing appeared confused, God’s light still burned on.

Though darkness covered the land and unjust ways seemed to prevail, God’s light still burned on.

Though dreamers seemed non-existent and dreams were few or forgotten, God’s light still burned on.

Though every sign pointed to things coming to a very, very sad end, God’s light still burned on.

In what seemed to be a certain dead end, God found a way, once again, to create a new beginning and speak words that could change creation, this time through a child called Samuel.

Today’s scripture begins in a place of despair, but brings us to hope.


Hope for the individual.

Hope for the community.

Hope for the world.

Hope for all of creation.

Hope ablaze with the reality that GOD STILL SPEAKS.

Hope ablaze with the reality that even in darkness, God’s light still burns.

Hope ablaze with the reality that even as our eyes grown dim and our ears lose their ability to hear,

there is always someone, somewhere, who will be able to listen, willing to hear, able to speak, and willing to see.

Hope ablaze with the reality that any of us, at any time, can be a means which God’s message is acquired, and God’s message is discerned.

In conclusion, my heart still hurts, and will hurt, over the supposed comments attributed to our President.

But I know that the word of God is more powerful than anything one person can say.

My heart still hurts, and will hurt, for the nations who have been made to feel “less than”, but I know that the compassionate love of God is large enough to comfort all.

My heart still hearts, and will hurt, because it seems like dreams are being drowned.

But my heart swims with delight knowing that the light of God can never be put out, will never go away.

And that God will always call the faithful who are willing to see and ready to hear.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ending/Beginnings; Jan 7, 2018 sermon on Genesis 1:1-5

Rev. George Miller
Jan 7, 2018
Genesis 1:1-5

This holiday season was a pleasing one. Phenomenal Christmas Eve worship thanks to our musicians, singers, and worship leaders.

Time with family, friends, plenty of activities to do, and thankfully, plenty of down-time with weather that said “Stay in, chill out, and relax.”

A highlight was having my ‘Lil Brother Cornelius in town. We’ve known each other since he was 9 years old and able to sit on my shoulders.

Well, Cornelius is now 14. His voice is deeper, his legs are hairy, he walks around with headphones connected to an IPad, and he has the funk of a teenager who’s going through hormonal changes.

One day we went to Disney Springs. Of course, I dragged him to the Christmas Shop to get an ornament, then to another cartoon themed store; then to the main Disney store.

We walked into this large expansive building filled with room after room of Disney stuff, and I had an “a-ha” moment.

First, was the realization that I was making Cornelius go with me so I could recapture fleeting memories from my childhood.

Second, was the realization that Cornelius is no longer a child.

He is no longer 9 years old, with a peanut shaped head, able to sit on my shoulders and be carried around all day.

Cornelius went on ahead of me as I stopped in my tracks, having that moment all parents have when they realize their child is no longer a child.

I literally felt like I was in a movie, standing still in the middle of the store, as people passed by…

…10 minutes later Cornelius returned, saying “Next time I come here I’m gonna bring money so I can buy a sweater.”

We left the store and continued walking around.

It felt different.

It was different.

We went to another store, with more high-end, adult items. Inspiration hit:

“Tell you what- let’s get you one of those sweaters as a Christmas present.”

Cornelius found just what he wanted- a grey sweater with a classic Mickey Mouse.

We left the store, and feeling the need to sit, I went to the brick island in the middle of the pathway, and sat down, processing this new reality.

And that’s when it happened-

Cornelius took off his blue headphones and placed them over my ears so I could hear one of his favorite songs.

For the second time, time stood still.

He took the tags off the sweater and put it on, and I sat on the brick island, quietly listening to his music, as families once again passed by.

I completely understood this gesture- as an act of gratitude, Cornelius was now sharing something that mattered to him.

And like most14 year olds, music is often the most deeply meaningful.

Tears of many meanings filled my eyes, as Cornelius sat down next to me, and the song started over on repeat.

Earlier I was mourning the end of Cornelius as a child, but now, now I was experiencing the beginning of what a relationship with Cornelius, the teenager, would be like.

Like any teenager, Cornelius is now different, and yet the same; the same and yet very very different. So therefore our relationship will change, evolving out of what was in the past…

New beginnings are very much the theme of today’s Scripture.

The author tells us through poetry how the world began, how God’s relationship with humanity got its start.

But the story is not as simple and straightforward as some may think.

For the author states “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while God’s breathe swept over the face of the waters.”

Wait.

There were waters? There was undifferentiated mass? There was already something mysterious there?

How can that be?

If this is the beginning, how can there already be something in existence?

Where did it come from?

How did it get there?

What does this mean for our faith or claim that God created the world?

Here we have the first mystery of the Bible.

Deep, dark, formless waters that God’s Spirit moves across.

What are they?

Where did they come from?

How did they get there?

Were these waters from something else? Did they come from somewhere before?

Had something else ended, leaving behind these waters so that God could create, once again?

Like a good UCC pastor, I am not going to give you an answer or tell you what to believe, but instead invite you to step in and wade in the questions.

Maybe, maybe this scripture is swimming in the timey-whimey metaphysical, quantum mechanics that says time does not exist, time has no beginning, and no end, and everything that is happening has happened before and everything that has ever happened is happening at the same exact time.

Maybe, maybe this scripture is a submersion in the idea that our God is a God who is all about transformations and re-creations.

Meaning that God can take anything and use it to bring forth new life.

For example, a manger can become the earthly throne of the Messiah.

Meaning that God can take materials that already exist, that may be worn or broken or stained and do something fresh.

For example, how Psalm 51:10 says “Create in me a clean heart…and put a new and right spirit within me.”

Meaning that God can move over something dark and empty to bring fullness and light.

For example, the tomb on Easter morning.

Meaning how God can take the rawest, most basic of things and create from them fresh beginnings.

For example, Communion. Think about what Communion is- the last meal Jesus would share with his friends while in human form, marking the end of his ministry.

To say goodbye to their time together he used bread and juice, every day items made from the most basic of materials-

Grain from the field and fruit from the vine.

And yet, somehow, someway God worked through these most basic of elements to establish something new.

Though Jesus died, in his place the church began.

A meal meant to signal the end becomes a means to a new beginning, allowing us 2,000 years later to continue his ministry, doing his work, sharing his light to an often dark and formless world.

Today’s scripture doesn’t just tell us that God creates, but it is a reminder that God moves, God speaks, God acts, and God is able to take the most mysterious, most basic materials and do something new, something unexpected, and something fantastic.

Today’s scripture is a reminder that as things come to an end, things also start a new beginning; that transformation and acts of re-creation are elemental to just who God is.

In closing, I’d like to share another story about Cornelius.

Two days after Disney Springs, we journeyed together to Fort Pierce. This time, Cornelius was the DJ, sharing the music he liked over the car speakers.

He had a say in the car temperature, adjusting the heat and direction of the vents.

This new Cornelius was actually quite cool. His music included Japanese pop, alternative rap, and 70’s soul.

Our conversation was a bit more advanced. I found myself less guarded and freer with what words I used.

Cornelius was more apt to express his needs, letting me know when it got too cold to be outside, or when the pizza place options did not please him.

…This new, teenage Cornelius creation that was before me…

…and then, as we drove back to Sebring, before we even hit the city limits of Fort Pierce, teenage Cornelius did just what he has always done after an all day excursion-

-he fell fast, fast asleep, his head titled to the right as if he would never, ever wake up again.

It was another moment, a moment that I needed, because although Cornelius is now a full blown teenager, in his sleeping face was still the presence of the peanut headed, shoulder sitting child I thought was gone forever.

Just like we always had for the past 5 years, I drove home in contentment while Cornelius snoozed away.

Things come to an end. Things have a beginning. Often time’s endings and beginnings, beginning and endings are intrinsically connected.

The same, yet different; different, yet the same.

If we look closely, we can see God active in those events, relationships, and experiences.

With this knowledge we can celebrate that in God the future stands genuinely open (Terence Fretheim, The New Interpreter’s Bible, pp354-357) and that God continues even when endings seems imminent.

For that we can say amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Eve Message; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Dec 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38

Last week FOX TV showed a live musical version of “The Christmas Story.” It received low ratings and poor reviews, but I enjoyed it.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any allegiance to the original film. Perhaps it’s because I knew some of the music. Perhaps it’s because of the way they fleshed out the mother’s role.

The show took place during an era when news came from the radio, milk was delivered to the porch, and meatloaf was sure to cheer a child up.

Just like the movie, we see the messy things that take place during the holidays- how fuses can burn out, tired go flat, and entire meals can be ruined by unexpected circumstances.

In one scene the mother sings that she is the one to help her family forget that times have been tough. She laments that there always seems to be a new stain on the carpet and papers are always piling up, but it is so clear that she loves her role as a mother.

In another scene she consoles her worried sons by telling them that nothing is falling from the sky or crumbling to the ground. That moments come, moments go, and just like that- they are gone.

By song’s end, the mother is by herself, looking around the home she has created for her family and she sings “All these crazy moments, they flicker, they pass…Crazy, messy moments that you try to hold onto…don’t last...”

Her song and the show is a testimony that Christmas is not magical because it is perfect, but that Christmas is magical because it is messy…

Something has taken place in the past few months. I don’t know if it’s because we’re living in a post-Irma reality. Or the political climate has actually made us pull more together.

Or if I’m at that age where I’ve got my home, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got some money in the bank and things don’t seem so root-less anymore.

Something akin to a great calm has allowed me to see today’s reading with a new set of eyes.

I don’t know about you, but in the past it’s seemed like Mary, the mother of Jesus, has always been up “here.”

Preachers will give sermons about her and tell us how, if we follow her example, we can be holy and favored just like her.

How Mary becomes an example for all the women of the world on how to be a parent.

I myself recall spending so much time trying to figure out why God chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

That she must have been so special, she must have been so unique, she must have been so pure and so perfect that she amongst all people were chosen to bear Emmanuel.

So therefore, if one was to be just like her, if one was to live just like her, if one was to be more Mary and less themselves than perhaps God will find favor and bless them too.

I recall being in my 20’s trying so hard to unlock the mystery of getting God to bless me- perhaps if I was more patient, or more humble, or more prayerful, or more MORE than perhaps I’d be rewarded with a life that wasn’t so meandering and messy.

If one is not careful, scripture about Mary can become a tool, a measuring stick, a way to wonder what God is looking for to reward a person with blessings.

Now, scripture doesn’t say much about Mary, but if you comb over the few verses she’s in, you’ll find that she is described as thoughtful, obedient, believing, worshipful, and devoted to her faith.

But then again, who isn’t?

Is anyone here today not thoughtful from time to time? Is anyone here not trying their best to follow what they think God wants?

But Mary, if Mary is to become the Mother of Jesus, if she is to carry the Christ-child in her womb, she must be more so.

She must be above, she must be beyond, she must be as unblemished and unmessy as unblemished and unmessy can be.

And perhaps, perhaps if we try our best, and try really, really hard and try more and do better at being thoughtful and obedient and believing, then God will look down and find favor on us too!

But how exhausting that train of thought is.

How self defeating it is to compare yourself to another, and to think that if you carbon copied them you too would get the same results.

No.

Not this year. Not this time.

Maybe, just maybe what Scripture is telling us is that Mary wasn’t chosen because she was the favored one, BUT that she was favored because she was the chosen one.

Allow me to explain- what if, what if Mary was more like us than we realize?

What if Mary really was just a small town girl, living in a small town world?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be in Lorida or Zolfo Springs working at Dollar General or McDonalds?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be a B and C student in high school?

That if Mary was alive today her fiancĂ©’s name could have been Joey or JoBob just as much as it was Joseph?

For God to do something magical, for God to do something so amazing, did Jesus have to be born to a perfect person who was purer than pure?

What sounds more like a miracle to you- that Jesus was born to a mother who was the most thoughtful, obedient, believing woman alive.

Or would the greater miracle be that Jesus was born to a mother who experienced new stains on the floor, papers piling up, and could make magic out of meatloaf?

What we are talking about here is the very notion of how we see God at work in the world.

Do we think that God only uses perfect people who are beyond reproach?

Or do we think that God uses people who are imperfect, flawed and one of us?

Do we think God can only do wonders with jars that are full, people that are pure, and baskets that are overloaded with bread?

Or do we make the claim that God can do wonders with empty vessels, impure people and with limited supplies?

Why search for explanations as to why God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, when scripture tells us again and again that we will never fully know why God does what God does.

Why would God choose Moses, a middle-aged murderer, to deliver God’s people?

Why would God chose Gideon, the youngest member of the weakest family of the smallest tribe to lead God’s army?

Why would God chose David, the ruddy 8th born son of a farmer to be God’s greatest monarch?

…why would God choose Sebring to build a church?

Why would God call someone like me to be the pastor?

Why would God call you to participate in this holy space and this holy time?

Is it because any of us are perfect? Is it because any of us are pure?

Is it because any of us are more thoughtful, obedient, believing than anyone else?

Why does God do anything God does?

So, at least for this year, I think it is Ok to not place Mary so high on a pedestal.

I think it is OK to say that she was most likely more like you and me, than she was not.

That it was her being chosen that made her favored. And it was her accepting the privilege to carry the Christ child that made her so awesome.

Maybe the magic of this Christmas season isn’t that God called upon the most perfect and pure of people to play a role in God’s story, but that God called someone who was just like us.

Maybe the magic of Christmas is not that it is perfect, but that it is messy.

That the Christmas story is more about the stains on the carpet and the papers that pile up then it is about unreachable ideals and perfect times.

That Christmas is a reminder that while it may feel like things are crumbling to the ground, or falling from the sky, we can catch our breath.

Christmas reminds us that these crazy, messy moments we live in are also the crazy, messy moments in which we can find God.

And in these crazy, messy moments God is able to do the most amazing, cool things.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Privilege to be a Witness; Dec 17, 2017 sermon on John 1:19-28

Rev. George Miller
Dec 17, 2017
John 1:19-28

Years ago I became a fan of “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” book series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Set in Botswana, it features a woman named Precious Ramotswe who runs her own detective agency.

The books are gentle forms of testimony to what it’s like to live in a place in which you feel privileged to be a part of.

A place in which the tinkling of cow bells can be heard, one always has time for friends and family, and true happiness comes from knowing who you are and honoring where you came from.

Every November I look forward to the newest installment, and this year’s 18th book, titled “The House of Unexpected Sisters” was no disappointment.

Each day of reading was like being with a dear, dear friend I’ve grown to know and love. How Precious adores the mini white van she drives, how pumpkin is her favorite food, and red bush tea is her beverage of choice.

How proud she is to know that her husband is the most honest mechanic in the city, and her late father was the best cattleman in the country.

So it was a bit of a shock when towards the end of the book, an important chunk of information comes out that changes everything Precious, and we the reader, ever knew about her.

It is a moment that the author handles so well and you don’t see coming.

Precious Ramotswe, who usually speaks so eloquently and clear, is not able to finish her sentences. She can’t finish her tea. She refuses her husband’s company, saying over and over again “My heart is broken.”

The author creates a deeply moving scene in which we, the reader, journey with Precious to the grave of her parents.

We feel her sorrow. We feel her loss. We see the sun, the sky, and the headstones before her.

She speaks to her parents the words she needs to say to confront her new reality. The author does not tell us what she says, because he knows that we know what is being said.

Instead of English, she speaks in Setswana, the language of her people, because that is the language her ancestors would understand.

This scene has haunted me all week because of its simple eloquence, and how well it deals with the issues of reality, and identity.

Who we are.

Who are we?

These same issues emerge beside the Jordan River in today’s story.

Here we have another account of the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist is out in the wilderness, baptizing folk in the waters when he is confronted by religious leaders wanting to know “Who are you?”

Like the Caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland” they ask this rather existential question again and again.

“Who are you?”
-“I am not the Messiah.”

“What then? Are you Elijah?”
-“No, I am not.”

“Who are you? Answer us; what do you have to say?”

It’s a rather interesting interaction.

“Who are you?”

Like an earworm, this question seemed to penetrate my mind.

Then a thought occurred- what if this question, being posed to John the Baptist beside the river’s waters nearly 2,000 years ago, is being posed to us, near Lake Jackson, today?

What if this is the author’s attempt to reach out to us, across time and space, to ask us the very same question-

“Who are you?”

One of the oldest questions of the ages-

Who are we? What are we about? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Why are any of us here?

Books have been written about this. Philosophies created over it. People have lost hours of sleep pondering these questions late into the night.

“Who are you?”

John is asked these questions while he stands by the water’s edge, and he is clear in his identity.

He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He is not ‘the prophet.’

Who is he?

He says that he is a voice, a testimony, a witness crying out in the bleak, bad wilderness that something greater, something good is about to happen.

There is power in John’s ability to articulate who he is, and who he is not.

And in a metaphysical timey-wimey way, John can also be speaking for us.

After all- who wants to be the Messiah? Who wants to be the Savior of the World?

Who wants to carry the weight and worry of always having to save and rescue and heal the woes of everybody?

How many folk here have ever played the role of Savior or are currently playing it?

Done that. Tried it. No thanks. Being a Messiah is too much work and gets you no reward.

Who wants to be Elijah? Talk about work!

Always having a king to stand before, always having priests to contend with, droughts and starving widows to deal with, and having words of judgment to speak.

Not to mention Elijah was supposed to return when the end of the world was near.

Who’d want that job? “Guess what folks? The clock is set to stop ticking!”

“Who are you?” John is asked while standing besides the river, and essentially he states “I am a voice. I am a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

One theologian stated that John gets to give testimony that a new reality is about to begin.

Another scholar stated that John has the privilege of introducing Jesus to the nation.

I like this. This notion of privilege.

That John is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, but he has an important purpose, and he has the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

Have we ever stopped to think of our faith that way?

That as Christians, as members of Emmanuel UCC, we have the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

We don’t have to be Jesus. We don’t have to take on all the stress of being the Son of God.

But we get the privilege to introduce Jesus to others.

Privilege.

It is a privilege to be able to worship together, in this holy space and this holy time. Not because we must, but because we may.

Privilege.

It is a privilege to serve the community side by side. To gather in the Fellowship Hall to bag groceries; to meet tomorrow to hand out 180 Christmas baskets, not because we must, but because we may.

Privilege.

It is a privilege to share our resources, to share our time, our talents, and our tithes, not because we must, but because we may.

Privilege.

Because we know who we are; and we know who we are not.

Oh, it feels so good, it feels so freeing when we can stand beside the waters of our baptism and accept the fact that we are not the Messiah, we are not the Son of God, we are not the Saviors of the World.

It feels so good to let that stress, those expectations, that ego, go.

And to say we are a voice, we are witness, we are a testimony.

That as Christians, we have the privilege to be a witness to the light, the life, and the grace that the birth of Jesus Christ will represent.

That we get to be a voice in the dark and scary wildernesses that reminds people that God has not forsaken us.

That we too get to be characters in the eternal story of God, in which we will each have our own role, our own place, and our own special scene.

That just like John we are not the Messiah, but we do have the privilege to make Jesus known and to help welcome him into our world.

How sweet it is that by the Jordan Rivers we can join our ancestors in embracing our identity and sharing the light of Christ with the world.

For that we can say amen and amen.