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?


Open my eyes to get a peek-
We’re all together
Real strong

Glow on faces
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.
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.”


“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.”


“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.


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.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Relation-pus: Psalm 19 via Blue World 2; March 4, 2018 sermon

Rev. George Miller
March 4, 2018
Psalm 19

A few days ago I saw a TV show that captured my attention, called “Blue Planet II” on BBC America.

This particular episode showed how kelp, algae, and plankton play a part in the life of the ocean, and therefore the world.

There was one scene that featured a purple octopus that creeps out from under a rock to catch a passing crab.

No big deal, nothing we have not seen before on a nature documentary until a pajama shark comes along and grabs the octopus.

It seems for certain the purple fellow is going to be dinner, until he uses his tentacles to go into the shark’s mouth and through its gills, preventing it from breathing.

The shark spits out the octopus who then does something never observed before- the vulnerable mollusk, stuck out in the open with no place to hide, uses its 8 arms to gather as many shells, stones and rocks around it to create its own camouflage fortress, tricking the shark until it can get away.

Though this scene was heart-racing to watch, perhaps more interesting was the “Making-of” feature that followed.

Turns out that filming that scene was six years in the making.

It began with a guy named Craig who went snorkeling off the coast of South Africa. For six years he was in that water and he got to know the various octopi that lived there.

He claimed that each octopus had its own personality and level of curiosity, and eventually he found this purple fellow who not only was comfortable around him, but seemed to enjoy performing for the camera.

So after weeks of having the film crew with Craig and the octopus, they were able to catch this moment of crab catching, shark suffocating and shell shenanigans.

All made possible because of the relationship that had been created between this man and this mollusk.

A relationship that allowed the world to be a seen in a newer, deeper way.

Though today’s scripture does not feature an octopus, a crab, or a shark, it is a song that sings about relationship; it is a song that sings about creation.

Psalm 19 starts in the heavens, looking upon all there is like the lens of a documentary camera.

It notes how it appears that the natural world praises God. That even though our ears cannot hear it, the skies, the ground, the day, the night are all saying “Hallelujah” to the Lord.

That this is a relationship beyond space and time in which even something as enormous as the sun seems to emerge with the knowledge of God’s love and glory.

The psalm then takes this cosmic sense of relationship with God and brings it a little bit closer.

It talks about the laws God has given. It talks about the precepts and decrees, the commandments and rules.

But if you note, there is no sense of these laws being used as tentacles to suffocate our souls; there is no sense of these precepts being used as a way to camouflage and keep God away.

Instead, what we get is this relational sense that God is using this wisdom to make life as rich and full as possible.

Words that bring to mind the benefits of the sun shine forth in these passages- to revive the soul, to enlighten the eyes, and to rejoice the heart.

By using images of honeycomb and precious metal, the psalmist assures us that the kind of relationship our Creator wants with us is a relationship that is pure, a relationship that is sweet, and a relationship that empowers us to live golden.

Finally, after starting in the heavens and speaking about the Law, the singer makes it most personal, by bringing everything down to us: you and me.

The singer says to God, on our behalf:

Keep me safe, keep me blameless, clear me from my mistakes, clear me from my rebellious past, and clear me from my guilty, guilty ways.

This Psalm is a song for the soul, because it speaks about the relational way in which God interacts with creation, the way in which God interacts with the world, and the ways in which God interacts with the individual.

I think that sometimes we forget about this truly relational nature that God has with everything and with everybody.

I think that sometimes it is easy for us to become fragmented in our own faith.

There at times in which we only think God is “out there”. We feel we can only experience God in a sunrise or a sunset, or God can only be heard in the song of a bird or seen in the leaves of a tree.

That we can mistake the created for the Creator.

There are other times in which folk only think God exists in here- the pages of the Bible, in which God boils down to what you must or must not do,

In which religion is all about rules and rituals, with only a right or wrong way and no chance of an in-between or the possibility that God is still speaking.

There are others who think God only exists in the act of forgiveness, that we are all wretched, wretched beings who need to be constantly forgiven, constantly reminded of their sin, and constantly washed in the blood of a Savior who died for us.

But this psalm, this psalm, finds its own unique way to say God is simpler than you can imagine AND God is more complicated than you know,

God is more mysterious than we can ever think AND YET God is more personal than the things we try to hide.

This is a song that celebrates the relationship we all have with our Creator, from the skies to the sun, from the land to the law, from the servant to our self.

We are each unique. We are each greater than ourselves. We are all a part of the whole.

God intimately knows who we are. God knows each of our own personalities and quirks.

God is always engaging with us, ready to do something new, and ready to see how we are going to act, how we are going to engage, and how we are each going to be golden in our own ways.

For that, we can say, amen.

Monday, February 26, 2018

When We Work For God, God Works With Us; Sermon on 1 Kings 17:8-16

Rev. George Miller
Feb 26, 2018
1 Kings 17:8-16

“If only I could go back in time, I’d do things differently.” “If I knew then what I know now…”

These are familiar refrains that we’ve heard others, and ourselves, say.

This is my “If I could go back in time” moment, because this right here has been my favorite biblical story for nearly 2 decades.

This is the scripture that has given me hope, has given me strength, has given me the reason to keep on keepin’ on when the world said “Maybe you should just stop and be a bit more realistic.”

I came across this scripture when I was in my 20’s and felt I was at a dead-end, with nowhere else to go.

As someone working 2-3 jobs at a time, living paycheck to paycheck in a 3rd story walk-up studio apartment, I felt like I was that widow and the only reason I was able to make it through was because of God and God’s miraculous ways…

…Looking back now, I realize I was perhaps being a bit overly melodramatic in my youth.

That I didn’t know, and there was no way of me knowing, that in your 20’s you’re supposed to struggle, you’re supposed to work long hours at crappy jobs, you’re supposed to drive a junk car and live in a cheap apartment, and that you’re supposed to exist on snack ramen as opposed to beef wellington.

Looking back now, I can see how yes, things were difficult.

Like the time my fridge broke and the only food I had in the house was a gift-box of mustards from around the world.

And yes, how my shower didn’t work so for years I could only take baths.

And yes, I was up to my eyeballs in debt.

But looking back, I can catch my breath, and realize I was in debt because I was well-to-do enough to go to college and own a car.

Yes, I could only take baths, but they were in a claw-foot tub that rested upon art-deco tiles in a downtown apartment building with marble floors, conveniently located next to world class theatres.

Yes, I only had a box of mustards at home, but I spent my days working at an Italian restaurant in which the staff ate gourmet pasta for our break and snuck tastes of red wine and crème brulee when the boss wasn’t looking.

Yes- back then I felt like the widow, barely getting by, but if I could go back in time, I’d say to my former self-

“Don’t lose hope, don’t judge yourself too hard. This is exactly what you’re 20’s are supposed to be, you’re just paying your dues and one day you’ll be living a life that is just, just fine.”

Would it have made any difference?

Probably not.

And in many ways I am thankful for whatever my perceived experiences were way back then, because they shaped who I am now, and this story, this story has always prodded me along, willing to believe that when it comes to God-

-the jar of flour will never run out; the jar of oil will never go dry.

God will provide.

God always has, and I’ve witnessed too many miracles to ever doubt this not to be true.

God, who has this ability to take nothing and turn it into a wonderful something.

We see that in the creation story when God’s Spirit moves over the waters and with just a word, there is light and life.

We see that with the resurrection, in which Good Friday ends with death but Easter morning begins with new life.

We see that with the loaves and fishes story in which so little becomes so, so much in the hands of our Savior.

And we saw this just last week.

Do ya’ll recall the weeks leading up to the Spaghetti Supper? We didn’t outwardly say it, but we knew there was a sense of worry and a bit of dread about how things were going to go.

We were holding the supper later than usual, with new people organizing it, and barely anyone signing up, and not many tickets sold.

Just last week we had to send out an e-mail and start Ash Wednesday service by stating we were in the need of 40 pies and 5 people to serve. If not we’d have to buy them all.

But the day of the Spaghetti Supper came along and we had more pies than we knew what to do with.

Yes, not many folk were here to serve, but it allowed me to really mix and mingle with our guests, and we had new faces who were happy to share their time as we served 200 meals.

We went from not knowing if we could pull it off, and not knowing if we would have any pies, to making a tidy profit of $1,280.91.

But here is where I think the true miracle came in-

all that left over spaghetti, all that left over sauce, all that left over salad, all that left over pie we were afraid we’d run out of-

we ended up serving to our Shepherd’s Pantry guests, feeding 105 families with real, home cooked, honest-to-goodness soul food that

nourished their bodies,
calmed their minds,
satiated their spirits,
and created a true, true moment of fellowship and diakonia.

On Feb 14 we were so worried we wouldn’t have enough pies.

By Feb 19 we had enough to feed 200 paying guests and 105 hungry families, with pies, pasta and sauce still left over to share.

We’re talking about
-children who looked dazed from their reality of poverty,

-to elderly vets barely getting by on their disability,

-to young adults dealing with the reality of addiction,

-to mothers, aunties and grandmothers who were happy that there was one less magical meal for them to pull together.

Last Monday our Fellowship Hall was filled from start to finish with folks who came in thinking they were simply getting groceries and discovered they were being served a meal;

a real heavenly banquet in which they were treated as honored guests.

If that is not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

If that is not real, real ministry, then someone needs to send me back to seminary so I can learn…

So now, so now that I can learn to let go of my 20’s, and we have seen how God can make nearly empty vessels full and overflowing, what do we do?

Where do we go from here?

Tracy has said that now that they know what they are doing things been be done even better next year.

Service Committee has hopefully witnessed a new way they could continue doing what we’ve been doing.

As a congregation, I hope we are continuing to absorb, continuing to realize this narrative before us, that has always been there-

That God will provide.

That when we work for God, God will work with us.

That miracles do happen, and more often than not it is both God and creation, God and human, God and institution working together, then God just doing it all alone.

I am excited about the events of last week.

I am excited about our present moment in time in which we are reaching out and welcoming people in.

I am excited about our future and the ways in which God will send Elijahs and widows and children into our lives.

I am excited about the opportunities that are out there, yet to happen, that we can’t even begin to imagine.

But we can begin to anticipate and prepare for.

This is God’s world, and we are so, so fortunate to serve and to share with those around us.

May our jars of flour never run out; may our jars of oil never run dry.

Because when we have an opportunity to feed and to care, we are feeding and caring for ourselves as well.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Story of 4 Trees- An Exploration of Current Events Through the Lens of Psalm 25

Rev. George Miller
Feb 18, 2018
Psalm 25:1-10

Today I share with you the story of 4 trees that have left a mark on me.

The 1st is a maple tree that grows on Long Island. It’s as old as I am.

As family legend tells it, shortly after I was born, my parents found a sapling in the forest that they assumed was the same age as I.

They dug it up, planted it in the front yard, and to this day, there it stands, its roots stretched out, lifting up small bits of the street.

The 2nd tree is the oak that grows in front of my cozy cottage. Clearly it’s close to a century old; it’s sturdy and strong.

In the morning and afternoon it is full of birds of all kinds. Facing the south side, I swear it’s the reason my home survived the hurricane unscathed, as it blocked a lot of the wind.

There’s a third tree, located in Augusta, Missouri, that is on the way to where my niece lives.

I’ve never seen it with leaves or greenery; it is always bleak and bare. I don’t have any idea what kind of tree it is, but I know it’s where lynchings have taken place.

I know this because every time I ride with my brother and nephews to pick my niece up at school, they will point it and tell me so.

They would say it so matter-of-factly, as if they were pointing out the library, Dairy Queen, or high school.

“That is where they would lynch black people.”

No shock, no outrage, just a direct expression of this is what it is; no emotional realization that they’re not talking about oranges or apples, but people.

I share this because this week I came across two bits of history that shocked me.

One, is the fact that between the Civil War and World War 2, there were 4,000 black children, women and men who were lynched.

4,000 children, women and men.

Second, was learning about Ida B. Wells, a journalist who led an anti-lunching campaign that took her all the way to the White House.

My 1st thought was “You go! Ida B.!”

Then it hit me- someone actually had to lead a movement that said lynching was bad? Like, people had to be told that hanging children, women and men from tress was wrong?

It sunk into me that this is such a part of American history, OUR history, and we have not fully come to terms with what this means.

What does it mean that when I visit family in Missouri, we will drive past this barren, bleak tree in which my grade school nephew will once again tell me, matter-of-factly, what used to hang from that tree…

Have ya’ll noticed just how angry everyone seems to be? How disjointed we have become as American people?

Notice how folks seem to be so mad at one another, mad at life, mad at their leaders, teachers, and preachers?

It’s like we as a people are twisted and being torn apart.

We’re not talking with one another, we’re talking AT one another. Or yelling, shaming, or unfriending.

It’s a rocky, stormy time, and add to it the recent shooting in Parkland.

17 people dead. Killed. By one person.

And everyone has an opinion- it’s about gun control, no it’s about mental health, no it’s about the FBI not doing their job.

Everyone offering their view of what the magic cure will be, how we can prevent school shooting #19 from taking place.


Well, I don’t believe there is just one solution. I believe there are multiple solutions and steps that can be taken, just as there are multiple things that led up to Thursday’s events.

Deep down, at the root, I think we are seeing the breaking down of the old ways to introduce a new and better way.

As things break down and begin to phase and burn out, we are seeing and hearing the voices who are speaking up about profiling, incarceration, #metoo, Women’s March, Time’s Up, anti-bullying, equal pay, ADA, and the Wall.

But it’s too much for everyone to process, and when there is too much, and people’s can’t process, or breathe, or think, the people become scared, mad, sad, numb, and vigilant.

This week, I am beginning to wonder if the root cause of all this is a three-letter word- SIN.

I don’t talk about it often. It’s a complex, complicated word.

It’s a word that’s been used to judge, a word used to silence, a word used to condemn.

But it is an important word.

But a difficulty about sin is that I don’t believe it’s a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

Also, it is clear that our English language does not properly convey what sin is, from a biblical perspective.

But today’s scripture does a good job at that.

Psalm 25 is a conversation with God.

The speaker is saying to God “Do not remember my sins of the past, do not remember my foolish sins of youth, and do not remember my current sins.”

The speaker says to God “Pardon my sins, help me to know what is just, and what is right; teach me and lead me in your path to wholeness and healing.”

The psalmist is not only speaking up for himself, but for his entire nation- do not remember my sins.

However, part of what makes this psalm so powerful is that in its original language, it uses 3 different words to describe sin.

1st, it uses the Hebrew word “hata” in verses 7,8,18.

Hata is an archery term. It means to miss the mark; to miss the target.

This notion of sin is the implication that sometimes there are things we do with the best of intentions, but we happen to do them incorrectly or for the wrong reasons.

2nd, is the Hebrew word “pasa”, which also appears in verse 7. It means to rebel, like a teenager.

This notion of sin is the implication that there are times in which we know what is right, but we just don’t want to do it.

Either we are tired of always doing the right thing, or we want to test our limits. We want to do things our way and see what we can get away with, and if it really makes a difference.

3rd is the Hebrew word “awon” which appears in verse 11.

It means to be twisted, to be out of shape. It means to be bent over or bowed down.

This kind of sin is most related to guilt. Doing something that is just plain wrong.

Committing the kind of sin that if not dealt with can fester, eat away at your soul, make you feel disjointed, out of whack and riddled with guilt.

The kind of sin that can last long after you die and infect an entire family, community, or country.

And every one who has ever lived a full life has experienced each of these sins-

we have all tried our best but missed the mark, we have all rebelled against another or a system, and we have all been twisted out of shape due to something we have said, done, or seen.

Sin is not just individual, it can be communal. We can look at local news for examples.

In terms of “hata” or “missing the mark”, we have the current events on 27.

More and more we are seeing dangerous and deadly accidents taking place on the highway.

People are speeding, people are driving too slowly, people are texting, people are not paying attention.

No one is intentionally out to cause harm or an accident, but there they are- on Hammock, on Bayside, in front of the Wal-Mart.

What wisdom or right path will curb these accidents? Lower the speed limit, ban texting, pass out more tickets?

Then there is the “pasa” or rebelliousness around recycling.

We all know that recycling is important. We know it is better to reuse and our plastic, paper, and cans.

But with only one recycling location in Downtown and curbside pickup a complete bust, who really wants to do it?

I don’t think anyone wants to intentionally hurt Mama Earth, but who here really wants to spend all that time washing and cleaning containers, and collecting stacks of paper so they can fill up their car, drive to Commerce and hope the bins aren’t filled to capacity?

It’s easy to rebel and say “not today” then it is to rinse the cat food funk out of a tin can.

Then there is the “awon”, the being twisted, bent out of shape, or bowed down from too much.

Isn’t that exactly how we are all feeling after Thursday? After the horrific shooting that took place in Parkland?

Though none of us were the ones who took up the gun that Nikolas Cruz carried, I sense that all of us are feeling some sort of guilt over what can be done to stop these kind of things from happening.

Do we advocate for open carry? Do we ban the sale of all automatics?

Do we allow teachers to be strapped? Do we place guards in every hallway of every school?

Do we begin to honestly talk about how 1 out of 4 families is affected by mental illness? Do we view every comment on social media as proof of an immediate threat?

Do we admit that today we are all feeling twisted and tapped out about yet another massacre on American soil?

At what point do we, as a country, state that the sins that take the lives of seventeen individuals are our sins too?

…Now, I am not here to give answers, or tell you what to believe, or to tell you how to vote or what to do.

But, as a preacher, I am here to be theological about all these things.

Theologically, it can be stated that when we encounter multiple accidents on highway 27 each and every day- we have a problem.

Theologically, it can be stated that when we have recycling bins that are overflowing because the amount of locations has been reduced- we have a problem.

Theologically, it can be stated that when we have 17 individuals who have been killed due to an act of violence- we have a problem.

How do we address it, and what do we do?

I don’t have a complete answer.

But I do know where we can start, by being honest about it.

I also know that we can turn to God and admit that we are missing the mark, admit our rebellious ways, and admit how our actions and non-action have us twisted us out of shape.

I know that we can’t undo the past, but I know that we can discuss it and accept that there have always been, and will always be, mistakes that are made.

I also know that we can take our missed marks, our rebellious ways, and our stooped-over sins, and bring them before God.

God knows. God hears. God forgives.

God wants to lead the way, a new way that brings us to fullness of life, wholeness and healing, as well as joy, unspeakable joy.

In conclusion, I stated that there were 4 trees that have left a mark on me.

Let me share with you the 4th- a crepe myrtle that grows right outside my front door.

The original owner created a flower bed around it with 4 blocks of wood.

Up until a few months ago, that wanna-be-flower-bed was so pitiful, and so empty, simply because I didn’t know no better.

Eventually I began to fill the space around the tree with bags of dirt and top soil. Then it became the place I put my used coffee grounds.

Eventually it became an unofficial compost heap of sorts- bits of unused vegetables, fruit rinds and eggs shells went into the dirt. Then it became the place I poured out the stale water from the cat bowl.

In other words, anything that was broken, dirty, imperfect, or garbage worthy went into the ground around the tree.

Then one day a whole bunch of wildflower seeds were planted in that soil, and eventually flowers grew.

They grew, they died, they reseeded.

Now that flower bed is filled with even more wild flowers- orange and yellow marigolds, pom-pom looking plants, little wisps of white flowers, miniature blue buds, and a single, solitary caladium leaf.

All beautiful, peaceful flowers that have sprung out of soil that is at its essence made out of rotten fruit and imperfect items that…

…in the hands of God have become more than what they were, and greater than the sum of their parts.

The good news is that we are greater than what we realize; we are more than our mistakes and our less-than perfect ways.

We are rich and ready, able to offer up our missed marks, our rebelliousness, and our burden-filled guilt to God.

We do so, knowing that as individuals, and as a community, God has a way of taking all of our sins and transforming them into something new, something beautiful, something life affirming.

But first, we have to be willing to offer them up, and to look them over.

With Christ’s help, we can.

For that we say, amen and amen.