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.

Me?

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.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Questioning Centuries of Disservice to Big Momma; Mark 1:29-34 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Feb 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-34

This week there was an article about women in Iran who are taking off their traditional hijabs to protest the theocracy’s dress code.

Women were standing atop benches and utility boxes waving their head coverings, resulting in 2 arrests.

This is a huge deal and a grassroots movement that is non-violently speaking out against social codes that were instituted after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The women are wearing white clothing on Wednesdays as a way of saying that the enforcement of hair coverings are outmoded and infringe on their freedom of choice.

Freedom is a beautiful thing, and I celebrate those who have the courage to make themselves known, especially when the result can be imprisonment.

Many of us look upon the hijabs of the Islamic world and may not understand it, or dislike the way it seems to keep women in a certain role.

But - American Christianity has our own hijabs as well, meaning that there are ways we view women or treat them that can hide them.

Take for example, today’s reading. It’s one we’ve all heard before, but whose ears have we heard it through?

And if we were to view this story as it unfolded what would we actually see?

Because there is a good chance we have gotten this story wrong for far, far too long, and perhaps it is time to take its hijab off.

First, we start with the text before us.

We are told that right after Jesus and his 4 disciples leave the Synagogue, they make the way to Simon’s house.

Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed, so Jesus goes to the woman, takes her by the hands, lifts her up, and viola!, the fever is gone.

The mother-in-law serves them and that evening people bring those who are sick or demon possessed to Jesus so he can care and cast out.

The whole city is there, gathered around the door.

1st thing 1st: let’s talk about the mother-in-law and her healing.

I wonder if she actually wanted to be made well.

Think about it- did she ask Jesus to come into her sick bed and sit her up?

I ask this because I have a secret to share- I like being sick.

Being sick means I am free to lay on the couch during the day, watch TV, and not feel bad that I don’t have a nab thing to do.

Growing up, I came from a sturdy German-English family in which no one got sick because there was school to go to and work to do.

If you had a slight fever you pushed through.

My Mom, for example, did not take aspirin, so if she had a headache, she’d go into the bedroom, shut off the lights and lay down until it went away.

But if Mom was really sick, she had Dad go to the Chinese restaurant and get her a quart of wanton soup and an egg roll.

So for me, when I am sick, my go-to food is Chinese. If my throat hurts- rainbow sherbet. If my tummy aches- ginger ale.

If all 3- hey! It’s a soup-sherbert-soda kinda day, and that ain’t so bad.

So those few times I feel a fever coming on, or a bit of the chills, I embrace it, lay on the couch, pull the blanket over me, put on a DVD, order Chinese delivery, and I’m in my happy place.

I share this, because maybe, just maybe Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t mind being sick.

Maybe it gave Big Mama a chance to be off her feet, relax, get some sleep, and allow someone else to do the work for a change.

Maybe she was thinking to herself “I can’t wait for Simon to get home so he can get me some Wonton Soup and Schweppes ginger-ale!”

Maybe Big Momma was thinking “Finally! It’s my turn to be pampered and someone else is gonna take care of me!”

Maybe she was tired of cleaning their stanky fish, washing their funky clothes, and reminding Simon to leave the toilet seat down.

Maybe being sick meant that Momma finally had some “me-time.”

If so, then Jesus coming into her room and interrupting her rest was a really rotten thing to do.

Did he even ask if she wanted to be well? Shouldn’t she have had a choice in the matter?

What if she was like “Shoot! Now I gotta go back to work.”

And then, what about this whole service thing?

How did she serve them???

What exactly did she do?

Where do you picture Big Momma and what do you think she was doing?

Because if you notice, the author never says; the author never tells us.

But through the centuries people have had no problem putting a symbolic hijab on her and assuming that if she’s a woman she must have served them a meal.

Which could have been possible, especially in a culture in which hospitality was everything.

But we are not told. All we know is that she serves them.

What does it mean to serve?

In the original Greek, the word used here was diakoni, which is where we get the word “deacon” from.

Deacon means to serve, it can also mean to wait table.

Our ushers are acting as deacons today, as they meet and greet, hand out bulletins, take the offering, and help “wait” at the Communion Table.

Simon’s mother-in-law “deacons” Jesus and the disciples, but it may not be in the way we think.

To deacon also means to attend to the care and concern of a congregation.

So when the Caring Committee visits folks, calls, or sends cards, they are doing diaokoni.

To deacon also means to connect community needs with the resources that are available.

In other words, when the Shepherd’s Pantry provides people with food and flyers of upcoming events and lists of community resources, they too are doing diakoni.

Connecting those who are without to those who have what is needed, is a form of serving.

And in the Jewish community, there is a wonderful Yiddish word for a woman who gets involved in people’s lives and helps connect them to who and what they need.

She is called a Yenta, or in Broadway terms, “Hello, Dolly.”

For all we know, Big Mama could have been a matchmaker.

She could have been one of the original social media mavens, telling everyone she knew where they could go to get what they needed.

I imagine her walking through the town: “Hey Bobby- you got a boo-boo? Go to my house, there’s a guy named Jesus who will take care of you.”

“Hey Delores- you got a demon? I got the dude to make it depart!”

“Hey Frankie- you got a fever? Go to my home and Jesus will hook you up!”

Think about it- verse 32 tells us that by sunset people were bringing the sick to Jesus, and the entire town was there to watch.

How would a whole city know where to go unless there was someone to tell them so?

What if Simon’s mother-in-law was the one?

Think about what a disservice we may have done to this woman by assuming she only cooked them a meal, when she may have been the first evangelist, introducing an entire community to Christ?

Think about what a disservice we may have done to this woman by placing her behind pots and pans when she may have been Jesus’ original PR person?

Perhaps she was the Sam of the Synagogue.

Or she was the Maureen of Wynstone Lane.

Or the Pat of Lake Placid.

When we are told that Big Mamma serves Jesus and the disciples, it does not necessarily mean that she made them a hot cooked meal.

It could mean that she used her talents to reach out to community to tell folk where they could go for a cure and a cleansing.

She could have been a webmaster like Ruthie, or a songstress like Silvia, or vivacious like Vekasy…

She could have been the kitchen organizer like Kathy, because Lord knows women can cook a kick-butt meal and have a leadership position.

Maybe Simon’s mother-in-law did stay at home and wash their clothes or maybe she went out into the community.

Maybe she made them supper or maybe she scheduled the night’s appointments.

Maybe she Yenta-ed. Maybe she mended.

Who truly knows, but let’s not keep her in a hijab and assume housework and serving men a meal was the only thing she could have done.

And why does this matter?

Because when we look at scripture, really look at scripture, we see things that may have always been there that we get to know see and hear for the very first time, proving that God is indeed Still Speaking.

It matters because being able to approach scripture this way opens up the world of our faith, helping us realize just how radical Christianity is and just how boundary breaking an encounter with Christ could be.

It matters because when we begin to actually look at and to truly see the people of the Bible, we begin to see who we truly are, and just what we have the possibility to become.

It matters because the ability to worship and serve Jesus can be the most joyful, rewarding thing there is.

And if we allow Simon’s mother-in-law to do more than wear a hijab and do more than what our preconceived notions allow,

then we also free ourselves to remove restrictions that we or society have placed upon ourselves.

If we free Simon’s mother-in-law to serve Jesus in her own special way, then we are freed from what we think we can or cannot do for the glory of God’s heavenly kingdom.

By letting Big Mamma be free in Christ, then we are all also free indeed.

And that is a sweet, sweet thing.

Amen.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Jesus-A Sweet, Sweet River of Honey that Makes Us Say "It is Well With Our Soul"; Mark 1:21-28 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Feb 28, 2018
Mark 1:21-28

There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.

More than a sentiment, it is a song that we have sung here many times.

“There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord…”

And more than just a song, this hymn has left a legacy and a mighty mission.

60 years, a young black female minster named Willa Grant Battle established a mission in Boutillier, Haiti while at the same time establishing a church in Minneapolis.

Though her ministry took place in two separate worlds, she loved them both.

The mission in Haiti was located in a poor rural area, but over the decades grew to 50 churches and 10 schools.

These places became spots for health centers, sewing circles, and community farms.

Dr. Battle would bring vegetable and fruit seeds from America, so the citizens were empowered to grow their own food and have their own gardens, even if all they had was a small pot to plant in.

When it comes to independence and ministry, nothing is ever too little.

Back in America, a woman named Doris Akers became the minister of music at the church in Minneapolis.

Doris was a well-known gospel recording artist and composer of many songs, including “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”

When Miss Akers died in 1995, she left all the copyright royalties to the mission in Haiti. This allowed them to buy land and build new properties.

The land purchased thanks to the song royalties was hilly and full of rocks, but no problem, because they used the rocks to help build a sturdy high school, and a three-story hospital.

Because of their location, they survived the 2010 earthquake and recent storms.

Because of the vegetable and fruit seed ministry, the people had food to eat even though others were starving.

Now the mission in Haiti has grown to include caring for those left homeless and orphaned after the hurricanes.

All of this is to say that whenever we, or any church sings songs by Doris Akers, such as “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” things are sweet indeed, because the proceeds from the copyright are going to Haiti where orphaned children are cared for, expectant mothers receive medical attention, teenagers gain wisdom, the sick receive treatment, and the elderly are honored.

This all goes to show that nothing is too small when it is done for the Lord, and even singing a song in an inland city like Sebring can reach out to the rocky mountaintops of a Caribbean island.

Yes- there is a sweet, sweet spirit when people gather to worship and honor the Lord, creator of all that is good, giver of life, and breath, and beauty.

It is a sweetness that is like a river of honey- a river of light and love that flows through the sanctuary, from person to person, aisle to aisle.

A sweet river of honey that creates swirls of peace, fountains of joy, and connects us to the great ocean of life.

A sweet river of honey that becomes like a balm to the wounded and sick, a balm to the discouraged and sin-soaked.

Yes- there is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place…

Unfortunately, places of worship may not always be so sweet. People come from different directions, different experiences, and different expectations.

And sometimes they bring with them a spirit that may not be so sweet, or peaceful, or full of light.

Places of worship can be locations in which a spirit may be destructive, scary, or divisive.

That’s what we encounter in today’s reading.

Right after Jesus invited Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, he makes his way to the synagogue in which he teaches.

A man enters with an unclean spirit.

This is not a sweet, sweet spirit, but one of inquisition that immediately interferes, making the man shout out “What have you to do with us?”

A spirit of fear causes the man to ask “Have you come to destroy us?”

But Jesus replies in words of authority- “Be silent, and come out of him.”

In a fit of convulsions and crying, the unclean spirit comes out of the man, amazing all who were there.

What do we make of this story? Is it real? True? How common were such things?

That’s a topic best left for bible study; for today let us focus on one tiny detail about what the spirit was called.

It certainly was not called sweet.

Nor was it called evil, or demonic.

The author calls the spirit “unclean”.

Unclean. What does it mean?

Well, this was a story written about a particular culture during a particular time, and it was a culture of honor and shame, in and out, clean and dirty.

People were judged by if they were seen as clean or unclean.

Who you ate with and where you sat depended on if you were clean or unclean.

Your ability to participate in community events depended on if you were clean or unclean.

Your ability to enter into a house of prayer and participate in worship depended if you were clean or unclean.

In other words- if you were clean, great!

You got to be part of the group, attend potlucks, go to mahjong tournaments, sing in the choir, and get a bulletin.

If you weren’t clean- tough luck.

You were stuck with TV dinners for one, playing solitaire by yourself, singing in the shower, and reading the sermon via the internet.

To be clean meant you were “in” and able to reap the benefits of relationships.

To be unclean meant you were “out” and not allowed to play in any reindeer games.

So what makes one unclean?

There were a multitude of things- eating unlimited crab legs at Red Lobster, wearing a shirt that was a cotton/polyester blend, or having mildew in your home.

To be unclean meant you were separate from, and not a part of the group.

That’s part of what is going on in this story.

This man has a spirit that is unclean, a spirit that separates him from others, preventing him to being part of the community.

Think about how this plays out today.

Think of how we act when we see someone who seems to act a little different, or who we sense is a little off.

You can see the distance that people create with that person. They may back up a bit, or turn their back, or pretend they do not see them.

Someone may clutch their bag a bit tighter, or weaponize their keys, or begin gossipy small talk that makes it feel like 7th grade cafeteria all over again.

But notice what Jesus does in this story. He does not immediately exclude the man. He finds a way to welcome the man, and a way to address the spirit.

When the unclean spirit begins to rage and disrupt the congregation, Jesus deals with it by addressing it head on, addressing the demon through words of peace and action-based authority.

Jesus does not excuse. He does not ignore.

Jesus addresses the issue at the hand, allowing the man a chance to be clean.

But more than that, by becoming clean, the man is now empowered to become an active part of the community again.

Now that the unclean spirit is gone, the man is able to check out Checkers with his friends, he can go on golf outings with the guys, and he is free to come to worship with his family and sit in any pew he may please.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t just give the man a sweet, sweet spirit, but Jesus has gives him a new lease on life and a chance to sit at the table with everyone else and enjoy God’s generous banquet.

Jesus meets a man who is in a whirlpool of torment and ushers him into a river of inclusion.

And Jesus transforms him into someone who is more him than he ever was before.

In conclusion, Jesus comes into our lives and not only has the ability to call us to follow, or place a tingle in our ears,

but Jesus also has the ability to bring about the changes that cast out what separates and sours us from others.

Jesus enters our lives with the authority to empower us, speak words of wellness that bring us further into the fold, and to make us more us than us.

Jesus is like a sweet, sweet river of honey that makes us say it is well with our soul.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

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.