Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pastoral Response to Charlottesville

Lamentations 3:35-36 asks “When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”

I will never know what it is like to be a natural-born southerner, or what it’s like to be black. But I recall two separate conversations I’ve had.

One was with a friend who told me his relatives participated in Civil War reenactments, and when I smugly joked, he whole-heartedly said “I have family that died in that war.” Another friend told me that when he returns to his home-town he is referred to as property, as the citizens there will remind him who his family originally belonged to.

Both men look back upon American history in which slavery, the Civil War, General Lee and Sherman have more meaning than my heart could ever comprehend; history that involves the bodies and blood of their ancestors.

So the removal of yet one more Confederate statue sparks a myriad of emotions rooted in the very core of one’s identity and understanding of what they think it means to be an American.

In Charlottesville we saw these feelings, thoughts, and fears erupt into a fiery assault on human rights and a disregard for the Declaration of Independence’s bold claim that “all men are created equal.”

We saw white Christian nationalists, supremacists, neo-nazis and kkk show up to protest the removal of Lee’s statue, an act of free speech regardless if we agree with it or not. In another act of free speech, counter-protestors also came. The result was chaos, with street brawls and violent clashes, leaving one woman and two state troopers dead.

Some say that these two groups of people were two sides of the same coin, each equally at fault and destructive.

I say no.

Here’s why- the white, male, Christian nationalists/supremacists/kkk/neo-nazis came from a place of hate; a dislike based on race and religion. They came from a place in which they did not want freedom for all, just freedom for themselves. We’ve seen their ideologies play out in lynchings, segregated schools, water fountains, marriage laws, unfair arrests, inordinate incarcerations, pay disparity, and tiki torches brandished as very-clear threats.

Black Lives Matter is not the same coin. Black Lives Matter is a response to the hatred that has been exhibited for centuries and the historically documented injustice that has taken place. It is a movement that is a response to the stories we’ve heard and videos seen of black fathers, sons, husbands, lovers and friends who have been shot, shamed, slammed, and stunned into submission.

When Black Lives Matter and counter-protestors came to Charlottesville, they were not part of, or the cause of, the problem. They were the prophetic response to the problem. Their words, signs, and actions were a response to the reality of hate, anger, injustice and unkindness that was around them.

As a result, an angry white Christian man rammed a sedan into a crowd of people holding signs that said “LOVE”, then reversed it to run over even more people. As our Attorney General stated, this was an act of domestic terrorism.

Yes- there is anger on all sides. But let us not demean our nation’s historical truth by saying Black Lives Matter caused hundreds of white Christian nationalists/nazis/kkk to descend upon Charlottesville.

Hate did. Injustice did. Unkindness did. Prejudice did.

As a white Christian male, and as an ordained pastor, I do not condone the actions that took place in Charlottesville. Nor do I think any blame can be placed on the counter-protestors who bravely came to speak out against hate and speak up for love.

Though we cannot undo what has transpired, I apologize on behalf of my gender, my ethnicity and my faith for what has taken place in Virginia.

Respectfully,
Rev. George Miller
Emmanuel UCC
Sebring, FL

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jesus, Step Into the Boat and Take Us to the Other Side; Aug 13, 2017 Sermon on John 6:16-21

Rev. George Miller
August 13, 2017
John 6:16-21

Years ago there was a song by Luther Vandross called “Little Miracle Happen Every Day,” a song that testifies to the ways in which God is active in all our lives, even if we don’t know it.

This song has gotten me through so much-seminary, search and call, health scares, and the loss of loved ones.

Though my sermons may speak about issues of fact and truth, metaphors and metaphysics, I am, at the very heart of my faith, a miracle-believing Christian.

Miracles manifest in many ways. There are those that are simply coincidences; some are easy to explain. Some occur because our eyes were open to see what had always been there, our mind was able to understand, or our heart was finally open to receive.

Then, then there are those miracles that make no sense; that defy all forms of logic, all rules of science, and have to be experienced to be believed.

Like hitting the guard rail on the highway, and emerging without a scratch to you or your car.

Or receiving a cancer diagnosis, but the next time you visit the doctor it is suddenly and completely gone.

Finding your dream home and the inside is covered with wallpaper of your parent’s favorite bird or butterfly.

How do these things happen? Why do miracles occur? When and where do they materialize?

Is there a miracle memory muscle that the more you look for them, the more they are experienced?

Who can say, and does it matter, if a miracle reminds us that the Magnificent, Mysterious God of grace and mercy is present in our lives?

I had my own miracle moment earlier this week.

Last year I went on a cleaning spree, getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, didn’t make me feel good, or were too worn out for wear.

A product of this cleaning spree was an especially special pair of socks. They were green socks with happy blue whales on them.

What made these socks so special was that they were the 1st pair of fancy socks I ever purchased. Until then, my socks were either white, blue, or black, and purchased in packages from Walmart.

But years ago, while unemployed, poor, and in a prolonged Search-n-Call process, I came across them in a high end store in Portland, Oregon.

I had no business being in Sacks Fifth Avenue, had no business putting down $12 for a single pair of socks, but for some reason it felt good getting them.

They were kind of like a promise of success in the midst of continued defeat.

Well eventually those green socks with the happy blue whales wore out, the elastic gave away, and they no longer stayed up around my calves. So last year, in the trash they went…or so I thought.

Because in the middle of last week, with worries about opening night, and a delayed adoption process, and an acquaintance in the hospital, I randomly opened up an end-table drawer in my living room…and they were there.

My 1st ever fancy, funky green socks with the happy blue whales purchased at a time of struggle.

It brought the biggest smile to my face, like seeing an old friend, or a long lost toy from childhood.

I immediately felt the presence of God, and for me, it was a miracle.

Now- maybe it was no miracle at all. Maybe I only thought I had thrown them away. Maybe I did, but had a random sleep-walking episode in which I rescued them from out the garbage.

Why would worn-out green socks with happy blue whales ever end up in the draw of a living room coffee table?

Who knows? Does it matter? Did it make me feel good? Did it make me feel as if God was right beside me?

Luther is right- little miracles do happen every day.

Today we have perhaps the Mother of all Miracles.

Though this story is short, don’t get it twisted. It has way more levels than anyone could ever imagine, with references to Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, and the 23rd Psalm.

This is a great “I AM” story in which Jesus appears and takes us to the other side.

So before we go any further, I invite you to repeat a simple, simple prayer-

“Jesus, step into the boat…”

“…and take us to the other side.”

Jesus, step into the boat and take us to the other side.

John chapter 6 is a fundamental story about Jesus, also told in Matthew and Mark with various nuances.

It begins with Jesus atop a mountain with a hungry crowd surrounding him. He feeds the 5,000 thousand people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

When evening comes, the disciples get in their boat and head to the other side. But, a storm hits.

It’s the kind of storm in which things seem bleak, they can’t see ahead of them, the wind is howling, and the sea is battering the boat.

The disciples feels lost, alone and confused, trying their best to row ahead, navigating the way forward, but no luck.

Then…Jesus appears to them, walking on the waves. They are afraid. They bring him into the boat.

They reach the other side.

Talk about a miracle. Jesus walking on water. Can you imagine? What a surprise!

But then again, maybe it shouldn’t be all too surprising. After all, in the beginning, God’s breathe did dance over the waters. God parted the Red Sea. God brought water from a rock. 23rd Psalm says the Good Shepherd will lead us beside still waters. Jesus turned water into wine.

The waters belong to God. They are a force of life that sustains creation. From a world religion point of view, invoking water is a fundamental form of prayer.

So there should be no surprise that Jesus, the Son of God, the incarnation of God, Emmanuel, is able to walk upon water, because the waters belong to him and his Father.

Jesus walking on water is indeed a miracle, but perhaps the greater miracle, the miracle that’s never really talked about, is that once Jesus walks on water, and gets in the boat- they reach the other side.

For hours, for miles, the disciples had been straining at the oars, trying to navigate where they were going, fighting the storm.

But they see Jesus. They want him in the boat. They make it to the other side.

Somehow, someway the great “I AM” gets in the boat and takes them through.

That, perhaps, is the greatest miracle.

A way out of no way. Safe passage in the midst of a scary storm.

Dry land despite dark skies, harsh wind and wild waves.

A miracle.

And note- just like last week’s story, there is an element of choice in this tale.

Just as the man by the waters of Bethzatha had to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk, the disciples had to see, want and receive Jesus for this act of wellness to take place.

I wonder if today’s scripture gives us another expression to add to our worship life and way of believing.

Perhaps, perhaps the simplest prayer there can be is “Jesus- step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

Think of the ways in which such a prayer would work.

For someone who is job hunting in which the only way to be employed is to go out, seek, and apply again and again and again- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone dealing with the death of a loved one in which the only way to go through the grieving process is to go through it- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone whose life is immediately disturbed by a cancer diagnosis- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone facing a rough break-up- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone who is facing a long adoption process and opening weekend jitters- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For anyone who is watching their child or grandchildren struggling and trying to make their own way- “Jesus, step into the boat and take them to the other side.”

For our state during the hurricane season, or our nation during a tense political environment, or our world facing the threat of nuclear war- “Jesus, step into the boat and take us to the other side.”

For when we are in the process of completing our journey here on earth and ready to take our final, final breaths- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

Storms and difficult situations arise all the time. It’s how we face them that makes a difference.

Today we are told of a miracle that happened far, far away, but a miracle that can and does take place anywhere.

Today we are reminded of a miracle that happened a long, long time ago, but that miracles do happen every day.

Today we are reminded that no matter the storm, no matter the sea, Jesus is able to appear, Jesus is able to get into the boat, and Jesus can take us to the other side.

For that, we can say, amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sermon on John 5:1-18; Wellness and Freedom

Rev. George Miller
Aug 6, 2017
John 5:1-18

Last week I came across a fortune cookie that said “It’s too late to start digging a well when you feel thirsty.”

From a worldly point of view, it sounds like wise advice, but from a Christological viewpoint, I’m not sure if this fortune is true.

In Christ, is it ever too late? Could it be that when we are the thirstiest is when the Living Waters make a way?

Let us pray…

…For our astute observers, you’ll notice that our sanctuary looks a little different. Gone are the red paraments and wall hangings we’ve had up to represent Pentecost, and in their place are green paraments and wall hangings.

We are in the liturgical season which the church calls Ordinary Time. The color for Ordinary Time is green.

Now- two things.

First, I so dislike the term Ordinary Time. It’s a phrase meant to express that there are no major religious holidays coming up. But when it comes to the wonder of God, the miracles of Jesus, and the surprising nature of the Holy Spirit is anytime truly just ordinary?

Second- green is a difficult color to pull off. Green is the color of life, representing the renewal of the earth.

But the wrong shade of green creates the wrong mood. Avocado green puts us back into the 1970’s. Neon green is too MTV. Dark green looks sickly.

But the right shade of green? The right hue with the perfect balance of pop and power and positivity- that’s, that’s life.

That’s abundant. That’s garden-good and lawn-luxurious.

You want a green that makes you so glad to be alive, because simply living is not being alive. Simply breathing is not life. Simply being here is not what the good, great Lord intended.

God wants us to have every good thing; God wants us to be alive.

Today’s reading helps to teach this principle.

Here we are, at the waters of Bethzatha. By these pools there are people who are struggling with issues of sight, issues of strength, and issues of mobility.

The NRSV calls them invalids, but another translation uses the word impotent; or powerless.

During an era in which the average life expectancy was between 45-60, we meet a man who’s been there for 38 years.

Jesus sees him lying there. Instead of saying “It is too late for you to start digging a well,” he says to the man “Do you want to be made well?”

Now, notice a few things. We’re never told what the man’s ailment was. We have no idea what he suffered from.

We’re not given a case study on the man; not told about his history. Nor is there any sense of judgment from the author.

It is simply told- Jesus sees him, Jesus knew he had been there a long time, and Jesus asks the important question- “Do you want to be made well?”

Note the careful word usage here.

Jesus does not ask him “Do you want to be cured?”

Nor does he ask “Do you want me to solve your problem for you?”

He asks “Do you want to be made well?”

This is vital to the story.

Many Christians believe that God cures people. We hold onto this notion with our power of prayer, with our calling upon Christ, with the seeking of the Spirit; this need to be made well, the desire for divine intervention, the pleading for positive outcomes.

And certainly the Bible has stories that testify to this, and each of us can testify to times in which we believe that God has affected our ability to live.

But then there are so many questions-

What does it mean to be made well?

Is healing the same as being cured?

Can one be whole even if they are still sick, or infirm, or impotent?

What does being well, being whole, and being cured have to do with anything?

What exactly is going on here?

During Tuesday’s Lectionary Bible Study we read this scripture and one of the students had an important insight-

“Why did Jesus even have to ask this question? Why would anyone need to be asked if they want to be made well?”

I don’t know about ya’ll, but I felt like I could answer that.

It seems like there are a lot of unwell people out there who seem quite content in their unwellness; and there seem to be a lot of people who keep doing things that are the very opposite of wellness.

And no matter how metaphorically thirsty they get, there is nothing nobody can say, do, or suggest that will make them dig that well for themselves, until they are ready.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a former smoker, and as any smoker can tell you- it is the hardest thing in the world to quit.

It doesn’t matter if smoking is expensive, makes you stink, and causes you to cough, no smoker has ever stopped because someone said “Yon know that’s bad for you, right?”

You have to want to stop.

I learned that back in 1999. I was 29, back to living with my Momma on Long Island, facing a cross roads of uncertainty. Smoking was an escape and a time killer.

There was a holistic school nearby that gave free acupuncture treatments so I went there to stop smoking, but nothing seemed to work.

They put needles in my ear, my chest, my feet, and after a treatment I’d stop at the gas station to get another pack.

The student who was working on me couldn’t figure out what to do so she went to her advisor who said “Ask him if he actually wants to quit.”

So, she came to me and said “Do you really want to quit smoking?” Or, in today’s scripture, “Do you want to be made well?”

I told her the honest truth “No.” It felt so good to admit that I wasn’t ready to quit.

So they stopped the smoking treatments and focused on other areas, until that time did come, and I was ready…

…Look how Jesus is portrayed in today’s story. How he goes about offering wellness to this man. So different from how most people do things.

How many here have ever been told by someone what to do, as if you had never had the same thought yourself?

The doctor who says “You need to lose weight.” Then says all you have to do is eat less sugar and include more leafy greens and yogurt, and you’re like “Yeah, well if I liked leafy greens and yogurt I’d already be doing that!”

That’s not how Jesus rolls in this story. He’s like “Do you want to be made well?”

Such a simple question, but one that has far reaching implications.

Do you want to be made well or do you want to continue as is?

Jesus is not saying that it is too late for something life-affirming. He’s not blaming the man for his situation. He is not offering to do the work for him, nor is Jesus making excuses for why the man can’t achieve wellness.

He simply asks “Do you want to be made well?”

What we have here is a story about one of the greatest gifts God has given us- freedom.

Just as God is free, so are we.

God did not create us to be helpless. God did not create us to be puppets. God did not create us to be passive.

God loves us so much that we are given freedom, even if that freedom means we can turn away from God and deny God’s help.

Naaman could receive healing from his leprosy, but first he had to make the choice if he was to go down to the river and dunk himself 7 times.

The starving widow was promised that she’d not go hungry if she first made the prophet Elijah something to eat.

At the wedding in Cana, the servants had to be willing to pour 180 gallons of water into 6 stone jars if Jesus was going to turn water into wine.

None of these things happened without the people’s willing participation.

Jesus’ love for this man does not take away the man’s right to choose.

Nor does Jesus do a simple “Hocus pocus- you are made all better.”

No.

Jesus gives him 3 direct directions: stand up, take your mat, and walk.

If the man truly wants to experience wellness, he has to do his own part.

Stand up.

In other words Jesus is saying “You are not as paralyzed and stuck in place as you think you are.”

Take your mat.

This is Jesus saying “You are not has helpless as you think or as helpless as people say you are.”

And walk.

This is Jesus saying “You may have been here 38 years, but the past is the past. You can leave it behind.”

Jesus gives the man 3 direct directions which allows the man the freedom to choose to experience wellness.

Stand up- rise above your current situation.

Take your mat- do something for YOU.

And walk- step into your future, because it is never too late.

And the man is made well.

Note- there is no indication that the man’s life became dramatically easy and rosy, nor do we ever know if he has set backs or hits new kind of obstacles.

But we know for that moment, for that day, he was given a choice, and he made the choice to be well.

In conclusion, today’s story reminds us how our Heavenly Parent is still working, moving, and affecting lives.

It is a story which states that in Christ it is never too late, and one is never too powerless to experience the Living Waters and a restorative life in Christ.

Is there a difference between simply living and being alive? And if so, what does being alive look like?

And what does it mean to be made whole, to be cured, to be healed, to be made well in Jesus Christ?

Only you can decide that for yourself.

Only you are able to stand up, take your mat, and to move into your future.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gospel according to "Girls Trip"; 1 Kings 3:1-14

Rev. George Miller
July 30, 2017
1 Kings 3:1-14

Last week a wild funny film with great heart came out, called “Girls Trip.” It’s about 4 friends who go to New Orleans for the weekend.

As you can imagine these women have a whole lot of adventures in the city of beads, bayous, and Bourbon St.

Halfway through the film the women are back in their hotel suite, wearing their pajamas, eating ice cream and winding down for the night, when wild party-person Dina comes into the room, says “Oh no! We are not ending the night like this!”, and then goes into another room.

As an audience member you are lead to believe that Dina’s preparing them for another adventure. Maybe she’s changing clothes to resume club-hopping, or has put out shots for them to do or some other shenanigans.

The camera follows the 3 other women as they walk into the room…and find Dina kneeling beside the bed, praying:

“Heavenly Father, I want to thank you for this day of life. My heart is so full of joy for these women right here.”

The friends join her, and that’s how they end their night in the Big Easy.

I love when movies or TV shows allow for a surprising moment in which God shows up and says “Hey, I’m here.”

This particular scene was so touching because as an audience member, you never see it coming. In the midst of a fast-paced funny film it pauses to show a flawed, imperfect person having a simple, sincere moment with God.

I share this scene because the more I dwell upon today’s reading, take it apart, and reassemble it, the more I feel like today’s reading is about a flawed, imperfect person having a simple, sincere moment with God.

Yes- the person in today’s scripture just so happens to be King Solomon, the most powerful person in all the land.

Yes- it’s hard to say that offering 1,000 burnt offerings on a hill-top altar 7 miles away from town is keeping it simple.

But there’s a sense that King Solomon in this story is no different from you or from me, or from Dina.

And I also can’t help but think that Solomon could have offered God a 1,000 rams or a 100 bottles of perfume or 10 jugs of olive oil or 1 bottle of wine or one penny, and the result would have been just the same.

Why?

Because of the intentionality behind his offering.

Note that in a story filled with so much detail the author never tells us why the King was making an offering to God.

We’re not told if his intention was to find favor or to be forgiven, to seek power or to solve a problem.

We’re not told that Solomon made an offering with the intention to ask God to make a miracle, annihilate his enemies, or have his favorite athlete win in the Ancient Olympics.

Perhaps… perhaps King Solomon’s sole intention of traveling 7 miles to a hill-top altar to offer 1,000 burnt offerings was simply to say to God-

“Hey. Thanks. How are you doing? You’re awesome. I love you. Bravo.”

There’s a sense in this story that it didn’t matter to God where this simple, sincere moment took place.

Perhaps it could have been on a mountaintop or at his workbench, in the garden or at the ocean, in Key West or New Orleans, on a golf course or at the organ -the result would have been the same.

Why? Because the intentionality behind King Solomon’s actions.

It seems as if Solomon just wanted to be with God; that the King just wanted to hang out with his Creator.

And it that’s this case, this is one of those moments in which God must have said “Yes, someone just wants to be with me as it was originally intended.”

I wonder if after King Solomon made his offering, God exhaled and said “Thank God, someone finally gets it.”

(Of course, would God say “Thank God” or “Thank Me?”)

I Kings 3 gives us a moment in time in which the most powerful person in the nation comes before the most powerful reality in all the nations, and simply, sincerely just is.

No wonder God visited Solomon in a dream that night. Knowing the intentions of his heart, God says “Ask what I should give you.”

What is the King’s 1st response?

Thanksgiving. “You have shown and kept true love to my father. I am who I am for no other reason than because of you.”

Next comes humility. “Although I’m young and have much room for growth, give me wisdom so I can watch over your people, learning good from evil.”

By today’s reading it’s clear that what Solomon wants is to be the kind of king who has compassion, who can see the world in shades of grey, who can discern, and include God in the process.

King Solomon is saying to God “Allow my heart to hear and my mind to understand so that I can be the best steward of your creation and watch your people with the right sense of dominion.”

In other words, he is asking “Make me the best version of me so that I can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you.”

It’s interesting how this familiar story seems to build on the things we’ve talked about during the last few months.

Elements of Vacation Bible School and Micah 6:8, of General Synod and the Resolutions, the Beatitudes and intentionality.

Today’s story has elements of how we can be Grounded in God, and how perhaps God comes to worship so God can worship with us.

Today’s scripture can remind us how it pleases God when we do what is just, what is kind, what is humble, and how happy it must make our Creator when we simply, sincerely spend time with God.

Solomon came before the Lord because he knew God loved him, and he is rewarded beyond his belief.

We get to spend time with God as well, and though our reward may not be kingdoms and riches, we are blessed with other gifts.

Like the gifts of salvation.
Gifts of forgiveness.
Gifts of new beginnings.
Gifts of heaven.

Gifts of eternal life.

The gift of knowing that as flawed and imperfect as we may seem, our simplest, most sincere expressions of love and thanksgiving pleases God.

And in some ways, that is enough.

Amen and amen.

Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is like that- isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what role does God play in all of this?

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

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

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

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

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

And what do we make of their actions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does God work through it all?

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

How does the Holy Spirit refresh and restore such situations?

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

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

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

Amen and amen.

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