Sunday, November 19, 2017

Home; Psalm 90:1-6

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 90:1-6
Nov 19, 2017

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

That’s the opening line of today’s psalm. When I hear it, I find great comfort; the notion of God being our dwelling place.

Roots. Grounded. Eternal.

But when put in context of the entire song, conflicting thoughts emerge.

Why would someone claim that God has been their home? Could it be that perhaps the person who wrote this is homeless?

Could it be they’ve been wandering around some kind of wilderness, waiting for a permanent place to rest their head?

Think about it: would a person who is already home in a secure place need to make the claim that God is home?

Or would it make more sense if that person is far away from momma’s cooking, far from fixing things with Dad, far from their pesky siblings, beloved pets, and childhood friends?

A person who is far from home, in a strange place, may just be the kind of person who calls God their dwelling place.

They may also be the kind of person who thinks about things like the mistakes we make, and how life seems too short and filled with too much toil.

And to what end? That we die, like a sigh, to become dust that gathers in the corner of a room?

These are the thoughts that fill Psalm 90. “How long?” the singer asks God. “How long?”

So, if we go back to the first line of the psalm and reread it, we can wonder if it’s designed to be words of comfort, words of distress, or words meant to remind God just what it means to be God.

Perhaps it’s all of these things; perhaps it is none.

Perhaps this is an appropriate scripture for acknowledging Thanksgiving.

Can’t you imagine these words being composed by one of the Pilgrims after they travelled overseas to an unknown land?

That someone in the wilderness of early America could write this?

Or, since last week we acknowledged Veteran’s Day, could you imagine a soldier currently across the ocean composing this?

Calling God their dwelling place, their refuge, when they know their life can be ended in a moment?

Could any of our veterans here today have composed such a song, knowing all too well the fragility of life, especially after watching one of their comrades die?

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust we were made, to dust we shall return.

Humbling.

My father, who served in Vietnam, could have been one of those men.

I’d like to share something with you, the most emotionally valuable thing I own.

It’s a Bible that’s been in my family for three generations, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, used to mark an important transition in each life.

My father gave it to me in 1990 when I left for college. His father gave it to him in 1968 when he left for Vietnam.

His grandparents gave it to him when he was confirmed April 6, 1926.

This tattered Bible is one of the two things I put in my backpack in case I had to flee my home during Hurricane Irma.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the true story of this Bible.

When my father was oversees, his unit was the victim of a roadside bombing.

It killed my father’s friend, and badly wounded my Dad. He had shrapnel throughout his body and a permanently damaged eardrum.

In fact, after the bomb went off, the enemy came and stripped my father of everything he had and left him for dead in the dirt on the side of the road.

Everything that is, except for this Bible.

My Dad received the Purple Heart and he returned home to start a family. Like many veterans, he carried deep wounds from the war.

I find comfort in knowing that even though he was left for dead in a strange, foreign wilderness, surrounded by those who tried to hurt him, this Word of God remained by his side.

Could it be that this family Bible, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, became some kind of refuge, shelter, fortress, home?

What is home?

In an idealized sense, home is where compassion begins, where we learn how to say “please” and “thank you.”

Home is where we discover that we are loved, we are forgiven and we are part of something bigger then ourselves.

If you are lucky, home is the place in which you are welcomed no matter who we are, and welcomed back when we have gone away or astray.

It’s those places the Pilgrims left behind to get a second chance at life, to have a piece of land to call their own, and to worship God the way they felt best.

Home is the place our veteran’s and current soldiers have left behind for months and for years.

I am sure that for the Pilgrims, and for many of our veterans and soldiers, God would become or is the only home they could count on, even if they were wondering “how long?” and about the toil of human life.

In closing, the psalmist referred to God as the eternal dwelling place.

Did such a statement come from a place of comfort or a place of distress?

Think of where you are in your life. Of where you came from, and all you have been through.

What does it mean for you to say that God is your home?

One writer stated that “Home is the place where when you get there, they take you in.”

If Scripture teaches us anything, and if the life and resurrection of Christ teaches us anything, is that no matter what we go through in life, no matter where we go, no matter what we do-

We will always be welcomed into the home that we call God.

Eternal. Everlasting. Offering grace upon grace upon grace.

For that, we can say “Amen” and amen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pastoral Response- Shooting at Sutherland Springs

Dear Editor,

Psalm 90, begins with "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." Other translations use the word "home" or "refuge", thus making the claim that God is a safe place.

Yet, on Sunday November 5, the members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX did not experience safety or refuge.

At a time like this, people want words of comfort, but perhaps what we need most are words of discomfort. Comfort can lull us into a sense of complacency; discomfort can cause us to respond, think, and act.

Once again the issues of mental illness, hate, and guns enter into the political discourse, but at what value?

We look at the number of people killed by guns this year alone, and some say there needs to be more gun control. But then we can look at the number of people killed by cars or automobile accidents, and no one says "Cars are dangerous and need to be taken off the street."

We can look at scripture, when Jesus was arrested in the garden, and one of the disciples drew their sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's slave, which indicates that the disciples were strapped. But...we also have Jesus say "Put your sword back into place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:31-31)

I wonder, while wrestling with all that has taken place, if perhaps there needs to be a change in vocabulary as we discuss events like those that took place in TX, Las Vegas and PULSE.

Words matter. Maybe the phrases "gun rights" and "gun control" need to be replaced. Personally, I believe everyone has the right to own a gun. But "gun rights" makes it sound like an inanimate object has more meaning than a human life. I also believe there should be certain rules around guns, but "gun control" sounds like someone wants to take guns away.

So, maybe a better phrase is "gun wisdom." Wisdom is a word that infers deep thought, a process, and the ability to see things from all sides.

In the discomfort of the events at First Baptist, I wonder if what we could must benefit from is a discussion about the wisdom around what it means to own, sell, and care for guns; wisdom on how they are to be used, stored, treated; wisdom on the consequences of misuse; and wisdom on how to prevent and respond to events like those that recently happened.

I see the gun debate as one in which people are digging in their heels on either side, doubling down on what they think is the true, and only, solution. I think there is so much more to discuss and to learn.

People have always found weapons to inflict great harm, pain, and power over others. Lest we forget, the swords the disciples carried were weapons. Lest we forget, the means by which Jesus was crucified, the cross, was the weapon of choice for the Roman government.

There are no words of comfort that I feel I can honestly convey. It is more like a numbness; a "here-we-go-again-itis." But I do think that we, as a community, and as a country, can begin really wrestling with the wisdom around what guns are, why we have them, and what are the ways to ensure our children, our churches and our communities are kept as safe as possible.

As Psalm 90 begins with the claim that God is our home/dwelling place/refuge, it ends with a prayer that makes so much sense, and proves to be so timely-

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands- O prosper the work of our hands!"

Peace and prosperity to everybody.

Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Courage to Stand Still; Joshua 3:7-17

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 3:7-17
Nov 5, 2017

Veteran TV actress Jenifer Lewis has stated “The elevator to success is broken; take the stairs.”

How true are these words. Success can take a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 40.

40 years.

That’s a long time. A lot can take place.

Think of what life was like 40 years ago. No cell phones. No Google. Diet Coke did not exist for another 5 years.

Fleetwood Mac’s infamous album “Rumors” is released on vinyl because there is no such thing as CDs or iTunes.

“Three’s Company” made its debut on ABC during a time in which there were only about 7 stations. No cable, live-streaming or Netflix. You adjusted the antenna on your TV to get better reception and your children were the remote.

Jimmy Carter is President. The world’s 1st all-in-one home computer debuts, and an unknown movie called “Star Wars” opens.

If you’re like me, you enjoy our paper’s daily column that shares all the “On-This-Day” events.

It makes history a bit more real. It also makes me realize that things I grew up taking for granted are relatively recent in the span of human history.

For example, as Millie Grime shared a few weeks ago, women in the United States did not get the right to vote until 1920.

People of two different races were not legally allowed to be husband and wife until 1967.

That’s just 3 years before I was born.

40 years from now, I wonder if some preacher will say “Can you believe it wasn’t until June 26, 2015 that same-sex marriage was legal in the U.S.?”

To which someone in the congregation will be thinking, “Yeah, and by June 27 they also got the right to be divorced!”

These events are revolutionary.

We can look at such moments in time and say that there was a before and after; there was a way in which things used to be done and a way they are done now.

On paper, such things can give the impression of an easy transition. But that is rarely the case. Usually there is some type of symbolic river to cross.

Often times, things that we take for granted, like women having the right to vote, came about thanks to the actions of those who paid a great price.

Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff sang “there are many rivers to cross.”

If there is anything we learn from history and from scripture is that it’s not unusual to take a long, long time to get to the other side of the river.

And on a day in which we are honoring All Saints, we should give thanks to those who faithfully took those steps forward, knowing they were not easy.

Take for example today’s reading.

The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land after wandering through the wilderness for forty years.

4 decades ago their ancestors were freed from slavery and lead across the Red Sea waters.

They camped out by Mt. Sinai, where they were given the Law and taught the commandments.

Moses led them through the wilderness towards the Promised Land in which they experienced how God could and would provide food and water for them.

But something went wrong.

Numbers 13-14 tells us that the people were poised to enter the Promised Land. The ancestors were right on the cusp of true freedom…but then they became scared.

As the story goes, God had them send 12 of their leaders to check out the land the Lord had promised the people.

It was harvest time. The land was filled with plenty. Grapes big and abundant, milk and honey for all.

But there were also people who lived there who were much taller them they, so 10 of the leaders became afraid.

Though God had set them free, parted the Red Sea waters and filled their bellies with food, 10 of the 12 leaders decided to give the people a bad, and fear-based, report.

They said that the land devoured its inhabitants and its citizens seemed tall and strong.

And though God had promised them the land, though God had performed amazing deeds of deliverance, the people believed the false report of 10 fear-based individuals.

The people became scared. They rebelled. They cried and they wept.

Their behavior saddens Moses.

It saddens Joshua who says to the people “Don’t listen to their fearful reports, the land is good. God is pleased with us. Do not be afraid: we are on the verge of being blessed.”

But the ancestors were afraid. They complain that it would’ve been better to die as slaves in Egypt.

They think of turning back, threatening to kill anyone who tries to move them forward into God’s Promised Land.

This angers God. God feels hurt and despised.

As a consequence to their unfounded fears and unfaithful lies, God decides the people will wander the dessert for 40 years before their children will get a second chance to enter the Promised Land.

For 4 decades they struggle, they live, they die, they wait, when all God wanted to give them was paradise.

It is not until the next generation comes along that God’s people get to finally enter the land of milk and honey.

As we heard in today’s reading, God gives clear directions to Joshua and the priests and the people follow.

The priests carry the arc of the covenant into the Jordan River and when the soles of their feet rest in the river, the water stops flowing, and a path of dry ground is created for the people to journey across to the other side.

And they all do so, without a hitch, without complaint, without a quarrel, without a “what if?’ or a “woe is me.”

Perhaps that was the true miracle, not that the water had stopped flowing. But that after 40 years the people had finally learned how to trust God

The result: they are wilderness travelers no more; they are people of the Promised Land. Grounded in God, able to establish roots.

That’s how it is sometimes, isn’t it?

The things we fear the most, or have been taught by others to fear, are sometimes nothing more than just a river to cross, trusting God to keep us dry.

Like allowing women to vote or people of different races to marry.

To get from here to there took working together. It took some people to simply stand still.

It took trust in the Lord and believing in the promise.

It took courage.

You know, images of courage occur throughout the stories of our spiritual ancestors; stories designed to show us how to find and to have courage in the Lord.

As Christians, our ultimate example of courage would be Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a man of courage.

Jesus showed courage by fraternizing with those who were seen as “not one of us.” He wasn’t afraid to reach out to those who were seen as different.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to be close to someone who was unwell, or to touch the hands of someone who was sick.

He was willing to be seen talking with those of questionable morals or those deemed too dangerous for society.

Jesus had great courage. How else could he talk to a Samaritan woman at the well? Or walk across rough seas in the middle of a storm? Or stand before a multitude of hungry folk?

Jesus, like Joshua, was a person of faith, a person of action.

He was a person who showed courage by reaching out to folks when the world around them would not.

Jesus would meet people where they were, when they were here, on one side of the river, and he would metaphorically take them to there, the other side in which they experienced spiritual, physical, and social healing.

Where did this courage of Christ come from?

His relationship with God. His understanding of scripture. Knowing the stories of the saints and ancestors who came before him.

His ability to sometimes be still.

His sense of justice, kindness, and humility.

His sense that who we are now is not always who we are capable of being.

Knowing that each of us deserve the chance to grow, to learn, and to cross over to the other side.

The feet of the saints from oh so long ago led us out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

And the feat of our ancestors is that although they were often afraid and unsure, they did learn how to trust the Lord, and in trust, they were able to move forward in faith and action.

We too are following in the feet of our ancestors.

Some are the saints who came long ago. Some are our immediate relatives.

Some are those who helped to shape the denomination, those who worked hard to build this specific church; some are even amongst us today.

Regardless if they knew it or not, what they did and have done took courage, courage based on faith and an understanding of God’s grace and love for all.

In conclusion, each person, each community has many, many moments in which they come to a symbolic river and are invited by God to cross over into something wonderful, something new, and yes, perhaps even something scary.

But may none of that stop us from getting our own feet a little wet, trusting that in God the path ahead will be doable.

And with the grace of Christ, we have the chance to go from here to there with feet of faith that moves us forward into feats of faith.

For that, we can say amen and “Amen!”

Monday, October 23, 2017

Kaepernick, #MeToo and Paper Towels- What Do We See?; Exodus 33:12-23

Rev. George Miller
Oct 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23

Sight.

To see/to be seen.

To hear/to be heard.

To know/to be known.

To believe/to be believed.

To see…

When Colin Kaepernick kneels during the National Anthem, what do you see?

A brown-skinned American man peacefully bringing national attention to the fact that 180 black men have been killed by cops in this year alone?

Or an overpaid athlete disrespecting the flag and our military?

When women post on Facebook #MeToo do you see the courageous act of individuals bringing to national attention the fact that at least 1 in 4 of our mothers/sisters, wives/friends have been sexually assaulted?

Or do you see an overly sensitive movement of political correctness in which you’re sure many of the women are lying or making more out of it then what’s really there?

When you saw Trump throwing paper towels into a crowd of people in Puerto Rico did you see a man who was acting presidential and compassionate towards citizens of the USA?

Or did you see a world leader out of touch and insensitive to the needs of his nation’s citizens?

What do you see?

What do your eyes tell you?

What do you hear?

What do you know?

What do you believe?

What does your heart say?

Today’s reading, based on the NRSV version of the Bible, is all about sight and the ability or inability to see.

Took a look at today’s scripture and the words “sight” and “see” each appear 5 times.

Clearly, the narrator wants to bring the ability to see to the forefront of the story.

See- this is a glimpse into the intimate relationship that God and Moses shared. We are given a chance to witness the kind of relationship they had, in which Moses and God talked as if they were old, dear friends.

God has set the Israelites free- an act of spiritual, physical, and political liberation. And now they are about to leave Mt. Sinai to wander through the wilderness, towards the Promised Land.

At first God was going to leave them on their own, but Moses says “Umm-hmmm God, we ain’t going nowhere without you. See- we want the whole world to know what a mighty God we serve.”

So God acquiesces with one caveat- “I will let all my goodness pass before you, but you cannot see my face.”

Why?

Why can’t the face of God be seen? People have pondered this question for centuries, and people will have to ponder it for many centuries to come.

Because today we’re not going to talk about the “why?” That’s a mystery best left for you to walk around with.

Today we are going to talk about the “what?” As in “What do you see?”

See- as Christians we make a rather radical claim. A claim that although God is transcendent and invisible, we can actually catch a glimpse of God in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.

The faithful have believed that if you want to know who God is- look to Jesus. If you want to know the extent of God’s grace and mercy- look to Jesus.

If you want to see what the love of God looks like- look to Jesus and what he did, how he interacted with others, and even how he died.

Emmanuel- meaning God with Us.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

We saw a time in which the disciples were in a boat, facing a horrible storm, and they were terribly afraid.

What did we see Jesus do?

He came down from the mountain, walked across the water, spoke words of comfort, got into the boat, and took them to the other side.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

A time when he met a foreign woman with a daughter in need, and although he was a bit slow to help, he engaged the woman in dialogue, hearing her out.

As a result, Jesus learned something from her, and he offered wholeness and healing to both mother and daughter.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

A brown-skinned middle-eastern man who was falsely arrested, brought before the courts on trumped up charges, and unfairly executed in a public manner in which some spectators ridiculed him, some ignored his pain, and others said he only had himself to blame.

Look to Jesus, and what do you see?

If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Emmanuel, what do we see in him that allows you to better see, hear, and know the Most Holy of Holies???

…Sight.

To see/to be seen.

To hear/to be heard.

To know/to be known.

To believe/to be believed.

To see…

If Jesus was here today and you saw him kneeling during the National Anthem would you try to understand why or would you condemn his actions?

If Jesus was on Facebook today and posted #MeToo would you believe him or disregard his testimony?

If Jesus was in Puerto Rico, do you think you would see him throw paper towels into the masses or could you see him doing something else?

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What does it mean to say we follow Christ?

What do you think we see in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God With Us, Emmanuel?

What do we hear?
What do we know?
What do we believe?
What do we see???

Amen & amen.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Letter to the Editor- President's Actions Show Us Who He Is

When someone shows you who they are, believe them. What have we seen in President Trump?

He was slow to respond to Hurricane Harvey, late in visiting the folks of Texas and quick to make a joke at their expense. When Irma hit Florida, he spent his time on the coast but never ventured inland to places like Highlands County where honest working, blue-collar folk dealt with the loss of cattle, citrus, and uninsured homes.

When Maria hit Puerto Rico, he was slow in responding but quick to publicly shame the mayor of San Juan and to throw towels into a crowd of brown-skinned American citizens. When primarily Caucasian, country-music loving folk faced a brutal assault in cash-fueled Las Vegas, he was there as fast as he could be with a sense of dignity and remorse.

While California, a predominately Democratic state, is besieged with wildfires, he has yet to visit them, make any plans to visit, or show any sign that he legitimately cares.

President Trump- your actions speak loudly. We see who you really are. Half of America is not surprised because we knew this was truly you all along. The other half of America is either enjoying your disregard for humanity or they are doing their best to fool themselves into thinking you are an OK guy.

But you are not. What we have witnessed in our Republican President is someone who is callous, uncaring and non-compassionate. It is time for the other half of our beloved country to open up their eyes and to truly see who our President is.

Faithfully,
Rev. George Miller