Rev. George Miller
Nov 21, 2010
“May you be made strong with the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience…for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (vss 11 and 19)
Strength and power. Patience and endurance. Fullness.
Let me share with you a story about fullness. This flask is very special; its wood and oil came from Jerusalem. I bought it for my former church. The oil was used to bless the members and for an infant born with serious birth defects.
It’s also been utilized here. As our Tuesday Bible Study class can testify, we have used the oil inside to bless nearly 20 prayer shawls; shawls for those who’ve been ill, for those who’ve been grieving, and also in anticipation of a child’s birth.
Last Tuesday, after blessing a shawl, the oil ran out. I took it home to refill it. But I had a problem: I couldn’t put the cap back in. I had filled it too much, leaving no space. So I delicately poured some oil out. Still, the cap would only go in half way.
I did not realize it, but the cap has little openings in it that allow air to go through. Because of that, it will not properly seal the flask until it is emptied enough to be capped.
In other words, for this flask of oil to be full, it actually had to be emptied. This could not be used as a vehicle for blessings until there was space for air to go through.
How fitting that this vessel, that has been used as a vehicle for strength and power, patience and endurance, which connects my previous church with my new, would run out just a few days before our Installation…
…Fullness. Now, I know this letter is exquisitely written and rich with Christology, but it is the word fullness that has been speaking to me.
There is a great sense of fullness that I have been feeling since I arrived here 7 months ago. Fullness of love, fullness of hope, fullness of the future. I pray that you all feel the same way.
However, 12 months ago, fullness was not a word I would have used. Emptiness was more like it. During the last half of the Search and Call process I felt unwanted, hopeless, and I felt like there was no future.
Perhaps you felt the same way too, as you were searching for a pastor.
However, looking back now I can stand before you and testify that I was not empty, in a negative way. But instead, I was being emptied, as in, I was being prepared.
I was being emptied so the moving of the Spirit, the Calling of Christ and the Hand of God could do what needed to be done to bring me, to bring us, to this holy time, to this holy place, to this holy day of Installation.
This idea of sacred emptiness appears throughout scripture. In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church he encourages them to be like Christ, who emptied himself and took the servant role. (Phil 2:5-11)
Another example of emptiness is when the Spirit is poured out upon the people during the Day of Pentecost. It is this pouring out that marks the anniversary of the church.
One pastor I read stated that there are people in our lives who pour themselves out so that we may know the love of God. He pointed to Sunday School teachers and congregation members. He went on to state that when we pour ourselves out, we help to make the lives of others full.[i]
Fullness and emptiness. Poured out to be filled up. That’s what today’s Installation means to me.
I have experienced the ways in which our Triune God has worked, danced and created to make today possible, and I am thankful for our guest pastors who are here today, because each of them has played a role in my own emptiness and filling up.
First, Rev. Dr. Scott Davis, my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor from St. Louis University. When we met in 2002, I was full of myself, full of false bravado, full of fear.
Through his General Patton style of teaching, his vast wealth of knowledge and his enormous love for Christ, it was Rev. Davis who taught me how to provide proper pastoral care.
He did so by emptying me out. He prodded me to let go of my fears and step into the leadership role I was being given.
He taught me that true pastoral care happens when I let go of my need to talk, can sit comfortable in silence and allow the emptiness of the moment to create a space for the wounded to speak the words that need to be said and heard.
It was last winter, in the emptiness of my soul, that I called Rev. Davis and he said “I know the perfect church for you- my parents are members and it’s called Emmanuel UCC.”
If I had not been feeling so empty that day, I may have never made that phone call. So I bless God for you, Rev. Davis.
Second, Rev. Dr. Bruce Roller, my mentor for the last 5 years. He is the Executive Director of United Church Outreach Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI.
It has been Rev. Roller who I went to when I was filled with stress, worries, and doubt. It has been Rev. Roller who did just what Rev. Davis tried to teach me: he sat silently and let me moan and groan before he would speak, and his words, infused with the Spirit, made their way into my brokenness, filling me with understanding and an assurance that I was indeed doing my best.
During the nine months I was unemployed, it was Rev. Roller and UCOM who kept groceries in my household and even arranged it so that my cat would get the services he needed.
Rev. Roller gave me back my humanity at a time I felt I had lost it. Last November he called me to pick up a holiday basket that had all the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner. What he did not tell me was that I was really coming over to help hand out those baskets to others in need.
I showed up at UCOM on a freezing, snowy Saturday and there is a food truck with over 100 people lined up. By the end of the morning, I was cold, my nose was running, my back ached, I sweated through my shirt.
But when I got home, I knew that I had worked, and I had done something besides sitting on a couch and waiting. From that day on, I found healing by stocking the shelves and cleaning up the clothes room.
In February of this year, I hit the lowest point, unsure of where everything was going. I called Rev. Roller and I cried and I cried because I was so angry with God.
Rev. Roller allowed me to say all I needed to say, then he so eloquently, so beautifully said a prayer that filled my broken body and soul up with validation and assurance.
It was less then 10 days after being so completely emptied that I received that wonderful phone call from Emmanuel.
I bless God for you, Rev. Roller.
Finally, Rev. Todd Petty, Senior Pastor of Historic Park Church in Grand Rapids. He is one of 10 UCC pastors given a President Fellow grant, which he is using to study urban congregations across the country. He also, by they way, has known Gene and John for a long time, and has himself worshipped here at Emmanuel.
Rev. Petty pastors a big beautiful church, a church that has brass instruments and a silver tea service that anyone would covet.
Now, there will always be churches that say they care about social justice and they care about the poor, but not many actually do. But during my time of unemployment, Rev. Petty and his church reached out to me. He didn’t wait for me to call; he himself would pick up the phone to ask how I was doing.
When I wanted to process an interview with a church, Rev. Petty was there, for however long it took. When his church offered a book study preceded by a hot meal, it was he who invited me, to make sure that I was fed, I was around people, and I was still, in some way, connected to a church.
Thanks to Rev. Petty’s sense of ministry and mission, I was kept from being homeless. I can not tell you how many times he would call to see if I needed help paying my rent. He didn’t wait for me to ask; he just knew, and he handled it in a way that allowed me to keep my dignity.
Rev. Petty and the members of Park UCC demonstrated to me how Christ calls the church to pour itself out to help heal others and to find ways to fill their needs, be it physical, social, and mental. And that it is more important for a church to do, then to say.
So I bless God for you, Rev. Petty.
Fullness and emptiness. Poured out to be filled up.
Of course, I can not finish today’s message without paying thanks to the one who is responsible for me being here, as in on this Earth: my mother.
It was in the fullness of your belly that I was nourished; it was an act of emptiness that brought me into this world.
You filled my life with good things: stories that you creatively told through hand-drawn photos, a house filled with the smell of fresh made bread, chocolate chip cookies and spaghetti with meatballs, a front-yard filled with the colors of blooming flowers, a backyard filled with the sound of birds at the feeder, your own personal walk with God and the decision you and Dad made that we should go to church.
Lord knows how you’ve emptied yourself out again and again to make my siblings and I feel full and whole and loved. Each year as I grow older I realize that for better and for worse I am very much our son.
Just as I am very much my father’s son.
In conclusion, today I find myself full, full with love. Love for these three men who have shaped my ministry. Love for my Mom. Love for the Search Committee. Love for all of you.
That love is from God, that love is God.
We are all part of God’s love; we are part of that legacy that Colossians, and Paul and the Gospel writers talk about.
And in that love, we are poured out. We are poured out, so we can leave room in our life for Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
We are poured out for each other, in community, to remind others that the body of Christ moves beyond circumstances and trying situations.
We are poured out, like the oil in the flask, to leave room for the Spirit, so that Christ can work through us, to bless, heal and point others towards restoration.
May we continue to be poured out so that we can continue to be refilled and to share in Christ’s strength and power, patience and endurance.
All blessings be to the Spirit that moves in surprising ways, to God who has a plan even when we can’t yet see it, and to Jesus who teaches us how to be humbly empty so we can become wonderfully full.
Amen and amen.
[i] Rev. Dr. S. Ronald Parks, “Poured Out,” given at Calvary United Methodist Church on 8/24/2008.