Rev. George Miller
June 7, 2015
“For we know that if the earthly tent
we live in is destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens.”
Those are the words from last week’s reading of 2 Corinthians 5:1.
We talked of earthly tents and how they are temporary, and of sandcastles and how they all end up returning to the sea.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality. July 17 marks the 20th anniversary of burying my Father, and that calendar count-down has started ticking in my soul.
No matter how old we get, no matter how much time passes, there are certain anniversaries we remember; even if our brains do not want to, our hearts and our bodies do.
My father has been gone for 20 years and I don’t talk much about him much. Today I’d like to share a bit with you.
My father, Herbert Allen Miller, was what you’d call an alpha male. An Eagle Scout, a Vietnam Vet, a New York Police Officer: Midtown South- the busiest precinct in the world. He smoked, had a workbench in the basement and loved camping in the woods.
There are two special memories I have of my Dad. The first was when I was about 6. We had just come back from our first trip to Disney World.
While there I got to meet the characters from Robin Hood. I also got the Robin Hood green felt hat with a feather in it.
I loved that hat, wearing it everywhere I went.
One day Dad took me to the local home supply store and as we walked across the parking lot, a gust of wind took my green felt Robin Hood hat and blew it across the parking lot towards the road.
I was devastated, began to cry, but like that! my dad, without hesitating, ran after that hat, and did not stop until he had it…
…My 2nd memory is much more personal. 10 years later, everyone is turning 16 and on Long Island that’s a cause for a party.
It’s at a time when parents let their teenagers drink if there was adult supervision nearby.
So, I went to this particular party knowing there was going to be alcohol. Outside of a sip of a pina colada or a St. Patrick’s toast with beer, I had never drunk before.
I made a few mistakes the day of the party. I was trying to lose weight, so outside of a bowl of soup I hadn’t eaten anything. Also, I had taken one of those over-the-counter diet supplements. Not wise.
We get to the party and after the 2nd drink I don’t recall a thing. Nothing; total black out.
Things went horribly wrong. I threw up next to a couple making out. I was carried up the stairs. They put me in the bathtub and tried to get me to drink milk.
Thank God this was before cell phones, selfies and social media.
They called my father to pick me up. On the way home I wiped my nose on his sleeve. At home I rambled on and on and on about wanting blondes, brunettes and red heads.
I shared every secret, I shared every fear. I opened my heart and said “Everyone thinks I’m gay. But I’m not. I’m not gay.”
I don’t recall any of this. What I do recall is that in the early morning I woke up on a mattress in the living room with both my mother and my father by my side.
I had scared them and my other siblings incredibly.
The next day, my father came into my room to talk about the previous night’s events. He told me what had happened.
The he said, “And in regards to if you are gay or not, it doesn’t matter to me. I will love you no matter what.”
Then, he hugged me, and he kissed me. My Alpha, Eagle Scout, Vietnam Vet, Police Officer of a father hugged and kissed me.
That may very well be the most important moment of my life, and at 21, when I did come out to my parents, I was able to do so without fear of being disowned, unloved or thrown out of the house.
And probably, more than anything else, that moment shaped my understanding and view of God.
There has never been a moment in my life in which I doubted if God ever loved me.
Never did I have to agonize over how my orientation fit with my faith, family or friends.
Looking back, it may very well be that my Dad, at that moment, with his words, his hug and his kiss, created an image of God that transcends anything I could read or learn.
Coupled with the image of him running through the parking lot to catch my hat, these moments have left a lasting mark.
Paul, in today’s reading, talks about the notion of faith and Father, siblings and children.
Paul’s letter to the Romans has a different intent and tone than last week’s reading. Here he is writing to a group of churches he has not had any experience with.
Paul has not visited them, but he wants to. So he writes this letter as a way to introduce himself to them.
He is aware of their current situation. They are a group of house churches trying to adjust to the fact that some of their members are life-long Jews who’ve been persecuted, while others are new to the faith and somewhat blasé about their understanding of the scriptures and food.
This makes worshipping together a bit more difficult and muddies up their understanding of mission and ministry.
So Paul tries to explain a few things to them. The heart of the message is that God is God of all, establishing his understanding of worship and hospitality.
Paul believes in the power of faith; that faith allows us to know God, faith allows us to call upon God, and faith allows us to trust God.
For Paul, the ultimate way we get to know God is through Jesus Christ, in whom history is turned around and creation is restored.
For Paul, the Spirit of God binds us to Christ and we end up becoming adopted into the family of God.
Now, let’s be honest-this all sounds super difficult to understand and way out there, so we’ll try to break it down.
One of the realities we hold true to is that we are children of God.
This notion of a close, intimate relationship was brought home by Jesus when he taught us to pray saying “Our Father,” which is in essence, an overly familiar prayer, as if saying “Our Daddy” or “Our Poppa.”
God is our heavenly parent; we are already God’s children. We are created, we are born, and we live in the world that God made.
But through the event of Jesus Christ, we learn something more- that God doesn’t just stop there expressing God’s love for us.
God goes a step further: God adopts us.
Think about that, and what the act of adoption represents.
When someone adopts a child that means they are intentionally creating, building and expanding their family.
People can get pregnant, people can give birth, but adoption is an intentional process that involves discernment, thought, and intention.
Adoption signifies that one is filled with enough love and compassion to spare.
One adopts because they are free to do so.
One adopts not because they have to, but because they want to.
That’s what we experience about God through Jesus Christ.
God could simply have been an absent, distant parent who gave us life and stepped away, leaving us to fend for ourselves with zero interest in our welfare.
But that’s not who God is. Freely, God became an active parent of us all, participating in our lives.
God gave us the gifts of creation; God gives us the gifts of abiding love that blesses us.
God gave us the giving of the Law and the preaching of the prophets to keep us on track and to help us live healthy and holy lives.
That would be considered enough for any loving parent to do. But God goes yet another step further, sending us Jesus to walk in our midst, share in our joy and our suffering.
Through Jesus, God invites us to be fed at the table, to be washed in the waters, to confess our fears and worries, to be honest about whom we are, and to still be loved, no matter what.
But even that is not where God’s love ends.
Through the cross and the resurrection, through the breaking in of the Holy Spirit, God goes a step even further, and God adopts us, each and everyone.
Through Jesus Christ, God says “You are my child, and I have already given you a home, but now I am going to adopt you, and give you a family-
-a family much grander and greater than you could ever envision, a family grander and greater than you could ever believe.”
What this meant for the original recipients of today’s letter is that it did not matter if some were Jew or some were Gentile, they were both adopted in Christ.
It meant that it didn’t matter if they had been in Papa’s house all their lives or had just entered in or had run away for awhile, they were all home.
It didn’t matter if some ate BBQ pork and shrimp-on-a-stick and others never touched the stuff, they were all spiritually fed by the same Daddy.
It also meant that since they had all been intentionally adopted, they were all now sisters and brothers in Christ.
…which also means, that 2,000 years later, we are their sisters and brothers as well; which means that we are also siblings in the same family.
Which means we are also sisters and brothers to all those who will come after we are long gone, and to all those who find faith in Jesus Christ.
And like any siblings we may not always know how to play nice with one another, we may, from time to time knock another’s sandcastle down or endure minor mishaps.
But we give thanks that we are in this holy family together in which we receive the same expectations, we experience the same love, and we experience the same patience from the same Parent.
I also like to believe that it means when we lose our hats, we know that Papa God will not stand idly by but be present in the moment.
I also believe it means that when we make a spectacle of ourselves, when we share our fears, our secrets, our true self, that God, as our Heavenly Dad will say “No matter what, I will always love you.”
With a Spirit-filled hug from our Heavenly Father we get to build another sandcastle for another day.
With a spirit-filled kiss we get to enjoy the gifts of being chosen for adoption.
With spirit-filled words of assurance we continue to learn what it means to be loved for who we are.
Amen and amen.