Rev. George Miller
Sept 20, 2015
If you get the Sunday paper, you’d know that last week’s Parade magazine had Neil Patrick Harris on the cover stating “Act Like a Kid: Get Happier, Healthier and Smarter.”
Inside was an article about how to keep our brains active and content. One suggestion was to do puzzles and games, such as “Toe-Tac-Tic” in which the idea is to not get 3 Xs or Os in a row.
Or this exercise: what do the words parrot, pigeon, robin and sparrow have in common?
…they are composed of two shorter words in a row. Par. Rot. /Pig. Eon./ Rob. In./ Spar. Row.
I can find these mind games frustrating, but I also know their benefits. They help keep the synapses popping, stave off the threat of Alzheimer’s and they keep things fresh.
Like water, our brains become stagnant if they don’t keep moving. Stagnant brains become stale.
Water and brains aren’t the only things that can become stagnant and stale, so can our lives, so can our faith, so can the way we worship and experience God.
Apparently these issues are nothing new; apparently they were issues even in Jesus’ day.
Jesus is hanging with his homeboys, having a lively time. Casting out demons, healing the sick, teaching in the sanctuary, upending the people’s perception of what a Messiah is supposed to do.
Thankfully, Jesus is not all about work and being sooo serious. Jesus likes to take some time to relax, to pray, to be off on his own. He also likes to eat, and drink, and be where the people are at.
So Jesus isn’t just at the synagogue or Florida Hospital or visiting folk in hospice- he’s drinking a cold beer with the guys at the driving range, he’s at Veteran’s Beach enjoying a barbeque, he’s at the Caddy Shack enjoying steak and a glass of Merlot.
So of course, there’s some folk who question him with their concerns. “Jesus- you seem to be having fun; shouldn’t you be fasting and acting all serious and sullen-like?”
To which his response is basically “Life is a banquet, enjoy now ‘cause there’ll be times to hunger and cry.”
He then reminds them of a simple truth-you don’t destroy something new to mend the old; you don’t put fresh wine into a container that leaves no room for expansion.
Now- I want to be honest: I’ve been uncomfortable with today’s reading. Why? Because on the surface it sounds like this:
And I’m not a fool; I know that at my age I’m slipping more and more into the “old” category. I also know how scary change can be.
I know how important tradition is. I also know the generational make-up of our congregation.
But- I also know, and have known, that Emmanuel UCC is composed of some of the most youthful, forward-thinking folk you will find anywhere, otherwise ministers like Rev. Louks and myself would’ve never been called here.
So, how does one preach on this scripture without saying:
The answer came Thursday while driving to Sarasota for the UCC Clergy gathering. I was listening to the cast album of Sunday in the Park with George.
It’s a musical from 1984 that takes place in France during the building of the Eifel Tower.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the CD. In my bedroom in Long Island, in my studio apartment in Minneapolis, on my porch in Florida.
Now, as I drove through the bucolic setting of 64, with cow pastures on my right and orange groves on my left, I had a moment in which time seemed to utterly collapse.
Perhaps you know what I mean- I felt like my 15 year old self, my 25 year old self and my 45 year old self were all in the car at the same time and everything that was and will be had come together.
Meaning the old, the new, the past and present had converged to create the emerging moments that are soon-to-be.
Very Doctor Who-like.
Anyone else have an experience like that? Perhaps when you’ve looked through a photo-album, attended a high-school reunion, or held a newborn in your arms?
After that experience, the next song on the CD to be played was “Beautiful.” The main character, an artist, is talking with his mom.
She’s lamenting how everything’s changing, disappearing, and how the construction of the Eiffel Tower is ruining the view.
The artist states that beauty exists everywhere; that change is inevitable but the eye and the mind have the ability to find all things beautiful.
As the song progresses the mother mourns what seems to fade; the son celebrates the ability for the world to be revised.
The challenge becomes “How does she allow the past to segue into the future?”
And “How does he allow the present to honor and recall the past?”
At the end of the song, she discovers that her solace comes in her son and his painting.
Thus a theme of the musical is this- that the past, present and future can be saved, shared and celebrated via children and art.
For us, as members of the Christian faith, I believe that our past, present and future can be saved, shared and celebrated through our ministries and stories (Scriptures).
The truth is that things are always changing. We can’t stop it; we shouldn’t want to stop it.
Ever since the beginning of Creation, when God’s Spirit moved over the formless void and said “Let there be light”, change has always been a reality and a constant.
The freeing of the Hebrew slaves is the change that brought about Judaism.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the change that brought about Christianity.
The breaking away from Catholicism is the change that created the Protestant movement.
The merging of the Reformed Church with the Evangelical, and the Christian Church with the Congregationalists is the change that brought about the UCC.
Our denomination has always been one of change and newness. Ordaining the 1st black man. Ordaining the 1st woman. Ordaining the 1st openly gay person. Publishing the 1st gender-inclusive hymnal.
All of these were the new clothe, fresh wine and the Eiffel Towers of their day.
Other faiths and denominations seem content with torn garments, unyielding wineskins and the original view. They have yet to embrace the things we’ve grown used to.
Could any of us imagine a woman not being a pastor? Could any of us imagine not having the freedom to read the Bible on your own? Does anyone recall a time when the Eiffel Tower did not exist?
Yet, there was a time when all these events seemed new, were viewed as threatening or unsightly.
Things are always changing. We can’t stop it. We shouldn’t want to stop it, because if we did, we’d be dead, and none of us are ready for that.
However, in the experience of Jesus Christ, in the ministry we do, the stories that we tell, we come to realize that there are things that we can depend on:
-That God loves us
-That God is filled with compassion
-That God wants us to care for one another, and ourselves as well.
And that yes, there will be time for weeping and hunger, but there will also times for celebration and feasting.
In Christ, there is always going to be new garments to put on, in Christ there will always be fresh juice to drink.
How do we welcome that which is new?
How do we continue to keep our bodies, minds and souls fresh and free to have fun?
With our identity rooted in Christ, how do we create space in which past, present and future can coexist without ripping or tearing apart?
How can we continue to do our part to make things happier, healthier and smarter, and to see all things as beautiful?
Amen and amen.