Rev. George Miller
March 6. 2016
Last week we said good bye to two members of our congregation- Rita Timberman and Stanley Brandt, both who moved back north to be with their family.
Of course, they are not the only people we have said goodbye to over the years. There was Ron & Judy Davis, Blaine & Marge Pederson, Mary Lindsay, Al & Joyce Gordon.
Soon we’ll be saying goodbye to Gene & John.
Different people respond different ways to saying goodbye.
Some people ritualize it, by having some kind of farewell gathering or creating a craft or signing a card.
Some cry and experience great sadness, even depression.
Me? I just go…numb.
It’s a survival technique I learned early in life. I had to. Death’s been too much of a reality.
I buried 3 grandparents and a cousin by the time I was 9; an aunt, a godfather, a grandfather, and 2 teenage co-workers by the time I was 16; and buried a father, a best friend, 3 seminary classmates, and 2 remaining grandparents by the time I was 34.
I’ve been saying goodbye all my life, since before starting kindergarten.
Add to the fact that for the last 20 years my career has been in social services and ministry. When working in the foster care system, or hospitals, or nursing homes, you deal with the fact that anyone can be moved, leave, or die at any time.
So you appreciate and love them while they are in your presence; you find a way to survive when they are gone.
In other words- out of sight, out of mind.
Lastly, my ability to go numb when saying goodbye also stems from the fact that for the last 25 years I’ve been a wandering gypsy.
Since 1990, I have lived in 14 different residences, in 9 different cities, in 5 different states. The longest time I’ve lived in one place was 4 years and 11 months.
So out of sight, out of mind has applied to countless people, parishioners, friends, and family I have known throughout the years.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t miss them; I’ve just learned to not always think about them.
I can’t; it would hurt too much if I thought of every person I have lost or no longer see.
For example, I miss Cornelius something awful. I love that kid like he could be my own son.
It pains me to think that I’ve only seen him 2 times in the past 12 months, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.
That’s why when people ask how he’s doing I can be brief and seem non-present in my answer. To talk too much about Cornelius is to talk about how much I miss him.
I miss my nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, who are all scattered around the country, my Mom who lives in Arizona, my Dad who’s been dead now for 21 years, and my 2 oldest and dearest friends Matt and Christine who are back in New York.
Out of sight, out of mind. It had to be that way in order for me to survive and to do what I do.
But I sense that things may change, because with the purchase of my home, with the acquiring of my cozy cottage, there has been the laying down of roots.
Roots that say “I’m not going anywhere.” Roots that say “Now it’s really time to know one another.”
Roots that will no doubt hurt when someone in this Sebring life does move, or die, or go away.
Not sure how true “out of sight, out of mind” will be then.
Looking back over my life I can honestly say the only constant has been God.
God was there in the choir room of the United Methodist Church with its metal folding chairs as we sung “Morning Has Broken.”
God was in the sanctuary of Grace Temple with its plush red movie-theater style-seats as Doris Akers played organ and sang “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”
In the stoic, very German-evangelical carvings of Eden’s Chapel in which the likes of Walter Brueggemann taught.
The wooden benches of Burlingame Congregational where I got to preach for 4 years.
Sunlit sanctuary in Sebring where blue and yellow stained glass makes it so we can never forget what God did for us on the cross.
God has always been there.
The beaches of Long Island with seagulls and seashells.
Lakes of Minnesota that overflowed in Spring; the current of the Mighty Mississippi as it winds through Missouri.
The shore of Lake Michigan with its sand dunes and lake-effect snow.
The still, beautiful blue waters of Dinner Lake with its alligators and butter catfish
The east and west coast beaches of Florida with their pelicans and manatees.
God is there; God has always been there.
…but sometimes I feel like I miss God.
Not that God is absent or far away, but that I have been absent or far away.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too busy, or having too much fun. Or on the couch, binge watching TV, or wasting time scrolling through Facebook, or doing something, going somewhere with my friends.
Used to be a time when I read the Bible every day. Or I’d set aside time 4-5 days a week to just be with God.
Lately, that one-on-one time with God has become just once a week, on Wednesdays, before writing the sermon.
Because of the APC gathering in Orlando, I went two weeks before intentionally spending some quality time with God.
I missed that; I missed God. Which got me thinking-
Does God miss me?
Sure, there are billions upon billions of people upon the face of the earth, but did God miss the one-on-one time we spent together in which the world stopped, time didn’t matter, and the phone did not ring?
It’s just God and I- chilling, talking, listening, just…being.
Does God miss us when we are gone?
Now, I’ve counseled lots of people who have had a crises of faith. They ask questions like “Where is God?” “Is God asleep?” “Why does God feel so far away?”
I wonder- does God ever feel the same way about us?
Are there times when God asks “Where is my beloved child?”, “Are they awake?” and “Why do my people feel so far away?”
And Jesus, with his amazing gift of story-telling, gives us the answer to that question.
In the parables which we heard today, we learn that our God is not an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of God.
We learn that God does not take our absence lightly.
We learn that there can be 99 sheep, safe and sound enjoying the sun, but if we’ve gone astray, God notices.
God knows we if are not present; God knows if we are not where we ought to be.
God seeks, God searches…and God finds.
We learn that there can be 9 bright and shiny coins ready to be used, but God will notice if we are unaccounted for, if we have fallen between the cracks, if we have been consumed by dark shadows.
God seeks, God searches, God shines God’s light…and God finds.
Think about that.
Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even me.
Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even you.
Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even the people we don’t know, the people we don’t really care about, even the people we just do not like.
Even them, those that we hate, those we despise- God cares for them.
God cares, God searches, God seeks, God finds.
God carries the stray upon God’s shoulders. God celebrates when the lost has been found.
Our God is not an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of God.
God loves us when we are present; God misses us when we are not.
God waits for us to come home; and when we don’t God sets out to find us.
God misses us.
God misses me; God misses you; God misses us all.
That’s one reason why it’s so important that God feeds us at the Lord’s Table.
Because when we share in Communion, God is not are only saying “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
God is also saying “No matter where you have been, no matter where you have gone, no matter what you have done, you are welcome here- at the Table of Grace, the Table of Mercy, the Table of Eternal Love.”
God says “No matter what you have seen, no matter what you have experienced- if you’ve been stuck in briars and brambles or you fell between the floorboards, rolled into a rat hole, or lost some of your shine sitting in some dark corner, you are welcome here- at the Table of Grace, the Table of Mercy, the Table of Eternal Love.”
God misses us, and the Table becomes a great way to say “Hello!”
Now, maybe you’ve been gone for awhile; you’ve been busy; too much going on. God invites you to sit, eat.
Maybe you have been gone a long, long time and never thought you’d be welcomed back. God invites you to sit, drink.
Maybe you and God are just fine; you’re like old friends who talk to each other all the time. Then maybe this is like a weekly meal at Homers, or McDonalds or an afternoon get away to Starbucks in which you can catch up.
God still invites you to sit, be calm, enjoy.
Today, during worship, we get to eat with God, and we get to eat with one another, because we remember.
We remember not only the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, we remember not only the miracles in the wilderness, we remember not only the mystery of the Cross-
…but we remember that God knows us. God loves us.
God misses us when we go away. God rejoices when we come back.
God worries when we are lost. God celebrates when we are found.
Amen and amen.