Rev. George Miller
July 17, 2016
Last month the congregation was invited to go on a journey- a one year journey through the Bible in which we read about three chapters a day.
I don’t know how people are on that journey, how many are behind a few days, how many are ahead a few days, and how many simply said “Eh- who cares about that journey.”
As you read through the Bible you’ll come across as many themes as there are stars in the sky. One theme I personally adore is the notion that reading the Bible is akin to reading a love story.
It’s a love story in which God and all of creation are the main characters.
Like any love story, such as “The Way We Were”, or “When Harry Met Sally” or “50 Shades of Grey” there are plenty of moments of heartbreak, frustration, and “I never want to see your face again.”
I see the Bible as a love story that’s about God wanting to love a world that doesn’t want to be loved, or doesn’t realize just how loveable it is.
This Biblical love story begins with God saying “I gave you a garden so we could walk together in it during the cool afternoon breeze. All I ask is that you don’t eat the fruit.”
…“Dude- you ate the fruit!”
The Biblical love story continues with God saying “I am giving you this good land flowing with milk and honey. Just make sure you care for the alien, the orphaned, and the widowed.”
…“Dude- you totally neglected to care for the alien, orphaned, and widowed!”
The Biblical love story continues with “I am sending you my Son to remind you of how to love your neighbor.”
…“Dude and Dudette- not only did you totally not care for your neighbor but you killed my Son.”
If you are participating in our daily Bible readings, then you know today’s readings are Numbers 11-13.
Personally, I find Numbers 13 to be one of the most heartbreaking chapters of the Biblical love story.
The freed Israelite slaves are right on the edge of the Promised Land. It’s the beginning of grape season when the fruit is delicious and juicy.
God has Moses send men in to check out the land. “Be bold,” they are told, “Check everything out to make sure it’s all good.”
The men see the land- it’s filled with cows, grass, flowers, bees, grapes, pomegranates, figs. So much good stuff.
But instead of being bold, the men become cowards and they become liars.
They claim the land is no good and the people who live there are stronger than them and that they won’t be able to do what God said they could do.
The leadership doubts the very God who is poised to bring them into the Promised Land, even though they saw how good it was with their own eyes.
This breaks God’s heart, and makes God so angry that God wants to end the relationship permanently.
But Moses intercedes, and instead God says “Because they failed to be bold and to believe, it will take them 40 years to achieve what they could have done today.”
It’s like taking your fiancé out to a luxurious dinner to propose to them, and all they do is complain about the service and how the fish wasn’t cooked enough.
As stated earlier, the Bible can be seen as an epic love story filled with highs and lows, break-ups and reconciliations.
Today’s scripture reading is another one of those love-story lows.
The people are living in the Promised Land. They have the Temple in which they worship God. And things seems to be going extremely well…for some.
There is financial prosperity…for some.
There are plenty of business owners who are making money hand over fist. They’re doing great.
They also appear to be religious pillars of society. They follow the Laws, or the ones people can see.
They keep the Sabbath, closing their shops Friday night and not opening up until Sabbath is over.
On the outside they appear model citizens. Going to worship. Doing what they can to get by.
But during the whole time they’re closed, all they’re thinking of is how they can make more money. All they’re thinking of is how they can next cheat their customers.
Once Sabbath is over, these unjust business leaders find ways to throw off the scales so they can give the customer less. They find ways to jack up prices so they can charge their customer more.
They are not above sweeping wheat up off the floor and selling it as “an organic gluten-free whole food.”
They give loans with super high interest rates, and when people don’t pay them back, they sell them off as slaves, even if all they owed was the money for a pair of Payless sandals.
And God is like “Dudes and Dudettes, I just can’t handle this anymore.”
“I can’t…I can’t…I just can’t.”
God is so fed up with their fake show of faith and their acts of economic injustice that God says “My heart is so broken and I am so angry that I want nothing to do with you ever again. Ever ever ever!”
If Amos was to hold a Town Hall Meeting in which God spoke up about the pain that was inflicted upon one another and upon God…our ears and our hearts couldn’t handle what we heard.
No hash tag would be great enough. No excuse would suffice.
God is clearly hurting from the pain the people have caused, and the pain the people have allowed to take place…
…But here is our Good News for today:
If we were to hold a Town Hall Meeting today for us, as members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ, what do you think God would say to us?
Looking at the events of the past 8 days, and of the past month, what do you think God would say to us, as a church?
Would God ask us “Why are you here?” Or would God proudly say “YOU are here!”
If Emmanuel United Church of Christ is in the midst of our own love story with God, what part of the story would we be in?
The getting to know you faze? The infatuation stage? The honeymoon stage? The rocky stage? The “we got a household to run & a family to raise” stage? The comfortable stage? The “falling in love all over again” stage? The goodbye stage?
What stage of our love relationship with God are we currently in?
And what would God say?
If I can be so bold, I think these are some of the things God would say:
-Thank you for hosting a vigil and being a light in the darkness and a voice in the silence.
-Thank you for using the sanctuary as a place for all the community to gather to hear from the oppressed, the fearful, the scared, the confused, and those longing for something better.
If I can be so bold, I think God would say:
-Thank you for providing space to feed the elderly, the widowed, the tired and the disabled 3 days a week.
-Thank you for welcoming in the children so they can learn about me, learn about the environment, and be fed spiritually and physically.
I think after this week, God would say:
-Thank you for having the kids plant a tree, grow flowers, sing songs, and know what it’s like to be in a safe place with safe adults.
-Thank you for ensuring the Shepherd’s Pantry is fully stocked through your donations, time spent, and partnerships.
I think tomorrow God is going to say:
-Thank you for welcoming the poor and hungry in so they could be treated as neighbor, share a meal and receive food to carry them throughout the week.
-Thank you for continuing to offer a place that is busy 6 days of the week in which people can worship, learn, get healthy, gather, fellowship, be still.
-Thank you for being a congregation that I can love.
…do you think that is what God would say to us at this point in our relationship?
…26 years ago, Emmanuel United Church of Christ was established. Someone created a parament which read “Committing Today for Tomorrow's Dream.”
It was a prophetic statement about the reason why we are here.
Do we, as members and friends of Emmanuel, feel that we are doing our part to make those dreams real?
Are we, as a church, living as though we believe the Kingdom of God is present, and we have been granted the fullness of eternal life?
Are we like summer fruit, gathered at season’s end, about to spoil?
Or are we like grapes in the beginning of season, rich and plump and filled with goodness?
Are we at the part of our love story in which God is broken hearted and ready to pass us by?
Or are we walking with God in the cool breezes of the afternoon, enjoying our time together?
Are we willing to continue being beautiful, brave and bold for the Lord?
Amen and amen.