Monday, August 21, 2017

The Day Jesus Called a Woman's Daughter a Dog; Matthew 15:21-28

Rev. George Miller
Aug 20, 2017
Matthew 15:21-28

In the midst of all that’s going on in our nation, from peace vigils, to White Supremacists, to a once-in-99 year eclipse, an important bit of American history went by virtually unnoticed.

Eatonville, FL- the oldest African-American city in the United States turned 130 years old. They celebrated on Saturday with a craft and cultural festival.

Home to 2,300 citizens and the home-town of Zora Neale Hurston, Eatonville has a place in American and literary history.

Now, people may wonder why the need for an African-American community. Isn’t that self-segregation or a form of reverse-racism?

Imagine if we’re here in 2017 dealing with the KKK and tiki-torch wielding Nazi’s, how much more so were things back in 1887, just a few years after the Civil War?

Eatonville was a place of sanctuary and community, where folk could be folk, until someone came along to act unjust, be unkind, or speak humiliating words.

Sadly, today, we have a story about that very thing happening to a woman and her child; even more sorrowful is that the culprit in this reading is Jesus and his disciples.

Let’s do a brief recap- according to Matthew 10:6, Jesus told his disciples that his ministry is 1st and foremost to the children of Israel, and they are not to bother with the Gentiles.

So all the people Jesus heals, the people he feeds, the people he sits with on the mountain are people from his same ethnic and religious group.

But one day, Jesus decides to go on a mini-vaca. His battery is on low. He’s tired of people criticizing how and when he does what he does.

Jesus needs a break, so he heads to where he assumes no one will know him and no one will ask him to pray for their sister’s uncle’s niece’s best-friend’s boss’s cat-sitter’s son.

Jesus heads to Canaanite Country. There, on the border of two worlds, comes a woman from an enemy nation who is of a different ethnicity, and a different religious belief.

She shouts out to him, asking for mercy. “My child is tormented and unwell.”

Jesus ignores her. Says zip, zero, nada.

His disciples say “She won’t shut up and she won’t get over it. Tell her to go away.”

Jesus says “I was only sent here for the stray sheep of Israel’s flock.”

But this Canaanite woman, of a different nation and a different religion, kneels before Emmanuel, and humbly says “Help me.”

Jesus responds “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.”

Let us pause there. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

What exactly does that mean?

The word children was meant to refer to the Israelites, the followers of God. Anyone else who did not believe as they did were called dogs.

Jesus has just called this woman’s daughter a dog.

Let that set in.

Jesus called someone’s child a dog.

And yet, this woman of a different nationality, of a different faith, held her ground, and while kneeling before the Son of God, she said “Yes, Lord, but even dogs get to eat what falls from their master’s table.”

Jesus thought he could put this woman in her place, but she persisted, and she reminded Jesus just what his place was.

This is one of the most difficult stories to share because it does not portray Jesus in a positive light.

Scholars have wrestled with this story for ages, trying to make sense of it all.

It is an uncomfortable story because it shows Jesus being all too human, showing that even Jesus gave in to the sexism and prejudice of the day.

I recall discussing this scripture in seminary class. I was currently reading a book on Eastern Religion and fell into the trap of thinking that one book made me an expert on all things Buddhist, Zen, and Tao.

I said that perhaps Jesus is following the Eastern form of teaching, a style in which the teacher does not answer questions, but instead provokes their students with questions that force them to think and arrive at the answers and solutions on their own.

Perhaps, I said, Jesus instinctually could tell that this woman knew the answer and how to achieve healing for her daughter and he was empowering her to come to that answer by herself.

Oh, I was so glib and self satisfied with myself until this July when I went to General Synod.

There I met a pastor named Guy Johnson, who is black, who told me of the issues he has with this scripture.

So, with my blue-eyed, middle-class, white-skinned self I went on my spiel about Eastern-style teaching, in which Guy immediately cut me off and said-

“NO- I am not giving you that. Jesus met a foreign woman of color and he called her daughter a dog. We all that what that means, and we all have to deal with that.”

…So here we are. Dealing with it. Shells in our teeth.

The woman was a Canaanite, meaning that her people were seen as the enemy, just as we are viewing those from Syria or North Korea.

She is a Gentile, meaning not Jew. Which means her people were seen the same way people view Muslims, or atheists, or anyone who is not our religion.

She was ignored, which is often used as a tactic by people who wish to render someone else as powerless or unimportant.

Her daughter is called a dog. Every woman here knows exactly what this means. History has shown that depersonalizing a person and referring to them as an animal or a thing is a way to justify use, abuse, and injustice.

Sadly, this silence and this name calling came from Jesus Christ.

So where is the Good News?

Well, the first thing is this- she persisted. She did what it took to help her daughter experience wellness.

She shouted. She used terms to show respect, like Lord and Son of David.

She refused to allow silence or public shaming to stop here.

She put her life at risk by taking a submissive position in front of men she did not know.

She used wisdom, logic, and emotion to achieve what her child needed.

When Jesus refused to act kind, she convinced him to be compassionate.

When Jesus refused healing, she convinced him to do what is just.

When Jesus ignored her hurt and used a derogatory term, she bravely spoke the truth that needed to be told.

She said “Jesus, step into the boat and take my daughter to the other side.”

She refused to stop until that’s just what he did.

In other words- she reminds Jesus what it means to be Jesus.

She embodies the words of Micah 6:8. She becomes the 1st person to confront and correct Jesus.

She becomes the 1st and possibly only person we know of who teaches Jesus something that he needed to know.

It is not the Centurion, or a lawyer, or a frantic father, it is not a government official or a religious leader who teaches Jesus and reminds him what he is supposed to do.

It is she, a complete and total outsider-
a woman of color
from a different nation
from a different religion
from a different sex

who reminds Jesus what it means to be Jesus.

In essence it is she who tells Jesus what it means to be a Christian.

That a Christian does not turn a deaf ear to suffering.

A Christian does not ignore pain.

A Christian does not deny healing or wellness based on nation of origin or religion.

A Christian does not look upon someone’s child and calls them a dog or any other demeaning term.

A Christian should be able to live on the border of many, many worlds and see with the eyes of amazing grace.

Hear with a heart of compassion.

Act with a mind set on mercy.

Live in God’s abundant generosity.

In conclusion, Jesus, on his way to the Cross, meets someone who is the opposite in every conceivable way.

He is challenged. He learns.

The boat he steps into is now bigger, better, and more beautiful than before.

We are all the more blessed for it.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pastoral Statement for Tonight's Vigil on the Circle

Peace does not mean you are passive.
Peace does not mean you are silent.
Peace does not mean you are in-active.

Nor does peace mean you are complacent, or accepting of unkind, unjust realities.

Peace means you adhere to a vision and promise- that here in America ALL people are equals, that ALL people have a right to living a life of goodness; that ALL have the ability to come together and move forward as ONE.

ALL people.

Not 90%
Not some.

Not just those who have my same eye color, or same religious beliefs, or same ethnic make-up.

But ALL.

To gather in the midst of all that has gone on is to say to the community around us “WE are strong, WE are compassionate, and WE believe in the vision and the promise of our nation’s ancestral leaders.”

Those who have fear brandish torches; we with courage hold the flames of justice in our hearts.

Those who are detached from their fellow women and men shout of blood and soil; we who are in fellowship with our sisters and brothers speak of our beautiful land and the knowledge that there is enough for all.

Tonight, we let those who are filled with falsified hate know that history has shown again and again that the stories, the songs, the memories, and the acts of those who courageously act out of justice and kindness are the ones that last, because they give us hope.

And when one has hope, they are strong and unstoppable.

Though I am unable to stand beside you today in body, I proudly stand with you in spirit.

May the life-affirming call to say “No!” to hate guide you in being strong, guide you in being a positive presence, and guide you in saying to the Community that we are ONE.

We are One in which each of us is an essential person, and every one of us can be a channel for change.

In justice, in kindness, and in humility,
Rev. George Miller
Emmanuel United Church of Christ
Sebring, FL

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pastoral Response to Charlottesville

Lamentations 3:35-36 asks “When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”

I will never know what it is like to be a natural-born southerner, or what it’s like to be black. But I recall two separate conversations I’ve had.

One was with a friend who told me his relatives participated in Civil War reenactments, and when I smugly joked, he whole-heartedly said “I have family that died in that war.” Another friend told me that when he returns to his home-town he is referred to as property, as the citizens there will remind him who his family originally belonged to.

Both men look back upon American history in which slavery, the Civil War, General Lee and Sherman have more meaning than my heart could ever comprehend; history that involves the bodies and blood of their ancestors.

So the removal of yet one more Confederate statue sparks a myriad of emotions rooted in the very core of one’s identity and understanding of what they think it means to be an American.

In Charlottesville we saw these feelings, thoughts, and fears erupt into a fiery assault on human rights and a disregard for the Declaration of Independence’s bold claim that “all men are created equal.”

We saw white Christian nationalists, supremacists, neo-nazis and kkk show up to protest the removal of Lee’s statue, an act of free speech regardless if we agree with it or not. In another act of free speech, counter-protestors also came. The result was chaos, with street brawls and violent clashes, leaving one woman and two state troopers dead.

Some say that these two groups of people were two sides of the same coin, each equally at fault and destructive.

I say no.

Here’s why- the white, male, Christian nationalists/supremacists/kkk/neo-nazis came from a place of hate; a dislike based on race and religion. They came from a place in which they did not want freedom for all, just freedom for themselves. We’ve seen their ideologies play out in lynchings, segregated schools, water fountains, marriage laws, unfair arrests, inordinate incarcerations, pay disparity, and tiki torches brandished as very-clear threats.

Black Lives Matter is not the same coin. Black Lives Matter is a response to the hatred that has been exhibited for centuries and the historically documented injustice that has taken place. It is a movement that is a response to the stories we’ve heard and videos seen of black fathers, sons, husbands, lovers and friends who have been shot, shamed, slammed, and stunned into submission.

When Black Lives Matter and counter-protestors came to Charlottesville, they were not part of, or the cause of, the problem. They were the prophetic response to the problem. Their words, signs, and actions were a response to the reality of hate, anger, injustice and unkindness that was around them.

As a result, an angry white Christian man rammed a sedan into a crowd of people holding signs that said “LOVE”, then reversed it to run over even more people. As our Attorney General stated, this was an act of domestic terrorism.

Yes- there is anger on all sides. But let us not demean our nation’s historical truth by saying Black Lives Matter caused hundreds of white Christian nationalists/nazis/kkk to descend upon Charlottesville.

Hate did. Injustice did. Unkindness did. Prejudice did.

As a white Christian male, and as an ordained pastor, I do not condone the actions that took place in Charlottesville. Nor do I think any blame can be placed on the counter-protestors who bravely came to speak out against hate and speak up for love.

Though we cannot undo what has transpired, I apologize on behalf of my gender, my ethnicity and my faith for what has taken place in Virginia.

Respectfully,
Rev. George Miller
Emmanuel UCC
Sebring, FL

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jesus, Step Into the Boat and Take Us to the Other Side; Aug 13, 2017 Sermon on John 6:16-21

Rev. George Miller
August 13, 2017
John 6:16-21

Years ago there was a song by Luther Vandross called “Little Miracle Happen Every Day,” a song that testifies to the ways in which God is active in all our lives, even if we don’t know it.

This song has gotten me through so much-seminary, search and call, health scares, and the loss of loved ones.

Though my sermons may speak about issues of fact and truth, metaphors and metaphysics, I am, at the very heart of my faith, a miracle-believing Christian.

Miracles manifest in many ways. There are those that are simply coincidences; some are easy to explain. Some occur because our eyes were open to see what had always been there, our mind was able to understand, or our heart was finally open to receive.

Then, then there are those miracles that make no sense; that defy all forms of logic, all rules of science, and have to be experienced to be believed.

Like hitting the guard rail on the highway, and emerging without a scratch to you or your car.

Or receiving a cancer diagnosis, but the next time you visit the doctor it is suddenly and completely gone.

Finding your dream home and the inside is covered with wallpaper of your parent’s favorite bird or butterfly.

How do these things happen? Why do miracles occur? When and where do they materialize?

Is there a miracle memory muscle that the more you look for them, the more they are experienced?

Who can say, and does it matter, if a miracle reminds us that the Magnificent, Mysterious God of grace and mercy is present in our lives?

I had my own miracle moment earlier this week.

Last year I went on a cleaning spree, getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, didn’t make me feel good, or were too worn out for wear.

A product of this cleaning spree was an especially special pair of socks. They were green socks with happy blue whales on them.

What made these socks so special was that they were the 1st pair of fancy socks I ever purchased. Until then, my socks were either white, blue, or black, and purchased in packages from Walmart.

But years ago, while unemployed, poor, and in a prolonged Search-n-Call process, I came across them in a high end store in Portland, Oregon.

I had no business being in Sacks Fifth Avenue, had no business putting down $12 for a single pair of socks, but for some reason it felt good getting them.

They were kind of like a promise of success in the midst of continued defeat.

Well eventually those green socks with the happy blue whales wore out, the elastic gave away, and they no longer stayed up around my calves. So last year, in the trash they went…or so I thought.

Because in the middle of last week, with worries about opening night, and a delayed adoption process, and an acquaintance in the hospital, I randomly opened up an end-table drawer in my living room…and they were there.

My 1st ever fancy, funky green socks with the happy blue whales purchased at a time of struggle.

It brought the biggest smile to my face, like seeing an old friend, or a long lost toy from childhood.

I immediately felt the presence of God, and for me, it was a miracle.

Now- maybe it was no miracle at all. Maybe I only thought I had thrown them away. Maybe I did, but had a random sleep-walking episode in which I rescued them from out the garbage.

Why would worn-out green socks with happy blue whales ever end up in the draw of a living room coffee table?

Who knows? Does it matter? Did it make me feel good? Did it make me feel as if God was right beside me?

Luther is right- little miracles do happen every day.

Today we have perhaps the Mother of all Miracles.

Though this story is short, don’t get it twisted. It has way more levels than anyone could ever imagine, with references to Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, and the 23rd Psalm.

This is a great “I AM” story in which Jesus appears and takes us to the other side.

So before we go any further, I invite you to repeat a simple, simple prayer-

“Jesus, step into the boat…”

“…and take us to the other side.”

Jesus, step into the boat and take us to the other side.

John chapter 6 is a fundamental story about Jesus, also told in Matthew and Mark with various nuances.

It begins with Jesus atop a mountain with a hungry crowd surrounding him. He feeds the 5,000 thousand people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

When evening comes, the disciples get in their boat and head to the other side. But, a storm hits.

It’s the kind of storm in which things seem bleak, they can’t see ahead of them, the wind is howling, and the sea is battering the boat.

The disciples feels lost, alone and confused, trying their best to row ahead, navigating the way forward, but no luck.

Then…Jesus appears to them, walking on the waves. They are afraid. They bring him into the boat.

They reach the other side.

Talk about a miracle. Jesus walking on water. Can you imagine? What a surprise!

But then again, maybe it shouldn’t be all too surprising. After all, in the beginning, God’s breathe did dance over the waters. God parted the Red Sea. God brought water from a rock. 23rd Psalm says the Good Shepherd will lead us beside still waters. Jesus turned water into wine.

The waters belong to God. They are a force of life that sustains creation. From a world religion point of view, invoking water is a fundamental form of prayer.

So there should be no surprise that Jesus, the Son of God, the incarnation of God, Emmanuel, is able to walk upon water, because the waters belong to him and his Father.

Jesus walking on water is indeed a miracle, but perhaps the greater miracle, the miracle that’s never really talked about, is that once Jesus walks on water, and gets in the boat- they reach the other side.

For hours, for miles, the disciples had been straining at the oars, trying to navigate where they were going, fighting the storm.

But they see Jesus. They want him in the boat. They make it to the other side.

Somehow, someway the great “I AM” gets in the boat and takes them through.

That, perhaps, is the greatest miracle.

A way out of no way. Safe passage in the midst of a scary storm.

Dry land despite dark skies, harsh wind and wild waves.

A miracle.

And note- just like last week’s story, there is an element of choice in this tale.

Just as the man by the waters of Bethzatha had to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk, the disciples had to see, want and receive Jesus for this act of wellness to take place.

I wonder if today’s scripture gives us another expression to add to our worship life and way of believing.

Perhaps, perhaps the simplest prayer there can be is “Jesus- step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

Think of the ways in which such a prayer would work.

For someone who is job hunting in which the only way to be employed is to go out, seek, and apply again and again and again- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone dealing with the death of a loved one in which the only way to go through the grieving process is to go through it- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone whose life is immediately disturbed by a cancer diagnosis- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone facing a rough break-up- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For someone who is facing a long adoption process and opening weekend jitters- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

For anyone who is watching their child or grandchildren struggling and trying to make their own way- “Jesus, step into the boat and take them to the other side.”

For our state during the hurricane season, or our nation during a tense political environment, or our world facing the threat of nuclear war- “Jesus, step into the boat and take us to the other side.”

For when we are in the process of completing our journey here on earth and ready to take our final, final breaths- “Jesus, step into the boat and take me to the other side.”

Storms and difficult situations arise all the time. It’s how we face them that makes a difference.

Today we are told of a miracle that happened far, far away, but a miracle that can and does take place anywhere.

Today we are reminded of a miracle that happened a long, long time ago, but that miracles do happen every day.

Today we are reminded that no matter the storm, no matter the sea, Jesus is able to appear, Jesus is able to get into the boat, and Jesus can take us to the other side.

For that, we can say, amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sermon on John 5:1-18; Wellness and Freedom

Rev. George Miller
Aug 6, 2017
John 5:1-18

Last week I came across a fortune cookie that said “It’s too late to start digging a well when you feel thirsty.”

From a worldly point of view, it sounds like wise advice, but from a Christological viewpoint, I’m not sure if this fortune is true.

In Christ, is it ever too late? Could it be that when we are the thirstiest is when the Living Waters make a way?

Let us pray…

…For our astute observers, you’ll notice that our sanctuary looks a little different. Gone are the red paraments and wall hangings we’ve had up to represent Pentecost, and in their place are green paraments and wall hangings.

We are in the liturgical season which the church calls Ordinary Time. The color for Ordinary Time is green.

Now- two things.

First, I so dislike the term Ordinary Time. It’s a phrase meant to express that there are no major religious holidays coming up. But when it comes to the wonder of God, the miracles of Jesus, and the surprising nature of the Holy Spirit is anytime truly just ordinary?

Second- green is a difficult color to pull off. Green is the color of life, representing the renewal of the earth.

But the wrong shade of green creates the wrong mood. Avocado green puts us back into the 1970’s. Neon green is too MTV. Dark green looks sickly.

But the right shade of green? The right hue with the perfect balance of pop and power and positivity- that’s, that’s life.

That’s abundant. That’s garden-good and lawn-luxurious.

You want a green that makes you so glad to be alive, because simply living is not being alive. Simply breathing is not life. Simply being here is not what the good, great Lord intended.

God wants us to have every good thing; God wants us to be alive.

Today’s reading helps to teach this principle.

Here we are, at the waters of Bethzatha. By these pools there are people who are struggling with issues of sight, issues of strength, and issues of mobility.

The NRSV calls them invalids, but another translation uses the word impotent; or powerless.

During an era in which the average life expectancy was between 45-60, we meet a man who’s been there for 38 years.

Jesus sees him lying there. Instead of saying “It is too late for you to start digging a well,” he says to the man “Do you want to be made well?”

Now, notice a few things. We’re never told what the man’s ailment was. We have no idea what he suffered from.

We’re not given a case study on the man; not told about his history. Nor is there any sense of judgment from the author.

It is simply told- Jesus sees him, Jesus knew he had been there a long time, and Jesus asks the important question- “Do you want to be made well?”

Note the careful word usage here.

Jesus does not ask him “Do you want to be cured?”

Nor does he ask “Do you want me to solve your problem for you?”

He asks “Do you want to be made well?”

This is vital to the story.

Many Christians believe that God cures people. We hold onto this notion with our power of prayer, with our calling upon Christ, with the seeking of the Spirit; this need to be made well, the desire for divine intervention, the pleading for positive outcomes.

And certainly the Bible has stories that testify to this, and each of us can testify to times in which we believe that God has affected our ability to live.

But then there are so many questions-

What does it mean to be made well?

Is healing the same as being cured?

Can one be whole even if they are still sick, or infirm, or impotent?

What does being well, being whole, and being cured have to do with anything?

What exactly is going on here?

During Tuesday’s Lectionary Bible Study we read this scripture and one of the students had an important insight-

“Why did Jesus even have to ask this question? Why would anyone need to be asked if they want to be made well?”

I don’t know about ya’ll, but I felt like I could answer that.

It seems like there are a lot of unwell people out there who seem quite content in their unwellness; and there seem to be a lot of people who keep doing things that are the very opposite of wellness.

And no matter how metaphorically thirsty they get, there is nothing nobody can say, do, or suggest that will make them dig that well for themselves, until they are ready.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a former smoker, and as any smoker can tell you- it is the hardest thing in the world to quit.

It doesn’t matter if smoking is expensive, makes you stink, and causes you to cough, no smoker has ever stopped because someone said “Yon know that’s bad for you, right?”

You have to want to stop.

I learned that back in 1999. I was 29, back to living with my Momma on Long Island, facing a cross roads of uncertainty. Smoking was an escape and a time killer.

There was a holistic school nearby that gave free acupuncture treatments so I went there to stop smoking, but nothing seemed to work.

They put needles in my ear, my chest, my feet, and after a treatment I’d stop at the gas station to get another pack.

The student who was working on me couldn’t figure out what to do so she went to her advisor who said “Ask him if he actually wants to quit.”

So, she came to me and said “Do you really want to quit smoking?” Or, in today’s scripture, “Do you want to be made well?”

I told her the honest truth “No.” It felt so good to admit that I wasn’t ready to quit.

So they stopped the smoking treatments and focused on other areas, until that time did come, and I was ready…

…Look how Jesus is portrayed in today’s story. How he goes about offering wellness to this man. So different from how most people do things.

How many here have ever been told by someone what to do, as if you had never had the same thought yourself?

The doctor who says “You need to lose weight.” Then says all you have to do is eat less sugar and include more leafy greens and yogurt, and you’re like “Yeah, well if I liked leafy greens and yogurt I’d already be doing that!”

That’s not how Jesus rolls in this story. He’s like “Do you want to be made well?”

Such a simple question, but one that has far reaching implications.

Do you want to be made well or do you want to continue as is?

Jesus is not saying that it is too late for something life-affirming. He’s not blaming the man for his situation. He is not offering to do the work for him, nor is Jesus making excuses for why the man can’t achieve wellness.

He simply asks “Do you want to be made well?”

What we have here is a story about one of the greatest gifts God has given us- freedom.

Just as God is free, so are we.

God did not create us to be helpless. God did not create us to be puppets. God did not create us to be passive.

God loves us so much that we are given freedom, even if that freedom means we can turn away from God and deny God’s help.

Naaman could receive healing from his leprosy, but first he had to make the choice if he was to go down to the river and dunk himself 7 times.

The starving widow was promised that she’d not go hungry if she first made the prophet Elijah something to eat.

At the wedding in Cana, the servants had to be willing to pour 180 gallons of water into 6 stone jars if Jesus was going to turn water into wine.

None of these things happened without the people’s willing participation.

Jesus’ love for this man does not take away the man’s right to choose.

Nor does Jesus do a simple “Hocus pocus- you are made all better.”

No.

Jesus gives him 3 direct directions: stand up, take your mat, and walk.

If the man truly wants to experience wellness, he has to do his own part.

Stand up.

In other words Jesus is saying “You are not as paralyzed and stuck in place as you think you are.”

Take your mat.

This is Jesus saying “You are not has helpless as you think or as helpless as people say you are.”

And walk.

This is Jesus saying “You may have been here 38 years, but the past is the past. You can leave it behind.”

Jesus gives the man 3 direct directions which allows the man the freedom to choose to experience wellness.

Stand up- rise above your current situation.

Take your mat- do something for YOU.

And walk- step into your future, because it is never too late.

And the man is made well.

Note- there is no indication that the man’s life became dramatically easy and rosy, nor do we ever know if he has set backs or hits new kind of obstacles.

But we know for that moment, for that day, he was given a choice, and he made the choice to be well.

In conclusion, today’s story reminds us how our Heavenly Parent is still working, moving, and affecting lives.

It is a story which states that in Christ it is never too late, and one is never too powerless to experience the Living Waters and a restorative life in Christ.

Is there a difference between simply living and being alive? And if so, what does being alive look like?

And what does it mean to be made whole, to be cured, to be healed, to be made well in Jesus Christ?

Only you can decide that for yourself.

Only you are able to stand up, take your mat, and to move into your future.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gospel according to "Girls Trip"; 1 Kings 3:1-14

Rev. George Miller
July 30, 2017
1 Kings 3:1-14

Last week a wild funny film with great heart came out, called “Girls Trip.” It’s about 4 friends who go to New Orleans for the weekend.

As you can imagine these women have a whole lot of adventures in the city of beads, bayous, and Bourbon St.

Halfway through the film the women are back in their hotel suite, wearing their pajamas, eating ice cream and winding down for the night, when wild party-person Dina comes into the room, says “Oh no! We are not ending the night like this!”, and then goes into another room.

As an audience member you are lead to believe that Dina’s preparing them for another adventure. Maybe she’s changing clothes to resume club-hopping, or has put out shots for them to do or some other shenanigans.

The camera follows the 3 other women as they walk into the room…and find Dina kneeling beside the bed, praying:

“Heavenly Father, I want to thank you for this day of life. My heart is so full of joy for these women right here.”

The friends join her, and that’s how they end their night in the Big Easy.

I love when movies or TV shows allow for a surprising moment in which God shows up and says “Hey, I’m here.”

This particular scene was so touching because as an audience member, you never see it coming. In the midst of a fast-paced funny film it pauses to show a flawed, imperfect person having a simple, sincere moment with God.

I share this scene because the more I dwell upon today’s reading, take it apart, and reassemble it, the more I feel like today’s reading is about a flawed, imperfect person having a simple, sincere moment with God.

Yes- the person in today’s scripture just so happens to be King Solomon, the most powerful person in all the land.

Yes- it’s hard to say that offering 1,000 burnt offerings on a hill-top altar 7 miles away from town is keeping it simple.

But there’s a sense that King Solomon in this story is no different from you or from me, or from Dina.

And I also can’t help but think that Solomon could have offered God a 1,000 rams or a 100 bottles of perfume or 10 jugs of olive oil or 1 bottle of wine or one penny, and the result would have been just the same.

Why?

Because of the intentionality behind his offering.

Note that in a story filled with so much detail the author never tells us why the King was making an offering to God.

We’re not told if his intention was to find favor or to be forgiven, to seek power or to solve a problem.

We’re not told that Solomon made an offering with the intention to ask God to make a miracle, annihilate his enemies, or have his favorite athlete win in the Ancient Olympics.

Perhaps… perhaps King Solomon’s sole intention of traveling 7 miles to a hill-top altar to offer 1,000 burnt offerings was simply to say to God-

“Hey. Thanks. How are you doing? You’re awesome. I love you. Bravo.”

There’s a sense in this story that it didn’t matter to God where this simple, sincere moment took place.

Perhaps it could have been on a mountaintop or at his workbench, in the garden or at the ocean, in Key West or New Orleans, on a golf course or at the organ -the result would have been the same.

Why? Because the intentionality behind King Solomon’s actions.

It seems as if Solomon just wanted to be with God; that the King just wanted to hang out with his Creator.

And it that’s this case, this is one of those moments in which God must have said “Yes, someone just wants to be with me as it was originally intended.”

I wonder if after King Solomon made his offering, God exhaled and said “Thank God, someone finally gets it.”

(Of course, would God say “Thank God” or “Thank Me?”)

I Kings 3 gives us a moment in time in which the most powerful person in the nation comes before the most powerful reality in all the nations, and simply, sincerely just is.

No wonder God visited Solomon in a dream that night. Knowing the intentions of his heart, God says “Ask what I should give you.”

What is the King’s 1st response?

Thanksgiving. “You have shown and kept true love to my father. I am who I am for no other reason than because of you.”

Next comes humility. “Although I’m young and have much room for growth, give me wisdom so I can watch over your people, learning good from evil.”

By today’s reading it’s clear that what Solomon wants is to be the kind of king who has compassion, who can see the world in shades of grey, who can discern, and include God in the process.

King Solomon is saying to God “Allow my heart to hear and my mind to understand so that I can be the best steward of your creation and watch your people with the right sense of dominion.”

In other words, he is asking “Make me the best version of me so that I can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you.”

It’s interesting how this familiar story seems to build on the things we’ve talked about during the last few months.

Elements of Vacation Bible School and Micah 6:8, of General Synod and the Resolutions, the Beatitudes and intentionality.

Today’s story has elements of how we can be Grounded in God, and how perhaps God comes to worship so God can worship with us.

Today’s scripture can remind us how it pleases God when we do what is just, what is kind, what is humble, and how happy it must make our Creator when we simply, sincerely spend time with God.

Solomon came before the Lord because he knew God loved him, and he is rewarded beyond his belief.

We get to spend time with God as well, and though our reward may not be kingdoms and riches, we are blessed with other gifts.

Like the gifts of salvation.
Gifts of forgiveness.
Gifts of new beginnings.
Gifts of heaven.

Gifts of eternal life.

The gift of knowing that as flawed and imperfect as we may seem, our simplest, most sincere expressions of love and thanksgiving pleases God.

And in some ways, that is enough.

Amen and amen.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Trauma and the Tears of Esau; Sermon on Genesis 25:19-28

Rev. George Miller
July 23, 2017
Genesis 25:19-28

In the Jewish faith, there is something called “midrash.” Midrash are stories created by rabbis to explore scripture and deepen the story.

For example, in 70 CE the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army, leaving the holy City of God in shambles. The destruction of this sacred site meant that a truly traumatic catastrophe had fallen upon the Children of Israel.

And so, the rabbis created a midrash in which they pictured God watching this calamity and becoming overwhelmed with grief.

The archangel came, fell upon his face, and spoke to God- “Master of the Universe, let me weep, but you must not weep.”

God replied “If you do not let me weep, I will go into a place where you have no authority to enter, and weep there.”

This particular midrash imagines God sitting, weeping with us, for us, and refusing to be consoled.

There is another midrash that deals with sorrow. It says that the people of God will not enter into a time of peace until the tears of Esau have ceased.

The people of God will not enter into a time of peace until the tears of Esau are no more.

Let us explore what this means, but first we have to go back, way back in time, to Genesis 12, where it all begins.

Once upon a time, God calls a man named Abraham to get up and go, go to the land of Canaan in which he will have land, he will have a child, and his family will bless all the families of the world.

But things don’t go so well. He and his wife Sarah face a lot of obstacles. They’re childless. They get caught up with local politics. He has a son with another woman.

Sarah gets pregnant at an old age. She demands that Abraham sends his first son into the wilderness, and then Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his other son, Isaac.

If you were to make a list of traumatic events for a family to face, there’s a whole lot happening here.

Fortunately, God was just testing Abraham, so his son lives. But imagine what it would be like for Isaac knowing that at one time his Daddy tried to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.

Then Isaac loses his mother, watches his daddy get remarried and have 6 more kids. At 40 he’s sent away to find a wife, falls in love with a woman named Rebekah, and his dad dies.

Life is like that- isn’t it?

But at least now Isaac has someone to love him. Good news- Rebekah is smart, beautiful and everything a man could hope for; bad news is that just like Sarah, she is unable to have kids.

Isaac is earnest in prayers to be a Daddy. Good news- after 20 years of being childless, Rebekah becomes pregnant, and it’s with twins.

Bad news- before they’re born they are already fighting in the womb.

“If this is the way it is, why should I even live?” asks Rebekah.

We have heard this story so many times, but have we ever stopped to hear just how…traumatic this all is: a family so full of generational dysfunction that doesn’t seem to go away.

-A grandfather who abruptly left home, had a child with another woman and sent that child out into the wilderness to fend for itself.

-A son who at a young age was bound by his father and placed on top of a wooden altar to be sacrificed.

-A set of twins who are fighting so much within their mother’s womb that she wishes she was dead.

And even after they are born, things don’t go so well. The first born, Esau, is his Daddy’s favorite. The second born, Jacob, is loved more by his Mom.

Read further and there’s the time Esau gladly sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew.

Then the time Jacob pretended to be his brother and fooled his dying father into giving him the blessing which he knew rightfully belonged to his brother Esau.

Isaac and Esau realize they have been tricked by Rebekah and Jacob, but there is nothing they can do to undo this dysfunctional deed.

In a heartbreaking moment, Esau, deeply hurt by this unjust act, betrayed by his very own brother, begs and pleads to his dying father, “Have you only one blessing, Daddy? Bless me also, Father. Bless me also.”

But when the blessing does not come, Esau lifts up his voice and weeps, tears welling up from his stomach, his soul, his wounded spirit, falling out of his eyes, running down his cheeks, falling on the floor.

The Jewish midrash says that salvation will not come to the world until the tears of Esau have ceased.

The stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs are powerful tales to be told.

They are about real people facing real situations, in which they act in very real, human ways. Sometimes in ways we can admire, sometimes in ways we can detest.

These stories are filled with people who are living with all kinds of trauma: the trauma they create, the kind they are born into, the kind that just happens.

Moving to new locations, rocky marriages, political events, issues of fertility, and problematic births can all be traumatic.

Being almost killed by your father, tricked by your mother, deceived by your brother are not the sort of things one can easily overcome, forgive, or forget.

All these events can linger, fester, and have long lasting effects.

Time does not heal all wounds, and not talking about them doesn’t mean they never happened.

And what role does God play in all of this?

How do we feel about a God that would tell an elderly couple to get up and move to a place they have never been?

How do we feel about a God that would test someone’s faith by asking them to tie their son up as a sacrifice?

How do we feel about a God who tells a pregnant woman in pain that she has two nations in her belly who will always be at war against one another?

And how do we interpret the actions of this dysfunctional family? Are they actually doing God wants or what they desire to do?

Are there times along the way in which they only heard what they wanted to hear and not what God actually said?

And what do we make of their actions?

There is one way of reading these stories in Genesis that says these family members are lying, cheating and acting unjustly to achieve what God wants…

…Then there is another reading that says even in the midst of these family members lying, cheating and acting unjustly, God is able to somehow, someway still act to achieve God’s will and bring good news into the world.

These stories can be used to validate unhealthy behavior and to say “See- that’s what God wants.”

OR, they can be used to show that even when we act abusively, when we act unwisely, when we make unjust decisions, God is still able to move through the chaos and bring forth new life, new beginnings, and resurrection.

The midrash we shared earlier says that salvation will come to the world when the tears of Esau stop flowing.

This can mean that it is only when our enemies stop hurting that we will stop hurting too.

It means that like it or not, we are tied to our arch-rivals, and only when the tears on both sides cease will peace come about.

Because of the most recent General Synod, I wonder if this midrash can have another meaning as well.

Maybe it also means that the world will not experience redemption until after the tears of the traumatized, the abused, and the unjustly treated stop to fall.

Maybe Esau’s tears can represent anyone, anywhere, at anytime, who has been unfairly un-blessed.

Think of the Resolutions that the UCC recently passed at our General Synod.

-The Resolution for “A More Just Economy…” advocating for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour.

-The Resolution supporting “Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect” which calls us to acknowledge that 1 out of 6 boys and 1 out of 4 girls has been sexually abused.

Talk about shells in our teeth and the tears of brother Esau.

Other resolutions spoke out against the use of “Corporal Punishment of Children” in schools and institutions; an issue that is timely for Highlands County.

As well as Resolutions that spoke of standing with workers that picked tomatoes for Wendy’s, studying gun violence as a health issue, and advocating for children living under Israeli Military Occupation.

These resolutions confront the issues of trauma, dysfunction, injustice, and conceit.

They place shells in our teeth and ask us to acknowledge the tears in Esau’s eyes.

The stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob remind us that no family is perfect; no dynasty is without dysfunction, no society is without secrets.

They also invite us to wrestle with and to ask the hard questions, like-

How does God work through it all?

How do the wounds of Jesus bring about peace and resurrection?

How does the Holy Spirit refresh and restore such situations?

Maybe, just maybe, when dysfunction, when trauma enters into our family, and enters into our lives, and we are sitting there, weeping, God is sitting right there with us, weeping too.

Maybe God also wept when Esau was unjustly tricked out of his blessing.

Maybe it is only when Esau, and our enemies, and all those who have been traumatized have stopped weeping, that God will stop weeping also.

Amen and amen.

(I am thankful for “Tears of Sorrow, Tears of Redemption” by Rabbi Toba Spitzer that gave insight into the above midrashs; and Rabbi Spitzer’s permission to share them.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Answer: YOU. Question: WHAT DOES GOD WANT; July 16, 2017 Sermon on Micah 6:6-8

Rev. George Miller
July 16, 2017
Micah 6:6-8

Once upon a time a young woman had just come back from the 31st UCC General Synod in Baltimore.

She had the chance to attend meetings, vote on resolutions, and learn that if you eat real seafood, you are going to get shells in your teeth.

While at Synod, she heard a lot about doing justice, loving kindness, and the claim that God is Still Speaking.

A pastor said that God speaks to each and every one of us, and it takes great humility and faith to listen to the Holy One’s voice.

The woman felt inspired; how couldn’t she when surrounded by 3,000 like minded people in a city alive with music, food, and fellowship?

“But,” she wondered, “Will God still speak to me even when I return to my home town, with my own people?”

When she came back from General Synod, and resumed the everydayness of everyday life, she kept wondering “Does God still speak to people?”

One night she went out with friends for coffee, and around 11 pm she left the local Starbucks to head home.

The questions stayed in her head: “Does God still speak to people?”

Sitting in her car, she began to pray. “God, if you are indeed still speaking, speak to me, and I will humble myself enough to obey.”

As she drove down the main highway towards downtown, she had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk.

She shook her head. “God-is that you?” No reply, so she continued home, but again the thought came into her head to stop and get a gallon of milk.

She thought of the stories from the Bible, remembering the one about Samuel who didn’t recognize the voice of God until he sought advice from Eli.

“OK God,” she said, “In case this is you, I will buy the milk.” After all, this odd thought did not require much work or money, and she could always use the milk in her morning coffee.

With the gallon container in the passenger seat of her car, she continued home, but as she crossed Seventh Street, she felt that urge again, this time saying “Turn down that street.”

Half jokingly she said, “Ok God, if this is your will, I will.” But she could feel the shells gathering in her teeth.

She drove several blocks when suddenly she felt, clear as day, that she was to stop. She pulled over to the curb and looked around.

The businesses were closed; lights were out indicating that people were already asleep.

Again, she felt that voice say “Go and give the milk to the people who live across the street.”

The young woman looked at the house. “Lord, this is insane,” she said. “The people who live there don’t know me. They’re probably asleep, and if I wake them up they’ll be all sorts of angry, and I will look stupid.”

Again, she felt like she should give them the milk. “OK, OK God – if this is you and you want me to look crazy, I will humble myself and give them the milk. But if they don’t answer right away, I am outta here!”

So she walked across the street, rang the bell.

“Who is it? What do you want?” A young man opened the door, looking a whole sort of haggard and not too keen that a stranger was standing on his stoop.

“What is it?” he asked.

The young woman thrust out the gallon of milk. “Here, I brought this to you.”

Without a word, the man took the gallon of milk and rushed down the hallway, shouting. From the kitchen came a woman carrying a child.

The child was crying.

The man had tears streaming down his face and began half speaking, half sobbing. “We were just praying. We had some big bills to pay this month and we ran out of money. We don’t have any milk for our child.”

“We were asking God to show us how to get some milk. We asked God to send us an angel. Are you an Angel?”

The shells in the woman’s teeth suddenly seemed a whole lot smaller, and with a spirit of compassionate generosity, she reached into her purse, and pulled out all the cash she had.

She placed the money into the hands of the young man, walked over and kissed both the mother and child on their forehead, and she turned and walked back to her car.

Tears of many meanings streamed down her face. As she drove home, it was now God’s time to listen to what she wanted to speak…

Over the last few months we’ve been on an odyssey; a journey that has taken us from mountain tops to lands of delight. We have talked about spice and light, generosity and shells in our teeth.

Friday, we concluded our annual Vacation Bible School in which our children learned the answer to perhaps the most important question of them all- “What does the Lord require of you?”

The answer is simpler than simple.

But before we get to that answer, another story.

Once upon a time there was a nation of people. People who had forgotten what it was like to be loved by the Lord.

Because they had forgotten what it was like to be loved, they found love in the unhealthiest of ways.

They only worried about what was in it for them. They cheated one another. They weighted down their market-place scales. They scrimped on paying livable wages to their employees.

They took advantage of immigrants. They cut services to the orphans, the poor, the elderly, the widows, and widowers. They were frenemies with foreign governments and fought amongst themselves.

One day, God had enough of their foolishness, and took them to court.

“Oh my people,” God said with a broken heart. “What have I done to you that you treat one another so bad? Have I asked of you too much?”

God, acting as God’s own defense lawyer, says to the people “I freed you from slavery; I brought you out of Egypt. I sent you shepherds; I found ways to protect you, all so you could know me and how generous I am.”

This speech moves the people, and out of their materialistic brokenness, they respond the best way they could.

“Oh God, we are sorry. What can we give you to make things better? Will a dozen roses make up for our adulterous spirits? Or maybe you’d like to go out for a nice bbq dinner at Sonny’s?”

The people realize just how much they have strayed from God, so they up the ante of things they are willing to give to God to make the situation right.

“Would you like it if we gave you an entire ranch in Wauchula with thousands of rams? Or maybe you’d like 10,000 jars of cologne, and perfume, and body lotion and cocoa butter?”

To which God says “No. I don’t want things. I don’t want items. I don’t want store bought merchandise. ”

“All I want…is you.”

“I want you. Give me you.”

“I don’t need fancy foods. I don’t need guilt-based goods. I don’t need you to go broke, or go into debt, or take out a loan to earn my love.”

“What do I want?” says God, “Simple- I want you.”

“That’s all I ever wanted.”

“I wanted to walk with you in the cool breeze of the garden. I wanted to feed and care for you in the wilderness. I wanted to worship with you in the Promised Land.”

God stands before the people in court and gives the answer to perhaps the most important question of all time-

“What does the Lord require of you?”

“…You. But the best version of you that there can possibly be.”

God wants you- the you that is just, the you that is kind, the you who is willing to walk humbly.

God does not want a thing. God does not want an item. God does not want a gift card or a gemstone.

God wants the genuine you.

The you who is willing to accept God’s generosity.

The you who is willing to sit and be with God on the mountain, or down at the seashore, or in the kitchen, or on the city sidewalk, or working in the garden or the workbench.

God wants the genuine you.

The you who is willing to be still and listen for that still speaking voice.

The you who isn’t afraid to get shells in your teeth.

The you who is willing to let the cats loose from the chancel.

The you who is Left Shark.

The you who is scared and unsure and seeking and afraid of silence.

God also wants the you who is capable of being confident and cool and kind and calm.

Yes- God cares deeply about kindness, God cares greatly about justice.

God cares about how we treat one another; God cares that we do the right thing, even when it is not popular, or easy, or shell-free.

But first and foremost, God wants us.

God wants to love us so that we can love the Lord right back, and in return love one another.

God is indeed still speaking. God is indeed still acting.

God is still asking us for the same thing that was asked from our ancestors oh so long ago.

Today- are you willing to give God the greatest gift of all?

Are you willing to give God you?

Amen and amen.

July 14, 2017 Letter to the Editor, News-Sun

"Thank you" to Michael Gerson for saying what needs to be said in his guest column. Unfortunately, our elected President is acting in ways that are questionable, compulsive, and abusive. Regardless of what the President's policies are, or what party he belongs, it is clear through his tweets, public interactions, and isolating behaviors (both on a personal and international level), that we are witnessing, as Gerson states, "a public breakdown." As a pastor, I have observed families that live with, make excuses for, and enable such behaviors, often times trying to pretend they don't exist, or attacking the person who says "This is not healthy, adult behavior." In my pastoral opinion, what we are witnessing as an American family is our patriarch behaving in ways that are abusive, manipulative, fear-based, and fascist-like. The lies upon lies upon lies can not be disputed- they are there for all to see, read, and re-watch on YouTube. For the sake of the American family, it seems time for all members, from the Republicans to the Democrats to the Independenst to come together and say "We are One, and how our President is acting, speaking, and tweeting is not healthy or OK." It seems like we are at the time of intervention. Respectfully submitted, Rev. George Miller, Emmanuel United Church of Christ

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Crab Shells In Our Teeth; Sermon for July 9, 2017; UCC General Synod Reflections

Rev. George Miller
July 9, 2017
Psalm 46

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

When these words were written, it was clear that the city in reference was Jerusalem, where God’s holy temple sat upon the hill, glittering in the sunlight.

“Come behold the works of the Lord…” the psalmist invites us to sing out.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

There is a river…

While it’s true that the author of Psalm 46 was talking about Jerusalem, it’s safe to say that the city of God does not have to be a fixed, physical position.

The city can be any place, because God is everywhere. The city can be for all time, because God is timeless. The city can be inhabited by all kinds of people, because all kinds of people belong to God.

It can be said that anywhere in which there is justice, in which there is kindness, in which folks walk humbly with the Lord, it is a city of God.

Last week the United Church of Christ had our national meeting by the bay in beautiful Baltimore, and it was, without a doubt, a city of God.

Now I’ve never been to Baltimore; knew nothing about Baltimore; had zero expectations about Baltimore.

But let me tell you- it was love the moment the soles of my feet touched the sidewalk.

Baltimore is alive, with music coming from street musicians and passing cars; Baltimore is alive with food and seasonings, and spice.

The first night in Baltimore I went to a sidewalk cafe, enjoying the chance to have crab chowder and oyster po’boy at 10 pm.

At some point during the meal, a piece of crab shell got caught in my throat.

I tried everything I could to dislodge it- gulped down water, sipped more soup. When that didn’t work, I coughed, gagged, tried to burp.

Nothing. The crab shell was there, small and sharp. I thought to myself- “Oh Lord, please don’t let this be the way my life ends!”

After minutes of gulping and coughing, sipping and gagging, I tried a new approach, and took a big ol’ bite of that oyster po’boy, which did the trick.

Crab shell gone, and like Toni Braxton, I was able to breathe again.

The next day I shared my experience with a local. Know what they said?

“That’s how you know you’re eating real crab.”

That comment was what I needed to hear- if you are going to be in Baltimore, eating real seafood, you’re going to get shells.

So from that point on, meals were eaten with intentionality. By the last day, I was a pro, eating crab cakes in little bites, paying attention to what I was doing, so when a little crunch or two or three of shell came along, it was no big deal, and I did what needed to be done.

Baltimore meals are best treated as intentional experiences in which you are to be present, aware, and in the moment.

If you are eating real seafood you will get shells in your teeth…

The same can be said about being a citizen of God’s city.

If you are truly being guided by the Holy Spirit…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly following Jesus Christ…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

If you are truly doing what God requires…you are going to get shells in your teeth.

And if you don’t get shells in your teeth, there’s a chance that what you’re doing is fake ministry and you’re being fake church, because when you deal with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

Jesus is the perfect example. Look at all he did, and how it led him to the cross constructed by people who couldn’t handle just how real he was.

If you are truly doing the work of the Lord, you will truly get shells in your teeth.

And folks, let it be known that at General Synod 31 there were many, many shells.

For example, we passed 14 Resolutions.

Resolutions are statements that speak to the local church on how to reflect and act upon issues of theological, moral, and ethical matters.

Resolutions of Witness require a 2/3 vote to pass, with delegates casting votes based on their Christian conviction and witness to Jesus Christ.

Today we’ll discuss 2 of the Resolutions that were passed.

The 1st is for “A More Just Economy: $15 Minimum Wage, Living Wages and Job Creation.”

It speaks to the local church that we should support workers’ efforts for better wages and working conditions, and that we advocate for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP.

There were those who spoke in support of it. There were those who said that $15 in one state does not translate to the same cost of living in another. There were those who said that such a demand can affect small towns and local business owners.

Then there was me.

Nervous as heck, I stood at mic 4 with a shell in my teeth and said-

“I’m in favor of this resolution, but I don’t believe in being hypercritical…How can we tell other businesses what to pay their employees if we do not do the same with our administrative assistants, our cleaning services, and the people who mow our lawn? …Before we tell people what to do in their house, we have to do the same in our house.”

People nodded and showed their agreement; the resolution passed with more than a 2/3 vote.

So now, we as a local church, are asked to consider- are we willing to support efforts for better working conditions and for policymakers to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour ASAP?

Cough, cough. Is that a shell in our teeth?

And if we are going to tell McDonalds and Burger King what to pay their people, are we willing to pay our Office Administrator and cleaning person $15 as well?

Cough, cough, cough- excuse me- I think there’s a whole crab claw in our teeth.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…”

Then there was the “Resolution of Witness in Support of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect.”

I sat on that committee and the Resolution was passed overwhelmingly with much compassion and support.

This resolution is important for many reasons- it is the first time in American history that a religious organization has publicly made a statement showing solidarity with, acceptance of, and support of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and neglect.

This is a “living with” resolution, one that says it is time for churches to stop being silent about a reality that is full of many, many sharp and painful shells-

1 in 6 boys are sexually abused, as are 1 in 4 girls, meaning there are 40 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The presenter of this resolution called it the “Greatest Secret Rights Movement.”

Half of rape victims are under 12; for those under 12 the largest age group is 4.

4 years old.

The shells in our teeth are so big it’s nearly impossible to stand before you and speak this information.

Studies show how this trauma affects bodies, affects health care system, affects a child’s ability to learn, to trust, to live.

Studies show that because the abuse is often kept a secret, the children grow into adults in which the long lingering effects of the trauma affects relationships, employment, education, institutions, and the legal system.

The shells around this subject are many, but it did not stop our denomination from being present, being aware, and being intentional.

By passing this resolution, the United Church of Christ is saying to each and every adult survivor-

You are not alone. You are not at fault. You do not have to be ashamed. You do not have to keep this a secret. You are welcome here.

The passing of this Resolution encourages the denomination and local congregation to train its members and ministers on how to respond positively to those adults who self-disclose, and to validate their worth.

…“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…” Thus says the words of Psalm 46.

Beloved members of the Emmanuel Community know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are many. If we truly embrace these gifts…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we truly follow the teachings of Jesus, being the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart of Christ…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly doing what God requires- justice, kindness, walking humbly with the Lord…we are going to get shells in our teeth.

If we are truly a citizen of the Heavenly City, we will get shells in your teeth.

Because when you share the Good News and be the Good News with real people, living in the real world, facing real problems, guess what?

You’re going to get shells in your teeth.

And that’s Ok- because it means we are being intentional and true, present and aware.

It also means that we are truly doing the work of the Lord, and the Living Waters are running through.

For that we can say Amen and amen.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Intentionality; Romans 6:1-11

Rev. George Miller
June 25, 2017
Romans 6:1-11

Intentionality.

When we last gathered in worship, we discussed work. Today we discuss the intentionality behind the work.

But 1st- a true-life example.

On Tuesday a large envelope appeared in the mail, exquisitely detailed with calligraphy and a hand drawn bouquet of flowers.

Inside was a post card announcement about an upcoming event, a personally laminated copy of the ticket, a letter of instruction, and a frameable print-out of a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Touched by the class and amount of work done by the sender, I contacted her to give my thanks.

Her response was humble- “I was just in the mood. I want those I know who are coming…to know I care…It’s nice to have people we enjoy around us.”

Her generosity, rooted in love and thankfulness, branched out to others, intentionally expressing “I care for you.”

Intentionality.

The author of today’s reading is very intentional in his theology and purpose of composition.

Romans is an undisputed letter of Paul, addressing several issues- sin, grace, baptism, and the Crucifixion.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Paul writes. These are, after all, the views of a man living 2,000 years ago, speaking about cosmic events that, for him, were new and very local.

Paul is writing through the lenses of his culture, his time, his biases, and what he thinks his Still Speaking God is saying.

He does not have centuries of Christian study behind him, or knowledge of modern medicine, or the latest psychological studies about behavior or the brain.

Paul knows what he knows, and there is an intentionality to his opinions.

For example- his view of baptism. He doesn’t treat it as an afterthought or just a simple ritual.

Paul does not approach baptism as a pre-cursor to having cake or getting gifts.

For Paul, baptism is not just an act- it is an identity.

Baptism is expressed as intentionally becoming a part of Christ; to intentionally die on the cross with Jesus, to intentionally rise up from the waters, resurrected with the Lord, a brand new person, dead to the power of sin’s hold.

I appreciate Paul’s notion that baptism alters our present and shapes our future, and the importance he places on baptism- how it unites us to Christ, unites us to one another, and opens us up to new life, freedom, and the eternal.

Paul’s view of baptism reflects an experience that took place 3 weeks ago at Jacksonville Beach.

I was there for a boundary workshop, and the night before I went for a walk along the shore. What I saw in the surf surprised me- hundreds of people gathered around the water.

Baptisms were taking place for the congregants of a church made up primarily of people from Slavic descent.

It was beautiful.

Teenagers gathered in groups of four based on their gender. They all wore white, from top to bottom; the girls in dresses that would do for a prom or a wedding, the boys in jeans and pants

The girls held hands; the boys wrapped their arms around one another.

Each group of four made their way to the surf while loved ones surrounded them with flowers and music.

One by one, each teen waded into the waves by themselves, making their way to the baptizer. They were leaned back into the ocean, and when they emerged from the waters, they were greeted with the applause and cheers of the crowd.

These young adults were not only being intentionally baptized into the life of Christ, but they were being brought into the life of their community, as parents and relatives, some of them clearly from the mother-country were there to show their support.

Intentionality.

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we come to church? Why do we do the work we do? Why do we make offerings? Why do we sign up to bring in food or to sit on a committee?

Why are we here?

Why now?

Why with this particular group of believers, seekers, sinners, saints, and sojourners?

Why Christ? Why not Zeus, or Vishnu, or the tree outside, or yourself?

What is our intentionality?

Is it to placate an angry entity? To please a personal savior? To seek a spirit? To give thanks to a generous god?

What is our intention for being here?

To seek wisdom? To share in the wonder? To be spiritually strengthened? To feel safe?

Why are we here?

Is it because that’s what we’ve always done? Is it because there’s nothing else going on? Is it to experience an oasis in the midst of a desert?

Is it because of a hunger, a thirst, a loss, a gain, a question, an answer?

Why do we do what we do, and what is our intentionality?

Think of how the Gospels portray Jesus. How intentional he always seemed to be, even when he was interrupted, even when he acted extemporaneously.

If Jesus was about to speak to the masses he made a way onto a boat, or up a mountain, or sat upon the earth.

If Jesus was about to do a miracle, he focused his attention on God, gave thanks, included others, made it a teachable moment, or a time of celebration.

Jesus is always portrayed as aware, in control, as fully present and completely rooted in God.

What is our intentionality?

Is God pleased with empty rituals or does God enjoy genuine acts of gratitude?

Is Christ calling us to say words of “Yes” that we don’t mean, or to do ministry that we actually feel?

Is the Paraklete expecting us to speak up about the things we know nothing about, or to become courageous about the things we truly care for?

Does God want us to be puppets that are going through the motions of faith?

Or does God want us to be like surfers, playfully and intentionally riding the waves of the Holy Spirit, wherever they may lead?

Yes, work may be an important component of our faith, but so is the intention and heart behind it.

In conclusion, remember that packet of mail that was referred to earlier? Inside was a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.

Here is what it said-

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”

In other words- if the intent is love, then love is what is accomplished.

Can we get an “amen”? Let us all say “Amen.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work; Genesis 18:1-15 sermon

Rev. George Miller
June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15

Here we have one of my favorite biblical stories. Maybe because it starts off like an oasis, placing us in the comfortable shade of the mighty oaks.

Maybe because it features the kind of southern hospitality that Maya Angelou wrote about, featuring an opulent meal.

Maybe it’s because of the skepticism of Sarah. Here she is, nearly 99 years old, hearing that she’s going to have a child.

So she laughs, which is such a human thing to do, reminding us that people of faith are really just like me and you.

Maybe I like this story because it features Abraham, the father of our faith. Of all the people in the Bible, Abraham catches my attention the most.

How out of nowhere God says to Abraham “Go!” and Abraham goes, leaving behind all he knows to venture into a new land.

How God makes Abraham a promise and though it takes decades to come true, Abraham does not give up.

How Abraham is far from perfect.

He makes mistakes, lacks durable decision making skills, gets everyone wrapped up in his drama, and has to be assured again and again that things will be alright.

How for most of his life, Abraham was without a child or anyone to pass on his legacy to.

Then, when all logic says his family lineage will flicker out like a flame, God surprises him by saying “Look up to the heavens and know that your family will be bigger than all the cosmos combined.”

Abraham starts off as an insignificant nobody who becomes the Father to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Who says one person can’t make a difference or that the reality of the world dictates what God can do?

The core of the Abraham and Sarah narrative is the frailty of faith- that everything God is planning to do rests upon a childless couple, and the choices they do or do not make.

A reminder that basically every church, every family, every nation, every organization is in reality just one generation away from perishing into oblivion, and yet, here we are…

…Last Monday I had the opportunity to visit Kathryn at The Palms. She was laid up in bed with such severe pain. Her whole body ached, and the doctors weren’t sure what was going on.

We talked and I told her about today’s reading, asking “If you were to give the sermon, what would you, in your current situation want to hear?”

I asked, because I knew that if I could not give a message from the pulpit that I could also give to Kathryn in her pain, then my theology was false.

Kathryn’s response surprised me, because she said something along these lines- “If you want to get better, if you want to get well, if you want things to change, you have to work.”

Work- that was the message Kathryn gave to me.

Immediately, I got a smile, because I liked that idea, and I’ll share with you why-

The idea of us working does not take away the wonder and the mystery of God.

It allows God to be free, be wild, be holy and otherworldly and it also allows us to have freedom, make choices, and play our own role.

What I heard Kathryn say, and we discussed in great detail, is that God is able to do many wonderful things, but- we have to be willing to do our own part as well.

In other words- Kathryn could pray to God for healing, she could hope for a speedy recovery, but she would also have to do her part by going to physical and occupational therapy, getting her rest, and working with the medical staff.

What Kathryn proposed was a faithful form of partnership with God, in which the Lord will do God’s part, and that we do our part as well.

Work.

Faith is work. Faith is not always easy.

One has to deal with naysayers. One has to deal with circumstances that say otherwise.

Faith is work because we are asked to believe in a God we cannot see, a Savior who’s supposedly been resurrected, and a Holy Spirit that may come as a breeze or a fire, as a sergeant or a still-speaking voice.

Faith is work.

Think about it- God could part the Red Sea, but the Israelites had to be willing to walk through it.

Jesus could turn water into wine but the servants had to first gather it.

The Holy Spirit could fall upon the disciples but they had to leave the safety of the upper room to share the Good News.

In order for any of these things to be possible, they required action, bravery, and belief.

Each of these things involved work that needed to be done.

Now, mind you- Kathryn and I had a good chuckle when we realized the kind of work that Abraham and Sarah had to do to conceive a child was a very different kind of work. But still, they had to do their part…

I’m thankful for Kathryn’s insight into today’s story, because it is something I think we all need to be reminded of.

That the world we live in is a mysterious, wonderful place in which miracles and the unexpected does take place. Things happen that common sense says should not.

The Holy Spirit breaks in at unexpected times. Jesus meets us upon mountains.

God takes dark voids, death-filled tombs, and empty wombs and brings forth creation, resurrection, and new life.

But we- we have our own part to play; we have our own work to do.

God can call out to us, but we have to be willing to hear.

God can part the waters, but we have to be brave enough to step out, get our feet dirty, and cross to the other side.

God can send bread from heaven but we have to be willing to see it, gather it, share it, and not hoard it.

We can meet the Resurrected Christ upon the mountain but we aren’t meant to stay there.

We can receive the Holy Spirit but it means nothing if we remain fearfully behind closed doors…

One closing thought, going back to Sarah and her laugh. The mysterious 3-in-1 shows up in her life and shares the stupendous idea that she will finally have a child after all these years, and she’s skeptical.

I’d like to say “Good for Sarah.”

Others want to condemn Sarah for laughing; some will claim she must have had little faith.

I’m thankful Sarah laughed- you know why?

Because maybe that’s what God needed to hear.

You know how some people seem to drag their feet; some people keep putting things off; some people seem to slack off until you give them a firm reminder?

Maybe Sarah’s laugh is what put the fire under God’s butt to take action.

If you read the full story in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are about 75 years old when God first calls them to leave their land and have a child.

Which means it takes God 25 years and about 3 more visits for the promise to come true.

If that’s not slacking, I don’t know what is.

Sarah’s laugh was steeped in years of waiting.

Maybe Sarah was doing her own kind of work when she laughed. Maybe she was tired of waiting and she knew the best way to move God along was to goad him on with a laugh.

Maybe Sarah’s laugh was her way of saying “Oh yeah”, which prompted God to say “I’ll show you.”

And a year later- the promised child was born…

…By the oaks of Mamre God appears- are we willing to do the work of welcoming?

In the heat of the day the hungry appear- are we willing to feed them?

In the safety of our own structured lives God speaks an impossible word- are we willing to listen?

We can be skeptical, we can laugh at the absurdity of it all, but are we also willing to do the work?

Can we, like Abraham and Sarah, do our own part to make God’s promises come true and to ensure that the blessings of God’s Kingdom keep coming down?

Amen and amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mourning and Mountains; Matthew 28:16-20 Messsage

Rev. George Miller
June 11, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20

Here we have the triumphant ending to the triumphant telling of Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus Christ has been raised from the grave and the disciples gather around him while he generously makes the promise “Remember- I am with you always, until the end of time.”

Upon the mountain Jesus meets them. With all authority he asks them to teach, and to baptize.

“Go!” he says, recalling the words of God to Abraham and Sarah. “Go!” he commands, copying the call of Moses.

“Go!” the Resurrected Christ says to the 11 men before him, those who were worshipping and those draped in doubt.

“Go, do the work of the kingdom and know that day by day, you will never walk alone.”

This is supposed to be a story of celebration, and yet…yet it is a story steeped in sadness.

Why?

Because there are eleven disciples that met Christ on the mountaintop. Not twelve, but eleven- a sobering reminder that one of them is missing.

Judas- a friend who unfortunately took his own life; a peer who fell victim to an act of violence, even if it was self directed.

The shadow of this senseless death hovers over the holy proceedings, reminding us that as fantastical as these stories seem to be, they are rooted in reality.

The reality that friends die, people make flawed decisions, bad things happen, and any group of people, anywhere, at anytime will have to deal with the reality of loss and the mystery of suffering.

I have always felt sympathy for Judas. Yes: he betrayed his friend Jesus. Yes: he connived his life away for a few coins. I like to think he had his own legitimate reason for selling Jesus out.

I also wish that he had not committed suicide, that he had stayed alive to experience the Resurrection, to have Jesus breath upon him and say “Peace be with you.”

I like to believe that if Judas had not killed himself that Christ would’ve said to him “I forgive you and I set you free from the guilt of whatever you have done.”

But Judas does not allow that to happen, and through his actions he affects not just himself, but he affects his friends, his co-worshippers…and he affects us.

Today’s tale is a timeless one, and always will be. Scholars will say that the Gospel of Matthew was written for the church in mind, a telling of the Good News in which the disciples become a microcosm of what every congregation is like.

What the disciples say and do represents what church members say and do; what the disciples experience, many church members will also.

So here we have the disciples meeting Christ. They are called to do the tasks of ministry. Some of them worship with joy; some have their doubts based in the reality of the world.

Just like any given Sunday.

Some folk come here ready to get their praise on; some wonder why they’re here at all and if it’s even worth it.

11 people gather, but in the past there used to be 12; just like any congregation- there is always someone who is missing, someone who is away, someone who has died, someone who has turned their back on their faith, someone you will never see again.

11 disciples are there with the resurrected Christ, and it should be a totally joyful time, but a hint of sorrow is still there, as it is in any church.

If we are honest, every one of us here today has entered these doors with a bit of heaviness. Someone we have lost, guilt over something we did, worry over the woes of the world, uncertainty about the future.

We could waste our energy and pretend these truths don’t exist, but why? The Bible doesn’t hide from these realities.

Christ triumphs over the grave and yet the reality of real world pain cannot be erased.

So what is the Good News?

First, we can look at Christ’s closing words to his disciples. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Note- he does not say “All your problems will go away.” He does not say “There will never be an act of violence again.” Nor does he state “Your life from here on in will be easy-peasy.”

No. He says “I will be with you.”

This is a promise of presence; a promise of relationship. A promise that regardless if you are in a dark valley or besides still waters, Jesus will be with you.

He says “I will be with you to the end of the age.”

This is a promise for all time, a promise that is renewed day after day after day; a promise that means even after the clocks stop working, we will never be alone.

He says “Remember.” Ah- remember; what a powerful, potent word.

Remember is one way to say “Recall the generosity of God who gave you the gifts of creation, and who gave you the gifts of new life.”

But there is something else going on. Matthew makes it clear to us who’s there with Jesus, but he also makes it clear where they are- a mountain.

It is upon a mountain that the disciples meet Jesus and are empowered to do ministry and mission.

It’s not in the Temple; it’s not in a synagogue. It’s at the mountain.

Why does it matter? Because in Matthew good things happen upon mountains.

It is upon a mountain that Jesus defeats the devil (4:8-11).

It is upon a mountain that Jesus gives his inaugural speech. It is upon a mountain that he calls the merciful blessed and says that we are the spice of life (5:1-11).

It is upon the mountain that Jesus cures the crowd and feeds the thousands (15:29-39).

It is upon the mountain in which Jesus is transfigured (17:1-13). It’s to the mountain that Jesus goes when he wants to pray and spend time with God. (14:23).

Mountains are meaningful to Matthew. Mountains are a metaphor for where we most meet the Magnificent.

With today’s reading, I think we are given a gift, a gift meant to transcend any situation we are in, any darkness we may confront.

I like to think that each of us have our own “mountain”, meaning that each of us has a place or a time in which we most experience the Holy and we feel the most connected to God.

If each of you were asked “Where do you feel the presence of Christ the most?”, I’d hope that you’d all be able to say a place, a time, a moment in which the Sacred is most real, the Spirit is most present.

For me, it’s the Atlantic Ocean where I’ve spent so much time with folks I love.

It’s also this pulpit in which I get to look out upon your faces.

If Matthew was writing today’s reading just for me, I’d be meeting Jesus at Ft. Pierce or under our stained glass window.

If you were asked, what would you say?

Have you had a place, a time in which you knew, you just knew that you were taught, you were fed, you were healed, you were loved by Jesus Christ?

That’s your mountain. That’s your go-to place. That’s where the resurrected Christ is calling you.

That’s where we spiritually go when the bad things happen in the world. That’s what gives us hope when things seem hopeless. That’s what helps to make sense when things are senseless.

That’s the memory we hold onto that empowers us to remember, that calls us to be brave, even if we can no longer physically go to that mountain anymore.

Our metaphorical mountain is where we get to meet Jesus again and again and again.

In our world there is so much to worry about, there is so much to mourn, and so much to fear. But there is so much to be thankful for, so much to celebrate, and so much to enjoy.

Because of Christ, even in the face of death, there is life. Even in dark times, there is light.

Even in the face of loss, there are new things to discover. Even though others may leave, we are never left alone.

And though our days do eventually end, the love of Christ does not.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Gift of Generosity; Sermon on Acts 2:1-14

Rev. George Miller
June 4, 2017
Acts 2:1-14

One of my favorite books as a youth was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

What I recall most was the author’s comment that because she grew up poor she had no idea that the Depression was taking place, and that she was raised in a community in which no one was turned away if they came to your home during dinner.

It didn’t matter how much or how little there was to eat, didn’t matter if you were black or white, a stranger or a somebody, you were welcome to the table.

This sense of generosity has shaped my view of southern living more than anything else.

Last week I attended a party given by dear friends in which they served the finest ribs I’ve ever had. Later that night, feeling ever-thankful, I complimented the host on the event and asked where the ribs came from.

He shared the place, and because we’re close, he shared the price. I was humbled beyond words and said he shouldn’t have.

His response was “But you are my friends and we love you.”

On Wednesday was the Mass for Jerry Million, which included Proverbs 3: 3-10. It said-

“Trust in the Lord with all you heart…Honor the Lord with your substance…then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

How true this was for Jerry and his wife, Elli. Because if you know anything about the Millions, you know they are generous people, people who have worked hard for every cent they have, who joyfully shared their substance.

Elli would never boast, but I can say that she and Jerry have freely given to so many people and organizations, but it is also so clear that everything they have released, God has given back in some way and form.

Generosity.

I think of what I’ve personally experienced. When my car acted-up, the number of people who offered me their automobile or a ride to the repair shop.

When my family came to town the number of you who offered me their air mattresses, sheets, cots, pillows, and use of their pool.

How the Coins for Kids jar was already half-filled on its first day.

When Judy Vekasy felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to have a new sign made for the Feed My Sheep Jeep, she contacted Ken Hamlin, who wrote-

“I am always amazed at the giving and ideas that people come up with to help The Shepherds Pantry.”

Generosity.

Our own resident Buddhist Monk, the Venerable Rev. David Astor shared with me his own theological belief that all things stem from generosity.

If I recall correctly, he taught me that it is not our faith that makes us more generous, it is not our compassion for others that makes us generous, it is not our love that makes us generous.

It is the act of generosity that everything else flows out of.

That the more generous one is, the more one grows in faith, grows in compassion, and grows in love.

Rev. Astor did not define generosity as money spent, but being generous in time, gifts, intentionality, presence, and actions.

I don’t know if I fully agree with Rev. Astor, but I look at the way folks like Maya Angelou and the Millions have lived, and I can’t help but to wonder if generosity is indeed the key to living a real, authentic life, in which you are present and you are HERE.

It is with this generous spirit radiating out from Proverbs 3 and folks like Judy and Ken and you, the congregation, that my eyes were opened to today’s scripture in a way they have never been opened before.

Yes, today’s scripture is about the beginning of the Christian Church. Yes, it is about the Holy Spirit breaking into the world to do a whole new thing.

But it is also about generosity- God’s generosity.

It is 50 days after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It’s the festival of Pentecost which means men from all over the ancient world have gathered in Jerusalem to recall God giving the gift of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

On this day, at 9 am in the morning, as the disciples are gathered inside, the Holy Spirit falls down upon them like a fire.

Filled to capacity, they can’t contain themselves, causing folk from all around to come to where they are, thinking they must be drunk off of Boones Farm or Alize.

But no, explains Peter, they are not drunk- God has poured out God’s Spirit upon them, and God will also pour it out upon all flesh, old and young, sons and daughters, enslaved and free.

In other words, God is generous.

God has once again defied all expectations and has gone against the ways of the world, giving freely to all people a gift, a gift that is meant to be shared.

Pentecost is a day for us to celebrate and give thanks for just how generous God is.

God has been generous before.

God was generous when bursting forth with creation, filling the universe with stars and planets, oxygen and hydrogen, placing upon Earth people and plants and a multitude of life forms.

Creation was an act of God’s generosity.

Since then, God found numerous ways to be generous:

Giving a son to a childless couple.

Giving the commandments on Mt. Sinai.

Giving the exiles a chance to return.

Giving the gift of Jesus Christ.

Think of the Christmas story- what an act of generosity that truly was; that God would give Godself in the form of a child.

No wonder the magi felt compelled to respond with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The generosity of God is truly outstanding.

The generous gift of the baptismal waters. The generous gift of the Lord’s Supper.

The generous gift of Jesus’ time with the outcasts, healing of the sick, and sharing stories of salvation.

All of these things are signs of a generous God.

How did we respond? We denied, we lied, we crucified.

And yet- that did not stop God from being generous.

Because 50 days later God poured out the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and God did not do it sparingly- God did so generously.

God was so generous in giving the Holy Spirit it did not matter if folk were inside or outside the building to experience the gift.

God was so generous in giving the Holy Spirit that it did not matter if the recipients were Jews, gentiles or in-between.

God’s generosity didn’t care if they were locals or foreigners.

God’s generosity didn’t care if it was 9 am.

This- this story is about the generosity of God that goes beyond time, beyond nation of origin or immigrant status, beyond faith group, and beyond physical space.

This is about the generosity of God that goes beyond social status, beyond gender, beyond age.

This is generosity that goes beyond language and understanding.

This is a story about the Generosity of Radical Inclusion.

Acts 2 not only shows us the generous giving of the Holy Spirit but it is a testimony that no matter how much God gives, God is never, ever depleted.

God gave the world, God gave God’s Son, and God gave the Holy Spirit.

God gives and gives and gives, because God is generous.

Perhaps Rev. Astor is right. Perhaps generosity is the way of being from which everything else emanates.

Perhaps Maya Angelou was raised in the best way possible, in which no one is turned away.

Perhaps folks like Jerry have learned that the key to happiness is to share and to give away.

Ken was certainly right when he stated “I am always amazed at the giving and ideas that people come up with to help…”

Today we are not just reminded of the Church’s beginnings or the breaking in of the Holy Spirit but-

That the love of the Lord is not limited.

The compassion of Christ is not conditional.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not finite.

God is good, God is great, and God is generous. Amen and amen.