Monday, October 16, 2017

Seeds of Hope; Pollinators of Peace- Philippians 4:4-9

Rev. George Miller
Oct 15, 2017
Philippians 4:4-9

Pollinators of peace:
Truth; honor; justice.
Purity; nobility; excellence.
Wholeness.

There is story from this week that is worthy to be told.

We have a child on our prayer-list named Gunner, a young boy living with severe disabilities. Twice this year he nearly died. After the hurricane he required a working generator to keep cool air on him so he would not have a seizure.

His mom, an amazing woman named Tonya, rode back and forth from Sebring to Fort Pierce twice a week to ensure they had enough gas to run their generator.

Tonya did not just get gas for her own son, but for the parents of other special needs children, as well as for a local UCC pastor you may know.

She also brought back cases of water, coolers with ice packs, and let others know about our Shepherd’s Pantry.

Tonya is a mother and community leader who is always on the go go go, caring for her son and others in need.

Earlier this week, she and Gunner were at a gas station. Gunner’s IV pole was in the van and his feeds were running, and as Tonya was pumping gas, she noticed her son had fallen over.

So, she went to the side of the van, opened it up, adjusted him and gave Gunner a kiss like she always does.

A few minutes later a man with a truck pulling a jet ski approached her. He said “I’ve been watching you and it looks like life is probably pretty tough for you.”

He took out money from his pocket and placed a folded $100 bill into the hand she was pumping gas with.

Tonya didn’t know how to respond so she said “No, no, no.” But he more than insisted.

This immediately made her think of her own mother who had died, and that perhaps this was a way she was reaching out to help and to give hope.

As Tonya shared on her Facebook page “I don’t know who this man is but a small gesture as it seemed to him…was impacting and large on my side. No real words will suffice.”

Tonya’s testimony of hope, complete with photos of the man, has been viewed by over 200 people, but no one knows who he is.

We don’t know his name. Where he’s from; where he’s going, the sins he may have committed, or the other lives he may have helped

What we do know is that he acted honorable and just, pure and noble, bringing a sense of wholeness to a family.

Making the Kingdom of God near…

Today we revisit Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. It is a letter composed during a time of imprisonment.

Paul was arrested for preaching the Good News. His freedom has been taken away. He is shackled in chains, far from the people of Philippi.

It would appear to be a hopeless situation, an experience that could challenge the fragility of faith and make anyone wonder where God is.

In his letter, Paul admits to the Philippian church that he has experienced a period of despondency. His physical pain has been so great he wonders if it would be better to die.

But something happens…a care package arrives from this congregation; a gift; a sweet-smelling offering.

We don’t know for sure what the gift is, but we do know that of all the churches Paul has been associated with, this is the only one that has reached out to him.

And out of thanksgiving, he tells the congregation that he is fully satisfied.

Clearly, their gift to Paul was more than just a gift; just like the $100 Tonya received was more than just money.

Their gift was not just an item; not just a thing.

It was hope. It was friendship. It was the gift of tomorrow’s promise.

Paul responds in kind by creating a letter to them that says “Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord!”

Reading through this letter it is clear that Paul is not expressing false hope. This is not hope based on denial. This is not hope that magically melts his chains away.

This is the kind of hope that gives one a reprieve from their current situation.

This is the kind of hope that helps pollinate the possibilities of days to come.

This is empowering hope that propels Paul to meditate on what he knows about a life lived in Christ.

This is the kind of hope that soothes the soul.

Hope that is rooted in the reality that the Lord is near. Hope that even in the darkest valley, there is comfort.

Hope that says we can find peace in the Lord. Not peace that is absent of conflict, or peace that means a perfect life.

But peace in knowing that God has a way to work through things; that God is greater than a jail cell; that God’s ability to restore is more powerful than any storm’s ability to demolish.

With the peace provided by the Philippians’ unexpected gift, Paul is able to hold onto hope, and though he is incarcerated, he finds his own way to inspire.

“Imagine,” he says. “Think about these things- think about what is truly true. Think of what is honorable. Think of what is just and what is right.”

“Think of what’s pure and untainted. Think of what is excellent. Think of anything worthy of being praised- and God will be with you.”

Though his body is shackled, Paul encourages them to free their mind as he states “Think thoughts of thanksgiving and the wholeness of the Lord will bloom and be within you…”

Paul is offering a vision of heavenly living in which one does not have to die to experience the glory of God…one just has to be willing to live in truth and justice, honor and thanksgiving.

How wonderful would the world be if we lived with this as our definition of a faithful life?

What hope Paul was giving to himself, what hope he was giving to the Philippian church, and what hope he is giving to us today.

While thinking of the testimony that Tonya shared about the man with the $100 bill, I have thoughts of another testimony taking place.

Though there is still tons of debris lining Lakeview, and so much of our soil is beyond saturation, there has been solace coming from the earth.

I look out upon my own yard. A plumbago bush by the driveway that a month ago seemed worse for the wear has bloomed beautifully with blue flowers that have quadrupled after the storm.

Hundreds of purple flowers now fill the wooded area of my back yard, filling out the spots that Irma leveled and dressing a cactus with a royal robe of amethyst that even King Solomon would be jealous of.

A long wished-for wildflower garden that was started in August is now alive with the colors of maroon, mimosa, mandarin, and lavender. Each plant growing taller; dancing in the breeze.

Perhaps best of all, there are now yellow moths, bees and butterflies visiting my home, flitting about, sipping nectar, adding life amidst the fallen fences and browning leaves.

There is comfort in knowing that all these things that have come about post- Irma are playing a part in a new creation.

There is also the hope that as the moths, bees and butterflies go from bloom to bloom to bloom that they are doing their part to pollinate the area and possibly create sweet, sweet honey.

In conclusion, Paul received such unexpected sweetness from the Philippian church, and he could not help but to be sweet in return, and nearly 2,000 years later his message of hope continues to-

Pollinate our hearts.
Sow seeds of salvation.
Remind us that the Lord is near.
Not far away; not absent.
But near.

And with that, we have hope beyond understanding; we have hope that allows us to praise the Lord from the wholeness of our hearts.

For that, we can say Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2 Days Off for Jesus; John 4:39-45

Rev. George Miller
Oct 8, 2017
John 4:39-45

2 Different Worlds.

When anyone moves to a place like Florida they will become aware that they are living in at least 2 different worlds.

South and north. Conservative and progressive. Coastal and inland. Retired and working. Transplants and 4, 5, 6 generation.

If you are lucky and willing to move from world to world, you become enriched and learn how others live.

For example, I think of a house party I went to hosted by a family from the Caribbean.

You learn that a 4 pm invite does not mean you arrive at 4, but means “We’re gonna start thinking about getting ready around 4 but we won’t actually start cooking until 5 so don’t come until 6.”

Then the world of the hunters, in which trucks, chewing tobacco, blue jeans, plaid shirts, country music, polarized sunglasses and guns take the forefront.

And if a hunter tells you to be ready at 6 am, they are parked in front of your home at 6 am.

I’ve been to a few gatherings hosted by a couple from Puerto Rico in which the main event was dominoes.

Not dominoes as in old men sitting in the park or young kids at Vacation Bible School, but dominoes as a sport, in which each man brings his own custom-made domino table complete with a picture of the Puerto Rican flag.

You learn there’s a whole way of talking when playing dominoes- talking big and saying smack is an art form, and no one just places their pieces gently on the table, but presents them with passion, as bones are slammed down and counted up.

I love all these worlds and am thankful for every one I’ve been welcome to.

My own world was shook when last week our planning committee met and worked over slices of pizza.

There, in front of my eyes, Sam Darley ate her pizza with a fork.

The horror! Pizza is to be folded and honored, not cruelly cutlery-ized!

2 different worlds.

That’s what we witness in today’s readings. Jesus a Jew, hanging out with Gentiles.

Jesus, a good ol’ boy from the southern kingdom hanging out with a bunch of Samaritans in the north.

Shocking. Scandalous. Something that simply was not done.

Back in the day Jews and Samaritans were mortal enemies, total opposites:

Crips and Bloods. Jets and Sharks. ISIS and the US. Fox News and CNN.

That’s how people saw Jews and Samaritans.

So to have a story in which Rabbi Jesus is not only in Samaria, but socializing with the Samaritans is not only controversial it is boundary-breaking revolutionary.

The fact that the Samaritans come to Jesus and invite him to spend 2 days with them is mind-blowing, and the fact that he said “yes” and stayed in their homes, ate their meals, and entered into a relationship with them is beyond comprehension.

This reading is about radical hospitality in which the Hatfields have invited a McCoy over for a weekend retreat, and the McCoy has graciously accepted.

Jesus, the Son of God, is invited to spend 2 days in Samaria, and he says “Yes.”

And you know what- I am so grateful that he did.

This scripture gives us a brief glimpse into Jesus, the man.

Part of me is sad that the Gospel Writer didn’t think it was important enough to tell us what Jesus’ 2 days off were like.

We’re told of his baptism, his teachings, his healing, his miracles, the people who didn’t like him and the threats he endured.

But we’re not told what these 2 days off were like, almost as if what Jesus did doesn’t matter unless if he’s giving giving giving to others.

Another part of me is thankful we’re not told what the 2 days off were like because it gives Jesus some much deserved privacy.

It also allows our imagination to have some fun.

What do you think it was like for Jesus to be away from Judea and all the work waiting to be done there, and for Jesus to just be…Jesus…one of us.

What do you think Jesus did during those 2 days off?

What do you wish he got to do?

I like to think that Jesus had his own Jimmy Buffet, How Stella Got Her Groove Back experience.

I like to think that he was given the most welcoming guest room with 1,000 thread count bed-sheets and a big comfortable quilt.

I like to think that Jesus got a chance to catch up on his ZZZ’s; that his hosts allowed him to sleep in that morning.

I imagine Jesus waking up late the next day to the aroma of freshly made coffee and the sounds of someone singing in the kitchen as eggs are frying on the stove.

Imagine Jesus sitting down to a breakfast of fresh buttermilk biscuits with all kinds of jams and jellies and a big bowl of fresh fruit at his side.

Imagine Jesus eating his fill, not having to turn water into wine or loaves and fishes into a banquet.

Picture Jesus going for a long, uninterrupted, peaceful walk along the shore, his skin getting tan from the sun, his toes in the water, exhaling and breathing in the air.

Imagine that during the 2 days off, the women of Samaria take him to the local beauty shop where he gets a deep scalp massage, a hot oil treatment for his hair, and a soothing manicure/pedicure.

Imagine the kids of the community coming to play hop scotch, or double-dutch, or duck duck goose.

Imagine at night the men of the town take him out to the local tavern where Jesus is able to throw back a few beers, play some pool, talk sports and brag about the biggest fish he ever caught.

Do we ever think of Jesus this way?

Could you see him at a cook-out, or grilling a steak, or playing Spades and blackjack?

Do we ever allow Jesus just to be…not as someone who has to teach, or heal, or fix, or save, or die for our behalf?

You know what I hope Jesus got to do?

I hope he had a weekend romance.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that there was a time in Jesus’ life in which he had a special girl (or a special guy) in which he was able to share secrets, hold hands, and sit beside while watching the sun set…

…Jesus lived during such a complicated time filled with natural disasters, political unrest and religious warring.

It would be nice to know that for 2 days he got away and was welcomed into a different world in which Jesus could just be Jesus.

In conclusion, I’d like to invite us, for this week, to reevaluate our relationship with and our view of Jesus.

Is he someone who is only of use to us when we cry out for help, when we seek healing, and we need hope, or is Jesus someone we can welcome into our lives to simply be there, as a friend, a companion, a guest?

Do we love Jesus only because of what he can do for us, or do we love Jesus because he is loveable, likeable and willing to walk beside us?

Does Jesus always have to be about results, sacrifice and salvation, or can Jesus also be about relationships, celebration and simple joys?

In the midst of a chaotic world, Jesus was given the chance to take 2 days off and just….be.

And sometimes just being is the loveliest thing one can achieve.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, October 2, 2017

God Cares for Even the Smallest of Seeds; Leviticus 19:13-19

Rev. George Miller
Oct 1, 2017
Leviticus 19:13-19

To All the Saints in Christ Jesus, grace to you and peace from God our Parent.

Here we are-3rd Sunday post Irma. We are not perfect, but we are strong, adapting to our New Normal as Jesus continues taking us to the other side.

Though the threat of Irma is over, we are still reminded on a daily basis what we have survived- destroyed docks, debris lined streets, damaged drains.

And like the stages of grief, we are going through the expected phases.

There’s denial, in which one pretends Irma did not happen, or wasn’t as bad as it seems.

There’s bargaining. The whole shouda-couda-wouda stage in which one wishes they could go back in time.

I shouda had a home generator. We couda have had a better disaster plan. Things wouda been better if our officials had known Irma’s eye would come here.

There’s the anger stage. Why did you do a,b,c and not x,y,z? How did they mess it up? Why aren’t Comcast, Duke, FEMA, FL Conference doing anything?

There is the depression stage. The inability to get out of bed or off the couch and the increase of headaches, backaches, sickness and sinuses.

These stages come in and out as people wait for insurance adjusters, or receive checks that barely cover their claim.

Such stages of grief are enough to challenge one’s faith, their church, and if they’re to be honest, God.

It’s not unusual during a disaster for some people to stop attending their place of worship, to question what they believe, or to have a crisis of identity.

Eventually, there comes some sense of acceptance. The realization that things did happen, a person did the best they could have done at that time, and the lessons learned for the next real or metaphoric storm.

Most of us in Highlands County are dealing with denial, anger, depression, and the shouda- couda-woudas.

And that’s OK- because we are survivors; we may not be perfect, but in Christ Jesus, we are strong.

This also ties into today’s reading.

If you recall from last week, we made the claim that this big, beautiful book we call the Bible is a book written by survivors that is all about surviving.

Through one way of thought, Leviticus can be seen as a generator or a power line of how to live after a storm.

First, some history- progressive scholars will say that no one is 1000% certain who wrote Leviticus and when.

There is the traditional belief that these are the laws God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai and Moses wrote them down.

Some believe these laws were created centuries later by the monarchy as a way to unify Israel and redirect them back to their religious roots.

Then there are those that believe these
were created by religious leaders post-Exile as a way for survivors to live and honor God during their New Normal.

What is the Exile?

It was a time when the Babylonians came in and attacked Judah. They decimated the land and destroyed the Temple, where God was worshipped.

They took the best of the best of Judah’s citizens away to live in Babylon for 50 years. They left the undesirables behind to fend for themselves amongst the wreckage.

After 50 years, the exiles were allowed to return to their native land, and it took 100 years for the Temple to be rebuilt.

This created all sorts of denial, anger, and depression for the people of God.

How do you worship God if there is no longer a place to worship?

How do you maintain your identity if your entire identity is wrapped in your religious beliefs and practices?

Possible answers became rituals you could do any place, and any time, and the ethical ways in which one lived.

And what better way to give validation to these rituals and practices than to claim that they were given to Moses by God a long, long time ago?

Here in chapter 19 we have the theological foundation of Leviticus, as vs. 2 states “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.”

Holy means separate. Holy means beyond and greater than the greatest thing you can imagine.

To say God is holy means that God is more powerful than the mightiest of mighties; more mysterious than the greatest mysteries.

The Lord, our God, is Holy.

Which means God is indestructible, untouchable, and unstoppable. There is no place in which God is not; no event in which God cannot act, and no boat in which the Lord cannot step into.

And because our eternal Father/Mother is holy, there are ways we can live that welcome that holiness in, remind us of whose we are, and make us holy too.

Leviticus conveys this.

And yes, some of these laws seem to make no sense, and yes- some of them seem to go out of their way to keep others in their place, but if we see them as a reflection of their time and their culture, we discover a way in which Leviticus says “God is still speaking, so you can keep living the best way possible.”

So, let’s apply this one way of viewing Leviticus into real life scenarios.

We know there are laws about food; what you can eat and what you cannot. It may not make total sense to us today.

But what if you had lost your home, your place of worship, and lived amongst people who didn’t share the same faith, but you still wanted to honor God?

One way is what you eat and how. Everyone’s got to eat. So maybe one way to honor God is to refrain from eating things like pork and shellfish.

Folk love a good BBQ and fish fry, but what if by choosing not to consume hot dogs and shrimp, you’re finding a way to respect God and say the Lord is holy?

Maybe before a meal you make sure the floor is swept, the plates and cups are washed, and you only use certain utensils.

This can sound a bit OCD, but by doing these things, suddenly the dining room table becomes sacred, the meal becomes a time in which God is welcomed, and the family is engaging in a way of worship that does not require a building that’s been destroyed.


Think about the Sabbath. If there is one thing every human being shares, it is time.

We all live in the same hour, same minute, same second, no matter who you are.

But what if you make a conscious choice to set aside a bit of time to do nothing?

You are setting aside a piece of time that just belongs to you and God. You are creating holy space through the invisible reality of time.

Best yet- it requires no tools, no talent, no money, and no energy.

By not doing anything, that time becomes holy, which brings us closer to God.

Today’s reading talks about paying fair wages, making just decisions, and not sowing two seeds in the same spot.

Think of the mercy these statutes provide to people who have endured much and may wonder where God is.

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Maybe you have lost your home, your place of worship, and you’re living amongst people with different beliefs, but you’re fortunate enough to own your own business.

Guess what- even if you can’t attend worship, even if you have to hide what you believe, you can worship God in the way you treat your employees and how you pay them.

Think about it- if you pay your workers in a timely manner, you are doing an act of worship; you are being holy, and therefore being brought closer to God.

If you can’t attend worship or have to hide what you believe, you can still worship God by trying your best to make fair decisions.

If you look at each situation before you as its own entity, and don’t make elitist excuses for the powerfully rich, or make enabling excuses for those you feel sorry for, you have a way to use justice as a way to worship; you are being holy, and therefore being brought closer to God.

What if you can’t do anything of these things?

What if can’t change how you eat, or take 24 hours off, or pay employees on time, or always exact justice?

Then vs. 19 says you can do something as simple as make sure that you don’t sow two seeds into the same spot.

This interesting bit of agricultural instruction is my favorite part of today’s reading.

Do not sow your field with two kinds of seed. Why?

One possible reason is this- that it is simply too unfair to make two seeds have to struggle and fight it out to see who will flourish and who will survive.

This seemingly simple direction is profoundly deep; as it indicates the all inclusiveness of God’s love.

If God knows every hair on our head, if God’s eye is on each sparrow, then it makes sense that God’s compassionate love is extended to even the smallness of seeds.

Ever wonder how deep and wide God’s love is for all of Creation? In my opinion- it is right here.

That God’s love is so grand, so mighty, so holy, that it even extends to a seed.

That God has blessed us all with so much- so much land, so much water, so much nourishment, that God says-

“There is enough for all, and no one and no thing should have to fight it out to flourish- not an employee, not a neighbor, not cattle, not even a seed of wheat, or barley, or sunflower.”

If God’s love is so rich that it even extends to seeds planted in the same soil, imagine just how great and mighty God’s love is for you, no matter what you have endured, where you are, or the things you have done or done not.

In conclusion, we are living in a New Normal, just as the people of Jerusalem did after the Exile. Like them, we are relearning, rebuilding and being resurrected.

In the process, we are reminded that the ways we live, things we do and how we treat one another is a way to worship God and a testimony to who we are and what we believe.

In doing so, we continue to grow into our identity and into our faith.

And with faith and we have hope, and with hope we have strength.

We are each in our own way holy.

We are each special seeds that have been personally planted by God, watered by the Holy Spirit, fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

We each have the ability to find our way out of the dirt, to stand tall, face the Son, and praise the Lord our God.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"I May Not Be Perfect, But I'm STRONG" 2nd Post-Irma sermon; Philippians 1:21-30

Rev. George Miller
Sept 24, 2017
Philippians 1:21-30

“As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again.”

“Great men are not born great, they are made great.”

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

“There’s no place like HOME.”

“I’m still HERE.”

These are all quotes from movies, providing inspiration for all people when the storms of life rage on.

My favorite movie quote is not a well known one, but nevertheless a quote that has carried me through 2 decades-

“I may not be perfect, but I’m strong.”

It’s from a movie called “The Best Man”, stated by a woman who refuses to be lied to, coddled, or protected from the truth, even if it hurts.

“I may not be perfect, but I’m strong.”

I wonder how many people can claim this quote today, after all we have been through pre and post Hurricane Irma.

I think this is a quote that the author of today’s letter could attest to as well.

“I may not be perfect, but I’m strong.”

Philippians is a letter written by Paul to a congregation he loves very much.

He is currently under arrest in another city, separated from his beloved church, and he is in chains, chains that no doubt were devised to make him physically uncomfortable 24 hours a day.

Paul’s crime? Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Good News that even in the darkest of times there is an eternal light that shines forth for all.

Paul is in an uncomfortable situation. His emotional pain is eased by a care package the Philippian church has sent him, with items meant to soothe his weary soul.

As a way to say thanks for their ministry to him, he composes a letter in which he is honest about his predicament, and he is honest about his emotions.

Paul does not sugar coat things or present his current state through false hope.

He tells them that he has been thinking about dying. That perhaps death would be better than to be denied his freedom and shackled with chains.

And yet, he finds a wellspring of strength within him to stay alive; to stay strong. This wellspring is the Living Water of Christ, and Paul’s understanding that he has been called to share this Heavenly Water with as many as he knows.

Paul is aware that the church members are worried about him, and here he is, the one in chains, finding ways to comfort the congregation; to let them know that though they may never meet again, Paul has no regrets.

Paul has peace, and he wants them to remember what a fellowship, what a joy divine it is to believe in Christ and to be part of such a faithful community.

He tells them to strive side by side with one another, and to live in a way worthy of Christ’s Good News.

If Paul was writing this letter today, and saw “The Best Man,” perhaps he would say “I may not be perfect, but I am strong…in Jesus Christ.”

Paul is a survivor, which makes sense, because after all he is a Jew, a person of the Book…

This big, beautiful Bible is a big, beautiful book written by survivors, and it is all about surviving.

Before there were movies that could inspire us with inspirational quotes, there was the Bible, telling us of how Eve and Adam survived being kicked out of the Garden.

How a family survives a devastating flood.

How a childless couple’s family tree survived with a promise from God about land and lineage.

How 2 minimum-wage women fooled Pharaoh and ensured that the Hebrew babies would not be put to death.

How former slaves survived harsh winds, turbulent waters and wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

How an entire faith survived total destruction of their Temple and being taken away to Babylon.

How 11 disciples and a handful of women survived the trauma of having their leader crucified, and boldly found a voice to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.

Letters from a man, isolated from everyone he knew, freedom completely taken away, kept in chains cutting his wrists, who is able to write these words-

“…I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus…”

As people of faith, as People of the Bible, as Christians, as part of the Emmanuel United Church of Christ community, we are survivors.

As survivors we can testify that the troubles we’ve faced have not been easy. The last 2 weeks did not offer us any quick resolutions.

We each had our own unique pain, unique fear, unique exhaustion, unique problems to solve.

Many of us still do, as recovery from this kind of trauma takes a while to recuperate from.

We are not perfect, but we are strong.

As we continue to heal, as we continue to rebuild from the reality of Irma, there will be things we can do as we strive side by side.

We can believe in and look for the miracles. Not everything that happens next will make sense or be logical.

But if Jesus could feed the masses with a few loaves and fishes, there will be ways in which Jesus can care for us all.

We can develop ways to tell our stories to one another and to ourselves. Stories that follow Paul’s example and admit how we truly feel, instead of pretending everything is Ok when it is not.

We can hold dear to our rituals that hold meaning to our life. Our morning cup of coffee. Our afternoon walk. Our lunch at Outback or Caddy Shack.

As a church, we embrace our ability to celebrate Communion, to confess our sins, to give back to God, and to Fellowship.

And following Paul’s wise words, we find a way to recover by coming together as a community; to stride side by side just as we have with the ministries of the church, and the opportunities that present themselves to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

“I may not be perfect, but I am strong…in Jesus Christ.”

As alluded to earlier, one way Paul endured his torment was the fact that the Philippian church had sent him a care package, a gift of things that kept his spirits up, that gave him hope, that helped him feel connected.

Today’s letter is Paul’s testimony to a community that came together. A community of many individuals that acted as ONE.

That was the mark of the earliest Christians. They were people who learned how to share their gifts, and to share their resources.

The earliest Christians called each other “Brother” and “Sister”, greeted one another with a kiss, and were known throughout the community for how they shared meals, fed the hungry, soothed the sick, visited the imprisoned, and cared for the widow, orphan and immigrant.

In conclusion, we of Emmanuel UCC are survivors.

We have survived the storm.

We survived 3, 4, 5, 6 7, 8, 9 nights of no electricity, torn up trees, flooded streets, and unsafe water.

We survived ripped apart roofs, far away families worried about us, and we have survived watching our beloved animals suffer in the heat.

It was not easy. It was not fresh smelling. It was not pretty to see.

It was not without its problems, quibbles, or shells in our teeth.

But we survived.

We may not be perfect, but we are strong.

The Lord is our Shepherd.

Jesus was certainly in the boat, and Jesus certainly took us to the other side.

For that we can say “Amen” and “amen.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Post-Irma Sermon from Sept 17, 2017; Exodus 12:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Sept 17, 2017
Exodus 12:1-14

The Holy Spirit moves in unexpected ways. Months ago this scripture was selected with no idea how relevant it would be.

Here we are with the People of God about to experience an extraordinary circumstance, a life-changing event that would forever shape who they are.

An event involving land, wind, and water.

The people, who have been living as slaves for centuries are on the cusp of experiencing freedom. Here, the Lord gives a message to their leader, Moses, about how they are to prepare.

It involves a last meal, a meal in which they have 4 days to plan out. On the 10th of the month they are to have a lamb, and on the 14th they are to slaughter it, place some of its blood over their door, and eat it in a hurry.

For the next day they will be set free, an act of liberation that includes the winds parting the Red Sea, them wandering through the wilderness, and experiencing the ways in which God will provide, even when it seems beyond hope.

Vs. 2 makes mention that this will mark the beginning of a new time-line for them; that this moment will create a before and after sense of reality.

4 days to prepare for their final meal before land, wind and water would come together to create an unbelievable experience…

…When I think about it, that’s what I unconsciously did in preparing for Irma.

Wanting to use up what was in the fridge, I cooked up frozen ravioli on Thursday. Friday took all the chesses to make a mac-n-cheese dish. Saturday was baked tofu.

I planned to have a frozen Totino’s pizza for my last meal on Sunday, the reasons because that is my comfort food, harkening back to my 20’s when a 99 cent frozen pizza fit my budget and could be doctored up with olives, garlic, and hot sauce.

But on Sunday night, right before everything really happened, I got a text from a dear friend, Gingerlee who said “Now is the times to prepare your last hot meal before the hurricane hits.”

That immediate sense of reality changed everything. I had no appetite, but I knew I had to eat, so the left-over ravioli was put into the micro-wave, and I ate it in the kitchen, standing up.

It was tasteless and emotionless, but it was a meal.

Then Irma hit. The darkness; the rain; the noise. The powerful wind blowing against the door, so powerful that for 2 hours I sat in a chair against the door to keep the wind from blowing it open.

As scary as it was, I felt some calm.

Though I brought everything from the yard inside, one thing I left outside was a blue wooden anchor ornament with seashells hanging on my front door.

It represented my connection with the ocean; it also looked a lot like a cross. It also made me feel like it was my own way to mark the doorpost.

For as vs. 13 states, the people are to mark their doorposts as a sign to them that God will not allow them to be destroyed.

That anchor clanged and banged against the door, but it survived the storm.

The day after- what a sense of relief. That cool breeze. That thankfulness of being alive. Seeing the stars in the sky.

But as we all know, the days following Irma have not been easy, for anyone. 100% of our beloved county lost electricity. The breeze stopped; the heat stifling; and it was clear that a whole new reality had settled in.

A new era had begun.

I do not want to go on into detail because we have all experienced a great trauma, and the emotional affects of the storm will last for months, if not years.

For me, living through Irma has given a whole new understanding of today’s scripture and the entire Exodus narrative.

It’s one thing to talk about how God sent a wind to part the Red Sea waters. But now there’s the realization that a wind like that would have been scary as heck for the people to experience.

By the 4th night of no electricity I was at my breaking point. How did they make it through 40 years?

If we all got stinky, sweaty, and funky with the inability to take hot showers, imagine how stinky, sweaty, and funky the Israelites must have been.

If we here are restless due to what we are experiencing, imagine how restless they would have been for those 2,080 weeks they wandered the wilderness.

Just last week, it seemed so easy to judge the Israelites for their grumbling in the dessert.

It was so easy to ask “Why were they always complaining about being hungry or thirsty when they saw God part the Red Sea, give them water from a rock and send them manna and quail? Where was their faith?”

Now I understand. The people’s grumbling was not about a lack of faith- it was about the reality of survival.

Here we are, all feeling a myriad of emotions, not because we lack faith or don’t believe in God, but because we just experienced a major event involving land, wind, and water, and we are just in the beginning stages of what our new reality is about.

The Passover marked a new era for the Israelites; just as Irma marks a new reality for us.

Here is what I think the miracle is- that even though the people experienced an event of land, wind, and water, and endured years of wandering the wilderness, being stinky, sweaty, funky, and no doubt shell-shocked, they somehow, someway found a way to be a community and to continue their relationship with God.

The event of the Passover meal and the winds parting the Red Sea would forever define them.

I think that for those who are here, Irma will define us.

I also wonder what it will be like for those who come back in October, November, December, January who will never, ever know what these last 14 days have been like, both pre- and post-Irma.

I believe that our experience of Irma will further define who we are as a people of God, who we are as a church, and who we are to the community.

Knowing what we know now about an entire annihilation of our electric system, about the waters that literally ran down our sidewalks, about our total dependence on air conditioning, cell phones, cars, gas, and generators, how do we minister to the community, and to each other…and minister to ourselves?

How do we, as a church, better prepare and respond the next time an event happens like this, because we all know there will always be a next time.

There are those here today who have their electricity back and homes are relatively intact.

I ask that if you are in this group, please be humble in what you say and do around those who still do not have electricity, air, or access to clean and hot water.

I can personally tell you that as someone who went 5 days without, it is hard not to be hurt, angered, feeling helpless, neglected and forgotten when your home is stifling, your pets are suffering, and your residence smells of mildew, rotten food and animal.

If you have electricity, or access to hot water, or a spare space to sleep, or means of serving a meal, or providing someone with ice, gas, or a generator, please find a way to share with someone who does not have these things.

To those here who are without electricity, or have extensive damage to your home, or can’t get to your home, or are feeling post-traumatic stress, please know that you have permission to feel somber, scared, stressed out and shell-shocked, and angry-as-heck.

It is not a reflection of your faith or a sign of weakness, or that you do not have trust in the Lord.

You are surviving; and you will survive.

Be honest with yourself, be honest with others. Let it be known what you need and how you really feel.

Jesus had no problem crying out to God. The psalms and prophets had no problem crying out and expressing their pain.

A few weeks ago we talked about the disciples being in the boat during mighty winds, being terribly afraid, and how Jesus got in the boat and took them to the other side.

Despite all we have been through and still have yet to go through, I truly do believe that Jesus is in the boat with us, and we will get to the other side.

We who lived through Hurricane Irma and this week are survivors, and survivors have the right to feel scared, and to be scarred by what they went through.

I think that we who are here are experiencing our own sort of resurrection, if you will.

Just as the Passover meal plays a part in giving the Israelites a new identity, what we have experienced with Irma will also give all of us a new identity, a new understanding, and a new way to be God’s people.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Pastoral Reflections While Preparing for Hurricane Irma

Pastoral Reflection on Hurricane Irma
By Rev. George Miller, Emmanuel UCC

First- breathe.

Remember it was the breath of God that moved over the waters and brought forth creation.

Now- give thanks to God.

Just as Jesus did before he broke the bread and fed the masses with just a few loaves and fish.

Then- tell God how you feel, what you need, and the things you hope for.

Just as the psalmists, and prophets, and the people of God who lived centuries before us, and will live centuries after.

Breathe…

As we in the heart of Florida prepare for all the possibilities that can befall us this weekend, it is time to do some spiritual thinking.

We’ve already dealt with fear, we are doing our best to stock up and make plans. Now we wait.

Over the last few weeks here at Emmanuel UCC we have had the chance to explore scriptures that can give us the very tools that are needed for a time like this.

Think of John 6:16-21, when the disciples are in a boat, facing rough seas, and Jesus comes to them. So often we hear this story as the one about Jesus walking on water, or Peter sinking, or the storm suddenly stopping.

But I like the image the scripture presents of Jesus stepping into the boat…and they arrive at the other side. Perhaps that is the greatest miracle of the story- that at one point they are fussing and flailing, and the other moment, Jesus steps in, and they arrive at their destination. Doesn’t mean everything was perfect or all problems solved; it means that when Jesus is with us, we will get to the other side, whatever that side is or means.

I trust that no matter what Hurricane Irma brings, we will get to the other side of the storm with Jesus.

Breathe…

Think of the 23rd Psalm. The wonderful line that reads “…your rod and your staff-they comfort me.” (vs. 4) Note the intentional word usage here.

Comfort.

God will give us comfort.

This verse does not imply that the rod and staff are like a magical wand that will remove all issues, or will wipe away whatever it is that we are prevailing against, but that we will receive comfort. Emotional strength. Spiritual solace. The ability to face whatever is in the valley.

Breathe…

Last week we spent time with John the Baptist and Jesus in the countryside, where the water was abundant (John 3:22-30). We used this expressive image of plentiful H2O to talk about all the different opportunities that are presented to us to not only help others, but to best be our authentic selves.

Not only will Irma leave us with much water, but there will be many upon many opportunities for us to reach out to one another and be the best neighbor we can be, sharing the gifts that we have.

We will also have the humble opportunity to receive the help offered by our neighbors.

The waters/opportunities will be abundant, so empowered by the Holy Spirit, let the leaders lead, the builders build, the rescuers rescue, the cookers cook/grill/BBQ/feed, the caregivers give compassionate care, the spiritual soldiers provide spiritual support, those with $$$/resources to give, those with boats- rescue, those with power tools/saws to cut away/clean up, and the police to protect.

Let us- as citizens of Avon Park, Sebring, Lorida, Lake Placid etc. come together as ONE, and we will get through this.

Breathe…

The God of Creation will find ways to give us COMFORT.

Jesus will appear in ways/people we could never imagine and take us to the other side.

The moving, dancing, ever-free Holy Spirit will empower us to use our talents/gifts to help others when the opportunities arrive.

Breathe…

We are loved. We are beloved. We are loving.

Breathe…

Amen.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Joy of Knowing Who You Are; John 3:22-30

Rev. George Miller
Sept 3, 2017
John 3:22-30

Just came back from a mini-vacation; time spent by the waters of Ft. Pierce.

I love it there, and the abundance of aquatic life that is present. In the past I’ve seen manatees in the canal, crabs crossing the highway, and gopher tortoises in the parking lot.

Last month I swam in the same water as a sea turtle; saw what I think was a bull shark thrashing near the shore.

This trip saw a dolphin, breaking the surface, again and again, and again, its beautiful shape and fin rounding out of the waves as it journeyed north, then later as it went south.

So soothing and unexpected to see.

It was so nice to be by the water, to rinse away the character I played in “Second Samuel”, to rinse off what was before, and to prepare for what is ahead.

A purification if you will, in water that was abundant.

But mindful of the chaos and complexity that water was playing across the Gulf in Houston, Texas.

There the aftereffects of Harvey are devastating and will linger for a long, long time.

To see the images of the flooding they face, to know that neighborhoods have been devastated, and that the most vulnerable have been victims…it is almost too much to comprehend.

While people debate if the 1st Lady should have been wearing high heels or Joel Osteen should have opened up his mega-church, there have been the heroes-

The everyday folk who are taking their boats and rescuing people. Those individuals working together and as teams who have saved 2, 10, 30 people from the rising waters and continue to go back to assist and to help.

Their names are largely unknown, but their photos have popped up on the news and The Daily Show and Facebook pages.

Who are these heroes? What were they doing just a week ago? What are they doing today? Why do they do what they do?

Heroes helping their neighbors.

Today’s reading features one of the earliest heroes of our faith- John the Baptist.

In the Gospel of John 1:6-8 we are told that John came to be a witness to the Light; the light meaning Jesus Christ.

John was at the Jordan River, baptizing people in the water. This piqued people’s curiosity and they asked John “Who are you?”

He replied “I am not the Messiah.”

“Are you Elijah?”
“I am not.”

“Are you the prophet?”
“No.”

“Who are you?”…

…This question of “who are you?” continues through John’s ministry.

We see this in today’s reading.

Both John and Jesus are doing what they are doing. Jesus and his disciples have entered into the countryside; John is nearby doing his ministry.

Why not? The water is abundant; there is enough for all.

But you know how folks are; they like to stir things up. So someone comes up to John as he’s busy doing what he’s doing and they try to play into his ego.

“Hey- did you see that Jesus guy and all the people he’s got?”

But John does not take the bait.

Nor does he sell himself short.

John knows who he is; he knows what he is about. He knows why he does what he does.

He knows that the water is abundant, and he knows who all the glory belongs too.

He says to them “I am not the cause of the Heavenly Celebration you are about to experience, but I am the guy who helped to get the party started, and for that I am happy.”

This is such an under-shared scripture; it is rarely, if ever taught in church. But it has such a humble message.

The depiction of John serves as an example of what it looks like to be a witness to Christ.

That as Christians we get to proclaim and experience what it means to have a mystical connection with the world that at the same time shapes and informs our ethics and how we are to act, and to be with one another.

John’s comments are reminiscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans that we shared last week.

If you recall, in Romans 12, Paul wrote that we are one in Christ, each having our own role to play.

Teachers are to teach. Benefactors give. Prophets speak truth to power. Leaders lead. Care givers provide care.

John is with us today saying “Hey, the water is abundant and there are so many opportunities to do good, great things.”

That’s what John does. He knows he’s not the Messiah. Which means he does not have to save the world.

He knows he is not Elijah, which means he is not being called to stop the rains or visit hungry widows or speak before the kings.

He knows he is not a prophet, so he doesn’t have to speak good and write in pretty penmanship and use proper grammar.

He knows he is the guy who gets to be a witness to the light and prepare others for that experience, and how cool that there is more than enough “water”, or opportunities, to go around…

…There is something so wonderful about life that we each get to continue to learn and to grow and to adopt.

And if we are fortunate, we experience why we are here on this planet and what it is that God wants us to do.

The way the gospel portrays John in today’s reading, he clearly knew who he was and what he was about, and this brought him great happiness.

As John says “My joy has been fulfilled.”

How cool is that?

That John can look across the waters and see what is being done by Jesus, and he can find contentment in that.

Friends, there is so much water, so many opportunities, right here where we are today. So many opportunities, so many things that can be done, so many chances to let the light of Christ shine, shine, shine.

And we don’t have to be the Light. We don’t have to manufacture the Light.

But we get to be reflections of that Light, and to find our own way as individuals, and as Emmanuel UCC, to share that Light.

How we can do it is limitless and always continuing to unfold.

I like to think that those heroes in Texas who are picking up people in their boats are indeed doing their own kind of ministry, what they were created by God to do.

I also believe that Jesus is in the boat with them.

In conclusion, today’s story reminds me of a story about a man named J. Hudson Taylor.

He was a Christian Missionary from Britain who spent 51 years in China. He organized a ministry that started 125 schools, campaigned against the opium trade, and oversaw over 800 missionaries.

One day he was invited to give a presentation in Australia. The pastor who introduced him used a slew of superlatives, especially the word “great.”

When J. Hudson Taylor stepped up to the pulpit, he quietly said “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”

What a wonderful way to glorify God.

The gifts that we are given are abundant; the ways that we can do ministry are many.

May we find joy in doing what we do for the Lord; may we find our own way to be a witness to the Light of Christ.

Amen and amen.

(J. Hudson Taylor story from “Be Alive- John 1-12” by Warren W. Wiersbe, pg. 42)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

In Cahoots with Christ; Romans 12:1-8

Rev. George Miller
Aug 27, 2017
Romans 12:1-8

As you see in today’s bulletin, I leave for a mini-vacation tomorrow. After play rehearsals and performances, the events of Charlottesville and Arizona, and worries about Texas, it’ll be nice to get away, shut off the cell phone, sign out of Facebook and just…breathe.

But where to go, where to go?

I’ve been to many places; though I’ve never been in Cahoots. But, apparently you can’t go there alone. In order to be in Cahoots you have to go with someone, so that’s off my list.

I wouldn’t mind being in Cognito. I hear that no one recognizes you there.

I have already been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there.

Maybe I’d like to go to Conclusions, but I was told you have to jump, and I’m not looking for physical activities this vacation.

I’ve already been in Doubt; that’s not a fun place to be.

Lord knows I’ve been in Flexible more times than I can count. I hate to admit it, but I’ve been in Capable quite a bit.

One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It pumps the heart and gets the adrenalin flowing, but for this vaca I’m looking for something a bit more Zen.

And I am in no rush to be in Continent.

Yes- for vacation it would be nice to be in Cahoots, but not this week; I’m just gonna go it alone…

In cahoots; what a fun sounding phrase. Its origin is French and it means to be in partnership.

Yes, in cahoots can be used to mean there’s some kind of conspiracy going on, but it also means to act with others in a common purpose; to share equally.

This notion of acting with others is a joyful aspect of Christianity; it’s a delightful facet of our faith.

That being a follower of Jesus Christ means that you are not following alone.

Being a Christian means that not only are you in the boat with Jesus, but that you are in the boat with many, many others, each with their own gifts, each able to play their own part, each working together to take us all to the other side.

In cahoots. To be in partnership; to act with others in a common purpose; to share equally.

That’s part of what Women’s Equality Day is about, isn’t it?

97 years ago women were granted the right to vote in America. But, don’t forget that it took 72 years of partnership and working together for that to happen.

In order for women to receive the right to vote it took the talents of many- those who could organize meetings; those who could hold and host those meetings, those who could eloquently speak and impassion the people.

Working together meant there were those who felt called to march, there were those who wrote letters, those who were willing to go to jail, and those with the means to bail them out.

Not one person could do all things but all things were done via many persons.

And as a result, our democracy, our country and the women who make up half its citizenry were taken to the other side.

That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s reading, the idea that in Christ we are One, but as One we are made up of many.

Each person has their own gifts, their own talents, and their own ability.

In other words, in Christ, we are in cahoots- equals, in partnership, all working together in the common purpose of God’s kingdom.

Paul makes this so clear and easy to understand.

If you are compassionate and truly caring for others out of empathy, care for the community around you, and do so with gladness.

If you have leadership gifts, lead, but do so with care and commitment; no half-stepping or cruelty.

If you are able to financially support, give generously and with joy.

If you are called to inspire, use your gifts of words to persuade and prod people to do what they can and what they should.

If you are naturally a teacher, teach. Help others to learn, discern, and discover.

If you are a care-giver, minister to those around you in a way that allows them true freedom and the ability to take up their mat and walk.

If you are a prophet, use your gifts to offer Christ-centered cautions and wisdom based warnings to remind us of the call to justice, kindness, and humility.

Paul makes it so, so clear- in Christ we should all be in cahoots, no one doing it alone, no one carrying a burden all by themselves, and no one thinking they and they alone have to do it all.

Paul would agree that with Jesus in the boat, we will get to the other side, together.

And what is this basis of this? What drives Paul to this notion that no one person has to do it all, and that we are free to do what we do the best?

Grace.

It is grace, God’s amazing grace that rows this theological discourse of Paul.

This celebration in Christ that because of God’s generosity we do not live in continued fear of a demonic deity bent on destruction.

Grace is the celebration that in Christ we do not have to slave away trying to please a vengeful God.

Grace is the celebration that because of Jesus we have already been promised the other side.

What makes grace so amazing is that there is nothing we have to do to earn it; there is no task we have to complete.

Grace means there is no Customer Survey check-list that grades us on a scale from 1-10.

Grace means there is no heavenly travel agent saying “Sorry, you haven’t accrued enough mileage points yet.”

Grace means we are already citizens of God’s heavenly community; we are already citizens of Christ’s colony.

Because of this good, great news, we are set free, and we are empowered to do what we can do the best way we are able to do it.

Grace says that we are in cahoots with Christ, so therefore we can act in partnership; and we act equally, not because we must, but because we may.

Grace is another way to say Jesus loves me, this we know, for the Bible tells me so- so therefore I can act with others in a common purpose and be the best me that I can be at this moment.

Romans 12 tells us that we are not only in relationship with Christ, but we are in relationship with one another.

And as with any other healthy relationship, we give of ourselves honestly and lovingly, doing what we are able to do, and knowing those things that we cannot do.

In Christ, God has generously given us Godself.

Because God is so generous, God asks that we give the best version of ourselves.

That we invite Jesus to step into our boat, knowing that we will be taken to the other side, and perhaps best of all, we will be taken together, not alone, and not apart.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

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.