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)