Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dominion As A Place to Care, Not to Slash and Burn; Sermon on Genesis 1:28-28, 15:1-6

 

Rev. George Miller

Sept 20, 2020

Genesis 1:26-28, 15:1-6

 

How many people do this- you check into a hotel. It’s absolutely beautiful outside.  You’re on vacation.

 

But…you can’t really relax until you unpack everything and put them in their “proper” place.

 

No matter how blue the water looks, no matter how much the sun shines, no matter how much you want crab legs,

 

you just can’t fully relax until your shoes are here, your suitcase is there, the bathroom counter has all your products neatly in a row.

 

Underwear, t-shirts, pajamas in their proper location.  A place for your keys, a place for your change, a place for the paper that sits at your door, and your most intimate items placed in the drawer that holds the Gideon Bible.

 

How many will tidy up their room before the cleaning person comes in?

 

Or, upon check out, you place your used towels in the tub, give everything a quick wipe, and proceed to leave the housekeeper a nice tip.

 

If you do any of these things while staying in a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn, know that you are not alone.

 

If you don’t do these things…well I guess you’re not an A-Type Personality with a hint of OCD and ADHD.

 

But for my sisters and brothers who travel this way, I say “Bravo!”  because you are doing something that is no natural, and so elementary- you are claiming your dominion.

 

You are saying “This spot has been granted to me for as long as I am here, so I will do my best to care for it and make it feel like home.”

 

This is such a natural part of being alive. Dogs do it when they go around and around before they lay down; cats when they sit in your lap; fish in tanks who hide in the crooks and crevices.

 

Scripture is well aware of this.  Psalm 104 celebrates how the birds make their home in trees, goats have the high mountains, and rocks are a refuge for the tiny critters.

 

The idea of having a home, a place to be, a piece of earth to take care of is so elemental in the Bible, so crucial in the Old Testament.  It is one of the first themes we find in the first chapter of the first book.

 

He we are, beginning a new cycle of the Narrative Lectionary and we have come across this creation story.

 

In this account, God creates humankind in God’s image.  God creates us with a task to do- to have dominion over creation- the creatures of the sea, air, and land.  To subdue the earth.

 

Of course, these instructions have caused some confusion.  What does it mean to have dominion?  What does it mean to subdue?

 

Does dominion mean you are a tyrant who gets to chop, crush, burn and consume everything until it is gone?

 

Or does dominion mean to be a leader and protector who is compassionate, doing your part to keep things in check, collaborate, and be a part of the whole?

 

When taking this scripture out of context, it is easy for people to use it to justify destruction and consumption.

 

But if we look at the entire biblical narrative, the teaching of the prophets, Jesus, Paul, it’s clear that dominion is about being called to care, share and be part of something bigger than you.

 

Dominion- a place to be. 

 

From Genesis 1 to Genesis 15 we jump to the Sarah and Abraham narrative. 

 

They are the ancestors of our faith, chosen by God to leave the past and move into the future in which they’re promised a child, and land.

 

It’s a story surrounded by difficulty, hinging on trust, always a step away from coming undone.

 

It lays the groundwork for what dominion means and how it matters. 

 

The idea that God wants us to have our own spot in which we play a part and make a difference.

 

This is a fraction of what is making COVID so difficult for people.  This trauma has made us more aware of the places and spaces that matter to us.

 

Sure, there is the place we live, that we have been quarantining away in. 

 

Then there’s those places we didn’t know that were such a part of us.

 

The ones that are easy to take for granted when you get to go there all the time, but when access becomes limited, you realize what those spaces mean.

 

For those who didn’t realize you had a favorite restaurant with your own favorite booth, until you could no longer go and sit and eat there.

 

For those who never gave a second thought about their workspace until they could no longer go to their cubicle.

 

You don’t realize how your office chair or desk is a place of dominion until you get to it at it after a long time away.

 

Think of the church building.  Some of us did not really realize how much this physical place means until we could no longer enter in; could no longer sit in our preferred chair in our preferred row, by our preferred co-worshippers.

 

Have we ever thought of the council room, the chapel, the narthex, the fellowship hall, this sanctuary, as a place in which we have dominion, in which God has entrusted us to care for and protect?

 

That when the Willing Workers cut the grass, trim the trees, plant in the Peace Garden, they are caring for the ground God has allotted us.

 

Dominion.

 

It can be a way to dominate or a way to live in which you are in sync and you celebrate life.

 

And there is a beauty about this- God’s call for us to have dominion and care for creation can happen anywhere.

 

If we are in a jail cell, like the Apostle Paul, we can still have dominion, deciding how to act and what to do.

 

In a nursing home, I witnessed a parishioner who could no longer speak or move, who created her own dominion by keeping a candy dish by her bed that she could offer her guests.

 

When you say goodbye to one home and move into a new dwelling, we find new ways to care.

 

You can downsize into a one-bedroom apartment and still have dominion, even if all you have is a flower in a pot, a cat in your lap, and a fish in a bowl to care for.

 

Even if your house is under contract, floors ripped up, appliances out of whack, you can still have a sense of dominion wherever you stay.

 

We are created in God’s image.  We are endowed with the duty to have dominion.  How that looks and what we do is up to us.

 

We can hold on, we can horde, we can destroy, and we can dominate.

 

Or we can use our dominion to share, to shape, to do what the prophet Micah calls us to do.

 

In closing, let us go to the image we have in Genesis 15.

 

Sarah and Abraham have done what God asked.  They have traveled.  They have been patient.  They have been waiting for Gods promise of child and land to come true.

 

When hope seems to be low, after they have fought battle after battle, we have this scene in which God appears to our ancestor.

 

God says “Do not be afraid; I am your shield.

 

Abraham, feeling incredibly old and very forlorn, says “Oh God, I continue in what seems to be nothing but utter hopelessness and I am really beginning to doubt you.”

 

In which God, as a compassionate, protective leader, takes Abraham outside, into God’s dominion, and says “Look to the heavens, count the stars.”

 

At a time when Abraham felt at his lowest, when it seemed like everything was foolishness and for naught, the King of the World took him out into the Kingdom and said “Look at what I have made and believe in what I am doing.”

 

And with that, Abraham, our ancestor believed, and with that his and Sarah’s journey continued.

 

This week, when we feel down, when we feel out, when we wonder if this will ever end, let us take a moment, be aware of the dominion we have been given, no matter how big, no matter how small, and look for the ways in which God can be made known.

 

Let us look for the ways in which Heaven is revealed.

 

Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Revolutions & Reclaiming Women's Voice; Sermon On Luke 24:13-35

 

Rev. George Miller

August 30, 2020

Luke 24:13-16, 28-35

 

Revolutions.

 

We may not like them.  They may make us uncomfortable.  They can undo the very fabric of our lives.

 

Like it or not, revolutions happen. 

 

In fact, we’re going through one right now.  The signs are all around us. 

 

Change is happening.  How this change will be remembered, only time can tell.

 

Part of the current revolution is the way history is being revisited.

 

Some say history is being erased, but that is not the case.  The history that’s been taught has often been told from the dominant view. 

 

There are large swaths of that which has gone silenced, unreported, yet known by those who were there, and passed their stories on.

 

Now the internet and the inclusion of diversity has made way for those missing pieces of historic tales to find their way back into the narrative quilt of our country.

 

We’re beginning to remember those things we didn’t know we forgot.

 

Revolutions become even more revolutionary when we rediscover the missing voices.

 

For example, the Gay Rights Movement is often pictured with white men.  Truthfully, it was begun when a black trans woman named Martha P. Johnson was at Stonewall and said “no” to injustice.

 

The Women’s Rights Movement may make us think of Gloria Steinem but we often miss the lesbian presence of trailblazers like Del Martin.

 

The Civil Rights Movement lifts up MLK, but ignored his right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, because he was gay.

 

Then we have the Women’s Suffragette Movement.  The women who fought for justice while being told they had to be mindful of their men’s sensitivities.

 

They were dismissed as a “petticoat government,” compared to sirens, ignored like the Canaanite woman.

 

Not to be dismissed, the women boldly marched, showing off their petticoats.  Instead of being silenced, they loudly raised their voices even more.

 

Refusing to be ignored, one mom told her son how to vote.  “A mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” said the son, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” 

 

Unfortunately, the presence of black women in the suffragette movement was left out in the storytelling.  Women like Frances Harper and Juno Pierce.

 

Revolutions are revolutionary when we reclaim the missing voices.

 

Thanks to the inclusion of voices that are female, black, brown, gay, trans, interfaith, differently abled, indigenous, we’re hearing history from the many, instead of just one.

 

Filling in the gaps we didn’t even know were there, making sure we’re seeing the full quilt stitched with the names of Marsha P. Johnson, Ivy Bottini, Bayard Rustin, and Ida B. Wells.

 

Revolutions are revolutionary when we resurrect the missing voices.   Christianity is no different.

 

With its believers calling one another Sister and Brother, seeing themselves as Citizens of Heaven, followers of Christ were revolutionary.  So revolutionary they were lied about, chased out of town, called threatening.

 

You know you’re doing something right when the powers-that-be try to silence your presence.

 

But, as with every revolution, to gain traction, there were the stories and figures that were hidden.  Women almost became invisible.

 

There’s Thecla, a missionary force of the early church who was right up there with Paul, sharing the Gospel and overcoming the tyranny of her day.

 

The editors of the Bible left her out, making her only known to those who do the research or say to their Pastor “Why aren’t we learning about her.”

 

Mary Magdalene who was right there at the empty tomb.  At one point folk followed her as the head of the church, until Peter’s side prevailed, silenced her presence, and shamed her with a made-up back-story.

 

Then, we have today’s story.  It’s Easter evening. 2 folks are somberly walking into the sunset. 

 

A stranger appears, asking why so glum. They tell of Jesus’ death and the news that his tomb is now empty. 

 

The stranger talks with the two about scripture and prophecy.  When they arrive at their home, they invite him in for supper.  As he takes the bread, breaks it, they realize it’s Jesus, and the news about his resurrection is true.

 

Filled with joy they run back to Jerusalem and share their testimony. 

 

Well, what does this have to do with women and Women’s Equality?  There are 3 things to discuss.

 

1st- when the women at the tomb had told their story, it was dismissed as an idle tale, so they were not believed.

 

2nd- back then a woman’s testimony was not welcome in a court of law nor seen as valid.  Testimony only mattered if it came from a man.

 

3rd- when Luke was written, it was common practice to not refer to the name of a spouse.  When a story about two people appeared, and only one male name is given, it was assumed the other person was his wife.

 

Read Luke 24, you’ll see that there are two people walking on the road to Emmaus.  One is named Cleopas; it appears they live in the same home.

 

Once the man’s name is mentioned, we never hear it again.  Everything these travelers do is referred to as “they”, “we”, “us”, and “our.”

 

Meaning that although we can’t be 100% sure, it is safe to ascertain that according to the literally custom of the day, this story of the Resurrected Christ happens to both a man and a woman.

 

They speak as one, are perceived as equals, and share in their testimony.

 

Think of how radical this is; what happens if we take this bit of material and put it into the quilt of our faith.

 

Women didn’t just find the tomb empty, there’s a probability that a woman was among the first to experience and testify to the news of Christ’s resurrection, at a time when female voices were not to be believed.

 

Who knows- perhaps it really was SHE who did all the talking; Cleopas was only there to ensure she was believed, making him the prop of the story!

 

Is it possible this scripture has been viewed wrong for all these years and just now we’re finally hearing the truth because we have welcomed in all the other voices that were once ignored?

 

You may be thinking “What does any of this matter if we’ll never know for sure because she’s not given a name?”  

 

Maybe there’s another approach. 

 

What if Luke intentionally didn’t tell us the name of Cleopas’ companion, because YOU are that companion.

 

What if in a meta-physical way, Luke is telling us that WE are ALL on the Road to Emmaus and therefore WE are ALL witnesses to the resurrection?

 

Aren’t we all travelers of some sort? 

 

Don’t we all know what it is like to walk in darkness?  Don’t we all know what it’s like to be scared and unsure?

 

Don’t we all know how hard it is to believe something good right after something devastating has transpired?

 

Maybe YOU are Cleopas’ companion.

 

Maybe Luke is telling us that YOU are there to witness the Resurrected Christ.  That whenever you reflect, whenever you remember, YOU are part of the revolution.

 

When you welcome the stranger.  When you feed someone.  When you break bread.

 

YOU are welcoming the resurrected Christ even if you don’t realize it, even if our eyes don’t see.

 

By not telling us the name of the 2nd person, we can become that person.

 

Which means that on the road to Emmaus, Millie, you are there.  Evelyn, you are there.  Fae, you are there.

 

Nancy, you are there. Diane, you are there. Ruthie, you are there.  Marg, you are there.  Kathryn, up in Ohio, you are there.  Carnide, you are there.

 

Every woman, every man, every child, every adult is there, each with their own testimony to share.

 

Though we may feel sad, surrounded by darkness, when we remember, when we welcome, when we share, we are there, and so is Christ.

 

THAT is so revolutionary and beautiful to believe.

 

We began our month exploring how women have had to reclaim their inheritance, been mistreated, abused, called names, ignored.

 

But now we end by placing all women, upon that road to Emmaus, beside the risen Christ, equals and partners, witnesses, and way-makers.

 

And our world is the better because of it.

 

In Christ, the Resurrection Revolution continues.

 

Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Confronting Jesus' Misogynistic Prejudice; Matthew 15:21-28

 

Rev. George Miller

August 23, 2020

Matthew 15:21-28

 

Once upon a time there was a beautiful coastal town called Capernaum, located on the northern shore. 

 

It was the spot for delicious seafood, sparkling sunsets, and good, God-fearing folk- a perfect place to retire or raise a family.

 

In this town lived a Roman soldier of great prestige.  A member of the military, he had at his disposal a big, comfortable home, and many servants.   

 

As a Roman, he was one of the enemy invaders who had taken over the land and was there to make sure the citizens didn’t get out of line.

 

As a gentile, he worshipped many gods, like Jupiter and Mars.

 

One day a man visited this peaceful fishing town.  A man known for the gift of gab and the ability to heal; a Jew named Jesus.

 

The soldier went up to him and said “Lord, my servant is in pain and terrible distress.”

 

Jesus responded “OK, dude. I’ll come to your home and cure him.”

 

To which the soldier says “Bro, I’m really not worthy, and I don’t want to bother you. If you just say the word, I’m sure my butler will be healed.”

 

When Jesus hears this, he’s amazed. “Whoa dude! I’ve been to many places and seen so many faces, but I’ve never met anyone with faith like yours!”

 

“Even though you’re not a Jew you’re welcome to come drink beer and eat hot wings with me in Heaven’s Kingdom.”

 

“Go! Your faith has made your manservant well.”

 

As told in Matthew 8, this story is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, as it features the healing of a Gentile.

 

 

 

 

Jesus mainly saw his ministry as to the children of Israel.  Until this point, the people Jesus heals, feeds, and sits with are people from his own faith group.

 

This stunning interaction seems to mark a new day, a new way. Now that the 1st Gentile has been voted in by Jesus, all the Gentiles are welcome and there is no more prejudice…right?

 

Wrong…because just 7 chapters later we have another story featuring another gentile, with a much different response.

 

Jesus has had a hard day at work.  The town’s faith leaders haven’t been nice to Jesus, nitpicking how he does things.

 

So Jesus does what any messianic son-of-God would do- he runs away.

 

He leaves town and travels to the boondocks of no man’s land, a place that makes Zolfo Springs seem trendy.

 

While there, a non-Jewish native approaches him.  She’s shouting-  “Have mercy on me, Lord.  My daughter is sick; we need your help.”

 

Jesus ignores her; pretends he doesn’t hear her screaming like she’s giving birth.  He keeps on walking as if she’s not even there.

 

But she’s an ambitious, nasty woman, so she keeps shouting for help.

 

The disciples can’t handle how shrill and abrasive she sounds.  They go up to Jesus.  “Dude, make her go away.  Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard.”

 

Jesus says “I don’t have time for this.  I told you before, I was only sent here for the children of Israel.”

 

But this woman?  She’s resilient.  Just like the magi, just like the disciples, she kneels before him.

 

“Lord, help me.  Help my daughter.”

 

Jesus finally stops.  Acknowledges her.

 

Says “But you and your daughter are dogs.  It’s not good to take the children’s breadsticks and throw them to mutts like you.”

 

To which the woman says “Call us mutts if you must, but even dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.”

 

Blindsided, Jesus says “Woman, great is your faith. What you desire is done!”

 

Like that!, another daughter is made well by the ministry of Emmanuel.

 

Before getting too happy, we have a lot to contend with.  This is a challenging text, confronting how we see Jesus.

 

An indigenous, rural woman of Gentile descent comes to Jesus for help, and he refuses.  She screams for help, and he ignores her.  She begs on behalf of her daughter, but he states she’s not good enough because she is different.

 

And yet, just a few chapters before Jesus had no problem being bros with a Roman soldier, gladly healing his minimum-wage earning servant.

 

Why two similar stories, yet two different responses?  A man appeals to Jesus and he is quick to respond.  But a woman must yell just to be ignored.

 

The centurion is invited to dine at the Lord’s table, but the mother is told there’s not enough food to go around.

 

This Roman brags that he can send men scurrying left and right, but this woman’s child is referred to as a dog.

 

He gets to stand while speaking, but she must bow before she is heard.

 

There’s so much in this scripture to parse out.  So much to discuss, to debate, to hold Jesus accountable for.

 

People will try to give Jesus an easy excuse; to give him an out.

 

“Oh, he’s just a man, after all.” 

 

“He’s not being racist; he’s just reflecting the attitude of the day.”

 

“He doesn’t really mean her daughter is a dog, more like a cute puppy.”

 

Ask any woman what it means when a man calls you a dog, and they know.

 

We all know.

 

So once again, we are left asking “What the heck is the Good News?” 

 

What do we do if Jesus is knocked off the pedestal and his more human, culturally-based self is on display?

 

The Good News comes from understanding and celebrating who the true hero of this story is.

 

The hero is not Jesus; it’s not the disciples.  It’s the woman who refused to be insulted and refused to take no for an answer.

 

Besides Jesus and Peter, the mother in today’s reading is perhaps the most fully realized person in the Gospel.

 

With just a few descriptive phrases we know so much about her. 

 

Her words and actions that tell who she is, what she’s about.  What extent she’ll go to get what she wants, what she will do for the sake of her daughter.

 

She is a woman who refuses to be ignored.  She is a person who refuses to let injustice go unchecked. 

 

She is someone who knows how to play the game and use society’s biased views to her advantage.

 

She may be rural, but she is city smart.

 

She may be a Gentile, but she understands better than anyone else who the Messiah is and what being called “Lord” is really about.

 

She knows that for the Son of David, having mercy is part of the job description. 

 

She may not go to the Synagogue on Saturday, but she knows that the True Messiah will do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

 

So when she sees Jesus not being humble, not being kind, not being just, she calls him out. 

 

“Call us dogs if you must, but offer my daughter a crumb of the healing you are called to give your own children.” (adapted from O. Wesley Allen Jr.)

 

This woman is amazing. 

 

She joins the likes of Rachel, Shiprah, Puah, Deborah and Jael as Citizens of Heaven who fought for what they deserved and for what was right.

 

Here is one more thing- this ambitious, amazing woman goes down in history as the 1st and only person in all of the Gospels to teach Jesus something he did not know.

 

Instead of Jesus changing her, she changes him. 

 

She recognizes his authority and what responsibility that entails.

 

She refuses to be ignored.

 

She lobs his insult right back.

 

She gets her daughter healed.

 

She makes Jesus a better person than he was before.

 

THAT is spiritual lineage we come from.  THESE are the theological bones that build our body.

 

She is a woman who refuses to be ignored, refuses to be silenced, and by doing so brings change and healing into our world. 

 

May we all be so brave, so bold, and so ambitious.

 

For that we can say “Amen.”