Sunday, December 3, 2023

Heaven's Wine; Jeremiah 33:10-16


Rev. George Miller

Dec 3, 2023

Jeremiah 33:10-16


Christmas is a special season; an emotional season;  a season of joy; a season of sadness;


a season of anticipation; a season of stress;


a season of remembering times past; a season of making memories that are new.


Christmas is the time to share a tradition like watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, while it is also a reminder of who is not there to watch it with.


Christmas is a time to decorate the tree and recall the memory attached to each ornament while also adding new ornaments that will have new stories to tell.


Christmas is a time to be thankful for those who are in your life while mourning those who are gone, or slipping away.


Christmas is a combination of joy and grief, hope and hopelessness, fondness and unfairness.


Christmas is honoring the light in the darkness.  It is a baby in a manger, it is shepherds in a field, it is you and I traveling once again to Bethlehem to see what God can do.


And part of what God is preparing to do is to bring Heaven right here on earth in the form of Jesus.


Which makes today’s reading so wonderful.  All we have discussed since September and all we are preparing to do appears in this text.


Today is a reading written during a time of despair and uncertainty, a time when the nation is in chaos and the extended family of God is in mourning.


Jeremiah’s words are to the people of Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz.


Things have not been so good for their kin- the family chisme tells us there has been all this in-fighting, poor decisions, deceit.


Each generation of Jacob’s family has lost their focus, they have strayed from the teachings that King Josiah had rediscovered.


So the land is suffering, the economy has tanked, their family bonds have been decimated.


Jeremiah addresses this, but then he does something so beautiful- instead of saying “That’s it- the family is over”, he brings in a source of light and hope.


“Hold on,” he says.  “The parade is about to begin!  God is ready to do something new.”


“Soon there will be weddings again, soon their will be songs of joy, sounds of mirth, there will be singing and thanksgiving.”


To this broken extended faith family of God who haven’t had a reason to celebrate in years, Jeremiah says “A wedding is about to happen soon, and God has put your invitation in the mail.”


This will be a time of food, festivities and wine flowing, made from grapes that are so so good.


“Hold on,” is the message from God “Watch how heaven breaks in.”


…If you recall, back in September we did Stump The Pastor and someone suggested John 2- the Wedding at Cana. 


I said how perfect it was after the Sabbatical because during the summer I had come to learn more about the Latin community and how instrumental the family is, and family gatherings are.


In John 2 we saw Jesus and Mary attend a wedding in which they ran out of wine, so Jesus turned water into something delicious- good wine, “the best wine.”


In the Old Testament, wine was used to represent the inbreaking of Heaven. 


When writers and prophets wanted to express God’s Kingdom here on earth, they used wine to represent how wonderful God’s heaven is.


Wine, freely flowing, shared by all, overfilling our cups, was a way to symbolize the presence of God in the here and now.


So when Jeremiah offers this image of mirth and gladness of a bride and bridegroom, we can imagine the food and drink that is present, such as goblets of wine filled with sacred juice of the vine.


A few weeks ago we discussed Isaiah’s image of God being the wine maker, making the ground good for us to grow as grapes.


In other words, God tills the soil so we can become the products and participants of Heaven.


So in some ways we get to drink the wine of Heaven as well as become part of the wine.


Let’s take this image to the wedding of Canaan.  We’ve heard this story so many times but now, let us hear it in a different way.


Jeremiah 33 points to a time when there will be a bridegroom and a bride and there will be songs and laughter, joy, and mirth.


John 2 presents to us a day when such a wedding occurs, when family and friends and the entire town come together.


What happens- Jesus turns water into wine, not just any old wine, but the best, the most choice.


But Jesus does not act alone.  It involves his mother encouraging him as only a mom can.  It involves a multitude of workers who carry the stone jars to and from the well, filling it with water.


It takes the steward to taste, the servants to serve, the participants to drink  and the entire community to celebrate.


The Wedding at Cana is not just about a miracle, it’s an act of Heaven breaking into the world and everyone being recipients of it.


It's about the extended faith family coming together and being part of an ancient tradition that creates new memories.


It’s about Jesus finding a way to fulfill the words of Jeremiah, who said to the people that though they can’t see it now, the Kingdom of God is real, and the ways of Heaven will arrive.


This promise of Jeremiah that Jesus makes real does not dismiss the darkness, nor ignore the pain that life entails, but it points us to a promise and an image, and a sound of what joy can look like.


So as we embark on our journey to Bethlehem, as we prepare to see the face of the Christ Child again,


lets us be aware of the loss and stress and grief we have endured,


but also look beyond to the heavenly possibilities that await for us,


as individuals and as members of this amazing extended faith family known as Emmanuel.


Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

In God There is ALWAYS Another Chance; Sermon on 2 Kings 22:1-11


Rev. George Miller

November 26, 2023

2 Kings 22:1-11


A few days ago our nation came together to remember a meal, a time in our country’s heritage in which our ancestors had survived one of the harshest of seasons.


So they celebrated with a supper featuring foods that connected their past, their present, and the local indigenous people.


There are stories and memories that is passed down about that meal, and who knows what is true, what is fabricated, and what was hoped for.


But like the story of Manna from Heaven, or the Loaves and Fishes, the story we hear and tell about America’s first Thanksgiving is one that is meant to remind us of where we have come from, how far we have gone, and fill us with hope about future possibilities.


What really happened, who was there, what was actually said and eaten is left for our collective imagination, passed down generation to generation, meant to unite us, and remind us of what we look like when we are at our best.


Same can be said about today’s scripture.  It is presented as a fact, but there has always been the question about the historical accuracy of 2 Kings and if things really happened as reported.


Today’s reading is an example of how sometimes the Bible is more interested in telling us an idea than it is in offering investigative journalism that can stand up in a court of law.


Today’s story goes like this.  Once upon a time in the South, there was a bad bad king who did bad bad things.  When he dies, a new king took over and he was good.


This new king decided that all the people who helped to build the Temple, care for the Temple, and run the Temple should be paid.


So this good king has his assistants go and count the money so he could pay all the workers what they deserve.


Well- when they went to count the money they found a very special, very old book that belonged to Moses telling the King and all the people what to do.


This book featured the 10 Commandments and the Laws and the rules about caring for orphans and widows and foreigners and plants and animals and how resting on the Sabbath was important and it was never good to spread lies about your neighbor or to steal.


When this good good King was given this book, his heart broke because he knew that his country had not been doing any of those things for a long time.


So this good king reached out to a very smart, very wise woman named Huldah, and she said “Because you have empathy and care deeply about all the wrong that has been done, and because you are sorry and have cried for your people, the Lord has heard your heart and you will live in and die in peace.”


It is a beautiful narrative designed to tell the people how their nation and King was able to remember what it is like to follow the ways of Heaven.


It is a story full of a large cast of characters, great coincidence, in which the narrator invites us in, and makes it sound as if that is exactly how it happened.


I don’t know about you, but I am OK if this story is fabricated just a bit, if the facts have been fudged, if the who what where when and why could never be proven .


Because what it so likeable about this story is the idea that no matter what, no matter who, no matter where, no matter why-


in God there is always another chance, there is always another opportunity, there is always another moment to say “Let’s make it right.”


This is a story about what happens when a person, a community, a nation forgets, and not only that- forgets that they even forgot…


…and somehow, someway the Word of God comes along and they are reminded, they are moved, and their heart says “What have we done?” and “What can we do?”


Today’s reading is about the glorious gift of grace and new chances.  It is about that lost coin, that lost sheep, that trampled grape vine and the way in which God enters in and a new opportunity is presented.


And note, this story of new beginnings and peaceful redemption doesn’t just involve one person.  This is not just about one king who happens to be good.


This is a story that involves a multitude of people-


mothers, daughters, great-grandparents, sons, priests, workers, carpenters, builders, masons, handymen, purchasers, accountants, administrators, female prophets, wardrobe assistants.


On Thursday, we got to share a meal, a sacred national supper in which our memories were focused on a time when we overcame the worst to face our best.


Today we share a story, a sacred community story, in which our memories are focused on a time when the nation of God was at their worst and rediscovered who they are, what they were meant to be, and how to best live their lives.


Those who took part in that moment in time got to live out a life of peace and die with content hearts.


May we, as members of Emmanuel, as followers of Christ, as grapes of the vine and members of the extended faith family of God,


May we also find our own ways to remember and reapply all that we have learned, all we know to be true,


so that we can live as if God’s Kingdom is on earth and experience the gifts of heavenly peace.



Saturday, November 18, 2023

Grapes of Gratitude; Nov 19 2023 sermon on Isaiah 5:1-7


Rev. George Miller

Nov 19, 2023

Isaiah 5:1-7


Last week we saw Jesus as a small-town son.  Well - Isaiah is a southern boy, prophesizing to the lower part of the nation.


If storytelling is an art form in small towns, natured based sayings are essential to the south.


“She hasn’t got the sense God gave a goose.”  “He’s pitching a hissy fit with a tail tied to it.”


“Grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet tater.”


Sayings that expect you to have some idea of what a goose, possum and tater are.


Last week, we heard Hosea use family terms to express God’s relationship with us.  Today, Isaiah uses agricultural terms.


He portrays God as a grape-growing wine maker.  BUT not the bourgeoise kind of landowner who hires others to do the work.


The God that Isaiah offers us is like the Lady in Luke 5 who looks for the Lost Coin, who sweeps the floor, gets on her hands and knees to search every nook and cranny.


Isaiah’s image of God is similar- hands on and willing to dig in the dirt, clear away stones, who prunes and plants with precision.


Isaiah portrays God as intentional, caring, creating safe boundaries with watchtowers and plenty of water.


In verse 7, the people of God are presented as a pleasant planting expected to produce justice and righteousness.


Verses 1-3 have this image of God as Robert Mondavi, and Old McDonald.


It’s like Genesis 2 in which God digs into the mud to form Adam. 


Isaiah does not show God as distant or disinterested, but God as hands on, all in and covered in muck, manure and mulch.


Which brings us to today’s thought- if this image of God as vintner is to be embraced…what kind of grape do see yourself as?


Not all grapes are the same; there are so many varieties- muscadine, merlot, chardonnay.


If you like Isaiah’s image of God as a grape grower, what kind of grape do you see yourself to be?


Sweet or bitter?  Mild or tart?

Apple juicy?  Large and delicious?


Would you say you are a Hardier European?  Ripe and black?


Dark and sun warmed?  Cuban wild?


What kind of spiritual grape would you call yourself?


The praying kind?  Preaching kind?  The host and hospitality kind?


What kind of spiritual grape are you?


The feeding hungry bodies kind?

The educating minds kind?  The caring for church property kind?



What kind of spiritual grape are you?


Grape of gratitude?

Surf and sun kind?

Monitoring the money kind?


So many grapes and so many different varieties-


Are you the Living in simplicity kind, studying world religions kind, slowing down to enjoy the day kind, the “hopeful expectation” kind?


So many grapes that God grows, each with their own uniqueness.


There is the more extended faith family and communal question-What kind of grape is Emmanuel?


When the Holy Spirit saw fit for our church to be planted in 1990 there was a purpose in mind.


What kind of grape is Emmanuel UCC?  The FL Conference, founding pastor and founding members had an idea in mind.


Back when Rev. Loffer was alive, he said that Emmanuel UCC was founded to be a “progressive presence in central, rural Florida.”


We have been that grape, which some have found to be sweet, some have found to be sour.


What kind of grape is Emmanuel UCC?  For what purpose? 


Over the years we’ve proclaimed that we are the variety that believes in justice, kindness and humility; we are the variety that has a passion for God and compassion for all.


Over the years we’ve been a particular vineyard of God that feeds 150 families a month in addition to 5 local agencies.


We are a vineyard that shows up, speaks out, stands up and stands with.


Over the years this vineyard has been one of education, illumination, collaboration, one of spirit, soul, multiculturalism, Pride, and Women’s equity.


We are a vineyard that is Open and Affirming and still growing into what else we can be.


If Isaiah was alive today, what sassy southern saying would he say about us?


“They’re as happy as clams at high tide.”  “Many hands make a light load.”  “Say yer prayers n blessin.”




Maybe he would say “They’re alive and living, sweet and ripe, products of the Sun, filled with the Spirit, and Watered by the Word.”


We are one of God’s beloved vineyards.


As such, we continue to grow and learn, live and love, in passion and compassion, justice and kindness, followers of Christ, lovers of Jesus.


Amen and Amen.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

God As Sacred Feminine- Nov 12 2023 sermon on Hosea 11:1-12


Rev. George Miller

Nov 12, 2023

Hosea 11: 1-12


Jesus was pretty much a small-town boy living in a rural community.  Like those born and raised in small towns, there were certain things Jesus liked.


He cared about his Momma.  He didn’t mind talking about God.  He loved a good meal.  He hung out with folks who worked the land.  He could tell a good story.


Storytelling is currency in small towns- the ability to spin a yarn, give the right amount of detail, talk about things people knew and did on a daily basis.


One day, Jesus told a story that was just 2 sentences long- A woman loses a coin.  So she lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds it.  Then, she calls her friends and over and says “Let’s celebrate for what was lost is found.”


This parable shows how God will search us out when we are lost.  So simple, so sleek, so relatable.


Who hasn’t lost a $20 bill and searched high and low for it? 


Who hasn’t lost something at home and you’re moving around furniture, reaching under the couch, lifting up cushions?


Who here hasn’t been at a point in their life in which you needed to gather all your coins if you wanted to put gas in your car?


So we understand this woman’s plight, we appreciate her search.


But there’s more going on here.  Jesus is telling this story at a time in which people do not have a tiled floor or white linoleum.


Wood was expensive so floors were made from pounded down dirt or it thatch-style flooring, made of straw, water reed, etc.  


So this woman isn’t just looking for a lost coin, she’s putting in the work.  She’s getting dirty.  She’s having to look between the crevices and hiding places the straw and reeds can create.


And she does not stop, she does not quit.  She keeps lighting the way, sweeping the path, seeking through the earth, peering in the palms until she finds that most valuable, exquisite, one-of-a-kind, important coin- YOU!


And then she celebrates with joy.


Do you notice the radicalness of this narrative- Jesus dares to portray God as a woman, and not just any woman, but a salt-of-the-earth kind of woman who does housework and uses a broom!


Think of how amazing this is.  At a time in history in which women were not valued, or seen as trustworthy witnesses in a court of law, a time in which daughters could be sold off as things…


Jesus dares to compare the God of All Creation as a woman, a She, a Her.


For weeks now we’ve been asking “Why Jesus?”  We have another answer- because Jesus’ faith and understanding of God was so great that he could see God as a woman and not be all upset.


We share this parable from Luke 15:8-10 because it gives us one of the few times the Bible portrays God as the Sacred Feminine…but it’s not the only time.


Proverbs portrays Wisdom as a woman.  Isaiah shows God as a mother offering comfort.


Today’s reading from the Book of Hosea is pure Sacred Feminine as we have God the parent who teaches the people how to walk, lifts them up, and bends down to feed them- a reference to breast feeding.


Imagine that- within our holy text is an image of God breast-feeding the lost people of Israel, providing them with sacred milk.


This whole passage is like an oasis.  The words appear like green grass in the middle of a spiritual dessert in which the prophet Hosea is going on and on about the sins of the people, the many, many tragic mistakes they have made.


This passage takes place after God goes on a rant about just how disappointed, how hurt God is by the actions of the people.


This is God, the Heavenly Matriarch of the Family saying to all the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents-


“What’s happened to our family?  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  When you were a baby, I called you for my own, but you kept running away.”


This is God, heartbroken saying “You were raised better than this, but you keep going against all that you were taught so now the whole place is in chaos.”


This is God, the fed-up head of the household saying “Day after day I watch you hurting yourself, hurting others, and hurting me.  Maybe I should just give up on you…forever.”


This is God, the Heavenly Mother who says “But how can I turn my back on you?  My womb that carried you is filled with love.  I remember your first steps.”


“I remember when I held you to my face.  I remember when I held you to my heart and you suckled from my breasts.”


This is God saying “No matter what you have done, no matter what hurt you have caused, no matter what horrible experiences you have endured, you are still my child, and I will always, always love you.”


This is God, as the Mother who waits up all night for her child to come back from the prom.  This is God, the parent who waits for their child to come back from war.


This is God, as parent who keeps the light on and a plate of food in the fridge.


This is God, who like the woman in Jesus’ parable, does not stop, does not quit, who is willing to dig in the dirt or look through the thatch if that’s what it takes.


The Good News for us, for all of us, is knowing that no matter what mistakes we make, no matter what sins we have committed, we can always turn back to God, we can always return to Home.


For that, let us say “Amen.”