Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Letter To The Editor

 Saturday's letters are well worth reading, but for reasons the writers did not imagine. The 1st letter, so eloquently drafted, compared the current President to Lancelot and Don Quixote. How fitting since Lancelot was an adulterer who's actions tore Camelot apart. Quixote was a charismatic, lonely figure living with mental illness. As to the 3rd letter, there is a reason why the sitting President was not given credit- he is an abusive authority figure who classically did a few nice things so he could continue to act dysfunctional, like a husband bringing flowers to his wife after hitting her. Those who don't support the soon-to-be-ex-president did so because we saw him for who he really is, we love America way too much, and we wanted to protect every citizen from the President's wrath and illness.  Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Resilience- Daniel 6:6-11

 

Rev. George Miller

November 29, 2020

Daniel 6:6-11

 

The Season of Advent begins today; a time of hopeful expectation for the Light of Jesus that is about to arrive.

 

While the secular world is busy with decorations, sales and Mariah Carey, the Church views Advent differently.

 

Though we know this season ends in light, we are aware that it begins with the year’s darkest, longest nights.

 

In the darkness we endure loneliness, uncertainty, and unexpected situations.

 

Perhaps no news story better illustrates this than what’s happening in Ethiopia.

 

With a war raging on, 40,000 people have fled to the Sudan seeking safety.

 

Half of the refuges are under 18. 700 of the refugees are pregnant women.

 

One woman named Lemlem gave birth while on the run. Her baby’s 1st bath was in a puddle.

 

Her friend, named Blaines is 8 months pregnant and travelled across a dessert, sleeping on the scarf she carried.

 

Think of these two women, Lemlem and Blaines- they are perhaps closer to Jesus’ mother than any movie can be.

 

Think of the Christmas Story. Of Mary, pregnant. Traveling for days to Bethlehem. Giving birth in a manger.

 

Perhaps she too had nothing but a scarf to sleep on; perhaps she too had to bathe her child in a puddle…

 

…My Lord…

 

Now, before we get too glum, let us lift up that in their stories there is the Light of Hope- Resilience.

 

Resilience, means the ability to hold on, be strong, overcome what comes your way, even if it leaves you a bit broken and feeling undone.

 

Resilience is a rose that grows through a city sidewalk; resilience is surviving 5 years of being a war prisoner.

 

Resilient.

Tenacious.

Remembering.

 

That’s who we are.  Why we survive.

Why we reach out.  Why we show up.

Why we proclaim Emmanuel- God With Us.

 

Look no further than Daniel.

 

Daniel was a faithful, God-Loving Jew who lived during one of the darkest, most uncertain times in history.

 

Daniel was a citizen of Jerusalem.  He saw his beloved city was destroyed.  He was among thousands taken away.

 

Daniel was a physically fit specimen of human perfection.  The Babylonian administration took him in as someone who could be taught their ways and turned into a proper society member.

 

But Daniel was a man of deep conviction and faith.  Every time they tried to turn him from his ways, Daniel found a way to non-violently protest, speak up and do what he felt was right.

 

This solid sense of character made Daniel quite successful, so successful the next king promotes Daniel to one of the 3 “presidents” in his kingdom, giving Daniel authority to look after the people in his part of Babylon.

 

Danny-Boy is so good at his role that the other 2 presidents get jealous and come up with a plan- let’s have the king proclaim a law that says if anyone prays to anyone but the king, they will be cast into the lion pit.

 

“M’Kay,” the king foolishly says, passing this abomination of faith into law.

 

And Daniel?  He knows full well that this law has been put into effect, but it doesn’t stop him from being who he is.

 

Just as he has always done, 3 times a day Daniel goes into his 2nd floor apartment, opens up his window that faces Jerusalem, and he prays.

 

Daniel just doesn’t pray- he seeks mercy before God.

 

Mercy, as you recall from Jonah and Jeremiah, is a Hebrew word rooted in the word “womb” and means motherly love.

 

Daniel, a captive in a strange land, stays true to who he is, and when told he must pray a certain way, he takes a non-violent stance by getting on his knees and praying to God for womb-love.

 

This Daniel, just like Rachel who refused to stand for her father, just like Hannah, who refused to apologize for her style of prayer, is the spiritual legacy in which we are from.

 

Though faced with death, Daniel choses life by choosing God.

 

Like Jonah, Daniel is forced into a dark pit.  Instead of being inside a giant fish, he is in a den of hungry lions.

 

Yet somehow, someway, he survives, and he lives to see another day.

 

Now we could spend time wondering “How this can be?” 

 

Was it Daniel’s prayers for God’s womb-love that saved him?

 

Was it the prayers of the King after realizing he’d been tricked by his administration?

 

Was it simply that the lions had no desire for the flesh of a vegetarian?

 

That’s for you to discern at home, but here is what we’d like to say- today’s story about Daniel teaches us one way to be strong, one way to survive.

 

How to be strong when we are in great darkness.  How to be strong when we face uncertainty.  How to be strong living with unexpected experiences.

 

Daniel teaches us one way to face our enemies.  One way to deal with death head on.  One way to face injustice, unkindness, and non-humility.

 

Just as Jonah can be a patron saint for men facing bruised egos, Daniel can be a patron saint for all people who feel like they’ve been cast into a lions’ den, living in dangerous times, or being asked to go against what they believe.

 

In other words- Daniel is all of us, and we are all Daniel.

 

Daniel is an ancestor we all share, someone we can trace our spiritual lineage too.

 

Daniel shows us how to turn to God, how to seek God’s motherly love, and how to open the windows of our heart.

 

No doubt Daniel’s story empowered the people of Jesus’ day when the Temple fell a second time.

 

No doubt Daniel’s story empowered the Jewish people during the Crusades and the Holocaust.

 

No doubt Daniel’s story is offering many people courage during this time of rising white supremacy.

 

This is the power of the Biblical Narrative; this is why we love to tell the story-

 

Because the more we know, the more we remember.

 

When we remember the mercy that God has shown before, we can find our own heavenly strength to

 

-hold on

-stay strong

-face the darkness

-make it to the Light.

 

And when we survive, we proclaim our story so others in the wilderness, others in the belly of the fish, and in the den of lions know how to respond.

 

How to seek mercy.

 

To not give up without a fight and how to find the strength to endure.

 

To live on.

To be resilient.

To be tenacious.

 

To have hope, and to hope with the Lord.

 

For that we can say “Amen.”

Monday, November 23, 2020

Imagine-We WILL Get Through This; Jeremiah 36:1-3

 

Rev. George Miller

Nov 22, 2020

Jeremiah 36:1-3

 

Imagine: 2022.  A cruise, perhaps to some place like Alaska.

 

Smooth jazz; fresh salmon

Shrimp cocktail

Sunsets like you’ve never seen before.

 

Breathing in the Breath of Creation.

 

Imagine: 2021.  A Christmas gathering

 

Children, grandbabies, nieces, nephews

Sweet potato pie; sparkling cider

Fresh bread

Presents, thoughtfully, purposely purchased to say “Christ is born!”

 

Imagine: Being Alive in

-4 years to see another election

-3 years to see brand new political ads

-2 years to welcome in 2022 with funky glasses with “2” on each lens

-I year to celebrate Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.

 

But 1st…1st we got to get there.

 

To make it through today

Make it through next week

Make it through next month

Make it through this year.

 

To make it through this uneasiness

This sadness; this disappointment

This…EXILE.

 

Yes, we are scared

Yes, we are mad

Yes, we want to worship together

Face to face

Shoulder to shoulder

Hand to hand

 

But by us not meeting in person we are doing the right thing; we are choosing life, just as Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 30.

 

That’s what we as Emmanuel UCC have collectively decided.  By halting our in person worship we are choosing God, we are choosing life.

 

We are doing our part to love and protect one another, so that we can all live to see another day.  To live another year in God’s beautiful nahalah being blessed and blessing others.

 

 

To see Disney World turn 50

To see the Class of 2022 graduate

To go out and vote in the next election

 

Sadly, that’s not the case in today’s reading.

 

Here we have a story that involved a prophet, a people, and a politician.

 

Jeremiah lived over 2,800 years ago.  He was an emotional empath who saw how faith, politics, economics, and the environment were all tied together.

 

Jeremiah is in tune with international events and he knows that if the powers-that-be don’t act soon the country will be overthrown.

 

The Lord gives Jeremiah a direct message to share with the nation, just like God did with Jonah.  If they don’t wise up, change their ways, and face their wrongs, then they will face harsh consequences.

 

This message is yet another attempt of God showing merciful, womb-love.

 

God wants the nation to turn around; God wants the people to see a new day. 

 

God is using every possible resource to get the message out that God is ready to show them merciful, motherly love.

 

Jeremiah has these words written down, sends his Head Administrator Baruch to share this message in the Temple, and the people take the news seriously.

 

Baruch shares the message with local officials; they take it seriously.

 

Baruch shares this message with the King.  And the King…

 

…the person who is single handily responsible for the health and welfare of the kingdom…

 

Sits smugly in his chair.  

 

Takes out a pocketknife, cuts the message into tiny pieces, tosses them into the fire, gets mad at the messenger.

 

As a result, God’s merciful love manifests into another form of Parental Love- consequences for unjust, unethical behavior.

 

If only the King of Judah had acted like the King of Nineveh, he could have saved the people, save the land, and save the animals from enemy attack.

 

Instead, the King sets into motion events that will lead to the downfall of the nation, the destruction of the Temple, the death of countless citizens, and the closing of locally owned stores.

 

For more than 50 years, the people, the animals, the economy, and God’s beautiful nahalah will suffer unspeakable pain, suffering, and loss.

 

God’s Prophet offered the nation’s leader a chance to do the right thing and accept God’s womb love.

 

And the King said “No.”

 

He clearly did not understand dominion really meant.

 

The King clearly forgot the legacy God had established through Sarah’s family.

 

Clearly the King could give a flip about what folk like Hannah did to make his life possible.

 

He chose to forget Moses’s words to “Choose Life; Choose God.”

 

It appears we are living a similar experience now.

 

An administration that would rather get mad at the medical professional.

 

A state governor who’d rather dismiss what all his peers suggest.

 

County Commissioners who’d rather tell concerned citizens to “sit down” that to make a mandate to “mask up.”

 

But here’s the thing- As Christians,

as followers of Christ

Believers in the Truth

The descendants of

Deborah, Micah, and Esther

 

We answer to more than County Commissioners; we answer to more than State Governor.

 

We answer to the Holy Spirit

We answer to Jesus Christ

We answer to God.

 

And what does the Lord want?

 

To do justice, Love Kindness, to walk humbly, ethically with God.

 

Since Emmanuel UCC has a passion for God and compassion for all, WE are not dismissing the severity of what is happening.

 

We are not placing YOU in harm’s way.

 

We are not dismissing the prophetic work of our Council and our Preparation As Stewardship Team.

 

Instead, we are boldly, mercifully, motherly choosing life, we are choosing God.

 

We will continue to find ways to praise God.  We will continue to find ways to worship God through the ministry of our hearts and the ministry of our mind.

 

So, in closing, Beloved Community-

 

DO. NOT. BE. LIKE. THE. KING.

 

Don’t toss the message into the fire.

Don’t be mad at the messengers.

 

Instead, trust in God.

Look towards the future.

 

Save for that cruise.

Stock up on supplies for your 2021 Christmas dinner.

 

Hold onto hope for the world.

 

For after all, when we have hope, we are hoping with God.

 

Amen and amen.

 

*Today’s message would be impossible without a conversation with Steve Wills, head of The Shepherd’s Pantry at Emmanuel UCC.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Jonah and The Womb-Love of God; Jonah 4-11

 

Rev. George Miller

November 15, 2020

Jonah 4:1-11

 

A few weeks ago we studied Exodus 32.  Moses is on the mountain for a long time.  The people get antsy and ask Aaron to create an idol.

 

God gets upset.  God plans to wipe them out.  Moses reminds God about the promise made to Sarah’s family.  God changes God’s mind. 

 

By chapter 34 God proclaims “The Lord is merciful and gracious.”

 

This story is usually referred to as “The Golden Calf”.  But perhaps it should no longer be called that, as doing so places the emphasis on us and what we do.

 

Perhaps Exodus 32-34 can be called “God’s Grace and Mercy” as it refocuses the attention on our Creator.

 

There is a power in referring to Exodus 32 as a story about God’s grace and mercy, because there is power in the words themselves.

 

For example, in Hebrew, the word for merciful is “rehem” which translates as “womb.”  Merciful literally translates to “motherly love,” the kind of passion and compassion that is experienced when carrying life within you.

 

God is merciful; God responds with womb love…

 

This story from Exodus about God’s motherly love clearly left a long-lasting impression upon the Israelites, and an impression upon Jonah.  After all, it’s because of God’s womb love that Jonah ran in the 1st place.

 

So often when we hear of Jonah, we immediately think of the big fish.  But how did he get in that belly?

 

God calls the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh to cry out against their wickedness, but Jonah doesn’t want to.

 

Nineveh is the enemy; they’re violent, bloodthirsty, and cruel.  

 

So, Jonah says “Heck no!” and runs in the opposite direction. 

 

Is it because Jonah is afraid for his safety?  Is it because Jonah is unsure he’s got the skills for the job?

 

No.  It’s because Jonah knows all to well who God is.

 

Jonah knows that the Lord is a God of grace and mercy.  Jonah knows that God is capable of changing God’s mind.  Jonah knows that God will most likely show womb-love to his enemies, and Jonah doesn’t want this.

 

Jonah wants retribution.  He wants annihilation.  He wants God to tear the Ninevites limb to limb and burn the place down to the ground.

 

Jonah does not want them to be given a second chance, which he knows God will do.

 

That’s why Jonah ran.  That’s how he ended up in the belly of the fish.  Because he wanted wanton destruction, not womb love for his enemies.

 

Funny how being cast overboard and in the belly of bleakness can change a man’s mind. 

 

So eventually Jonah does make his way to Nineveh, he does share a word from God…

 

…and as a result, the city, the citizens, the king, even all the animals are saved.

 

But Jonah is upset.  So upset he wants to die.  Jonah did not want Nineveh saved.  He wanted them utterly destroyed. 

 

He wanted karma.  He wanted some good ol’ what-comes-around-goes-around.

 

Instead, he saw the city turned around, transformed, and able to see a new day.

 

Jonah wanted God to get the belt and whoop some butt, but instead God pulled Nineveh to God’s bosom and showed them motherly love.

 

What does Jonah do?  He throws a temper tantrum.  It’s kind of cute.  In some manner, we can joke and say Jonah responded like a typical man.

 

He doesn’t get his way.  His ego is bruised.  He feels his reputation has been ruined. 

 

So he pouts.  He goes into “woe is me.” 

 

Ladies- have you ever seen a man do this when they don’t get their way?  Perhaps a son, a brother, a spouse?

 

It’s somewhat endearing; how delicate the male ego can be, the fragility we hide behind loud voices and big muscles.

 

But to be fair, being a man is not always easy. 

 

To be told that we are expected to always be strong, to win at any cost, to defend/protect, to be willing to die for your country, that there are only good guys and bad guys.

 

And no one really teaches us men how to lead, how to be weak, that it’s ok to show emotion, its ok to be fragile.

 

We’re often taught that as a man, our identity is tied to how much we win, how much we dominate.

 

No one really teaches us how to respond when we don’t win, or how nurturing can achieve as much as destroying.

 

So when we do lose, or things don’t go our way, or unearned grace steps in, we often don’t know how to best respond.

 

No one teaches us that life is not as simple as good guys and bad guys.  That both sides think they are the hero, and that often times we are just people in which good and bad exist simultaneously.

 

So when things don’t go our way, we don’t always know how to respond in a healthy manner.

 

When we fail at our perceived task we think we’re worthless and worry about our reputation.

 

When we are sick or diagnosed with a chronic illness we think we must hide it, deny it, or pull away from those who care the most about us.

 

That’s why focusing today on men’s health is so essential, because rarely do we discuss the health problems or aging process of men.

 

We don’t really discuss the horrors our soldiers endured, especially those who served in WW 2.

 

We don’t discuss the male sadness that comes with slowing down.  What is really means when we can no longer drive, when we can no longer look after our spouses and family.

 

We don’t often say the words testicles or prostrate, or discuss how they change as we age and the fear of discovering we might have cancer.

 

We don’t discuss the reality of when we come to depend on the little blue pills and what happens when we feel our testosterone slip away. 

 

We rarely focus on the man who is widowed or the boy who is being sexually abused.

 

So when these things happen to us, as men, we tend to internalize, and we may either turn inward or we may lash out.

 

No one really teaches us men how to be strong in our weakness, how to speak the words we really mean, how to accept defeat when our reputation is at stake.

 

In some ways, Jonah could be a Patron Saint for all men who have found themselves in situations they never wanted to be in the first place.

 

In some ways Jonah is our stand in for when we face rough seas and would rather sleep, when we are feeling swallowed by darkness, when we feel we’ve been made the fool, for when the perceived bad guy gets away.

 

But here’s the cool thing- I love how God responds to Jonah.  I love how God let Jonah have his moment.

 

Just as God shows mercy to Nineveh, God shows the same womb-love to Jonah.

 

When Jonah expresses his wish to die, God doesn’t dismiss his emotions, God does not immediately correct him. 

 

God assists Jonah with working through his emotions by responding with a teachable question “Is it right for you to be angry?”

 

When Jonah’s response is to walk away and sulk in solitude, God does not desert Jonah.  God is still right there.

 

God gives space for Jonah to feel anger.  God acknowledges Jonah’s anger. 

 

Then, God reminds Jonah who God is-

 

“Should I not be concerned about those who don’t know their right from their left?” 

 

Is God talking about Nineveh?

Is God talking about Jonah?

Is God talking about us?

 

Once again, we witness how God is free.

 

Once again we witness how the Kingdom of God does not operate like the kingdoms of the world.

 

Once again we see how very human our spiritual ancestors were.

 

Once again we realize just how much kindness and humility, passion and compassion really play in our faith.

 

Jonah wants kingdom wrath, God shows Kingdom Love.

 

Jonah wants God to be cruel knowing full well that God is merciful.

 

Jonah wants to be left alone, God says I am always right by your side.

 

Jonah is just a human, flawed, imperfect, in his own ego.

 

But this does not stop God from being by his side and giving him another chance to grow and to learn.

 

God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s womb-love.

 

For that we can say amen and amen.