Sunday, January 17, 2021

Release, Set Free, Jubilee; Sermon on Luke 4:14-21


Rev. George Miller

Jan 17, 2021

Luke 4:14-21


One of the heart-hurting aspects of COVID is not having Bible Study.


It’s difficult not seeing your eyes and faces when you have an “aha!” moment, wrestle with a scripture, or teach me something.


One common perception people have when beginning Bible Study is that in the Old Testament God is pure wrath.


But weeks in, they start formulating another view- God as Creator, merciful, and just.


Old Testament readings make it clear that God cares about the ancestors, the ecology, the marginalized.  God cares about justice, kindness, humility, rest.


If we come across scriptures in which it sounds like God is about the grab the belt for a good butt-whooping, it’s often because either we, our leaders, or those who should know better, have chosen not to follow the path of God.


What we see as God’s wrath is often a consequence to when we pollute the earth, when we don’t care for the least of these, when we don’t do justice, or embrace the Commandments.


To be honest- how hard are they really?

-don’t lie about others

-be content with what you have

-Don’t steal or kill

-for God’s sake, take a day off to rest.


Why do we fail to do these things?


We forget.


We forget that we are the children of Sarah, of Zilpah, of Hannah, of Esther, of Elizabeth and Anna.


We forget what God has done- freed us from bondage, walked beside us in the wilderness, granted us nahalah.


We forget that God is merciful, with a womb full of love.


We forget that each day we are we given another chance to choose God, to choose life.


What we really forget is that WE are NOT God.


By forgetting we’re not God we fall victim to our own ego, we disrespect the land, we disrespect our neighbors, and we put misplaced trust in human leaders who we think will save us.


When we forget all these things we end up sinning, we make mistakes, we hurt others, and we hurt ourselves.


That’s one lens Luke is looking through as he writes his Gospel.


Luke is concerned about how we have failed to see who Jesus really is.


Luke is doing everything he can to say “Look!  Look right here!  Jesus is the embodiment of the very things the prophets, the scriptures, the covenants of God were all about.”


An example is today’s reading. 


Like a good Sabbath- observing Jew, Jesus is in the local house of worship.  He reads from the prophet Isaiah.


Jesus says “The Spirit is upon me. I am here to bring Good News to the poor, vision to the blind, and to those who are being held back- release.  I am here to proclaim Jubilee.”


What is Jubilee? 


Jubilee is a Year of Liberty.


According to Leviticus 25, God wants us to experience a full year of Sabbath every 50 years.


God instructed the people that every 50 years they are to

-let the ground rest

-not plant, sow, or prune

-rely only on what the earth produces

-Return to your family and roots

-Return land you purchased from someone who only sold it out of duress

-Release indentured servants.

-Be extra mindful in following the commandments and choosing God.


The Year of Jubilee did a few things-


Reset the economy so that those who had fallen onto hard times get a do over.  It redistributed the wealth so that once again everyone had “enough.”


Refocused their attention on God, reminding them how God is merciful, and that the land belongs to God.


Jubilee is about rest and release.


The lands rests.  Debts released.

Indentured servants released.

Ancestral land released.


Jubilee was created as a time of joy, rest, family reunions and fresh starts, in which God was praised…sadly, there is no evidence that Jubilee was ever observed.


There is not one time we know of in which God’s people were willing to take a year out of their life to collectively show respect to their family, their neighbors, their God, or to God’s land.


Do we now get a better understanding of why sometimes in the Old Testament God seems to get a little testy?


All God wants is for everyday to be like Christmas, but instead we’re too busy littering the living room floor, arguing over our gifts, jealous of what someone else got.


But Jesus- Jesus has not forgotten. 


Jesus uses his moment in the synagogue to remind the people that he is there to bring Good News, new vision, liberty, rest, and release.


In other words- Freedom.


That’s what Jesus is offering today.  That’s what his message of Jubilee comes down to- Freedom.


Freedom from the shackles of the world; freedom to choose the life-giving ways of God.


Freedom is so fitting today as we celebrate the 31st Anniversary of our church.  Emmanuel UCC was first established to be a progressive witness in the community, where justice, kindness, compassion and passion exist.


It’s also a fitting theme for a New Year.


By now most people have already forgotten the resolutions they made to themselves, but Jesus is offering something much better than a resolution.


Jesus is offering us a chance to claim and proclaim freedom.


Today is a day in which Jesus stands before us, reading the words of Isaiah, and Jesus is asking us this-


What is it you want to be released from?  What is it you no longer wish to be chained too?


What is holding you back from being a better neighbor, a better family member, a better guardian of God’s nahalah?


Jesus is not asking for a thousand answers.  Just 1.


What is 1 thing that you would love rest from?  What is 1 thing you would like to have released?


It could be a negative thought you keep going back to.


It could be a regret that you shoulda-coulda-woulda.


It could be something someone did, and you’ve allowed their chain to choke your neck.


All those things can be so exhausting.  All those things can keep you stuck.


So, release. 


Give it up to Jesus.  Set yourself free.  Allow yourself the right to rest.


It may not be the Year of Jubilee, but this is a new year, a new chance.


To see what happens.  To choose God, to choose life.


To see Jesus as he is, to say “Release my chains.  Give me rest.”


And watch what Jesus can do.


Watch as God’s womb-like mercy enfolds you.


Watch as the Holy Spirit continue to guide you.


Watch as the love of Jesus sets you free, and gives you peace.


So that we can all say “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”


Amen and amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sermon for Jan 3, 2021; Luke 2:41-52


Rev. George Miller

Jan 3, 2021

Luke 2:41-52


So here we are with Luke, taking his sweet time to tell us about young Jesus.


Here we have Jesus.

-Descendant of Sarah.

-Son of Mary.

-Nephew of Elizabeth.

-The happiness of Anna’s eyes.


He’s no longer a babe, he’s not yet a man. He’s a pre-teen boy doing what pre-teens do best-


Causing his parents grief and backtalkin’ his Mama.


Jesus may be the Lamb of God but he’s also a pain is his mother’s backside.


He’s with his parents making their yearly trip. But instead of going to Disney World of Lego Land, they’re at Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.


Young Jesus is having such a good time, he simply does not want to leave, so he stays behind while his parents make the journey back home.


3 days later they find him in the Temple, astounding the local folk.


But Mama and Papa are not impressed.


“Boy, if you don’t get your butt back here!”


“But Maaaaaa…..”


“Don’t ‘But Ma’ me!”


Of course, Luke tells the story a bit differently, a lot classier.


Luke has Jesus speak like a mini-college professor. “Why are you searching for me. Didn’t you know I must be in Abba’s House.”


But I don’t go for that sugar-coated holiness that Luke places upon 12-year-old Jesus.


“Abbas’ House my foot!” I imagine Joseph saying.


So here we have such a wonderful story, one that offers just a glimpse into Jesus, his childhood, and his family relations.


Here we see a rather common every-day image of Jesus as just like us, navigating his way from childhood to adulthood and inadvertently hurting his parents along the way.


Who here that has ever been a parent, an uncle, and aunt, a mentor, have experienced that moment in which you realize the child you now know is no longer the child you once knew?


Who here knows what it is like to watch your child go from being lovingly dependent to becoming obnoxiously independent?


And who here knows that THIS is the path all parents, uncles, aunts, mentors must take with their beloved youth if they are ever to grow into who they are supposed to be.


Sure, we all want our children to stay young, stay innocent, to be that kid who once sat under the Christmas tree excited to open each and every present.


But eventually that child becomes the same one who rolls their eyes over how boring and silly family gatherings are.


Sure, we want to be beside our child at all times, but at some point, if we truly love them, we let them stay home alone without a babysitter, we let them go to the corner store unescorted.


We even let them drive off on their own, standing on the driveway as we watch them pull away, praying to God that they’ll be kept safe.


So here’s the thing- as holy and sacred as we want this particular family to be, they were just like us.


Mary and Joseph had their trying moments with young Jesus, and young Jesus definitely tested the limits with his Mom and Dad.


Today’s story is proof of that.


But here is the Good News- this story reminds us that Jesus was just like us.


That Emmanuel, God With Us, did not come to Earth to be a robotic vessel of heavenly information.


But that Emmanuel, God With US, came to earth in the same flesh as us to experience the same life as we do.


God did not enter into human form to be born in a mansion or live a life of a debutant.


God entered into human form to experience life the same way most of us do- complicated family structures, issues of control and expectations, family and cultural traditions.


Even the boredom of travel that no family vacation is complete without.


Jesus lived as us, like us, with us, beside us.  In this way Jesus came to better understand us, represent us, speak to, and speak for us.


The child we see in today’s reading is wild and tempestuous, and we shouldn’t have it any other way.


Because the more human Jesus is, the more human we allow him to be, the more amazing we realize that Jesus is.


Because Jesus was born to a family, birthed on a family tree, Jesus becomes a richer, more developed savior of the family.


Through Jesus, God got to know, to truly experience, to further understand the human condition, and what it means to live on earth.


Because of Jesus we have a Counselor we can turn to when we are frustrated, when we feel let down, when we too become annoyed with our own family.


Because Of Jesus, God was able to fulfill the promise made to Sarah and Abraham oh so long ago that God would use their family to bless all the families of the World.


Because of Jesus, we truly know God is with us, not apart, not far away, not aloof, or distant.


But right here, by our side.  With us, and for us, forever.







Saturday, December 26, 2020

We Are Anna, Members of the Tribe of Happiness; Sermon on Luke 2:21-22 and 36-40


Rev. George Miller

Dec 27, 2020

Luke 2:21-22 and 36-40


When you read the 4 Gospels, you are experiencing Jesus from 4 vastly different people living through 4 vastly different times.


Mark is writing during a time of national crises.  He writes quick, to the point. He doesn’t have the time to focus on things like wise men and angels.


Matthew is writing during the church’s formation, so he’s focused on what Jesus means to those who minister and worship together.


John is like a university professor, using poetic, big words that no one understands, with no interest in mundane things like childbirth.


But Luke?  Luke writes with the luxury.  Luke is fascinated with meals, miracles, the prayer life of Jesus and how he interacts with women.


Luke takes time telling us about many events surrounding the birth of Jesus.


Whereas Mark is unsure if his community will live to see another day, Luke is writing with the confidence of someone who believes in tomorrow.


Because of this, Luke is able to make references to the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith, such as today’s story of the baby Jesus being presented in the Temple.


Mary has birthed to her son.  Like a faithful Jew, she has him circumcised 8 days later, then six weeks later she presents him in the Temple.


Because Mary is poor, she is only able to afford the 2 pigeons as an offering instead of the customary lamb the rich and well-off can give.


But her lack of wealth does not make Mary or her son any less worthy.


While in the Temple, 2 Elders of Distinction come up to acknowledge that her newborn is the Messiah.


There is Simeon who waited his whole life for such a day.


Then there is Anna, an elderly mother of the Temple who has devoted her whole life to worship and praise.


She not only celebrates God, but she tells all those she meets that redemption has come to the people.  At 84 Anna becomes one of the first evangelists.


Who is this Anna?


Interestingly, the “Johns” of today’s theological world don’t spend much time talking about her.  After all, she’s just a woman and not a Shakespearean sonnet to be dissected.


But Luke gives us rich information, empowering us to realize just how awesome Anna is.


Anna is the daughter of Phanuel, a member of the tribe of Asher.


Big deal, you may say.  I don’t know them.  But the author of Luke did, as did the audience of his day.


Phanuel means “The Face Of God.”


In Jewish tradition, Phanuel is also the name of one of the 4 angels said to stand before God.


Phanuel is the angel over repentance; Phanuel is the hope for those who inherit salvation.


So…Anna is the daughter of a man who’s named after the angel of repentance, hope and salvation, who’s name means “Face of God.”


No wonder Anna had the privilege of seeing Jesus and recognizing that who she’s seeing is the One who will bring redemption to the people.


Now, Anna was part of the tribe of Asher.  Who’s he?


Asher was the son of Jacob, born to Zilpah, the maidservant of Leah.  When Asher was born, Leah said “Happy am I, for daughters will call me happy.”


Asher literally means “Happy.”


Anna is therefore a member of the Tribe of Happy.


Imagine how happy Anna must have been when she saw the baby Jesus with her own eyes.


But there’s more.


Asher was blessed by his father that his bread shall be fat and he shall have delicious treats.


The tribe of Asher was given land on the west coast of Israel, where the nahalah was the most fertile of soil.


Asher’s land had high rain, rich pastures, prosperous orchards.


The Tribe of Asher was known for their olive oil and became suppliers of  the oil used in Temple ceremonies.


In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses says “Most blessed be Asher, may he be the favorite of brothers and may he dip his foot in oil.” (33:24)


Which means that not only is Anna the daughter of The Face of God, and the descendant of Happiness, she belongs to the most blessed tribe responsible for the Temple oil.


Now…. can you see just awesome Anna really is?


That Anna, the descendant of happiness, blessedness, and anointing would set her eyes upon Jesus, praise God and tell all she knew about Jesus!


But there’s more.  Because Asher’s mother was a servant, there’s a chance she was not an Israelite; she was a different ethnicity.


Which means Asher and his family were mixed, with biological lineage tied to someone who was once a slave.


Second, the tribe of Asher was one of the 10 northern tribes that fell victim to the Assyrian invasion, splitting them off from the southern tribes in Judah.


Asher was considered one of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”


So now, we have a better understanding of who Anna is, which means we have a better understanding of how special her encounter with the baby Jesus is.


She is a descendant of Sarah, who was once barren.  She is the descendant of Zilpah, who was a slave.


She is descended from “Happiness”, a child of mixed heritage who was called most blessed of all.


She comes from people who lived on the most fertile of nahalah, providing oil for the worship of God.


She is a member of a tribe that was once considered lost, the victims of enemy attack.


She is the daughter of a man named “The Face of God.”


This isn’t just the story of an old widow who sees Jesus and praises his name.


This is the story of a survivor.


This is the story of someone who shouldn’t have been born, of someone who was different from others.


This is the story of someone who’s ancestors experienced both great blessings and great tragedies.


This is the story of a woman born out of the hope of repentance and salvation.


Anna is basically the entire Biblical narrative condensed into one person.


Therefor, Anna is all us of us.


Anna may have a lot of space in today’s story; that’s because Anna IS the story.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to have loved and to lost.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to be alone, but not feel lonely.


Anna is anyone who is different.


Anna is anyone who has come across hard, unexpected times.


Anna is anyone who dares to bare the promise that there is still hope, there is still happiness.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to wait…and wait…and wait some more.


Anna is YOU; Anna is I; Anna is US.


So today, though we are not in this sanctuary together in person, we are together in Spirit.


Standing beside, standing with the amazing Anna, looking upon the newborn King, praising God that Jesus is born and that Jesus is in our life.


Like Anna, we are the children of Blessedness, we are the Children of Happiness, we are the children of fertile ground.


Which means we are all Children of Possibility.


As such, we know that in Jesus, we have seen The Face of God.


For that, we can say “Amen.”