Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wanderings for the week of October 27, 2008

Good Thursday everyone- the day before Halloween! Do you have your costume? Those who were in church on Sunday know that I already do. Turkey drumstick anyone?

I pray you have been enjoying the Genesis sermon series as much as I have. Each week I get to revisit and learn more about this wonderful book that is perhaps my favorite book in all of the Bible.

Word of reminder: if you ever wish to have a copy of a sermon, feel free to ask me and I can print one off for you, or e-mail it, or you can always go to my blog to read it or send it to someone you think would enjoy it. My blog is:

Just cut and paste it and you should get there in no problem.

This week we look at Genesis 33:1-20. Jacob and Esau finally meet up after 20 years of being apart. If you recall, Esau was so filled with hate towards Jacob that he said "I will kill my brother Jacob." (Gen 27:41). In fact, those are the last words Esau will speak until chapter 33. And if actions speak louder then words, look at what Esau says (through his actions) to Jacob on 33:4. I'm not going to tell you because I want you to read it for yourself.

What I want to talk about is what transpires on verses 12-20. Different scholars interpret this different ways, some choose to ignore it. Is Jacob lying? Telling a half-truth? Making excuses? Did the writer accidentally leave something out? Does Jacob ever appear in Seir as he said he would? And what's this all about?

I wonder if the answer lies in the final chapter of Genesis, in verses 50:15-21. Joseph's brother's apparently didn't fully trust their brother after what they did to him. Perhaps Jacob doesn't fully trust Esau after all Jacob did to him.

One thing is very clear, Jacob does not end his life being the same person he started as. He made his share of mistakes, of which he had to pay a serious price, but he was also blessed and forever changed by his life and encounters with God. Maybe 33:12-20 is a reminder that even after one has an encounter, rarely does someone change over night, but it does not mean they are any less worthy or worth being loved.

I pray all is well, and we all have a safe, fun Halloween weekend.

Pastor G

"The Shack"

A parishioner gave me a copy of Wm. Paul Young's novel "The Shack." If you are a church person, you have no doubt heard of, read or plan on reading this book.

It's a hugely popular book, which surprised me because at places it is very amateurishly written, and very slow moving. It's like a series of systematic theology sermons stringed together in which God is a sassy black woman who likes to cook, Jesus is a Mediterranean man who works in the woodshop and the Spirit is an Asian woman who gardens.

Do I agree with everything? Of course not? Are there things I agree with? Certainly. Did I enjoy the book? Not really: it took me over a week to finish and it never grabbed hold the way a good novel should.

There are a few parts that I resonated with. On page 179 Mack talks with "Jesus" to discover that Jesus is not fond of organized religion or institutions. Jesus states that "Marriage is not an institution. It's a relationship." Jesus states institutions are for those who wish to play God. Jesus calls religion, economics and politics the "man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about...these terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control...Systems can not provide you security, only I can."

Later, on page 204, "God" calls herself a "verb." " a verb. I am that I am...I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb." God goes on to say her essence is a verb, as opposed to nouns, and she is attuned to words such as "confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun..."

For me, the greatest message of all from "The Shack" is that of forgiveness. Mack must forgive himself for his daughter's death. he must forgive the man who killed her. He must let his other daughter know it's not her fault that Missy died. And Mack must come to terms with the fact that one day he may have to look his daughter's murderer in the face. When I read this, I stopped, and felt my own heart open, and realized that there is someone who hurt me years and years ago who I never forgave. So, I "forgave" that person, then came to realize there were things I had done to them that I also needed forgiveness from.

It felt good to speak those words, to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. if nothing else, I appreciate the author for using his art to turn a light onto my own soiled soul.

Would I recommend this book? Not sure. My ego wants to say "Listen to the sermons and you can hear the same thing." But then again, everyone learns differently. If anything, Mr. Young has done a ministry that has touched millions of folk. Will it stay with them? Perhaps as long as other books like "The Secret" and "Purpose Driven Life".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ANTM, cycle 11, episodes 8 and 9

It's commercial time in episode 8. Annaleigh steals the show: she nails the commercial from the first application of make-up, making it all look effort-less, in which Tyra pronounces it the "best commercial" on ANTM history. Sheena? Wow- she looked like an Asian Beyonce. But how does she get to say her and Elina are in a battle of "good verse evil" in which Elina is the evil? By episode's end, it is Jocelyn who goes home.

In episode 9 the young ladies go to Holland, Amsterdam. In a bit or "re-creation" we are told how there is now "red light district fashion" in which designers are now having shops where prostitutes once worked.

Watch as Elina continues to take out her bottled-up rage on people. This time it is on Sam, even though they won the first challenge together. If Elina stopped directing her rage towards her peers and instead put the emotion into her photos she could win this contest. Instead she ends up in the bottom two.

During the photo shoot it is McKey who nails it, although she looked like Pat Benetar meets Dr. Frankenfurter. Marjorie is good but predictable. Annaliegh is a joy to watch as she continues to grow and takes a beautiful photo.

But, alas, my last remaining girl, Sheena, is sent home, for taking a beautiful but broing photo. If only she knew how to take her inner "hootch" (as Tyra called it) and tone it down without shutting it completely off.

So, all my favorites are gone, but Annaleigh and Elina have stepped up to my new favorite two. I like Sam as a person, but can;t see her winning, although Nigel gets it right: she doesn't look like a model in person, but yet she delivers in her photos.

last note about episode 9: Tyra looked her worse in the entire series. What's up with that? And why were all the judges wearing "Golden Girl" color schemes? And finally, Jay Manuel seems to be returning to some of his former handsomeness.

My prediction? Annaleigh will win.

Sermon for Oct 26, 2008, Genesis 32

Oct 26, 2008
Scripture: Gen 32: 1-32
Sermon Title: "Wrestling with God"
Rev. George

(Enters dressed as a Pilgrim, limping)

Look at those stars. So magnificent: thousands and thousands of them. What is it that Psalms 8 says? "When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"
It’s times like this I’m in awe of what God has created and I also can’t help but to wonder if these are the same stars that Jacob was under.
Where these the same stars that Jacob saw while he slept on a stone and discovered he was at the Gate of Heaven? Are the same stars under which Jacob wrestled God and was given a new name?
I’ve been thinking about Jacob a lot lately. It’s hard not too think while on a ship headed for a new land. Jacob, who had to do a lot of traveling to set things right with his family and with God.
Jacob, who would forever be changed by the experience, and all the families of the world who would be blessed by him and his family tree.
I look up at the stars and I wonder: God, are we doing the right thing? Did you really call us to leave our homes to worship you in a new way? Will you be with us just as you promised to be with Jacob?
Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Henry Ames, one of the 101 people who are traveling to the New World. We’ve been on this boat for 41 days.
Last night there was a large storm, rocking our ship back and forth something fierce, cracking a main beam. I was scared that all of us would be tossed into the ocean. Then the winds stopped and the waves ceased. It was as if Jesus Christ himself had summoned the sea to be still.
We were able to fix the beam, but not before I got cracked in the hip and got this limp you see now.
I pray it’s only temporary. I’m going to need to be able to walk once we get to the New World.
In fact, there’s a lot I’ve been praying about. I pray the captain knows where he is going. I pray the New World is as full of promise as they say. I pray that God has not forgotten about us.
Rev. Robinson tells us to continue trusting in the Lord, that God will see us through. I pray that he is right. I pray this wasn’t a colossal mistake.
Originally I come from England, as did my parents and my parents’ parents. Things have not been so good for the last 60 years. Whenever a new King or Queen takes the throne the country shifts its belief system.
The Church of England has mass corruption. For example: do you know we’re required by law to attend Sunday worship or we get fined?
Worship has become a show of expensive artifacts and rituals with leaders telling us what to believe.
Over the years a group of us began meeting in secret to study Scripture and to share and discuss God and Jesus Christ. We had to be careful: if found we could be fined or thrown in jail.
There’s been a move to purify the church, to bring the focus back to Christ. Jesus, we believe, should be the head of his church, not the pope, not the priest, not the Queen or King.
We value simplicity in worship, using plain language so everyone could understand. We believe in scriptural authority and democracy in church leadership.
We have gathered for years to hear and share the good news that God has made a covenant with his people and the gift of this covenant is grace, grace made known in Jesus Christ.
After years of wanting to worship God in peace and free from fear, we moved to Amsterdam in 1608, and then to Leyden, Holland.
For 11 years we stayed there, as strangers in a strange land, gathered by the Lord, lead by the Spirit, living as holy a life as we can. But we began to fear that if we stayed much longer we would be influenced by the culture and loose sight of who God was calling us to be.
We began to feel that God was calling us for something more. But we weren’t too sure what it was. As providence would have it, we heard of this opportunity. The Virginia Company was in urgent need of people to help settle the New World.
This sounded perfect: in the New World we could worship God in isolation and peace. Christ, not the King or Queen or Pope would be the head of our church.
So we prayed and prayed, we wrestled with the reality of moving across the world. And after some long wrestling matches with God, we knew that this was what we were supposed to do.
So we made our preparations and boarded the boat, the Mayflower as the call it, and we are now journeying to the New World, were we can be an example of the Old World.
A pilgrimage, Rev. Robinson calls it. Just like Abraham. Just like the Israelites. Except instead of traveling by foot, we are traveling in a wooden boat, across an unknown ocean.
This journey has made me really appreciate the stories in the Bible, especially the stories of our ancestors and the journeys they partook in and the changes they made.
I’ve always loved Jacob’s story. Jacob has fled to his uncle’s town to avoid the wrath of Esau, his brother. During the next 20 years he works really hard, has many children and acquires a lot of wealth.
But he is not happy there and one day God says to Jacob "It’s time to come home, back to Canaan. I will be with you."
So Jacob takes his family, all he has and travels the 500 miles back to Canaan. Esau finds out about this and takes an army of men to meet his brother.
Obviously, this frightens Jacob, so he divides every one into two camps, he sends his brother a peace offering. And he prays.
He reminds God of his promises. He admits his unworthiness, he asks for help and he prays for the sake of family. He then sends everyone away.
Jacob is left alone, in the wilderness, isolated.
Kind of like how I feel right now, on this wooden boat, in the middle of this unknown sea.
A stranger comes and wrestles with Jacob. They wrestle for a long time, until the break of day. Both were strong, both held their grip.
When the stranger sees that Jacob will not let go, he strikes him on the hip, putting it out of joint. But Jacob held on. "Let me go," the man said.
"No" said, Jacob, "not until you bless me."
The stranger says "You are no longer to be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with humans and have prevailed."
The wresting match stops, although we’re never told of who lets go of who. As the stars fade away and the sun rises, Jacob walks way with a new name, and a permanent limp.
Jacob had wrestled with God. And this became the defining moment of his life.
For many years I myself wrestled with this scripture. It seems to make no sense.
What does it mean? What good can come out of this story? Who is this Jacob? Who is this strange God? Why a wrestling match ? Why a new name? Why the limp?
Yes, Jacob receives God’s blessing, but what good is it to head towards the promised land if you have to limp the whole way?
I’ve wondered about that for years. Rev. Robinson tried to explain it to me time and time again, but it seemed to make no sense.
Until this trip. This whole experience has seemed to be a wrestling match between us and God, one that has given me my own limp, literally and figuratively.
I’ve been a faithful citizen, a faithful church goer. A loving husband and father. But things didn’t feel right. The government Church didn’t seem as church was supposed to be.
I began to have these thoughts. A still, small voice, if you will. At first I ignored it, but the voice grew louder and louder till I had no choice but to listen to it.
I came to understand that voice to be God’s. And I heard God telling me that there is another way, a truer way. God was calling me to return to the original way: his Son.
Not the Pope, not the king, not the stylized rituals.
When I finally began to listen, it seemed as if God was calling us to Amsterdam, where we could worship in greater freedom. That trip was difficult enough, as it meant taking my wife and children and leaving behind my hometown, my parents, my land.
And then we went to Leyden. For eleven years we built a new community, worshiped closer and closer to what we felt God was calling us to be.
But there was still that voice. That same voice that spoke to Abraham. The same voice that spoke to Jacob. The voice of the God who would come and wrestle with Jacob.
This has not been an easy decision to make or an easy journey. Should we have stayed in Leyden, should we go back to England, should I have placed my family on the boat?
This has not been an easy struggle. Especially after the storm last night and my accident. I feel as if I am struggling with God right now, holding on, asking if religious freedom is what I really want and need? Is the ability to worship God freely really that important?
Do I put all of my trust in God, my family’s care in God? What if God’s wrong? What if I misheard? What if that wasn’t really God’s voice I heard but my own?
What if, what if what if?
What God has asked of me, of my family, of our congregation feels like repeated blows against my hip.
These blows have caused us to trustingly gather onto this boat and set sail for a land we know nothing about.
And as of last night, I have indeed been left with a limp.
Interestingly enough, our experience has also left us with a new name. Before this journey some of us were called Catholics, others Anglicans.
But now people are calling us by new names. Some call us Separatists. Others named us Puritans. Some say we are congregationalists. (That’s a rather long word to wrap one’s mouth around.)
But there is another name we have been given that I personally like: Pilgrims. That’s what we are. Pilgrims has the sound of movement, it speaks of the journey we are on, and the journeys that lay ahead.
Yes, I have learned that like Jacob, when God calls you, and challenges you to a wrestling match, there is no way you can’t help but to be changed.
That change will open you up to a new world of possibilities you never thought existed, but the change will also ask that you give something up. For Jacob that meant the ability to walk regular.
For others it may mean moving to a new location, taking a different job, selling their land.
For others it becomes more abstract. Letting go of their anger. Giving up their right to judge others and forgiving the ones who hurt them. Not hanging out with friends who can cause them harm. Letting go of the need to always be right, to always be in control.
When you wrestle with God you’re bound to loose something, but it’s usually that which has held you back all along. And what God gives you?, what God can lead you too? Well that can be fantastic!
We are on this boat, between two destinations. If we go back we will return to oppression and religious persecution, if we continue ahead we’ll arrive in a land of religious freedom ripe with mysteries unknown.
But we will not be alone, will we? God is with us, just as God always has been. Just as God has been with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah.
Just as God was with Jacob on that long, lonely night when they met, and a new name was revealed.
Well, it looks as if the day is breaking. The stars are fading. The sun is rising. This, I know, is the same sun that rose upon Jacob that day. And so it rises upon us. And we too, are forever changed.
May God be with you as he has been with us, may the Spirit guide you to safe shores and may Christ continue to be the loving head of the church.
Amen and amen.

Wanderings for the week of October 20, 2008

Greetings everyone. As the song says "The rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down."I pray you are all safe and dry.This Sunday's Scripture reading is a lengthy one, taken from Genesis 32:1-32.

The climax of this reading is Jacob wrestling with God. To understand Judaism, to understand Christianity, one must know this story. It is a pivotal part of the story about God and God's people. It is here that Jacob is renamed Israel and in which Israel is left with a permanent limp. After all, one can not wrestle with God without being changed in some way.

Today, what I invite us to mediate on is the person of Jacob, and the changes he made.When we first meet Jacob, he is in the womb struggling with his brother, Esau (Gen 25:22). When he is born, Jacob is clutching his brother's heel, and he is given the name Jacob which means "He takes by the heel" of "He Supplants". As he grows up, Jacob spend time inside the tents, cooking, while his brother embraces the outdoors and hunting. Oh, and don't forget Jacob likes to trick and deceive people.

It is Jacob who runs away from home and with no place to rest, falls asleep outside on a rock, where he has a dream of God. Jacob, the tent-dwelling Mama's boy who is slippery like an eel, is stuck outside and is given a series of promises by God. Then watch, as Jacob begins to change.

He falls in love. He commits to seven years of hard work, outside. He watches over his uncle's flocks. He dealt with wild beasts. He is consumed by heat during the day, the cold by night, and barely gets any sleep (Gen 31:40): very different from being a tent dwelling Mama's boy. He is tricked, gets married again, commits to another 7 years of hard work (20 years of work all together), raises a very large family, raises a very large and strong flock of goats, lambs and sheep. He gains wealth. He hears and listens to God when God talks to him.By chapter 32 Jacob prays to God, the longest prayer found in the book of Genesis. He recalls God to be the God of his ancestors. He admits that he is unworthy of all the love God has shown. He asks God for help (as opposed to tricking someone as he did in the past), and then he prays not for his sake, but the sake of his children and their mothers.

Can you see how much Jacob has changed? It took 20 tears, but by having a relationship with God, Jacob changed. And perhaps most surprising, is that when God is ready for a wrestling match it is former-tent-Dwelling-Mama's-Boy-Jacob and not Rough-and-Touch-Outdoorsman-Hunter-Esau that God wrestles with.I find that surprising.

Even more surprising. Jacob is able to match God and to hold onto God, even when he is struck in the hip. Who is this Jacob that he is able to change, to transform, and to wrestle God like an Olympic Star?

Today I invite you to revisit Jacob's story, but to also revisit your own. How has knowing God changed you? How have you become stronger? What were the tents you were in before you knew God? And what are your strengths now? And looking back in your life, did you ever imagine you would be where you are now?How can you give thanks to God today for what God has done?Peace and blessings to you all,Pastor G

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ANTM, ccyle 11, epsiode 7

Shoot! It was one of the dreaded re-cap episodes with "extra-footage." So, there's not much to say, but it made me realize how much I miss my girls who've been voted off (except for Sahraun- she was just too over-confident in a creepy way). I got a kick out of Elina referring to her new hair as a cat, and giving it the name "Sherry" and how the other girls went along with it. And it was so good to see them eating, at table, even if Nykee was using food for bonus points. In the end: Isis, we miss you.

Now: let's see some new shows next week!

Wanderings for the week of Oct 16, 2008

Greetings everyone. First, I want to say "thank you" for the overwhelming number of people who responded to my message earlier this week. I got e-mails, a phone call and some face to face discussions that allowed the participants and I to further process the visitor's comments and why they struck such a cord. Since I will not be preaching this Sunday at BCUCC, but at Lakeview, I thought I'd take this moment to wander and wonder about the election.

It's getting closer and closer, isn't it? And by now all the debates are over, the sound bites are in; now we have time to let everything marinate. The truth is that most of us already know who we are going to vote for. Perhaps some are unsure.

What has been in my mind are the politics of Jesus. We often see Jesus many ways: healer, teacher, Savior, table-mate, shepherd. But do we also think of him as a political speaker? In many ways he was. Didn't he talk about the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the foreigner? Didn't he interact with a man who was mentally ill, a woman who was about to be killed for her sexual practices, and didn't he say "Give to Caesar what is Ceasar's"?

These were all political actions, it's just that Jesus made them personal.

But I want us to look upon a favorite of ours with a new set of eyes/ears: The Lord's Prayer. And listen to it for its political overtones: Our Father, who art in heaven Hallowed be thy name Thy KINGDOM come, thy WILL be done On EARTH as it is in HEAVEN Give us this day our daily BREAD and FORGIVE us our DEBTS as we FORGIVE our DEBTORS and lead us not into temptation But DELIVER us from EVIL For thine is the KINGDOM, the POWER and the Glory forever, Amen.

Wow: I never realized it before, but look how poltical, yet personal that prayer is. Images of kingdom/rule/government, making sure the people are fed, forgiving those who have debt/made mistakes, protecting people from evil/harm's way, having power.

If you ever wanted to know why Jesus was killed, it was pratically because he spoke about God's kingdom being over and above the kingdom and goverments of the world, and many of the leaders did not like it.

But for the next three weeks, here is what I challenege us to do: as we go about discerning who we believe, who we truly believe will be the next best president of our nation, let us keep the Lord's Prayer in mind and ask who do we believe will best work to make that prayer a reality. Who do you believe will do a better job of fulfilling God's heavenly will, who will make sure the people are fed, and to keep people are safe. And where does the role of forgiveness and debts come into play? That's a lot to feast upon. But I pray that it will give us all something to prayerfully think about. Blessings to all of you, Pastor G

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sermon for October 12, 2008

Oct 12, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 29:15-28
Sermon Title: "The Choices Others Make For Us" (pt. 1)
Rev. G
The fall TV season has begun, bringing back familiar shows, one of them being the comedy "Ugly Betty" about an awkward girl with a big heart. The show’s title is meant to be ironic, because Betty is beautiful in more ways then one.
Part of Betty’s beauty is her faith in humanity. In last week’s episode, things are not going so well. Her boss is accused of attempted murder, and her umbrella, which sits in the hallway outside her apartment door, is missing.
Her Dad, upset that she’s moved into the unsafe city, calls Betty naive. Betty disagrees. Yes, her umbrella is missing, but she believes it was only borrowed and will be given back. And she believes with her boss is innocent.
Halfway through the episode, Betty begins to doubt his innocence. Feeling broken down, she admits that perhaps she is naive, but her father has a change of heart and corrects her "You’re not naive, mija" he says. "What you have is called faith."
By the episode’s end, the truth comes out. Her boss is innocent and her umbrella is safely returned, with a note: "Sorry, I borrowed it. Ken in 5H."
Betty held onto her faith, even when things seemed unsure, and in the end, things worked out. Smiling, she leaves the umbrella in the apartment hallway, right outside her door.
Our nation is having what can be called an "Ugly Betty Moment." It’s as if we have all collectively left our umbrella out in the hallway, only to discover that it’s missing, the skies have opened up, and those in power are accused of things they may have knowingly done wrong.
It’s enough to make one lock their doors, lose their faith in humanity and question everything we know...but life without faith, well, that is just plain ugly.
So, in the midst of the storm, we come to church to dry off, to hear a word, to see if God is still moving, wondering just what is going on and what we should do.
And God speaks to us, as God often does, through a story. It’s the story featuring a young, penniless man; an older, tricky uncle; and ultimately, of God, who works through all this mess to fulfill his promise and bring salvation for all.
To sum things up, Jacob has tricked his way into getting the family birthright and blessing. In fear of his life, Jacob runs away, where he has an encounter with God where he is given the promise of God’s eternal presence and that his family will be a blessing to all the families of the world.
In today’s reading, young, penniless Jacob has traveled to Haran, where his relatives live. He immediately falls in love with his cousin Rachel, is warmly greeted by his Uncle Laban, and invited to stay in their home.
Jacob was a trickster, but in Laban he is about to meet his match. A month goes by and Laban asks "If you work for me, what would you like me to pay you?" Let me stop right here to give you a tip: in the businness world business, if someone offers you a job but invites you to set the fee, they are setting you up for a scam.
Jacob, who is clearly in love with Rachel, states "I will work for you for seven years if you let me marry your daughter."
"Done" says Laban, and with that Jacob becomes Laban’s servant, indebted to him for 2,555 days. Jacob thinks he got a good deal, but, as he soon finds out, when something seems to good to be true, it usually is.
7 years pass, and the wedding day arrives. But Laban does something deceitful and shameless. He tricks Jacob into marrying his daughter Leah instead, and Jacob, full of youthful naivitity doesn’t notice it until it is too late.
Now, he’s obligated to Laban in an unethical business pact. Sure, he still gets to marry Rachel, but now he owes Laban another 7 years of service.
Jacob’s life is not his own, but belongs to the man who tricked him, and in the process, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and their maids pay for the deceit of Laban.
But notice who seems to be missing in this particular story: God is not mentioned once.
We hear no mention of God when Jacob arrives at Laban’s hometown. We hear nothing about God when they struck their business deal. And we hear nothing about God on the wedding day.
It’s as if God has forgotten his part in the story, as if God was only joking about blessing Jacob’s family. Its as if God is asleep.
It is enough to make one give up their faith.
But although this story does not mention God it is more about God and faith then we can realize.
Yes, Jacob has been wrongfully deceived, yes he’s indebted to someone who was untrue to him, and yes, now his family is paying the cost. But this is not the whole story, but a part of it.
Because, ultimately we know that God will work through this mess to fulfill his promises to Jacob and to all of us. This is a story about how earthly problems can weigh us down, but God’s heavenly purpose will work them out.
Things in Jacob’s life are not so good. There is deceit and abuse of power, but somehow Jacob remains patient and holds on.
Instead of just giving up, instead of drowning himself in liquor or taking his own life, Jacob found a way to gird up his strength, to face the situation he was in, and to get through it, although not perfectly or without feelings getting hurt.
Jacob held on, and he was strong. Through his perseverance, God found a way to work through the mess that was created, and God found ways to ensure all his promises would come true.
How could God possibly work through this mess?
First, God blessed Jacob and his wives with an abundance of children. 12 boys and a girl with names like Reuben and Dinah, Judah and Joseph.
God was able to bless Jacob with a flock of sheep, lambs and goats. A small flock to start with, but one that grew into a mighty number.
Then, Jacob began to accrue pennies, silver, and gold and Jacob, through patience and the sweat of his brow began to accumulate camels and tents, donkeys and servants.
But it did not happen over night, or in a year, but over 20 years. 20 years of hard work, 20 years of God working through and with the family to fulfill his promises.
The deceit of Laban’s business practice was enough to bring anyone to their knees, but Jacob, by recalling God’s promise, was able to hold on when there was not a single thing left in his hands.
Today’s reading is a reminder for us that there is no easy, pain-free way into the future. That the blessings of God’s people is not worked out solely by nice situations and high times. That it can seem as if God is absent.
But God is never absent. God sees our afflictions, God hears our groans and knows about our sufferings. And God acts to lifts us up, even when we are not able to see it.
The people of Israel knew this. When they heard this story, they remembered who they were. They knew that Jacob’s situation, as bad as it seemed, was only temporary. They knew Jacob would become Judah’s father. And Judah the great-great-ancestor of David and David the father of Solomon.
They knew that although times were tough for Jacob, that his descendent David would become the greatest King who ever lived, and Solomon would build God’s holy temple.
As Christians, the story doesn’t stop there. For Jacob’s lineage continues, long after his story ends. For as the Gospel of Matthew theologically proclaims, Jacob will become the ancestor of Abor, and Abor the great-ancestor of a carpenter named Joseph, and as any child can tell you, Joseph became the father of Jesus Christ.
Where was God in this scripture? God was working, through all the deceit, through all the financial ruin.
Where was God? God was working through generations of Jacob’s kin to bring about the promise he had made so long ago.
Where was God? He was working through their family tree to usher in Jesus, his son.
God did not wait for human perfection or the right financial climate to make things happen. Nor did God allow human failings and tough times to get in the way. God found a way to use them to fulfill his promise and to make a way.
And if God could work through Jacob’s mess to bring about a king, a temple and savior, image how much God can work through you.
Ugly Betty was accused of being naive for believing the best in situations. Today’s Scripture reminds us that belief is not naive, but a product of faith, faith that says "As tough as things are, I am willing to hold on, to see this through, because eventually things will clear up, if not in my lifetime, then in the lifetime of my kin."
Scripture reminds us time and time again that God is not absent, God knows exactly what we are going through.
As humans we make our share of bad choices, as humans we fall victim to the choices others have made for us. But we can be assured that God will fulfill his promises.
Though Jacob, Leah and Rachel can’t see it, their lives are making a difference, for through them will come David, Solomon and Jesus Christ.
Where is God? God will be present in the faithful ruling of his people. God will be present in the Holy Temple. And God will be found in the life, teachings and death of His son.
Even better yet, God will ultimately be found on Easter morn, when it is discovered that Christ is not dead, but alive.
Sometimes when it rains people will borrow our umbrella but it doesn’t mean we give up in the middle of the storm.
Sometimes people will take advantage of our situation but it doesn’t mean we have to remain victims forever.
And sometimes it seems as if God is asleep, but God is never asleep; he’s working through the mess our lives are in, trying to make something good come out of it.
What God asks is that we don’t give up, we refrain from doing anything rash, and we keep our eyes on the future days ahead.
As Christians, our faith leads us to the cross, there is no avoiding that. But as Christians, we are also lead beyond, to the good news of the resurrection and the promise of God’s redeeming love.
The situations we face are but only for a moment. Glory will last always.
All thanks and praise be to the Spirit for breathing life into us, to Jesus who came to set us free and to God, who works for the care of all his children.

"The Color Purple" and "On Being a Servant of God"

I read these two books at the same time, and in a way they balanced each other. "On Being a Servant" is written by Warren Wiersbe as 30 little "armchair chats" to church leaders about what he wished he knew when he first began ministry. It's the kind of book that I could only read three chapters at a time otherwise it was lost, but in taking 10 days to read, I forget all I read. Thank goodness I underline, so I can go back and recall what I learned. He has a great chapter on how to discern if God is truly calling one to a new ministry or if the person is running away. He encourages pastor's to stick it out unless they know for certain God is calling them to the next level. The book is full of good quotes, smart insight and a reminder that ministry is a calling. I would recommend this to pastors and anyone who does church work.

I also reread "Color Purple" for perhaps the 10th or 11th time. I can not read this book without a pen, for I am always underlining, making notes and seeing how things connect, and the big chronological mistakes Alice Walker makes. "The Color Purple" is perhaps my favorite book, and I always see something new. This time I realized how important trees are in the book. The word "tree" is used at least 23 times. The first time, Celie refers to herself as a tree when she is being abused. Next she refers to touching Mr. ____ children like touching a tree or a chifferobe. Then Shug is introduced as being dressed so stunning the trees want to get a better look at her. Trees are used by Nettie to describe the jungle is Africa, then these same trees are knocked down. Then, trees are blooming when Shug takes Celie to see her "Pa." Later, in the theological core of the novel, Shug explains her first step from the patriarchal view of an aloof God was trees. Then, when Celie gains her strength to tell of Mr._____ she claims to get it from the trees. Finally, in her ode to joy, Celie starts her last journal entry "Dear God, dear starts, dear trees..." It's as if for Alice Walker the trees are meant to symbolize Celie's own journey and play a role in the redemption and destruction of her character's and the places they inhabit. her use of trees makes me think back to Psalm 1.

I also had a revelation about Nettie. Mr.______ wanted to marry Nettie. Mr. ____ also loved Shug. Celie loved Nettie and Shug. Was there something Mr. ______ saw in Nettie that reminded him of Shug, which meant there was something in Shug that reminded Celie of Nettie?

America's Next Top Model cycle 11 , episode 6

Wooh! So my last girl standing, Sheena almost got eliminated. Poor She-she. They tell her to not be too hootchie, then get upset when she doesn't go all out. Balance, Sheena, balance: that's what it is all about. I enjoyed how Marjorie has grown and knows what her weakness are and how she plays them up. Was I wrong last week? Can she possibly win this cycle? And Alana's need for control: her photo shoot was touching. Jay Manuel talked her into and through her tears, getting to the root of her control issues: she's insecure that she's not good enough and she is "tired of not letting it out." Let's see if she continues to have emotional breakthroughs or if she retreats further into herself. But, alas, I miss my girl Isis. Perhaps VH-1 can give her a reality show?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wanderings Bonus for Oct 6, 2008

Greetings family and friends, I thought I'd share with you another learning I gathered from the office fishtank. if you recall, a few months ago I got a new algae eater that cleaned up the tank right away, causing the water to become clearer and the fish happier. Since the addition of this one algae eater, I have not had a single fish die, which had not been the case before. In fact, the fish have become bolder and two fish that used to hide now swim right out in front for all to see and the catfish has doubled in size. Well, last week I decided to buy a snail for the tank. In the past, every time I purchased a snail it died within 48 hours. The reasons was because the water was highly toxic due to overfeeding and an overgrowth of brown algae. Well, it has been a week and the snail is alive and well, crawling all over, and for fun, floats to the top to be bobbed through the water by the filter. So one lesson learned: it can take just one fish to change the whole lifecycle of the tank. But then I noticed the fishtank light wasn't so bright. I checked the lights: they were still working. I cleaned the glass. Still dark. Finally, one light did burn out. I went to the store and they had a deal on the lights, so I bought two and replaced both lights. Wow!!!!! What a major, major difference! I did not realize just how dim the light bulbs had grown until I put in the new ones. Now, not only is the tank clean but it is bright and shiny, and the fish's colors are popping like never before. The gravel is bluer, the plants greener, and the activity seems to be faster and more playful. I wonder how long the dim bulbs in the tank affected the personality/color/movement of the fish. And it reminds me of the song "This Little Light of Mine": do you recall the line "Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine"? I wonder if we have been hiding our light under a bushel. Have our lights become a little dim and we have gotten used to it? How can we bring new light in? How can we change up our bulbs so everything can seem brighter/exciting/playful? And can you be the fish to do it? I hope all is well and you are safe and dry amidst all the rain. Joyfully, Pastor G

Hosea 14 for November 2008 Network News

Hosea 14, for Nov 2008 by Rev. George Miller

“I like what I see when I’m looking at me/And I’m walking across the mirror”Mary J. Blige, “Just Fine”

If you’re a fan of R&B or have danced at Diversions anytime Timmy spins, you have no doubt heard the affirmative words of this song from La Blige. If there has been a more positive song to come out over the last twelve months, I’m not aware of. But, as anyone who has followed Mary’s love and life knows, it’s taken her a long time to get to such a place of body and soul self acceptance.

For the last few months I’ve been thinking about my body and the bodies of those around me: those portrayed in the media and those that belong to people I know. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is an awful amount of body dysmorphia (false sense of body image) going around, and I don’t like it.

What first brought this to my attention were some films I watched: “Black Christmas” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” Both movies share the same idea: the killer’s journey into madness and murder began with their own imperfect visage. In “Christmas” the killer was born with jaundice, resulting in hate from parents and hate of self. In “Massacre” the main character, shamed by his appearance, takes to self mutilation, eventually killing a man with a perfect face so he can wear it as his own, the end result being unsettling gruesome. This notion that people can become violent sociopaths-paths because of their looks seems almost like quasi-post-Freudian excuses, but don’t we all know people (or even ourselves) who are hurting/killing ourselves to look perfect?

For example, I recently went home for my 20th High School Reunion. My two best friend’s who I’ll call Barbie and Ken (because that’s just what they look like), spent a large amount of time talking about their bodies. Barbie, who is 38 but looks in her twenties and is beautiful in every way, went on and on about how hard it was to find something that fits, and announced that she took a diuretic that morning to get into her outfit. Mind you, the month before she had competed in a competition wearing high heels and a bikini. Ken, who recently came out of the military (and is straight), talked about calories: “I danced for two hours which means I lost about a pound, but I gained it all back in what I ate.” Then I find out another dear friend has been battling anorexia to the point of multiple hospitalizations.

This has prompted me to look back at my own journey. How much time, energy have I spent talking about, watching over, worrying about my weight, my looks, my skin, the ever changing shape of my body? How many of my friends have done this? How long have I believed the cause (and therefor the salvation) to all my problems stemmed in how I looked and what I weighed? As much as I love my friends, have we each, in turn enabled the other to create unrealistic and unhealthy notions of what our body should look like, therefor tying all of our happiness to how we look?

I returned from the reunion with newer ears. “Will and Grace” I love and laugh at, but it hurts to hear Jack calling Will fat when Will is far from it. I recall one line from the series in which Jack explained that “Straight skinny is very different from homo skinny” and I cringe. I went out dancing and met a guy my age who is hot and desirable in every way, from his youthful looks, to his successful and fulfilling job to his waist that is abut 2/3 my size. He was invited to join a group of us for dinner and he refused, pulling at the waist of his jeans saying he was trying to lose five pounds. He gave up the option of fellowship, fun and making new friends all for an unrealistic and unhealthy goal of five pounds.

The truth, though, is this: I can relate, and I bet a lot of us in the LGBT community can.

So, like La Blige, I am finally coming to my own place where I am appreciating my body. Lately, I’ve resumed exercising not to look fabulous, but to be fit. I run, not to abuse my body, but to love it back. I’ve been stocking my house with the foods I like so I have them when I want them, and somehow, someway, the bag of M&Ms has lasted me two weeks as opposed to the one night I would normally consume them in.

I have a belly. I have a fleshy back. My once square jaw is more like an oval. And my butt is no longer the booty it used to be. But I still have my eyes allowing me to see my friends, my ears allowing me to hear the sound of my niece and mama’s voice, I still have my hands allowing me to pet and hold my cat., and for better and for worse, I look like me. Me; no one else, but me.

This body we have is ours: and it is a gift from God. This body is mine. And it has taken 38 years to come to this place- but I love it. May you love yours too. Amen.

Rev. Miller is the pastor at Burlingame Congregational UCC located in Wyoming, MI. You can reach him at or read his blog at

Wanderings for week of Oct 6, 2008

Greetings everyone. Our Scripture this Sunday continues the Genesis sermon series with Genesis 29:19-34, but I encourage you to read the whole chapter, from start to finish. Here, Jacob, the trickster, gets tricked by his own uncle, Laban. Jacob wants to marry Rachel, thinks he's marrying Rachel, but instead gets Leah as his wife. Then Jacob is given Rachel as well. The story itself is told with a wink of the eye and is supposed to be seen and heard as humorous. Let's be frank: how dense can Jacob be not to notice he is marrying the wrong sister? But there is a serious underside: the women who are caught up in this lie, used like pawns in a game that becomes misogynistic. The writer Joyce G. Baldwin aisles the question "What the two girls thought of the plan (and their father) goes unrecorded. How did anyone keep Rachel quiet that night?" Why didn't their Mom have an influence or say? What about the maids who become unwilling participants in the story? And all those children the four women will have all in a battle to earn/keep Jacob and God's blessings? The story focuses us on Jacob and Laban, but the true victims, the true voices belong to the women, and their children, who pay the price for the men's game of trickery and deceit.
May God illuminate this message and give us all a new way to think about how our actions affect others.
Blessings, Pastor G

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Meeting Nigel Barker

On Thursday I had the chance to see Nigel Barker speak at the GRAM about photographer Richard Avedon. The museum greatly underestimated how many people came just to see Nigel. I had the chance to meet with him, shake his hand, tell him that as a pastor I use the tips they talk about on "ANTM" and thank him for how he treated Isis. Nigel seemed friendly, perhaps a bit caught off-guard by my comment, and signed a photo that said "To G, Warmly, Nigel."

He was very real, funny, knowledegable during the presentation. I had no idea of who Avedon was, nor how influential he is. His photographs are amazing. Would it be safe to say there would have been no Nigel, no Tyra, no "ANTM" if it wasn;t for Avedon.

A good night, a memory I will always have. Thanks Nigel.

Sermon for Oct 5, 2008

Oct 5, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 28:10-19
Sermon Title: "The Gates of Heaven"
Rev. G
The UCC has a slogan: No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
It could not be any more appropo for today’s reading, for this is certainly the House of the Lord, and these are the Gates of Heaven....
...Today we continue our sermon series on the Book of Genesis, looking at the family of Isaac and Rebekah. As we experienced last week, things are not well.
Jacob manipulated Esau into selling his birthright. And Esau was foolish enough to do so, all for a moment of instant gratification.
Next, we are told Isaac is dying and wants to gives Esau the family blessing. Once again Jacob manipulates things, and by pretending to be his brother, Jacob tricks his nearly blind father into giving him the family blessing.
As you can imagine, when Esau gets word of this he is engulfed with rage. Bad enough Jacob stole his birthright, but now the blessing too! Esau hates Jacob so much he is prepared to kill him.
When Jacob hears about this he runs away. He’s no longer safe living where he is. He leaves his tent, he leaves his family, he leaves his hometown and runs towards Haran, a place 400 miles away.
That is where today’s reading begins. Jacob has traveled about 50 miles from home. It’s been a long, lonely journey. He’s outside in the elements. Vulnerable. Either no one will take him in or there is no house around.
He is helpless. Full of fear and terror. Alone. There is no one to manipulate. No one to trick. And no more daylight. There is but a pile of stones, and Jacob takes one, puts it under his head, and falls asleep...
...And he has the most magnificent dream. A ladder. Angels. And God standing beside, above, near him, saying to him "I am the God of your father and grandfather. I will give you offspring. I will give you land. Everyone will be blessed by your kin. I will be with you wherever you go, and I will not leave you until what has been promised comes true."
What a thing to hear! Jacob had left the protection of his father’s home but was told the God of his father with him.
He had no shelter but was promised land.
He wasn’t even dating anyone, much less married and yet he received the promise of numerous descendants.
And unlike the birthright and the blessings, Jacob didn’t manipulate anyone into giving it. It wasn’t earned, no one was tricked. It wasn’t even sought after. It was sheerly and truly all by God, the grace of God!
Jacob awakes, and with the sky up above and his head on the stone, he says "Surely the Holy One is in this place! This is none other then the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven."
Jacob, the deceiver, Jacob the cunning conniving conflict causing source of consternation, has let down his guard, has ceded his need for control and in return has an experience with his father’s God that ushers him into a new stage of his life, a more mature stage where he will grow, and he will learn, and he will become who he was destined to be.
This is a favorite biblical passage of many and the reasons are easy to see. It’s poetry, its imagery, its promise of God’s presence.
It’s also a story many, if not most of us, can relate to. The notion of running away. The image of fleeing from one’s problems. The image of being left with nothing but a rock to sleep on, and the unexpected discovery of God being in the ordinary.
We are all a little bit like Jacob in that we have run away. For some it’s a literal running away from home. For others a running away from problems. For others its an emotional running from things they wish not to deal with or look at.
I have my own running story, one I haven’t shared with everyone, one that causes embarrassment, but a running story nevertheless.
As you may recall, God called me to be a pastor when I was running around the high school track. I was 17 at the time and in no way ready to be a pastor.
So I continued to run, and I ran to Minnesota to go to college for journalism. Then I ran back to Long Island and worked as a waiter. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, ignoring both God’s call and my college degree.
I got my own place, I dated, I went out, I partied.
But one day, January 17, 1994 to be specific, my whole life changed.
Someone I had broken up with the year before decided to stalk me. It began with a rapping on my window and a late night phone call and continued with death threats to me and the people I was dating, slashed tires, car chases down the highway, the spray painting of my car, my apartment and my place of work.
The stalking continued for four months. It didn’t matter that I and my landlords had filed orders of protection. It didn’t matter that my father was a cop, or his friends were cops, they was nothing they could do to stop it.
I was living every day in fear, not knowing what to expect next. I didn’t sleep at night. I stopped going out. I was on constant guard. I spent more and more money on new tires and spray paint remover.
Eventually, I did the only thing I could do to feel and be safe: I packed up all my belonging, said goodbye to all my family and friends, and drove to Minneapolis, where I started my life all over.
Although for victims of crime there is no such thing about starting "all over", for the memories of the experience lingered for years afterward, affecting the decisions I made and the people I let into my life.
There were a few things that got me through that period of my life. Watching reruns of "Designing Women", reading my Good News Bible, and going to church on Sunday.
Sunday service was the only time I felt safe. I knew instinctively that for that hour and a half I would be OK, that nothing bad was going to happen to me or my car while there.
And in the midst of the fear, chaos and loneliness, I had a holy moment.
The church celebrated communion every week. We would come forward just as we did today, but I noticed that some people drank out of the same cup the pastor did. When I asked why they did this, I was told anyone can drink from the communion cup if they simply raised their hand.
So the next time I came forward, I raised my hand, and they gave me the cup to drink, and a feeling washed all over me. It was a jittery feeling, like being nervous. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but what I had experienced was the Spirit moving through me.
To this day I can not tell you a single scripture I heard read there, or a sermon that was preached or even the name of the pastor, but I can tell you that in that church God was there, and I felt safe.
That God reached out to me during the celebration of communion. And I was at the gates of heaven.
Now I share this story for many reasons. It is part of me, a big part of me that I don’t often show. As with most victims of crime, it is hard to discuss what I have endured.
But at the same time, what I endured has helped shape who I am, for better and for worse. It has shaped the choices I have made, relationships I have backed out of. It is also the reason why having a place to call home and to say I feel safe in is so important.
It has also shaped my understanding of church, the Lord’s Supper and my theology of worship.
When I refer to worship being a holy time or a holy space, when I repeatedly use the words sanctuary, peace and harmony, they are not quasi-feel good statements left over from the hippie generation. But true reflections of how I feel, true gifts that came from a period in my life in which peace, harmony and sanctuary did not exist, except for those 90 minutes a week in church.
Looking back on my story, it was church that got me through it all and it was church in which I felt safe. And it was in drinking from the communion cup that I first felt the Spirit of God.
Unexpected, unplanned. Hope in the midst of a scary, barren, lonely wilderness I was in.
So let me ask you this: What does church mean to you? Why do you come to church? We all have our reasons.
Some people come to church because that’s what they are used to. It’s what their parents and grandparents did. It’s what’s expected.
Some come to church to see friends, to catch up on the latest news.
Others come to church hoping to make a business connection or secure a job opportunity.
Others to nab themselves a man.
Others come to give thanks to God for all that God has done. To petition God for the things they want or need.
To sing songs of praise. To hear the Word read. To be inspired by the message. To be challenged by the message. To learn something new by the message.
Others come to seek forgiveness. To not feel so lonely. To be safe. To know they are not alone. To be fed. To have someone shake their hand.
To forget about the week that’s been and to prepare for the week ahead.
People enter into church for so many reasons, and regardless the reasons, it is hopeful that they leave feeling as if they have had an experience with God.
Hopefully sometime during the service there is a moment of "aha!", I have just felt the presence of God. Be it a song that is sung, the sermon as its preached, or time spent in fellowship downstairs.
It is hopeful that somehow, before, during and after the service, you become aware that there is a multitude of angels surrounding you. Not heavenly angels like what Jacob saw, but living breathing angels in the brothers and sisters who sit beside you, around you.
That no matter who may have hurt you during the week, that within these walls and stairs are living angels here to offer you a smile, a kind word, to provide a source of inspiration and comfort.
There is enough deceit and treachery out there in the world, that when you come in here you should feel respected and loved.
Out there in the world there are enough reasons to run away, get away that when you come in here you should feel like you can sit and be still in the presence of the Lord.
Out there in the world there are enough people saying negative things and badmouthing the future, that when you come in here you should feel and hear God’s hopeful words and promise for your future.
Out there in the world there is enough to fear and worry about, that when you come in here you should feel safe and secure.
Out there in the world, it is a wilderness, but here, here is the house of the Lord, and these are surely the Gates of Heaven.
And it’s not because we are surrounded by extraordinary things. Not because we are occupied by extraordinary, unusual folk. Not because we have extreme, expensive items.
But because God has taken what the world may see as ordinary and deemed it holy.
Ordinary wood that was taken and refashioned into pews and high beams and an altar where we place our offering.
Ordinary grape juice that we drink. Ordinary bread that we eat.
Ordinary water that we get baptized with.
An ordinary stone, albeit marble, that we walk past before entering into the sanctuary.
Ordinary folk playing music. Ordinary folk preaching the word.
Ordinary folk leading the worship. Ordinary folk sitting beside us.
But in God, through God, they become extraordinary, holy, empowering. Working together to create a sanctuary, working together to pass on the blessings of our fathers and grandfathers, working together to remind us that no matter where we go, God is right there, beside us, with us.
The world is a wonderful place. I can vouch for that, especially when I now look out my apartment upon the lake and the ducks. But the world is also a dangerous place, I can vouch for that with four months I once spent living in terror and fear.
But this place, this building is holy. It is safe. It is precious. It is God’s.
Let us give thanks that no matter what, no matter who, we are all welcome here, and being welcome we are secure, we are blessed, we are loved.
That even when we run away or feel the need to run away from it all, we have a home to come back to, a place to give thanks and a God who loves us so.
All thanks be to God who surrounds us with living angels, to the Spirit that ushers us along our path and to Jesus, the living, breathing ladder that connects us directly to God.
Amen, amen.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wanderings for week of Oct 1, 2008

This Sunday's scripture is one I relate too a lot. It's Genesis 28:10-19 and features Jacob, who has made a mess of everything back home, running away to flee from his brother's wrath. While sleeping on a rock in the wilderness, Jacob has an encounter with God.

Beautiful story.

I can relate to the notion of running away from one's problems. Can anyone else out there?

And when I think of running away, I think of a scene from the Broadway play "Into the Woods" by Stephen Sondheim. "Into the Woods" is a sly retelling of the fairy tales in which all the characters must go "into the woods" to find the solution to their problem/dreams. In Act 1, they accomplish their goal, with Jack (of beanstalk fame) killing the giant.

Act 2 takes a dark twist as the giant's wife comes to the fairy-tale town to seek revenge, and now the woods become a place to hide or run away from life. One character is the Baker. The problems become so great he runs away, leaving his wife and child by themselves. And while in the woods he meets a mysterious man who once ran away from life too. It turns out the mysterious man was Jack's own father who had also deserted his wife and child once life got too tough.

And in a touching musical number, Jack and the mysterious man/father sing about running away. And Jack's father gives him these sage words of advice "Running away, let's do it. Free from the ties that bind. No more despair, or burdens to bear...Running away: don't do it... Just more questions, just different kinds...Running away, we'll do it, why sit around resigned? Trouble is son, the farther you run, the more you'll feel undefined, for what you have left undone and more what you have left behind."

The older I get, and the more mature I become, I grasp the notion that in life our basic sense of self-protection calls for us to run from that which scares or burdens us. And often times it is OK to take a break, to pause, to take a "time out." But a time out is different from running away or pretending problems do not exist, and as the song states, the further we run from our problems the greater they become.

Jacob ran from his problems. That is the human condition. The good news is that God did not run away from nor abandon Jacob, in fact, that's when Jacob became even more aware of God's presence in his life. And perhaps even greater news, is that although it took decades, Jacob did eventually realize he had to go back home, and he had to face the mess he made. But the grandest news of all was that even then God was still with him, and God worked through the mess and the chaos and was able to bless not just Jacob, but his family, and through them, all families, just as God promised God would.

Running away can sound like such a good solution at times. And maybe every now and then we need to go "into the woods" to sort through the mess we have made or the mess others have created, but through God and with God, we are called to return and face what we have left behind.

May we all be blessed this week.

Peace, Pastor G

"Connie and Carla"

What a surprise! I loved, loved, loved this silly little film, created by the same woman who did "MY Big Fat Greek Wedding." It's about two cheesy show-lounge singers who witness a murder and flee to LA. They end up becoming drag queens, and very good ones at that. Yes: this is "Victor/Victoria" done by a duo. The drag looks great, the show tunes and singing is wonderful. Part of the film's soul comes from the subplot of one brother trying to reconcile with his other brother. There is also the notion of when is it time to stop running away and fight/face your demons. And a great mini-subplot about body acceptance. During a show, Carla (or is it Connie) stops everything to make a very body-affirming statement: "Big or tall, slim or fat, worship that body! It's the only one you got." And she joyfully admits "I am an eater" which in the LA world of botox and weight-loss spas is seen as a big deal. I had fun, and you will too watching this DVD. And Debbie Reynolds makes a cameo proving why she is Debbie Reynolds and we're not!


With a great ode to Hithcock in it's opening credits, the movie "Vacancy", which I saw on DVD, had me from the start. It's a short, quick, intense film that had lots of suspense, but also, a surprising bit of soul. The movie begins with an apple and ends with a couple in a courtyard. What got me was the main characters were a couple who are splitting up. Their son David died and unable to express their grief, they lash out at each other. On one last road trip to visit her family their car breaks down and they spend a night in a motel. And the horror/suspense takes off from there. But eventually there comes a scene in which the couple apologize to each other over David's death, they forgive, then they mourn, then they work as a team to solve the problem ahead, using wisdom instead of fear, and say the words "I love you". There is even a death and resurrection in this film. The irony is that redemption for this couple comes in the form of an unholy trinity who is trying to hurt them. Good film, but I would say stay away from the DVD extra labeled "snuff films". It is pointless and truly torture porn in the worse sense. Also, "Vacancy" had what I considered a highly misogynistic scene, although we never get to see it, but in true Hitchockian style, get to use our imagination, which is often worse.

America's Next Top Model cycle 11, episode 5

Bit of a yawn without Isis, didn't you think? And Jay dressed as the monster? The more "butch" he tries to be, the more embarrassed I feel for him, until I see the next scene where, in his attempt to look young, the make-up keeps getting heavier and heavier.

Marjorie's extreme lack of confidence is getting the girls down and is annoying to listen to. Paulina and Marjorie labeled it as a "French/European" cultural thing: I wonder of that is true. But why did she get to stay, when she had to be "spoon fed" as Jay stated, while Clark went home. I liked Clark's photo. And the fact that Clark went from top to bottom and Sam went from bottom to top in one week just goes to show one never knows what'll happen.

I think Marjorie may be next to go on episode 6.

Sermon for Sept 28, 2008, Gen 25:19-34

Sept 28, 2008
Scripture: Gen 25:19-34
Sermon Title: "Giving the Promise Away"
Rev. G
Hear now these words from the book of Hebrews:
"...lift your drooping heads and strengthen your weak knees,
and make straight paths for your feet,
so that what is lame may not be put out of joint,
but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with everyone and holiness...
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God...
See to it that no one becomes like Esau,
an immoral and godless person,
who sold his birthright for a single meal.
You know that later,
when he wanted to inherit the blessing,
he was rejected,
for he found no chance to repent,
even though he sought the blessing with tears."
This letter, written to Jewish Christians, was created with the emphasis on faith: faith that carries you through the storm, faith that carries you through persecution, faith in things not seen, but are there, right around the corner for us to enjoy and be blessed by.
This particular portion of the letter points to Esau, a man who gave away his blessings for the sake of a bowl of food, who forfeited God’s long term promise for an immediate moment of gratification.
It warns us not to make the same rash decision he did.
We, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation can certainly benefit from these timeless reminders about faith, and being too quick to give away the promises that faith brings.
Today we resume last year’s sermon series on the Book of Genesis. If you recall, God created the world out of nothing, using his spirit and his voice.
Then we observed how God chooses to bless the entire world through the family of Abraham and Sarah, and after many years they have a child named Isaac.
Our sermon series begins with Isaac, now a middle aged man, married to Rebekah.
As with her mother-in-law, Rebekah is barren, which creates a problem: how can God keep his promise to bless the world through Abraham’s family, if Abraham’s son can not produce a child?
Unwilling to sit by and do nothing about it, Isaac does something: he prays. And Rebekah becomes pregnant, with not just one child but with twins.
Things are not easy. In fact, there’s conflict from the very beginning. The boys wrestle while in her womb, they fight even while being born, and as young men the conflict continues.
These two boys could be do different. Esau is born covered with red hair all over his body. He likes to be out in the field, to hunt with a bow and arrow and prepare savory stews.
Jacob is born and stays as smooth as a baby’s bottom. He’s a quiet man, preferring to stay inside tents, creating lentil soups with homemade bread.
Esau makes rash decisions, focused on the present, not thinking about future consequences. Jacob is cunning and manipulative, willing to stab anyone in the back. He is a patient man, focused on the future and the possibilities of what can be.
Truth is that neither son looks promising. Neither son seems fit to carry on the blessings God has promised. This becomes clear in verses 29-34.
Esau comes in from the field. He is starving, famished. Jacob is cooking a lentil stew. Esau, thinking only of his immediate needs, orders his younger brother to feed him. But his brother is no fool. He has a plan "Sell me your birthright" he says.
The birthright was a big deal. According to custom, the first born enjoyed a special status all his life, second only behind his father. First born got to eat first. First born inherited a double portion of his father’s estate.
The first born would carry whatever special promises God had made the family.
This was not kids stuff or a game. For Esau to give up his birthright meant he would give away all the future blessings he was bound to receive. But, as we witness, for Esau future blessings or possibilities was of no concern when he had a need for instant gratification.
"Fine, he says," hastily. "I am about to die of hunger, what use is a blessings that exists in the future when all I can think of is now?"
"First swear to me you’ll give up birthright" Jacob says.
Esau makes an oath, something that can not be reversed, and in silence, he eats, drinks and walks away, despising what was promised to him.
How could Esau do it? How could he give away the chance to be the one who’s family would bless all families?
How could he give away the promise of prosperity, fertility, the privileges, the responsibilities?
All so he could eat red stew quickly and silently, like an animal being fed slop at the farm?
How could Esau be so fixated on his immediate needs and gratification that he gave the promise away?
How, how, how?.....
.......We can ask them same of ourselves.
We do it all the time, don’t we? Going for the quick fix, the instant gratification. This isn’t just a story about the past of Gods people, but also a story about the present.
As individuals we can be like Esau, giving away the promise of future possibilities for what we want now. Look no further then the credit card culture we are in.
It used to be people saved for what they wanted and paid cash on the barrel head and learned to do without when they couldn’t pay. But not now.
We gather, we hoard, we collect, we want more. We charge, not trying to think about the interest rates and how much further in debt we’re growing.
Used to be a time when young couples got by with one car and a cheap, small apartment, saving and scrimping until they could move into a house. But now people move immediately into a house or a condo with a mortgage they can barely make and utility bills that keep getting higher and higher.
As a church we are also guilty of giving away the promise. Instead of allowing the minsirty to dictate the budget, we allow the budget to dictate the minsitry and wonder why we are shrinking in size.
When someone comes up with a brilliant way to do God’s work, instead of making plans on how to do it we hear we are too old, or we are too young or we are too busy to put God first because the world has fooled us into doing things the worlds way.
And we do this as a nation. In just a few months we have the opportunity to vote. We can vote with the notions of promise, hope and faith.
Or we can vote as Esau would: an immediate reaction, out of hunger and fear, voting for what amounts to short term solutions then what are beneficial long term solutions filled with promise.
Soup in the belly may be good for now, but its not worth it if means giving up the promises for growth, new life and blessings in the future.
Soup in the belly may be good for now, but its not worth anything if it means our children will starve.
Esau gave away his blessings, he gave away God’s promise. But we don’t have to.
Although the temptations are real and can make things hard, we can hold on, be strong, remembering the promises God has given, looking forward to them becoming true, trusting and holding God to the promises he gave so long ago.
We don’t have to settle for lentil soup when we have the promise of greater blessings. We can lift our drooping heads, we can strengthen our knees. We can pursue peace and be holy.
We can hold on, seeing to it that others know about the grace of God, allowing everyone to hold onto their promise, to repent, and, through tears of joy, give thanks for the blessings we receive.
Let us continue to have faith that looks beyond present circumstances and look towards the promises God has in store.
All thanks and praise be to the Spirit that restores our drooping shoulders, the son who embodies the promises of God, and the father who wants nothing but the best for all his kin.
Amen and amen.