Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Moby Dick" by Herman Melville

For such a long time I have wanted to read "Moby Dick" but was always daunted by it. You can say that reading "Moby Dick" was my own white whale. So I set a goal for myself: to read it before the year ended, and in 20 days I achieved my goal. And it has taken me just as long to write this blog about it (white whale #2?)

The beginning stages of reading were a pleasant process, although I was daunted by all the extracts Herman Melville uses to start his book, as if he felt the need to repeat every literary reference to a whale he could find. Two things to say: it is the most masculine book and the gayest book I have read (c'mon: Ishmael and Queegeg share a bed, cuddle and refer to themselves as a married couple!(page 57) and although it has some of the most amazingly written lines I have read outside of the Bible (in which it owes so much influence to) "Moby Dick" as a whole is nowhere the masterpiece that scholars claim. There are indeed moments of such sheer brilliance I was moved to tears of awe, but almost half, if not more then half of the book are scientific/historical/literary facts that slow down the pace. Filler, in other words.

Masterpieces do not rely on filler. I do think the book would have been way more powerful if all the "educational" material was removed, to just let the story tell itself. It's as if Melville did not believe in himself and his own ability to tell the story as is.

But, oh, there is so much soul here. What follows are some of the things that really caught my attention and spoke to me. I do believe there is enough in this book to create a long line of sermons about life and death and facing them head on. And Ahab, though he actually appears only briefly, is such a study in alpha-maleness that his sheer presence and mention of his name shines through the text.

This book is for me about one man's inability to let go of the past, therefor selfishly and foolishly destroying the future not only for himself but all those around him. And its also about Ishmael who, by trying to run away from life, must face life and death and mystery and wonder head on, finding salvation in a coffin in the midst of a swirling mass of watery death.

Here's the soul.

Page 45 "...-for the pulpit is ever the earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath...from whence it is the God of breezes fair or foul if first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow."

Page 55: "You can not hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart..."

Page 58: "What is worship?-to do the will of God-that is worship. And what is the will of God?-to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me-that is the will of God."

Page 65: Queequeg telling of a royal feast, lead by his father the King and a High Priest, of how the Priest opens the banquet by dipping his consecrated/consecrating fingers into a bowl before the beverage circulates, and an American Captain, thinking himself above all people, "coolly proceeds to wash his hands in the punch bowl." That's a statement on superiority some people they feel they have over others.

Page 81, Ishmael is asked what he sees, I find his answer a poetic response to what life is "Not much...nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think." (Ain't that just how life is?)

Page 173, listen to how Ahab, alpha male that he is, gets the crew pumped and excited for the task they have.

Page 182 Chapter 37: Sunset. I read this twice and had tears in my eyes. Perhaps the most beautiful writing I have read outside of Scripture. "Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun-slow dived from noon,- goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill." And it just goes on and on. Wow.

and page 183 "What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'llkdo!"

Page 224: ecotheology and social justice come into the use of candles made from what blubber "For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it."

Pg 394, the beginning of chapter 82, "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method."

Pg 411 "Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything impossibly beautiful strength has much to do with the magic."

421: In regards to a harpooned whale- "For as the swift monster drags you deeper and deeper into the frantic shoal, you bid adieu to circumspect life and only exist in a delirious throb."

422, in regards to being in the shoal near a pod of whales "Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion."

423 "But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side."

453-454 "...Wisdom revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. he saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefor his shipmates called him mad."

465: "There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in sunny spaces. And even if he flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains, so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar."

481-482 the contrast between Ahab (who lost a leg to Moby Dick) and the English Captain who lost an arm: "He's welcome to the arm he has since I can;t help it and didn't know him then, but not to the other one. No more White Whales for me; I've lowered him once and that has satisfied me."

506, in regards to Ahab "...since both the ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than the ancestry and posterity of Joy."

517, Ahab's crazed image of himself that will ultimately destroy him, Moby and everyone on board except for Ishmael "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod.-On deck!"

Chapter 110, "Queequeg in his Coffin" is one of the finest meditations on death, acceptance and new found life. It had me crying, and for, the second finest chapter in this book. Queequeg becomes sickly ill and per the custom of whalers in Nantucket, a canoe-coffin to be built for him so he can be sent out to sea. Once built he lays inside it, and in facing his death head on, he gets better and fully recovers (and the coffin ends up rescuing Ishmael from death as well).

In regards to Queequeg illness, page 520 "But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek bones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him would could not die or be weakened."

On 522 Queegueg gets to lay in his canoe with his harpoon by his side, with biscuits and water, his idol, Yojo, and asks the coffin lid to be placed over him. He speaks the word "Rarmai" which means "It will do; it is easy" and asks to be put back into his hammock, and Pip takes his hand and sobs and speaks about the currents taking Queequeg away.

523 Queegueg heals and it is stated "In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort."

555 Sailors on the boat are talking. How is this for a metaphor "When a fellow's soaked through, it's hard to be sensible, that's a fact. And I am about to be drenched by this spray."

Chapter 128, pp 576-579, the Pequod meets the Rachel, a ship in which the captain is searching for his son who is most likely dead.

590, Ahab reflects on the life he had lead, but there is sense that he would not change a thing, for he is doing what he is supposed to do "Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day- very much a sweetness as this- I struck my first whale...Forty-forty-forty years ago!- ago! Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and stormtime! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep!"

625: Ishmael is rescued. And here is the last line of the book. "It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another author."

"4 Blondes" by Candance Bushnell

"4 Blondes" is a collection of novellas written by the creator of "Sex and the City", but unlike that show, this book is all style, no heart, and except for the first novella, no fun. It was a chore to get through.

The kind of soul occurs in the first story: "Nice N' Easy" about Janey, an almost washed up, unemployed model/accidental actress who dates a different man each summer so she can spend the season in the Hamptons, while her NYC apartment is a cockroach infested and not airconditioned.

The novella follows her relationships and the unusual way in which a hint of redemption enters into her life. Her mother talks about the truth of life, and points to Janey's sister who has become very successful. "No, she is not perfect. But she is smart. She knows she has to work life. You are very beautiful, Janey. But even if you are very beautiful, you must work at life." (100)

On 108, Janey reflects upon her )fabulous) life and the life of the ordinary. "Her life would stretch before her. There would be a certain blandness about them, but after all, wasn't that what most lives were like? Most people got up every morning and went to a job. They dated ordinary people and went to the movies. They didn't go to black-tie events. They didn't model in fashion shows...and they survived. Hell, they were probably happy."

How does Janey redeem herself? By finally being honest and vulnerable with herself. She is asked to audition for a Victoria's Secret campaign and they ask her some questions, and for the first time she truly let;s down her guard and she says "I don't know where I'm going, but I know I'm going somewhere." A real estate agent later talks to her and says "Don't we all feel that way, though." (115).

The novella ends with a baptismal-like scene in which Janey goes out to the patio of the Hampton home she rented with her own money. She realizes the man she loves will never leave his wife for her. And with the gift of acceptance, what does she do? Stick her toe into the pool, test out the temperature of the water, and dives right in. (116).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Something Missing" by Matthew Dicks

"Something Missing" is best described as "Dexter-lite". Martin, a loner with OCD, has an interesting career: he has "clients" whose home he will go to and take the things he knows they will not miss. Great premise, likable hero, but the problem: this is really a short story stretched out to 300 hundred pages. Dicks attention to detail is fun for the first chapter, but afterwards is tedious. There are parts where I just skimmed a whole page because the premise was clear, and Dicks was just over-describing.

It takes a hundred pages for the true story to emerge: Martin begins to interact in his clients life: craftily encouraging one man to send roses to his wife, preventing another client's surprise party from being ruined, and stopping another client from being sexually assaulted.

The sole-ful parts? Page 151, the note the husband gives his wife with one red rose: "I sometimes forget to tell you how much I love you. Forgive me."

Page 212 "Though he was enjoying the new sense of adventure, he was also becoming concerned about where these changes might lead. Chaos led to unpredictability, and Martin's life was becoming more chaotic the he could ever remember it ever having been."

Page 238, martin reconciles with the father he has not seen in 20 years: "you're the only family I've got, dad. You let me down, for sure, but I think I probably let you down too. Our relationship got messed up pretty badly, but it wasn't because either of us wanted it to. We were just stupid. A couple of cowards without a brain between us."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"A Year of Cats and Dogs" by Margaret Hawkins

In one of my favorite books "Temple of My Familiar" by Alice Walker, a character expresses how whatever kind of knowledge she needs will just come to her. Sometimes water will be knocked over on a piece of paper and viola! that's the info she needed, or she'll just see a book that will reflect where she is or what she needs to learn next.

That is my experience with Margaret Hawkins' "A Year of Cats and Dogs." Much like another favorite, "The Tao of Pooh," "A Year..." is about what happens when a person steps back from trying to make things happens, and in doing so, life just...happens.

The main character is Maryanne, who is soon to be 50 and her long term boyfriend has left her. Maryanne decides to just stop doing. In other words, she quits her job, cooks and spends time with her Dad and her pets. In the process of doing nothing, everything happens. She is offered various free-lance opportunities. She discovers she has the talent to hear what cats and dogs are saying. She volunteers at an animal shelter, then is offered a part time job, then a full time job. She begins a new romance, she deals with a sick father and distant, bitchy sister, is reacquainted with the man who left her, experiences death, loss and a new life and new home. All while doing nothing and cooking comfort food, in which the recipes are included.

Unlike "Eat, Pray, Love" this is not a book about a narcissist with severe mental issues that come across as having lovable quirks, and unlike "Julie and Julia" the food is not meant to wow, but to soothe.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with Taoism, or Jesus' sermon to "Not worry about tomorrow," to anyone who likes to cook, or enjoys animals, or like me is a fan of "The Dog Whisperer." This could have been chik-lit, but rises above it, while at the same time remaining a fast, fun read.

Here are some of the Sole-full parts.

Page 23: "People were this way too, I thought, either garlic or onion. Some people, under heat, get sweeter; trouble, stress, hardship warms them, makes them more human and breaks down the rough edges. Others just grow bitter."

Page 24 "At this point I usually add wine. I pour the wine into a glass first and drink about half and pour the rest into a pot, wishing cheers to the soup. Then I repeat. When I do this the soup assumes the role of companion and collaborator, albeit one who will ultimately be eaten."

Page 101: to an abused dog is about to be put down because it can't be rehabilitated. "'You are loved,' I said quietly to the smelly little dog that at least had stopped growling."

Page 103-104: "Death makes us crave company and food...The living eat, the dying don't; at the time it seemed as simple as that and maybe it always is."

Page 134-135: Clement, the cat, overhears Maryanne's conversation with a man who may have cancer. "Clement, who'd been listening the whole time, blinked slowly at Bob and then walked off. 'No one is ready for death and yet it awaits us all,' I could hear him say as he departed from the basement to contemplate the floor drain."

Page 191, Maryanne's dog, Bob, is present as her father is slowly dying. He asks her (telepathically) if Stan, the vet and Maryanne's new boyfriend, can put him down like he does to cats and dogs. "We don't do it to people," Maryanne tells him. "Poor people," he said, settling his big head gloomily upon his paws.

Page 207: the closing line of the book: "...and I knew that we, despite all we'd lost, were home again."

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Lucky Chica" by Berta Platas

Yet another fun trashy romance, this one has a great cover that places in one's imagination what they would want to look like if they won $600 million in the largest lottery ever. Too bad the book stresses me out a bit, therefor taking longer to read then a trashy book should. The reason why: Rosie, her cousin Cheeto and her Abuelita spend the cash so fast on so many big, stupid things that I could tell where the story was heading and waiting for it to happen. There's also some very poor expositions and moments of "Wait, when did that happen?"

Still, there were points where I was laughing at loud in the cafe and airplane as I read the novel. The soulful parts: the fact that even though Rosie has all this money and Cheeto and Abuela have found ways to improve their personal lives, Rosie stays in her rut. On page 95 it says "If Rosie's life had changed, so far it had been like changing the cover of a book, but leaving the inside the same...Maybe what Rosie needed was worthwhile goals."

Eventually Rosie does that, setting up a foundation and making sure her old apartment building and the block it was on is kept in shape, and weedy lot becomes a playground and she creates a program for women to have their hair, nails and feet done so they look professional and feel good about themselves so they can go out and get better jobs. A great idea for a church that wants to do mission in their immediate community.

On page 152 she has the option of going to bed with her favorite movie star, but because she truly likes him, she decides not to do the same old thing that results in immediate pleasure but nothing more. So she has a burst of clarity as her date comes to an end. " He said he liked fishing, which meant he probably liked a challenge, and she'd give him a fight before she let him reel her in."

On 228 Rosie goes to set up her foundation. Her life coach advises her that throwing money at friends won't solve anything. "Maybe it was true, but Rosie remembered going through the sofa cushions for the one quarter that would make the difference between eating her breakfast cereal with milk or with water."

All in all, an OK book. If there was a sequel would I read it, yes. But this time the author should not make it about overspending or shifty accountants, but Rosie's fabulous shopping trips, her fabulous foundation and her fabulous new life with Brad Merritt.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Dead If I Do"

"Dead If I Do" by Tate Hallaway is the fourth book of the Garnet series. I've been craving to read it for a long time, finally got it..and disappointed. It's OK, but sooooo over the place. Here Garnet and Sebastian get married, but not before havoc of all sorts occur. But I did like the last chapter, the actual marriage, and the lesson Garnet learns: "Once I let go of an idea of what my marriage was supposed to be, everything fell into place." (page 285) Then the closing line: "Even though it was nothing like I'd planned, it was the most perfect day of my life." (page 290).


A lesson I still to continue to learn and learn and learn.

Can you tell you a secret: No matter how I felt about the book, I hope there's a book 5 (and a baby?).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Without Conscience"

"Without Conscience-The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us", by Robert D. Hare, PHD (1993) is a well written, easy to understand, quick read about psychopaths. The general thought is this: psychopaths are dangerous people who are not insane but very aware of what they are doing. Almost anyone can fall victim to them because of their charm, charisma and ability to talk their way out of stuff, even when the victim knows it does not all add up. Not all psychopaths are killers: many of them are con artists and people who can bilk people/businesses out of lots of $$$$$. Psychopaths exist in clergy, lawers and psychologists. And there is little know treatment for them.

Signs of a psychopath (page 34):
-egocentric and grandiose
-lack of remorse or guilt
-lack of empathy
-deceitful and manipulative
-shallow emotions
-poor social controls
-need for excitement
-lack of responsibility
-early behavior problems
adult antisocial behavior

and soulless eyes, almost reptilian, with a stare that can haunt one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Old Man and the Sea

Just finished "Old Man and the Sea." Didn't care that much for it, and it took a week for me to finish. Some beautiful writing, but man did it drag on. Great shark attacks though.

Here's a bit of wisdom, from page 103:
"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

Interesting thought from an author who committed suicide 9 years later.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"The Prada Paradox" by Julie Kenner

Just finished "The Prada Paradox", part three of the Givcenchy trilogy. Poor author Julie Kenner tries too hard and made the book too slow and boring and full of repeats. Cool concept: actress Devi is cast as Mel in the movie version of "The Givenchy Code." And the PlaySuriviveWin game begins. But Kenner tries for more, and ends up with less. And this book is darker: Devi is the victim of a brutal kidnap/rape by a crazed fan, Janus, that haunts her. But the rapist is now the one hunting her. And she is cast into a dark emotional place.

Kenner, as she did in "Manola Matrix" has a good insight into human psychology. When Devi is caught in the PSW game and Janus is the hunter she tries not to allow the situation to have control over her. She finds herself freaking out, and she allows the freak-out. On page 115 it goes:

I draw in a breath and start over. "I just needed to freak out for a few minutes. But I'm better now." When all else fails, try the truth.

By 299 Devi had a chance to kill Janus:

I don't hesitate. I pull the trigger, then watch as the red star-burst blooms on his forehead.
He's dead.
And. I'm glad.

Such simple prose but powerful. Oh, and Kenner finds a way to wrap up the trilogy that anyone can see coming. So, I enjoyed book 1 and 2, but 3 was a snooze.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Manolo Matrix

Just finished "The Manolo Matrix." It's part two of a trilogy by Julie Kenner, frivolous fun about a video-assassin game that comes to life and involves sharp women who love to shop. Book 1 was "The Givenchy Code."

Great, fast beach read. I did it in two days. This book involved aspiring actress Jennifer figuring out clues based on Broadway musicals. The clues were not easy to figure out, which detracts from the fun of the reader.

The second character, FBI agent Devlin is aware of what motivates people. Several times he talks of how when people are afraid they will often turn to the emotion of anger to release some of the stress, or that people will sometimes make love to alleviate feelings of fear or depression.

The spiritual essence of the book comes in page 292 when Julie gets into the shower (baptism) and realizes she has not been proactive in her life and career. Then she wonders why: "...what if I had a fear of success? Of not living up to my own hype? Or the hype I'd built up in my head?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer Books 2009

So, without a church to pastor, I've read a few books over the past 28 days. All trash. Some fun, all pointless. "The Best Of Everything" sounds and looks great: a black pastor's daughter marries the co-pastor but can't curb her love of all things shopping. Loved the descriptions in the first few pages, but it got tedious quick, with no real resolution, character change or moment of redemption.

"Hungry Woman in Paris" has a bit of it: a Hispanic journalist cancels her wedding, flees to Paris and goes to chef school. Lots of possibilities, lots of cooking and sex and the idea that the main character, Canela, is always hungry for something because she is so empty inside. It deals with issues of family, love, suicide, being of two worlds (American and Mexican) and food food food.
The ending though is odd and off base and doesn't seem to totally connect with all that comes before.

Best parts: page 72, when the French chef tells the students "Cuisine is sensual. You must always be touching and tasting and smelling and having all your senses completely open. You can always follow a recipe, yes, but you must also feel your way through it...To truly be a great chef you must love to give pleasure to people."

Then on page 125 Canela (which is Spanish for Cinnamon) take a class on wine. Hear what the instructor says "...wine is a gastronomic Kodak of a day in the life of the earth, the land. With one taste we experience la terre; wine is the blood of the earth. At the other end, at its simplest, wine is just fermented grape juice. For me wine is science and poetry coming together and exploding in my mouth."

And "Hollywood Car Wash" is about a Michigan girl named Amy who is suddenly cast for a part in a major TV show, and how the Hollywood system goes about changing her: losing weight, veneers, hair color, drugs to lose weight, pills to sleep etc. I read it with great enjoyment, but eventually got to the point of "OK OK, when is she going to stand up and say "no- this is me and I won't change!" Of course, it happens, but a little too late, quick and neatly wrapped up. But if this book truly portrays what young Hollywood folk go through, I feel sorry for them and may be less quick to judge and wonder why someone like Britney can do what she did, bald head and car bashing ans all.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wanderings for July 26, 2009

Good evening. Here we are, the night before our final service. Tomorrow we explore two scriptures. For the 10:10 service we'll hear from John 6:1-15. This is where Jesus feeds the 5,000 with fives loaves and two fish. For the 3 p.m. closing service, we'll hear from Genesis 1:1-5, "in the beginning" which can sound off for a church coming to its end. But I don't find it odd at all.
As you'll hear tomorrow, I pose the question "Where did the waters come from if God had not yet created?" For the sermon I address the question symbolically, but tonight I pose it metaphorically.
Do you remember Shari Lewis and Lambchop, and how at the end of each show they'd sing a tune called "This is the song that never ends/ it just goes on and on my friend?" Did you watch any of last season's "Lost." In Genesis, I get this sense of a time/space continuum. That God creates out of nothing, yet something was there, how did that something get there, well from something that came before, well how can there be a before if this is the beginning, and owwww my head hurts, but yet it is fun to think about, and what if time, as those in metaphysics say, does not exist, but is actually flat, and everything is happening at the same time, and time runs like an LP or a circle, where the end flows into the beginning and the beginning leads into the end and the end starts the beginning.
Oddly enough, in those thoughts I find comfort. Perhaps its just comfort in knowing that there is more than just right now, that there will be more then what happens tomorrow, that there is more then what happened yesterday. And that more is God. That ultimately, everything, everyone, every time comes down to God.
Heard hurt yet? Maybe that's good, because it helps to take away from the pain in the heart. As I write these words I am amazed how at the moment I am not feeling anything about us closing. Perhaps its because we have been dealing with this for three months. Perhaps because there is still so much to do to prepare for both services. Perhaps because it scares me. Perhaps because it hurts too much. Perhaps because I know it will not seem and be real until we actually gather together and close.
I've been rambling, an indulgence for my last Wanderings. But if I speak from my heart, I will say "Thank you." Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor. Thank you for the love you displayed and the love you shared. Thank you for caring about my future even as you worry about your own. Thank you for being part of my story. I know when I come home Sunday evening I will crash on my couch, and I will probably cry my eyes out. And that's a good thing.
We have come to our end, together. And it will be God, through Christ and the Spirit, together, three-in-one, who will, together, help us all get through tomorrow and the days/months/years that follow.
Thank you, and God bless you with peace, grace and miracles,
Pastor George Nicholas Miller

Sermon for July 29, 2009

July 26, 2009
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5
Sermon Title: “And It Was Good”
Rev. George N. Miller

God said “Let there be light”: and there was light. And God saw that the light was good...

Well, here we are, at the opening words of the Bible. The last sermon this congregation will hear preached. “In the beginning...” It may sound odd for a family that’s coming to an end, but I would make the claim that the whole Gospel is message in this scripture.

Here we have all the keys players. We have God, the Creator, the Spirit moving in new, unexpected ways. And if John 1 is read back into this text, we have Jesus, the Word, present.

Biblical historians will tell you that Genesis 1 was written during the exile, a time in which the temple was destroyed, people were taken from their homes and everyone was trying to make sense of it all.

This scripture was meant to give the people reassurance, saying to them “Listen, hear how God has a plan. God is ultimately in control. And when God is in control, there is hope.”

And today Genesis offers us hope and assurance.
Yes, we are losing our spiritual home. Yes, we as a family will break apart and go our different ways. But we are neither forgotten nor forsaken.
God does have a plan.

You see, as far as I am concerned Genesis 1 is not just about creation but it is also about resurrection. Read closer and you’ll find the first mystery of the Bible.

We’re told that a wind from God swept over the waters. But if God had not yet created, how did these waters exist? Where did they come from?

For the ancient people, water often symbolized chaos, unknown dangers, and death. To say a wind from God swept over the waters is another way to say the Spirit moved over whatever chaos, messiness, or death there was.

When read this way, we have resurrection and creation existing at the same time. A stunning idea that the very act of creation involved death, and that it was death that brought forth creation. Just as it was Jesus’ death that ushered in the creation of the Christian faith.

Here we have life and death, resurrection and creation, God, Jesus and Spirit in action. And it takes a spoken word to set everything into play, a word filled with possibilities, a word filled with “yes” even though the waters seemed to say “no.”

God said “Let there be light.” And there was light. And it was good...so good.

This is a message we need to hear today. For we are gathered to honor and recall the life and ministry of this particular body of Christ, known as Burlingame Congregational United Church of Christ.

In our historical records it is written “May our church be a shining light in the community. May it be a place of togetherness.” One of our pastors, Rev. Alfred Allard wrote that “every pastorate has lights and shadows of various experiences...” Let us take a look at those shadows and lights.

In 1923 the Spirit first moved over this congregation, at a time when 6,000 people lived in the community, working for Leonard Refrigerator, Pierre Marquette or one of the 60 furniture factories in Grand Rapids. The pastors from Smith Memorial and Park Congregational met and discerned a need for a church in the area.

A meeting was held at Lee High and on April 28,1924 a new congregation of 28 members was created. James Hamilton and his wife Clara, nee Burlingame, donated the land for the church.

First time pastor Rev. Arden Johnson was called. A year later ground was broken to build the church. We were the only English speaking protestant church in the school district, and we were a Mission Church, with the state giving $600 a year for operating costs.

Throughout our years, one significant trait was our dedication: when a need was apparent the members responded with generosity, even though it wasn’t always easy. The depression hit hard.

In 1937 the state tried to close our doors. Trusting that God was not done with us just yet, Rev. Ed Evans encouraged the congregation to hold on. He focused people’s attention on making the sanctuary as beautiful as possible. The fruit of their faith paid off.

By the 50's Rev. Dalrymple was the pastor and the church building expanded, which meant a new Fellowship Hall and no more classes in the boiler room. The Buzzings were created, programs flourished and people developed bonds.

The 70's were a bit difficult. Rev. Herold’s charismatic way did not fit, causing some people to leave. He also had a young son who died, a solemn reality for any church to cope with.

In the 80's we called another first time pastor, Rev. David Smith who remained our shepherd for 21 years. He wrote articles for the paper, shared his musical talents, and grew the choir.

In 2005 yet another first time pastor, Rev. George Miller was called, and together we did many things, perhaps more things then any church our size could possibly do.

But now we have reached the end of our journey. We beat the odds when the state tried to shut us down, we beat the odds when pastoral theology threatened to tear the church in two .

Today we are called to fully acknowledge our death. That we as a church body will be no more, we will say our goodbyes, and close our doors forever.

No more will there be angels in white dancing to a song Clella Watts choreographed. No more will there be a Couple’s Night in which everyone accidently brings dessert and the men have to get the main course from the local restaurant.

No more will people teach Sunday School in the kitchen with the smell of gas and the antics of a naughty boy named Jerry Waalkes.

No more will Burlingame host Mother-Daughter meals, craft sales or donut sales to help the youth.

No more will there be the ability to come to church in the evening after a bad day and finding people to talk to. No more will the children have fish to feed or plants to water.

No more will we see the magnificence of the sun as it shines through the stained glass. No more will we wonder which of the three hymnals we’ll sing out of. No more will there be ladies smoking in the kitchen.

No more will we hear “speak louder” or “the microphone’s not on”. No more will I see your smiling faces or will you sit there listening to one of my sermons.

No more will any of us be together again, like this, as we have been for the past 10, 20, 40, 85 years.

Yes, our time is coming to an end. But here is where the good news comes in. Because although this is an ending, we are leaving space for God to do a new thing. We are unselfishly stepping aside so God can create something new.

We are leaving the building empty so it can be filled with new possibilities.

For just as Jesus stepped out of the empty tomb, just as there were waters in the beginning of creation, we are leaving behind what can become for God and for the conference, a new beginning.

Although today there is a death, in the hands of God there is the reality of resurrection. We have created a space for new creation, in which God’s Spirit can move over this mortar and brick, these pews and stained glass, and bring forth new life, and new hope, just as God did when the Spirit first moved over the waters.

Today we are gathered to grieve the closing of Burlingame Congregational Church, but we are not to mourn the end of the Body of Christ, for that Body eternal, and that Body is here to stay.

And I have a favor to ask of you. After you go through your grieving process, as you begin the journey of traveling through the wilderness, finding a new church home, do not be ashamed about our church.

When people ask, “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?”, do not be embarrassed.

Say “Yes, but did you also know that our church gave over 12% of our offerings back to the community and our food pantry was the only one open on a Sunday. And it was good.”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” Don’t be embarrassed.

Say “Yes, but we also hosted bluegrass concerts, held block parties and handed out treats on Halloween, reaching out to over to 800 people. And it was good”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we also had a Southern Preacher lead us through Spiritual Renewal Services and two of the finest musicians around. And it was good .”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we were also the ones who turned an empty lot of rocks and broken glass into a community garden filled with flowers and birds. And it was good.”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we also were the ones who had a Vacation Bible School and after school program that fed the local children and taught them the Gospel of Christ. And it was good.”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we were also the church that was brave enough to call an openly gay pastor when no one else would. And it was good”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, and our children were not passive observers but active participants who played instruments, took the offering and introduced the Passing of the Peace. And it was good”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we also had bake sales and soup suppers and picnics in the park like no others business. And it was good.”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, but we were also the ones who could honor our veterans with a special corner while having a garden devoted to peace. And it was good.”

When people ask “Aren’t you from the church that shut down?” you can say “Yes, and we laughed and we cried, we baptized our children and buried our dead, we ate and we cooked, we worshiped and we were indeed the living, breathing Body of Christ. And it was good”

Friends and family of Burlingame Congregational UCC, it is now time for me to step down as your pastor, and it is time for us to formerly close the doors that have welcomed hundreds of people over the past 85 years.

Though this is a time of loss and goodbyes, let us find assurance and hope. Assurance that just as the Spirit of God moved over those mysterious waters oh so long ago, God’s Spirit will move again, transforming what has been our past into a new, exiting future.

And may it also be good.

All thanks and honor to God, who created us all, to Jesus who loves us all, and the Spirit that dwells in each and every one of us.

Amen, and amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sermon for July 19, 2009

July 19, 2009
Scripture: Psalm 104
Sermon Title: “Playful God”
Rev. George N. Miller
Before we begin our message let’s start with a joke: An elderly woman walked into the local church. The usher greeted her at the door and helped her to a seat. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked.

“The front row please,” she answered.

“You don’t really want that,” said the usher. “The pastor’s really boring.”

“Do you know who I am?” the old woman asked. “I’m the pastor’s mother.”

“Do you know who I am?” the usher asked. “No,” she said. “Good,” he replied.

To ensure no one is bored, I invite you to repeat after me: Bless the lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

On this summer day, surrounded by the beauty of the earth, I’m excited about preaching. I’m excited because this is one of my favorite Scriptures. I’m excited because virtually everything I believe is right here.

Psalm 104, an exuberant song that praises God for all that’s been done in creation. It’s also the first place in the Bible where the word “Hallelujah!” appears.

Joy radiates throughout the text. There’s wonder and delight; play and recreation. We are taken from the heavens to the earth, from the waters to the trees, from the stars to a sea monster that plays in the ocean.

By placing its emphasis on everywhere and anything, Psalm 104 joyfully claims that all of the universe is God’s holy house.

And the Psalm celebrates just what a mighty God we serve; an incredible Creator who set the earth on its foundations, created the oceans and streams, called forth the moon to mark the seasons and the sun to mark the day.

As the Psalmist makes clear, God is not just out there, but right in our midst. And we see how every creature, no matter how strange or terrible, no matter how small or large, all come under the handy work of God.

We hear of the intricate way God created and connected everything. The rivers give drink to the animals and water the trees. The trees become a home for the birds, and from their branches the birds sing their songs.

Grass grows for the cattle. Mountains are home to wild goats, rocks are a place for the badgers, nighttime is for lions to hunt their prey and daytime is so they can sleep.

This is indeed a mighty, mighty God. One who creates and cares for all of Gods creation.

When humans appear in verse 14 we’re seen as another part of creation. When the animals go to sleep, the humans go to work. The same land that grows grass for the cattle is the same land that grows plants for people.

For today, what I want to focus on is the way Psalm 104 portrays not just a powerful God, but a playful God; for throughout the Psalm there is undeniable fun and frivolity.

Yes, God creates things that are necessary and important, but God has also blessed us with unnecessary things that make life worth living and fun.

We are told that oil is a gift from God to make the face shine, that wine was given to gladden our hearts.

Think of the theological claim: God gave us oil for cosmetic reasons so we can feel and look good. And God gave us wine to make us happy. Who would have thought!

Read further along and you come across this verse: “There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live...The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan, that sea monster you made to amuse you.”

Now that’s the part I find most fascinating. Forget the streams for the trees and the tress for the birds, but here is the claim that God made a giant sea creature for nothing more then to make God happy.

In essence, Leviathan is God’s pet. Or as one writer mentioned, Leviathan is God’s water toy.

This is the image of God being a big kid playing in the bathtub with a rubber ducky!

In essence: God wants to have fun!

What an mighty, mighty God we serve indeed! That God not only creates and provides what we need, but God wants us to enjoy life, and furthermore, God likes to have fun, God enjoys recreation and play.

No wonder this is the first place where the word “Hallelujah” appears!

I love this notion that God likes to have fun. What a refreshing break from the stoic, serious images we place upon God. What a nice break from the fearful God people tend to call upon.

This is a God who can enjoy a good laugh, appreciate a thing of beauty and sit down with a friend over a cool drink.

It reminds me of a line from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple. In it, a character says “God likes to be appreciated. I think it upsets God if you walk past the color purple in field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

God is indeed a playful God who enjoys beauty. Think of all the things that God has blessed us with that are, in essence, unnecessary. Look at all the colors we have.

The world didn’t have to look like a Crayola box. It could have been all white and grey. But no, we have red and yellows, greens and blues, gold and purple, and not just purple but shades of purple, from plum to violet to lavender.

And we have sounds. Oh do we have sounds! Of rain fall and wind blowing, of birds that sing good morning and ducks that quack.

And music! What would life be like without music. The note of a keyboard, the rattle or maracas, the beat of a drum, the toot of a trumpet, the clapping of our hands, the beat of our heart, the song in our voice.

And the dance. Square dance, line dance, ballroom dance, break dance, ballet, jazz and hip-hop.

And food. Think of it, food does not have to be as wonderful as it is. We could get by on one type of meat, a vegetable and some bread.

But the variety: beef, pork, fish, squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, oranges, kiwis, tomatoes, whole grain, multi- grain, bagels, rolls.

Fried chicken, Gummi bears and Snapple iced-tea.

There is so much that God has created that we actually don’t need. So much that has been given as a gift, as unnecessary item.

Like good old Leviathan. A sea creature frolicing in the waves, an animal that was created to have fun, amuse God and to make God laugh.

So much that God has created has been unnecessary, but if we look deeper we realize just how necessary they truly are, because they are what helps make life so good.

And through the acts and gifts of creation, God is calling to us and saying “Do you want to play?”

We can be like the schoolyard bully and kick sand in God’s face or we can join in on the fun. So let’s have fun and share another joke:

A Rabbi and a Priest are at the town’s annual 4th of July Picnic. Because they are old friends, they do what old friends like to do: banter.

The Priest begins. “This baked ham is really delicious. You ought to try it. I know it’s against your religion, but I can’t understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden. You don’t know what you’re missing. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try a piece?”

The Rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said “At your wedding!”

In conclusion, how wonderful that when God created this world, it wasn’t just for you and I, but for the birds and trees, the lions and the grass.

How wonderful that when God created this world there was already a notion of play and fun, of enjoyment and pleasure shared in community.

How wonderful that God created some things, such as wine and sea creatures, for the purpose of bringing joy and laughter, happiness and play for God and for us.

No wonder this is the first place in the Bible is which the word Hallelujah is exclaimed.

Hallelujah to God for being so good!

Hallelujah to God for providing for us all!

Hallelujah to God for wanting to have fun!

Bless the Lord, oh our souls. Bless the Lord! Amen.

Sermon for July 12, 2009

July 12, 2009
Scripture: Joshua 24:1-18
Sermon Title: “Choosing the God of Life”
Rev. George N. Miller

For the Israelites it was a long time coming. 70 years ago they were in Egypt. 70 years since God took them from the sting of the slave master’s whip to a magnificent journey across the Red Sea.

It’s been 30 years since they entered the Promised Land; a place in which milk and honey, grain and grapes were plentiful.

Before they were to enter, Moses gathered the people and gave a beautiful speech. He reveled to them that his part of the journey was over, that he was soon going to die.

But he assures them this: that he saw the land God had promised, and it was good. And Moses told the people they had two choices: they could choose life and prosperity or death and adversity.

“Choose Life!” Moses encouraged the people. “Love and obey God and the land will be blessed and your children and your children’s children will joyfully live.”

His speech was so rousing that the people chose life. A new leader was called; a man named Joshua who had been with Moses to the mountaintop.

Joshua was a person who knew how to stay the course and to move forward even when the others wanted to give up and go back.

After Moses died, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan river. It was Joshua who led them into the promised land. It was Joshua, with the hand of God, who helped them fight their battles and let go of their baggage.

For years peace filled the land, and it was good. And when Joshua new his time on this earth was almost over, he gathered the people just as Moses had 30 years before.

He gathered the elders and judges, he gathered the officers and families, and he began to remind them of all that God had done.

And like Moses before him, Joshua gave the people a choice: worship God or worship the gods of the earth.

“Make your choice” Joshua stated. “Either serve the Lord 100% or not at all, no half stepping or second guessing.”

What Joshua said to the people, what Joshua is saying to all of us today is this: if you choose God, you’re choosing life. So choose life.

Joshua speaks on behalf of God and shares the history of Israel up until that moment, illustrating ways in which God is life.

When Abraham was just a nobody who worshiped other gods, it was God who called him to the land of Canaan and gave him and Sarah children.

In others words God is saying “I gave you life.”

When they were slaves in Egypt, God sent them Moses and Aaron to deliver them.

God is saying “I gave you freedom.”

When they came to the Red Sea and the soldiers were on their back, God used the waters to protect them.

“I saved you.”

God brought them to the promised land.

“I gave you a place to call home.”

When the King tried to use Balaam to curse the Israelites, God used Balaam to bless them instead.

“I blessed you.”

When the enemies attacked the people God made them victorious.

“I fought for you.”

The Israelites received a land filled with fruit and olives.

“I fed you.”

Free, save, home, bless, defend, feed: life.

All the things God did for them, and all that God asks is they put away their other gods, they let go of their idols and they focus all their attention on the one who made them and loved them so.

Joshua admonishes the people: choose God or do not choose God. Choose life or choose death. But don’t think you can half step this one.

And 3,000 years later that question still lingers today, and we stand right beside our spiritual sisters and brother. What do we choose? Who will we profess to follow?

Do we commit fully to God our heavenly parent, teacher, and friend, or do we commit to the gods of the world and of our own doing?

You’re probably thinking “But we do worship God, don’t we? We’re in church when we could be sleeping or at the mall. We don’t have to worry about worshiping other gods, or do we?”

Of course we do, even if we don’t realize it. Every day we are faced with the temptations of idols, fears and celebrity that can fool us into placing them above and before God.

The easiest example is money. The importance we place on it. What we’re willing to do for it. How fearful we are to part with it. How we trick ourselves into thinking it’s money and not God that makes a ministry doable.

Another idol can be technology. How much time we devote to Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. How we may forget to say our prayers before we leave home but we would never forget to leave our cell phone at home.

And perhaps the most timely idol is celebrity. The entertainers we worship, the contestants we vote for, the recently departed Michael Jackson who’s songs touched a world but was certainly not God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, although his gifts may have come directly from them.

Allow money, technology and celebrity to be the gods of your life and soon you’ll be among the living dead. For none of them will love you, free you, feed you or bless you the way God does.

God, through the words of Joshua, lays it out for us, breaking it down: “Look at what I did for you when you made me the focus of your life. So continue to choose me and you will choose life.”

As Christians, we realize things are not always as simple as that, and as gloriously simple as this sentiment sounds, we must still wrestle with the thought. Because many of us have chosen God. And yet death is still so real and so imminent.

And the man who taught us that is the one person who had no problem choosing God 100%.

In Jesus we have the irony that choosing God did not at first seem to lead to life but instead to a cross.

But Jesus was indeed choosing life. Because by living as he did, he lived a fully realized life and fully immersed himself in what it meant to be alive.

From dinners with friends to celebrations with the community, from worship in the synagogue to healings of the people, Jesus lived life to the fullest. So much so that not even the cross could silence him or stop his work.

Because by choosing God, Jesus had indeed chosen life, when on Sunday morning he overcame the darkness of Friday and the loss of Saturday and came stepping out among the people, where his light and his life continues to shine and inspire.

So we too are invited to make a choice today, and tomorrow, and each and every day after that: will we worship God and live life, or will we choose to worship imitation gods, seduced by the world, opting instead for spiritual death.

3,000 years ago Joshua asked the Israelites a very important question. And today we get to stand with the elders and judges, the officers and families, the young and old together, and we get to say our answer.

And may each and everyone one of us be able to say just what our ancestors did “We will serve the Lord and it is God we will obey.”

God loves us so, and in that love there is great and abundant life.

Choose God, my family and friends. Choose God because in doing so, you will have chosen life.

All thanks and praise be to Jesus who showed us how to make that choice, for the Spirit that blows upon us limitless blessings and God who has done more for us then we can ever imagine.

Amen and amen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wanderings for 07 19 09

Greetings everyone.

We are winding down to our final day of Little Star Vacation Bible School. And let me tell you: Most Successful Little Star Yet! Since we began this program in 2006 we have had good turns outs, averaging 9 kids per day and having had 13 children participate in last years program.

Well, we easily beat all records on Monday alone. On Monday we had 16 kids. On Tuesday we had 18 kids. On Wednesday 20 kids. On Thursday 17 kids (2 of them were new). That means we are averaging 17 kids per day, for a total of 22 children we have reached out to, sharing meals, worshipping, playing games and engaging in social activities.

The kids are loving it, as have our 9 volunteers.

Today is our last day in which (if the weather permits) we'll be splish-splashing in the front yard, with the kids playing in the sprinkler and jumping into the kiddie pool.

And it fits with the images we have in this Sunday's scripture, Psalm 104. Psalm 104 is my second favorite scripture. It celebrates God and all the wonderful things God has done for creation. It is also the first place in the Bible in which the word "Hallelujah" comes into play.

And speaking of play, I absolutely love verses 25-26. It presents the sea, far and wide, in which ships sail by and Leviathan plays in the water. In Biblical times, Leviathan was a mythic sea creature, a monster to be feared. Leviathan would be our Jaws or our Godzilla if the Psalm was written today. But here, in Psalm 104, all sense of fear is removed from Leviathan and she/he is presented as a giant, playful creature that is designed to amuse God. One way of putting it is that Leviathan is God's giant bath toy, a rubber ducky, created for play and fun and laughter.

How awesome is that, that a sense of play makes its way into the Holy Scriptures, that we get a glance of God not being stoic or oh so serious, but light and carefree, wanting to have a good time and to laugh a little.

How good it is to imagine God enjoying the playful side of life. How affirming it is to know that God created whole spectrum of things. Some for survival, some for work, and some for fun.

How will you have fun this day to honor God? What can your Leviathan be?

Peace and joy,

Pastor G

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sermon for July 5, 2009

July 5, 2009
Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
Sermon Title: “Unpack Your Bags”
Rev. George N. Miller

(This message is acted out with a slight country twang and scads of bags/luggage hanging from the body)

Oh. Hey! Good to see you. Thank you for coming to visit. I’d have come to you. But as you can see, I got too much baggage.

Lots o’ baggage: past and present. Trouble is, I’m so weighed down it doesn’t seem like I’m going to have much of a future.

Still, it’s my baggage. Don’t want to let any of it out of my sight.

I used to travel all the time when I was younger, back when my baggage was much smaller and way more lighter.

I would soar in the air, but it’s now impossible to pass through security with all this stuff.

Tried the good old American railways to travel sea to shiny sea, but the baggage took up too much room. Same thing with the bus. Except the weight of my baggage turned it from a Greyhound into a Tortoise.

Thought I could take all my baggage with me in the car, but wouldn’t you know: soon the rear window was blocked and the dashboard was covered and I couldn’t close the car door. Dang economy vehicles.

I know, I know. I know just what ya’ll thinking. Why don’t I just let go of some of my baggage?

But see, I can’t. It’s not that easy. Keeping my baggage close to me is what I do. It’s my thing.

Besides, I’ve done it for so long it would take an act of God for me not to have all these bags with me.

What’s in them you ask? Oh, stuff. Like this here: this is my bag of fond memories. Like the old toy castle I used to play with. Photo albums- see how young I looked. And books. Oh, I would read this one again and again.

You certainly can’t blame me for parting with any of this.

Now these bags: I call them my shoulda-coulda-woulda bags. Let’s see. Ah yes. I shoulda went to college. I shoulda asked Pat to the prom. I shoulda bought stock in Microsoft.

My coulda bag. I coulda been a doctor if I studied harder. I coulda been a pro-tennis player if I hadn’t hurt my knee. And I coulda been a millionaire if I had bought stock in Microsoft.

This here: my woulda bag. By now I woulda been a Dad if Sam and I had stayed together. I woulda been 20 pounds lighter if I just stuck to my diet. And I woulda been living in Beverly Hills if I’d just purchased that dang Microsoft stock.

Good times.

And these here: my grievance bags. Like how I’m still mad that Chris told everyone back in high-school that I kissed like a jellyfish. Or that my sister borrowed my jersey as a nightgown and spilled nail polish all over it.

Here’s a good one. That Sunday, 15 years ago, when the pastor forgot my name so I refused to go back to church until he called to apologize. Which he never did.

As you can see, I have my baggage. I carry it around with me everywhere I go. But who doesn’t. I mean, you do right?

You know, memories of how good things were back in the day and how its too bad we’re not like that anymore. Like when Big Macs were served in Styrofoam containers and MTV only showed music videos.

I can’t be the only one with shoulda-woulda-coulda bags, am I?

What do you wish you shoulda done? What woulda you been? What coulda you done?

And let’s be honest: we hold grudges against folk, don’t we? Silly ones, big ones, under the surface ones?

I can’t be the only one. Although I’m so weighed down by my baggage that I just can’t seem to move forward at all.

So...for the longest while it’s just been me and my baggage. Not going anywhere. Spending a lot of time in the past. Not really enjoying the present.

Fortunately, with the age of infomercials and internet I don’t need to leave the house. I can order what I need by dialing 1-800 and if I choose chat with faceless folk on the computer.

One day, while nothing else was on, I turned on the TV and there was this preacher.

Like I said, it’s been ages since I last stepped foot inside a church. But the pastor on the TV seemed cool and there were lots of smiling faces, so I decided to listen, all my bags comfortably surrounding me.

And the preacher was talking about Mark 6:1-13, of how Jesus wasn’t that well respected in his home town. Folk didn’t take him seriously, claiming he was just a carpenter, and how they found him just a bit too much. So Jesus could only do some minor healings.

But then the next thing you know, Jesus is sending the disciples out 2 by 2, like them there animals on the ark, encouraging them to do God’s work and preach the word, and if folk didn’t want to hear it, well, they were to just shake the dust from off their feet.

Well, I kinda liked that. And I was a bit amazed. I mean, if I was Jesus, and I was humiliated like that in my own hometown, I’d have such a large bag filled with all the names of people who ticked me off. And I would certainly not have the energy to travel to a new place to do anything else.

But here is Jesus, letting their slights roll off his back like water to a duck, and he was able to move on and do what he needed to do.

And I had to ask myself “How he do that?”

So the preacher on the TV kept on talking about how the disciples were to travel without the basic necessities: no bread, no money, no extra clothes, no baggage.

No baggage? Just a tunic for their body, sandals for the feet and a staff to propel them forward. This was a way to teach them how to rely upon the Lord, and to also demonstrate how the Christian life is a life of simplicity.

Well I thought that was funny, considering the preacher was wearing an expensive looking suit talking to a stadium full of folk.

But something about the message resonated with me. Historically the scripture was saying one thing, but for me, metaphorical-like, it was saying a whole ‘notha thing. What I heard was Jesus saying “Let go.”

“Let go. If you want to move forward, if you want to experience life, you got to let go.”

I looked at my baggage, I looked at my life, all the things I had accumulated, all the things I held onto, all the junk I was refusing to let go.

And I heard the Savior say “Let Go.”

But I didn’t know how. After living a life in which I have held on so tight to everything single thing, how could I possibly let go?

So I pulled my baggage closer, afraid of parting with one single thing; not my castle, not my love of all things Styrofoam, not my regret over not purchasing Microsoft stock, not my anger at my sister.

But it seemed the tighter I held on, the more and more I began to hear that voice: “Let go.”

It started off small, like a still small voice, a whisper in the night: “Let Go.”

It got louder, like a song on the wind: “Let go.”
Then it boomed, like the crash of thunder: “Let go!”

I was scared. But then I remembered: somewhere in one of my bags were a few of my favorite Bible memories.

Like God calling Abraham and Sarah to “Go”, God inviting Moses to “Set my people free” or God telling Philip to mosey on down that lonely road that leading him to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

And how they were all the better for it.

So I did something daring. Next time I heard “Let go” I reached into one of my bags, and I released what was inside. I called up my sister and told her I forgave her for staining my jersey.

It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. But next time I heard “Let go” I reached into my bags and took all things Microsoft out and released those regrets to the wind.

Next time I heard “Let Go” I decided to accept the fact that MTV now only runs reality shows.

And little by little, more by more, an amazing thing happened: my baggage became lighter.

More and more I found ways to make amends, I found ways to forgive and let go of past grievances.

Little by little, more by more I began to let go of some of my childish ways, and I found ways to not be so rooted to the past.

And as hard as it has been, it’s been good. All the bags that I’ve been carrying, their straps cutting into my skin, their weight disfiguring my back, have become smaller.

I first noticed the difference, when one day I felt enough freedom to get into my car, and there was enough space to see what was ahead of me, as well as what was behind.

Soon, I was able to step onto the bus and go at Greyhound speed.

Soon, I was able to travel sea to shining sea. My baggage was still with me, but it was noticeably smaller and no longer limiting me.

And now, now after listening to that voice that called me to “Let Go” I find that I can travel in the air, like the Spirit, heading into my future, freed from my past, no longer trapped by my baggage, having new adventures, meeting new people and making new friends.

And, as you can see, my baggage has become light enough that I’ve been able to step back into church. Where I can see all your smiling faces, I can hear your beautiful songs and I know that God is real.

Even forgave the pastor for forgetting my name. After all: he’s only human, right?

Sure, I still got my own baggage to deal with. We all do. We’re human. But because of Christ, because of the grace that he gives, I have found a way to let go, a way to move ahead, and a way to trust on the Lord.

As scary as it is, when the Lord says “Let go”, let go. And you’ll be amazed where the Spirit takes you. You’ll be strengthened by Christ on your side. And you’ll discover that God will provide what you need for whatever journey is ahead.

Amen, and amen.

Sermon for June 28, 2009

June 28, 2009
Scripture: Mark 5: 21-43
Sermon Title: “Between Life and Death”
Rev. George N. Miller

(Tell people of audience participation. Right side is group 1; Left side is group 2)

After witnessing the fashion show in Samuel and the courthouse of Acts, we find ourselves back in the land of Mark. As you recall, this gospel was composed during uncertain times. The author does not spoon feed us our faith, but invites us to be uncomfortable in the unknown.

Mark’s Gospel announces itself as “The beginning of the Good News” and ends with people running fearfully from the tomb. In between there are children who die, women who bleed out, and men who are bound by chains: in other words, a world gone mad.

Doesn’t it feel a bit right now as if the world is going mad? What with the economy and flooded parking fields and riots in Iran’s streets. But let’s be honest: when hasn’t the world seemed a bit mad?

The Vietnam War, Monica Lewisnky, Michael Jackson’s death: it seems as if there is always something throwing things out of wack.

That’s how the seminary journey was for my classmates and I. We began school in 2001, bright eyed and full of life. Then two planes flew into the World Trade Center, placing our education in the shadow of the valley of death.

Professor Peggy Way helped us make sense of the mess. She reminded us that we are all living, biological, chemical creatures dealing with the chronicity of life. Which means illnesses happen, tragedies occur, and everyone will die. She challenged us to ask how God was present in the aftermath of 9/11 and how we were called to be the Body of Christ.

As if the events of 9/11 weren’t enough, over the span of three years, four of our classmates died. The shadow of death loomed large at seminary, but it did not have the only voice. For even in the midst of death, there was an abundance of life.

We had dinner parties, danced to Beyonce and 50 Cent, had late night conversations and studied in cafes. Couples met, friendships formed, circles of healing were created, Ultimate Frisbee broke the monotony of our studies. Mission trips took us around the country and around the world. And God was worshiped in unique ways.

At Eden Seminary we truly lived between life and death, and I would not exchange that experience for anything. To this day I believe those events created some of finest pastors in the country, because everything we learned and did was in the shadow of those realities.

When planes collide into buildings, when friends die in car accidents how does one still find the faith to be made well, to get up and walk, and to hear words of life when others want to laugh at you or cry out in defeat?

Mark has us wrestle with these thoughts as he tells of a time in which one woman’s life is bleeding out while a young girl is taking her final breathe, and how Jesus brings wholeness to both situations.

Jesus has traveled to where there is much life going on. There’s the hustle and bustle of folk who’ve gathered by the waters to experience Jesus for themselves.

The excitement is soon interrupted. A leader of the synagogue comes to Jesus. His 12 years old daughter is dying. He falls to his knees, begging Jesus to lay hands on her so she may live.

Death has made itself known.

Jesus and the man go to the girl. While on their way, a woman comes up to Jesus. For twelve years she’s been bleeding. She says if she touched his clothes she’ll be made well.

Immediately, her bleeding stops; Jesus turns to ask who touched him. Trembling, she kneels before him and admits her actions. And Jesus says (point to group 1. They say “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”)

Life has been restored. Wholeness and healing have won the day.

But wait: while Jesus is speaking, people come for the father of the sick girl and say (point to group 2. They say “Your daughter is dead.”)

The balance between life and death. It exists throughout the Bible, between the garden and the cross, between desserts and green pastures.

But pay closer attention to how Mark writes this story. As Thomas Long points out, it’s when Jesus is saying his words to the woman that the people talk about the girl. In other words, both sentences are said at the same time.

And here is where your participation really comes in. On the count of three, everyone is to say their line. 1. 2. 3. (“Daughter, your faith has made you well/Your daughter is dead.”)

Did you hear that? Jesus isn’t just living between these moments of life and death. He’s operating while both are happening at the same time.

This is a story for the ages, and a fitting story for our church today.

For in downtown Grand Rapids, UCC members from all over have gathered for the 27th National General Synod. Right by the flowing waters of the Grand River there is the hustle and bustle of folk coming to share and experience Jesus Christ.

Visitors are filling our streets with life and exciting newness. This is at a time in which both the mayor and our President are members of the UCC, and our denomination is blessing the city with the largest convention they’ve ever had, pumping $3 million into the economy.

Meetings have been electrifying, worship has been grand, and we can proudly say “I am a member if the UCC, where God is still speaking.”

There is much life.

And yet, we at Burlingame Congregational UCC are going through the pangs of death. In four weeks we close our doors for good. Like the leader’s daughter, we are taking our final breathes.

Our death is very real. And we are not the only church in the area facing this reality as other churches in Wyoming are struggling to stay alive.

Nor are we the only church in the UCC to struggle. In Massachusetts in which we are the largest protestant denomination, 39 UCC churches have closed in the past decade.

In some ways the women in today’s scripture represent what mainline congregations seem to be facing.

We have congregations that are bleeding out. Bleeding out in the form of members who are leaving because they’re unhappy with a stance the church has made.

Congregations that are bleeding out financially, as money is being spent faster then it is brought in.

Congregations that are bleeding out physically. People feeling drained from all the work they do, not allowing themselves rest and rejuvenation.

Like the girl, there are churches that are taking their final breath. They’ve fallen upon hard times too difficult to bounce back from. Congregations have been complacent, finding it easier to stay in bed then to step out into the unexpected.

Congregations that have just been too sick for too long from inside squabbling or unresolved issues.

And we ask, as members of the Christian faith, how do we survive, how do we continue to exist?
As we live in both life and death, we wonder if there is anything we can do.

But I’m not here today to preach doom and gloom, but to preach a word of hope. Because I believe there is indeed hope for the universal church, hope for the UCC and hope for the world.

That hope comes in the person and the life giving actions of Jesus Christ.

That hope comes from the belief that sometimes what looks like loss and despair is really just rest and opportunity for transformation.

That hope comes from the fact that both the UCC and Christianity have come too far to be left bleeding out or laying breathless in bed.

Because we, as a denomination, proudly come from ancestors who once decided, in Boston, that it was time to throw some tea into the water.

Because we as a denomination trace our roots to brave women and men who risked crossing a sea to worship God in freedom.

Because we as a faith trace our roots back to a Messiah who met people by the shore and spoke calm to a raging sea.

Because we are the Children of God whose Spirit moved over the waters of creation and it was good.

People can say what they want about the fact that we’ll be closing next month, people can say what they want about it seeming as if Christianity is waning. Let them go ahead and join the folk who are crying at the little girl’s house.

But I invite you to be like the synagogue leader and the bleeding woman, doing what needs to be done to experience Christ and to live out the Christian story.

As long as people continue to seek Jesus out, unafraid to ask for what’s needed, Christianity will survive.

As long as we’re willing to walk the distance with Jesus, even when failure has been announced, Christianity will survive.

As long as we are willing to act in hope, believing what we do can make a difference, Christianity will survive.

And as long as there are people willing to tell their story and wait for a word of healing, Christianity will survive.

The closing of our particular church does not signal the end of the story, because even as we prepare to say our goodbyes, there is celebration in the streets.

There are over 3,000 living representatives of Christ making themselves known to the people right by the waters of Grand Rapids

In conclusion, Mark wrote for a world steeped in madness and loss; and he could have easily written for our world today.

Through his telling of the Jesus story, Mark is saying that even when death seems too real, even while others are crying out, we still have ways to welcome Christ and the new life he brings.

It may mean falling to our knees, it may mean taking the chance to reach out, it may mean patiently waiting other events out, but it will be worth the work and worth the wait.

Between hearing “Your faith has made you well” or saying “Your daughter is dead” which do you choose?

I believe Mark would tell us not to lose our faith, because God is still working. It may seem as if we are bleeding out, it may appear as if we’re taking our last breath, but Jesus has stepped out of the boat and Jesus is in our midst.

Thanks be to God who is with us during these difficult times, to Jesus Christ who listens to our stories and to the Sprit which empowers us in ways we can only imagine.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sermon for June 21, 2009

June 21, 2009 Acts 4:1-13
“Cool Like Coffee” Rev. George N. Miller

A young woman had lost her job. It was the latest in a series of let-downs, so she went to her father to talk about life and how things were so hard. She felt like she couldn’t make it; she just wanted to give up, tired of struggling.

Her father took her into the kitchen. He filled three pots with water, placed them on the stove, then opened the fridge and took out carrots, a carton of eggs, and a canister of coffee beans.

The young woman said “I’m not hungry.” Her father said “Just watch,” and when the water came to boil he took the carrots and placed them in a pot. In the second he put the eggs, and in the last he placed the coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

Eventually he turned off the burners and fished the carrots out and put them in a bowl. He took the eggs out and placed on a plate. Then he ladled the coffee into two giant mugs.

Turning to his daughter, he said "Tell me what you see." "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

The father brought her closer, telling her to feel the carrots. She noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and peel off its shell, seeing that it was hard boiled.

He invited her to sip the coffee. She smelt the rich aroma, took a taste, and smiled for the first time. After another sip she asked, "Carrots, eggs and coffee? What does it mean?"

Her father explained that each of the objects had faced the same adversity. But each one had reacted completely differently.

The carrots, once strong and solid, became soft and weak after being placed in the boiling water.

The eggs, once easily broken, looked the same, but their fluid center was hardened.

The coffee beans, however, were unique. They found a way to work with and change the water.

"Which are you?" her father asked. "When things get hot, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"

The daughter wasn’t sure what she was at that moment, but she knew she loved the taste of the coffee and how it warmed up her hand.

Let us think about this for today. What are we? As a church and as individuals? Are we the carrots that seem unbreakable but with pain and adversity lose our strength?

Are we an egg that starts with a gentle fluidness, but in the midst of trouble becomes hardened, and though looking the same on the outside, has a stiff center?

Or are we the coffee beans, changed by the circumstances, but also able to change the circumstance? Is it when the water gets hot that we can release our true fragrance and flavor?

Yes, at times we all become like the carrots and the eggs. But into order to survive, in order to grow into who God is calling us to be, we have to learn to be like the beans.

When things are at their worst, how do find ways to elevate ourselves above them, to not only better ourselves but to change the situation around us?

For role models, we can look at the disciples in today’s scripture. After Jesus’s ascention, they continue his ministry by preaching and healing. But like Jesus, they have found themselves in some very hot water.

Peter and John have healed a lame man, but instead of being thanked, they’re arrested, brought before the court and questioned.

How many of you have done something you thought was nice only to be chewed out by someone else? It was going on even way back there.

Peter, cool as can be, says “Look, if you’re really upset because we did something good, you should know it was through the power of Jesus Christ, and it is he alone who can offer salvation.”

This surprises the council. After all, they were the Supreme Court of the time, featuring the most powerful people of the land, and a fisherman has the gall to tell them off.

Either Peter possess rocks for brains or an enormous amount of courage, because a comment like that could get him killed.

The council tries to figure out what to do. They want to punish Peter and John, but realize it could make things worse, so they let them off with a warning. But as we see in chapter 5, the disciples go right back to preaching and healing, because they’re cool like that.

When arrested again, Peter says “We must obey God.” This time the court wants the death sentence, but someone states “Pay them no mind, and this weird religious cult will just go away.”

The disciples are given another warning, and to make sure they get the message they are flogged. The council assumed this would harden their hearts and weaken their spirits.

But instead, these coffee bean-like disciples of Christ celebrate and go right back to their teaching and healing.

You got to love and be amazed at what our spiritual ancestors endured for us.

Even after Jesus was murdered on the cross, even after the disciples’ repeated arrests and death threats, Christianity grew. From 12 to 500 to 5,000 people and beyond the Good News thrived, even while existing in political and social pots of boiling water.

Not only did the Good News survive, but like the coffee beans, it influenced and changed the world around it forever.

As we gather this morning to celebrate Father’s Day, it’s important for us to recall and give thanks for what our spiritual father’s endured for our sakes. This story isn’t just part of our collective heritage, but it’s also an example of what to expect in life.

Read the Book of Acts and you’ll meet people who overcome amazing obstacles, changing what’s around them. They’ve allowed the Spirit to empower their lives, witnessing to the world, no matter what the cost.

Here in Acts we come across true heroes: our Peters, our Johns, our Stephens, people we can identify with, who are not so different from us, working class folk who were touched by God.

But how can their trials compare to the trials we face in Wyoming, MI in 2009. We not only live in a different time, but a completely different culture.

When will we ever risk being flogged or have to stand before a court because of our faith? When do we ever have to answer to what we believe?

But if you think about it, as Christians we do stand before courts every day: the courts of life; of circumstance and situations.

There are those of us who are standing before the court of health. Our bodies doing things we don’t have much control over. We’re aging, we’re limping, our eyes are dimming, our heart’s erratic.
We have a disease or a condition, something’s broke, something’s bent, something squeaks when we stand up. For some its age, for other’s it’s a bad hand we’ve been dealt.

We stand before the court of health which says in all reason “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, your faith is a joke and you are forsaken.”

And to that we say “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, and as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

There are other courts we stand before, such as the court of money. Our bills are late, our checkbook over drawn, our credit cards maxed out.

We have to decide between food or heat, gas or telephone, medication for me or my children. Bill collectors at our door.

What happened to all the money we saved? Where did the pension go? How do I make my money last before I die?

We stand before the court of finances which says in all sense of reason “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, your faith is a joke and you are forsaken.”

To which we reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, and as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

We stand before the court of family. To which we are told our parents are dying, memories are being erased and final breathes are being taken.

Sisters don’t want to talk, brothers are fighting, exes are being total jerks and refusing to pay child support.

Your flesh and blood is making bad choices, going through tough times, and there ain’t nothing you can do. And the one person you despereatly seek forgiveness from won’t give it.

We stand before the court of family which says in all sense of reason “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, your faith is a joke and you are forsaken.”

To which we reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, and as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

It is not an easy time for our world right now. America is suffering, and we in Michigan seem to be in some really, really hot pots of water.

With the economy floundering and churches struggling we are correct to say the temperature’s being turned up and everything around us boiling.
And what should we do? We could be like the carrots and become soft and weak, leached of what make us wonderfully us.

We can be like the eggs and create a tough interior that no one can get to.

Or we can be like the coffee beans, finding ways to ride out the scalding current, working with the situation to transform it and be transformed by it.

One way to do so is to recall the joy of the disciples. Of how they welcomed the gifts of the Spirit, trusting its movement and allowing it to fill them with cool courage.

The disciples could do so because they saw their troubles through the lens of Jesus Christ, in which the final outcome was already promised and the end of the story was revealed

In conclusion, when the waters of life begin to boil and you find yourself beginning to sweat, may you muster up your courage and harness your strength, allowing Christ to take you to that higher level, trusting that God will prevail and anything we endure is truly but a moment in time.

Because of the resurrection we are assured that God brings hope out of despair, and no court of life can separate us from the amazing grace and love of our God.

All thanks be to God who gives us our story, to Jesus who offers us salvation and the Spirit that fills us with courage.

Amen and amen.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wanderings for 06 21 09

Wanderings for June 21, 2009
Acts 4:1-13

Good afternoon everyone.

By now I am sure you have heard that on Wednesday morning June Southway died. Born in 1918, she was a member of our church since 1956. Her viewing will be tonight at Matthysse Kuiper in Grandville, her funeral will be tomorrow (Saturday) at 10:00 a.m.

June lived a long, interesting life. One that indeed saw rags and riches, love and death. A few days before she died she was able to say two words that has provided her family much comfort and inspiration: "Good life."

It's wasn't a long, verbose statement, it came out of nowhere, but it beautifully got right to the point.

This Sunday we are hearing from Acts 4:1-13, and I will also preach a bit from Acts 5:17-42. I invite you to take some time and read it.

What stands out for me is how the disciples faced great adversity, yet they were able to rejoice. Now, their adversity was much different from the adversity June faced in her life. Yet she, facing her last few days on earth, was able to say "good life."

That is the mark of a life well lived. If you were to die today, would you be able to speak those two words? What are you thankful for? What would you have done different? How has God been present, how has the Spirit moved, how have you been the body of Christ to another, and how has someone been Christ to you?

Can you say "good life"? If not, what can be done to make that statement true? And what would it take to step it up a notch and say "Great life"?

In love and grace,

Rev. George Miller

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sermon for June 14, 2009

June 14, 2009
Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Sermon Title: “What God Can See”
Rev. George N. Miller

It’s hard to believe, but 4 years ago I moved here. In that time I’ve made friends, dated a bit, but my most significant relationship, outside of the church, has been with my cat: Martin Isaac.

I remember going to the petshop looking for a cat that wasn’t too timid or prissy, an active feline that was more like a dog. And that’s what Martin was. While other cats were depressingly lethargic, he was a ball of black-n-white fur batting around a toy in his cage. He climbed onto my shoulder and on the ride home he broke out of his box: be careful what you wish for, because you’ll get it.

Last year it was brought to my attention that Martin and I are very similar: we’re extroverts who hate to be trapped inside, and neither one of us knows when to shut up! If I constantly talk, he constantly meows, even at 3 a.m..

But, he is mine and I am his, and I love him. Yet, I wonder: did I choose him because his behavior mirrored mine? Or does his behavior mirror me because he is mine? Is it nature or nurture?

When company comes over what causes one cat to show his belly and another to hide behind the couch? With children, why is one painfully shy and the other can’t shut up?

For example, take the boy who lives above me. Bruce has attended our Vacation Bible School since its inception. When he first came here he was a tiny little soft-spoken stringbean of a child.

Up until that summer he had not hung out with other boys. His Mom was worried about how he’d deal with kindergarten in the fall. But Bruce came to our Little Star program for those two weeks, and he blossomed.

There was another boy there and they immediately hit it off, eating meals together, playing crash up with their toy cars and doing all the things boys like to do. Once quiet and shy, Bruce became vocal and playful.

By the end of the program his mother was thankful for all we’d done and Bruce couldn’t wait to start school. Since then he’s grown and grown, does well in school and he’s the leader of the gang of kids he hangs out with.

Although he’s not the tallest or huskiest or oldest, he is the boy everyone centers around. It’s the other boys who come to his door to see if he can play. Be it tossing a ball, fishing in the lake, or skipping stones, he is, for lack of better words, the star. His mother claims she can’t see it, but I do.

Bruce is his group’s leader, but why? Is it because he was born so, even if his height, weight and age might say differently? Is it because of the positive affirmation he received from our VBS program, creating a lasting impact on his life?

Could it be that he’s simply reaping the benefits of living above the local pastor with the cool cat?

You never know by looking at someone what you’re going to get or what to expect. You can make an educated guess; perhaps you’ll be right, or wrong, but we’ll often fail to see a person’s full potential or to see them as God does.

What makes someone a natural leader? Is it what they possess, is it just a luck of the draw, or it is about the possibilities that exist within them?

That question exists in today’s scripture. Why does God choose David to be the next king, and why does the Bible constantly testify to the fact that God delights in choosing the unlikeliest of folk to do the most amazing things?

For a brief history of the Israelites, God never intended them to have a King; God wanted to be their ruler. That’s what made Israel unique- they were not people united by race or politics but by their relationship with God and God’s covenant.

God spoke to them through judges and priests, but they demanded a human king, wanting to be like everyone else. It broke God’s heart, and God tried to give them a word of warning, using Samuel to relay the message.

“You don’t want a king. He’ll take your sons and make them fight in his army, he’ll take your daughters and make them maids. He’ll take the best of everything you have and give them to his cronies and use them for his own benefit. He’ll turn you into slaves and you’ll find yourself crying out because of your king.”

The people could care less: “We want a king so we can be like everyone else and he can fight our battles.” To which God told Samuel “Listen to the people and give them their king.”

Saul is the first person anointed King. He’s tall and imposing and wins wars, but he disobeys God and acts as if he did nothing wrong, leaving God no choice but to “fire” him. Samuel had a hard time bearing the bad news, but afterwards God sent him to anoint a new king.

Samuel is told to go to the little do-hicky of a town called Bethlehem to a nobody named Jesse.

Jesse did not come from what we would call blue blood: his grandma was a foreigner named Ruth, one of his ancestors pretended to be a prostitute while another one of his ancestors was the town prostitute. Yet it’s from this non-pedigree family that God plans to anoint the next king.

What happens next is something akin to “America’s Next Top Model” in which Jesse’s sons participate in a runway show. One by one they walk in front of Samuel for inspection.

First down the runway: Eliab, the oldest son with JFK’s good looks and Michael Jordan’s height.
“This is the one” Samuel thinks, impressed with his beauty. But God says “Na-ah. You’re looking at the superficial appearances, I look inside the heart.”

Next comes Abinadab but God says “Oh no, this one won’t do.” Brother after brother walk down the runway and all 7 brothers fail to pass the test.

In a situation similar to Cinderella, Samuel asks “Are you sure these are all the sons you got?” To which Jesse states “Well... there is an eighth one, he’s the youngest and kind of the runt of the family. He’s out in the fields guarding the sheep.”

“Well bring him in,” Samuel says.

Last born David is brought in and God immediately says “That’s it, he’s the one, get up, get up and anoint him.”

By all sense of established logic, Eliab, the first born with the movie star good looks should have been the king. But instead it was David, the eigth son, who was chosen.

And just in case you missed it, the moral of the story is simply this: God does not see the way we see, and God doesn’t always do what we would expect. God’s ways can surely be odd, but God’s ways are best.

There are various questions we can ask about this reading. What was it God saw in David that he did not see in the seven others? What was it that God saw in David that no one else, even his own father, could see?

Was it David’s traits? Sure, he was musically inclined, strong, sincerely loved the Lord and proved to be steadfast and brave. But David also had some questionable qualities. He would single handedly break five of the commandments. So what was it God saw in him?

Maybe it wasn’t what David already had or what he was capable of. Perhaps what God saw in David was a wonderful vessel that God could fill.

Perhaps David was something like a balloon.

Think about it. Have you ever purchased a bag of balloons? When left in the bag they have no value, just bits of color and rubber.

But look closer. What makes them valuable is that balloons can be stretched, and they can be filled with a multitude of things, thus becoming whatever you need them to be.

Fill them with your breathe and they’re pretty decorations to be tacked to the wall, or twisted into cool animal shapes. Fill them with helium and you have something that floats in air or when inhaled let’s you too talk in a high squeaky voice.

Fill them with water and they become playful blobs of wet fun, to be tossed back and forth in contests or used in a water balloon fight.

But balloons can also be used inappropriately. When swallowed they can become a tool of death. When stretched back they can snap someone’s skin. When filled with rocks they become a weapon. And when accidently let go they float away causing their little owner countless tears.

But a balloon is just a piece of colorful nothing until something is put inside of it.

Was that the secret to God calling David as king? That it wasn’t about his musical ability, his courage or strength, but God knowing here was someone who could be filled by the Spirit; that David was stretchable, thus allowing God to work through him, with him, and for him?

David was a leader, a lover, and a musician. He was raw and charismatic and throughout 1 and 2 Samuel we see how the Lord is with David and how David belongs to the Lord.

But at one time he was a nobody. The runt of the litter, from a questionable family in a tiny town, considered by his own kin not worthy enough to participate in a holy fashion show.

And yet it was David who would become the greatest king God’s people had ever seen, and it would be from David’s family tree that we would receive our Messiah, Jesus Christ.

We should be thankful that God does not see us through flawed human eyes, easily tricked by beauty and pedigree, but beyond, into our hearts, into our souls, into who we are and who we are capable of becoming.

May we not only seek to see others through the eyes of our Heavenly Father, but we should seek to see ourselves through God’s eyes as well.

Perhaps we’ll be surprised at just what God is calling and empowering us to do. And perhaps we can be audacious enough to ask God to fill us with whatever gifts God can, so we can be all God is calling us to be.

Thanks be to God who sees beyond height and stature, the Son who reaches out to all and the Spirit that fill us with endless possibilities.

Amen and amen.