Friday, March 27, 2009

Wandering for March 29, 2009

Good evening everyone. This week's Wanderings is a short one, but one that is designed to make us all think. This Sunday we read from the Gospel of John 12:20-33. This is said to be the most condensed sayings of Jesus' death in the John's Gospel. Each Bible translation is different. But take a look at yours. Circle the first word in your reading. Now the circle the last word.
If you have the NRSV or the NIV, the first word is "Now" and the last word is "die." The King James Version starts with the phrase "And there were" and ends with "die."
I find this very telling. A passage of the most condensed sayings about Jesus' death in the Gospel begins with "Now" and ends in "die."
Isn't that a perfect way to express life? That life is all that happens between now and when we die. That every moment, every chance we have to live is situated right here, right now. That we are not called to live in the past or the future (although we can dream about it) but in the now. Now is what we have. Now is what we got.
And what we do between now and death- well that's a gift, full of mystery, discovery, God, chances, hurts, pains, joys; in other words "Life."
May you live your life NOW, each day, in Christ, being who God created you to be.
Now is what we have, death is what awaits us all, everything else is what's in-between.
Blessings and love,
Pastor G

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sermon for March 22, 2009 Ephesians 2:1-10

March 22, 2009
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-10
Sermon Title: “Created in Christ”
Rev. George N. Miller

Last week we shared a message about grace; how it allows us to accept our imperfections and the imperfections of others, therefor freeing us from the power of hate. It’s given me much to think about, because judging people is so easy to do.

Today we continue our conversation about grace, this time about how it’s a gift of God that frees us from the hold sin has in our life, empowering us to reclaim just who we were created to be.

Ephesians is a book in the New Testament. Its purpose is to show how God uses the church to reconcile all things in Christ. Although the author claims to be Paul, it was most likely written by one of his students, a common practice back then.

The person who wrote this letter has what’s known as a “realized eschatology.” Eschatology is fancy way of saying “the end of times.”

A “realized eschatology” means one believes the rewards of heaven are already here: God is in our midst, Christ is right beside us and the gifts of the Spirit are poured out all over us. All we have to do is slow down, look around and embrace all the ways God’s Kingdom is breaking through.

In other words, heaven is a place on earth.

Therefor, when the author talks about grace, he’s not talking about what will happen to us when we die, but what is happening to us right here, right now, at this very moment.

And what’s happening is great news, because regardless if we know it or not, God is freely raining down upon us gift after gift of his grace.

As one writer states, grace is “the dearest piece of good news the church has for the world” but it can also be the hardest concept to grasp. We love to accept grace for ourselves, but become stingy when it comes sharing grace with others.

So let’s take a look at what Ephesians means by saying we have been saved by grace.

According to the author, we are already dead. We have fallen victim to our sins and the hurts we’ve inflicted upon others. The ways of the world, the corruptions around us, the egocentric passions that consume us have all rendered us spiritually dead.

But God did not create us to be the walking dead. Nor did God destine us for bad. Instead, quite the opposite.

When God fashioned us, we were created in the image of Jesus, born to do and to be good. But somehow things went wrong.

What happened? Life. Life happened.

Let me give you an illustration. The other day I came to church and noticed that the irises Pam had planted a few years ago were growing. Their beautiful purple and yellow colors brightened up the surrounding area.

But they didn’t have an easy time getting to where they were. First, they had to be placed there. Next, they had to spend all those months enduring the frigid cold. Then, they had to force themselves up, out of the thawing earth. Next, they had to overcome the weight of dead leaves and all the debris that was around them.

I’m sure there were other obstacles they had to overcome, such a digging squirrels, stomping feet and choking weeds.

With all that could go wrong, it’s amazing they were able to grow at all. But they did, although not perfectly. Some may have bent leaves, a broken stem or fading color.

But they were planted to be irises and irises is what they became, fulfilling their role to bring color, fresh air, and pollen into the world.

That’s what irises were created to do. When Pam planted them, she did not expect them to grow into pumpkins or roses or weeds, but irises.

I believe the same can be said for us. As Ephes. 2:10 states “we are what (God) has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Let’s take some time to break that down. “We are what God has made us.” This passage is about establishing trust and relationship in God.

Here is an image of God the Good Gardener. We are not accidents, we are not off-chances. But we have been made by God, and God is active in our coming to be.

The next part states that we were created in Christ for good works. Just like the irises were planted to serve a specific purpose, so have we.

Some of us have been blessed with artistic leanings: a voice for song, a way with words, a talent for visualization. Those gifts were deemed to not only bring beauty into the world, but joy into our life and an opportunity to praise our God.

Others have been blessed with the ability to nurture: to care for people, to care for animals, to care for the hungry. Those gifts were deemed to not only restore and encourage beauty but to show the ways in which God cares for and loves the world.

Others have been blessed with gifts of leadership, such as how to run a school, establish a non-profit organization, or manage a government. These gifts were deemed to not only maintain beauty in the world but to show the ways in which God is in control and watching over us.

The gifts we were given and the good works we were created to do are limitless. Our ability to cook, our ability to fix, our ability to listen, the list goes on and on. Prophets called us to care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner; Jesus called us to visit the sick and incarcerated.

In other words, God created us to be a blessing to all of Creation.

But somehow, in some way, things went wrong. God created us one way, but the world tries to change us to be another. And sometimes its from our own doing, sometimes it’s the doing of others. More often then not it’s a combination of the two.

Like irises making their way to the soil’s surface, so may things influence what happens to us.

We are shaped by where and when we grew up. We’re shaped by our birth order, what happens in the home, the school we attend, the people who like and the people who hurt us.

We are shaped by our mental conditions, our physical situations and choices that we make and choices that are made for us by others.

Why one person makes it as a largely unscathed iris and another grows up with broken leaves and a bent stem is a mystery.

But I don’t believe we ever fully grow into who we were meant to be or who we wanted to be.

Life happens. It changes us, it shapes us. What were the wrong turns that took a person from an innocent baby into a mass murderer or pedophile? Who wrote in their yearbook that they wanted to become a junkie or prostitute or an inmate?

Those aren’t the only examples of being the walking dead. We all have fallen victim to the hold of sin. We become what we should not be.

We become gossips, we are unfaithful, we unfairly judge, we block others’ blessings, we consume others’ resources, we silence certain voices, and we discriminate against certain folk.

How is that reflecting Christ? Is that what we were created to be?

How is it that we are each given a set of gifts and talents designed to beautify the world and praise God and instead we destroy, deny and tear up?

It’s a wonder that God, as the Good Gardner, doesn’t just look at the miserable garden we’ve become and rip us all up and throw us away.

And yet, God doesn’t. Instead, God does something that is nothing short of amazing.

Through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, God gives us a gift so wonderful, so perfect.

God gives us grace.

Grace is God’s way of saying “I know you. I know all the mess that you have done. But I also know what I have created you to be.

And for your sake, for the sake of all creation, and for my sake as well, I am going to remove the hold your sins have over you.

Now, go and try again to be just who I created you to be and what I created you for.”

Through the gift of grace, God removes the dirt and dead leaves of our lives so we can better reach our full potential and grow into the beautiful irises we were always destined to be.

God does not do this because we deserve it, God does not do it because we have done the right amount of works.

God does this so that we can be freed to do what we were always born to do, but our dead selves had prevented us from doing.

God gives everyone the gift of grace so that heaven is not something we spend our whole life waiting for, but so that heaven becomes a place on earth right here and right now for all to enjoy.

And God’s no fool. God knows we’re imperfect. God knows we’ll still make mistakes. God knows that situations will arise that can lead us back into saying or doing the wrong thing.

So God continues to give and to give and to give the gift of grace each morning, each second, each moment of the day.

And the gift of grace allows us to reclaim who we were always destined to be, to do what we were always destined to do, and to reflect the love of Christ to other folk so they can boldly claim the gift of grace for themselves.

To conclude, we are all God’s beautiful irises and grace is God’s good fertilizer. It keeps us strong, it helps us to grow and it ensures that we reclaim the beautiful flower we were created and planted to be.

Thanks be to Jesus who died for us so we can live, for the Spirit that ushers a new season into our heart and for God who loves us not for who we are but for what we were born to be.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Buzzings for April 2009

Buzzings April 2009

Easter is upon us. Spring is here, winter is over! We leave behind the chill of the snow for the mystery that is life. All around us we see new growth. Flowers pushing up from the dirt, birds sharing their songs, ducks flying hundreds of miles home to have their families. How does this all happen? How, in the midst of it all, does the promise of spring continue to reappear, year after year?

Easter is a special time. As Christians it is the most important religious holiday. It can also be the most confusing, mysterious, hardest to explain and accept. To some it may seem that we are celebrating a dead man coming back to life, but for us it is more then that. It is celebration of the fact that life is more powerful then death. That God’s grace is for all.

But there is also the somber side. Just as Jesus lived a life that many would call far from perfect, we believe in a Christ who is wounded. Look at the resurrection stories: Jesus still bears the wounds of the cross. They are not erased, they are not magically repaired. But instead they are there, and Christ does not shy away from them. “Look at my hands and feet” he says to the disciples in Luke 24:39. In John 20:27 Christ says “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out and put it in my side.”

Why, if Christ was resurrected, would he not wipe away all marks of his wounds? Why not make his skin smooth and restored? I can think of two reasons. One is to remind us of the fact that “by his wounds we were healed” meaning that Christ went to the cross for us, to show us just how much God abundantly loved and cared for us.

Second, the wounds of Christ remind us of the wounds that still exist in the world. Christ’s wounds are a reminder that there are still many who are wounded by hunger, wounded by broken homes, wounded by unfair government practices, wounded by a troubled economy, wounded by discrimination, wounded by their own egos and their own self-hate.

If Christ was to cover up his wounds then we could easily cover up the wounds of others (and ourselves) and do nothing. But as long as Christ’s wounds remain visible, then we have no choice then to see and acknowledge the wounds around and within us. Then, by seeing, we may be empowered to act, to react and to move. To embrace, as Ephesians 2: 10 states, what we were created to be and to do.

As long as the resurrected Christ bears his scars, then we as Christians and as a church, are called to find ways to bring healing into the world, embracing God’s grace and sharing it with others.

Have a joyous Easter and a fantastic spring,
Pastor George

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wanderings for March 22, 2009

Good Tuesday everyone. A reminder that we have our Culver's fundraiser tomorrow night. Hope to see everyone there.

Our scripture for Sunday is Ephesians 2:1-10. I highly suggest you go and read it for yourself, because it's all about grace, and grace, as one pastor wrote, is “the dearest piece of good news the church has for the world”.

Grace is so difficult to truly define, although you can usually tell when someone is being graceful to you and when they are not. I preached on grace last week and I'm still continuing to think about it today, so this scripture is oh so very timely.

What I want to invite us to think about and do today is to compare and contrast what being dead to sin and what being alive with Christ looks like.

I encourage you to take out a piece of paper and create two lists. You can label one list "Death" and the other "Life" and go through all 10 verses. Go ahead, I will wait, and let's see what you can find.

Are you making your list? need to get your Bible out to do it....

...I'll wait.....

...Having trouble fining Ephesians? It's in the New Testament, after Galatians...

Don't know where Galatians is, you say? Ok, here it goes (sing it with me) "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Acts to the Romans, Corinthians, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians... Ah, there is is...

...Now turn to chapter 2, verses 1-10. Got it? Good, now le's make our list....

(dum dee dum dum dum)

(whistling a tune)

(tapping a pencil on the desk)

Got it? Good. Ok, let's see what we have. Remember, everyone has a different translation of the Bible, so each person's answers will be slightly different and yet the same. Here is how my list reads

Death: dead through trespasses and sin, once lived, following the course of the world, following the ruler of the power of the air (what does that mean?), spirit of those who are disobedient, passions of flesh, desire and sense of flesh, children of wrath, like everyone else.

Life: God, rich in mercy, great love, loved, alive together with Christ (I like the word together), grace, saved, raised up, seated with him, heavenly places, immeasurable riches of grace in kindness, not our own doing: a gift, no boasting, made, created for good works, prepared way of life.

That's what I got, but it's not necessarily the right list. But I like what I see. After you made your list what did you find fascinating?

I see how death uses strong words that sound like life: passions, power, flesh and senses. How can passions be equated with not living? Isn't life lived without passion of some sort the same as not living at all? Or are there some passions we overdo to the point that it can lead to or cause death?

Then look at the words for life: who wouldn't want mercy, great love, gifts and the chance to be right next to Christ?

Think back to your life. Was there a time before you became fully aware of the presence of Jesus Christ in your life? What was that like? Was it a lot of living or a lot of death masquerading as life? Or was it just death?

What has having Christ in your life done for you? Has it brought more life, has it opened up or closed down your world? And does passion still exist? if so, what does that passion look like?

These are just some things to think about. Enjoy your week, step out into the sun, celebrate the life we share together in Christ.

Amen,Pastor G

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sermon for March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009
Scripture: John 2:13-22
Sermon Title: “Was Jesus Perfect?”
Rev. George N. Miller

Two weeks ago we introduced the word resplendent, meaning to shine forth. This week we introduce another word, one that everyone knows, but not many are comfortable with: imperfection.

Imperfection is something that we as Americans have a hard time with. This is partly because we’ve been tricked into thinking perfection is something we can achieve. Noses can be shortened, hair can be dyed, and pale skin can be spray tanned.

The quest for perfection drives our economy. Pay to remove a scratch on the car, pay the gym to get bigger muscles, spend thousands to create the ultimate home-entertainment experience.

The striving for perfection not only drives our culture but is drains our energy, our finances and spiritual core.

That’s why, for some people, discovering they have a chronic disease is a blessing in disguise because they have no choice but to give up the lie of perfection. Allow me to explain.

When someone is diagnosed with chronic illness, a series of events usually happen. They’ll try to find a way to make the illness fit into their life without destroying their lifestyle. They assume they will continue looking the same, feeling the same, being the same and this thing will just silently exist inside of them.

But then the truth unfolds. Things happen to the body. Hair changes texture or falls out. Body shape changes. Skin blotches and blemishes appear. All these things scream “imperfect, imperfect” but the person tries hard to keep things under-wraps and in control.

But to live the charade requires a lot of work and a lot of denial. Eventfully, the person gets to the point in which they say “This is me and who I am”.

In doing so they allow themselves to let go, learn how to make the best of what they got, laugh at their situation and to accept the imperfections as permanent marks of who they now are.

The person realizes they’ll never be perfect and the truth all along was that they never were.

Instead of wasting energy trying to be something they can’t be, they instead spend the rest of their life living it.

In the acceptance of imperfection, something else happens: grace steps in and brings with it
transformative healing. And grace may even help them realize that imperfection is the truest part of living life to its fullest.

Scripture gives evidence of this. Look at Genesis 1 and you’ll see that when God created the world it wasn’t called perfectly flawless but “good.” Part of that goodness was human beings who had the freedom to make choices, even if they were the furthest things from perfect.

Our biblical ancestors had glaring flaws. Moses was afraid of public speaking, Noah got drunk, and Rahab was a prostitute. Yet God loved and used each one of them to bless Creation.

Which brings us to today’s question: if Jesus was fully human and fully divine, walking the earth and sharing in the human experience, was Jesus perfect, or gloriously imperfect like you and I?

Note that I’m not asking if Jesus was without sin, but if by our standards we’d label Jesus as perfect.

Let’s start by examining a piece of pop culture: The Shack. In the book the Trinity is portrayed rather uniquely: God is a black woman who cooks, the Spirit is an Asian woman who gardens.

Jesus is a Middle Easterner who wears a plaid shirt, jeans covered in saw dust and not handsome enough to stand out in a crowd; far from images we’ve seen in movies and stained glass windows.

There’s a part where God, Jesus and the Spirit are preparing dinner when suddenly Jesus drops a bowl of sauce and it splatters all over the place including God’s dress and the Spirit’s feet.

They all become silent and then laughter erupts. There is mention of how clumsy humans are. God calls Jesus “Greasy fingers” and says, with a wink, “You just can’t get good help around here.”

The three laugh harder and harder as they work together to clean up the mess and share their meal.

This scene may appear inconsequential, but what the author has done is so staggering I don’t think he realized what he wrote. By having Jesus drop the bowl, the author shows Jesus as making a mistake. That’s an amazing image to think about.

If that happened in my house, my Mom would yell, there’d be feelings of shame, and someone would probably kick the dog out of frustration. But not in this book. Instead the moment is seized upon as a chance for bonding and community.

By saying Jesus is capable of dropping a bowl, the author is not only implying that, like some men, Jesus would be useless in the kitchen, but he’s also making the theological claim that Jesus is capable of being imperfect.

Today’s Scripture makes that argument too. It’s Passover. Jesus enters the Temple, the front area filled with the activity of merchants and money changers. He fashions himself a whip and tears through the place flipping over tables and raising his voice.

It’s an image we don’t see portrayed very much, and yet its there, in all four gospels, showing a very human Jesus doing a very human thing that many of us would not consider to be appropriate or the definition of perfection.

Imagine I started flipping over pews or tossing coins and see how the phone lines would light up!

And yet, to say Jesus was fully human, to claim that the Word became flesh, means that Jesus had to have said and done things that do not fall neatly into our sense of perfection.

Let’s take a look at what we know.

For starters, Jesus was conceived by an unwed teenage mother. Does that sounds perfect to you? There’s a word for that, and anyone who had or was a child out of wedlock can tell you that word.

Jesus was raised in a family so poor his mother could only afford two turtle-doves as her offering. How many people accept poverty as their definition of perfection?

Did Jesus live what we’d call a perfect lifestyle? He was a 30 year old bachelor, hanging out with the guys and women of questionable morals, wandering from place to place, drinking wine. How would that fair at Calvin College or the Letters to the Editor section of the Press?

He had no problem challenging the authorities or getting in the way of local commerce. Is that perfection or cause for concern?

Jesus touched and was touched by people with illness, skin diseases and different lifestyles. Would you want to shake his hand?

And the way he died? It wasn’t at a ripe old age surrounded by family, but on a cross, the ultimate political form of shame. He died like a common criminal, on the outskirts of town, deserted by almost all of his friends. Does that fit into anyone’s definition of perfection?

In fact, if you look at the whole trajectory of Jesus’s life, he was born, raised, lived and died in complete imperfection.

Yet he was God incarnate; our faith is based on him, and from him came the most perfect gift. Because when Jesus agreed to face the cross, he did something no one else could do: he brought us grace, amazing grace, the stuff we sing about, pray about, and base our Mission Statement on.

Grace was the perfect gift that Jesus gave us by accepting to live an imperfect life.

By living amongst us, Jesus knew what it was like to be one of us. The temptations, the trials, the victories and losses. He endured and experienced it all, so when the time came, not just he, but all the things we judge ourselves about could be nailed to the cross.

Our imperfections, our mistakes, our flaws, they were brought with him to be placed on the cross. And up there they were pierced and shattered.

By carrying our imperfections to the cross, Jesus ended the power they have over us and helped us realize those things are just part of who we are, not what ultimately defines or controls us.

By taking our imperfections to the cross, Jesus created a way for us to let go so the grace of God could enter in and bring about transformation.

His actions allowed us to release whatever feelings of shame, anger or remorse we may have and instead focus on what God has given.

This grace means that we in turn can look at those around us, see their imperfections and flaws and realize that they too are worthy of grace.

And when we realize that grace is for all, we can release others from the hold of whatever jealousy, anger or ill-will we may have for them.

We can stop judging the imperfections of others because we’ve stopped judging the imperfections that are our own.

And when this grace is accepted and shared, an amazing thing takes place. Our imperfections lose their power, and we become transformed just as Christ was transformed on Easter morn.

And who knows? God may find a way to use our flaws for the greater good, making them the means by which we are called to reach out to others, to do ministry and maybe even earn our keep.

To embrace the claim that Jesus lived with us and dwelled in imperfection means that we can stop putting so much energy into trying to present the perfect look and perfect life.

Instead we can put that energy into living, and being in relationship with one another and with our own self. And all that time and money spent trying to achieve perfection can instead be spent worshiping God and ministering to others.

We are humans. Mistakes will be made. Bowls will be broken, sauces will spill, our skin will bear visible scars.

By embracing the humanness of Jesus Christ we can begin to let go of those things and the power they have over us and instead step into who it is God is calling and creating us to be.

Thanks be to God, our gracious hostess, the Spirit who tends to our spiritual gardens and Jesus who endured scars for our sake.

Amen, and amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wanderings for March 15, 2009

Wanderings for March 15, 2009
John 2:13-22
When does knowledge make a difference? When it prevents us from unjustly judging and condemning others because we do not understand their culture, tradition or ways.
Today’s Scripture is an example of that. Jesus goes into the Temple and raises Holy Heck, using a hand-made whip, chasing out animals, overturning tables, dumping out money and saying “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” I used to read this, saying to myself “Yeah, yeah, go Jesus go!”
Without knowing nothing’ ‘bout nothing’, I assumed that people had turned the Temple into their own personal farmer’s market, their own little Meijer’s in the middle of the sanctuary. Of course Jesus got mad- I’d be mad too. But that’s not what was going on.
The story takes place during Passover. Men over the age of 20 were required to travel to the Temple, some coming from very far away. In order to participate in worship one needed to pay the Temple Tax and bring an animal for burnt offerings (see Leviticus 1,3).
Well, the Greek and Roman coins featured graven images and referred to their emperors as Gods, so that money could not be used to pay the Temple Tax: the coins had to be changed into acceptable coinage, therefore the need for money changers (who would charge a fee for their services). And the animals had to be spotless, with no blemish. Ever travel a far distance with an animal in a car? Now imagine having to travel 15 miles or more, on foot or donkey with an animal without blemish. How well do you think that would work? So, there needed to be people selling blemish free animals for those who traveled far and wanted to participate in worship.
The merchants used to do their business on the Mount of Olives, but over time they moved into the Temple area known as the Court of the Gentiles. Can you see how money changers and animal sellers were necessary, and not a farmer’s market or Meijer’s?
Does this change your notion of what the merchants were doing? Does it help you understand the purpose they served? But does it also muddy up our understanding of why Jesus went on a whip-frenzy, tossing and turning and chasing out? If these things were necessary, why did Jesus respond the way he did?
Is there a piece of the story we’re not being told? Were the merchants actions correct but their motives wrong? Were people confusing pious piety for true spirituality all to make a profit. Was Jesus upset that the Gentiles were getting the goats-end of the deal? What do you think, and how does this affect you view of the money-changers and animal sellers?
Have a blessed weekend, and God bless,
Pastor G

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

Read half of the new book "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating" by Mark Bittman. It's a hodge-podge book with the basic premise that adjusting what we eat will not only influence the planet but our pocketbooks and waistline. Bittman's solution is simple: during the day, try to eat less meat, no junk food and more vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Then at night: eat what you want. Treat yourself to crusty white bread, a glass of wine, serving of meat. making such a simple change can not only benefit your pocketbook and waistline and health, but, as he states on page 18, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as the equivalent of driving 760-1,160 miles a year.

Bittman talks about the agendas of the USDA, food and marketing industry. But do not forget- he has an agenda too: to sell his book. But his claims are cool and easy to swallow and instead of suggesting strict adherence, he's advising small, smart lifestyle choices that ripple out into every aspect of life.

I had to return the book to the library before I finished the rest, which is primarily recipes and suggestions on what foods to have in the house. I think this book makes a good cook-book wrapped in a save-the-world/save-yourself packaging.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sermon for March 8, 2009 Mark 9:2-9

March 8, 2009
Scripture: Mark 9:2-9
Sermon Title: “Resplendent J.E.M.”
Rev. George N. Miller

Once there was a man. He was a wanderer, lost and lonely, no idea where he was going.

One day he came across an amazing find: a beautiful gem. He held it up to the light, every color of the rainbow shined through it and it was...resplendent.

Finding this gem brought him great joy, and he continued his journey with new found excitement.
To the first person he met he said “Let me show you what I’ve found.” Oohing and ahhing the person said “ How priceless it must be. This is the most wonderful thing ever seen!”

The man heard these words and thought “Yes it is. Perhaps I should hold onto it tighter to make sure it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”

With the gem in his possession he realized he was done journeying and stopped at the first place that provided safety and shelter. Feeling encouraged, he applied for the best job he could find, then he went about planning a home.

Days turned into weeks and months. He carried the gem in his coat pocket, near his heart, until fearing it may fall out, he placed it in his pants’ pocket, then tucked into his sock. Finally, the gem was put into a locked box.

The man had a wonderful job, a fabulous home, and the most resplendent gem that had ever been seen. But he stopped sharing his find with others, fearing that if people knew what he had they’d hurt him and steal it from him. So he tucked the gem safely away, where no one else could see it.

Each day he took it out of hiding to admire its beauty until one day an unexcepted knock came at the door. He quickly hid the gem and when the person left he thought “That was a close one. Perhaps I should limit how often I look at it.”

He looked at the gem only once a week, but that seemed too much. Then once a month, but the risk was still too great. So he limited viewings to holidays, but it still seemed too big of a risk.

Finally, he decided the safest thing to do was to tuck the resplendent gem away in a dark, secret place that no one could ever find.

Years passed. The man grew older. His health grew frail. Although his days of wandering were long over, he felt more lost then before.

Realizing he was not much longer for this earth, he decided to take out the gem and look at it once more. He hobbled into the basement, dug behind the secret brick, moved the fresh earth, pulled out the locked box, took out the smaller box inside it, pulled out the rolled up sock, unwrapped the tissue paper...and the gem was not there.

After years of being hidden in secret, the resplendent gem had deteriorated to dust and sand.
In agony the man grabbed a handful of the remains and lifted it up hoping the particles would still catch the light. But no good.

By keeping the priceless gem in a permanent state of security the man had rendered it useless and brought about its demise. He spent his last days mourning what he had so foolishly lost...

...The man in today’s story doesn’t have a name, nor does he need to, for the man is all of us, as we each have a need to preserve and a need to keep, be it time, memories or artifacts.

Children fascinated by lightening bugs, trap and keep them in a jar. Adults store away their good china. Churches keep certain rooms locked.

Even Peter does this as he tries to keep his precious Jesus from experiencing any kind of pain.

In today’s reading Peter, James and John have been invited by Jesus to go hiking up a mountain. While there he’s transfigured, and Elijah and Moses appear, forming their own J.E.M.. (Jesus, Elijah, Moses)

When Peter sees this resplendent J.E.M. he immediately speaks “Teacher, it is so good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings...”

Why is it that Peter speaks so quickly? What is he trying to achieve by offering to keep this J.E.M. in a safe dwelling?

As you recall, the Gospel of Mark was written during a stressful era in history. Mark didn’t have time to waste and his story is clean, lean and things happen like this (snap fingers)!

Yet today’s Scripture begins with an illusion to time: “6 days later.” What is it that happened 6 days before?

When we first met Peter he’s going by the name Simon, fishing with his brother. Jesus invites them to follow him, which Simon does, quickly leaving his nets behind. They follow Jesus as he teaches in the synagogue, unblocks Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever, and cures others.

When Jesus sneaks away for prayer Simon hunts him down saying “Everyone is searching for you.”
From there Simon and the others go from town to town as Jesus preaches, heals and raises a ruckus.

Good times. Jesus feeds the five thousand, quiets a storm, walks on water. How cool to watch the way he stood up to authorities. How even the demons responded to Jesus’ voice!

Jesus gives Simon a new moniker: Peter. Imagine being so loved by the Lord you are given a pet name!

Jesus asks who people say he is. While others respond incorrectly, Peter gets it right when he states “You are the Messiah.”

Then Jesus begins a new stage of ministry. The fun of the last few months takes an ominous turn. Jesus tell them something unexpected: that he will undergo great suffering; be rejected, and killed.

This is all too disturbing for Peter. He pulls Jesus aside, “Stop talking such mess,” he says, but Jesus rebukes him. “If you want to follow me, you must deny yourself and take up your cross.”

And then 6 days pass. We’re not told of a single thing Jesus and the disciples did. Did they teach, did they heal, did they journey? We don’t know. It’s as if everything has stopped.

Perhaps Jesus is giving everyone, including himself, a chance to absorb the sobering reality of what he’s just shared. It’s as if he told them the shop is closing or their investments are gone.

And I believe what happens to Peter is that he goes into shock. He doesn’t know what to think.
Here he was, just an ordinary man. Jesus turns his world around, fills it with light, and boom! Peter hears his beloved leader and friend is going to die by means of great violence.

6 days pass, time to sort through their emotions, and Jesus invites Peter and the others to go up the mountain. It was a chance for them to escape reality, to get away.

How nice it must have been to make that climb: the exercise, the fresh air. Leaving the problems of the world behind, with each step seeing the land, the people, grow smaller.

But try as he may, Peter can’t shake the news of Jesus’ death. Maybe if they ran away or went into hiding they could avoid the inevitable.

What happens next seems to be the solution to their problem: Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus. Peter’s response: “Let’s stay here forever!”

How honest his response was; how innocent, wrapped in fear and high hopes.

“We’ll just build 3 shelters and keep Jesus safely hidden away from everyone else. We can visit him when we want. He’ll never have to suffer.”

Can you blame Peter? 6 days ago Jesus rocked his world saying he would be hurt and killed.

Why go back down the mountain? Why leave such a wonderful, resplendent moment for the woeful, wretched world that waits for them?

Why indeed? Peter speaks for all of us at those moments when everything feels just right and we don’t want it to end, be it vacation, a great date, or the perfect summer.

Peter is also speaking for us when we have been thrust into a storm of problems and all we want is to hide under the blanket, ignore the mail or veg out on the couch.

Peter’s response to the reality of death sounds like an assurance of life, but it’s actually a choice to not fully live. What Peter’s proposing is a type of imprisonment: “Keep the J.E.M. sheltered on the mountain and no hurt will come.”

But neither will true life because true life happens down on the ground.

Yes, down there exists sick mother-in-laws, diseases, violent crowds and a deadly cross.

But down on the ground is also where Peter’s wife awaits, where children laugh, people wave palm branches, and celebration and songs exist.

Down the mountain will be more chances to worship, share meals and smell fragrant perfumes.

And down on the ground there is still so much work to be done. Crowds waiting to be taught, people who still need forgiveness, sick children waiting to be healed, blind waiting to see again.

In the midst of sadness, fear and assured chaos, Peter experiences a resplendent J.E.M. and tries to find a way to stay there indefinitely.

But he can’t, for life is lived, love is shared and ministry is performed not far off the ground, but in the midst of the sadness and joy, fear and safety, chaos and contentment.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, we do so, accepting and embracing each moment for what it is: a chance to be with Christ and a chance to joyfully share what have experienced.

The gift Jesus gives us is not to be stashed away out of fear of losing or tarnishing it, but to bring it to others, lift it up to the light and to say “Isn’t it resplendent?”

And when we have those moments in which it feels easier to hide away, let us be gentle with ourselves, allowing time to process, and then finding the strength to return back to the reality of the world, knowing that’s where Jesus is, and that’s where Jesus is calling us to be.

All thanks be to the mysterious ways of the Spirit, to God who sees us through it all and for Jesus, the gem that shines resplendently in and for us.


Sermon for March 1, 2009 Psalm 25:1-10

March 1, 2009 Scripture: Psalm 25:1-10
Sermon Title: “God’s Loving Paths” Rev. George N. Miller

Our message begins with a lesson in vocabulary: “resplendent.” Please say it after me: resplendent.
It means “to shine back, to shine brilliantly, to be full of splendor.” A fitting word for us today.

For the last 2 months the children have been singing “Siyahamba” or, as we know it, “We are Marching in the Light of God”. Not only is it a joyful song, but it perfectly fits today’s message of movement and light.

If you haven’t noticed by now, a good deal of the Bible is all about people on the move. Moses in the wilderness, Jacob leaving and returning home, Jesus and the disciples going from town to town.

The Bible is filled with images of movement and journey because that’s what a faithful life is about: always moving, always growing, always changing. God doesn’t call us to be stagnant, nor does God expect us to always be comfortable.

God calls us to journey. For some, it’ll be geographical, for others its emotional or spiritual.

I’m fascinated by the concept of journey, and I’m not the only one. Look at “Wizard of Oz” or TV’s “Lost” as it journeys through space and time, or the book “Eat, Pray, Love” which is all about one woman’s travel through Italy, India and Indonesia.

Journey, as we learn, is not without cost. One can not march from one place to another without having to give up something. People and things have to be left behind, and there are only two guarantees.

The first is that during the journey there will be moments of great darkness, so great you can barely see your way. The second guarantee is that God will be there to help light your way through.

An example of a journeyer would be Jennifer Hudson. Just a few years ago she was living in Chicago and tried out for “American Idol.” She experienced light when she made it onto the show. But darkness came when she was voted off.

She could have crept back to obscurity, but she persevered, eventually winning the role of Effie in “Dreamgirls”, again a moment of light. But when the director felt she wasn’t embodying the role, she was asked to come in for extra rehearsals. Criticism can be harsh but she took what they were teaching her and nailed the part, wowing everyone and winning an Oscar.

Her light continued to shine as she was cast in the blockbuster “Sex in the City.” Then she released a new album and hit song. It seemed like her light would keep getting brighter.

But the journey took an unexpected dark twist, as her nephew and mother were violently murdered, and she stepped away from the public spotlight.

Time passed. Then the news came out: she was invited to sing the National Anthem at this year’s Superbowl. Before the eyes of millions of people she stepped out and after taking a deep breathe, she sung the Anthem in a way few people have.

With light in her voice and eyes she sung of how through it all, the flag was still there, and when finished, the crowd roared with approval.

7 days later on the Grammy’s she won an award and gave a stirring rendition of her song “You Pulled Me Through.” Backed with a full choir, she sung the way only someone who had overcome great darkness could sing.

One magazine, recapping the week’s highlights, ran a photo of her and wrote a caption which read “Resplendent (n): see Jennifer Hudson.”

Resplendent. The woman had journeyed from extreme moments of darkness and through it all she found a way to reflect a light that she would no doubt attribute to God and her faith in Christ.

Movement, darkness and light: fitting themes as we enter into Lent, a spiritual journey we make with Christ as our guide.

There will be a journey to the mountaintop in which Jesus will shine brilliantly. There’ll be healings, teachings and shared meals. There’ll be betrayal in the darkness of night and a brutal death.

During this time of Lent Jesus will journey towards Jerusalem, a place known for killing its prophets.

Jesus moves forward, knowing full well what’s going to happen to him. But even the dark shadow of the looming cross can not stop Jesus from being...resplendent.

With that being said, let’s take a look at Psalm 25. Originally attributed to Kind David, it is an interesting song because it’s structure creates a sense of travel complete with moments of frightening darkness and comforting light.

As a faithful jew and a rabbi, there’s a good chance Jesus knew and memorized Psalm 25. I wonder how much it influenced him.

It begins simply enough: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”

That’s a great way to begin one’s travel. As you take your first step, as you board the plane or turn the key in the ignition, to say “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”

The psalmist declares that not only are faith and trust inseparable but they are necessary parts of the journey.

But this is not foolish trust or naive faith. For right away the pathway of travel is fraught with darkness and danger.

“Don’t let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me,” the psalmist states as darkness invades the journey.

Through verses 2-3 and 16-20 no light shines through. Loneliness, afflictions, troubled hearts darken the pathway. Words such as treachery and violent hatred mask the sunlight.

It’s a verbal journey through a pit of darkness where danger and shame hover on each side, waiting to consume who ever dares to travel through them. The images are enough to keep one complacent or admit defeat.

But our God is not a complacent God, nor does God call for complacent people. For as we see in verses 4-15, even between the darkness of danger and deceit, God finds a way to shine through.

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;” the author sings out, “teach me your paths.”

And with those words, with that invitation, God’s light begins to shine, providing a path for the psalmist to travel. And the light takes on many forms through the multitude of positive words the author uses.

Truth and teaching becomes beacons of light that illuminate the way, followed by the glow of salvation, mindfulness and mercy.

Steadfast love and the forgetting of our sins cuts through the darkness of shame and treachery. Goodness, faithfulness and covenant light the way.

With each word we discover just how much God’s light is shining and making a way for us through what would at first seem bleak and despairing. Light that calls upon God as our rescuer, our deliverer, and our refuge.

In the midst of ruin and distress are these resplendent, glimmering images of God, leading the way, providing the journey, making the travel possible. And through it all, Psalm 25 concludes with wonderful words of redemption.

This is a psalm that could not only could speak for King David, or for Jesus, but also a song that can be sung for us.

It is a reminder that as we journey, we do not travel alone, nor do we travel in complete darkness, but that with each step we take, God is illuminating the path with wisdom and teaching, with forgiveness and mercy, with steadfast love and covenant.

In closing, our Lenten journey will bring us many places, through times of great darkness and much light, from celebration to the horrifying pain of the cross, a place in which it seems impossible for God to be present.

But just as Psalm 25 ends with words of new life, the cross will not be the end of our journey. For although we must make that most uncomfortable stop, it is just a stop.

For as we will rediscover, the sun will rise again and our true destination will be to a garden, to an upper room, on a road to Emmaus, on a sandy beach shore and on a mountaintop.

And in all those places we will discover not only just how much the light of Christ still shines, but how much of that light now shines in each of us, brilliant and full of splendor.

God will sustain us on our journey, and though there will be moments of darkness and danger, our ultimate destination will be resplendent, filled with God’s promise of redemption and joy.

All thanks be to Christ who invites us on the journey, to the Spirit that carries us along and for God who lights the way.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Wanderings for 03 08 09

Good news everyone: our church website is officially up and running. We're still waiting to add some more text and photos, but to see it, go to (as in Wyoming Burlingame Congregational UCC). A young man named Lucas Moore has been working faithfully to put it together (he is the grandson of our own Bea Rosloniec).

When designing the site we told Lucas that we wanted to focus on relationships: families, friends, children, activities. And that is what you will find on the website, as well as stunning photos of our stained glass windows and building. As you go through the website you'll find great photos full of fun memories: weddings, baptisms, softball games, trips, shared meals, worship, and the faces of a few people we have loved and lost. How good it is to be reminded of all that has been good.

But we are not supposed to get stuck there: back in the memories, back in the things that have passed. Instead we are to fondly remember them and to move forward. I think that is part of what this Sunday's Scripture is about. Mark 9:2-9 is known as the Transfiguration. It is retold in three other places in the Bible. Here we have Jesus inviting Peter, James and John to travel up a mountain with him. While there, Jesus becomes transfigured/resplendent and Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus.

To put this into modern terms, it would be like we were hanging out with Pres. Obama and all of a sudden George Washington and Abraham Lincoln showed up. Or we were hanging with Derek Jeeter when Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb showed up. Or we were hanging with Tina Fey when Lucille Ball and Katherine Hepburn showed up. What an amazing experience that would be!

So Peter, saying the first thing that pops into his head, says "Teacher, it is good to be here. Let's build three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." Your Bible may have the words different. Instead of dwellings it may say booths or tents or shrine. And each word changes the context of Peter's statement. Dwelling sounds permanent, booths can refer to a Jewish festival, tents sounds transient, and shrines can just be a small structure along the road (like a statue or sign) that is in honor of someone important.

For this Sunday I want to go with the notion of dwelling: that Peter's immediate reaction is "Hey: this is good, this is grand: let's stay up here forever." That sounds reasonable doesn't it? I mean, here he is in the presence of Jesus and the two greatest prophets who ever lived. Why leave? Why not just stay there and bask in their knowledge, their radiance, their goodness forever?

Well, yeah, that may sound good, at first. But to stay on top of the mountain would not be living life. To stay up there would mean Peter and the rest would miss the other good things that happen in life: family, friends, meals, love, grandchildren etc.

And after time, being on the mountain would get boring, wouldn't it? So, despite Peter's proclamation, eventually Moses and Elijah disappear, Jesus stops being transfigured, and he and Peter, James and John make their way back down the mountain, where life and work, joy and pain, love and loss are waiting.

And they, and we, are all the better for it.

May you enjoy the blessings that come to you today, embracing them for what they are, and then letting them go to embrace the other blessings God is sending your way.

In joy, Pastor G