Friday, May 29, 2009

Wandering for May 31, 2009

Tongues of Fire!
Speaking in other Languages!
The sound of Rushing Wind!
A filled House!
Bewildered Bystanders!
Perplexed Party-Poopers!
and a Passionate Peter Preaching!

It can only mean one thing: Pentecost Sunday. That's the amazing, confusing, electrifying scripture we'll read this Sunday. Acts 2:1-21 is such a great read, marking the anniversary/birthday of the Christian Church. It's the day the Spirit really broke into the world, filling people with prophecy, visions, dreams.

Pentecost is a day in which God once again did something NEW. I find it amazing how throughout the Bible we encounter again and again the ways in which God breaks into our reality and does something so amazing you think "There's no way God can top that!"

But guess what: God does.

Just think of a few of the astonishing, seemingly un-topable things God has done:
Creation, parting the Red Sea, Resurrection.

And yet, just when it seems God has played the best card, another Ace comes out to wow us. And that is what Pentecost is all about.

Jesus has been crucified, resurrected and ascended. And then !BAM! something new and exiting happens as the Spirit comes roaring in and begins to change the game. And one of the first changes the Spirit will do: make it so people can understand one another.

What a joy to behold, what a blessing to let loose on Creation.

May the Spirit move you in ways you could never imagine this week. May the Spirit enable us to understand one another a little bit more.

Peace and joy,

Pastor G

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sermon for May 21, 2009

May 21, 2009
Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
Sermon Title: “The Places You Will Go”
Rev. George Miller

Earlier this year I attended a workshop on evangelism and the presenter told a story about his father. His Dad had a saying that went like this: “I’m gonna tell you once, you’re gonna hear me twice. I’m gonna tell you once, you’re gonna hear me twice. You’re going to wake up and you’re going to say ‘Is it going to be a good day or a bad day?’ Make the right choice and you’ll be OK.”

What did that mean, and why did his father repeat it again and again, year after year? One day our presenter understood...but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about tonight’s scripture.

It’s the beginning of Acts, which in many ways is the 2nd volume of a story that will never end. Jesus has been resurrected and for the past 40 days he’s been hanging out with the disciples, teaching them about the Kingdom of God. He’s ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait, for soon they’ll be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
He redirects their attention to the present moment, and is lifted up and taken away.

After 3 years of ministry, after 3 days in the grave, after 40 days of resurrection appearances, Jesus is out of their sight; he’s absent. And in his absence the newest stage of ministry begins.

That may sound like I misspoke, but if you look at what occurs here and couple it with the Gospels, you’ll realize that part of Jesus’s ministry was preparing the disciples for his departure while at the same time helping them understand that his leaving is just another part of his ministry.

For example, in John 14-16 Jesus explains that he’s to go ahead, establishing a place for them, and that God will give the disciples an Advocate, meaning the Spirit. He encourages them to continue abiding in him, as he abides in them.

Then in ch. 16 he gets right down to it: that it’s for their benefit that he goes away because if he stays the Advocate will not come and guide them in all things. In other words Jesus is saying to them: “Oh, all the places you will go!”

Yes they’ll weep and mourn, yes they’ll miss him, but their pain will turn into joy because Jesus has already proved victorious.

In Acts we witness that it was the ascension of Christ that created a space for the Spirit to pour down upon the people, ensuring that the Good News reaches all people throughout the world.

But how can absence be a good thing? How can being apart work for the good? Theologian Henri Nouwen wrote about absence in his book “The Living Reminder.” According to Nouwen, much of our faith is stories of memories, of people, places and events that happened some time ago.

Memories are more then just things we recall but they connect and sustain us during hard times. They are well-springs of hope, teaching that love transcends the limits of time and space.

How does this pertain to absence? When a place, person or event is close to us, we can grow numb to it, failing to see and appreciate it, failing to learn from and find comfort in it. Absence does something unique: it helps us see in a new way.

When we’re not near someone, we engage in an act of memory about them that allows us to see them in ways beyond physical, creating a space for a different level of intimacy.

Think about it, when you’re apart from someone, you don’t focus so much on their idiosyncracies, such as the mole above their lip or spinach caught in their teeth. Instead you can reflect on things they have said, actions they have done.

The space creates a chance to clarify and bring to the foreground things such as gifts or kind words they said or lessons you learned from them.

Absence also does this: it makes us want to be together again. When someone is always in our life, we take them for granted and wish for space. When we are apart and separated, we long to see them again, to be in their presence, to hear them snore, to hear their goofy jokes, to see what new outrageous ensemble they will wear.

Space creates closeness, and absence can make us more present to each other then we can imagine. Think of the truths that are revealed by friends on the phone when intimacy is increased by the non-existent sight of body movement. Think of the war time letters soldiers wrote to their honeys saying vulnerable sweet-nothings they may not have had the courage to say face to face.

Absence works in ministry, such as visits. A visit that’s too long can drain a person, but a visit done right creates a healthy space that allows the Spirit to move and educate. Sometimes the real visit happens in absence: as one waits for the visit, looking forward to the time together; in the space that’s created when the pastor leaves, and both people can reflect upon and bask in the spiritual after-glow of what they shared.

Tonight we spiritually kick off Memorial Day Weekend. We’re closed this Sunday so people can enjoy the holiday. Diaconate wanted to create a space, a chance to be absent and to give people the OK to take a step back, chill and relax.

Some may use this as an opportunity to garden, others to travel, some to spend time with family and friends or visit other churches. Oh, the places you will go.

But it’s also a way to create healthy, holy absence. For each week we worship here, we gather, we take in the sounds we know, the sights we see, the people we’re familiar with.

But with an absence we now have a chance to come back next Sunday. And to come back with new eyes, new spirits, new insights.

To see the windows anew after a week away. To hear our organist anew after hearing the sound of silence or of someone else playing.

To revel in the voices and smiles of our children, to shake hands and to reacquaint ourselves with dear old friends and faithful apostles.

This time of absence is not to pull us apart but to actually bring us together, to remind ourselves of who we are and of whose we are.

Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples. This gave them the space and time they needed to grow, become adjusted and be prepared for what they had to do. And when the time was right, he left.

The irony was that in Jesus’s departure he actually became closer to them, for now he was ever present, always there, in their hearts and spirit, in their work and their mission. Jesus remained the center of what they did, but now their focus could be redirected onto the community and ministry that was at hand.

And when Jesus ascended, the disciples were actually able to step into the people they were destined to be, to do the work they were destined to do and to prepare the next foundational level for the church we are today.

And it happened all because of Jesus’s absence.

In conclusion, let us return to the story I was first telling, about the father and his words. Day after day, the father told his son “I’m gonna tell you once, you’re gonna hear me twice. I’m gonna tell you once, you’re gonna hear me twice. You’re going to wake up and you’re going to say ‘Is it going to be a good day or a bad day?’ Make the right choice and you’ll be OK.”

The son grew tired of hearing his father say those words. Then one day he was hanging out with his friends. They were drinking and got it into their heads that it would be fun to go drag racing.

The young man was about to step into one of the cars, when he heard his father’s voice “I’m gonna tell you once, you’re gonna hear me twice. You’re going to wake up one day and you’re going to say “Is it going to be a good day or a bad day?’ Make the right choice and you’ll be ok.”

And now he understood. The hearing once was his father’s first telling him, the hearing twice was what he was now hearing in his father’s absence.

He listened to his absent father’s voice, and stepped away from that car, and it was the right thing to do. Moments later an accident occurred, killing the driver and leaving another paralyzed.

His father was wise. He knew he could not be with his son 100% of the time, otherwise his son would never live his life. But he made sure that even in his absence his son would know well enough to make the right choices to live life.

In his father’s absence, those words took on more meaning and power then they ever had before.

Its Memorial Day Weekend. Oh the places you will go, the things you will do and the people you will meet. Even though we’ll be apart this Sunday, may our absence liven our hearts and bring us closer to one another.

And when we are reunited, may we be glad to be in the house of the Lord and glad to be in one another’s presence again.

All thanks and praise be to the Spirit that falls upon each and every one of us, for God whose kingdom we are called to make real and for Jesus who, even in his absence, lives within us all.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wanderings for 05 21 09

Wanderings for May 21, 2009
Acts 1:1-11

3 years. For three years they followed Jesus. They let down their nets. They traveled from town to town. They ate in homes, worshipped on mountain tops, witnessed miracles on land and on sea. And in a whirl-wind week they went with him as Jesus entered the city, and they dispersed when he was arrested, humiliated and killed.

That should have been the end of the story right there. But it wasn't. Because just a few days later they got word: Christ has risen. It came from Mary M and the other ladies who first visited the tomb. It came from Cleopas and his companion (wife?) who dined with Christ in Emmaus. It came from inside the locked room and the open sea shore.

Death had not won, the powers that be did not prevail. Look at what God has done!

This Thursday, we are having a special service to bless everyone as they enjoy Memorial Day (remember, we are closed this Sunday). This Scripture for this Thursday night is taken from Acts 1:1-11. Luke, who is the author of Acts, has added something extra to the story. He has the resurrected Christ hanging out with the disciples for 40 days, talking to them about the Kingdom of God. He encourages them not to leave until they have received the promises of God.

I like to think in a way these 40 days are a buffer. They have been through so much, seen so much. The disciples thought they had lost Jesus once, but he came back. And for 40 days they get to chill and hang out in the city. Chilling and hanging out is good for the soul and the body, but it doesn't get the job done, and can lead to lack of care and wonder, so after 40 days, Jesus says goodbye to the disciples. He says they'll receive the power of the Spirit and they will be his witnesses to "the end of the earth". Jesus is then lifted up into heavens.

What do you make of this story? Does it speak to anything that is going on in your life? For me, it recalls something I read from Henry Nouwen in "The Living Reminder" about the power of absence. That being absent from another allows our memory to see each other in a new way. We see this in John 16:7 and 13 when Jesus reveals that only in memory will real intimacy with him be possible. And here in Acts we see that it is only when Jesus is gone that the Spirit reveals itself to the disciples. According to Nouwen, the great mystery of divine revelation is that God entered into intimacy with us not only by Christ's arrival, but also in Christ's departure.

Another way of thinking about things is like this: the disciples didn't truly become the disciples until Jesus was gone, and it wasn't until Jesus ascended into heaven that the Good News of Jesus traveled to the ends of the earth.

How are the ways you've been influence by people in their absence? And who are people you know you've influenced even after you've been long gone?

May you have a wonderful week and Memorial Day, and I hope to see most of you Thursday night at 7 p.m,. for our special service.

Blessings, Pastor G
* if you want to be e-mailed the weekly Wanderings , contact Pastor George at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sermon for May 17, 2009 Acts 10:44-11:18

May 17, 2009
Scripture: Acts 10:44-11:18
Sermon Title: “Food Matters”
Rev. George N. Miller

Any fan of Broadway musicals is familiar with the play “Mame,” about a woman who lived life to its fullest. It features a line that says “Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons of (guns) are starving to death.” It also featured iconic actress Bea Arthur who died just a few weeks ago.

With her deep voice, lurching height and cutting stare, Bea was known to the TV world as Maude, and as Dorothy Zbornac from “The Golden Girls.” When she died, friends from all over called me; for us it was like losing a friend, because after decades of daily reruns, she was, indeed a friend.

Bea’s character was the emotional glue of “The Golden Girls”. She was the odd duckling who spoke her mind, dealt with life’s unfairness and deeply loved her family, both her biological and the social one she created.

“The Golden Girls” was known for its strong ensemble, its controversial take on adult sexuality, but perhaps most affectionately, for its scenes around the kitchen table where the ladies ate cheesecake and drank coffee.

Jesus and his disciples had bread and wine, and for the Golden Girls there was no problem they couldn’t discuss no problem go great it couldn’t be dealt with over cheesecake and coffee.

For many shows, food is the emotional center of life and relationships. The Sopranos had their pizza, the women of “Sex and the City” had their cosmos, and the funniest moments of “I Love Lucy” featured food: from Lucy working in a candy factory, to her squashing grapes or her infamous “Vitavegameatamin” commercial.

Today we’re going to talk about matters of food, because, at the end of the day food matters. It’s more then just what we take in to fuel our body. Food connects us to one another, it helps to define cultures and generations, and food feeds our soul.

Food can also be used to keep us apart, which is one reason I’ll never stop drinking coffee or be a vegetarian. As a pastor it’s impossible to attend pot-lucks or visit homes without eating meat.

And if you recall, I came here as a professed tea lover; iced tea and peppermint tea was my thing. And Mary Jane, bless her heart, went right out and got an electric tea-pot just for me. But every Sunday when I come downstairs and smell the freshly brewed coffee? Or visit someone’s home and there’s a pot of coffee ready to be shared? There’s no way I’d say “No thanks, can I have a spot of tea instead?”

As long as I’m a pastor I’ll always eat meat and be up for a cup of coffee. What we eat and drink with others is important, because food matters.

Think about the fact that one of our 2 sacraments involves food. Next, see just how much space the author of Acts gives to the eating of food.

The Spirit has fallen upon the people, hundreds are being baptized into this new religion. During a time of personal prayer Peter has a vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven filled with all types of animals and he’s invited to eat.

But Peter is a faithful Jew, with strict dietary laws, and his response is “No God, I have never eaten anything unclean.” He’s told that God has made all animals clean to eat, and to make sure he gets the point, this happens 3 times.

After this vision, Cornelius, an Italian, invites Peter into his home. Peter obliges, but reminds him that it has been unlawful for a Jew to visit a non-Jew, but God has revealed that no longer is someone to be called clean or unclean.

Peter visits with the Italian and his family and begins to share the Good News, preaching peace and testifying that all who believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins.

So powerful are his words that the Spirit falls upon all who hear, even though they are Gentiles, and Peter, realizing that no one can withhold the Spirit’s gifts, baptizes all of the people in the name of Jesus Christ.

So successful is the event that Cornelius invites Peter to spend a few days with his family. And since Cornelius was an Italian, you know they were sharing some amazing feasts, with sauces filled with pork and shellfish, glasses of wine and many hours around the dining room table, discussing Christ.

After a few days of living, sleeping and eating Italian, Peter returns to Jerusalem. And do you think the church people are happy with him?

Uh-huh. Instead of celebrating the news that Peter evangelized a Gentile family, they say to him: “What were you doing? Hanging out with uncircumcised men and eating their dirty, filthy food. You weren’t following our church bylaws.”

What Peter did was a breech of Jewish etiquette, because not only did circumcision matter, but so did food and who one ate with.

The earliest Christians were Jews. And as Jews, it was important to follow the Law of Moses, and the laws were very clear. All Jewish males were to be circumcised, that was a sign of their covenant with God. And the bylaws clearly stated there were foods you could not eat: pork was a no no, shell-fish was a no no, mixing meat and dairy was a big no-no

And there were reasons. Rules about pork made basic health sense: pigs were dirty animals and if not properly cooked could cause sickness. There were also ethical issues. You did not mix meat with dairy because the off-chance that you may be eating an animal in its mothers milk. But the food rules also dealt with societal issues.

Food mattered. Food is how people celebrated and interacted with one another, and social interactions could lead to improper influences and straying from one’s beliefs.

The Jewish people understood themselves to be God’s Chosen which meant they were to be separate from others. The influence of pop culture was too great, creating opportunities to fall back to old ways of sin, of worshiping other gods, or worshiping political leaders. A solution was to keep a distance from society, and what better way to insure separation than through food?

If you can’t eat pork, then you can’t join your Gentile neighbors for the block party pig roast. If shellfish is out of limits, then you can’t go to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. If you can’t mix milk and meat, then you can forget about stopping at your local Mickey D’s for a cheeseburger.

By limiting what people could eat, it limited relationships and perceived negative influences.
So the Kosher laws dealt with matters of food because food matters. It mattered in relationships, it mattered in ethics, and it mattered in showing ones faithfulness and love to God.

Since the earliest Christians were Kosher abiding Jews, they assumed they had to continue making food matter. And they were right: food mattered, but now it would matter in a new way.

First, Jesus was a man who broke table rules, spending much time eating with folk who were known sinners and of questionable morals. To emulate him would mean sitting at table as well, and because Jesus had come to bring good news to all, it would mean that all were welcome to the table.

In order for all to feel comfortable at the table meant that all foods would have to be welcomed as well. Hence Peter’s vision giving him permission to eat all foods, hence why God gives him the vision three times.

And why the author of Acts tell us this story twice: so we understand that in order for us to share the Good News with people, in order for us to hear the Good News from people, in order for us to be the Good News to people, we have to be able to eat with people, all people, all foods, because food does indeed matter.

Today’s scripture is essential to the development and spread of Christianity because what it said was that the Good News was available to all who heard and to all who believed, and could not be limited to only those who ate cheesecake, drank cosmos, ate pizza or took Vitavegameatamin.

Food matters, because it’s what ties us together. It creates memories, from our grandmother’s cookies to ice cream cones purchased in the summer time. Food matters because it defines who we culturally are from hot dogs to apple pie.

Food matters because it offers us comfort in times of distress, from cookie dough ice-cream after a bad break-up to finger sandwiches after a funeral.

Food matters because it was through five loaves and two fish that Jesus was able to bring forth a slice of heaven here on earth.

Food matters because Jesus took bread and said “This is my body” and a cup of wine and said “This is my blood”.

Food matters because it was in the sharing of a meal in Emmaus that the resurrected Christ was revealed, and Cleopas and his companion ran to the disciples proclaiming “The Lord has risen.”

Food matters because it was by eating formally forbidden cuisine that Peter could enter into the house of Cornelius and preach Christ, ushering in the Spirit and baptizing a family in the Lord.

Food matters, because that is one way we, as members of BCUCC, will find a way to survive and move on.

On Wednesday, after a shared potluck, we deliberated about the future of this particular sensuous Body of Christ. Do we stay open? Do we close on July 26? With heavy hearts, the majority made the choice to close.

But we did not make the choice to stop being part of the Body of Christ. People will look into other congregations to join. Some will stay in the UCC, some may join a church that is closer by.

Amidst the sadness of closing our doors after 85 years of ministry comes the questions: what do we do, how do we get to know people, will we fit in?
One answer we can glean from today’s scripture: eat.

Like Dorothy Zbornac, like Carrie Bradshaw, like Tony Soprano, like Peter, like Jesus, eat with the people around you. Don’t just go to worship and leave immediately afterwards. Make sure to stay.

Sit down for a cup of coffee. Have a slice of cake. Taste a cookie. Stay for a nosh.

It will be heartbreaking at first. It may be scary as heck. But don’t be afraid to join others at table, to eat, drink, talk. Open yourself up. Listen. Pray. Watch. Feel. Smell.

Food matters, and one of the ways in which God will take care of you, one way in which the Spirit will move, is if you are willing to spend some time eating and drinking with the people you meet at the places you may go.

Who knows what new friends you’ll make. Who knows what new family you may find. Who knows how the Spirit will move and how Jesus will make himself known.

Life is not the “Golden Girls.” All problems can’t be solved in five minutes over coffee and a slice of cheesecake. But it certainly won’t hurt none.

In closing, when Bea Arthur was interviewed and asked about her fondness of drink, she responded “I believe that you’re here on Earth for a short time, and while you’re here, you shouldn’t forget it... ‘Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons of (guns) are starving to death.’ Do I look hungry? Or thirsty?”

In deed, the Lord is our shepherd. Not only are we made to lie in green pastures and led beside still waters, but in Christ we are given a banquet, and our cup runs over.

May we continue to enjoy our time with one another, may we experience the presence of Christ every time we sit in fellowship and share at table, and may the Spirit watch over and guide us during our time of grief and transition.

Amen and amen.

Sermon for May 10, 2009

May 10, 2009
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
Sermon Title: “Waters of Life”
Rev. George N. Miller

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters...” Ahh, waters.

It’s a special day: not only are we celebrating the marvelous women in our life, but it’s also the fourth anniversary of when I first preached here. There’s been much learning and much sharing.

One lesson people have seemed to absorb is the biblical symbolism of water representing chaos. But, I’ve failed to teach the ways in which water also symbolize new life and rebirth.

The Bible, being magnificently complex, balances water’s different symbolisms. For example, when the Hebrews are being chased and come across the Red Sea, water represents assured death. But when the Sea is parted and they cross over, water represents new life and God’s deliverance.

Therefor, the biblical use of water is all about context. So when the disciples are in a boat being tossed too and fro, water is chaos. When Jesus talks to a woman at a well, then water is life.

Mothers certainly know about the role of water in the act of new life. Every one of us began inside our mother’s womb, an amniotic ocean that aided in our development, nourishing and protecting us.

This mini-ocean cushioned us, promoted growth, and it was the breaking of our mother’s water that introduced us to the world.

In some ways our mother’s womb was our Eden, an oasis of oneness. Perhaps that’s why some feel a natural connection with water. Watch the glee children have in a kiddie pool as they splash and smile. Or an adult relaxing in a warm bath, saying those four magic words: “Calgon, take me away!”

Water not only represents chaos, but new life, as today’s reading shows. I love the Book of Acts: its inspiring images of how the Spirit moves, gets our feet wet by doing things we never thought we’d do, and the ways it which God makes possible that which seems impossible.

In Acts, the resurrected Christ has ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit has been poured out among the people. It’s a time of fresh, exciting beginnings with the Spirit moving in new, unusual ways. And Acts 8: 26-40 is an unusual story, involving an unusual person in an unusual place and time.

Philip is preaching in Samaria when the Lord calls him to travel at noon down a desert road. The calling seems crazy. First, a desert road is not the safest place to be, danger can be anywhere and the next gas station isn’t for another 150 miles!

Second, no one traveled at noon: that was the hottest time of the day. Sane people stayed inside, ate lunch, took a nap.

But Philip obeys God’s unusual call, and what does his eyes and ears behold? An Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot reading Isaiah. How strange.

First, Ethiopia was far away, another continent away. Ethiopians were said to be the blackest, tallest, most beautiful people on earth. And yet, here one is.

Second, the Ethiopian was a eunuch, meaning he had been neutered like a cat or a dog. Eunuchs were a part of life back then, some were used to protect the king’s harem, others to hit the high notes in choir. At best they were seen as different.

Jewish Law had specific rules about eunuchs. They were not allowed into the inner courts of the Temple or to become full-fledged Jews.

Can you hear how irony upon irony abounds? Philip, lead by the Spirit, travels down a desert road during the hottest time of the day, meeting an exotic, castrated male returning from a place of worship he can not technically be a part of.

The Ethiopian had a thirst: he was so thirsty to know God that he willingly traveled from Africa to Asia to just be in the presence of the Temple.

He was so thirsty to know God that instead of resting from the hot sun he read scripture.

Could you imagine thirsting for something so great you’d travel hundred of miles to worship? Could you image thirsting for something so great you’d forsake the comfort of a nap to study it?

Yes, the Ethiopian eunuch may have been from far away, yes his body may have been incomplete, but he had a spiritual thirst that sought closeness and completion in God.

No wonder the Lord lead Philip down that road.

And note how Philip goes above and beyond a simple Bible Study by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. As he does this, they come across water and the Ethiopian eunuch says “Hey! Here’s water, what’s to stop me from being baptized?” And he and Philip go down to the water, and after they emerge from the water...

Wait a minute...What just happened here...? Did you hear it?...If the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip were on a desert road, where did the water come from? And why is the word water used 4 times?

It’s easy for Michiganders to take water for granted, after all, we’re surrounded by it; anyone with a shovel and time can dig themselves a lake. But this story takes place on a desert road.

The author is trying to tell us something if we carefully listen. Where does the water come from? Why does it appear here, why now? Hear the subtle workings of a gifted writer.

There are two people. One has learned how to listen to the voice of God, the other is different, broken, and thirsty for God. And in a deserted place, in the heat of the day, guided by the Spirit, through the study of God’s Word and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, they experience their own Calgon moment.

It reminds me of Genesis 21 when Hagar cries out in the wilderness and God opens her eyes to a well full of water. Or 2 Kings 3 when God fills a wadi with water. Or John 4 when Jesus offers a woman the gift of living water.

Here, the author of Acts uses water to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings, not just for the Ethiopian, but for all the peoples of the world.

The old, dried ways that excluded the Ethiopian eunuch from being part of God’s family are now new, lush ways that include him into the sensuous Body of Christ.

I wonder how many people here today can relate to this story, can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch?

How many know what its like to be different?
Different because of your marital status, religious beliefs, or political views. Different because of the way you live, how you look, how you dress, the shape of your body or because of your age.

Different because you don’t think or act like everyone else in your family. Different because you feel deep down in your gut that God is calling you for something more.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

How many can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch? To be broken, incomplete, have a piece missing?

Perhaps its physical. Your body’s no longer working the way it used to, parts are breaking down, bits have been extracted. You’re battling an illness, the affects of an accident or the reality of getting older.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

Perhaps its emotional. Someone has broken your heart or betrayed you, stealing from you the spark that makes you unique, messing up your ability to enjoy life.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

Or maybe the brokeness is spiritual. You don’t know what you believe anymore, you wonder if God has deserted you or if there even is a God.
Maybe issues of sin or feelings of guilt have such a hold that they’ve dried you up.

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

How many of us can relate to the Ethiopian eunuch? To be busy even when it seems the whole world is on a break? To have so much to tend to, to carry on your shoulders, that you have to keep moving even though it is hot outside?

There is spiritual water that is waiting for you.

We can all relate to the Ethiopian eunuch because we all know what it’s likes to be different, to feel incomplete, to feel constantly on the move.

We all have our hot-afternoon-in-the-desert moments. But we also have our wade-in-the-water moments. Because God knows who we are.

God is not blind, God is not deaf. God sees our situations, God hears our questions. God knows when we feel lost and confused. God knows when we have hit a dry spell, a desert moment.

And God works, God moves, God sends the Spirit to speak to us in ways we would never expect, through people we may not even know.

God works, God moves. God uses words and poetry. In the desert of our life, sometimes simply reading scripture will present pools of water for us to find comfort and refreshment in.

God works, God moves. God finds ways to escort our broken, incomplete selves into cool pools of water in which we can be nourished, given a chance of new life and grow stronger in Christ.

Although at times it may seem as if we’re traveling by ourselves down a desert road, confused by what’s around us, God is finding wonderful ways to bring refreshing water into our life.

We were blessed when we began life in the waters of our mother’s womb. We are blessed by the waters of baptism. And we are blessed whenever God creates an oasis in our lives.

In the spiritual waters of God we experience gifts of wholeness, the promise of fellowship and the wonder of new life. May we all find ways this week to get our bodies, souls and minds wet.

And may we give thanks that there’s no road we can travel in which God is not present, no thirst that Jesus can’t quench, and no imperfection that will prevent the Spirit from moving in our lives.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Wanderings for 05 17 09

Wanderings for May 17, 2009
Acts 10:44 to 11:18

Greetings everyone and Happy Friday.

I feel odd using the phrase "Happy" because I am sure that by now you all have heard the news that we voted at our Annual Meeting to close the church on July 26. That brings a series of emotions that include grief, wonder and worry.

I don't know if it is bittersweet or ironic or encouraging that during this time our lectionary readings come from the book of Acts, which details the beginnings of the church and the movement of the Holy Spirit. This Sunday we’ll hear from Acts 10:44 to 11:18. To truly understand the reading, you need to go back to the beginning of ch. 10.

Here you will find how the author of Acts takes his sweet time telling, and then retelling us the story of Peter and Cornelius and the dream in which God makes all food clean and Peter is shown/told that no one is to be called profane/unclean or to make a distinction between people. This is important stuff, so important the author tells it to us twice, although in different ways.

When the early church was beginning, they could have so easily stuck to the old ways, to the old laws, they could have so easily said they were set apart and above everyone. But instead, due to the teachings of Jesus, the movement of the Spirit and the work of people like Peter, Philip and Paul, it was understood that God's Good News was to be available to all. And in order for that to happen, changes had to be made in how people ate.

Some of the Jewish food laws prohibited people from eating pork, enjoying shell fish or mixing meat and dairy. That would have meant you could not enjoy a good barbeque, you could not eat at Long John Silver's or enjoy a whopper at Burger King. The limit of food would have also meant a limit of interaction with folk. A limit of interaction with folk would have meant a limit of how far the Good News could be spread.

Thank God for Peter's vision, thank God for the new direction, because it has not only allowed the Word to be better heard, but has opened up doors for new relationships and the joys of giving and receiving hospitality.

And, if I know me, and I know you, our ability to share meal, our ability to entertain one another, is just one way God is going to see us through and we will be able to face the next 10 weeks.

May the grace of Jesus be with us all,

Pastor George

* if you want to be e-mailed the weekly Wanderings , contact Pastor George at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wandering for May 10, 2009

Good afternoon everyone. What a beautiful spring day it is: people in shorts, running, biking, having lunch outside. Very pastoral.

This Sunday, our Scripture is taken from the book of Acts, chapter 8, verses 26-40. Our Tuesday Bible Study group just left and I am still buzzing from it.

One thing we talked about was word usage. We often take for granted the words that an author uses to tell a story, but anyone who writes can tell you that word selection is very important and is not done without thought. This was very true for the Biblical writers. They chose which words to use and not use (although we may miss this in the translations). When an author chooses to use a word many times, it can be an indication that he/her is trying to draw out attention to something.

Go ahead and grab your Bible and read the scripture.

Look at verse 26. Where is Philip called to go? Toward the south, on a wilderness road. Some people may have it read "a desert road." Now, think about the word desert. What images comes to play? What makes something a desert?

Now, read from 27-35. Take some time to absorb it in.

Now, take out your pencil and read 36-40. Circle how many times the word "water" appears. I have four times. But wait: if the road is a wilderness road or a desert road, where does the water come from?

What images or thoughts does this bring to mind? If this story was a metaphor, what would you say the water represents? And why would the author mention water four times when he could have done just fine mentioning it once?

Has there ever been a wilderness/desert/dry spell in your life in which refreshment or a chance of new beginnings came along?

What could the author of Acts be trying to say, what is it he is trying to teach us about God, about the Spirit, about Jesus, about ministry, about those we meet along the way?

Just some fun things to think about as we all go on our journeys this week.

Peace, Pastor G

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sermon for May 3, 2009 Psalm 23

May 3, 2009
Scripture: Psalm 23
Sermon: “The With-ness of the Lord”
Rev. George N. Miller

Last week we talked about the sensuality of Luke 24. How the resurrected Jesus is heard, seen, touched and eats. We discussed how Luke not only utilized the body, but the mind and spirit, and we examined the sensuality that exists within this particular Body Of Christ, the church

Last week, we also shared the news that due to finances, I will be leaving July 26, and that at the Annual Meeting we will vote to stay open, close our doors, or follow another option the Spirit presents. It’s sad that we have reached this point.

We’ve accomplished so much, reaching out to the community and to one another. Perhaps if we were a corporate business we could have turned this whole Body around.

Think of successful businesses, how they create customer loyalty. For instance, I will only buy gas at Speedway, purchase last minute supplies at CVS and see movies at Celebration Cinemas.

The reasons are simple: their membership cards. At Speedway if you buy enough slushies you get one free. CVS offers $2 coupons. Celebration Cinemas gives out free passes and popcorn. And I love me some slushies, coupons and popcorn.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that? If we could give everyone a “BCUCC Club Card”? We could attach card swipes to the pews. Every time you worship you swipe the card.

Install card swipes in the Fellowship Hall. Every time you have a cup of coffee, swipe the card. Put a card swipe in the library. For each committee meeting you attend, swipe the card.

But what would the rewards be? For every 10th worship experience you get a free one? For every 10th cup of coffee, one’s on the house? Every 10th committee meeting get a...well, maybe the reward would be that you get to skip a meeting.

What if we came up with a point system that said for every 25,000 points you can skip an offering, every 1,000,000 points you are saved?

We are not a traditional business: we are part of the living, breathing Body of Christ. Unlike Speedway, CVS or Celebration Cinemas, what could we tangibly offer as a reward?

We could alter our theology. We could say our church offers the only true path to salvation. We could say we’re the only righteous ones and if you don’t worship with us you’ll burn in hell.

Or we could say “Worship with us and God will increase your checking account 10 fold.” That would put a spin on today’s tough economy.

There’s a myriad of things we can say or do. But we are not a business. We are members of the UCC and historically and theologically the UCC believes that we are called to use acts of social justice and compassion to assist in making real the Kingdom of God here on earth, not to judge or condemn others.

We worship the Still-Speaking God, the God that loves us, the God that is with us. But is that enough?

Is it enough to simply know that God loves you? Is it enough knowing that God is with you, no matter where you go, no matter where you are on life’s journey?

Is it enough to keep going to church, to continue praising God, to hold onto our faith, to get you through the day? Or do you need something more tangible, like slushies, coupons and popcorn? Listen again to today’s scripture.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff- they comfort me.”

Since age 20, I’ve been a traveling man, living in Minneapolis, Long Island, St. Louis and Grand Rapids. I’ve lived under 9 roofs, in cities and suburbs, on 2 college campuses, by lakes and zoos, by millionaires and those on welfare.

With all that moving, there has been one constant: God. I can say without a doubt that it was God who called me to live in Minnesota, it was God who called me to seminary in St. Louis, and it was most certainly God who lead me to BCUCC.

God and I travel very well. Since I enjoy driving cross country, I often experience God’s presence when I am behind the wheel of a car. God is right beside me. We talk, we laugh, we listen to music, we get swept up in the majesty of the countryside.

And when there’s bad weather or poor visibility, I find myself repeating the opening words of this psalm. It provides comfort, it gives clarity, it encourages me to think straight and drive right.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” I will say, followed by “Ok Lord, shepherd me.” Those simple words gives enough comfort and reason to continue forward, to adjust my wind-shield wiper and speed to get me to where I am going, feeling safe in my travel.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” What a reassuring image, what a marvelous metaphor. As one writer stated, religious metaphors are serious business, becoming the image by which God is seen and understood, drawing on a variety of experiences and evoking our imagination.

No one metaphor could ever sum up our infinite God, Yet, the image of the Lord as shepherd is a powerful one indeed.

The people who first heard this Psalm knew about shepherds. They were living an agrarian life, so shepherds were a part their culture. They knew the role required long hours, and demanded great bravery and skill.

The shepherd’s tasks were many: protect the flock from enemies, lead the sheep to places pregnant with possibility, seek out the lost. But perhaps most important was the role of presence.

The shepherd was present with the flock. The shepherd did not desert the flock. He remained and watched over them. Or as the Psalmist so clearly states “For you are with me.”

Interestingly, in its original Hebrew, the phrase “For you are with me” is in the exact middle of the song, making the notion of with-ness the very center, the very core of this scripture.

With-ness, the presence of God is an important part of the Christian and Jewish narrative. See Genesis 39, when Joseph is sold into slavery, and we’re told God is with him not once, but 4 times.

See Judges 6 when the Lord visits Gideon, the lowliest member of the weakest family and states “Go and deliver your people, I will be with you, and you will be victorious.”

For Christians, the ultimate example of the Lord’s with-ness is Jesus Christ. As Matthew 1:23 states “...’the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us.’”

For Matthew, Jesus being “God With Us” was important. Jesus was “God with Us” when he saw the crowds and began to teach them “Blessed are the poor in spirit....”

Jesus was “God with Us” when the waves were battering the boat and he said to the disciples “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Jesus was “God with Us” when he had compassion on the hungry crowd and fed them with five loaves and two fish.

And it was the resurrected Jesus who closes out the Gospel by saying “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The statement that the Lord is with us is crucial to the testimonies of the Bible. Often times these testimonies occur at moments when hope seems lost: when Joseph is enslaved and so far away from home, when Gideon’s people are victimized by the enemy, when Mary is unwed and pregnant. When Jesus has was nailed to the cross and placed in the tomb.

Those are the times when it seems as if God is the most absent. Those would appear to be the times to give up, assume defeat, and cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

And yet, biblically speaking, it is the complete opposite that transpires. As Joseph, as Gideon, as Mary, as the disciples discover, God is not absent, God has not forsaken them.

In fact God is present and with them in such a manner that God’s presence breaks through reality in a non-traditional way.

Such as when the Lord broke through reality in the form of an infant boy, on a sea besieged by waves, during a picnic in which food was in short supply, and in a garden in which dead people lay.

“For you are with me” becomes the central proclamation of Psalm 23 and what a wonderful proclamation it is. What an appropriate message for us to hear as a congregation.

For as long as the Lord is with us we have hope, as long as the Lord is with us we still have every reason to go on.

For as long as we proclaim the Lord is with us, we hold to the truth that no matter where we journey, no matter where we go, the Good Shepherd is right by our side. Ready to comfort us, ready to lead us, ready to provide restoration.

Slushies, coupons and popcorn are fleeting, what the church has to offer is so much better, for God’s presence is forever.

For you are with me- for me personally, it means if I stay in Grand Rapids or I am called away, the Lord will be by my side.

For you are with me- as a church, it means that regardless if we stay open, or nest with another congregation, go part time or close our doors, the Lord will be by our side.

For you are with me- as individuals, it means that regardless if you are at home or on vacation, if you are in the hospital or a nursing facility, if you are living abroad or away at school, the Lord is with you.

For you are with me- as Christians, it means that regardless if we are in green pastures or dark valleys, if we are beside still waters or in the presence of enemies, the Lord is with us, and is restoring our souls.

No matter what, no matter where, the Good Shepherd is leading us. The Lord is with us and in the with-ness of the Lord we are blessed, in the with-ness we find comfort and in the with-ness we discover that we can never be lost nor will we ever truly be forsaken.

All thanks to the Spirit, not knowing where it will take us, to Jesus who has promised to be with us always, and to God, our great shepherd. Amen.

Sermon for April 26, 2009

April 26, 2009
Scripture: Luke 24:36-49
Sermon Title: “The Body of Christ”
Rev. George N. Miller

Life is sensual. Unless you were born with a disability or involved in an accident, you’ve been blessed with at least five ways to experience Creation: touch, taste, sight, sound, smell.

These senses allow us to particapte in a world that is wonderfully sensual. Just think of Spring. We see colors, smell flowers, hear the songs of returning birds, feel the sun upon our skin, and hopefully participate in at least one BBQ.

Being created in the image of God makes us more then just sensual beings, we are also spiritual and intellectual.

Our sensuous body, our thinking mind, our spiritual soul are all interconnected in a dance in which neither one is more important then the other.

The body can not be separated from the mind, the mind can not be separated from the spirit. When one part suffers so do the others, when one part soars, it lifts up the other two.

If you’ve known anyone with Alzheimer’s you’ve seen that as their memory is lost the body changes form and the spirit starts to diminish.

Two people in the hospital with the exact same condition? One gets visited by family and friends, prayed for by clergy. The other has no one coming by. Which one will keep a more positive spirit? Which one will maintain a sharper mind? Which one will heal better?

Send a hungry child to school and see how they struggle to learn, and how it affects their mood. Give that child a hot meal and see how their behavior changes and their grades improve.

We are sensuous beings. Our body, mind and spirit are entwined, each a part of living a fully realized life. And I believe Luke understood this.

Read Luke’s gospel and you’ll discover ways in which the author includes not just the senses but mind and soul into his account of the Good News.

If Mark writes like a frantic mother sending her kid to school with an energy drink, Luke writes like a mother who’s been cooking all day, has set the table with candles, has Sinatra on the stereo and is saying “Sit and eat, manga.”

Sensuality seeps into Luke’s story. Jesus is not just born, he’s conceived in the womb, wrapped in bands of cloth, and placed in a manger. He is circumcised, and held. He grows strong, but Jesus is not just a body: his mind is filled with wisdom, his spirit experiences temptation, he eats, he drinks, he weeps.

Jesus uses his body to reach out to other bodies. He uses stories and teachings to reach out to minds. He cares for the soul by forgiving sins, speaking peace when no peace exists, and telling folk to not be troubled by worldly issues.

But just as sensually and fully as Jesus lived, that is how the authorities tried to destroy him.

They abused his body, they played mind games, they tried to break his spirit through humiliation. Ultimately, they assumed death would be the only way to stop him.

But the authorities were wrong. Not even death could contain Jesus, for God would vindicate his Son.

Luke, being an master storyteller, makes Jesus’s resurrection just as sensual as his birth and life. “Look,” he has Jesus say, “Look at my hands and feet. See that it is me. Touch. Touch me and see.”

He has Jesus eating a piece of fish, and afterwards he says Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to help them understand.

That is part of what we are learn from Luke: that the resurrected Christ can’t be separated from the baby that was wrapped in cloth and cradled in the arms of Simeon.

That the resurrected Christ can not be separated from the rabbi who told stories, shared meals, forgave sins and healed bodies.

And that the ministry of Jesus could not be stopped, for against all expectations, Christ continues to live on, not just in the Resurrection. But in the church.

More then the stones the church is built from, more then the wood we sit upon, the church is indeed the Body of Christ, one way by which Christ continues to be present to the world today.

The church is a living entity. And because it is living, it is sensuous.

Have you ever thought of the church that way before? As sensually alive?

There is the physical body. The architecture, the stained glass, the candles, the rooms.

The church is sensuous in touch. The Passing of the Peace, the breaking of the bread.

The church is sensuous in sound. The tinkling of the keyboard, the lifting up of voices in song, the footsteps of children in Sunday School.

The church is sensuous in taste. The celebration of Communion, chili cook-offs, and bake sales.

The church is sensuous in smell. Coffee brewing in morning, food in the oven, flowers on Easter.

The church, as the Body of Christ, is a living entity and it is more then just sensual, it is spiritual, and it is intellectual.

There is the mind: Sunday school, Bible Study, and after school programs.

There is the spirit: the Word read and preached, the sacraments shared, the assurance of forgiveness, the peace of knowing one is not alone in this world.

The church is a living, sensuous entity. But one of the realities of being sensuous is the reality of death.

Flowers, as beautiful as they are, at some point die. Trees, no matter how majestic, at some point fall. People, no matter how dear to our heart, at some point take their final breathe.

And if churches are indeed sensuous, they also have a life span, each one different then the next.

Our church is dealing with its own issues of sensuality and existence. This is our 85th year. We’ve had our share of trials and tribulations. But somehow, the church has found a way to survive.

Over the past few years there has been new life: a community food pantry, after school and summer programs, two choirs, a Veteran’s Corner, a craft group, a softball team, concerts, block parties, trick-o-treating, Men’s Group, Peace Garden. Children laughing, learning and singing.

All these things became part of the church’s body, mind and soul.

But as much as we have grown, as a body we have suffered. People have left or stopped coming. Many have died or can’t physically be here. Diminished finances make it hard to take care for the body.

And when the body becomes weak, it’s hard for the spirit to continue. The faithful who have remained have worked so hard, so long, that many are tired and drained, resulting in lower energy. Events have smaller turn out. Emotions for some have become charged, while others have become downcast.

Where the body and soul go, so goes the mind. Maybe that’s why it seems like attendance for the Bible Studies have hit a plateau, while no new children are attending our after school program.

What do we do, where do we go? Is this church, as part of the Body of Christ, to continue living, is it to die or to be placed on hospice?

Today, after service and our group photo, we have the task of truthfully discussing the future of this particular body of Christ, and that is how we are encouraged to approach the dialogue: that this is Christ’s church, an extension of his body, and with any body there is celebration and joy, there is also grief and loss.

But know this: no matter what happens Christ will still live on. That is, after all, the meaning of the Resurrection. That even when the powers that be tried to silence Jesus with death, he was still vindicated with an Easter voice.

The Resurrection Experience means that though we may be faced with what seems like a deafening “No”, God finds a way to introduce a loud “Yes!”

That when something seems like an end, God introduces a new beginning.

That when something appears as a discontinuation, God steps in and offers transformation.

Nothing can stop the work of God in the world. Nothing can stop the Resurrected Christ from appearing in our lives.

No matter what happens to this particular body, the whole Body of Christ remains, finding new ways to continue being present, new ways to move, new ways to make God’s voice heard in the world.

We should be proud that not only have we been a part of this particular body of Christ, but that we are part of the universal Body of Christ no matter where we go, no matter what we do.

And in that there is comfort, and in that remains the Good News: that as long as we continue to see, touch, smell, hear, taste, as long as we continue to be of body, mind and spirit, Christ continues to work, the Spirit continues to move, God continues to rule and we can continue to be present to one another and to the world as part of Christ’s Magnificent Body.

Thanks be to the Spirit that fills our very beings, thanks be to God who molded us in a holy image and thanks be to Jesus Christ who was born, lived, died and resurrected as a sensuous being.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Wanderings for May 3, 2009

It's Friday, the (almost) end of the week. And it's May 1. Where did April go? This Sunday we hear from Psalm 23. Easily the most well known Psalm. Perhaps the most well known scripture all all of the Bible. One author called Psalm 23 an "American Icon."

It is a deeply familiar scripture, with many deep meanings. Today I wish us to not so much focus on Psalm 23, but Psalm 23 in the context of what comes before and after it.

You know what this means. Go 'head and grab your Bible. Turn to Psalm 23. Read just the first line: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Nice, right? But go to Psalm 22. Read the first line: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Dang! That is deep and full of despair. Now flip to Psalm 24. Read the first line: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it"

Wow. Look at that transition the Psalms make:
"My God, my god, why have you forsaken me" to "The Lord is my shepherd" to "To earth is the Lords' and all that is in it".

What can we learn from this? Perhaps the reality of grief, the stages of faith, the fruits of truthfulness.

Faith is not about praising God during the good times. It is about crying out to God during the bad. It is also about groaning out to God under the pressure of life, reminding God of who God is, letting God know when we think God's not doing the best job. Faith is also about transitions.

Read all of Psalm 22. Hear how brutally honest the psalmist is. Here his wounds, listen for her pain. Listen to the admission of despair. Then note how even as dogs surround the singer, hope begins to emerge. In the honest emotions, light shines through, deliverance goes from a distant reality to a hoped-for reality. And then move to Psalm 23. How peace and tranquility steps in, but look: even here are dark valleys and enemies, but God is right there, not so far away. Perhaps it was the tears of Psalm 22 that created the still waters and overflowing cup in Psalm 23. Then read Psalm 24. What a proclamation! Heads are lifted up, blessings are received, God is the one who is ultimately in control.

These three Psalms speak great truth. They spoke truth back then, they speak truth today, and they will speak truth for all time.

God is with us, even when we feel forsaken, even when we are by green pastures, even when our heads are lifted up. And for that we shall all give thanks.

Amen, Pastor G