Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sermon for June 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and amen.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wanderings for 06 21 09

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

Good afternoon everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In love and grace,

Rev. George Miller

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sermon for June 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well bring him in,” Samuel says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps David was something like a balloon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and amen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wanderings for June 14, 2009

Good Friday everyone: it's a beautiful day. The Gladys and John Kapenga Community Peace Garden is looking great. The flowers have been watered and are thriving, the birds and squirrels have been feasting upon the seeds and the fence David created is just the perfect touch to welcome folk and (in the fall) to remind them that we were here. With my office windows open I can hear kids playing and a neighbor fixing his car/revving the engine.

Life, for this moment, is good. And let us not forget that little Kayla is having her feeding tub taken out today, which is certainly good news for her and her family.

This Sunday we are journeying back into the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 16:1-13 introduces us to a young person named David. He is the youngest and most seemingly inconsequential of an inconsequential family in a tiny, teeny town. As the author of "The Message" describes David, he's a "runt."

Yet this runt of a son/brother is the one God chooses to become the next King of God's people, and this runt from a nobody family will also become the greatest king Israel ever knew, and the king that all others will be compared to.

Yet again, it's a story of how God surprises us, and how God sees not with human eyes, but with God's eyes: eyes that see not just the physical, but the emotional, the spiritual, the gifts, the strengths, the flaws and the works in progress.

I had a friend who use to pray "God, teach me how to love myself the way you love me." I think you could also change that to "God, help me to see myself the way you see me."

How do you believe God is seeing you, and how can you allow that to shape and inform how you see yourself, as well as those around you?

Have a blessed day, and let us also keep in our prayers those who have not been feeling so well lately: Gladys Kapenga, Mary Louise Johnson, Marv Timmerman and Mary Jane Everett.

Peace and joy,

Rev. George Miller

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sermon for June 7, 2009

June 7, 2009
Scripture: John 3:1-17
Sermon Title: “From Darkness Into Light”
Rev. George N. Miller

It was one those moments. A moment in which you have no choice but to be fully present. The sun was still out. The crowd was still there. Nicodemus and Joseph did not care.

After Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit, after the soldiers were sure he was dead, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could have the body.

It was an unusual request. Usually the body of criminals were left up for wild dogs and vultures to eat, sending a message to other troublemakers.
No one asked for the body of a crucified man.
Pilate, perhaps surprised at the man’s audacity, gave the OK.

Nicodemus had with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, a hundred pounds worth. It was a testament to his wealth. It was a testament to his love for Jesus. And before the sun could set the two men began to work.

Usually a man such as Nicodemus would never touch a dead body right before the Holiest Day of the year, rendering himself unclean, but he didn’t care. What he cared about was showing Rabbi Jesus the respect he deserved.

Nicodemus and Joseph took the spices, applying it to Jesus’ hands: hands that healed the sick, hand that fed the hungry and reached out to the lonely.

They took the spices, applying it to his feet: feet that traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from mountaintops to water wells.

They took spices, applying it to his mouth: lips that proclaimed good news, lips that spoke words of forgiveness, lips that smiled upon the people.

They took spices, anointing Jesus’ entire body, a body that was indeed a temple, a living, walking, embodiment of God’s Wisdom, Torah and Grace.

When done, Nicodemus and Joseph wrapped Jesus in a linen cloth, filling it with more spices, and then, while still in the sunshine, for all to see, they lovingly placed him inside a brand new tomb.

And here they were, showing radical hospitality to a dead body. This Joseph of Arimathea who once secretly followed Jesus, afraid of what others would do. This Nicodemus, a Pharisee who once visited Jesus under the cover of night, when everyone else was asleep.

Somehow, even after the violence of the cross, these two men lost their fear and boldly displayed their love for Jesus in an act of profound grief. But what was it that made them do this?

We don’t know much about Joseph, but we’ve met Nicodemus twice before. The first time in John 3, when he pays Jesus a nighttime visit.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a once radical branch of Judaism.

Pharisees were the ones who took worship of God out of the Temple and brought it into the people’s homes. They declared that if people obeyed the ritual purity laws of the temple priests then any place could become sacred, the dining room table could become an altar, and no matter where a person wandered, God was right by their side.

In their beliefs the Pharisees found profound comfort, but over the centuries, the Pharisees began to gain power and to condemn those who didn’t correctly follow the purity laws.

Which is why Jesus bothered them so. Here was a new rabbi stirring up trouble: hanging out with unclean folk, turning water into wine for drunken party goers, and most recently driving vendors out of the temple. What would he do next?

Nicodemus wanted to find out, so he paid Jesus a visit. But to make sure no one else knew about it, he traveled under the cover of night, while everyone else was asleep.

“Rabbi,” he stated, “We know you’re a teacher who has come from God; no one can do what you do apart from the presence of God.”

It seemed like straightforward comment, but Jesus responded with what sounded like a riddle. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anothen.”

Anothen was a tricky word since it had at least two meanings: it could mean “from above” or “again.” Either way it made no sense. Nicodemus took his best shot: “How can an old man be born again? Can I reenter my mother’s tummy?”

Jesus continued the riddle “No one can enter God’s kingdom without being born of water and Spirit...the wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it goes.”

“How can this be,” the old Pharisee asked, to which Jesus responded “You’re a teacher, and yet you don’t understand?”

For Nicodemus it was a very odd moment, one that left more questions then answers. So as the moon still hung in the sky, he made his way back across town, pondering all that Jesus has said.

Though it didn’t make sense at the time, that late night meeting transformed him forever. The idea of being born again or from above giving him hours of deep religious introspection that brought him closer to God, introspection that brought him closer to Jesus, introspection that began replacing his nighttime fears with fearlessness and faith.

What Jesus said got under Nicodemus’s skin, into his soul, changing his actions. By chapter 7, as the Good Ol’ boys are trying to arrest Jesus, it’s Nicodemus who stands up and says “This is wrong: our law doesn’t give us the right to judge people without a fair trial.” To which he’s ridiculed and accused of being low class.

Truly, the wind of change was blowing in Nicodemus’s life, a wind that was bringing him closer to Christ even if it meant creating a division amongst his friends; a wind of change that allowed him to speak words of social justice in front of folk; a wind of change that Jesus had talked about one night not so long ago.

Knowing Jesus, having an encounter with him in the darkness of night was a turning point for our man Nicodemus. A moment in which he would never, could never be the same.

That can happen when we meet Jesus in the dark moments of our own lives. We’ve all had dark moments, haven’t we? Moments when the sun has seemed to set in our lives. Moments when it seems like everyone else is sleeping soundly and we have a restless soul. Moments when our mind just goes and goes, refusing to shut off.

Moments of darkness, when we are up late, worrying about how the bills are going to get paid. Moments of darkness when we worry about our health or the fate of a loved one. Moments when our past feels too broken and our future too uncertain and we can’t find rest.

Those are sad, lonely moments. When we don’t know what we can do, we don’t know what we should do, we’re not even sure if anything we can do will make a difference.

Those are moments that don’t seem to make any sense, forcing us to wrestle with the very core of what we believe, wondering if God could even exist. Some people get lost in those moments, wandering deeper into a wilderness of despair.

But you know what: those are often the moments when Jesus is the most present. Those moments of dark night, when Jesus our teacher, our healer, our friend, is right there, ready to speak to us, ready to reach out, ready to offer a chance of transformation.

Sometimes, like Nicodemus, we have to find a way to make it to where Jesus is. Sometimes it’s Jesus making himself known in an unmistakable way. And sometimes, like in today’s reading, Jesus speaks in a manner that may not fully make sense, but in reflection, brings about change.

I think of my life, my moments of darkness. The times of unemployment, the separation from family, and how in each of those moments I can look back and see how the face of Christ, the hand of God, the blowing of the Spirit was moving and transforming, even if I was unable to see it.

I think back to my ministry, of how much has taken place in the night. Back in April when Bev died and at 4 am in the morning Nila and I drove to the hospital to pay our respects.

An overnight at St. Louis Hospital in which I sat with a family as their son was on life support, eating cold hamburgers and soggy fries, talking about God, faith and “Touched by An Angel.”

My most powerful night experience was in 1996. My father has just died and I was working the overnight at St Joseph’s Home for Children. There was a baby who was born addicted to crack, and at 2 a.m. the child, going through the painful throes of withdrawal, began to cry and cry. In all my life it was the most horrifying sound I heard.

All alone, numb from my father’s death, I had no idea what to do. I went into the child’s room, picked him up, and sat on living room steps, cradling him in my arms, and singing a song.

It was one of those nighttime moments. I didn’t know what was exactly going on, but there was healing. It was as if by comforting a crying child the healing of the broken son inside of me began, and my wounded heart was able to comfort the withdrawal pains of that innocent baby boy. Soon his cries subsided and he fell asleep.

In that moment, Christ was present. Both Christ who heals and Christ who was crucified, both the Christ who wept for Lazarus and the Christ who said “Do not weep, for she’s not dead.”

It was at the darkest time of night, when no one else was around and it was one of the most real moments I have ever lived.

Jesus has the most amazing ways of making himself known. Jesus appears to us and speaks to us when we are least expecting it, and Jesus will speak to us in ways we may not understand or like to hear. But nevertheless, Jesus speaks, and in that moment, transformation begins.

Transformation that brings us from darkness into light, transformation that gives us the courage to speak even when others don’t agree.

Transformation that allows us to do what is right and what is true. We saw that transformation take place in Nicodemus.

After Jesus was humiliated and killed on the cross, when others would have left his body to the dogs, Nicodemus found a way to do something, to boldly act in the afternoon sun.

Nicodemus, with the help of Joseph, found a way to pay tribute to Jesus’ temple, by caring for it, bathing it in fragrant spices, wrapping it in linen and placing it in a newly made tomb.

And in that act of love, in that act of radical hospitality, they helped set the stage for God’s greatest miracle of all and the very beginning of our faith: the resurrection.

Because of Nicodemus’ journey from the darkness into the light, we too got to discover just how, on that Easter morn, no amount of darkness, no amount of secrecy can ever cover up the light that is Christ.

How has Jesus helped bring you into the light?

Thanks be to God the creator, Jesus our Savior and the Spirit which empowers us in each moment of the day.

Amen and amen.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wanderings for July 7, 2009

How have you grown? What has Jesus meant to you? What would you be willing or able to do today that you could not have imagined yourself doing a year ago, five years ago, before Jesus came into your life, before you fully basked in his sunshine?

One of the joys of being a Christian is finding the faith and strength to face things that ordinarily would have scared us, to try things we thought we would never be good enough to do, and to challenge those who wish to shroud the land in darkness.

But it can also be scary: to be the one to stand up, to be the one to act, to try that new thing, to stretch as a person, as a sibling of Christ, as a child of God, as a benefactor of the Spirit.

But if we have not changed, if we have not grown, then we have not fully embraced the relationship with Jesus that is being fully offered.

One person who did was Nicodemus, the Pharisee. He goes toe to toe with Jesus in this Sunday's scripture, John 3:1-17. In the dark of night, when no one can see him, good old Nico' visits Jesus and ends up engaging in mysterious word-play that he does not fully "get" at the moment, and word play which still leaves some scholars scratching their head.

But faith is not always about understanding, faith also comes in the wrestling, in the act of trying to figure things out. And apparently, Nico's encounter with Jesus made an impression because the next time we see him, Nico' is standing up for Jesus even when the powers that be are trying to arrest him (John 7:45-52). Of course, Nico gets slammed in the process with an "Oh no you didn't: comment.

But that doesn't stop him, for the next time we see Nicodemus is right after Jesus has been killed, and it is Nico with Joseph of Armithea who ask for Jesus' body, who anoint it, who wrap it in linen, who place it in the tomb. And Nico uses not just a mixture of myrrh and aloes to care for Jesus, but a 100 pounds worth, a sign not only of his wealth but his devotion to Jesus.

Nicodemus not only becomes a great role-model of a way in which to grieve, but also a great role-model on how one can grow in Christ. When we first see him he is secretly visiting Jesus in the dark of night, but he grows and matures into someone who is able to stand up for what is right, and into someone who is not afraid to act in the daylight, for all to see, showing his love for Jesus.

May we all be like Nicodemus, may we all find ways to embrace how much we have spiritually grown and the ways we can reach out to show and profess our faith.

In love and abundance,

Pastor G