Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sermon for Jan 31, 2010, Jeremiah 1:4-10

Rev. George N. Miller
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Jan 31, 2010
Time. A difficult concept to fully grasp. What is it, this invisible idea that doesn’t really exist except as a human construct?
You can’t see it You can’t store it. You can’t control it. Time, if it does exist at all, simply moves on, ever forward, ever ahead. This is called chronos time, or human time.
If you’re not careful, chronos time can dominate your life. As a former New Yorker, time was of the essence. There was a specific time in which the train left, which meant a specific time you had to get to the station, leave the house, and wake up.
For my father, who worked as a City cop, that meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. train to make it to his precinct. Then getting off work at 4 to catch the 4:30 train to be home by 6 p.m. And do it all again the next day and the next.
When you are raised in a house in which life is based around such a schedule, everything else becomes schedule-based and time-fixated. For example, we knew days in advance what film we were going to see, and when it was showing. We left for church 45 minutes before service began to get the best seat.
Rush rush rush, move move move, plan ahead plan ahead plan ahead. Exhausting.
So it was refreshing to move to the Midwest and the Midsouth where time took on a different element. Life in Minnesota and Missouri wasn’t such much about when you’re going to get there, but who’ll you’ll be hanging out with while doing whatever it is you’re doing.
With no hyper mass transit, time was allowed to unfold in a more organic way. Sit. Relax. Have a cup of coffee, black. Enjoy a cookie, sugar Share a story. Play in the snow. Walk in the park.
The only time that truly mattered was time spent with family and friends.
I liked learning that. The chance to slow down. Enjoy. Not rush or force. But be.
I have grown to have an affinity for what’s known as Kyros time, or God’s time. Kyros time, I would like to think, is much more relaxed then chronos time. It’s the idea that things will unfold as they unfold, they can not be rushed, they can not be prompted.
Kyros time is a way of saying, relax, chill, God’s an "on time God" who may not act when you want, but God will always arrive on time.
Kyros time allows and invites the miraculous and unexpected. Back against the Red Sea? Guess what: God is parting it right now. Your brother Lazarus just died? Hold on, Jesus will be there in three days to raise him from the grave.
Kyros time can also expect us to wait. Your candle is burning out, Look! Here comes the Bridegroom. You don’t have any children Abraham and Sarah? Well just wait a few decades and you will have a beautiful boy who will bless the nations.
But then, but then there is the Kyros time in which there’s no waiting involved, but happens NOW!
Moses: free my people! Mary: carry the Christ-child. Gideon: lead the army.
Kyros time can let you luxuriously sail along, can make you wait until you think you will break, or will drop upon you in an instant, demanding you to change your life and the view of yourself in a heartbeat.
Case in point is Jeremiah. Here we have the prophet to be, a young boy, the son of a priest at a time in history in which everything is about to fall apart. Scholars suggest that he’s only 13 yrs old.
God comes to the teenage Jeremiah saying "Before I created you I knew you. Before you were born I set you aside to do my will. You are a prophet to all the world."
Dang. That’s a tall order for anyone to hear. Little Jerry speaks up "Ah, ummmm...listen God. Me don’t talk so good, I’m just a lil’ tater-tot."
But God is not easily dismayed. "Don’t sell yourself short. I don’t care how old you are. Don’t be afraid: you can do this because I will send you to whom you need to be sent and I will tell you what words to say."
God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says "NOW. Now I have put my words in your mouth, I appoint you over the nations to overthrow and build up."
That’s a huge assignment to give such a young person, especially one so unsure of himself. And it’s not as assignment to be completed in the next year or next decade.
It is to be done NOW. Not tomorrow, not next week. Not after joining the debate club or taking a class on elocution.
But NOW. As in this moment, with the skills and talents you got.
Yes sir, God’s time can be just like that.
And when it happens, it takes courage to step up and say "Here I am Lord."
Even though it’s not always easy. As Jeremiah, Moses, Mary, Gideon, and most certainly Jesus would discover.
But why does God do it? Why call upon someone so young, so inexperienced to do such work?
Why call upon someone who’s not even seeking the call?
Weren’t there learned scholars? Weren’t there experienced orators? Weren’t there political activists looking for the right cause to support?
Of course there were. But if God had called them, wouldn’t people have been listening more to the messenger then the message?
No, God calls teenage Jeremiah, and God calls him for NOW. There was a task that needed to be done, a task to be accomplished.
God didn’t wait for Jeremiah to be transformed to do the task, but allowed the task at hand to do the transformation. And therein lies the power of NOW.
Who knows exactly why God chose Jeremiah. It is an initiative that God has the right to, based on God’s free will and grace. It is God choosing the one who others may think is undeserving. It is God choosing the lowly to accomplish God’s will, not those seeking the fame and glory.
Perhaps it is also God choosing those who will at first refuse, because only a megalomaniac would accept such a responsibility at first thought.
Or perhaps God knows that if the inexperienced and undervalued are the one’s doing Gods work, then it’s more likely God who will get the glory.
And to ensure the inexperience has not been ruined by perfectionism, the time becomes NOW.
NOW to do Gods work, NOW to answer the call.
That sense of calling the unexpected, complete with that sense of urgency happens various places in the Bible. In Exodus God calls Moses to deliver the slaves. Moses hems and haws, coming up with reasons why not, inferring that he can’t speak properly.
Patiently God hears their arguments, but by 4:10 when Moses says "I’ve never been eloquent, not in the past, not now" God cuts him off and says "Who do you think gave people words and allows others to hear those words? NOW go and I will teach you what to say."
God ain’t interested in what Moses couldn’t do in the past. God’s interested in what he can do through and with Moses NOW.
If you want to talk about the lowly being made high, look at Jesus and the way Matthew tells the story. The word NOW pops up all over the place. Jesus goes to be baptized by John, but when John tries to back out of it, Jesus says "Let it be so NOW."
In chapter 4 Jesus doesn’t wait until things are perfect to begin his ministry, but when things don’t look so good. "Now," Matthew tells us, "when Jesus heard that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee...from that time (he) began to proclaim ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.’" (Matthew 4:12, 17). In other words "The Kingdom of God is NOW."
The feeding of the 5,000 take place after a NOW moment, and the promise of resurrected Christ begins by telling us that "now the eleven disciples went to Galilee" and ends with a promise from Christ "I am with you always, to the end of the age."
In other words, "I am with you NOW."
NOW. The only time that truly matters. The only time we truly have. The past is over and gone, the future is ye to happen and never promised. What is promised is Christ’s presence in the NOW and that NOW is always.
God calls, and I believe God calls everyone to do various things that only we can do. But God does not always wait until we are at our most prepared or best equipped, nor does God call us to do the things we think we’re the best at.
But God does call. Sometimes it is through that still small voice we hear when we try to sleep. Or God calls through that burning bush that catches our attention. Or God calls when someone with the Christ in them approaches us to do a task for the Kingdom’s glory.
And our human nature often makes us say "Who? Me? No, not yet. I don’t have the talents, I don’t have the gifts, I don’t have the proper training, I didn’t have the right voice, I’m too shy, I never gave it any thought, I’m the least of the least of these."
But perhaps, if we recall the Call of Jeremiah, if we hold onto the calls of folk like Moses and Mary, if we hold onto the Gospel message that delights in taking place in the NOW as opposed to the later, we can each find our own way to say "Yes Lord. Here I am Lord. NOW"
Because when we do we receive the promise that God will be right by our side, God will be our strength, and though the times may be tough, there will be joy in the process.
And in answering the call to NOW with a "NOW it is" we can glory in knowing that we have been consecrated by God and part of a process that has torn down the ways of chronos old to bring forth birth of the Kyros new.
All thanks and honor be to the Spirit that moves where it may, the Son who walks with us in our NOW and for God who is able all constructs humans have placed on time.
Amen and amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sermon from 11/22/2009 Psalm 93

Nov 22, 2009
Psalm 93
"Achingly Beautiful"
Rev. George Miller
Greetings and good morning. I give honor to God, thanks for this church, your pastor and the members of the search committee for inviting me here.
I want to begin our message with a song. The Psalms invites us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, and since I can’t sing, a joyful noise is exactly what I make. But guess what: you’re going to help me.
It’s a song I assume most of you know, perhaps having sung it as a child: "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." We’re not just going to sing it, we’re going to act it out. Here are the words and movement, and let’s hear how much joyful noise we can make.
The wise man built his house upon the rock(3x)
And the rains came tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up(3x)
And the house on the rock stood strong
The foolish man built his house upon the sand(3x)
And the rains came tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up(3x)
And the house on the sand went splat!
Ok, now let’s all join in singing. (Repeat song)
A joyful noise indeed. Join me for a moment of centering prayer. (Pray)
Two weeks ago in MI the Grand Rapids Press ran an article honoring women who were making a difference in the community. One such person was Leslie Curry, director of Legal Aid.
Leslie was asked to share her life lesson, and she replied "Life is fragile and unfair, but achingly beautiful. Be appreciative."
Life is fragile and unfair, but achingly beautiful.
That statement fits so well with today’s reading. Here we have a Psalm that balances two realities: God is the Lord of the world, and yet waters thunder, roar and break upon the shore.
As someone who’s originally from LI, I feel a special connection to the water. I think anyone who grows up near the ocean does. And I’ve come to realize that swimming in the ocean is an art form. Unlike a pool or a calm lake you can’t just swim in the ocean, you have to learn how to swim with the ocean.
You have to gage the waves, knowing which ones to jump over, which ones to dive under, which ones to bodysurf in to the shore.
You have to keep your eyes on the blanket, to make sure the current hasn’t pulled you far away, while at the same time being aware of the waves behind you.
In other words, the ocean is a force that can be unfair. When stepping into liquid you become the one who’s fragile. But at the same time the ocean is achingly beautiful and worthy of appreciation.
Now, I have to be honest with you, as much as I love the ocean I’m also scared by it. I blame some of my fear upon movies like "Jaws." But it also stems from an incident that happened years ago.
My family was at Smith Point Beach and I was playing in the water when I stepped into the surf and felt a big bite or tug on my leg.
I immediately screamed out, my imagination running wild. Was it a crab? A shark? The pain in my foot was intense. My father raced into the water, pulling me out.
The culprit was discovered: a mass of tar, stones and long, sharp spiky that jutted out. One of the spikes had pierced the sole of my foot.
My father carried me to the 1st Aid center, then to the hospital where under a bright light they scraped away the remains of the rock.
Though the pain has gone away, the memory has not. Nor the sense of fragility and unfairness of that experience. Causing me, even to this day, to carefully step into water.
The sea is a place of wonder and life. But as beautiful as it can be, the sea is also destructively dangerous with tsunamis, hurricanes, and monsters from the deep.
This is one way the Biblical writers approached the concept of water. They didn’t view the sea as a place for recreation or a spot to build your summer home. The sea was a thing to be feared.
Especially in the OT, water was used to represent death, the unknown, and chaos.
When Ps 93 makes references to waves it’s not to be read as an invitation to go grab your surfboard, but as a warning to be afraid and seek refuge.
The Jewish community knew all about chaotic fragility. After all, they were once slaves who were pursued to the Red Sea. In the Promised Land they had to deal with poor leadership, threats from outside nations, and an exile in which their homes and Temple were destroyed.
In short, their existence was fragile and unfair, with wave after wave trying to wipe them away and loosen their faith in God.
Hence today’s Scripture. It’s purpose is to make the stunning assertion that even in the storms of life, God is ultimately in control.
Reread Psalm 93 and you’ll experience just how powerful it is in getting its point across. Only five verses long, the first two verses focus on God, the mighty king who is strong and majestic.
But the next two verses poetically introduce the chaos of life. Hear how the NRSV puts it:
"The floods have lifted up...
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their roaring."
Repetition is used to create a sense of movement as the waves crash upon the shore, as they rise, get louder, sounding like a lion. It seems as if there is no pause from the chaos they bring.
If you’ve been to the ocean on a windy day, you know what that’s like. Who here has heard the sound of angry waves?
Who also knows what it’s like to experience those waves in your own life? I’m talking about those times when chaos seems to rule supreme.
Maybe, if you’re like me, you just wrote out your bills for the month and have no idea where the money for next month will come from. That’s a financial storm that can quickly pull you out to sea and drown you if you’re not careful.
Maybe you’ve watched, feeling helpless, as the waves have come and washed away something that meant very much to you, be it a relationship or a job, and it’s gone forever, out to sea.
Maybe you feel as if you’re sitting on the shore and the sun has set on that aspect of your life and you have no idea when the next sunrise will come and what the current will do next.
Will it bring a better situation then the one you just left, or a situation that is much worse?
If you step into the water will you be able to play and have fun, or will you step upon something that will send pain throughout your soul?
Maybe you’re worried about current events: the government, the economy, our children’s future.
The waves have eroded away things that once were so familiar. And they keep thundering down, changing your surroundings into something unfamiliar and unsure.
Anyone who lives in a coastal town knows about dunes disappearing and houses being swept into the sea.
Is that what’s happening to society around us? To our local communities? To our churches?
What’s going to ultimately happen? Will chaos have the final say? How scared should we be?
With wave after wave thundering down, is life nothing but fragile unfairness? (Pause)
Psalm 93 boldly says no. Why? Because as the final verse tells us, God is ultimately in control, God’s ways are sure, and God is majestic. Not just today, not just tomorrow, but forevermore.
God is the great constant in our lives. And this statement, as simple as it sounds, is astoundingly powerful. Because it makes the promise that no matter what, no matter who, no matter where you are on life’s journey, God is your strength, your rock, and your everlasting.
As Psalm 93 proclaims God is Lord of all, so much so that even the waters have no choice but to give their honor and respect.
And that is the foundation and testimony of God’s people. Yes, life is fragile and unfair. But if that’s all you focus on, that’s all you will see.
The Biblical writers instead placed their emphasis on the moments when God broke through the raging waters to do something marvelously new.
For example, when the Israelites find theirs backs against the Red Sea, what happens? God parts the waters for them and they pass through the chaos, into freedom.
Don’t forget about the Gospels. Matthew and Mark tell us of a time when the disciples climbed into a boat and sailed to the other side of the sea.
Night falls and there’s a terrible storm that batters the boat, throwing it violently side to side. The waves are crashing down and the scared disciples are straining at the oars.
But as the sun begins to rise, they look out into the horizon and see Jesus, coming towards them, walking on the water, saying "Don’t be afraid."
He joins them in the boat, the wind stops, the waves cease, and they are saved. (PAUSE)
Jesus’ walking on the water shows his majesty over chaos. And Jesus does that for us as well.
When we are facing our own life storms, the waves barreling down upon us, we can look towards Christ. And we do not need to be afraid.
Because God through Christ will speak to us and say "Take my hand. This wave is not as bad as you think. Let’s jump over it."
Or Christ says "Don’t let yourself get knocked down, let’s jump through this one."
And there will be some waves in which Jesus will say "Let’s not fight this one, but let’s swim with it to the shore, and trust me when I say that you’ll emerge from the wave just fine."
And sometimes Jesus says "The waves have taken you too far away from your parent’s blanket. Let’s swim closer to safety."
Yes, God through the works of the Spirit and the presence of Christ finds ways to quiet the rough waters in our lives, giving us the chance to face and even re-imagine our situations.
Last week I came to a realization. My story about stepping on the sharp rocks in the ocean? The pain and fear I experienced may be how I recalled the event, but that wasn’t the true story at all. Do you know what the real story is?
That my father saved me.
When I screamed out in pain, it was my father who came to my aid. Without hesitation he was by my side. What if it had been a shark or there were other rocks he could have stepped on?
My father’s love was so great that he rushed into the waves, pulling me out of the water and carrying me in his arms. He was by my side the whole time the doctor scraped away at my foot.
For too long I viewed that day from the viewpoint of pain and chaos. But the true story is not about the rocks, but it’s about the actions of my loving parent who heard my cry and rushed to my aid.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if you are wise or foolish, if you live upon a rock or a sandy dune, the rains of life will come down, the floods will go up , bringing with them crashing waves. That is a given.
But the greater given is that God hears our cries and comes to our salvation.
Be it economics, major life changes or current affairs, the floods of life will thunder. But like waves upon the shore they last but a moment before being swept back out to sea.
For today, let’s not give any more power to the frail unfairness of life. Instead let us recall all the ways God hears and acts in our lives.
Let’s celebrate that when the waters rise, we can depend upon God, because it is God who is real. It is God who is the great constant.
And it is God that even the waters of life must submit too, for their unfair fragility can not compare to the beautiful presence of our Lord.
All thanks be to the Spirit that first moved upon the waters of Creation, for Jesus who walked upon a raging a sea and for God who has established the world so that it will never be moved.
Amen and amen.

Sermon from 11/01/2009 Ruth 1:1-8

Nov. 1, 2009
"Moving Forward with God"
Ruth 1:1-18
Rev. George N. Miller
"Go back!" These words are spoken 12 times in the first chapter of Ruth. But Ruth chooses instead to press on-wards, and as she travels forward to her destiny, she and the people of God would never be the same.
Good morning and greetings. It’s an honor to be here today. I give thanks to God, this church, your pastor and the search committee.
I’m originally from Long Island and have lived all over the country, currently residing in Grand Rapids, MI. So stories involving travel have a special place in my heart.
The last church I was at last closed in July, and I’ve been in the Search and Call process. It’s a unique time. The first few weeks were spent creating a personal profile, looking through church listings, reading e-mails.
Then things slowed down, and there hasn’t been much else to do but wait, and pray; wait, and catch up on TV shows; wait, and sleep, and wait some more. Ya’ll get the idea.
During all this waiting I’ve done some major fall cleaning, donating, recycling and throwing objects away.
I can’t believe how much I’ve held on to. Not just suits that no longer fit, but items with emotional and historical symbolism. You know what I mean: a broken coffee cup that was a gift from my sister. An address book that was my Grandpa’s.
All these items from the past crowding my present, that are in some ways holding me up from my future. Why? Why am I holding onto them?
My subconscious is also doing it’s own fall cleaning. 3 weeks ago I dreamt my friends moved away to get their PhDs. I was invited to go with them, but with all their classes and homework I didn’t see them that much.
I woke up emotionally charged. My dream’s meaning was so clear: I felt like everyone else had moved on and I was stuck in the past, clinging to the what-were-bees instead of actively pursuing the what-can-bees.
So imagine my delight when I looked at the suggested readings for today. The first one listed was Ruth, about a person who lost everything, was given the chance to go back to the security of her past, but instead said "No, I will move forward, and I will go with God."
That morning, I believed God was speaking directly to me through this scripture, but more then that: I felt as though everyone who is present today was ministering to me and continuing my healing process.
God is amazing. And God is so good. Can I get an amen? Amen indeed.
Let’s a take a look at today’s scripture. It begins with sorrow and loss. A famine causes a family to move. Naomi’s husband dies, then her sons.
Imagine being Naomi. Gone is the man she was supposed to grow old with. Gone are the sons who were supposed to care for her in her old age.
Gone are the chances of having grandchildren. Losing the present is bad enough, but just as painful is losing the future that was yet to be.
The famine in Bethlehem has ended, giving Naomi a reason to physically leave her sadness behind. So she begins to travel with her daughters-in-law.
Three widows who’s only bond is the men they have lost.
But eventually Naomi stops and says "Go back. Go back to the security of your mother’s home. Go back and find yourself a nice man to marry. Go back and don’t go with me." After much weeping, one of the women does go back.
But Ruth chooses to stay.
Almost 3,000 years before Gloria Steinem and Women’s Lib, Ruth decides that instead of going back to become someone’s possession, she would instead press onward to an uncertain future where the only guarantee was that life would be different and difficult.
She bravely says to Naomi "I refuse to go back. I am going ahead, with you. I will stay with you, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God."
By choosing to move forward, by choosing to journey with the God of freedom, justice and new beginnings, Ruth was making a choice to unstick her feet from the security of sameness, propelling her and the people of God into the future.
For it was Ruth who became the mother of Obed. Which makes her the great-ancestor of Kind David, of a carpenter named Joseph and a man we know as Jesus Christ, bringing salvation not only to her family but to the entire world.
On a more personal note: Ruth gave Naomi the grandchild thought to have been lost forever.
And so Ruth becomes a symbol for us that as safe as staying in the past may seem, we are meant to be ever-forward moving people, traveling with God.
Scripture testifies to this. As does the life of Jesus, as does our denomination’s history.
Look at the Creation Stories: there’s a process. God does not see a dark void and poof!- there’s creation. No. First God says "Let there be light." Then as each day unfolds God does something else new: sky and waters, birds and fish.
Even the creation of humanity is a multi-step process involving mud and breathe, sleep and surgery.
Think of Exodus. God frees the Israelites and when they came across an impassable sea, God helps them cross over. When they express a desire to return to Egypt, God finds a way to sustain them so they could press onward to the Promised Land.
Again and again the Bible introduces us to people who opt for the uncertain future rather then a pacifying past. This culminates in Ruth’s descendent, Jesus Christ.
When John called for redemption, Jesus stepped up to be baptized. While in the wilderness he moved beyond temptation.
Jesus didn’t minister to the woman at the well by sitting amongst broken tea cups but by being out and about, going where the people were, pushing their comfort zones, all for the glory of God’s Kingdom.
Even when moving forward lead to a cross, Jesus found a way to do it, didn’t he? He could have said "No thanks", went back to living life as everyone one else did, maintaining the status quo.
But he didn’t. Jesus moved ahead. And even the cross couldn’t stop him, as Christ arose on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost his Spirit fueled the beginnings of the Christian church.
As memory-keepers of brave folk like Ruth, we are all called to be forward moving people as well.
Our denomination’s history verifies this.
When those in Europe felt persecuted, they moved onward to the Americas. When Antoinette Brown felt a calling to ministry we become the first church to ordain a woman.
And when the first person of color was elected as President of the United States, we claimed that it was in a UCC church that he worshiped and came to his own understanding of social justice.
As individuals we should be proud that we can call bold women such as Ruth as one of our own.
As Christians we should never forget that our Savior moved forward at all times, for your sake and for mine.
As members of the UCC we celebrate that God is Still Speaking and that we are encouraged to move ahead even when others want to dig their heels into the past.
From Creation to Exodus, from Resurrection to Pentecost, God moves forward in a spirit of newness, taking the past, bringing it into the present to bless the unknowable future.
We are invited to make that journey with God. To honor and respect our heritage, but to not be enslaved to it.
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be active particpants, stepping into the future of God and of God’s people.
When we do so, who knows what we’ll help give birth to, who knows what future blessings will be traced to our bold acts.
Because when we decide to move forward with God, we are stepping into a future rich with possibilities; a future in which we have a chance to become a better version of ourselves.
Yes, when someone takes the uncalculated risk to move ahead, there will be risks and losses. Those are guaranteed.
But there is also the possibility of gains, of spiritual riches, and of creating a more healthy and inclusive community.
Of discovering that even though the world may say "no" God finds a way to say "yes."
In conclusion, as we are forever in the presence of our founding church family, and of the likes of Jesus and Moses, Naomi and Ruth, who all found ways to walk along, sail upon and march into the currents of change.
They were most certainly nervous and afraid. But they were never alone; for they were with God.
And as we move into the future, we are not alone either, as their memories linger with us, ushering us further into the future of God’s Kingdom in which there is freedom and justice for all.
"Go back"? No, we can’t go back. Because we have been called by God to move ahead.
We may not always know where we are going, but we know where we have been, and we know just who’s we are.
And that is enough for anyone to take the first step.
Let us give thanks to the Spirit that guides us, Christ who walks beside us and God who calls us into being better people.
Amen and amen.

Sermon from 8/16/2009 1 Kings 19:4-8

August 16, 2009
Scripture: I Kings 19:4-8
Sermon Title: "The Journey"
Rev. George N. Miller
It’s an honor to be here today, as a guest preacher and as a fellow wanderer who is wondering what God has planned for him next.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is George Miller and three weeks ago I was the pastor of Burlingame UCC located in Grand Rapids, MI.
For various reasons, the church has closed down, and its members have scattered into the wilderness, each person on their own journey, unsure of where they will go.
They and I are on a journey, one that requires
sustenance and strength. One thing I’ve been doing is watching movies and reading books. What’s been interesting is just how many of the DVDs and books involve an aspect of journey.
It’s a common theme in pop culture: Dorothy goes over the rainbow to discover there’s no place like home. Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet to become a JEDI. And Harry Potter realizes just how special he is by attending Hogwarts School of Magic.
The same can be said about people in the Bible. A new covenant is established when Sarah and Abraham leave their native land. Moses and the Israelites cross the Red Sea into freedom. And salvation is offered to all when Jesus journeys to Jerusalem and Mary comes to the garden alone.
And, as we heard today, Elijah’s flees into the wilderness and has an encounter with God.
Life is often about the journey. And it’s usually not until we take a journey of some sort that we begin to understand and embrace life.
I think back a few years ago- I was teaching Sunday School and a youth asked "How come God doesn’t speak to us and miracles happen like in the Bible?"
I was shocked by the comment. I wanted to say "What do you mean God doesn’t speak? Look, listen, see: there are miracles everyday."
That boy’s question stayed with me, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized why he said what he said. He wasn’t speaking as someone who had lived 20, 40 or 60 years.
He was speaking as someone barely in the double digits. Someone who had not yet left home, traveled the country, or experienced the realities of life: working, struggling to pay the bills, aging.
He was, bless his fortunate heart, a child. A child who had two loving parents who worked hard, raised him in a good neighborhood, where he attended a good school, went to a good church, and had all his basic needs met.
In other words, his parents, teachers and church were doing such a good job that he was unaware of God much the same way we are unaware of air and a fish doesn’t think about water.
For this young man it would probably take a major life experience or leaving the comforts of home for him to truly realize just how present God was.
To experience his miracle he may need to journey and experience his own moments of fear, worry, loneliness, and loss.
And I pray that God was present for him just as God was present for Elijah.
In today’s reading we meet the prophet Elijah. If there is one thing the Bible makes clear, is that Elijah is a man of movement.
When we first meet Elijah he is told by God to go east. Then he’s told to go to the outskirts of town. Then to a king. Then he’s told to go south.
When he’s hiding he’s told to go out, when he’s resting he’s told to get up. When he’s on the mountain top he’s told to go down.
East, south, up, down, out. Elijah is on a journey just like Dorothy, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. And like them, he has a moment of crisis: Queen Jezebel, unhappy with his ministry, wants him dead.
And so he runs away, far, far south, as far south as one can go. He travels until he can’t take another step. He stops, he rests, he’s scared and burn-out.
It seems so hopeless. So full of despair. No point, no future, no reason to go on. He’s in the wilderness surrounded by no thing and no one to help him out, just a solitary tree to give him shade.
Anyone here know what that’s like? To feel alone? To feel uncertain about your present? Afraid of what’s going to happen next and all that’s around you is an empty wilderness?
We’ve all felt that way one time or another, when fear, depression and despair creeps in.
Some people try to deny how they feel, to cover it up. But not Elijah. He calls out to God. "It’s too much!" he cries out. "Take my life. End it all right now. I’m a failure, a loser, a flop. Take it away, I’m tired. I’m tired."
Depressed, Elijah falls asleep. God sends an angel to wake and feed him. Elijah eats and drinks, and sleeps again. A second time God sends an angel. "Get up and eat," the angel says, "So it will not be too much and you can finish your journey."
Here, here is a story in which a man in his moment of vulnerability admits his weakness, cries out to God and God responds by supplying the strength needed to carry on. A miracle.
This is a story for all time and for all fellow journeyers about how God can take the bleak moments in our lives and transform them into new sources of strength.
Listen to how it happens: First, it took Elijah being on a journey. This is not a young man staying stationary on a couch or being sheltered from the world. This is someone who is facing life head on.
Second, it took Elijah calling out to God, not with pretty words, or trying to hide how he really felt. No, it took Elijah speaking the truth.
Elijah tell it to God, warts and all. So what if it wasn’t a text-book perfect prayer? So what if he expressed a desire to die?
What Elijah did was brave and honest. He owned up to his emotions, said what was on his heart, not ashamed of how he felt.
He didn’t fool himself with a boot strap theology or cover up his true feelings, he put it all out on the line and said "God, it is enough."
We can all learn from Elijah because we are all journeying people. And we journey in different ways. There are those who have been born and raised here but there is also a number of folk who come from places like New York, Ohio and Illinois.
We have traveled through time, some more time then others. Time that saw a world war, a president killed, towers that fell; but also time that saw footprints on the moon, a wall come tumbling down and a black man in the White House.
We have journeyed through life and death experiences: of babies placed in our arms, children leaving for school, illnesses faced with dread, anniversaries celebrated with joy, loved ones who have died.
We have each had our own journeys this week through the wilderness of life, journeys that have brought us together right here, right now. And like Elijah, we have the chance to sit, relax.
And hopefully through these journeys we have each experienced ways if which God has been present and the ways in which miracles can and do occur.
We can also learn something else from Elijah and his experience with God. Did you note how God responded to Elijah’s request for death?
God did not respond the way Elijah wanted, nor did God act like a magician and remove his problems or solve them for Elijah. What would be the point of that? Where would the life lesson be?
Instead what God does is provide Elijah with strength, the strength he needs to continue his journey, the strength he needs to face what lies ahead, the strength he needs to discover he is not as alone as he feels and the strength the continue experiencing God doing things in new and exciting ways.
Elijah, in a moment of fear and worry wants to die, but God says instead "Sit, eat, let me make your strong."
Yes, wether we like to admit it or not, we are all Elijah’s, traveling in one way or another, we have our good days, and we have our bad.
And when we have those bad days, let us realize that it is OK to take a time out. It is OK to sit. It is OK to hold our own pity party.
And those are the moments when we should cry out to the Lord. When we should not be ashamed of what we feel, we should tell God what’s truly on our hearts, no editing, no shame, because God already knows.
Because when we open ourselves up to God, we are opening ourselves to the gifts that God brings and the strength God offers so that we can continue our journeys and do the work that God has planned for us.
Going back to that teenager who wondered why God doesn’t speak or do miracles like in the Bible: I pray that he has lived enough, loved enough, and hurt enough that he’s called upon God once or twice, and I pray that he has indeed experienced just how God does act and speak, saying "Look at what I am doing for you."
May we all take a lesson from Elijah, trusting that God will give us whatever strength we need to make it on our journey. May the Spirit send you angels who can tend to your needs, and may Jesus Christ walk with you along the way.
Amen and amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Grayson" by Lynne Cox

What better way to follow up the 650 page monster known as "Moby Dick" then to read the sleek tale of "Grayson" written by Lynne Cox (2006). Like Moby, it involves a whale, by whereas Moby is a testosterone fueled story about killing a whale for revenge, Grayson is an estrogen fueled story about reuniting a lost whale pup with its mother.

It is based on a true experience Lynne Cox had as a teen, swimming in the Pacific. It starts early in the morning as she is swimming in the ocean, practising for a swim she is planning on doing. What is notable about this book is how it starts in a place of unknown mystery that could have been dangerous, but how Lynne faces her fears head-on, knowing that to give up immediately means to fail victim to always giving up or making excuses when the going gets tough and scary.

Her prose is beautiful, taking us right there in the water, in a place filled with creatures and humans who extend their compassion to the animal world.

Here are the moments of soul.

Page 3, the opening of chapter 1 "There's something frightening, and magical, about being on the ocean, moving between the heavens and the earth, knowing that you can encounter anything on your journey."

Page 24: "The promise of light made me feel a little more cozy and confident. At least now I would be able to see what was swimming under me- knowing was usually better than not knowing."

Page 58: "I didn't have any answers. But as long as we tried, as long as we kept looking, there was a chance we could find her. Sometimes it's the process of doing that makes things clear. if we don;t start, we never know what could have been. Sometimes the answers we find while searching are better or more creative than anything we could ever have imagined."

Page 81 "Sometimes things just don't make sense, sometimes there's no reason to explain how or why I wanted to do them; I only knew I had to, I had to try. Without trying I would never know what could happen...Sometimes the things that make the least sense to other people are the ones that make the most sense to me."

Page 82 "I was afraid. But I knew I had to. Sometimes I just did things because I thought I could and because if I didn't an opportunity to learn something, grow, and reach farther would be lost...Maybe my presence could even make a difference."

Page 84 (in trying to communicate with Grayson, the lost baby whale) "Maybe you communicate with you heart. That is what connects you to every living thing on earth. use your heart. It is love that surpasses all borders and barriers. It is constant and endless as the sea. Speak to him with your heart and he will hear you."

Page 96 "...that tension between losing and finding, that blank page between silence and song, that emptiness that creates and the need to create, to try, to imagine, to solve."

Page 97 "...the water depth no longer seemed so frightening. By changing my thoughts, I was able to alter my perspective, to calm down and to refocus."

105: "How long do I wait?...The answer came to me. Wait as long as you need to. The waiting is important as the doing: it's the time you spend training and the rest in between; it's the reading and the thinking about what you've read; it's the written words, what is said, what is left unsaid, the space between the thoughts on the page, that makes the story, and it's the space between the notes, the intervals between fast and slow, that makes the music. It's the love being together, the spacing, the tension of being apart, that brings you back together. Just wait, be patient, he will return."

107: "Sometimes it made no sense to be optimistic, but it sure beat being pessimistic."

134 "I thought as hard as I could...You don't have to hear the words to know someone cares about you. You don;t need to hear the words to know someone believes in you. You don;t need to hear the words to know someone loves you. You feel it; you know."

135: "Be patient. Wait. Nothing is all good or all bad. As a problem develops, so does the solution. Rest here. I will tread water beside you. You will be okay. I know it. I feel it. It will all work out."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Sex and the City" novel

I was late to the "SATC" party, not watching an episode of "Sex and the City" until January 0f 2008. But I immediately fell in love with it, identifying with all the characters, the love of all things NYC and the fashion. But lately I have come to realize what an unobtainable fantasy that show can present about life. What made me really realize this was the reading of the book that started it all, Candance Bushnell's novel "Sex and the City", the 2001 edition, with two added chapters.

I expected a warm, funny book told in Carrie's voice. Instead it is cold, mean, dark, and not funny at all. And Carrie is just one of the characters. Whereas Sarah Jessica Parker's take on Carrie was more soft, hinting that Carrie had some major issues, such as drinking too much at times, the Carrie is the book is a full on alcoholic mean girl who is so unhappy. The four girls we knew on the show/movie may appear in name but not in a tight-knit loving group.

This book is so soulless and heartless that I disliked reading it and do not plan on reading anything else by Bushnell.

There are some interesting insights that talk of how rough single life in a big city can be, espeically for those trying to make it. Page 30 talks about of modern Mary Tyler Moore's who may be middle aged and successful but still live in a studio in a fold-out bed. In talking about first dating someone, the advice on page 185 is "Do not be working it, working the room. Men want to feel comfort. You must elicit coziness. Talk about the person they are, because most men's self-image is them at fourteen."

By 219 we get to fully understand from what little Carrie came from and what she gave up to be who she was/presented herself to be. Page 219 "It was just three years ago Christmas that Carrie had been living in a studio apartment where an old lady had died two months before. Carrie had no money. A friend lent her a piece if foam for a bed. All she had was a mink coat and a Louis Vuitton suitcase, both of which were stolen when her apartment was inevitably robbed. But until then, she slept on the piece if foam with the fur coat over her, and she still went out every night." Later in the book she talks of eating nothing but hot dogs for a whole month because that was all she could afford.

By book's end she has a nervous breakdown and totally pushes Mr. Big away.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Life a la Mode"

For about two years now I have found relaxation in reading what some call "chick lit" which in some ways is an embarrassing, derogatory term. Why are books written by woman about woman considered chick lit but books like "Moby Dick" and "Great Gatsby" and "Old Man and the Sea" are considered great works of art and not called something like "guy-fi"?

There are often bits of information in these books that can reach a level of "a-ha" or deep sadness or requires a moment to stop, inhale, think and exhale. I found that in "Life a la Mode" by Linda Lenhoff. It's not the most apt title, since it is not really about pie, or pie as a metaphor, and actually begins and ends with the main character making drapes.

It's the story if Holly who works as an editor at a company that is going through changes, with a divorced mother who is in love with and moving in with a new man, a father who moved away with a younger "cousin" only to return to NY and a sister who goes through seven engagements before marrying. Then there is the ex-husband, the best friend, the snotty boss and the co-worker who may by a love interest, and a bike messenger who speaks words of wisdom.

The book is light, a fun read that is easy, and so enjoyable. It's about how life is, well, life. The balance of good, bad, sad, joyous unexpected, full of beginnings, endings and new directions. The first real moment of life entering in is on page 143 when a shooting occurs on a train upstate. The book takes on a new, brief, poetic turn, as the co-workers stand in silence, drift to the center of the office, listen to the radio announcer and then go through the process of processing and wondering if they knew anyone on the train.

On page 146, one character, a bike messenger named Roy, says "The world is often no place to be." he strokes his bike helmet. Holly says "I don't know, it beats other options." Roy sits up straight. "Envision the possibilities for hope and the true nature of meaningfulness."

Page 149 gets all ecotheological by stating "It's the kind of day that makes you wonder what we've done to the environment, what kind of sprays, powders, solutions and gasses we've used to give us artificial and yet spectacular spring days before we have any right to one."

Page 169 there is the threat of a hurricane and Roy states "There is much to learn from a hurricane with a good sense of humor." This makes me think of Genesis 1 and the idea of creation out of chaos.

Page 182 Holly finds comfort in thinking about whales and how even though the ocean looks freezing and dark, for the whales it is their home and it must be familiar, comforting and warm enough in its own way.

With work, family and love life in change mode, Holly's Dad asks how she is doing. Holly says "I'm OK. Everything seems to be in flux at the moment, though." "Disconcerting, change," dad nods. "But not always such a bad thing."

On 219 the women talk of Barbie and the reality she creates. "But everything you did learn with a Barbie, you can un-learn through self-help books," says Maria, a friend.

238-239, Holly talks with Roy. Roy, notices Holly has a bounce in her walk, states "Summer is the time for true confidence to overtake all of life's insecurities and direct the body in motion...Life is one of the funny things. It's the unsolvable riddle, but it's that way for a reason." "Should I know the reason?" Holly asks. "You can only know it through understanding it, live it through living it. We're meant to wonder."

I guess Roy, in his brief appearances, is the spiritual voice of the story, and perhaps it would be good to see him reappear and perhaps connect with Holly if Lenhoff decides to do a sequel, which I hope she does.