Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sermon for Feb 21, 2010 Deuteronomy 26:1-15

Rev. George Miller
Feb 21, 2010
Deuteronomy 26:1-15
“War Buddies”

Last Tuesday it was another cold, snowy day that us in Michigan have experienced all season long. The kind of day in which you curl up on the couch and watch a movie. So I put on the classic White Christmas expecting it to be a light-hearted romp.

Instead it began with a bleak situation: war. As bombs are exploding overhead Bing Crosby is singing to a group of sullen looking troops. An air strike sends the men running and building almost falls on Bing until he is rescued by Danny Kaye.

When the war ends Bing and Danny become a musical act, touring the country. They end up at a Vermont Inn run by a former war buddy, General Waverley. Business has been slow and the General’s about to lose everything. To help him out Bing and Danny stage a show and invite everyone from their old unit.

My favorite scene takes place opening night. All the soldiers are there, dressed in their uniforms. They give General Waverley a standing ovation and with a solid salute, Bing says “The troops are ready for inspection sir.”

Waverley falls right into General Mode: “I am not satisfied with the conduct of this division. Some of you are under the impression that you don’t have to wear neck ties, well you’re wrong, neck ties are to be worn!

Look at your appearance, you’re a disgrace to the outfit. Your soft, your sloppy, your unruly, your undisciplined...and I never saw anything look so wonderful in my entire life.”

“White Christmas” was fun, but it’s underlying theme was about people who survived tough times together and found a way to give back.

In some ways I could relate to the film. Although I never served in the military, my grandfather and father did. My grandpa was a proud veteran, marching in all the parades, chaplain of the VFW. He and his buddies played poker in the basement over hand-rolled cigarettes and cold beer.

My father said that Basic Training was the best 2 weeks of his life, and I believe him. But Vietnam was a different kind of war and no one kept in touch.

But as a New York City cop my father had war buddies of a different kind; the people he worked with were a loud, fast talking group of folk, full of an energy I love being around even today

Over the years I’ve watched the way soldiers interact with one another. As men, they may not share how they feel, but as War Buddies, they’ll talk on and on about KP duty and pranks pulled on one another; or snow stained with blood and best friends killed in front of their eyes.

There’s something about being with a group of people who have been tested beyond the limit, knowing they didn’t go through it alone. It creates a bond that comes across in shared stories, jokes and nightmares.

And I’ve come to understand that the phrase “war buddies” can be applied to any group of people who have experienced a hardship together that created a bond beyond race, age, economics or political views.

Local farmers who made it through a drought. New Yorkers who were there when the towers fell. Seminarians who faced final exams.

Sadly, as Americans we’ve lost the bond that existed during WW II. It’s been weakened as cable tv and the internet have wedged their way into our culture, making people more individualistic and content with being alone.

But I’m getting the sense that the Recession is changing things. It’s about the only good thing about this period of history. So many have lost their jobs or pay that we have become war buddies of a different kind.

People are back to cutting coupons, saving their pennies and finding ways to entertain themselves in a more communal fashion, like bowling or having people over for dinner.

As we bowl or pass the pot roast we’re sharing stories, some light and frivolous, others about our fears and wondering when this will be over.

Right now this recession has taken way too long, creating such a difficult present that a bright future seems all but impossible.

But when we get through it, we will all be war buddies of a different kind, and let’s hope we as a nation will be more thankful, stronger and better.

Can I get an amen?

That’s what today’s scripture is about. It’s about trusting that God will see you through, it’s about learning to be thankful because of the experience, and it’s about showing that thanks by reaching out to others.

Deuteronomy 26 is said to be part of a speech given to the Israelites. But this wasn’t just any speech; this was the speech, given by General Moses to a rag-tag group of sloppy, unruly people that both Moses and God loved so much.

Soon, their time of struggling in the wilderness will be over. They’re about to enter the promised land, a place rich in minerals and resources, where their animals and crops will flourish.

Moses seizes the moment to remind them of all they’ve been through. How God freed them from slavery. How God fought for them, gave them water from a rock, sent them manna from heaven.

Through everything God has been present. Still, those 40 years were not easy. They’ve had their share of obstacles and problems, mistakes have been made, opportunities have been lost

And manna doesn’t take the place of having a home to call your own. Nor is miraculous water the same as having a safe place to rest your head.

So before they are to take another step, Moses gathers them, and speaks. He says to them “When you come into the land God is giving you, and you make yourself a home, take the best of what you grow and bring it to the house of worship
Recall all that God has done, and after giving thanks, celebrate. But don’t party alone: invite those who are currently fighting their own battles. Invite the foreigners, make sure the widows and orphans have food to eat.

And after you have reached out to them, ask the Lord to bless you and to bless the land of milk and honey.”

Let’s explore this a little bit more. This speech is about a when and a how. First, hear what Moses is saying to his fellow war buddies: “When you come into the land.”

When. Such a powerful word. A word rooted in the present but looking towards the future.

“When” means that whatever we’re facing now is not over and done yet. There’s still a way to go.
But it also means that things are not so hopeless; soon there’ll be results, soon they’ll be done with their current struggle.

This use of “when” means hold on, don’t stop, don’t quit, don’t give up.

Followed by the “when”, General Moses moves into the how: when you’ve conquered your battles and life gets easier, don’t forget all that God did. Give thanks.

And how do you give thanks? Reach out to and care for anyone who’s going through a war of their own.

General Moses is saying to his troops “You were once in a wilderness war, defenseless and far from home. Now it’s your turn to take care of others because that is what God wants you to do.”

Notice that Moses is not leaving it up to the government or the taxpayers to take care of those in need. This command is beyond democrat or republican, beyond liberal or conservative.

And who are those still facing their own war?

The foreigner far from home. Make sure he has enough, invite him to share a meal, make him feel welcome, have a laugh.

Because we all have ancestors who were also from foreign lands.

Who’s still at war? The widow who lost her husband. How lonely she must feel. Make sure she has a place to stay, that she’s kept warm and has food to eat.

Because we all know what it’s like to feel scared and lonely.

Who’s still at war? The orphans with no family. How vulnerable they are with no one to guide them or sing them a lullaby before bedtime. Take care of them so they know that someone cares, that they are part of a bigger family.

Because at one time we were all young and defenseless.

Today’s scripture isn’t just for the Israelites, but for anyone who is in the midst of their own battle, who feels like bombs are exploding and buildings are falling all around them.

In conclusion, we may not be at a Vermont Inn putting on a Christmas show to help an old General, but we can each play a part being the best war buddy to those around us.

Everyone is facing their own battle, stuck in their own type of wilderness. In that way, Moses’ words still speak to us today just they did 3,000 years ago.

It’s a message about holding on with hope, knowing that as impossible as things seem God is working to bring calm into our lives.

It’s a message that anytime we reach out to others and are not selfish with what we have, we are giving thanks to God.

In doing so we will help bring rest to a wanderer, comfort to someone who’s alone, and community to someone who feels abandoned.

In doing so, we create a space for God to look down upon us with a smile, blessing us and our land, and all that dwells upon it.

All thanks and honor be to God who leads us through the rough times, the Spirit that brings generosity and thankfulness and Jesus Christ who has promised to be with us always, until the end of time.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sermon for Feb 14, 2010, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Rev. George Miller
"Beyond the Veil"
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Feb 14, 2010
Before I begin today’s message I would like to give thanks for your pastor, Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald who invited me here to preach, and I give all glory and honor to God who makes everything possible.
Today is a busy day. In the secular world it’s Valentine’s Day, a chance to express our affections for one another through gifts and candy. In the sacred world, it’s Transfiguration Sunday, which leads us into the Lenten season. And in the local community, today is the installation service of Rev. Kyle at Park UCC.
And all these things are well and good. I mean, who can turn down a day and a season that involves candy, more candy, coffee and cake?
But there’s something else going on that has people excited: awards season. This is the time of year in which actors and film makers compete to see who’ll win for best actress, director and movie of the year.
We’ve already had the People’s Choice and Golden Globes, and last week they announced the nominees for the Oscars. If you’re like me, you’ve checked out the nominations and Oscar night is circled on your calendar.
Now here’s something I never thought of before. Isn’t it rather ironic that the award season coincides with the Lenten season? Think about it.
Lent is about journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross, to be hung naked for the sake of all humanity. It’s a time of reflection, in which we recall the ministry of a man who didn’t do things for his own glory but for the glory of God.
On the other hand we have this award season which honors actors for being someone they are not, who take on the veil of a character for the sake of a pay check and to entertain us. And we honor film makers who create multi-million spectacles for our amusement.
Think of this year’s nominees and how they transformed into someone else. Meryl Streep disappeared into her role as Julia Child, wearing such a stunning veil that you actually think she’s Julia Child. Morgan Freeman takes on the veil of Nelson Mandela, affecting his way of speaking.
Then of course we have "Avatar." The name says it all. The film is a technological marvel that’s about scientists taking on the form of and becoming the aliens they are studying.
Yes, the award season is a celebration of people who wear veils and create veils of illusion. Which is all well and good. But what happens when the acting doesn’t stay at work?
What happens when acting becomes part of the day to day interactions we have with one another, with ourselves and with God?
Oscar Wilde once said "I love acting. It is so much more real than life." But what do we lose if everything we do becomes an act, our true selves hidden behind a veil no one can see through, not even ourselves?
That’s what struck me in today’s Scripture taken from 2 Corinthians, ch. 3 & 4. Paul is writing to one of the earliest churches. It’s a church he loves, but a church that has had some difficulties.
There were false teachers putting on an act, luring people away from the Gospel’s truth, calling Paul a liar. So Paul writes this letter to be his most transparent and to speak the truth in such a way it offers the struggling church hope and joy.
In this section of the letter he makes reference to putting on a veil and covering one’s face. And for Paul, this veil hardens the heart, this veil prevents people from seeing true glory, this veil basically puts Christ in the corner.
But, as Paul writes, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is lifted, the Spirit becomes present, and there is freedom.
And in this freedom a wonderous event takes place: we are slowly, surely transformed into the image of the Lord, one degree of glory to another.
In other words, when the acting ends, when the veil is lifted, we get to fully experience the presence of God, the Spirit and Jesus Christ, and we begin our own journey of transformation.
A transformation that calls us to be more Christ-like- loving, living and reaching out to people in ways we never thought of before.
But our veils have to be lifted; the act has to stop.
Now I believe that we are all actors in some way. It’s impossible for us not to be. When someone asks "How was your day?" do we really say "Not so good. I have a pain in my side, my cat threw up and I bowled a bad game last night"?
Maybe to our closest friends, but to any one else we say, with a smile no less, "I’m doing fine, and you?"
That’s acting, that’s wearing a veil that allows one to be socially graceful.
Then there are those who wear a veil for survival. For instance if you told your boss what you really think you’d be out of a job. Tell your spouse how their cooking tastes and you’ll be on the couch.
Sadly, there are those who wear a veil out of fear. The person with a black eye who says it’s from running into an open door. A child who says he missed school because his parent is sick, not because Mom or Dad is passed out on the couch.
Then there are those who wear a veil because they are too embarrassed or ashamed to show people who they really are or what their family is going through. The slender, gorgeous person with an eating disorder who has a jumbo bag of M&M’s hidden in the house. The family who’s child is in the state pen but they tell everyone he’s working out of state.
These are some of the veils that people wear, veils that prohibit others from seeing who we really are and what we are going through.
Yes, we will all wear veils from time to time. It’s impossible not to. But if we wear certain veils for too long, we prohibit people from getting to really know us. We prohibit the chance getting to know ourselves. And we prohibit any chance of true transformation.
But if there’s one person we don’t have to wear a veil for, if there’s one person we do not have to put on an act for, it’s God.
After all, isn’t it God who knows the numbers of hair on our head, who knows our waking and our laying down, who knows our very prayers before we even give them breath?
And yet, as a pastor, and as a person with my own personal struggles, I’ve realized just how many people are afraid to come before God and lift the veil they are wearing.
I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s part of human nature, that fear of being vulnerable, of saying to and showing God just who we truly are.
Maybe it’s part of American culture that says you have to pull yourself together, put your best face forward. To take off that veil before God can be a sign of weakness and we as Americans were not raised to be weak.
Maybe it’s my fault and the fault of other pastors because we don’t teach enough about the importance of confessing our sins, we don’t talk enough about the humanness of biblical heros such as David and Solomon.
Maybe it’s because we are afraid to see what we look like without the veil.
And maybe it’s because we’re afraid that if we lift the veil we have been wearing then God will stop loving us.
Which is the furthest thing from the truth, because guess what: God already loves you. Right here, right now.
And if there is ever any doubt about that love, all you need to do is look towards the cross, where Jesus hung, asking God for our forgiveness even as we nailed him up there.
God is so in love with you, and God is waiting for you to stop your act and take off your veil.
God is longing for you to come as you really are and to speak the words you really feel, no matter how horrible or dark or unworthy you think they may be.
With God we can say we’re sad when we are sad, lonely when we are lonely. If we are angry, we can share with God why. And if it’s God we’re angry with, guess what? We can say those words because God can take it.
If we have committed any type of sin, if we have committed any kind of transgression, we should not allow it to prevent us from turning to God, but we can use that as a chance to turn to God, saying "I don’t know why I did what I did, but I am sorry, I’m sorry, and ask for your forgiveness."
What happens when we lift that veil? Healing transformation; a move towards spiritual wholeness.
That lifting of the veil allows the Spirit a space to move, to enter in and bring with it the gift of freedom.
Freedom that looses ourselves from the things that made us put the veil on to begin with.
Freedom from whatever guilt, shame or secrets we’ve been holding onto.
And as the Spirit enters in, as that gift of freedom begins to further loosen the veil from our being, something else begins to happen: transformation. We begin to become more and more like Christ, who is the living reflection of our Creator.
According to Paul, it is not a transformation that happens immediately, or forces us to loose ourselves completely, but it is a transformation that is meant to bring our lives into glory, one degree, one step at a time.
Don’t you just like that idea? Of going from one degree to the next? It sounds so much more doable, so much more realistic then thinking our change has to happen right now, this instant.
That notion of moving into glory one degree at a time is what this Christian walk is about, it’s a journey. A journey in which Christ and Spirit usher us into the person God created us to be.
And these degrees of change, they bring with them mercy, these degrees allow us not to lose heart, and these degrees help us to forsake living a lie in exchange for living in truth.
In conclusion, when we are willing to lift up our veil before God, we become willing and able recipients of all the gifts that God has to offer.
Yes, we will still have veils to wear from time to time. We may not tell everyone we meet just how our day is really going. We may still tell our spouse that dinner was delicious.
But in the presence of God, we can drop our veil, believing we are loved just as we are while being transformed, degree by degree, into the reflection of glory we were destined to be.
When it comes to standing before God, let’s leave our acting behind. Leave it for the professionals. Let Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman and James Cameron collect their awards.
Because for us, lifting our veil before our God means receiving the greatest awards possible: freedom and mercy, grace and transformation.
All thanks be to God in who’s image we were created, the Spirit that enters into our lives to make all things new and for Jesus Christ whose transfiguration, crucifixion and resurrection showed us just how much God loves us.
Amen and amen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Official Book Club Selection" by Kathy Griffin

I enjoyed this book, so much so, I could not wait to pick it up, read the next bit, while at the same time feeling bummed that thee faster I read it meant the faster I would be done.

So note to Kathy: hurry up and write another one, and another.

I have not had much experience with Ms. D-Lister, outside of her infamous "Suck it, Jesus" comment at the Emmy's and the fact that not only does she star in my favorite Christmas movie "A Diva's Christmas Carol" but she also has my favorite line "Did you just call me skinny?"

But I liked what I read, and as someone going through a Search and Call process to find my next church to pastor, I could identify with Kathy's story.

This book is a celebration of paying one's dues to get to where they are and discovering who you are, who you are NOT, and working your ass off at being the best you can be at what you are best at. In other words, Kathy realizes she can never by Mary, but she can be a Rhoda. And the best Rhoda she becomes. She may never be A-list, but she embraces her D-list all the way to the bank, the Emmy's, talk shows and doing whatever she can do to ensure she never has to live out of a car, eating dog food (read the end of the book and you'll understand, and by the way, read the index: very funny).

So what kind of soul will you find in the pages? Enough. On page 26 she is being beat up at school as a nun watches and Kathy has a "light bulb" moment: "Oh, I see. Nobody saves you." She realizes she is not strong enough to fight back, or kind enough, but she is smart and clever. So she uses that as her weapon and defense.

Page 70, in regards to agents and getting gigs "I learned early on that a very important notion to let go of was the notion that anyone was going to get me work except me."

121-122, Brooke Shields asks Kathy for help making a line funnier. "I'd think Wow, that's really coll of her. It was also smart. It made me understand, no matter how famous you are, don't ever be afraid to turn to somebody and ask for help. Don't ever feel above it."

125: When Andre Agassi is upset he's no good at golfing "I though, Well, you're not that good at it, apparently. There's a thing called a racquet you might want to pick up You seem to be good with it. It's a theme in my life. Go where you're welcome and wanted. I wasn't making it at the Improv, so I went toward Un-Cabaret."

134-135 she deals with the suicide of her tv co-star, David Stickland, who pulled her over a month before he dies and said "I don't think I can ever quit drugs and alcohol" to which her response is "Oh David, yes you can. Keep going to your meetings." I found this part indicative of why pastors are taught how to listen, not poo-pooh things or diminish statements people make. Kathy glossed over his cry for help. What would have happened if she said "What can you do for just this one day? How can I be here for you?"

When "Suddenly Susan" is cancelled and she's going crazy from not working and can't get work. What does she do: calls up the Laugh Factory, finds out what their slowest night is, takes it and hustles her ass off to make it successful, bringing in so many people that waitresses are thanking her for helping them make their rent money in tips.

199, she's famous enough to score tickets to American Idol, but she's in row 26 and not invited to the VIP party. It helped her "realize what exactly I was, the insider as outsider."

220: After much sleeping around and bad relationships, she has an epiphany "What if I tried an exercise where the number one requirement for the next guy I go out with is that he be nice, not anything else?" And that decision changes her life.

221: Kathy is out for dinner with her new boyfriend is so poor and worried about how they can date. They work out a plan that if it was something she wanted to do, she's pat and visa versa. After they come to their agreement, the waiter comes over and tells them that a family from Oklahoma at a nearby table wish to pay their bill. "I turned to Matt and said with enthusiasm, 'And sometimes that happens.'"

249: Kathy has a hard time believing her marriage to Matt is over. It takes Matt telling her for Kathy to fully get it. "Now it's just ridiculous," he said, "You're trying to force something." As Kathy writes "He was right. One of my worst character flaws in that it takes me too long to "get" things. I have to bit hit over the head with a sledge-hammer. It is this very quality of never accepting defeat, going against the odds and not always listening to reason that while serving me so well in my career, has screwed me over in my love life."

273-274: the use of "sick humor." Julia Sweeney's brother had cancer as did Julia. When Mike answered the phone he's say "House of cancer". Kathy said it was important for Mike to laugh and he had no tolerance for small talk. He wanted the most out-there jokes possible. When Kathy's friend Judy was sick with cancer she's call Kathy and ask her to come over and "make fun of my illness." Kathy thought making fun of cancer would be mean, but Judy assured her it wouldn't. The she had a friend with AIDS who also used sick humour and Kathy realized that with certain audiences you do not hold back. Such as the soldiers she visited who wanted her to make fun of the insurgents, officers, locations, food and the soldiers themselves.

342: "My mother proudly says that denial is in fact a river in Egypt, and she is on a canoe."

Sermon for feb 7, 2010, Psalm 138

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 138
The Three Rs of Worship"
Feb 7, 2010
"Let everything that has breath praise God!"
That’s a core value of mine. I believe our key role in life is to worship God.
As a child, praising God came so naturally to me that I assumed everyone did it. So I was taken a back when I found folk who wrestled with their faith and didn’t feel the need to offer any praise.
I was taken aback when I went to seminary and a professors said "The church is mission." I wanted to say "No, the church is worship."
I was taken aback when I came across my own rough patches, and couldn’t find the breath to praise God because I felt there was nothing to praise. I was under some much stress that I could barely even breathe. Anyone here know what that’s like?
Praising God during difficult times can be...well, difficult.
How does one say "thank you" when everything around you has come tumbling down? How does one say "Hallelujah" when injustice, oppression or a simple wrong turn have left you stuck in a place you never wanted to be?
How can the people of Haiti or the folk on the unemployment line say thanks to God when everything seems so thankless?
How can one muster up the ways to say thanks to God, when life is a bitter pill waiting to be spit back up?
Sometimes we can’t, so we turn to the words of others who can. Our pastor who leads Sunday worship. Our choir as they sing their song. The words of the Bible, written by people who were always wrestling with the harsh realties of life.
Perhaps no better collection of writing emphasizes the role of praise and worship then the Book of Psalms. A collection of praises, testimonies, tears and sorrows, these writings speak to God from the human condition, seeking out God’s face in the midst of life’s storms and thanking God for when refuge has been supplied.
This marvelous book gives voice to every experience of life that you can imagine, from abuse to loss, from frenemies to victories. It is a songbook of the community who reaches out to God because God has reached out to them.
And they praise, and they worship, and they give thanks, like in today’s reading, Psalm 138. The very first words of the song sets the tone "I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart...I bow down...and give thanks to your name, for your steadfast love and your faithfulness."
This is a song given by an individual, for the sake of the community, praising God who is Lord of all. It is a song of praise for what God has done. It is a song that says "When I called out, you answered. Me, lowly, ol’ me."
But it is more then that. Having come out of a terrible situation, the psalmist breaks it down and admits that although trouble may be resolved for now, there will be many more troubles to face.
As the spiritual song says, trouble last always. But in Psalm 138 the singer is saying "That’s true, but I want to give you thanks ahead of time, because I know you will be with me, you will keep me strong, and your hand will deliver me."
How many here today can say that God’s hand has delivered them?
Oh, it’s a wonderful feeling isn’t it- to be delivered? To come out of those dark moments where you don’t know what you’re going to do, you don’t see a way out, you can barely believe that God even knows who you are anymore.
And then wow! God steps in and does something you never expected God to do. God’s hands create a way out of no way, pointing you to the right person at the right time to find the right solution.
Or God’s hands become like a cradle a parent makes with their arms that holds you gently and rocks you in deep comfort and grace.
When the hands of God enters into our lives, we can’t help but to realize that we’ve been delivered, we can’t help but to feel we’ve been set free, we can not help but to offer up our praises: "Thank you God and Hallelujah."
So we praise, and we worship, and we give God thanks. But what if? What if we are still stuck back there? What if we are still in the darkest night? What if we have lost all hope?
We still find a way to praise God, although it will not be easy. I’m not going to lie: praising God when everything is going wrong is one of the hardest things we can do.
But it can also be one of the keys of our salvation.
How, when we are at our weakest, can we offer up our praises like the voice in Psalm 138? I’d like to offer a little recipe I call the "3 Rs": we Recall, we Raise up and we Reach out. Let me hear you repeat after me.
First thing: we recall. You’re in a situation, nothing’s going right. You want to talk to God but it seems like God is asleep. You know God has done wonderful things for you in the past. But none of that stuff is helping now.
You say "Oh God, how can I praise you? I ain’t got no job. My money’s all gone. I have bills past due."
Or maybe the car is broke down, your family has turned on you, your cat has turned on you. There’s too much snow on the ground. Winter is taking too long. Someone’s mad at you. You’re going through a divorce. Someone has died.
You’re 40, 50, 60 years old and still no idea where your life is going.
"God, I want to praise you, but I can’t."
What can you do? First, you can begin to recall. Don’t recall the moments of deliverance in your own life, because that will be too hard to see. But recall the stories you learned when you were in Sunday School. Recall the stories you heard your grandmother tell.
Recall that when the Hebrews called out to God, God heard and set them free. Recall that when their backs were against the Red Sea God found a way to part those waters and lead them through.
Recall that as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years God gave them manna from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock.
Recall that when Daniel was in the lion’s den God kept him safe. Recall that when the three boys were thrown into the fiery flames, God sent an angel to keep them well. Recall how the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
Recall that when there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish Jesus was able to feed all the people. Recall that when the disciples were tossed to and from at sea Jesus was able to walk on water and calm the storm.
And recall that a crown of thorns could not stop the Son of God from being raised on Easter morn.
I guarantee that as you recall the stories of old, you’ll begin to recall the ways in which God has blessed you. How God made a way out of no way. How God saved you when things got hot. How God brought down the walls in your life. How God let your little stretch into enough.
And how God took the thorns on your head and replaced it with resurrection joy.
Which leads to step two of praise: raising up. As in raising up our praise, raising up our testimony.
Now each church does this their own way, each person does this in their fashion. There’s no right or wrong or better way. But it’s the way in which you are able to stop containing what you feel and letting it go to where it can be shared.
We raise up when we sing, we raise up when we say our prayers, we raise up when we laugh at something funny, we raise up when we cry at something sad, we raise up when we all say amen.
Some churches raise up by speaking out and talking back to the pastor. Some churches let the choir and liturgist do the raising up for them.
Of course, we don’t need to be in church to raise up. We can raise up on our own. In our home, with music playing and dancing round the living room saying "Thank you God." Raising up while we are driving in the car, think of something that makes us laugh and we say "Thank you Jesus."
Raising up while we are out walking amongst nature and we feel the cool breeze or hear a bird’s song and we look up at the skies and thank the Spirit for all that we have received.
Those times when you feel stuck in the dumps and in a hopeless situation, you’ll be amazed at how much better you may feel if you are able to set aside time to find a way to say "Thanks."
Recall and raise up. Those are two ways in which we can worship. The third, reaching out.
When my professor said "The church is mission" I thought he was wrong. But being in my own wilderness these past few months, I’ve come to discover just how much of worship is reaching out. It began when I read "Moby Dick."
There is a line in there that says "What is worship? To do the will of God. What is the will of God?- to do for my brother what I would have him do for me- that is the will of God."
It continued as I experienced churches reaching out to me, helping to pay my rent, checking in to see how I was doing, inviting me to their events. I had non-profits reaching out to me through food and clothes assistance. I had friends and family who reached out by sending money, gas cards, treating me to dinner and calling me up.
And I realized the churches, non-profits, family and friends were the hands of God. And as the hands of God they were reaching out, to me.
In verses 7-8 the Psalmist states "You stretch out your hand and your right hand delivers not forsake the work of your hands."
Hands. The hands of God reach out to deliver us, to deliver you to deliver me. Who are the hands of God? We are. You and I.
We become the hands of God when we offer someone assistance, when we donate our time, when we place our money in the offering plate. That is when we are the hands of God.
When Haiti was devastated, the UCC mobilized and raised more money then ever had before, and continue to do so. That was us as a denomination, acting together as one, becoming the hands of God, and worshiping God through our actions.
Recall, raise up and reach out. They are all aspects of worship. Of recalling all that God has done. Of raising up thanks to God. And looking beyond our own situation into becoming God’s hands, where we are not only the recipients of God’s saving grace, but vehicles for it.
We worship when we do the will of God. If God’s hand is stretched out and delivers us, then part of our being able to worship God, even when times are tough, is to ask how we can become God’s hands for others.
Let everything that has breath give praise. Let everything indeed. As humans, let us learn how to worship, even when we are at our darkest, by remembering our 3 Rs. As Psalm 138 reminds us, God’s hand has reached out to us. How then can we reach back in worship and thanksgiving?
Thanks be to the Spirit that makes all things new, for God whose hands have delivered us and for Christ whose hands were wounded for our sakes.
Amen and amen.