Friday, March 12, 2010

Sermon for March 21, 2010, Phil 3:1-4:1

* I have been blessed to be a pastoral candidate for a lovely, loving, forward-thinking church. Here is the sermon I plan on preaching. I say plan because one never knows what surprise the Spirit may have in terms of the message. Enjoy!

Rev. George Miller
Philippians 3:1-4:1
“Glorious Body”
March 21, 2010

Good morning, and blessings. I am especially honored to be here today and to be among saints who are part of Christ’s glorious Body.

A few days ago I came across a word that I could relate to: foodie. A foodie is someone who enjoys cooking, who prefers the cheese section over the shoe isle, the Farmer’s Market over the mall and is likely to unwind watching the Food Network.

Like other foodies I’ve seen the movie “Julie and Julia”, tried to make Julia Child’s boeuf boulignon, and just a few weeks ago read her autobiography titled “My Life In France.”

What a fascinating woman Julia Child was. She was a social person who surrounded herself with friends and family. She saw life as always moving forward, which allowed her to live globally and break new ground in the culinary world.

She was a perfectionist when it came to cooking. Exact measurements, proper ingredients, tried and true instructions mattered.

What she wasn’t a perfectionist about was her body. She was more of a realist with a great sense of humor. How could she not be?

Julia stood 6'2", with a large frame and a face best described as handsome. No matter what she wore she would never qualify as beautiful or petite.

And thank God because that’s exactly what made her so unique and fun to watch on TV.

In both the book and movie there’s a scene in which Julia and her sister are getting dressed. They have on their hats, white gloves and pearls. They look in the mirror and Julia says “Not bad, but not great either.” Both women laugh.

I admire Julia’s ability to strive for perfection in what she was good at, and her ability to let go of that which she was not created to excel in.

We could all stand to be a bit more like her, especially in terms of our own body images.

As humans, we’re attached to our body, we can’t help it. We come into the world with our bodies. They are the vessels through which we experience taste and touch, sight and smell, life and death.

Our bodies are ever changing. They build up, they break down. They start young, they grow old. They gain strength, they grow weak. They heal, they break.

Our bodies are magnificently unique; our bodies are heartbreakingly flawed. Our bodies present opportunities; our bodies impose limitations.

To paraphrase Julia Child, our bodies are not bad, but not great either.

I’ve been thinking about my own body for the past few weeks. In preparing for today it’s been hard not to. I thought that if I buckled down, ate less and ran more I could be a little slimmer.

I’ve worried over how to cut my hair: a military cut that says all business, a longer preppy cut that says class. A shaven face that says I’m clean cut, or a goatee that gives my jaw a more defined look.
And what to wear? If I overdress will you think I’m a snob; if I underdress would you think a slob?

The only guarantee is that one can never go wrong with a well polished shoe.

I believe that if Julia Child was in our midst she would remind me not to focus on how I look or what I will wear but to be fearless is doing what I have been called to do- to preach the Gospel.

That is certainly what Paul, the author of today’s scripture would say: that today is not about my individual body but the purpose of today’s sermon is to inspire us, as One, to continue straining forward as the glorious body of Christ.

Can I get an amen? Amen indeed.

Like Julia, Paul was an interesting fellow and someone I admire. Like Julia, Paul was born into what we would call good breeding. He came from the right family with the right education with the right rules. He was a man very aware of his body: how to care for it, what to eat, what not to wear.

But in his previous career he was ruthless. He attacked the earliest Christians, participating in their persecutions and humiliations.

But, as this letter makes clear, that was all in his past. You see, sometime late in his life Paul had a personal experience with Christ, an experience so powerful that it opened his eyes and turned him into a fearless missionary.

Stronger then Julia’s love for all things French, Paul’s love for Christ took him all over the world, on boats and by foot, to private homes and big cities.

He preached the Gospel to anyone who would hear. He shared meals, built churches, and transformed lives.

All for the Glorious Body of Christ.

But in the process he got himself arrested. And in the very harsh reality of jail he writes this letter to the Philippian church.

And what kind of letter do you think he writes? A woe is me letter? A burn-the-courthouse-down letter? Not Paul.

With a love for Christ coursing through his soul, he writes a letter full of joy, in which the word ‘rejoice’ appears no less then seven times.

“My brothers and sisters,” writes Paul from his jail cell, “...Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”

Rejoice? Even as his earthly body is locked away? How is this possible?

Because as Paul sees it, even though his own body’s freedom has been taken away he views himself as part of something grander: the Body of Christ.

And in this Paul finds comfort and in this Paul finds the strength to press forward and continue his own spiritual growth.

I don’t know about you, but I find what Paul is doing here is amazing.

He is telling us that we are more than just our body, that we are more then just the bodies sitting here today, but that we are actually part of one body: the Body of Christ, and he calls it glorious.

This, my brothers and sisters is a radical way of thinking.

Paul is not discounting the importance of his own body or the situation he’s in. What he’s done is find a way to move from seeing himself as an I into seeing himself as part of a we.

And as a we, Paul is a part of One.

What does that mean for us? As part of the Body of Christ we are more then short or tall, old or young, able or disabled, but we are One and we are glorious.

That as individuals, we are not bad, but not so great either, but as One we are glorious.

Our individual eyes are not bad, but not so great either, but when they unite to look upon an imperfect world with compassion, they become glorious.

Our individual hearts are not bad, but not so great either, but when they unite to love an imperfect world, they become glorious.

Our individual hands are not bad, but not great either, but when they unite to bless an imperfect world, they become glorious.

And what, dear church, are some of the things we can do as the glorious Body of Christ?

For the bodies out there that are hungry and homeless we can reach out to them as One to make to sure their basic needs are met

For the bodies out there that are lost and lonely we can reach out to them as One to let them know they are not alone, but part of something bigger then themselves.

For the bodies out there wounded by destructive theology we can reach out to them as One to soothingly say “God is still speaking!”

For the bodies out there that are so caught up in their past, believing they have no future we can reach out to them as One, rejoicing that “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

In conclusion, in and by themselves, our bodies are imperfect. They’re not bad, but they’re also not great. They age, they break, they limit, they confine.

But in Christ we are so much more then solitary individuals taking up our own personal space. In Christ our humbled bodies are transformed, and we become we part of one glorious body.

A body in which we can find hope for the world, a body in which grace is bestowed upon us all, and a body in which we can each find ways to shout and rejoice. A body that is, in a word, Glorious.

All thanks be to the Spirit that moves in every stage of our life, to God who has blessed us with our own unique gifts, and to Jesus who calls us into being his glorious eyes, heart and hands.

Amen and amen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"My Life in France" by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme

I saw this on a library shelf and was immediately taken by the lovely photo of her and Paul wearing their Valentine hearts.

This book is for anyone who is a "foodie", fan of "Julie and Julia" or loves France the way the ladies of SATC love NYC.

The book is a bit long in the middle, as it becomes clear that as much as one loves food, sometimes (gasp!) there is more to life and memory then what one ate. But the real soul of the autobiography is the life that Julia and Paul had and how she may have been in her late 30s before she found her calling, but once she found it, she went for it, loving and living everything French, food and friends.

If you are a fan of the movie, there are parts you will immediately pick up on, and there are parts in which you realize the film fictionalized things for the art of storytelling.

You get a sense of Julia's strong work ethic, one which demands precision but allows for mistakes. She relates to the poverty the French went through due to the war and how perhaps that influenced their love of food. And her final pages play very well with what happens as beloved people age, get sick, frail, die.

It is also clear that Julia became Julia because she was raised upper middle-class, fell in love with a wonderful man who stood beside her all along and she came into opportunities that were a mixture of pure chance but also due to her persistence, work and spirit.

As someone who wishes he could eat as cruelty free as possible, there is something about how much animal flesh plays a part in the book, but one gets a sense that Julia neither romanticizes the animals or trivializes them. She talks of eating all kinds of birds and cooking animals in their blood. I wonder how the animals were raised and treated in France at the time.

Oh, and if you want to learn how to make the best eggs? page 60

Ready for some buttery soul?

How to survive in France? "Just speak very loudly and quickly and state your position with utter conviction as the French do and you'll have a marvelous time!" (x)

Page 63: "I had never taken anything so seriously in my life- husband and cat excepted- and I could hardly bear to be away from the kitchen. What fun! What a revelation! How terrible it would have been had Roo de Loo come with a good cook! How magnificent to find my life's calling, at long last!"

Page 71: She makes a horrible lunch and eats it with a friend. "We ate the lunch with a painful politeness and avoided discussing the taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. That was a rule of mine. I don;t believe in twisting your self into knots or excuses over the food you make. When a hostess starts in with is so dreadful to have to reassure her...besides, such admissions draws attention to one's shortcomings...Usually one cooks better than one think it is. And if the food is truly vile...then the cook must simply grit their teeth and bear it with a smile- and learn from her mistakes.

129: in regards to teaching, her husband Paul tells Julia one must be willing to "play God" for a bit, in other words to be an authority.

181, some very blue-humour, courtesy of their friends who detests incompetents "You can't fertilize a five-acre field by farting through a fence."

234: Paul, on getting older and developing health problems "One thing that separates us Senior Citizens from the Juniors is learning how to suffer. It's a skill, like learning how to write."

243: a phrase from a diplomat "Remember, no one's more important than people." In other words, as Julia writes, friendship is the most important thing, not a career or housework or one's fatigue and needs to be tended and nurtured.

244: "You have to do it and do it, until you get it right"

274: " was important not to rush, push too hard , or to take people's goodwill for granted."

297: "The great lesson embedded in the book (From Julia Child's Kitchen) is that no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing. This is my invariable advise to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun!"

299: Paul thinks the closing of their French home each year is a death, but not to Julia. "To me, life moves forward." On 300 Julia gives up her beloved home when Paul and all her family and friends are not longer able to enjoy it.

302: "I learned why French food is an art, and why it makes such sublime eating: nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care...a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience."

Sermon for March 7, 2010 Isaiah 55:1-13

* before reading this I must admit that the title, theme and some of the closing words come from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself, Mary J. Blige. Her newest album, Stronger with Each Tear, has been a revelation and exactly what I needed at this time in my life. I owe much of the sermon to the song "Each Tear" and do not want anyone to think I came up with this on my own. Thanks to Mary and her writers/producers for creating another excellent CD.

Rev. George Miller
March 7, 2010
Isaiah 55:1-13
“Each Snow Flake”

It’s an honor to worship with you today and to share Communion. For me, Communion is a meal put on by God, hosted by Jesus, and open to all.

For this heavenly banquet we use juice from the fruit of the vine, and bread from the grain of the field. But you can’t have fruit or grain without water that falls from the skies.

Now last summer I had a learning moment when my sister Cindy from California came for a visit. I felt bad because it had been raining and assumed she’d be upset.

Instead Cindy looked around and said “That’s why everything here is so green and beautiful.” She explained that in California there’s been no rain so everything is brown and dry.

I thought the rain was dampening her vacation, but instead it was making it beautiful. And you know what? I looked at everything through her eyes and she was right.

The trees were covered in luscious leaves; the flowers rich in purples and pinks; the grass vibrantly green; the lake in my backyard was full, allowing the fish to thrive and play.

Michigan’s beauty, and part of our economy, is due in part to the heavenly water. It causes our blueberries to be plump, our apples to be so tasty, and our trees to be used for furniture.

But sometimes when it rains it pours, and here in Michigan, when it snows it snows.

Let’s be honest: haven’t we had enough of the this winter. It’s gone on way too long and how much snow could one state possibly need?

And metaphorically, it’s been snowing something awful, hasn’t it? Businesses are shrinking, jobs are lost, homes foreclosed, creating a new group of the poor.

When will this economic avalanche of snow stop? None of us know, but perhaps during this Lenten season we can find some hope.

Hope that God hears us. Hope that God will save us. And hope that this dreaded economic and physical winter will soon be over.

In today’s reading Isaiah is addressing the Israelites who have been facing their own storm, this particular one was known as the exile.

They had been attacked by invading troops who ravaged their city, destroyed their land and taken the people into captivity. Everything they had worked so hard for: gone. The life they had built for themselves: destroyed.
They were enduring a sense of shame and defeat.

So as the snow fell into their uncertain lives they wondered if God has lost the ability to care.

Into this winter of discontent Isaiah shouts out a rousing call to the people. He points them into a future time in which everyone will be invited to a banquet and all will be fed.

He uses this image to remind them that God has not forgotten about them and that God is working to bring about restoration.

And Isaiah tells them that on their way to this banquet they’ll be walk past mountains bursting forth in life; past spots where the melted snow has allowed seeds to sprout and bushes to grow.

Isaiah reminds the people that yes, they have been facing some nasty storms, but in the hands of God those storms will bring water to once dry places, creating new life.

I invite us to think today about water, how much we depend on it. Without water from the rain and melted snow, you can’t have grapes to turn into wine or grain to turn into bread.

And let’s think about water symbolically, how into each of our lives there must be times of rain clouds and snowstorms.

Some types of snowstorms include sickness, joblessness and financial problems. They change the rhythm of our lives, making us feel trapped.

Some snowstorms separate us from people, situations and objects we hold dear. They can leave us thinking as if God is absent.

When the snow falls for too long these emotions can freeze our inner strength and place us into darker places we don’t want to be.

But as hard as they are to endure, the storms we face can be a chance for transformation and an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and what it means to be part of a bigger community.

Sometimes it’s in the snowstorms that God is doing the most work. With each snowflake God seems to find a way to enter in, and do something unexpected, and to bring about healing.

There are some storms where we are face to face with death and strife that we become our most open and alive, realizing we can not do it alone.

I’ve watched people encounter such storms and use them as opportunities to better themselves, to look outside and turn to others for help.

Sometimes storms force us to discover things we never would have otherwise. Like looking at the choices we’ve made and wonder why we keep getting caught in the same storms.

Or ways to live cheaper, to explore unrealized talents or to make new friends.

Sometime the snow causes us to stop and relax, to breathe and sleep, using the time to be still, restoring the body, mind and soul.

The storms in our lives teach us that it’s Ok to have times of struggle, to be afraid. That from time to time everyone needs assistance, and there’s nothing wrong with saying “Help me.”

And when we reach out for help we may discover there have been folk waiting all along for the chance to reach back.

Perhaps those are the best kind of snowstorms because they remind us that we part of a bigger community.

That’s part of what Lent is about. During this time we journey with Jesus into the wilderness where he will be tempted, and into villages where he’ll be chased out.

We will go to a garden where he’ll pray for deliverance. And we will walk with him to a cross where he’ll cry out that God has forsaken him.

But at the end of his particular snowstorm, we will discover that God has not forsaken him at all. For Christ will be resurrected in a garden blooming with flowers; flowers that were watered by the melted snow.

And in Christ’s resurrection is the reminder that the Lord does not forgot but is near and full of mercy.

In conclusion, in each snow flake there’s a lesson. Each snow flake makes us stronger then we know.
Just as Isaiah is promising the exiles that they will walk alongside blooming lands watered by the snow, God is making the same promise with us.

Who knows when this winter will be over. Who knows when the economy will be restored or what the next season will look like.

But I am willing to trust that God is busy working to bring us new life.

I’m willing to trust that in each snow flake there’s been a lesson, making us stronger then before.

And I am willing to trust that in today’s Communion we will get a taste of the heavenly banquet God’s been busy preparing for us all.

For just as the Christmas snow melts to provide water for the Easter lilies, the journey to the cross leads way to the resurrection.

All thanks to God who finds ways to transform snowstorms into chances for growth, to the Spirit that guides us along the way and for the Son who invites us to be a part of the heavenly banquet.
Amen and amen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Christianity for the Rest of Us"

As part of a five week book study I read "Christianity for the Rest of Us- How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith" by Diana Butler Bass.

She has 10 signposts of renewal:

hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, beauty.

Page 6 : I also believe that lively faith is not located in buildings, programs, organizations, and structures. rather, spiritual vitality lives in human beings; it's located in the heart of God's people and the communities they form."

Page 22: because we are a mobile community it is important to talk of roots and commitment

45: churches decline when they neglect Scripture, prayer, discernment, hospitality, contemplation, justice.

52: "Tradition connects Christians to the past, practice is the calling in the present, and wisdom pushes towards a future of eternal love."

63: Deanna, a church member- "i definitely need constant and continuing conversion as I am such a superb sinner!"

67: how as a church can we take tragedy (like an unexpected death) and turn it into redemption

72: What if Jesus is not a Mapquest sort of map, a superhighway to salvation?

Hospitality: 81. how do we transform a tourist into a friend? 85. Could we host a Tent City for the homeless on our front lawn?. 86; when hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers become guests (Nouwen).

Discernment: Move from asking I-questions to God-question.

Healing: 104: To find harmony is to find balance, to touch the center point of wholeness. 106. healing is ancient. What's new is that churches are practising it (such as Christian Reiki)

Contemplation: 118: silence in the midst of all the noise we have in life, out of our fear of nothingness (120). 123: the First sign of openness to the Spirit is how much Roberts Rules of order dominate the church proceedings.

testimony: 131 it is a process of releasing control and risking that testimony can outshine the sermon. 141: testimony is not about God fixing people, it speaks of God making wholeness out of human woundedness, human incompleteness.

diversity: 148 serves as a sign of God's love for all humanity, 149 even Israel is not singular, it's made up of 12 tribes. 151 ubuntu theology- I can not be without you. 152- without different points of view, without different types of people we can't be the kind of church we are called to be.

justice: 165, a pastor wonders "how the church of Jesus could produce so many ministers willing to fall on their swords over issues of sexuality, but unwilling to notice the demonic gap between the rich and the poor."

Worship: 174: the idea is not to create anything but to simply invite people into a sense of openness and attentiveness akin to sitting on the dock not knowing if the bass will swim but ready for it if they do. You can use the material of everyday life (art, music, film) and assume it is an entryway into the sacred. teenagers and unchurched may love it.

Reflection: 185. Middle age creeps in and you realize4 one day the party will be over.

Beauty: "touching the divine. Page 208. why the Trinity, not one in two or one in eighteen, because one in Three is so elegant. 209, the teenager who believes in the Virgin birth because "it is so beautiful it has got to be true-whether it happened or not."

Church can transform lives. For example, 220, the man who spent his life dishonoring the living would now honor the dead (he goes into the funeral business), from taking advantage of others to serving others.

to go from wanderer to pilgrim, a woman has crosses traced over her body (225) creating healing touch.

228: Americans possess no stable identity. Nothing is inherited from the past, few family ties bind and all forms of personhood must be chosen and often chosen again.

231 all across the globe people think they find meaning through what they buy or aspire to buy.

234: the congregation is a place of transformation. and (241) should always be in state of change and transition.

247 people come to church not because of some marketing tool but of what we are doing.

251 do we open our doors and serve whoever enters in?

262 are we looking down at the poor or seeing them on equal standing?

271: when the church no longer has all the cultural power do we then get to explore what that means?

280: lent is a season that invites us to ponder those things that keep us feeling separate from God.

281: Transformation is the promise at the heart of Christian life.

"The Botox Diaries" by Kaplan and Schurnburger

Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schurnbuger were the writers of "Mine are Spectacular", one of the first chick lit books I had read, and still perhaps the greatest title of all time. This is my third attempt to read it, and it took a long time to get through. No pizazz. But this was their first attempt at writing together and it shows, when compared with "Spectacular."

I had no real idea where this book was heading until the last 70 pages, and that isn't such a good thing. Jess and Lucy are BFF who are in their 40's. Lucy is married to Dan but having an affair with TV star Hunter. Jess is a full-time Mom with a part-time job that gets her involved in putting on a fundraising play. She reconnects with her first husband Jacques, "dates" a gay guy named Boulder for a reality show and falls in love (last page) with a debonair executive who she meets in a cute way.

In all, the book is about family, how some come in and out of our lives, and we makes mistakes and either recover or move on, and how romance happens in unexpected ways with people we have known all along or someone new.

Not much soul until the end. Page 271 Lucy realizes it is time to grow up. She trades in her Prosche for a Volvo. "Wrong image. Traded it in...The Volvo is so much more family, don't you think? i thought this would make a statement to Dan."

Jess is in-like and looking good. Lucy tries to figure out why Jess is looking so good, then realizes (page 294) "Nope, it's your new Mr. Wonderful. Goddammit, we'll never be able to replace men. One good kiss from the right guy still makes you more radiant than a year of dermabrasion."

On the same page, the kids, from all walks of walk (millionaires to ghetto) are in the dressing room for the pep talk before the curtain opens. "The children have their arms around each other, no longer divided by what school they went to or whether they came from up- or downtown. They're one cast, one big group of friends. And suddenly I realize however the show goes, it's already been a success."