Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sermon for June 20, 2010; Luke 8: 26-39

Rev. George Miller
Luke 8:26-39
“New Men in Christ ”
June 20, 2010. Father's Day

Dirt and soil. What’s the difference between them?

One of them is seen as filthy while the other is seen as clean.

One is full of bacteria, spreading illness, the cause for exclusion, while the other is full of nutrients, brings forth life and helps to make things beautiful.

Dirt is loose and uncontainable, soil is in its place doing what it’s supposed to do.

Dirt is what you wash off of your lettuce so you don’t get grit in your teeth, soil is what you grow the lettuce in.

Dirt is messy, is under your nails, dragged across the carpet when brought into the house underneath your shoes.

Soil is what you purposely buy in purposeful bags for purposeful reasons, like repotting a plant, or caring for a garden.

Dirt and soil: the exact same thing. It is where they are placed that defines them.

Dirt and soil. Death and life.

...At this point you’re all wondering where this message is going. I don’t blame you: today is Father’s Day, and you should be hearing about Dads. But I will get there, somehow, I promise.

But for the moment, let’s talk about dirt and soil.

If you have a chance this week, take some time to read all of chapter 8. In doing so you’ll see just how expert of a writer Luke is, how he has assembled a series of memories that lead into and foreshadowed one another.

The chapter begins with Jesus traveling with the disciples and a group of women, some of which had been cured of evil spirits. Jesus tells a parable about seeds: some fall on the path, others on the rocks, others amongst thorns, but only the seeds that fall into good soil grow and produce.

Evil spirits, seeds and soil.

Jesus gets into a boat, a storm comes, his followers are afraid. Jesus rebukes the wind, he rebukes the waves, they are saved, and everything’s calm...Until they arrive in Gentile country...

Jesus steps off of the boat, and onto land. Here is where a good story teller can stop...

What kind of land will this be? Is it dirt, full of illness and things that can create exclusion?

Or it soil, full of life giving nutrients that can bring forth life and beauty?...

Jesus steps up off of the boat, onto land, and not a moment later we discover this land is full of illness and loneliness.

He is met by a man, a man possessed by demons, demons that have caused him to live in a tomb, wrapped in chains and shackles, naked and alone.

Jesus may have left behind a storm at sea, but here, upon dry land, he is encountering a man who is living with a storm inside his body.

The man falls down before Jesus, the demons’ voice thunder out of him “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God.”

Waves of torment have tossed this man to and fro; his life full of death. So Jesus rebukes the demons from the man.

And the next time we see the man? He is clothed. He is in his right mind. He is sitting at the feet of Jesus, the posture a student takes when with a teacher. In other words Jesus has taken his dirt and turned it into soil.

When Jesus steps back onto the boat, the man asks if he can go with them. But Jesus tells him to go, return to his home and proclaim what God has done.

It’s as if Jesus had said to the man “Your dirt has been turned into soil, go back to your family and plant the seeds of hope that you have now been given; those seeds will beautify the world.”

The man may have been naked, living in a tomb, covered the dirt of the dead, but he has an encounter with Jesus in which he is clothed, sent home with a chance to embrace and celebrate life.

The man once had a raging storm inside of him, but Jesus enters into his life and now his spirit is still as dry land.

The man once lived alone, amidst rocks and thorns, but Jesus steps into his life and has him return home with a job to do.

That’s what an encounter with Jesus does. It moves you from chained to free, from being ruled by inner demons to finding your voice, from being alone to being part of the community, from not knowing to wanting to learn as much as you can.

An encounter with Jesus means you go from having dirt to having soil.

And that transformation allows us to plant seeds of testimony, create new beginnings and usher in true beauty.

When we have that encounter with Jesus, our dirt turns into soil and our testimony becomes the seeds that help to grow the Kingdom of God.

Today it’s Father’s Day (see, I told you I would somehow get around to it), and in someways, Fatherhood is one of the dirtiest jobs around.

In the traditional images of fatherhood, Dad is the one mowing the lawn and fixing the car. Dad is the griller, the hedge trimmer, the baseball coach.

I think of my own father, with his work bench and toolbox, how there was always grease under his fingernails. We may have lived in the suburbs but we had a vegetable garden, a wood burning stove and a fence, all that needed caring.

Fatherhood is a dirty job, but as the saying goes, somebody has to do it. And it is so important that it be done well.

Sadly, too many men have become like the man in today’s story: filled with rage, spouting unholy things, feared for the physical threat they can pose, separate from their family, secluded and yet surrounded by the ways of death.

Somehow some fathers have fallen short, disappeared or are trapped by their demons.

But today’s story reminds us that it does not have to be that way. That in Christ we are clothed in righteousness, in Christ we are given a new voice and an honorable task.
Jesus has wiped away our dirt and we are made new, new for the sake of our children, new for the sake of our partners, new for the sake of our parents, new for the sake of our community.

New for the sake of ourselves.

And the dirt we were once covered with becomes the soil from which the seeds we get to plant get to grow, in soil that is now good and able to produce life.

For when Jesus steps into our life, we are given a chance to be freed from our demons, freed from the things that have chained us, free from our spiritual filth.

We are given the chance to proclaim, the chance to do.

In other words, we are each given the chance to plant seeds in good soil.

In conclusion, let us remember that as new men, as new women, as new people in Christ, the dirt that once ruled our lives becomes the soil from which new life can grow, soil in which beauty can arise.

Rough waters do not have to scare us, moments of demonic behavior do not have to define us, and seclusion do not have to be the answer.

For Jesus has given us the seeds we need to turn our dirt into soil and our pain into joy, and he has asked us to share them with all that we know.

All thanks be to the Spirit that falls upon us like life giving rain, thanks be to God that gives us the seeds to plant, and thanks be to Jesus that turns our dirt into soil.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sermon for June 13, 2010

Rev. George Miller
2 Samuel 11:1-26
“God’s Imperfect People ”
June 13, 2010

2 weeks ago I received a sad phone call: Rue McClanahan had died. Rue had been a TV fixture for decades, from “Maude” to “Mama’s Family” to “Sordid Lives.” But she will always be known as Blanche Devoruex from “The Golden Girls.”

You may not know this, but I’m a fan of “The Golden Girls.” Like many people, I became addicted to the Ladies of Miami through their endless repeats on the Lifetime channel.

10 a.m., 4 p.m., 11 o’clock: “The Golden Girls” were on and for an hour or two or three each day you could laugh and feel like you were home with your mother, your grandmother, your friends.

Sophia, the wise one; Dorothy, the sensible one; Rose; the hopeful one.

Blanche was the southern belle who never lost her wit or her wiles. She was unapologetically sensuous, which was revolutionary for its time. Up until then aging people were rarely seen as anything but...aging.

Rue said she believed that as people grew older they developed another layer of who they were, that they did not become a creature or some other thing.
That’s deep: the idea that as we age we develop more layers of our personhood; always growing, always evolving, always being transformed.

Look at Rue’s career and you’ll see this, as she continued to work on Broadway, TV and films.

In 2003 she had a small role in “The Fighting Temptations.” It was about a scam artist who returns to his home church to help them win a singing competition.

The choir he assembles is a motley lot, a multi-racial group made up of jailbirds, church mothers and lounge singers. In the process he is redeemed, finding a permanent place in the church. Rue McClanahan was one of the singers.

The closing song is aptly titled “Time to Come Home” and features UCC-like lyrics:

“It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done wrong/It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re always welcome/It only matters that your heart believes and you confess/If you’ve committed any sin you’ll be forgiven/Calling on all God’s children, it’s time to come home.”[i]

The essence of Christianity.

So I ask: Why are there so many folk out in the world who feel they can not spiritually come home?

Is it because we’ve failed to let them know that this is a home they can go to?

Or is it because they’ve forgotten that everyone sins? Because one of the glorious things about the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, is just how clearly it shows how human we are, and that everyone makes mistakes.

That we are all God’s imperfect people.

And yet although we make bad choices, we are worthy of being loved, of finding redemption, and of having a spiritual place to call home.

The writer of 2 Samuel did not have a problem showing life as it is. Instead of whitewashing events, the author shared the bawdy and the tragic.

It’s actually stunning to think that this story is told at all, because here is a recollection that Israel’s national hero acted like a mafia don.[ii]

To fully grasp the gravity of what happens is to realize that this King David is the same David we read about in Sunday School.

This is David, God’s Chosen One, who defeated Goliath, supposedly wrote the Psalms and became Israel’s greatest King.

And yet, in chapter 11 we have this story in which he breaks at least 4 commandments and his world is forever changed.
What happened? As the author tells us, it’s springtime. A time when nature is busy making love and kings like to go to war. But for some reason David is staying home.

While his men are busy fighting, David has taken an afternoon nap. While his men are busy fighting, David wakes up with a stretch and a yawning and goes for a walk around his palace.

And David just so happens to see Bathsheba, a beautiful, married woman taking a bath. He sends his messengers to fetch her so he can lay with her.

Just how Bathsheba felt we will never know. Did she come willingly, was she forced, did she even have a choice? We are not given a chance to hear her feelings, nor are any motives ascribed to her.

Was she a seductress, a victim of rape, or somewhere in between?

What we do know is that in his actions, David commits numerous transgressions. His lust leads to adultery, his adultery leads to murder: acts of violence that stain his life forever.

And in this story we’re left to ask “How did God’s anointed one become an angel of death?”[iii]

How could that little boy who persevered against the enemy and play the harp become a tragic example of misused power?

Why does the Bible even bother telling this story? It’s too tabloid, something you’d see at the supermarket check-out line. How could this possibly warrant space in something we call the “Good Book?”

It’s a story in which there seems to be little hope.

And yet, we should be thankful that the writer dared to capture the weakness and vulnerability of a person such like David.[iv] That even those we most admire are not immune to sin.

We should be thankful that we can see how even King David is a human being. That we can’t expect him to act like a god, because there is only one God.[v]

This story is here because the author wants us to know that someone like David can be our role model, not because we are to strive to be like him, but because we are like him.[vi]

Imperfect, flawed, capable of horrible deeds.

2 Samuel 11 is the story of a fallen hero, and if we can face his sin, then we can also face our own.[vii]

And the reason why we face our sin is so that we can admit it, we can confess it, and we can let it go, loosing the power it has over us; preventing our sins from blinding us.

I think of Psalm 51: “...Cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me...Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”[viii]

As Christians, that new and right spirit comes on behalf of Jesus Christ.

It is Jesus, the blameless one, who intercedes for us, who works to save us, who offered himself for our sakes.[ix]

Jesus lets us know that our sins do not have to separate us from others or keep us spiritually homeless.

We see this in the woman who finds forgiveness by washing Jesus’s feet. We learn about it in the story of the son who returns home to the welcoming father.

We hear it on the cross, as Jesus assures a condemned man that he will have a home in Paradise.

Just like David, we are all sinners, we are all imperfect. Our sins may create rifts in the fabric of God’s universe,[x] but that does not mean they have to forever define who we are.

The Gospel message is that God found a way to work through David’s sins to bring redemption into the world. It may have taken generations to happen, but redemption came in Jesus Christ, the great-great descendent of David and Bathsheba.[xi]
If God can still love David and work through his misdeeds, imagine how much God loves you and will work through your daily transgressions, big and small.

In conclusion, yes, we may sin, but we do not have to bear the burden by our self: the Redeemer is here. And it is Jesus who saves any and all who approach God through him.

It does not matter if you are a Blanche or a Bathsheba, a David or a don.

For any heart that is heavy laden, know that in Jesus Christ we do not have to stay away: it is time to come home.

In God’s home we are forgiven. In God’s home our hearts, bodies and soul and washed clean.

In God’s home we each have the chance to become...Golden.

Thanks be to the Spirit who calls us back to the Father, thanks be to Jesus who willingly carried that message to the cross, and thanks be to God for allowing Emmanuel UCC to be a place for us all to call home.

Amen and amen.

Matthew 1:6

[i]. “Time to Come Home” from the CD “Music from the Motion Picture ‘The Fighting Temptations’”. Words and music by Jam & Lewis, James Wright and Be
yonce, 2003.[ii].John C. Holbert, from Theological Commentary-The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts, 20
01, pg. 206.[iii].Bruce C. Birch, Commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel, from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume II
(NIB), 1
[vi].Holbert[vi]. Elaine Doob Sakenfield, Just Wives? Stories of Power & Survival in the Old Testament &
[viii].Birch[viii].Biblical quotes from the New Revised Standard Ve
rsion (NRSV)[ix].See Heb
rews 7:23-28[x].Sakenfi
eld, pg. 213[xi].See

"How's Your Romance" by Ethan Morrden

...and sometimes a book in the dollar bin is there for a reason...

Poor Ethan has a story to tell but he gets in his own way, writing in a style that doesn't say "read and enjoy me" but "try to follow where I am going."

The sub-plot with Red is good.

There is the idea of always carrying a dollar in one's pocket to give to someone in need, coming from a family that "impresses upon its tender offspring the importance of service." (pg. 236).

But the one line I liked was on page 149: "That turned out to be a mistake, but without bad decisions life writes us no stories."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Women Who Eat" edited by Leslie Miller

Sometimes you can find the most wonderful book for only a buck. That's what happened with the anthology "Women Who Eat" (2003). A collection of stories by foodies for foodies, capturing all essences of cooking, eating and food memories, almost every story tied into how food and relationships coexist with one another.

I highly recommend this book, especially being moved by Amanda Hesser's "Fundamental Pleasures," so much so I read her essay twice in a row. On page 39 she quotes from Edoudard de Pomiane's Cooking with Pomaine: "For a gourmand there is no need to produce complicated dishes with fancy names. Prepare for him raw materials of good quality. Transform them as little as possible and accompany them with suitable sauces and you will have produced a meal which is just right."

I loved that line and thought of how well that applies to just about everything. Simpler is better. So how can I follow the words that I agree with?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sermon for June 6, 2010

Rev. George Miller
1 Kings 17:8-16
“Bread from Heaven ”
June 6, 2010

(Sermon is done from the voice of the widow’s son, giving a school presentation.)

Mrs. Crabtree! Mrs. Crabtree! I’ll be right there. Hold on. (Enter, dressed as a kid with backpack.)

Hi. My name is Francis Panera and for my show and tell today I want to talk about this (places Jiffy box and oil on table. Nervous laugh).

(Looking to side)Tommy! Stop making me laugh.

Like I said, I will tell you how this mix and this oil kept me and my Momma alive and taught us about God. Tommy! Mrs. Crabtree, tell Tommy to stop making faces at me!

Ok, so, Momma says that before I was born, her and Daddy used to have a lot of money. Not a lot a lot like Iron Man, but more then Spiderman.

Daddy was from Michigan and he worked for Chry, he worked for Chry, he worked for Chrysler Motor Company. And business was good.

So good he moved down here to open his own dealership, and that’s how he and Momma met. They had a big house and a fancy car they drove all over Sebring.
They had me, and Momma said that for awhile life was good. She told me my favorite thing to do was go with her and Daddy to Mcdonald’s for a Happy Meal.

But then things weren’t so good. People stopped buying Chryslers and instead they were buying something called Hyundais and Toyotas, and Dad lost the business.

Momma said it broke Daddy’s heart and one day he had a heart attack and died, leaving Momma and me alone, in our big house.

Momma said that for awhile things were OK, but soon they weren’t and she had to cut coupons, then she had to stop going to the booty parlor, and then she had to start selling off her jewl, her jewl, her jewelry. Momma used to have a diamond this big on her finger. But she sold it.

The grass in our yard grew long, the windows stayed broke, I couldn’t go to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal.

She tried to get a job, but no one would hire her, not even Publix. Momma even had to sell Daddy’s car. Then she got a job picking fruit and she rode there in an old bike she had found. She didn’t like what she was doing, saying it was a job for migrants not debutantes. Whatever that is.

But then this winter got really cold and Momma stopped working. Then it stopped raining.
So there hasn’t been a lot of food or Happy Meals.

One day I asked Momma why we don’t go on welfare; she said that was for lazy people and she ain’t lazy. But that week our electric was shut off.

So I asked Mom how come no one was helping us. She said because no one could know about our situation, and I was to not tell anyone else either, if I knew what was coming to me. Then our food right near ran out.

So I asked Mom how come the church can’t help us. She said “Church! Ha! There is no God!” And because I went to bed hungry, I stopped believing in God too.

That’s why, Mrs. Crabtree, I’ve been so fidgety. I don’t mean to be bad, it’s just that I am so hungry.

For a long time, all Momma and I had to eat was canned food like Spam and hash. But then one day it was all gone and all we had was a box of Jiffy corn-bread and a little bit of oil.

That day I woke up real early, with a big pain in my belly. I heard Mom crying and I when I got up I saw her on her knees and talking to someone who was not there.

She was saying “Please, if you can hear me, help me. All my son and I have left is a bit of oil and a box of mix. After we eat that, we will surely die.”

That scared me. I went back to bed and pretended to be asleep. Momma woke me up for school and she told me to be good and that she was going out to prepare for that night’s dinner.

Because Momma was too proud to let anyone know about our situation she would ride her bike to where Sebring and Lake Placid meet and she’d gather sticks to burn in the fire place, and cook our food in a skillet. (Deep inhale)

I had a real bad day at school, wondering what Momma meant about how we would eat it and die. That was the day I was sent to the principal’s office for not following instructions. Do you remember Mrs. Crabtree?

Anyhow, when I got home, things were different. First of all, Momma was singing. Second, there was a strange man in the living room. He had lots of hair, all over his arms and legs, like a monkey.

And he was eating cornbread. I was real angry at first. That was supposed to be my food. My stomach rumbled like it was 24 Hours at Sebring.

Momma introduced me to him, said his name was Eli, Elij, Elijah. His name was Elijah, and he said “pleased to meatcha” and there were bits of cornbread stuck in his mustache.

I asked Momma what was going on, but she said “Sit down dear” and next thing I knew, she was coming back with a whole pan full of cornbread.
“Eat up dear” she said. I asked what about her and she said there was more left over. I looked at her funny like.

But I was so hungry I ate real, real fast, not caring who this strange man was. He laughed and Momma came back with another pan of corn bread, and this time everyone had a piece.

And you know what? It was really nice. Sitting there with Momma, Elijah and warm bread.

We sat and talked and he told us that he was a prophet of God, and that he was on the run from some people because and it was because of their actions that it was not raining.

As Elijah talked I thought how cool it was to have a man in the house, and that night I went to sleep with a full belly and a feeling that things were going to be alright.

I woke up the next day and guess what? Guess what? I said guess what? Elijah and Momma were at the table, smiling, and there was more cornbread. I asked where it came from and all Elijah said was “God provides.”

I went to school and for the first time got a gold star, do you remember Mrs. Crabtree?

So, even though it still hadn’t rained, and Momma had no job, we kept having food to eat.

But not just that: Elijah began fixing things around the house, like the leaky roof and the broken window and he mowed the lawn.

At night he told tell me and Momma about God and the amazing things God had done like create the world out of nothing and give the Israelites bread from heaven.

“Just like us!” I said.

Elijah said “Just like you.”

Know what the best part was? One day I came home and Elijah had a football and asked me if I knew how to play. I said no, so he showed me how to throw, and catch and how to run.

One day I got real sick, like really really sick; that’s when I missed a whole week Mrs. Crabtree. But Elijah prayed over me and did not leave my side until I got better. I thought “This must be what it’s like to have a daddy.”

Well, day after day that one box of corn-bread mix and that little bit of oil seemed to feed us, and I don’t know how, but I didn’t mind, because for the first time in a long time my belly was full, Momma was happy and neither of us were alone.

God, through Elijah, was giving us a vacation from our poverty, and in that vacation we found hope, and in hope we found new possa, new possa, new possibilities.
Our neighbors began talking with us, and people would drop things off, like casseroles and cookies and people began offering us rides to church.

I think once people stopped seeing Momma as an outsider they felt more comfortable talking with her, and I think the more people talked with her the less ashamed she felt about needing help.

One day I came back from school and Elijah was gone. I asked Momma were he went and she said his time with us was over and he had other people to visit, but, just as he had promised us, God would make sure our food would not run out.

I was real sad for awhile, wondering why he left. But then one day it began to rain, and rain, and rain, and rain and rain, and Momma was so happy, and we went out and danced in the raindrops.

Then she got a phone call from her old boss: the rain meant the blueberries would soon be ready for picking and they needed her help.

Even though it was hard work, Momma was so happy to have a job again. She’d come home tired and her hands all purple, and she’d pull some fresh berries out of her pocket.

She even planted a garden and began to grow her own vegetables. One day she dug up a carrot, bit into it and said “As God is my witness I will never go hungry again.”

And she has followed through on her promise. Not only is Momma working now, but we have something called a social worker who makes sure we are OK, we have food and our bills are paid.

Momma is still friends with the neighbors and they bring us casseroles filled with meat and fish and cheese, and sometimes they’ll drive us to the local pantry or to appointments.

I can’t tell you how that box of Jiffy corn bread mix and that little bit of oil lasted. From time to time ask Momma, but she just winks at me and says “God finds ways to provide.”

You can say it was a miracle and God had the mix and oil magically refill itself. But do you wanna know what I think happened? Do you really wanna know?

I think that perhaps Elijah found ways to bring food into our house. Or that once the neighbors saw us as a family they felt more inclined to open their hearts. Or that Elijah helped Momma realize that there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.

Or maybe it was all those things, or it was none of those things.

All I know is that once we were hungry and about to die, and because of Elijah and his promise from God we never went without our daily bread.

And what I learned and why I brought this in today for show and tell is to say that not only do I believe in God, but I believe that God is a God of life.

That God cares about the outsiders, the poor, those without a Daddy and those without a husband.

And I believe that in God there is enough. Maybe not a McDonald’s Happy Meal every single day, like I would want, but enough to give you what you need, when you need it.

Thank you for letting me share with you my story during show and tell, and I give thanks to the Spirit that falls like rain, to Jesus who was poor just like me and to God who gives us bread from heaven.

Amen and amen.

Sermon from May 31, 2010, Romans 8:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Romans 8:18-25
“Creation Groans ”
May 30, 2010

Groaning- creation has been groaning. A moan, a low, rumbling sound.

Pain- there is pain; like a woman in the process of giving birth; pain like a 1,000 outsiders wandering the wilderness for a place to call home, away from the persistent sun and scorching heat.

Pain like a forsaken man nailed to a cross. Pain like what you experienced on the darkest night of your life when you felt the most alone.

No joke can quiet the pain, no sweet treat can lessen the gnawing it creates in the soul, no word spoken can eradicate its sound.

It is a groaning that began back then, continues into the now and moves into the future.

Only hope can save us; the Spirit help us in our weakness; the Messiah call us forward to accept our part in bringing God’s children into glory.

Creation has been groaning because we were all created for something grander, but we have all been lost to sin...

Romans 8 is an eloquent passage in a poetically complex letter. Paul is writing to a group of folk in which he talks about Christ, the Spirit, and hope. For 25 years he has traveled all over creation sharing the Good News.

As one of my professors said, Paul was building a community among different cultures and beliefs, doing so without any romantic ideas, knowing it was hard work.

Because Paul’s ministry was such a struggle he used metaphors of fragility in contrast with God’s glory. For example, in weakness we find strength, and in defeat we find victory.[i]

The use of metaphors appears in today’s reading, such as the condition of the world, noting that there is a lot decay and a lot of pain.

Groaning Paul calls it, groaning as if in childbirth.
The entire creation groans. That means all the wonderful things we heard about last week in Psalm 104: birds and fish, waterways and rocks, even the mighty leviathan: groaning in pain.

Creation groans; is there any way to make it stop?

...Groaning is a lost art form; the ability to embrace pain, no matter how great or small it is; to allow oneself to fully feel and experience it.

I think of other cultures that have the art of the groan. In certain African villages, when someone dies there is a resounding sound of weeping and wailing that takes place as people gather, raising their voices, communally sharing their groans.

Or certain churches in which the words of a song are nothing more then a low, solemn hum, a melodic groaning that bespeaks the community’s shared understanding of pain.

That doesn’t happen so much in middle class USA, that communal acknowledgment of pain and shared sense of groan. In fact we shy away from it, afraid we’ll be seen as less of a person if we make that groaning sound.

Think about it: how often, when we are groaning, do we find others (even ourselves) reacting in certain ways: People don’t want to be around us, or they try to change the subject to something else. Or they say inappropriate words of encouragement like “Things ain’t that bad”, “Cheer up chipmunk,” or “all you need is faith.”

Which only gives the one groaning another thing to do and a compounded sense of shame.

When the truth is, the best thing a person can say is nothing, the best thing they can to do is sit with you in that groan, giving space for what you do or do not want to say, acknowledging that what you feel is real, and that yes, suffering is not fun.

We have lost the art of the groan, and in the process, we have also lost sight that sometimes groaning is not such a bad thing.
Sometimes it is our groans that we are our most pregnant with possibility, it is in our groans that we are on the brink of doing something extraordinarily new.

As Paul states, creation groans, but it is a groaning like one in labor pains. This kind of groan is different then the sounds of mourning, these groans are different from something forever lost, for these groans are about giving birth.

Creation, on its tiptoes, rich with excitement: what is God going to do and just how will God do it?

Patience, prayers and birth pangs come together, ready to let go of the past and to be ushered into something alive and new.

In this construct, the sound of groaning is not to be feared. After all, the groaning of the Hebrew slaves resulted in their freedom, when God parted the waters and led them to “a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands.”[ii]

Christ’s groaning on the cross lead to the resurrection where the weak were shown to be strong, and a new community was created, a community we are all a part of.

If groaning can bring freedom from bondage and turn death into life, what can our own pregnant groans give life to?...

...Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It’s a day to recall and give thanks for those who died in defense of our country. It’s a time to visit cemeteries and memorials, places for the dead.

But I was thinking that for today, we can take a moment to honor our living, our soldiers who may not be fighting oversees, but our soldiers of the church. Those whose hard work and dedication have resulted in groans of new life.

Joyce Gordon who has dedicated herself to the advertising and internet aspect of our ministry, reaching out to people we many never see but are being touched by the efforts of our work.

Linda Taylor who heads our Caring Ministry, making sure the groans of our sick and lonely do not go ignored. Rev. Dan Smith who takes care of Christian Education, ensuring we do not forget our story. Susan Tucker who oversaw our Evangelism, Outreach and Growth group now guided by Joan Beck.

Sue Shellhammer who through the Hospitality group shows kindness to people in a hurting world. Connie Carter and Gloria Lockwood who offer music to soothe our souls and assist the Spirit in giving new birth through song.

Kirk Zimmerman who oversees the care of this Holy House so the groaning have a safe place to call home. Marge Wolf who through Word and Sacrament makes sure the Lord’s Supper is available for the hungry souls who come here.
Herb Guether who led the search committee through a long process that had its share of groans that gave way to pastoral birth. Larry Andrews who through the Service committee calls us to embrace the spirit of Agape, unselfish love, in which we’ll take an offering for today.

Mel and Maureen Wygant who deal with issues of stewardship and finances of which no church can live without.

The pastors who were here before, making my ministry possible: Rev. Loffer, Rev.Carrell, Rev. Laucks and Rev. Langdoc who served as a bridge between us.

There are many other names: Carol and Jim, Millie, May and Dean, Shirley, Gene (Jean) and Hilda, our Willing Workers and those who feed them. I apologize for those I did not mention and assure you that your work is not ignored.

I can not finish without stating how our secretary Marge and our moderator Glenn not only work to help the church run efficiently, but they also pastor the pastor, helping to ease my pregnant groans, and for that I am gracefully grateful.

All these people and the many more I have not mentioned are all positively groaning, pregnant with possibilities, working to bring forth new life, giving birth to worship and ministry.

And why do they do this?
Because it is the work that Christ has called us to do; it is their response to the hope we have as recipients of the Spirit.

It is the work necessary, as children of God, to help aide a groaning world.

And the world is groaning. The waters, land and creatures groan from the impact of oil leaked into the Gulf, as do the humans who depend on the waters for their livelihood.

The unemployed are groaning. At 12% unemployment, residents of our state are left wondering just how they are going to pay their bills, keep their homes and care for their family.

The wounded lost are groaning. Those who are outsiders, told they don’t belong because they are different, they have a different theology, a different view of politics, or a different understanding of who they can love.

And we, as Emmanuel United Church of Christ, where God is still speaking (and listening) is a place that has heard their groans and is continuing to find ways to respond to them.

There are groans so great that the most we can do is be present and hold a hand. There are groans that will call us to leap to action. There are groans that will give way to new birth in the form of programs and ministries.

Thus, we too do not need to be afraid of the groan, but to hear it, acknowledge it, and ask God just what it is we can do.

As the unified body of Christ we can act out in hope, as the unified body of Christ we can offer a soothing balm that will ease Creation’s pain.

As a unified body of Christ we can provide a spot of shade for those who are feeling scorched by the sun, feeling alone and thinking themselves lost.

For in hope we are saved, and in hope we all actively wait in patience.

Thanks be to God who gave us the gifts of creation, for the Spirit that says what our words can not relay, and for Jesus whose glory means freedom for all from bondage and decay.

Amen and amen.

[i]. Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause, “A Sermon to Celebrate the Life and Ministry of Reverend Dr. Diane E. Windler,” preached at Eden Theological Seminary, May 21, 2010.
[ii].Ezekiel 20:6