Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sermon for July 25, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Luke 11:1-13
“Bread in Abundance ”
July 25, 2010

Bread and forgiveness; forgiveness and bread. Both play a prominent role in Jesus’ death, in his resurrection, in today’s reading.

One supplies the strength for today, the other gives hope for tomorrow. But which does what?

Look at Luke 22:19: Jesus is at the table with the disciples. He takes bread, blesses it and says “This is my body, which is given for you.”

Then, while hanging from the cross, Jesus says “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (23:34)

Flash forward to the Resurrection. Two people, on their way to Emmaus, invite a stranger to stay the night. He takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and they discover it is the risen Christ. (24:30)

Later, he tells the disciples to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to all nations. (24:47)

Bread and forgiveness; forgiveness and bread. Each play a prominent role in today’s reading, one supplying the strength for today, the other giving hope for tomorrow. But which does what? Let’s take a look.

Jesus is on a journey, making his way towards Jerusalem, towards his death. This journey is not about geography; it is a journey of the soul. He visits friends, he shares meals, he teaches and tells stories.

And like those who are aware of their mortality, Jesus is attune to the things that really matter in life: a relationship with God, community, daily bread, to forgive and to be forgiven. Jesus shares that knowledge with others.

He teaches a prayer, one that says “Give us each day our daily bread.” He tells a story about a man asking for bread to be shared with a visitor.

As a modern American it’s interesting to hear this since during the last decade bread has received a bad rap.

Thanks to certain diets, like Atkins and South Beach, we were told carbohydrates were bad. Pasta: bad. Cereal: bad. Bread: very bad.

Meat and vegetables: good. So people gulped down bacon, cheeseburgers and fried eggs in reckless abandon.

But Jesus was not an American, nor did he have an office job with a snack machine in the break room. His office was by the beach and on mountaintops, along the road and in people’s homes.

So forget about the Atkins diet, Jesus followed the Mediterranean diet: fish and fruit, grains and grapes, bread with every meal and most likely a glass of red wine with supper.

Atkins was for over-fed Americans living amidst fast food restaurants and stores on every corner.

Jesus’ diet was in line with someone who did not have a lot of money, nor the luxury of cabinet space since he didn’t even have a home. And he walked a lot.

So daily bread was essential. It could be carried around, and it could easily be shared with anyone who asked.

So when Jesus taught us how to pray, he said “Give us the bread we need to sustain us.” We all need bread; we all need sustenance.

Then there is the forgiveness aspect. Forgiveness is like bread: it can be carried around, it can be shared with anyone who asked.

And everyone needs forgiveness; everyone needs to learn how to forgive.

Two weeks ago I said that the Bible can be reduced to the statement: “I gave you life so that you could live it.” Others will tell you that the Bible can be reduced to one word: “forgiveness.”

When we look at the attributes given to God and the teaching of Christ, none seem to be greater then forgiveness.

It’s a wonderful gift. Forgiveness allows us to confront mistakes, to release and transform them, and to step into the future.

And yet, as a culture we seem to be on an Atkins diet as far as forgiveness is concerned.

Forgiveness seems so hard for us to seek, share and do, perhaps because it involves vulnerability, honesty, and going against the human desire for retribution.

If you don’t agree, look at the ever increasing number of jails being built, the ever increasing numbers of litigation and people being sued.

This summer’s newest blockbuster, “Inception”, is about one man’s inability to forgive himself. And think of that person you’re most mad at right now, who you have yet to forgive, but perhaps are more then happy to talk about behind their back.

Forgiveness is more complex then the most complex carbohydrate. We can teach about it, hear about it, read biblical examples of how to do it, and yet we don’t always do the best job of it...

...Bread and forgiveness; forgiveness and bread.
One supplies the strength for today, the other gives hope for tomorrow. But which does what, and why does Jesus tie them together in the Lord’s Prayer when there are so many other things we can pray for?

At Tuesday’s Bible study, Marge made an interesting discovery; a word that was used.

If you notice, after Jesus teaches the Prayer, he tells a story. A man has a late night visitor, but no food to offer. So he goes to his neighbor and asks “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread...” (V.5)

Lend. Not give, or hand over. But lend.

Lend has a circular sense about it. To lend suggests passing on, sharing, releasing something so it can return.

Is this Jesus’ subliminal way to help us understand the very nature of forgiveness? That forgiveness is like a loaf of bread: it is something we give to those who ask, it is something they can pass on to others and it is something they can return to us in our time of need?

And to go a step further, what does bread and forgiveness have in common? Both barely cost a thing and almost anyone has the ability to share them.

You can go to the poorest of homes in our city and you can go to the richest of homes, and you will find in almost every abode a type of bread, be it a roll, a box of cereal or a box of crackers.

You can go to the poorest of homes in our city and you can go to the richest of homes, and you will find in every abode the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven.

To forgive someone, so they can forgive someone else, so we can also receive the gift of forgiveness in return.

In conclusion, this scripture is about a whole new way of living, of a whole new way to be, of how to make God’s kingdom present and how to live as if the Kingdom is already here.

Bread and forgiveness; forgiveness and bread.
Both play a prominent role in Jesus’ death, both play a prominent role in his resurrection, and both play a prominent part in today’s reading.

One supplies the strength for today, the other gives hope for tomorrow. But which does what?

Which are you willing to share, which are you willing to ask for, which are you willing to accept?

All thanks be to the gifts of the Spirit of which we receive, thanks be to God, our Abba and Mother and thanks be to Jesus who in his walk to death reminds us of how to walk in our life.

Amen and amen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"The Almond" by Nedjma

Another $2 treasure from Books-A-Million. This is about a Muslim's sexual self-discovery, a poetically written piece of erotica that gives insight into the Muslim world a divorced peasant woman's point of view.

Sensuality and spirituality abound. I enjoyed page 122 in which the main character thinks about "the beggars who stretch out their hand toward God and are rebuffed by distracted and stingy people. I gave bread every Friday to the old people covered with blisters and dressed in rags at the entrance to the mausoleums."

Is this what it means when we ask "Give us this day our daily bread?"

And then, check out 230-231 as Driss, who is dying, coming to God in prayer. It is too long and at points vulgar to repeat hear, but it begins "God of the butterflies and elephants, You know I am worthless. You gave me Maari, Abou Nawas, Jahiz, Mohamed Ibn Abdillah, Moses, and Jesus, and I don't know how to be grateful...."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sermon for July 18, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Luke 10:38-42
“Who Said Anything ‘bout a Kitchen? ”
July 18, 2010

(Pastor comes in acting like a game show host)
Good morning and welcome to the newest game show that’s all the rage “How Well Do You Know Emmanuel?”, the show in which you get to win money for our Global Missions Tuppence Tree.

(Pastor selects a volunteer from the audience). Contestant #1, for .25$, answer this question:

On Wednesday, Hardric was doing much work for the church. Was he
a) Wacking the Weeds
b) Busy with the Bulletin
c) Concocting Cocktails and Serving Shrimp

The answer is a) Wacking the Weeds.

Contestant #2, for .50$ to go towards the Tuppence Tree, Marge Hahn does many tasks for the church. On any day will you see her
a) Busy with the Bulletin
b) Motoring up the Mower
c) Concocting Cocktails and Serving Shrimp

The answer is a) Busy with the Bulletin

Contestant #3, for .75$ on any given Wednesday you’ll see Nancy Beatty doing much work for the church. Would you see her
a) Busy with the Bulletin
b) Motoring up the Mower
c) Concocting Cocktails and Serving Shrimp

The answer is b) Motoring up the Mower

Contestant 4, for $1 to go to the Tuppence Tree, Pastor George does much work for the church. On any given day you may find him
a) Wacking the Weeds
b) Motoring up the Mower
c) Concocting Cocktails and Serving Shrimp

Do we even need to verify that answer!?!

Contestant #5, bonus question for $2, in today’s scripture it says that Martha was distracted by her many tasks. Was she
a) ministering to the sick
b) collecting items for charity
c) preparing to lead worship
d) cooking in the kitchen
e) It does not say.

The answer is e) It does not say.

(Pastor dismisses contestants, lets character go).

It’s true: today’s scripture never says what kind of tasks Martha was doing. There is nothing about hospitality or food or plateware, so let me ask you this: why do we keep putting Martha by a hot stove when there is nothin’ about no kitchen?

I find the Martha and Mary story fascinating. A brief tale about two sisters, how Jesus enters into their lives and appears to scold one sister while commending the others.

I always felt a sense of unfairness about this tale, wondering why Jesus would shush Martha up when she’s just trying to get her work done.

It’s a great tale, perfectly told, leaving room for so much interpretation. Jesus, a single male in a household of women, apparently not caring what the neighbors may think.

Mary taking on the radical position of a student during a time when women were not formerly educated.

And Martha. Wonderful A-type personality Martha, with all the characteristics of a first-born child, running around like crazy, probably with her list of things to do, checking them off as she moves along, getting herself all worked over what she thinks she needs to do, when the Son of God is right in her midst.

Intrigued by this story, I wrote a paper about it in seminary, expecting to solve the Mystery of the Maligned Martha. What I found instead was a word I never expected to find, with definitions that have forever changed my take on this story.

If we were to read this story in it’s original Greek, we would find that Martha was distracted by her many diakonia. If that word sounds familiar, it’s because diakonia is where we gets the words diaconate and deacons from.

All throughout the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts the word diakonia is used to refer to Peter, Paul and the other disciples of Jesus.

Diakonia has a lengthy definition; I asked Kirk to put it up on our screen so we can see them for ourselves. According to Bibleworks, it can mean:

service, ministering, esp. of those who execute the commands of others, those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men; of the office of Moses, of the office of the apostles and its administration, of the office of prophets, evangelists, elders etc; the ministration of those who render to others the office of Christian affection, esp. those who help meet need by either collecting or distributing to charities; the office of the deacon at church; the service of those who prepare and present food.

That’s a whole lot of definitions, yet again and again where do we put Martha: in the kitchen.

Yet when Paul or Peter are said to busy where do we see them: out in the community, teaching, healing and preaching.

As writer Anne Thurston noted in the book Knowing Her Place- Gender and the Gospels, “when men serve it is called ministry; when women serve it is called women serving.”

Take a look through Acts, also written by Luke, and you will see that Martha was not the only woman doing diakonia.

There was Tabitha, a disciple devoted to acts of charity (9:36), Lydia, who invited the disciples to her home (16:14-15) and Priscilla who was a missionary (18:2).

And still, for nearly 2,000 years, when we hear that Martha was distracted we seem to automatically place her in the kitchen among the pots and pans, soap suds and brooms, with platters and platters of food. But nowhere is this stated.

So, if Martha was not necessarily concocting cocktails and serving shrimp, what could she have been doing?

Well, let’s do a little bit of history. If you recall, Jesus was quite the revolutionary, so much so he was condemned and killed for it.

Jesus also blurred the lines of acceptable culture. He dined with tax collectors, talked with women, visited foreigners, spoke grace to non-Jews, called the children to him and allowed women to be part of his entourage.

This breaking down of boundaries and welcoming of the outsider became a mark of those who followed Jesus and began the earliest churches.
If you recall from our lesson on Mother’s Day, the earliest churches took place in people’s homes, around the table. And many of those homes belonged to rich women, some of them widows or unmarried women who followed Jesus’ teaching.

It was in these women’s homes that people gathered to share and learn about the good news of Jesus. They also emulated the teachings of Jesus, which included, but was not limited to taking care of the poor, the sick, the orphaned, the widowed. It also meant praying, prophesying, teaching, and yes, even leading worship.

So Martha could have been doing any of these things. She could have been busy organizing the bake sale, making sure the parish nurses were ready for the blood drive, working on that weeks worship service.

She could have been contacting Panera Bread Co. to have them donate their day old pastries to the food pantry, arranging visits for the shut ins, prepping for the trustees meeting and yes, maybe she even had a roast in the oven and a bottle of juice chilling in the fridge.

Martha, as a first born, a-type personality who sincerely loved the Lord could have been doing anything and everything.

So it is time for us to take her our of the kitchen. It is time for us to lift her up and celebrate all the things she could do and probably did.
Because when we start to take Martha out of the kitchen and into the world, we begin to transform the world we ourselves are living and active in.

If you recall the words of Paul in Galatians 3 “...for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith...There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

The good news is that in the resurrected Christ we are all set free to be who we are, with culture’s gender distinctions no longer needing to limit or control where we go or what we do.

That means that in Christ Jesus a man can cook and care for children. It means that a woman can mow and play a role in building design.

That means in Christ Jesus the old can remain active and lively and the young can have something to teach us all.

It means that Mary can assume the role reserved for male students and it means Martha can organize worship or cook the meal if she wants to.

That’s one of the things I love about our church. That on Sunday we had Chuck Grimes in the kitchen helping prepare for, serve and clean up for Fellowship Hour.

On Wednesday we had Nancy riding the lawn mower, sweating it up in the hot sun. On Thursday I met with both Mel and Maureen to talk about finances. And on Friday both Eugene and Richard filled in for our secretary, answering phones and proofreading copy.

In conclusion, if there is one thing I want all of us to learn about this story is that nowhere, in any legitimate translation of this scripture, is there anything mentioned about a kitchen, food or housework. So let’s stop trapping Martha there.

Second, is that in our love and living for Christ our culture’s gender roles are not so much erased, as enhanced, to allow us to be all that we can be, the best we can be, at whatever it is Christ is calling us to do, from whacking the weeds, to being busy with the bulletin to motoring the mower, to even yes, concocting cocktails and serving shrimp.

In Christ we are all called to do diakonia; to serve one another, to serve the church and to serve the community, for when we do that, we are serving the living Christ and our Risen Lord.

Thanks be to the Spirit that speaks to us in unexpected ways, to Jesus who invites us to sit at his feet and to God who keeps us busy with so many things we can do.

Amen and amen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sermon for July 18, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Amos 7:7-17
“Uncomfortable God ”
July 11, 2010

Feel good movies and summer time, a wonderful mix. A fun comedy, a bag of buttery popcorn, a large ice cold Pepsi, a theater full of people laughing along with the antics on screen. One of my favorite feel-good movie experiences was when I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

It’s about Tula and her large, loud, Greek family living in Chicago, the kind of family where everyone lived near one another, knew each other’s business, fought and laughed in decibels.

When the father finds out Tula’s in love with Ian, a non-Greek, he gets mad, yells, and sulks. But when he realizes their love is real, the father hosts a gathering in which Ian’s kissed, hugged and treated as one of the family.

They pass around shots of licorice liquor and shout “Oop-ah!” with their glasses raised. The audience I saw the film with were so into the celebration that they also shouted “Oop-ah”!

There’s a scene right before the wedding where Tula’s sitting on the bed, worried. Her mother comes in, “Tula, what is wrong?” “Is my marriage killing Dad?” Tula asks.

Her mother sits beside her. “Tula, your father is your father, he just wants you to be happy...listen to me Tula. My village, so many wars. Turkish. German. They all made a mess.

“And my mother, my mother she said ‘We’re lucky, we’re lucky to be alive.’ And I thought we’re not lucky to be alive, we’re, we’re not lucky when they’re telling us where we should live, what we should eat. Nobody has that right.

“And then, I see you, and I see Athena, Nicco. We came here for you, so you could, so you could live.

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”

I gave you life so that you could live it. That is a perfect summary of the entire Bible.

Let us hold onto that sentiment, for today’s sermon is perhaps the most difficult one I’ve yet to prepare. What makes it so difficult is that the book of Amos is about the wrath of God, the angry side of God that threatens to melt the earth and crush people with crumbling buildings.

The idea of God’s wrath is a topic that I’ve never preached on. But you can not ignore it. It’s there, in the pages of the Bible, in the stories of Exodus, in the Psalms of praise, in the visions of John.

So what do we do with it? Do we silence those voices? Do we pretend they’re not there?

Not if we are to be true to our faith, not if we are want the scriptures to direct us towards a greater understanding of God.

But how does one preach about this destructive idea of God, when our bulletin says that God has a passion for us and a compassion for all people?

It makes me uncomfortable. But as a peer once said, the more uncomfortable something makes us feel, the more we can learn about God and ourselves. So let’s begin this journey.

Amos was a revolutionary prophet, the first to preach a message of destruction to an entire people. There were prophets who spoke against individuals or groups of folk. But Amos was the first to tell a whole nation that God was unhappy with them and would destroy them.

Since Amos was the first to speak such words he had no examples or guidelines to follow. The result was that he went all out, describing in excessive detail God’s angry disappointment.

For so long the people had seen God as patient and slow to anger, but this is an image of God having it up to here, refusing to take it anymore.

So what was making God so upset? They were living during prosperous times, the Gross National Product was at its highest, but only 5% of the population benefitted.

Merchants overcharged the poor, the courts were corrupt. The king dominated the temple and seized people’s farms.

What made this all so despicable was that the people knew better. After all they were God’s treasured jewels, former slaves who God had chosen to care for, freeing them, fighting for them, leading them to the promised land.

God’s intentions was that they were to be a healthy community where they lived in harmony, caring for the earth and those less fortunate.

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet you killed pregnant women so you could have more land, (1:13)as though what I had given you was not enough.

“I gave you life so that you could live it”
Yet you sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. (2:7)

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet your wives act like spoiled cows, oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. (4:1)

“I gave you life so that you could live it.”
Yet you come into my sanctuary with fake offerings and hypocritical prayers, when what I want is for justice and righteousness to roll down like waters and non-stop streams. (5:21-24)

“I gave you life so that you can live.”
But this, this is not living, and I am so angry. Hear what I am going to do: your places will be desolate, you will go into exile and the king shall die by the sword.

The local priest tells Amos to go away and never come back, because this is the king’s temple.

To which Amos says “Because you have told me to preach elsewhere the Lord says your wife will become a prostitute, your children will be killed and you will die in an unclean land.”

Those are harsh, uncomfortable words to hear and say. This is God speaking murder to a king, whoredom to a wife and slaughter to children.

How is this compassion? How can this have any good news? Where is the part in which we can raise our licorice liquor and shout out “Oop-ah!”?

I thought about it, discussed it at our Tuesday bible study group. Nothing clicked. Then I came across information that Amos’ prophecy about the king did not come true. What did this mean?

Did it mean that Amos was wrong or that God is a liar? I thought some more.

Amos was prophesying about the exile, an event that wouldn’t happen for another 50 years. Which meant that when the exile did occur the priest’s wife would have been dead or at least 70 years old. It’s hard to imagine someone being a viable prostitute at that age.

And not only would his children been grown ups, they would have qualified for AARP membership.

I wrestled some more, thinking of the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” How much he sacrificed for the family he loved, how coming from a destroyed village must have impressed upon him the value of tradition.

Was it from that place of love and pride that his anger came from, and though he acted mad, was this his way of staying in relationship with Tula and dealing with what was going on?

The other option would have been to quietly disown and desert her.

Is that what is going on in Amos? Does God have such love for this family that because of their choices God is hurt and refuses to hold it in, unleashing angry thoughts?

Perhaps God did not really mean what was said, but needed to say it to get it off God’s chest, and by spitting it out, God created a space for the people to make amends.

Yes, the images and words are hard to hear, but at least God is honest about being disappointed and angry, because such feelings are part of what being in a true relationship is about.

God’s love and desire to be in a true relationship with us are so strong that God’s not afraid to say the uncomfortable things.

God is not going to play passive aggressive and walk away, because in a true relationship you don’t just leave, but you try your hardest to work it out, even when it means saying the things you may not like to say.

I think of my own relationships. My brother, how we’ve said harsh things to one another, but we’ve stuck it through, because we love one another and that’s what families do.

Or my cat. When he annoys me or plays stubborn I get to the point where I threaten to toss him in the stockpot and cook him up for dinner. I don’t mean it, but it feels so good to say, and it’s better then dropping him off at the pound.

But what about those people no longer in my life? I think of my former best friend who drove me crazy: she was never on time and always changed plans at the last minute. For 20 years I said nothing, until one day I just stopped calling her.

Would it have been better I had gone a little Amos on her and said “I hate that you’re always late, it makes me want to never see you again.”

Perhaps if I had given voice to my anger, she could have made amends and still be a part of my life, instead of just a number in my cell phone.
How many of us have belonged to an organization that made us so mad that instead of sharing our concerns we left without saying anything? What if we had shared our thoughts, giving them a chance to address and learn from our viewpoint?

At least God was willing to express how the people were making God feel.

Now, here is where the good news comes along, the chance to say “Oop-ah!,” because if we really want to know how God ultimately feels about us, all we have to do is look towards the resurrection.

If God was truly the God of wrath out to destroy us, then the resurrection would have been the perfect time to unleash violence.

Yet even though Jesus was unjustly nailed to the cross, when he was resurrected, Christ did not use that opportunity to seek revenge, annihilating everyone who hurt or deserted him.

Instead, the Risen Lord met two wanderers on the road and broke bread with them.

Instead, the Risen Lord appeared to a questioning disciple and invited him to touch and believe.

Instead, the Risen Lord cooked breakfast on the shore, inviting those who deserted him to join in a meal.

Instead, the Risen Lord led his followers to a hill and promised “I will be without you always.”

...“I gave you life so that you could live it.”

The Good News is that in the resurrected Christ we find the purpose of God is life, not death; to build community, not to destroy it; to restore all of creation, not to watch it destroy one another.

In conclusion, today’s scripture is a reminder that to have a real relationship with God means that we will be uncomfortable from time to time and that God does hold us accountable for our sins.

But it also means that in God we can find comfort and assurance that we are part something bigger: a family that embraces life, a family in which everyone is welcome. A family in which we all get to raise our glasses in a toast, shouting out “Oop-ah!”.

How real will you let your relationship with God be? How will you live the life that God has given you?

All thanks and honor be to the Spirit that gives voice to our words, to Jesus that wasn’t afraid to speak harshly from time to time, and to God, our eternal Father who will never forsake us.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sermon for July 4, 2010; Isaiah 66:10-14

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 66:10-14
“Comforting Milk ”
July 4, 2010

I was having one of those days. Ya’ll know the kind: outside the weather was muggy and buggy, the computer was running slow, the phone wasn’t working right and the clothes in the dryer were still damp. I went to empty the dishwasher to find some of the bowls were filled with water.

We all have those uncomfortable days, when its best to stay inside, not make any rash decisions and not talk to anyone because you may just say something you’ll regret.

Yes, we all have those days, as did our parents, as did all the people who came before us, such as those addressed in today’s reading.

The author of today’s portion of Isaiah is writing to the people around him who are living during uncomfortable times. Not only were they having one of those days, they were having one of those centuries.

They were dealing with the after affects of the exile, a period in history in which they were attacked and the enemy took a portion of the population into captivity. It was 50 years before they were set free and allowed to go back home.

But what they discovered wasn’t pleasant. Their land, their businesses, the place they worshiped was destroyed. They tried to rebuild everything, but it just didn’t feel the same.

The land didn’t fully recover from the abuse it underwent, the economy was a bust and the country was torn in political turmoil. People were stressed out dealing with the economy and everyone felt as though things weren’t improving fast enough. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The writer of this text was aware of everyone’s low spirits. He also knew that people have a tendency to only see what is currently happening, reducing all expectations to the present moment.

So the prophet relays to the people a message from God, a message that reaffirms to everyone that God has a goal and will not rest until the world is restored to its rightful integrity.

In ch. 65 the prophet gives the people something to look forward to: a vision of a new heaven and new earth, in which there will be rejoicing in their city, where weeping will no longer exist, and they will all have a place to call home.

And then God, through the prophet, offers an image of comfort. Jerusalem, the city that they love, that has suffered politically, economically and environmentally, shall become like a mother, nursing all her residents with bosoms rich in milk.

“For thus says the shall nurse and be carried on her arms...As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you: you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)

In case you missed it, the key word is comfort. Comfort to people who have lost everything. Comfort to people trying so hard to get it back. Comfort to folks having one of those days, one of those years, one of those decades.


What does that word mean to you? What images cross your mind?

It should be no surprise that when I hear the word comfort I think of food. Comfort food. Soul food. Momma’s home cooking.

Press me further, and I’ll tell you that a favorite comfort food of mine is fried chicken. Good ol’ crispy, crunchy chicken. But it’s the cooking, not the eating of fried chicken that offers me comfort.

Back in ‘98, when I was working at a home for abused children, the staff was responsible for cooking the meals. On my night it was fried chicken. I don’t know why they thought a boy from L.I. knew anything about fryin’ chicken.

But fortunately one of the mothers was there and she walked me through it, showing me how to heat the oil, clean the chicken and season it, saying that Lowery Seasoning Salt was a must.
Thus began my affair with making fried chicken. It’s a process for me, one that begins by picking out the right music (because fried chicken needs to be sung too). Then having something to drink (preferably wine). Cast iron skillets, cause its not fried chicken unless it’s done in a cast iron skillet.

And the ultimate secret: dipping the chicken not once but twice into the wet and dry mixtures.

Making fried chicken is a comfort not because of how it tastes but because I only make it for picnics or when people come over.

The best part? How the place smells afterwards, of grease and seasoning, an aromatic reminder that there has been food and people.

That is the power of comfort food. The bond it forms, the comfort it creates. That is part of what makes today’s reading so powerful.

God understands just how uncomfortable and worried the people are, so God offers them an image of comfort: a child being breast-fed by it’s mother, the original comfort food

There has been a lot of discussion about breast-feeding. The pros and cons, the responsible public actions, the proper age to stop. But the more research that has been done, the more scientists find the benefit of it.

Mother’s milk is easy to digest and an excellent source of nourishment. Breast-feeding improves the child’s immune system, staving off infection, reducing the risks of intestinal and respiratory tract problems (Time, 7/5/10, pg 18).

But breast-feeding does something more: it provides the child comfort. The baby, weak and vulnerable, is held in the protective shelter of the mother’s arms. The infant, with its head next to the mother’s chest, can hear the sound of her heartbeat, the source of life. The child can look up and sees its parent looking back.

Taste, touch, sight, sound, every sense incorporated, every sense saying you are comforted, you are mine, and you are loved.

Breast-feeding is about a relationship in which one is dependent on, and loved by, another.

Imagine how powerful of an image that is for people during a time of economic, political and environmental hardship.

This image invites folks to look beyond their current situation and to look towards a future in which they will be comforted, a time in which their every need is met, a time in which every sense says to them “You are OK, you are well.”

Comfort, comfort, comfort. Like the smell of fried chicken after a party, like a suckling infant receiving its mother’s milk.

That is what God wants for us. That is what the Spirit is busy working towards. And that is what Jesus is calling us to offer to one another and to the community around us.

And that comfort comes in so many ways, doesn’t it? Here at church we have members who provide pastoral care by volunteering at hospitals and hospices, offering comfort to the sick and dying by sitting with them so they are not alone.

Last week we offered comfort to a man released from jail by donating clothes and self-care items.

Currently we are gathering loose change in our Tuppence Tree and encouraging folk to go to the Salvation Army to support children in need of new school clothes.

How else can we offer comfort?

By speaking words of forgiveness, by saying that we are welcoming of all, by celebrating communion and having an open table.

Communion, the Lord’s Supper, means so many things. Last week we talked about how it was a way for Jesus to face his death.

Communion is also a sign of grace, freely given; grace that we receive, grace that we pass on to the person besides us.

Communion is a form of comfort. And like most comfort foods, it’s made from simple ingredients, in this case grain and fruit, two items you can find in almost any home, two items that transcend rich and poor, blue collar and white collar.

The bread, as the body, the juice, as the blood; meant to nourish us, sustain us, let us know we are comforted, we are the Lord’s and we are loved.

Communion is a chance for us to taste, touch, hear, see, a chance for our heart to rejoice, our bodies to flourish and a time for it to be known that the hand of the Lord is with us.

In conclusion, we all have those days. We all have those weeks, we even all have those years.

But we are not alone, nor does our current situation define us. We are more then our finances, we are more then our cell phone carrier, we are more the land around us.

We belong to God, and our God is holding us in tender yet strong hands, and our God is comforting, caring, and cooing: “Comfort, O comfort my people...” (Isaiah 40:1)

Thanks be to Jesus who invites us to the table, to the Spirit that leads the way and to God, our Father/Mother who desires to feed us all with comforting milk.

Amen and amen.

Sermon from June 27, 2010; 2 Kings 2:1-14

Rev. George Miller
2 Kings 2:1-14
“Passing on the Tradition ”
June 27, 2010

Once upon a time 3 brothers journeyed along a lonely, winding road at twilight. They reached a river too deep and dangerous to wade through.

But being wizards they waved their wands and made a bridge appear across the water. They were ½ way across it when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure. It was Death and he was angry that he had been cheated out of 3 lives.

But Death was cunning. Death spoke to them, congratulating the 3 brothers on their use of magic and said they each had earned a prize for their cleverness in evading him.

The oldest brother, a combative type, asked for the most powerful wand of all. So Death made a wand from a nearby tree and gave it to him.

The second brother, an arrogant man, asked for the power to bring people back from Death. So Death gave him a stone from the riverbank.

The youngest brother, a wise soul, didn’t trust Death. He asked for something that allowed him to leave without being followed by Death. Upset, Death handed over his Cloak of Invisibility, which allowed him to sneak up on folk.

So they continue their journey. In due course, the brothers separated, each to his own destination.

The first brother journeyed to a distant village, sought out a wizard he had a quarrel with and defeated him in a duel. Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor, he went to the inn to celebrate, getting drunk and bragging about the wand.

That night, as he slept, another wizard crept up, stole his wand and slit his throat.

And so Death took the first brother for himself.

The second brother journeyed to the home in which he lived alone. He took out the stone and turned it in his hand. The figure of his deceased girlfriend appeared before him.

Yet, she was different: sad and cold, separated from him by a veil; it was clear she did not belong. Driven mad with hopeless longing, he killed himself so to fully be with her.

And so Death took the second brother for himself.

But for decades Death searched for the third brother, unable to find him. It was only when he attained a great age that the youngest brother took off his Cloak of Invisibility, gave it to his son.

He greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly. As equals, they departed this life...

This story is taken from the Harry Potter series. Although Harry Potter is written for children, it is perhaps the most open exploration of life and death in popular culture.

Death: mysterious and unavoidable. It’s what people do not want to talk about, even though it is all around us.

How much of our money, time and creativity goes into finding ways to prevent and hide it? And yet Death always finds a way to creep in.

For example this week is the year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. People are marking it with documentaries, video countdowns, even a chance to stay in a museum filled with his stuff.

But no stone will bring him back. No magic wand will reverse what has transpired, and no cloak will ever conceal him or us from Death’s approach.

Death is a force of nature that few of us know how to face. Hurricanes? People take days to prepare. But how many prepare for death?

In the book “Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals” the authors explore how storytelling and rituals are essential to the human experience, making the claim that when a person knowingly has the chance to face their own death, 3 fears are faced.

There is the fear of being abandoned and alone. Many cultures are aware of this and take measures to make sure that someone will be with the dying person at all times. But for some reason the opposite happens here.

Technology and the fear of our emotions keeps folk away. ICUs allow only 2 visitors at a time or staff encourages people to go home and rest.

Next, the fear of letting go and losing control. After all, that’s what death is, the ultimate letting go. Letting go of one’s belongings, loved ones, and future possibilities.

Finally, the fear of incompleteness, perhaps more feared then death itself. It’s that need to know your life mattered and the desire to do one more thing. It’s that need to visit the summer cabin once more or to make love for the last time.

Abandonment, letting go, incompleteness. We encounter all 3 in today’s scripture. 2 Kings 2 is about Elijah as he comes to the end of his time on earth, and Elisha, his mentee who will not leave his side.

Now I need to be very clear that nowhere in this text is the word death used. Instead it states that Elijah is carried up to the heavens in a whirlwind.
But it sure reads like the story of a man facing his own death.

To understand, Elijah was a prophet, called by God to speak out against the current ruler with their unjust ways and worshiping of false gods.
But Elijah’s time in this world has come to an end, and he knows it. So he goes on this journey, a journey that separates him from the ordinary, perhaps the way some dying folk try to distance themselves. After all, if you pull away first, then others can not desert you.

He’s goes to Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho. But Elisha is with him every step of the way, showing a sacred attachment.

Perhaps it is because Elisha refuses to desert him that Elijah is better able to comes to a place of surrender, where he is able to regain some control.

We see this as Elijah comes to the Jordan, the place where Moses died. He takes his cloak, touches the water, it parts, like the Red Sea.

And in privacy, away from the eyes of the world, Elijah and Elisha stand on dry ground.

Elisha has a request: “Let me inherit from you your passion and spirit for what God called you to do.” In doing so, Elisha was giving assurance to his mentor that his life’s work would not be forgotten or go incomplete.

I wonder how this comforted Elijah.

Knowingly or unknowingly, Elisha has helped Elijah face the three fears of life’s departure: abandonment, loss of control and incompleteness.

The two walk on, talking. What did they talk about? Perhaps shared events, memories, apologies, words of forgiveness, words of closure.

Then something poetic happens. A chariot of fire, horses. It is time. They separate, and Elijah is taken away. When it is obvious that he is gone forever, Elisha breaks down, crying out “Father, Father.”

He picks up Elijah’s cloak, touches it to the waters, and proving that his mentor’s legacy will live on, the waters part, and Elisha goes back to Jericho, back to where there is life and community, back to complete the work of Elijah.

One man leaves the world and another man finds a way to help him pass on the tradition.

So how can the church help the person and their loved ones with sacred transitions and heavenly departures?

How does the church offer a continuity of divine purpose to overcome the discontinuity of death?

How do we give space for the one dying to know they will not be alone, lose all control and die incomplete?

Not too long ago there was a popular song that told us to “live as if you’re dying.” But today I want to challenge us by asking “How do we die as if we have lived?”
As Christians we do this by recalling the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ.

For example, we can look at the Gospel of Luke. Did you know that in Luke we not only have the most time devoted to Jesus’s birth, but it is also the Gospel in which most of the story is told as Jesus is making his fated walk to Jerusalem?

It is on his journey to the cross that Jesus is teaching, healing and sharing meals.

For me, nothing shows this more then the Last Supper. It was a way for Jesus to face to his own death without being alone, by maintaining some sort of control and to pass on his legacy.

Listen to the words of Paul as he recalls the Last Supper in 1 Corithians 11:

“For I have received from the Lord what I pass on to you. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and after he had given thanks he took the bread and broke it, saying ‘This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’

In the same way after supper he took the cup saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in remembrance of me.’

For every time we eat the bread and drink the cup we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.”

By creating a new tradition in his memory, Jesus finds a way to bring new life out of his death.

And I believe that because Jesus so well prepared his disciples for his death, he created a way for them to experience his resurrection; in the garden, by the shore, at the table.

So what does this mean for us?

It means that as Christians we can find ways to die as if we have lived. We can have open dialogues about death: our death, the death of loved ones.

We can finding ways to reach out, to not separate.
We can learn how to tell our stories, share our dreams so that when it is our time to depart from this world, someone else can pick up our mantle, and give us a sense of peace that what we did, and what we cared about will continue to live on.

In conclusion, if discussing death makes us feel uncomfortable or creates a sense that we are losing control, we can seek out comfort and assurance in our faith.

Assurance that the God who began life’s journey with us is the very same God who will find ways to sustain us.

Comfort that Jesus Christ, who has gone on before us, will show us the way.
And that we can live because we love life, and we can die knowing that we have truly lived.

We do not need a magic wand or a magic stone or a Cloak of Invisibility. For if we have lived our lives the best as we can, we can greet Death like an old friend, prepared for the next part of the journey.

Thanks be to the Spirit that carries us across the waters, to God who calls each and every one of us home, and to Jesus who walks with us every step of the way, never leaving our side.

Amen and amen.

Josh looking beyond T.V.: hightailing it from England to Scotland

Josh looking beyond T.V.: hightailing it from England to Scotland