Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sermon for healing Waters Sunset Service, Aug 22, 2010, Ezekiel 47:1-12

Rev. George Miller
Ezekiel 47:1-12
“Knee-Deep in Fresh. Flowing Water ”
August 22, 2010

I remember my first visit to Florida. My father, mother, brother and I made the trip from NY in our Volkswagen Bug. It was to Disney World, a magical place with Space Mountain, Tomorrow Land and the Peter Pan ride promising “You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!”

I remember my visit to FL as an adult. Herb and Hardric picked me up after flying in from Grand Rapids, MI. Florida was this foreign place with unfamiliar foliage, a barrage of wild animals and a bird that almost flew into the windshield.

Just recently, I moved to Florida. In my Pontiac with my cat in his crate. I felt like I had moved to Mars: a lizard on the lanai, a black snake curled up by the garbage pail, swimming outside in April, having a sunburn before June.

I believe that when it comes to relocating here there are three kinds of folk: those who love it right away, those who give it a chance and soon move away and those who wonder just what they got themselves into, but grow to love this place, magical, foreign, other-worldly.

I’m of the third group. Each week there’s been something new to discover, and different to see. When it comes to water, within a 90 mile drive you have pools, lakes, an ocean and the Gulf.

Still, Florida at times can seem like living on Mars. And on April 22, 2010, an event happened that sure made the waters feel like that.

Even though there were concerns and warning signs, a BP well was blown out, instantly killing 11 lives, changing their families forever, leaking oil into the waters, creating a Gulf that wasn’t magical and was darker then the nether regions of space.

And in the wake of the spill came death. Death to sea life, mackerel and mullet.

Death to birds of the air, pelicans and herons.

Death to the future yet unborn, oyster beds and turtle eggs.

Death to the hopes of fisherfolk needing a healthy season, financial death in the form of cancelled hotel rooms, vacation trips, shopping at stores.

Louisiana, Mississippi, have been hard hit, with tar balls and gunked up marshes.

Florida, with its magical and foreign, Mars-like mystique has not gone untouched, with oil on our shores, seeping into the sand, poisoning our state, for who knows how long and in what ways.

Maybe I should just put my cat back in his crate and hop into my Pontiac and head back north...

Maybe we all should.

But that would not be an act of faith. The would be an act of fear. And that would be a way of saying I do not believe; that would be a way of saying that God is helpless and unable to do anything.

In some ways the Gulf has been in an exile, an oil soaked exile, and what is God going to do?...

...Ezekiel knew what it was like to be in exile. He was one of the first prophets to predict that the people and land were going to suffer for their sins.

Ezekiel was also among the first people to be taken away in exile, led away from their native land to live as captives and second class citizens.

He was forced to live in Babylon, a place foreign and other worldly, with their beliefs in other gods, different rituals and eating of forbidden foods.

As Ezekiel and his peers languished in Babylon, their enemies abused their land, destroying their businesses, violating their crops and annihilating their Temple.

This pained and tormented Ezekiel, so much so that he began to see visions, magical and other worldly, of unusual looking creatures and places.

Near the end of his visions there came the images of hope, of restoration. That one day the people would return, the land would heal and he had a vision of water, life giving water, trickling out of the Temple.

Ezekiel’s vision dealt with a specific piece of geography and spoke in symbolic terms, but it doesn’t make it any less healing for us to hear today.

Ezekiel talks about water. A trickle. Coming out of the Temple.

Not much, but a trickle nevertheless. But what does a trickle mean? Movement. That somehow out of this senseless death and destruction, new life will begin, if even small and minute.

But wait! He goes a little further and this trickle has somehow grown. It’s now up to his ankles. Not much, but still, better then nothing.

Ezekiel goes a little further in this water, and it’s knee-deep. Knees, a prominent part of the body, used for praying. Ezekiel is knee deep in fresh, flowing water.

He goes further still and now its up to his waist, further still and its so deep and wide he has to swim across it.

He goes along the bank of the river, and what does he see? Tar balls and oil soaked pelicans? No, he sees trees, a great number lining the water.

What began as a trickle is now flowing, flowing into the sea, a sea that was dead and stagnant, a sea in which no life existed.

And what does this water bring: life! Life in all forms. Every living creature that swarms is there, fish too numerous to count.

And where there’s fish, there are fisherfolk, casting their nets, earning a living, able to feed and care for their families.

The marshes and swamps play their part and the trees bear fruit, their leaves used for healing purposes, all due to God’s water flowing from God’s holy house.

People of Florida, we have been through an exile of sorts: the land, the people, the businesses have suffered due to human error and sin.

Because of that a price has been paid, darkness has covered the land and sunk into the waters.

But that is not the last word.

We at Emmanuel UCC have tried to do our part, a trickling part perhaps, but a part nevertheless.

We have lamented, studied the word, prayed for the environment and animals, shared our views with the government, BP and local papers. We shared signs of forgiveness and taken a sabbath from our consumption.

And now the river we have begun continues tonight as we reach out and reach up to God. We call upon God in trust that God will work and has been working through this entire mess.

That God is with the families of those who died on the rig. That the Spirit is working to make all things new and to ease the groaning of creation.

That those who follow Jesus are emulating his call to forgive, to help and to heal.

That those who follow other spiritual paths are also hearing and listening to what they know to be just and true, fair and right.

The time to be ruled strictly by anger and fear is over, the time to trust and to do with wisdom and grace is now.

Our God is moving across the waters just as God has done in the past.

As God moves there will be separation from darkness and light as the oil begins to dissipate and be cleaned up.

As God moves across the waters new freedom will come as mackerel and dolphin, shrimp and sharks find their waters easier to swim through, free from the confining disruption of the oil.
As God moves across the waters, fishermen, who were among the first of Jesus’s followers, will begin again to live their lives and cast their nets.

Because this I believe, and this I know to be true: that even though the hard times are not over, even though there is still much uncertainty to face, God’s promise is true, and God will find a way to bring fresh flowing waters back into our life.

The question is this: will we fall knee-deep into the fresh, flowing water, conscious of how we can change our ways, or will we continue doing the same old same old, sinning against the earth and wondering why she screams out in pain?

In conclusion, Ezekiel never lived to see the Exile end or the Temple and land be restored. But he still believed, and in his belief he acted.

May we believe as well. May we each play our part in creating fresh flowing waters.

Thanks be to God who is our Creator, the Spirit that sweeps over the land and for Jesus who spoke of waters and sparrows, lilies and fields.

Amen and amen.

Sermon for Sunday Aug 22, 2010 Jeremiah 1:4-10

Aug 22, 2010
Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Never Place an Only Where God has Placed a Comma”
Rev. George N. Miller

A bowling ball. A football. Simple, day to day items. Seemingly ordinary and ho-hum.

Only a bowling ball, only a football, right? Not for me.

This bowling ball belonged to my father, his name is engraved on it. It’s probably as old as me. He and Mom had a matching set with blue cases and shoes. They bowled at the Centereach Lanes, which always smelled of cheese doodles.

Dad was not an athlete; bowling was the one sport he participated in. When he died this ball sat in the basement by a neglected fish stand.

But I never forgot it. 10 years after he died, the case was ruined, the shoes was moldy, but the ball was intact. I brought it to my home, polished it up, bowled with it once or twice.

But there it sat until last fall when I joined a bowling league, my salvation during the Search and Call process. Once a week I met with the guys and bowled with my fathers ball, raising my average and lowering my handicap.

Since moving to Sebring it’s sat in the garage until last week when I took it to Kegel Lanes and bowled with Glenn and Kirk.

We each started our games rusty, gutter-ball rusty, but soon we were knocking down pins, talking smack, cheering each other on while joshing the mistakes and missed pins. It’s a thing guys do: I love you man, but you sure screwed that one up.

It was a great night in which memories of my father mingled with memories of MI, while creating new memories in Florida. Too say this is only a bowling ball is to deny the healing history that’s attached to it.

The football.

Like Dad, I was not athletic. It wasn’t until 2004 that I learned the value of football. I was working at a summer camp with inner city youth. Before lunch we’d take the ball out, tossing it back and forth.

One day I grabbed the football and called Jonah and DJ over. Jonah was about to enter kindergarten. DJ looked like a first grade version of Urkel.

Both had limited contact with their father or a male role model who was not their grandfather.

We tossed the ball around. More often then not, they missed the ball. Jonah would get hit in the face; DJ would throw the ball and it went in the opposite direction he intended.
Some of the other children came over and asked if they could play; I told them no because DJ, Jonah and I were having quality time.

Well, the next day we are at the park and Jonah takes out the football and says “Mr. G. (That was my nickname), can we have some quality time?”

Now here’s Jonah, just entering kindergarten. I doubt he knew what “quality time” meant. But he did know that it meant that he would have time with me all by himself.

My heart just melted on the spot; and he forever changed the way I would view a football.

Only a football? I think not. It has come to represent the quality time and precious bonding that was spent between a child looking for a father figure and a man who knew only too well what it means to no longer have a dad in his life.

Only a bowling ball? Only a football? Not at all.

There are no onlys here.

Through these experiences, and through biblical readings, I have come to believe that the word only should rarely be used in a Christian’s vocabulary, for we do not worship an only God.

As God’s beloved children, we are more than an only.

In today’s reading we have what’s called a Call Narrative. Jeremiah is recounting how God called him to deliver a message.

In a beautifully worded revelation, God tells the young boy how God knew him before birth and that he’s been appointed as prophet to all nations.

But Jeremiah’s quick with an excuse as to why he can’t do it: “I don’t know how to speak, I am only a boy.”

To which God says “Do not say I am only a boy. For you shall go to who I send you, and you shall speak whatever I tell you.”

This is God saying that we should not allow only to get in the way of achieving what we have been created to do.

This is a message that in the presence of God who knows, appoints and consecrated us that there is no such thing as only.

This is a message that we are more then the only we see ourselves as.

Jeremiah may say “I am only a boy” but God’s response is “Yeah; and do you really think I would have given you this responsibility if I didn’t think you could handle it?

“Trust me, follow my voice. Allow me to work through you so this wonderful, broken world I created can learn how to live in community, justice and peace.”

Jeremiah says to God he does not know how to speak because he is only a boy.

But in concentrating on the only, he failed to realize what he did have going.

Perhaps God was not looking for someone with a splendid speaking voice, but for someone who could sympathize with those he prophesied to.

Perhaps God was not looking for someone too polished, with too many years of training to be believable, but someone with a tender heart whose words conveyed an honesty that comes from an innocent place.

In God there is no only. Today’s scripture allow us to hear that and to apply it to ourselves, for we are all beloved children of God who is not limited by the word only.

For when the earth was only a dark, formless void, God spoke and it became life giving creation.

For when Sarah was only a barren woman, God made her the matriarch of millions.

For when Moses was only a baby in a basket and David only had a sling-shot, God found in them a deliverer and a king.

And when there were only five loaves and two fish, God, through Jesus, found a way to feed all those folk.

And even though the cross was only made up of two planks of wood, it would become a sign of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and majesty.

We should not allow the notion of only to limit us in what we are able to achieve for the Lord. Our Bible is filled with witnesses who tell us again and again how God takes the only and turns into something miraculous and transformative .

Our God is a God of purpose. Our God does not allow the onlys to get in the way.

Through God no one is only a youth or only a parent or only retired.

Through Christ no one is only rich or poor, male or female.

Through the Spirit no church is only a building or only important when it has high attendance.

In conclusion, I know it has been through the gifts and grace of God that this bowling ball, this football have become more then an only.

My prayer for everyone here is that during this week, when the thought crosses your mind that “I am only” that you will take that moment to reflect and wonder if that is really true.
And after thinking, will you use that moment to seek out the Holy Presence and say “OK God, if you can use someone who is only a boy, I’d like to see what you can do with me.”

Praise be to the Spirit that empowers our lives, to the Son who loved as us we are and to God the Father who knows and calls us by name.

Amen and amen.

Sermon for Animal/Environment Service, August 18, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 104: 1-2a, 10-30
“Deep and Wide”
Aug 18, 2010

There is a song that children in church love to sing. It’s called “Deep and Wide.”

Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowin’ deep and wide
Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowin’ deep and wide

Do you remember what it’s like to be a child? Especially during those summer months when you didn’t have school- swimming in the lake, fishing, going to the park, playing hide-and-go-seek.

Do you remember the things you did to bugs and small animals? Like catching fireflies and putting them in empty jars, and even though there were holes punched in the lid, they died anyways.

Or catching butterflies and pulling off their wings off? Aiming a magnifying glass at an inchworm to watch it twist and burn in pain? Or throwing an ant into a web to watch the spider catch it’s pray.

But eventually something happened. One day you realized that the worm on the hook was drowning and you begin to wonder how the fish felt with a hook in its mouth.

You realize that butterflies can’t live without wings and lightening bugs don’t light up when enclosed and that although you’re feeding the spider, you haven’t given the ant a fair chance?

That’s called empathy: being aware of the pain of someone or something other then yourself. It’s an important stage of a person’s development.

Empathy moves us to do acts of kindness, without empathy we continue to inflict senseless pain.

I like to believe that God forgives us for the innocent animals we hurt when we are young, but I also believe that God holds us accountable for the suffering we inflict as we grow older and the pain we cause to meet our own needs.

That is part of what has happened with the oil spill in the Gulf.

BP, working to meet our demand for oil, dug far down into the earth, way below the waters, where no human could physically go, and the result: a human and mechanical mistake that has spilt gallons of crude into the waters, affecting not just the elements and the sea life, but the birds of the air, the people of the land, the grass and the soil.

And we are reminded once again that everyone, everything, every part of creation, living or not, is interconnected, and when suffering is brought upon one part it causes suffering for others.

As many of you know, Psalm 104 is my favorite scripture. There’s interconnectedness, with order and reason, as well as playfulness and the unexpected.

It saddens me that Psalm 104 is being used for today’s worship service, because our God created Creation to be good, not to suffer in oil slicked pain, with pelicans and baby turtles dying and the children of fishermen living under intense worry and fear.

Today’s scripture is a reminder that creation is not just about us. But it is first and foremost about God. It is God who created, it is God who is mighty, and it is God who knows what is best.

And what God created was a series of living and inanimate beings that are to exist together.

The waters of the springs flow between valleys giving drink to wild animals, allowing donkeys to quench their thirst.

Water cascading down mountains to form streams, streams that water trees, trees that create homes for the birds, birds that fill the earth with their song.

The sea, deep and wide, great and wonderful, full of too many animals to even count, where giant creatures frolic and ships sail so people can make a living.

Waters: quenching thirst.

Waters: providing a home.

Waters: offering a chance to work and a chance to play.

And yet, it is our waters that have been suffering.

In one ocean a giant mass of plastic, the size of Texas, floats along. In another ocean exists a dead zone due to our fertilizer and pollutants.

And now, the Gulf, tainted by oil.

Our need to drive, to go fast, to be warm, to have synthetics, to drink from a bottle have caused wildlife and the environment to be bogged down, blackened and poisoned.

So what do we do? How do we act? Do we give up our two-liters of Coca Cola? Do we get rid of our cars? Do we boycott companies that are only giving us what we’ve been demanding?

I believe our first step is to have faith.

Not faith that is a passive “when you wish upon a star” faith, not faith that allows us to sit back and wait, but faith that trusts that God is already moving to bring a resolution and faith that God is going to bring us along, showing us what to do.

This is a resurrection faith. A faith that came from the exiles, a faith that comes from prophets, a faith that comes from the Gospel testimonies.

A biblical faith that says God does not abandon a
community but that God brings new life and hope
even when life and vitality seem to be gone.

A resurrection faith that says if it was God who created the world, if it was God ordered it so that springs would quench donkeys and streams would benefit birds and the seas would give play to monsters and work to men, then God will move to refresh and restore and to heal the land.

That if God can bring a dead man out of a tomb, then God can bring dead waters back to life and oil soaked marshes back into green pastures.

Because that is the kind of God we follow.

But God will not do it alone. We already see nature busy repairing itself. Microorganisms are breaking apart the oil. The currents of the mighty Mississippi are churning the oil around so it does not get stuck. Turtles, birds and fish are proving to be more resilient that we give them credit for.

And the faith we have, the faith God has given us, is a faith that also says we must play our role too.

We can’t continue consuming at the expense of other beings. We can’t sit back and expect corporations or politicians to always do the right thing.

We can’t continue to live as if we are the only beings that matter, because we are not.

We are the beings that were created in God’s image, and we are the ones given the awesome responsibility of watching over everything else.

So now that the worst part of the spill is over, now that the Spirit of God moves over the waters, we are to find what we, as the chosen caretakers can do, how we can act and what God wants from us.

How do we live so that the water brings life to the land, the land brings life to the vegetation, the vegetation brings life to God’s creatures and God’s creatures enhance our own life, as we enhance theirs?

Our days of pulling the wings off of butterflies and feeding ants to the spiders are over.

We know better and we have grown, and we are called to be better stewards of God’s earth.

Green and blue, deep and wide, majestic and awe-inspiring.

The Glory of God enduring forever.

All thanks be to God, the Creator, to Jesus Christ, our brother in life and to the Spirit that moves to bring restoration.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Tears of the Giraffe"

This is book two of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and it is at a much speedier pace then the series. But, oh how I enjoyed it. Mma. Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. are engaged and taken in a brother and sister who are orphans. The girl is in a wheelchair and has a love for all things engine, which surprises, but please Mr. J.L.B. (even if he wished it was the boy who had the mechanical aptitude). This is just another example of how the author plays with gender roles, being both appreciative of the place for tradition but also the place for breaking the glass ceiling (so Mma. Makutsi!)

Page 63: Mma. Ramostwe is thinking about forgiveness, which leads her to Mandela: "But at last, when he had walked out of prison on that breathless, luminous day day, he had said nothing about revenge and retribution. He had said there were more important things to do than complain about in the past, and in time he had shown that he meant this by hundreds of acts of kindness towards those who had treated him badly. That was the real African way, the tradition that was closest to the heart of Africa. We are all children of Africa, and none of us is better or more important than the other."

Page 83, Mr. J.L.B. is thinking about becoming a foster parent and reflecting on the man who influenced him. "It was easy to make a difference to other people's lives, so easy to change the little room in which people lived their life."

Page 122 "If they could not understand how we are part of the natural world about us, then they are the ones who have their eyes closed, not us."

Page 156, Mr. J.L.B. is amazed to hear that his foster daughter, Motholeli never had her photograph taken. He reflects that she had nothing to look back at and say "That is me" and that nobody had wanted to take her picture; she was not special enough.

Page 198, Mr. J.L.B. and Motholeli are fixing a car. She says "The van is happier now." He realizes that she has "it", the thing that makes one a mechanic, for she understand the car and engine in terms of happiness/feelings.

Page 225, Mma Ramostwe is balancing the books and realizes there should be a column for happiness alongside expenses and receipts. "the figure in her accounts would be a very large one..."

Page 227 "We can all give something...a giraffe has nothing to give but tears."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sermon from Aug 22, 2010; Luke 12:49-56

Rev. George Miller
Luke 12:49-56
“Holy Humanity ”
Aug 15, 2010

There is a man I love. A man in which I’m in debt for some of the best things in my life. A man who has undergone great joys and great sorrow.[i]

I have never heard his voice, seen his face or the clothes he wears. Yet he teaches me to love. To forgive. To question and to journey.

He has asked me to leave everything behind. He has promised to never desert me. And he invites me to his table so that I can be fed. And yet...

...just when I think I know him, just when I think I can pigeonhole him to fit my ideal, he says and does something that shakes up my view, making me wonder if I can every truly know him at all.

There is a man I love. His name is Jesus...

Today’s reading has one of those scenes that shows the complexity of Jesus and of being a Christian.

To get an idea of what’s going on, we go to the beginning of the chapter. Jesus is speaking to the disciples, a crowd gathers, trampling each other.

Jesus teaches: do not fear those who harm your body; God’s eye is on the sparrow; it’s better to be rich towards God then in worldly items; don’t worry about the food you eat or clothes you wear.

It’s all so wonderfully pastoral of Jesus. He calls the disciples “little flock” and tells them that worrying will not add an hour to their life.

But then he seems to go on this tangent. “What stress I am under! I did not come to bring peace! I brought fire and division and will not stop till its completed.”

What happened to just a few moments ago when he said “Don’t be afraid little flock, don’t worry about food or clothes, God won’t forget about you”?

Is Jesus wishy-washy? A hypocrite? Bi-polar?

Or is Jesus simply human, like you and I?

One of the mysteries of our faith is just who Jesus is. It is proclaimed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine; fully like us and fully God.

But how can this be, and how human is human?

We see this wrestling in the Gospels. For instance Mark and John don’t bother telling about Jesus’ birth or childhood. He just appears, fully formed.

Matthew tells us a bit of Jesus’s birth, but Luke tells us the most: Jesus had a family with an aunt, an uncle and a cousin; Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no place to stay. He was circumcised, dedicated in the Temple. As a pre-teen he was lost and sassed his parents.

Luke tells us that Jesus was tempted, rejected and was aware of his own mortality at an early age.

All of this can seem inconsequential until you put them together and realize how much Luke does to make Jesus seem human, that Jesus didn’t fall from the sky or was impervious to economics, rituals or teenage rebellion like you and I.

But Jesus had very, very human traits, which we see in today’s reading. For almost 12 chapters things appear to be going very well.

Jesus heals, preaches and leads. He fields questions, encourages loving one’s enemies, reaches out to women and outsiders. He forgives, calms a storm and brings a family back together.

He feeds folk, sends people out, demonstrates how to pray, attracts large crowds, stands up to the Pharisees and lawyers...

...and then it seems as if he begins to crack, even if just a little bit, under the pressure. As one writer stated, it’s a rare glimpse into the heart and mind of Jesus as he approaches Jerusalem.[ii]

Jesus is impatient, wanting to kindle the fire now. He talks of feeling stressed and trapped. Forget about sparrows and lilies of the field, his motor’s running and he wants things to start now, this instant, this time and place!

He disregards peace and talks about causing sons and daughters to fight against fathers and mothers.

This is Jesus on a roll, and I wonder if afterwards
he felt as if he may have put his foot in his mouth or if he had been a little rash and quick to judge.

Can you imagine Jesus processing the event with Peter over a drink: “Umm, Peter, do you think I may have been a little rough back there?”

Or Peter replying “You know, that thing about not worrying? You may want to think about following your own teaching from time to time.”

For me, this scripture reminds me about the humanity of Christ, and if Jesus could be this human, if Jesus could admit to feeling a bit stressed out, what does it mean for us?

...There is a man I love. A man in which I’m in debt for some of the best things in my life. I’ve never heard his voice, seen his face or the clothes he wears.

He teaches me to love. Yet at times he got angry.
He teaches me to forgive. Yet he spoke about unrest.

He teaches me to question and to journey. Yet he could be impatient and feel trapped in.

There is a man I love because he refuses to let me put him on a pedestal.

Yet we try, don’t we? We imagine Jesus as this perfect person who said all the right things, always spoke in a calm voice and had perfectly quaffed hair.

But what happens when we put people on a pedestal? We always, without fail, find a way to knock them off and lose our faith in them.

What is your image of Jesus? What do you think about him? Do you ever get tired of those perfect images of Jesus?

Because perfect isn’t human, and if Jesus wasn’t human, then his time on earth, his journey to Jerusalem, his suffering on the cross means nothing.

I love Jesus, and because I do, I want to know that he had a bad hair day. I want to know that after a rich meal he was bloated and gassy. I want to know that when ate pasta he sometimes got spaghetti sauce on his white tunic.

I may not be entirely comfortable with what Jesus says in today’s reading, but I do like knowing that he could feel anxious. It makes me peace.

I like knowing he could be impatient. I like knowing he may not have been the complete pacifist people try to make him out to be.

I like knowing that without lifting a fist or brandishing a gun Jesus could talk tough and from time to time he felt the need to light a fire under people’s backsides.

Because that is what it means to be human.

And guess what: if Jesus could be human, and express human traits, well what does that mean for us?

It means that we are human too.

And if we are human, then it certainly means our spouse is human, our friends, our children, our neighbors, are all human as well.

And what does it mean to be human? To be imperfect. To not know all the answers, to not get it all done at once, to make mistakes.

But it also works the other way. To be human means that sometimes our man doesn’t put the lid down. To be human means our wife may sound as if she’s sawing lumber when she sleeps.

To be human means our children may not get the perfect grades or be the perfect golfer. And to be human means we can’t expect golfers to be perfect role models.

Cause guess what? We are human. We are flawed, fragile, broken, incomplete, finite.

And yet, and yet, we are wonderful, we are complex, we are unique.

We may not be perfect, but we are strong.

We each carry the mark of our Maker and when we open ourselves up to Christ we invite the Spirit to enter in. And through the Spirit’s heavenly fire we become polished, refined and shaped into better version of ourselves.

In Christ we remain wholly human and a holy human, aware of our flaws, and more accepting of others’.

Because no matter what, we will never be perfect; that is what we were never meant to be...

...There is a man I love. A man in which I’m in debt for some of the best things of my life. A man who has undergone great joys and sorrow.

I have never heard his voice, seen his face or the clothes he wears.

Yet he teaches me to love. To forgive. To question and to journey.

He has asked me to leave everything behind. He has promised to never desert me. And he invites me to his table so that I can be fed.
And yet...just when I think I know him, just when I think I can pigeonhole him to fit my ideal, he says and does something that shakes up my view, making me wonder if I can every truly know him at all.

There is a man I love. His name is Jesus. His humanity teaches me to accept my own, his humanity teaches me to accept others.

All thanks be to God in who’s image we were created, for Jesus who reminds us of what it means to be human and the Spirit who’s fire burns bright.

Amen and amen.

[i].This intro is greatly inspired from The Clowns of God by Morris West, 1981, pg 171.
[ii].Homiletics magazine, July/August 2010, pg. 57

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sermon from August 8, 2010

Rev. George Miller
Hebrews 11:1-16
“Greeting the Distant Promises ”
Aug 8, 2010

A long time ago, people told stories. By the fire, the flames crackling and illuminating the uncertainty of night. They told fables about talking animals and mysterious fish, natural wonders and bigger-then- life-heros.

They told about their ancestors who had done amazing things, their great-grandparents who had overcome amazing hardships, their great-great-cousins who braved amazing journeys.

Some of these stories bored the listeners and were dismissed, lost to the sands of time forever, while other stories elicited excited responses and were enhanced to create even bigger oohs and ahhs.

Some stories were combined with others to create a nourishing tale that enriched the hearer, teaching an elemental truth. Other stories were meant to empower and prepare people for the times in which they must act, respond and do.

These were the stories of faith and courage, of facing the very thing one fears and going ahead even when others have fled.

These are the stories that populate today’s reading. These are the stories the writer of Hebrews wants us to hear and remember.
For these are stories about our spiritual ancestors, those who came before us, who lived according to God’s promises, acting on faith even though they were facing things uncertain and unknown.

It is from the pages of the Bible that we are in conversation with those ancestors and our Christian faith is grown and sustained.

Hebrews was a letter written to a congregation between 60 and 90 CE. Its author has long been forgotten, but its pastoral message has not.

This is a letter of passion, as the word “faith” appears no less then 24 times in this chapter alone.
It needed to be because this particular church was in crisis. They faced hostility and ridicule. Popular culture was trying to make them feel ashamed for what they believed. The promised 2nd coming of Christ had been a wash. People were losing their faith, ready to walk away and return to their old beliefs.

The writer of this letter sends a message: Hold on, don’t quit or walk away. “Have faith” the author says.

But this is not faith as a passive emotion, causing one to sit idly by, but faith as an action requiring bravery and heart.

To solidify the argument, the author goes back to the peoples’ common language: the stories told by the campfire, knowing that faith has a long memory and profits from the experiences of our ancestors.

He points to Abel and Enoch, Noah and Moses. He highlights Abraham and Sarah who acted in astounding faith, leaving their native land because of God’s promise that they would have as many decedents as stars in the sky.

And even though none of these ancestors lived to see the promises fulfilled, still they acted in trust, living faith as a verb.

These ancestors are the spiritual stock from whence we come...

...Faith. That there is more there then meets the eye. Faith that lies in the future unseen...

...Our ancestors told their stories by campfire. But unless if you are one who enjoys the great outdoors, campfires are no longer a nightly thing.
And as a nation derived from diverse backgrounds we don’t all share the same ancestors.

Instead of camp fires we have the flicker of movie screens, and in many ways films have become the means in which we tell and learn our stories.

Movies have become a way, wether we realize it or not, in which we have been taught about faith, the characters on the screen have become the shared ancestors and friends that we learn from.
So it is about movies I’d like to talk about for the rest of today’s message.

Movie quotes have served to inspire, teach and give hope during the dark times. Think of Pinochio: “When you wish upon a star.”

Gone with the Wind: “As God is my witness I will never go hungry again.”

Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.”

Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Jaws: “I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.”

And my personal favorite, from a film not many have seen, The Best Man: “I may not be perfect but I’m strong.”

Each of these lines speak about faith.

First: Pinochio. Who’s not a Disney fan? The movies seem so uplifting, until you realizes that most of the classic Disney films pushed a passive view of faith.

Wish on a star, sing to a well, rely on a dream. Faith is something you sit back and wait to happen. You wait for a blue fairy, a handsome prince or the shoe to fit, and things will work out.

That’s not really faith. That’s passivity meant to keep someone in place.

Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Now here was a woman who made things happen. While all of Georgia crumbled round her she found a way to live, swearing to God she’d never go hungry again, turning drapes into a dress.

Scarlet had the type of faith that was a verb: she acted. Nothing passive at all, until you realize she stabbed people in the back and put herself first even at the expense of those she loved. Scarlet’s faith was an active, but selfish one.

Look at the four remaining examples. Field of Dreams. Here was story about a man who heard that still speaking voice, a hush, who listened to it, even when he faced ridicule and ostracization.

His faith meant doing and believing in something bigger, ultimately bringing healing and resolution to himself, his family and those around him.

I think Noah could have related to this film.

Empire Strikes Back. Yoda is training Luke Skywalker to be Jedi Master. When given a task Luke says “I will try,” to which his teacher says “Do or do not. There is no try.”

This is an important message for us to hear, especially for those on committees. Faith does not depend on half-hearted attempts or giving 50%.

Faith is about doing the best we can, offering our all, knowing that the best is what God gives us, so our best is what the Kingdom deserves.

And if we fail, we fail. But either we do or we do not. I believe Abel would agree with this thought.

“I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.” Talk about a classic line from a classic movie, designed to elect scares and laughs at the same time.

Chief Brody is helping to hunt down the great white shark when he sees the mammoth beast face to face.

What I love about this line is that Brody has looked right into the jaws of death and instead of saying “I give up” or running away, he states, with humor, that if they are going to get the job done, they are going to need a different tactic.

Faith can be like that: we face a task and discover we need different tools or a different means to accomplish the goal. But instead of giving up, we figure out what it is we need.

I think Jesus would agree with this. After all, for most of his ministry he faced the jaws of death. Instead of running away, he found the resources he needed, such as choosing the disciples and calling upon God.

“I may not be prefect, but I’m strong.” It’s said by one of the female characters in The Best Man.
That’s a line that could be said by anyone in today’s reading, be it Moses, Sarah, Abraham.

Although faith insists we give our best, it does not demand that we are perfect, because no one is.

We are human: wonderful, imperfect, flawed. We make mistakes, we stumble, we get up, we fall down. But in our faith we are strong, tenacious and enduring; in our faith we are victorious.

In conclusion, the author of Hebrews uses the people of camp fire stories to teach about faith. That faith perceives with an inner eye and is an outward response to the trustworthiness of God.[i]

Today I have put my spin on faith by using the people of the movie screen to talk about faith. But the lessons are the same: that faith is not about sitting by and hoping things will come true. Nor is faith about stabbing someone in the back to get your way.

But faith is about trusting that inner voice to do the right thing, even if it seems to make no immediate sense and you have to wait it out.

Faith is not about doing something half-cocked but doing it all the way, giving it your best shot.

Faith is looking at your biggest fear right in its mouth and finding what you need to deal with and confront it, even though it terrifies you.

Finally, faith is not about being perfect or superhuman, but about being strong: strong in the Lord and strong in your convictions.

Our stories help us envision and shape the future, acting with faith that what we do, if indeed directed by God, will come to fruition, even if we do not live to see it.

Because the Kingdom of God is not just for those who came before, or for us who live now, but the Kingdom is also for those who will come after us.

Past, present, future. A cloud of witnesses each participating in the journey of life, each playing a part in greeting the distant promises.

Actively fearless in the face of adversity, as numerous as the stars in the sky, players in the game of life.

Imperfect, strong, faithful.

All praise and honor be to God who created by speaking the Word, to Jesus who loved to tell us stories and to the Spirit that breathes life into everything we do.

Amen and amen.

[i].Thomas Long, commentary on Hebrews.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Tea Time for the Traiditionally Built"

OK, so I did things out of order. But I love the title of this newest installment of the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It's a little long in the beginning, but by the end I could not wait to finish it/yet did not want it to end.

The author really allowed Mma Makusti to shine. She has so many great one-liners that I just had to laugh out loud. her sense of reason and her general assumptions are...oops. wait- aren't those things I have been accused of as well? OK, so I have a little Mma Makutsi in me as well. But I love her.

There's not a lot about Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni in here, because the story is really about Mma Ramostwe and Mma Makusti and the mystery they solve is really just a means to an exploration of life. And how a cup of bush tea can settle anything.

Poverty and AIDS and adultery and drought creep in but are dealt with matter of fact, making the joyous spots that much lovelier.

The soul of the novel is all over its pages. Page 41. "People believed in all manner of things, in the face of all the evidence, but if they did not, well, what then? What if we stopped believing in things that we could not prove? We has to believe in something, she thought. We had to believe in kindness, and courtesy and telling the truth; we had to believe in the old Botswana values-all these these could not be proved in the way in which one could prove that nothing made a difference to colds, and yet we had to believe in them."

72: Mma Ramotswe sat quite still. All of us. Until you hear the whole story, you dig deeper, and listen, she thought, you know only a tiny part of the goodness of the human heart.

127: We are born to talk to other people, she thought; we are born to be sociable and to sit together with others in the shade of the acacia tree and talk about things that happened the day before. We were not born to sit in kitchens by ourselves, with nobody to chat to.

Page 189 is an observation about how some pushy people can make others uncomfortable and say/do things they normally would not. "She regretted that remark the moment she had made it. It was a bad mistake to tie yourself down to deadlines-it was a bad mistake to make promises in general- but there was something about Mr. Molofololo's manner-his pushy, rather hectoring style- that led to this."

On 212 the book ends with a wonderful surreal bit about Mma. Makusti's new shoes talking, and then the rain coming down, and you know what? It all made wonderful, sense.

I can not wait to read the rest of the books in this series.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"The No. 1 Ladies' Dective Agency"

After watching all of season 1 of the HBO series, I ran out to the library to get this book and found it such an enjoyable, quick read. Almost all of the cases appeared in the series. Sadly, my favorite character, Mma Makutsi, does not appear that much (but oh how she does in book 7 which I am reading now!).

The author, Alexander McCall Smith, does not shy away from Mma Ramotswe's abusive relationship with her ex-husband, and it is that sorrow and violent experience (especially the death of her 5 day old son and the death of her father) that underlies so much of what is going on.

Yet, so much light bursts forth from these pages that one can not help but to smile. The dialogue is crisp and clean, and if you have seen the TV show, you can just see all the characters.

Bravo to Mma Ramotswe and her traditionally built self!

The pages of soul are as follows:
page 48, he father notes that people were like their cattle: wretched, thin people had wretched, thin cattle; dishonest people had dishonest cattle that would cheat other cattle of food.

104: "he is not a good father this man, because he loves his four children too much- he wants to own them. You have to let them go. You have to let them go."

124: I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own.

160: night we are all strangers, even to ourselves...

180: She made it sound so simple that he found himself convinced that it would work. That was the wonderful thing about confidence- it was infectious.

196: Women can't be bothered with all this fighting. We see war for what it is- a matter of broken bones and crying mothers.

All in all, this is a very good book, worth settling down to with a cup of bush tea.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sermon for Aug 1, 2010, Psalm 43

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 43
“Sharing God’s Light with a Woeful World” ”
Aug 1, 2010

Sometimes it is a dark, woeful world. A word full of sadness and forsakenness. A world in which whatever light and life dwells within us does not seem to be enough. Allow me to share a story.

There was a man. Up until recently he had a good life. So good he could not stop praising God. At church he sung robustly, at missions he worked diligently and on council he served faithfully.

Then he had a bad year, a dark year. He lost his wife, he lost his business, he lost his son.

He stopped singing robustly, he dropped out of missions and council. Eventually, he ceased going to church all together.

After a few weeks, the pastor paid him a visit. It was a chilly evening. She knocked on the door. He greeted the pastor and welcomed her inside.

The pastor looked around. It was clear the man was in grief. Dishes filled the sink. He had not shaved for weeks. And the light that was normally in his eyes were gone.

There was a fire burning in the fire place. The man invited the pastor to sit down. She did, saying nothing.
In grave silence the two of them watched the flames dancing around the burning logs. After a few moments, she leaned over, grasped the fire tongs and picked up one of the burning embers and placed it on the side of the hearth, alone.

They watched silently as the ember’s flame flickered and dulled and burnt out. A few more minutes it was cold and lifeless. Both the man and the pastor remained in silence.

She picked up the cold, lifeless ember and placed it back into the gathering of burning embers. It began to immediately glow, once more sharing the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

That Sunday the man returned to church, and the pastor couldn’t contain her smile when she heard his voice robustly join in the singing.

...Have you ever felt like that? As if you’ve lost everything that mattered to you? That you’re energy was gone? That you didn’t feel a part of anything anymore? That your light had burnt out?

That’s what this unnamed man felt in the story; that is what the unnamed psalmist is feeling in today’s reading.

Psalm 43 is what we would call a Psalm of Lament, and since Psalm 42 and 43 read as a unified whole, modern scholars believe they were once one psalm.

The psalmist is in a place of despair, with tears the only source of food. This is a darkness of the soul, a darkness in which the person longs for the good ol’ days of worshiping God. But now, they feel like God has forgotten about them.

The NRSV tries to soften the psalmist’s sense of alienation, asking God “Why have you cast me off?” Other translations are more direct.

The NIV asks “Why have you rejected me?” The Good News Bible asks God “Why have you abandoned me?” The Message is perhaps most intense, asking “Why did you walk out on me?”

“Why did you walk on me?” Those are indeed woeful words. But those words are very honest, alluding to a relationship with God in which no feeling is off limits and no emotion is wrong.

If you recall, a few weeks ago we explored the wrath of God and the anger God feels when we do things that violate life. The following week we then explored the theme of forgiveness. Today we tie the two together, but with a twist.

Today, I propose that for our light to burn brightly, for the sake of our relationship with God, we have to be willing to express our anger at God and we have to find a way to bestow forgiveness upon God.

Two weeks ago I used a line from a movie to summarize the entirety of the Bible: “I gave you life so that you could live it.” And today, I ask God, “Really? Is this what you call living?”

If you haven’t noticed God, the country seems poised to enter into a second recession, Florida’s unemployment is over 11%, and the housing market is lower then a rapper’s pair of baggy pants.

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

Really? In case you couldn’t tell from way up there, God, the Gulf of Mexico is covered with oil that’s been spewing for weeks.

Our fishermen have been out of work unable to care for their families. The hospitality and vacation industry has lost millions of dollars.

Oh, and God, thousands of fish, oysters, pelicans and whales have died in the process. What could they possibly have done to deserve death covered in petroleum?

“I gave you life so that you could live it” and yet you’ve watched as our pensions have dried up, our children have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and we’ve buried our husbands.

Did you turn a blind eye God, or are you just asleep?

“I gave you life so that you could live it.” Well, what a woeful world we are in, and if this is living, then you have plenty of ‘splaining to do God.

These are some harsh things I just said, but they are honest words.

We can get into a discussion about what God does and does not do, but anytime the heart breaks, anytime the soul is thirsty, those woes create a dark, lonely world in which it seems as if God has walked out on us.

And if God truly wants to be in relationship with us, as the Biblical accounts testify, then God needs to be able to hear these words from us, and we need to be able to say them to God.

There are some who may think that being angry at God or voicing our displeasure during worship is sacrilege, but if God is truly real, if God is truly living and acting in our world, then being angry with God makes sense[i] because we all have become angry at those we love.

And if God is indeed active and in relationship with us, then voicing that anger becomes a part of a “deep, bold faith.”[ii]

And if you’ve ever argued with God, you are not alone, for you join a multitude of voices, from Abraham to Moses, Jeremiah[iii] to yes, even Jesus.

But being angry at God carries with it another component: the ability to forgive God.
Have you ever thought of that before: that perhaps God needs forgiveness from us just as much as we need forgiveness from God and each other?

I thought about this during the week. That if God is in relationship with us, then God also needs forgiveness because that’s part of what being in a true relationship is all about.

Thing is, there’s a lot of folk who can’t or won’t forgive God. If you do not believe me, look around you, at all the empty seats.

Many of them are empty because someone has felt abandoned by God and they don’t know how to forgive, so they’ve abandoned God in return.

A burning ember that has gone out and grown cold.

But to find a way to forgive God brings that light right back, for forgiveness shines through the darkness, forgiveness brings forth new life and the possibility of the future.

In conclusion, yes, it can be a woeful world. Wars continue to be waged, good people get cancer, and children die from mosquito bites. We have every right to be angry with God and to feel as though God has walked out on us.

For the sake of our relationship with God we have the responsibility to share those emotions with God and to ask what God is going to do about it.
But we also need to find a way, somehow, to let that anger go, so we can forgive, and so we can share with God what God already shares with us.

When we boldly address God, when we raise our voice to speak the unspeakable, we move from passive participants to active worshipers who have a closer relationship with our Creator, and our spiritual light burns a bit brighter.

And though the world remains woeful, we, as members of Emmanuel can find ways to share God’s light and remind one another that God has not walked out at all, but God is very much here, listening and waiting to forgive and to be forgiven.

Because that’s what a true relationship entails.

All thanks be to the Spirit that lifts up our soul, to God who longs to have us live life and for Jesus who reminds us of what forgiveness is all about.

Amen and amen.
[i]. Rev. Tony Robinson, from Stillspeaking Daily Devotional from the UCC, July 27, 2010