Friday, December 23, 2011

Sermon for 12 24 11; Luke 2:1-20

Rev. George Miller
Luke 2:1-20
“Between Emperors and Angels”
Dec 24, 2011

Ya’ll may remember that when I arrived at Emmanuel UCC in 2010, one of the first sermons I gave was about being an A-Type personality.

There’s no denying that. I am “A” all the way. Not only that, I’m a list maker.

During that first sermon, I asked how many of you were the type of list makers that if you do something that’s not on your list, you write it down and then scratch it off.

Doesn’t it feel good to be in solidarity with others and to know you are not alone?

Well, is it me, or has this holiday season been one long list on top of list on top of list?

The lists of who to buy for, what to buy, and there’s always that one person you forgot?

How many have created a “Countdown to Christmas list?”

The time lines for when to wrap and mail presents, when to send out cards, when to grocery shop, when to take the turkey out of the freezer, when to make certain dishes.

List after list after list after list.

Because of this, how many already feel a bit burned out, tired, and looking forward to Dec 26 when life slows back down?

It’s normal to feel this way, that things are uber-busy, because truthfully that’s part of what’s going on in today’s reading.

Chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel begins by making reference to a census decreed by Emperor Augustus.

And what is a census after all, but a list of lists?

It’s a government mandated event in which people are to be counted and compiled into where they are from, where they live now, how much they make etc.

By letting us know there was a census taking place, Luke is trying to set the birth of Jesus into a historical, social setting that people could understand.

And if you think about it, this census was more then an ordinary census: it was an event.

What do people need to do to prepare for an event? That’s right- make more lists!

For folk like Joseph and Mary who had to travel about 70 miles by foot or donkey, there were preparations to be made.

Such a trip would require food, water, clothes, shelter, supplies for the animals, all which require packing and planning.

Don’t forget making provisions for people to mind your business, look after your home, water the plants and take in the mail.

You don’t just jump onto a donkey with a pregnant woman and say “Away we go!” No, you plan, you prepare, and you save.

Then there are the people in places like Bethlehem who have to prepare for the return of their family and friends. They’ll be expected to open their homes, to provide meals, and entertain.

For them there’ll be the cleaning of the house, the washing of linens, the fixing up of broken windows and creaky doors.

There’s all the food preparation that will have to take place. Grapes made into wine, grain turned into bread; the planning of the meals, shopping at the market, killing the fatted calf,

figuring out who will sit next to Cousin Moira and where the kids table will be.

Lists upon lists upon lists to plan and prepare!

Let’s not forget about all the local business owners as they plan to welcome hundreds if not thousands of people into town.

The supplies they’ll need to order, the extra staff they’ll have to hire, the stocking of the shelves, the jacking up of prices, making sure they have the latest fashions, spices and perfumes so visitors can buy gifts for their hosts and their friends back home.

Then there is the underground community gearing up to be busy; the pick pockets ready to make a catch, the pool halls and nightclubs, call girls and card sharks.

Bethlehem would have been a busy place with people arriving, people hosting, people selling, people exploiting.

All busy busy, making lists and checking them twice to make sure nothing is missed.

The whole world it seems is moving at a dizzying pace…and this is when and where Jesus enters into their lives.

Not when things are calm and peaceful; not when everyone has had a chance to catch their breath.

But when the government is busy telling the world what to do and the world is busy and alive with movement.

So busy that barely anyone notices the birth of Jesus because they are so focused on their own lists and tasks.

No one that is, except for some poor shepherds who find a way to leave behind their work in the field, for the most important task of all: to glorify the Lord.

…The world was busy when Jesus was born, and the world continues to be busy now…

But for right here, for right now, for all my list makers, planners, worriers, and deep thinkers,

Tonight; tonight
we are to take a deep breath
we are to be present before the Lord; just like Mary and Joseph,
just like the shepherds who came in from their field.

Tonight we are to forget about our lists,
our to-dos
about who will sit next to Cousin Moira
forget about where the kids table will be
forget about what still needs to be done

Tonight we are invited to be still, and to be present and to know that we are about to witness the greatest gift of all:

Emmanuel, which means “God with Us.”

And if you are sitting next to someone you love, someone you trust, I invite to clasp their hand for a second…and just be….

You know, just like back then during the census of Emperor Augustus, there is always so much to do.

Modern marvels like washing machines and e-mail haven’t really reduced the amount of work we have, they’ve just created space for new work.

So why do we continue to rush, rush, rush?

Just like back then, there will always be the rich and powerful among us, like Augustus and Quirinius.

Just like back then, there will always be the poor among us, like the shepherds, Mary and Joseph.

But between them exists an entire world, a world ablaze with light, in which there are angels amongst us, living and heavenly, who point us towards the Lord.

Angels who break through the darkness of night to remind us that there is so much more then what we can imagine or what we think we must do.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, between emperors and angels, between palaces and fields of clover, a baby was born into our world.

His name is Jesus; Christ the Lord,
born to set us free;
born to give us true sight;
born to bring good news and joy to the people,
both the 1 and the 99 percent.

Amongst all the traveling and list making and planning and doing,
what really mattered that night,
what really transpired in the manger,

was that Jesus was born so that our hearts

may sing out,
our minds may open up and
our spirits may be filled with light.

Light that says no amount of darkness,
no amount of worry,
no amount of anything can dim what we have found,

wrapped in swaddling clothes,
crying out to a wounded world
which will eventually cry out to Him.

Tonight, while the rest of the world is busy with lists and politics and commerce and greed, we are called to exist instead somewhere between emperors and angels,

for to each of us, the Christ child is born and we all are given a chance yet again to breath anew.

In conclusion, if you are an A-type personality, like me;

if you are a list maker, as I think many of us are,

tonight is the night for us to let that go,
to surrender to the moment,
and to know that it is a silent night,
a holy night,
in which all is calm,
and all is bright.

And we can leave our lists and our worries for another day.

For that, we can say “Hallelujah!” and for that we can say “Amen.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dec 18, 2011 sermon; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:26-38
“Nothing’s Impossible”
Dec 18, 2011

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” I invite you to repeat this with me: “For nothing.” “Will be.” “Impossible.” “With God.”

In many ways we could call this the creed of all biblical creeds. If we were looking for a way of branding the Bible or creating a logo, this could be it.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” From creation to deliverance to resurrection, this creed, brand, logo is pretty spot on.

It’s something I hold dear; something I refer to in gatherings, committees, and Bible studies; something I believe I have lived.

Let me share with you an example. Years ago, I worked at a summer camp, a small operation that took place in the basement of a small church in a relatively poor town.

Because of this, the children qualified for free lunches that were delivered each day.

One day we ran into a problem. Lunch for that afternoon was chicken nuggets and juice boxes, which for kids is the Holy Grail of food. Trouble is, we had 13 lunch boxes and 19 people to feed.

For a moment, we went into crisis mode; what were we to do? Not have 6 kids eat?

The answer came by recalling the scriptures.

We gathered the children; we were honest about the situation. We then told them the story of the loaves and fishes, and that we should trust that there would be enough food to go around.

We said our prayer, divided the nuggets, the juice, the pieces of fruit and crackers and we ate, and we ate, and we talked, and we joked, and lo and behold, there was enough for all.

Not only that, but the child next to me had a left over chicken nugget and asked if I would like it.

Truthfully, I wasn’t hungry, but I knew that this was a teachable moment: a lesson in hospitality, in which that child felt it was necessary to give me his last chicken nugget.

Therefore it was important for me to receive it with a “Thank you” and an “Hmm-mmm” that indicated it was the best tasting chicken nugget ever.

Impossible to feed 19 hungry people with 13 boxes of food? Not impossible at all, but completely, totally, 100%...possible.

We started with way too little, and through God we ended with more then enough!

Little miracles happen every day, all around, and yet they still amaze and confound.

Yet, if I was to make a confession: in my off time, behind closed doors, in my personal life, it’s a bit harder to live by this notion of the impossibly possible.

When the moments of darkness and doubt enter into my life, I wonder if they will happen.

Like the time I was 25 and figured I’d never make it back to Disney World. Or when I was 28 and certain that I could never afford to go back to school.

Or when I was 39 and afraid that no church would ever be brave enough to call me as their own.

But I am here to remind you, to remind myself, and to remind the darkness that nothing is impossible with God.

That’s what Luke wants us to know.

Luke is the third of the Gospels and it’s one of only two that try to tell us anything about Jesus’ birth.

In fact, Luke goes back to before Jesus is even born. He introduces Elizabeth, an older woman who has lived her whole life unable to give birth.

This is during a time when bareness was seen as brokenness and a judgment from God.

But through God, the impossible happens: she finds out that she is soon to be a mother, and with new life growing in her belly, Elizabeth states “This is what the Lord has done for me.”

But Elizabeth is not the only one in the family to experience the impossible. In another town, lives her much younger cousin, Mary.

Whereas Elizabeth is an older, mature woman from the big city with a white-collar husband, Mary is at what you may call that awkward in-between stage of life.

She’s from the country and has yet to see the world. She’s no longer a girl, but not yet a woman. She lives at home but is engaged to be married, and her husband Joseph; well, he’s blue collar.

If Elizabeth is red wine, Mary would be Pabst Blue Ribbon. Not who you would ever think to be the mother of the Messiah.

Oh, and there is the whole issue of her being a virgin.

And yet…nothing is impossible with God.

For one day, an angel comes to this small town girl living an in-between existence, and calls her the favored one.

And Mary, full of fear, discovers that she will have a boy and he will be called Son of Most High and his kingdom will last forever.

Mary, as you can imagine, says what anyone of us would say if we were in the same situation: “How can this be?”

The angel explains it to her, then to prove that anything-can-happen, the angel let’s her know that Elizabeth is also pregnant, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”

I don’t know about you, but this month I needed to be reminded of that.

In the midst of the republican nomination hullabaloo,

in the midst of my Mom having a car accident,

in the midst of being single yet again for Christmas,

it is sure good, and it is so right, to be reminded that where we are is not always where we will be;

that what we have is not always what we got,

and that no matter what man, no matter what woman, no matter what doctors, economists, scholars say,

nothing will be impossible with God.

I feel like we need to have an amen.

Use a woman who society deems as too old to bring forth new life? Why not?

Use a girl who society deems too young? Sure thing!

It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.

I love these stories in the Bible, don’t you?

There’s Sarah in the book of Genesis. She’s living her life, doing her thing with Abraham when God calls them to travel to a new land so God can bless the world.

Even though Sarah laughs at the idea of having a child, God reminds her that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.

There’s David in the book of Samuel. He’s the youngest of 8 boys and treated with little regard, even by his own Father.

He was so young he couldn’t walk with armor and a sword. Yet it is he, with nothing more then a smooth stone and a sling shot, who slew the mighty Goliath and became a mighty king.

And in just a few days, we welcome the birth of Jesus, a poor, homeless baby, born to a young Mary and blue-collar Joseph from an ill-reputed town.

Baby Jesus who will have to use a manger for a bed, who will grow into a man with no known home, no secure job; yet it will be he who will live to reflect the light of God and become the way of our salvation.

Living proof that nothing will be impossible with God, a foundational truth that we find throughout the Bible.

The world may say “No” but God says “Yes.”

The world may say “Not yet” but God says “Yes, now.”

The world may say “No way” but God says “I’ll tell you who is the Way, the Truth and the Light.”

In conclusion, let me be honest and say I still find it hard to live by faith every day and to find the faith to make it through every storm, to make it through every dark night.

But I believe that the words of Luke 1:37 are ultimately true.

After all, looking back I did get to school, I did get called to a church, and yes, I even did eventually get to Disney World.

It may all be coincidence; it may be the result of hard work, but somehow I can’t help but to feel like it was all part of a plan.

But I sure wish that sometimes we could better see God’s plan; I wish that sometimes we could better understand it.

But I know that God has a plan, a redemptive plan not just for you, not just for me, but for the entire world.

And because God does, we can let go of some of our fear, we can let go of some of our worries, we can let the light of Christ shine a little bit more into our darkest places.

Because with God nothing will be impossible.

In Christ, there will be enough chicken nuggets and juice boxes for all.

If you believe that to be so, let me hear you say “Hallelujah!”

If you believe that to be so, let me hear you say “Amen.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dec 11, 2011 sermon; John 1:1-28

Rev. George Miller
John 1:1-28
“True Light, True Love”
Dec 11, 2011

I have news I’d like to share with you. As many of you know, 6 months ago, my cat died unexpectedly of a heart defect. As you can imagine, it threw me into a period of darkness and loneliness.

Death of a beloved animal is hard, especially when living alone, and I’m not the only who lost a pet this year (like Joanne and Elaine). Though it’s not the same as the death of a human, it still involves a period of grief.

Grief is grief, with its own moments of darkness and sorrow, in which joy is unfairly stolen away.

For me it meant packing away his toys, no longer stopping at Petco and coming home to an empty, silent house.

But as of Thursday, there is new life; 2 kittens that I’ve named Sterling and Jesse. Which means that now, the cat toys have come out. Watching them play has brought joy into my house, turning it back into being a home.

Sterling prefers the mouse on a bouncy string, which causes him to do back-flips. Jesse prefers the laser beam, chasing after its tiny dot of light, which is kind of funny, and kind of sad, because it can never be attained.

(As an aside, do you know that Charles Townes, one of the creators of the laser, is a life-long member of the UCC?)

Light plays an important part in the lives of God’s people.

Soon, our Jewish sisters and brothers will celebrate Hanukkah, otherwise known as the Festival of the Lights.

Hanukkah has its roots in a time in which the Temple had been seized by the enemy and the Jews fought back. They won, but in order to resume worship, they had to purify the Temple.

Trouble is, it required burning the menorah for 8 days in which they only had enough oil for one.

In an act of faith, they lit the menorah anyway, and beyond reason, the light burned for not one, not four, but eight days, dispelling the darkness and showing that nothing is impossible for the Lord.

Centuries before, light played a role in the call of Moses. During a time when the people lived under the darkness of slavery, God called to Moses to help set the people free.

The means by which God called Moses: the burning bush. It was through this miracle of light that God spoke to Moses, saying “I have heard the cries of my people and I have come…to deliver them.”

Let’s not forget, the entire Biblical narrative starts with “In the beginning…God said ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light was good…”

Creation, deliverance, victory; light plays an important role, as it does in the majestic introduction to the Gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Notice the verb tense of the last sentence. Darkness is referred to in the past tense. But the light; light is stated in the present.

As in now, as in always.

What does it mean to say the light shines? To understand light, we should first have an understanding of dark.

Darkness can represent many things, I’ll suggest three.

Darkness can mean to not know, to be absent of wisdom, to lack facts.

Have you ever been to the hospital or doctor’s office and ask a question in which you get no answer or no one seems to know? It’s like you’re being kept in the dark.

Second, darkness can refer to sin. The things we do that makes us feel separated from God; the things we do that separate us from others; the things we do that separate us from our selves.

Sin can also include the things that others do to us. Sin that breaks down relationships, sin that abuses body and soul, sin that goes against the definition of compassion.

Third, darkness can refer to sadness, the dark clouds that linger over our heads due to feelings of loss, betrayal and loneliness.

All of us carry traces of this darkness wherever we may go, because to be human means to encounter loss and disappointment.

Darkness in the form of uncertainty, sin and sadness are part of all our lives.

But the good news is that darkness does not have power over us, because through it all, there is a light that shines, and that light is the Word, and the Word is Jesus Christ.

Just as God spoke and said “Let there be light”, Jesus Christ is the Word who says “Let there be life!”

And what a life it is!

For if darkness means uncertainty, sin and sadness, then life in Jesus Christ means the exact opposite.

To say that the light shines means that in Jesus Christ wisdom succeeds. In Jesus exists all knowledge and truth, the questions that need to be asked, and the answer to all of our questions.

In Christ our light shines through study and discovery, our minds become open to the ways of God and the possibilities of the Spirit.

To say the light shines means that in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness.

The things we do that we know we should not? We can bring them to our Lord and be relieved of the burden they create.

The moments where we have failed to show compassion or been too afraid to act? We can bring them to the Lord and before we even utter a single word, we are released from the dark grip they have over us.

And because are hearts are illuminated with the Lord’s forgiveness, we are called to share this gift of light with others.

To say the light shines means that as we wonder while we wander, our days are filled with elements of joy.

Joy in knowing that on Christmas day we’ll see Emmanuel in a manger.
Joy in knowing that on Good Friday we’ll see true love demonstrated on the cross.
And joy in knowing that on Easter morn we’ll see that the tomb is empty.

That in Christ, “The Lord has done great things for us” (Psalm 126:3) and joy has a way of bursting through in a multitude of ways, be it family, friends, or even two small kitty cats.

John’s Gospel is a living testimony to the light that we find in Jesus Christ:
the beginning of all wisdom,
the beginning of all forgiveness,
and the beginning of all joy;

Which no amount of darkness can ever put out. Can I get an “Amen”?

Before we end today’s message, a quick little sumthin’ sumthin’ to make you smile.

One day Jesus and Satan were having an on-going argument about who was better on the computer. They had been going at it for days, and frankly God was tired of hearing all the bickering back and forth.

Finally fed up, God said “That’s it! I’ve had enough. I’m going to settle this debate for once and for all.”

“I will set up a test that will run for two hours, and from those results, I will judge who does the better job.”

So Jesus and Satan sat down at their laptops and typed away.

They moused!
They faxed!
They e-mailed!
They e-mailed with attachments.
They sent reports,
They created labels and cards.
They Googled.
They Facebooked.
They Skyped.
They downloaded I-Tunes,
They filed income tax reports,
They created charts and graphs.
They did every tech job you can think of!

Jesus worked with heavenly efficiency; Satan worked faster then hell.

10 minutes before time was up; lightening flashed across the sky; thunder rolled, rain came tumbling down, and of course the power went out.

Everything went dark.

Satan stared at the blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld.

Jesus just sighed and gave a smile of joy.

Finally, the electricity came back on; each of them restarted their computers.

Satan searched frantically, screaming, “It’s gone! It’s all gone! It’s hopeless! I lost everything when the power went out!”

Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files from the past two hours of work, that smile of joy never wavering.

This made Satan even more irate. “How can this be? All is lost? This can’t be fair! He cheated. How come he has all his work and I have nothing?”

God shrugged and said:

“Jesus saves!”

Yes, kittens are adorable and great to have around; toy lasers can be fun; but they’re elusive, something you can never catch.

If what we are seeking is something attainable, something true, in which light and love illuminates our lives; then it is in Jesus Christ that our joy rests.

Jesus Christ is the Word who always was and always will be. No amount of darkness can ever put out that fact.

And with that, let us say “Hallelujah!” and let’s all say “Amen.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11; Dec 4, 2011

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 40:1-11
“Words of Comfort”
Dec 4, 2011

In our world there is so much uncertainty. Everything can hang on such a thin, breakable string: finances, health, family dynamics, government.

With so little to be sure of, the season of Advent brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words, comfort.

But first, a story: at Dot’s Diner, a family arrived to have a meal. As the mother placed her son, Erik, in his highchair, she noticed how everyone else seemed to be eating and talking quietly.

Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said “Hi!” He pounded his fat baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes crinkled with laughter and his mouth was a toothless grin. He wrinkled and giggled in merriment.

The mother looked around to see the source of his joy: it was an old man who had clearly seen better days: his shirt was dirty, his hair uncombed, his toes poked out of would-be-shoes.

He waved to the baby. “Hi there, big boy. Hey there, baby. I see you buster.”

The mother and father exchanged looks, not knowing what to do. Erik continued to laugh and say “Hi!”

When their meal came, the parents ate as fast as they could. The old man continued the conversation with the baby: “Do ya patty cake? Do ya peek-a-boo?”

At this point everyone in the restaurant was glaring at the man; nobody thought this man was cute. Nobody that is, except for Erik.

With their meal finished, the parents headed to the door. The father went to get the car. The mother took Erik to meet him at the door.

The old man sat poised between them and the exit. “Lord,” she thought to herself, “Just let me out of here before he speaks to us.”

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back so she could avoid breathing in his smell. But as she did, Erik leaned over her arms into a baby’s “pick-me-up” position.

Before she could stop him, Erik had propelled himself into the old man’s arms.

Suddenly a ragged man with would-be-shoes and a young child with a face full of giggles were in full embrace.

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.

The man’s eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

The mother stood awestruck.

The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and he looked at the mother and said “You take care of this baby.”

Somehow, she managed to say “I will.”

He handed Erik back to her and said “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.”

She could say nothing more then muttered thanks. With Erik in her arms she ran to the car, crying “My God, my God, forgive me.”

That day, the mother and the patrons at the diner had witnessed God’s love made known through the innocence of a tiny child.

A child who showed love with abandon, who passed no judgment, who saw a person while all the others saw raggedness and stench…

“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.”

These words speak to us today, just as they did to the people of Israel almost 3,000 years ago.

These are words spoken for people who had experienced great shame and uncertainty.

They were sure that God had forgotten about them. Their lives had become a series of trials in which they felt beaten up by life, stuck in an eternal wilderness of loss and anxiety, punished for their sins.

But in this sense of spiritual darkness, comes a voice. A word of hope and encouragement; a powerful proclamation that God was about to do something new.

The people of Israel were about to be delivered, God was going to make for them a way in their wilderness in which obstacles would be removed and their emptiness filled in.

This word that came filled with mystery and hope was “comfort.”

“Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Not comfort based on high hopes or wishful thinking, but comfort based on God’s promise of steadfast love; a covenant given to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Moses; a promise enthroned with King David and enlarged to include all of the people.

God speaks words of comfort that assures them that as ragged and worn-down as they may appear, they have been claimed as God’s own, an intimate bond that no bit of human drama can erase.

And these words of comfort are words that are spoken again and again, because they are words that are eternal; they are words that are true.

For us, as Christians, these are words that find their ultimate manifestation in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.

So although these words were spoken to others long, long ago, and far, far away, they speak to us today.

This Advent we prepare for that gift of comfort, of experiencing once again how God claims us as God’s own, through a child born on Christmas morn.

That though we each have our own share of wildernesses, shame and anxiety, we know that our restoration rests in Christ our Lord.

And that although comfort may not be instantly experienced or solve all of our dilemmas, we realize that through Christ, God has entered into our wilderness.

Together we are gathered to be fed and lead, to be carried gently by the same one who has embraced us, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the freedom that comes from the awareness.

Advent is about us hopefully waiting for the promise to be fulfilled (as it will be) in a savior who begins as a baby, meek and mild.

That is the meaning of this season: the gift of a child, the promise of a King; one who will feed the flock, one who will govern over a new kind of kingdom where we are seen, and we are loved.

Advent is about the fact that through God there is yet again hope for the world, and that hope comes in the comfort of a child who will reach out to us with laughter and giggles, who will offer us joy and give us rest.

And yes, it does not stop our world from being filled with so much uncertainty. Everything may still seem to hang on a thin, breakable string.

Yet even with so little to be sure of, this Advent season brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child, a babe, will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words, comfort.

Comfort in knowing that God has not forgotten us, that in the Holy Spirit we have been gathered together, and in Jesus Christ we are each compassionately embraced.

For that we can all say “Hallelujah!” and an “Amen!”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46; given on Nov 20, 2011

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 25:31-46
“The Story Everyone Should Know Pt II”
Nov 20, 2011

If you’ve worshipped with us the last few weeks, you may have picked up on the fact that there’s been a theme of sorts running throughout the morning messages; a theme that can be called “The Body Politic.”

First, we looked at Joshua 3 and talked about the feet of our ancestors. Then we explored Psalm 90 which asked God to prosper the works of our hands.

Last week we studied Ephesians 1 which talked about the eyes of our hearts and the Body of Christ.

It all culminates today in a reading from Matthew which is explicitly about taking care of the bodily needs of others.

My sermon title makes the bold claim that this is a story everyone should know; because quite frankly, it is; and it’s an important part of our U.C.C. heritage.

But first, a story of another sort:

Last week, my friend in Missouri told me that he attended a church in which the minister was giving a passionate speech against the evils of alcohol.

As he came to the end of the sermon he was on a role. With powerful emphasis he said “If I had all the beer in the world, I’d take it and pour it into the Mighty Mississippi River.”

“If I had all the wine in the world, I’d take it and pour it into the river.”

And finally, shaking a fist into the heavens, he said “And if I had all the whiskey in the world I’d take it and pour it into the river!”

With a rousing “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” from the congregation, the pastor proudly sat down, knowing he had made a point no one, not one, could argue against…

…ever so cautiously, the Minister of Music stood up, and with a nervous smile, she announced, “For our closing song, let us turn to hymn 365, ‘Shall We Gather at the River.’”

Have you noticed that when it comes to organized religion, there seem to be two ways to use Christianity?

Some, like the preacher in the story above, uses it to judge and condemn others, to tell them what they should not do; placing emphasis on what they perceive to be evil.

For them, Christianity becomes a check list of things “tho shall not do.”

Then, there is the other side of Christianity which is not so much about condemnation, but about showing compassion and care.

It’s less about monitoring the moral lives of grown folk and more about how to be caregivers to a world that is often feeling lost and lonely, broken and sick.

Today’s reading does have perceived images of judgment, but as I read it (and perhaps you do too), I feel it to be more about what we can do and what Christ expects to be done.

So why is this a story that everyone should know? First off, this has played a major role in shaping our denomination.

If you recall, the United Church of Christ is composed of at least four denominations that came together in 1957. The four branches were the congregational, the evangelical, the reformed and the Christian.

While the congregational side was primarily the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled along the east coast, the evangelical side was German and Swiss, settling in places like PA and Missouri.

They had experienced severe persecution in their homeland. When they came to America they embraced an irenic, peaceful nature.

They also embraced Matthew 25, allowing it to guide their faith. And guide it did.

Caring more about the pastoral then preaching side of ministry, they set to work creating social institutions that benefited all peoples. They explored new ways that Christ’s love could be made manifest.

Travel through Missouri and you’ll see the compassionate legacy they left behind: residential homes for people living with developmental disabilities that treated them as people, not things.

Retirement communities that empowered its residents to live fully and surrounded them with the things that make life good.

Instead of focusing only on building churches, they built hospitals, community centers, and schools, such as the seminary I attended.

They did all of these things based on their understanding of Matthew 25.

I wonder how much of their faith stemmed from the fact that they knew what it was like to be judged and persecuted.

Matthew’s church also new a bit about being judged. After all, they were doing something entirely new. What we call “church” basically began with them.

Most of them were born in the Jewish faith; chances are they had been kicked out of the synagogues for what they believed. With no real road map, they were trying to figure out what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.

So it’s very telling that Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats is placed where it’s placed. As one author stated, it’s as if everything in Matthew’s Gospel has been leading up to this.

For 25 1/2 chapters we have followed Jesus, seeing how his ministry begins, witnessing his teaching, his healing, and his miracles.

And then right before he is betrayed, Jesus teaches this one last story, a story that tells us that when we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and comfort to the ill and imprisoned, we are actually doing it to Jesus himself.

And as the story goes, in doing so we are the inheritors of the Kingdom even if we are not fully aware of what we were doing.

What is so interesting is that right after Jesus teaches this story, the exact opposite happens to him.

He is betrayed by one of his own flock. He is falsely arrested, mistreated, abused and mocked, stripped naked, and hung between two criminals where he hungers and thirsts, asking why God would have forsaken him…

…but the story doesn’t end there, does it?


Because 2,000 years later we are here, giving thanks that Jesus was not forsaken at all, but was raised by the God Most High, in which nothing is impossible…

So why do I make the bold claim that this is the story that everyone should know?

Because it impacted Matthew’s church.

Because it shaped our denomination.

Because it’s a story about how we are to treat one another.

Not because we must, but because we may.

Not because we’re seeking heaven’s reward but because no one alive should experience hell on earth.

Not because we’re seeking to earn points with Christ, but because by caring for the least of these we are actually caring for Christ.

Not because we want the world to know us by what we say, but because God wants to recognize us by what we do.

Not because we desperately want to be part of the Heavenly Family but because we already are; created by God, restored in Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, let me end with another story:

The other day I was on the Circle, enjoying lunch outside. There was this driver who stopped for a man at the crosswalk even though he could have blazed on through.

Well, this infuriated the woman behind him. She was tailgating, honking her horn, screaming out her window in frustration, and flipping him a few choice signs.

Next thing I knew, while she was in mid-rant, a very serious looking police officer was tapping on her window.

The officer asked her to exit the car with her hands up. She began to beg and plead and wonder what was wrong, but he placed her in handcuffs and had her sit in the back of his squad car.

A few minutes later, after a rather lengthy conversation on his cell phone, the officer released her with an apology.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said in that wonderful southern manner, “When I pulled up behind your car I saw you blowing your horn, yelling out the window and flipping off the guy in front of you.”

“And when I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, ‘Choose Life’ license plate, and ‘Follow me to Sunday School’ decal with the Christian fish on it, well, I just figured you must have stolen the car!”

Members and friends of Emmanuel UCC, we don’t need bumper stickers or decals or license plate holders to declare our faith if our actions, our hands, our feet, are already doing it.

So let us continue to move forward in faith and in action, displaying the eyes of our hearts and allowing the Lord to prosper the compassionate works of our hands.

For that, let me hear a mighty “Hallelujah!” and a grateful “Amen.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon for Nov 13, 2011; Ephesians 1:15-23

Rev. George Miller
Ephesians 1:15-23
“The Eyes of Your Heart, the Head of Our Church”
November 13, 2011

Two weeks ago, I ended the sermon by saying “…with compassion, we have the chance to go from here to there with feet of faith that moves us forward into feats of faith.”

Last week, we explored Psalm 90, which ended with this line “Let the favor of the Lord God be upon us, and prosper for us the works of our hands- O prosper the work of our hands!”

In other words, compassion moves us ahead to do feats of faith, and the Lord allows our hands to bear fruit.

I invite you to take a look and to see just a token of how good God is (points to all the donated food in front of the altar).

What more needs to be said? Some times words do not matter.

Look with the eyes of your heart to see what we have done with compassionate hands as the Body of Christ.

Faith and action.

Don’t you think that this part of Ephesians could have been written to our church, to our entire denomination, this week?

A body of Christ that found a way to say “no!” to death and “yes!” to life through writing letters, offering financial gifts and donating a multitude of food items.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you…”

That’s how today’s scripture begins.

Pay attention to how the writer knows about the people’s faith and action. It’s not by newspaper advertising, not billboards, not by witty slogans.

Through word of mouth: “I have heard”, which means that people were talking.

Word was getting around town that here was a group, a collective Body of Christ, that wasn’t just speaking a good game, they were living it.

And of course, people will talk if you give them something to talk about. Let me give you an example.

I am a stickler for customer service. I won’t purchase an item if I’m not happy with the way the employees treat me or do their job.

But if I get great customer service, I will go out of my way to go there and spend my money.

Just this Monday, I woke up with a craving for a Spinach Florentine bagel, which you can only get at Einstein Brother’s Bagels, which is located in Winter Park.

90 miles away.

So I called them to find out what time they were open until. I got in my car and drove there with a stack of books to work on today’s sermon.

Let me tell you about my experience:

One: when I got there I was warmly greeted by the staff.

Two: they recognized my voice from the phone call hours ago.

Three: before they closed their doors for the night, the manager came over to me with a bag containing their two remaining Spinach Florentine bagels, because she knew how much I like them.
Not only did she give them to me for free, she did so with a smile in which her heart showed through.

What more could a person want then to know they were heard, they were remembered and they were cared for?

Because of these things, I will go back, again and again.

“I have heard of your faith…and your love toward all the saints.”

Out of curiosity, how many here first came to Emmanuel U.C.C. because of what they heard?

…Faith and action, based on compassion…

Today is our Annual Meeting. It’s the time when we gather to embrace our congregational polity and to vote on important issues like budget, by-laws and to elect council members.

Today’s reading reminds us that how we vote and what we decide should not be based on our own wants, our own agendas, or our own fears.

How we vote today should be done with the eyes of our hearts which are enlightened with the knowledge of what our riches are.

Not riches based in silver and gold, but riches that come from the Holy Spirit:

Wisdom and faith; healing and love.

How we vote today should be done with eyes of our hearts that are enlightened with the greatness of God’s power.

A power that created the world, a power that parted the Red Sea, a power that raised Christ from the dead.

How we vote today should be done with eyes of our hearts that are enlightened with hope.

Hope that knows the future doesn’t hinge on us, but in Jesus Christ who has claimed victory over all rule and authority, for all things are already under Christ’s feet.

Ultimately, what the author of Ephesians is reminding us today is that not only does Emmanuel U.C.C. belong to Christ, but it is his church, we are part of his body.

Therefore, however we vote, whatever we decide to do, is to be done with the eyes of our hearts, with a wisdom based on the knowledge that we are part of the Universal Body of Christ.

Emmanuel United Church of Christ: today is the day for us to remind the community what being part of the Body of Christ means.

Let the eyes of our hearts reflect the riches, the power, and the hope which we have found in Christ.

Let the eyes of our heart assist the Holy Spirit in the direction God is ready to take us.

Let the eyes of our heart play a part in our own reputation: what people will do, what people will say, what people will hear.

Let our feats of faith and work of our hands prosper and give testimony to the fact that we do indeed have a passion for God, and compassion for all people.

With that, let us all give a big “Hallelujah!” and a powerful “Amen!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sermon from Nov 6, 2011; Veteran's Day Service; Psalm 90:1-6; 16-17

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 90:1-6; 16-17
“The Eternal Dwelling Place”
Nov 6, 2011

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” That’s the opening line of today’s psalm. When I first read it, I found great comfort; the notion of God being our eternal dwelling place.

But when put in context of the entire song, conflicting thoughts emerged.

Why would someone claim that God has been their home? Could it be that perhaps the person who wrote this is homeless?

Could it be they’ve been wandering around some kind of wilderness, waiting for a permanent place to rest their head?

Think about it: would a person who is already home in a secure place need to make the theological claim that God is home?

Or would it make more sense if that person is far away, far from momma’s homemade cooking, far from learning how to fix things with Dad, far from their beloved pets?

A person who is far from home, in a strange place, may just be the kind of person who calls God their dwelling place.

They may also be the kind of person who thinks about things like the anger of God, the sins we all harbor, and how our lives are too short and filled with too much toil.

And to what end? That we die, like a sigh, to become dust that gathers in the house of God?

These are the thoughts that fill Psalm 90. “How long?” the singer asks God. “How long?”

So, if we go back to the first line of the psalm and reread it, we can ask ourselves if it is designed to be words of comfort, words of distress, or words that are designed to remind God just what it means to be God.

Perhaps it’s all of these things; perhaps it is none.

Perhaps you’ll agree with me that regardless, this is an appropriate scripture to share for today’s Veteran’s Day service.

Can’t you imagine these words being composed by one of our men or women oversees right now? Or something one of our own veteran’s could have written?

That someone in the wilderness, always changing location, always in fear of being attacked, could write this?

That someone who knows their entire life can be ended by a bullet or a suicide bomber could write about bodies returning to dust?

My father could have been one of those men. Let me share something with you, the most emotionally valuable thing I own.

It’s a Bible that’s been in my family for three generations, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, used to mark an important transition in each life.

My father gave it to me in 1990 when I left for college. His father gave it to him in 1968 when he left for Vietnam.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the true story of this Bible. When my father was oversees, his unit was the victim of a roadside bombing.

It killed my father’s friend, it wounded my father. Shrapnel throughout his body; a permanently damaged left eardrum.

In fact, the enemy (for lack of a better word), came and stripped my father of everything he had and left him for dead in the dirt on the side of the road.

Everything that is, except for this Bible.

My Dad received the Purple Heart and he returned home to start a family. Like many veterans, he carried deep wounds from the war, both physical and psychological.

I find comfort in knowing that even though he was left for dead, the Living and Eternal Word of God remained by his side.

It’s Veteran’s Day this week, and this can be a complex day to process. Traditionally, our denomination has been more of an irenic, peace based denomination.

This leaves space for theological debate: do we, as a church, as the Body of Christ, acknowledge the day or do we ignore it?

Do we use this day as a chance to go “Rah, rah! America, we’re number One!!!” or to give an anti-war message?

I personally believe that no matter where we stand as individuals, it is important that we acknowledge the unselfish dedication of what our veterans have done.

And to realize that in order for them to defend our homes, or the homes of others, they had to leave their own home behind.

What is home? In an idealized sense, home is where compassion begins, where we learn how to say “please” and “thank you.”

Home is where we discover that we are loved, we are forgiven and we are part of something bigger then ourselves.

If you are lucky, home is the place in which you are welcomed “no matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey,” and welcomed back when you have strayed.

It’s those places our veteran’s left behind for months and for years. For many, God would become the only home they could count on, even if they had to wonder “how long?” and about the toil of human life.

For the men and women who served in the military, that time in the wilderness is over. But soon our current soldiers will be coming back.

Some will return with post traumatic stress over what they’ve endured and feelings of guilt over what they have done.

Coming back with eyes that have seen death, ears that have heard gun-shots, bellies that have had their fill of bitter coffee, and questions about if God could truly exist after all they went through.

We will have to discern how to respond. But we won’t discern it alone. For after all, we have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and guidance from this book.

And we have Jesus Christ as our example of how to respond.

What do you think Jesus Christ would want us to do for our returning soldiers?

Show compassion.

How do we do that? Provide space to hear their stories with empathy, not judgment.

Offer forgiveness for whatever they feel they’ve done that went against their nature.

To help restore their eyes so instead of seeing danger all around, they can once again enjoy a sunset over Lake Jackson and groves of fresh oranges.

To help restore their ears so instead of explosions they can hear the songs of returning birds, the croaking of frogs, even the love calls of gators.

To feed them so instead of powdered eggs, they can enjoy grits and fried green tomatoes and Mama’s homemade pecan pie.

As a church, we can welcome them home; this home. Where Goes does indeed exist.

Where they will be met not with the threat of surprised attacks but by friendly folk, where they can sing, listen, worship, volunteer and be part of something healing.

In closing, the psalmist referred to God as the eternal dwelling place. Did such a statement come from a place of comfort or a place of distress?

Is it a statement that our veterans, our men and women currently oversees can claim?

We are thankful for those who served their homes oh so bravely even when it meant leaving their own.

Let us make sure to welcome back our men and women who will soon be coming home.

Not just home as the place where they live, but home, as in here, a holy house in which the Trinity dwells in harmony.

Until the day when peace prevails, when the lion lays down with the lamb and swords are turned into plowshares, let us learn how to call upon our Lord, who is now, and forevermore, our eternal dwelling place.

Our home.

For that, let us say “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sermon from Oct 30, 2011; Joshua 3:7-17

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 3:7-17
“The Feet/Feat of Our Ancestors”
Oct 30, 2011

Show of hands: how many people here are honest to goodness history buffs?

How many would say they are on the opposite side, so much so that sometimes you forget that July 4th is our nation’s day of independence and not just a chance to enjoy bbq?

I myself fall more into the second group, but if I was to justify it, I’d say it means that when I come across certain bits of information I find it exciting.

Take for instance; did you know that it wasn’t until 1534 that a version of the Bible was released in a language other then Latin, meaning that people other then priests could finally read it?

Or that women did not get the right to vote in America until 1920; 1971 in Switzerland?

Or that interracial marriage was illegal until 1967?

Years from now, our descendants will say “Can you believe it wasn’t until 2009 that the first black person was elected President?”

All of these things are revolutionary; we can look at a specific moment in time and say that there was a before and an after.

That there was a way in which things used to be done and a way they are done now.

On paper, such things can give the impression of an easy transition. But that is rarely the case. Usually there is some type of symbolic river to cross.

Often times things that we take for granted, like being able to read the Bible on our own or women having the chance to vote, came about thanks to the actions of those who paid a great price.

Sometimes it can take a long, long time to get to the other side of the river; so we should give thanks to those who faithfully took those steps forward, knowing they were not always easy.

Take for example today’s reading.

40 years ago the ancestors were freed from slavery. Through the leadership of Moses and the mighty acts of God they were lead across the Red Sea waters.

They entered the wilderness where they cried out for food and water and discovered that God could and would provide both.

They camped out on the mountain side where they were given the Law, taught the commandments and experienced first hand how God’s grace could even lead God to change His mind.

And at one point they were poised to enter the Promised Land. The ancestors were right on the cusp of true freedom, when they became scared (Numbers 13-14).

As the story goes, they had sent out spies to check out the land of Canaan, the place the Lord had been leading them. These spies came back with their report.

The good news is that there is milk and honey and everything a person could want.

The bad news is that the people there were different, and they appeared strong.

And though God had promised them the land, though God had performed amazing deeds of deliverance and grace, the ancestors were scared. This lead to people to rebel.

They cried and they wept; they complained that it would have been better to die in slavery; that they should turn back around.

This saddens Moses. It saddens one of the men named Joshua who says to the people “Don’t listen to their fearful reports, the land is good. God is pleased with us. Do not be afraid: we are on the verge of being blessed.”

But the ancestors were afraid; they threatened to kill anyone who tried to move them ahead.

This angers God. God feels hurt and despised, and because of their unbelief no one from the original group is allowed to make it into the Promised Land; no one that is except for Joshua’s family.

So for 40 years the people wander the dessert; for 40 years they struggle, they live, they die, they wait, never to experience the paradise God had wanted to give them.

It is not until the next generation comes along, one no longer tied to bondage and the old fears. And then it becomes time for the people to finally enter the Promised Land.

God gives clear directions to Joshua and the priests and the people follow.

The priests carry the arc of the covenant into the Jordan River and when the soles of their feet rest in the river, the water stops flowing, and a path of dry ground is created for the people to journey across to the other side.

And they all do so, without a hitch, without complaint, without a quarrel, without a “what if?’ or a “woe is me.”

(Perhaps that was the greater miracle then the water stopping.)

The result: after 40 long years they are wilderness travelers no more; they are people of the Promised Land.

That’s how it is sometimes, isn’t it? The things we fear the most, or have been taught by others to fear, are sometimes nothing more then simply crossing a river, trusting that God will keep us dry.

Like allowing women to vote or people of different races to marry.

It took trust in the Lord. To reference last week’s sermon, it required faith and action.

To get from here to there took courage.

For the last few days, via e-mail, members of Council have been discussing the concept of courage.

Images of courage occur throughout the stories of our spiritual ancestors; stories designed to show us how to find and to have courage in the Lord.

As Christians, our ultimate example of courage would be Jesus Christ.

This is perhaps another way for us to look at and experience Jesus. That he was a man of courage.

Jesus showed courage by not being afraid to fraternize with those who were seen as “not one of us.” He wasn’t afraid to reach out to those who were seen as different.

He wasn’t afraid to be close to or touch the hands of someone who was sick.

He was willing to be seen talking with those of questionable morals or those deemed too dangerous for society.

For example the woman at the well who had been married many times before and was living with a man who was not legally hers. (John 4)

For example, the man possessed by demons who was left in a grave yard naked, chained and alone because people feared him. (Mark 5)

These are but two people who had an encounter with Jesus in which their lives began here, but through their experience with Jesus ended up being there, spiritually, physically, socially.

Jesus, like Moses, like Joshua, was a person of faith, a person of action.

He was a person who showed courage by reaching out to folks when the world around them would not.

Where did this courage come from?

His relationship with God. His understanding of the Spirit of the Law.

I would also like to say from his sense of compassion.

Compassion meaning love and mercy, grace and kindness.

Compassion means to look upon someone and not judge them but to say “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”

I believe compassion is one of the means through which Jesus found the courage to reach out to people who felt lost in their own wilderness and lead them into a variation of the Promised Land.

The woman left alone at the well to gather water became the one who went out into the community and gathered people for Christ.

The man left naked and alone, finally clothed and healed enough to return home.

And because of the resurrection, Jesus is still present to us today, blessing us and showing us how to do our own courageous acts of compassion.

In conclusion, the feet of the ancestors from oh so long ago led us out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

And the feat of our ancestors is that although they were often afraid and unsure, they eventually learned how to trust the Lord, and in trust, they were able to move forward in faith and action, grace and compassion.

We too are following in the feet of our ancestors.

Some are the ancients who came long ago. Some are our immediate relatives.

Some are those who helped to shape the denomination, those who worked hard to build this specific church; some of who are even amongst us today.

Regardless if they knew it or not, what they did and have done took courage, courage based on compassion and an understanding of God’s grace and love for all.

Each person, each community, each nation has a moment in which they come to their symbolic river and are invited by God to cross over into something wonderful, something new, and yes, perhaps even something scary.

But may none of that stop us from getting our own feet a little wet, trusting that in God the path ahead will by dry.

And with compassion, we have the chance to go from here to there with feet of faith that moves us forward into feats of faith.

For that, let the people say “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sermon from 10 16 2011; Matthew 22:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 22:1-14
“The Good, the Bad and the Hungry”
Oct 16, 2011

Earlier in today’s service, we sung “God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Later, we’ll sing “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

God watches me. Jesus is my friend. What does that mean?

When we say that God watches us, is this an image of fear, as if God is going to punish us for every wrong thing we do?

Is this an image of discomfort, as if God is a stalker watching our every move?

Or can this be a source of comfort that can become be a catalyst for positive change, knowing that if God is watching over us, if indeed we have a friend in Jesus, then we should want to be better people?

Paul writes in 3 Colossians that we should clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness and patience. But to do so involves change.

Change can be scary. Change takes time. Change comes with no guarantee.

Yet change will always be a part of life, like it or not. Nor are we the only ones who experience change.

Last week we heard in Exodus 32 how God was furious at the people and wanted to consume them with fiery wrath, until Moses talked him out of it, and the Lord changed his mind.

That was a powerful theology to grasp; the thought that God can change God’s mind. If God can change God’s mind, does it mean that God changes too?

If God can change, and we are created in God’s image, what does that mean for us in regards to change?

I would like to venture out and say that our willingness to change or to not change when encountering the Good News is one of the spiritual hearts of this parable.

In regards to change, I think back to myself in 1994. Back then I was worshipping at an inner city in Minneapolis where I learned about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

I remember how I use to go to services wearing whatever I wanted. I’d show up in sneakers, shorts and chewing bubble gum.
It didn’t matter to the folks at the church what I wore; I was welcomed and I was loved.

However, eventually I noticed that I was the only one in shorts; everyone else was dressed up in what seemed to be their best.

No one told me I had to change what I was wearing, but on my own I started dressing up. I put on long pants, stepped into shoes, saved up for an Easter suit.

Somehow it changed the church going experience for me into one of wonder and awe.

The next change came when the church held an anniversary meal. I sat at the table and enjoyed plates filled with good food like smoked turkey, black eyed peas and sweet potato pie.

That day, my name changed. People called me “Brother George.” With that name change can new responsibilities: requests to help lead worship, to pray, to bless the offering.

Eventually those changes lead to attending seminary. Years later, after graduating, I returned to visit and my name changed once more.

No longer was I Brother George, I was Rev. Miller. The pastor invited me to sit right beside her during the entire worship service.

Every few years I go back to Grace Temple, and although I’m older and ordained, I still feel like that 24 year old kid, filled with reverence and awe, aware of the Holy Trinity’s presence.

But the truth is that I have changed. It may not have been immediate, it may not have been automatically detectable, but it has been real.

So, it is with delight that I get to witness the changes I see in people here at Emmanuel as they continue to grow in the Lord.

Those who felt lost in the wilderness become found. Those who’ve encountered death experience resurrection.

Those who cried at night find joy in the morning. Those who were meek become bold. Those who sat on the side line step into the light.

All of those are gifts of the Spirit, elements of change that says one has indeed accepted the invitation from God to banquet with Christ.

But what happens when we have an encounter with Christ, and for some reason, we do not change?

I think that’s part of Matthew’s retelling of Jesus’ parable.

A King holds a lavish wedding banquet for his son. No expense is spared; there’s BBQ, steak, sweet potato pie.

Invitations are sent out but those who receive them do not wish to attend. The gracious King gives them another chance to enjoy his hospitality. Everything you could want is there and there’s space for all.

They decline again, opting instead to go to their farm and business. Apparently they did not want to stray from what they knew or to change their plans.

So the King, however changes his plans. This time, he opens his invitation to include anyone who wants to attend.

Forget the farmer, forget the business man, the doors to the wedding hall are thrown open to all: the good, the bad; they are all welcomed to experience the joy, the community, the celebration.

But the King sees this one man. He’s still wearing his regular clothes. Here is he, the recipient of a wonderful, unexpected invitation, surrounded by so many others who received the same gift and acted accordingly by changing into wedding clothes.

But he hasn’t.

For some unknown reason he has refused to change. As a result, he ended up being on the outside, weeping and away from the joy inside.

How could this be? What power, what hold could his current, familiar clothes have that he would not want to don the wedding robe?

Perhaps because it would have meant change; perhaps for this man, like so many others, the thought of changing scared the heck out of him.

I think of this parable, I think of this man. I think of the garments we hold on to. The things we do not want to let go.

I think of myself and how I dress myself up in deadlines and tasks that I do not wish to stray from even if it prohibits me from building up relationships with others.

I think of family members who have so wrapped themselves up with issues of grief that they have weighed themselves down to the point where they can’t step forward.

I think of friends who have donned garments of fear, thinking it would protect them from further harm, when all they’ve really done is prohibit them from truly enjoying life.

I think of how those dressed up in anger at another for something that was done accidentally or purposely, how they’ve allowed it to cover them.

Or those with garments made out of chaos. They do the same thing again and again and seem surprised by to the same results.

Some party goers have become so attached to those garments that they hold on tighter, unsure of how they would behave if they could no longer continue to be sad, angry or scared.

Then there are those who come to the wedding and somehow the joy of the banquet allows those garments to slip away so they can be clothed in new threads of happiness, forgiveness and hope.

As a Christian who proclaims the Red Sea parted and Christ resurrected, I’m a big believer in change.

I believe that when people experience the Red Sea parting, when they have an encounter with Christ, when they feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, there is the chance for change.

I don’t believe it will always be instantaneous. I tend to think of it more as slow and progressive, kind of like changing from one outfit into a new one.

First a sneaker for a shoe, then a pair of shorts for a pair of slacks, the t-shirt for a collared shirt, a wad of gum for a delicate mint.

That’s how it was for me oh so long ago; change continues in me today.

If, as Exodus 32 implies, God can change, then we can too.

As Christians, Jesus Christ becomes the means, the path, and the way for that to happen.

It doesn’t matter if we start out as part of the good or the bad, the hungry or the rich, if we open ourselves to the wonder and the awe of being in the Lord’s presence, then we too have an opportunity to change and to grow.

In the beginning of today’s message I said that change can be scary and come with no guarantee.

This is true, but I would like to make one clarification.

When we experience a change in Christ we do receive at least one guarantee: there will always be a place for us at God’s table.

And before we know it, during the course of the Kingdom’s banquet, we’ll discover we’re not wearing what we use to wear and that we too will get the opportunity to help usher in the next batch of wedding guests who are waiting to be changed.

And for that, we can all say “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sermon from Oct 9, 2011; Exodus 32:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 32: 1-14
“Whose People Are They?”
Oct 9, 2011

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man named Moses. One day he did one of the most important things a man could do: he reminded God just what it meant to be God.

In the words of popular vernacular, Moses “Bossed up.”

Last year I preached a sermon about biblical women in which I used a word that offended some and empowered others.

I challenged the notion that Mary and Elizabeth were helpless, docile woman. Instead, I claimed that they were…broads.

I used the word in an affirming sense; that a broad was courageous and strong; unafraid to tell it to you like it is even if it means ruffling a few feathers.

I’ve been waiting for the moment to preach about the male equivalent of a broad, and now, it’s finally here.

The male word isn’t as colorful. When a man is seen as courageous and strong and tells it to you like it is, most will say he’s just being a man (although I’m sure some women want to call them an ignoramus).

But in the world of hip hop music, there’s a phrase that’s been circulating for a while.

When a man steps up and unapologetically stands his ground, it’s said that he is “bossing up.”

And there is a big difference between a man being an ignoramus, and a man being a boss.

You want a boss for your president, you want a boss to lead your kids soccer team to victory; you want someone who knows how to “boss up” when disaster strikes.

And that’s just what we have in Moses today.

For the last few weeks we’ve been traveling alongside the people of Israel.

We were there when the waters parted. We were there when they murmured in the wilderness. We were there when they experienced God being wild and free.

Today we come to a new part of the journey. Moses has been on the mountaintop talking with God for 40 days.

In his absence, the people become restless, and in their restlessness they have Aaron make an idol for them to worship.

The result: a hissy fit from God.

From atop the mountain God tells Moses to deal with people. “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt, have acted perversely.”

Did you catch the words God uses?

“Your people.” At this moment God wants to pretend as if they have no relationship.

At this moment, it’s as if God is one of those parents who have had it up to here with their kids and wants to temporarily disown them.

At this moment, God is so upset with the Israelites that he wants to be left alone to bring down some holy wrath.

Whose people are these? They’re your kids, not mine!

How many parents have ever felt this way?

At this moment, Moses is the level-headed one, taking on the role of the supportive, sensible spouse.

“O Lord,” he says, “You’re just angry; do you really want to destroy your people? If you do the Egyptians will say you were evil all along.”

“Not to mention, if you do this, you’ll violate the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Read this way, it’s comical. But notice how Moses bosses up: he finds courage and strength to speak his mind for the sake of others.

Sure, by doing so he takes the risk of ruffling God’s feathers, but Moses does so anyway; and the amazing thing is this: Moses helps God to change God’s mind.

In other words, because Moses bosses up, he shows us that God is Still Speaking.

So, who exactly is this Moses, this man who bossed up? He didn’t start that way.

Moses began his life by being saved through the cunning act of three…broads.

He grew up with a bit of an identity crises that culminated in killing an Egyptian and running away.

A glimmer Moses’ bossing up comes when he stops a group of guys from harassing some women. Then he kind of fades into the background.

He gets married, works for his father-in-law, and lives a regular life until one day…God calls him to help set God’s people free.

At first, Moses is afraid. He hides his face. He repeatedly turns down God’s offer because he thinks he’s not good enough, he thinks no one will listen, he thinks that he can’t speak so good.

But eventually he acquiesces and eventually his actions prove that God made the right choice, especially when he talks back to God.

In doing so, Moses joins the ranks of Abraham and the citizens of Nineveh who helped God change God’s mind.

But why? Why does Moses boss up when in the past he wanted to back down?

How is it that Moses is able to speak his mind when before he claimed to be slow of speech?

I can’t speak for Moses, but I can guess of at least three reasons why.

First, Moses knew the history that God had with the people. He knew about the covenant relationship that God had entered in with them through their ancestors.

He knew that the whole reason this relationship existed was because God had first called Abraham and Sarah with the promise to make a great nation from their family tree.

He knew this promise was the root of all things; he knew that when Abraham proved his devotion via his son, that God had sworn on God’s own self to multiply his descendants.

By knowing the story, Moses understood that even when the people sin and make mistakes, God will forgive them if for nothing else, because of the covenant that had been made for the sake of Abraham.

Therefore, God can be challenged to show grace and hope.

Second, Moses had an investment in making sure God kept the covenant promise.

After all, it was God who called Moses to give up the comfort of an ordinary life and bring the people this far. Out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness.

So too bad; too bad if the people were stiff-necked, too bad if they upset God; Moses had invested too much for God to disown them in a moment of anger.

Third, Moses bosses up because he knew whose these people were.

They were not his, they were not Aaron’s, and they were certainly never the Pharaoh’s.

They were children of the Lord.

This is Moses’ trump card.

So when God tries to pass parental responsibility onto him, Moses bosses up because he knows that the people belong exclusively to God.

Yes, God is worn and weary and ready to give up, but Moses says to God “These are your people. Even if they act irresponsible you have the responsibility to fulfill your promises.”

Moses does not let God pass the buck; nor does he leave God alone. And the result: God changes God’s mind.

Moses is indeed a boss. Sure, he may have started his career apologetic and unsure, but through God he grew strong enough and courageous enough to face any obstacle, even God, head-on.

So what does this mean for us today? What is a theological statement we can claim?

That there are times, for the sake of the kingdom, that we are called to boss up.

That our gift of prayer is not a luxury but a responsibility.

That when we speak to God we don’t just give praise and thanks, we challenge, we make appeals, we speak on behalf of those who feel silenced; we speak to remind God of the covenant made long ago.

We speak because if we claim that God is Still Speaking, well then it means that we are to be Still Speaking as well.

After all, isn’t that part of what it means to be in relationship with God?...

…Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man named Moses. One day he did one of the most important things a man could do: he reminded God just what it meant to be God.

In other words, Moses “Bossed up.”

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking people of faith should stand helpless and silent before God.

That’s an insult to our faith and to what our spiritual ancestors were willing to do.

Who are these people, and to whom did they belong?

They are broads like Miriam, Mary and Elizabeth; and they are bosses, like Moses, Peter and Paul.

They belonged to the Lord.

They did what they thought was right for the sake of the covenant and for the sake of God’s people.

So let us all remember that we too can boss up and still speak to God, trusting that God will continue to be “Still Speaking.”

And for that, let us say “Hallelujah” and let us say “Amen.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sermon for 10 02 2011; Exodus 20:1-21

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 20:1-21
Oct 2, 2011

Last week I visited Disney World for the first time in 25 years. I had me a good time. Waved hello to Snow White; spun around in the tea cups; went to Space Mountain, yelling out “Ya-hoooo!” just like my Mama taught me.

However, there was one ride I went on that scared the Donald Duck out of me. It’s based on the cartoon character Stitch, a mischievous creature from another world that children get a kick out of because he’s so amusingly inappropriate.

The concept of the ride is that you’re in a space station designed to hold the galaxy’s criminals. You’re lead into a circular room where you take your seat; handlebars come down to keep you in. Stitch appears in one of the holding cells, but something happens and he breaks free…

That’s when the fun is supposed to start.

The lights go out, and each seat is fashioned with a set of speakers, allowing you to hear all the playful havoc Stitch is creating.

Trouble is, my speakers were not working; at all. So I was left sitting in complete darkness, not knowing what was going on.

I heard others giggling, laughing, yelping; no idea why. I wondered if the floor was going to drop out like one of those carnival rides that spin.

It was a moment that any A-type personality dreads: total and complete loss of control.

The adult part of me knew that everything was OK; but the child, the one who thought monsters lived in my closet, did not.

And I was scared…

…One of the brilliant things about Disney World is the way it combines two different worlds.

There is the world that is cute and gentle: Cinderella’s Castle, the Dumbo ride, Mickey Mouse.

But then there’s the world that’s scary and rough: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of Caribbean, Stitch.

Kind of like the different parts of God that we come across in the scriptures.

Sure, there is the Still Speaking God who is full of love and compassion and concern for the poor.

Then there is the Raging God who is loud and intense, jealous and down-right scary.

Today’s reading gives us more of that side of God, the side that scares the people of Israel not because they couldn’t hear what was happening, but because they could hear.

To catch us up on things, I invite you to listen: it’s been three months since the people have walked through the Red Sea and cried out to the Lord in the wilderness.

It’s been three months and they’re now camping out beside Mount Sinai.

Moses and God have this special relationship going on. Moses goes up to the mountain, God gives him a message, and Moses goes down the mountain to share that message with the others.

The people respond, sending Moses back up the mountain to tell God what they said.

After a few times doing this, God says to Moses “Listen, I’m gonna come down to the people so they can hear me speak to you, that way they’ll better trust you. But before I do, get the people ready for me.”

The day comes and smoke fills the place, the mountain shakes, a trumpet blasts, there’s lightening and God’s voice sounds like thunder.

This is a moment that is intense, powerful, free, and dare I even say, passionate.

It is at this point of earth shaking, smoke swirling, lightening flashing, trumpet blasting that God speaks the 10 Commandments.

And as you heard, the people’s response? “Ooh Moses, we’re scared. You go on ahead and speak with God and we’ll just listen to what you have to say…”

As you can hear, today’s reading is so much more then about how the 10 Commandments came to be.

It’s about God. About a side of God that is wild, the side of God that is free, the side of God that can make us uncomfortable and down-right scared.

Today’s reading is about how God may make the rules, but it doesn’t mean that God plays by or follows the rules, or at least the rules as we would like to understand them.

This is God who is mysterious, distant and close, and a God who breaks into the world in ways that defy description and expectation.

In other words, a God who commands awe and wonder, respect and total attention.

I hear today’s scripture and I think of how different branches of Christianity reflect certain aspects of this reading.

The Baptists who embrace the notion of rules and laws of what you can and can’t do.

The Pentecostals who embrace the wonder and noise, where God breaks in to do the unexpected via elements and miracles.

The Catholics who embrace the sense of reverence and splendor, the notion that the holy and the ordinary are separate and to be honored.

In some ways, I think us UCCers have blocked our ears to this, because we’re taught to explain these things away as metaphors and to focus on the call to social justice.

And that’s there, after all the commandments are about how to love God and how to love our neighbor.

But the way in which the commandments are given, they way in which they are introduced, presents a God who is much more like Stitch and less like Mickey Mouse, a God who is wild and free, unexpected and untamed.

This is a God who’d rather side with the downtrodden Hebrew slaves then with the Egyptian taskmasters. This is a God who parts the waters and says “If I want to come down in a cloud, what’s it to you?”

We heard glimpses of this in Jesus. The way he stormed into the Temple and over-turned the tables, the way he spoke back to the religious leaders, and the way he just couldn’t stay dead even after 3 days.

And we certainly heard this in the Holy Spirit. The whoosh like wind, the speaking of tongues, the speech from Stephen.

All these things about the Holy Trinity are unexpected, untamed, fearless and free. Yet also enough to cause fear for those who could hear but were afraid to believe.

And although I am a mega A-type, control freak diva, I like this side of God and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.

In closing, today’s reading presents to us the 10 Commandments, a way to live a full and healthy life with God, with our family, with our neighbor and ourselves.

But let’s not forget that the commandments were heard in the context of freedom.

Freedom of the Israelites after they crossed through the Red Sea.

Freedom of God, the one who chose to come down from the mountain to speak to them.

This freedom of God is not something for us to take too lightly. For if we say that God is Still Speaking, then it means that we have to be willing to listen.

Not with ears which only hear what they want to hear, but ears which hear what is actually being said.

God will speak.

Sometimes what God speaks will be instructions, sometimes words of reassurance, and sometimes things which we do not want to hear.

But listen…even if you are afraid.

Because God is not calling us to be left in the darkness, but God is calling us to step into the light and to be part of a whole new world.

And for that we can say “Hallelujah” and “amen.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sermon from Sept 25, 2011; Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 21:23-32
“Changing Minds, Changing Futures”
Sept 25, 2011

(This is a sermon done in character)

The wind blows today; through the house, in the trees, across the beach, carrying with it the sands of time, the sands of the mind.

It’s the kind of wind the signals change, that something good is about to happen. It reminds me of the wind that swept across the waters of creation. The wind that swept through the waters of Red Sea.

The wind that was present that day, the day he entered Jerusalem. Not everyone remembers what the weather was like that day, but I do. Or… at least I think I do.

The wind that swept across the city, up the steps of the Temple, into the sanctuary. The kind of wind that says “Stop, take a deep breath, the future is amongst you.”

Yet some of us chose to ignore the wind, thought we could bury our head in the sand until, until the wind went away.

Who am I? Once upon a time you may have called me a dreamer, a lover, an old fool.

Who am I? A man who liked things in place; correct. It was part of my upbringing.

I was born into a proper household; once 13 I went to a proper school for proper boys. Placed before me were all the proper opportunities for proper career: banker, businessman, rabbi.

It wasn’t hard for me to choose. I loved the Lord and all my gifts pointed toward ministry.

I loved the stories, both those found in the sacred scriptures and those found in the Midrash; I followed the Law and embraced the security of the rituals.

My favorite story was the Crossing of the Red Sea, not just how God parted the waters, but the events of that transpired next: how the people set eyes upon the wilderness cried out to God and were invited to look forward, and to see the glory of the Lord.

I did everything right. I went to school, I studied, and I embraced my ministry. I was young, imaginative; popular. People said I had a way about me that was healing.

Then, I entered my middle ages, became comfortable. Got married, had children. The popularity of my youth eased into the likeability of someone more mature.

Then, as it so happens, I grew older. Funny how that works. People stopped coming up to me for a healing prayer; I found that my teachings were beginning to be questioned, often by the younger rabbis behind me.

Like anyone who feels their authority being challenged, I dug in, held firm, became more conservative on my views.

Why? Mostly because of the need for security. Had a house to care for, a wife to protect, children to watch over, and grandchildren to love.

Hard to do that when you begin to question the status quo…

…A new wind had entered in, a wind that demanded attention; a wind which brought with it the new rabbi in town, a young guy of about 30 named Jesus.

We had heard stories about him, but not anything worth a response. Whenever a young hot shot entered the scene there was always talk until either they burned out, got caught in a scandal or grew older and became like us.

But this wind was different. This Jesus guy was blustery. He put on a show by riding into town on a donkey. He drove merchants out of the temple.

My colleagues and I watched as the blind and lame came to him and not only were they healed, but they were cured. Cured, as in able to see and walk.

Then, we listened. There was the sound of singing, erupting, from the children; children are supposed to be quiet in worship, not heard.

Worse yet, they had joy in their voices; joy that was not present when we taught them.

We became angry; and jealous. As popular as I may have been, I never had children sing, I never caused a blind man to see or a lame woman to walk.

So when he left the temple that night, we transpired a way to challenge him, to show him for the fraud he must have been.

We composed a question; a question challenging his authority, a question so richly devised there was no way his popularity could sustain it.

But when we asked him our question the next day, he met our challenge head on and questioned us back, a question so wisely worded that we were at a loss.

And I knew that if I answered it the wrong way I’d lose my authority as a leader, I could lose my popularity with the public, which could mean I could lose my job, my future.

So instead of saying anything, we said “We do not know.” It was as if we buried our heads in the sand.

Then Jesus told a story, about two sons. The first who says no to his father, but later changes his mind, and a second son who says yes, but does nothing; a lie.

Was this story an attack, a joke, a trap?

To add insult to injury, Jesus likened the first son to prostitutes and tax collectors, varmints who will enter the Kingdom of God before my colleagues and I.

What disrespect, what nerve. Women who let others violate their bodies; men who are traitors to their own country; more worthy of a place in God’s kingdom before I?

This blasphemous notion of a God who’s love is inclusive even of the dregs of society.

That day he stirred up a new kind of wind: anger, contempt…fear.

And men like me, when we feel threatened, when our source of livelihood is challenged by another, we respond.

Respond we did, and the wind grew ugly. Perhaps you heard about the way people conspired to betray him, to silence him for good.

Pilate, the crowds, the soldiers, they all played their roles until he was heard crying out to God and died upon the cross.

We, I, breathed a sigh or relief. We assumed the wind that had come with him had left; things would go back to as they were; our futures secure in the Temple’s employ.

Odd thing is that it wasn’t long after, that we began to catch bits and pieces of stories about how people were having experiences of Jesus, claiming he had been resurrected.

It came from these seemingly silly women who claimed the tomb was empty, to travelers on a road, to people sitting at the table, to proclamations that “He has risen” to mumbled words of assurance that there was no need to be afraid.

At first it was easy to dismiss these stories; simple mass hysteria from people trying to make sense of his death.

But after this continued for years and seemed to spread and grow, I began to question my questioning of them.

And I begin to notice the way these folks were greeting each other, with smiles and hugs, calling each other “sister,” “brother,” the ways in which they reached out to the community to feed and clothe.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, they were looking up to a changing future and the glory of the Lord.

I have to tell you, it made me reevaluate my own part in Jesus’ death.

What was I so threatened by anyway? That he was the new kid in town? That he would take away my job?

That he had enough love in him to welcome people like prostitutes and tax collectors?

And what are those people anyway? Aren’t many of them just slaves to circumstance, shackled by their own situations?

Had I too been trapped, chained to my own understanding of scripture and Law, ritual and the way it’s always been done?

Was Jesus actually trying to lead us all through a new kind of Red Sea where God’s glory was again being revealed?

I began to ask myself “Would I have lost my authority as a Temple leader if I had allowed Jesus to change my mind and open my eyes?”

Would I have lost my gifts for the Lord or would my gifts have changed, evolved, grew?

And then…I revisited the story that Jesus told, of the son who originally said no, but later changed his mind.

The story never says how much later was later; was it five minutes, was it five hours, five days, five lifetimes?...

…And, like the first son, I changed my mind, and found myself saying “Yes!”

Yes, not so much to the letter of the Law, but yes to the Spirit of the Law.

Yes, not to a deity who loves selectively, but to a God who loves inclusively.

Yes to the Lord who heard the cry of my ancestors and set them free, who now also hears the cries of tax collectors and prostitutes and sets them free as well.

I have discovered it’s never too late to say “Yes!” when it comes to the love of the Lord.

And now, though my body is much, much older, I feel more like my original, imaginative self.

Yes, a familiar wind blows today; through the house, in the trees, across the beach, carrying with it the sands of time, the sands of the mind.

It’s the kind of wind the signals change, that something good is about to happen.

Now instead of worrying about my authority, I instead lift up my eyes before me and know that through Christ I will see the glory of the Lord in a way that is forever new, forever unexpected and a way that will forever change minds and change futures.

For that I say “Hallelujah” and I say “Amen!”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sermon for 09 18 11; Exodus 16:2-15

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 16:2-15
“Muddy Sandals”
Sept 18, 2011

Years ago, I was having one of those weeks; actually more like one of those months. The local rabbi who knew about the funk I was in, shared with me a bit of Jewish Midrash.

It goes a little something like this: the Israelites were being led by through the Red Sea. It was an amazing experience. A wind sent by God pushed the waters back, creating a path for the people to walk upon.

There was an older married couple in the group. Rhoda looked around in awe.

“Look, Moesha!” she exclaimed. “Look at what God has done for us. Isn’t it the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen? Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”

“Yes,” said Moesha, half-heartedly. “But look at my sandals,” he complained, pointing down to his feet, “Look at how muddy they are!”

Oh, how I enjoy that story; oh, how I can relate to that story.

How many of you here have been a Moesha or know a Moesha?

We know the type, easily forgetting about the difficulties of the past to focus on a problem of the present.

A miracle can happen, a dream may come true, and instead of rejoicing they’re quick to point out what could have been improved.

I’ll give you two recent examples. After years of dealing with broken down cars, I finally have a nice, new car that has so many luxuries. For the first few months it was marvelous.

Then I begin looking around. But my car is not that color, or it’s not that make or the radio doesn’t do this or the seats don’t do that.

Shoot, I use to drive with no air conditioning and only one working speakers, but now I’m acting as if my car has muddy sandals?


Or my new home. All my life I’ve had a love affair with the water and wanted to have a porch. Now I have both.

Am I completely happy? No: because since it’s summer it’s too hot to sit on the porch. I look out at the water but don’t walk down to the shore because it seems too far. Or my house isn’t as big as the homes on Lake Jackson.

Shoot, there used to be a time when I lived in a studio apartment the size of my living room with no working shower, and I’m acting as if I live in muddy sandals?


But you know what? I doubt I’m the only one. It’s human nature, isn’t it? To always want more then you have, to look at what others got that you don’t have, to never feel 100% satisfied.

It can be destructive to have a muddy sandals perspective. Nothing is ever right so there’s no satisfaction.

…at that same time, under the right circumstances, a little bit of the muddy sandal mentality can be helpful.

Many of the most successful entertainers and business folk are the ones who are never satisfied, never complacent, who don’t just settle for being number one.

They use their muddy sandals as a source of inspiration to do something big, something new and unheard of.

Take Walt Disney, for example. He could have stayed satisfied creating cartoon shorts, but he used his muddy sandals to create the first feature-length cartoon, then live action movies, then documentaries, then TV, then amusement parks, always evolving.

His discomfort with muddy sandals led to new technologies and allowed his company to branch out onto Broadway, radio, cruise ships.

To go out on a limb, Jesus found a way to do this as well.

Jesus may have first come to share the Good News with the Jews, but it eventually extended to the Gentiles.

He may have begun by calling 12 men, but his ministry grew to include women and to touch the lives of thousands of people.

And through the cross and the miracle of the resurrection, he was able to create a ministry that transcended space and time.

But I digress; back to the Scripture at hand.

If you recall, last week we talked about the crossing of the Red Sea. How God took a group of enslaved people, and under the leadership of Moses, set them free.

And just as they were about to be captured or killed by the Egyptian army, God found a way to part the waters so the people could pass safely through, muddy sandals and all.

But as we hear in today’s reading, something happens once they get to the other side; a new reality settles in.

The people realize that being saved from one obstacle does not remove all the other obstacles, for instead of seeing the promised land, what they see is miles and miles of…wilderness.

Empty, vast, daunting wilderness. Where are the Targets? The Best Buys? The Whole Food Markets?

There’s none of that, not even a Quickie Mart.

The wilderness is not what they expected, so in the throes of disappointment, their fears take over and they begin to complain, murmuring against Moses, their Commander in Chief, and Aaron, his co-Commander.

What are they going to eat? How will they get carbohydrates to give them energy; how will they get protein to give them strength?

Although they are not complaining to God, God hears what they are saying; and in this particular case, God finds a way to swiftly respond to their needs.

God gives them bread from heaven, and succulent quails to feast upon.

But before that happens, Aaron is told to tell the people to draw near the Lord, who has heard their complaints.

Then, as verse 10 states “…as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”

I would like us to pause here for a moment…

The wilderness is a place of vast uncertainty and emptiness that can test one’s resolve.

Other words for wilderness can be dessert, a wasteland, a lonely place, not necessarily the kind of place where people want to be.

Nor the kind of place, like a mountain or a garden, in which one would expect to see the Glory of God.

But in the wilderness, where death seems to prevail, how could God possibly exist?

But God does, and not just God, but the Lord’ glory which bears the promise of food and of rest.

Note how this particular sighting of God’s glory came about. It was not from saying “Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”?

No, it came from the whole congregation of people murmuring “Look at how muddy our sandals are!”

…I think there is something we can learn from this scripture today, which is that it is OK to complain to God; it is OK to raise a murmuring voice, and it is OK to remind God of what we need, when we need it.

Which I realize goes against some of the popular mentality and theology of the American way.

My great-grandma was one of those people. You know the kind: you don’t complain. You accept what you got. It’s better to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Except… I can’t ever recall her truly laughing.

There is the common notion you hear about how one should accept their circumstance; to “suck it up,” don’t complain. Think of all the others who have it worse. That God won’t give you more then you can bear.

But sometimes you can’t suck it up. Sometimes you got to complain.

Some situations are the worse thing a person can face

And far too many people are indeed weighted down with burdens that really are more then one can bear.

And when those things happen? When someone finds themselves on the other side of the Red Sea without any so-called food to eat, what can one do?

Today’s scripture would suggest to murmur. Cry out. Raise your voice. Point at your muddy sandals.

Why? Because it may just be the crying out that creates space for God to act and for God to be revealed on the horizon in a way that is so unmistakable, so reassuring, that one is empowered to move ahead.

Jesus cried out from the cross and he experienced the resurrection.

Jonah cried out and he was spit up from the belly of the whale.

The Israelites cried out and they found God in a cloud and bread from heaven.

What can we experience from the Lord if we too cry out to be heard?

Are you feeling like you are lost in the wilderness-cry out!

Is it spiritual nourishment you need- cry out.

If it’s new opportunities that you need- cry out.

If it’s healing or safety-cry out.

It it’s resurrection that you need- cry out.

Let God hear, and maybe, just maybe by complaining about our muddy sandals the Lord will give us what we need to continue moving forward.

For those of us today who feel like we are lost in the wilderness, it is Ok to murmur, it is Ok to acknowledge your muddy sandals.

But after you do, lift up your gaze to the horizon, and prepare to see the ways in which the Glory of the Lord will manifest before you.

Because God is just that good.

And maybe, just maybe, that can turn our murmuring about muddy sandals into smiles of contented joy.

For that we can we can say Hallelujah and amen.