Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sermon from Jan 30, 2011 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Rev. George Miller Jan 30, 2011
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 “Folly of Our Faith”

Have you noticed that lately there seems to be a lot of good shows on TV? One series I like to watch is “The Middle”, a sitcom about a family in Indiana.

In last week’s episode, the father decided it was time for their youngest son to start doing household chores. The son, whose name is Brick, is assigned the responsibility of raking the leaves.

His Dad tries to show him the right way to do it, but Brick, who is a unique child who sees the world differently, does it his way.

First, he picks up one leaf at a time. Then he divides the leaves by colors. When he finds a leaf from a neighbor’s tree, he returns it to them

Finally, he is finished. “Good job son,” says the father, “It took you 11 days to do what should have only taken an hour.”

Brick asks what will happen to the leaves and is told they will be picked up by and incinerated by the city.

This shocks Brick. He begs to save the leaves, offering to keep them in his room or to take them into the woods where they can be set free amongst all the other leaves.

At first his father says no before eventually giving in. In the last scene of the episode, he and Brick go into the forest, grabbing handfuls of red and orange leaves and tossing them into the air, creating a special Father/Son moment.

Brick’s approach to raking was full of folly and foolishness, causing his father lots of aggravation. But in the end, it created a magical moment of love and bonding, a way in which heaven could break in.

Foolishness and folly are themes in today’s scripture. 1 Corinthians is believed to be the second letter Paul had written to this particular church around 54 CE.

Corinth was located between 2 seas, making it a natural seaport and place of commerce and government. Because sailors and soldiers liked to party and play there, it became known as a “city of sin.”

One social commentator of the day said the rich citizens were disgusting and coarse with no charm and class who chastised the poor.

Those very same behaviors filtered into the local congregation. Wealthy members held extravagant feasts that made the poorer members feel less welcome.

People openly stated that they were better, wiser, smarter, and holier then others.

Quarrels broke out. So called religious leaders came in, trying to question Paul’s leadership and guidance.

In short, the Corinthian congregation had become a cantankerous bunch that had developed fissures and fractures.

So when Paul receives a letter asking for help he writes back and tries to redirect them and create a sense of unity.

Paul does so in the most unexpected way: instead of motivational mumbo-jumbo, he directed their attention to the very thing that had become a stumbling block for so many there- the cross.

The cross, as Paul admits, is foolish to outsiders looking in, and though the world sees it as a folly, the cross is the very thing in which God’s limitless love is revealed.

As Paul would have us believe, when we focus on the cross we will find divisions and mindless squabbles fading away.

2,000 years later, Paul’s message is still mind blowing.

Think of how the world works. Some say faith is all about miracles; amazing things happening that makes all of life’s problems disappear.

There are those who place all their faith on wisdom and knowledge. If you read the right book, subscribe to the right creed, follow the exact formula, memorize the appropriate scriptures, then you are saved and everything will be A-OK.

What does the wisdom of the world tells us? American culture tells us that we should be happy at all times. We should never feel disappointment, sadness or grief.

We should avoid all kinds of pain; always look on the bright side of life, floating about with smiles on our face.

When things get tough we are to buck it up, keep it to ourselves and try harder, pray harder, think more positively.

Happiness is to be pursued at all costs and if that doesn’t work? Lie about it or stuff your emotions down and numb your pain with food, drugs, shopping sprees and hours in front of the TV.

That, my friends, is the wisdom of our present day American culture, regardless if we realize it or not.

But that’s not what Paul writes in this letter. Paul says to look towards the cross, the ultimate sign of pain and hurt, foolishness and shame.

Embrace the cross, and God’s wisdom and spiritual gifts will enter into your community.

To borrow the imagery of Isaiah, the cross shows God’s love and ability to do new things, making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert. (Isaiah 43:19)

If you’ve ever experienced the pain of being stuck in a spiritual wilderness or parched in an emotional dessert, let me hear you say “Amen.”

And if you ever experienced God leading you out of that wilderness or quenching your thirst, let me hear you say “Hallelujah.”

The cross, my friends, is the folly of our faith. We can not hide from it, we can not run from or deny it, no matter how much we smile, how loud we sing or say that everything is fine.

The cross is the means through which Jesus Christ demonstrated to us just how free God is.

The cross is where Jesus, with outstretched hands, showed for all time how the love of God embraces everyone (even those who would nail that love to a plank of wood).

The cross is the means in which we face the very reality of pain and injustice that takes place in this world, forcing us to look upon our own suffering, the suffering of others and the suffering that we, ourselves, can cause.

But the cross does something else, for it connects us to heaven and earth, to one another and to God’s wisdom and strength.

The folly of the cross set the stage for the way in which God made a way through the wilderness and streams in the dessert.

In other words, it was by going through the painful betrayal of the cross on Friday that God was able to bring about the resurrection good news on Sunday, in which we discover that justice prevails, we receive the gift of eternal salvation and the promise to always be there has come to fruition.

To go back to our opening illustration, by going through the cross God is able to lead us, as a family, into a beautiful forest in which we can be united, happily tossing red and orange leaves into the air.

According to Paul, Christ crucified is the heart of the Gospel. Though it’s a shock to hear, it’s the way through which God brought redemption into the world.

Not through money, or smiley faces or politics, but two planks of wood against a foreboding sky.

It is the cross that showed God as free and distinct from the world, not bound by human categories or expectations.

In conclusion, by admitting that everyone hurts, everyone feels pain and shame, we can become united, not pitted against one another.

Through the cross we come together and see how God creates ways through our wildernesses, streams through our desserts and resurrection through the very things we have felt shame and pain about.

The folly of our faith is that the resurrected Christ can never be separated from the Christ who was crucified. Because of this, the Holy Spirit can lead us to unexpected places.

Blessings be to God who calls to us saying, “See how I am about to do something new.”

Blessings be to the Crucified Son who says “I know what you are going through and I will never leave your side.”

Blessings be to the Spirit who shakes us up, saying “Come and be a part of our holy community.”

The cross may not make sense or follow the rules as we know them, but it is the means through which we join the Holy Trinity in throwing colorful leaves into the winds and woods of our lives.

Amen and amen.

Sermon from Jan 2, 2011 Psalm 147:12-20

Rev. George Miller Jan 2, 2011
Psalm 147:12-20 “A New Year’s Blessing”

It’s been said that each pastor has only 3-4 sermons in them and they just dress them up differently each week. I agree.

In fact, by now you should pretty much know my repertoire, the themes and topics I tend to preach from. One such theme is the role that water plays in the Scriptures.

Water has been all over the news lately. California has had so much rain that it’s causing sopping wet soil and deadly mudslides. Massive amounts of snow have messed up the airlines.

In one Russian airport a near riot broke out when travelers were left stranded for two days, forcing them to confront issues of plumbing and running out of fresh water which also meant the inability to do things like make coffee.

In Florida we’ve woken up with frost on the ground, fog at the airport, ice cycles on oranges, and the more it rains the more Lake Jackson keeps filling in, covering up the greenery and recreating ecosystems that were in place years ago.

Water, water everywhere…Of course, the role of water in nature and human life is nothing new, it just takes on different meanings with different people and situations.

The ancient Canaanites saw rain as important for crop growth and feeding their animals. In fact, the god they worshipped, called Baal, was seen as the god of rain; a fertility god who gave and held back life through the means of letting it pour or causing droughts.

The Greeks had Poseidon, god of the sea. Not only did Poseidon control the waters that sailors and fishermen made their living upon, but it was said that Poseidon created horses out of sea foam.

In Friday’s paper was a photo of people paying tribute to the statue of Yemanja, who in parts of Haiti is called the goddess or saint of the sea.

For the Hebrews, the sea was something to be feared. It was seen as chaotic, dangerous, and deadly. So when you come across water in the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, you need to think “Danger” or of things being topsy-turvy.

Example: in Exodus we have the Hebrew slaves being chased by the Egyptian army. They come across the Red Sea. But what does God do: part the waters and safely brings them through to the other side.

In other words, when they came upon death and chaos, God acts in such a way that brings them from death into life, from chaos into comfort.

Another example: in the New Testament the disciples are at sea during a storm, afraid. What does Jesus do? Walks on water.

To say that Jesus walked on water means that Jesus is in control and has power over things that seems disruptive and threatening.

It’s also a sly way for the Gospel writers to show that Jesus, not Baal or Poseidon or other false gods, is the true source of life.

So, why share all these things with you, after all, we’re still in the Christmas season? Just last week we witnessed the hope that came with birth of the Christ child and the light that the magi followed.

I share this, because if you haven’t noticed, our world is still pretty much a place of chaos, danger and mystery.

But Jesus has entered once again, bearing hope and joy, peace and light. And this psalm, filled with images of water upon water, brings with it gifts that we can carry into the rest of Epiphany and the New Year.

Take a second look at verses 16-18. The Lord gives snow, scatters frost, and hurls hail. More then that, God’s word goes out, melts them away and makes the waters flow.

After all, what is snow and frost and hail, but water in different forms? And if you think false gods or world leaders like Baal or Poseidon, Bin Laden, Bush or Obama control the waters, you better guess again.

As dangerous and frustrating as they may seem, the various forms of chaos we each face do not have ultimate control or dominion over us.

Why is that? Because it is God who ultimately has our back; and do you know what God can do to these forms of chaos?

God can make the snow like wool, scatter the frost like harmless ashes and, with a word, melt them all away, and with a bit of the Spirit, make them…flow.

And as they flow, those waters can become a source of transformation and new life:

Living water offered to a woman at a well; rains that fill grapes with their juice and allows wheat to be made into bread; and fresh water that fills the baptismal font to welcome us into God’s Holy Family.

It is Epiphany; the 12 days of Christmas. Once again Jesus has been born to bring hope and light into our world. Hope and light that no amount of water can put out.

What do the waters mean to you?

Are you facing waters of chaos that is pulling you under, making it feel as if you’re drowning, afraid of what will happen next?

Let Jesus walk to you upon those waters, and when he extends his hand, don’t be afraid to take it, trusting that no matter how large the waves may be, Jesus is with you all the way.

Is the water you’re facing the ways of the world that you just don’t understand or believe?

Are the Republicans, Tea Partiers or Democrats driving you crazy and you fear which way the tides will turn?

Call upon Jesus, the living word and wisdom of God, to move and give insight to the powers that be, knowing that if God’s word can melt the frozen waters and make them flow, how much more God can melt the hearts and minds of our leaders, guiding them in the ways of justice and righteousness.

Or perhaps you are waiting for the living water to rain down on so that there is renewal and enough for all, so that wounds are bound up and our children are given a fair shot at life.

It is the New Year; 2011. With that New Year a babe is in the manger, the days are growing longer and God is on the move.

Danger may appear to be in the waters, but God, through Christ, is in control. We don’t have to live this year afraid of spiritual mudslides or being stranded on the tarmac of life.

Instead, let us embrace all that God is ready to give, and what God’s word is causing to flow.

Before I end my message I have two prayers for you. My first prayer is for God to rain down upon us blessings of grace, blessings of healing, and blessings of enough.

My second prayer is that we accept these blessings and are willing to get wet in the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.

Peace be to those who have ears to hear and blessings to our God who we also experience as Spirit and Son.

Amen and amen.

Sermon from Jan 23, 2011 Matthew 4:12-25

Rev. George Miller Jan 23, 2011
Matthew 4:12-25 “One Boat, One Christ”

Greetings and good morning. It is good and an honor to be back here, at Emmanuel UCC, a congregation made up of people from different backgrounds and levels of belief, much like the ones at Matthew’s church.

It’s been said that Matthew composed his Gospel for a trail-blazing group of folk who were stepping into a unique situation. They were Jews who had left the synagogue so they could create something new, something called a church.

These were new, un-chartered waters, which came with no by-laws or maps. Matthew wrote this Gospel as a way to help them navigate through whatever trials and tribulations they may face.

So when Matthew places the disciples in a boat, it can be read as symbolic of the church. When the disciples face stormy seas, it becomes an allegory of how the church faces rough times.

If we are to take Matthew’s lead and see our church as a boat, the USS Emmanuel if you will, it means that Jesus Christ is our captain and that we all part of the crew.

Before today’s message, let’s do a review. Last week, Tracy Miller preached on Mark 4 and gave a personal message about peace and being still in the midst of life’s storms.

Two week’s ago, Rev. Bert Lawrence preached from Genesis 2 in which humans are created to be partners and helpmates to one another and to God.

Three weeks ago I shared how the Bible often uses water to represent chaos. I preached from Psalm 147 with its images of snow, frost and hail to show how God melts the waters of chaos away.

The irony is that a few days later I was in Chattanooga in which there was ice on the parking lot; Nashville which had 6 inches of snow, and I drove through St. Louis during rush hour when a gentle rain turned into flakes of snow.

I literally spent my vacation in the cold, watery, winter chaos, and my new car got wet and dirty, in which no amount of shoe stomping could prevent snow and slush from getting onto my car carpets.

And it was just a few weeks ago we were in the Christmas season, anticipating how God was going to do something new. We lit Advent candles to illuminate us with the themes of hope and peace, joy and love.

Each of these candles stood out against the darkness of winter, pointing us towards the light of Jesus Christ, the means through which God did and is doing something new.

Now I just shared eight weeks of information to tie it into today’s reading and the fact that soon we will be installing new church leaders into their elected positions.

And today’s reading from Matthew is perfect for where we have come from and where we are going.

This text seems straightforward, but don’t let it fool you, for it is ripe with chaos. It starts with stark news- John the Baptist has been arrested. Already a dark cloud of chaos hovers.

Next we are told Jesus leaves home to live in Capernaum, a place where the Israelites were first attacked before the exile fully kicked in.

It is in these shadows of John’s arrest and a place rooted in a chaotic history that Jesus begins to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus walks along the sea. Simon and Andrew are casting their nets; James and John, mending theirs. With a simple summons of “Follow me” they leave their stuff behind and follow.

Like you, I’ve wondered how true this story is and why four men would leave everything behind to follow him. Applying the water analogy helps to make some sense.

If water represents chaos and uncertainty, what does it mean to say that Jesus walked alongside it?

And how do you think Simon and Andrew felt about making their living off of it? How certain was their livelihood and how much job security could they have had?

How many storms did they weather through, how many dangers had they faced? How many nets had that cast that came back empty?

And James and John- they weren’t even fishing. They were mending their nets. Think about that: no one mends their nets if they are having a successful day.

If business is booming you’d be too busy hauling in catch after catch. You don’t have time to sit to sew or crochet; you do that the start or the end of the day.

Can you now start to see the imagery and reality of what they were facing?

James and John are stuck mending broken, imperfect nets. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so hard for them to walk away from their boats and to follow a man who promised he’d make something of them.

Of course, leaving the sea did not mean leaving behind all forms of chaos, for chaos comes to them. As Jesus teaches and proclaims the good news people start to appear with all different kinds of chaos: diseases and pains, demons and paralysis.

No doubt, this scripture is ripe with darkness and doom, chaos and brokenness. But light enters in as Jesus comes offering something new.

So, how does all this information I just bombarded you with come together? Because today’s reading gives us a glimpse of what it means to be followers of Jesus, what it means to be helpmates to one another and how to be church.

The church is not called from a place of calm and certainty, but it is called from the very reality of life.

That although our lives are filled with conflict and chaos, it is often from those places that God through Christ is calling us.

It may seem as if we spent much of our lives casting out or trying to mend what is broken, but through Jesus we have an opportunity to move together, transformed by Jesus’ call.

We are called from our relationships; we are called from our vocations, our economics and our own family histories.

We are called from our dark places and waters of chaos to move forward as something more then captains of our own destiny;

we get to become helpmates on Christ’s Ship, playing our own part in the preaching, teaching and healing that so clearly marks Jesus’ ministry.

A ministry that’s not just about belief, or service, but a ministry that coexists aside chaos and shows how can we affect the mind, soul and body of those we come across.

And that is good to hear today.

We are called to be followers of Christ and helpmates to one another. If indeed the church can be compared to a boat, let it continue to be one in which Jesus is our captain, pointing us towards the Kingdom of God in which something new is always happening.

May we find ways to exist in the presence of chaos and uncertainty. May our Council Members be humble enough to lay aside that which is broken and that which does not work, to follow Jesus’ lead into the community and lives of the people.

May our leaders find ways to continue the spirit of hope and peace, joy and love from the Christmas Season.

May they be fearless in facing the waters of chaos. May they allow Jesus to direct us through those waters, so that we can continue to teach, proclaim and do the Kingdom work that brings healing to a community that can be so often torn apart by sickness and pain, demons and paralysis.

As partners and helpmates, may we all stay focused, allowing our church be a boat for all to find safety and assurance, with Jesus Christ as our captain and our guide.

Blessings to the Spirit that first moved across the waters, to God who calls us to be as One and to Jesus who shows us how that is done.

Amen and amen.