Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon for Aug 28, 2011; Psalm 105:1-15

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 105:1-15
“Faith as a Verb”
Aug 28, 2011

It is good to be here, preparing for my vacation, sharing today’s scripture.

This is a fitting Scripture to end this season of ministry because it’s a summation of so many stories and themes we have talked about since the last time I went on vacation.

It is also good to have my momma with us, sitting in the congregation today. Let me tell you something about my momma.

I remember growing up and going to amusement parks. The big event was always the rollercoaster; so big, so fast, so high and daunting.

Mom had a unique view. She said that if I was ever scared I should just yell; and not just yell anything, but yell “Yahoo!”

And that’s just what we did.

Go onto the coaster and it pulls you up, higher and higher. And then for that moment it pauses, and you can see everything, including how far you’ve come.

And then you’re dropped and at lightening speed you go faster and faster, taking sharp turns and dips and jolts.

And instead of allowing our fear to get the best of us, Mom and I would be shouting out “Yahoo!”

And something that could have been scary became fun; something that looked daunting became doable.

And we yelled and we shouted “Yahoo!” and we laughed and by the time the ride ended, I was saying: “Let’s do that again.”

That’s how we rode the rollercoasters, from the Big Bad Wolf in Virginia to Space Mountain in Disney World, shouting “Yahoo!” all the way.

Not only did we end up having fun, so did the people around us. They’d hear our cries and start laughing; you could spot the people on line below smiling at our verbal escapades.

It was as if we were setting people at ease and helping them to be less afraid. To this day, whenever I go on a ride that’s fast or scary, a loud “Yahoo!” makes everything seem OK.

Rollercoasters involve a bit of bravery; but also a bit of faith.

Faith that you’ll be OK, faith that you’ll have some fun, faith that whatever drops and turns, highs and lows you encounter, you’ll be able to “Yahoo” right through.

Rollercoasters also involve faith because in order to experience them, it requires you to act: to step up, to sit down, and to hold on.

Faith, you see, is not simply a thought, but faith is an act. Faith is not simply something you feel, it is something you do.

…Faith is also some times the only thing you have left to hold onto after a horrible experience…

Today’s Psalm was most likely written under such a circumstance, for a group of folk who were going through a difficult time in history.

It was after the exile was over. Their country lay in shambles, their fields were dried up, and their economy was shot.

When they looked around there was little reason for hope or laughter. In fact, it would have been a good time to quit and walk away.

Since their present is bleak and their future unknowable, the psalmist invites them to look back: back over their story, from where they came and who their ancestors were.

By having them look back, he reminds them of all that has been accomplished by the grace of God.

In other words, this psalm is trying to say “Look at who else has ridden the rollercoaster of life and hear the ways in which God gave them a reason to shout “Yahoo!”

In today’s portion of the scripture, the psalmist tells about two key rollercoaster riders.

First there is Abraham. Abraham who spent most of his life childless, Abraham whose family tree was considered good as dead.

If you recall, it was Abraham who was told to get up to go; the Lord had a plan: that he would be the father of a nation.

It was to be a wild ride that God had in store for Abraham, a ride involving many twists and turns; a ride that would leave him and his wife and all the people’s laughing.

But it was not going to happen with Abraham sitting around, doing nothing.

Abraham would have to act; he would have to get onto the rollercoaster God had designed.

Same thing for Jacob. Do you remember how Jacob started off as a momma’s boy? While his brother was out in the world, hunting, Jacob preferred to stay inside.

When Jacob did act, it was through lies and deceit. He wasn’t so much on the ride as he was making life difficult for those riding it.

Eventually Jacob did get on the rollercoaster when he received assurance from God that he would not be deserted; later he would engage God in a wrestling match of strength and of will, in which he would have his name and life changed forever.

These two ancestors did not simply change the course of history because they had a faith in which they only felt, but because they had a faith in which they acted.

Sometimes they did the right thing, many times they did the wrong, but by golly they lived their faith as a verb and they made the nations yell “Yahoo!”

So; what is the point; why would the psalmist bother writing this song if their glory days seemed to be over?

Because if the people can recall the past, perhaps they can rejoice in the present and believe in a future.

The economy seems shot and things are looking dead?

Recall how God called forth a childless man and blessed him with enough ancestors to build a nation.

Current state of affairs make you feel like no one will ever take our nation serious again?

Recall how God called forth a momma’s boy who upset everyone around him, and used him to bless the world.

If God could do those things then, God could do them now, and God could certainly do them again.

But it will require more then sitting and hoping, it will involve actions that we do.

Actions like give, make, sing, tell, seek, and remember.

Ultimately, all these faithful actions come together for perhaps the ultimate act of faith: to praise.

In conclusion, life is a roller coaster, one that our ancestors have been on before.

There will be moments where you are pulled up, going higher and higher in which you’ll see how far you’ve come.

And there will be moments in which you will drop at lightening speeds with sharp turns and dips and jolts.

But you have to get on, and instead of allowing your fear to get the best of you, shout out “Yahoo!”

And something that could be scary can become fun; something that looks daunting, through God can became doable.

And who knows how you will bring smiles to all of those around you.

For that, we can give a big “Hallelujah!” and an “Amen!”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sermon for 08 21 11; Psalm 124

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 124
“Wounded but Not Defeated”
Aug 21, 2011

What we do we want in life?

To be free of floods. To be free of foes. To be free of traps.

In the real world, that will never happen.

So instead, let me share with you a story about a group of 15 year-old guys who wanted a place to eat and discussed where to meet.

They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant, where you could get a hot dog and Coca-cola for a buck and Susie, the cute little red-headed girl, lived across the street.

10 years later, the group of 25 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the snacks were free and the house band was good. Not to mention there’d be plenty of cute girls.

10 years later, the group of 35 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the beer was cheap and the wings were hot.

10 years later, the group of 45 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the martinis were large and it was near the gym.

10 years later, the group of 55 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the prices were reasonable, the wine list was good and the waitresses liked to flirt.

10 years later, the group of 65 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because they had an early bird special and fish is good for the cholesterol.

10 years later, the group of 75 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the food was not too spicy and it was handicap-accessible.

10 years later, the group of 85 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because, well- they had never been there before…

…as most of you know, a few weeks ago I visited with an old classmate of mine. I shouldn’t use the word old, because we’re only 41, but that’s a bit of how it felt.

Her name is Kerrie, and the last time we saw each other George Bush Sr. was president, we were involved in Desert Storm and gasoline was $1.14 a gallon.

So to say that a lot of time has passed is an understatement. But when it comes to dear, old friends, time does not exist.

If you’re lucky, the person you knew, the sense of humor, the life, the knowing looks and inside jokes are there, under the wrinkles, the cellulite, the heartbreaks, the successes, the family struggles, the dreams reached and the dreams dashed.

When Kerrie and I met a few weeks ago, whatever may have flooded us, devoured us, trapped us, was…present, but so were the things that nurtured, empowered and gave us flight.

And for the rest of the day we ate and drank and walked along the shore, two beautiful birds, strong, but not perfect; wounded but not defeated.

Yet another sign of how God is good.

I’m sure that everyone here can relate to what it is like to watch time go by, to see needs unmet and to witness all the things you have overcome, and to find a way to say “I’m still here!”

That’s what part of this Psalm is about.

Just like last week’s reading, this week’s scripture is called a Psalm of Ascent. It is a song sung by a group of people traveling to the Temple or who have arrived there.

Simply by listening to it read aloud you can hear how it has built into it a call and response in which all the people are invited to lift their voices in recalling the ways in which the Lord has saved them.

Like any good piece of art, this psalm is open ended. Instead of addressing specific events, it uses similes and graphic images to allow anyone from any time to find something to relate to.

To feel attacked, eaten alive? Who’s never felt that way?

To feel flooded over, washed away? Been there.

To feel like a bird caught in a trap or the teeth of a beast? Done that.

And yet still able to say “Our help is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”


The portion of the scripture that really stood out to me was verse 7: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.”

It brought me right back to memories of growing up on Long Island. My Mother, who always had a love for animals, was known for taking in wounded birds and squirrels.

Anytime someone found one on the street or in their yard, they’d bring them to our house and Mom wouldn’t have the heart to say no.

I remember the routine. Find a box. Line it with newspaper. Take a rag or washcloth and fashion it into a nest.

Then make a small batch of baby oatmeal, put it into an eye dropper and use it to feed the wounded animal.

We’d have to make sure the creature was away from the cats and the dogs and we’d hear the fluttering of their wings or the scraping of there feet and the chirping sounds when they were hungry.

I can look back on those times fondly, but the truth is, in all those years, only two of the wounded were successfully nursed back to health.

One was a bird we released into the backyard where he hung around for a few days.

The other was a baby squirrel we called Sherlock who ate mashed up peanuts until he was released at the local Boy Scout camp.

Sadly, all the others died. Their wounds were too great, their body was too frail or they just couldn’t survive apart from their own mother.

So I read verse 7 not through a lense of Disney-do-goodness, but with a very clear knowledge that when birds are hurt, there are life-long scars they carry with them.

Though they may have been set free or their trap has been released, wings are still broken, feathers are ripped out, legs are crushed. Some of them fly into other traps.

Some survive, other do not.

So when the people of this Psalm compare themselves to birds that were once in snares, I read beyond the good news of their freedom and come face to face with the life long scars and fears and limps that they must bear.

As do I, as do you.

As does Christ.

Which brings me to a theology I’ve rarely preached on, but find so fascinating.

The notion that as Christians we will talk about faith, talk about healing, talk about miracles, but the reality of our unique testimony is that our God is a living God who carries permanent scars.

…I invite us to think about that for a moment...To think of the Christ who died, the Christ who was wounded.

Because of whom he ate with. Because of whom he healed. Because of whom he set free.

Because he preached about a kingdom in which people who were wounded, but not defeated, would be welcomed and given a place at the table.

And because of those things, he was given over to the very floods, the very teeth, the very snares of society in which his arms, his side, his feet were pierced.

And he died, full of wounds.

Never to be 35 or 45, 55 or 65, 75 or 85.

And though he was placed in a tomb, death did not consume or define him, but somehow, someway, through God, he was set free in an event of hope which we call the Resurrection.

But here is what I want to highlight today: even in the Resurrection the wounds he bore were still there. They never went away, they were never hid, but on full display.

And it was those wounds that the Resurrected Christ used to calm the doubts and the fears of his disciples.

It was through those wounds that he brought belief and the gift of peace back to Thomas.

And it is through those wounds that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have a Lord who knows what we go through, who has felt our pain, understands our fears and has promised to be there always, until the end of time.

In other words, our Lord and Savior was wounded, but not defeated. Nor shall we be.

In the beginning of today’s message I asked “What do we want in life?”

Over the course time, as we live, we love, as we lose, as we age, it changes.

We may want free snacks and cheap beer, we may want choice location and good wine, and we may want low cholesterol and handicap accessibility.

We may want to be free of floods, free of foes, free of traps.

Will we always get what we want?


But what we do get is the Lord who made heaven and earth.

The Lord who willingly still bears the wounds that were inflicted by human kind.

The Lord, in whom all ultimate help will come, no matter what we endure.

Because of Christ’s scars, we may be wounded, but we will never be defeated.

For that may we say “Hallelujah!” and “Amen.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sermon from Aug 14, 2011; Psalm 133

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 133
“Healing Oil”
Aug 14, 2011

Last year we, as a nation, were covered in darkness. I wonder how many people recall that.

A year ago, hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of black, dark, oil was spilling into the innocent sea.

A year ago the Gulf of Mexico was weeping; tears stained with crude.

The Gulf was weeping because her children were dying. The whales on their oceanic journeys. The sea turtles and horseshoe crabs, the shrimp and mackerel.

It didn’t matter if her children were prey or predator, or if they were birds who took to the air, the Gulf of Mexico wept.

She wept for pelicans who suffocated off of the Louisiana beaches, the heron chicks who had no chance at all, the sea gulls that sunk under waves of murderous oil.

The Gulf wept for her marshes and wetlands with their grass dead and soaked in oil, as was the earth 5,000 feet down.

The Gulf wept for the people who depended upon her. The fisherman, the hospitality industry, and the resorts.

The Gulf wept for the pets who became homeless and the children who experienced severe forms of stress because Mommy and Daddy no longer had a job.

A year ago the oil spill that we, as a nation, experienced was emotionally likened to a hurricane that never went away, and it’s said that we will not even know the true impact for another four years.

The Gulf of Mexico wept because just a year ago it was covered in oily darkness, as were we.

Yet how many of us even remember it; how many recall what those weeks were like; that feeling of impotence, not knowing what we could do or even when the oil spill would end?

But end, it eventually did. And in some ways, we as a church did what we were able to do.

We held a week long series of events devoted to the spill. We had a service of lament. A Bible Study. A letter writing campaign.

A service devoted to the environment which was attended by Charlie Taylor, the owner of the local BP stations.

We held an oil Sabbath, a service of healing featuring a drum circle.

We even demonstrated forgiveness by purchasing gas from BP, making us the only congregation in the US to offer BP any token of grace.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago those events took place, just as it’s hard to even remember that we did go through such a time of fear and worry, in which we were so uncertain about what the future had in store.

And yet, somehow, we made it through. And since then our focus and fears have gone to new places: Casey Anthony, the Debt Ceiling, and the Dougherty Gang.

Yet, I am sure that the Gulf is still weeping; for the destructive, incendiary ways of oil in an ocean can be legion.

That is why today I am thankful for a scripture in which the healing natures of oil are celebrated.

A different kind of oil, mind you, but oil nevertheless.

Psalm 133 is called a Song of Ascent. It’s a song that people sang as they traveled to or arrived at the Holy City.

It’s a song that celebrated Jerusalem as the place where God’s people were with their true family, in their true home.

The Temple was the place in which they could be totally in touch with the healing presence of God.

There is nothing dark or threatening about this Scripture; it’s a celebration of life’s goodness, the Lord’s blessings and the virility of the land.

And the sign of all this is oil.

Precious oil.

Olive oil used as sign of hospitality and consecration. Oil as a sign of joy and relatedness.

And how is this oil applied?

Sparingly? No.

Selectively? No.

But abundantly.

So abundant it runs down the beard, so abundant it runs into the collar, so abundant it runs down into the robes.

So abundant it is like the morning dew on the mountain.

As one member of the Bible Study said on Tuesday, it’s almost like you can imagine the oil as God’s hands being wrapped around the person.

Oil so generously used it creates a sweet, pleasant time.

Oil so generously used it says “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome.”

Oil so generously used it says “No matter how much darkness you have faced, no matter how much you have wept, there is light, and there is laughter and there is love.”

Last year, we as a nation were turned asunder by the fears created in seeing oil poured into the gulf.

But today we embrace a different image of oil; healing oil that is used to unify a nation through blessedness and hope, not fear and worry.

And through this gift of healing oil there is the promise of abundant life, the kind that can only come from unity and from a safe and healthy family.

And that family is the family of God. With Jesus Christ as the Head. With the Spirit as the breath. With God as Mother and Father.

Here, we are called to celebrate and embrace that unity, knowing that in the presence of God’s arms we are free from resentment, abuse and destructive behavior and ushered into a place of intimacy, love and growth.

Is Psalm 133 about oil that pulls sea gulls under, destroys businesses and causes pets to be homeless?

No, Psalm 133 is about healing oil in which human life and the ecology are blessed, in which people from all over can gather and be welcomed as one, in which sisters and brothers can have a sweet and pleasant time.

In conclusion, a year ago the waters were in threat of being destroyed by deadly oil.

Either we have forgotten or the human spirit is that strong to overcome disaster.

Either way, let’s give thanks that we have made it through to the other side and remember that no matter how dark things may seem, with God there is always a way through, there is always another side.

And thanks to the gift of salvation, there is a place in which we will all gather.

An ultimate place, in which with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit we will all be welcome and rejoice, where true oil, living oil, will be poured abundantly upon all.

For that, we should all say “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sermon from Aug 7, 2011; Psalm 85

Rev. George Miller
of Emmanuel U.C.C., Sebring, FL
Psalm 85
“Order My Steps”
Aug 7, 2011

Guess who would have been 100 years old this week?

First hint: she once squashed grapes with her bare feet. Second hint: she once stuffed her face with chocolate. Final hint: she was always asking Ricky to be in the show.

Yes, if she was still alive Lucille Ball would have been 100. Perhaps even more amazing is that “I Love Lucy” is 60 years old.

Her daughter has a theory about the show’s appeal: it’s about unconditional love in which someone can screw up and have somebody else say “It’s OK. I still love you.”

In honor of Lucy’s birthday, here’s a joke:

A wacky red-head once bought a donkey from a preacher. She was told that the donkey was trained in a rather unique manner.

The only way to get the donkey to go was to say “Hallelujah!” The only way to make the donkey stop was to say “Amen!”

The woman was pleased with her purchase and tried out the preacher’s instructions.

“Hallelujah!” she shouted. The donkey began to trot. “Amen!” shouted the woman. The donkey immediately stopped.

“This is great!” said the woman. She rode off, shouting “Hallelujah!” for all to hear.

She came to a local saloon and desiring a cold sarsaparilla she said “Amen!” and the donkey stopped.

Refreshed and enjoying her day, the woman resumed her journey, getting on the donkey and with a shout said “Hallelujah!”

The woman traveled for a long, long time, across the mountains, by the streams, through the valleys, admiring the views.

But soon she realized the donkey was heading towards a cliff. She tried to remember the word to make the donkey stop. But she couldn’t.

“Stop!” she screamed. Nothing. “Halt!” she cried. The donkey kept going.

“Oh, no…Bible…Church…Please…Stop!” the woman shouted. The donkey trotted along, faster and faster. They were getting closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.

Finally, in desperation, the woman prayed like she had never prayed before: “Please, dear Lord. Make this donkey stop before I get to the end of this cliff. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one short step from the edge of the cliff.

The woman wiped the sweat from her brow, and with a shout of joy exclaimed: “Hallelujah!!!”…

Not a bad joke, but there’s one little thing: why didn’t she just get off the donkey?

Why did she sit there like an…assumer, placing her salvation on whether she could just remember the right word or not?

If the cliff was coming up that fast she could have done something, anything, like, I don’t know, fall off the donkey, jump off the donkey, steer the donkey.

Instead she just allowed herself to be a passive observer of her own fate.

In some ways, I feel a bit about this in regards to today’s Psalm.

This week, when I sat down to take a good look at the words in this song, I noticed something: almost every sentence is about what the people wanted God to do.

Restore us again, revive us again, show us, grant us, speak, dwell, give.

And I realized something: it must be exhausting to be God.

I mean all these demands, all these recollections about what was done in days gone by; all this stuff about faithfulness springing from the ground and righteousness looking down from the sky.

It’s exhausting just to hear.

And to know that God hears these things day after day, month after month, decade after decade, century after century.

The demands could make a person crazy! Restore, revive, grant; restore, revive, grant; restore, revive, grant.

I’m surprised God has not lost God’s mind. As Ricky would say “I-yi-yi!”

…and yet, if we can not turn to God in our times of trials, who are we supposed to turn to? Who else can help us to order our steps?

Psalm 85 is a song of lament. It’s sung by a group of people who’ve been to the cliff and back, and just when they think the worst is over, they discover there are new cliffs coming their way.

50 years before their city had been attacked, their land and homes destroyed, the Temple turned to rubble.

The residents who were seen as viable workers were taken away; the undesirables were left behind. For fifty years they were a nation torn apart, until finally the exiled were set free and allowed to return home.

However, what was first seen as good news turned to sour grapes when they saw their hometown still in ruins.

The fields were dried up, the economy was shot, and perhaps worse of all, the Temple was still in pieces.

Originally, the people planned on rebuilding the Temple. But as each person worried about their own homes, their own families, their own bills, the Temple was left to gather weeds.

It is from this cliff that the people sing out to God.

They try to remind God of the past “You were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave...”

But now they feel as though God is silent, that God has forgotten them, and that God will no longer grant salvation.

They long for the land to once again yield produce and for the day when righteousness will make way for God’s feet to step along.

But for now, it is as if God…well as if God is not God.

But how can they expect God to bless them if they have not even begun the process of blessing themselves and rebuilding the Temple?

I have looked at this scripture, and I have to own up to and admit that I see myself greatly in this.

This one sided sense of a relationship with God in which it is very “me, me, me” and very “restore, revive and grant.”

It’s not until verse 8 in which any sense of a reciprocal relationship is even stated when they say “Let me hear what God… will speak…to those who turn to him in their hearts.”

The Psalmist wants God to do all of these things, but all they are willing to do is to hear and to turn.

Are they even sincere or are they just saying it because the cliff is in full view?

Now, I want us to be very careful here, otherwise it will sound like I’m blaming the victim, and that is not my intention.

The people represented by this psalm have endured things that most of us could never even imagine.

Anyone who has stood upon cliffs of great tragedy and financial ruin can tell you how it creates a lasting impact that affects the rest of your life.

When a person finds themselves to in such a precarious moment it is understandable that they cry out to God for help.

One more step and they’ll fall way, way down.

But, at what point does someone begin to realize that they may be able to help themselves and to play a role in what the future has in store?

In other words, at what point do we take some control of the donkey before allowing it, and us, to fall off the cliff?

The Bible is full of people who experienced the saving actions of God, but also played an active part in their own deliverance.

For example, Moses worked with God to bring the Israelites across the Red Sea.

Later on, the priests worked with God to bring the people across the Jordan.

And let us not forget how Jesus said “Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done it to me.”

That’s what I would have liked to have heard in today’s scripture; a sense of controlling the donkey, a bit of ownership, a willingness to work with God.

Eventually, the people of Psalm 85 did find a way to regroup and to feel revived. Prophets like Haggai motivated them to restore the temple.

Even though they would not be as they once were, they continued to grow into who they could be.

What percent of that was God’s doing, what percent was their own? No one can know, but God was indeed with them just as they had asked.

Just as God walks with and talks to us.

Going back to Lucy, in 1951 her career was as good as dead. At the age of 40 she was considered over-the-hill and on the cliff.

Yet she found a way to survive. She turned to TV and revolutionized it.

With Ricky, she presented to America the image of an interracial couple. She became the first woman to head a major film company. And do you know that some of the audience laughter from that show is still used in sitcom soundtracks today?

I bet you that when Lucy’s career was said to be over and done with she did a lot of lamenting, but clearly at some point she avoided that cliff, and boy did she make the rest of her life happen!

In conclusion, I don’t believe that God created us to go it totally alone or to be helpless victims always in need of rescue.

Sometimes in life we come up to a steep cliff that we’re not sure we can survive.

I believe that we have a Savior who unconditionally loves us no matter how much we screw up, who we can turn to when we are in need for help.

However, is that all that God is good for, and is it fair to ask God to do it alone?

Are there things we can do to play a role and take part in the direction our life is heading?

I continue to wonder, so I will continue to ask: how can we call upon God for help while at the same time finding a way to help ourselves?

I’ll leave that question for each of us to answer.

In the meantime, let us give thanks for Jesus who shows us how to play a role in our on journey, for the Spirit that fills us with breath, and to God who finds ways to laugh with us even when we face deep cliffs.

Hallelujah! and Amen!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sermon from July 31, 2011; Genesis 32:22-31

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 32:22-31
“The Story That Everyone Should Know”
July 31, 2011

A few days ago I was driving north on 27, thinking about how I could possibly preach on this particular scripture, when a song came on the radio.

The song was called “Who Wouldn’t Want to Dance with You?” and it was from the Broadway Musical Grand Hotel.

In it, a beautiful woman asks Mr. Otto, an elderly man to dance with her. Surprised, Mr. Otto says that he’s never danced before.

The woman takes his hand and says “Who wouldn’t want to dance with you.” As they move, he makes apologies in a frail voice. She feeds him compliments calling him “light as a feather!”

With new confidence, Mr. Otto’s voice becomes bolder. “You make a man feel 10 feet tall,” he sings. “I’ll make you proud!”

The rest of song is a jubilant number that brings a smile to your face and a reminder that our interaction with others can affect how they act and perceive themselves.

This song has given shape to one way to perceive today’s scripture, a scripture I believe that everyone should know.

It features one character that may or may not be God and another person that starts with one name and limps away with another.

It’s a story that delights in a lack of clarity, provides no easy answers and insists that each person do their own dance with the text.

But before we even think about dancing with today’s reading, let’s review who this Jacob fellow is.

Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebekah. His life seemed to be one wrestling match after another. He was born clutching his twin brother’s heel. His brother was a man’s man who loved the outdoors and liked to hunt.

Jacob, whose name literally meant “Heel Clutcher” was a quiet mama’s boy who preferred to stay inside and cook.

Jacob was not the best of role models. He tricked his brother, deceived his father, and manipulated his uncle. Whenever a problem came that caused fear, he fled.

There were some positive traits. Jacob was shrewd, he learned how to work hard, and he was capable of falling in love and being loved in return.

And through it all, the downs and the scams, the ups and the lies, the feelings of unworthiness, Jacob knew that he was a recipient of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

As we heard in today’s reading, Jacob, the heel clutcher is about to have an experience that will leave him changed forever.

All grown up, with a family of his own, Jacob is returning home to face whatever consequences there may be for disrespecting his father and brother.

He sends some of his flocks as a peace offering. Then as a precaution he sends his wives and children and all that he has, away.

And the once quiet boy who liked to stay inside is left to face the night, alone.

And we don’t know how, and there’s a debate about whom, but a man engages Jacob in a wrestling match.

We are talking a direct, skin to skin, hand to hip encounter. This is no ballroom dancing at the Grand Hotel, this is complete mano y mano. And Jacob holds his own.

All night the two wrestle, Jacob and this unknown man. When Jacob refuses to give in, the man strikes him on the hip, throwing it out of joint.

Yet the heel-clutcher refuses to let go.

And this time, instead of trickery, instead of running away, he, as a man, takes a stand “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

His sparring partner says “You shall no longer be called Heel Clutcher. You have struggled your whole life with humans and with God, and you are still here! From now on you will be called The One Who Wrestles with God.

The sun rises.

We are not told who won; if anyone won. We’re not told who let go first or how the wrestling match ended.

All we know is that Jacob walks away with a new name and with a limp.

If I was to add my own interpretation, I’d say that just as Mr. Otto needed a pretty woman to dance with to remind him of his worth, Jacob needed a sparring partner to discover just what he was capable of.

Jacob needed to discover that he didn’t have to resort to deception to receive a blessing.

He could get it from standing his ground and demanding what he wanted, all without the help of his mamma or running away.

Through the means of a wrestling match, God provided him with that opportunity.

So why make the claim that this is a story that everyone should know?

On one level it’s about how the people of Israel got their name, and as their spiritual descendants it’s important for us to know.

On another level, this story is about what it means to be a strong person, regardless if you’re a woman or you are a man.

On another level, this is a story that everyone should know because ultimately, it’s a story about us.

It’s about how no one can have a true encounter with the living God and not be forever changed. And sometimes that encounter will leave us wounded.

It did Jacob. It did Paul, and it will with us.

The limp that marks the rest of Isreal’s life is the same limp that each and every one of us will develop at some time if we truly engage with God.

That can be hard for some people to hear, because we often think of our faith as being something that is healing, but anything that is worthwhile, anything that is right, will often involve some type of struggle.

Scholarship can’t come without study; birth can’t come without pain; change can’t come without sacrifice.

That’s why this story is one that everyone should know, because it removes the cozy view from our eyes and puts us bicep to tricep with God.

In another way, this story can also prepare us for our Global Mission Fair.

As we heard today, ShelterBox is an organization designed to help people who are facing struggles of their own, families who have lost their homes due to catastrophe.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes. Events that enter into people’s lives and can take away the very things they treasure most.

Some of these things are tangible: walls and furniture.

Some of these things are what we need to live healthy lives: clean food, safe water.

Some of these things are intangible but still important: sense of self worth, ability to provide, your name on a mailbox.

These are difficult things to deal with; those who find themselves unable to may become despondent, turn to acts of deception or find ways to run away.

ShelterBox finds a way to give some hope; hope through temporary shelter; hope through tools needed to survive; hope through items that can allow a man or a woman to feel like are able to provide.

A $1,000 donation from our church will be enough to help a family of ten to have a place to live, eat, cook and to hold on while they wrestle with the devastating affects of what they have just gone through.

One of the kits is enough to allow a family to walk ahead, even if it is with a limp.

It can even help to change their name, from homeless to sheltered, from dependent to independent, from hungry to full.

In conclusion, we are in the beginning stages of our Global Missions Fair because just like Mr. Otto from Grand Hotel, we all have the right to feel light on our feet, 10 feet tall, and able to make others proud.

Today’s reading reminds us that at some point in our life, we will all feel as if we are alone in the world, struggling and susceptible to pain.

Because we share that common bond, we are being called over the next 2 months to find a way to reach out and to help someone who is going through their own wrestling match.

We do this to assure them that they are not alone, that their name is of importance, and that although they may forever be left with a limp, they still have much of life’s journey up ahead.

Who knows just how this interaction can affect how others will act and perceive themselves.

May the Spirit call us each to dance, may we be unafraid to wrestle with God and may Christ show us how to find strength in our wounds.

Amen and amen.