Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Sermon, Dec 24, 2012; Luke 2:1-20

Rev. George Miller
Luke 2:1-20
Dec 24, 2012

Once upon a time there was a good ol’ boy from the country. His name was Micah.

He was raised in a farming community with decent and honest folk who loved God, lived off the land and worked with their hands.

Maybe they didn’t speak so good; their language was clipped and colorful. But that didn’t matter because it was family and community that were important. Neighborly manners were valued and folk took care of one another.

Then Micah traveled 25 miles north to the big city of Jerusalem. He did not like what he saw.

The rulers were corrupt. The merchants were dishonest. The judges could be bought with a bribe.

Perhaps worse of all were the so-called religious leaders. The prophets told outright lies. The priests spoke heavenly words in the Temple but did ungodly things the other 6 days of the week.

Micah may have been corn-fed, but he knew enough that what he saw was wrong. Instead of accepting it and doing nothing, Micah did something.

Even though he didn’t have the best vocabulary, he put pen to parchment and became the first Old Testament prophet to predict the destruction of the Holy City.

In Micah’s view, the people were living on a spiritual, financial, social cliff and if something did not happen soon, they would totter off real fast.

Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?

But Micah was not a man bent on just gloom and doom. As a country boy, he knew that everything had a season; that times of drought can be followed by times of new beginnings.

Micah reminded the people that God requires us “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with the (our) Lord.” (Micah 6:8)

He also made a prediction of hope for the world. In Micah 5:2-5, he wrote

“But you, O Bethlehem…who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth…one who is to rule in Israel…and he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord his God.”

“And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”

Interesting that it took a small town boy to point out the fact that our salvation was not going to come from government and big business; nor would it come from a place of opulence, dominance or greed.

But that our salvation would come from someone who seemingly came from nothing but will ensure we all have enough.

Micah may have spoken rough, but he understood the importance of peace. And that is what we experience tonight. That is why we are gathered here.

Because today we celebrate the realization of Micah’s prophecy, that even in the midst of world chaos God is able to do amazing things.

For the past four Sundays we have been preparing for this event. We have studied the story in Luke. We have focused on words like hope and joy, peace and love.

Today, we embrace the word Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.”

Tonight we experience how God enters into our life, how salvation comes to the world.

And note how Luke tells the story.

Big government has gotten bigger. The emperor decrees a census, one that will probably influence taxes.

Mary and Joseph make their way into town right before her water breaks. But alas, there is no place for this peasant family to stay and no one willing to share their room even with a pregnant woman.

And it is in this simple, bare scenario that God enters in and does something new.

As far removed from a princely palace as one can be, Mary gives birth to her child in a manger, a place for animals and farm implements.

Of all the ways God could have entered into our lives, it happened this way.

So vulnerable. So lowly, so meek, so mild.
So surrounded by the sounds and smells of real life.

And instead of being visited by paparazzi and movie stars, it is the common working men who first visit Jesus that night, praising his name and sharing all that they’ve heard.

The significance of this is staggering, because what Luke is telling us, is that Jesus did not come into the world separated from us. Jesus did not come into this world with a trust find and servants.

No, Jesus came into our world, as one of us.

He was born under the shadow of questionable politics. He was born under limited resources.

He was born surrounded by every-day kind of folk struggling to make a decent living.

He was born into a life, which let’s be honest, did not smell or look so nice.

But it is because of those things that Jesus becomes the one we can turn to, the one who understands us, the one who cares for us, the one who watches over and feeds us. The one who forgives us.

And it does not matter if you are from a small country town or a big city, if you’re a good ol’ boy or a politician, if you are old or young, male or female, poor or rich, full of joy or living with sadness.

In Jesus, we will be fed; in him we will find peace.

In conclusion, tonight, we have journeyed to Bethlehem ready for the prophecy of Micah to come true.

To discover just what God is going to do, ready to experience the arrival of the one who will usher in peace and feed us all.

Tonight, we look to the manger, stripped down to the very reality of life.

The manger where magnificent simplicity takes the form of a mother, a father and a child.

Where stripped of possessions, stripped of politics, stripped of piety, God comes to us, not as a prince, not as a politician, but as a baby.

As one of us.

Therefore, Jesus can never be a stranger to us and the light that he brings into the world is one that can dispel any kind of darkness, the peace that he brings will quiet any storm.

All we have to do tonight is to welcome him once again into our lives and to let him feed us in the strength of our Lord.

And in response, we get to leave the manger believing we too have enough and that under his guidance we can do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sermon to be given Dec 30, 2012; Luke 2:22-40

Dec 30, 2012
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon Title: “Guided by the (Christmas) Spirit”
Rev. George N. Miller

All this month we’ve featured sermons with one word titles that were designed to celebrate a specific concept of the Advent season: hope, joy, peace and love.

Today we will add another concept: wisdom.

We have witnessed the pregnancies of both Elizabeth and Mary. We have experienced the births of John and Jesus.

Now we have this scene in which Jesus is brought to the Temple to be presented, and while there we encounter two elderly people who have a life changing experience.

First, there is Simeon, a man who had been promised by God that he would not die until his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord.

Then there is Anna, a widow who spent all her time in the Temple, taking on the moniker of prophet.

Simeon speaks of revelation and glory. He blesses the family.

He tells Mary that although her child will achieve great things, she will experience some suffering. A truth that any parent knows too well.

Anna praises God and speaks to all who will listen.

In some ways, Luke has completed his introductory cycle of relationships.

We’ve had Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary representing the parents of the world.

Jesus and John are the children.

We’ve experienced the presence of neighbors, relatives and co-workers.

Now, Simeon and Anna take on grandparent-like status.

By doing so, I feel like they are also meant to represent the notion of wisdom and knowledge, the kind that gets passed down from one generation to the next; the kind we soak in from our elders.

Just before, we heard Judy share the lyrics from one of her favorite Christmas songs. I’d like to now share the words of one of mine: “Ava Marie.”

“Take my fear replace it with knowledge divine
though I am weak, make me strong.
Each day I’ll be more understanding
each day more patient and peaceful within
and faith will lead me closer to wisdom
let wisdom deliver me closer to Him.”

These lyrics, which call upon God to show the meanings of love and contentment especially fit this season, especially in light of all that happened these past few months.

Due to the events in Connecticut, due to the events of Hurricane Sandy, due to the events surrounding election season, there has been a sense of fear, and with fear, confusion.

Fear and confusion are powerful emotions to mix that can lead to dangerous decisions and malevolent mistakes.

What I like about “Ava Marie” is the emphasis it places on knowledge, on the ability to think.

In other words: wisdom.

Wisdom is a smart theme to discuss as we close the year, after witnessing the birth of Jesus and rediscovering all that Jesus can be to us.

Trying to figure out who Jesus is has been the task of Christians throughout the ages.

In many ways, our faith is based upon our continued attempt to understand Jesus in new times, new places and new ways.

Way back, when Jesus’ ministry first began, people had various responses when they personally experienced him.

Some people were enraptured by his presence, his charisma, and his spiritual gifts.

Others were indifferent or negative: “Oh, he’s just the carpenter’s son” or “Oh, he must be possessed by a demon.”

Others had a positive response: Jesus was the answer they had been looking for, fulfilling their expectation about how they would meet God.

Those who were waiting for a prophet called Jesus “the Prophet.”

Those who were waiting for the Anointed One called Jesus “the Christ.”

Others came to see Jesus as Healer, Shepherd, Meal Provider.

Then there were those who delighted in discussions and dissertations, who desired to use their brain and were not afraid to faithfully think for themselves.

Read the Bible closely and you’ll discover just how large of a role wisdom and knowledge play.

How the Jews valued study and knowledge. How the New Testament writers, influenced by Greek thought, embraced wisdom, calling it Sophia.

Some of these people, those who prized wisdom, believed that it dwelled within Jesus.

So when Jesus walked past them or stopped to have an engaging conversation, they would say to one another “Behold the Wisdom of God.”

I think back to life lessons I have learned over the years. One that has stayed clearly in my mind is something that happened back in 2004.

I was helping my friend Cari to move. With her father and two friends we moved tables and chairs, books and potted plants, until only one thing remained: her couch.

It was not a simple, small couch; it was a huge, magnificent couch that took up the length of the wall. We tried to get it out the door, but no luck.

We pushed and we pulled, we turned and we flipped. We gritted our teeth and we shoved, but no good.

We took Cari’s front door off its hinges. No help.

We had her neighbor open up his door to create extra wiggle room. No wiggle was had.

We took the neighbor’s door off the hinges. Not a thing happened.

Nearly an hour passed and we had done everything we could do to free that couch from her apartment.

But freedom could not be had.

With nothing left to do, we did the one thing we hadn’t done: we prayed.

We joined hands, bowed our heads and simply asked God to send us some wisdom to figure out what to do.

After the “Amen” was said, we went back to work.

We tilted the couch, we grabbed an end, and somehow, some way (no kidding), the couch came right out of the apartment!

To this day I think about that moment, and if I wasn’t there, I would say it never happened.

But it did. How?

We were trying for an hour and did nothing different in those last five minutes but pray. Yet the prayer worked.

Somehow a combination of wisdom, coincidence, miracle and sheer luck all came together to accomplish what needed to be done.

All I know is this: when we stopped trying to do it by ourselves, when we paused for prayer and specifically sought out God’s wisdom, we were able to get the couch out of Cari’s apartment.

My prayer life would never be the same again.

As stated before, Wisdom is throughout the Bible. Proverbs 8 states that wisdom was present during the creation.

Wisdom is there with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah when it came time to rebuild the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, wisdom is referred to abundantly. Look at today’s reading.

Words that refer to Simeon being guided by the Holy Spirit or having things revealed by the Spirit are just other ways to speak about wisdom.

Look at Anna who is called a prophet and said to be a great age; again, just other ways to hint about wisdom.

Then, to make it clear, Luke tells us Jesus “Grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

Read a little further and we’ll see 12 year-old Jesus sitting in the temple, listening and asking, amazing all who hear.

To make sure the point is driven home, verse 52 states how Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew older.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, wisdom overflows.

The teachings of Jesus.

His sayings such as the blind should not lead the blind.

His speeches which did not always make sense but forced one to think, such as calling those who weep blessed.

There was something about the stories he told featuring beggars and lost children which caused people to say, as Jesus walked by, “Here is the Wisdom of God”.

People who met Jesus felt as if God’s wisdom had come down to them and was in their midst.

In fact, the earliest records we have of Jesus did not highlight his healings or miracles, they highlighted what he said and the lessons he taught.

The very earliest of Jesus’ followers gathered his sayings and stories. They celebrated his wisdom, even if his teachings often sounded peculiar, or undermined the official view of the world.

So…throughout this month we have talked about hope and joy, peace and love.

What does all this about wisdom mean for us, especially during this Christmas season?

For on thing, it means we have yet another way to “see” Jesus.

We heard Judy share a song that presented Jesus as black, Hispanic, Asian and white.

We each have our own ways of seeing Jesus. As Savior, Healer, Counselor, Friend.

Now we have another way, as Wisdom Incarnate.

What does this mean?

It means that when it comes to our own personal spiritual life we have another way to pray, inviting Jesus to share with us his wisdom.

It means that when we are faced with a difficult choice or a hopeless situation, we can pray, asking for wisdom on what to do and how to face our situations.

When loved ones go into the hospital, we don’t just ask for healing. We ask for the medical staff, the doctors, the surgeons, to be filled with wisdom.

At council meetings, at congregation gatherings when making a difficult decision, we can ask for wisdom.

Believing that Jesus is indeed wisdom incarnate, we can began to realize how anything which involves education and learning can become an act of prayer.

Teach your son or daughter how to change a tire: you’re sharing wisdom.

Teach a grandchild how to make their bed: wisdom.

Teach a child how to make homemade pasta: you’re sharing wisdom.

Sign up for a new class, learn a new trade, sit down with a loved one to read together: you are sharing wisdom, you are experiencing God.

I believe that anytime you embrace, share or seek out wisdom, you are embracing, sharing and seeking out the Divine.

In conclusion, since that day when I helped Cari move her couch, I have found that praying to God for wisdom takes me out of my world, and helps to move me away from my biases and worries.

It moves me closer into the realm of God, in which different realities exist, in which wisdom, not fear rules, and the Spirit of God, not the spirit of my ego dominates.

I invite you this week to take some time out, to engage God’s Wisdom in your own way.

The next time you face a crisis, or have a difficult decision to make, invite Jesus to become a partner in your situation by asking for and seeking Wisdom.

See what happens.

You may find yourself moving from helpless to an active participant.

And just like Anna, Simeon, and Jesus you will be guided by the Spirit, opening up doors and conquering things you never thought you could.

In the words of “Ava Marie”, may God take your fear and replace it with knowledge divine.

May each day make you more understanding, patient and peaceful within.

May faith lead you closer to wisdom, may wisdom deliver you closer to Christ.

Amen and amen.

Sermon for Dec 23, 2012; Luke 1:57-80

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:57-80
Dec 23, 2012

A teenage boy had developed a deep fascination for cars. It was something he inherited from his father.

Ever since he was just a little boy he would listen in fascination as his father drove down the road saying things like “That’s a ’63 Camaro” or “That’s a ’79 Corvette.”
So naturally, when he turned 16 he asked his father to take him to go get his license.

After doing so, he asked his Dad if he could use of the car, assuming that since they had spent years bonding over all things cars, his father would give an enthusiastic “Yes!”

So the teenage boy was extremely surprised when his father outright said “No.”
“However,” said the father, “I’ll make a deal with you. Bring your grades up from a C to a B, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we'll talk about the car.”

The boy thought for a moment, decided he'd settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.
After six weeks his father said, “Son, you've brought your grades up and I've seen how you’ve been studying the Bible. But I'm disappointed you haven't cut your hair cut.”

The boy, thinking he was slick, said, “You know Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, as did Moses, as did John the Baptist... and some even suggest that Jesus had long hair.”

To which his father wisely replied, “Ah, yes Son. But did you also notice they all walked everywhere they went?”
…I share this joke because it refers to John the Baptist, whose birth we just heard about. I also share it because it echoes a theory I’ve had for the past few years.
My theory is that we all have a desire to be a sponge for our elder’s information, traditions and experiences and that we all have a need to pass on information, tradition and experiences to others.

I think this stems from our attempt to stave off our mortality as well as too keep those we care about as close as possible.

I’m going to be a bit sexist for a moment, but I’ve seen this in how some women will pass on recipes, jewelry and the ability to do things like knit and to sew.

I’ve also seen this in men who will pass on their power tools and knowledge of how to change a tire, bait a hook or clean a fish.

There is something that happens in both men and women when a younger person shows interest in something we are doing.

Maybe they want to learn how to shine shoes or play Solitaire, or how to whistle or paint a fence.

I believe that all of us have an ingrain need to be both a mentor and a mentee, and we seek that out in various relationships.

Because of this, I think it is especially sad or difficult for those of us who do not have children or grandchildren that we can pass that information on too.

That’s why I am thankful for nieces and nephews as well as programs like our Vacation Bible School or the local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

As most of you know, I volunteer for Big Brothers and in so many ways my Little Brother is a perfect match for me.

Last week we joined people from our church to see the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.

However, the wait was too long and he was getting fidgety, so I hoisted him onto my shoulders and we walked to the back of the pavilion to view the show.

Being all of age 9, he wasn’t that much intrigued. He did, however, begin to muss up my hair. Then he started playing with my beard, asking why some of my hair was white and some was brown.

A little while later, I felt a heaviness on top of my head. Turns out he had fallen asleep.

I don’t think it was because of boredom, but because he was comfortable and felt safe.

A special bond occurred that moment.

Later, I watched as he saw his first live shark, he tried to use chopsticks, as he smiled from ear to ear when we went sailing down a log flume.

It was while viewing a dancing water fountain that moved and popped to music that he turned to me and stated that he’d like to design one when he grew up.

Not only was it a joy to introduce him to all those things, but he gave me a gift.

Introducing him to Disney World made me realize that one reason I love Disney so much is because it was something my father shared with me, and that it was at Disney World that I got to experience the best my father could be.

Last Saturday I felt that sense of paternal pride creep in, and with those feelings, a closeness for my own father who had died many, many years ago.

I share all of this because I think today’s reading is extremely paternal.

For three weeks we have been preparing for the birth of Jesus. For three weeks most of the stories and sermons have been from a feminine point of view.

But now we have a moment for the guys.

Zechariah is a priest serving in the holy Temple. Both he and his wife are righteous folks, living the best they know how.

For years they had been carrying great sadness and shame because they did not have any children.

But an angel had visited Zechariah and told him the hopeful news that he would soon be a father and his son would be called John.

Can you imagine the mixture of emotions Zechariah must have felt when his wife became pregnant?

The hope, the joy. The expectations of what he and his son would do. The lessons he’d share; the traditions he’d be able to pass on.

I imagine there was also fear. “What if I’m too old?” “What if I can’t physically keep up?” “What if I don’t live long enough to see his Bar Mitzvah?”

Time passes and eventually Elizabeth’s unusual pregnancy comes to its natural conclusion. A child has been born.

A son, promised by the angel Gabriel.

Luke continues to show us just how inclusive and boundary breaking the Jesus experience is.

Neighbors and relatives become part of the narrative fiber.

Ancient traditions of circumcision and naming give way to amazing newness and free speech.

Both mother and father play equal parts in what their son is to be called.

Then we witness this intimate scene of a new father talking about his son.

Although Luke does not describe the scene, I can’t help but to imagine this being a tender moment between father and son in which Zechariah, the proud father, is lovingly, protectively, holding his baby boy.

In his speech, the past, present and future come together. He refers to God as blessed, merciful, and rescuer.

He then shifts his focus onto his baby boy. “And you, my son, will be called the Prophet of the Most High.”

“You will go before the Lord to prepare the way; to share wisdom; to remind people about the tender mercy of God.”

“You will help to make sure God’s light will shine upon those in darkness. You will help guide their feet in the way of peace.”

Imagine Zechariah, a holy and righteous priest, being able to celebrate what his own son will accomplish for the Lord.

He may not be able to pass on how to change a tire or bait a hook or swing a golf club, but this…this he can do.

I also imagine that Zechariah, at this moment, feels a great amount of love.

Love for God. Love for his wife. Love for his child.

Love is not always the easiest concept to describe, because it is something you feel, something you do.

But I can say this: love is an act of creation in which that which we feel spills out of us like light from a candle, like sound from a bell, transcending space and time, darkness and silence.

Love makes one feel totally present in the here and now, while making peace with the past, while at the same time being hopefully, joyfully expectant of the future.

Love makes you want to be a better person because at that moment you are a better person.

The love that Zechariah feels for his son is no doubt a love that becomes rooted in tenderness and closeness.

Feelings which will introduce John to the concepts of justice, mercy and grace.

Since Zechariah has also been foretold by the angel of what to expect with his son, he also knows that his paternal love will have to involve the ability to let go and to encourage risks.

I can’t help but to see and to hear and to feel all of these things in the words of Zechariah.

That here is his son, flesh of his flesh, and in him exists the reality of not only Zechariah’s work living on, but the work of God, preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our lives.

In conclusion, we are nearing closer to the birth of our Savior. Every week, every story in Luke is showing us just how much Jesus will change history and all of our lives.

We have welcomed in hope, we have welcomed in joy, we have welcomed in peace.

Now today we welcome in love.

Love that goes beyond all pretense and brokenness and nurtures us so we can grow in the Spirit.

Love that blossoms like a flower, shines like a light in the darkness, and sustains us during times in the wilderness.

And now, let’s end with just a very quick joke.

Four men are in the hospital awaiting the birth of their children. A nurse goes up to the first guy and says, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.”

“That’s odd,” answers the man. “I work for the Minnesota Twins!”

A nurse says to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!”

“That’s weird,” answers the second man. “I work for the 3M company!”

A nurse tells the next man “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!”
“That’s strange,” he answers. “I work for the Four Seasons hotel!”

The last man is groaning and wringing his hands. “What’s wrong?” the others ask.
“I work for 7 Up!”

…This holiday week, may we all experience our own kind of abundance.
May we welcome the gifts of hope, joy and peace.
May we also welcome and share the gift of love.
Love that reminds us of how we are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our Lord.

Love that gives us rest when we are tired. Love that makes us feel safe even when things appear unsure.

Amen and amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, December 16, 2012; Luke 1:39-56

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:39-56
Dec 16, 2012

We have entered into the third Sunday of Advent.

Luke, like a southern gentleman, is continuing to tell his tale in a slow, relaxed pace using poetry and hyperbole.

He is using multiple techniques to tell us just how boundary-breaking, radically inclusive the Jesus experience is.

In the past two weeks we talked about hope, we talked about joy. Now, today, we talk about peace.

But first, a recap of what has happened so far.

In the city of Jerusalem, Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older righteous couple, hear the hopeful news that they will have a son named John.

In the process, Zechariah is rendered mute and Elizabeth goes into seclusion.

Six months later in the small country town of Nazareth their relative Mary, a young girl engaged to be married to Joseph, hears the joyful news that she will have a son.

His name is to be Jesus and he will establish God’s kingdom here on earth.

Upon hearing this revelation, Mary departs for a two day journey to Elizabeth’s home.

Upon hearing the voice of Mary, Elizabeth’s child leaps inside her belly and she gives the first confession of Christian faith in Luke’s Gospel.

Then Mary, in melodious words of praise, makes a profound statement about God.

But do not be fooled, these are not words of a passive petunia, but of a resilient rose whose message bears both beauty and thorns.

Mary is, after all, a pubescent, passionate peasant who is fully aware of what she’s been called to do and how the birth of her son will change the world.

Mary’s words, known as the Magnificat, celebrate God’s mercy and the ways in which the Lord will make sure those who are without will have “enough.”

Make no doubt about it, Mary’s speech is political, celebrating what God has done, is doing and will do.

Put her on a balcony in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical and she would be Evita Peron singing to the descamisados.

But, today we are not going to talk about politics; there are other times and places to do that. Today we will talk about peace.

Peace…as in rest.

Peace…as in the after affect of experiencing God’s blessed assurance.

Peace…as in that which follows feelings of hope and joy.

Think of what has gone on already. Zechariah is unable to talk. Elizabeth is 6 months into her first pregnancy.

What would their household have been like at this point? How far out would her belly be? What levels have her morning sickness raised too? What are the neighbors saying?

Mary has just discovered she’s pregnant. She leaves her hometown and fiancĂ© to travel 2 days to Elizabeth’s hillside home.

At this point both women are probably a bit tired. And then they come together.

One the wife of a priest, one engaged to a carpenter.

One who lives in the big city, the other from a small hick town.

One who is much older, the other who is very young.

Can you hear how even before Jesus is born, boundaries are being broken down?

Now think of what those three months together must have been like for them.

For Elizabeth, there is finally someone to talk with; someone who will not judge. There is someone to help prepare meals with, do household chores, share stories, songs and memories with.

There is indeed a peace that comes when we have someone close to us who we can just be ourselves with, to make no apologies to.

For Mary, there would have been the comfort of having someone older and wiser to seek advice from. To learn what to expect. To gather strength from.

There is indeed peace that comes when we have someone who can mentor us, watch over and guide us on our journey.

Imagine how peaceful those three months together would have been, as they have the chanced to cherish their growing bodies.

Peace from eating the right food together, doing gentle exercises, measuring each other’s tummies. (Margaret Hebbelthwaite)

The songs they would sing as they combed out each other’s hair, the stories about their ancestors they would share while carving toys or sewing garments.

Imagine peace radiating out and filling their home. But let’s not forget that there is a third person in this story: Zechariah.

Unable to speak, what would it have been like for him to spend 6 months in silence?

Sure, he and his wife would have created ways to communicate via notes, head nods and body movements.

But how frustrating for Zechariah, as a man, as a priest, to not be able to use his voice.

The restless silence that would have filled his days and nights.

And now Mary, rich with new life, was there in their hillside home, filling their rooms with conversation, with laughter and tears.

And yes, I am sure there were moments when the women talked a little too loud, talked a little too much, gossiped a bit too boisterously.

I am sure they told some randy jokes at Zechariah and Joseph’s expense.

But I expect that this was ultimately a time of peace for Zechariah.

A peace that came from hearing his wife laugh.

A peace from knowing they were not alone.

A peace from listening to their hushed conversations coming from the kitchen, the living room, the garden.

All three of their lives have forever changed, and for three months, before life changes again, they are able to find refuge.

Refuge in this hillside home where three people from such divergent backgrounds are able to come together and remember just how good and merciful God can be.

I believe that often times this is what going to church on Sunday morning is about for some folk.

It’s about the peace that comes from leaving behind our life for a moment and finding refuge in a peaceful place.

Church is about reclaiming that anchor which keeps us steady during life’s floods.

Church is about experiencing the Holy Spirit falling upon us like a dove and feeling that peace from within.

Today, we are all Zechariahs, Marys and Elizabeths, all seeking and deserving moments of peace that come from experiencing our Lord, Jesus Christ…

…Have you come here today because there are things happening in your life that scare the heck out of you? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because you know what it’s like to feel persecuted and judged? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because there are things happening which are beyond your control? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because illness or death and not enough new life are filling your day? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because it feels like all you’ll be doing next week is rush, rush, rushing? May you find peace.

Have you come here today because you are dreading this holiday season because someone you loved is no longer here or your life has dramatically changed? May you find peace.

In conclusion, we continue our Advent journey to the manger, following the trajectory Luke has placed before us.

Today we have experienced just how the promise of Jesus’ birth is already bringing about change.

How God is working to bring about hope, joy and peace.

How the fears of scarcity and loss are being replaced with an economy and generosity for all.

May we each find ways to glorify the peace that Jesus brings, knowing that in Christ we will all get to humbly walk with our Lord in which there is justice, there is mercy and there is indeed enough.

No matter who you are, no matter what age you may be, no matter where you are on life’s journey,

may the peace of Jesus Christ be upon us all this week.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sermon for Dec 9, 2012; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:26-38
Dec 9, 2012

Today we continue our Advent journey through the Gospel of Luke. If you haven’t realized it by now, Luke is a writer of great skill whose story involves boundary breaking inclusiveness.

The author is a light-bearing witness for Christ who is taking the Jesus experience and completely opening it up, going beyond the people of the covenant to all four corners of the world.

He wants to shows us how Jesus came to minister to the rainbow of all God’s people.

Not just the Jews, but the gentiles. Not just the rich, but the poor. Not just the local, but the foreign born. Not just men, but women.

For Luke, Jesus truly is the Bread of Life and everyone is welcome to experience just how joyfully tasty life can be, no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey.

But before we get too serious, have you heard about the latest recent archeological discovery? It seems they have unearthed an ancient copy of the Old Testament.

The shocking thing about it is that it features a different version of the Creation story in which Eve, not Adam, is created first.

It says that one day in the Garden of Eden, Eve called out to God, "Lord, I have a problem!"

"What's the problem, Eve?"

"Lord, I know you created me and provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals and that hilarious comedic snake, but I'm just not happy."

"Why is that, Eve?"

"You see, all the animals are paired off. The ewe has a ram and the cow has her bull. All the animals have a mate except me. I feel so alone. Lord, I am lonely, and I'm sick to death of apples."

"You know what Eve, you’re right. I have a solution. I shall create a mate for you and he will be called a man."

"What's a man?" Eve asked.

"A man is a ruggedly handsome but flawed creature, with many bad traits.”

“He'll be vain and glorious; he'll be witless and revel in childish things like fighting and kicking a ball about.”
“He won't be too smart, so he'll need your advice to think properly."

“But he'll also be big and fast and he will like to fish and hunt and kill things so you can have tasty food to eat.”

“He’ll be easy on the eyes, great to cuddle up with at night and wake up to in the morning.”

"Sounds great," says Eve, with an ironically raised eyebrow. "What's the catch?"

"Well... you can have him on one condition."

"What's that, Lord?"

"As I said, he'll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring... So you'll have to let him believe that I made him first. Just remember, it's our
little secret...”

“…You know, woman to woman."

I share this joke with no disrespect to men but to lighten the mood and to set the tone because today our story does not focus on a man, as so many stories do, but on a female: Mary, the mother of Christ.

Luke has continued his slow, deliberate telling of the story. It’s six months after the angel has appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth has become pregnant with John.

In today’s portion of his tale, the angel Gabriel visits Mary, calls her the favored one, and assures her of God’s presence.

Mary ponders what this means. She is told to not be afraid, to know that in due time she will have a child whose kingdom will be eternal. Her son will be named Jesus.

“How can this be?” Mary asks, possibly seeking assurance and comfort.

After the angel explains, telling her about Elizabeth, reminding her that nothing is impossible with God, Mary responds “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke has set the stage for hope to enter into our world. But let’s pause and take a moment to ask about this Mary person.

What do we know about her?

Scholars have their own opinions. She is a peasant girl who lives in Nazareth, a small, tiny town of ill-refute in Galilee.

She is engaged to be married, most likely still living at home with her parents. She is probably between the ages of 12 and 13.

Mary appears to be in a state of in-between: not yet a wife, not much longer a daughter.

Not yet a woman, not much longer a girl.

Still a virgin, but soon to be a mother.

Anything else we can gather? A close reading of Luke 1 and 2 reveals to us a few adjectives.

Mary is referred to as being favored (1:30), thoughtful (1:29; 2:19 & 51), obedient (1:38), believing (1:45), worshipful (1:46), devoted to Jewish law and piety (2:22-51).

These are all well and good. But they all seem so, so serious…

What about Mary being joyful???

Why does Mary have to be portrayed so serious, pious and reverent? Can’t she also be someone who is playful with a twinkle in her eye?

There is a beauty to Luke’s writing because he doesn’t tell us everything. He expertly creates blank spaces for our mind’s imagination to dance on in.

For example, Mary’s closing line: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

Think of the multitude of the ways she could have said it: quiet, like an introspective librarian; loud, like a mighty warrior.

She could have said it with fear and trembling, or cool and detached.

She could have said it with tears in her eyes. Or she could have sung it to the mountaintops, with joy radiating out of her very being.

That’s how I would like to envision Mary this season. Not at a passive bystander to her son’s story or a specimen of untainted holiness.

But as someone who received an awesome calling from God, who was given a unique opportunity, and was someone who approached it with joy.

Sure, there had to be things she worried about: what will her parents say, what will the neighbors think, how would this affect her future.

But how could she say “Here am I…let it be with me according to your word” without there being a hint of smile and a sense of joy of what’s to become?

Think about what this call from God means: that she, a poor peasant girl has access to the sacred outside the context of the patriarchal family and its control. (Jane Schaberg)

Think of how this surprising news becomes an opportunity for grace. (Elizabeth Huwiler)

Think of how, as her body would begin to stretch and grow that her soul would also stretch out and grow into the glory of her God. (Margaret Hebblethwaite)

If Mary experienced the divine, how can joy not follow?

And if Mary experienced joy, why can’t we?

How has God called us in a way that brings about joy?

What are the talents, the gifts we have been given, that when we use them, when they are utilized, we find joy bubbling up from within?

What has God placed within us that brings the twinkle to our eyes and a smile on our lips???

Before we close, another joke:

Little Johnnie desperately wanted a red wagon for Christmas. His friends were writing letters to Santa Claus, but Johnnie decided to go one better.
"Dear Jesus," he wrote. "If I get a red wagon for Christmas, I won't fight with my brother for a year."
Then Johnnie thought “Oh, no, he is such a brat, I could never keep that promise.” So Johnnie threw away the letter and started again.
"Dear Jesus, if I get a red wagon for Christmas, I’ll eat all my vegetables for a year."
Then Johnnie thought “Oh, no, that means lima beans and peas. Yuck! I could never ever keep that promise.”
Suddenly Johnnie had an idea.
He went downstairs to the living room. From the mantel above the fireplace, he grabbed the family's statue of the Virgin Mary.
Taking the statue to the kitchen he wrapped it in newspapers and stuffed it into a grocery bag. He took the bag upstairs to his room, opened the closet and placed the package in the farthest, darkest corner.
He then closed the closet door, took a new sheet of paper and wrote:

"Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again..."

In conclusion: today we continue our Advent journey with the theme of joy.

Joy that’s rooted in a hope for the world. Joy that comes from knowing God’s dreams for us are grander then our own.

Christmas is about joy. It’s about doing things that are fun: stringing up lights, putting up decorations.

Christmas is about people; people not just singing carols together, but actually being friends, loving one another.

Christmas is about the story it tells us about God, about Jesus, about the world, and about who we are and how we fit in.

With this in mind, can we envision this moment in Mary’s life as a time of joy?

A joy that will reach all four corners of the world, beyond all fields and floods, hills and plains, men and women, old and young.

And how do we, as God’s people, get to become angelic messengers of that news this season?

Here we are Lord; let it be according to your word. Here we are, Lord. Here we are.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sermon for Dec 2, 2012; Luke 1:1-25

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:1-25
Dec 2, 2012

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, and we have lighted our first Advent Candle, symbolizing hope.

George Herbert, who was a 15th Century poet and priest, once stated that “Hope is the poor man’s bread.”

This statement is fitting as today is Communion Sunday, and we seek to be fed, not just physically but spiritually.

Speaking of hope and spirituality, recently I read the book Life of Pi. Though the first 100 pages bored me, I was whisked away by the story.

Life of Pi is about a boy who loses everyone and everything in a shipwreck and learns to survive in a tiny lifeboat…even with a Bengal tiger on board.

The story is fantastical and miraculous, and without giving anything away, Pi survives to tell his story. But no one believes him. How can a teenage boy and a 450-pound tiger survive the chaotic seas?

They keep asking Pi to tell them the truth. Frustrated, Pi says to them:

“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. (A story) that will confirm everything you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want a dry, yeastless factuality.” (pg. 302, Yann Martel)

So Pi gives them what they want, a story devoid of all splendor and wonder…

Thankfully the writer of Luke does not do that. Like Pi, his story will not be dry or yeastless; it will not lack mystery, bite or hopefulness.

As a story teller, Luke reminds me of a southern gentleman: he shows restraint, he takes his time and he enjoys reveling in hyperbole if it will get his point across.

Unlike Mark and John, Luke is going to tell us about Jesus’ birth. Unlike Matthew, he will make us wait until chapter 2 before Jesus is even born.

Letting the yeast in his story rise, Luke is crafting a warm, narrative loaf of spiritual bread we can sink our teeth into.

But before he leads us into the light, Luke starts his story in darkness.

He introduces us to a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both of them are righteous Jews, both of them come from the line of Aaron.

Both of them also live with the disgrace and emptiness of not having a child, and both are getting on in years where having a child seems hopeless.

We have heard this story many times before, but I wonder how many have actually heard this story.

Because what it’s really telling us is about a hopeless situation. Culturally, women of Elizabeth’s position had one duty and one duty only: to provide an heir.

Unable to do that, Elizabeth would have been looked down upon. People would say it was her fault, they would assume she had done something wrong and was being punished by God.

There’s another layer of hopelessness here. Zechariah and Elizabeth had reached the end of their family line. With no children to carry on the name, they were as good as dead.

Without a child, who would fill their home with laughter and song? Without a child there would be no barmitvah and wedding to celebrate.

Without a child there can be no grandchildren to call them Memar and Papi.

We might as well place Zechariah and Elizabeth in a grave, because for all intents and purposes, their story has already ended before it began.

Their reality is shrouded in barren darkness …but as Dante once wrote “A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.”

And God is the one who creates that spark.

In Luke, that tiny spark comes in the most unexpected, fantastical, way: an angel who proclaims that Elizabeth will have a child and that child will not only bring joy and gladness, but he will turn people to the Lord.

Into heartbroken reality comes the spark: that God is going to find a way to bring hope into their world.

Think about what the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy could have done for her and Zechariah; how the hope of a child would bring new life into their home.

What would you imagine a newly pregnant Elizabeth to do at this time? Could you see her preparing a space for the child? Can you imagine the toys she would make?

Do you think she spent days on end sewing together clothes for herself as her belly grew bigger and for her son when he was born?

Can you hear the songs she would sing as she is doing these things? Can you see the colors of fabric and paint she would use?

Can you smell the aromas of the foods she would prepare so she could give birth to the healthiest baby possible?

Do you believe that the news about what God was doing gave her the hope and the ability to believe in a future?

Can you imagine how this would transform every aspect of her home and her life?

It’s like Luke is telling us that even before Jesus’ birth, he was making a difference.

So I ask: how can we apply the hope that Zechariah and Elizabeth may have felt into our lives this Advent Season?

How can hope reshape and transform our lives?

What are the dark moments and dark places in which we need the spark of hope to burn bright?

How can hope spark us to create, to build, to plan?

How can hope spark us to clean out, let go, mend and to forgive?

How can hope spark us to anticipate, dream and blossom?

How can hope in what can be lead us to stop focusing on the what has happened?

How can hope move us from the ways of death into the ways of life: to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our Lord?

If Jesus can bring hope into a family before his very birth, how much more so can Jesus bring hope into our own lives right now?

In conclusion, both “The Life of Pi” and the Gospel of Luke teach us about hope, that tiny spark that starts a great flame.

Hope surprises us, flying in the face of everything we thought we knew. It makes us see higher, further and differently.

Hope is robust, active, lush and productive.

Hope means believing in the possibility of making it through any situation, no matter how dark it may seem.

Hope allows us to conceive of beating the odds, of surviving miraculously, and to see the miraculous in the every day.

Hope is knowing that as long as God is with us, we still have a reason to believe, and with that a reason to live. (Above 3 paragraphs are based on Martel’s words in “Pi”, page 148)

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sermon for Nov 25, 2012; John 18:33-38

Rev. George Miller
John 18:33-38
“What Is Truth?”
Nov 25, 2012

This month our theme has been “truth.” We heard that the Lord our God is One and we shall have no other God before him.

We met a widow and discovered that although the world may ration out supplies, following the call of God will create “enough.”

Last week we discovered that stones, no matter how large, can be toppled and destroyed, but Christ will live forever.

Today we conclude our series by trying to discern who Jesus is to us, and we do so with a tense and passionate scripture.

Two men are engaged in a power match in which they use words like “king”, “kingdom”, “world” and “truth.”

Pilate, governor of the territory, wants to do what is right. But right for who?

He claims he wants the truth, but what he really wants are facts he can comfortably wrap his head around.

By asking if Jesus is the King of the Jews, Pilate is essentially asking “Have you come here to rile things up and lead the people in a military revolt against the government?”

Pilate, in asking a simple yes or no question, hopes that Jesus will pick the easiest path so it will be all over and done with and Pilate can go back to doing whatever Pilate does.

But Jesus is no pawn. He will not follow the easiest of roads. In a display of true strength and courage, he refuses to give Pilate what he and the angry people think they want.

By neither saying yes or no, Jesus is now even more dangerous to the governor.

At the end, Pilate is left asking an existential question: “What is truth?”

Last week we talked about the difference between facts and truth. Facts are bits of information and data, things which can be easily memorized or stored into a computer.

Whereas truth, well truths are things that are integrated, learned. Truths are the lessons come across in a play like “Hamlet” or a book, like the “Life of Pi”.

Last week we heard two poems about best laid plans and hubris lost upon the sands.

Today, another poem, one by Robert Frost, called “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

…Like many, I am drawn to this poem, thinking of all the places I’ve been, choices that were made, realizing that more often that not its been taking the roads less traveled that have brought me here thus far.

Think of the roads our congregation has taken…

The paths our country’s forefathers and mothers forged…

The watery course our ancestors took when they decided it was better to cross an ocean then to live on solid land ruled by tyranny…

None of these paths were neither well traveled, nor yellow brick roads; more like briars and thorns.

Which perhaps sums up a Christian life that is truly lived.

To say that Jesus is King is beyond political; it is a theological statement that touches upon every sphere of living.

Sure (as we’ve experienced again and again), Christianity is something that can easily be said, but living as a true Christian is not something so easy to do.

Thank God for the gift of grace, because Christianity, really following the ways of Christ, is going down a path that has been the one less traveled.

A path in which our concepts of truth carry over to the behaviors we exhibit and the choices which shape our daily lives, from how we run our households to who we vote for.

These choices are based on the truths of who we believe Jesus to be.

Last week, I asked you to engage in an exercise in which everyone was encouraged to say what kind of spiritual stone we should use as our church’s foundation.

Listen to the list again. This time, ask yourself if these are also the words you would use to describe the Kingdom of God.

In alphabetical order, you said:

Acceptance, action
Caring, compassion, courage
Faith, faithful, friendship
Hope, hospitable, humility
Trust, transparency

All these words pack power; all these words speak and sing; all these words carry truth.

But alas, these are not the easiest words to follow. The roads, the paths they create are not the ones most traveled.

For if they were there would be less dysfunction within our own families and under our own roofs.

If they were the paths most taken, instead of simply saying we are a Christian nation, we would be living as a Christian nation, more united then divided.

All of our children would be well educated, none of our veterans would be on the street asking for help, nor would our elderly be dying abused and alone in nursing homes.

If these words were indeed truths we could all live by, the world would experience less hunger and homelessness because as Christians we would want to make sure that everyone indeed would have “enough.”

Pilate asks “What is truth?”

Jesus Christ is our truth. Jesus is the King of the Heavenly Kingdom and he has laid down a path before us.

It’s a path so many people often find easier to talk about, but not so often is it the road everyone is so eager to take.

It’s a path that has yet to be worn out, even after 2,000 years.

It is a path that does indeed contain thorns and leads to a cross, but it also a path that leads us to the marvelous beyond.

In conclusion, Jesus, our True King, has already started the way, creating a path for us, if we are willing to listen, if we are brave enough to follow.

What will it take for each of us to go a bit further down that road, even if it is just the smallest of steps?

How could choosing to follow a road, constructed by the truth of Christ, make for us all the difference?

May God continue to speak to us, may the Holy Spirit continue to challenge us, may Jesus continue to lead the way.

May we be cheerful in our listening and courageous in our following.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sermon for Nov 18, 2012; Mark 13:1-8

Rev. George Miller
Mark 13:1-8
“Traveling Truth”
Nov 18, 2012

Anyone who’s been a resident of Highlands County knows that there has been some controversy over the FCAT.

FCAT is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It was designed in 1998 to increase academic achievement by implementing standards which consist of criterion-referenced assessments in math, reading, science, and writing, which measures student progress toward meeting specific benchmarks.

To the ear it may sound good, but ask most teachers, artists and creative thinkers and they’ll tell you their true thoughts.

While the FCAT measures a student’s ability to remember facts, it does not measure one’s ability to think, create, integrate or have fun.

A computer can remember facts, but the human brain learns truths. That’s where things such as art and poetry come into play. Yeats. Dickinson. Shakespeare.

How many recall having to learn and recite poems in school? There are two I recall.

The 1st is “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns which features a line that goes something like this “The best laid schemes of mice and men are often led astray.”

How true is that? No matter how well we plan our lives, nothing will ever go 100% the way we want it. Just ask Mitt Romney.

The other poem is “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It goes like this:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

This poem teaches a valuable truth: the danger of hubris and the reality that none of us are invincible. Just ask General Petraeus.

Facts learned for the FCAT do not necessarily equal the truths that can be found in poetry, plays, and literature.

What is fact and what is truth? We encounter this in today’s reading.

Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple and one of them says “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.”

This disciple wasn’t making this up, he was speaking a fact. According to writings of the day and archeological excavations, we know just how large some of the stones were. Anyone want to take a guess?

The stones could be as long as 68 feet, 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, and weighing 500 tons. I’m going to let you soak that in: 68 feet long, 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 500 tons.

That’s a lot of stone. No wonder the disciple was impressed. Could you imagine how majestic, how indestructible the Temple seemed?

The fact of the matter was that the Temple truly was an amazing place. It was where the people believed God lived. That within those walls, between those stones, one could have an experience with God unlike any other place in the world.

The Temple was also where the people received forgiveness, where they brought their sacrificial offerings to experience the washing away of their sins.

The Temple was not only the place where God dwelled, a location of worship and of forgiveness, it was the center of the city, the place in which everything revolved around.

Yet something happened to the Holy Temple over time: it became corrupt. It became the means of domination and political manipulation.

First, the Persian Empire took it over and used it as the center of government, turning the priests and temple authorities into rulers of the Jewish people.

Then, King Herod came along and rebuilt the Temple with grand opulence, using large stones and so much gold to cover it that when the sun hit the Temple, people were said to be almost blinded.

Does blinding gold and tons of stone sound like a suitable home for a God who is devoted to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly?

Does blinding gold and tons of stone sound like a suitable home for a God who made sure a widow didn’t run out of her rations of oil and flour?

So, perhaps we can understand why Jesus was not impressed with the Temple, especially when we read this story in its full context.

It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus’ death. He and his disciples have gone into the Temple and immediately Jesus is accosted by the chief priests, scribes and elders who challenge his authority.

They get so angry at his teachings they want to have him arrested. They send in Pharisees to see if they can accuse Jesus of being unpatriotic. The Sadducees try to stump him with an end of life question.

Jesus watches as the corrupt treasury allows a widow to give all she has while the scribes are walking around in expensive clothes and sitting in the best seats.

Jesus is in the Temple and instead of experiencing the presence and grace of God, all he sees around him is corruption, accusations and hypocrisy.

So he is nonplussed by the wonders of the stones; instead he is riled up about the truths he has just encountered: his father’s house has indeed been turned into a den of thieves and robbers.

The Temple has become like Ozymandias’ statue and its’ leaders are like scheming mice, so it’s not that hard for Jesus to imagine a time when the Temple will be a colossal wreck and led astray.

Here is where truth and fact come together: Jesus was right. In 70 CE the Temple was attacked by the Roman army: they burned it down and then razed it to the ground.

Though the Temple had become corrupt, its destruction created a monumental dilemma for the people.

With it gone, where did God dwell? With the Temple destroyed where could the people turn for forgiveness?

The answer, for an emerging group of people, began to appear: Jesus. It was in Jesus that people believed God dwelled.

Though he had been crucified, his resurrection meant that Jesus eternally lived and was forever present.

Since God dwelled within Jesus, it meant that people could now experience forgiveness through their own personal encounter with the risen Christ.

They no longer had to go to a Temple; they no longer had to offer an animal sacrifice.

In Christ the experience of God can now take place anywhere at anytime. In other words, Jesus Christ became their traveling truth, not confined by time or space, stones or gold.

Think about that. Think what it means. It means that no building can control God, no building can take the place of God, and no building is God…

…Now, we just went over a lot of information; perhaps too much truth and facts to fit in one sermon. So before I wrap up, let’s do a little audience participation in which you get to put on your thinking caps.

We just had our Annual Meeting. In January we’ll have new members sitting on Council and on the various committees. And as we heard last week, the planning for the kitchen remodeling is going very well.

But it’s important to remember that we are not God, and no building takes God’s place. Instead our church is part of the Body of Christ, called to do Jesus’ work in the world.

If we were to call upon our imagination and think of words to describe the different types of stones, the different traits to be used in the continued growth of our congregation, what would those stones be called?

(Let members of the congregation call out words, like compassion, grace, mission etc)

These, I believe, are the kind of stones that Jesus is looking for.

These are the foundational attributes which make God well pleased; gifts of the Holy Spirit given to assist our church in the continuing process of becoming the place it was created to be.

The event of Jesus has changed the truth of all our lives forever.

In conclusion, how can we, as members of Emmanuel UCC share this truth with others we meet?

How can we share God’s love with a world where mighty people fall and all that seems to stretch before us is lone and level sand?

How can we find ways to be Jesus to a world where best lead plans of mice and men often go astray?

Let us continue to discover these truths together; let us trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to share God’s wisdom with us all.

Amen and amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sermon from Nov 11 2012; 1 Kings 17:8-16

Rev. George Miller
1 Kings 17:8-16
“Lessons Learned”
Nov 11, 2012

(Sermon is done in character) Our nation appears to be at a stand still. People are divided over the president. The war over seas rages on. Gas is being rationed off and winter is upon us.

I’m afraid that here in Upstate New York Mother and I are feeling the brunt of it all.

My father bravely fought in the first World War. When he returned he and my mother married and moved here to start a new life for themselves.

They built this hotel with a dream and determination, believing that people would flock here in the fall to see the changing leaves, ski in the winter, get away in the spring and escape the scorching heat of the city in the summer.

And they were right, making their dream into a reality. They had my brother Tommy and then they had me. Then the dream began to sour when Dad died due to wounds he endured in battle.

But my mother is a brave woman and she pressed on, raising Tommy and I while maintaining the business.

She made sure we went to school and church, even if she was too busy with the daily running of the hotel to go herself.

Mom is a hard worker who did not a judge a single soul. It wasn’t unusual for us to have guests who were migrant workers from Mexico or black porters from the railway.

Mom didn’t care who you were or where you hailed from. “All men’s money is green and all men’s blood is red” is what she’d say.

For awhile things seemed like they’d be OK, then the war started. The war to end all wars they said.

Hitler was railing and Pearl Harbor was attacked and just like that everything seemed to change overnight.

Wanting to make our nation proud and to follow in the footsteps of our dearly departed father, Tommy and I immediately went down to enlist in the military.

Tommy got in right away. I was denied entrance for what they considered “unfortunate circumstances.”

Mother said perhaps it was for the best, so I could help her run the business. But I hated staying behind while Tommy and all the other brave men journeyed oversee.

At first it was an incredible time of unity. We all knew what we were fighting for. Then the reality settled in. This was not going to be a quick and easy war.

It would take time, years perhaps.

With most of the men gone, women flooded the workforce. You’d see them in factories, even pumping gas at the local station.

Almost overnight we went from a nation that produced consumer goods to one that produced war supplies.

By May 0f ’42, the prices on almost all our everyday goods were frozen, starting with sugar and coffee.

Soon, everything was being rationed off. Gas, tires, meat, silk, was limited. Cookbooks came out with recipes on how to deal with the food shortage.

With the enemy having control over 90% of rubber supplies, the President called upon us to help out anyway we can by contributing scrap rubber to be recycled: old tires, raincoats, garden hoses, bathing caps, you name it.

People were encouraged to carpool, only drive when necessary and stay below 35 MPH to conserve tires.

By the end of ‘42 half of car owners could only get 4 gallons of gas a week and had to prove they owned no more then 5 tires.

Those who were industrial workers could get 8 gallons. Doctors and preachers could get more. Truck drivers and members of Congress had an unlimited supply.

Know what that meant for Mother and I? Business began to dry up. Because of the war few people could afford a trip to the Catskills, nor make it here on 4 gallons of gas at 35 miles per hour.

Our thriving hotel began to dry up. Mother had to let go of most of her staff. There were those who stayed, only because they’d have no other place to go and having a place that was warm in winter was better then no home at all.

Things grew more difficult. Mother and I were used to finer things. Like this coat from Macy’s. But soon it became apparent that those days were long behind us.

Things wore out, they broke down, we made do. So even with the lining tore and buttons fallen off, I wear it without too much complaint.

I mean, how could we honestly complain? Tommy and all our other brave soldiers were oversee, defending our nation, fighting for the right cause.

Tommy would send us letters from wherever he was stationed: France, Italy. He’d include pictures of them on a warship or at a makeshift canteen or some pretty young girl sent in to entertain the troops.

We never let him know what was really happening over here; we’d write back saying everything was fine, keep up the good work.

His letters gave us the courage to go on; that and going to Sunday Service. With business down, Mother would join me at the old white church on the hill.

The pastor would tell us stories from the Bible meant to inspire us and keep our dreams alive.

Sometime it worked, liked when Rev. Whitaker told us the story about Elijah and the widow.

How she was once a well to do woman and her town fell onto hard times, so hard so had to go to the gates of the city to gather enough sticks to cook a meal.

How her ration of oil and flour had gotten so low she was sure it would be the last meal her and her son would eat.

How a stranger came into town seeking assistance, and though she herself thought she had too little to give, she discovered that in the Lord she did indeed have “enough.”

Though that story seemed far fetched, it was something we could relate to, and it gave us enough hope to press on, which is what we did.

Rationing began to affect every part of our life. Women’s clothing could not have hems or belts greater then two inches. Cuffs on sleeves were eliminated. Gone were nylon stockings.

That didn’t stop the American imagination. Mother and other women simply drew lines up the back of their legs to give the illusion of nylons.

30% of all cigarettes went to the soldiers. Due to the sugar shortage Coca Cola stopped producing soda.

Kids went around collecting scraps of metal, anything they could find: rakes, irons, bird cages.

Everywhere you went there were Victory Gardens being planted in the parks, at the schools. Which was fine, until winter set in.

Tommy wrote, Mom struggled, the business dwindled, and we wondered just how we would survive.

By 43 those ration book were a way of life, telling us what we could or could not buy with our own money. Everything was given points.

Canned spinach was 11 points, corn 14 and peas 16.

Canned grapefruit was 10 points, peaches were 21.

A can of soup was 10 ½ points, a bottle of grape juice was 15.

Each person only got about 48 points a month.

Meat, cheese and dairy were in short supply. And butter? Couldn’t get, so we would take oleo, which is white, and mix it with yellow food coloring to at least give the impression it was butter.

By 1945 we reached the point that we were ready to give up. Mother had nothing to her name. The hotel was falling into disrepair. Letters from Tommy stopped coming, we didn’t know what to do.

Mother literally felt like the widow forced to gather sticks outside the city.

That’s when Rev. Whitaker came to her with an idea: would she possibly consider using the hotel as a place for the homeless, the tired, the unemployed migrant workers and train porters to stay until the war ended?

It would not bring in any extra income, but it would provide a service that was badly needed.

Mother didn’t know what to do at first; she needed time to think.

Once she had lived during a time of milk and honey, now it seemed like a nightmare of rationed gas and worn out shoes.

She thought of the teachings from the Bible. How God watched over those in the wilderness, how Jesus called us to care for the lonely, the sick and poor.

She told Rev. Whitaker yes, and within a few days new life, and with it, a new spirit, entered into the nearly abandoned hotel.

Though no money came in, the rooms went back to being full and people pitched in to pull their weight.

Instead of sitting around doing nothing, they fixed the broken fence, they shoveled the snow, and they began to pool their resources.

I remember this one day, a new guy, someone I had never seen before, came in. Said his name was Joshua or something like that.

He spent time talking with my Mother; not sure what was being said but able to see it was making a difference.

Then he suggested to my Mother that perhaps what they needed to have that night was a party, a time to get things off their mind.

“A party?” she asked. “With what? All I have left until Saturday night is a loaf of bread and a can of green beans.”

“That will be enough,” said Joshua. “I have a bottle of juice and a serving of canned salmon. If you have the party I’ll make sure there will be enough for everyone.”

Mother thought he was crazy, but she was past the point of caring anymore. We all were.

“Besides,” she said to me, “Who’s to say he’s not Elijah come into town?”

“Or Jesus,” I thought to myself.

That night we had everyone staying at the hotel down in the dining room. The radio was on, playing songs like “PS I love You” and “God Bless America.”

And let me tell you: a miracle occurred. Though we were all badly down on our luck, together it turned out we had enough.

This one had coffee; this one had sugar to sweeten it up. This one had tomatoes while that one had meat to go in a stew. This one had pineapple while that one had fruit cocktail and they stirred it all up.

This guy had a few smokes, this one had some left over whiskey, this one had a fresh pair of nylons (how I did not know, nor did any of us ask).

We shared stories about victories won oversees; we sung patriotic tunes and church hymns that kept our dreams alive.

That night we all ate like we had not eaten for weeks, even months. And there was enough left over to feed us the next day and the day after, and when the new ration books came out we learned how to work together.

Funny thing is that we never did see Joshua again after that night. Mother and I kind of joke, saying that perhaps he was our Elijah who had come into town.

Or better yet, perhaps he was indeed our Jesus who had gathered us together to break bread and share fish.

Whatever it was, it felt like a bit of heaven broken into our wintry lives.

Not to say that things have gotten that much better.

The war still rages on with no end in sight. Gas rationing is still the reality of the land. And we have yet to receive word from Tommy or know if he’s OK or not.

Our current reality is reshaping my views of the Bible. That even though some of the stories seem far fetched and untrue, I’d rather believe in their dream then to give up in defeat and live a nightmare.

That moments like these can create a space for miracles to take place.

Is it possible that even during tough times, while our earthly eyes only see an oil jar near empty, God’s eyes see a vessel overflowing with possibilities if we learn how to work in partnership with God and others for the sake of all people?

Till the day we all live in peace, and study war no more, let us say “Amen” and “amen.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sermon for Nov 4, 2012; Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
“The Binding Truth”
Nov 4, 2012

The theme for this month is truth. What we know. How we know it. What it all means.

I’d like to start by sharing a quote from Oprah Winfrey: “God can dream a bigger dream for you than you could ever dream for yourself.”

Now, Hurricane Sandy has challenged some of our truths and some of our dreams. Although we are safe, many of our northern brethren are living a nightmare.

20 states have been affected. 62 people have died. 8 million are without electricity, entire towns in NJ are submerged, and those living below 39th St in NYC are in the dark. The scope of Sandy is still unfolding. (The above statements taken from Colbert Report, Oct 30, 2012).

So with all this factual information, what becomes our spiritual truth?

Should we say we’re helpless? Hopeless? In God’s eyes are we worthless?

Why do such things happen? Why does it seem that the older we get the more we lose and have taken away from us?

Maybe if God truly loved us, we would be sheltered, kept from all harms way.

These are the thoughts I had as reports flooded the airways, as I waited to hear from family, friends, and parishioners if they were safe, if they were sound.

If the beach my family visited, the places I worked, the restaurants my friends and I broke bread at still existed, or if they had been destroyed by the storm.

As the Holy Spirit would have it, I found some solace on Wednesday when my ‘Lil Brother and I went to see the movie “Hotel Transylvania.”

Like many children’s movies, it contained great truth wrapped in a playful package.

As the story goes, Count Dracula has a daughter named Mavis that he’s protective of. Aware that the world can be a dangerous place, he builds for her a hotel for monsters in which no human can harm them.

As Mavis grows older she dreams of leaving the hotel to see the world, but Dracula fearfully keeps her inside. Though she is safe, she is not free.

A series of humorous incidents happen in which a human finds his way in, Mavis falls in love and Dracula tries everything to keep them apart, from lies to deceit to threats.

Finally, the human runs off. In sadness, Mavis sits atop the hotel’s roof to sulk. Dracula tries to comfort her but Mavis says “Now I am just like you. I have no more dreams.”

It hurts Dracula to hear his daughter speak these words.

There was something about this scene that tugged at my heart, and I had an immediate thought: “Does God dream?”

I don’t know if I have ever thought of that before. Have you?

Does God dream?

Not dream as in what we do when we’re asleep, but dream as in imagine, wonder.

Does God have an unquenchable hope???

…Genesis 1:26 states that we are created in God’s image. So if we can dream, why can’t God?

…If we can dream, then that makes God the Original Dreamer.

As Original Dreamer, then it would follow that God’s dreams dwell within us, and we have the awesome responsibility to keep those dreams alive. (From intro to Tommy Tenney’s book God’s Dream Team)

Is that a truth we want to believe: that God dreams?

If businessmen can dream of success in the marketplace, if artists can dream of masterpieces to be created, if athletes can dream of championships won, then why can’t God dream too? (Also Tenney)

Can a garden be planted if one does not dream it? Can a people be delivered without a dreamer to dream it? Can a faith community be formed without a dream?

Do any of these things happen by coincidence? Do they happen by force? Do they happen by first dreaming the dream?

If we were to take this idea of God being able to dream, then it creates another way for us to look at the Bible.

To not see it as a list of what you can or can not do or a tool to attack and abuse others. Instead, to think of the Bible as a collection of dreams; God’s dreams.

What does God dream of?

I believe that some of God’s dreams are found right here in Deuteronomy 6:

-That we love the Lord.
-That we pass on this knowledge to our children, and our children’s children.
-That things go well for us.

What does God dream of? Just like you, just like I, God dreams of being loved.

True love, real love. Not love that is forced, not love that is coerced, not love that comes from locking us away and shielding us from ever living a full life.

But love that comes from our entire being: our heart, our soul, and our might.

What does God dream of? That we pass on our love for God to our children and those who come after us.

God dreams of generation after generation knowing just how much God cares for us, how much God has done for us, how much God has promised us.

What does God dream of? That things go well for us.

This dream began even before there was a garden. God’s dream parted the Red Sea waters. This dream led our ancestors into a land flowing with milk and honey.

God’s dream did not include locking us away. It did not include keeping us behind a fortress. Nor did it include God using deceit.

To do so would have taken away our freedom, it would mean our relationship is false and unhealthy. To do so would mean that our love is not real.

Those are things God does not dream for us.

And if there is ever a doubt about what God truly wants for us, what it is that God dreams, all we have to do is to look at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

For it is in Jesus that God’s dreams are realized.

Jesus, who showed us how to welcome children, foreigners and those who are hurting into our lives.

Jesus, who demonstrated how meals are to be shared, who was willing to believe that there would be bread for all.

Jesus, who dared to dream that sins could be forgiven, lost sons and daughters could return home to open arms and that we could all be good neighbors.

Jesus believed those dreams so strongly he was willing to die for them.

Have all those dreams come true?


Does it mean the dreaming is to ever stop?


It means that we are to find ways to carry those dreams forward and to keep them alive.

It means that we are to dare to dream as well, and to know that when we dream, we dream with all the saints who have come before us.

When we dream, we are dreaming with God.

In closing, I believe that even though difficult situations arise and hard times occur, we are not helpless, hopeless or worthless.

We can find the strength to go on by knowing that we are walking embodiments of God’s dreams.

We were not dreamed into life to be held captive by a fearful deity. Instead we were dreamed into life to live and to thrive.

To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our Lord. To enjoy the gift of eternal life.

Does God dream? I would say yes, and God’s dreams are greater then anything you and I could even think of.

Let us end with a prayer Judy Vekasy gave me months ago. It goes like this:

“Loving, gentle, holy one
Dreamer of Dreams
Who dreamed me into being
Help me to realize the dream
You have dreamed me to be.”

Amen, and amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sermon from 10/28/2012; Isaiah 58:6-9a

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 58:6-9a
“Bread for the World”
Oct 28, 2012

Today’s been a busy day. We’ve welcomed 16 New Members. You’ve heard about the upcoming Harvest Home Fair. Let’s not forget it’s also Agape Sunday, meaning that we’re taking a 2nd offering to go directly out into the world community.

Today’s Agape Offering is designated to go towards Bread for the World, a Christian collective of voices with one singular vision: to eradicate world hunger.

This month we join other UCC churches across the nation to combine our gifts to assist people we do not even know and we will most likely never even meet.

Why are we doing this? Because we know we are loved by God.

Why are we doing this? Because the proper response to being loved is to love in return.

We do this because the way God wants us to show our love to God is by sharing our love with others.

Love. That is the theme for today. Love in all its expressions and forms.

It may be Halloween week, but let’s imagine its Valentine’s Day; after all they both have chocolate in common.

Do you know there are various languages of love? There are numerous ways we show our love to one another?

There are those who express their feelings verbally, by saying “I love you” and speaking sweet nothings.

Others express their feelings by sharing things that matter most to them, like the game of golf, a favorite movie, or their favorite spot on the beach.

Others like to express their feelings through physical affection, always kissing, cuddling, walking hand-in-hand along a sandy beach.

Others express affection by leaving trinkets behind, like photos of themselves, books they enjoyed, or pebbles from the beach they visited.

Others express their feelings by buying things, such clothes, jewelry, fancy chocolates and expensive meals.

These are all valid ways of expressing one’s love. The trick is in knowing that not everyone shows love the same way and being able to realize the language they are using.

For example, some people will never say “I love you” but will they fix, or build something for you the moment you ask.

Others may be as cheap as cheap can be, but they’ll be as faithful as the day is long.

Couples often have to discern how their partner expresses love, and decide if their expression is enough.

It also helps to know how one’s partner needs love to be expressed.

For example, my father always walked about three steps ahead of my mother. My mother always wanted to walk side by side and it would upset her when he did not.

I dated someone who would spend hours cooking a meal while I sat alone watching TV. I would have been just as happy eating Taco Bell while talking and flirting.

My friend Marie had a boyfriend who redid her floors, took down her doors and repainted them. But that wasn’t enough; she didn’t want to see his love in action; she needed to hear his love verbalized in words.

Love is a complex emotion, which the Greeks understood, which is why they had at least four words for love.

They had the word storge, which refers to the kind of natural affection we feel for our children, nieces, nephews etc.

Then there is philia, which is friendship, the kind of love we feel for friends, community.

Then there is eros, passionate love, the kind that involves sensual desire and longing.

Then there is agape, love that goes beyond attraction. It’s unconditional, sacrificial, compassionate love.

This is where we get the name for today’s special offering. Agape; meaning in its simplist sense “I love you.”

It is agape love which I believe we have going on in today’s reading.

Modern scholars believe that this portion of Isaiah was written during a time of history in which Israel’s people were spiritually stuck in an in-between state.

They had come out of the Exile, a difficult time of struggle and loss, and they had expected things to get better and go back to the way they once were.

But they haven’t. It’s like they’ve been experiencing a 20 years recession and they can’t understand why. They question if God even cares and if God is even listening.

In chapter 58 God responds: “Acting all righteous, offering me fancy acts of praise and fasting all day is not how to say you love me, especially if you fight amongst yourselves, treat others poorly and only care about yourselves.”

“If you truly want to show your love for me, then loose the bonds of injustice, free the oppressed, house the homeless and share your bread with the hungry. That’s the language of love that I speak.”

It’s like Israel is a love-struck teenager, and God is the school’s class-president, and they are trying to get God’s attention.

They think if they were to wear the right clothes, act real cool, and like the same music then God will notice them. But that’s not what God wants.

God says “I don’t care about the superficial things. I care about what’s right.”

You know the saying “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”?

Today’s scripture is kind of saying “The way to God’s heart is by showing compassion towards others.”

It sounds so easy; it sounds so simple to do.

Yet thousands of years later we’re still failing, we’re still trying to speak our own language of love when God has told us again and again what God wants us to do.

Do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

But we’re still trying to cook God elaborate meals or redo God’s floors or buy expensive jewelry when that’s not what God wants.

What God desires us to do is to be honest, to be fair, to show agape and to walk by God’s side, not three steps ahead.

Now, before going any further, we should stop right here, otherwise this sermon will become about works righteousness, which is not what it’s about.

You see, because of Jesus Christ, we have been saved; there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Through Christ, we have been given the gift of grace.

This means there’s no checklist of
-how many people we have to feed,
-how many oppressed we have to free
-or how many homeless we have to house before we can enter eternal life.

Christ’s actions on the cross have already taken care of that; that’s what grace is all about. Grace is God’s love in action.

It is because of that love, it is because we know that we have been redeemed, that we should want to do these things as a way of showing our thanks and our love to God.

In others words, because God showed us love through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we get to show our love in return by using the language God wants us to use.

And as Isaiah 58:7 states, it is through agape love that cares about the neighbor, love that is compassionate, love that is not afraid to sacrifice or look foolish.

Love that says “You and I share the same heavenly parent, so we are one.”

Yesterday we got to do that when we held our first Trunk-o-Treat.

This morning we got to do that as we placed items into the Feed My Sheep Jeep.

Later today we get to do that by taking our Agape Offering to go towards Bread for the World.

We get to set aside thoughts about only ourselves and to speak in a language that God appreciates.

In conclusion, we don’t have to worry about how we can show God our love, because we have the opportunity to give, and to give with hearts full of agape.

And in doing so, not only do we help bring the Gospel message to life, we ourselves receive a gift.

For as Isaiah 58:8 says, when we speak the language of love that God wants from us, then a light breaks forth from within; a light that shines, a light that heals.

This is, after all, what God wants. This is what eternal life means.

To reach the place where we are all fed, we are all clothed; we all have a place to call home;

the place where we are healed; the place where our lights shine.

A community filled with agape; a world in which we are one.

Blessings to all. May we all have a Happy Agape Sunday and a Happy Halloween.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sermon for 10 21, 2012, in honor of Sebring's Centennial; Psalm 91:9-16

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 91:9-16
“Centennial Satisfaction”
Oct 21, 2012

Today we celebrate Sebring’s Centennial; to do so I’d like to tell you the story of two George’s, a century apart.

The first story takes place in the modern day; August 28, 2012 to be exact. I was driving home from work, a good day that had concluded with a spirit-filled visit with someone in which we talked about every facet of life, good and bad, happy and sad.

I was driving south on 27 with Lake Jackson in full view, thinking about the day, when it happened.

I was coming to the turn where CVS sits on the corner. Up ahead, on the left side of the highway was an older man wearing a hat. He had no shirt on, a big ol’ pot belly sticking out and in his arms he was carrying a bicycle tire. Only the good Lord knows why.

I watched as this half-nekked, hat wearing, pot-bellied man sauntered across the highway with a wheel and I was non-plussed; unfazed.

That’s when I realized I had truly arrived. When you can see such a thing and do not even so much as blink an eye, you know you are comfortable right where you are at.

I thought to myself “Only in Sebring can you see such a sight” and I realized that either you got it or you did not.

Those who did not get it probably only lasted a few years; those who did stayed a lifetime.

Now let’s jump back a hundred years ago to talk about someone who “got it.”

He name was George Sebring, a pottery maker, self-made millionaire and business entrepreneur from Ohio.

He was known for the fine china he crafted with intricate gold borders and angels. But ultimately he would be known for the town he created: Sebring, FL.

When Mr. Sebring came down here he may have seen pine forest, but what he envisioned was a city where citrus could be grown, Christian workers could retire and sick people could heal.

Embracing that vision, he went about constructing roads and sidewalks, buildings and utilities. He crafted a unique circular downtown that caught the attention of northern bankers.

What was it about the area that spoke to George Sebring? Sure, there was Lake Jackson, which seemed to be just the right size.

It was also because when he looked out he saw a land of “sunshine, fruit and flowers.”

…Now, no disrespect to Mr. Sebring, but apparently he must have failed to notice it was also a land of unbearable summer heat, alligators and water moccasins…

Funny how one chooses what one wants to see. For some the glass can be half full, for others the glass is half empty.

For some it rains 6 months out of the year in Sebring, and that’s bad; for others it is dry 6 months out of the year; and that’s good.

Which becomes our jumping off spot for today’s message, because we are not just here today to celebrate our town’s 100th anniversary, but we are here to study the word of the Lord and to wonder what God has to say to us today.

And I have to tell you: this is not the easiest of scriptures. Sure, on the surface it sounds just fine and soothing, but just underneath alligators and water moccasins seem to lurk.

Psalm 91 has had a controversial past. There are those who like it; there are those who think it should have been thrown out of the Bible.

The reason why? The claim that the promises made in this scripture are absolutely unrealistic.

Let’s take a look at what it has to say:

-that nothing evil will ever happen to us
-that angels will make sure we never as much as dash our feet
-that we can safely walk over lions and poisonous snakes

Can any of us honestly say this is absolutely true? If so 9/11 never would have happened. If so, Rev. Lawrence would have not broken his leg. If so, we’d be able to swim in all the lakes of Sebring without fear of being eaten alive.

But that ain’t so.

And, if we are not careful, this is the kind of scripture that can be used to beat people down. “Oh, did your house get robbed? It must be because you did a really bad thing.”

“Oh, did you fall and break your foot? You must not have had enough faith.”

I recall a few weeks ago when I heard a sermon in which the preacher basically blamed Aaron Doty for his own death.

And how often have we heard someone say “If you just believed…”

That’s a horrible thing to say when a loved-ones on life support or someone’s child is in ICU.

If taken literally, Psalm 91 makes it sound like the righteous will never have a problem for the rest of their life, which we know is completely untrue.

So what do we do? Do we simply ignore this scripture? Do we grant it the license to have poetic hyperbole? Can we find ways to parse it apart to find the bits of sunshine, fruits and flowers we know to be true?

Let’s try the later. First, I like how the reading begins. It states the Lord is our refuge, the Most High our dwelling place.

In essence, what the author is saying is that God is our home. I think we can all agree with that.

God is the place we can turn to and know we are welcome. God is the place where we are known by name. God is the place where we can be ourselves and not worry about what others say.

The world out there may be full of alligators and cotton mouths but we know with God we are safe and we are loved.

Next is the claim “I will be with them in trouble.” It reminds me of Exodus where God reveals God’s name as “I AM WHO I AM.”

“I will be” is God’s promised presence enduring forever.

It’s the assurance that God gives us that no matter what we face, no matter what we endure; God is right there with us, validating us, listening to us, wanting to share with us the gift of life.

So, there are bits of this reading we can say are extremely untrue, and there are passages that we can find easier to agree with.

What do we do?

I believe there is a way of looking at this scripture and using its hyperbole as a way to find inner strength.

I believe this scripture can encourage us during the difficult times when we need to believe in the impossible.

I believe that there are times in our lives in which we are asked to make the choice that is correct as opposed to the choice that is popular.

It is especially during those moments when we need to hear scripture such as this with images of trampling snakes and protective angels, which gives a poetic sense of assurance when faced with touch choices.

For example, there is one part of George Sebring’s legacy I am so proud of. As the story goes, he saw our town as a “delightful, wholesome community” where proclaimers of God’s word could retire.

One day Mr. Sebring met a world-renown black evangelist named Amanda Smith. He was impressed by her preaching style and promised that he would help her retire to Sebring when she was ready.

Now keep in mind this was in the 1920’s and the south was still very much segregated. Keep in mind he was white and she was black, he was male, she was female.

A whole kind of lotta’ trouble.

When word got around that a black woman and her black companions were going to be living in a house on Lakeview Drive built by George Sebring, you could imagine the gossip that went around.

Eyebrows were raised and somebody came up to George and said “You better watch out.”

To which he responded “It’s fine; it does not matter if only I, my family and Amanda Smith live here.”

Later, it was also George Sebring who welcomed the first Jewish family and donated a lot for their synagogue.

I guess you can say 70 years before us, he was saying to the community “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.”

Though I can’t speak for him, I wonder how influential scripture like today’s reading was to him.

Had Psalm 91 in any way given him the courage to believe that with God by his side, no racist lions or anti-Semitic snakes were going to keep him from doing what was right?

That is the gift of this scripture. That in using extreme, unrealistic hyperbole, it gives us the ability to set the bar a little higher, it challenges us to envision all the possibilities and it gives us an idea of just what eternal life can look like if we lived more by faith and less by fear.

In conclusion, today we have a chance to celebrate the legacy of our town’s forefather. A man who saw beyond sand hills and pine forests and realized he could create a place where east meets west, where north meets south.

Yes, there are sun and stars. But there are also clouds and storms.

Yes, there are forests and flowers. But there are also allergens and weeds.

Yes, there are chanting birds and sand hill cranes. But there are also alligators and water moccasins.

But somehow, through the grace of God, we learn how to coexist. To learn how to celebrate the good; to look beyond the bad.

To give thanks that for the past 100 years God has given so many of us a place to call home, a refuge, a dwelling place.

And we give thanks for this wonderful place in which we have gathered to worship, to baptize our believers, to bury our dead, to celebrate in communion, and for this Centennial to say in God we are satisfied; in God we have enough.

Amen and amen.