Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sermon for Jan 22, 2012; 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Rev. George Miller
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
“We Live”
Jan 22, 2012

From time to time, inquisitive people will ask me how I decide what to preach on each Sunday. Does the denomination dictate it or do I choose the scripture on my own?

More often then not, my answer is “The Lectionary”, or as it’s officially known “The Revised Common Lectionary.”

Simply put, a group of religious leaders and scholars got together and created a cycle of readings arranged in such a way that the major themes of the Bible can be covered in 3 years.

So each week there are anywhere from 4 to 6 suggested scriptures, from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Poets, the Gospels and the Epistles.

The Lectionary is helpful in keeping preachers on track, ensuring that congregations get to hear the full sweep of the biblical narrative and allowing a diversity of voices to be heard.

However, as inclusive as the Lectionary tries to be, it still leaves a lot out.

For example, today we heard this rather interesting piece from 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, but truth be told, the Lectionary only suggested we read verses 29-31.

“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those with wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealing with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”

Short and lovely, not to mention good news for those men who have grown a little weary of their maidens.

Yet, if we had just read the 3 suggested verses we would have missed all this mish-mash about virgins and impending crises, marriage and distress, anxiety and uncontrollable desires.

Just what, oh what, is really going on here? The only way to really know is to read what goes on before verse 29 and what is said after verse 31.

But more about that later.

I find it interesting to read this particular scripture during today’s political climate.

The topic of marriage has certainly been a hot button issue for years, hasn’t it?

There’s Focus on the Family, the Defense of Marriage Act, and now U.S. Bishops are blaming homosexual marriage for the erosion of their religious freedom.

Then there are the recent accusations from Gingrich’s 2nd wife that he tried to redraw the rules of his marriage while Romney is more then happy to use his long-term marriage as a marketing tool.

Marriage seems to be on the minds and newspapers and internet screens everywhere. And more often then not, what is used to uphold the sanctity of marriage? The Bible.

Yet, listen to the words of Paul: “Stay single. Unmarried men want to please the Lord; married men want to please their wives.”

Further, he writes “He who marries his fiancĂ©e does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.”

Holy Sacred Cow! It’s as if Paul is anti-marriage.

Notice what is not said here: there is nothing about marriage being between one man and one woman or that marriage is for procreation’s sake.

Instead, Paul is saying “If you don’t have to get married, don’t; but if you can’t control your urges, go ahead.”

Imagine that as a campaign slogan. Could any candidate win with that mandate?

Sheer foolishness.

So what’s going on here? Why would Paul write a letter to a church in which he tries to discourage people from entering into holy matrimony?

It’s more then meets the eye. To understand Paul’s logic, we have to understand the situation during which Paul is writing.

You see, Paul is living during a time in which he and many others literally believe the world is going to end soon.

He believes that Jesus Christ is going to come back in his lifetime. That the Kingdom of God is at hand, so it makes no sense to bring about change or to start something new, like a marriage.

And it’s hard to fault Paul for this idea. After all, this notion of the soon-to-be-end- times appears throughout the scriptures.

For example, in Mark chapter 13 we have Jesus himself being quoted as saying that the current generation will not pass away until the Son of God comes to gather his elect.

So Paul, as many others, was waiting and alert for the day when the sun would be darkened, the stars would fall from the sky and Jesus would swoop in surfing on the clouds.

So, if this is what Paul believes, it would make sense that he would advocate for things to not be radically changed.

To get married right before the world ends would be the equivalent of falling in love before going to college, becoming engaged before leaving for war, and getting pregnant in the midst of a recession.

If the world is going to end, if the stars are soon going to fall, what sense does it make to fall in love, what sense would it make to get married, what sense would it make to bring children in the world only to experience moonless nights?

Paul’s rationale makes sense, but the thing is this: 2,000 years later, we are still here.

The sun still shines, the moon still lights the night and the stars still twinkle in the sky.

We live.

Yes, there are burdens; yes, there are trials and temptations, but we live.

I’ve been thinking lately about how some people talk about the way things used to be; about the golden age of America.

But I wonder: have things ever really been golden; has life ever really been that easy?

Has there ever been a decade free from fear and rally cries about it being the end-times?

In the 30’s it was the Depression. In the 40’s World War II. In the 50’s people built bomb shelters and school children hid under their desks.

Was that the golden age?

The 60’s saw Vietnam; the 70’s saw cars lined up at gas pumps. In the 80’s we had MTV.

In the 90’s we had Bush if you were a democrat; Clinton if you were a Republican.

Let’s not forget 9/11. 2 wars. The Recession, upcoming election, and the domination of Kim Kardashion.

Yet we are still here; and we live.

In the midst of worries, in the midst of fears, in the midst of media manipulation, we live.

We live our lives the best that we can.

We wake, we cook, we work, we dream. We continue to make friends, fall in love, make love and make plans for the future.

We do this with the knowledge that there is no certainty, with no assurance of what the future brings, with no idea of what lays beyond the river’s bend.

But as Christians, we live in a way that is different then the wisdom of the world.

We foolishly live with hope.

Hope that we know who holds the future. Hope that one day we will all be free.

Hope that the Kingdom of God is not only at hand, but that the Kingdom of God is already right here, right now.

That we don’t have to wait for falling skies or Christ scooting in on puffy clouds, but that we can experience and share the gifts of heaven today.

How can we do that? One way is by doing just what we are doing now; by worshipping God.

Not alone, or is separate corners of our world, but worshipping together in this safe space, in this holy time.

What a powerful way to show God our trust by joining together, to collectively offer our prayers, our sweet sounding songs and the tributes we bring.

We also live by forms of fellowship. The time we spend together, be it at a table, in the park or at the golf course.

Sharing of ourselves through stories and conversation, the jokes we tell, the tears we shed.

The intimate details told over a game of cards, the welcoming of 400 people to homemade spaghetti, and the visit to a hospital room.

Two marks that a Christian community isn’t afraid to live are worship and fellowship. A third can be acts of compassion.

Compassion; the act of emulating Christ by thinking beyond one’s self and one’s situation to reach out to another.

Compassion: the ability to be present in empathy and to say “No matter who you are or what you are going through, I am here for you.”

Compassion: the way to physically show the presence and love of Christ to a world that seems to be holding its breath in uncertainty.

Yes, we live.
As Christians, we live.
As the Body of Christ, we live.

Not because we are in denial of the world’s issues, not because we don’t believe there are dark valleys everywhere, but because we know that in Christ we are given the gifts and the ability to make our lives more then what the world’s wisdom wants to say.

In conclusion, we know that as Christians, our ability to worship, to fellowship and to show compassion gives us the strength to love, to live, to rise above our fears and to believe in another day.

Who knows when the appointed time will be; but at least we know that when the journeys of the sun and the moon comes to an end, we’ll be in the hands of God, filled with the Spirit, and Jesus Christ shall reign forever, with no end.

For that, we can say “Amen” and “amen.”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sermon for Jan 15, 2012; 1 Samuel 3:1-20

Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 3:1-20
“The Lord Calls”
Jan 15, 2012

The other day, I came across a scripture that caught my eye-1 Corinthians 1:18-25. It’s a letter that Paul wrote to a church which was figuring out who they were.

In this passage, Paul focuses on the theme of foolishness. Verse 18: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Further, in verse 20, Paul states “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

A little further down, in verses 22-25, Paul writes “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called…God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

I find it interesting how Paul ties the call of God to what the world would see as foolish.

Foolishness and call, stumbling blocks and strength: the unexpected ways in which God brings hope to the world.

If we were to think about it, our faith does indeed sound foolish, if we were to truly step back and objectively look at it.

I mean, a crucified man rising from the dead. The Son of God born to a poor family only to die on a cross.

The belief that through a piece of bread and a sip of juice we can participate in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The notion that ordinary water can be a means through which our lives are changed forever.

Truthfully, a bit odd; don’tcha think?

Yet, this is what we believe, what we profess, this is who we are:

Water dippin’, bread eatin’, grape juice drinkin’ Christians who proclaim that God raised Christ from the grave and our sins are forgiven.

I remember watching a TV show that said northerners are ashamed of the crazy members of their family and hide them away while Southerners call them eccentric and proudly put them on the front porch for all to see.

Well Sandra, as a newly baptized Christian, welcome to the porch with the rest of the family.

Now, you all should be wondering why I just went on and on about 1 Corinthians when the sermon is about 1 Samuel.

It’s because I liked the way Corinthians used the words call and foolishness; it’s also because I felt it tied into today’s story nicely.

It’s the story of how God once again does the unexpected by shirking the ways of the world, this time calling a young, inexperienced person to help do something new.

Personally, I’m a sucker for Call stories. Like Moses and the burning bush. Jonah being told to “Go!” Mary being visited by the angel.

That’s how I experienced my call to be a pastor. I was simply a 17-year old kid running around a high-school track, listening to Prince on the headphones when I turned the corner and felt the voice of God say “I want you to be a minister.”

As many of you know, I said “No way” and continued to run, literally and metaphorically, for 12 more years before I finally said “Yes, Lord.”

Because my call was so visceral and unexpected, I thought that’s what everyone who went into ministry experienced.

Imagine my surprise when I attended seminary and heard other people’s stories, and more often theirs involved a sense of progression and gentle nudges.

The son of a pastor who simply followed the same educational path his dad did.

The woman who enjoyed studying the Bible from a historical, critical perspective who took one class, then another until she found herself enrolled in seminary.

The young adult who worked at summer camp and enjoyed doing youth ministry.

I even did some research on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., looking for some kind of account of how he became a pastor.

I found nothing, except the fact that he sung in his father’s church, was skeptical of Christianity, denied the resurrection and was greatly influenced by Mahatma Ghandi.

At some point, King decided to attend theological school and become a pastor. No big “A-has”, no voice from the sky.

These natural, smooth transitions of people like MLK and my peers shocked me because they lacked burning bushes, falling off of horses and voices late in the night.

But they had calls, nevertheless, and there is no denying that God used King’s ministry to change the world and rattle the skies.

God calls. God calls each and every one of us; I believe that deeply. The story we have in 1 Samuel is just one kind of call story that appears in the Bible.

And it’s a beautifully told story with images of darkness and light, use of the senses and repetition; all to show us how a young boy, born to a barren woman, would help bring redemption to a wounded world.

But following the words of Paul’s letter, if we step back and took a look, if we step back and allow our ears to truly hear, we notice the foolishness in which the story hangs.

We all know the wisdom of the world, don’t we? That the wise are preferred over the uneducated. The elder is preferred over the least experienced. Those with established authority are the ones we are to listen to.

But what does this story do? What does it show us? The foolishness of God. That God finds strength in that which we would call weak. That hope for the world comes in the most unexpected ways.

Here in this story we see how God chooses to call someone who had yet to know the Lord over someone who had devoted their whole life to ministry.

Here in this story we see how God calls someone who needed direction and prodding over someone who was more experienced and able to discern the call.

Here in this story we see how God calls the son of a simple woman over the many children of a prestigious priest.

Here in this story we experience the Still Speaking God who does not care who you are or where you are on life’s journey; if there is a purpose, you will be called.

God calls. God calls each and every one of us, I believe that deeply. Even if we don’t realize it, even if we don’t recognize it, God calls every one of us to do something which no one else can do the way we can do it.

And we are each called in unique ways, to serve in different capacities at different points of our lives, and I believe we are not called once, but many, many times.

Sometimes we are called to work behind the scenes, sometimes in front. Some are called to be like Eli: to teach, to coach, to shape.

Some are called to do the difficult things others do not want to do that bring about change, just like Martin Luther King.

In each call is a challenge; in each call there is joy.

Today, we witnessed as Sandra accepted her call, a call to be baptized into this wonderful, foolish, front-porch sitting, still speaking family of God.

Hopefully this will not be the last call that she hears and she accepts.

But for now, let me leave you with a story:

A local congregation has been looking for a new pastor. Their Search Committee had been meeting twice a week for over two years.

As you can image, the congregation has been frustrated and began making demands that the committee finds someone to be their pastor, now!

To appease the people, the Search Committee held a special meeting just this Wednesday and shared with them the news.

They had six candidates who all claimed to have received a call from God; the committee was able to whittle the six down to one.

There was Noah, but he’s up there in age and prone to taking on unrealistic building projects.

Joseph who thinks big but is a bit of a braggart. He claimed to interpret dreams but alas, had a lengthy prison record.

Oh! There was Miriam; but she a woman. Mary, but she’s pregnant, and, ah…unmarried at the moment.

There was a guy named Jonah who said he refused God’s calling to ministry until a giant fish swallowed him and spit him up onto shore.

They hung up on him.

But there’s this Judas fella. His references are solid. He’s conservative, knows how to handle money, and has good connections.

The search committee said they saw strong possibilities in him and invited him to preach next Sunday!

Just goes to show you, there is no rhyme and reason to God’s call, and what the world sees as wise, God may see as foolishness.

May our prayers be with them…

In conclusion, my prayer for all of us is that we too find ways to hear God’s call, to find ways to respond, to grow and to help other people answer theirs.

That by answering our calls, we can assist in overcoming adversity, and to believe, deep in our souls, that the ways of mercy, kindness, humility and compassion will prevail.

To follow Christ, to give our hearts and to love.

And actually, what is so foolish about that?

If you agree, let me hear you say “Amen” and “amen.”

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sermon for Jan 8, 2012; Luke 2:21-40

Rev. George Miller
Luke 2:21-40
“To Rise and the to Fall”
Jan 8, 2011

Here we are; the Christmas season is officially over; Epiphany took place on Friday, we are acknowledging it today.

The wise men have come to visit Jesus; they have brought their gifts; they journeyed one way to meet the baby boy; they have now left to go another way, hopefully changed for the better.

Today we go to the Temple to be with the Holy Family, to witness and participate in the presentation of Jesus to God and in the process an elderly man finds peace with his soul and a prophetess offer her praise.

Today we gather, not in the temple, but certainly in a house of the Lord to mark an important day for our church: the day in which we install our council members.

Some are returning, some are brand new. One thing I can say for sure is that we have no idea where this year, this ministry will take us.

Ministry is an odd, sometimes frustrating endeavor. I say frustrating because as any church leader can tell you, no one, no thing can prepare anyone for what lays ahead, the work that will be done, the meetings to attend.

Those who sit on council and our various committees can plan, discern, pray, hear the Voice of God, go in with the best laid plans…and then witness as they go astray because of concerns over finances, time, talent, distance, perceived age of the congregation.

Arrive at a meeting with the best idea ever had the whole wide world over, and you will be asked who will do what, when and how.

And because we are all human, there are critiques, criticisms and disagreements.

For those who take on any kind of church leadership there is the initial thought that since we are one body, since everyone is working together for the Lord and using the same guidebook, then we must all have the same set of ideas.

But as the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul can attest to, church has never been that way even from the very beginning, even amongst Jesus’ own men.

Being a follower of God is funny that way; the Holy Spirit gives us each unique gifts, speaking and moving differently with each person and not everyone agrees on just which set of Jesus’ footprints we should follow.

It’s like what Simeon says to Mary, “This child is destined for the rising and falling of many…and a sword will pierce your soul…”

A sword will pierce your soul: ouch!

Really? So soon after we celebrated Christmas and opened all of our presents God wants to give us such a harsh message?

I think this reading, as beautiful as it is, has some components that are hard to hear, but they are true.

It takes place during the light drenched moments of the Christmas/Epiphany season, but it also points us toward the upcoming dark reality of Good Friday.

How can that be? Because you can’t cast light without it creating a shadow.

Jesus Christ is indeed a light that has come into our world, the Son of God, a Savior, who is a light for revelation and a glory for the people, just as Simeon says.

But think about what light does: it reveals; it shows was has been hidden. Secrets, negativity, abuse, that which is wrong.

For those who have been victimized by the darkness, Jesus is indeed good news; for those who perpetuate the darkness, Jesus, well Jesus calls them into accountability. That can feel like a sword for some.

For others, the piercing of the sword comes from the truth that Jesus does not always call us to do what is popular; Jesus calls us to do what is right.

What is right is based on compassion, it’s based on truth, and it’s based on concern for others.

As human beings we are broken, we are lost, we are wanderers trying to figure things out, but we are sinful and can’t always figure out what is right.

And sometimes what is right we can’t even agree on; but we try our best…

But there is Good News. As the song goes, there is a balm in Gilead. And even if we sometimes feel discouraged, there is still a phenomenal journey ahead of us if we let our great Redeemer guide us and if we try our best to not go it alone…

…so, after sharing some soul piercing truth with our soon-to-be council members, let us get to that Good News.


Imagine what will be possible this year.

Imagine what it will be like for us as we continue to grow in the Lord. Imagine what it will be like for us to continue to learn.

Imagine what it will be like for us to continue to reach out.

Imagine how it can be done. Imagine what it will look like. Imagine what it can feel like.

To strive for the Lord. To see with our own eyes.

To help others to see, to know, to sing, to celebrate, to experience the fact that there is a place they can go, a place where they can be.

As difficult as it can be, for those who are called, there is nothing as exhilarating as serving the Lord, as doing the acts of ministry that are laid before us, as being a witness to God’s unbelievable love.

Because although today’s reading casts both light and shadows, there is a truth that it tells us: that there is a Savior who can deliver us.

That there is a Spirit that can set us free.

That there is a God who is not done yet, not by a long shot, not with you, not with me, not with all of Creation.

A Holy Trinity who still speaks, who still creates, who still comforts.

Who still surrounds us with grace even when we face rough seas, even when we want to run away, even when we end up in the belly of the whale.

Even, council members, when things do not go as we envisioned or hoped they would be.

That when we are weak, Christ is mighty.

In conclusion, today we are still surrounded by the light of the holiday season. And there is no reason for that light to not continue.

But with the light comes shadows, with the light comes times in which our souls will feel pierced.

But as we embark forward, we do not embark alone, but with Jesus Christ who will help us navigate the paths our ministry will take and, oh, the places we will go.

Imagine what will be possible, what wonderful things our eyes will see what wonderful things we can help usher in.

May it be a light of revelation and a glory for God’s people. For that, let us say Amen and amen.