Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sermon for Feb 26, 2012; Psalm 50

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 50:1-7, 23
Feb 26, 2012

Was the sound
Before the world was created

No plants
No creatures
No land

Just silence

In nothingness
The breath of God moved
Across the waters of emptiness
Filled with unlimited possibilities

Silence, until a voice
The Voice
Finally broke through
And said
“Let there be light!”

And there was the light of sun and moon
And life in the shape of fish and people
And the sound of birds filling the sky
And it was good

Small and sheer
Almost impossible to hear

Greeted the prophet Elijah
In the mountaintop cave
He had run away too

Elijah expected to hear the sounds of God
In the fire
In the earthquake
In the cracking of trees

But instead
God appeared in the fullness
Of silence
Complete, quiet, strong

And God spoke

Silence enfolded the shepherds
Tending their flock
Nothing but mountains around


In great victorious harmony
Angels filled the sky
Breaking the silence of the night
With songs praising God

A heavenly chorus singing
Joy to the World!

In the form of death
Began the Easter morn

Women filled with grief
Afraid and yet so very brave

Made their way to the tomb

Expecting no sounds
No songs
No trumpets

And came to discover
The stone had been rolled away

And an angel proclaimed
“He Lives! He Lives!
He Lives!”

The emptiest of empties
Holding so much fullness
So much life
So many possibilities

Silence is a blank canvas
To be painted with
the Word of God.

Chatter-so much chatter!
So much we bombard our ears
Chatter, so much chatter
TV, radio, headphones, car stereos

Talking on the phone
Talking all the time
He said, she said
The president said
The comedian said
My stylist said

Chatter, so much chatter
Blocking out the birds
Blocking out the words of the prophets
Blocking out the songs of angels
Blocking out the Good News
God wants us to hear.

How can we say that God is
Still Speaking
If we are not quite long enough
To hear?

Today’s scripture assures us that
God is Still Speaking


Through the earth
In the heavens
Demanding attention

But what God has to say
We may not want to hear

We have failed God
We are not following God’s desires
For us

We are not as grateful
As we should be

We have been hypocritical
Bull headed
Using our lips to chatter gossip
About family and friends

Praising God only because
We think God needs it to exist
Not because it is we who need God.

God’s harsh words
In today’s Psalm
Holds us accountable
And it can be so hard
for our ears to hear

So perhaps, perhaps
That is why it’s so difficult
For us to stay silent
To be still

And to know that God
Not we
Is God

The more we chatter
The more we tell God what
We need

The less we have to hear
What it is God wants
What God desires;
what God deserves

Here is the Good News:

What God wants,
What God desires
Is simple
what God wants is true:

For us to give honest signs of gratitude
And for us to do what we know
We should do

To tell us this
God speaks through the birds
Whose songs remind us
That each morning is a gift
And that even after the worst of storms,
Life goes on

God spoke through the prophets, like Elijah
To remind us that
Each person’s life is a gift
And that even after the worst of storms,
Life goes one

God spoke through the Son
Born in a manger
Whose cries were first heard
By the shepherds

A Son who spoke words
By the sea, in the fields
Atop the mountains

Reminding us that the Kingdom of God
Is already here
for those who can see
and for those who can hear

His words
At the table
Ensured that we are fed

His words on the cross
Ensured that we are

His words on Easter morn
Ensured that life prevails
Even when faced with the
sting of death

Because of all these things
In Jesus we have someone
We can turn to
We can talk to
Someone we can listen to

To be reminded of how we are loved
To be reminded of how much we matter

But in order to hear
We have to be willing to
Let go of the chatter long enough

So we will know
That the Still Speaking Voice
Loves us more then we
Could ever love ourselves

And because we are loved
We can offer our truest thanks
And we can live with one another
The best that we are able

That because we are loved
We can let go of the chatter
And listen to the voice
Breaking the silence
That says:

I am God
So you don’t have to be.

Are we willing to
Find ways to be silent long enough

If so, let us say “Amen.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sermon for Feb 19, 2012; Mark 9:2-9

Rev. George Miller
Mark 9:2-9
Feb 19, 2012

If you were asked to pick one scene from a movie to show people what it means to be an American, what would it be?

There are so many choices; for me this would be the scene (show clip). The end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy realizes that the power of returning to Kansas existed within her the whole time, and that there is no place like home.

It’s been said that the popularity of The Wizard of Oz rests in the fact that it is all our story.

What does it mean to be American? To have a place to call home. After all, almost all of us have ancestors who left their native lands to come here in hopes of having a better way of life.

Americans are proud of where they live and what they call home, and if not, they move to a different location or dream of a place they can lay their roots down.

More often then not, like Dorothy, they discover home is not someplace over the rainbow, but where they find family, friends and purpose.

After all, don’t we all want an Aunty Em and Uncle Henry in our lives?

This is a poignant message today, because this week James and Judy are leaving to journey up north where they will have to make for themselves a new home.

Home is a concept that informs the biblical narratives. Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden. Abraham and Sarah leave their land to start a family. The Israelites wander the desert for years. The Exile forces people into a far off country.

And the Temple was destroyed not once, but twice, theologically leaving God homeless.

As a modern American culture that has found its residents moving around a lot and the housing market annihilated, how do we deal with the desire to have our own Kansas, our own Eden, our own place to call home?

Psalm 90:1-2 gives us a bit of an idea:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”

In other words: no matter when it is, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, it is the Lord who we can call home.

Think about that. Think about what home is in the best concept of the word.

Home should be the place we feel safe, we feel loved, we feel…present. Not stuck in the past; not worried about the future, but where we are in the here and now.


For today, knowing that we are about to bid goodbye to Jim and Judy, knowing that we are about to enter the season of Lent, let’s explore this notion of home a bit more.

Today’s reading is referred to as the Transfiguration of Jesus. It takes place six days after Jesus has shared with the disciples that he will soon suffer, die and rise again.

Understandably, his disciples do not understand this particular teaching; they do not want to hear about it, especially Peter who pulls Jesus off to the side to rebuke him.

But Jesus sticks to his story and nearly a week later he invites Peter and two others to go for a walk up the mountain.

When they arrive at the top, something unexpected happens: they experience the presence of Moses and Elijah; they hear the voice of God and they watch as light emanates from Jesus.

Peter, who had been disturbed by Jesus’ talk of death, is the one to speak up: “Teacher, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings for Moses, Elijah and for you.”

Scripture says Peter didn’t know what he was saying, but I think he did.

With the recent news that his trusted leader was going to die, with the reality that their lives would take a serious turn, I think Peter saw an opportunity to protect Jesus by keeping him up on the mountain.

Perhaps he thought that in this high, holy place no harm could befall his leader.

I think something else also took place: that in Jesus, Peter realized he had found a place to call home.

That Jesus was his dwelling place.

What do we know about Peter? He had a mother-in-law who was unwell. He was astounded and disturbed by Jesus’ teachings. And he was in the fishing industry with his brother.

If you know anyone who made their living off of the sea, you would know it’s in their blood, it is who they are. They have the sun and wind burnt faces to prove it; they have the weathered skin to show it.

To take them away from the water would be like taking away their breath and blood.

And yet, what happens to Peter when he has an encounter with Jesus? He leaves behind the salt and the sun; he leaves behind the nets that need mending and the smell of fish to follow Jesus.

Into town, across the land, even to the top of a mountain.

Can anything be further away from living off the sea then climbing all the way to the top of a mountain?

And yet, what is it Peter says when he experiences Jesus being transfigured?

He says “It is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings.”

Dwellings, which can be another word for home.

I think that atop that mountain, Peter is so in the moment that he wants to stay there forever. I think that Peter, who had made a life for himself off of the sea, has discovered that in Jesus, he has found a home.

And in that realization, Peter has been changed for the good.

Today we are supposed to talk about how Jesus was transfigured, but I would rather talk about how, like Peter, we are changed when we encounter Jesus.

Instead of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas we find ourselves more in the now and joyfully looking towards the what-can-bes.

Instead of focusing on that which makes us ill or unclean, we focus on that which makes us feel well and alive.

In Jesus, the things that once terrified us stop having so much power over us. Instead of being limited by the things we’ve always done, we are freed up to climb new mountains and explore different lands.

While at the same time, in Jesus we experience some of our restlessness disappearing and turning into rootedness because we know just whose we are and in whose hands the future rests.

In Jesus we have a permanent home, one that can not be destroyed, but like a tent can be taken with us wherever we go, whatever it is we face.

In Jesus we are changed for the better.

We’ve witnessed this right here in our congregation. Our sermon writing students, some who faced their self doubt and fear of public speaking who each gave a word worthy of being heard.

Council members who stopped worrying about if they knew what they were doing and trusted in Christ that they are good enough and that God knows what God is doing.

Our recent widows and widowers living with broken hearts who have learned how to face their grief by becoming active in the church and within the community.

Last fall’s Global Mission Fair in which we went beyond all expectations and raised $2,000 for ShelterBox, giving those who have lost their homes a dwelling place.

I could go on and on.

In conclusion, Dorothy travels over the rainbow and down the yellow brick road and discovers that there is no place like home.

Psalm 90 wisely states that for all time the Lord is our dwelling place.

In today’s reading, Jesus goes up a mountain and is transfigured.

I would also say that Peter changes: that it in the presence of Christ he has found a home.

When the Lord is our home, we can go anywhere and anyplace and know that there is constant. That we still have roots.

No matter how many mountains we climb, no matter how often we move, no matter how many rainbows we go over, as long as we know the Lord is our dwelling place, we will all have a place we can turn to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel present.

For that, we should all say “Amen” and “Amen.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sermon for 02 12 12; Mark 1:40-45

Rev. George Miller
Mark 1:40-45
Feb 12, 2012

This Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, and with it comes boxes of chocolates, vases of flowers and little candy hearts.

Those tasty, sugary candies that say things like “Be Mine”, “True Love” and “Choose Me.”

Which ties into today’s scripture, which I felt compelled to preach on because I find it quite uncomfortable.

My uncomfortablness stems from the verbal exchange between the man and Jesus, in which the man comes to Jesus and says “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

On a simple level, it sounds like a wonderful story, but my gut reaction was that by giving Jesus a choice, the man was setting himself up for the possibility of being told “No.”

If Jesus had said “I choice not”, what would that mean? And why did the man have to ask Jesus anyway? Why didn’t Jesus just see the man was in need and simply say “You are clean” without having to be asked?

Could Jesus have said no, and if so, what would that mean? Troubling indeed.

So today we will explore this story and hopefully by the end of this message, we’ll discover that more then a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, God’s Valentine for us is the desire that we all live as fully and healthy as possible.

But first, a story. Last May I moved into a house on Dinner Lake: 2 kitchens, 2 ½ bathrooms, a porch big enough to live in, rose bushes, cactuses, fruit trees and a stunning view of the water.

I originally thought I’d have dinner parties and church gatherings. Then I discovered my house came with something else: rats, nasty, smelly, sneaky creatures that leave their dropping all over the place and gnaw holes through walls.

For about 6 weeks I tried to kill as many as I could. Glue traps worked for a bit, but it’s not pleasant waking up to the sound of a stuck rat flopping about.

Then they became too smart for the glue traps and snapping traps laced with peanut butter were laid out around the house.

But boy did those rats know how to get the treats without setting off the traps and my house began to smell like a school lunchroom.

Finally, by sealing off entranceways and using wisely placed poisonous treats they were gone, but the negative affects of having rats lingered. I felt violated and ashamed.

I’m a clean person, who keeps house the best that I can, yet having rats made me feel unclean and dirty, as if it was my fault.

Worse of all, I allowed the experience to socially close me down. I didn’t tell anyone what was really going on. I stopped inviting people over. I was worried what people would say.

So, in my embarrassment, I withdrew and went into myself, feeling helpless and alone.

Thankfully, a sense of healing and cleansing happened when I finally got over myself and shared my situation with others.

As it turns out I’m not the only one in Florida who has had to face the fury of four-legged furry rodents. There were others who were neat and had beautiful homes.

So it wasn’t me; it was simply the reality of living by the water in a state overrun with wildlife.

With that knowledge, I found myself reentering society, feeling more clean and whole then I had.

I share this because as far as I’m concerned, the issue of being clean is what’s really going on in this story.

Back then, the Hebrews were living under the Law of Moses, a collection of directives that were attributed to God, but probably involved some human tinkering.

Some of the laws made sense, like honoring your parents. Others seemed cruel.

For example, this law from Leviticus 13:45-46: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out ‘Unclean, unclean.’

“He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling outside the camp.”

In other words, if you are living with leprosy, you no longer can wear nice clothes, do your hair or live in your home.

You are to live on the outskirts of town, away from everyone you know, and if you dare to be in the presence of others you must shout out the humiliating fact that you are unclean.

So, as bad as living with a chronic illness may be, you would also bear the loneliness of living apart from family, friends, or being able to participate in community worship.

No Valentine day cards or flowers for you.

Thus, the true hurt of being unclean came from the humiliation and isolation it caused.

Thankfully, God must have realized these laws were not working and lovingly gave us Jesus to restore and to cleanse us.

That, as far as I am concerned, is what this story today is really about. It’s not so much that the man is living with leprosy, but that he must do so alone, removed from everything that makes life good.

In today’s reading, Jesus is wandering about town, and through the crowd comes this man with a dreaded disease. If he is observing the Law, his clothes are torn, his hair is messed up and he’s shouting “Unclean, unclean” so people can scatter away.

With either blatant disregard for the Law, or in a sign of great faith (or perhaps both), he falls down before the Son of God and says “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Note, he didn’t say “You can cure me.” He said “You can make me clean.”

I think what the man’s really saying to Jesus is “I’m done with this; I’m tired. I’m tired of not seeing family; I’m tried of not seeing friends. I’m tired of not worshipping in the synagogue. I want to resume my normal life, and it is only you who can help me.”

Jesus, moved with a sense of compassion, dared to touch the man and say “I choose.” And in saying this, Jesus allows him to resume his relationship with others.

Jesus didn’t just cleanse the man of his disease; he washed away the negative connotations that came with it which limited the man's ability to enjoy a full life and to be part of the community of worship.

Happy Valentine’s Day indeed.

But the question remains: why did the man have to ask him? Why couldn’t it just happen?

Perhaps the question is not “Can Jesus cleanse us?” but “Do we desire to be made clean?”

Think about it. Don’t we all know people who seem to actually enjoy being unwell? Don’t we know someone who always has a complaint to make, a condition to magnify?

There are those who like to hold a grudge. They like to be angry. Someone, some time did something wrong and they can not let it go; they dwell upon, hold onto it.

Because of this, they stop communicating with or avoid the person who they felt did them wrong.

If they are invited to a gathering and that person is there, they choose not to go. They call others on the phone to complain about what that person may or may not have done.

We also know those who define themselves by the series of bad luck they seem to have. If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen to them.

The waiter screws up their order. The airport lost their luggage. A black cat crossed their path causing them to slip on a banana peel and break a mirror.

And boy, do they talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it, hoping to get a reaction and some sympathy.

Then, there are those who define themselves by their ailments. I’m not talking about people who are hospitalized or living with chronic illness, but those who always seem to have aches, pains, sprains and migraines.

Makes you wonder if some people are only happy when they are unhappy. And guess what: all of us have a bit of Drama Queen of Chaos King in us (I know I do).

So, with this in mind, maybe the nature of this story is that we can only be cleansed once we ourselves have reached the point that we are willing to be made clean.

That we can not be forced into wellness. We can not have someone else do it for us.

That no matter how much they suggest, cry and reach out to us, we have to want it, we have to seek it, that we ourselves have to come to the realization that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

If that is the case, then the good news comes from the fact that in Jesus Christ we have someone we can go to, to be made clean.

That in Christ, we have someone we can turn to with our symbolically ripped clothes, with our metaphorically mussed up hair and say with amazing faith and humble submission “I know God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know that you can make me clean.”

And when we reach that point, Jesus’ choice is always for that to happen.

How that cleansing will look will be unique for each person, but the knowledge that Jesus chooses us is a knowledge that can lessen the pain and restore in us to some semblance of joy and community.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the disease or situation disappears, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be other battles to contend with.

What it means is that through Christ, the power of that issue, that situation, no longer has to have power over us.

When we come to Christ and fall on our knees, we will discover that we are free and able to return to our family, return to our friends, and to proclaim the good news.

And it is good news indeed.

In conclusion, there are so many things that will happen in our lives that could separate us from others if we are not careful. But in Christ, they do not have to.

So this week, let us remember that in Christ, God has already sent us the greatest valentine of all, better then flowers, better then a box of chocolates, better then candy hearts with witty sayings.

A valentine in the form of Jesus Christ, who came to show us what true love is.

In Jesus Christ, God has indeed chosen us; with that choice exists God’s desire that we all have a full, healthy life surrounded by family, friends and a place to worship.

Now it’s up to us to choose if we are going to accept that gift and just what we are going to do with it.

It’s not us waiting for Jesus to make the choice, but it is Christ who is waiting for us.

So, today, let it be us who say to Jesus “I choose.”

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