Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sermon for Mrach 24, 2012; John 12:20-36

Rev. George Miller
John 12:20-36
“Seeing Jesus, Seeing God”
March 25, 2012

A few months ago there was an article in GQ magazine about studies being done with soldiers returning from war with severe burns all over their body and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Regular therapy did not work; pain medication wasn’t making things better. One doctor tried something radically new: virtual reality.

In essence, virtual reality is like a complex video game that makes you feel as if you have stepped into it. A scene is created, like a snowfall on a peaceful mountain, and the soldier puts on eyewear that immerses them into this virtual world in which they feel as if they actually there.

What the doctors have discovered is that what the eye sees does not have to be real for the brain to process it as real; so if it seems like it is snowy and peaceful, the brain processes it as snowy and peaceful, which means the body responds accordingly.

They did an experiment on a soldier with third degrees burns and in constant pain. He was placed into a virtual winter wonderland with snowflakes and snow men. They monitored his brain waves and pain receptors.

What they saw was that the parts of his brain that dealt with sight and senses lit up as if he was really there and his level of pain went further down then when on medication.

Such exercises in virtual reality have been used to assist people in various ways. The mind is a powerful thing, and scientists are discovering more and more just how true this is.

What our eyes see isn’t always what our brain processes and what our brain processes isn’t always what our mind sees.

Fascinating stuff.

Also fascinating is the concept of sight in the Gospel of John. John is perhaps the headiest of the gospels; with long, drawn out quotations and deep, theological discourses.

When reading the Gospel of John, there are at least two things to keep in mind when it comes to the concept of sight.

First, often times in John, to see is to believe. For example, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is resurrected until he can actually see it for himself.

Second, for John, to see Jesus is to see God. Or to put it another way: if you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.

Pretty heady stuff.

Like I’ve said before, I have long wrestled with who Jesus is and what believing in Jesus is all about. But this view of John’s has made my belief in Jesus a lot more real:

When we see Jesus, we see God.

That’s a small part of what’s going on in today’s reading. It’s the last few days of Jesus’ life. He has entered the city of Jerusalem. There are those who love him, there are those who hate him.

Those who saw Jesus call Lazarus out of the tomb love him. The Pharisees, who were used to being the ones in control, hate him. In verse 19 they say to one another “Look at how the world has gone after him!”

On cue, a group of Greeks ask to see Jesus. The Greeks were inquisitive folk, notorious for seeking knowledge and always looking for something new.

It is their desire to see Jesus that signals the time for him to be glorified.

Now, we are Christian people, and we are nearing the end of the Lenten Season, meaning that soon we will bear witness to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Last week we delved into the crucifixion and how Jesus being lifted up on the cross became a means of redemption and life.

Today we will explore those themes in a different way. It’s already been stated that according to John, if we want to know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus.

So let us look, but let’s do it backwards.

On Easter, we have the resurrection, in which Jesus is raised from the dead. What do we see there? That God is more powerful then death. That God vindicates and cares for the righteous and unjustly accused.

That God is eternally present with us.

On Good Friday, we have the crucifixion, in which Jesus unfairly suffers for our sake. What do we see there? The extant of God’s glorious love for us; that even in the midst of great suffering, God draws the world to Godself and that we are all still forgiven.

But if the resurrection is all that we look at, if the raising of Jesus from the grave is all we see, then what we have is a lopsided view of a God who is victorious and defeats death.

If the crucifixion is all that we look at, if the nail prints of Jesus are all that we see; then what we have is a lopsided view of a God who continuously suffers and only knows how to show love through pain.

But there is so much more to God; there is so much more to the Jesus experience; there is the life that Jesus led, the people he met, the things which he did that also show us who God is.

For example, the Greeks valued wisdom; they believed that knowledge was a way to experience God. For some of them, when they met Jesus and experienced the vastness of his teachings, they felt as if indeed they were seeing God.

But not all of us are Greeks nor do we all see God this way, so there became many ways in which Jesus lived and ministered that allowed people to see him in a way that allowed them to see God.

For example, if you were a woman, Jesus came into your home, and encouraged you to sit at his feet and to personally learn from and spend time with him, just as he would with any of his male students.

If you were a woman and people shunned you and gossiped about you, Jesus met you at the well in the heat of the lonely afternoon and engaged you in conversation in which you were treated as an equal and given an opportunity to experience Living Water.

If you were a man trying to earn a decent living for your family, Jesus would come by while you were working and suggest that you cast your net over to the other side so it could be filled and you would have a successful day at work.

If you were a man who felt like you didn’t match up to others, who felt you were looked down upon or despised, Jesus heard your voice in the crowd and came to your home to share in a meal, no matter what others would think or say.

If you were a parent, Jesus set aside time to welcome your young one and to admonish anyone who would dare think about hurting or exploiting them.

If you were a parent, he attended your children’s wedding, where amongst songs and laughter, he made sure your guests had the pleasure of experiencing good wine as you anticipated new beginnings and high hopes.

And if you were part of a community, Jesus welcomed you to hear about the Kingdom of Heaven, and when there seemed like there wasn’t enough to eat, Jesus invited you to sit on the green grass, gave thanks for what was there and found a way to make sure that everyone had more then enough.

Ever wonder who God really is? Look towards Jesus and you will see.

Do you see a Jesus who only suffered or worried about death? Or does Jesus look like he also knew how to celebrate and to live life?

And here’s an interesting thing; the way we start to see Jesus; the way in which we start to see God, becomes the way in which we start to see ourselves.

So we if we see Jesus as wise; we see ourselves as wise. If we see Jesus as caring, we see ourselves as caring. If we see Jesus as extravagant welcome, we too see ourselves as extravagant welcome.

And in our views of Jesus, of God, and of ourselves, we help the world to become more like the Kingdom of Heaven.

In conclusion, we don’t need expensive virtual reality to see God; all we have to do is to look at Jesus.

Yes, the resurrection allows us to see that God vindicates the righteous and is more powerful then death; yes, the crucifixion allows us to see that God loves and forgives.

But let us not forget that we have the whole complexity of Jesus’ life to look at to see who God really is.

When we set our eyes upon Jesus, we see that God views us as equals; that God looks past what we have done and gives us new opportunities.

God sees who us even when others turn a blind eye; God cares about our livelihood.

God cares about children and their well being; God celebrates with us during all the stages of our lives.

We see that God is invested in our community, making sure that we are all educated, we are all fed and we all have green pastures to lie down upon.

“Who is God?” you may ask yourself today.

Look upon Jesus and you will see just who God is, and perhaps by seeing God in such good and holy ways, it will also transform the ways in which we too see ourselves.

And how, through Jesus, we are all walking in the light.

And for that, we can say “Hallelujah!” and we can say “Amen.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sermon for this Sunday; March 18, 2012; Numbers 21:4-9

Rev. George Miller
Numbers 21:4-9
March 18, 2012

In a little bit we’ll be treated to a solo by Sheila who’ll sing “I Believe,” a song introduced by Frankie Laine in the 50’s, remade by the Bachelors in the 60’s and given a countrified twang by Dolly Parton in the 70’s.

That’s the thing about classic songs: they stand the test of time and can translate into any genre of music.

For example, “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack. It debuted nearly 40 years ago and is about a woman listening to a man sing such painfully personal songs it’s as if with each strum of the guitar he is “killing her softly with his song.”

I didn’t grow up on the original version, but the remake Perry Como did. Do ya’ll remember Perry Como and his television specials? No you don’t: you’re too young!

Anyhow, my mother loved Perry Como; she’d play his album all the time and I heard this song again and again.

Then in the 90’s a rap group called The Fugees remade it, adding a hip hop beat that shook the speakers. It became an instant R&B classic; the song was everywhere: radios, cars driving by, the nightclubs.

In fact, long after the song was released, I was in a Minneapolis nightclub with people of all ages when this song came on, and the entire place was filled with the sound of everyone singing along, a communal event I won’t soon forget.

Songs like “I Believe” and “Killing Me Softly” can bring folk together and are timeless because they speak to a universal truth.

It also doesn’t hurt if you have a title that catches the attention. What does it mean to say someone is “killing me softly”?

There are loud ways in which we are killed: gunfire, car crashes, war.

There are the more silent, but just as dangerous, ways: cancer, addiction, obesity.

Then the ways which are perhaps even more insidious: jealousy, greed, regret, loneliness.

God wants us to have life, not death, but like snakes, these silent killers have a way of sneaking up on us, biting us when we are at our most vulnerable, their poison silently doing their destructive work.

Who can save us from their deadly venom?

To find an answer, let’s look at today’s scripture and the biblical narrative in general.

The Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness for a long time after being freed from bondage in Egypt.

Though they were free, though God had done amazing, wonderful things for them, the Israelites had a very selective memory. Whenever things became a bit rough they went straight to whining and expressing a desire to go back.

Although Egypt had been killing them slowly, they remember it as a place where they had meat and fruit aplenty; they forget that it was also the place where they were slaves and the King killed their children.

So as they wander through the dessert, heading towards the Promised Land, they begin to complain.

Even though God has given them water from the rock, quail from the skies and bread for heaven, they call the food miserable.

They speak against God and Moses, saying “You have no clue what you’re doing and we detest the slop you’re feeding us.”

Well this really upsets God… ssso snakes are set loose amongst the people, biting and killing them if not ssssoftly, then painfully.

The people realize they have sssinned against God in a big way and ask Moses to pray on their behalf to take away the serpents.

God has Moses create a bronze snake on a pole so that people can look upon it and have life.

Odd story, isn’t it? It’s a story that demands us to wrestle with it, to ask hard questions, to think about what we actually believe.

Do we believe this story to be factually true?

Do we believe it to be metaphorically true?

Do we believe that perhaps there was a time in the wilderness when a number of people were bit by snakes and the author is trying to make sense of it all?

What do we make of this image of a clearly angry and punishing God? What do we think about snakes being turned loose and a bronze statue that can give life?

Do we focus on the punishment and consequences of the people’s actions? Or do we focus on the healing?

Is this story ultimately about sssin or sssalvation? Is it about punishment or grace?

Before even attempting to answer any of these questions, there’s a quote I’d like to share, from Heinrich Heine: “I like to sin, God likes to forgive. Really, the world is admirably arranged.”

So again, is this ssstory featuring sssnakes about sssin or sssalvation?

Yes, it appears as if God has punished the people, but God has also provided a source of healing for them.

If we are to take the entire biblical narrative as a whole, then as Christians we can find the answer in the Gospel of John, chapter 3.

In it, a man named Nicodemus goes to visit Jesus to find out who he is. Jesus alludes to his death by saying “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

For Jesus, Numbers 22 is then a sssstory of sssalvation, that God loves the world and does not want to see us perish, but for us to enjoy life eternal.

The ways of life are sssimple: to love God, to love our neighbor and to embrace the gift of grace.

Yet the ways of death are many; they make us lost; they make us blind and they find a way to kill us sssoftly, insssidiousssly, like sssnakes in a dessert.

Some of the snakes that lead to death are outside ourselves; what other people do to us, the actions of big business that don’t care about the environment, and governments who always seem to be at war.

Some of the snakes that lead to death stem from within. Like the Israelites, there is the impatience that resides in all of us.

Impatience that demands things to happen now, right here, in our way. Impatience that leads to accidents and rash decisions.

Impatience that leads us to believe God doesn’t care, so what’s the point?

Some of the snakes are the ssself-indulgent habits we are bitten by. Overspending, overfeeding, overdemading; things that we think brings us joy but actually poison our spirits.

Some of the snakes bite hard; their venom festering in our body, leading to wretchedness.

For example:
-holding onto memories of a past wrong;
-living with the unbearable nature of regret
-assuming that everyone should think, act and be just like us
-and punishing them when they are not.

All of these are serpents that creep up, bite us and spread their poison throughout our bodies and souls, taking away from the life that God wants for us.

And the truth is, as long as there are humans, as long as we find ourselves wandering around the wilderness of life, there will always be snakes waiting to bite us; the trick is how we will respond and how we find our healing.

One way is to be like the people of Israel. To acknowledge the snakes and to confess one’s sins and ask God to intercede; that’s an act of faith that leads to healing and eternal life.

Another way is to look towards the cross. To realize that God created us to live, not to die; that God sent his Son not to condemn the world, but to save it.

The ultimate way Jesus did that was his willingness to be lifted up on the cross where his broken body became a sign that there is nothing God would not do for us.

But, it is important to remember that we can not separate the cross from the resurrection, which is a reminder that no one is so broken that God could ignore or desert them.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent to offer the people life amidst snakes, Jesus was exalted on the cross so that we may have life in the here and now; eternal life.

In conclusion, it’s been said that the Old Testament allows us to understand the story of our lives.

Just as Israel was on a journey between redemption from slavery and entrance into the Promised Land, we are on a similar journey, traveling between our redemption by the cross and our entrance into the kingdom of God.

Yes, while on this journey there will be various snakes and serpents that will slither into our way, trying to destroy us and steal away the gifts of life with their venomous bite.

The snakes of sin may try to make us spiritually dead and blind, but in Christ’s grace we find life and sight.

Because of this, we do not need to look upon a serpent on a pole to be healed. Instead, we have the life, death and resurrection of Christ to remind us that we are already sssaved.

If we doubt, if we ever need to be reminded, all we have to do is lift our eyes up to the cross and remember God’s promise of sssalvation.

In Christ’s grace we find sight which allows us to see all that God has done for us; in grace we find life so that we can enjoy it in abundance.

Yes, there are many ways in which we can be killed sssoftly, but in Christ we are joyfully loved, and we are ultimately healed.

For that we can all say “Hallelujah” and “Amen!”

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon for 03 08 12; Psalm 19

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 19
“Love Wins”
March 11, 2012

Earlier this week I reread a book called “Love Wins” by Rev. Rob Bell which explores the notion of heaven.

In it, Rev. Bell states that the message of Jesus was not about where we go when we die, but about how we can best enter into life and live now.

In other words, heaven is not far away in the cosmos, but heaven exists here on earth when God’s will is done; where peace, justice and generosity occur.

According to Rev. Bell, the more we participate in these actions, the more we participate in heaven right now.

On another note, this week I also attended Disaster Preparedness training hosted by the UCC.

Though the topics we covered were scary, the class was not meant to intimidate, but to empower us for the next time a disaster strikes the area.

They want us to be prepared because it’s not “if” a disaster will strike; it’s “when” a disaster will strike.

The part of the class that most interested me was when a representative from the Sarasota Long-Term Recovery Team spoke.

She shared with us their guidelines of action when a disaster occurs. She said it is good to have someone in the church that knows them and can be in charge.

BUT, she stated, it should not be someone who follows things word for word, step by step and is the kind of person that when a disaster strikes, will first take out the guidelines, looking for the exact line of information before they do anything.

In others words, when it comes to overseeing a disaster response team, we want someone who knows the guidelines but also knows how to work within the guidelines, who can find the wiggle room, is flexible and can adapt to a situation.

This caught my attention, so she directed us to the booklet’s second page, which clearly states “These guidelines are a working document, and are adapted as new information…become available.”

How interesting.

People have clearly worked hard to put these instructions into place and yet they realize that sometimes in order to preserve life, one also has to be able to adjust and adopt.

I thought of how this fits into Rob Bell’s book and today’s reading from Psalm 19.

Now, if you were in Tuesday’s class or received this week’s K.I.T., you already know there are various views of Psalm 19.

C. S. Lewis, called this “The greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest (songs) in the world”, while theologian James Mays calls this a “problem” child and a left-over; pretty harsh words for a song

Is any one view point wrong? I don’t think so, but personally, I do think Psalm 19 has a flow. It begins with creation, goes into a celebration of the law and ends with an announcement of the forgiveness of sins.

In other words, it’s like a tiny encapsulation of Genesis, Exodus and the Gospels: creation, instruction, and forgiveness.

And if we were to boil it all down to one word, what would it be? Love.

And love wins.

In Psalm 19 we hear how the God who loves is the one who creates. The God who lovingly creates gives the law. The God who lovingly gives the law also lovingly forgives.

I think that sometimes we hear the word “law” or “torah” and think they are supposed to be a horrible thing, meant to restrain and prevent life.

But that was not their intent.

The laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai were not meant to be a burden or a chore, but as a source of joy. They were designed to create boundaries that would enable freedom and abundant life.

In fact, if we were to go back to the original Hebrew used for Psalm 19, we’d discover the word is not “law” but it is “instruction.”

Instruction, like guidance, meant to be pliable.

As Psalm 19 states, these guidelines by God were designed to evoke various responses: to revive our soul, make us wise, allow our hearts to rejoice and enlighten our eyes.

If you think about it, aren’t these emotions what people feel when they fall in love?

We feel refreshed and renewed, we think differently, we act differently: we hum, we whistle, we glow and our eyes sparkle to the point that people stop and say “There’s something different about you today.”

That’s what the guidelines of God are meant to do, to let us see and experience the world in a new way.

A way that realizes that God has given us instructions so that we can live.

And in essence, we discover that the laws of God boil down to two things:
Love God
Love our neighbor

That’s basically it; that’s a majority of what the Bible is trying to teach us.

And, as Christians, we would say the ultimate fulfillment of this is in Jesus Christ.

You want to know who God is and what God wants? Simply look towards Christ: everything he did, everything he said, everything he taught, shows us God.

Read the Gospels and you’ll discover that as much as Jesus was a follower of the law, he was flexible, he was adaptable, and he did what he believed was right for the situation at hand.

Jesus understood that there is a difference between following the spirit of the law and the letter of the law.

Because of this he got into trouble with those who did not like wiggle-room and with those who believed in checking out the rule book before responding to a situation.

Jesus may certainly have known the guidelines, but he wasn’t enslaved by them.

This is why he was able to reach out and touch the man with leprosy. This is why he had no qualms with healing on the Sabbath.

This is why he could offer praise to a Roman soldier, have dinner with a tax collector, or let a female student sit at his feet.

Jesus, in his very essence, in his very being, embodied the true spirit of the the Law, and in doing so, Jesus embodied love.

Love for God, love for neighbor, love for self.

And love wins.

The Good News is that the God who created us, the God who gave us instructions, the God who gave us his son and raised him up on Easter morn, did so not out of anger or a need to punish, but out of love.

And out of that love, God’s gifts of creation, instruction and forgiveness are meant to enhance and revive, guide and free, embrace and redeem.

In conclusion, the earth was meant to be a garden, where disappointment, sadness and guilt are best left behind; a place where peace and love prevail.

It is Christ we can look too and it is Christ who shows us just what love can do.

Yes, storms will enter our lives, disasters will strike, and the unexpected usually happens. But our dependence on God lessens the burdens we face.

And though it’s impossible to follow every letter of the law, if we simply remember to love God and to love our neighbor, the rest will all come naturally.

For as Rev. Rob Bell wrote, “Love wins.”

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

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sermon for March 4, 2012; Romans 4:13-25

Rev. George Miller
Romans 4:13-25
“Wavering Righteousness”
March 4, 2012

Ya’ll remember when I first came here and said that I was a “foodie”? An amateur foodie, I’ll have to admit.

I don’t really cook as much as I’d like or understand seasoning and techniques like I should, but I sure do enjoy killing time watching the Food Network.

One of my favorite personalities is Paula Deen. She’s so southern and larger then life, someone I’d love to hang around with.

She is what I’d call a survivor.

While in her 20’s Paula suffered from severe panic attacks that kept her inside; she used cooking as a way to overcome her fears.

In her 40’s she was a divorced mother with $200 to her name and two teenage boys to care for. She started a catering service that lead to opening her first restaurant.

She published a cookbook, appeared on TV, got remarried and by 2002 had her own show.

How did she do it? Hard work, perseverance, and sticking to what she knew: cooking good ol’ southern comfort food.

And yes, that meant food high in fat, sugar and butter, but Paula didn’t invent that style of cooking, nor did she force people to eat it; she simply shared what she knew best.

And her empire grew to more shows, books, magazines, and cookware lines.

And America loved her for it.

But as we know, once you reach a level of success the haters come out; people accusing her of single-handedly turning America fat; that she pushed an unhealthy way of life.

Then the news came out that she is Diabetic, she’s known for years and that she signed a contract to be a spokesperson for a company that makes a diabetes management program.

People acted surprised and the critics came out.

First of all, can anyone really be shocked that someone who is 65 and cooks for a living would eventually be diagnosed with diabetes?

Second, can anyone really say when she should or should not have disclosed her condition?

First, she needed time to process the reality.

Next, she probably had to think of what this meant for her and her family’s livelihood.

Next, what it would mean for the hundreds of people employed by her?

I would imagine that just like anyone else, Paula needed time to first make peace with her situation, get her ducks in a row, secure a source of income.

Then she was ready to tell the world; and boy was the media was ready to pounce on her the moment she told her truth.

She went from southern saint to a devil dog demon.

We’ve seen this all before, haven’t we? Where we build someone up only to be happy when they fall? Celebrities, politicians; they all go through it.

So why this need to see people in black and white? Why this need to make people either a saint or a sinner?

I think the church is partly to blame. The unfair ways in which we have historically demanded people to act, with the threat of tossing them into hell.

I also think some of the biblical passages are to blame, such as today’s reading.

Here in Romans we have Paul writing a letter to a group of churches encouraging them to live a life of faith, to trust God and to know Jesus Christ.

To get his point across, Paul directs their attention to their spiritual ancestor, Abraham.

Paul writes that Abraham believed in God and did not weaken in his faith. That Abraham showed no distrust, was fully convinced that God would do what God had promised to do and that Abraham did not waiver in his faith.


Abraham showed no moments of weakness or any sign of distrust in the Lord?

Maybe Paul knew a different version of the story then I do, but when I read about Abraham in the book of Genesis it sounds like there were a lot of moments of distrust.

Abraham was said to be childless when God called him to get up and go to a land where he and his wife would have a son who would bless all the nations.

So that’s what he and his wife Sarah did. But it wasn’t easy.

First there was the time Abraham was afraid the king of Egypt would kill him because Sarah was so beautiful.

As the story goes, Abraham convinced Sarah to pose as his sister, which allowed the king to take her as his wife until Abraham fessed up and told the truth.

As if lying and forcing his wife into an adulterous relationship wasn’t serious enough, Abraham did it a second time in the city of Gerar.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like total trust in the Lord and unwavering righteousness.

Then, there’s the time when Sarah tries to force God’s hand by suggesting to Abraham that he sleep with her slave girl.

Does Abraham say “No, my beloved, it is wrong to cheat on you”? Does he say “No, my beloved, I trust that things will happen in the Lord’s time.”?

No, Abraham says “Sure thing!” and has a child with Sarah’s servant.

Would I call Abraham a perfect man with a prefect faith who trusted God so perfectly that he did everything perfectly right?


Would I say that Abraham was an imperfect man who made some interesting choices but still stepped out on faith and trusted God enough that he helped transform the world?


That’s something I like about the Bible: it is full of imperfect people who do imperfect things that make them neither true saint nor a true sinner.

Another example is Rachel who did what she though she needed to do for the sake of her family’s survival.

When we first meet Rachel, Jacob has fallen in love with her but is tricked into marrying her sister Leah. This creates a soap-opera story in which each sister competes to see who can have the most kids.

Eventually, Jacob decides to take his family back home, but before they go, Rachel goes into her father’s home to steal his household gods. She puts them into a bag and sits on them.

When her father chases them down to retrieve the stolen goods, he enters her tent and demands that she stands up.

Do you know what she says? “Oh father, don’t be mad with me, but I can’t rise because, well, it’s that time of the month.”

Now I don’t know about you, but Rachel’s excuse for not standing up takes the cake! And to find it within the pages of the Bible is a bit of a surprise.

But that’s just what Rachel does, not only stealing from her father, but lying to him as well.

Does this make her a demon; someone to be scorned? No, in fact she is remembered as the mother of Joseph and for her part in the story of God’s people.

The Bible is full of such characters like Abraham and Rachel who do questionable things. Perhaps the greatest example of all in Paul himself.

Paul may have played a large part in spreading the Good News and writing a majority of what we call the New Testament, but he was a man of very questionable qualities.

It’s a well know fact that before he became a believer, Paul was a persecutor of the early church, breathing threats and committing murder against them.

Paul stood there when Stephen was stoned to death and he approved of his killing.

He went to the high priests and got letters allowing him to arrest Christians. He went into house after house, dragged both women and men into the streets and put them into prison.

Paul was once an enemy of the church, and yet God used him, transforming Paul into an instrument that would bring Christ’s name to gentiles and Jews, kings and peasants.

And though Paul preached the word, he never became perfect.

He was overly passionate, terribly dramatic, boasted frequently while taking to bouts of tears, all while acknowledging that he did what he ought not to do.

Yet Paul loved the Lord and the Lord loved him, and a lot of what we know, a lot of what we believe comes from his imperfectly perfect service to the Lord.

Abraham, Rachel, Paul. All flawed individuals who did imperfect things.

So what does this all mean? Am I saying that we should all just give in to our base desires and lie to kings, steal from our fathers and kill those we disagree with?


What I am saying is that no one is perfect. No one is without flaws.

No one’s hands are clean from doing things they ought not.

That from time to time we all do something we are ashamed of; something that allowed us to survive.

That sometimes we all doubt the promise of God; that we try to force God’s hand; that we do things the way we want.

Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail; sometimes we get caught, and sometimes we slide by.

But it doesn’t make us any less of a person; nor does it make us a monster.

No, if anything else, our foibles make us human, a part of God’s creation, worthy of being redeemed.

And the good news is that because we are human, God has bestowed upon us an amazing gift: the gift of grace.

Something that did not come about because we earned it, not something that came about by following the right sets of laws.

Grace is something that came about from a promise God made long ago to Abraham, a promise that manifested itself through his descendants; realized in a manager, and demonstrated on the cross.

A promise that we know as Jesus Christ.

It is in Jesus that we imperfect creatures discover the perfect love of God, a love that wants to wash us clean, a love that wants to feed us at the table,

a love that says “Look at what I gave to you” and a love that says “No matter who you are you are welcome here.”

It is in Jesus that our faith is realized, in which we discover that God will do what God has said.

It is in Jesus that we discover that our sins have been forgiven, and because of this we can step forward and admit our mistakes, knowing that the gift of eternal life is already ours to receive.

And because we know our sins to be forgiven, we can stop judging others so harshly and being so quick in our assessment of others.

In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can let go the need to see others as all good or as all bad;

Instead we can see them as Jesus sees them: as children of God, inheritors of the promise who make choices day to day that may be right, that may be wrong.

Like Abraham, like Rachel, like Paul, and like Paula Deen, we all have mistrusted at some point, we have all lied at some point, we have all hurt another, and we have all used a little bit too much butter a little too much sugar at some point of our lives.

But the good news is that none of this stops us from being any less worthy of God’s love nor of Christ’s comfort.

If anything else, our failings have made us recipients of God’s grace which brings about the fruitfulness of faith and a joyful desire to grow in the Lord.

Our faith in God may waiver; but God’s faith in us does not.

For that, we should all be able to say “Amen!” and a great big “Hallelujah!”