Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sermon from April 22, 2012; Luke 24:36-49

April 22, 2012 Scripture: Luke 24:36-49 Sermon Title: “The Body of Christ” Rev. George N. Miller According to the book of Genesis, chapter 1, after the breath of God moved across the face of the waters, after sun and moon, fish and flower, we were made in God’s image. Being created in God’s image means that we are more then spiritual beings; it means we are more then intellectuals; it also means that we are sensual beings. We can say this because life is sensuous, filled with at least five senses to enjoy God’s Good Creation: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Think of Sebring in the spring. The sight of wild bluebells as they grow, the smell of oranges in the groves; songs of the birds, feel of the sun upon your skin, and the taste of BBQ and sweet tea. Our body is designed to be sensuous, but it can not be separated from our mind, nor can it be separated from the spirit. Body, mind, and soul are all interconnected in a dance in which neither one is more important then the other. When one part suffers so do the others. Send a hungry child to school and see how they struggle to learn, and how it affects their mood. Two people in the hospital: one is visited by friends and family, where they are kissed, talked to about shared memories, has someone hold their hand. The other has no one come by to talk with, to be cared by. Which one will most likely keep a stronger spirit, maintain a sharper mind, and show signs of healing? We are sensuous beings. Our body, mind and spirit are entwined, each a part of living a fully realized life. Luke understood this. Read his gospel and you’ll see how Luke includes body, mind and soul in his account of the Good News. As an author, Luke’s style of writing is like a southern woman who’s been cooking all day, has set the table with three kinds of meat, 5 kinds of vegetables, has country music on the radio and is saying “Sit, stay and eat.” Sensuality seeps into Luke’s story. Jesus is not just born, he’s conceived in the womb, wrapped in bands of cloth, and placed in a manger. As a teenager, Jesus grows strong not just in body but in wisdom. As an adult he experiences temptation, he eats, he drinks, he weeps. He uses stories to reach out to minds. Jesus uses his body to reach out to other bodies, to open ears, to open eyes. He nourishes souls by forgiving sins and speaking words of peace So it is no surprise that just as sensually and fully as Jesus lived, that is how the world tried to destroy him. They abused his body, they played mind games, and they tried to break his spirit through humiliation. They assumed death would stop him, but they were wrong. Jesus’ resurrection is just as sensual as his life was. In today’s reading Jesus says, “Look. Touch. See.” Jesus shows the disciples his hands and feet, he asks for something to eat, takes and enjoys a piece of fish. Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. All the senses are involved. But Jesus goes deeper. He opens their minds, he helps them understand; repentance and forgiveness are to be proclaimed. Body, mind and soul; all present in Luke’s account of the Resurrection, which should not be a surprise since the resurrected Christ can’t be separated from the baby that was wrapped in swaddling clothes; that the resurrected Christ can not be separated from the man who told stories, forgave sins and healed bodies. The sensuous ministry of Jesus could not be stopped, for Christ continues to live on, in you, in me, in the church. More then the materials the church is built from, more then the seats we sit upon, the church is indeed the Body of Christ; a living entity. Because the church is living, it is also sensuous. Have you ever thought of the church that way before, as sensually alive? The church is sensuous in sight. The video screens, the stained glass, the paraments. The church is sensuous in touch. The bulletins between our hands, the breaking of bread, the making of prayer shawls. The church is sensuous in smell. The oil used to anoint those prayer shawls, coffee brewing throughout the week, soups and chilis made for the Willing Workers. The church is sensuous in taste. Spaghetti suppers, potlucks, Fellowship, and Communion. The church is sensuous in sound. The tinkling of the keyboard, the chiming of the bells, the choir in song. The Word read, the Word preached, the Word heard. The church, as the Body of Christ, is a living entity and it is more then just sensual. There is the mind: Bible Studies, discussion groups, committee meetings. There is the spirit: the sacraments shared, the forgiveness of sins, the peace of knowing one is not alone in this world. The church is a living, sensuous entity. And a reality of being sensuous is the reality of life. And life, praise God, is about growth and change. Flowers grow, trees grow, children grow. How exciting to see and hear the ways we are experiencing growth as well. At 22 years young we have grown from being in a Bingo Hall to a single building to two buildings. And now we are embarking on a task of creating a Vacation Bible School, of filling our church with the sounds of voices and feet and hands, not to mention the minds and spirits of children. Add to that the fact that right now we are in the beginning stages of exploring the possibilities of expanding our kitchen, of perhaps creating new rooms, of discerning what kind of “face lift” the Holy Spirit is calling us to give to this particular Body of Christ. Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the possibilities of what is possible? Of what can be done? Of what God wants us to do? The prospect of a summer program for children? The notion of a new kitchen and perhaps even new rooms? Talks about your senses. How both of these events would involve body, mind, and soul. How both of these events will involve all five senses. What will they look like? What will they smell like? What will they feel like? What will they sound like? What they taste like? Right now, only God knows, but won’t be it be great to find out? In conclusion, Jesus lived a sensual existence, both in his life, in the resurrection and in the church. All five senses, all working together, all reaching out, transforming and healing the world. And we, as members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ, have the honor and the opportunity to engage in this time for growth together. As long as we continue to be the sensual Body of Christ; as long as we continue to be of body, mind and spirit, Christ will continue to work through us, the Spirit will continue to move, and God will continue to transform and create new beginnings just as God did during Creation, just as God did in the Resurrection. For that we, as members of the Glorious Body of Jesus Christ, can say “Hallelujah” and we can say “Amen.”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Sermon for April 8, 2012; Mark 16:1-8a

Rev. George Miller
Mark 16:1-8a
April 8, 2012

In life, there are two kinds of people: those who think and those who feel. It’s never too hard to figure out who is who. Ask someone a question and either they’ll answer “I think that…” or “I feel that…”

To think logically or to feel emotionally; two different approaches to the world.

A writer once alluded to information as the food for the mind, whereas emotion is the flavor.

Facts and emotions becomes a sticky thing when dealing with the concept of faith because in many ways Scripture and events like Easter transcend both, and if we’re not careful we can feel like we have too much on our plate, or nothing at all…

Today we gather to celebrate the Good News: that Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified, has been raised by God from the tomb.

In this act, the righteous have been vindicated and the powers of a sinful world have been overthrown.

But what does the Resurrection mean? How did it happen?

Is it something that we are to think or something we are to feel, or perhaps something more?

The truth is that the Resurrection is an event that is too big, too meaty, and too flavorful for any one Gospel to contain.

There are at least 5 different accounts of the Resurrection found in the New Testament, perhaps even 6, 7, or 8 if you follow modern scholarship, and to be honest with you, they are all different accounts.

Each author tells the story differently, each author puts in different truths and stirs in alternate themes; each author shares a story that was meant to speak to the people of their time and of their place.

It’s as if the Resurrection experience was a family recipe passed down from generation to generation in which each person added their own spin, their own spice, their own secret ingredient to create something tasty to the original dish.

The Gospel of Mark was the first of the four gospels written, and his account of the Resurrection is lean and concise, only 8 verses long.

And if you notice, there is no sighting of Jesus Christ, there is no crying of Mary in the garden, there is no invitation for Thomas to touch and to see.

There are simply 8 verses in which the women go to the tomb with spices, planning to anoint the body of Jesus.

Worried that they can not roll back the stone, they find the work has already been done; instead of Jesus they see a young man who tells them Jesus has been raised and he has gone ahead of them in Galilee.

The way Mark ends his gospel, the women leave, running in terror, amazement and fear.

It’s a rather abrupt way to end a story about the Son of God. It’s as if Mark meant to make people feel uneasy, so uneasy in fact that other writers have gone in to add their own personal ingredients to Mark’s dish.

But scholars agree, Mark’s story of the Resurrection ends here. No vision of the risen Christ, no words spoken from him to us.

A mystery dish.

And people have been wondering for 2,000 years why Mark would do this. Since he’s not here to answer, I have my own thoughts.

I think Mark wanted the Resurrection to be a mystery.

A mystery engages one in dialogue; it asks “What do you think?”

A mystery involves the mind, thought and feeling; meat and flavor.

A mystery allows one to think and feel and ponder and transcend reality so eventually they can embrace a new kind of truth.

It is in the mystery of Mark we are invited to step into.

What does the Resurrection mean, what does it look like, why is it so?

And for me, this last 40 –something days, I have found my sight focused on the women and the items they brought to the tomb.

Mark tells us that on Sunday morning, as the son had risen, the women go to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus.

They know Jesus is dead because they were there when he died on the cross. They were there when his body was placed in the tomb. They were there when the stone was rolled across the entrance.

Jesus, the one they had followed and provided for during his ministry, is dead.

Though he is dead, they want to care for him one last time. So they bring spices.

What kind, we don’t know; perhaps myrrh and aloe. How much; we don’t know, maybe a small earthen jar’s worth, perhaps as much as 75-100 pounds.

But chances are these are spices they had to purchase and prepare. Chances these are spices designed to have a fragrant scent to offset the smell of decomposition.

But what happens to the spices when they see the stone has been rolled back?

What happens to the spices when they’re told Jesus has been raised and gone to Galilee?

What happens to the spices when they flee the tomb, seized by terror and amazement, afraid to speak to anyone?

What happens to these spices originally meant to symbolize death?

Do you think they clung to them as they sped away?

Do you think they put the spices gently down before they ran?

Do you think they dropped them in an attempt to get out of there as quickly as possible?

When one is faced with the news of life, does one cling to a token of death?

What is it you would do?

What do you imagine happened?...

…Mystery: meat and flavor for the brain, substance and spice for the soul.

Let me share with you what I think happened: I think the women dropped those spices.

I think those spices which were meant for death spilled out of their container. I think those spices were set loose upon the earth.

And I think that in the process of pouring out, those spices were transformed.

That instead of covering up the stench of death, they unleashed a sweet smelling bouquet that proclaimed the gift of life.

Just as the empty tomb proclaims that Jesus Christ is alive in the world of the living, I’d like to think the aroma of those spices are still with us today.

How can I say that? Because I like to view the spices as the things that God has blessed us with through the Resurrection.

That those spices originally meant for death are now symbols of life; life in Christ, life for the Lord, life in the Kingdom.

Eternal life.

And what are those spices you may ask? Well, because each person has their own experience of the Risen Lord, each person is bound to have their own selection of spices.

I imagine the spices to be those traits spoken about in Colossians 3:12-17; those traits used to describe a new life in Christ and lifted up during our Stewardship Season.

The spices I imagine that were poured out upon the earth that Easter morning are

Compassion and kindness
Humility and gentleness
Patience and forgiveness
Love and peace.

These are the words used to describe a life well lived, a life that brings unity and healing.

And because these spices are set out, there are multitudes of ways in which we can experience the Resurrected Christ in our lives.

That beyond sightings of Jesus in locked rooms or gardens abloom or by the seashore eating fish or at a table breaking bread, we experience the resurrected Christ anytime these spices are made known.

Has someone seasoned your life with compassion and kindness? Then you have experienced the Resurrected Christ.

Has someone flavored your day with humility and gentleness? Then you have experienced the Resurrected Christ.

Has someone sprinkled your life with patience and forgiveness? Then you have experienced the Resurrected Christ.

Has someone spiced up your existence with love and peace? Then you have experienced the Resurrected Christ.

Spice upon spice upon spice, adding their own aroma that gathers us into community, opens the doors to our hearts and allows our blinded eyes to once again see.

In conclusion, Easter is an amazing, mysterious event; one that transcends the meat of logic or the seasoning of emotion.

It is a celebration in which the scandal of the Cross is replaced by the spiciness of the Resurrection, an event that transcends and welcomes us into a mystery with a message.

And the message is that life wins; life which is a fragrant, spicy concoction of compassion and kindness, humility and gentleness, patience and forgiveness, love and peace.

Those are my ingredients for today.

What are the spices you would use that represent eternal life; the kind we find in Jesus Christ, the one who God raised from the tomb?

In the joy and the mystery of this Easter morn, let us join together and say “Hallelujah” and let us say “Amen.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sermon for Palm Sunday April 1, 2012; Mark 11:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Mark 11:1-11
“Once Was Blind but Now I See”
April 1, 2012

Good morning! Happy Palm Sunday! My name is Bartimaeus; child of God, follower of Jesus Christ.

Your pastor invited me today to share with you my experience of being there the day when Jesus entered into Jerusalem.

The day when people placed their coats about the colt, waved palm branches in the air and shouted out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a magnificent day that was. What a magnificent day that was for all of us.

As I said, my name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Bart for short.

As you can imagine, I grew up with a variety of nicknames. When I was a child, my parents called me Baby Bart. When I was a teenager and shot up taller then all my classmates I was called Big Bart.

When I lost my job and lived on the streets of Jericho, people called me Beggar Bart. Then, when I completely lost my eyesight, Blind Bart.

People would often ask me what color I would see when I was blind.

It’s not an easy answer. Sometimes it would seem black; so dark and overwhelming.

Other times it would seem white; so blinding and full of emptiness.

But the truth is blindness does not have a hue. It just is. No color, no light, no life.

It wasn’t always that way.

I was born in a beautiful, lush garden with my parents. We were loved by God and had everything we could possibly need.

But you know how it is when you start to get older: as green as the grass was, I began to wonder if it was greener on the other side.

I began to grow blind to all the good things that were around me. Instead I longed to see what I felt I did not have; assuming that life would be better over the rainbow.

So I left the comfort of home and the beauty of the garden and made my way to the big city, seeing things I had never seen before.

Yet at the same time my eyes became blind to the things that had truly mattered.

I got a job. I slaved away. My parents died. I began to long for life back in the garden, knowing I could never return.

I felt like I was lost in the wilderness, lonely and looking for the promised land.

Feeling there was less and less good in my life, I found my eyesight growing dim and dimmer to the good things of God.

Then the economy tanked. I lost my job and became homeless. And then my biggest fears were realized: I became blind.

The only thing I had left was this coat, my father’s coat. Yes, it was worn, it was ragged, but it was mine.

It kept me dry when it rained, shielded me from the heat of the day and kept me warm at night.

Sometimes I could still catch traces of my father’s scent in the fabric, the smell of his cologne, the tobacco he smoked.

To survive, I sat on the streets of Jericho, in my father’s coat, begging people passing by for spare coins.

They were pilgrims, making their way into Jerusalem just a few miles away, where they would go to the Temple and make their sacrifice to God.

You’d think religious people would be mindful of me; you’d think they’d see me and want to help; to make sure I had a little something to eat, a safe place to sleep.

But they did not.

They were blind to me. They ignored my pleas for help; they ignored the person I am.

Instead of addressing me as Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, they called me Blind Bart, Beggar Bart.

That’s how I lived for many years, sitting on the roadside, hearing the pilgrims pass, begging for enough to eat; not cared for by the priests, not cared for by the politicians.

There’s an irony to being blind: my hearing became sharper then most, yet people talked to each other as if I wasn’t there.

So I heard about everything that was taking place in town. Soon I heard stories about a new Rabbi; Jesus was his name.

How he was unlike anyone people had seen before. How he called folk like fishermen to be his students.

How he astounded people with his wisdom, how he calmed those with restless spirits, how he offered healing to those who were on the fringes of society.

At first, I was like “Big deal!” It seemed like every year there was someone like him who would blaze through town, promising to change everyone’s life, but nothing happened.

But the stories continued.

From what I heard this Jesus was a man of compassion. He openly challenged the oppressive teachings of others; he wasn’t afraid to reach out to those who were unclean; he cared about the plight of women and children.

Then I heard stories of miracles and healing. How he quieted the storm, how he fed 5,000, and how he made the paralyzed to walk, the deaf to hear and the blind to see, allowing each and everyone one of them to enjoy life again.

I thought “If Jesus could do that for them, he could certainly do it for me.”

That’s when I heard the news: Jesus was coming to town on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.

It was all the talk for days among people like me: those who needed someone, something to believe in.

So with great faith I waited; we all waited…

…The day came; I sat in my usual location. I heard the excitement of the people.

Although I could not see, I knew he had arrived when people began to shout out “Look!” “See!” “There he is!”

Sick and tired and being sick and tired I lifted my voice and I yelled as loud as I ever yelled “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those around me told me to be quiet. “Shut up Beggar Bart!” they demanded. “Be silent Blind Bart!” they scolded.

I was not going to let them shame me into submission; I could care less what anyone had to say, so I shouted out even more “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

…Then I heard his voice. Straight forward and strong, “Call him here.” I could tell he was standing still; he was waiting for me.

For years many people: pilgrims, priests, politicians, walked right past me, but he stopped, and he waited, for me.

Jesus had seen me.

He asked what I wanted. The answer was simple. “My teacher,” I said, “Let me see again.”

And so he said “Go, you faith has made you well.”

…and I could see.

And what was that like? I’ll try to explain it to you.

First the black/white nothingness I had been living with for years…began to disappear. I began to see the good things of God once again.

First thing I saw was the blue of the sky. So vast, so limitless, so many possibilities, I had forgotten what that could look like.

Next I looked over and saw the purple in the field. So royal and majestic. I thought “How did God do that?”

Next, I saw the clothes of the people. Many of them garbed in red, so lush, so deep; I marveled at the creativity of the hands that made them.

Then I looked up and I saw the palm branches and leaves on the trees, so green, so full of life.

Blue, purple, red, green; life.
Then I saw him: Jesus.

The one who saw me when no one else would. The one who cared about me when the pilgrims, priests and politicians walked on by.

And I knew, I knew it was true: he was indeed the real King; the Messiah; the one the prophets had spoken of; the one we had been waiting for all of our lives.

And I knew that I could not go and leave him behind. Now that I could see, I knew I wanted to follow.

And let me tell you what I saw.

We approached Jerusalem, Jesus, the disciples, and followers like me.

And people, catching word of his arrival, ran out to see him. The crowds gathered, lining the streets.

Two of the disciples went up ahead and came back with a colt. And when they did, people began to lay their coats upon it.

I realized what they were doing: this was an action that was usually reserved only for kings and great leaders.

I looked at my coat. The coat that had belonged to my father. I realized that for the first time in a long time I could see it…

And I knew that unlike our local politicians who cared about nothing but themselves, Jesus, THE TRUE KING, cared about the people.

So, with nothing else to give, but wanting to show my thanks, I joined the others and lay my father’s coat upon the colt.

I watched, as he sat on top.

I watched as others lay their coats down on the road before him, like a carpet.

Others ran to the green, green trees and into the fields and began to clip and pull branches and flowers and leaves and palms, and spread them on the road.

With songs of jubilation, people sang out “Hosanna!” “Hosanna!’ “Hosanna!”

And I realized that my coat wasn’t the only thing I had to offer; I had my hands; I had my voice.

With a branch in hand, I raised my arm; I raised my voice, and with all the others shouted out:

“Hosanna in the highest heavens.”

All of us singing as one voice: “Hosanna!” “Hosanna!” “Hosanna!”

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

“Hosanna!” “Hosanna!” “Hosanna!”

I never thought I would live to see such a sight. This was a celebration unlike any I had ever experienced.

This is what happiness looks like!

This is what community means!

This is what seeing the joy of the Lord does!

Jesus had entered into our lives and none of us would ever be the same again.

And I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes.

In conclusion, I believe that we all have an experience with Jesus.

Sometimes it seems to happen unexpectedly; sometimes it seems as if we have been waiting a long time, blind and on the side of the road.

So I ask you: how will you respond when Jesus enters your life?

How will you respond when he frees you from that which paralyzes you?

How will you respond when he opens your ears so that you can hear?

How will you respond when he opens your eyes so you can see?

Will you go your own way? Will you try to go back to the way things were?

Or will you show your thanks by following him; giving and doing what you can?

I know what I chose…

Now when people stop me on the street and say “Hey, don’t I know you? Aren’t you Blind Bart, the beggar?”

I say “That’s what they use to call me, but that’s not what they call me anymore. My name is, Bartimaeus, child of God, follower of Jesus Christ.”

“I once was blind, but now I see.”

And for that we can say “Hosanna!” and for that we can say “Amen!”