Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sermon for May 27, 2012; Acts 2:1-21

Rev. George Miller Acts 2:1-21 “Are You Who Matter? Yes!” May 27, 2012 This weekend we acknowledge Memorial Day, a time to recognize those who fought for, and died, for our country. Memorial Day had its spark in 1865 when Henry Wells of Waterloo, NY mentioned at a meeting that he wanted to honor the Civil War dead by decorating their graves. Nothing happened until the following year when he mentioned it again and this time not only was he heard, but a committee was formed and a plan was put in motion to honor the fallen soldiers. Henry Wells' idea began to spread, first like little sparks then like wildfire, as more and more towns took to visiting graves, holding parades and giving speeches. Eventually Memorial Day became a federal holiday, a time for the whole country to be united in a common observance; to honor the bravery of those who lost their lives for our country; the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we could live as we do: free. A freedom that comes from our Constitution which states that all men are created equal, that everyone deserves the freedom of religion, that we all have the right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech… How interesting, how unique that an elemental part of our American identity is the right to speak our mind and to share what we think, regardless if others agree. It sounds a lot like today’s reading… Throughout this month the common theme of our worship services have been built around the notion of identity. First, we explored that no matter how different, broken or lost in the wilderness we seem to be, God knows who we are. Next, we defined ourselves as sharing the same Heavenly Parent. Then last week we were compared to strong, fruit bearing trees made to withstand any storm. Today we conclude the topic of identity by looking at perhaps the most important event in the life of the early church: Pentecost. According to the author of Acts, after Jesus Christ was crucified, he appeared to the disciples for 40 days in which he continued to teach them about the Kingdom of God. He promised them that at some point they would experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, an experience in which they would leave the comfort of Jerusalem and proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. Jesus ascends to heaven and for the next few days the disciples, their followers (including women and totaling about 120 people) go about the tasks of being prepared. They select someone to replace Judas. They pray. Then on the day of Pentecost, a religious holiday in which all the Jewish men from around the globe have gathered, something amazing, something unexpected occurs. The Holy Spirit of God breaks in and does something new. The Holy Spirit, like flames of fire, like the sound of wild wind, breaks into the life of this small community and things begin to happen. Things that defy space, things that defy time, things that defy gender, economic and age related roles. The Holy Spirit falls down upon the people, fills them, uses them, melts away their differences and they began to speak in ways so that others can hear; they begin to speak in ways so that others can understand. It didn’t matter if someone was as far away as Mesopotamia or Rome, if they were as far away as Arabia or Crete; they heard the message of the Lord. And they were amazed and astonished, bewildered and perplexed. And even though some sneered and accused them of being drunk, it didn’t stop Peter from standing up and preaching a message that basically said “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, the Spirit has been poured out upon you from limb to limb!” Forget about the fantastical imagery of this story; forget if this account is factually true; what we have just heard is how the Holy Spirit creates a new community in which God is the chief actor and every one plays a part. “Are you who matter?” The answer is “Yes!” And note what the first mark of the Holy Spirit is: the ability to speak. The Holy Spirit enters into their lives and the people use their voices like never before. The Holy Spirit enters into their lives, and Peter finds the courage to stand up in the light of day and to proclaim a word for all to hear. Today, the message of our reading is that the Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to speak God’s message, and that speaking is empowerment… …How many of us have ever stopped to think about this before? That the ability to speak, regardless if we murmur softly as the dove or roar as mighty as a lion has the ability to bring about hope, has the ability to bring about change, has the ability to link us together. That the ability to speak regardless if we murmur softly as the dove or roar as mighty as a lion has the ability to mend old wounds, has the ability to mold new communities and has the ability to assure that each and every one of us matters? No wonder why so many brave men and women have been willing to fight and to die for our country. No wonder why Pentecost has so much importance in the life of the church, because in so many ways without speech we do not have life, we do not have “enough.” …but here’s the thing: notice how the ability to speak does not just rest on Peter alone. Nor does it just rest on the disciples. It is given to the 120 others who were present, meaning the other followers, including the women. And, as Peter states in his speech, the Holy Spirit it to be poured out upon all people: sons and daughter, young and old. This is still true today. The Holy Spirit is not something that can be contained or controlled; it can not be dished out into neat pieces or withheld from others. The Holy Spirit speaks to you just as much as it speaks to Connie, Sue and me. The Holy Spirit guides the thirty, forty and fifty somethings just as much as the Holy Spirit guides the sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety somethings. The Holy Spirit will speak just as much to the children in July’s Vacation Bible School as it will to those who are teaching it. The Holy Spirit speaks to everyone because everyone matters. Are you who matter? Yes! The Holy Spirit becomes the great equalizer in which we are all one. Are you who matter? Yes! Because just like no one can control where the rain falls or where the wind blows or how a flame will dance and twirl, No one can control who the Holy Spirit falls upon. Are you who matter? Yes! Because through the experience of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit has descended upon everyone and has given them a voice: Male and female Old and young Here and abroad Buckeye and Yankee Democrat and Republican Snow Bird or Florida Natural Preacher or Parishioner Member or Guest. Are we who matter? Yes! And because we matter, we are each given a voice and a chance to express just what being a Christian means to us. So before I close, I want to offer up each and every person here a challenge: to find a way to use their voice to make a difference. It may be to speak up when you witness a wrong; it may be to make amends with a dear friend; it may be to write a letter to the editor or a phone call to a politician. But I encourage you, guided by the Holy Spirit, to use the voice you have and to find a way to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Are you who matter? Yes! You matter in God. You matter in Christ. You must certainly matter in the Holy Spirit. For that we can say Amen and amen!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sermon for May 20, 2012; Psalm 1

Rev. George Miller Psalm 1 “We Are All a Bit Fruity” May 20, 2012 Today is the last Sunday in which we will be in the Easter Season. Hard to believe we have gone from Advent to Christmas, Lent to Easter in such a short amount of time. Next Sunday is Pentecost, which is only designated as one day, but I like to think of it as a season. Pentecost is the time in which we acknowledge the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, which arrived like the sound of rushing wind. The Spirit, which fell down upon the people and swept through the world, bringing with it change, new life, and the opportunity to grow and build. The Holy Spirit also brought with it gifts; gifts which the apostle Paul refers to as fruit; fruit of the Spirit. And the fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy and peace; patience, kindness and generosity; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m not sure if any one person could possibly bear all of these fruits, but I’m sure each of us are able to bear one or two. As today’s sermon states, we are all a bit fruity. But I digress; back to the notion of seasons. Pentecost is marked by the wind of God coming to do something new and to create. But not all winds do that, do they? Not all winds are able to build or bring new life. Some winds tear down and destroy, some winds have been known to wreck a home, harm a family, and annihilate a community. We on the east coast call those winds hurricanes and we in Florida especially know about the destructive path high winds can create; the rains they bring; the trees they can uproot and tear down. Just as the church is about to enter a new season, we in Florida are about to enter into a new season; the hurricane season, in which you best be prepared. But some high winds you can never be prepared for. Today I’d like to share with you a time in my life which I suffered through my own personal hurricane season. It was 1994. I was living on Long Island, young and naïve, working at a fine dining restaurant. I had just moved into my first apartment and the new year began with clear skies. Little did I know a major storm was brewing. 2 weeks into 1994 I began to receive threatening phone calls from my ex. Then my tires were being slashed, my home and car were being spray painted. My ex was not happy that I had moved on, so my ex began stalking me. Scary thing about being stalked is that there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can call the cops, you can file complaints, but until that person is caught in the act, or you are found dead, there is nothing the authorities can do. It was only when I packed up my life and moved across the country to Minneapolis that the stalking stopped. But in the process, I had to leave behind my home, my family, my job and my friends. In other words, I lost it all and had to start from scratch. Needless to say, during the time when this was going on, I didn’t get much sleep. I lived every day on edge not knowing what was going to happen next. I stayed up most of the night; I constantly checked on my car. You know what got me through? The Bible. I would spend my day reading it, finding inner strength and hope in its words. The church. Sunday morning was the only time during the entire week in which I felt safe; the only time in which I knew I did not have to worry about being hurt or my tires being slashed. The Lord’s Supper. The church I attended celebrated Communion each week, and in doing so I felt as if I was experiencing a presence I had never experienced before. So even though I was facing rough storms, even though I felt captive to the ways of the wicked, it was because of God, through Scripture, the church and the sacraments that my leaves did not wither and my roots found a steady stream, a living stream to be nourished by. And I believe it is those roots that were developed that I was able to not only withstand the storms, but to be planted and transplanted from NY to MN, MO to MI, and now down to FL. Has it ever been easy? No. Am I still here? Yes. Have I been able to prosper? Yes. Can I say, with all certainty, that I have had “enough”? Yes. And I know I am not the only one here who has faced a hurricane in his life. Every single person here has had an experience in which if it wasn’t for their faith and their foundation in God they could have become like chaff in the wind. The writers of the Psalms knew all to well about this. Many of them did not live a charmed life. When the word “Happy” or “Blessed” is used, it wasn’t because the author had lived a picture-perfect life of tranquility in which life was nothing but green pastures and still waters. Many of the Psalmists lived during a time of great suffering and upheaval. Those who lived during slavery; those who lived in the wilderness. Those who lived during the Exile, in which they had been kidnapped and forced to live in a land surrounded by their enemies. Those who lived after the Exile and tried to figure out how something that horrible was ever allowed to happen. Many of the Psalmists lived during tough times in which the winds of change had not been positive ones, but winds that uprooted them and destroyed what they knew. One way for the author of Psalm 1 and the other psalmists to find the strength to go on was to turn to their faith: to proclaim that it is God’s commands which rooted them, it is God’s instructions which supplied them with living water, that it is God’s ways which allowed them to prosper and bear fruit no matter happened. For them, their experience of God came through the wisdom and the commandments of how they were to live with each other and how they were to live in the presence of God. For the author of Psalm 1, a tree became a powerful image. A tree which is majestic and strong, which can provide fruit. Flash forward centuries later, when a new a crises hits the people. When their homes are threatened, when enemies come once again to try and take away their joy. For some people they recalled the stories of their ancestors, they recalled the words of the Psalms, they clung to the image of a tree. Then there were others who clung to the image of a different kind of tree; they were the ones who found salvation on a different kind of wood. They were people who were following Jesus Christ, and instead of a tree, they found themselves seeking salvation on a cross. A man-made kind of tree that although it did not have roots, it stood tall, embracing the height of the world, connecting heaven and earth. Instead of branches, it reached east and west, embracing the width of the world. For the earliest Christians, it was on the cross, on this unique kind of tree, in which they found happiness, in which they felt like they were blessed. Because as they understood, it was on the cross that Jesus journeyed to show there is no pain we can go through in which God can not relate. It is on the cross that Jesus personally expressed that there is no experience that God would not endure for us. Though the cross was not planted by streams, it bears for us the source of living water in which we are able to prosper, in which our leaves will not wither. In the last 6 months we have gone through various seasons. We have prepared for the birth of Jesus. We have celebrated the way in which Emmanuel, God With Us, has come into our world. We journeyed with Jesus as he willingly made his way to the cross, teaching, healing and feeding along the way. We experienced how in the resurrection we find that God is more powerful then death and that eternal life will prevail over the ways of the world. Now we prepare to enter the time of Pentecost, in which the Holy Spirit falls upon the people of God, in which we experience how the wind of God moves upon sisters and brothers, and gives us “enough.” Not just “enough”, but allows us to bear and to share fruits of the Spirit that can only come when one is rooted and watered by the ways of the Lord. Again, what are those fruits? Love, joy and peace; patience, kindness and generosity; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Again, I’m not sure if it is humanely possible for anyone to bear all of those fruits. I’m not sure if our branches could handle the weight of all of those fruits. But I am pretty sure that if we all put our branches together, one would find that all those fruits exist right here, right now, in this place. And in that way, we are all a bit fruity. In conclusion, we all have faced seasons of rough winds; we have all faced times of high storms that have threatened to pick us up and blow us away like unsecured chaff. But by the grace of God, we are not chaff, but mighty and strong trees, trees that are transplanted by living water that feeds our souls and allows us to prosper. And in spite of, or perhaps, because of the storms and the high winds that we face, and the crosses we have endured, we have all bore fruit, born of the Spirit, nourished by the living waters of Christ. Because of this, we can be proud to be part of this Christian community; this grove of fruit bearing trees. So that when others face their own personal hurricanes of life, they too will have a place to go. A place in which they are surrounded by living trees who are there to shade and comfort, produce and teach, grow and prosper. Because at the end of the day, thanks to the breath of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and the living water of Jesus Christ, we are all a bit fruity. For that, let us say “Amen.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day Sermon; May 13, 2012; 1 John 5:1-6

Rev. George Miller 1 John 5:1-6 “Whose We Are” May 13, 2012 In the United Church of Christ there are 2 sacraments we hold dear: Baptism and Communion. One involves water; the other a meal. Both sacraments mirror 2 elemental aspects of home life: bathing and being fed; being washed clean and sharing a nourishing meal. These two sacraments say “You are loved” and “you belong.” Lately, I’ve been thinking about the language we use to describe our church, wondering just what imagery we should be using. Some will say we are a community of faith; others would call us the Body of Christ. The author of today’s scripture would say we are a sacred family. 1 John is a passionate, at times perplexing book of the Bible that was written around the year 100 in response to some conflicts the faith community was having. There were those who wanted the followers of Jesus excluded from the synagogue; there were those who secretly believed in Jesus but were too afraid to tell anyone. There were those who were following John the Baptist, and there were those who denied Jesus’ humanity, claiming that it just seemed like he came to earth in human form. Trouble was that to deny Jesus’ humanity meant denying the personal, relational experience people had experienced with Christ. To deny his humanity meant his actions on the cross were no longer a revelation of God’s divine love for us, but more like a light and laser show meant to impress us. The author of 1 John did not believe in this view of Jesus at all. That’s one possible reason why he wrote in verse 6 that Jesus came by water and blood, two substances that exist within a woman’s womb. Water, the embryonic fluid that cushions and protects a child, keeping it safe; blood which is shared by mother and child through the umbilical cord, their hearts beating as one. Of course, water and blood can also be used to represent our two sacraments of Baptism and Communion. What I find encouraging about today’s reading is the logical, theological statement the author is making in the claim that Jesus was human. In an eggshell, he basically states that if we believe in Jesus, then we have been born of God, our Heavenly Parent. If we love our Heavenly Parent then not only do we love Brother Jesus, then we love all of God’s children, who are also our brothers and sisters. And since we love our Parent, we follow our Parent’s instruction which allows us to overcome the problems of the world. In a way, you can say that by following our Heavenly Parent’s commands, we will discover that we have “enough.” And most likely the commandment being referred to is the new commandment Jesus gave in John 13:34: that we are to love one another just as Jesus loved us. Now, let us pause here for a moment, because today is Mother’s Day, and 1 John is telling us that we are to love our sisters and brothers because we love God, our Parent. This is not meant to be a kind of namby-pamby love; the kind that features floating hearts and rhymed poems. It’s a deeper kind of love, a compassionate love, a kind of love that says “I may not know you, but I know whose you are.” Which gets me to thinking about a recent commercial that’s been on TV. I know that commercials are designed for one thing, and one thing only: to get us to buy something. The crafters of commercials know exactly what they’re doing. They know how to manipulate images and words to get us to feel what they want us to feel all for the sake of selling their product. Some commercials feature subtle and not-so-subtle promises that with the right item we too can have an active, happy romantic life. For example Haverty’s Furniture with its humorous tag line “I like that, I like it a lot.” Some commercials balance fear with the promise of comfort. Allstate Insurance does this well, making it seem like fire, car accidents and robbery run rampant. But have no fear because with Allstate we’re in good hands, and for proof all you need is to look at big, strapping Dennis Haysbert to be assured that with Allstate on our side we’ll be OK. Another kind of commercial is the sentimental kind which presents life at its absolute best as long as we purchase certain products. Even in their gushiest, some of these sentimental commercials have moments of illumination and insight, for example the Publix ad which has been running for Mother’s Day. Perhaps you’ve seen it: a pregnant mother and her precocious daughter are in their perfect kitchen making pinwheels and parfaits. Every time I see it, I get a little teary eyed and hit rewind on the DVR. So, without going any further, let’s take a look at it... …I know this commercial is designed to make me want to buy pickles, mayonnaise, and fat free yogurt, but it also ties so well into today’s reading. First, we have the incarnational aspect: Mom is pregnant; her belly is big and full. The baby is real; it kicks, there’s the notion that it’s restless and able to hear, and that speaking to it will calm her down. The commercial is communal. What are the mother and daughter doing? They’re making a meal that they will eat; boiling eggs, sprinkling parsley, rolling and slicing through the bread. This is a shared meal in which body, mind and soul are being nourished on so many levels. And this commercial is relational: the expectant Mother’s relationship to her daughter; the Mother’s relationship with her baby-yet-to-be. Here’s the part I like: the daughter’s relationship to her unborn sibling. When she’s invited to say something about herself, it’s not that she’s a good soccer player, or that she’ll be a good sister. It’s “You’re really going to love Mom.” The commercial takes it’s time to show the little girl’s realization; as she hug’s her mother’s belly; as she says those words: “You’re really going to love Mom.” In that line, in that action we can infer that it is through her love for her Parent, that she will in turn love her sister… …That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is what I believe 1 John is trying to teach us today: that we love each other because we share the same Parent. A Parent who bathed us in our baptism. A Parent who feeds us in Communion. A Parent who is our dwelling place. A Parent in whose household of faith we unite our hands, our hearts, our voices in worship and in action. And our love for one another is one that can be best described as compassion. Compassion, like the little girl’s, that says “I may have not yet met you yet, but no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Compassion that says if you are lonely, I will visit you. If you are sick, I will care for you. If you are struggling, I will assist you. If you are oppressed, I will speak up for you. If you are restless, I will speak to you. And if you are hungry, I will feed you. Why would we do that? Because you and I share the same Brother- Jesus Christ who walked with us, talked with us, shared in our joys, and didn’t run away from our sufferings. Why would we do that? Because we share the same Parent who art in heaven. You may use the term Mother, you may use the term Father, you may use the term Abba, or you may use the word Mommy. But not matter what word you use, we are all God’s children, sisters and brothers in Christ. Called to love one another just as God in Jesus Christ loved us. In the words of the Haverty commercial, I end by saying “I like that, I like that a lot.” Amen and Happy Mother’s Day to all of our strong, beautiful women.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sermon for May 6, 2012; Acts 8:26-40

Rev. George Miller Acts 8:26-40 “No Matter Who Your Are” May 6, 2012 For two years now we have had the opportunity to worship God together; to learn more about Jesus Christ. And for those two years, nearly without fail, we have found time in each service to say the slogan of our denomination “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And we mean it, although from time to time we are challenged as to what exactly “No matter who” means or what the words “welcome here” looks like. And that is Ok, because just like Missouri is known as the “Show Me State” we worship a “Show Me God,” a God who is more interested in heart service then lip service. And if there ever was a story in the Bible that played upon the “no matter who” or the “no matter where”, this is the one. Acts 8:26-40 is a scripture in which the Holy Spirit speaks out to us and says “Do you really want to see the inclusive love of God? Well here it is!” So without further ado, let’s go right into it. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has ascended into heaven and there has been an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his followers. And even though there has been great persecution; even though the disciples have been scattered, imprisoned and barraged with threats, their joy for the Good News can not be contained. They go from place to place, telling people about Jesus, reaching out to the paralyzed, the lame, the possessed, filling the city with great joy. Philip is given a specific task by God: to get up and go to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. Note there is nothing specific to Philip’s direction; simply “Get up and go.” And when he goes, what does he see? An Ethiopian eunuch, seating in his chariot, reading scripture. And the Spirit says “Go over and join.” Now, let’s stop there for a moment so we can talk about this man from Ethiopia. When this was written, people from Ethiopia were viewed as exotic. Homer, in his epic poem “The Odyssey,” referred to Ethiopians as the most beautiful and tallest people on the face of the earth. The Denzel Washington’s of their day. The man was also well educated. How can we tell? He is reading. Remember: this was at a time before Ipads, a time before books, a time before public schools, when only the elite were educated, when only a select few had access to and could understand the written word. Third, he was a man of authority. He is a court official for the queen, a man trusted with all of her money. Looks, education, power. On the surface the man appears to have it all. He appears to have…enough. But let’s dig deeper, It was believed back then that Ethiopia was the end of the world; it was the furthest you could go before literally falling off the face of the earth. Not to mention it meant this man was not like Philip or Simon or any of the other disciples. He was of a different nationality, a different race, a different and much darker skin tone. He was also not a Jew. Though he may have known about God, though he may have traveled from Africa to Jerusalem to worship, he was not officially “one of them.” Not to mention, he was a eunuch. Now some people know what this means; others do not. A eunuch is a man who has been castrated; he is a man who for various reasons has had his testicles removed. In one way you can say he is blemished; you can say he is incomplete. He is not whole; and therefore he is seen as a sexual outsider, forbidden to make an offering, forbidden to approach the altar, forbidden to enter the sanctuary. Looks, education, authority are one thing; but he’s also a man of a different race, a different religion, of a different body. And there is one more thing: pay attention to where the Ethiopian Eunuch is: he’s on a wilderness road. Another word for wilderness is dessert; another word for wilderness is lonely. The Spirit of God has sent Philip to a man who is different from everyone else on all accounts, and he is sent to a man who for all intents and purposes, is…alone; During the hottest part of the day; With a broken body; Far from the sanctity of the Temple; Far from the comforts of his own home. I wonder if at that moment the man felt like he had “enough” or if perhaps he felt like he was on “empty.” …But he wasn’t really empty at all, because he had a thirst for knowledge; …he wasn’t really empty at all because he had a hunger to understand just what the scripture was trying to say. And he wasn’t really alone. Because clearly, if the Spirit of God whisked Philip his way; if the Spirit lead Philip to that wilderness place, then it meant that God knew just who that man was. Just like how God knows who you, and you, and I am… …Yes, the man may have been tall and beautiful, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been well educated and placed in a role of authority, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have lived in the furthest regions of the Earth, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been of a different race and a different religion, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have a body that was no longer what it once was or looked like the bodies of others, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been denied entrance to the temple and in a lonely, wilderness place, but God knew who he was. And because God knew who he was, God knew what he needed. And because of this, God was able to reach out to the man through the obedient ministry of Philip. And Philip, by getting into that chariot, by sitting beside that man, by sharing with him the Good News of Jesus Christ, basically said, through his actions: “My friend: No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And when they come across a body of water, the man asked “What is to stop me from being baptized.” And with that the man is initiated into the inclusive Body of Christ, and as Luke writes it, he goes on “his way rejoicing.” Know what another way of saying rejoicing is: to be filled with joy! Yes, a man who was different from everyone else in virtually every way has a Christ experience and continues his life journey filled with happiness. In conclusion, as a church we continue to grow, we continue to seek understanding, we continue to find ways to emulate Christ and show compassion to a broken and lonely world. Let us not forget stories like today’s; let us not forget how God lead Philip off the beaten track to reach out to an another who was on the side of a lonely road. Because the truth is, at different points of our lives, we are all “the other”, aren’t we? And we all experience moments of feeling incomplete or all alone. But the good news is that when it comes to new life in Christ, it does not matter how tall or how short, no matter how near or far, no matter how well educated or how high powered we are, nor does it matter how whole or incomplete we seem to be, in Christ we are all one, in Christ we are all welcomed into the community of God. Because of that our emptiness is filled with enough and we can go on our way, rejoicing. For that I like to say “Amen.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sermon for April 29, 2012; John 10:1-21

Rev. George Miller John 10:10-21: “Shepherd of Abundant Life” April 29, 2012 A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit family and friends. When leaving Florida, packing is always a tricky task, especially during the change of seasons. Since I was driving, there was ample space in my car to pack as much as I wanted, but I tried my best to keep it light: sandals, shorts, polo shirts, one pair of shoes, and one pair of pants. Turns out it was cold and rainy most of the time so while the shorts remained unpacked, that one pair of pants was worn every single day. Thank God it was enough. One thing I was glad to have packed was a toy I had when I was a child, a castle made by Fisher Price that came complete with a king and queen, prince and princess, horses and dragons, guards, and even Robin Hood. This castle was perfect for my nephews to play with: it’s three levels high with a moat and drawbridge, a secret passage behind the stairs, a dungeon and trap door in which the toy figures could fall through. My nephews loved it. And why not? It was a kingdom for their imagination to run free. There was a moment during my trip when we were sitting in the living room and my nephews, ages 5, 3 and 2, were playing with the castle, each doing their own thing…and it was that moment. You know the kind I am talking about? That moment where you feel as if everything is fine with the world and you are just were you need to be, and there is nothing to be done, nothing to be said, but to just be…present. A moment in the kingdom… The Bible is filled with references to another kind of kingdom: the Kingdom of God. Jesus talked about it; he taught us how to pray about it. And within the Kingdom comes the promise of Eternal Life. And there’s a lot of conversation about what these words mean: Kingdom of God; eternal life; abundant life. Is Jesus talking about heaven, the place some say we will go after we die, where we get to see all of our loved ones again and pain is no more? Or is Jesus talking about a time in the future, a reality that is obtainable if we try really, really hard to do the right things and follow the right path? Or is Jesus talking about the present moment, this time, our time, the time in which we are living and breathing, now? Scholars debate just what Kingdom of God means. Theologians debate just what Kingdom of God means. Pastors debate just what Kingdom of God means. In my opinion, and this is mine, is that I don’t think that Jesus was so preoccupied about what happens after we die, or in the future far, far away. I think that what happens after we die is a mystery; a mystery that will surprise each and every one of us all. I opt to believe that what Jesus is most concerned about is how we live right here, right now, today. How we live as individuals, how we live as part of the community, how we live as part of the world. In today’s reading, Jesus says that his desire for us is that we may have life, and that we have it abundantly. Not when we die. Not in the far of future. But now. Abundant life. But what is abundant life? What does abundance look like? Personally, I hear the word abundance and I think of “too much.” I think about illusions of grandeur; I think of excess. All you can eat buffets, a closet filled with 30 pairs of shoes, 500 so-called Friends on Facebook. Is that the kind of abundance Jesus means? Is that the kind of abundance Jesus wants for us? I seriously doubt it. So what does abundance mean? I racked my brain all week about this, until I did the one thing a good preacher is not supposed to do: I turned to a Thesaurus to find synonyms to share. And there they were: plenty, piles, plethora. Then I came across this one word for abundance, and it surprised me: enough. According to Roget’s Super Thesaurus, another word for abundance is “enough”… What is enough? Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you what enough looks like. But I do know what enough feels like. Enough feels like the time I spent with my nephews, watching as they played with the Fischer Price castle. Enough feels like the time I hang out with my neighbors by the lake, in the sun, sipping cocktails and sharing stories. Enough feels like the hour we spend here, each Sunday, in worship, in this holy time, in this holy space. Those things to me feel like “enough.” What would yours be??? I personally like to believe that Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of God is about something we are capable of experiencing today. And we experience God’s Kingdom when we act upon the realization that we have life in abundance; when we realize we do have enough. Like Blind Bartimaeus, have you had an encounter with Jesus in which your eyes have been opened? Then you have enough. Has the Good News of the Resurrection poured into your life the spices of compassion and kindness, humility and gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love? Then you have enough. Have your senses become alive through Christ, making you more aware of mind, body and soul and the wonderful sensuality of life? Then you have enough. Were you able to find way, anyway, to donate food, put some kind of money into the offering plate or give to the Agape fund? Then you have enough. If any of these things I’ve just said ring true, then you are further inside the Kingdom of God then you probably already realize. Enough… In conclusion, I do not believe the Kingdom of God is far, far away. Nor do I believe that God is like three boys hunched over a castle and we are Fisher Price pieces waiting to be let in or tossed into the dungeon. I believe that Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows us intimately by name, he leads us to pleasant pastures, and when we wander away, as sheep often will, he searches high and low for us, and he brings us back in. And because of this, we each have the chance to experience life, abundant life, life in which we have enough. This week, may we each feel, live and love like we do indeed have enough and that we are already beloved residents of the Kingdom of God. If you feel like you have enough, offer God a “Hallelujah”, offer God an “Amen.”