Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sermon for July 29, 2012; Ephesians 3:14-21

Rev. George Miller
Ephesians 3:14-21
“Deep and Wide”
July 29, 2012

(The sermon is given “in character” as a 6- year old boy who enters the sanctuary wearing bunny ears and “walking” his stuffed alligator toy & singing)

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God can not do for you!
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God can not do for you!

(Stops in front of the altar, acts shy; plays with bunny ears during the whole sermon) Hi. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ.

My name is Abraham. I’m this many years old (holds up 8 fingers, then turns it into 6).

My Mom says I am not named after the President Abraham Lincoln but after a man named Abraham in the Bible.

I learned a song about him last week. Wanna hear it?

Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you so let’s just praise the Lord… (Getting softer and going back to being shy)

(Looking at stuffed alligator). What’s that? Oh, tell them your name? Sure. Everybody, this is my bestest friend in the whole world, Alli the Gator.

We live in Sebring with my Mamma. She is very pretty. My parents are separated and right now my Daddy is out of state trying to find a job, but he hasn’t had much luck lately.

Sometimes, because Mamma doesn’t make a lot of money, we don’t have much to eat. So for dinner all I may have is a bowl of cereal or a cold sandwich, and I’m still hungry before I go to bed….

…but not last week: last week I had lots of good food for dinner because I attended Vacation Bible School at Emmanuel United Church of Christ where “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”

It was so much fun. Can I tell you about it?

First we got to play games like Sorry and Memory and Corn Hole. Next, we got to do crafts like design our own bags to take home, make sheep and birds nests.

Then, we got to play outside, like relay races, scavenger hunt and Duck Duck Goose!

We also had lessons where we learned all about different animals in the Bible. For example, we learned about sheep! Do you know sheep only have 8 teeth! And there are over 900 kind of sheep?

We also learned about snakes. Like how there’s a snake called an asp and he may be tiny but his bite is very dangerous, and the adder who may be big but he won’t hurt you?

Guess what else we did? Can you guess what else we did?

We ate! Lots and lots and lots of good food! We had spaghetti and hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and hamburgers.

We had the bestest chicken fingers in the whole wide world and we had pizza! I put hot sauce and parmesian cheese on mine just like the pastor.

We had desserts like sharks in the water and chocolate mices and ice cream sundaes!

And at the end of each night we were sent home with a goody bag of fruit and snacks and healthy things to eat.

Not once last week did I got to bed hungry.

And you know what else we did? I think Alli wants to tell you…

…We had worship! We learned about the Books of the New Testament. We heard stories that taught us how God remembers us no matter how much it rains; God searches for us when we feel lost; no one is too small for God and that everyone is unique and special.

Know what else? We song lots and lots and lots of songs. And we were allowed to dance and march and use our hands.

One song I like was called “Deep and Wide.” It goes like this:

Deep and wide, deep and wide
There’s a fountain flowin’ deep and wide.
Deep and wide, deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowin’ deep and wide!

(Invites everyone to sing along.) That was pretty good. Maybe you can go with me to Vacation Bible School next year.

“Deep and Wide” is like today’s Bible story. Do you know that this was actually a letter, a really, really ooolllddd letter meant to remind the church how to be a church?

And that this letter is also to remind everybody that Jesus and the church are never to be separated; that the church is the Body of Christ to all the people who are around.

This letter is also a reminder that because of Jesus we already know we are loved so we can learn how to grow, how to get better and how to become who we are supposed to be.

(Turns to “listen” to alligator) Alli says that maybe if more people went to Vacation Bible School they would know that too!

Also, the letter says that in God we already have a Daddy and we are all God’s children.

And that the church is to bless God because God has already blessed the church.

(Gets quiet) Know what? Do you wanna know what? You were the church this week.

You gave us a place to belong and feel safe.

You helped to make our faith growed.

You taught us a lot.

You gave us a place to give thanks and glory to God. To have fun, say prayers and to fill our bellies.

In conclusion, you showed me and Alli and all my new friends that there is no limit to

-the breadth
-the length
-the height
-or the depth to God’s love, and that in Jesus we are all very, very, very, very special.

(To alligator) What Alli? You think we should close by singing a song?

What song do you want to sing?

“My God is So Big”? (To congregation) Can you stand up and help me and Alli the Gator sing?

It’s real easy. I’ll teach you. After all, I learned it right here, in church, at Vacation Bible School.

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God can not do for you!
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God can not do for you!

Amen and amen!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sermon for July 22, 2012; 2 Samuel 7:1-17

Rev. George Miller
2 Samuel 7:1-17
“God’s Time”
July 22, 2012

Once there was a high-powered city woman named Samantha whose life hit a rough patch, so she ran away to the country. She found comfort by taking cooking lessons from a woman named Iris.

Iris taught Samantha how to make bread, combining yeast, warm water, melted butter and flour and then kneading the dough.

The process allowed Samantha to work out some of her stress, but she was still so caught up in her baggage from the past that she couldn’t connect to the now and it was making her angry.

“That’s enough kneading,” Iris said, taking the dough, patting it into a round shape.

“Now what?” asked a frustrated Samantha. “Shall I put it into the oven?”

“Not yet,” said Iris, as she placed the dough in a bowl and covered it with a towel. “Now we wait.”

“Wait?” Samantha said, staring at her, “What do you mean wait?”

“We wait; about half an hour.”

“But,” said Samantha, “What are we waiting for?”

“For the yeast to rise and work its magic on the dough. Underneath the towel a small miracle is happening.”

Samantha, wound up tight; used to being in control of life’s every minute said “I’m sorry, I can’t do this; I can’t just sit around waiting for yeast to get its act together!”

Wisely ignoring her temper tantrum, Iris distracted Samantha by having her shell some bean pods. It worked, and soon Samantha found her restlessness dissipating.

After the beans were done, they went back to the dough, kneading it into loaves and waiting another half hour. Samantha didn’t mind so much this time. They listened to music and hulled strawberries.

At the right time the dough went into the oven, and the two women sat at a table outside, enjoying a tray of cheese, strawberries, and pleasant conversation.

Iris went inside and when she came back she told Samantha to hold out her hands and close her eyes. Samantha felt something warm with a yeasty smell being placed in her hands. She opened her eyes to see a loaf of bread, plump and golden brown.

“Tell me that’s nothing,” Isis said. “You made that; you should be proud of yourself.”

Samantha was. At that moment all her worries over wasted time were gone and she felt like right now was the only thing worth holding on to.

She was in the process of “becoming”.


We all share the same sixty seconds, the same sixty minutes, and the same 24 hours of each day.

How we experience those seconds, minutes, hours can depend on so many things: our age, our personality, our sense of mortality.

For some, time is an unlimited resource that can be burned away, to have fun with (show a clip from Ke$ha’s music video “Tik Tok”).

For some time is something to hold dear and treasure (clip of “As Time Goes By’ from Casablanca).

For others, time is something to be left frazzled, rushed and overwhelmed by (clip of “I’m Late” from Disney’s cartoon Alice in Wonderland).

Time, to be squandered. Time, to be treasured. Time, to be enslaved to.

Time is a concept the biblical writers knew about all too well. In fact they had two different words for time: chronos and kyros.

Chronos is the time fabricated by humans; the clock we imprison ourselves with that say we have to be up at 7, lunch at 12, and dinner by 6.

Kyros is much different. Kyros is God’s time. It’s the unfolding of history and God’s actions in our lives at God’s pace, in God’s wisdom, not dependent upon our clocks or calendars.

Kyros time is akin to the time it takes for yeast in a bowl to make the dough rise. It can not be controlled, forced or made to fit into our allotted time slot.

It can mean 7 days to create, 40 years in the wilderness, or 3 days in the tomb.

We experience kyros time in today’s reading. King David is coming off of a professional high. He’s not only King, but he’s now brought the ark of the Lord into the center of the city.

Everything about David says he is a success and that God is with him.

But is King David finished yet? Is he ready to rest? No; he wants to do more.

He wants to make God a temple, a house of worship to place the ark of the Lord in.

It sounds like a great idea: a magnificent edifice to show to the entire world how wonderful God is and what God has done.

King David talks to Nathan, his pastor, and Nathan says “Sure thing! Let’s start right away with those building plans.”

Trouble is, neither David nor Nathan stopped to pray about it or to wonder what God would think.

Well, that night, God let it be known. God gives Nathan as message to pass onto David, revealing a very different time line.

God says “Why do you think I need a house right now? I’ve been doing things just fine, moving about in complete freedom, bringing the people out of Egypt, taking you out of your dead-end job, being wherever you are.”

“I’m fine,” says God. “Instead of worrying about what you can build for me, let me build for you instead; an amazing legacy and a glorious time of peace.”

“When the time is right, I’ll have one of your offspring build a place for me. He’ll be like a son and I’ll establish his place in history forever…But now is not the time.”

You have to wonder why, when David was all good and ready, pumped and excited to build God a temple that God said, “No.”

We’re never told. My guess is that David had already done enough, securing for himself a place in history.

He had brought together a kingdom, success of every kind, and just recently was the grand marshal of a parade that brought the ark into town.

That’s “enough” accomplishments for one man to claim. To add “builder of the Lord’s House” to David’s resume would have been too, too much.

His head would have swollen up, his ego would have expanded and pretty soon people would start to see him as a god.

Instead, God encourages David to sit back, relax, and enjoy the miracle of what they have accomplished together and to trust that at the right time, one of David’s kin will do the job.

David is free to squander or treasure his time. Perhaps learn golf, or bake bread.

Sounds good to me, but I can’t help detecting a sense of melancholy in this story. Basically David is being made to reckon with the reality that he will be long dead before his vision is fulfilled.

This is actually a common occurrence throughout the Bible. Abraham and Sarah are told their family will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and will bless all the families of the world.

But Sarah dies with having only given birth to one child, never to experience the joys of being the matriarch of a large extended family.

Moses was called to lead the people through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, but he himself never got to make it in.

After 40 years of leading, preparing and empowering the people, Moses only catches a glimpse of the Promised Land from a mountaintop before he dies.

Both Sarah and Moses played important roles in starting something big, but they never got to experience it themselves.

Same with David. He wanted so much to be the one to build a Temple for the Lord; instead he had to rest on the assurance that one of his children would do it one day.

On God’s time; on kyros time.

That’s such a hard concept; a concept that can hit us right where it hurts, in our sense of mortality. That we want to get things done, we want to see them through.

But faith doesn’t always work that way.

Faith is sometimes what we do knowing that we are only playing a part, trusting that God will finish the rest.

Faith is knowing that sometimes we will never see or be aware of the differences we have made in other’s lives…

…Faith is knowing that if what we are doing is truly for God and in the best interest of the Kingdom, then whatever we have done has not been in vain.

That’s an important thing to think about as we prepare for tomorrow’s Vacation Bible School, where we may have 12 children, we may have 4.

That’s an important thing to think about as we embark on our building committee, realizing that there’s always a chance that it may be voted down or that some people who are here today may not be alive to see it completed.

The recent deaths of Ruth, Carol and Tim Perry remind us of that.

But just because God’s time doesn’t always fit into our concept of time it does not mean that we stop, or give up or lose all hope.

Kind David didn’t. Sure, he never got to build the Temple, but his son Solomon did.

But there’s something even more important that happened. God did indeed build a new kind of kingdom through David’s kin.

And you know how God did that? Through Jesus Christ, born of Mary, raised by Jospeh, whose lineage could be traced back David. Sure it took generations to happen, but it did.

Instead of a stationary temple made of cedar and expensive ornaments, Jesus Christ became the everlasting, ever moving, ever present temple in which all the world would experience the presence of God.

Jesus who demonstrated through his life, death and resurrection that God can work through and beyond all concepts of time: the past, the now and the forever.

And when you think about it, King David not only played a role in creating God’s house, but many, many houses.

Look around today and realize that this house, our church, is a direct result of King David’s passion and faith, even if he did not live long enough to see it.

And what a great house God has given us.

In conclusion, as people of faith, we are often called to alter our concept of time; the “tik tok”, the “time goes by”, the “I’m late, I’m late” concepts that suit or needs or hold us back.

Instead, we are invited to experience the kyros time of God, the time that may not make sense but the time that is right.

To look up at the sun and moon and stars and feel a sense of timelessness, believing that our God is an “on time God” whose steadfast love is forever everlasting, whose miracles will never cease.

Like Samantha, like Sarah, like Moses and King David, we are all in the process of “becoming.”

Continuing to learn what is “enough”, how to grow in Christ and how to live in, not against, God’s own good time.

Amen and amen.

*story of Samantha and Iris taken from Sophie Kinsella’s novel The Undomestic Goddess, 2005; which can be found in our church’s library.*

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sermon for July 15, 2012; 2 Samuel 6:1-5. 12-19

Rev. George Miller
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19
“Dancing Through Life”
July 15, 2012

Before we start today’s message, I thought it would be fun to show a video clip that was sent by Bill and Ada Wright.

It features musical numbers from the 1940s, put to a popular song from the 70’s that has been circulating YouTube since 2010. It’s called “Rita Hayworth is Stayin’ Alive.”

There is no denying, regardless if you are young, old, black, white, male, female, straight or gay; that she was stunning and gorgeously confident.

Also, entertainers like Rita Hayworth and Hollywood musicals played an important part in keepin’ alive the spirits of many Americans during the Great Depression and 2nd World War.

Now, Let us pray...

As you see in the bulletin, the flowers today were given by me in memory of my Father, Herbert Allen Miller, who died 17 years ago.

17 years is a long time when you’re only 42, and I miss him so. The fact is, the older I get the more I wish he was here so we could sit back, talk and get to know one another all over again.

I’d tell him that I appreciate all the things I inherited from him.

For example, my Dad was a cop who loved his job not because it was something he did but because it was who he was.

Some people say you should never define yourself by your occupation, but I would say anyone who has worked as a cop would say otherwise; as would a teacher, a preacher, a farmer, a musician etc.

My father passed on his love for musicals, both Broadway and Hollywood. And my father taught me how to keep a beat.

It wasn’t something he did purposely, he simply drove with the radio on, window rolled down, hand on the car roof and he would tap along to the beat of the music.

I would watch him do this, and looking back now I realize now not only was he teaching me how to keep rhythm, but that music was something to be enjoyed and interacted with.

Dancing, like music, like food, is life. It can be used to socialize, to tell a story, to express joy or to overcome sadness.

And anyone, at any age, can dance. Little kids just learning to walk will bop along to a beat. Older folks will tap their fingers on the handlebars of their wheelchairs.

Life is a dance, and we were created by God to dance through it.

But it can be difficult to dance if no one is there to teach you the steps or to remind you of how they are done.

Kind of how I feel about not having my Dad around. It’s not easy to dance into the future when it seems like the past has been lost…

That’s one way to look at today’s reading.

King David seems to have it all: a successful career, wives, respect, and a mansion.

But he realizes it is not enough.

King David knows that he did not get to where he is all by himself; that it wasn’t just chance or hard work.

It was because of God.

God who knew him even when it seemed his own father did not. God who called him to be king and lead him through many battles.

Maybe King David is pious, maybe he’s politically savvy, but he’s smart enough to know that God, not he, is the center of it all.

In David’s day, before the Temple was constructed, the ark of the Lord was the ultimate symbol of God’s presence.

Inside the arc were things like the 10 Commandments and a pot containing manna from heaven.

The ark of the Lord not only symbolized God but all that God had done for them throughout their history.

The arc was there when God lead through them through wilderness. When they were fed manna from heaven and water from the rock.

When they crossed over the Jordan River and God allowed the waters to stop. When God led them in victory over Jericho and the walls came a tumblin’ down

The ark was there when they entered into the Promised Land, their new home flowing with milk and honey.

Through all the good times, through all they had accomplished, the ark of the Lord was there as a symbol of God’s divine presence.

Therefore the ark not only represented their past, but also their present identity as beloved children of God, cared for and watched over just like the sparrows of the air.

But, for the past 20 years or so, the ark had been sitting in storage.

You know how sometimes someone gives us something so valuable, like a piece of jewelry or a family heirloom that we become too afraid to lose or break it, so we lock it away?

That’s kind of what happened with the ark. And as often times when things are locked away, they are forgotten, and as they are forgotten, so are bits and pieces of the past.

Same with the ark of the Lord. The people were in danger of forgetting the good memories, like how God fed them, how God fought for them, how God forgave them.

Until David remembered. He realized that what the people needed to stay united, what they needed to be reminded, was the very thing that represented the Lord.

David wants to symbolically and physically bring God into the center of the kingdom.

He does not want himself or anyone else to forget about God, nor the traditions and stability that come from remembering.

So out of storage, out of mothballs, the ark of the Lord goes, and King David, full of passion and charisma, stages an extravagant parade to welcome the return of the ark.

Amidst singing and cymbals, amidst tambourines and castanets creating a beat, what does David do?

Does he simply just observe this joyous worship? No, he actively participates.

He dances, with all his life, with all his might, with wild, reckless abandon.

Like Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan, like Michael Jackson on the Motown Anniversary special; David is the original rock star and he’s got the moves like Jagger.

Why does he dance? Maybe it’s because sometimes when one is reminded of just how good God is, there is nothing to do but to dance.

Sometimes words can not suffice, so a handclap or foot stomp will have to do.

David dances with all that he’s got, because everything he’s got has been given to him by God.

Let’s pause here for a moment to think about dance. Dance has been around since the dawn of time, used as an expression of every emotion for every kind of occasion.

But dancing does not exist in a vacuum; dance builds upon the dance that came before.

Doesn’t matter if we are talking about line dancing or hip hop, if we’re talking Strictly Ballroom or America’s Best Dance Crew, all dance builds upon previous dancers.

Beyonce borrowed her moves from Fosse, Fosse from Fred Astaire. Any good dancer has been trained in elements of jazz and ballet, seen “Red Shoes” or “Singing in the Rain.”

None of this is about being chained to or weighed down by the past, but by knowing enough of it to be able to dance in the present and move on forward into the future.

David’s dance does just that. David’s dance is a way to help the people to remember the past and to bring it into their lives.

Not as extra baggage that will weigh them down, but as a form of identity that is meant to joyfully propel a person forward.

An expression of unbridled thankfulness and joy for what God has done in the past, what God is doing in the present and what God will do in the future.

David sums it all up by dancing.

In conclusion, all of creation is a dance.

We too have the chance to find ways to lay our burdens down and to dance, even if it’s just within our hearts.

We are invited to discover that God is indeed the musical director of our lives and as such we are free to rejoice, free to dance, to leap, and shout.

To shine.

To stay alive.

With the assurance that God is enough, God is ever present, and as such, God is meant to be the center of our lives and the focus of our worship.

For that we can say “Amen” and “Let’s boogie!”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 8, 2012 sermon; Mark 6:1-13

July 8, 2012
Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
Sermon Title: “Baggage”
Rev. George N. Miller

(This message is acted out in character with a country twang and scads of luggage hanging off of me)

Howdy! Good to see ya. Thank you for inviting me. I’d have arrived sooner, but as you can see: I got too much baggage weighing me down.

Lots o’ baggage: past and present. Trouble is, I’m so weighed down it don’t seem like I’m going to have much of a future. Still, it’s my baggage.

I used to travel all the time when I was younger; meet new people, experience new things, back then my baggage was much smaller and lighter.

I would soar in the air, but it’s now impossible to pass through security with all this stuff.

Tried the good ol’ American railways to go sea to shiny sea, but my baggage took up too much room.

Same thing with the bus, ‘xcept the weight of my baggage made it more of a Turtle then a Greyhound.

Thought I could take all my baggage with me in the car, but wouldn’t you know: it blocked the windows and I couldn’t clearly see where I was going or where I was coming from.

I know, I know. I know just what ya’ll thinking: why don’t I just let go of some of my baggage?

But see, I can’t. It’s not that easy. Keeping my baggage close to me is what I do. It’s who I am.

I’ve done it for so long it would take an act of God for me not to have all these bags with me.

What’s in them you ask? Oh, stuff.

Like this here: my memories of the way things used to be. Like toys I used to play with. Photo albums- see how young I looked? How MTV used to show music videos. Videotapes of favorite movies: why can’t they make them like that anymore?

You certainly can’t blame me for not parting with any of these.

Now these bags: I call them my shoulda-coulda-woulda bags. Let’s see.

Ah yes. I shoulda went to college. I shoulda asked Pat to the prom. I shoulda bought stock in Microsoft.

My coulda bag. I coulda been a doctor if I had went to college. I coulda been married by now if I had asked Pat to the prom. I coulda been a millionaire if I had bought stock in Microsoft.

This here: my woulda bag. I woulda been successful if I had just gone to school to be a doctor. I woulda been a Dad or maybe even a grandfather if I had just asked Pat to the prom. And I woulda been living in Beverly Hills if I’d just purchased that dang Microsoft stock!

And these here: my grievance bags. Like how I’m still mad that Chris told everyone back in high-school that I kissed like a jellyfish. Or that my sister used my favorite jersey as a nightgown and spilled nail polish all over it.

Here’s a good one: that Sunday, 15 years ago, when the pastor forgot my name and I refused to go back to church until he called to apologize.

He never did.

As you can see, I have my baggage. I carry it around with me everywhere I go. But who doesn’t. I mean, you do right?

I can’t be the only one with shoulda-woulda-coulda bags, am I?

Or grievances bags? Let’s be honest: we hold grudges against folk, don’t we?

I ain’t the only one, though it does appear I’m so weighed down by my baggage that I just can’t seem to move forward at all.

So...for the longest while it’s just been me and my baggage. Not going anywhere. Spending a lot of time in the past. Not really enjoying the present.

Just sitting at home, surrounded by all my bags.

One day, while nothing else was on the TV, I turned the channel to this preacher; you know: the one with the mullet and constant smile?

It been ages since I last stepped foot inside a church. But this pastor seemed alright, so I decided to listen, all my bags comfortably surrounding me.

He was talking about Mark 6:1-13; how Jesus wasn’t respected in his home town. Folk claimed he was just a bit too uppity; they tried to bring him down a peg by sayin’ he ain’t buthin’ but the carpenter’s son.

But did that stop Jesus? No! Next thing you know, he’s sending the disciples out 2 by 2, encouraging them to preach the word, and if folk didn’t want to hear it, well, they were to just shake the dust from off their feet.

Well, I was kinda amazed by that. I mean, if I was Jesus, and I was humiliated like that in my own hometown, you can bet that I’d have me a brand new big ol’ suitcase filled with all the names of people who ticked me off.

But here is Jesus, letting all these slights roll off his back like water to a duck, and he was able to move on and do what he needed to do.

He tells the disciples that they are to travel without the basic necessities: no food, no money, no baggage.

No baggage?

Just a tunic for their body, sandals for the feet and a walking stick.

This was a way to teach them how to rely upon the Lord, and to also demonstrate to others how the Christian life is a life of simplicity.

Something about the message resonated with me. I know that historically the scripture was saying one thing, but for me, metaphorical-like, it was saying a whole ‘notha thing.

What I heard was Jesus saying “Let go.”

“Let go. If you want to move forward, if you want to experience life, you got to let go.”

I looked at my baggage, I looked at my life, all the things I had accumulated, all the things I held onto, all the junk I was refusing to let go.

And I heard the Savior say “Let Go.”

But I didn’t know how. After living a life in which I have held on so tight to every single thing, how could I possibly let go?

So I pulled my baggage closer, afraid of parting with one single thing; not my toys, not my love of all things Styrofoam, not my regret over not purchasing Microsoft stock, not my anger at my sister.

But it seemed the tighter I held on, the more and more I began to hear that voice: “Let go.”

It started off small, like a still small voice, a whisper in the night: “Let Go.”

It got louder, like a song on the wind: “Let go.”

Then it boomed, like the crash of thunder: “Let go!”

I was scared. I didn’t know how.

But the next time I heard that voice say “Let go,” I reached into my memories bag, and accepted the fact that MTV will never go back to showing just videos. (Put one bag down)

Next time I heard God say “Let go” I went into one of my bags and pulled out that jersey my sister ruined. I called her up and told her I forgave her for staining it. (Put another bag down)

It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. But next time I heard “Let go” I reached into my bags and took all things Microsoft out and released those regrets to the wind. (Put another bag down)

And little by little, more by more, an amazing thing happened: my baggage became lighter. (Put another bag down)

More and more I found ways to make amends, I found ways to forgive and let go of past grievances. (Put another bag down)

Little by little, more by more I began to let go of some of my childish ways, and I found ways to not be so stuck in the past. (Put another bag down)

And as hard as it has been, it’s been good. All the bags that I’ve been carrying, their straps cutting into my skin, their weight disfiguring my back, have become smaller. (Stand up straight; go to pulpit and grab small carry-on bag)

I first noticed the difference when I got into my car, and there was enough space to see what was ahead of me, as well as what was behind.

Soon, I was able to step onto the bus and go at Greyhound speed. Soon, I was able to get onto the train and without all that baggage, folk were able to sit beside me, and talk, and get to know one another.

My baggage was still with me, but it was noticeably smaller and no longer limiting me.

And now, now after listening to that voice that called me to “Let Go” I find that I have been given new freedom.

I can travel in the air, like the Spirit, heading into my future, freed from my past, no longer trapped by my baggage, having new adventures, meeting new people and making new friends.

And, as you can see, my baggage has become light enough that I’ve been able to step back into church. Where I can see all your smiling faces, I can hear your beautiful songs and I know that God is real.

Even forgave the pastor for forgetting my name. After all: he’s only human, right?

Sure, I still got my own baggage to deal with. We all do. We’re human. But because of Christ and the grace he gives, I have found a way to let go, a way to move ahead, and a way to trust in the Lord.

In conclusion, I have learned that as scary as it is, when the Lord says “Let go”, let go. You’ll be amazed where the Spirit takes you. You’ll be strengthened by Christ on your side.

And you’ll discover that God will provide you with “enough” of what you need for whatever journey lays ahead. Amen, and amen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sermon from July 1, 2012; Mark 5:21-43

Rev. George Miller
Mark 5:21-43
“Hope Amidst Hopelessness”
July 1, 2012

Recently I watched season one of “Downton Abbey,” a sumptuous British mini-series complete with Lords and Ladies, butlers and chefs.

It shows how the rich family lives upstairs, hosting extravagant banquets, changing into 4 outfits day, while the servants live and work below; cooking their meals, washing their clothes, making sure everything proceeds like clockwork.

Everything is neat and in its place, working on a structured system of honor and shame.

Though they may be cordial to one another, the two classes are never to mix; boundaries are not to be crossed over.

Crossing over is an important theme in today’s scripture. Look at the first sentence of today’s reading: Jesus crosses over, once again, to the other side.

It is in his crossing over that Jesus will have an encounter with and change the lives of at least three people.

Mark is a provoking Gospel, written by a creative author who refuses to give easy answers or supply us with comfort food.

Mark likes to challenge us. “What kind of person are you?” he seems to ask.

Are you the kind who looks out at the world and sees hopelessness amidst the hope?

Or do you see the hope amidst the hopelessness?

Take for example today’s reading.

In ch. 4 Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a person who scatters seed all over the place, and to a mustard seed that grows branches for all the birds to build their nests.

In ch. 5, after his lessons are completed, Jesus crosses over the sea to where he meets a Gentile man, tormented by demons.

After healing him, Jesus crosses over again, this time to the west side of the lake.

This mention of crossing over is not to be missed. It’s akin to saying “When Jesus took the ferry from Staten Island into Manhattan.”

Or “When Jesus drove down Martin Luther King Blvd until it changed over to Power Line.”

Anyone who has driven that route knows the cultural shift that takes place in just a few short miles.

Jesus is now on the West side of the sea, where the Jewish people live. But apparently even on the west side folk still face their own trials and tribulations.

Jesus is approached by a religious leader whose daughter is dying and he’s approached by a woman whose life blood is pouring out.

But before we go any further, let’s stick with this notion of Jesus crossing over, because it’s not just a geographical thang; it is social, spiritual, and economical.

Jesus has crossed over from Gentile to Jew. From male to female. From young to old.

From the financially spent to the financially solvent. From the prestigious to the ostracized.

From honored to shamed.

This is Jesus crossing boundaries after boundaries after boundaries.

Touching and affecting lives in ways that go beyond time, cash and status.

Even as the world presses in, this is Jesus finding a way to bring wellness and peace into people’s lives.

This is Jesus in the process of creating a new community even in the midst of things seeming to fall apart.

Let’s take a listen to the moment when we get to hear Jesus “cross” over; the moment where life and death exist at the same time.

While Jesus is going to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter, Jesus is touched by a woman who is unclean. He stops and asks who touched him.

Boldly, the woman comes before him and tells her whole story. When the woman stops talking, Jesus says to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

A family term of belonging; God knows who she is.

There is hope.

But as Jesus is talking to her; people come to Jairus and say “Your daughter is dead.”

There is hopelessness.

Mark has done something crafty: if you read verses 34 & 35, you’ll realize that both lines were spoken at the same time.

Which means that it would have sounded like this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well/Your daughter is dead.”

This is key. Jesus is in the process of creating a new community, when both realities come together: life and death.

On one hand, we have the good news that a woman has been made well, on the other hand we have news that a daughter is dead.

There is hope and there is hopelessness.

What happens when they both exist at the same time?

Do we succumb to one and deny the other?

Do we smile through the pain? Do we cry through the healing?

Which does Jesus choose?

What will this new community be based on?

In this moment we are witnessing something amazing; a community in the beginning stages of being formed.

And it is being formed by hope.

When it seems like all hope is lost, when others laugh and scoff at him, Jesus presses on, making a way for the Kingdom of God to break on in.

Jesus creates a community that goes beyond master and servant; that goes beyond young and mature.

Jesus creates a community of hope.

A community that says “Even with chronic illness, we will find the strength to fully live out the rest of our lives.”

A community that says “Even when the money has bled out, we will continue pressing forward, trusting that in God we have ‘enough.’”

A community that says “Even when we’ve fallen down and are flat on our backs, we will find a way to get on our feet again. No matter how many times we fall.”

In Jesus, this is a community in which space is created for stories to be told, naysayers do not have the final word, girls matter just as much as boys, and the poor matter just as much as the rich.

The community Jesus creates here is one that still continues 2,000 years later.

Through religious persecution, through violent revolution and segregation, through depression, recession and Supreme Court intervention, the community that Christ has created is still here.

The community is still here, because the seeds Jesus planted have been scattered far and wide, growing branches that have created homes for all the birds of the air.

In conclusion, when Jesus crosses over into our lives, a change occurs, and with that change a chance to take part in a new creation.

The community Jesus has created is one where there is no such thing as upstairs and downstairs, there is no such thing as separation of class, but we are all equal, all daughters and sons worthy of our Father’s love.

In that new creation are elements of hope.

For in Jesus we can get up and we can say “I am a child of God, and I know I am worthy of being healed.”

For this we can say “Amen and amen.”