Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sermon from 10/28/2012; Isaiah 58:6-9a

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 58:6-9a
“Bread for the World”
Oct 28, 2012

Today’s been a busy day. We’ve welcomed 16 New Members. You’ve heard about the upcoming Harvest Home Fair. Let’s not forget it’s also Agape Sunday, meaning that we’re taking a 2nd offering to go directly out into the world community.

Today’s Agape Offering is designated to go towards Bread for the World, a Christian collective of voices with one singular vision: to eradicate world hunger.

This month we join other UCC churches across the nation to combine our gifts to assist people we do not even know and we will most likely never even meet.

Why are we doing this? Because we know we are loved by God.

Why are we doing this? Because the proper response to being loved is to love in return.

We do this because the way God wants us to show our love to God is by sharing our love with others.

Love. That is the theme for today. Love in all its expressions and forms.

It may be Halloween week, but let’s imagine its Valentine’s Day; after all they both have chocolate in common.

Do you know there are various languages of love? There are numerous ways we show our love to one another?

There are those who express their feelings verbally, by saying “I love you” and speaking sweet nothings.

Others express their feelings by sharing things that matter most to them, like the game of golf, a favorite movie, or their favorite spot on the beach.

Others like to express their feelings through physical affection, always kissing, cuddling, walking hand-in-hand along a sandy beach.

Others express affection by leaving trinkets behind, like photos of themselves, books they enjoyed, or pebbles from the beach they visited.

Others express their feelings by buying things, such clothes, jewelry, fancy chocolates and expensive meals.

These are all valid ways of expressing one’s love. The trick is in knowing that not everyone shows love the same way and being able to realize the language they are using.

For example, some people will never say “I love you” but will they fix, or build something for you the moment you ask.

Others may be as cheap as cheap can be, but they’ll be as faithful as the day is long.

Couples often have to discern how their partner expresses love, and decide if their expression is enough.

It also helps to know how one’s partner needs love to be expressed.

For example, my father always walked about three steps ahead of my mother. My mother always wanted to walk side by side and it would upset her when he did not.

I dated someone who would spend hours cooking a meal while I sat alone watching TV. I would have been just as happy eating Taco Bell while talking and flirting.

My friend Marie had a boyfriend who redid her floors, took down her doors and repainted them. But that wasn’t enough; she didn’t want to see his love in action; she needed to hear his love verbalized in words.

Love is a complex emotion, which the Greeks understood, which is why they had at least four words for love.

They had the word storge, which refers to the kind of natural affection we feel for our children, nieces, nephews etc.

Then there is philia, which is friendship, the kind of love we feel for friends, community.

Then there is eros, passionate love, the kind that involves sensual desire and longing.

Then there is agape, love that goes beyond attraction. It’s unconditional, sacrificial, compassionate love.

This is where we get the name for today’s special offering. Agape; meaning in its simplist sense “I love you.”

It is agape love which I believe we have going on in today’s reading.

Modern scholars believe that this portion of Isaiah was written during a time of history in which Israel’s people were spiritually stuck in an in-between state.

They had come out of the Exile, a difficult time of struggle and loss, and they had expected things to get better and go back to the way they once were.

But they haven’t. It’s like they’ve been experiencing a 20 years recession and they can’t understand why. They question if God even cares and if God is even listening.

In chapter 58 God responds: “Acting all righteous, offering me fancy acts of praise and fasting all day is not how to say you love me, especially if you fight amongst yourselves, treat others poorly and only care about yourselves.”

“If you truly want to show your love for me, then loose the bonds of injustice, free the oppressed, house the homeless and share your bread with the hungry. That’s the language of love that I speak.”

It’s like Israel is a love-struck teenager, and God is the school’s class-president, and they are trying to get God’s attention.

They think if they were to wear the right clothes, act real cool, and like the same music then God will notice them. But that’s not what God wants.

God says “I don’t care about the superficial things. I care about what’s right.”

You know the saying “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”?

Today’s scripture is kind of saying “The way to God’s heart is by showing compassion towards others.”

It sounds so easy; it sounds so simple to do.

Yet thousands of years later we’re still failing, we’re still trying to speak our own language of love when God has told us again and again what God wants us to do.

Do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

But we’re still trying to cook God elaborate meals or redo God’s floors or buy expensive jewelry when that’s not what God wants.

What God desires us to do is to be honest, to be fair, to show agape and to walk by God’s side, not three steps ahead.

Now, before going any further, we should stop right here, otherwise this sermon will become about works righteousness, which is not what it’s about.

You see, because of Jesus Christ, we have been saved; there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Through Christ, we have been given the gift of grace.

This means there’s no checklist of
-how many people we have to feed,
-how many oppressed we have to free
-or how many homeless we have to house before we can enter eternal life.

Christ’s actions on the cross have already taken care of that; that’s what grace is all about. Grace is God’s love in action.

It is because of that love, it is because we know that we have been redeemed, that we should want to do these things as a way of showing our thanks and our love to God.

In others words, because God showed us love through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we get to show our love in return by using the language God wants us to use.

And as Isaiah 58:7 states, it is through agape love that cares about the neighbor, love that is compassionate, love that is not afraid to sacrifice or look foolish.

Love that says “You and I share the same heavenly parent, so we are one.”

Yesterday we got to do that when we held our first Trunk-o-Treat.

This morning we got to do that as we placed items into the Feed My Sheep Jeep.

Later today we get to do that by taking our Agape Offering to go towards Bread for the World.

We get to set aside thoughts about only ourselves and to speak in a language that God appreciates.

In conclusion, we don’t have to worry about how we can show God our love, because we have the opportunity to give, and to give with hearts full of agape.

And in doing so, not only do we help bring the Gospel message to life, we ourselves receive a gift.

For as Isaiah 58:8 says, when we speak the language of love that God wants from us, then a light breaks forth from within; a light that shines, a light that heals.

This is, after all, what God wants. This is what eternal life means.

To reach the place where we are all fed, we are all clothed; we all have a place to call home;

the place where we are healed; the place where our lights shine.

A community filled with agape; a world in which we are one.

Blessings to all. May we all have a Happy Agape Sunday and a Happy Halloween.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sermon for 10 21, 2012, in honor of Sebring's Centennial; Psalm 91:9-16

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 91:9-16
“Centennial Satisfaction”
Oct 21, 2012

Today we celebrate Sebring’s Centennial; to do so I’d like to tell you the story of two George’s, a century apart.

The first story takes place in the modern day; August 28, 2012 to be exact. I was driving home from work, a good day that had concluded with a spirit-filled visit with someone in which we talked about every facet of life, good and bad, happy and sad.

I was driving south on 27 with Lake Jackson in full view, thinking about the day, when it happened.

I was coming to the turn where CVS sits on the corner. Up ahead, on the left side of the highway was an older man wearing a hat. He had no shirt on, a big ol’ pot belly sticking out and in his arms he was carrying a bicycle tire. Only the good Lord knows why.

I watched as this half-nekked, hat wearing, pot-bellied man sauntered across the highway with a wheel and I was non-plussed; unfazed.

That’s when I realized I had truly arrived. When you can see such a thing and do not even so much as blink an eye, you know you are comfortable right where you are at.

I thought to myself “Only in Sebring can you see such a sight” and I realized that either you got it or you did not.

Those who did not get it probably only lasted a few years; those who did stayed a lifetime.

Now let’s jump back a hundred years ago to talk about someone who “got it.”

He name was George Sebring, a pottery maker, self-made millionaire and business entrepreneur from Ohio.

He was known for the fine china he crafted with intricate gold borders and angels. But ultimately he would be known for the town he created: Sebring, FL.

When Mr. Sebring came down here he may have seen pine forest, but what he envisioned was a city where citrus could be grown, Christian workers could retire and sick people could heal.

Embracing that vision, he went about constructing roads and sidewalks, buildings and utilities. He crafted a unique circular downtown that caught the attention of northern bankers.

What was it about the area that spoke to George Sebring? Sure, there was Lake Jackson, which seemed to be just the right size.

It was also because when he looked out he saw a land of “sunshine, fruit and flowers.”

…Now, no disrespect to Mr. Sebring, but apparently he must have failed to notice it was also a land of unbearable summer heat, alligators and water moccasins…

Funny how one chooses what one wants to see. For some the glass can be half full, for others the glass is half empty.

For some it rains 6 months out of the year in Sebring, and that’s bad; for others it is dry 6 months out of the year; and that’s good.

Which becomes our jumping off spot for today’s message, because we are not just here today to celebrate our town’s 100th anniversary, but we are here to study the word of the Lord and to wonder what God has to say to us today.

And I have to tell you: this is not the easiest of scriptures. Sure, on the surface it sounds just fine and soothing, but just underneath alligators and water moccasins seem to lurk.

Psalm 91 has had a controversial past. There are those who like it; there are those who think it should have been thrown out of the Bible.

The reason why? The claim that the promises made in this scripture are absolutely unrealistic.

Let’s take a look at what it has to say:

-that nothing evil will ever happen to us
-that angels will make sure we never as much as dash our feet
-that we can safely walk over lions and poisonous snakes

Can any of us honestly say this is absolutely true? If so 9/11 never would have happened. If so, Rev. Lawrence would have not broken his leg. If so, we’d be able to swim in all the lakes of Sebring without fear of being eaten alive.

But that ain’t so.

And, if we are not careful, this is the kind of scripture that can be used to beat people down. “Oh, did your house get robbed? It must be because you did a really bad thing.”

“Oh, did you fall and break your foot? You must not have had enough faith.”

I recall a few weeks ago when I heard a sermon in which the preacher basically blamed Aaron Doty for his own death.

And how often have we heard someone say “If you just believed…”

That’s a horrible thing to say when a loved-ones on life support or someone’s child is in ICU.

If taken literally, Psalm 91 makes it sound like the righteous will never have a problem for the rest of their life, which we know is completely untrue.

So what do we do? Do we simply ignore this scripture? Do we grant it the license to have poetic hyperbole? Can we find ways to parse it apart to find the bits of sunshine, fruits and flowers we know to be true?

Let’s try the later. First, I like how the reading begins. It states the Lord is our refuge, the Most High our dwelling place.

In essence, what the author is saying is that God is our home. I think we can all agree with that.

God is the place we can turn to and know we are welcome. God is the place where we are known by name. God is the place where we can be ourselves and not worry about what others say.

The world out there may be full of alligators and cotton mouths but we know with God we are safe and we are loved.

Next is the claim “I will be with them in trouble.” It reminds me of Exodus where God reveals God’s name as “I AM WHO I AM.”

“I will be” is God’s promised presence enduring forever.

It’s the assurance that God gives us that no matter what we face, no matter what we endure; God is right there with us, validating us, listening to us, wanting to share with us the gift of life.

So, there are bits of this reading we can say are extremely untrue, and there are passages that we can find easier to agree with.

What do we do?

I believe there is a way of looking at this scripture and using its hyperbole as a way to find inner strength.

I believe this scripture can encourage us during the difficult times when we need to believe in the impossible.

I believe that there are times in our lives in which we are asked to make the choice that is correct as opposed to the choice that is popular.

It is especially during those moments when we need to hear scripture such as this with images of trampling snakes and protective angels, which gives a poetic sense of assurance when faced with touch choices.

For example, there is one part of George Sebring’s legacy I am so proud of. As the story goes, he saw our town as a “delightful, wholesome community” where proclaimers of God’s word could retire.

One day Mr. Sebring met a world-renown black evangelist named Amanda Smith. He was impressed by her preaching style and promised that he would help her retire to Sebring when she was ready.

Now keep in mind this was in the 1920’s and the south was still very much segregated. Keep in mind he was white and she was black, he was male, she was female.

A whole kind of lotta’ trouble.

When word got around that a black woman and her black companions were going to be living in a house on Lakeview Drive built by George Sebring, you could imagine the gossip that went around.

Eyebrows were raised and somebody came up to George and said “You better watch out.”

To which he responded “It’s fine; it does not matter if only I, my family and Amanda Smith live here.”

Later, it was also George Sebring who welcomed the first Jewish family and donated a lot for their synagogue.

I guess you can say 70 years before us, he was saying to the community “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.”

Though I can’t speak for him, I wonder how influential scripture like today’s reading was to him.

Had Psalm 91 in any way given him the courage to believe that with God by his side, no racist lions or anti-Semitic snakes were going to keep him from doing what was right?

That is the gift of this scripture. That in using extreme, unrealistic hyperbole, it gives us the ability to set the bar a little higher, it challenges us to envision all the possibilities and it gives us an idea of just what eternal life can look like if we lived more by faith and less by fear.

In conclusion, today we have a chance to celebrate the legacy of our town’s forefather. A man who saw beyond sand hills and pine forests and realized he could create a place where east meets west, where north meets south.

Yes, there are sun and stars. But there are also clouds and storms.

Yes, there are forests and flowers. But there are also allergens and weeds.

Yes, there are chanting birds and sand hill cranes. But there are also alligators and water moccasins.

But somehow, through the grace of God, we learn how to coexist. To learn how to celebrate the good; to look beyond the bad.

To give thanks that for the past 100 years God has given so many of us a place to call home, a refuge, a dwelling place.

And we give thanks for this wonderful place in which we have gathered to worship, to baptize our believers, to bury our dead, to celebrate in communion, and for this Centennial to say in God we are satisfied; in God we have enough.

Amen and amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sermon from Oct 14, 2012; Mark 10:17-31

Rev. George Miller
Mark 10:17-31
“Possessed by Possessions”
Oct 14, 2012

Once there were 3 ministers who despite their theological differences enjoyed spending their time together. One was a Missouri Senate Lutheran, one was Pentecostal and the other was a United Church of Christ pastor.

They decided that before they entered Winter’s busy season of church bazaars and Advent services, they would treat themselves to a vacation to the Caribbean.

Believing that the journey was more important then the destination, they opted to go by boat and take their time.

They loaded the ship with everything they could possibly want; food, music, beverages, fishing gear, board games and TV shows on DVD.

Their boat trip was going fine. They were relaxed, energized, getting along. Until one day they discovered that the cabin was filling with water and they were in danger of sinking.

There was no one around; their radio didn’t work and their cell phones were out of range. So they each turned to the one thing they knew.

"Oh, Lord our Father," said the Missouri Senate Lutheran minister with great conviction, "if you would let us walk on water as you did your Son, we could make it to that island and be saved."

With great faith he steps off the stern of the boat and there’s a loud “splash!”

"Jesus!" said the Pentecostal pastor with fiery passion "if you would part the seas for us, as you once did for Moses, we could make it to that island over there and be saved."

With great faith he too stepped off the stern of the boat and there is a large “splash!”

"Oh, God," said the UCC minister, more as a quiet aside to himself. He walked to the hull and said "Did you say to turn the handle on the valve to the right or to the left?"…

I started with a joke in honor of Rev. Lawrence being back but also because today’s scripture is a difficult one for people to hear. It comes from Mark, a gospel known for making people uncomfortable.

Mark is not a writer who cares about pleasing people or making things sound like smooth sailing. He likes to stir things up, to trouble the water, even if it means making us feel as if we are drowning in thought.

We experience this in today’s reading. Here Mark tells us that Jesus is setting out on a journey when a man runs up and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus rattles off a list of commandments, which the man claims to have followed. Then looking at the man with great love, Jesus says “You lack one thing. Go and sell all you have and give your money away, then you will have treasure in heaven; then follow me.”

Shocked and full of gloom, the man sulked away, for he had many things.

The reading for today goes on, but for sake of time and the denseness of the scripture, we are going to stop right here.

There are two things to share with you. First, this notion of eternal life, because chances are it did not originally mean what our modern ears hear.

We hear the word “eternal” we think of heaven or what happens after we die. However, this is not what the word actually means.

The original Greek word is aion (or aionis), which can also be translated as “everlasting.”

It does not literally mean infinity; it is not a measured, uniform concept of time.

It’s more about a period of time viewed in a more emotional way.

More specifically, eternal is the experience and intensity of time. For example, ever notice how when you spend time with someone you really like time seems to fly by, but when you are with someone you dread it just seems to last forever?

Or, when you are on vacation it seems like you are able to do more things in 24 hours then you can on a regular day?

Eternal is the time newlyweds experience on their honeymoon; eternal is the time experienced by a widower mourning the death of his wife.

So in this context, the man is not so much asking how he can inherit life after death. He is asking how he can get the most out of time right now, how he can experience God’s Kingdom here on earth.

But he is unable to do so because he has become possessed by his possessions.

The story seems almost helpless, but I believe there is hope. I find it in how the story starts. It says “As Jesus was setting out on a journey.”

Jesus was a man who journeyed a lot; he was always going somewhere. In order to journey, he traveled light, learning to trust upon the Lord.

But just as eternal refers to the experience of time, the same can be said for the word journey. That is wasn’t just about the destination, but it was about the experience this journey would create.

This journey was not a 3 hour cruise, but a lifetime experience that would touch lives, change communities, inspire and heal.

A journey which would bring about the Good News.

Though it sounds as if the man is excited about this, he wants to do so his way, by bringing his stuff with him.

He wants to hold onto all he has and all the meaning that’s attached to it: the power, the prestige, the comfort.

It’s as if Jesus is ready to get onto the S.S. Good News and he sees all the luggage the man plans on bringing with him and realizes that it could all very well capsize the boat.

But here is what I think is the cool part. Jesus doesn’t say the man can never go on the journey. He says “get rid of what’s enslaving you and then come follow me.”

Thus, Jesus is making it possible for the guy to get on the boat when he is ready, which means the man has an unending series of moments to join Jesus.

If not right now, tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then next week; if not next week, then next month and so on.

Jesus has given this man a grace-filled opportunity to get on the boat whenever he can.

And so can we…This story is not just about one man. It is a story about all of us.

It is about how we all have joined Jesus on his journey but we each try to smuggle things on board that may capsize the boat.

For this particular man, it was his possessions, how he allowed them to define him and to prevent him from what he could become.

Same way we each hold onto things that prevent us from our own transformation.

We each have our own things which we must part with if we are to truly follow Jesus and experience life in its fullest.

We all have things to get rid of, to purge, if we are to be truly rescued, transformed and renewed.

For some it is the physical things. Items that are held onto because they give fake happiness; objects that create false comfort; idols that take up so much space on the boat that we find ourselves sinking.

For others its behaviors. Things we do that we wish not. Thing we do that hurt others, that hurt ourselves. Behaviors that exist for but a moment but have nothing to do with the experience of eternal life.

For others its emotional/relational things. The feelings we are trapped by. The thoughts we replay again and again.

The grievances we hold against another; the anger, the regret, the judgments we stow away that weigh down the ship.

When we try so hard to hold onto these things, when we try so hard to smuggle them aboard, we find ourselves stuck in place, sinking in the past as opposed to sailing into the eternal.

But here is the Good News: just as that man was invited to join Jesus on the journey, so are we, each and every day.

I believe that our Lord and Savior is patient and trusting and that he is there for us regardless if we have let go of 10 bags or let go of none.

It is a life long process, a process that we play a part in, but we do not play alone.

For just as the disciples worry that no one can ever step into full life, Jesus reminds them of this very important fact:

“For mortals it will be impossible for us to save ourselves, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

What this means is that we not going this journey alone. What this means is the times when we are weak, our God is strong.

When we are afraid of loosening our grip, God speaks an encouraging word.

When we think happiness only comes from what we got, God assures us that happiness comes from knowing whose we are.

When we think we don’t have plenty, God assures us that we have enough.

What we try to smuggle onto the boat may threaten to capsize us, but God’s grace lifts us up and carries us through.

In conclusion, Mark is teaching us is that in Jesus we are invited to go on a journey in which all things are new.

A journey in which eternal life is something we can experience in the now; eternal life is something we experience every time we let go of that which we’ve tried so hard to hold onto.

What Jesus is offering us is greater then any possession we can have: life in its fullest in which there is justice and mercy, peace and joy and we get to humbly walk with our Lord.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sermon from Oct 7, 2012; Micah 6:6-8

Rev. George Miller
Micah 6:6-8
“The Gift of Communion”
Oct 7, 2012

Last night I was invited to a gathering made up of shady buckeye-wearing troublemakers who liked to eat anything they could be put on a cracker, sing loud songs, and watch men brutalize one another on a field.

Now, I understand the rules of etiquette. When invited to such a gathering, one should bring a small gift of appreciation; one should bring a dish to share.

Don’t hog up all the food, don’t drink up all the host’s liquor and send a letter of gratitude as soon as possible.

Yet, due to poor planning I simply ran out of time to get a gift and something to bring.

I had three options: not go because of this, stop at the store on the way there and be extremely late, or trust that my hosts would be gracious enough to understand.

Which they were; and I was warmly welcomed and very well fed.

Which got me thinking: if my hosts, who are only human, could be that forgiving and accepting of me, then how much more so is God?

If I can enter their home with nothing to give but myself and still be offered something to eat, how much more so is God willing to feed us?

Today, in honor of it being World Communion Sunday, it is good for us to explore what the Lord’s Supper means.

If you were to ask folk what Communion is, there are those who would say it’s a somber time, others would refer to it as a sacrifice; others will say it means that service will last 15 minutes longer.

To which some people may respond “Yes,” “Yes”, and “Oh lord, yes!”

I used to be one of those people, but over the years there have been a number of services that have reshaped my view.

There was the Communion in Missouri which took place in the fall of 2001. I had just started seminary and was interning at a nursing home.

As the tray of juice was passed down the back row of the chapel, an elderly man, living with an acute form of rheumatoid arthritis went to take one of the plastic cups and dropped it.

His wife was so upset. She quickly picked up the cup and gave him a second one, and I watched as he struggled, and she helped, and he sipped the juice.

In that instant I saw that Communion is about tradition. For some folks it is what they have always done, therefore it is important to be able to participate in any way.

Then there was a communion in Washington State during the summer of 2003. It was at a church enmeshed in turmoil; members of the black community were upset with certain members of the gay community and the pastor was caught in the middle with a moderator who was mad at her.

The service was done by intinction and there was something about that moment in which the bread was broken in which hearts were open.

The folk who had been feuding came forward with tears in their eyes, and in front of the congregation, the moderator and pastor hugged one another.

That day I learned that Communion is also about reconciliation; that by sharing a meal at the Lord’s Table, relationships can be restored and kindness can be shown to another.

There was the Communion Service in Michigan in the spring of 2007. It was Maundy Thursday and I was the pastor.

My co-leader was a young woman named Tammy who was someone you would call a “seeker” meaning she had always been spiritual but had yet to fully grasp what it meant to be a Christian.

We’re leading the worship, Tammy is standing right beside me and once she took the cup and began to speak, I could literally feel the Spirit swoop down and enter her.

As Tammy spoke the words “This is my blood” she began to choke up. It was probably the first time she had actually “heard” those words.

I believe it was that moment when she realized it just wasn’t about a piece of bread or some grape juice, but it was about a body that was being broken, blood that was being spilled, as a sign of how much we are loved.

That day I learned that Communion is transformational. That it can become a before-and-after-moment in our lives in which we realize just whose we are and what it’s really all about…

…so Communion has been described at traditional, reconciliational, and transformational.

I would also say that Communion is relational.

It is a time in which we discover that God loves us, that we are enough.

There is no material gift we are required to bring; there is no side dish we are supposed to share; there is no “thank you” note to post in the mail.

When it comes to Communion all we really need to do is to humbly receive it...

…Hasn’t it seemed like for the last few months all you’ve been hearing from up here is “give, give, give”?

“Give goods to the Feed My Sheep Jeep.” “Today we are taking two offerings for Agape Sunday.” “Don’t forget next week’s the Global Mission Fair.” “Bring a dish to share at potluck.” “We’re collecting candy for Trunk-O-Treat.”

Not to mention soon it’ll be Harvest Home, the Annual Meeting and Stewardship Season.

Is it just me or has our church become a lot about giving your time, giving your talents, giving your money?

And sometimes that can feel so exhausting.

If you feel this way (and I know plenty of you do), for the next few minutes you’re going to hear something different.

We have this beautifully written scripture before us; a prophecy by Micah who takes on a dialogue between the people and God.

The people realize they have made some grave mistakes; they’ve grown greedy and unjust; they’ve become big bullies on an international scale.

They realize how far they have gone off the path and they fear they’ve done too much wrong to ever make things right again with God.

But they try.

Perhaps they can offer up a few calves, or thousands of rams. Or perhaps so much olive oil it could fill the Mississippi.

They are so full of despair that they think the only way they can make things right is to give and give and give until it hurts.

But God is not a greedy host. God is not someone who can be bought off with material things.

What God’s looking for is something much more meaningful, much more relational.

What God says is “I don’t need a fancy meal of filet mignon; I don’t need bottles of Gucci or Polo cologne. All I want is you.”

What God says is “Aren’t I enough? I have delivered you from slavery. I have given leaders to watch over you. I have protected you from your enemies.”

“Instead of giving me a BBQ give me you.”

That is what God wants. Not a gift or a side dish or even a thank you card.

It is not a thing at all that God wants: it’s us. It is you. It is me. God just wants us; to be present, to be real.

For proof of that, just look at the table that’s been prepared before you. How God wants to feed us.

God wants to share something that is about tradition, about reconciliation, about transformation.

And instead of writing a thank you card, it is our actions that will become enough.

Because not only is Communion about all those others things, it is also about fortification; spiritual fortification to accomplish the things God desires:

for us to do justice, to love kindness, and to humbly walk with God.

Could it be any simpler?

The prophet Micah breaks it down for us in a way that anyone can understand.

If God is truly enough, then we are to do the things that we know are right and the things we know to be just.

If God is truly enough, then instead of always being so angry or quick to judge, we are to love kindness and mercy, sharing it with others through acts of forgiveness and understanding.

If God is truly enough, then we are to walk with God, the way we would with our lover, our child, our friend, and to let God be a part of who we are and what we do.

In conclusion, today is World Communion Sunday, and if we truly love God, if you believe that God is enough, then we are to let God feed us.

We don’t have to bring anything but ourselves, and after we are fed, we can go and do what we know to be right.

And if we accept that we are enough; if we let God care for us, we have the ability to do and to love and to walk in such a way that it can transform families, it can transform neighborhoods, and it can transform communities.

God can transform us all.

So God is waiting. Will we join God at the table, realizing that we are enough and accepting what God has to give?

If so, let us say “Hallelujah!” Let us say “Amen.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sermon for Sept 30, 2012; James 5:13-20

Rev. George Miller
James 5:13-20
“We Are All In This Together”
Sept 30, 2012

James is a unique book. For centuries people have debated its worthiness; there are those who believe it does not belong in the Bible.

While some feel motivated to do good deeds when they read this book, others feel as if they have been overly-burdened with tasks too great for anyone to do.

If you read James, it sounds as if God has instilled a merit badge system and we are to spend the rest of our lives rushing around trying to help old ladies across the street.

Part of what I believe James is trying to teach us about is ministry.

Ministry is an action.

It is an action we are all empowered to do: to reach out to one another, to say a needed word, to be present where that person is in their lives.

Ministry is also frustrating.

There are things we can not do. We can not restore jobs, we can not repair every relationship, we can’t wave a wand that erases cancer, and we can’t promise that things will get better.

Sometimes the most one can do is sit with another and acknowledge their pain.

…and sometimes those are the very moments when the true ministry takes place, when healing begins...

Let me give you an example.

Last week the television program “New Girl” had its season debut. It’s a comedy about a young woman named Jess who shares an apartment with three men.

On Tuesday’s episode, Jess loses her job as a school teacher. Because she is the eternal optimist who always sees the glass as half full, she puts up a strong front. She tries to find the silver lining, thinking of all the things she can now do with her free time.

One of her roommates, Nick, is the eternal pessimist. For him, the glass is always half empty, so he waits for her to break down in defeat.

That moment occurs when Jess takes a job as a cocktail waitress and amidst a group of drunken part-goers she realizes this isn’t who she is. She’s a teacher; that’s all she knows.

It’s as if everything has been taken from her and now she is in exile. She flees the bar and sulks in the parking lot, sitting atop the hood of her car.

Out of compassion, Nick, comes over. Instead of shaming her, he sits with her on the car hood and states “Life stinks. Then it gets better. Then it stinks again. And then it really stinks.”

His observation may have sounded bleak, but in a way it was like a prayer of lament. And it was just what Jess needed to hear. It assured her that she was not alone.

She laughs, he laughs, and then she rests her head on his shoulder…

I think that in some ways Nick was doing what James is trying to suggest: that as Christians we are to support one another in the good and bad times.

The author states “Are any of you suffering? They should pray…Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them…”

Now, I don’t know just how much of James’ sentiments I fully agree with. First, I got to be honest: I find praying for myself to not be such an easy thing to do.

Sure- I’ll pray in church, I’ll pray for people in the hospital, but to pray for myself? I’m not so certain I know how.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but those days where life stinks, I just don’t have the emotional, spiritual energy to pray.

I may say a quick “O God help me” but never have I done an elaborate prayer like “Oh Jesus, Son of God, Beloved Child of Mary, I beseech thee to take away my pain….”

And in some ways, isn’t telling people to pray for themselves during difficult times almost unrealistic?

It would be like telling a car with a flat tire to get up and race in 12 Hours of Sebring.

It would be like telling a deflated balloon to float.

Second, I don’t know about you, but when I get bad news or feel unwell, the last thing I want to do is rush out and tell the world, let alone ask someone to pray for me.

It’s almost like admitting I’m helpless; who likes to admit that?

What James would say is that it’s not just about us as individuals; it’s about us as a unified whole. That when one of us is unwell, it affects us all.

Because of this, he places a large emphasis on the church elders, stating that “The prayer of faith will save the sick…”

What is James saying? It depends on what you think “sick” and “save” mean.

In its original Greek, the word translated here as “sick” can also mean “weak”, as in “weak-in-spirit.”

And there are plenty of things that can make us weak and deflate our tires: loss of a job that defines us, loss of a relationship that shapes us, loss of ability which humbles us.

And does the word “save” have to mean “born again” or made perfect?

Or can “saved” mean “survivor,” “able to see another day”, “chipped but not broken”?

If we were to follow this way of thinking, then perhaps what James is telling us is that when another person is in a situation in which they are sitting on the hood of car, we have the chance to be there with them, to be present to them and speak in such a way that they feel able to face another day.

Not just the pastor, not just the Head of the Caring Committee, not just the Chaplain.

But we, us; every single person here. We are empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the compassion of Jesus Christ.

We may not have the answers, we may not be able to solve their problems, mend their bones or cure their cancer.

But we have the opportunity to be Christ to them. Not to judge or blame them, nor to create unfair expectations, but to be present, to acknowledge that what they are going through is rough; to witness to their pain.

Why? Because chances are we have all been there ourselves.

Each of us has had to sit on our own share of car hoods. We all have our own flat tires and deflated balloons which we’ve had to learn to live with.

And because of that, we know that even when the present moment feels horrible, in Christ there is a way to endure; there are glimmers of hope.

In conclusion, sometimes we get to celebrate what God has done for us. Other times we celebrate what God is doing through us.

James reminds us that as people of faith it is not always about us as individuals, but it is also about others and how we can be Christ to them.

Sometimes it’s sitting with another on the hood of their car admitting that life stinks, and then it gets better and then it stinks again, and finding a way to laugh about it.

Because believe it or not, in that admission exists the possibility of hope and the reminder that we are all in this together.

And sometimes just knowing that becomes “enough.”

For that we can say “amen” and give thanks to God for another day.