Friday, September 27, 2013

Sermon for Sept 29, 2013; 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Rev. George Miller
1 Timothy 6:6-19
“More, So Much More”
Sept 29, 2013

Months ago we were graced with the musical gifts of Angie Weaver who sung a song titled “More, So Much More.”

It was a tribute to a life lived in Christ, in which the heart receives peace, joy is boundless and we can be who we are supposed to be.

“There’s more, so much more every passing day. For the life I now live God is living through me in each word, in each deed and each day.”

Looking back over the scriptures we’ve read and sermons you’ve heard since then, we have witnessed various biblical characters who would proclaim the notion of “more, so much more” to be so.

Joseph who finds a way to bestow grace upon his brothers.

The leper Namaan who is dipped 7 times in the Jordan River and comes to believe in God.

The Israelites who worship their Baals but shall return like trembling doves, responding to the roar of God the lion. (Hosea 11:1-11).

The prodigal son who returns to his father after being away far too long.

Paul who writes from prison to request that the slave Philemon is greeted by his master like a brother and not piece of property.

In all these scriptures there is the element of having “enough”, of flourishing and of there being “more, so much more.”

Last week I watched a documentary about a family that live in Orlando. It’s called “Queen of Versailles.”

It’s about David and Jackie Siegel who embark on building the largest single-family home in America.

Begun in 2004, the house is 90,000 square feet, taking up a 10 acre plot. To put it another way, enough space to put a Disney theme park in it.

Versailles, as they affectionately call their home, has 30 bedrooms, a theater, bowling alley, roller rink, man caves and yoga studios.

As the movie begins, David is a self-made billionaire who started Westgate Resorts. He and Jackie are sitting on a gold throne while talking about their lives.

We meet their 8 kids, their numerous pets and their Philippino nanny who has not visited her own family in 11 years and uses one of the kid’s outside plastic toy castle as her apartment.

The film shows parties, shopping sprees, rooms and rooms filled of stuff, a tour of Versailles…and then we witness the day the stock market crashed and the recession began.

The documentary changes course as servants are let go, thousands of Westgate employees are fired and construction on Versailles is halted and put on the market for $50 million “as is” or $100 million finished.

What follows are scenes of “Say what?” as the Sigel’s enter into their own version of being broke.

Instead of flying on a personal jet, Jackie flies coach and then is shocked to learn her car rental does not come with a driver. She pulls up to the McDonald’s drive thru in her stretch limousine.

Sadly, with the servants gone, no one is feeding the pets and a lizard dies from a broken heat lamp and starvation. Dog feces are everywhere.

The scene that struck me most is when Jackie, now on a tighter budget, goes shopping at Wal-Mart and still leaves with five carts full of…stuff.

She wheels in a bicycle that she purchased and places it in the garage, in which at least 10 other bikes sit, untouched.

While watching the film, I couldn’t help but to realize just how sad and scared, stressed out and lonely they all were.

They were not content at all, no matter how much they had.

It was a case in which more, so much more had brought them less, so much less.

You have to wonder what the writer of 1 Timothy would say about “Queen of Versailles” or what he would say about our society in general.

I wonder if we, who claim to be a largely Christian country, would fit into the author’s notion of what ethical Christian living looks like.

As stated last week, modern scholars believe Paul did not write this letter, but that it was composed somewhere between 90-105 CE.

It was a time of church growth and local congregations trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian amongst the popular culture.

In this letter we find a call to order, a mapping out of how to run the church and how to live one’s life.

There are things in this letter we can challenge and disagree with, like the author’s command that women stay silent and not have authority over a man.

Then there are things in this letter that give us pause; a chance to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see what is reflected back.

“Of course,” the author states, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

I find great peace in this sentence. It sounds like something to live for.

Very Zen or something you’d read in The Purpose Driven Life or expect to hear from Buddha or Yoda or from Oprah.

But what does contentment look like? What does contentment even mean?

Dang if I know, and I sure hope you don’t expect me to tell you the secret, because I can’t.

In fact, there was a moment when watching “Queen of Versailles” that I wanted to judge the people in it so bad, but then I looked around my own home and realized who am I too judge?

Living in a house too big for one man and two cats. Hundreds of CDS. Two closets filled with clothes, most of which I no longer like or can’t fit into.

Who is truly content, and how do we get there? I wonder if the author of today’s reading truly felt as content as he portrays himself to be.

Would he really have been fine with one article of clothes and a bowl of soup?

Is today’s reading an etched in stone requirement of faith, or is it something to inspire to, something to strive for that we may never achieve but it’s well worth trying?

To be content…ahhh, like the frog on the lily pad in today’s bulletin, just chilling, perpetually laid back on a lily pad…

Then I think back to the song Angie Weaver sang, “More, So Much More” and how beautiful it was.

And the song itself starts with the claim that the singer had given their heart to Jesus. And the act of giving became the start; the start of peace, joy, truly living and truly being.

Then to think of the last few months and what we have discussed. What do we get from believing in God; what is it we get from following Jesus?

Without hesitation three thoughts came to mind. First, is the way in which Jesus showed us that we can enjoy together that which God had created and called good.

A green pasture to lie upon when we are tired, a sip of juice and taste of bread when we are hungry.

That we live in a world in which the waters are filled with fish and the land with grain, and if we realize we have “enough” we can share with those who are lacking.

Second, are the stories Jesus told about lost coins and missing sheep and a thought-for-dead son in which we have been reassured that no matter how lost we feel, no matter how far we stray, we can always return and be welcomed by God.

Third, is Paul’s declaration that in Christ crucified we have been justified by faith.

Meaning we have already won the race; there is nothing we have to do to earn God’s grace.

We just have to be willing to receive it and to act like we believe it.

More so much more? Of course, there are other examples that come to mind, but these are a start.

They are a way for us to think, to embrace, to dance with, journey and give thanks for.

Maybe you have had a hard week; maybe you’ve come here today wondering if things can get any worse.

Maybe everything is fine with you, but you’re worried about someone in your life who is struggling, someone who seems to be barely getting by, and it’s getting you down.

Maybe you just need to be reminded in the midst of the rain and the storms, in the midst of the news and the political plights, that God is indeed real. Jesus is real.

And with that knowledge comes the notion that 90,000 square feet of house won’t bring happiness; 30 bedrooms won’t make anyone content.

And with that knowledge comes the simplicity of knowing God gave us life so that we could live it, that Christ died so we would know that we have already won the prize and are worthy of eternal love.

And that when we have strayed too far the Holy Spirit fills our being with breath so we have the ability to return back to our Creator.

And that is just the beginning. When we give our hearts to Jesus we never lose, we instead gain, more, so much more.

More, so much more then the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

More, so much more then we could ever imagine.

More, so much more than we could ever be prepared for.

More, so much more than the world would ever want us to believe.

For every passing moment we live for Christ, God is living through us in each word, in each deed and each day.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sermon for Sept 22, 2013; 1 Timonthy 2:1-15

Rev. George Miller
1 Timothy 2:1-15
“Say What?!?”
Sept 22, 2013

A Pastor gets a new set of false teeth. That first Sunday he preaches for just 10 minutes; the second Sunday he preaches for 8.

But the following Sunday he preaches for 2 hours and 45 minutes. The congregation almost mobs him to get him down from the pulpit. “What’s going on?” they angrily ask.

The Pastor explains the first Sunday his gums were so sore he could only speak for 10 minutes. The second Sunday his gums hurt much worse so he could only speak for 8. But that day he put his wife’s teeth in and couldn’t shut up!

I want to thank the person who shared this joke with me but I also want to say that I realize how offensive and sexist this joke is.

Lord knows it’s not just women who can go on and on; I was just in New York- I know.

But this slice of humor segues us into a very painful reading. Painful because it has been used to silence one half of the population.

Painful because over the centuries it has robbed us of the possible voices, dreams and leadership that could have brought us along much sooner into the prophetic words of Joel 2:28.

First, let me share with you a painful experience I just came back from.

I was the guest preacher at a church in Connecticut; a church that is historic and the only church in a town of 1,000.

A magnificent, large church that sits atop a hill overlooking the forest and country roads, guarding the street where the fire station, school and library dwell.

Though they are rich of finances, they have become poor of spirit. Though they are part of the UCC, they long for the days of old and disagree with many of the new things the UCC has done and stood for.

2 weeks ago, they held a special meeting in which they voted (by a narrow margin) to deny their relatively new pastor the right to perform a same-sex union on church grounds or anywhere else for that matter.

3 days after the vote, only 2 people showed up for the Spiritual Renewal Service.

But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.

The next day, 5 people arrived. But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.

The last day there were nearly 30 people present, but most of them were members or fans of the Methodist Praise Band that had driven in from New York to sing for us.

But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.

Last Sunday, their attendance was done 20 people from the year before.


Because while some members embrace the notion that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here”; though some members embrace the notion that “God is Still Speaking”, their vote on what the pastor can or cannot do stated clearly that not everyone is welcome and that God actually stopped speaking about 40 years ago.

All because of a few peoples understanding of roughly 8 sentences in the Bible that reflected a different culture and a different era…

…I love the Bible. Lord knows I do. But sometimes something pops up that makes me proclaim “Say what!?!”

Perhaps no more so then this one.

To do our reading justice, we have to do a little history.

First, the question is who wrote this. The author makes claim to be Paul, the infamous missionary who started many churches and wrote many letters between 45-60 CE.

But most UCC theologians disagree. First off, this letter was written during a time when copyrights did not exist. Nor did news clips, reruns, YouTube or Facebook.

It was common practice back in the day that if you had something to say, and you wanted to make sure it was read, you signed another person’s name, a famous person’s name.

If there was a disagreement or a controversy over an issue, you might just “unearth” a letter from a particular person to prove your point.

When it came to matters of the church, who would be better to imitate then Paul, the father of many of the earliest churches?

Why do scholars believe Paul did not write this letter? 1st, there are words here that did not exist in Paul’s day.

2nd, in Paul’s time, there was a looser church polity; back in his day they did not yet have such a complex structure of governance as we read about in this letter.

3rd, in Paul’s other letters he praises women and specifically names and gives thanks for women who have played significant roles in the churches he knew.

Taking all these things into account: words, polity, social structure, scholars believe this letter was most likely written between 95 and 105 CE.

It was a time when churches were taking place in people’s homes.

It was written in a culture where there was an accepted notion of how home life was structured. It went husband-wife-child-slave.

It was written when Jewish law forbid women from learning and being students; when Greek culture wanted their women beautiful but silent.

It was written when Christianity, the new faith on the block, was struggling to fit in and to survive.

Here they were with this radical new faith in which they called each other brother and sister and they reached out to the poor and sick…and perhaps it was just too radical for those around them.

Perhaps they were a little too liberal, a little too loving, a little too free.

And the women who were participating in worship were dressing a little too flashy. They were talking a little too loud. They were enjoying just a little too much the idea that whoever they were, no matter where they were on life’s journey, they were welcome.

So someone thought that it would be best to hush them up. Someone thought that if the church was to survive it would have to do a better job of fitting into the local culture’s ways.

Someone thought that if the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to be heard, it would have to be proclaimed by the mouths of men and not the wonderful words of women.

And with one sweep of the pen, they changed history forever…

…The question is, what do you do with today’s reading? Do we use it to silence the voices of our sisters, our mothers, our daughters?

I can tell you what our denomination didn’t do. We didn’t blindly take this reading at face value. We didn’t accept it as is and say “What do we know?”

We wrestled with it. We studied it. We fought with it. We danced with it. We prayed about it.

Though we are not perfect, though we have had many bumps in the journey, we realized that God is Still Speaking and that women should too.

For the past 3 weeks we’ve featured bits of history about the UCC in our bulletin. On pg. 3 by the sermon title is another.

You’ll see a picture of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first women in history to be ordained in a recognized denomination. That was in 1853.

Of course the getting there was not easy. Born in New York she started attending school at age 3. By 9 she joined a Congregational Church and began speaking at meetings and testifying about God’s love.

She dreamed of being a pastor, a dream she kept in silence.

At the age of 15 she became a teacher, but that Still Speaking voice kept calling her, and at 21 she attended Oberlin College.

Though her grades were superb, faculty grew angry that she wanted to study theology, but she found her way in anyway.

Though she completed her degree, she was refused a license to preach. Her family pleaded with her to give up her foolish dream.

She was invited to be a guest speaker at a convention which led to more speaking engagements about women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

Then in 1853 she was offered a position at a small Congregational Church in South Butler, New York.

She married, had children, wrote books, lectured and preached until she died at the age of 96.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell had broken the glass ceiling of speech.

Because of her refusal to stay silent each and every woman here has the right and the ability to not only be the head of a committee, or the Moderator of the church, but can also be ordained to serve the Lord and preach the Gospel.

That is the spiritual stock that we, the U.C.C. are made of…

…I love the Bible. Lord knows I do. But sometimes something pops up that makes me say “Say what!?!”

This is one of those times.

And I can’t help but to wonder “Why would God create us only to turn around and silence 50% of the population?”

What possible reason could that be?

And then I have to think: that the author of 1 Timothy was just one all-too-human, flawed person, writing for a specific group, in a specific culture, during a specific time, with clearly a specific agenda.

Then I think of all the other things the Bible has told:

That it was Sarah who gave birth to Isaac and said “God has brought laughter to me!” (Genesis 21:6)

It was Miriam who took her tambourine and proclaimed “Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously.” (Exodus 15:21)

It was a Samaritan woman at the well who told her entire village “Come and see the most amazing man” and brought them all to meet Jesus. (John 4)

And when the world seemed at its darkest it was women who witnessed that the stone had been rolled away, who saw that the tomb was empty and it was women who were the first to exclaim to the world the mystery of the resurrection!!!

…Last week the Pope offered an olive branch of sorts when he said “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions.”

Thank you celibate, single man in a dress.

I much prefer the words of a bumper sticker that I saw last week in Connecticut.

It said “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

Sarah, Miriam, the Samaritan Women and Mary Magdalene would certainly agree. As would Antoinette Brown Blackwell.

Silenced, submissive voices deprive dreams from being realized and history from being made.

Spirit-filled, spoken, active voices are what bring us into our future and allow for flourishing to take place.

If God is indeed Still Speaking, as we boldly proclaim, then so should we, all of us.


Amen and amen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sermon for Sept 8, 2013; Philemon

Rev. George Miller
“Partnering with Paul”
Sept 8, 2013

I may be wrong, but I think that the phrase “In the beginning” is the most well known 3-word-string in the English speaking world.

“In the beginning” is the 1st 3 words of the Bible; it starts Genesis, ch. 1 and leads us into the telling of the 1st creation story.

“In the beginning” leads us eloquently, poetically into the story of God’s relationship, God’s romance with creation.

Genesis ch. 1 is ripe with theologies that have had far reaching affect on how people view faith, science, orientation and our relationship to the environment.

There’s a lot of debate over Genesis 1:28 in which God tells man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living thing that moves upon the earth. (NRSV)

How one interprets this verse can be a reflection of who they are; it can also shape how one acts in relation to creation.

What does it mean to subdue? What does it mean to have dominion?

These are words that have their roots in leadership; in kings and queens.

But what kind of monarch will we be?

Subdue can mean to conquer, overpower and crush. To have dominion can mean to dominate, dictate and control.

Or…subdue could mean to tame and mellow out. To have dominion can mean to have authority, to care for, and watch over.

How you understand subdue and dominion can make all the difference.

Will you be a king or queen who believes you have the right to abuse, use up, punish, subjugate and only think of yourself and your cronies?

Or will you be a king or queen who believes you were called to watch over your domain, to care for and protect all you are responsible for; to ensure safety and peace and flourishing for all?

Here in Florida we see examples of both forms of subduing and dominion.

The most obvious is Disney World. As much as I love going there, let’s be honest- Disney came in, bought up all this land that was filled with swamps and marshes; useless to humans, but useful to gators and egrets, snakes and cranes; and turned it into something he deemed useful.

But to do so land was bulldozed, trees pulled up, homes of animals, birds, fish and reptiles razed and destroyed.

Holes were dug in the earth and filled with water; land was piled where land was not.

And a castle, Cinderella’s Castle, was built on top of it, so we humans could have a destination known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

On the other hand, right down the road we have Hammock Sate Park; the oldest one in Florida.

Great work has been done to keep things as they were, to allow plants and panthers, deer and dogwood to exist as they always have.

There are places in which humans came in, not to decimate, but to enjoyment and better connect with creature and Creation.

There is a catwalk through the cypress swamp, trails that are basically sandy paths and prescribed burning which prevents forest-fires and stimulates seed germination.

At Hammock Park, there is the sense of subduing and dominion in which nature and humanity is able to co-exist in harmony.

There are those who read Genesis 1:28 and see it as our call to care for and work for the benefit of creation. They follow a belief called ecotheology.

Ecotheologians use their beliefs as a springboard for how they live, from what they eat, where they live and what they buy.

They have even coined an expression that has taken hold in contemporary theology: co-creation.

Co-creation is the belief that God created the world, and we are called to assist God in the care for and advancement of creation.

We are God’s helpmates; co-dreamers for what the word can and should be.

The idea of being a co-creator with God creates a sense of partnership, an accountability and a further defining of who we are, what we do and why.

A perfect example is right here at Emmanuel UCC. Every Wednesday morning you can come here and see our men and women co-creating: mowing the lawn, getting rid of invasive weeds, trimming back branches, putting down fresh grass, planting bushes.

Nancy may not realize it, but from an ecotheologian’s point of view, she is co-creating with God every time she is out there in the garden, putting in another perennial, planting another caladium bulb, filling the bird bath with fresh water.

Everything done, every item planted, every plant cared for not only makes everything more beautiful it also creates care for a butterfly, a bee, a bird.

The same can be said for anyone here who has a pet, a birdfeeder, a garden, a patch of earth you care for and watch over.

According to this particular theology we are partnering with God when we care for Creation.

Today’s reading features another kind of partnering. It is a letter written by Paul sometime between 55-64 CE.

Here Paul is writing from prison, where he has been arrested for proclaiming Christ. We don’t know if it was high-security, low security like a white-collar prison, or if it’s really some kind of house arrest.

But either way, Paul is not free to move around or enjoy life as you or I would.

But it does not stop him from living out his faith and finding ways to share Christ.

He writes to a man named Philemon, a rather wealthy man who has come to believe in Jesus through Paul.

Philemon has allowed his home to be a meeting place for other people who also believe in Jesus. In other words his home is one of the first Christian churches.

Philemon also has a slave, a slave named Onesimus. For some reason, which no one knows, Onesimus has run away from Philemon; he has run to Paul in prison.

There, Paul develops a relationship with Onesimus and teaches him about Christ.

When the time comes, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. In this letter he makes this exhortation “Welcome Onesimus back into your life, but not as a slave, but as a brother, a brother in Christ.”

During a time when a runaway slave can be legally whipped, imprisoned or crucified, Paul sends Onesimus back to his master.

Using strong words and the skills of a great lawyer, Paul pleads his case to Philemon on behalf of the slave, stating “If you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Philemon has full dominion over Onesimus. As a follower of Christ what will he do?

Will he welcome Onesimus as property or as a brother?

Will Philemon respond as a Master who conquers and crushes all or will he act as a Master who cares for and watches over?

…We never get to know the answer; we can only hope it worked out in Onesimus’ favor.

But here in this letter we have an astounding change in the understanding of social structure.

Here we hear what is a turning point of what it means to follow Jesus:

If we are believers in Jesus how are we to act, especially to one another?

If we believe in Jesus, how do we relate to one another? How do we treat each other?

What’s the right thing to do?

In Christ can we conquer, overpower and crush; dominate, dictate and control?

In Christ do we tame and mellow out; have authority but the kind that cares for and watches over?

If we follow Christ, should we abuse and use up, punishing others and only think of ourselves and support only others who agree?

Or if we follow Christ are we called to protect, speak up for and ensure safety, peace and flourishing for all?

In a metaphorical question, in Christ do we enslave or do we set free, do we incarcerate or do we liberate?

I asked this metaphorically, but there are those who ask these same questions politically and socially.

…Paul is asking Philemon what kind of partner he will be.

Paul is asking Philemon to play a part in co-creating this brand new kind of faith that we, 2,000 years later, call Christianity.

And the same kind of questions rings out each and every day, in our homes, in the streets, on Wall Street and in the news.

And I am thankful that today we get to play our part.

I am thankful that today after service we get to co-create, to co-partner, to co-dream with God, with one another, as we fellowship and as we fun-raise during our Global Mission Fair.

An ecotheologian will tell you that God is not done creating the world, and that we get to play a role in the process.

I would say that God is not done perfecting the church (both universal and local) and that every time we gather, every time we work and worship side by side, we get another chance to be co-partners and to discover just what it means to follow Christ.

Together, not apart. Side-by-side, not separate.

We get to co-create with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with one another.

As we do so, we also get to play a role in bringing freedom and flourishing, light and more, so much more into God’s good creation.

Amen and amen.