Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for Oct 27, 2013; Reformation Sunday; Luke 18:9-14

Rev. George Miller
Luke 18:9-14
“God of Mercy”
Oct 27, 2013

A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her holiday cards. She says to the clerk, "May I have 50 Christmas stamps?"

The clerk says, "What denomination?"

The woman says, "Lord have mercy! Has it come to this? Give me 15 Methodist, 13 Baptist, 9 Lutheran, 7 Catholic and 6 UCC."

Today’s joke is brought to you on behalf of the fact that today we are celebrating Reformation Sunday. We heard Mel speak about Reformation. One of the things that struck me was the radicalness of what Martin Luther had done: a brave set of thoughts and actions that broke against the popular, prevalent powers of the time.

A radicalness that in its very essence was about developing a closer relationship with God and it was about the freedom to do so: the ability to pray, worship, read scripture and, as Mel wrote me, to “rely on being justified by grace through faith.”

Martin Luther spoke up to say that people had the right to personally experience God and to experience God’s mercy and grace.

Much like today’s reading.

Since chapter 17 Jesus has been on his journey to Jerusalem. He is on a journey to his death and he’s not making things easy for himself.

He’s reaching out to people with dreaded diseases. He’s healing foreigners. He’s welcoming children. He tells a wealthy man to sell all his possessions. He shows compassion to a beggar on the street.

That may be good for those poor, unfortunate souls, but it’s causing discomfort with the status quo.

To make matters worse, Jesus starts telling stories about the Kingdom of God; about this holy state of being in which the powerless prevail and the powerful are cast in questioning light.

These stories, called parables, are not cute or simple. They are meant to be wrestled with and to leave the listener limping and with a mind teased into active thought.

Today’s parable features three characters; the first a Pharisee. He would be akin to the elder of an established church. Someone who gave their time, talents and money; someone who was on council, who helped to preserve the faith and ensure there was a place for folk to worship.

The second character is a tax collector. Back then Jerusalem was under the foreign rule of Rome, their enemy. They hired local residents to collect their taxes, a form of economic oppression that kept the Jews in place and the Roman government strong.

To be a tax collector meant one was a puppet for the enemy; a traitor to the people and a traitor to God, worthy of hate and scorn; worthy of rejection from the Lord.

In this parable, Jesus lures the hearers into what they assume is a straight forward story. The church leader stands in the holy space and gives a soliloquy thanking God that he is not like those despised and dejected and reminds God of all the good that he does.

The tax collector is so weighted down by his sin that he can’t even muster the courage to approach the sacred space or lift his eyes. Instead he beats his chest and says a few scant words “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Yet, as Jesus tells us, it is not the Pharisee who goes home justified, it is the taxman.

How can this be? One man gives his time and money so others can faithfully worship, the other spends his time taking away their money so Rome can rule.

How can this be? Because there is the third character in this story; the one we have not yet talked about: God.

Because this story isn’t just about a Pharisee or a tax collector, it’s about the Holy One.

It’s about how God’s ways are not always the ways of the world; it’s about how God enters into our lives and finds ways to bring vindication and transformation.

This parable is designed to be wrestled with and to tease our mind into active thought and to ask ourselves once more “Who is this God we believe in?”

In fact, Jesus’ life and ministry becomes a living parable that forces us to wrestle and to tease our mind into asking “Who is God?”

And although the answer to that question is not so simple, we can start to formulate an idea by reading through Luke 17 and 18.

Who is God?

God is the One who cares about justice, who cares for the diseased, the foreigner, the child, the widow, and even our enemy.

Who is God?

As Psalm 51 will tell you, God is the One who has mercy in abundance; who acts according to steadfast love.

Who is God?

The One who knows our trespasses; who sees the sins we have done.

Who is God?

The One who will turn from our transgressions and blot out all of our inequities.

Who is God?

The One who has mercy in abundance for us; so much so that God is ready to usher in a new state of being if we simply admit we are weak, admit we have wrongs, admit we could be better, admit we can’t do it alone.

Who is God?

The One who finds the lost and lonely, who heals broken souls with love, who frees the prisoner from all chains.

Who is God?

God is the One who is free. So free that God came to us in the form of a child, walked with us in Galilee, died for us on Golgotha and rose three days later.

Who is God?

The One who is so free that each and every one of us can be loved into that freedom; a freedom which allows us to flourish, a freedom which allows us to live, a freedom which allows us to persevere.

A freedom which allows us to return home, no matter how muddied our clothes are so that we can have a clean heart; so we can have a new and right spirit within.

Who is God?

The One who is so free that no Temple, no church building, no church doctrine, no Pope, no priest, no pastor, nor no cross or tomb can control God.

A freedom which says we are exalted and we are free to worship, we are free to pray, and we are free to rely on being justified by grace.

No matter what denomination we are a part of; no matter who we are or how much we have wrestled with God.

For that we are humbled; for that the faithful can say “Hallelujah!” For that all God’s people can say “Amen.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sermon for Oct 20, 2013; Genesis 32:22-31

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 32:22-31
“Thy Will and My Will Be Done”
Oct 20, 2013

Every Sunday we start service the same way, but I wonder if perhaps we should be saying “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey OR how much you wrestle with God, you are welcome here!”

Today we are going to explore what I consider to be the most important scripture for anyone of the Jewish or Christian faith to know about.

For me, it is a summation of what faith means, what it looks like, what it feels like, and what I, as a UCC pastor, strive to teach: that faith is something we wrestle with and that in faith there are no easy answers.

BUT, faith will leave us forever changed and forever blessed, even if we are left with a slight limp.

The story thus far: God made a promise to Abraham that his family will be the means through which God will bless all the families of the world. Abraham has a son named Isaac. Isaac has twin boys.

The first born is Esau, who is ruddy, hairy and likes to hunt. He is his father’s favorite.

The second born is Jacob who is smooth skinned, likes to stay indoors and cook. He is the one Momma likes best.

As they grow older Jacob becomes quite the trickster. He fools his brother out of his birthright and deceives his father into giving him the family blessing.

As you can imagine, this angers Esau so much that he vows to kill Jacob. Jacob runs away and lives with his uncle’s family.

But eventually Jacob realizes one cannot run away from their problems forever. Now that he is older, wiser and a successful rancher with wives, children, servants and money to spare, Jacob makes the journey back home.

The day before he is to arrive and meet either the wrath of Esau or his forgiveness, Jacob makes the decision to send everyone and everything ahead of him to safety.

Across the stream they go, and Jacob, the former mamma’s boy, who liked to stay inside and make stew, has the most interesting encounter: a man wrestles with him.

All night they are in grips with one another, neither one prevailing or letting go. The mysterious man strikes Jacob’s hip; though out of joint, the mamma’s boy holds on.

“Let me go,” the man states; Jacob refuses.

“What is your name,” the man asks.


“That is no longer your name, you will be called Israel because you have striven with God and have held your own.”

The sun rises; Jacob calls the place Peniel, meaning “I have seen God face to face and prevailed,” and he limps away.

This is a story in which its lack of clarity makes it open to so much interpretation and so much debate. It is a story that provides no easy answer or even attempts to.

Scholars and theologians and pastors and psychologists will try to tell you their own take on this.

People will try to take everything they think they know about God and the Bible and their faith and place it onto this story, but no matter what, nothing ever quite fits.

Was the man God, an angel, or as some suggest a river demon or a figment of Jacob’s own anxious psyche?

If the man is God, is it possible that Jacob could have defeated him? Could there have been a draw?

Or was God capable of winning the wrestling match at any time and was just playing with Jacob like a cat with a rat?

Isn’t there scripture that tells us no one can see the face of God and live, and yet Jacob makes the claim that he just did?

And what about this business of Jacob being renamed Israel, meaning that one has striven with, struggled with, wrestled with God?

Why can’t Israel mean one who has danced with God, or laughed with God or had tea with God?

Wouldn’t that be so much nicer; wouldn’t that be so much quainter?

Well, the truth of the matter is that faith isn’t always about being nice; it’s not always about being quaint.

It’s about the encounters we have with God and sometimes, well sometimes things can get a little rough.

Regardless of how one chooses to view this scripture; regardless how one chooses to approach it, one thing I feel for certain about it is that it’s about our relationality with God.

It’s about how God chooses to have a personal experience with us and that when we have a true encounter with God, we cannot help but to leave changed in some way.

…I love this scripture. Every time I read it, I discover something new, something dependent about where I am in life and my own life experience.

When we were planning this week’s worship I had just come back from visiting my sister in California. I had a wonderful time there, being by the ocean with my niece and nephew.

There was one day I went for a walk, surrounded by mountains, hearing the sound of the surf, and I had my own little revelation: for the first 29 years of my life I ran away from God, trying to do things my way; the results were not always spectacular.

Then for the next 14 years I tried my best to follow God’s voice and do things God’s way.

The results have been much more pleasing and successful, but at times I’ve been left wondering “What the heck?” or missing family and friends.

That’s when it occurred to me: wouldn’t it be nice if I could have it both ways?

Wouldn’t it be nice if God and I could find a way to compromise so that I wasn’t always running away or always being pulled far away from people I cared about?

Couldn’t there be a happy medium in which we both get what we want?

I shared this thought with my mentor, Rev. Andy Conyer, who told me to start praying this: “Thy will and my will be done.”

I did, and it’s interesting to see how over the last three months there has been a resurgence of people from my past coming back into my life while I’ve also become more and more a part of the community here.

It’s as if both my and Thy will have been coming together.

Then I came across today’s reading; something I’ve read so many times before. But I noticed something I had not noticed before.

Verse 26, the man (or in my interpretation, God) tells Jacob “Let me go.” To which Jacob responds “I will not, unless you bless me.”

There it was; that sense of compromise; that sense of my will and thy will coming together.

God wants Jacob to do something; Jacob wants God to do something; neither one proceeds until a divine action takes place that furthers their relationship.

Jacob leaves with a new name, blessed and prepared to face his brother and God is ensured that the sacred plan put in place through Abraham will still take place.

But note: we are never told who let go of whom and notice that Jacob now has a limp, forever changed by his experience with God.

Why do I believe this is such a vital scripture for everyone to know?

Because it gives no easy answers, because it makes us have to think. And it shows us an aspect of the divine holy that we rarely talk or think about.

There are so many views of God out there. There are those who think that God does not exist or that God is dead or disinterested in us, distant and far removed.

Then there are others on the opposite side of the spectrum who believe that God is in control of everything. All knowing, all powerful, all up in everything we do.

If something happens it’s because of God, if something doesn’t happen it’s because of God.

Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, happy or sad, if it took place, God did it.

And there are those who when something disappointing or discouraging happens say “Well, I guess it wasn’t in God’s will.”

Or they become passive players in their own life, believing if it’s supposed to happen it will, so why even ask or dream or try.

But this, this scripture challenges those notions; this scripture opens everything up.

This scripture dares to present God in a way that is very hands on, very active and very much a participant in an event who can win or who can lose.

This is a scripture that says faith is a wrestling match in which we go toe to toe with God and we get to play a part, we get to have a say, we get to hold on and sweat and ask.

This is a scripture that says faith does not always come with easy answers and that not all encounters with God end with us happily skipping away…that we may very well leave with a limp.

Thy will or my will be done? Why can’t it be both?

I believe when it comes to our faith, when it comes to our faith journey, it is important for us to be able to listen to and discern the will of God.

But I also believe that it is also Ok for us to question God, to challenge God and to wrestle with God.

Moses had no problem with this when he stood before the burning bush and God called him into ministry and Moses tried to come up with 100 excuses as to why not.

Isaiah 64 had no problem with this when he called upon God to tear apart the heavens, come down and make the mountains quake as God had done in the past.

Jesus himself had no problem wrestling with God. In Matthew 26 we see Jesus, like Jacob, alone, in the garden, begging God to take the cup from him.

Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, requests this: “Let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.”

Friends, our faith is not always rooted in our success or our shrewdness, but in our ability to encounter God, to wrestle, to ask for what we want, to refuse to let go, even if it means we might limp a bit, even if it means we are at a draw.

Faith is not about leaving all our doubts behind or always being gently led with tender care.

Faith is about having a personal encounter with God in which both the mystery and reality meet, in which the holy and the everyday collide, in which both God and ourselves are left transformed by the matter.

And often times when transformation takes place, we do get to see another day and blessings are bound to follow.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sermon for Oct 13, 2013; Jeremiah 29:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Jeremiah 29:1-9
“Building the Future”
Oct 13, 2013

This week promises to be a busy one at Highlands Little Theater as we get ready for the ZENON Awards: the musical numbers to rehearse, tuxedoes to try on, and presentations to prepare.

I’ve enjoyed my past year at the theater and I thank you for the support you’ve shown me and for granting me the ability to interact with the local community in such a way.

There is something about theater: it’s a way to tell stories and share lessons about life. Why pay hundreds of dollars to attend a motivational seminar or read an entire “How to…” book when you can simply learn all there is to know in a song sung on stage?

There are plays that are simply fun, like My Fair Lady, there are plays that teach lessons, like 1776, then there are those that speak about the fire that flourishes in human life, like Fiddler on the Roof.

One such play is Zorba the Greek. I love its opening song, which totally sets the stage: a group of characters take turns trying to find a simple way to describe life.

“Life is like a glass of rum” one man says. “Life is a sip of sage,” says another. “Life is another dream” states a woman.

This goes on and on until a robust woman interrupts them: “I will tell you” she states.
Then she sings: “Life is what you do, while you’re waiting to die. Life is how the time goes by.”

When spoken (as I am doing now) the words sound straightforward and bleak, but the music is joyful and made to dance.

The singer continues “Life is where you grin and grieve…Learning that the tear drops anywhere you go; finding it’s the mud that makes the roses grow.”

This is an unflinching song about what it means to live: heartbreaks and bounty, hardships and bliss; the human spirit and its resiliency.

Resiliency is such a great word. In the material world it means an object’s ability to spring back into shape.

In the emotional world it means the ability to become strong, successful or healthy after a difficult and tough time.

If you read last Sunday’s newspaper, you would have noticed there were not one but at least three stories of resiliency.

Syrian children returning to school amid war, where simply being in the classroom room and counting to 10 has reminded them of what life was life was like before.

The young woman Malala who was shot in the face by the Taliban and lived to write about it and speak before the UN.

Our local columnist Joyce Minor shared her experience of living with breast cancer. She wrote about scheduling an appointment for reconstructive surgery. She shared her thoughts about how she originally didn’t want to do it.

She wanted no more incisions, no more pain meds, no more treks across state to the Cancer Center. “Why should I put myself through the surgery?” she asked herself.

The answer that came to her was this: “Because you are worth it. After all you’ve been through you deserve to feel whole again. You deserve to have a body you feel good about, not just okay about.”

Resilience: the ability to recover, the ability to spring back.

Since July we’ve been talking about the theology of flourishing. In some ways we’ve been rather cavalier about it. It is easy to discuss and celebrate flourishing when it is happening all around you.

But what happens when it’s not? What happens when life suddenly breaks apart? What happens when situations occur that seem to go beyond your control?

That’s what we have here in today’s reading.

The people of Israel have been living in the land for centuries now; the land that God had promised them and had led them to.

And it is a good land.

They have built houses for themselves. Vineyards with delicious grapes to make delicious wine. Cows that bear much milk, bees and flowers that create sweet honey. They have the Temple they can go to and worship God. Their future is assured…

…then in 597 BCE, the King of Babylon has his troops come in and attack the city. And they take with them what we would call in our modern vernacular, the top 1%.

In other words they take the king and queen, the court officials, the town leaders, business owners, as well as their priests and prophets and skilled laborers, such as blacksmiths.

The exiles are forced to travel 700 miles to Babylon where they are made to settle in the communities there, where their money, time and talents are used to benefit the enemy.

Imagine the emotional dilemma this creates. Jerusalem, the land that God promised to your people, it attacked. Either you are seen as “good enough” and kidnapped, or you are seen as “fair to middling” and left behind.

Those in exile don’t know what to do. Their spirits are destroyed; their will to live is next to nil.

Some of their leaders have gone into denial, claiming this is just a temporary thing and in two years time they’ll be back at home, sleeping in their own bed, back to enjoying a glass of wine and desserts made of milk and honey with their neighbor.

“No,” says Jeremiah, in this letter he writes to them. “No, that is never going to happen in your lifetime. You will never go home, you will never sleep in your own bed, and you will never farm your field again. It will be like this for the next 70 years.”

This is harsh news. But out of love, Jeremiah is telling them the truth. They need to hear it; they need to know the reality.

Why? So that they can live…

Jeremiah is conveying to them a message from God. Though this message sounds like it is too much to bear, it is not without an element of hope, because the message Jeremiah conveys on God’s behalf is this:

“Don’t give up and don’t stop building your future. Though this isn’t what you hoped for, you have to keep living. Build homes that are not just okay, but that you feel good about living in.”

“Build beautiful gardens and plant fruit and vegetables that are good to look at and sweet to taste, because your bodies deserve to feel whole and well fed.”

“Don’t stop believing in romance. Fall in love. Make babies. Raise children. When they get married, hold magnificent wedding feasts. When they have babies, bounce them on your knee.”

“Why? Because you are worth it. You are worthy to flourish and not just to survive. You are worthy of living a life that is good, not just okay.”

Resilience indeed.

And in what’s the most grace filled notion of all, God tells the people “Don’t seek revenge on your enemy. Don’t lash out at them, but pray for them. Pray for their welfare because when they flourish you will too.”

This- this is the amazing, radical message we are given today. This- this is a formula for flourishing that goes beyond being cavalier or celebrating only when the sun shines.

This is finding hope in hopelessness. This is about finding plenty in the midst of loss. This is about finding treasure even in the muck and the mud that is far too often the composition of human life.

This is what faith is about.

This is what resilience means. This is why again and again and again people turn to the sacred scripture and find what they need to get through another day.

For after all, what is faith, what are fair words, if the moment something breaks, the moment something fails, we fall apart?

What is faith if it’s only the good times that we sing praises to God and in bad times we force ourselves to be silent???

…What is faith if we fail to recognize that in some way, somehow, all of us have been in exile or are in exile in our own little way and that it’s the love of God and call to Christ that is getting us through?

All summer we have been exploring the elements of our sacred texts that were designed to inspire and create that resilience, to help us build the future.

The story of Joseph and his brothers, how they did everything they could to harm and silence him, how their actions led to his exile and enslavement, and how through it all God found a way to restore and to bless, and Joseph found a way to forgive and flourish.

The letters attributed to Paul while he was being persecuted for his beliefs. Those who challenged him, the ridicule he endured, the disagreements he went to toe to toe on, and yet he found a way to preach a message of grace and justification, forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

The ultimate example for us is the ministry of Jesus Christ. His open challenges to the powers that be, his questioning the way of society, his love for God above all else and his basic belief that everyone is good and worthy of redemptive love.

For that he was nailed to the cross in hopes his future would be forever finished. We of course know how that turned out.

The people in today’s reading never got to see their beloved Promised Land again. They never got to experience a resurrection of their own. But it did not stop them from living or enjoying life the best they could.

And against all odds, even without their fields, their homes, their Temple, they did not completely lose their faith in God or the stories about God’s people.

For they still continued to believe, they still continued to live; that is why we are where we are today, right here; right now.

Living life. Not settling for what is ok, but believing in God that we deserve what is good.

In return, we are reminded by Jeremiah’s letter written 2,600 years ago, that we are to hold onto the promise even when it seems to be broken.

To hold onto our beliefs even when current situations make them seem unbelievable.

To continue to live, even when life seems unlivable.

God encourages us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, we are called to create, to build, to fellowship and to dream.

To be resilient until all of our time goes by.

Amen and amen.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sermon from Oct 6, 2013; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Rev. George Miller
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Unguarding the Good Treasure”
Oct 6, 2013

I don’t talk much about my family and since they live far away and are scattered about, people often ask me if I have brothers and sisters, if I’m the oldest or youngest.

The answer is I am the oldest of four children. There is me, born in 1970, followed by my brother Timmy. He lives in St. Louis and is the father of one. Timmy and I bond over stupid, silly films, like “Zoolander” that we quote back and forth.

There is my sister Cindy who is the mother of two and lives in California. She and I bond over organic living and nature, doing things like shopping at the farmer’s market and swimming in the ocean.

Then there is Samantha, the baby of the family and proud mama of three boys. She lives just outside of Nashville and her and I bond over books we suggest to one another. She likes books about young women living in small towns overcoming insurmountable odds. I like light, quick reading that features romance and food.

Recently, Samantha and I decided to read the same book at the same time, so we chose the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth written in 1931 by Pearl Buck.

The Good Earth takes place in China. It’s about a man named Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan and it’s an exquisitely written novel, rich with details that allow you to see, taste, and feel what they are going through.

My sister and I are only 100 pages in, but wow! does a lot happen. The two get married; she gets pregnant. They work the field. He buys more land. She gives birth. They slowly accumulate money. She gets pregnant again, gives birth and that same day goes right back to tending the field.

Then, the rains stop, the earth dries up and a famine hits. The family eats everything they have, including their ox. They survive on mashed up corn husks.

It is as if the environment has gone into its own government shut down. There are no animals left anywhere; there are no beans, no rice, and no meat.

People turn to eating grass, bark off the tree, even dirt. O-lan gives birth to another child who dies immediately.

Fearing for their lives Wang Lung and his family leave their home, leave their land, and travel 100 miles south to a city…a city that is rich with treasures.

How rich? The author describes sumptuous markets filled with smoked ducks, barrels filled with swimming fish, beans of every kind and vats of rice so deep that a man can fall in and drown, not to be discovered.

How rich? So rich that even the poorest of the people can eat to their fill of rice every morning for a penny at the public kitchen.

At first Wang Lung is too proud to accept a hand out, but realizes he can no longer listen to his children cry out with hunger.

So every morning his family travels to the kitchen with their soup bowls waiting to be filled with rice.

Wang Lung is astonished that it’s possible to feed all the impoverished people of the city. He asks “But why should any give like this to the poor and who is it that gives?” (pg 75)

The answer he gets is that “It is the rich and the gentry of the town who do it, and some do it for a good deed for the future, that by saving lives they may get merit in heaven, and some do it for righteousness that men may speak well of them.”

Wang Lung responds “Nevertheless it is a good deed for whatever reason, and some must do it out of a good heart.”

When the man does not answer him, he adds “At least there are a few of these?”

Within this conversation, the author sets up a concept to be explored a little later on: the idea of faith and how it causes people to do what they do and why they do it.

The unnamed man assumes that people give so they can gain something in return; yet even at his most destitute moment Wang Lung wishes to believe people will give out of the goodness of their heart.

It’s kind of like the conversation we’ve been having about being justified by faith in Jesus Christ. If we recall, we explored that theme back in June when we studied Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.

In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul wrote “Yet we know a person is justified, not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ...”

Galatians 2 is about freedom. It’s about knowing that through our faith there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. It’s already been given.

This freedom means that we don’t do good deeds for the future, that we don’t save lives so we can get points in heaven, nor do we do good deeds so people can speak well of us.

It means that in Jesus Christ we have already won the race, we have already been promised the future and that we are already participants in the Kingdom of God.

So we don’t do or give or share or speak well of others because we have too; we do so because we can; we do so because we have already discovered that in Christ we have enough and that in Christ there is “more, so much more.”

Today’s reading reminds us of these things all too well.

Though scholars question its true authorship, the letter takes the form of an older, wiser church leader imparting wisdom to a much younger one who is just starting out.

In this reading, the author encourages the recipient to rekindle the gift from God that is within and is encouraged to “guard the good treasure entrusted to you...”

Now, upon reading this I know the author is referring to the personal treasures we have: our faith, our relationship with Christ, our belief in God, grace, justification, and forgiveness.

The author is saying “Don’t lose these treasured things. Don’t lose your light, your love, your calling. Don’t allow anyone the power to strip these away from you or to diminish what you hold dear.”

But I had another thought when I read the phrase “guard the good treasure”: here we are, a church in which we encourage and invite people to read scripture on their own, wrestle with God and come to their own faithful decisions on what God is Still Speaking.

Here we are, at a church in which we preach total acceptance of others. We may not always follow it, but we preach it.

Here we are: a church in which our members recently stated in a survey that the welcome they receive when they come here Sunday morning is our most excellent attribute.

We are a church striving to say “You are welcome here, regardless if you are rich with rice or surviving on bark.”

Those are at least three treasures that we have, among others, so why wouldn’t we want to share it?

You can’t guard treasures like those; you got to release them. You got to let them go, out into the congregation, out into the community, out into the universe.

Because when we do, those treasures just seem to keep on a comin’ back and back and back again…

When people think of treasures, when they think of giving, they think of finances, they think of money. But here’s a truth: money comes; money goes.

When Stephanie and I attended the UCC Conference in Orlando, do you know what the presenter said was the most valuable resource, the most valuable treasure people had?

Their time.

It was time that was most precious; it was time people valued and held onto.

As we move out of summer into our fall and winter season, as our northern members continue to fly and drive back to us, it is good to keep in mind that as we continue to grow (and to experience growing pains) that we are rich with treasures that cannot be bought.

People with compassion in their hearts.

People with able bodies that are willing to work and help another.

People with years of experience, be it managing businesses, teaching in schools, or running a home.

I think of the two successful years we’ve had of Vacation Bible School. They weren’t successful because our food was the tastiest or our music was the bounciest or our lessons were the best planned in the history of VBS.

It was successful because the kids were accepted as is; it was successful because the kids were able to think for themselves; it was successful because the volunteers made the children feel welcome.

At the end of the day, those are the treasures that matter; those are the treasures people will remember long after their food is digested and their lessons have been taught.

Today, for World Communion Sunday, we are invited to receive the treasures of heaven through the broken bread and a shared cup.

As you do so, think of what those treasures are: forgiveness of sins, strength, mercy, another chance to do better, another opportunity to grow.

As we participate in World Communion Sunday also think about and embrace the treasures you have stored within you that make you unique and valuable.

If those gifts are on fire, great! If they have grown a bit tarnished, invite the Holy Spirit in to polish them up.

And if someone has tried to put them out, let the Holy Spirit fire them back up.

We are a church filled with treasures.

Guard our treasures? Why? That would be like putting our light under a bushel and refusing to let it shine.

I say unguard, and unguard graciously.

Sometimes there will be success, sometimes there will be pandemonium, and sometimes there will be heartbreak and disagreements.

But it is better to unguard our treasures then to keep them hidden and away…

The author of today’s reading encourages the listener to guard the good treasure entrusted to them.

There are people in our world who are spiritually starving, surviving on bark and rice, when in Christ we can offer more, so much more.

When it comes to knowing we are justified, when it comes to knowing we are forgiven, when it comes to knowing we are recipients of grace, why wouldn’t we want to share that with the world?

Mercy, peace and welcome are treasures we can share: with our neighbors, with our family, with one another and perhaps most importantly, we can share with ourselves.

Let us share not so we get merit in heaven or that others may speak well of us; let us do it out of the goodness of our heart, knowing that in our faith we are already justified, knowing that in Jesus we have already won.

In Christ we give thanks; to God we sing all praise; through the Holy Spirit we dare to share the treasures which abound.

For that, let the whole church say “Amen.”