Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014 Sermon

Rev. George Miller
Dec 24, 2014

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

That’s the question we explored on Sunday; it is a question we return to this evening.

We are blessed to be gathered here tonight, to anticipate the birth of Jesus. It’s a joy to be away from the darkness of the world and to be bathed in the light of Christ.

We just heard a series of readings from the Gospel of Luke. How the angel appears to Mary and tells her she will bear a son.

How Mary travels to visit her cousin. How Elizabeth’s child jumps within her womb.

How Mary and Joseph journey into Bethlehem and she gives birth in a manger.

Angels appear to shepherds and sing their praises before returning to heaven. With haste the shepherds go visit this new family and make known what they know.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that each of these stories feature a journey. Mary, the angels, the shepherds, Joseph-they all make a journey. Even Elizabeth’s unborn child moves when he leaps within her.

But perhaps you’ve noticed something else: we’ve only heard from Luke’s account; we have not heard from Matthew’s Gospel. It is in Matthew’s telling that we feature the story of King Herod and the wise men.

As Matthew 2 states, wise men came to King Herod claiming they had observed a star and came to pay homage to the King of the Jews.

King Herod is scared, so he gathers his best leaders around him to get more info. Then in secret he tells the wise men to go and search diligently for the child.

Which is what they do, entering the holy city and seeing the child with his mother. They pay him their respects and offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Then they leave, going a different route.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

It is interesting to note that in every one of these stories everyone makes a journey of some kind…except King Herod.

Did you notice that? He does not move.

Herod hears the news and first he is afraid, then he gathers his leaders around him and then he sends the wise men to go and search.

What’s up with that?

King Herod, leader of Judea, most powerful man in all the land. He’s unwilling to move, unwilling to journey, unwilling to accept the fact that there may be some one, some thing grander than he.

While the rest of the Christmas characters go from here to there, he stays put; unmoving and unmovable.


What’s up with this King? What could he be so frightened of?

Here Herod is, most likely wrapped in the finest of garments with gold and rubies, sitting on a throne. And this is what he’s afraid of- a baby? A child, an infant, in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger?

Unlike everyone else, he refuses to take that journey to Bethlehem. Unlike everyone else he refuses to have anyone ask “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

So on his throne he sits, and he waits…alone.

While the skies light up with angels singing, while shepherds share what they’ve heard and the wise men follow a star, overwhelmed with joy, he stays put.

I wonder how many here tonight may feel like they can relate a bit to the King. I wonder how many here are afraid of what the news of Jesus’ birth actually means.

I wonder how many here value more the ways of the worldly kingdom than the ways of the Kingdom of God.

I wonder how many are ready for the journey- to let go of all the struggle and strife of the past year, to be willing to see and experience things in a new way.

To stop believing in lies or living in fear and to take that step of faith and cross over into the promises of our God who creates, our God who saves and our God who blesses.

Because what a wonderful journey it can be, with angels serenading us and a star leading the way!

To get off the thrones of comfort and the thrones of fear and to follow.

To step off those thrones made of prejudices and preconceived notions, abusive situations and dysfunctions.

To lose the robes of anger and jealousy, fears and falsehoods and to make that journey to be bathed in the light of a new kind of King.

To follow the star, to follow the wise men, to follow the shepherds, to follow Joseph, and to follow Mary knowing that Jesus is there in a manger and that amazing things are waiting for us.

Tonight a baby is born to free us all; tonight a baby is born to love us all.

Tonight we do not have to walk in darkness or in shadows, but we can walk in great light.

We are invited to rejoice with joy and to know that the Lord who creates, who saves and who blesses also wants to make us happy, and wants to make us whole.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

We have been invited to participate in a journey that will lead us to a child who has come in the name of peace and justice, grace and eternal love.

We can be like Herod and be scared and angry and remain where we are. Or we can be like the others and embrace the chance to make that move. We can take that chance and be transformed.

Where we are now is not where we were last year. And where we are now is not where we will be the year next.

This journey into Bethlehem, our Christmas journey, is one which we can travel with courage and conviction, with trust and faith, with dignity and the knowledge that in Jesus Christ the Lord is waiting to meet us.

Waiting to bless us with radiant light, with unending love and with sheltering shalom.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

We are ready to see the beautiful baby born in the manger; we are ready to see the face of God.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sermon for Dec 21, 2014; Luke 1:46-55

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:46-55
Dec 21, 2014

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

This Advent season we’re celebrating the fact that we have faith in Sebring while joyfully waiting for the Lord.

We’ve talked about being fantastic failures; we’ve talked about holy interruptions. In our Lectionary Bible Study we talked about how Mary is not the first person to be visited by an angel, nor is she the first to be told she will have a child.

Looking back upon our Old Testament scripture, we read one of the earliest such stories in Genesis 16:1-16.

It’s the story of Hagar, the slave-girl who gets dragged into the soap-opera like drama of Abraham and Sarah.

After being used like an object and mistreated by her mistress, Hagar runs away into the wilderness. Although she is pregnant, she sees it as a better alternative than being caught up in their dysfunction.

While resting by a spring of water, “kapooya!”, an angel appears to Hagar and says “Where have you come from and where are you going? have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael…”

Last week we pretty much covered the idea of interruptions; today let’s embrace and explore this idea of “Where have you come from and where are you going.”

That’s a rich theological notion, the idea that we are each on a journey and that often times we are at pivotal places in which we can look back and we can look forward.

Sometimes we look back with relief, glad that our past is behind us.

Sometimes we look back with melancholy, afraid that the best days are long behind.

Sometimes we look forward, excited about what’s to come: a new job, a new home, a new love, a new opportunity.

Sometimes we look forward with dread: worried about our health, worried about our bills, worried about the future of the world.

Sometimes we’re not even aware we are in an in-between state. Sometimes that reality is so clear we can feel, hear, see and taste it.

Just around the riverbend…something’s coming who knows what, who knows when.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

I believe the same sentiment could be said to Mary at this moment of the story. Not too long ago she was just an ordinary girl in an ordinary world, from a nothing family in a no-count town when…

“Kapooya!” the angel Gabriel interrupts her life with the news that she will become pregnant, she will have a child named Jesus and he will be called the Son of God.

Holy reality break.

Mary questions the possibility, but once she’s given all the facts, she says with great strength and fortitude “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

For reasons no one really knows, Mary then makes a journey to her cousin’s home; a journey that would have taken a minimum of 2 days.

When there, she discovers her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant as well and she is greeted with these words “Blessed are you among women.”

And as if following a divinely written script, Mary breaks into a song of praise in which her soul magnifies the Lord, she acknowledges her lowliness, thanks the Mighty One for what has been done and she celebrates, in advance, what God will accomplish.

It’s a powerful prayer; don’t be fooled by the images of pop-culture or the presentations of docileness, because Mary sounds like a prayer-warrior, speaking words of social-justice and mercy, anti-establishment and feeding the hungry.

She ends her prayer in a wonderful way that belies her Jewish background, for she recalls the promises God had made to Abraham and Sarah.

By lifting up their names, she is mindful of how God is personal and active in human events and history; how God acts to create, to save and to bless.

Genesis 16:7- “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Luke 1:46-47- “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary’s song is a song for everyone this morning. Mary’s story is all of our stories, because we’ve all had moments of holy interruptions, we’ve all had moments of drastic before and after, and except for the very rare 1% born into extreme wealth and privilege, we all have places of lowliness we can look back upon or are experiencing now.

Genesis 16:7- “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Mary, in her own words, acknowledges that she has come from a place of lowliness.

The way Luke frames the story, we can see how this is so. First, Mary is a girl; the lowest rung of the social ladder, right above a slave. Women were not regarded with high esteem and children were seen more as property then persons.

Mary is both, a double whammy of lowliness.

Not to mention, she comes from a no-count town in a no-count place. Sure, we know all about Galilee and Nazareth now, but back then…no, no, no.

Back then no one boasted of being from Galilee; no one planned a vacation in Nazareth. They were like the Lorida of the state. They were like the relatives you knew of but no one talked about.

And as we talked about last week, Mary is engaged to be married; which means she may still be living at home with her Dad, but she legally belongs to Joseph. She’s not really a girl but she’s not really a woman.

“Where have you come from?” Mary is the epitome of lowliness, especially…especially now that is she pregnant and she is unwed.

“And where are you going?” That’s an interesting question, because we know where Mary is going.

We know that soon she will journey to Bethlehem, we know soon she will give birth in a manger, we know soon she will be greeted by shepherds sharing their stories.

But for now, none of that has happened yet. For now she is just an unmarried, pregnant girl who has taken a two day journey to visit her equally pregnant cousin, but it is clear that the journey has already made a difference.

Because listen to what Mary says “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”

Here we have a woman who sees her lowliness, who understands her humble roots, who is fully aware of her situation, and yet here she is able to look ahead, who is able to name and claim what God will do, how she will be transformed and how the world will be a better place.

“Where have you come from?” Lowliness.

“Where are you going?” Blessedness.

“Where have you come from?” Being hungry.

“Where are you going?” To having enough.

“Where have you come from?” Promises made.

“Where are you going?” Promises fulfilled.

But don’t be fooled into complacency. Don’t be falsely warmed by the glow of the story.

Because although where Mary is going will lead to Bethlehem, to a manger and to Jesus being presented at the Temple, we are to also be aware that Mary will learn what it means to have a sword pierce her soul, as any parent will experience.

Be aware that in about 33 years Mary will go to the place in which she’ll be in the shadow of her son’s cross.

That Mary will most likely be among the women who see the tomb where her son’s dead body would lay on a Friday.

Nor can we forget that according to Luke, Mary was among the woman who went to the tomb that Sunday morn to discover the stone had been rolled away and that she was amongst the first to hear the Good News that Christ had been resurrected.

What this means is that as Mary moves from lowliness to blessedness, as she goes from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as she goes from manger to temple, from cross to empty tomb, we go to.

We are mindful of where we have come from and where we are going.

Sometimes we are moving from sorrow to joy, from joy to sorrow.

Sometimes we are joyfully moving towards, sometimes we are sadly moving away.

Almost all of the time we are in some sort of transition, some kind of change, some kind opportunity.

We can deny it, we can fight it, we can be blind to it. We can embrace it, we can name it, we can claim it.

But we move, we travel, we transition, hopefully mindful of where we’ve been, mindful of where we are going.

As we do so, may we recall that we do not make those journeys alone, that we are not completely in the wilderness by ourselves, that at most times we are probably not as great and superb as we feel, nor are we as lowly or despised as we may think.

But that we are the Lord’s and that the soon-to-be-birth of Jesus the Christ is to remind us of how much we matter, how much we are loved.

To remember that God became incarnate so we can go from place to place, we can move from past to present to future with the knowledge that we are blessed, we are recipients of mercy and grace and that God is indeed acting from generation to generation.

“Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Each of us gets the chance to answer that question, may we also know that in Christ we do not make that journey in vain; in Christ we do not make it alone.

Amen and amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sermon for Dec 14, 2014; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:26-38
Dec 14, 2014

Today I am going to give perhaps the most knowingly hypercritical sermon of my life. I’m going to talk about the theology of interruptions.

My thesis is that there are times in which God interrupts our lives for the benefit of all and we could do a better job of realizing it.

Hypercritical, because I am perhaps the last person in this sanctuary who can handle interruptions. But they say that often times preachers preach for themselves, and today is going to be one of those days.

I don’t know why I’m not so good at handling interruptions. Perhaps it’s the way my brain is wired.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Men aren’t the best at multi-tasking.

A woman can answer the phone, duct tape a leaky faucet, and address the 4 needs from 3 different people all within 5 minutes of walking in the door.

Guys have a hard enough time remembering to wash their hands after using the rest room.

Maybe it’s a New York thing; maybe it’s a maturity thing; maybe it’s just a George thing.

Regardless, the ability to deal with interruptions is a life-long learning edge for me, which is part of the appeal of living here in small-town Sebring.

In a land where children are raised to say “ma’am” and “sir” there are still elements of that old-time southern style of doing things in such a way that you don’t fret and you don’t frown, you just go along with it all.

I think of Miss Mona who’s been cutting my hair for nearly 5 years. The first time I met her, the salon was busy with girls getting their hair done up for the prom, yet Mona found the time to cut my hair.

She offered a glass of wine. We talked about this and that. 3 weeks later I was back at the salon.

As Miss Mona cut my hair, we’d talk. The phone rang, she’d answer it. Someone came in, she stopped cutting to acknowledge them and chat. Her daughter stopped by; an employee brought in salads for lunch.

It was very quaint and down home, until the 3rd time when the novelty wore off. I wasn’t used to this particular style of pleasantries and interruptions that took place.

Up north a haircut took only thirty minutes, but with Miss Mona it took an hour.

Miss Mona talked and talked; about her church, about her family; she asked questions, “would I like anything to eat?”, she answered phones, she greeted people.

It was too much- an avalanche of interruptions. I thought I’d never go back.

Fortunately, I did.

But the next time it was with this revelation- I had to accept the fact that it would always take an hour for Mona to cut my hair.

I had to accept the fact that there would always be phone calls, there would always be people stopping in, there was always going to be drinks offered and food being shared…because that’s the way it was.

So I gave in…and I’m so glad I did, because a hair cut by Miss Mona is something I look forward too. It’s therapeutic and joyful.

I’ve learned how to schedule my day accordingly. I’m no longer surprised when the phone rings; sometimes I even know who she’s talking to.

People come in; I say hi. Mona will introduce us and in that small-town sort of way we discover what our connections are.

Through Miss Mona and her salon of interruptions I’ve made some great connections: I met my friend Dominick, was invited to attend a function at the airport, was asked to volunteer for 12 Hours and her family has had me over for the holiday.

Of all the people in Sebring, Miss Mona is perhaps the most happy, content, and fully realized person I know. People love to be around her.

Here’s something else-there are now times in which it is I who stop by Miss Mona’s just to say hi, and I am the interruption.

I am greeted with the best sense of hospitality and I get to hear the stories and jokes from whoever is in that chair.

At Miss Mona’s the interruptions are not the exception, they are the rule; and I would not have it any other way.

When you think about it, isn’t the Bible a collection of interruptions? Holy interruptions you might call it.

Those out of nowhere, “where did that come from?”, jee-whiz-you’re-really-intruding-in-my-day kind of interruptions.

Think of Abraham and Sarah. Here they are, a long-term married, lifetime childless, ready to settle into a lifetime of retirement kind of couple when- “kapooya!”

Out of nowhere and without warning God interrupts their life and says “Go, pack up your stuff, say goodbye to everyone so you can move to a foreign land and have a baby.”

That’s an interruption of life that involves family, land and history.

Think of Moses- a dude just tending the sheep, minding his business, enjoying the hill-country view when out of nowhere “kapooya!”-his work-day is interrupted with a burning bush and a voice telling him to remove his sandals, speak to the Pharaoh and free the slaves.

That’s not just a work-place interruption, but a call to challenge the politics of the day and to perform an act of social justice.

Then there is the boy Samuel. If you recall, he was just trying to get a good night’s rest when “Kapooya!”- God disturbs his sleep by calling out his name not once but three times.

Samuel’s sound sleep is interrupted so he can be a prophet and speak words of judgment against the Eli, the priest.

In these three examples alone we encounter situations in which out of nowhere God interrupts someone’s life and places upon them an opportunity, a burden, a task, that they had no heads-up about.

And yet each of them rises to the challenge and they each step up on faith. Ultimately they, and we, become the better for it.

Today we heard about another holy interruption, a monumental kind.

Here is Mary, a regular ordinary girl just doing her thing. She’s listening to her iPod, checking texts on her phone, posting messages to Facebook.

She’s chilling and spending some time alone when out of nowhere “Kapooya!”- an angel appears and says “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you.”

Talk about a holy interruption!

The angel goes on “So here’s the deal- you’ve made God happy so you’re going to have a baby named Jesus and he’s going to change the world and be a blessing to all.”

I don’t know about you, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how Mary was able to handle this interruption.

I can barely handle someone coming into the office to ask a question, much less an angel coming out of nowhere with a “Your whole life is going to change forever” kind of deal.

For a young girl who is engaged to be married, who’s still living with her dad, who’s not really a child but not yet a woman, this is a big deal.

This is an interruption that will forever change her life. Hard to join the school basketball team or attend your prom or go on a double date when you’re pregnant.

When an angel intrudes upon the mundane aspects of your day and says the Holy Spirit is going to come upon you and your child will be called the Son of God that’s about as holy of an interruption as you can get.

Yet scripture tells us that Mary not only seems to welcome the interruption, she says “Here I am Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Think about it. In the others stories the people had different reactions.

Sarah laughed when she heard she was going to have a child. Moses used every excuse he could think of to get out of doing what God asked. Samuel had to be woken three times and told by Eli what to do.

And yet, here is young Mary, alone and unprepared, yet willing to say “yes” to God’s holy interruption.

And if you notice, with the examples given of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Samuel, and Mary, each of these holy interruptions resulted in events that aided in God’s acts of creation, salvation and blessings.

These holy interruptions resulted in family, in freedom, in prophecy and ultimately, they resulted in our Savior.

None of these holy interruptions could have been planned ahead. None of them seemed to happen at the most opportune time.

But all of them occurred for the benefit of God’s kingdom.

In conclusion, the Bible is full of stories about people being interrupted by God, about how the Holy One broke into their lives unexpected and uninvited.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to be interrupted and to allow those interruptions to take place, especially when it’s a busy time of the year.

But perhaps just for this Advent Season, perhaps just for this week, perhaps even just for this day, we can find our own way to welcome those interruptions when they occur.

To not be so focused on our holiday planning and tasks on hand that we end up missing the holy that is right in our midst.

To realize that sometimes it is the interruptions that are the real opportunities and tasks at hand.

To celebrate that if they are indeed God’s holy interruptions, they are there to serve a purpose to create, to save and to bless.

And perhaps by welcoming in these moments, we are also welcoming in the chance for Jesus to become a little bit more real to a world that seems so rushed, a world so scared and a world so far removed from who we were created to be.

And perhaps by welcoming in these holy interruptions we too can find our own way to say “Here we are, Lord. Here we are.”

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sermon from Dec 7,2014; 2 Peter 3:8-14,18

Rev. George Miller
2 Peter 3:8-14,18
Dec 7, 2014

We’ve all heard of “Christmas in July”; today we’re going to have July in Christmas.

If you subscribe to Highland’s Today you may have read the article by syndicated columnist Roger Simon titled “America’s Glorious Failures.” It ran on the 4th of July…of 1976 and was so well received that they’ve run it every 4th of July since.

Roger writes about spending three days with the contestants of the Miss Wisconsin Pageant in Oshkosh, WI.

He observed how they practiced 18 hours a day in evening gowns and swim suits, wobbled in high heels and always smiled…until the last night.

The finalists were announced and the eight losers ran offstage into a large, bare room.

For the past three days Roger got to know them, their names and the towns they represented. Now each of them was riddled with sorrow and a sense of shame.

“I just feel bad for my town…I feel I let all the people down,” said Miss Watertown.

“I don’t know how I will face the people who came here to see me,” said Miss Sheboygan.

According to Roger they had branded themselves as failures in a nation in which success is worshipped as a religion.

As dreamers of the American Dream they were paying for their failure.

Roger wrote “I wish I could have told them then what I know now…America was a country founded by failures who could not get along in the Old World and who came to a wilderness because they simply had no other place to go.”

He continues: pioneers settled the country because they failed at adjusting to the crowded life on the Eastern Seaboard.

Folk who failed at owning their own businesses were the ones who built the country by holding jobs in which their lives were ruled by alarm clocks and factory whistles.

History books may recall the great deeds of great women and men, but America was really shaped by the great deeds of ordinary men and women.

But “America has always been better than its government, that its people have always been more decent than their presidents and that the strength and greatness of this nation lies in them, the men and women who are not great and who never will be.”

“So,” states Roger, “on this Fourth of July- for Miss Watertown and Miss Sheboygan and for all the other glorious failures who have made and sustained this country-on this day, I stand for you.” (Roger Simon, July 4, 1976)

Glorious failures.

That is perhaps the single best term that can be used to sum up today’s reading.

What we just heard was a letter written to a group of people dealing with a crisis of their own. For approximately 30-50 years they have been living with the belief that Jesus was going to come back real soon.

That’s what the Gospels recall Jesus saying in the 30’s. That’s what Paul writes about in his letters, dated around the 50’s.

But now it’s somewhere between the 80’s-90’s and a whole generation of original believers have passed and Christ has not returned as promised.

This creates a theological dilemma. This new community of believers have been living out their lives and living out their faith with the understanding that they have been living in the Final Times and the Day of God’s Righteous Judgment is going to happen at any time.

This focus on the near future has shaped their understanding of who they are and how to live. Thinking Jesus is going to come back any day now they have done their best.

They have done justice, they have loved kindness, they have tried their best to walk humbly with the Lord.

Slaves tried to stay obedient to their masters; masters have tried to be better to their slaves. Virgins have tried to stay unwed and not give into their passions.

Men and women have found some ground of equality. Merchants have tried not to cheat their customers or to have faulty scales.

People have joyfully come together to share what they have, to not be so focused on material things and to act like the best versions of themselves they could possibly be.

Which is easy to do when you’ve been told (and you believe) that any day now Jesus is going to come back; any day now all the suffering is going to end; any day now you are going to be rewarded for all you’ve done.

Go to bed knowing “any day now.” Wake up trusting “any day now.”

Stick to your wedding vows and put extra money in the offering plate because “soon, very soon Jesus will be here.”

But one days turns into two. Two days turn into a week. A week turns into a month. A month turns into a year. A year turns into a decade, and still- no Jesus.

Soon one decade turns into two, into four, into five. The first generation has come and gone and still no Jesus to be found, arriving in the clouds or in the quaking of the hills.

Did Jesus lie? Was Paul wrong? Did they hear or remember incorrectly? Had they been deceived?

So despair creeps into the Christian congregations. They feel like losers. As a faith, they are failures.

Christ has failed them, the Holy Spirit has failed them, God has failed them.

The people think that perhaps they should go back to worshipping Zeus, or Baal or perhaps no god at all.

They have failed, so why not go back to injustice, to being bad neighbors, to acts of lust and gluttony and idolatry?

They have failed…

…but if that is what failure looks like, how glorious it is, because 2,000 years later we are still gathering, we are still worshipping, and we are still believing.

If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing, as we ourselves give testimony to what it looks like when people gather from the north and the south, the east and the west.

If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing as we come before the Lord bearing stockings overflowing with gifts to give to those in need.

If this is what failure looks like, then it must not be such a bad thing as we paraded along the streets of the city, showing that we have faith in Sebring.

If stocking a food pantry and feeding hungry folk is a sign of failure, then so be it. If gathering with those you’ve grown to care about around a table filled with bread and juice is failure, then let us say “amen.”

If gathering each Sunday in holy space and holy time to recall the life of a man who healed the sick, taught the masses, loved and welcomed all, fed the hungry and treated men and women as co-partners, then put a huge “F” by all of our names.

…if failure is waiting for the Kingdom of God to be realized with the sincere belief that somehow, someway, someday it’s going to happen, so therefore we sincerely do our best to play our part, then I say call us all failures….

…better yet, I say call us “FAITHFUL.” Call us one of the “FLOCK.” Call us “FEARLESS.”

Perhaps you may not have realized it, but the Bible, like our nation, is founded on failures. Abraham and Sarah never did get to see their own family become as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Moses never did make it into the Promised Land. Paul never did get to arrive at the church he had promised to visit. And Jesus’ ministry was cut short by the controversy of the Cross.

In the real world not a-one-of-them would be considered a success.

Yet here they are, in the pages of our Holy Book, reminding us of who we are and what being a Christian gets to mean.

Today’s letter was written to give hope to people who felt that if Jesus did not come back, then it means everything had been a folly and that they had failed.

But that’s not the case. The author encourages them; the author empowers them, to stay on track.

Now- if they were to go back to their old ways, if they were to go back to ego-driven lives, if they were to go back to unhealthy behaviors that hurt themselves, hurt another and hurt their neighbor, then they truly would have failed in a much different way.

And…as the author writes, perhaps it is a good thing that Jesus had not come back so soon, as he had promised.

Because what that means is that the Divine Judgment has not come.

That means we each have yet another minute, another hour, another day, another week, another month, another year, another decade to get things right.

True, Jesus has not returned, but perhaps that is actually a sign of grace: that as much as we have fallen and sinned and made mistakes we have another chance to get back up, to seek forgiveness and to do what is right.

According to columnist Roger Simon, the country was founded on failures.

In pop culture I think of how it’s because Disney’s “Fantasia” failed that “Dumbo” was made. Because Lucy could not succeed in movies she branched out in TV.

Because my 1st church closed, I am now here.

Failure isn’t so bad. Failure can actually be the fruit that a mighty tree grows from.

Perhaps Jesus did not return as promised, but still we wait.

We wait with trust, we wait with light, we wait with joy. We wait knowing that God does keep promises. We wait knowing that God is still working in this wonderful world.

We wait knowing that God is Still Speaking.

While waiting, we stand with all the others, knowing that even amidst perceived failures or flops, our God is still one who creates, one who saves and one who blesses us all,

regardless if you are Miss Watertown or Miss Sheboygan, regardless if you are Moses or Miriam, regardless if you are Mary, Peter or Paul.

We stand and we wait.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sermon for Nov 30, 2014; Mark 13:24-37

Rev. George Miller
Nov 30, 2014
Mark 13:24-37

Today’s scripture deals with the themes of staying awake, of seasons and of waiting.

There is an art to waiting; an ebb and flow that comes with rituals and expectations. Events that mark rites of passage and of time: hunting season, Superbowl, prom.

Events that mark both an end and a new beginning: end of summer leads to 1st day of school. Easter ushers in winter’s end.

We all have traditions, we all have special days that hold meaning for us, something we look forward to that says something new has begun.

For me, Thanksgiving is that mark of time. It’s a full day off from work in which I choose to stay in and not leave home.

I look forward to starting the morning with no alarm, a pot of coffee and homemade pancakes.

Of watching the Macy’s Parade. Calling family. Making a turkey with turnips and my Mom’s pearl onions in cream sauce.

At some point I get to take out the Christmas tree, the red and green storage box full of decorations, and the CDs of Luther Vandross, Natalie Cole and Vanessa Williams singing seasonal standards.

The best part: putting up the ornaments. If you recall, last year I shared how I got rid of the ornaments that I no longer liked or those that had negative memories attached to them.

What you may not know is that throughout the last 2 years I’ve been purposely collecting ornaments from everywhere I’ve went and everything I’ve done.

Ornaments from days at Disney with Cornelius. Ornaments from my trips to New York and Connecticut; even places like Cats on Main in Wauchula and events like Small Business Saturday in Sebring.

Ornaments given by friends, theater folk, church members. Ornaments made by nephews; mailed by my brother. Some a year old, some from two decades back.

Virtually each one tells a story and reminds me of a person and a time. Some mark sad moments, others the good. Some represent transitions, others travels or tribulations.

But all these ornaments tell a story, come with history, and are therefore a blessing.

I’ve been waiting for a long time to put them up. Every time I’ve opened the hallway closet, they’ve been there in their gift boxes. When I received one as a gift or purchased one at an event, I’ve peered upon them all, waiting to be hung.

Every day this month has been one day closer to pancakes and parade, Christmas carols and putting up those priceless items.

And now they are up; there is light in the living room illuminating the night and the cats are having a great time hiding under the tree, jumping upon the branches and swatting the decorations.

Another year has come to an end; another year has now begun. Transitions, seasons and waiting.

That’s part of the sense I get from today’s reading.

On first read it’s bleak and terrifying. It features talk of the world falling apart, signs of suffering and stars falling from the sky.

Taken on its own it can seem scary, sad and soul-sucking but amidst its prophetic words are images of Good News and light.

First, it makes clear the presence of God with great power and glory. That just as barren branches of a fig tree do bring forth fresh fruit, the Almighty is near and not too far.

Second, while the world is in constant flux of the familiar and the comfortable constantly changing and falling away, God through Christ is doing something new.

Something that is wonderful and life-affirming, such as gathering people from far and near, from north and south.

Third, though the world at times may feel like we are all a motherless child, God is still working to fulfill and make real the promises that were made so long ago to Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Jacob and Joshua.

And while chaos may be all around, our hope comes from knowing that while God is near, active and promise-keeping, we are called upon to be alert, to wait, and most importantly- to live.

To live in the moment before us with the people alongside us.

To live, not stuck in the past, not uber-focused on the future, but to live in the present moment, alert and aware.

We, as Christians, are called to live in the now; to find our ways to receive and reciprocate the gifts of grace.

Called to nurture forgiveness and to get back on up after mistakes.

To do what we can, when we can, to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our Lord.

To continue to find ways to say we have faith in Sebring, we faith in the United States, we have faith in the world.

To continue to see and to celebrate all the ways in which God, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit continues to create, save and to bless.

So, this Advent Season, we wait.

Amidst news of rioting, looting and protests in Ferguson, MO- we wait.

In the cold of winter and the change in the climate- we wait.

Amongst the political undercurrents and the financial strains of the season- we wait.

With bright lights that illuminate the dark, ornaments that decorate the tree and carols of Christmas- we wait.

While waiting, we seek out the ways in which God is active.

We seek out the ways in which the Son of Man is fixing to arrive with power and glory.

We seek out the ways in which the Holy Spirit surprises and calls us to live in the moment.

The ways in which we can experience and witness the beauty and the abundance of a world created by our God who is not absent and who is not asleep.

For the baby born in a manger so that we may all experience the joy of eternal life- we wait.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sermon for Nov 23, 2014; Genesis 45:1-15

Nov 23, 2014
Genesis 45:1-15
Rev. George N. Miller

It was a busy day. With so much to do I was heading to the café to work on my sermon when the phone rang.

The conversation was a social one and started pleasant enough but somewhere along the line I began to get a bit edgy: I really had to start work on that week’s message.

So the New Yorker in me came out and I became short and curt.

Didn’t the person on the end of the line know that I had a lot to do? Apparently not, because they continued to talk and talk.

Finally, I felt I had no choice but to cut the conversation off, say my goodbyes and go back to work. Which is what I did.

I went inside, ordered my cup of coffee, and sat down to my sermon writing work.

…Except I couldn’t.

I wasn’t able to focus on the words in the book or the work at hand. I was blocked.

I felt ashamed about my behavior. I was rude on the phone and I was wrong.

The consequence was a restless spirit and no matter how hard I tried to read and write my notes, I just couldn’t do.

The afternoon had been shot.

I knew what I needed to do: call the person back and apologize for my behavior.

I stepped outside of the café and made the call, nervous about what I had to say. The phone picked up. “Hi: this is George.”

“Oh, hello again.”

“I’m calling to apologize.”

“Apologize? For what?”

“I realized I was very rude to you on the phone and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t notice that you were rude.”

“I know that I was and I am sorry for that.”

“That is OK. You didn’t need to apologize. I forgive you even though I wasn’t aware you did anything wrong.”

…“I forgive you.”

With those three words I smiled and felt as if a weight was lifted off me.

We finished the conversation and I returned to my cup of coffee, my books, able to now focus and get my work done.

That was the day when I learned about the power of forgiveness and the newness it can create...

As Christians, forgiveness is perhaps the trickiest and most difficult of Christ’s teachings to embrace.

Feed the poor? Visit the sick? Love God and love your neighbor? Those all make sense and are something we can do.

But to forgive someone? Seventy times seven? Now that’s hard. What if the person has done the unthinkable? What if they intentionally brought us great harm? Hurt us, hurt one of our own?

Forgive them? That’s a hard lesson to accept.

But yet, isn’t forgiveness something Jesus himself was able to demonstrate again and again, in his stories, in his actions, even in his final hours when he hung on the cross?

Forgiveness is something we ask from God when we pray the “Our Father”. Forgiveness is what we receive every Sunday during the Words of Assurance.

Forgiveness is part of what we are singing about when sing “Amazing Grace.”

And yet, when we have Bible Studies and group discussions, forgiveness becomes the one theme people seem to wrestle with the most.

Perhaps its because we confuse forgiveness with forgetting. Perhaps because we forget that we can be forgiven although there may still be natural and legal consequences.

I also think we forget that often times we forgive more so for our sake: so that we can move on, let go and be transformed...

...More and more psychologists and pastors are learning about just how important forgiveness is.

As humans it is part of our nature to make mistakes; to hurt one another. We can’t help it. Every day we say or do something that brings harm to another person, a part of the planet or to ourselves.

Most of the time we’re not aware when we’ve trespassed against someone, but there are times we know we have hurt someone and we know when we have been hurt.

There is a response when that happens.

When we are hurt we can feel threatened, angry, and out-of-sorts. When we are the ones who have done the hurting we can feel shame, anger, and disappointment in ourselves.

None of those are good feelings to carry around.

And if we do not find a way to properly deal with those emotions, what happens? They simmer and stew, working their way into our soul and begin to manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.

Being silent of pretending it never happened doesn’t do a thing. Instead our anger turns into rage. Shame turns into harsh criticism of others. Disappointment turns into isolation.

The inability to forgive and to receive forgiveness destroys friendship and rips families apart as those unvoiced feelings take on the forms of addiction, passive aggressiveness, abusive behavior or spending the rest of one’s life as a walking doormat.

Christ asks us to forgive and seek forgiveness because when we don’t, relationships breakdown and life feels stymied and crippled.

But do not be fooled: forgiveness is not easy, nor is it a one stop deal. It’s a process, it takes time, and it involves seeing through the eyes of faith.

Today’s scripture is a perfect example of that.

After 20 years Joseph comes face to face with the brothers who once sold him into slavery. During those years Joseph has been a servant, falsely accused of rape, thrown into a prison, and then upon receiving his freedom has risen to the second most powerful position in the land.

But when a famine rips across the earth, his brothers come begging to him for food. All those years of unresolved anger come to a head: what they did to him, what they put him through, so Joseph toys with them a little. He makes them squirm, like a cat with a mouse.

He’s in the position where he can get full retribution for what they did. If he wants payback he can lock them up, turn them into slaves, have them each executed.

But what good would that do? And how much more would that tear apart and destroy his already broken family.

And his brothers? Life for them has not been easy. They have lived a life of emotional and spiritual hell, carrying with them the secret of what they have done, leading their father to believe Joseph is dead, then watching and listening to him grieve every night and day.

So here the brothers stand. The ones who hurt Joseph 20 years ago, and Joseph who has all the power.

Where will the story go? Will Joseph use his might to bring about retribution, or will he find a way to bring about healing?

His brother Judah speaks. He tells Joseph about the heartbreak his family has endured, the hard times they have faced, their father’s grief.

And to make things right, Judah offers himself up to be a slave. Time may not have changed his sin, but time has clearly changed Judah the man.

And with those words, Joseph is moved. He weeps so loudly that everyone can hear. He reveals to his brothers the truth of who he is.

And then he issues them an invite: “come closer to me”. Joseph may not have said the words “I forgive you” but it is clear that he does.

It is an amazing scene of reconciliation in which Joseph could have sentenced them to death, but instead he shared with them the gift of life.

He could have sent them away starving, but instead he invites them to step closer.

He could have told them to go home and never cross his path again, instead he invites them to come and live with him.

The entire Joseph story is a powerful tale of reconciliation and the power of forgiveness in which the victim finds a way to become a magnificent survivor and those who have sinned are redeemed.

But how is Joseph able to move beyond what they did? First, he had time. Over 20 years to process what had happened. 20 years to think about what they had done.

Second, he is able to honestly confront them with what happened. He acknowledges all the bad that has happened, he doesn’t not sugar coat it. He tells them point blank “You sold me into slavery.”

He has said what they all need to hear and admit. They heart of the issue has been confronted.

Speaking the sin has it made it real. Speaking the sin has now also taken away its power.

Third, Joseph found a way to see his experience and his life through the eyes of faith. He makes the claim that God was able to find some good in the situation.

In saying this Joseph is better able to come to terms with what he has endured, and in the process he helps his brothers to release their own feelings of anger and distress.

In seeing how the power of God has been able to work through all their mess, Joseph created a newness for he and his family that has negated the pain of the past, redefined the present and has opened the future to new possibilities.

Life, not bitter anger, has won the day. Joseph freed the brothers from their captivity to their sin and shame. And Joseph has moved from being defined by what they did into having what they did just become a part of his story.

So today, we are here to celebrate and embrace the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness we can give to one another, forgiveness we can give to ourselves.

It is a wonderful gift to share, but remember that forgiveness is rarely a one step deal, it is usually a process. Nor does forgiveness mean that you are going to forget: it means that you are not going to let it have power over you.

Christ asks us to forgive so that life, not death, is given a chance to grow and we can create and re-create. For example, once forgiven, I was able to go write my sermon. Once he forgave Joseph had his whole family back.

So today, the Sunday before Advent begins, let us begin the process of forgiveness.

As your pastor I stand before you asking that you forgive me for all the wrong I have done over the past 12 months.

For the times the New Yorker came out in me and I was rude, for the times I was curt. For the Sundays and busy weekdays I barreled through like a bull in a china-shop, I apologize.

If there was a sermon I gave or a message I shared that caused you any kind of harm, I am sorry.

For the things I said I would do that I have not done, forgive me. For dreams I have stepped on or unwanted dreams I have shoved upon you, I am sorry.

For anything I have done that may have brought shame or dishonor, I apologize.

I ask for your forgiveness and another chance to become a better man, a better pastor and a better child of God…

...And now, it is time for us to participate in a symbolic ritual of forgiveness.

In your bulletin are little slips of paper saying “please forgive me for” and “I forgive.”

Write down the words that you need to say. Think of who you have been hurt by and who you have hurt.

Then come forward, place your prayer slip in the pewter bowl, offering it up to God as the beginning step of the healing process.

After service, we will set them on fire, using the light from the Christ candle, allowing the flames to symbolically carry our forgiving prayers up into the compassionate arms of God.

We forgive and ask for forgiveness as much for our sake as for theirs. It allows us to move beyond our traumas, and it allows us to become survivors in Christ

This doesn’t mean there won’t be times we won’t still feel angry or mourn what has happened, but it does mean we have begun the process of letting go, and letting God.

Hopefully you’ll feel a bit lighter, a bit more free. You may feel a greater sense of peace and be able to say “it is well with my soul.”

Joseph found a way to forgive his brothers and brought forth new life. Jesus spent his whole career and even died speaking words of forgiveness.

May forgiveness be in our hearts today.

Thanks be to God who forgives us again and again, to the Son who healed with his forgiving touch and the Spirit that speaks newness into our lives and into our relationships.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sermon for Veteran's Day 2014; Joshua 24:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 24:1-14
November 9, 2014

One day the Navy Chief noticed a new seaman and barked at him. “Get over here! What’s your name sailor?”

“John,” the new seaman replied.

“Look,” the chief scowled, “I don’t know what kind of bleeding heart, momma’s boy, namby-pamby stuff they’re teaching you sailors in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name.”

“It breeds familiarity, and that leads to a breakdown of authority. I refer to my sailors by their last name only. Smith, Jones, Baker. Whatever.”

“And you are always to refer to me as Chief. Do I make myself clear?”

“Aye, Aye Chief!” said the sailor.

“Now that we got that straight, what’s your last name?”

The seaman sighed. “Darling, Chief. My name is John Darling.”

“OK, John. Here’s what I want you to do…”

Today is an important day. We’re not only holding our Annual Meeting, we’re also acknowledging Veteran’s Day.

Since it’s the second Sunday of the month we have also shared in saying our denomination’s Statement of Faith.

It is good and appropriate that we share these words as they help shape our understanding of who we are and what it means to be a member of the United Church of Christ.

Perhaps you’ll like to take your bulletin home today so you can read over what we said, because words matter.

It starts by calling God the Eternal Spirit. It is to God’s deeds, not our own, that we testify.

And it states that God, the Eternal Spirit, our head Chief, sets before us the ways of life.

Further on, it boldly states that we are called, to be servants in service to others, to proclaim the gospel and to accept the cost and joy of discipleship.

It is a covenantal statement, expressing who God is to us, who we are to God, and what it means to accept the opportunity to experience forgiveness, to experience grace, to experience eternal life, not in our realm, but in God’s.

Very similar to today’s reading. In Joshua 24 we have basically come to the end of a narrative that lasted 6 Biblical books.

The people are no longer slaves in Egypt, they’re no longer wandering the wilderness, they’re no longer newbies in the Promised Land.

After promises made to Abraham and Sarah, after the ministry and leadership of Moses, Miriam and Aaron, after the disaster of leaders who were too afraid to accept the immediate blessing, after the threat of Balaam’s curse, the congregation has settled into the land of milk and honey, streams and calm waters, manure-rich soil and flowers all around.

Joshua knows his time on earth is coming to an end, and so, as a faithful leader, he gathers God’s people to retell them their history, to remind them of their story.

On behalf of God, the Grand Chief, Joshua reminds them of all the verbs God has done:
God took them, God gave them children and land, God sent them leaders, God brought them out of bondage.

That would have been enough, but Joshua continues with their history: God made the sea cover their captors, God destroyed their enemies, God sent blessings when the world wanted to curse them.

When politicians wanted to hurt them, God sent hornets, when they had reached their breaking point God gave them land and homes they had not worked for.

Creation, salvation, blessings. Blessings, salvation, creation. Again and again and again.

Joshua tells the people this so that they will revere the Lord, so they will let go of the ways of the world, and so they will make the right choice, that day and every day, to serve the Lord.

Joshua is doing what any good religious leader will do: putting God first, recounting how God has acted throughout history and throughout their story.

In doing so, he empowers them to remember. To remember who they are. To remember just how far they have come and the grace they have received.

To remember just how much their cup has overflowed and how in God they keep drinking from their saucer.

To remember it has not always been easy. It has never been completely struggle-free. That there have always been obstacles; there have always been struggles, tough times and difficult decisions to make.

But God has always prevailed, and God has always been there…

…over a year ago a Vietnam Vet met with me, plagued by horrific memories of the war and the emotional wounds he still carries.

He shared with me a copy of his Bible, a very special Bible created especially for Vietnam Veterans.

The first page laid it all on the line. The editor writes: “It was unreal. On Tuesday I was locked in a life-and-death struggle in a jungle country next to nowhere.

A few days later, after my discharge, I was eating lunch at McDonald’s, in clean and safe American suburbia…I couldn’t handle it and became filled with anger…”

“I can answer a lot of questions about the war, but here’s one I can’t- why them and not me…”

The writer goes on to talk about what it’s like to live alone in quiet desperation, the memory, the nightmares, the images and smells of rain, of jungle, and of children begging in the city.

Just when it seems to be too bleak, too dark, too much to bear, the author states “Here’s the GOOD NEWS. God knows…he understands. No matter how lonely or isolated you feel, (God) cares. No matter what you’ve done, (God) can forgive.

No matter what your struggle, (God) can bring you through. There is hope.”*

That is what Joshua is doing in today’s retelling of their history; this is what Joshua is doing by retelling their all-too familiar story.

This is what our Statement of Faith is doing and why we have been reciting it in unison the second Sunday of each month.

Because it is not just about me, it’s not just about you, it’s about US.

And not us as a particular congregation, or us as a particular denomination, or us as a particular faith.

But us as a people, as God’s people, called to choose each and every day who we will pledge our devotion to.

It doesn’t matter how we wish to be called: John, Darling, Buddy, Chief, Beloved.

It’s important to know who we are: elders, warriors, leaders, faithful members of the flock, heroes, sinners, grace-receivers.

We are Children of God, a Community in Christ, Sister and Brothers in the Holy Spirit.

Created, saved and blessed.

Called to be servants in service to others, to proclaim the gospel and to accept the cost and to accept the joy of discipleship.

Walking closer and closer with Thee.

Amen and amen.

*Taken from the Vietnam Veteran’s Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sermon for Nov 2, 2014; Matthew 23:1-12

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 23:1-12
Nov 2, 2014

A few months ago I was given a poem by John Paul Moore. It goes like this:

“I’ve never made a fortune
And it’s probably too late now,
But I don’t worry ‘bout that much…
I’m happy anyhow.
And as I go along life’s journey
I’m reaping better than I sowed
And I’m drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed.

I’ve not got a lot of riches
And sometimes the goin’s tough
But I’ve got my family and friends that
love me and that makes me rich enough.
I just thank God for his blessings
And the mercies he’s bestowed…
And I’m drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed.

I remember times when things went wrong
My faith got a little bit thin
But all at once the dark clouds broke
And that old sun peeked through again.
So, Lord, help me not to gripe
About all the tough rows I have hoed,
I’m drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed.

And if God gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough,
I’ll not ask for other blessings,
I’ve already had enough.
And may I never be too busy
To help another bear his load…
Then I’ll keep drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed.”

Here is a poem that speaks in gentle terms about what today’s reading tries to teach us in harsh terms: humility and contentedness, loving neighbor and loving God.

What we just heard falls into the category we can call “Angry Jesus.” This is certainly not the Jesus, meek and mild, that hangs in our Council room walls.

This is not the sunkissed, tousled haired, smiling Jesus that greets people as they enter our Fellowship Hall.

This is brash, bold, bustin’ Jesus who uses his words wisely and with clear intent to stir the pot, get a reaction and force people to think.

While standing within earshot of the religious leaders of his day, Jesus tells the people to do as they say, but not as they do.

Jesus points out the flaws of their leaders and scholars: they place too much burdens on others, they put on acts of show, they vie for the best seat at the table, they adorn themselves with flashy things and they expect everyone to greet them with titles of honor and prestige.

And that’s just the first 12 verses. Read the rest of the chapter and you’ll hear how Jesus boldy, brashly, bustingly calls them children of hell, blind guides, and hypocrites.

Jesus challenges them for worrying about the cleanliness of their saucers rather than the contents of their hearts, for caring more about spices than justice, mercy and faith.

He calls each and every one of them snakes, vipers, and murderers. Is it any wonder his journey led to a cross?

This kind of reading, this kind of scripture is not the most comfortable to read let alone teach, because anyone who tries to point a finger will find 4 fingers pointing right back.

So, let me tell you a story.

As anyone who read this week’s KIT or my FaceBook page knows, I went to Tire Kingdom this week to fix a leaky tire.

To pass the time, I brought my Bible and notepad and research books to prepare for today’s sermon. I was reading what the scholars had to say, trying to figure out just what the heck I’m going to say.

I look over at the guy next to me; he’s reading the paper, but not any paper: the Sun News Times, and he just so happens to be on the page about our church and the Shepherd’s Pantry.

Clear as day I can see the photo of Tracy Miller and I. It was a most surreal moment. I’ve never had that happen before.

He looks over at me and there’s this moment where I can tell exactly what he is thinking.

My ego wants to bubble up and say “That’s me!” but this dang scripture is right before me, challenging me to not boast or brag.

I would not have been drinking from a saucer whose cup had overflowed, but drinking from a bling-ed out goblet of pride.

Well, maybe I can let him know that’s the church I pastor. What could be wrong with that? It could be an opportunity for evangelism, to further get our name out.

But let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have been that. It would have been a moment to feel like a star, to briefly enjoy the spotlight and to bubbly say “That’s me.”

Not what Jesus- the brash, the bold, the bustin’- would have wanted.

That’s the thing about Jesus- he challenges us. Even 2,000 years later, he still challenges us.

Through the Holy Scripture Jesus speaks across space, time and culture to challenge his leaders, his followers, and his people.

When he challenges us, it’s not as the gentle, meek and mild man we see in our Council Room or the sun-kissed guy in the Fellowship Hall.

It’s this guy standing in front of the Pharisees and scribes who is saying “Do what they say, not what they do. Do not be called rabbi or Father. And those who exalt themselves will be humbled.”

So the question is “why?” Why does Jesus go on this ranting tirade that upsets everyone around him and brings him one step closer to the cross?

Is he insane? Is he addicted to chaos? Does he have a death wish?

No. It’s because he loves.

He loves the people he is talking to. He loves the people he is talking about. He loves the community he is standing in.

See, it’s important to recall that Jesus is not speaking as an outsider smugly looking in and telling the people they got everything wrong.

Jesus is an insider.

He’s a Jew, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees, just like the scribes and the people present, and he sees them.

He knows them. He’s in relationship with them. He shares their same history, he shares their same stories, her shares their same ancestors in David and Jonathon, Miriam and Moses, Abraham and Sarah.

He shares the same God who blesses, who saves, who creates.

And he knows they can do so much better; they can do so much more than they currently are.

Jesus knows that as God’s Children they have two very simple responsibilities: to love their neighbor and to love their Lord with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind.

Not to love titles, or to love first row seats or to love gold plated cups and utensils.

But to focus on the things that really, truly mattered: the blessings that have been bestowed, the journeys that lay ahead and the grace that have been given.

Or as Jesus says in 23:23 “…the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

Yes, in today’s reading Jesus is bold, brash and bustin’…but he still speaks to them with words of hope and words of relational love.

For is verse 38 his parental heart pours out as he states “How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her (offspring) under her wings…”

Even in disappointment, even in righteous anger, Jesus still desires to protect them, he still desires to guide and cherish them.

He still desires to call them blessed.

If only they can get out of their own way, stop trying to make things so difficult and embrace the font of every blessing that is before them.

If only they can learn to embrace the sentiment in this morning’s poem:

“I’ve never made a fortune
And it’s probably too late now,
But I don’t worry ‘bout that much…
I’m happy anyhow.
And as I go along life’s journey
I’m reaping better than I sowed
And I’m drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed…

…And if God gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough,
I’ll not ask for other blessings,
I’ve already had enough.
And may I never be too busy
To help another bear his load…
Then I’ll keep drinkin’ from my saucer
‘cuase my cup has overflowed.”

If there is one thing to walk away from today’s message is that Jesus’ love for us is a relational love that came from knowing who we are and whose we are.

Yes, he could be bold, brash and busting, but he did it as a Mother or Father would do.

Jesus offered that grace-filled, relational love so that we, in turn, can share that love with others, ourselves and with our God, because in Christ, our saucer, our cups, our plates, our tables overflow.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reformation Sunday Sermon, Oct 26, 2014, Matthew 22:34-40

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 22:34-40
Oct 26, 2014

A woman’s daughter was sick. Worried, she stopped by the pharmacy to get medication, got back to her car and discovered that she had locked her keys inside.

She found an old rusty coat hanger left on the ground. She looked at it and said, “I don’t know how to use this.”

So she bowed her head and boldly prayed to God for help. Within 5 minutes a burly, bearded man on a beat-up motorcycle pulled up, asking if he could be of assistance.

She looked past his many tattoos and skull cap and said “Yes, my daughter is sick and I locked my keys in the car. I must get home. Please: can you use this hanger to unlock my door?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. He walked over to the car and in less than a minute the car was open.

Out of sheer joy, she hugged the man and through tears exclaimed “Thank you SO much! You are a very nice man.”

Blushing just a bit, the biker responded “Lady, I am NOT a nice man. I just got out of prison yesterday.”

“What for?” she asked, still hugging him.

“Car theft.”

“Oh thank you God! You not only heard my prayer but you sent me a professional!”

Isn’t that just like God? The ability to use sickness as an opportunity for wellness?

The chance for an old, rusty object to be turned into a means of salvation?

The ability to use someone once behind bars to perform an act of deliverance and good-will?

God is good, and God is full of grace.

Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s more than just the day in which we celebrate the beginning of the Protestant movement. It’s more than just a day in which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door as an act of faithful defiance.

Reformation Sunday is a day to mark new beginnings. A day to proclaim that we are all worthy to stand before the Lord.

A day to celebrate the limitless gift of grace.

Grace: the unparalleled, unequaled love of God made known by Christ in which a wretch like me, a wretch like you, a wretch like the thief on a beat up bike

can be turned, transformed, redeemed and used for the glory of God and the benefit of the Kingdom.

But what is this notion of grace we are referring to?

Are we talking about the way one skates gracefully across ice? Or the words one says before a Thanksgiving meal?

No, we are talking about grace made known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that proved once and for all that God loves us beyond our imagination.

Loved not because of who we are, or what we have done, but because we are worthy.

Church, let me hear you say “I am worthy.”

Let me hear you say “We are worthy.”

Now turn to your neighbor and say “You are worthy.”

This may not sound like such a big deal, this may not seem super radical, but it used to be that religious leaders taught that mere mortals were not worthy.

Mere mortals were not worthy to stand before the Lord to offer their prayers, that mere mortals could not carry worship banners or the Bible, that mere mortals could not go directly to God to receive forgiveness.

It used to be that only priests were seen as good enough to go before God; that only clergy could do acts of ministry and praise.

But that is not so; it is certainly not true.

Because we are worthy. We are worthy to stand before God and boldly pray, just as Hannah did so long ago.

We are worthy to carry the banner and participate in worship just as David danced before the Ark and sung songs of glory.

We are worthy to celebrate that we, as a corporate body, can offer God our praises in the highest way possible without the intercessory actions of a Priest or a Pharisee or Sadducee.

Because of God’s grace, Reformation Sunday means that we are free to try our best to emulate the ways of Jesus and to try to be as Christ-like as we can be.

Why? Because we are worthy.

And yes, we know we will fail, we know we will make mistakes, and that’s OK.

Because grace is amazing, and grace says we get another and another and another chance to try again.

Why? Because we are worthy, and we are loved.

As a result of this realization, we are free. We are free to worship our God, known through Christ, in a way that feels right.

Which means that we could easily sit on the altar steps like children and sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are week but he is strong.”

Or we can stand by our seats and gently sway as we sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Or we can proudly process down the aisle with banners and Bibles and horns while whole-hearts proclaiming “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

And because of grace, all would be pleasing to God. So why not be big, be bold, be brave, knowing that it’s not because we must, but because we may?

We are worthy.

In today’s reading we overhear how the legalistic religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to trap him and get him to slip up.

They were so focused on the 613 commandments and following the letter of the law, that they were threatened by the way in which Jesus allowed others to experience the character of God.

And that character of God is love.

Not love that is phony or fake, not love that is coerced or demanded, but love that is relational and of the deepest nature.

So when they ask Jesus to share the most important commandment, he does them one better and gives them two:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind.

How can anyone argue with such brilliant orthodoxy?

Second: love your neighbor as yourself…

Love that invites. Love that welcomes. Love that exists within tears and frustration, laughter and joys, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears.

Love that treats the shamed with honor; love that declares the unclean worthy of human touch and compassionate care.

When we experience such love with one another, we also experience the love of God.

When we experience the love of God we experience life, eternal life, itself.

And that is life filled with grace, grace meant to be received, grace meant to be shared, grace meant to make us be the best people we can be.

The grace of God knows how to find ways to open up locked doors.

The grace of God knows how to turn the negative days of our past into positive opportunities for the future.

Grace knows how to turn something old and rusted into a tool for newness and beauty.

Grace has a way of uniting people who had never met before.

So this Reformation Sunday, let us give thanks for all that God has given.

If God had simply delivered us from Egypt, that would have been enough. If God had simply given us the 10 Commandments and led us into the Promised Land, it would have been enough.

If God, through Christ, had simply given us the Sermon on the Mount, a table filled with bread and wine and calmed a storm at sea, it would have been enough.

But God has given us more, so much more. God has given us the gift of grace.

God has told us, for once and for all, that we are all worthy, we are all good enough; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

As such, we can stop trying so hard to please God by our actions, and instead we are free to allow our actions to show how much God is pleased by us.

Jesus loves me this I know. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. A mighty fortress is our God.

And because of this, we are all, each and every one of us, professionals in the eyes of our Lord, set free to do good in the world.

To love the Lord with everything we got and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Amen and amen.

*this week’s message would’ve been impossible without Stephen Patterson’s insights about love in God of Jesus, and the conversation I had with Maureen Wygant (our Interim Director of Music). Thank you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sermon from Oct 19, 2014; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10

Rev. George Miller
2 Thessalonians 1:3-10
Oct 19, 2014


The bond between 2 or more people that say “you belong,” “you are a part of” and “there is something bigger than yourself.”

There are so many different kinds of relationships because there are so many different kinds of people and situations.

Relationships we have with our medical providers. Relationships we have with our mahjong club. Relationships with those we volunteer alongside of.

Relationships we are born into, for better or for worse; relationships we choose to enter for worse or for better.

Relationships like that between Jonathan and David in which our souls are cosmically connected.

If we have lived long enough and we are fortunate enough, we have entered into our share of real, healthy relationships. Not the kind that are phony or based on matters of insignificance, but the kind that are real.

The kind in which you are changed for the better; you are changed for the good. In which your share of tears and frustration, laughter and love are plenty.

A true relationship is one in which you can stand before another and say “This is who I am, these are the strengths I possess, these are the wounds that I carry, these are my hopes, my fears and my dreams.”

For me, an example of a such a relationship exists within the pages of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

This series, set in Botswana, is less about solving mysteries, and more about kindness and community.

The main character is Mma Ramotswe, the owner of the detective agency. She is an independent woman who embraces her full-figure and values the tradition of her people.

She has an assistant named Mma Makutsi who can be stubborn, socially awkward and painfully aware of her appearance.

Mma Ramotswe has escaped an abusive husband and endured the death of a child. Mma Makutsi endured years of poverty and caring for a brother who died from AIDS.

During the course of the series, they don’t so much detect as they drink lots of tea, share stories and live very full lives.
They each find love, raise families and co-exist within the larger community.

There is a scene between them in the 13th book of the series in which Mma Makutsi has had a baby and is on maternity leave.

Mma Ramotswe realizes just how much she misses her assistant and her friend, so when Mma Makutsi stops by for a visit Mma Ramotswe has an immediate reaction.

The author states that “she felt the most exquisite, and regrettably rare, of pleasures-that of welcoming back one who has left your life.”

Her response? “Mma Makutsi, thank you. Thank you for coming back…and thank you for everything you have done for me…I don’t know if I have ever thanked you (enough)…”

Mma Makutsi stares at her boss, her best friend. “You don’t have to thank me. I should thank you. You took me-a nothing girl from (a nothing town)-and gave me a job. You taught me everything. You showed me how to be…myself.”

“You were always yourself,” says Mma Ramotswe. “Right from the word go, you were always yourself.”


That’s one of the most important marks of Christianity. Not just what we believe, or the songs we sing or the scriptures we study, but the fact that we are called to be in relationship with one another.

That our faith is meant to be shared together, not experienced in silence and solitude.

That our faith is strongest when we gather together to break bread, drink the fruits of the vine and call upon God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother.

We get a glimpse of this relational nature in today’s reading. Though people dispute who the true author of this letter is, one thing is very clear: whoever wrote it, they know and care about this particular congregation.

This is not a form letter posted on Facebook for all to see or an e-mail that has been cut-and-pasted with the name of the church changed.

This is a letter from a person to a group of people who are in a relationship together. A relationship that is honest and true, a relationship that is strong enough to span across space and time.

Just as Mma Ramotswe shares with her assistant how much she means to her and how much she has grown, the author of this letter lifts up the recipients and showers them with love:

“We give thanks to you because your faith is growing abundantly; we give thanks to you because your love for one another is increasing.

We are proud of you because even when times are hard, even when things are bad, you do not let that diminish your faith.

Even when people try to hurt you, even when others try to hide your light and take your joy away, you do not let that take your love for one another away.”

These are not false accolades; these are not the words of someone trying to butter them up.

These are the words of someone who has been changed for the better and because of their relationship with them.

These are words shared by people whose history, whose stories have ultimately been changed by their relationship with God; God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The letter’s author and the congregational recipients have discovered that they have a relationship through God who is righteous and working to make all of them worthy for the Kingdom.

They have a relationship through Jesus who is aware of their trials and tribulations and will not let them suffer alone.

They have a relationship through the Spirit who sanctifies them, calls them to stand firm
and to obtain the glory that is presented to them.

This relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, this relationship between apostle and parishioners is what allows them to see beyond their current situation, to see beyond their current afflictions, to see beyond their current worries and woes.

In the words of #1 Ladies Detective Agency, they are each learning how to be themselves and how to be thankful.

From a faith perspective, they’re learning how to be the best Christians they can be, worthy of God’s call and focused on faith’s good works.

But not just through the good times. Not in a way that’s phony or untrue. But in a relational way that is real and really felt.

As we prepare for Reformation Sunday, as we prepare to welcome back familiar faces, as we prepare for our Congregational Meeting, may we strive to be like the church in Thessalonia.

May we continue to learn how to be in relationship with one another and to be in relationship with our Lord.

May we too experience the grace of God and the peace of Christ, so that we can continue to grow abundantly in our faith and to increase our love for one another, no matter what.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sermon for Oct 12, 2014; Isaiah 25:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 25:1-10
Oct 12, 2014

One of the honors of being a pastor is having people share important things from their lives, like a copy of a prayer that pulled them through, the manuscript to a novel they’re working on or an article about someone who meant very much to them.

Recently, I received a reflection about a man named Franz Plunder, a master wood worker who mentored our very own Jack Spencer.

Franz was born in Austria and came to St. John’s College, Maryland in the 40’s as an Artist in Residence. He taught sculpture and fine arts.

His handiwork was well known: strong, beautiful, useful pieces like the walnut study tables for students to write their papers; octagonal tables in the Coffee Shop.

But his true passion was building and sailing boats. Legend has it that Franz single-handedly built a boat that he then sailed with 3 people from Hamburg to NY.

By the time he retired, Franz had built about 10 boats, the last of which he and his wife sailed daily on the lake.

Students recalled him as a romantic adventurer of ideas. He was said to be courageous, resourceful, curious and honest, with a love for life that spilled over into his sense of humor and gift for storytelling.

He loved beautiful things and was a peaceful man; a man who hated war and hated all things military from the bottom of his soul.

And yet…

And yet Franz became a soldier not once but twice in his life. The first time was as a young man for the Austrian Army in 1914.

The next time was 30 years later, when by his own choice, he left the college to serve with the United States Military Intelligence against the Nazis.

Why would a creative, peaceful man who hated war choose to do such a thing when, at his age, he clearly did not have to?

Because the Nazis had overrun his beautiful, small hometown in Austria. (article by William A. Darkey)

Though I never met Franz, the little I learned about him demonstrates the idea of complexity.

People are complex. The world is complex. Ethics, wars, and religion are all complex.

Rarely are we able to put someone, some thing or some situation into a neat little box in which we can walk away and say “that’s that.”

One can be 100% anti-war, but when the enemy invades your home and threatens your people what do you do?

You can spend your life making walnut tables for people to study and have fellowship, but under threat you might break the table of your enemy.

The story of Franz can perhaps help us to better understand today’s reading. It’s not an easy one.

Isaiah was a prophet writing about 700-740 years before Jesus was born. As a prophet, Isaiah was incredibly plugged into what was going on in his day.

Filled with wisdom, gifted (or cursed?) with eyes that truly see and ears that truly hear, Isaiah saw and heard what the state of the nation was, and it wasn’t good.

After nearly 500 years of living in the Land of Milk and Honey, the people had become complacent and forgetful of their history and of all the wonderful stories about their God.

The local politics and economics of their day were not what it should have been for people who had been led out of Egypt and lovingly planted and watered like a vine.

The people of God had stop doing the things that truly mattered. They had stopped doing justice, they had stopped loving kindness, and perhaps worse of all, they had stopped humbly walking with the Lord.

Because of all this Isaiah wrote them a warning: that if things continued as they were, there were going to be consequences.

God would not be pleased. Their enemy would come in and attack them. Like a vine they will be ripped from the ground.

Isaiah’s prophecy for the people is not a good one. But…all hope is not to be lost, for though they will fall victim to their enemy, God will not let them be permanently destroyed.

God will eventually turn the enemy’s city into a heap of bricks, a ruin never to be rebuilt.

The poor and distressed will find an oasis in God. And upon a mountain God will hold a heavenly BBQ for all to feast upon, featuring rich, fatty food and aged wines.

For me, this reading is a bit odd, because as I understand it, Isaiah is predicting a future event in which the people will suffer, but he is also saying “This too will pass and God will wipe away all your tears, remove the shroud of sadness and defeat your enemies.”

It’s a message to be feared; it’s a message to find great hope.

Complex indeed.

But here’s where I personally find myself struggling. The notion of ruins, the notion of the enemy’s city being a heap.

I am sure Franz could have understood this back in 1944. I’m sure everyone who is petrified of ISIS can understand this.

When our enemies fall, when those who have tried to hurt us are defeated, it makes sense we would want to celebrate and have a big ol’ BBQ to mark the occasion.

But…but my pastoral heart cannot forget, that in those ruins there are not just bricks but in those ruins there will also be wives and mothers; there will be aunties and nanas.

In those ruins will be the fallen homes with their tchochkes, memories and keepsakes.

The ruins of war will include children, nieces and nephews, sons and daughters, uncles and brothers.

In the heap of the enemy’s city will be front yards and gardens, pets and livestock, and trees that had stood for hundreds of years.

You can’t have a ruined city of the enemy without these things.

And yet if I was an Israelite during the time of Exile, if I was an Austrian during the reign of Hitler, if I was a father in Syria, how could I not want God to step in and do something to stop the enemy’s attack?

Again, the complexity of God: the Shepherd who leads us balanced with the Warrior who protects us.

The Almighty who gathers all people on the Mountain; the Almighty who makes the city a heap.

The Almighty who reduces into ruin; the Almighty who make a refuge for the poor.

This week our sign outside says “In you O Lord we put our trust.”

But in which Lord, in which God, are we trusting?

The Lord who creates, saves and blesses or the Lord who destroys, trods down and curses?

The Lord who wages war or the Lord who acts as a gracious hostess with a meal of fatty food and fine wine?

It’s not so easy, is it?

God, like us, is complex. God, like us, is not limited by labels…

Earlier, I mentioned the traits of Franz, the builder of boats. Listen to some of those traits again:

a sculptor, known for his beautiful handiwork that allowed others to socialize, study, and journey.

A romantic adventurer of ideas; courageous, resourceful, and honest with an appreciation for humor and storytelling.

A lover of peace and beautiful things, who hated war but was a soldier out of necessity and to protect his people and their land.

Is it a stretch of my imagination, but don’t those things sound a bit like the God we’ve been talking about the last 11 weeks?

Don’t those characteristics sound like a God who would create an oasis for an ostracized mother and child, a God who would set slaves free, get a donkey to talk, and who’d lead people into a land of milk and honey?

God is complex. God is not like a character in a Broadway musical or a video game in which you can predict every move.

God is more than just a refuge or a warrior, God is more than just a host or the catcher of tears.

Our God is so great, so limitless, and so mighty that for us, the wrestling match, the struggle, comes in when we are confronted with a scripture like today’s, and we ask ourselves “Just what does this mean?”

Or we give ourselves permission to wonder “Do I agree or not?”

Can we find God in the ruins? Can we find God on the mountaintop? Can we find God in the places of refuge? Can we find God in the abundance of food and plethora of drink?

And even if we never truly get an answer to the questions, can we still find our own way to say “This is the Lord for who we have waited, let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

Amen and amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sermon for Oct 5, 2014; Pslam 80

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 80
Oct 5, 2014

While growing up there was a series of books my friends and I enjoyed called “Mad Libs.”

“Mad Libs” is a vocabulary game in which people are prompted to supply a series of words that are then plugged into a story.

For example, if I asked for a noun, someone might say “dog.” If I asked for a tree, you might say “oak.” After all the words are given, you’d then read the story aloud and hopefully hilarity ensued.

I thought we’d give it a try today. I’m going to say a category, you give the response.

Body part:
Supernatural creature:
Action verb:
Body part:

Now, let’s plug those words in:

“Give __________, O _____________
of Israel.
You are __________ upon the __________,
Shine forth before _________, __________ and ___________.
_______________ up your might, and come to ________________ us!
______________ us, O God; let your _____________ shine, that we might be saved.”

That, our Abrahams and Sarahs, is Psalm 80 “Mad Libs” style.

It is also a demonstration of how words matter.

Words matter, especially if you believe, as the ancient Israelites did, that God is personal and active and that the creating, saving, and blessing actions of God are best seen though history and the stories we tell.

Words matter. Titles and verbs matter, especially if we desire to learn how to increase our faith.

Psalm 80 is a song composed of carefully chosen verbs, titles and images. It is written as a community lament, meaning it’s a song to be sung by people who are experiencing hard times and wondering why God is not acting in their current history or part of their story.

As a lament, Psalm 80 follows a certain pattern: an address to God, a series of direct requests, a list of complaints, an affirmation of trust and the promise to praise God if God does indeed act (James Limburg).

But in order to do so, God has got to wake up and take the cotton out of God’s ears.

Therefore, there is a definite tone to this psalm. At first it sounds quite flowery but if you break it down, there is an element of direct boldness.

“Stir up.” “Restore us.” “Turn again…look down…and see.”

Depending on how you read this, the psalmist can sound very forward, if not demanding.

There is no passive “if it pleases you,” there is no apologetic “we just ask,” there is no “if it’s in your will.”

What Psalm 80 asks for, what Psalm 80 requests are very specific, very direct:

“Look down from heaven and see…restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

Which poses the question: is it Ok for ordinary folk, for people like you and I, to be so forward when we make a request to God?

Is it acceptable for us to blatantly ask for what we need, especially if what we’re asking for is life in its truest essence?

Not talking about a Lamborghini or a 2-car garage; not talking about short lines at Disney.

We’re talking about life, liberty, protection.

Is it acceptable to ask for what you need? Is it Ok to make a demand?

Scripture tells us that Hannah did.

Do you recall that in her distress she went directly to the Lord and asked that God would give her a child? Hannah prayed so passionately that Eli thought she was drunk.

Book of Numbers tells us that Moses turned to the Lord on behalf of the people.

When the leaders lied about the land and the people wanted to turn back, God became so angry that God wanted to disinherit each and every last one of them.

But Moses said “If you do so everyone will think you are weak, so let your power be great in the way in which you have promised.” (Numbers 13-14)

What a potent line- “…let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke…”

Were Hannah and Moses in any way ordinary?

Hannah was the second wife of a man from the hill country, unable to have kids. Moses harbored a fear of speaking in public.

If Hannah and Moses can make direct requests to the Lord; if they could make demands, why can’t we?

Do ordinary, non-biblical folk have the right to be bold before our Lord?

I’d say yes. Why? Because if nothing else, that is how Jesus taught us to pray.

Think about it. Think about the Lord’s Prayer.

Perhaps we’ve said it too many times, or we’ve been falsely lulled by its poetry, but the “Lord’s Prayer” is one of the most direct, unapologetic prayers there is and it’s the prayer that Jesus Christ taught us to say.

“Our Father who art in heaven…”

Is this opening line descriptive: you are our Father, you dwell in heaven? Perhaps, if things are going well in your life, these words are wonderful descriptors.

But what if life is not going so well? Do the words then change into reminders?

You are our Father- so do what a good parent does.

You dwell in heaven- so do what an inhabitant of the Kingdom is supposed to do.

If God has the power and glory forever, why wouldn’t we be able to ask for those things?

Think of the other components of the Lord’s Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive others.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.

Note how direct and unapologetic they are. Note how they ask for what is needed.

Jesus did not teach us to say “If you can, give us some bread.” Jesus does not teach us to say “We just ask, if it’s Ok with you, that you forgive and deliver us.”

Jesus does not teach us to say “If you don’t mind, can you deliver us from evil.”

No. It’s very up-front, very concrete, very life affirming and very much what you’d expect a Father, a Mother, a King, a Queen, a Guardian of the Galaxy to do:

feed, forgive, lead, protect and deliver.

Why? Why would Jesus teach us to pray in a way so bold, a way so direct?

Because we too are part of the vine that was brought out of Egypt; we too are part of the vine that the Lord planted and cared for.

We too can claim that in the Lord we have been able to take deep root, send out branches and play a role in providing shade.

I do not believe the vine referred to in Psalm 80 is a one-time historical event.

It is a continuous story about the ways in which God finds us where we are, carries us to a place that has been cleared, so that we can live and thrive and to play our own role in the Kingdom of God.

So when we are feeling as if we are broken down, when we feel like wild boars are ravaging us, when we feel hurt, when we are left asking “why?”, “how come?” and “how much longer?”,

we too can say to God “turn back” and “restore”, “give ear” and “save.”

When we pray to God, we too can say “give” and “forgive,” “lead” and “deliver.”

Why should we be so bold in our prayers?

Why not?

If Moses could do it, why not us? If Hannah could do it, why not us? Is the Psalmist did it, why not us?

If Jesus taught us to ask for bread and deliverance, why ask for anything less?

If God is indeed personal and active in both history and the stories we tell, why can’t we pray in a direct, active manner?

If God indeed creates, saves and blesses, then why can’t God also do so in our history, in our story, in our own lives?

May we each find our own ways to be so bold in our own faith this week.

May we each find our own ways to do what the Psalmist does and what Jesus taught us and to do, which is to trust that God will do what God can do: to create, to save and to bless.

Amen and amen.