Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sermon for July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Sermon Title:”Baking Bread”
Rev. George N. Miller

Today we hear a variety of parables regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, a concept that has lately been inspiring my theology and sense of ministry.

It’s a concept that others are faithfully figuring out as well. For some, the Kingdom of Heaven is the place we go after we finish our earthly journey.

For others, the Kingdom of Heaven is a political and social concept about how God breaks into our world to create a new way of being.

To make it more complicated, others, such as myself, will say that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is “already, and “not yet.”

What this means is that there are places and times in which we see, experience, feel and even “taste” the Kingdom in action, and there are places and times in which we have not.

An example would be our Vacation Bible School, where all children were welcomed, free of fear and judgment and allowed to gather with food, fun and fellowship.

Others will point to our Shepherd’s Pantry or the choir room, chancel and sanctuary as places in which the Kingdom has become present.

Others may say it’s when the Word is spoken, grace is preached or Communion is served.

The “not yet” part is woefully found in the acts of cowardly violence, needless deaths, unfair oppression, and purposeful neglect that occur; in the hungry and homeless who wander the streets or the acts of abuse against God’s good Creation.

The “not yet part” is not so much about being downcast or negative, but about embracing the hopeful expectation that one day, one day God’s Kingdom will prevail and everyone, and every thing, will live in harmony.

Think back to the parable of the Sower scattering seeds on all kinds of soil so they can strike root and grow.

The Kingdom of Heaven, also known as the Kingdom of God, is some thing, some time, some place, some way of being, which brings about a spirit of blessedness which opens us up and transforms us into a new ways of living and acting.

So today we hear Jesus use ordinary images to talk about the extraordinary, unexpected nature of the Kingdom.

When he uses the illustration of a woman baking bread, I can’t help but to think of “I Love Lucy.”

If you know the episode I’m referring to, it’s the one in which Lucy and Ethel bet Ricky and Fred that they can live like people in 1890.

Chaos ensues. They wear period clothes. Ethel tries to churn milk into butter. Ricky rides a horse to work. And Lucy bakes bread.

She misreads the ingredients, using 13 parts of yeast, instead of 3. The dough rises and spills out of the bowl. She scrambles to put the mound of dough onto a cookie sheet and into the oven.

Later, upon noticing the oven door is slightly ajar,
Lucy opens the door... and out comes this enormous loaf of bread: one foot, three feet, twelve feet! of bread comes barreling out of the oven, pinning Lucy against the kitchen sink.

Both teams admit defeat and the episode ends with Fred and Ethel, Ricky and Lucy all taking a bite out of a two-foot slice of bread.

Extravagant and unexpected indeed. Not to mention a spot-on secular image of communion and today’s reading.

Though this parable is one sentence long it holds much information about the Kingdom of God. It features the themes of work, rest and abundance.

First, let’s talk about work. Baking bread was a winter time tradition at my child-hood home.

Mom would set out the dry ingredients on the dining room table. We’d use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast, then heat up butter, milk and water, pour it into the batter, stir some more. Add cup of flour; continue stirring.

Then came the fun part: kneading the bread.

The texture of the dough between your fingers! The physicality of kneading, and punching the dough! Flouring the rolling pin and table, shaping the bread and pinching the seams to make it stick together.

Like riding a bike it’s something you never forget.

But don’t be fooled: it’s dirty work and requires a lot of muscle. Stirring the yeast and flour uses your triceps and shoulders. You get flour all over you and if the kitchen’s hot you break into a sweat.

Just as playing a part in the Kingdom of Heaven requires a certain amount of work, such as the willingness to spend time, share resources, use your hands, get a little dirty and break into a sweat.

Such as all the preparing and cleaning up for Vacation Bible School and the Shepherd’s Pantry.

The Kingdom of God is like making bread because it requires work and it also requires rest.

The dough won’t mix itself, but for the yeast to do its thang, you need to step back and let the mystery take place.

You allow for rest. You cover the dough, giving it time: 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40. You come back, and what happens?

The dough doubles its size! How does it do that? How can yeast, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant create such a noticeable change?

This is like the Kingdom of God. For it to break into our world, for it to become a reality we often have to combine the right ingredients, do some work, use our muscle, get a bit messy…

…and then step back, trusting that God will do what God needs to do on God’s own time, in God’s own way.

And the aroma of a home warmed by the baking of bread- one of the best smells of all...

We’ve talked about work and rest. Let’s talk about abundance, let’s talk about enough, let’s talk about flourishing.

The parable tells us that the woman hid the yeast in 3 measures of flour. 3 measures is about 50 pounds of flour. This means the bread will be enough to feed over 150 people.

That’s a lot of bread!

This amount of flour symbolizes the abundance that exists in Gods Kingdom. It reminds us of how God not only wants to feed and care for us all, but that God also wants to give to us in abundance.

We’re not talking about money or material things, but the things that truly make life good, like the love of family, friends, fellowship, community and joy.

The Kingdom is a festive place of glorious communion in which everyone has “enough” and our manure has been turned into good soil so everyone and everything gets to flourish.

The kingdom of heaven is already and not yet.

Although there are so many ways in which we can point and say “Surely this is heaven on earth” there are still many places in which we can say that heaven is surely lacking.

But the good news is that we are like that woman. We already have the ingredients needed to assist in growing and sharing the Kingdom of Heaven.

We can all be bakers, willing to do some work, to rest, and to trust that God will do God’s thing.

We have some of the ingredients, although we may not always know what the yeast is going to be.

The yeast can be the way we great someone before worship in the Narthex of afterwards in the Fellowship Hall.

It could be a song sung by the choir, a sermon shared or a prayer said.

It could be during Vacation Bible School, the Shepherd’s Pantry, the Feed My Sheep Jeep, The Global Mission Fair, or Trunk o’ Treat.

Or the moment of baptism, the receiving of communion, the studying of the Bible, an act of mission and outreach.

The yeast that enters into our lives and transforms us can exist in so many ways. Even in the moments of manure that we encounter.

Because the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, and because it is still on its way, every moment we live is a chance of unexpected grace when the goodness of God is ready to sneak in and surprise us.

Like Lucy’s bread the Kingdom of God exceeds our expectations and brings us together.

We are all that woman in today’s parable. We all have the ability to mix yeast with flour, we all have the ability to bake with God and we all share in the ability to make the Kingdom of Heaven that much more…delicious!

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon for July 20, 2014; Romans 8:12-25

Rev. George N. Miller
Romans 8:12-25
“Creator and Creation”
July 20, 2014

Years ago Lifesavers candy ran a series of commercials involving a father and child sharing a moment together.

In one clip a father and daughter watch the sunset and when the sun disappears she says “Do it again.” In another a father and son are fishing and the son asks “Can we do this again tomorrow?”

These sentimental clips are first and foremost meant to sell candy, but they also find their own way to celebrate the bond of parent and child, and to celebrate the way in which the simple joys of nature can be used to increase that bond.

Two weeks ago we talked about a fictional heroine who rediscovered the presence of God through nature. Last week we encountered the Sower who sowed seeds extravagantly, and we acknowledged that what made soil so good was the manure.

Today we complete our informal nature-based trilogy with a complex, theologically rich letter from Paul to a congregation ready to go from spiritual milk to spiritual meat.

But first, to set the tone, allow me to share this reading with you:

“Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
and lamentations for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste…and the lowing of cattle is not heard, both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and gone.

How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and birds are swept away...

The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart. They come to the (wells), they find no water...because the ground is cracked...

The farmers are dismayed; they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the fields forsake her newborn fawn because there is no grass. The wild donkeys stand on bare heights, they pant for air like jackals; their eyes fail because there is no (vegetation).”

Sounds like it could have been a letter to the editor in yesterday’s paper. But it’s not. It’s from the prophet Jeremiah speaking nearly 3,000 years ago on behalf of God (Jeremiah 9:10, 12:4 & 10, 14:2-6).

God has given the people the most beautiful of land, but instead of treating it with love, they polluted it in many, many ways.

They polluted the land socially by failing to show compassion to the poor and oppressed. They polluted the land politically by aligning themselves with countries they had no business with.

They polluted the land to the point that the birds have fled, the rain has stopped and the donkeys have no more plants to eat.

If the prophet Jeremiah was here today, what example would he point to?

Would it be Hartford, IL which sits on top of 1-3 million gallons of gasoline that has seeped into the ground, in which the rains cause the petroleum to rise and people’s basements to smell of fumes and when it’s too dry people’s homes have been known to burst into flames?

Would it be the events of the B.P. Oil Spill in which the ocean, sea creatures, wetlands, fishing communities, beaches, unhatched turtles, birds and humans dependent on tourists were all affected?

Would it be the current issues regarding sinkholes that have destroyed homes, taken unsuspecting lives and caused communities to be fearful right here in Florida?

Paul’s letter to the Romans makes reference to Creation groaning, stating that Creation has been groaning ever since Adam ate the apple. I would say it’s also been groaning when Cain killed Abel and the blood poured upon the ground.

“Do it again”? Perhaps not....but, as always, there is hope.

Over the last 25 years there’s been a growing movement in Christianity, called ecotheology. Eco means the environment; theology means the study of God.

Ecotheologians believe that all of Creation belongs to God, and it is a gift that God has given to us to look after: the plants, the animals, the land, the waters, even us, since we are part of Creation.

Ecotheologians believe that God didn’t just create the world for our amusement and pleasure, but that God created for the sake of all things. For example, how a cat can find so much joy by laying in the sun or how a dog loves rolling in the grass.

It has been this portion of Paul’s letter that has helped to propel this relatively new ecotheology. For in Romans 8:18-25 we hear of the symbiotic relationship between humans and non-humans.

We share the same fate: when one falls, so does the other and when one succeeds, so does the other.

According to Paul, in the advent of the resurrected Christ this becomes great news. His logic is simple: since Creation suffered due to Adam’s actions, then Creation will find restoration, just as humans do, through the saving reality of Christ.

This is not a radical, hippie idea originating in California, circa the 1960's, but a deeply introspective, spiritual idea presented by the apostle Paul circa the original 60s.

If you read scripture and pay close attention to the stories, you’ll discover that the earth and all of Creation has always played a big role in the Bible.

After all, the Bible begins with Creation. Exodus involves natural wonders like water, rocks and quails playing a role in the Hebrew’s deliverance.

Psalm 104, praises God for creating things for the enjoyment of all creatures: night is so the forest animals can come creeping out, the springs quench the thirst of wild beasts, trees grow by streams so birds have a place to build their nests, the mountains are a place for the goats, leviathan frolics in the ocean and wine is made to gladden our heart and oil is so our skin can shine.

And what honor did God give us? Genesis says that we are to have dominion over God’s creation. Does dominion mean to use up and abuse, or does dominion mean to watch over, love and protect?

Have we succeeded in our God-given responsibility? Or have we failed? Is Creation singing a song of joy, or is it groaning in anticipation, for hope in things yet seen?

What will it take for the groaning to stop? A major disaster that will rock the world and swallow us up? An ecologically minded Moses-figure?

Or has the answer already arrived...

...Paul, says “yes” and the answer is Jesus.

Human sin may have led to Creation’s fall. But in Christ we receive amazing grace; grace so amazing it’s not just extended to us, but to all of Creation.

In Christ there is restoration, in Christ our sins are no more, in Christ we are forgiven and given second, third, infinite chances for our lives to be improved and our behavior to be changed.

It stands to reason that if through the grace of Christ our actions towards one another change, than so would our actions towards ourselves and the rest of Creation.

When we realize and accept the grace of Christ, when we embrace the fact that we are justified, that we have already won the reward, than we can begin to act more caring and responsible.

We become aware of our relationship with God and our relationship with everyone and everything.

By acknowledging our salvation in Christ we come to realize the salvation for all living things, freeing ourselves and all else from the bondage we’ve all been in.

For different people, these ecological acts of grace can manifest in different ways. Some may adopt a stray cat or dog. Others may plant a garden for the birds and bees to enjoy.

Others may purchase their furniture and household goods second-hand; others may buy organic and locally grown produce.

Others may steer away from factory raised flesh; others may buy a more fuel efficient car.

Does it have to be large, momentous steps? Or can it be one thing at a time to lessen the groans?

Today, we as a congregation, take a small step simply by putting out new recycling crates asking that if you don’t take your bulletin home, you drop it into the purple container so they can be recycled.

As we continue to respond to Christ’s call, we will hear with fresh ears the ways in which we can play our own part in making real the Kingdom of God.

Today, Paul calls us to embrace our heritage as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, filled with the Spirit, holders of hope.

Playing our own part in tilling the soil, planting seeds and turning even the most manure-filled of situations into opportunities for grace and wonder.

Jesus did not just live, die and be resurrected for us, but for all of Creation: the animals, the plants, the waters; the entire world and Cosmos.

Creation shouldn’t always have to groan, but it should have its moments in which the hills can sing for joy and the floods can clap their hands.

“For thus says the Lord: sing aloud with gladness for Jacob and raise shouts for the chiefs of nations...

They shall be radiant over the grain, the wine, the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow...

And my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.”
(Jer 31:7-17)

Or in the more secular words of the Lifesaver Commercials: “Abba! Do it again!” and “Can we do this tomorrow?”

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon for July 13, 2014

July 13, 2014
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon Title:"Seeds of Life" (aka "The Manure Sermon)
Rev. George N. Miller

Have you ever met someone who is so centered, so spiritual, that it radiates from their very being? Someone so full of life that it’s contagious; whose smile holds the light of the world?

If so, did you have the chance to sit down and talk with them? I mean really talk?

Did you discover that that person’s life was not always so easy, not everyone in their life was always so nice, and there were times as if it seemed as though trouble would last always?

These are the people I’m so impressed with. I am amazed to hear what some people have endured.

I’m inspired by those who have lost everything at one point in their life and yet found their way back.

I am astounded at how the spark of life continues to shine in those who have faced the darkest of night. Of those who can proudly sing “This is my story, this is my song.”

It is as if they are the most beautiful of flowers who made their way up through the mucky-est of dirt.

In today’s scripture, Jesus talks about soil and seeds. Some are eaten by birds, some land among the rocks, others fall among the weeds.

But other seeds fall into good soil, striking root and flourishing, producing a bounty of 30, 60, 100 fold.

Now that’s a mighty bounty. That’s some good soil. But what is it that makes soil so good?

Is it sugar and spice and everything nice?

I remember back when I planted a tree and wanted to put some flowers around it. I went to the local flower shop and the man there led me to red leaf begonias, saying they’d do just fine in the shade.

I asked what else was needed and do you know what he pointed me to?

A big ol’ bag of cow manure.

I knew nothing about gardening and I certainly had never purchased manure before, but I was sure he knew best, so I came home with 8 begonias and 10 pounds of manure and went to work, digging, planting, and covering the flowers and tree with dried-out cow droppings.

And wouldn’t you know it: he was right! The begonias thrived, their colors popped. The tree grew, going from a virtual twig to six feet high. Soon there were sparrows sitting on its limbs.

The success of the begonias, the tree and the sparrow community could’ve been attributed to the amount of care they received, or the amount of rainfall and sunshine that season, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of their success had to do with what had been placed in the soil: good old, American-made, cow manure.

That’s what made the soil so good.

Manure has been used for centuries. It’s cost effective, rich in nitrogen and other nutrients, trapping in good bacteria which allow organisms to feed on it, making the ground fertile.

But it does more than that. Manure increases the ground’s ability to hold water, lessens wind and water erosion, and improves aeration.

That’s a lot of good stuff that comes from something so stinky.

Something else about manure: for it to work best, it can’t be fresh. It’s best if it’s allowed time to sit, to break down, before being added to the soil.

Now let’s pause here for a moment. Chances are this not a sermon you expected to hear at church.

But don’t forget that Jesus preached to the folk of his day: those who fished, those who farmed, those who knew what it was like to get their hands dirty.

And as we heard, Jesus taught about seeds and soil.

The truth is that really good soil, the kind in which you want to grow your plants, vegetables and trees, is soil enriched with manure.

Which, when you think about it, makes this parable about the Sower that much more interesting.

Anyone who works the earth can tell you that nature is a mystery. There’s a lot of waste and death and nature is designed to take that which is broken down and dead and use it to create new life.

Therefore, really good soil is not soil full of sugar and spice and everything nice, but good soil is full of decaying matter, organisms, and manure.

I believe this applies to us as well. That when we think about it, it is not always just the good things which happen that makes us who we are.

It can often be the bad, difficult, heartbreaking things we’ve encountered that have molded and shaped who we are.

Think about who you are and where you are today. Is it just your successes and happy times that have brought you here?

Or have the losses, the struggles, the sacrifices played a role in making you who you are?

Think back to the times when a worship service spoke to you the most, or when the words of Jesus seemed to pour into your heart.

Was it when life was full of all goodness and sugar? Or was it when life seemed to be filled with heartbreak and decay?

We each have had our own struggles, our own pain, our own manure.

The challenges we’ve had to face that we would much rather not; the hurts and pains; the dead ends and disappointments. The dreams left behind.

The illnesses that ravage our bodies; the people that death has robbed us of.

We try not to think about these things. We try to ignore them. They bother us, they hurt and they stink. We try to deny their existence, to blame others or to run away.

But those aches and pains, they are ours, like it or not. They become our own personal manure.

But here is the Good News: those things that hurt, those things that stink, they can actually become the very elements which God uses, which God breaks down, which God is able to transform into the nutrients that make us into better people.

Nutrients that make us suitable for a specific ministry God is calling us too.

Nutrients that open us up to possibilities we could not even imagine.

Nutrients that can help us to thrive and to flourish.

Those elements of decay may feel like waste, but to God they can be used to create ground for new life and the fulfillment of purposes yet to be realized.

God takes all that junk we experience and through the miracle of grace and compassionate love, God uses them to build us and God’s Kingdom up.

Creating in us soil that is able to weather erosion from the wind because we have faced it before and realized that we can survive again.

Soil that is able to hold water because we know enough now of what to hold onto, and what and when, to let go.

Soil that is good and ready to create a place for God to plant a seed within us, where it can strike roots, grow, and make its way to the surface.

A seed that can say “Despite it all, I am still here.”

When we try to hide our loss and pain from God, we are actually preventing the chance for God to plant the seeds of new beginning we can all benefit from.

In conclusion, the most beautiful of flowers and the most abundant of crops often come from soil that has been strengthened by the problems and the adversities we have faced.

When life does not go our way, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves hurt and lonely, sometimes the best thing we can do is say

“Lord, this is my stuff. It hurts and it stinks and I can’t make any sense of it. So I give it to you.

Take it from me. Do with it what you will: break it down, till it and turn it into good soil. Plant your seeds, so your kingdom will grow, so something beautiful can emerge.”

And after you say these words, take a deep breath and step back because you might just be amazed.

Because God can take that manure you have faced, God will take all that you have been through, and from there create new life and create new hope.

God did that when the world was first created. God did that when the Hebrew slaves were led into the Promised Land.

And God most certainly did that three days after Jesus was crucified on the cross.

God will create something that makes everyone, including you, step back and say “Wow. This is truly God, and this is truly good.”

We may not see it this season, or the next, but God is always working for the sake of the Kingdom.

All praises to the Master Sower, to the Son who helps to sow the seeds and to the Spirit that continues to shower us with light and with life.

Amen and amen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sermon for July 6, 2014

Rev. George Miller
“Beautiful in Christ”
John 14:1-14
July 6, 2014

On Friday we celebrated the 4th of July, a yearly celebration that marks our nation’s decision to declare freedom and independence and to make the bold claim that every man has the inherent right to property, life and liberty.

From a theological standpoint, I would say that the 4th of July is about the claim that every person has the right to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth.

For after all, aren’t the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, about being free to live life on one’s own little patch of land?

Wasn’t the ministry, the miracles, the stories of Jesus all about the ability to live life, life that is whole, life that is healthy, life that is free?

Yes, we celebrated the 4th of July on Friday, with good food, family and fireworks, which also means that undeniably it is summer.

Although our northern neighbors think we live in a perpetual summer, there is something markedly different about this season of the year.

Summer time, with its high heat index, afternoon storms and humidity makes it the perfect time for various things:

seeing big-budget action movies in the multiplex, binge watching an entire season of a TV show, spending time by the ocean swimming in the surf, soaking up the sun and enjoying a good book.

I’m not talking about self-important books that use 10 dollar words, or Pulitzer Prize winners that impress others, but good, trashy books with no goal other than to entertain.

I like romance novels. I’ve read stories about people in their forties who are starting over, teens breaking into modeling, twenty year-olds solving mysteries while shopping for Monolo Blahniks, and cities overrun by giant praying mantises.

Nothing but pure, fun trash.

Every now and then I come across a book that has a lesson, a small kernel of truth. For example, the book Can’t Get Enough of Your Love about a woman who is dating three men at the same time.

The main character is named Elana Joy. As to be expected, during the course of the story everything falls apart and Elana is left trying to pick up the pieces…only to discover that everything she needed to be happy already dwelled within her the entire time.

Elana goes through a period of rebirth. She reclaims Joy as her middle name. She walks, especially around the property of her country home.

She notices sights she never paid attention to before: a rose tree wrapped around a weeping willow. The sun seems different, the clouds seem bigger, and the night sky seems more sparkly.

Her ears are reborn. The ducks and swans chatter to one another and the cicada serenade her every night.

She discovers a new sense of freedom.

She discovers that God is everywhere. From the wilted petunia that springs back to life after the morning dew to the nightly music provided by the orchestra of bullfrogs, crickets and mosquitoes living in her pond.

During this rebirth, Joy creates a poem:

When I wake,
I am Beautiful,
flashing a little leg
and yawning slyly….

When I sing,
I am Beautiful,
flashing teeth and singing strong…

And when I walk,
Lord God!
I am Beautiful,
swaying with hope and legs and back
in time to a rhythm I want
only myself to hear.

I don’t need a magazine
to tell me
I am Beautiful
I am Beautiful.

Church, can I hear you say “I am Beautiful”?

We can all benefit from time to time reminders that we are all unique and beautiful.

Elana Joy’s story reminds me of today’s scripture, as they are both deal with the presence of God in our lives.

Today’s reading is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” He knows his hour is coming and that soon he will die.

After washing the disciples’ feet and sharing a final meal, Jesus speaks about the time they’ve spent together, his eventual departure and what their future will be like.

He addresses their need for comfort; he encourages them in their struggles. He instructs them about how to live as a holy community.

Jesus prepares them for his departure yet he assures them that he will remain with them.

It’s confusing mix because Jesus is both coming and going. He will leave the group one way, but he will forever be present with them in other ways.

Jesus speaks to them about this new reality they’ve been experiencing all along: that he and God are one.

In other words, through Jesus they have witnessed the actions of God, by Jesus they have experienced the love of God, and in Jesus they have actually seen God.

Therefore, by continuing the ministry of Jesus, they are continuing Jesus’ presence in the world and they will become Jesus’ reflection to all those they reach out to.

This is some deep stuff to think about. Back when this was written, both the Jews and the Greeks believed that God was the Great Invisible, not something to be seen, but other-worldly and different.

Which is why, in the Gospel of Luke, it is so radical to claim that Emmanuel, which means God-With-Us, is born to a human family and is seen doing common, every-day things.

Yet here in John 14 we have Jesus stating that if you know Jesus, you know God, if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen God.

This statement drives the Gospel of John. That God is not just a common deity who is somewhere far out there, but that through our relationship with Jesus we are in relationship with God.

What good news this was to the disciples. What good news this was to the people of their time. What good news this is to all the people who have read these stories throughout the ages.

God is not far away, unknowable or un-seeable, but God is forever present, relational and here.

…but a problem exists: if Jesus is about to go away, how are the disciples to continue being in relationship with him?

Simple: by doing the works Jesus did.

Jesus tells them: you have seen everything I do, now when I leave, you are to continue ministering to others. And guess what: you will do a great job because I will be with you.

Theologically stated, to share in Jesus’ ministry means to reveal God to the world, which also means the disciples can continue to still love and be in relationship with Jesus even after he is gone.

They can love him not by clinging to a memory, but by doing what he did and by keeping his commandments.

By doing his works, they allow people to see Jesus. By allowing people to see Jesus they are allowing them to see God.

What does this mean for us at Emmanuel U.C.C. in Sebring, FL in the year 2014? It means that the things we do become reflections of our God.

Have you ever stopped to think about that before?

That as Christians what we say, do, how we treat one another and others become living examples of who God is and how God loves us?

That can either be a scary or an uplifting thought and a pretty tall order.

Most of the time we go through our days aware of what we want to do and where we need to go.

If we’re lucky enough and we have enough clothes, we can choose how we want to appear to the world. What outfit to wear, which shoes to put on, to shave or apply make-up, perhaps some perfume or cologne.

There are those who don’t stress out about those things. There are those who are uber-aware of how they appear. A lot of times it has to do with upbringing or the era we grow up.

What we wear to the gym we might not wear to the store which we might not wear to work which we might not wear to church which we might not wear on a date. (Although lately the cultural norm has become that pajama bottoms are Ok any time and any place!)

If our clothes don’t send a message of who we are, how we behave in public does. If we’re at Publix and take our time shopping and talk nicely, people might say we’re polite. If we barrel through the aisles and switch feet as we wait on line people will say we’re rude.

A smile says you’re friendly. A frown can say “I’m mad” and crossed arms can say “stay away.”

As Christians, when we step out into the world, do we check ourselves to see if we are truly reflecting Christ?

We sing “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” but is that really true most of the time? 80% of the time? 50% of the time? 20% of the time?

If you’ve ever noticed, I don’t have any religious decals on my car. It’s because I know how I drive, how I look after leaving Gold’s Gym and that at times I prefer to blast my music.

I’m the first to admit I don’t always drive the way a Christian should, and I don’t want anyone to ever think bad about Christianity or our denomination because I cut them off or rode their bumper.

How do we act with other people; with one another? Because if we truly identify ourselves as Christians than our actions no longer represent just ourselves, but the body of Christ.

When people see us, what are we showing?

Are we kind? Do we smile? Do we acknowledge someone’s presence, even if we do not know them? Do we engage in friendly conversation, offering a compliment or two?

Are we present for people? Are we willing to be there not just for the joy, but for the sorrow, the frustration, the fear and the hurt?

What are the things we say about others? Are they words sweet like honey, meant to bring forth life? Or are they fraught with stones and fire, meant to hurt or criticize?

Do we use phrases that are racist, sexist, homophobic or hurtful to those with physical or mental disabilities?

What are the works we do both as individuals and as a unified body of Christ? Is it for the benefit for us, or for the Kingdom of God?

Because what we say, what we do, how we act are all reflections of Christ, reflections of God.

And those reflections can either show to the world a God that is made up of closed doors and hate or they can show to the world a God who is made up of welcoming compassion and love.

How are you reflecting Christ? How am I? How are we?

…remember the beginning of the message, when we talked of Elana Joy and her discovery of who she is and how beautiful she has become?

She realizes that from waking to walking she is free and she is beautiful.

She gains new ears, new eyes, new body and a new soul, realizing that God is present everywhere and in everything.

Later, she states “If God is everywhere, than he is always nearby.”

The Gospel of John shares a similar sentiment: God is everywhere, God is also always nearby and because of Jesus, his life, his ministry and his many works, we have come to see and to better know God.

And so it follows that through us and our actions that Jesus is reflected to others and the world gets to experience the love of God that is everywhere and is always nearby.

A love that claims we are free and we are all beautiful, when we wake, when we sing, when we walk, when we work.

In Jesus Christ, we are all beautiful indeed.

All thanks be to Holy Spirit that sings freely throughout the world, to Jesus who walks with us wherever we go and to God who is everywhere, who is always nearby.

Amen and amen.