Thursday, December 24, 2015

Yes- We Matter, Yes-God Cares, Yes- We are Worth It; Christmas Eve Message 2015

Rev. George Miller
Christmas Eve
Dec 24, 2015

Our faith is one of wonder, one of majesty, and one of miracles.

Sometimes we lose sight of this.

News of the world brings us down: death, terrorists, natural disasters, injustice.

They mire us in reality, in bleakness, and place us into the dark. Yet Scripture keeps finding ways to bring us back towards the light.

The Gospel of John reminds us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.”

Genesis reminds us of how a rainbow was placed in the sky to remind us of God’s promise.

Exodus tells us of words spoken from a fiery bush that leads to the freedom of slaves, to seas that are parted, bread from heaven and words given from a mountaintop.

Yet, throughout history, the people have asked “Do we matter?” “Does God care about us?” “Are we worth it?”

In our doubts, sin creeps in. Unsure of the answers to these questions, we are overtaken by anger, jealousy, wars, greed, hate, and fear.

Which makes us wonder even more: “Do we matter?” “Does God care about us?” “Are we worth it?”

So God continues to fill our lives with wonders, majesty, and miracles.

We are led to the Promised Land. Walls come tumbling down. Lions become gentle. Oil, flour, and candles do not run out.

Still, we wonder: “Do we matter?” “Does God care about us?” “Are we worth it?”

Tonight, dear friends, family, and followers of the faith, we get answers to these questions.

Tonight, as we arrive at the manger in Bethlehem and look upon the Face of God, we discover that “Yes!”

“Yes, we matter. Yes, God cares for us. And yes- we are so, so worth it.”

So let’s revisit the Christmas story as told by Luke. It’s a story that doesn’t begin tonight, or 9 months ago, but over a year ago.

A couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth are living in Judea. They are an older couple who sadly have never had a child.

Gabriel, a heavenly messenger of God, visits Zechariah with astounding news- his wife will have a son, a boy named John who will bring joy and gladness, who will bring people back to God.

6 months later, in a small town by Galilee, Gabriel visits Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, who is engaged to be married.

“The Lord is with you,” the angel proclaims. “You will have a child, and he’ll be great. His Kingdom will have no end. Your holy child will be the Son of God.”

Mary is young; she is perplexed, but she accepts the call to carry new life within her womb, and says with great courage “Here I am, servant of the Lord.”

Mary journeys to Elizabeth’s home, where the two women, filled with the promise of life, spend their days together, magnifying the Lord and anticipating the things that God will do.

As it so happens, life interrupts. The Emperor, seeking to create new tax revenue, orders a census to be taken, forcing people to journey to their hometown.

Though she is 9 months pregnant, Mary and her fiancé Joseph make the long trek to Bethlehem, a small, tiny country town.

But there is no place for them to stay; no one has room for them.

They are virtually alone.

In the darkness of homelessness, loneliness, and politics, Mary gives birth to her child. He is wrapped in swaddling and placed in a feeding trough designed for farm animals.

It is there, that the family is greeted by shepherds, who come to share the good news and to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

What does this mean? Why does this story matter?

For one thing, it’s a reminder of how wonder, majesty, and miracles do indeed exist.

On a deeper level, it is a celebration of how God loves us so much that God wanted to fully share in our daily life.

It is a celebration of how God is not distant, but actually has entered into our lives.

It is a celebration of how God came into the world to be just like us.

God could have stayed away; God could have waited for a more stable moment in history.

God could have chosen to be born to a king, in a palace, with servants and slaves, placed in a crib lined with 600-thread-count cotton sheets.

But instead God came into our world during a chaotic time, to ordinary folk, in a small, rural town, surrounded by the sounds and smells of common creatures.

And God did so to be our Messiah, to be our Emmanuel, to bring peace among the people.

In tonight’s reading from Titus, we hear of how through Jesus the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.

We hear how in Jesus, God freely gave Godself so that we can be redeemed; so we can become more humble, to live in hope, and to have the audacity to expect glory and greatness.

God did not allow a childless, older couple to get in the way of hope for the world. God did not allow a young woman’s marital status to get in the way of doing an amazing thing.

God did not allow a greedy Emperor, or a shortage of rooms, or the lack of a proper crib to get in the way of bringing deliverance and happiness to the people.

God used what God had in order to do wonders, to bring about majesty, and to create a miracle…

…Sometimes we all have moments in which we lose our faith. We have moments in which we wonder. We have moments in which we become incredibly afraid.

It’s hard not to when so much of life seems to hang on the tiniest thread of hope.

It’s hard not to when terrorism, natural disaster, politics, illness, death, racism, sexism, and poverty all continue to darken the light.

But then- Christmas comes along! The stories, the songs, the sense of community, the generosity of folk, the spirit of the season comes in and once again, we are reminded of just how God works.

Christmas reminds us of the unexpected places in which God does wonders: small towns, mangers, fields filled with migrant workers.

Christmas reminds us of the majestic ways in which God works through non-traditional families, homelessness, and scarcity.

Christmas reminds us of how God brings forth miracles to unexpected people: a couple thought too old to have children, a young girl who is not yet married, shepherds who earn their keep while other people sleep, even Emperors who wish to have a tighter control over their citizens.

Why would God do all this?


Because creation, rainbows, freedom, commandments, tumbling walls, gentle lions, unlimited food supplies were not enough.

So on top of all that God has already done, God said “Let me show you how much I love you. Let me show you how much I care.”

“Let me show you that I am not distant, aloof, or uncaring.”

“Let me come to you as you, to share in your suffering and your sanctity. To share in your sorrows and your success.”

“Let me come to you to share in your joy and your pain; to share in your life…and to even share in your death.”

…So tonight, let us stop trying to be so rational, to be so serious, to be so afraid.

Our faith is one of wonder, one of majesty, and one of miracles.

Sometimes we lose sight of this.

Instead of letting the darkness of the world to bog us down, let us turn back towards the light.

Let us embrace the wonder, the majesty, and the miraculous.

Tonight, as we prepare to see the face of God in the manger, to welcome Baby Jesus, let us boldly say:

“Yes! We matter!”

“Yes! God does care about us!”

And “Yes! We are worth it!”

All we have to do is to look at the manger to know that this is true.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What if God Sent Christmas Cards? Sermon on Micah 5:16 for Dec 20, 2015

Rev. George Miller
Micah 5:1-6
Dec. 20, 2015

Last week we talked about the two different ways in which people seem to prepare for the Christmas season: those who do everything last minute and those who are uber-organized.

How many here have all their gifts in the mail? How many plan on standing in a long line tomorrow or Tuesday?

There’s another way to playfully categorize folk this season- the tradition of sending Christmas cards. Specifically, what kind of cards to send.

First, for the card sender, do you prefer the cards that stand vertical, which open out? Or the cards that stand horizontally, which open up?

My family has a tradition of stringing cards along the wall, so horizontal cards are the ones we prefer.

Second, which kind of Christmas card catches your fancy? The one’s with nativity scenes and religious imagery? Or the ones that are a bit more nature based?

For me, there’s something about Christmas cards that feature birds, especially a vibrant red cardinal which just pops off the page.

Third: sparkly or sparkle free?

The sparkle-free are so neat and clean. The sparkly are fun, but they can create a crunch-crunch-crunch sound as you press down to write your note; they also leave glitter embedded in your table, carpet and hands, and can stay there for weeks, or months.

Then there is the actual card writing itself. Do you include a full page year-end missive catching folk up with everything you’ve done?

Do you simply write to and from?

Do you take a moment to write something personal and specific to the card recipient?

Of course, in today’s culture one can even wonder “why even write?” In the age of Facebook and Facetime is it even necessary since cyber-space has allowed us to stay connected to folk all year long?

And if you do decide to send a horizontal, sparkly card with a cardinal on it, to whom do you send it?

I was aghast last week when reading a post from a pastor wondering if they should send cards to folk who didn’t send them a card last year, as if token of friendship is based on reciprocity.

So, being a good A-type personality, I’ve been going through my phone book day by day for the last few weeks, doing a few cards each night.

For some reason this year, I became more aware of who I was sending cards too. Sure, there were the obvious people: siblings, aunts, close friends.

But what about those I haven’t seen or even talked to in years? Those who I have almost forgotten because it’s been so long?

Do you use up a card, spend money on a stamp? What do you even say? Would they even notice if you didn’t send a card ever again?

There’s an ex I haven’t heard from since we broke up years ago. A great uncle who I haven’t seen in decades. An old friend who never writes back but I miss dearly.

Should I write? What to say? How to sign it?

This year the answers were simple. Yes- send a card. Speak simply from the heart. Sign it “always” because that is right and it is true.

“Always”, meaning my ex, my uncle, my friend will always be in my heart and I’ll always remember the joyful times we’ve had together even if we never set sight on one another ever again, even if we never hear one another’s voice, even if there have been hurt feelings and no chance of reconciliation.

While writing those Christmas cards this year, there was perhaps an understanding of why we do this each holiday season.

Because even in that one moment of writing, there is a sense of reconnection, there is a recollection of good times, and there does become a flicker of hope, that maybe one day things can resume.

Not the same; rarely are things ever the same. But different.

And different is OK…

…What if God sent us a Christmas card? What would it look like? What would a Christmas card from God say?

Would God send us a vertical card we can stand on a table or a horizontal card we can hang from a string upon the wall?

Would God opt for a nativity scene or something with a nature-theme?

Would God go for sparkly-free or super-duper sparkly?

Would God sign each Christmas card with a simple signature or a personalized note?

Today’s reading from Micah is like a letter from God. A passionate letter in which God speaks to the people through the prophet.

It’s not the happiest of letters. God tells the people that things ain’t so good.

The north has had their share of problems and the south is quickly following suit. The rich are becoming richer at the expense of the poor who are becoming poorer.

Widows are losing their homes; the youth are being robbed of a promising future.

There have been falsehoods and lies, nation is against nation, and those in power are breaking the hopes and backs of others.

In this letter to the people, God is actually quite mad at them. God’s honest about this anger; brutally honest.

God basically says to the people “You’re actions are causing chaos and will create great suffering to come your way; so great that it’s too late to even stop it from happening.”

Who’d ever want to receive a Christmas card like that from God?

But, as always, grace, optimism, and the promise of regeneration comes from the Lord.

“Listen,” God says through the words of the prophet, “from the little town of Bethlehem shall come one who will be of peace.

“This little one will bring you back to how things were supposed to be, to the real purpose of your life.

“A new kind of ruler will emerge from Bethlehem who will unite the people, nullify your pains, and help you return to the things that makes living in community so great.”

God continues to speak to the people, “The One who is yet to come will stand tall and strong. He’ll be like a shepherd, feeding the flock from my pantry of righteousness.”

“This small-town shepherd will reflect the Lord’s majesty until the ends of Creation. His greatness will empower people to stop, pause, and breathe securely.”

“Because- He is of PEACE.”

That’s what God has the prophet write in chapter 5, but if we read on to chapter 6, we hear how God calls upon the people to remember- remember all that God has done.

Remember how God has delivered, God has redeemed, God has sent Moses and Miriam, God has reversed curses and performed many saving deeds.

“Remember,” God says, and the people respond by asking “What should we give you as a way to say thanks?”

We don’t know if the people are being honest and humble, or if they are being facetious and fake.

But they say to God “What do you want as a gift? Should we give you burnt offerings? Thousands of rams? Barrels of oil? Bottles of cologne? Should we give you our 1st born?”

And in chapter 6, verse 8 of Micah, do you know what God tells the people?

God answers their question so briefly, so eloquently, so simply:

“O, what is so good, what do I really, really want? But to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with me.”

…That’s it?

God has done all these things for the people over the course of centuries: freedom, redemption, salvation, and now the promise of a shepherd who will stand strong and feed us all…

…and all God wants, all God ever wanted, was-

-For us to treat one another fairly
-For us to enjoy the ability to be kind to one another
-For us to simply walk, side by side, with our Creator.

…I’m speechless…


…If God was to send us a Christmas card this year, be it vertical or horizontal, religious or nature based, plain or super-sparkly,

Is it possible that the words of Micah 6:8 would be just what God would inscribe?

And if God indeed did so, would we be able to obey and follow?

If the people of Micah’s time never seemed to learn, is there a chance that we, living 2,500 years later, 2 continents away, in our own unique geo-political world, can learn?

If we were to get such a Christmas card from God, and we didn’t respond in kind, would God still send us a card with the same message again and again, year after year after year?

If God did not fully give up on the people of Micah’s time is it possible that God will never give up on us as well?

…As we conclude our final days, our final miles into Bethlehem, sending out Christmas cards, giving and receiving gifts, awaiting for the birth of Jesus Christ,

maybe this year we can be a bit more mindful of the gifts God has already given us.

And the gifts that God so clearly wants to receive.

In joy we can receive; in joy we can obey.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why We Give; Today's sermon on Philippians 4:4-23

Rev. George Miller
Dec 13, 2015
Philippians 4:4-23

Show of hands- how many people take the Holiday Season as it comes, doing things as needed, perhaps even shopping last minute?

Who here races to finish and send out cards?

Swears that next year they’ll get an earlier start on the shopping, decorating, baking?

How many here are my organized folk? 3-4 weeks out you set aside time, make a list, break down what you’re going to do day by day?

Know the exact day to go the Post Office so you don’t have to deal with long, long lines?

How many simply love this season?

How many secretly dread this season?

How many feel this Holiday season is weighted down with a sense of sadness?

Someone is gone; family is missed; a friend is deathly sick; a pet has died?

How many here have ever experienced the Holiday Blues?

The Holiday Blues are no joke. NAMI, which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, stated that 64% of people surveyed claim to be affected by the Holiday Blues.

The Holiday Blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression associated with the extra stress, unrealistic expectations and the memories that accompany the season.

People who claim to experience the Holiday Blues report fatigue, frustration, tension, isolation, sadness and sense of loss.

The Holiday Blues may only last a season, but they still hurt, and they are still real.

So for those who are experiencing the Holiday Blues, I’m here to say you are not alone, you are not crazy, and you do not have to put on a false mask of joy.

We are all here for one another; I am here for you; Emmanuel UCC is here for you.

So, for those with the Blues, you may not be too fond of today’s reading. It’s a letter Paul wrote to one of the first churches he knew.

A church that stood by his side when others would not; a church that strived with him in the work of God’s Kingdom; a church that has tried their best to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ.

What makes this letter amazing is that Paul is currently about 800 miles away from them, yet he talks as intimately too them if they have been side by side every Sunday morning.

Even more amazing is this- Paul is writing from jail. He’s been arrested once again for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he’s been punished for being too provocative in his words and deeds.

Historically, no one really knows if Paul is in the big jail facing charges of corporate crime, or if he’s under house arrest.

Either way, his physical freedom has been taken away, and he’s been under some form of lock-and-key for about 2 years.

You’d think that Paul would have no reason to be happy; you’d think he’d be as blue as can be.

But at this moment, he appears to be OK; content with where his life has taken him.

“Rejoice!” he says. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Do not worry about a thing!”

How many here today who are experiencing a bit of the Holiday Blues secretly want to say “Oh just shut up, Paul! Take your happiness elsewhere!”?

Reading just this portion of Paul’s letter can make him sound just a bit starry-eyed. It can also give a false impression of the complex person Paul most likely was.

Are we to assume that this letter accurately reflects Paul’s mood every day, every minute, every second he’s on lock-down?

Are we to assume that for 2 years of imprisonment Paul went around singing “Oh, Happy Day”?

I doubt it, because if he did he wouldn’t be human, he wouldn’t be three-dimensional, he wouldn’t be real.

No, my guess is that this letter of Paul’s just so happens to catch him on one of those days when he’s feeling pretty positive, his blood-sugar is even, he got enough sleep, and he’s a bit reflective.

You can hear a Christ-like quality in him in which he looks back over his life and gets to think things over.

As Paul states, he’s had a lot and he’s had little; he has gone hungry and he’s had his share of all-u-can-eat buffets.

But through it all, Paul claims he is content and he won’t complain.

One gets the sense that although Paul is in jail, he has no regrets and would do it all again if it meant leading people to the light of Christ.

But how did Paul get to this Zen-like place? How did he get to this moment of immense understanding and deep reflection?

I have a theory, and it’s a theory that fits into the Christmas season and the work of the Service Committee- Paul has received a gift.

Reread vss. 15-20 and we’ll discover perhaps the reason why Paul wrote this epistle- it’s a thank you letter.

It’s a letter in which the Philippian church has sent him a gift; many gifts in fact. At least one of those gifts appears to be a bottle of cologne.

A gift.

Could it be that simple?

Now, typically Paul did not like to receive presents. He preferred not to receive gifts or financial assistance. He felt it was not right to make a profit from preaching the gospel. (He’d probably be appalled that modern ministers make a salary.)

Paul did not like to receive gifts, and yet he welcomed the gifts from the Philippian church.

Perhaps it’s because he sees their gifts as a reflection of their partnership.

Perhaps it’s because he knows accepting their gifts could enhance their partnership.

Perhaps Paul has reached that place few A-type personalities reach in which he realized that sometimes it is good to let someone else do the caring.

Perhaps he realized that this was the way in which the Philippian church was able to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to him.

Perhaps this was an example in which a congregation becomes like living angels to help another in need.

I wonder if the receiving of gifts is what sparked in Paul this sense of rejoicing, this sense of contentment, this sense of having “enough” (Dayenu).

I wonder if just hours before writing this letter, Paul was a little blue. I wonder if he was in prison, feeling frustrated, fatigued, lonely, and sad.

I wonder if Paul shed his share of tears while imprisoned? I wonder if there were moments he doubted God?

I wonder if he ever wondered if God had simply forgotten about him?

We can’t tell by this particular letter, but if Paul was anything like you, if he was anything like me, if he was anything like us, the answer would be a “yes!”

I wonder if receiving this care package from the congregation allowed Paul’s spiritual button to be reset; if that’s really the thing that made him feel happy?

This is a great letter to read for the Advent season. It’s a letter that brings home the real reason why we give gifts.

It’s not to boost sales. It’s not to earn a spot as the favorite son, daughter, aunt or uncle.

It’s not to go into excruciating debt.

We give this season because God first gave to us: the gifts of creation, the gifts of freedom, the gifts of the commandments.

As if that isn’t enough, God continued to give with the gift of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Gospel, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

We also give, because it reminds others that yes- they care cared for, yes- they are remembered, yes- they matter, and yes- they are not alone.

Even in our distress, even in our loneliness, even in our prisons, real or imagined, no one is alone…

…Sometimes it takes a gift, to make that message known.

So as we continue to prepare for the Birth of Jesus, as we prepare to face the Holidays, let us give in a way that reflects how we truly feel for one another.

Let us give not by the content of our wallets, but by the Christ that lives in our hearts.

Because when we give, we are widening the reach of Christ’s magnificent light.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cleansed, Refreshed, Refined; Dec 6, 2015 sermon, Malachi 3:1-7

Rev. George Miller
Dec 6, 2015
Malachi 3:1-7

Christmas-time in Florida can be odd. We know it’s the Christmas season, we hear the songs, we see the TV specials, and we’ve begun the holiday-related over-eating.

But the decorations outside of Publix, the ads featuring snow, just do not match the green of the grass, the humidity of the last few mornings, and the fact that people at both the Avon Park and Sebring parades were in shorts and using insect-repellent.

Does it seem like Christmas? It probably doesn’t help that the scriptures thus far are not the traditional Advent readings we’re used to.

Where is the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah being told they will have a child named John? Where is the angelic visit to Mary? Where is the celebration of Joseph being man enough to love a child that isn’t biologically his?

Instead we have this reading from the last book of the Old Testament that uses images of fullers’ soap, refiner’s fire and bad news for adulterers and those who do not pay a fair wage to their employees.

Merry Christmas, anyone?

Yet, within these verses, throughout the brief book of Malachi, there is indeed Good News, and glimpses of Christmas cheer.

To find it, we can do what the writers of the Bible often do, which is to turn to lessons learned in nature, both the perilous and the purifying.

One lesson we observe, and have observed this week is that of cleansing. Creation has a way of making itself clean.

For example, the rain that fell on Thursday and Friday night. It seemed as if that rain had been held in the clouds for days. The humidity was higher than usual, salt shakers were clogged, and my poor cozy cottage felt like it needed to be wrung out.

Then thankfully, the skies opened, the rains fell, and it washed away the debris on the street, the stains on the sidewalk, and the gunk on our cars.

The flowers, trees, bushes soaked all the water up. And like that, the heavy and burdensome feeling that humidity bears seemed to vanish.

Yesterday, with the moisture gone, a cool breeze blew throughout Downtown. A relaxing breeze permitted windows and doors to be opened, allowing fresh air, and a refreshing spirit to flow through people’s homes.

I opened all the windows of my automobile, realizing just how funky cars can become when they sit in the sun for too long and don’t have a chance to air out.

Nature can be cruel, but nature can also be cleansing. Beside rain and wind, another way cleansing takes place is through fire.

Ever notice how you can gage how long someone has lived in Highlands County according to how they respond to fire?

For those who were raised in non-rural settings, the notion of a controlled burn is a foreign thing.

During the 1st one to two years here when a recent transplant sees a fire, or hears that the city is doing a controlled burn, they are fearful, wondering what’s happening, and doubting the wisdom of why anyone would intentionally set fire to an orange grove or a part of the Hammock.

They can be told the reasons, shown the evidence of how it’s beneficial, assured that the fire department has it all under control, but still there’s the sense of fear and trepidation about them.

I recall one day driving to church, seeing a fire in the groves, calling 911 to report it, worried that my home could be caught in the blaze. Nonchalantly the operator stated that they must’ve started a controlled burn sooner than scheduled.

That didn’t feel very reassuring, but alas when I got home, my house was still there.

Around year three one gets used to driving through the county and seeing plumes of smoke in the sky. There’s still the worry that it could be your house, coupled with the uneasy realization that it’s probably not.

You know you’ve lived here long enough when a burn takes place and you’re the one reassuring a newbie that all will be fine.

Such was the case when there was a fire alongside our walking path. Ruthie was all worried and fearful about her apartment’s safety. I was causally positive that a scheduled burn was taking place.

Around year 4 or 5 one gets to the point in which you see the smoke on the other side of Lake Jackson, and automatically think “Oh, there’s a controlled burn.”

You go back to driving your car, and thinking about what else has to be done that day, as if smoke in the sky is the most ordinary of things to see.

Like the rain and the wind in nature, fire plays its own role as well.

Fire can reduce the dangers of overgrowth, cut-back the spread of weeds, tree disease, the debris of litter and dropped branches.

It stimulates the germination of some trees, like the Sequoia, whose cones need the heat of a fire to open up and disperse their seeds.

Controlled fires don’t stop life; they actually help in regeneration and restoration, as they enhance wildlife habitats, improve spaces for grazing, and allow accessibility to the soil and nutrients on the forest floor.

Rain, wind and fire are all part of the natural order. They can be destructive; they can be life-giving. They can sully, but they can also cleanse.

It is the cleansing aspect that Malachi is focusing on today.

Written nearly 500 years before the birth of Jesus, Malachi is giving a message to the people of God, a message that things have not been so good.

Religious leaders have not behaved the best they could. There is corruption and misuse of authority.

People have forgotten that they’re united under the one God who asks for justice, kindness and humbleness.

Instead, they do what they want, refuse to give properly to God, and participate in gossip. Then they wonder “Where is God and why does God seem so powerless?”

But God has not been absent; God has not been inactive. God has been busy remembering; God has been busy waiting.

Remembering what?

That once upon a time, God had made a promise to a childless couple named Abraham and Sarah that he will bless them with a family more numerous than stars in the sky, and that their family would bless all the families in the world.

No matter what, God remembers this promise. Even when the people seem to forget, God remembers. Even when the people seem just about to destroy themselves, God remembers.

In remembering, God is also actively waiting. Waiting for what?

For the people to turn back to God.

For the people to stop putting God last. For the people to stop giving their attention to false gods and idle distractions that don’t mean a whit in the real world.

But the people have been so caught up in their way of living, the systems that have been in place, that they don’t even know how they can turn back to God.

“How shall we return?” they honestly ask.

“How shall we return?” they wonder, and it’s heartbreaking that they have forgotten the very essence of who they are and what it means to be God’s people.

But fortunately, God does not forget, nor has God turned away. Fortunately, God is not inactive.

Nor has God forgotten or turned away today. Nor is God inactive, although recent events seem to say so.

If there is something we can learn from Malachi is that like a professional cleaner, God is right there, ready to remove our stains, ready to rinse us clean, ready to get rid of the things that are funky, so that we can start anew.

Like a refiner’s fire, God is ready to burn away the dross that dims our shine. God is ready to burn away the unnecessary stuff that holds us back from being the precious silver and gold we truly are.

Like a controlled fire, God is able to burn away that which chokes out new beginnings, and God can burn away any overgrowth that blocks the paths that lead to fresh starts.

Advent is a season of getting ready and focusing on what truly matters most.

Advent is a time in which we wait. We wait with Mary, we wait with Joseph, and we wait with the entire cosmos to experience the birth of the Promised Child who will redeem us all.

Advent is also a time in which we journey; we journey to that small town of Bethlehem, we journey to the manger, we journey to see, once again, the eyes of God.

As we wait, I believe Malachi would tell us that now is a perfect time to re-invite God into our lives. Now is a perfect time to seek a return to sacred holiness and unity in God.

As we wait, as we journey along familiar paths, we recall the ways in which rain, wind, and fire can work to rinse, to revive, and to refine.

As we ask “How can we return?” we find ways to invite God to wash away what needs to be washed away.

We invite God to refresh what has become stale and funky; and we ask God to burn away that which is preventing fresh seeds from being scattered.

When God responds, when God acts, when God refines, we are better able to do what God has always wanted us to do- to do justice, to do acts of kindness, and to fearlessly walk beside God, in grace and humility.

And when those stains, when that funk, when those moments of overgrowth reoccur, we can always turn back to God.

Because although we may from time to time forget, God does not.

God is righteous, God is ready to refine, and God is sending a messenger to prepare the way that is being set before us.

May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and the heart to believe that this is always true.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hyperbole and the Absurd; Nov. 29 sermon on Luke 21:25-36

Rev. George Miller
Nov. 29, 2015
Luke 21:25-36

When is a fig tree more than a fig tree? When is the sun not the sun?

Nearly 25 years ago, a program debuted on TV that set out to present Southerners in a positive light, to feature strong women who were savvy, politically incorrect and able to poke fun of themselves. The show was called “Designing Women”.

A trademark of the show was how well-written it was. It was not a TV program you simply watched; it was show to be heard, in which one had to devote all their attention to soak in what was being said.

Language was descriptive, capturing the southern art of using hyperbole and the absurd.

One episode featured an author named Dash Goth, who was equal parts Rhett Butler and Ernest Hemingway.

He described one of the women as having “one of those laughs that make you feel like ridin’ around in a convertible.” He said another woman “could fan a fire with a quick sashay of her walk.”

During one scene, Dash laments how we seem to have lost the art of communication, that we no longer use powerful, poetic words; that we have become lazy in the way we speak.

I think this sentiment rings even truer today. Gone are the days of hand-written letters in which people had the space and time to pour out their emotions.

In the age of texting, gone are the days of having a long phone conversation in which one can spin a story about a daily event and make it seem like an exciting adventure.

It also seems like less and less are we attuned to the verbal art form of hyperbole and the absurd, in which someone can say they were “knee high to a grasshopper” and folk knew what they meant.

I believe this has become especially true with how we approach scripture. Often times we take things very literally, perhaps too literally.

Because we are not experiencing scripture in the time and culture it occurred, and in the original language it was spoken, we are not always able to truly hear the poetry, the hyperbole and art of the absurd that would have been the mark of any good speaker or story-teller back in the day.

And, it often seems that when it comes to Jesus, unless if he prefaces something by saying it’s a story or a parable, we want to take everything he says as literal fact.

Maybe it is…sometimes. Maybe it’s not…sometimes.

So, when we come across a scripture like today’s, we can find ourselves immediately feeling uncomfortable, and perplexed.

As presented by the gospel writer of Luke, we hear Jesus seeming to talk about the end times. He speaks of cosmic signs, of nations being confused, and of having the strength to escape all that will take place.

When we hear this passage we may feel scared, ready to run away and bury our head.

But if we do, we may also fail to hear the way in which Jesus has infused his monologue with hope, with power, and with the poetic symbolism of peace and plenty it ultimately points to.

First, note the way in which Jesus makes specific reference to certain things- the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea. As modern-Americans we hear those words and immediately our brains form concrete images to go with these words.

But what if Jesus isn’t being so concrete? What if he’s speaking in a code that back then his listeners could hear and understand?

Back in Jerusalem, when Jesus said these words, the people were living under Roman rule, and as such, they were surrounded by temples and shrines that paid tribute to the plethora of Roman gods.

When Jesus spoke, the sun was not just a source of light, but it was a god worshipped by the Romans, called Sol.

The moon was a god called Luna. The stars were ruled by the Roman god Astraeus. The sea was the domain of Neptune.

What if, when Jesus made reference to the sun, the stars, the sea, and talking about events to take place, he wasn’t so much talking about the end of the earth as a physical event, but the end of the secular world as we know it?

What if Jesus was poetically finding a way to say the gods of the Roman empire, the Roman way of doing things was coming to an end?

Meaning, that there will be signs of the sun, moon, stars was really referring to signs of how the current political structure, the current way of living, was coming to an end?

What if what Jesus meant was that the corruption, the acts of injustice that Jesus and the people were experiencing was eventually going to stop?

What if when Jesus refereed to the sun, moon and stars, he really meant that the false gods of the world that seemed to control, dominate and humiliate the common, every day folk, were going to eventually die out and make way for something better; something more?

We can often come across scripture that sounds like its talking of end times, and emotionally, we think that is bad.

But are all end-times bad? Aren’t there situations in which the end is something that is good?

It was good when segregation came to an end. It was good when Apartheid came to an end. It was good when the Berlin Wall came toppling down.

All of those marked an end of an era.

Today’s scripture is not necessarily about the end times. It is also about new beginnings. The majority of Jesus’ speech talks of something else- of hopeful expectancy.

He talks of the Son of Man coming in a cloud. Again, this is not so much a literal image, but a theological testimony.

This image is meant to express that power does not rests in governments, gods, or kings, but that power and majesty ultimately belongs to God and God alone.

This almost absurd, humorous image of the Messiah surfboarding in on a cloud can be a poetic way to point to the glory and majesty that exists in the Lord.

It also does something else- it points to what is going to replace the current ways of the world- the kingdom of God.

And what is the kingdom of God? Is it a place we go after we die? A territory of land where only nice things happen?

Could the kingdom of God be akin to a fig tree? Perhaps.

Going back to the culture of Jesus’ day, the fig tree had a lot of meaning.

Figs were a food to be savored, a fruit to be eaten slowly, in which every part could be enjoyed and shared, from the skin, to the soft flesh, to the edible seeds.

Fig trees were used to symbolize peace and plenty, harmony and abundance, brother- and sisterhood, and the assurance that everyone had enough.

Is Jesus literally telling us to look at a fig tree? Or is Jesus talking in hyperbole about something more than we can humanely comprehend?

Is it a coincidence that Jesus tells a story about a fig tree as he also tells of earthly things passing away?

Would it be so bad if the false gods of the world came to an end and were replaced by peace, unity and enough for all?

At first, today’s scripture seems to be a difficult one to hear; it sounds like a reading that is not easy to digest or appropriate to start the Advent season with.

However, it contains so much fruit for us to digest.

1st- a reminder that change happens; and not all change is bad. Things come to an end so new beginnings can take place. It may seem as if something has been destroyed, but in Christ we find out it is actually being transformed; regenerated.

2nd- it is reminder once again that no matter what, God is present. God is present in the cosmos. God is present in the waves of the sea. God is present even when it seems like chaos abounds.

3rd- it is a reminder that there is a greater kingdom than the one created by us or worshipped by the world. There is the Kingdom of God in which peace and plenty reign, in which wholeness and healing take place.

The Advent season has begun; a time in which we journey to Bethlehem to once again meet Emmanuel.

During this time the gods of the world will continue to intrude. There will continue to be worries about Isis, focus on presidential candidates, fears about climate change, and arguments over refuges.

But all these things that seem so huge now, they will eventually fade; they will eventually no longer exist.

Because God is forever, and the Word of God will never pass away.

The more we stay alert, the more we focus on the Son of Man, the more the Kingdom of God will find its own way to break in, to shed its light and to make the insignificant, false gods of the world that much smaller.

Amen and amen.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sunday's Sermon on Psalm 16

Rev. George Miller
Nov 15, 2015
Psalm 16

In honor of Rev. Langdoc being with us today, I’m going to do what he’s known for-tell a joke.

A father and daughter enjoyed a delicious meal at home. They talked, they laughed. After the meal they began to tidy up the kitchen, as was their tradition.

But the father realized he had left the broom outside on the porch. He knew his daughter was afraid of the dark, but he saw this as an empowering, teachable moment.

“Sandy,” he said to his daughter, “Can you please go outside and get the broom off the porch?”

“But Dad,” she said, with a quiver to her voice, “You know I’m scared of the dark.”

“I know, but don’t worry, honey,” he said as fatherly as he could. “Jesus is out there to watch over you.”

Sandy walked to the back door, her heart thumping as fast as it could, so loud she could hear it. Perspiration formed on her forehead.

“It’s Ok,” her father repeated. “Jesus is out there to watch over you.”

Sandy had an a-ha moment. With her hands trembling, she opened the back door, just a crack, slowly slipped her arm outside, gave a little whistle and then whispered “Jesus, could you hand me the broom, please?”

…It’s the day of Pentecost; nearly 2,000 years ago. The city of Jerusalem is abuzz with folk from all over the land.

Peter and the disciples are gathered together. What a month they’ve had. Jesus was crucified, buried, resurrected, and has ascended to the heavens.

It’s been the best of times and the worst of times: death, new life, and a call to play a part in restoring the Kingdom of God.

And “kapooya!” from heaven comes a sound like a rush of wind. Divided tongues like fire rest upon the people. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in ways that everyone can hear and understand.

Those who are present are amazed and astounded, and trying to make logic out of such an illogical event, say “Well, Peter and his buddies must be drunk with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the disciples, speaks up and corrects those who are present.

“Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, listen to what I have to say- we’re not drunk. It’s only 9 am in the morning.

“No, this is a fulfillment of the prophet Joel that in the new age God will pour out God’s Spirit upon all flesh: sons, daughters, old, young, and those who are slaves.”

Peter continues- “listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth who was handed over and crucified has been raised by God, freeing him from death.”

Then Peter goes on to quote from Psalm 16:

“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is my right hand so that I shall not be shaken.

“Therefore my heart will be glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.

“For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.

“You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

This is what would become the first Christian sermon in history, given on the first day of the Christian church.

That’s a big honor for a song like Psalm 16 to have. It is a song that may have meant one thing back when David was King; but it also now means another thing, celebrating Christ as King.

How interesting that on a day in which the Holy Spirit breaks in to do something so radically new, that Peter would feel inspired to use words that were centuries old.

Proof that sometimes the most powerful thing one can do is to honor their roots, and that Scripture has a way of speaking to the past, present and future all at once.

This is another example of regeneration, in which through God something is the same, yet different; different and yet the same.

Even before Peter inspired the masses with his Pentecostal speech, Psalm 16 has had a special place in the Book of Psalms.

Psalm 16 is part of a collection of songs in which the singer has gone through some rough, dangerous patches.

They see God as their refuge, and the one who shows the path to life, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.

Here the singer is able to say, even amidst life’s hardships that they have had enough- “Dayenu”, and they express that their joy, their ultimate happiness doesn’t come from people, places, or things, but from God and God alone.

The singer finds comfort in realizing there is nowhere they can go that God is not, even if they are surrounded by decay or facing the cold reality of death.

No wonder Peter saw this Psalm as a perfect vehicle to pronounce that Jesus Christ is alive and a new day has begun.

There is something else we discovered during Tuesday’s Bible Study- this particular song is extremely body-centric.

The singer states that the Lord is always at his right hand, and that his body rests secure.

Verse 7 is an Americanized adaption of the scripture. It states “In the night…my heart instructs me.” But the real word in the Hebrew text is “kidneys.”

Why? Because that’s where the ancient people believed their conscience was experienced.

Verse 9 in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible reads “My heart is glad, and my soul rejoices.” However, other translations read “My tongue rejoices,” which is what Peter says on Pentecost day.

Psalm 16 is very, very body-centric, with references to heart, kidney, tongue, hand.

Why would this matter? One possible reason is that the body plays an important part of who we are.

Because Christians have been so influenced by Greek thought, we unconsciously have a way of seeing ourselves as three divided parts- body, mind and soul.

However, the people of the Old Testament did not see things this way. They saw themselves as one complete whole, and the body was the vehicle through which we lived, loved and served.

Therefore, faith and spirituality and our experience of God are not just a soul thing, it’s not just a mind thing; faith is a bodily thing.

A faithful life is not just something we feel or think, it’s something we experience and do with our entire being, including our hearts, our hands, our kidneys, our tongues, our feet, our eyes, our skin, our hairs upon our heads.

In fact our faith can even be said to begin in our mother’s womb in which we are knit together and wonderfully made by God.

So to separate us into beings who are body, mind and soul would not fit into the world of the Psalmist, but to present us as organic, cohesive, holistic wholes.

Today, I invite us to use Psalm 16 as a jumping off place to think about our bodily expression of faith.

Our hands. 2 palms, 10 fingers, each with their own unique fingerprint.

In worship we can use our hands to clap and to play an instrument. In fellowship we use them to shake, to hug and to hold.

In mission and service, we use our hands to serve, for example- tomorrow as we hope to welcome over a hundred hungry people into our Shepherd’s Pantry.

Our tongues.

In worship we use them to speak, to sing, to pray. In fellowship we use them to taste and to enjoy the delicious treats prepared for us.

In ministry we use them to speak to another; to offer hope, to present encouragement, to say a prayer.

Our hearts, alive within our chest; pumping and receiving blood throughout our body, sending oxygen throughout our flesh.

How during worship our hearts can seem to soar when we hear a certain song, an uplifting prayer, a message that resonates.

How in fellowship our hearts can experience love and welcome as we meet and greet one another.

How in both mission and care it becomes our hearts that we offer to one another and seem to speak out of; it seems to be our hearts that break when we hear of bad news, or illness or a death.

Kidneys- well I’ll just leave those out of today’s message.

But the point is that church and faith is not just a spiritual reality. Nor is church and faith just about what we think.

Church and faith is a physical reality in which our body is engaged, our body is in fellowship with other bodies, and our body is in service.

Our body becomes a way to not only experience God’s eternal presence, but to share and make God’s eternal presence known here on earth.

So it makes sense that on the day of Pentecost, Peter would feel so inspired to use such a body-centric scripture as Psalm 16 to celebrate the Good News of the resurrected Christ.

As it also makes sense that as we are about to enter the Advent season, Psalm 16 would be used.

Because after all, what is Advent, but a time to prepare to meet Jesus, Emmanuel, which literally means “God Is With Us.”

Emmanuel, God-With-Us does not just mean in the soul, or in the mind, but with us in the body as well.

God cared for us so much, and valued our entire being so much, that God came to us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus.

We experience Jesus not just as a spirit, as a ghost, as an idea. But we experience Jesus as an organic, cohesive, holistic whole.

And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

God is good; we have no good apart from the Lord. Therefore let us rejoice with hearts that are glad, hands that clap, hold and serve, and with tongues that praise and bodies that are ever thankful.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finding Gratitude During Difficult Times

Rev. George Miller
11/10/15 - Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
“Finding Gratitude During Difficult Times”

Good evening. I’m Rev. George Miller, and I’m the pastor of Emmanuel United Church of Christ. It is an honor to be here today.

I give thanks for the opportunity to speak with you, to share some thoughts on the topic of gratitude, and to also hear from you.

Years ago, I read a book which stated that there are basically 2 kinds of prayers:“Help, help, help” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

With that in mind, before we get to the “thank yous”, I’d like to start with “Help.”

As a pastor, I’ve noticed something unique about American people. Americans are raised to believe that it’s important to be strong, to be in control at all times, and to not openly share our emotions when it comes to facing hard times.

To be afraid is a sign of weakness. To be sad is a flaw to be fixed. The expression of honest anger is to be avoided at all costs.

Those who are Christians may feel that if something bad happens to them, and they are afraid, it means they don’t have faith.

To be sad means that somehow your trust in God or Jesus is lacking.

To feel and express anger means you are not following the teachings of Christ.

However, fear, sadness, and anger are not only natural human emotions, but they are Biblical as well.

For example, Psalm 22. It is a song lifted up to God by one who is suffering greatly.

In Psalm 22, the Psalmist states “My God, my God- why have you forsaken me? Why are you far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?”

“O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest…”

“…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, its melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

These are the words of someone who feels abandoned by God; someone so distressed they can’t do anything during the day or sleep at night.

They feel weak, broken and in the dust of death. They are sad, scared and mad.

Psalm 22 is what Jesus said as he hung, nailed and suffering on the cross. Psalm 22 is an example of a prayer that cries out “help, help, help.”

I wonder how many people here have felt like their body is out of whack and their heart is melting like wax?

I wonder how many people here today have had worries that have kept them up all night, and almost comatose during the day?

I wonder how many people have felt mad about their current situation. Mad at their doctor; mad at their bodies; even mad at God.

If so, I want to say that these feelings are natural, and they are OK to have.

Because I believe that it’s not until we can be honest about our fears, sadness and anger that we can move into a place of genuine and life-giving gratitude.

“Help, help, help” is one kind of prayer; “thank you, thank you, thank you” is another.

Now it is my understanding that most everyone here today is living with the reality of a terminal, chronic illness.

It’s not easy, is it?

When someone lives with a chronic condition, it seems as if there is a loss of control and certain things are taken away.

When you live with a chronic illness, time takes on new meaning. First, there is the reality and blunt awareness that you are going to die.

We are all going to die, that’s a fact. But when you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness, that fact takes on new meaning. It’s real. You cannot run away from it or hide from the truth.

Time also warps, have you noticed that? Things begin to revolve around doctor appointments and visits to the lab for blood-work and x-rays.

There is the essence of hurry up and wait. Get to the doctor office 15 minutes early, and then wait 1-3 hours to be seen.

What else takes on new meaning? Sense of self. The body changes. Our abilities change: what we can do and should not do.

Living with a chronic illness can affect our enthusiasm for life and sense of joy. We become so focused on our mortality that the things that use to make us happy, like a birthday or a holiday can bring melancholy, and sad things seem even sadder.

So what do we do? How do we live the days, months, year we have left?

One way to find gratitude during difficult times is to be honest with how we feel. To not be afraid to admit we are sad when we’re sad, afraid when we are afraid, and mad when we are mad.

It is ok to cry out to God “Help, help, help.”

Because guess what- in my opinion doing so allows us to move into a place of peace and acceptance with our situation, and to a place of gratitude, and the ability to find a way to say “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Today we are going to talk a bit about ways to experience gratitude -the ability to live an honest life that includes thanksgiving and happiness even in the face of difficult times.

Why? Because expressing gratitude can be very healing. Expressing gratitude is a way of making the things we feel: sadness, anger, and fear that much smaller.

Gratitude is a form of resilience, in which we are able to survive and thrive in ways we never thought possible.

Now, no one has all the answers on how to live with gratitude. The most I can do is to share 5 things I have learned over the years. We’ve already discussed the first one- being honest about our emotions.

The 2nd thing I can share is an expression that has been around for thousands of years.

It is called “Dayenu.” It is a Jewish word that means “enough” Dayenu is a word that comes from a place of magnificent and humble thanksgiving.

Dayenu is a song thanking God for all the things God had done. It’s a way of saying that even if God had done only one of these things, it would’ve been enough to make us satisfied.

For example, if the only thing God had done was create the world, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

If God had only brought the Israelites out of Egypt, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

If God had only split the Red Sea, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

Dayenu is about counting your blessings and staying grounded, even if it seems as though your life and the world is falling apart.

Let’s do an exercise of gratitude with me. I’ll say a sentence, and after I say the word “enough” I invite you to say “Dayenu.”

If God had only given me life, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

If God had only given me the sun in the morning and the moon at night, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

If God had only given me a beautiful place like Sebring to live, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

Ok; now this one is hard- only respond if you really, really mean it:

If this was my last day on earth, I could die knowing that I have experienced, lived, loved and learned enough.


I wonder how many people feel a sense of gratitude while saying this word?

How many, if even for just this moment, can feel a sense of calm or peace while saying this word?

If so, know that in a moment of gratitude, in a moment of calm, in a moment of peace, there is also the gift of wellness and healing.

How else to experience gratitude during difficult times? I like to look towards my favorite line from my favorite book, called “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker.

It’s about a black, southern woman who goes through some of the most atrocious things you can imagine.

During the course of the book, she begins to find healing and to experience new life.

At one point, her dear friend says to her “I think it upsets God if we walk past the color purple in a field somewhere and we don’t notice it.”

That’s deep. It upsets God if we walk past the color purple and don’t notice it.

A third aspect of gratitude involves the very things that are naturally around us- the beauty of the earth.

Here in Florida we are lucky because we get to see such beauty 7 days a week, 12 months a year, 52 weeks.

Have you ever stopped to notice how green our grass is? How blue our lakes are?

The whites, pinks and purples of the wild-flowers? The orange of the groves?

The browns, blacks and whites of the cows and steers in the pastures?

The red of a cardinal? The yellow of lemons? The coral color of the sky over Lake Jackson during sunset?

Nature, in its very essence, is a jubilant source of thanksgiving. Sometimes when I am feeling down, lost, or lonely, I like to walk around my property, and to touch, see, and to smell, what’s around me.

Ever just place the palm of your hand against a tree and sense how strong it is?

Or think of a color you’d like to see, and go for a walk or a drive, and you notice that color just seems to appear?

-Someone shout out a color you really, really like. Now let’s look around the room, and see where it appears.

How do we feel upon seeing it? Maybe a little more grounded. Perhaps a little more aware that we are indeed surrounded by “enough.” Perhaps a bit more thankful.

Fourth- how to live with gratitude when living with the chronicity of life? This is so simple, but so important: know who you are, and what you like to do- and do it!

For example, I used to be a huge “Golden Girls” fan. Back when it was on the Lifetime channel, it was on in the morning, afternoon and late night.

When I was going to seminary, when I was home sick, when I was unemployed and spent the day trying to get a job, “Golden Girls” became a form of therapy.

No matter how bad the day was or seemed, I could count on that hour of TV viewing to stop everything, lay on the couch, to laugh and to feel good.

Lately though, I’ve realized that I need to go to the ocean once a month; the east coast beaches, like Fort Pierce, where the water’s rough, I can walk along the shore, and hear the sounds of the waves upon the sand.

For me the ocean is where I can’t help but to feel grateful and happy for all that God has done.

What’s something you like to do?

Find a way to do it- it’ll make you feel good.

It also becomes a way you can take back some of the control of your life that is lost when living with a chronic illness.

I’ve talked about being honest with our emotions, finding a way to say Dayenu, noticing the colors around us and doing what we like as ways to live with gratitude.

The final thing I’d like to share is perhaps the hardest thing for many to do- creating time to rest and to do nothing.

That is so foreign to the American culture, but it is scriptural. The Old Testament talks about Sabbath- a day off.

Now a full day of doing nothing may be impossible for most people, but there’s something to be said about taking time to intentionaly do nothing.

When someone is living during a difficult time, it’s so important for the body, mind, and soul to slow down, to stop, to rest and to rejuvenate.

As a pastor I work many, many hours, 6 days a week. But I’ve learned that at least once a week I set aside time to actively, intentionally do nothing.

It’s usually Wednesday. I come home early. Turn off the cell phone. Clean the house, make a cup of tea, put on a cd, journal for a bit, and then take a nap.

Is there anything better in the world than an afternoon nap? It’s even better if you have a dog or a cat or a someone special to cuddle with.

It’s amazing how a 20 minute nap can make all the difference. How it can lower your heart rate, create a sense of peace.

A 20 minute nap clears your head, resets your mood, helps you to sort things out, and to think clearly.

A scheduled nap can also give you back a sense of control.

No matter what’s going on, where you have to go, what medical appointment you have, you can actually have some control on deciding when and where you are going to nap or do nothing.

A nap gives you something to look forward to. My Wednesdays have become a day of gratitude and joyful expectancy, because I know soon I’ll be sipping tea and catching some zzzs.

In conclusion, living with a chronic condition is not easy, and it’s not worth the energy trying to pretend it is.

It’s not worth the energy of pretending you aren’t at times feeling sad, mad or scared.

But living with a chronic condition can be an unusual gift- because you now know for sure that you are going to die, you now have the opportunity to live and to find ways to live that bring you joy and gratitude.

Living with a sense of Dayenu, of having enough, living with a sense of gratitude is something that is healing and life affirming.

When we feel gratitude, when we feel thankful, it can almost create a sense within us that we are well. Not cured, but well.

When we find ways to live with gratitude, we become more real, more whole, more alive and in love with life.

Gratitude has a way of radiating out, and touching those around us, and making them want to be around and with us more.

Gratitude makes us feel good, feel happier, feel as if some hope and control remain.

We may spend half of our life saying “help, help, help” but we can also spend half of our life saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

In closing, I have one last thing to share.

In the Gospel of Luke 17: 11-19 there is a story about 10 men living with leprosy.

Jesus enters into a village, and the ten men living with leprosy approach him. They keep their distance, as their bodies are no longer like everyone else’s, and they are seen as unclean.

They cry out to Jesus and say “Have mercy on us.” Jesus sees them and says “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” As they went, they were made clean.

One of the men, seeing he was healed, turned back to Jesus and gave him thanks.

Jesus said “I healed 10, but only you have shown gratitude and given praise to God. Get up and continue on your way: your faith has made you well.”

Perhaps this is the ultimate expression of how important Finding Gratitude During Difficult Times can be.

Gratitude may not cure us of what we are living with, it may not remove the illness completely, but it can create a sense of wellness, healing, joy and Dayenu.

Gratitude can give us another day, another week, another month, another year to experience and enjoy life to its fullest, until our story comes to an end.

Gratitude can make life all the more worth living.

Amen and amen.

Dayenu-Enough. Sunday's sermon on Ruth 4:13-17

Rev. George Miller
Nov. 8, 2015
Ruth 4:13-17

Greetings, and welcome to Bethlehem, our humble, small town that we are so very, very proud of. I have a story I’d like to share.

In my religion there is a word we like to use, called “Dayenu.” It means “enough.”

Dayenu comes from a place of gratitude and thanksgiving for all the things that God has done.

If God had only created the world, it would have been enough- Dayenu.

If God had only delivered us from Egypt, it would have been enough -Dayenu.

If God had only given us the 10 Commandments- Dayenu.

If God had only brought us into the Promised Land- Dayenu.

Simply put, Dayenu is about counting your blessings, being grounded and grateful for what you have.

I’ve been lucky to say that in my life I have had “enough.” I have a family. I have a plot of land. I have resources I can utilize.

Thank you God. Dayenu.

But not all people are so lucky. There was my relative Eli and his wife Naomi. Many years ago when a famine hit our town, there was not enough to eat.

So Eli and Naomi left and went to Moab, a foreign country in which the people do not look like us or worship the same God.

Things did not go well for them. First, Eli died. Then Naomi’s two sons married foreign wives. Then the sons died, leaving their wives with no children and Naomi with no grandchildren to carry on her husband’s good name.

You must understand the importance of babies and grandchildren to us people.

Children are a promise of the future.

Children are a fulfillment of God’s promise to our ancestors Abraham and Sarah that their family would be as plentiful as the stars in the sky and a blessing to all the families of the world.

As long as there are babies and grandbabies, God’s promises are able to be fulfilled. And who knows which child could turn into the King that unites the people.

Who knows which child could become the long-desired Messiah who will restore our people and turn us back to God.

So when Eli and his two boys died with no children, things looked really hopeless for Naomi and her daughters-in-law.

But eventually, there was good news: the famine in Bethlehem had come to an end, so Naomi decided to return home.

Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, decided to come with her, pledging that she would never leave Naomi’s side, and that she would become a faithful follower of God.

Naomi and Ruth returned to our humble, small town right as the barley harvest began.

Noami was very sad. She had lost so much- her husband, her sons, any potential of having grandbabies…but she did have Ruth, and as it turns out, that was “enough.”

Although Ruth was a foreigner and came from a different religion, she had so many positive qualities.

She was loyal to Naomi. She was kind with her words and her actions. She was a hardworker.

Ruth would make any mother proud.

Ruth went to the field of our relative Boaz, and began to glean and gather the barley that the farmhands had left behind.

Ruth was diligent. She was not afraid to break a sweat. And apparently so was also quite a looker, because she caught Boaz’s eye.

There was instant attraction between them, and Boaz took extra care to give Ruth special attention and to make sure she was never harmed or mistreated.

It became clear that Ruth and Boaz were falling in love.

But there is a costume in my country: if a woman is left widowed, it is the responsibility of her husband’s nearest relative to marry her.

This ensures she is kept safe, well fed, and with enough. And if the new couple happens to have a child, their child is considered to belong to the 1st husband.

Even though he may be deceased, this ensures that man’s legacy and family tree lives on.

Now, Naomi was not interested in remarrying, but Ruth was.

If you haven’t figured it out, I was the closest relative, meaning I had the legal rights to marry Ruth.

And since there was a parcel of land that still belonged to Naomi, I would inherit the land Ruth came with.

But I am not a greedy man. In the Lord I already have enough- land, a wife and my own kids.

How much more does one man need?

A little piece of earth to call your own; where you can build a home, plant a tree and grow a garden. A wife to love. Children to carry on your name.

I’ll admit that Ruth was a beautiful woman and would make any man proud, but I was not in love with her.

But Boaz was.

So we met, and I gave up my legal right to marry Ruth and to have her land.

That simple act of unselfishness was perhaps one of the greatest things I have ever done, and I am so glad that I did.

Ruth and Boaz were soon married, and sure enough they had a child: a baby boy called Obed.

Obed has brought so much joy into our lives.

The birth of Obed has brought the women in our small, humble town together. They were there in the birthing room when he came into this world. They celebrated and sang songs and gave thanks to God.

The birth of Obed has also brought great joy to Naomi. For so long she had been so sad.

Naomi had endured so much- a famine, leaving behind her home, the death of her husband, the death of her sons, the years of being without a grandchild to carry on her husband’s name.

And now, now there is new life in Naomi’s household. There is the sound of baby gurgling, the sounds of baby laughter, the sight of Obed crawling across the floor.

The comfort he gives to Naomi as she holds him against her breasts.

Now with Obed, Naomi can once again say “Dayenu”, she has enough. She has a grandbaby that will carry on her husband’s name, a child that will carry on his legacy, a child that will carry on the promises of God.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is a reminder of how God is able to work through the most hopeless moments of our lives to bring us hope.

How God is able to take that which seems broken, dead, and destroyed and bring forth new life, regeneration and satisfaction.

How God can take what seems like the final chapter of our life story and say “But wait! There is more! So much more!”

In conclusion, I am thankful for all that God has given me. It has been enough.

I am also thankful that I did not allow greed to get in the way of Boaz, Ruth and Naomi being so happy.

And in regards to Obed- who knows? Perhaps he will be the child from which comes a King that will unite God’s people.

Perhaps from Obed will come the long hoped-for Messiah who will save God’s people and turn them back to the Lord.

That’s the thing about Dayenu and knowing you have enough- it can open up the door for so many, many blessings to unfold.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's WHO Got to Do With It? Nov 1, 2015 Sermon, Revelation 21:1-7

Rev. George Miller
Nov. 1, 2015
Revelation 21:1-7

There’s a British TV program that’s been on for 50 years that I’m just now watching, called “Doctor Who.” It’s a science-fiction show about an alien who can travel through space and time.

The brilliance of the show is that the Doctor has the ability to regenerate. What that means is that every few years, the Doctor goes through a cosmic-like shedding of his exterior to become a new-looking version of himself.

Because the Doctor can regenerate, they can have different actors play the same character and bring with them their own nuances and skill sets, which keeps the show and the story-lines feeling fresh and new.

The Doctor regenerates after he has experienced an intense time of chaos, destruction or near death.

Like a Phoenix, he emerges, renewed and regenerated, ready to go on, to care for, look after and to love all of creation and the cosmos in the universe.

The thing is that after the Doctor regenerates, he is very different, yet the same. He is the same, yet different.

Very heady stuff that may not make sense upon hearing about it, but after you see enough episodes, you know it, without fully knowing it.

I see this same sense of regeneration taking place in today’s reading from Revelation, in which we hear about a new heaven and a new earth as the old earth passes away.

Revelation is a fascinating book, one that too few people read, and many others seem scared by.

There are many interpretations about Revelation. Some say it’s a book about the future end of the world, with descriptions and signs of how the world will end.

Some say Revelation is a book written during a time of severe physical and spiritual crises, in which the events alluded to in the book were actually poetic, metaphorical illusions to the very real events the author and the people were facing.

Or, you can say Revelation is a book written to address current strife and to foretell how the world will end.

No matter how you choose to approach Revelation, it is a timely book, speaking to folk today as much as it did 2,000 years ago.

I’ve been listening to people in the congregation over the past few months. It seems with the national and world events, folk are feeling a bit more scared than usual.

People seem to be more unsure; worried about the present and the near future.

That sense of dread seemed to begin with the murders at Immanuel Church, then continue with the school shootings, the recent earthquake in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now the worries over China and Syria, not to mention the recent bomb-threat in our own town.

It’s so much, that in many ways I have found myself becoming numb, because to absorb it all can simply be too much for the heart to take.

I myself have to admit that lately things do feel rocky in the world. Statistics may say that we are living in the safest time in human history, but we don’t feel that way.

There’s almost a sense hovering over the world that either everything is coming to an end, or there is some kind of dying and fading away of the old so that something new, something different can break in.

Perhaps there’s been all this recent chaos, destruction and war because the world is getting ready to regenerate into something better, something healthier, something safer, something more.

Perhaps our world is ready to become something different, yet be something the same, like Doctor Who.

Now the truth of the matter is there have always been chaos, destruction and war. The truth is all throughout time, different people and different places have all experienced some kind of apocalypse.

The earliest Christians during the time John wrote Revelation were experiencing an apocalypse. As did those in Europe who experienced the Black Plague.

The slave trade was an apocalypse upon the African people that lasted over 300 years.

Sherman’s march through Atlanta which left plantations, homes, and forests burned to the ground surely felt like an apocalypse to those living in Georgia.

The Jews and Gypsies killed during the Holocaust before being set free from American soldiers.

The AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and 90’s.


The current plight of Syrian refugees.

Modern day Christians being attacked and killed in the mid-east by extremists.

These are all horrible events that must have felt like the end-times for those going through them.

Then there are the apocalypses we can face on a smaller, more personal level.

Those hit hardest by the recession who watched towns die out as factories closed, jobs were lost, houses foreclosed and families left homeless on the street.

Anyone who has gone through the death of a loved one, or is going through a death right now, has faced their own personal apocalypse, in which they witness changes, hopelessness, legal hurdles and the reality of how to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Those who are dealing with their own personal health related issues, in which one is confronted with their mortality, and the reality of physical bodies and minds that break down.

In any of these situations, it can feel as though the stars are falling from the sky, the moon has turned blood red, and that beasts are rising from the turbulent sea.

In any of these situations, it can feel like innocence is being swallowed up, and you’re facing the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse who are busy killing, destroying and creating chaos.

When these moments happen, where these personal apocalypses occur it is only natural to ask “Where is God?” and for it to feel as though God is really, really far away.

The beauty, the power and the majesty of Revelation is that it presents the most horrifying of situations, and says that God is indeed present, God is indeed here, and that ultimately God will dwell with the people.

Ultimately, this book, this particular scripture that we heard today, is one that’s designed to give us hope, to give us much needed reassurance, to give us something to hold onto.

Revelation 21 is designed to say to all people, of all places and all times “All this that you are going through, as bad as it seems, will pass.”

“It will stop. It will regenerate. God will be present because God has always been here.”

“God will be present in a way you can’t even imagine right now. God will be present beyond war, beyond disaster, beyond chaos, beyond strife.”

Ultimately, Revelation 21 assures us that God is indeed with us, right beside us, to wipe away our tears, to end our mourning and our pain.

So, in the meantime, hold on. Have hope. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let go.

Don’t let signs, horsemen, beasts or falling stars make you lose your focus or to lose your faith.

But look towards the cross.

Better yet, look beyond the cross and remember that we are Easter people; we are children of the Resurrection.

To remember that Christ is not dead, but is risen and alive, and that Christ is still speaking to us.

As Easter people, as Christians, in our faith and in our hope we get to experience regeneration. We experience something new.

Not exactly the same as before; never exactly the same as before because the old always passes away.

Because in Christ we experience something different, yet familiar.

In Christ, God is doing something new, like when God created the world.

Just like when God did something new by setting the Israelites free.

Just like when God did something new by resurrecting Christ.

Therefore, God can do something new in our lives, in our community, throughout the cosmos, and in our world.

Trouble does not last always, but in our faith we are regenerated and set free to experience God anew.

Amen and amen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gratitude's Gift, Sermon for Oct 25, 2015; Luke 17:11-19

Rev. George Miller
Oct 25, 2015
Luke 17:11-19

It’s been a blessed week. Last Saturday I attended the ZENON Awards at Highlands Little Theater; a chance for everyone to get dressed up, to celebrate the best of the season, and cheer on those who won.

All my life I’ve watched award shows: Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, wondering what it would be like to give an acceptance speech.

Last Saturday, I got to find out. I was up for a Board Service Award, given to volunteers.

When my name was called- it was magic. I could hear the entire auditorium break out in cheers and applause, and when I stood on stage, was handed the award, and given a chance to speak, it was a moment.

I was able to open my heart in gratitude, to dedicate it to my father, to say his name out loud, and to thank him for sharing with me his love of theater.

Then, I got to say “thank you” to those who were present, to share what HLT has meant to me, and to let them know how meaningful the moments are that they have created.

It felt amazing to have the opportunity to publicly show gratitude.

Later, I went home and stood on the dock. A crescent moon was out, the stars were shining. Bugs, frogs and gators sang their songs of praise to God their Creator.

I couldn’t help but to feel blessed, and to offer my praise as well.

Everyone should have a moment in their life in which they are given an award.

It feels so good to know you are appreciated. It feels so good to show gratitude to those who have blessed your life.

It’s healing, affirming and peace-creating.

On Monday, we at Emmanuel had a chance to experience gratitude from our Shepherd’s Pantry clients.

Over 100 people passed through our Fellowship Hall; over 1,200 items were passed out.

By 12:30, with our cupboards basically bare, we had three more people show up. We apologized for being nearly out of food and invited them to take whatever they liked.

One of the men said “I’ll leave some cans just in case someone else comes in.”

We had next to zero, he was receiving next to zero, and still he was offering to leave a little for someone else just in case.

Breaking all my boundaries based in years of social services, the volunteers made 3 envelopes with a small amount of cash and a letter from our church so our 3 guests could buy some food.

They were in the parking lot about to leave, when we approached one of the people, and said “We’re so sorry we don’t have any more food, but here’s a little something to help you out.”

Immediately she began to cry. Immediately, tears of gratitude filled her eyes.

Monday we were, once again, church; we were most definitely Emmanuel - “God with us” to a community of folk who were hungry, to those who were enslaved to their situations, and to those who were living with spirits that were crippling them.

They were grateful. Even though we had next to nothing to give them, they were full of gratitude which they shared with us.

God is good.

This ties into today’s story. 10 men living with leprosy have an encounter with Jesus in which they are set free from the bondage they are in.

By law, these men were not allowed to live in town, but near the dumps. By law, these men were required to wear ripped clothes, have uncombed hair and to stay as far away from everyone else as possible.

In other words, they were not just physically crippled by their disease, they were socially crippled by the laws that forced them to live alone and in squalid conditions.

But provocative, compassionate Jesus will have none of that. Upon hearing and seeing them, Jesus speaks a word that makes them clean; he says a word that sets them free to resume living in town and amongst the living.

Freedom- how great a gift, grace upon grace.

But only one man turns back and offers Jesus his gratitude; only one man turns around and gives praise to God.

And good for him, because due to his act of gratitude, Jesus says to him “Go, you faith has made you well.”

It is one thing to be made clean. It’s another to be set free. But there is something more about being made well.

His spirit, his life story, has been rebooted, washed clean and given a chance to be so much more than he ever thought possible.

Winning a ZENON touched me; today’s scripture touches me; the ministry that took place at the Shepherd’s Pantry touched me.

I have also realized something: I am grateful to be right here, right now, in this town, at this church. And I don’t know if I’ve ever taken the time to publicly say that to you in the same way I was able to at the theater.

It’s been 5 ½ years since you called me here, and I am thankful.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be your pastor. I am thankful for the salary you provide me and how it’s allowed me to buy a car and purchase a house.

I am thankful for the ways you have shown your loving welcome and care for my Little Brother, Cornelius and that you still ask me how he is doing up in Georgia.

I am thankful for the support and concern you give for my Mom as she continues to deal with her health-related issues.

I am thankful for your excitement and support as I’ve explored the possibility of adopting.

I am thankful for your excitement, support, and listening ears as I go through the home-owning process.

I am thankful that you have created a spirit in which I’ve felt more willing to share my story, speak about my imperfections and allow you more into my world.

I am thankful because I know that 5 ½ years ago you did not have to take a chance with me.

I am thankful because I know I have not always been the best I can be. Lets’ face it: I can be loud, overly emotional, illogical, and run around like the White Rabbit.

You can’t tell me anything before service and expect me to remember it, and you have about a 50/50 chance that any date or time I put in an e-mail is going to be wrong.

But I am thankful, because you, as members and friends of Emmanuel UCC have given me a call, a purpose, a ministry, a community, and a home.

For that I say “Thanks” and for that I give all praises and glory unto God.

And in my thanks, my hopes and prayers are that we continue to serve together.

We continue to create and offer ministry to those who are hungry,
those who thirst,
those who are living with a crippling spirit, those who are on the outskirts,
those who are in bondage,
and those longing to be free.

And in my thanks and gratitude, I hope that in Jesus Christ, we continue to have all those wonderful moments in which

we get to speak, we get to say and do, to share and to show all the many, many things that are healing, affirming and peace-creating.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Free from Spirits that Cripple; Oct 18, 2015 Sermon; Luke 13:10-17

Rev. George Miller
Oct 18, 2015
Luke 13:10-17

Today’s scripture is one of those that sound easy to hear, yet can be difficult to preach upon. It’s a miraculous healing story that goes against all logic, and yet miracles happen every day.

It’s a story that wrapped within great hope, yet it can also create extreme hurt for those longing to be healed from a chronic condition, and never are.

“If this woman can be healed, why not me?” one may ask with great sadness.

In today’s reading we are told of a woman with a spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. Jesus lays hands upon her, says “Woman you are set free from your ailment,” and immediately, kapooya!, she stands up straight and praises God.

Again, someone can ask “If her, why not me? Why am I living with a bad back? Why am I wheelchair bound? Why am I living with cancer? Doesn’t Jesus care about me too?”

A pastoral preacher can not overlook how this scripture has the ability to hurt, and it has the ability to heal.

So, today we are going to explore an alternative understanding of this story.

First- a question. When you hear this story, how do you picture this woman? What does her posture look like to you? Is she slightly hunched; is she like an upside L?

What age do you think she is? Luke tells us a spirit had crippled her for 18 years. Does that mean she was born this way and she’s a teenager with her life ahead of her?

Is she 36? Or 54? Or 72? Either way, we can all agree that 18 years is a long time to live crippled with anything.

But one thing is clear- after an encounter with the living Lord, she is set free from her crippling bondage. She is no longer enslaved by whatever was ailing her.

But how much do you think that changed her life? Sure, she experienced a major miracle, but she most likely still had to go home and contend with maintaining her house, wonder what she was going to eat for dinner, how she was going to pay her taxes, and worry about world events.

I doubt this woman lived the rest of her life care free, but because of the freedom she found in Jesus, she was at least able to go and live the rest of her life, as long as that might be, with at least one less thing to be burdened by; one less thing to be enslaved to.

Did you also notice something else? The Gospel writer uses very specific words. The delight is in the details. We are not told that she is crippled. We are told she had a spirit that had crippled here.

The spirit is what was crippling her. What can that mean? Was she demon possessed? Was a ghost riding her back?

While pondering this, I thought of my own story. This notion of a crippling spirit hits home. It’s no secret that I’m a big guy; growing up, I was the kid with the big red cheeks wearing Husky-size jeans.

Needless to say, body image was an issue for me, always trying to get to the right size.

Then in my 20’s I discovered something wonderful- there were people who found it attractive when a man was a bit bigger. Instead of husky, some called it healthy, some thought I was a linebacker. Others just appreciated that I liked to eat.

That was cool, but when I was 31 something happened. I began to develop a slight hump on my back. It has something to do with genetics, with the way my body processes sugar, and with sitting for hours at the computer.

So what did I do? I fixated on it. Checked my hump in the mirror every chance I got. Tried to massage it away, stopped wearing shirts that showed any sign of it.

Though the hump’s not huge, in my mind’s eye it was gi-normous and destined to consume my whole body. I worried about it. Let it affect my sense of self. Thought it made me less than.

I had allowed it to affect my spirit.

Then one day, I had an epiphany- no one else but I noticed it, and if they did, no one said anything or could care less.

When I walked down the street no one yelled “Oh my God, he has a hump!” When I wore tank-tops no one asked “Hey, what’s that thing on your back?”

Cornelius never noticed it all the times we went to the beach, and no one at Highlands Little Theater have said a thing when we do a wardrobe change.

I still have a hump, yes. And it does affect the way my shirts, suits and ties fit. But it is nowhere as debilitating, horrid or shameful as I originally viewed it. In fact, I now realize it is forever a part of me.

I guess you can say in a way I experienced a sense of healing. The physical aspect of my hump is not gone, but the spirit, the energy, the emotion I put around it is gone.

A huge part of today’s story is about the freedom that is found in Christ when a crippling spirit is set free.

Freedom, as we realize, is the underlying theme of most of the Bible, remembering that once we were slaves in Egypt.

For the Jewish people they had experienced slavery and bondage throughout history, and today we encounter a Jewish woman who is experiencing her own captivity, her own bondage, in which for 18 years she has been bound by a spirit that has crippled and weighed her down.

Has anyone here ever felt weighed down? Anyone ever feel crippled, overwhelmed, that things are just too much to bear?

Sometimes that spirit is a direct result of what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes that spirit is directly related to a health issue. Sometimes that spirit is the result of worries about the future and regrets about the past.

When that spirit occurs, when worries weigh us down, what happens? The head hangs low, the back slouches, you feel like you have to drag yourself through the day.

Perhaps this story is speaking about that, of how the things that weigh on our mind, on our spirit, have a way of manifesting in our body, of slowing us down, making it feel as if we’re crippled, bent, broken and fractured.

If that is the case, then this story speaks of how Jesus is able to set us free. How Jesus is able to release what binds us. How Jesus can loosen the leashes around our neck.

This particular woman with this particular spirit has an experience with Jesus, and it allows her to unbend, to be free, to raise her head and shoulders high and tall and to say “Thank you, Lord!”

Besides our flesh and blood bodies, there are other bodies that can be in bondage or crippled by a spirit.

There is the family body. We all know what it is like to be part of family in which there are secrets to be hid, realities of illness and disease, feelings of shame about some event.

Families where people are worried about their parents, their spouse, their child. Are they OK? Where are they? What can I do? When will this end?

All those things create a spirit, and if not one’s not careful, that spirit can cripple, enslave, hold down that entire family, until they are able to seek healing.

Organizations can also be crippled by a spirit. Whenever there is too much drama, too much controversy, issues with leadership, difficult decisions to be made.

Just like a human or a family body, an organizational body can also feel as though they are weighed down with heavy burden.

Sometimes the crippling spirit can come from church growth. People who leave when plans are made to build a new building. Those who don’t approve of a new program. Those who don’t like the choice made about the color of the carpet.

I share this, because on Monday we had a productive Council Meeting; the kind that gets a lot done. One of those things we discussed was the Safe Policy that we’ve been working on for over a year.

It is a policy that has not yet been accepted or set in stone, but here is the good news: if accepted, it is a policy that will help to protect our children, youth and our vulnerable adults from being hurt or abused.

That is a good thing, right? We should all want to ensure that our children and our elderly or vulnerable members are kept safe.

That’s healing; that’s healthy.

Here’s the thing, this policy will also create the need for new rules and regulations, new policies, the need to do background checks and the time to properly cross our t's and dot our i's.

All this to ensure that we have left no opportunity for anyone to ever be hurt on church property.

For some people this may feel like an extra burden; it may seem like an extra chore.

Some of you may be thinking “Wow- that sounds like a lot of work; it sounds like too much to bear. Could it cripple us, could it slow us down, could it scare folk away?”

Let’s be honest, some won’t be too happy with it at first, asking “Why are we even doing this?”

But let me share this with you: the trick will be not to let it cripple us or to slow us down, not to approach this as a burden or a chore.

The secret is to embrace it with the spirit it was intended- to create a safe, healthy and happy place for all to worship God, enjoy the bounty of Fellowship, and to do the ministry we’ve been blessed to do.

How can we do this? We can embrace the spirit of today’s scripture. We can listen to the voice of Christ calling us.
We can turn to the signs of grace found in the baptismal font and Communion table.

We can turn to the teachings of Christ and the stories of how God delivered God’s people.

We can recall that just a touch from Jesus can make the burden that much lighter,

A touch that can help us to stand tall and exclaim “In Christ we did what’s right. We are doing the work of the Kingdom. In Christ we are ensuring safety to all.”

In closing, today’s story continues the theme of remembering: that once we were captives in Egypt, once we were weighed down by our burdens, but we no longer need to be.

In Jesus Christ exists the spirit of healing, the spirit of freedom, and the assurance that God is doing something new.

We don’t have to be held captive by a crippling spirit because the Good News tells us that God can loose us from the bondage that tethers us to one place.

God can lighten the weight of the world we’ve been carrying on our backs, our necks, our souls.

When we remember this, we are free to experience new possibilities, free to join the crowds in rejoicing, and free to celebrate all the astounding things God through Christ is doing.

Amen and amen.