Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Everybody Dies but not Everybody Lives"; Transfiguration Sunday Sermon; 2 Kings 2:1-12

Rev. George Miller
2 Kings 2:1-12
Feb 15, 2015

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we decorate the church in white and prepare for the Season of Lent, leading us to the most glorious and important day of the year: Easter Sunday.

Transfiguration is an unusual word to describe an unusual story. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, the Transfiguration goes like this:

Jesus and his ministry is going along swimmingly well. Like perfect Right Sharks he and the disciples are preaching, teaching, healing and feeding and becoming really popular while at.

They are winning the Super Bowl of life when Jesus drops this bombshell on them:
soon he will undergo great suffering, he will be rejected, and he will be killed.

Peter don’t want to hear any of that so he takes Jesus aside and says “Keep silent; don’t say such things.”

But Jesus rebukes his student and he ups the ante by saying that in order to follow him you must be willing to pick up your own cross.

Talk about being a Debbie Downer.

6 days later after breaking this news to Peter and the gang, Jesus takes the first 4 disciples up on a mountain for some alone time.

While there some amazing things happen. Jesus begins to radiate; his clothes become dazzling white as if he had used Oxi Clean.

Then Moses and the prophet Elijah appear and begin talking to Jesus.

Peter, perhaps still reeling from the bad news about Jesus’ death says “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings.”

A cloud overshadows them and a voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”

Like “that” the moment is gone. Moses and Elijah are gone. Oxy clean clothes are gone.

Jesus, Peter, James, John and Andrew come back down the mountain and go right back to the reality of life and of work, healing a boy and casting out demons.

When faced with the reality of death, Peter acted as though he just wanted to deny it and silence any talk of it.

I get the sense that Peter would’ve loved to have stayed on that mountain and to never go back down; to have had that moment forever; for life…

…A few days ago at Gold’s Gym, while on the treadmill, a rap song came on by Nikki Minaj and Drake called “Moment for Life.”

This particular song, which came out in 2010, starts by stating “I believe that life is a prize; but to live doesn’t mean you’re alive.”

The chorus states “I wish I could have this moment for life, ‘cuase in this moment I just feel so alive.”

I bet you that’s how Peter felt when he saw Jesus being transfigured.

Then in the second verse it states “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”

There is, perhaps, no greater truth in the entire world than that: everybody dies.

We do; we will.

Yet, so much of our lives are spent in denial of that simple, most basic reality.

We either become numb to that fact; or we act shocked and surprised when he hear of someone’s demise.

Why, after thousands of years of walking the earth are humans still uncomfortable with the reality that everyone will die?

This non-acceptance of the truth creates systems of denial and industries based around prolonging the inevitable.

People are so unwilling to accept that we grow up, we age, our bodies change, we die.

We need to accept this truth.

But we don’t.

And there’s a big difference between putting in a good fight and doing your best to live a full life, and of putting all your energy into denial.

That’s what I’m currently facing with my mother. As most of you know, my mom’s health has not been good for some time. Last week, in Scottsdale, she fell and was on the floor for 4 hours.

It took 2 people to pick her up and even then she refused to go to the ER or admit something major is wrong.

My siblings and I are scrambling, finding ways to assist her and help her understand that right now she may be living, but she is not alive.

She’s not doing what should be done, and there are a multitude of options that will empower her to live an active, healthy life.

One of those options is to move next to one of her kids. Another option is to accept that she is 68, and there is nothing wrong with that.

My Mom is stubborn; she’s got German genes; she’s a tough broad. She’s clinging as hard as she can to being a Right Shark, even if it kills her.

Of course, I’m just like her. I too know how to be stubborn; to be a German Right Shark.

I know what it’s like to be sick, really sick, and still go to school, still go to work, still shop for groceries as if nothing is wrong.

Such traits can be really effective and help get the job done.

But such traits can also be so destructive because if you never admit you’re sick, if you continue to carry on as if all is well, eventually your body says “no more” and eventually you burn out.

In ministry I’ve witnessed the harm of denial: people who refuse to use their walker and end up falling down and breaking a hip.

Folk who seclude themselves from the world because they don’t want anyone to see them in a less-than-perfect state.

Exhausted care givers who end up sick, hospitalized or dying first.

I’ve also witnessed the healing power of acceptance.

There was a couple in Michigan named Jim and Ruth. Jim was in hospice, fighting the good fight against death and of leaving behind his beautiful wife. He was given a day left to live.

When Jim was asked what he wanted, he stated “To be home…in the arms of Jesus.”

Ruth was asked what she wanted. It was so hard for her to hear and accept that Jim was ready to die. But she found the courage to say “If that is what you want; I accept it.”

With honest tears they kissed, hugged and Jim was taken back to their small, humble home in Grand Rapids to die with dignity.

But here’s the thing- Jim lived another year. It was a year in which every day Ruth and he knew it could be his last.

Instead of putting their energy into denial or running away from it, they accepted it, and in the acceptance they found a way to live.

Every day friends and loved ones visited. They played cards; they reminisced.

There were no pressures, no expectations. So, when Jim was tired he slept; when he was hungry he ate. The only things he had to expend his energy on were love, and life- he was alive.

The longer I am in ministry, the more I admire Jim and Ruth and think “that’s the way to face death head on and to live.”

I also wonder why we as Christians continue to be so in denial of death. We see a symbol of it, the cross, every time we worship. Yet we become numb to what it means.

We seem unable to accept that we get older, we do not stay the same, our bodies age, they break down, people leave, we die.

We cling to being a Right Shark, but here, this week, we are entering into the Season of Lent, and it’s a time in which we have no other choice but to accept the reality of death and to look at it directly as Jesus makes his way closer and closer to the cross.

I never realized it before, but Epiphany, the season leading up to Christmas, focuses us on the act of conception and birth, while Lent focuses us on death.

There’s no way we can deny our own mortality. Jesus doesn’t allow us to; scripture doesn’t allow us to.

The Cross doesn’t allow us to.

Today we have this reading from 2 Kings, which I think is one of the most poetic stories about death, denial, and of letting go.

In it we have the prophet Elijah who is aware that God is ready to call him from this earthly world. He is ready and unafraid to cross the Jordan River which is just a few kilometers east of him.

But his beloved student, Elisha, is not ready to say good bye. (Kind of how Peter did not want to hear Jesus talk about his suffering.)

So Elijah takes Elisha on what I call a “Journey of Preparation.”

First, they go south to Bethel. There a group of prophets meet them and say to Elisha “Do you know your teacher is soon to go away.”

Elisha, in denial, states “Yes I know, but I don’t want to hear it.”

Elijah gives his student another chance to accept the reality, but Elisha says “As long as you still have breath I’m not leaving you.”

So Elijah travels south-east to Jericho, where the walls once came tumbling down. More prophets meet them, letting Elisha know that soon his teacher will be gone.

“Yes, I know, but I’m not ready to hear it.”

Then Elijah goes east to the Jordan River, the place that separated the Promised Land from the wilderness.

A third group of prophets come out. They watch from afar, as Elijah takes off his coat, rolls it up, strikes the water, and it parts.

Elijah, who has accepted what is about to happen, says to his student “What do you need from me before I go?”

And in a moment of non-denial, Elisha says “Give me the ability to do my best to carry on your ministry and work in this world.”

With that acceptance, like Jim and Ruth, the two continue on their way, walking, talking, until eventually horses and a chariot of fire take Elijah away.

Elisha’s acceptance does not lessen the pain, but it allows him to be present.

“My Father, my Father,” he cries, ripping his clothes in two.

Eventually he goes back across the Jordan, back to Jericho and the land of the living, where he is greeted by the concerned and familiar faces of his fellow prophets.

Though it’s not easy, Elisha goes back to life, he goes back to living.

I sense that it took that round about journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan for that to happen.

Just like it may have taken Peter going up that mountain to see Jesus transfigured for him to accept Jesus’ fate.

As we must all take our own unique journey when it comes to our own mortality and to dealing with the mortality of those we love.

We can put all of our energy into building tents to try to keep death away. We can tell those around us to be quiet and not speak, but that doesn’t stop the natural cycle of life.

Building tents and silencing the truth do not prevent death but they can get in the way of life.

The ability to be really, and truly, alive.

To enjoy our time here on earth. To be present and as healthy as possible for our family, our friends, our community.

To know that moments on the mountain are great and worth having, but tents are temporary; shrines are for thanksgiving and contemplation

But the real moments are those that take place in the valley, on the flat land, in places like Jericho and Bethel, in places like Gilgal and any other place where people meet, people laugh, people suffer, people cry.

The real moments are the ones in which we have fellowship, we share meals, we dance, we sing, we plant gardens, we paint, we play pickleball, we put on plays, we golf, we cuddle on the couch.

The real moments are the ones in which we do mission and ministry, we reap, we sow, we act out our faith, we grow old.

The real moments are when we help others, we receive help, we experience birth, we experience death.

As the rap songs states, “life is a prize…but not everybody lives.”

There are moments in which we feel so alive, but there are many more moments in which we get to live, and those become the moments that perhaps matter the most.

The Gospel calls us to live. The Good News of Jesus Christ calls us to live.

The God who creates, saves and blesses, calls us to live.

The Holy Spirit empowers us and gives us the breath to live.

Even when it is painful or lonely, even when it hurts and we have to depend on someone else.

We live.

There will be times we need to escape to the mountaintop; there will be times we wish not to hear the truth. There will be times in which we just aimlessly have to wander as we prepare.

But with God, the Holy Three-In-One we hopefully each find our way to accept, to live, to thrive and to find our own ways to feel so alive.

Let this upcoming Season of Lent to be one of those times.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pastoral Sole: Left Shark Sermon- Feb 8, 2015; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Pastoral Sole: Left Shark Sermon- Feb 8, 2015; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Left Shark Sermon- Feb 8, 2015; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Rev. George Miller
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Feb 8, 2015

Last week we began our study of 1st Corinthians. I claimed that it’s a love letter written by Papa Paul to the church in Corinth, a letter that explores issues involving sex, rituals and food.

To eat or not to eat meat sacrificed to other gods; to act out of the head or to act of the heart; to care about the other person or to only care about yourself.

On Tuesday our Lectionary Bible Study had a fun conversation about today’s reading and about Papa Paul’s personality.

Paul claims to be free for the sake of the Gospel. Free so that he can follow the Law to win Jews for Jesus. Free to not follow the Law so he can get Gentiles for God. Free to act weak to win over the weary.

This freedom means Papa Paul can shoot pool at the Yogi Bar on Ridgewood. He can play golf at Highlands Ridge. He can eat pulled pork at the County Fair.

He can put on leather chaps and attend Sebring Thunder on the Circle. Put on cowboy boots and two-step at the Watering Hole. He can do the dozens while standing on the corner of Martin Luther and Lemon.

Paul is free to be all things to all people if it means he can share the Good News of Jesus Christ and save them from a world that tells them they are not blessed.

But here’s the thing- if you read all of chapter 9 you get a much more complex picture of Paul.

And, depending on which translation, it can change the meaning behind Paul’s words.

For example, chapter 9 in the Contemporary English Version states “I am free! I am an apostle! I have seen the Lord...” It sounds like a joyful declaration of a life in Christ.

But in the New Revised Standard Version, it asks “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus the Lord?” This sounds like an apologetic, defensive stance.

Do people who truly believe and feel like they’re free act on the defensive, as if they have something to prove to their naysayers?

Then, towards the end of chapter 9, Paul uses a sports analogy. He talks about athletes, runners and boxers and how there can only be one winner.

He says that he punishes his body so he can share the Good News; he enslaves his body so he won’t be disqualified.

Does someone who believes they are free punish and enslave themselves so they can win and not be cast out?

Are we free to run or are we free only to win?

At Lectionary Bible Study the question was asked “Is Paul a Type A personality?” I think it’s safe to say “yes.”

Paul reads like that classic “get 'er done”, “do it right or don’t do it at all”, list making, people pleasing person.

He is ironically proclaiming his freedom while at the same time imposing upon himself what he believes he should do.

If Paul hadn’t been killed, he probably would’ve died of a heart attack or of high blood pressure…it takes one to know one…

I bet there are many here today who can relate to Paul. Who’ve been brought up being told you have to excel, be first, get it done on time, get it right and that rest is for the weary.

Of course there are- you can’t afford a 2nd home or to retire in the Sunshine State if you didn’t know how to work hard, save your pennies, plan ahead and not be idle.

There’s a gift to being an A-type personality because they will get it done and most likely get it done right the first time…

…As things usually go, a few days ago I happened across a quote by G. K. Chesterton that said “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

“If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

In essence what it means is that it is OK to fail. It is OK to be a colossal flop. That it is better to try and fail than to never have tried at all.

Very different from the Puritanical way many of us have been raised. Very different than the musings of Papa Paul about enslaving his body so he can win.

Which is part of what made Sunday’s Superbowl so fascinating. How many people watched the game?

If you’ve been paying attention to the message boards, looking at the Tweets, studying what’s trending, even reading editorials by conservative writer Steve Otto, you’ll know who the MVP was on Sunday.

It wasn’t a team, it wasn’t an athlete, it wasn’t a commercial, or a singer- it was the dancing sharks, more specifically the one that’s become known as the Left Shark.

If you watched the Half-Time show, pop singer Katy Perry put on a spectacular performance in which she came in on a mechanical tiger, rode a shooting star with fireworks all around her, and danced with bikini clad beauties.

But all that people are talking about is the two men in shark costumes who danced alongside her.

There was the Right Shark with choreography that was sharp, clean and on point. You could see each step, each gesture of the fin.

But then there was Left Shark. Left Shark looked like he got caught in the moment and forgot what he was supposed to be doing.

He was moving to his own beat, his fin was here, his fin was there. It was clear he was trying his best and having fun, but he just wasn’t getting it right, he wasn’t nailing it…

…and in the process or being imperfect he captured everyone’s hearts.

In the midst of all the hype and hyperbole of the game, in the midst of the uber-perfectionism on the field, in the midst of all the high-powered testosterone to win the ring,

here was this goofy, somewhat pitiful soul in a shark suit who was trying his best to keep up and he just couldn’t do it.

Yet he won millions of fans because he was more like them than the perfectly precisioned Right Shark.

Instantly there were comments about Left Shark on the internet, there were pictures posted, loving jokes made and within 24 hours there were t-shirts, flip-books and even a tattoo all in honor of Left Shark.

And one of the most consistent comments across the world-wide web was this: “We are Left Shark.”

It’s like overnight there has been a change in the younger American culture. This notion and self-imposed stress over being perfect, of having to do things right, of being on point has been slightly diminished.

What people are saying is that instead of relating to the Right Shark who got everything so right, they can relate more to the Left Shark who tried, tried his best and just couldn’t do it.

But he tried, and he had fun and he brought joy into people’s lives.

There is a wisdom and a theology about this whole Left Shark phenomena, a wisdom that ties into today’s reading and this claim by Papa Paul about being free.

What good is freedom if you can’t fail?

What good is freedom if you can’t flail?

If we look deeper into the NRSV translation of today’s reading, Paul talks about his freedom to share the Good News with the Jews, the Gentiles, the weak so that “I might by all means save some.”

That’s deep.

Paul is certainly Type A and is certainly hard on himself, but at least here in verse 22 he is realistic. “I might save…some.”

And I don’t sense he’s being defeatist; I don’t believe he’s being lazy.

I think Paul’s finding his own way to say “Maybe I won’t win every race, but at least I ain’t afraid to run.”

Or in the words of Left Shark “I may not have done the best job dancing, but I sure as heck danced.”

What we encounter here and throughout Papa Paul’s letter is that notion of grace.

Grace is that all important concept that we as Christians, especially as Protestant Christians, are so eternally thankful for.

Grace which states that there is nothing we can say or do to become an MVP in God’s eyes because we already are MVP’s in God’s heart.

Grace which says we don’t have to come in first, or win the ring or cement the choreography to gain God’s favor.

Grace says that through Jesus Christ, the ultimate MVP, the favor has already been gained so therefore we are free.

We are free to run the race, we are free to throw the ball, we are free to dance knowing that sometimes we will succeed, sometimes we will fail, and more often than not we will end up somewhere in the middle.

Grace says it is better to have tried than not to have tried at all; grace says if something is worth doing, it is OK if it’s done badly.

Grace says we are all Left Sharks…and that’s OK.

So with this in mind, I’d like to propose something.

It’s been five years since I’ve been here. Five years and we’ve seen some growth. We’ve welcomed new faces.

Five years and we haven’t had to dip into our savings. We’ve had Vacation Bible School, we’ve had Trunk or Treat, and we’ve brought in some new music.

And we’re still here; we are still alive.

With this knowledge of grace, with this theological permission to be a Left Shark, can this be the year we start doing things that are new?

Can this be the year we stop defining ourselves as an old congregation, or a financially strapped congregation or a church that’s hard to find and off the beaten path?

Can we stop identifying ourselves as the church across the street from Bible Fellowship or comparing their parking lot to ours?

Can this be the year that we really get in the race, we really play on the field, the year we put on the shark suit and dance away?

Can this be the year we are willing to fail if it means we can save some for the sake of the Gospel?

Can this be the year we finally go about setting up some kind of Mission experience, even if it’s just helping to build homes at Habitat for Humanity or going to Back Bay for a week, regardless if we have 4 volunteers or 44?

Can this be the year we really explore the importance of having children and families and go about creating some new programs?

Can this be the year we explore ways to make our campus more inviting to folks of the community, even if it means putting up a basketball net or a playground or actively seeking more outside groups to use our facilities?

Can this be the year in which we unapologetically embrace our UCC heritage and the faith of our founders and not worry what others may think or say when we express our belief that God is Still Speaking?

Of course we can, but we will have to be willing to fail. We will have to be willing to make mistakes. We have to be willing to retry things that did not work before.

We have to be willing to embrace the gift of grace as a congregation and to know that we do not do these things to please others or to placate an angry God.

We do these things because we are truly free. We do these things because in Christ we can.

We do these things because we are all Left Shark and it is better to share the gospel with some then to share it with none.

If we do these things imagine where we can be in another five years.

Imagine all we can be to the community and the gifts we can bring

by knowing and acting that in Christ we are truly fee.

Amen and amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sermon for Feb 1, 2015; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Rev. George Miller
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Feb 1, 2015

This has become a Season of Letters.

At Highlands Little Theater Always…Patsy Cline has been held over for another week.

Based on a true story, it’s about the letters written between a Texas woman and the country-western singer, affirming the power of music to unite and how celebrities are just like us, from enjoying bacon and eggs to doubts about romantic relationships.

Feb 13 at Highlands Ridge I appear in Love Letters which features romantic notes written over the course of 50 plus years, affirming love’s power to transcend space, time, and all kinds of situations.

In March, we’re reoffering a class in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple in which letters written by sisters span across decades and continents.

Through their letters we witness life, death and resurrection, and how all three shape relationships, community and the world.

Starting today and carrying through next week we’re studying 1 Corinthians, a letter written by the apostle Paul to one of the earliest of churches.

Letters between friends, letters between lovers, letters between siblings, letters between believers.

Letters written before tweets, texts, social media, and e-mails forever changed the sincerity in which we communicate.

I Corinthians was written to a cosmopolitan congregation finding their own way of doing mission and ministry in their community.

They were a church made up of Jews and Gentiles, the well educated and the blue collar, the well fed and the always hungry, the circumcised and the au natural.

Is there any surprise that they were also a church dealing with divisions?

They were parishioners living during a time in which everything was new.

There were no such things as by-laws, or Roberts-Rule-of-Order. There was no conference or conference minister. There was no General Synod or resolutions.

It was all new and exciting and fly by the seat of your pants…it was also so scary and scandalous.

There were issues over what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to be a member of this new community.

Debates over sexual behavior, debates on whether to circumcise or not, debates about food and what can and cannot be consumed.

In other words, some of the same issues we’re talking about today, but with a spin.

Instead of talking about gay marriage, it was about a man who married his step-mother.

Instead of debating the health hazards of circumcision it was the ritual aspect of it.

Instead of a discussion about peanut allergies or being gluten free, it was about eating meat sacrificed to other gods.

These issues around sex, rituals and food were causing divisions and quarrels.

In the church; imagine that!

Paul got wind of this and wrote to them this letter. It’s a letter to set things straight. It’s a letter to help them refocus on the things that are true and truly matter.

It’s a letter not meant to chastise or shame, but to unite and to build.

Therefore, 1 Corinthians is a love letter. A love letter between Paul and the Corinthian Church in which his love for them infuses every word, every sentence he writes.

In this letter, Paul is not writing as a best friend, a lover, or a sibling- he’s writing as their spiritual Pa.

“I became your Father in the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he writes.

Paul acknowledges that there are various levels of spiritual ages in this congregation. There are those who are like newborns, there are those are a bit more mature.

He does not qualify this as better or worse, but as a simple statement. Everyone is where they are supposed to be, each on their own journey.

But one thing is clear. As Papa Paul sees things “Already you have all you want; already you are rich.”

In Christ they have been enriched; in Christ they are being made strong.

Like the leaders we talked about last week; like Rev. Loffer, like Dr. Martin Luther King, and like the Pilgrim’s Pastor, he helps them to see beyond themselves, to see something grander than they are:

Papa Paul addresses his letter “To those called to be saints together and with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So with his feelings for the congregation in place, we get to chapter 8 of Paul’s love letter- the issues involving food.

Why does this matter?

Because they are a church made up of Jews who have spent thousands of years following strict dietary laws as a sign of who they are and their belief in God.

They are also a church made up of Gentiles who grew up eating whatever they wanted.

So imagine the tension this creates when they get together for a church potluck and someone brings shrimp salad.

Or they hold their monthly brunch and there’s bacon in the chafing dishes.

Or someone purchases non-kosher franks for the Fall Festival.

Oy vey!

But there’s a deeper issue. None of them live in Kansas anymore. They live in an OZ-like city in which there are temples all over the place devoted to other deities like Zeus and Aphrodite.

People go there to make their sacrifices to their particular gods, and guess what happens to the meat that is sacrificed- it’s sold at the local market and available at the local fair.

So what happens if you’re part of this Corinthian church and either you still identify as a kosher-observant Jew or you’re a Gentile for Jesus and you now believe there is only one God made known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Do you stop shopping at the local Publix? Do you demand that Winn Dixie only sell sacrifice-free meat?

Do you stop attending the monthly Wine Walk or the county fair or the 12-Hours of Corinth Chariot races because the meat may have been sacrificed to Apollo?

Do you stop visiting the homes of non-Christian family members or friends because of what they may serve?

No, says Papa Paul. You are free to eat that food because you know, and I know, that none of those gods are real; they do not exist.

You are free to enjoy your spareribs because regardless who that animal was sacrificed to, we know, deep down in our heart that we only have one Lord and Savior, and that is Jesus Christ.

What a relief that must have been for the people…but there’s a still an issue.

Yes you have freedom, but with new found liberty in Jesus Christ comes responsibility.

What happens if you have members who are still so new to the faith that they can’t differentiate between eating meat that’s been sacrificed to Baal and their former lives when they did worship Baal?

What do you do when in your very midst are folk in which putting into the spaghetti sauce meat that’s been sacrificed to Mars feels like idolatry, therefore causing them a huge crisis of faith?

What happens if one bite of a sacrilegious snack causes a person to backslide and fall off their Christian wagon?

We may not understand this as modern day Americans who indulge at buffets where Buddha statutes stand amongst platters of bacon wrapped shrimp, but for the 1st Century Christian Church in Corinth this was a big deal.

So in this love letter, Papa Paul deals with the issue head on. He states that nothing we eat can bring us closer or further away from God.

Papa Paul states that there is only one God, so it doesn’t matter if the pork we buy in Publix has been sacrificed to Pluto or not.

We know what we know, so eat away…

….but, but if in our eating we hurt another or causes another to have a crisis of faith, don’t do it. Wait until you go home.

Kind of how modern churches have stopped using wine during Communion as to not hurt anyone for whom alcohol is an issue.

Here is the heart of Paul’s love letter. The church can operate out of knowledge, but knowledge is not always enough.

Sometimes people with too much knowledge become puffed up and think they are superior to others.

Sometimes people who think they and they alone have the right answers are the loudest ones, bullying others into accepting their ways and their beliefs, unaware or not caring that what they can and do can hurt others.

That’s not truly good; nor is that truly beneficial to all, so Papa Paul suggests another way.

He suggests that the church operates out of love. Love that is compassionate; love that puts the welfare of others before one’s own desires.

This is not sentimental love. It is love as an action; love as a verb.

Love is that which builds community. Love is that which cares about what is beneficial to all.

Love that is based in freedom; love that knows such freedom has unselfish responsibility.

Love is what allowed Jesus to lead the disciples. Love is what allowed Rev. Robinson to encourage the pilgrims to sail to the New World.

Love is what allowed Dr. King to share his dreams.

Love is what allowed Rev. Loffer and our founding members to build Emmanuel UCC so we can do ministry and mission.

Love is what allows us to gather today. Love is what allows us to say that for 25 years we have had faith in Sebring.

Love based in Christ Jesus is love that says “I will do my best not to hurt or to harm you. I will do my best to build you up and not tear you down.”

We are each on our own journey; we are each at our own unique step.

Some are wrestling with God just like Jacob. Some are crossing the Red Sea like Moses. Some are entering the Promised Land like Joshua. Some are fishing for people like Simon and Andrew.

Let what we do be done with love; love based in Christ.

Love that says through our words, through our actions, through our outreach that it doesn’t matter if you are new to the faith or you have been a life-long member, we are all part of God’s Kingdom.

Love that lets all, old and young, working and retired, blue and white collar, southern and northern, be a part of this well-fed family in Christ.

After all, in Jesus Christ we already have all that we need; in Christ Jesus we are invited to eat at the table of the Lord.

Amen and amen.