Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday Character Sermon; March 29, 2015

Rev. George Miller
March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11

(This is a character sermon, given as an agricultural peasant in Jesus’ time).

The weather’s been grey for the last few days, unsure of what it wants to do. The mornings are dark and cloudy, with hints of rain.

Seems about right.

It’s as if the world is ready for something else; as if the old is dying to make room for the new.

Whatever it is, it’s got to be better that what we have now.

Things have been dreary. Things have been blah. Tired of work.

Tired of earning just enough for my daily bread. Tired of trying to pay my debts.

Tired of sidestepping all the evil I see.

Tired of paying all these dang taxes imposed upon us by the Roman kingdom.

Tired of being tired.

We could us a holiday. A celebration.

Thankfully, the season of Passover has come back around. That’s the time we recall how God delivered us from our enemies. That’s when we recall the plagues and miracles that led Pharaoh to letting us go.

Passover is the time we gather with family and friends to tell the story of how God heard our cries; how God sent us Moses, Aaron and Miriam so we could be free.

Free from the bondage; free from the fear. Free to cross the Red Sea.

Passover is a time of celebration. Folk we ain’t seen all year coming back to town to pay their respects and to worship at the Temple.

We sing songs, we tell stories of victory, we eat familiar foods.

Despite the rain and the grey, the clouds and the circumstances, we celebrate.

Of course, the news that thousands of Jews are descending upon the city don’t sit well with the Romans; they get a little scared; get a little jumpy.

They’ve done their best to beat us down, to take away our right to vote, to tax us relentlessly and to find new ways to steal our land.

But I tell you what- Rome may tax our land, Rome may tax our home, but Rome cannot own our heart, nor our soul.

Our eternal beings belong to the Lord.

So every Passover, as my kinfolk gather they wonder if that’s the year we’ll finally revolt and say “no more!”

This may be that year.

While Pilate, the roman governor entered the city from the west on his pompous steed flanked with armored warriors, another kind of King entered the east: a man we call Jesus.

Except instead of being rich, he’s a peasant.

Instead of living in a castle, he sleeps wherever his head can find rest.

Instead of caring about the top 10%, he cares about the entire 100%.

We’ve been hearing about Jesus for over a year now. How he’s like no one else.

-He stands up to the religious and political hypocrites who should know better.
-He sits and eats with regular folk, like me; like you.
-He brings healing to all, no matter if they are a servant, a soldier or a son.

Some say he embodies the wisdom of God. Some say he’s a reflection of God’s Love.

Others have gone as far as to say he is the Messiah- the leader we’ve all been waiting for to set us free from the grasp of Rome.

So when news go out that Jesus and his gang of merry men and female followers were coming into town for the Passover, we knew things were gonna get good.

Word was that Jesus was entering from the east, as a counter protest from Pilate. He was coming from the Mount of Olives, the place the prophets had once written about.

So we gathered to greet him; we gathered to cheer him on. Not the hoity toity 10% out to kiss Rome’s butt. Not the blue-bloods or the Rockefellers.

But folk; regular people. Those who worked the land. Those who weren’t afraid to get dirt under their nails.

Those struggling for their daily bread, those struggling with debts, those living in fear, those who were paying high taxes, and those who had mortgaged off their family land.

We gathered to celebrate the true Son of God who was going to change our lives forever.

It was a celebration, and ya’ll know what it’s like when people get together for a good time: things just happen, a spark of energy pervades the air.

I don’t know who, but someone began to sing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Someone else sang out “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the coming of David’s kingdom!”

“Hosanna! Hosanna!” they sang out, and it sounded just about yet, because “Hosanna” is just a fancy way of saying “Lord save us!”

That’s what we were singing “Lord- save us!”

For those living with hunger- “Hosanna!”, Lord-save us!

For those so in debt to the Roman kingdom we’re virtually slaves- “Hosanna!”, Lord-save us!

For those living with the affects of evil, blindness, deafness, lameness- “Hosanna!”- Lord, save us!

For those lost in the wilderness, for those in jail, for those ill, for those whose ship has gone down- “Hosanna!”, Lord, save us.

“Hosanna! Oh Hosanna” we sang.

Then the celebration really kicked in. Some began to take off their coats to place before the colt Jesus was riding.

It looked like the right thing to do for a man who seemed to bare the promise of giving us more then we could ever need.

But what was I to give? I had no coat to spare. I am not a rich man; I’m barely even a poor man.

I’m not the magi able to come forth bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I’m not a drummer boy able to supply him with a song.

And I’m certainly not a beautiful broad with long, luscious hair that I can wash his feet.

So I looked to sky and I saw the palms that grew on the tree. How they were so abundant.

I thought of how the palms were like me, were like us- how they are hearty; they are able to endure. They are always there.

They can grow in the extreme heat. They can handle intense rain; they can the long, dry spells.

I ran over and clipped a palm branch off. It may not be silver, it may not be gold, it may not be a drummer boy’s song or hair that’s long, or wine or wisdom.

But it is something; and it’s green- the color of life.

And it’s alive.

So I ran onto into the road, in front of King Jesus, in front of his humble colt and I bowed and placed the palm branch down and I cried “Hosanna!”

Others followed suit; they climbed up the trees, they ran into the nearby field. They took what they could find- grass, straw, leaves, branches, whatever, and we laid them before the Lord.

We sang and we celebrated and for that brief moment we were One¬- you know, that feeling when anything is possible and the grey skies are gone forever.

…of course no grey sky is ever gone forever.

As Passover week continues, as we continue to welcome in old and familiar friends and faces, an odd air of uncertainty has slipped in.

You know how sometimes you can just tell something’s not right, even if you’re not entirely sure why?

That’s how things have been since that day.

After Jesus entered into Jerusalem and made his way to the Temple, there’s been buzzing on the street, and not the good kind.

Some have been saying how the Roman kingdom is more than upset at his teachings. Not to mention the religious leaders in the Temple ain’t been too happy with him.

There have been claims that Jesus is proving to be unruly; that he’s riling the masses; that he is showing signs of stirring things up.

And they don’t like it.

There’s word that the Romans are constructing a cross, a sure sign that they are scared, a sign that they feel the need to publicly shame and scorn someone.

Jesus isn’t helping matters.

One moment he’s teaching about love, the next he’s denouncing the scribes. One moment he’s pointing out the actions of a widow, the next he’s telling us the Temple will soon be destroyed.

That ain’t good.

The other night, at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came over and anointed Jesus just as one would a dead body.

It feels as if the songs of celebration have been silenced. It’s as if the hosannas of hope have made way to hopelessness.

Ominous clouds are forming; seems a storm is a brewing.

Darkness is in the air; something bad is bound to happen.

What does this all mean? What does the rest of the week hold? How will the events unfold? What’s next?

I don’t know; we don’t know.

Only God knows; only God knows.

Only the God who creates, who saves, and who redeems really knows.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sermon from March 22, 2015; John 12:20-26

Rev. George Miller
John 12:20-26
March 22, 2015

Life can have a circular pattern about it, if you are able to pause, look about and to see.

For example, 33 years ago in the Gospel of Matthew, the baby Jesus was born and a group of magi, gentiles from another part of the world, traveled to pay honor to the “King of the Jews.” Upon seeing the child, the magi kneel in respect, offer their gifts, and afterwards, they go home another way.

According to the Gospel of John, 3 years ago the adult Jesus goes to Galilee where he finds Philip and says “Follow me.” Philip finds Nathanael and tells him “We have found him about whom the prophets wrote.”

Today, the circle continues as we stand with Jesus in Jerusalem during a festival. Just a moment ago, the Pharisees, speaking of Jesus, have said “Look, the world has gone after him.”

And just like that!, as if on a cosmic cue, a group of Greeks come up to Philip and say “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Then Philip, along with Andrew, goes and tells Jesus.

Circular: as a baby, foreigners come to see Jesus; as an adult, foreigners come to see Jesus.

In the start of his ministry, Philip brings people to see Jesus. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, Philip brings people to see him.

See- circular.

Though the stories of the magi and the Greeks come from 2 very different gospels, they both serve a purpose- to fulfill prophecy and to show how the world has come, and will come, to Christ.

The magi and the Greeks have traveled so far so that they can see. Why is this important?

The magi and the Greeks were known for their wisdom and knowledge, showing that faith does not necessarily mean you leave your thinking brain behind.

The magi and the Greeks were most likely gentiles, demonstrating how Jesus did not come for just one select group of folk, but for all.

The magi, Philip, the Greeks, the Pharisees- they see. What did they see?

Well, if you follow the book of Matthew, they would’ve seen Jesus, as a Messiah, cleansing lepers, and not being afraid of them. They would’ve seen Jesus healing servants, not hurting the hired help.

They would have seen how Jesus was able to cast out the demonic, give voice to the silenced and opened up eyes so folk can see.

They would’ve seen how Jesus restored children to health, blessed children and drew them near.

They would have seen how he challenged the political and religious hypocrites of the day, and how he ensured that thousands of folk did not go without food.

They would’ve seen the masses flock around the Messiah as he told them stories about weddings in which everyone is invited, of seeds sown extravagantly, of lost sheep being found, and the benefits of casting out nets instead of letting them sit idle.

They would’ve seen and heard how Jesus called everyone blessed, reminded the citizens that they are the light of the world, who talked about issues from anger to oaths, adultery and love for enemies.

The magi, Philip, the Greeks, the Pharisees- they see. What did they see?

Well, if you follow the book of John, they would’ve seen Jesus, as a Messiah, being one who attended community events, who wasn’t above turning water into wine, who talked with women at the well in the heat of day, who gave sight to the blind without worrying if their condition was caused by sin.

They would have seen Jesus as the Son of God who challenged religious institutions and overturned tables. They would have seen Jesus as the one who stood up to a judgemental mob and forgave an adulteress.

They would have seen Jesus as a man who wept over the death of a friend, who was not above washing his own followers’ feet.

The magi, Philip, the Greeks, the Pharisees- they see. What did they see?

Nearly 2,000 years later, what do we see when we encounter Jesus?

What do we want to see?

There is a multitude of answers. We might say we want to see our Savior. Or we want to see our Shepherd, Healer, Teacher, Judge, Advocate or Friend.

Inspired by today’s “hymn of reflection”, one justifiable reason to see Jesus is so that we can be more like Jesus.

Not so we can be Christ, but so we can be more Christ-like.

Perhaps today, we want to see Jesus because we want to better emulate what he was about and how he acted within the world.

We’re not talking about the Jesus created by political leaders like Constantine over a millennia ago to control the masses.

Nor the Jesus created by religious leaders over the centuries to strike fear of damnation into the public and to make docile followers.

Not the Jesus created by televangelists decades ago to manipulate people so they can build their own personal wealth and purchase their own personal airplanes.

Nor the Jesus fabricated by so called Christian extremists to keep citizens silenced and to keep women, gays, aliens and perceived enemies in place.

No, we are talking about the Jesus we encounter when we read the Gospels.

The Jesus who reminded us that when we visit folk who are sick or incarcerated, when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and quench the thirst of the least of these, we are doing it for Jesus.

The Jesus who would have stood before an angry mob for any of us, who would have gladly spoke to any of us at a well in the hot afternoon sun.

The Jesus who humbly rode towards his death on a donkey and who made his way to the cross so we could see just how much we are worth.

That’s the Jesus we’re talking about today.

We want to see Jesus, so we can be more like Jesus.

Not like Pastor George, not like Rev. Lawrence, not like Conference Minister John Vertigan, but more like Jesus.

We want to see Jesus so we can be more like Jesus.

Not like Joyce Meyer. Not like Mahatma Gandhi. Not like the Pope, but more like Jesus.

We want to see Jesus so we can be more like Jesus.

Not like the Prime Minister of England, not like the Shah of Iran, not like the President of the United States, but more like Jesus.

Nearly 2,015 years ago, magi came from far away to see him. Nearly 1,985 years ago Philip got to see him.

Nearly 1,982 years ago, Greeks traveled to a festival so they could see Jesus too.

The whole world wants to see him.

Today we still want to see him, even if we have seen him before.

The Good News is that we can.

We see Jesus when storms of life are subsided. We see Jesus whenever and wherever children are welcomed and respected.

We see Jesus whenever lost sons are welcomed back home, whenever sinners are forgiven, whenever the hungry are fed and the sick given a fair chance to be healed.

We can see Jesus when we allow our nets to be cast out instead of sitting idly by.

We can see Jesus when we allow seeds to fall to the grown and when we extravagantly sow seeds anywhere we can.

We will know we’ve seen Jesus when those seeds have grown into mighty trees where all the birds of the air find a place to land, shelter from the storm and ability to sing their song.

Oh Jesus- why do we want to see you? Let it be today so that we can be more like you.

More like you, Jesus, more like you.
Amen and amen.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sermon for March 15, 2015; Psalm 107:1-22

Rev. George Miller
March 15, 2015
Psalm 107:1-22

“My God, my God- why have you forsaken me?” According to the Gospel of Matthew, those are the words Jesus cried out as he hung, nailed to the cross.

In many ways I think those may be the most honest, universal words ever uttered…

…If you are the kind of person who reads the Sunday funnies you may recall last week’s installment of Mutts by Patrick McDonnell.

Jules the cat is hiding under a blanket, completely covered up. Noodles, another cat, comes over and says “Jules, are you hiding from the world again?”

“Yes. I give up.”

“But that’s so silly,” says Noodles. “One must face the injustices…the insensitivities, the cruelties, the absurdities, the insanities, the…”

“…Move over,” Noodles says, as he joins Jules by completely going under the protective fabric of the blanket.

Noodles was speaking the truth, a truth so daunting his only response was to hide.

The Bible speaks truth as well.

The Bible offers unflinching truth in the way it looks upon the reality of the world, the sin and depravity of humanity, and the insensitivities, cruelties, absurdities and insanities of life.

Right from the start, the Bible openly confronts the pain of childbirth, brothers who kill brothers, and how the waters rise as a consequence of human actions.

The Bible is full of stories that detail the dysfunction of families in which deception, manipulation, jealousy, incest and rape leave a lasting mark.

Spend time in the Old Testament and you’ll see unflinching accounts of how one group of people can so severely oppress another.

You’ll encounter poverty in such a way that a little bit of oil and a handful of flour is all the difference between living or dying.

Disasters randomly take the life of thousands of people and even God’s Temple is vulnerable to attack and decimation.

Yes, the Bible is full of narratives in which hiding from the world seems like the best option.

The Biblical narratives are full of events in which the only thing the people can do is to cry out to the Lord.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In others words, the Bible is not like a Hallmark Card. In fact, the Bible is probably the furthest thing from a Hallmark Card.

Just look and listen to today’s Psalm. Yes, it is ultimately a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, but first the song focuses on the fact that the world…well, the world is woefully wounded.

The verses of Psalm 107 feature the themes of being lost, of being sick, of being incarcerated, and of being shipwrecked.

Regardless if we take these verses as literal facts or as poetic truths, they speak of situations in which no Hallmark card could ever place a positive spin.

But oh, could you imagine if Hallmark tried?

The first card would feature a scared looking lost puppy. The front would read “Heard you were lost in the dessert! But think of it this way…Just take away an ‘s’ and you have desert!”

You’d open the card and it would show the puppy at a cafĂ© happily eating two scoops of ice cream.

Or the second card would feature an ill ‘lil lamb in bed and say “Heard you’re baa-dly sick, but don’t worry…”

You’d open up the card and it would say “I’m sending you warm fuzzies” and it would feature an older sheep knitting a blanket from its own wool.

Card number three would picture a cockatoo in a cage and the front would say “Heard you got locked up- don’t let it ruffle your feathers!”

Or a Hallmark card with a picture of a soaked kitty kat crawling onto a tiny island. “Heard your ship just sunk. Now’s the purrfect time for some well deserved r&r!”

Could you imagine how you’d feel if you were to get any one of those cards? I’d roll my eyes and most likely rip them up.

When you’re really, really lost; when you’re really, really sick; when you’re in chains; when your ship has gone down, there ain’t nothing nobody can say that can change the situation or make it better.

The most someone can say is “This must really be scary” or “I am so sad that this is happening to you.”

The most you may be able to do is offer a word of prayer or say “I’ll be right over with a pint of ice cream and a copy of “Scandal.”

No, the Bible is not a Hallmark Card, nor does it ever try to be.

But what the Bible does try to accomplish is to provide hope, to give voice to the woeful and the wounded, and to remind us that no one is ever truly forsaken and the steadfastness of God lasts forever.

And referring back to the previous sermons, it suggests that these come to be in the most unusual of ways.

The psalmist does not suggest that we be perfect Right Sharks who cling to our Protestant Pride of self-sufficiency.

The psalmist does not suggest that we deny the reality of our mortality or the pain of our situations.

Nor does the psalmist suggest that we live in fear of radical extremists, or that we tighten the tethers of the Commandments.

What the psalmist extols is that in each of the predicaments the people faced, their response was the same- they cried out.

Four times the exact same line is used in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble.”

Those in the desert, those in jail, those who were sick, those in sinking ships- they cried out to the Lord.

There is no judgment, there is no shame, there is no condemnation, there is no claim that they were wusses or cry-babies or needed to develop a thicker skin.

In a culture that so much wants to Facebook our way into perpetually smiling faces, and pharmaceutical ads that want to sell us contentment in a bottle, scriptures like Psalm 107 serve such an important function.

They give voice to the hopeless and despondent, and they give validation to the fact that not everything is perfect.

Scriptures like Psalm 107 give the spiritual, theological “OK” for tears and for the ability to say “ouch” and to admit that there are things in life that hurt.

The Bible does not silence pain- the Bible acknowledges it.

In a very straight forward way that flies in the face of pop culture telling us to man-up or to stop blubbering like a baby, Psalm 107 isn’t afraid of tears, but tells us not once, not twice, not three times, but four times that the people cried out.

Why? Because when you are hurt, when you are in pain, when you feel lost or lonely, crying out is a natural thing.

Crying out also allows something else- it allows God to hear, and welcomes God in.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t already know; not to say that God needs a special invite to enter into our lives.

But there is something about crying out; there is something about the breaking down.

There is something about the vulnerability that allows space for the Holy to come in, to work, and to do what we ourselves can’t do.

Exodus tells us that when the Hebrews cried out, God heard their cries and set about a plan to bring them out of that land.

The book of Judges tells us that when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, God raised up a person to deliver them.

Jonah calls out to the Lord in his distress and is released from the belly of the fish.

The people cry, and God delivers them, and it is then that they move to the act of thanks; it is then that they move into songs of joy.

And here is where we can finally hear some Good News- though the Bible does not silence pain, though it doesn’t deny dysfunction and disappointments, the Bible does not allow those events, those feelings, those thoughts to have the last word.

Because it is God who has the last word.

Just as the word of God was the first thing that began Creation, it is the Word of God that redeems and saves Creation.

That word is Jesus Christ.

Jesus, who was born into this world, just as we were. Jesus who stood with us, not apart from us, when he was baptized.

Jesus who walked in our midst. Who called us by name. Who sat with us at table. Who ate the same foods.

Jesus who knew all our sins and forgave us.

Jesus who sees the ways in which we are lost and calls us home.

Jesus who sees us in chains and says “Let me set you free.”

Jesus who says “The guilt of your sins has made you feel unwell, let me relieve them.”

Jesus who says, “You feel as though you are shipwrecked alone, but I am with you.”

Jesus, who knew what it was like to feel forsaken, yet who was raised from the most hopeless of situations three days later.

There is a time for thanksgiving, and there is a time to cry out.

There is a time to give God thanks, and there is a time to say “Help, help, help.”

There is a time in which we are found, but first we must admit that we are lost.

The Lord loves you. The Lord loves me. The Lord loves everyone in this room.

And the Lord is listening.

So if you feel lost, if you feel unwell, if you feel chained, and if you feel like the ship has gone down, don’t be afraid to cry out, don’t be too proud to ask for help…and hear what the Word is able to do.

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sermon for March 8, 2015; Exodus 20:1-17

Rev. George Miller
March 8, 2015
Exodus 20:1-17

Last Thursday, during the auditions for Les Miserables, I witnessed a leader being a True Leader.

Jen, the director, stood before a packed room and said “We are casting a play with 29 parts; not 30- 29; which means that 1 ½ of you are going to be disappointed.”

Jen explained how she casts who she thinks is the best person for that role; she does not have favorites; she does not cast families; she has even cut her own son from a show.

Jen admitted how hard the casting process is, especially since she’s known many of the auditioners since they were children. She expressed her love for everyone; she affirmed their value, talent and worth.

Then, she went about setting boundaries:

-If you’re not cast, you have 24 hours to be angry, upset and to cry. Then you are to put on your “big girl pants” and you can contact her about why you weren’t cast

-If you will not take a part unless your child also has a part or visa versa, be honest about it on the form so she knows
-If you put down that you want a lead but you’re willing to be part of the ensemble- mean it.

-If you do not get cast or don’t get your dream role, don’t go to Facebook to vent, because it hurts Jen to read; and know that nothing you post as private is ever private

-Finally, come back and audition for the next show and become part of the crew for this one.

Jen was what today’s youth would call a BOSS: she stepped up, set the rules, claimed her authority and expected everyone to be adults.

By creating clear boundaries Jen did something else-she laid the foundation for the cast and crew of Les Miz to play, have fun, to create, to build, to put on the best dang production they can.

Through proper boundaries, she allowed everyone to BE.

Bravo to Jen and bravo for her reference to Facebook, because as good as it can be in allowing folk to stay in touch, Facebook is perhaps the ultimate violator of boundaries.

Through words and images, both welcome and unsolicited, people now know everything about one another.

We know where you eat, what you do, where you go and who you are with.

Because of Facebook we have access to your friends, your family and your precious, precious children.

We know when you’re home and when you’re not. We know what you like, what you hate, who has a beef with you.

Because of Facebook we create illusions of how perfect or horrible our life is, we celebrate our smallest of achievements, and we covet what our friends, family and complete strangers get to do or have.

With Facebook, we can say anything, about anybody at any time of the day, regardless if it’s true or not; with a swype of the keyboard and the tapping of “send”, it’s out there in the netherworld of the internet in which there are no boundaries.

Yet boundaries are so important. Anyone who works with abused and neglected children know this.

Children in foster care, or who have parents in jail, or who’ve been improperly touched may have been raised in a home without boundaries. Since they have no boundaries, it becomes easier for the cycle of abuse and neglect to happen again and again.

That is why it’s so important that caregivers learn about proper boundaries. That’s why it’s important for teachers, volunteers, churches to know about boundaries.

In a world in which 1 out of 4 girls is abused and 1 out of 6 boys is too, it’s important that adults who work with kids do not expect a child to be touched or hugged or sat upon one’s lap, especially against their will.

For children raised without boundaries, one of the best things you can do is to give them boundaries through rules and expectations.

Bedtime is at 8 pm. Do not leave the fenced in play area. If you don’t complete your homework you can’t go on the field trip.

I once worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Mpls and one thing that surprised me was how many kids jumped at the chance to do chores, especially wiping off the kitchen table after a meal, or pulling back the chairs to sweep the floor.

Why? Because when a child is asked to complete a household task they are being told “You are part of something, you have value, you are trusted, and you are safe.”

Don’t we all want to know that we are of value? Don’t we all, deep down, want the chance to prove that we are capable of good? Don’t we all want to know that we belong? And don’t we all want to feel safe?

That’s what I believe the 10 Commandments are about.

A few weeks ago, I used the expression “everybody dies, but not everybody lives.” Here is a map of how to live and how to live life to the fullest.

A map in which time, words, family, space, relationships, animals and plants are to be treated with value, belonging and safety.

First, some back story. For hundreds of years the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians who violated every boundary you can think of.

They forced the Hebrews to work long hours and harsh days. They oppressed their value and their voices. They violated their need for rest; they killed their babies and disrespected the family unit.

The Hebrews did as they were told, when they were told, with tasks imposed upon them, and if they did not, the task masters had the right to beat them down.

God sees and hears what is happening to the people and God sets out freeing them.

Under the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, the abused Hebrews are led out of Egypt and up to the Red Sea waters…and when the people wander to the other side-

…it is like they are born anew.

By crossing the waters, and arriving at the other side, it is as if Mother God has birthed a new group of people.

The Israelites are slaves no more, they are free. They no longer belong to the abuser Egypt, but now they belong to God.

Exodus 15-19 tells how God does what it needed to care for this new “child”-

Water becomes sweet to drink; bread from heaven nourishes their bodies. Trustworthy members are delegated with tasks to watch over the others.

Then when the time is right, the once abused group of people move to the mountain and Moses is summoned to the top.

God is revealed as a leader with boundaries, who will allow this particular cast and crew to play, have fun, to create, build, to put on the best dang production of life that they can.

First, this is done by God establishing who God is- “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Who is the Great I AM?

The one who saved you, the one who made you free, the one who is God. The BOSS.

Which means who are you?

You are worthy of being redeemed; you are worthy of the freedom to play, create and build, and you are freed of all the stress and burden of thinking you are the Lord.

God, like a parent, like a good play director has made it clear that God sees, hears and knows; that God will feed, quench and lead.

Now that that is established- the boundaries are put in place.

This is so important because as slaves their boundaries had been so severely violated.

Their time, their home, their family were all disrespected, so they need to be given clear, healthy, ethical boundaries if they are to meet their full potential.

These boundaries are not handcuffs to keep them shackled to abusive ways; these boundaries are not jail cell walls to punish.

They are boundaries to keep people safe, happy and able to live together.

One of the boundaries involves time. In the past, their time belonged to the pharaoh; now they learn that time belongs to Papa God.

This notion is so radical- the idea that something as abstract, as invisible as time can be under the care of God.

The notion that time can be a sanctuary; that time can be holy.

That everything and everybody deserves at least one day off, to rest, to recharge and to refocus their attention on what is holy and what is good.

There are boundaries involving home- respect and care for your parents. Doesn’t matter if you are 4 and they are 24 or you are 48 and they are 84.

Do not go into someone’s personal living space and take what doesn’t belong to you. Folk have the right to have what they have, and stealing suggests you don’t trust Momma God to provide.

There are boundaries that involve relationships. First, don’t insult God by turning the infinite into a statue or a thing you can control or handle.

Don’t have intimate, personal relationships with people you know you shouldn’t be having them with. Such crossing of boundaries violates body, mind and soul.

There are boundaries involving words.

Don’t say things that aren’t true about another. Don’t use your freedom of speech to unfairly create distrust or fear. Don’t violate someone’s name and reputation for sport or because you have a personal gripe against them.

Put in today’s terms- don’t turn to text, Twitter or Facebook, to vent, infer or slander.

There are even boundaries involving emotions and the heart- don’t waste energy looking at what people have, getting jealous and thinking if only you had their spouse, you had their car, you had their stuff, that you would be happier or better off.

Why does God give the newly free Hebrews these boundaries; why does God give a whole lot of “thou shall nots”?

Because everybody dies, but not everybody lives, and these boundaries will allow them the best chance they have to live.

In conclusion, these boundaries embrace almost every aspect of life you can think of: God, time, families, work, home, land, belongings, animals, space, love, hate, neighbors, and words.

This isn’t hippie stuff, this isn’t New Age thinking, this isn’t political correctness- it is good old fashioned rational that says “If you want to live long, if you want to prosper, here are the boundaries in which to move.”

These are the foundational ways in which God, our heavenly, eternal director gets to say:

“Welcome to the stage of life, and welcome to redemption. Now that you know the boundaries you are free to play, you are free to have fun, to create, to build.

You are free to live fully before you die.

With these boundaries, you are free to BE. Now let’s have fun!”

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sermon for March 1, 2015; Mark 8:31-38

Rev. George Miller
March 1, 2015
Mark 8:31-38

There are many ways to read the Gospel of Mark. One can pick it up and read it like a book: this is what Jesus said; this is what Jesus did.

One can ask questions- who is Mark, when was he writing, what was going on and why did he choose to tell the story of Jesus this way?

Scholars that I’ve studied say that Mark was written by a Jew living in Jerusalem during tough times. They were under Roman rule, persecuted by Nero and the Temple had been or was about to be destroyed.

It is said that Mark was written to give the people hope, painting Jesus as a hero and an example to follow when enduring hardships and persecution.

In other words, Mark would be an appropriate gospel to give courage to the 220 Syrian Christians who were recently seized from their homes by Islamic State militants, and to the 200 others who gathered in a church east of Beirut on Thursday to stand in solidarity with the victims.

For years now there has been constant reporting and discussions about ISIS and Muslim extremists. About the destruction and death that has taken place.

People all over the world are trying to make sense of things, trying to figure it out; what’s the solution?- what to do?

There are those who speak of ISIS and Islam as the same; who see militants and Muslims as one.

But not all Muslims are militants and not all Islamists are in ISIS.

Most, believe it or not, are just people trying to survive, figuring out what to do, and they are also unsure, they are also afraid.

To make sense of it all, I have to place things into my own individual perspective:

I think of all the letters to the editor that have appeared in the last 5 years speaking out against the lesbian and gay community; the ones that are full of anger and venom, that use scripture and refer to Christ.

Not one of those letters was written by a Muslim, but by local Christians in modern day America.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

I think of the 60’s: segregation, separate water fountains. Those who marched in Selma, who waded in the water of Biloxi, who sat at lunch counters; who were beat, locked up, had ashtrays dumped on them.

The acts of the KKK, with white cloaks and burning crosses; white men who lynched, killed and created terror in the night.

They were not Muslims. The KKK is a Christian organization.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

The Nazi’s in the 1940s. They snuffed out those with developmental disabilities. They virtually wiped out the Gypsy population. They imprisoned gays and lesbians. They murdered millions of Jews: children, mothers, grandparents.

And they were not Muslims; they were Christians. They were German. They shared the color of my skin and many bore the same blue as my eyes.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

Yet how many here today would want to say that every Christian who writes a letter to the editor represents all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

How many of us want to say that the KKK, as Christians, speaks for all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

How many of us want to say the Nazis, as Christians, speak for all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

Ask my college professor who lost family in the Holocaust what he thinks about militant Christian extremists.

Ask a member of the LGBT community what they think of militant Christian extremists.

Do so, and you might understand why it may appear as though some of the newer generations seem complacent or don’t overtly agree with what others are saying in regards to ISIS and their acts of terrorism.

You may understand why government leaders are careful with what words they use and how they approach things, or why pastors like myself have not spoken much about the acts of violence that have been taking place by ISIS or extremists.

It is because we are cautious; we are cautious because we know how labeling a whole religion based on the acts of some can create hurt, shame and silence.

And yet the events are taking place and they seem to be increasing, with new threats being discovered.

Last week a parishioner sent an e-mail about the slaying of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic fundamentalists. Friday’s paper told of “Jihadi John,” a masked man with a British voice who beheaded several hostages.

Underneath was the story about the abducted Christians and the destruction of artifacts.

Today, as we bask in the after-glow of a successful yard sale, there are Christians, such as those in Beirut, who are living in truly dangerous times in which following their faith can bring them hurt, bring them shame and silence.

They are Christians who are living in times not unlike Mark’s gospel or the time of Jesus.

During then there was only one Kingdom-Rome. You were expected to behave, stay in line and to respect Roman authority.

If you did not, there were ways to make you pay, to conform, to get right.

If you still did not do as you were told, you could be arrested, you could be jailed.

There was also the cross.

The cross back then was a political weapon of punishment. To be placed upon a cross meant you were a criminal; you were an enemy of the state; you were different, radical.

The cross was a vile way to die; carrying it created a macabre parade that made it clear who had the power and who did not.

A cross was meant to hurt, and to shame, and to silence a part of the population.

This helps to explain why when Jesus talked about his suffering and his death that Peter was so quick to rebuke him.

Traditional Jewish thought was that the Messiah would come to set things right, destroy the enemy, and have dominion and glory over all people and places for all time.

If Jesus was indeed the Messiah it would follow that he would be victorious and triumphant.

Therefore, this image of Jesus suffering did not fit into the classic understanding of how the Messiah was to be.

Never could Peter or any other faithful Jew comprehend that the Messiah would be hurt, or be shamed, or be silenced.

Never could they have conceived that the weapon of their Roman enemies, the cross- could ever be used as a means of Good News.

No wonder Peter rebuked Jesus, no wonder Peter and the disciples never did fully understand what Jesus was talking about.

Verse 34 is where things get deep and harder to digest. Jesus tells them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I think there’s much misunderstanding about this scripture. Some see it as applying to a situation they are in that’s not so pleasant, such as a sickness or financial duress.

I don’t think taking up your cross means that.

Nor do I think that giving up Cool Ranch Doritos for Lent means one has taken up their cross, or that going a month without Facebook makes one a martyr.

I think what Jesus is talking about is the intentional decision one makes with the full realization that doing what is right, doing what is just, doing what is good for the sake of God’s Kingdom is not always easy, does not always come with rewards, does not create easy streets or guarantees.

The realization that to do compassionate acts of Christ, to share in his prophetic voice, to drop our security nets can actually bring hurt, can actually bring shame, can actually cause others to want to silence our voice.

And if we are to follow, truly follow Jesus as he carries his cross, we are to be prepared. Prepared beyond physical ailments or personnel losses; prepared beyond giving up snacks or soda.

To be prepared knowing that some, or most or perhaps even all others may see us as criminals or as enemies or infidels…

…When one stops to ponder it all, it’s amazing to think that to preach the Good News and to live in such a way that
-widows are cared for
-children are welcomed
-foreigners are treated with respect
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame and the silence of the cross.

It’s amazing to think that to preach and to act the Good News
-of thousands being fed
-blind being made to see
-unhealthy demons being cast out
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame, and the silence of the cross.

It’s amazing to think that to preach and to act the Good News that
-prodigal sons are embraced
-adulterers are forgiven
-the sick are cared for
-everyone is welcome at the table
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame, and the silence of the cross.

In conclusion, what kind of Christians are we? How do we profess and live out our faith? How do we carry our own cross?

Also, how do we, as Christians, own up to what has been done by other Christians in the name of Jesus Christ in order to hurt, to shame and to silence others?

How do we preach and act out the Gospel in the face and threats of extremists and militants who are trying their best to hurt, to shame and to silence not only our Christian brothers and sisters, but the voices of so many other people of the world?

There is no answer I can give. There is no set of instructions I can share.

So we wander and we wonder as we make our way with Jesus into the Holy City, as he prepares to pick up his cross, will we have the courage and ability to pick ours up too?