Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hate Kills; Sermon for July 26, 2015, 2 Samuel 5:1-10

Rev. George Miller
July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 5:1-10

Every family is unique. Every family shares some similarities.

For example, Cain and Abel are not the only two brothers who never got along.

Isaac and Rebekah’s family were not the only ones to have secrets.

And the Israelites are but a long line of folk looking for something tangible they can believe in.

None of them were the only ones to sin or to miss the mark and to turn from God.

My own family shares similarities with others, yet is also unique.

For example, on my father’s side was Grandma Miller. She was a survivor, someone who had many surgeries and every kind of –ectomy you can imagine.

As a result, she was one of those people who was always old. White hair, comfortable housedress and a silver walker with tennis balls on the bottom, even when she was in her 50’s.

Unique perhaps, but I thought nothing of it, had no reason to know better.

On my mother’s side, there was mental illness- depression, personality disorder, schizophrenia.

I had an aunt who we stopped visiting when I was 9 because she was simply deemed too unstable for us to be around.

Unique, but again, I thought nothing of it, had no reason to know better.

On my Dad’s side we were English, Irish, French. My mother’s side is German and Hungarian, with family folklore saying that we may have also been part gypsy.

Now that, I will admit, felt unique. Perhaps it explained my restless spirit, love for bright colors and lively music.

I had the usual jobs many young people have: bagging groceries at the supermarket, working as a bus boy and waiter at a restaurant.

One job I had that I felt was unique was caring for youth living with developmental disabilities.

Loved that job.

It opened up my eyes. Each child had their own personality. They were each unique and 3-dimensional. Worthy of being loved and of loving in return.

Made me redefine what it means to live. Helped me to understand that every life is sacred and that intelligence can be measured in so many ways.

There was Micah who could unlock a door with just a penny. Ted who possessed a photographic memory and could recite entire commercials.

I spent almost a year with a youth named Johnny. He had welcoming eyes, a broad smile, loved to laugh and an interest in clowns.

He was also autistic and self-injurious, one of those children who wore a helmet because he would yell, punch his head and bang it against the wall.

It was not easy caring for Johnny the first few weeks. But trust developed, and with it some discoveries.

One was that bubble baths were calming for Johnny. I think the sensation of the water pressing down gave him a sense of safety. Not just that- music being played helped during bathtime, and not just any music- but a Nat King Cole CD.

With a tub full of bubbles and some “Orange Colored Sky” being sung Johnny could spend over an hour in the tub, smiling and safe, even to the point we could take the helmet off.

So, that’s how a part of my life was, caring for youth living with developmental disabilities. Just like in any school, there was the popular one, the introvert, the flirt, the nerd, the bully and the class clown.

They were unique, complete individuals, just like my grandma, just like my aunt, just like you, just like I.

In the Kingdom of God we are all God’s unique children, lovable and worthy of being loved, included and welcomed at the table.

Wonderful message, end of sermon. Let’s go home, right?

…Sorry to say, but no, because today we have a difficult scripture to study. A scripture about the beginning of God’s kingdom here on earth.

It all starts with David, the man who was once a shepherd boy, a descendant of the fractured family of Isaac and Rebekah.

David is approached by the elders of Israel to be their king, uniting both the north and the south. David says yes.

Jerusalem is to become their Washington D.C., the capital of the unified nation, as well as the Holy City of God.

But if you paid close attention to today’s reading, you’ll know that something does not sound right.

David, in leading the conquest of the city, tells his soldiers to attack the blind and the lame, the ones that he hates.

Why would David say such a thing? How is it possible that the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth can start with an obvious hate crime, something that today we would categorize as a sin?

This is not an easy text; it is not a comfortable text. It is a reminder that our Bible has its own history of violent, scary texts of terror.

So let’s wrestle with it a bit.

In order for David to secure Jerusalem as the city to rule from, he has to conquer its inhabitants, the Jebusites.

In an act of boasting, the Jebusites tease David and his men. They say to him “You’re army is so weak that even our blind and lame can defeat you.”

It’s virtually a “My dad can beat up your dad” kind of taunt.

What happens when the delicate male ego is threatened? It puffs itself up.

“Oh yeah,” says David. “I’ll show you. My men are going to come in and kill the blind and lame, because I hate them anyway.”

There is no further indication that David meant the words he said, or that his men did as told…

…But in light of the Emanuel massacre and the Chattanooga deaths of the Marines, we cannot take words of hate lightly.

Words can kill; hate kills.

Hate has no limit, and those who are seen as different, less than or broken can often experience punishment, ostracism and death.

Those points were really driven home for me in 2002 when I visited the Holocaust Museum in St. Louis.

One exhibit to really affect me was about “Aktion T4” in which the Nazis murdered those who were living with physical and mental disabilities.

There was a photo of a disabled boy being taken out of a tub, and I realized he could have easily been Johnny, Micah or Ted.

Those wonderful, individual children I had worked with would have been the first killed in Nazi Germany. Same probably would have happened to my aunt, to my grandma.

Another exhibit showed the triangle patches given to the concentration camp prisoners to wear:

patches for those who were Jehovah Witnesses, patches for those who were Jewish, patches for those who were gypsies, patches for those who were gay.

I realized that I would have been given one, if not two patches. So would many people I knew.

Hate kills.

Therefore we cannot take David’s statement lightly. We cannot let this story off the hook. This becomes one of those scriptures we must face head on, we must wrestle with.

This is a story in which the holy habitation of God is begun with an act of hate speech, of how the city is conquered by a claim to crush the blind and the lame.

But thank God this is not the only story about God’s holy city in the scripture; thank God this story does not have the final say.

Because this is but one story, in one book, that makes up the entire Bible.

For as we begin to read the Bible in its entirety, we begin to find other stories that whittle away the hate and begin to speak about welcome and inclusion.

We get to see and learn how the story of God’s Kingdom here on earth does not end with David’s conquest.

Instead it stretches out and grows and becomes an expansive, hopeful vision of what God’s Kingdom actually looks like.

We catch the first glimmer just a few pages latter, when in chapter 9 King David takes in the handicapped son of his best friend and promises to take care of him forever.

Talk about personal transformation and grace in action.

Later, we encounter the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of a day in which the blind will be made to see and the lame will leap like deer.

And in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 we encounter a new kind of king, who enters into Jerusalem not in conquest, but on a donkey.

A King who immediately goes into the Temple, and proceeds to welcome the lame and the blind, and the children who sing out “Hosanna!”

This King is, of course, Jesus Christ. Our Emmanuel- God is With Us.

Yes, the earthly kingdom of God began in a way that is filled with hate and raises the hair on my skin, but the true kingdom of God, the real kingdom of God, as expressed by the actions, stories and meals of Jesus Christ is one in which:

the lame, the blind, the children, the hated, the despised, the different, the prodigal, the “other” are all welcome and all offered to join in songs of celebration.

King David made have cold-heartedly spoken words of sinful hate, but in Jesus we have a king who speaks words of welcome and words of love.

In Jesus, Emmanuel, we are called into action, we are called into welcome, we are called into mission: to bring good news, to be good news and to share the good news.

Jerusalem, the earthly kingdom of God, may have begun with the threats of David, but God found a way to work through that sin, and to fix the fractures.

Because Jerusalem is not where the Kingdom of God ends.

I believe that in God’s true kingdom, we are all beloved children. No sickness, no physical handicap, no mental illness, no age, no character defect can keep us from the sight of God.

God’s Kingdom is big enough and wide enough to include all. Where everyone can gather, good food and good music can be enjoyed, old and young, abled and survivors co-exist.

It’s our task now to continue the promise of Emmanuel- God is With Us- and to find our own way to make the true Kingdom of God made known here, for all of Sebring to see.

We should have no doubt that as long as we act free of hate, as long as we are guided by the examples of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit that this task is indeed possible.

Amen and amen.

Monday, July 20, 2015

God is With Us; sermon from 07-19-15 Exodus 32:1-14

Rev. George Miller
July 19, 2015
Exodus 32:1-14

I’m excited for this Saturday. My friend Daniel from the theater is taking me to the Everglades.

Me- the Everglades!

This won’t be for an average, run of the mill, touristy kind of thing. It’ll be the real deal.

See, Dan is what locals here would call a Good ‘Ol Boy. Born and raised, bow-fishing, chew-chewing, camouflage and cowboy boot wearing Good ‘Ol Boy.

The kind who’s not afraid of gators. The kind that can tell with one look what snake is a friend of Jack. The kind who will have your back, not speak bad about his momma and makes sure his family is provided for.

So I know that this Saturday I’m going to have a unique experience and see the real, true Everglades.

Daniel’s been preparing me for weeks: where we’ll stop for breakfast; the beverages we’ll bring; the clothes and footwear to wear; the kind of sunglasses I should have.

Apparently, I need to go get a pair of polarized sunglasses, the kind that can cost up to $200. But not to worry, because Dan’s already scoped things out for me and Wal-Mart is selling them for $20, and apparently they even have them in cammo.

Why do I need polarized sunglasses? So I can better see into the water and experience all the things that will slither and swim by right below the surface.

Apparently the kind of lens that I wear will affect my experience and how well I see.

…the kind of lens will affect the experience and how one sees…

This principal is also applied to reading the Bible. Almost all of the time, what we read, what we think, what we see is affected by the lenses we are wearing, even if we’re not aware that we are wearing them.

For example, everyone here probably sees scripture through at least 3 lenses:

1: The lens of time, in which 3,000 years after the events we know where the story began, where it goes and where it will end.

2: The lens of Cecil B. Demille and pop culture, which has filmed these stories and added their own interpretation, providing images our minds cannot unsee.

3: The fact that if we are in this church, on this day, at this time, we are at a point in our lives in which we have a certain amount of privilege. Privilege that says we most likely have adequate housing, food, clothes and transportation that has allowed us to come here.

This is not to say we were privileged before, or that we will be in the future, but at this moment, most of us are.

Therefore, if we are to honestly engage in and to understand today’s story, we can show grace and do well by saying:

-we have the benefit of 3,000 years of knowledge
-we’re influenced by what the movies have shown us
-we’re in a stable, safe, seeable situation.

Why do I say this? Because the sermon you’re about to hear is not the sermon I planned on giving.

I thought I’d give a real judgmental message about how faithless the Israelites were. I thought I’d ask “How could the community forget so soon what God had done?”

How could they be at the mountain after experiencing signs and wonders and decided to create a golden calf to worship?

If you were to go home, take out your Bible, you’d see just what good and amazing things God had done for them.

After being slaves for 400 years, God sent them Moses to be set free. When the Pharaoh said “No” God had water turn into blood, frogs fall from the skies and locusts consume the earth.

When Pharaoh allowed the people to go free and then changed his mind, God parted the Red Sea waters and Moses led them through to the other side.

With Moses as their guide, all the people’s needs were met. When they were thirsty, God made the bitter water taste sweet and to pour out of a rock. When they were hungry, God sent bread from heaven.

When Moses brought the Israelites to Mt. Sinai, God greeted them with thunder, lightning and a dense cloud of wonder.

Since the people needed safe boundaries and helpful instructions, God gave them the 10 Commandments and the laws.

To make sure they did not burn out or cave into exhaustion, God gave them Sabbath rest, creating holy time in which all the earth could just be…

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot that God has done so far for the people.

Then God calls Moses to journey up the mountain. The glory of the Lord covered the mountain and the people waited for Moses to come back down.

One day, two days. They waited.

Three days, four days. They waited. No sign of Moses.

Five days, six days. They waited.

Seven days they waited.

Moses was not there.

Anyone here knows what it’s like to wait? How time has a way to slow down, in which each hour feels like a day, each day feels like a week?

For over 7 days the Israelites wait for some sign, any sign of Moses.

When they don’t receive it, they turn to his brother Aaron and ask that he create gods for them.

From their jewelry a golden calf is crafted and the next day the people awake to feast, to praise and to make an offering.

How? How can the people do this? How weak must their faith be? What more could God have done to prevent this act of idolatry? Will nothing ever make them happy?

What a faithless, disobedient group…

Oh yes, my lenses…

Before I get too righteous, I have to admit my lenses.

I have 3,000 years on them and know the beginning, middle and end of this story. Hollywood has created images of orgiastic excess that may have never actually happened.

And I have a house, by the lake, with a porch, a fully stocked fridge and a car that got me here with a full tank of gas.

So how could I know what a week in the wilderness with no sign of Moses or word from God could be like?

I’ve been preparing for a month to spend one day in the Everglades; could you imagine me surviving a week alone?

Let’s be real.

When we break this story down, and remove lens after lens after lens, we begin to see this story in a new way.

The people had been slaves for over 400 years. If the average person lived to be about 40, that means 10 generations of people who knew nothing else but being someone’s slave.

For 10 generations they had someone house them, feed them, tell them what to do. It was a hard life, but a life in which certain things were assured.

Then out of nowhere, this god who had apparently been silent for centuries decides to send them a mortal named Moses to set them free.

One day they are in their beds, doing what they’ve been told. Now they are on the other side of the sea, with no schedule, no responsibility, sleeping in tents.

That’s a quick transition for anyone to make.

For 400 years the people looked to the Pharaoh for what to do. Now they are looking towards Moses who speaks to an invisible being named Yahweh.

How comforting would that be if you were stuck in the wilderness with no GPS, no bottled water and no Best Western nearby?

Then, the one source of consistency in your new life, the one constant in your life’s new beginnings is this Moses guy, and he has gone up a mountain for not 1 day or 2, not 3 or 4, but 7 days and counting and you have no way of knowing if he’ll ever come back.

When your world is no longer constant, when your world is no longer predictable, when people seemingly leave or abandon you, most folk find some way of having structure and solid dependability.

Is that what has happened here?

So perhaps they ask Aaron to create something not because they don’t believe, but because they need something they can believe in that will not leave them.

Perhaps the people need a physical representation of God that will not disappear, that will not abandon them, that will not up and go away.

When you’re whole life has changed, when you’re not where you use to be, when you’re not sure of what tomorrow holds, when you’re scared and lonely,

it makes sense that you’d want something you can touch, something you can hold, something that you can see.

Therefore anything, at any time can become a god. Anything, at any time can become an idol.

This is what we talked about during Tuesday’s Bible Study. We discussed how even today, as Christians, we have things that if we’re not careful, can become an idol: an object, an act, a symbol that we unintentionally have stand in for God.

I thought about this after our class was over. I thought of how easy it could be for any of us to idolize an object as a form of reassurance that we have not been deserted, that we have not been left alone for 1, 2, 5, 7 days.

Then the eye of my mind saw something that had been in front of me, in front of us, all the time. Something that has been so constant, so present, that we may have failed to realize it.

Something that I must admit I have taken for granted: our church’s name-

Emmanuel. Which means “God is with us.”

Emmanuel is a name that was given to Jesus. Emmanuel is a word we sing come Christmastime.

But it is more than a word. It is more than an assurance. It is a promise.

Emmanuel- God is with us.

That is the reason why God came to earth incarnated in the person of Jesus. That is the meaning behind the teachings, the healings, and the feedings of Jesus.

That is the meaning behind the Cross and the mystery of the Resurrection.

That if we don’t know, know we know: that God is with us, always and forever, until the end of time.


This is Good News. But what does it actually mean?

For one thing it means we do not need an idol to represent God’s presence here.

It means we do not need something we can touch, hold or see to know the truth that God is with us.

It means that no single thing, no single symbol, no single act can take the place of God.

It means that no single thing, no single symbol, no single act can take away the presence of God.

It means that God is with us: Emmanuel.

Which means if I was to give a bad sermon, it does not matter, because we can still say “Emmanuel.”

It means that if I took off my stole, it wouldn’t matter because we can still say “Emmanuel.”

It means if I was to step down from the pulpit and preach at ground level, it wouldn’t matter because “Emmanuel.”

It means that if we were to cover the stained glass with a screen, we can still say “Emmnauel.”

If we were to shut off the AV system we can still say “Emmanuel.”

If we took the Bible from the altar, we can still say “Emmanuel.”

If we were to change our hymnals and not sing a single song written before 2015 we can still say “Emmanuel.”

If the organ, the piano, and the bells were suddenly gone, we could still say “Emmanuel.”

If the baptismal font and communion table where to go away, we could still say “Emmanuel.”

If we were to get paint on the carpet we could still say “Emmanuel.”

If a hurricane came in and leveled our entire church to the ground, we could still say “Emmanuel.”

Why? Because none of these things are God. None of them take the place of God.

None of them are needed to remind us that we are God’s.

Why? Because our name already says it all. Emmanuel- God is with us.

With the knowledge comes truth. With this knowledge comes freedom. With this knowledge comes responsibility.

With this knowledge comes a history that can never be rewritten.

So with that, what we do have, the symbols we do use, the actions we do take are simply a means to remember.

They are a means to give God thanks, and a means to do the things and show our neighbors that we do believe that God is with us.

Always, and forever.

God is more than the things we see. God is more than the rituals we do. God is more than the things we have.

Jesus is our Emmanuel. With us. Over us. Around us. Within us.

Nothing can ever change that. Nothing can ever take that away. Nothing can ever make that not so.

Jesus is our Emmanuel.

No matter who we are. No matter where we are. No matter how we are.

God is with us.


Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thank God for Recognizable Sinners; Sermon for July 12, 2015- Genesis 27:1-29

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 27:1-29
July 12, 2015

Last week we studied the tale of Cain and Abel and witnessed how Cain allowed sin to pounce on him like a cat of prey.

Today we study another brotherly pair: Esau and Jacob, and how one inflicts a different kind of pain upon the other.

First a word- I love the Old Testament. You’ve heard me say it before; you’ll hear me say it again and again.

Compared to the letters of Paul or the ramblings in John, the stories of the Old Testament are earthy and pop with real humanness.

As one writer stated, the Old Testament does not feature plastic saints, but recognizable sinners.

We encounter fathers who at times may be too distant, mothers who may be a bit too clingy and siblings who just can’t get along.

In our country worked into a frenzy about what marriage should look like, the Old Testament features folk who blow apart any ideal image we may have.

Also, rarely does the narrator make a judgment call about these people we read about; rarely are we told what to think or how to feel about all the jiggery-pokery that is going on.

The stories are told as they are and we are free to decide, debate and dialogue what we think about them and the people’s actions.

And God in the Old Testament? God is free and wild, loose and unpredictable. God is funny and serious; familiar and mysterious.

So let’s review the events leading up to today’s tale. It features 4 characters- Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob.

Isaac is the son of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is the promised child who God will use to bless all the nations of the world.

Isaac marries Rebekah and she gets pregnant with twins, which is great because they can continue God’s promise of blessing.

But bad news- even in the womb her 2 two sons do not get along.

Rebekah is upset about this so she has a little heart-to heart conversation with God, who tells her that her youngest child is actually going to rule over the oldest child.

Rebekah gives birth and here comes Esau, born first, with a thick head of hair. Next comes Jacob clutching his brother’s heel.

Though born moments apart, Esau is designated the oldest, and the boys couldn’t be much different.

Esau is burly and brawny, a hunter covered from head to toe in hair and his father’s favorite.

Jacob is smooth and prefers to stay inside, cooking stews and baking bread. He is the one his mama likes best.

Esau doesn’t always make the best life choices. Jacob has learned how to maneuver situations to get what he wants.

Which brings us to today’s reading with this fabulously flawed family.

Isaac has aged and can’t see well. Worried that he may not have long to live, he decides to give Esau his blessing, a scared Father-to-Son ritual in which the words spoken shape the rest of one’s life.

Rebekah overhears his plan and tells Jacob what to do in order so that he can be the one who is blessed.

Jacob’s only concern is that his father may not be fooled by his smooth skin and invoke a curse upon him.

But Rebekah is willing to absorb the risk and she takes the sensory steps needed to complete the deceit:

a savory stew that tastes good, a man-wig that feels right, and some unwashed clothes that will smell like the 1st son.

This story is like Peyton Place or Empire.

It’s a story we can pick apart, exploring the motives of all four characters; we can ask if any of them are fully innocent, if any of them are fully guilty.

We can spend the next ten minutes on the wonderful word-play between Isaac and Jacob in which one wonders if Isaac actually knew all along he was being duped by the wrong son.

But let’s instead focus on someone else. There’s a 5th character in this story: God.

Though barely mentioned here, God is present; after all, these 4 “recognizable sinners” are God’s chosen family.

They are the family of Abraham and Sarah. They are the family God is going to make more numerous than the stars. They are the family that will bless all families, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Now, let’s keep in mind that God told Rebekah that she would have two children. God who told Rebekah that her youngest son would rule over the elder.

This was not something Rebekah asked for; it’s not something she planned.

So if God told her that the younger would be the one to rule, how was it going to happen?

Was God going to make it so without Rebekah and Jacob’s actions?

Was God saying to Rebekah in not so many words that she was to play a part in making this so?

Would Jacob still have been the blessed, ruling child if Rebekah didn’t do a thing?

We will never, ever know.

But here is what we do know- after this fur-or-no-fur incident, things will never be the same.

Jacob becomes blessed; yes he is assured water from the sky, milk from the earth, and juice from the vine, but at a price.

Yes, Jacob will have power and popularity, but it comes with a consequence.

Yes, Jacob becomes blessed, but it fractures the family.

The consequence is that his brother becomes furious at him, putting all his energy into seeking violent revenge.

Yes, Jacob may be blessed but now his father, afraid that one son will kill another, sends Jacob away.

Yes, Jacob may be blessed, but he flees and runs away. For 20 years he is separated from his family. For 20 years he does not get to see mother or father.

For 20 years he experiences his own foibles, he is tricked by an uncle and he endures hardships that he may not have experienced if he hadn’t fooled his father.

But here’s the amazing thing- God finds some way to work through all this messiness, all this chaos, all this extreme dysfunction.

God finds a way to work through all the family fractures and fissures even when it seems they are too, too broken to be fixed.

Which raises the question- do all things happen for a reason or is God able to work through all things?

I personally, pastorally prefer the 2nd option.

I believe that God does have a plan; God does have an idea of where things are going, God is working to make things happen.

But I do not believe that God is controlling all things; we are not puppets- we are not Walt Disney animatronics machines.

I believe that we have free will; we have options, we have choices; we are flawed and faithful; we are actors and acted-upon.

God has plans to bless and to redeem, to create and rebuild, to judge and to save, and that we all get to play a part.

And that even when we make a mistake, even when we misstep, God has a way to work through that.

Even if we are deceived or are the deceiver, God has a way to work through that.

Even if we get to stay where we are or have to run away for 20 long years, God has a way to work through that.

Shoot, if God could work through 3 nails, a cross and a sealed off tomb, God can work through anything.

Does that mean the ways in which God works will be easy? No.

Does that mean the paths will be direct, free of zigzags and unexpected dead-ends? No.

Does it mean we won’t get in our own way or God’s way from time to time?


But what it means is that if God could speak nothingness into creation, God can work through any situation.

That means if God could place a mark of grace upon Cain and ensure the continuation of the human story, God can work through any family drama.

That means that even if fathers are fooled, mothers are worried, and brothers are upset, God can still find a way to construct a ladder to heaven and to allow blessings to come on down.

The characters in the Old Testament are not plastic saints. They are recognizable sinners. But- they are our recognizable sinners.

And it’ll be through the crazy mess of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob that’s we’ll experience Joseph and Judah, Boaz and King David, Solomon and Mary’s husband Joseph.

It is through this Peyton Place of people that we will get Jesus Christ; the brother who restores us all; the brother who gladly gives up so that we can gain; the brother through which we truly get to understand and appreciate the gift of grace.

Isn’t it good to know that even when things get rocky, God has a way to smooth things out?

Isn’t it good to know that even when we are not at our best, God finds a way to make the best out of it?

Isn’t it good to know that no matter what, God is still God?

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

When I Realized I Could be the Threat

If you know me, you've heard me talk of Grace Temple Deliverance Church in Mpls, MN. I worshipped there from 1994-1998 and it's perhaps the most formative experience in my faith development outside of seminary. Rev. Dr. Willa Grant Battle was and still is the pastor. Gospel composer Doris Akers ("There's a Sweet, Sweet Spirit In This Place") was the Director of Music before she died. I proudly trace my Christian lineage through these two outstanding women of God.

The very moment I stepped in Grace Temple, I knew, I just knew, that this was the place I had been looking for all my life. To this day I still recall the 1st sermon I heard Dr. Battle preach. For the next 5 years I would be one of the few white people in this black, Pentecostal church. I'd still be, if I had not moved back to New York.

Long story short, I church shopped, found Sayville UCC, became a member and attended Eden Theological Seminary, graduating in 2005; called to my 1st church and ordained in 2005.

But Grace Temple Deliverance Church will always be my home. Where I learned how to bring my Bible to church, to show respect to God through the clothes I wore, to eat chitlins, collards and smoked turkey, and to let go of my ego and make way to the altar to be vulnerable enough to have someone pray over me.

In return, the members of Grace Temple called forward my gifts, asking me to pray, to say a word before the offering, to help with Youth Sunday etc.

It's been years since I've been back to Grace Temple, but when I do return it is as a son, and since I am ordained, Rev. Dr. Battle always has me sit right beside her.


To this day, the place I feel most spiritually nourished is in the black church. I can't tell you why, but I get it. I get the kinetics, I get the prayers, I get the songs to the point that after hearing one verse I am able to sing along. I get the the message of perseverance and resilience in the face of obstacles.

I get the songs and stories of triumph even in the midst of despair.

But it's been years since I've worshipped at a black church; I can give many excuses, but that's all they are.

However, after the events in S.C., I knew it was time. Verification came when I received an e-mail from the local clergy group announcing our newest member- Rev. Laura White from Greater Mt. Zion AME. I wrote her a letter; a week later she called. We talked as if we already knew each other.

Today, when worship and fellowship at my church was over, I made my way to Mt. Zion AME. Made sure to wear my suit so people knew I was legit. Carried my Bible (NRSV). Walked into the building...

...and it hit me.

All the years I've worshipped in black churches I was aware of my whiteness. But I quickly got over it, as I knew the worshippers did not care the color of my skin.

But today I became aware that for some, my whiteness could possibly be a threat.

A few weeks ago a white man walked into a black church and after an hour of prayer opened fire. How could the folks of Mt. Zion AME know I was safe? Was it possible I, in my white skin, could make everyone around me, fearful?

Thankfully, Rev. Laura White is a true woman of God. She raised her ushers up right. Instantly, I was warmly greeted. Instantly I was asked to fill out a visitor card. Instantly, she had an elder come and invite me to join her in the chancel. I declined, stating I wanted to be a participant. Then, as typical in black churches, visitors were given a chance to stand and speak, and when I did, and said who I was, I knew, I knew I could let those worries go.

And then- well then we worshipped. We sang. We tithed. We had altar call. We celebrated communion. We heard a message on Joshua 24 with e message that said "It's Time to Get Serious." Rev. White made it plain- we don't need to wait until we're perfect to go to church because "God wants you're 60% so God can give you the other 40%!"

I had already experienced church this morning as the pastor of Emmanuel UCC in Sebring, FL. But later on I got to experience church as someone who was ready for God's 40%, 50%, 60% and so on.

And it felt good.

At service's end, Rev. White and I talked of how to continue an ecumenical relationship. Hopefully she will come worship at EUCC; I plan to go back to Mt. Zion.

But the lesson I learned for today is that for the first time in my worship life I realized I could be seen as a dangerous entity. I didn't like how that felt. It means there is plenty of work to be done. It means there is plenty of work to be done.

Lord, help us to get it done. Lord, help me to do my part.

Amen and amen.

Our Brother's Blood is Crying Out; July 5, 2015 sermon; Genesis 4:1-16

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 4:1-16
July 5, 2015

Brothers in arms: soldiers fighting together; a comrade in a shared struggle.

This week the Tribune ran a story about a reunion between Marines who survived an explosion in Afghanistan.

It was July 6, 2011 and Mike Nicholson and Mike Hernandez stood in a field together. Nicholson stepped on a bomb; without hesitation Hernandez entered a cloud of dust and pulled his brotha from another motha out and into safety.

A less brave and honorable man would have allowed his brother in arms to bleed out and die on the field, but that was not the case.

On July 1, 2015 they reunited in Tampa. Nicholson healed, though missing his left arm and both legs. Hernandez, standing in the lobby of the airport.

The same day the Tribune ran another story about another kind of comrade in a time of struggle: Nicholas Winton.

Winton, who died at age 106, was responsible for saving Jewish children from the sinful hate and violence of the Nazis.

He was just 29 at the time, a clerk at the London Stock Exchange. Valuing life and believing it was better to do something than to waste time agonizing over it, he took it upon himself to convince his country to care for the children.

In total, over 650 Jewish sisters, brothers, siblings were spared from spilling their blood due to the horrors of the Holocaust.

It is good to celebrate the good that folk do in the face of evil and life-threatening situations.

Sadly, we know all too well from the events of last month that evil, hate, sin, and violence still exist and are not quick to go away.

We can stay silent, but what’s the cost when the blood spilt by a brother is crying out from the ground?

On June 17th we experienced a perverse antithesis of brothers in arms, when Dylan Roof entered the holy space and the holy time of Emanuel AME Church and opened fire, killing many of those present; people who no-doubt welcomed him as a brother, unaware of the danger that lay lurking within his troubled soul.

For weeks now we have been hearing about and discussing the horrid event, and the complexity of issues swirling around it.

But in order to move forward and for our nation to heal, we have to be honest that the Emanuel murders were an act of hate, an act of violence, an act of jealous dislike that pounced like a lion lying in wait at the door.

It’s a tiresome truth that the more things change the more they stay the same.

It’s Cain and Abel all over again.

This archetypal story is about brother on brother hatred and crime; the first time the word “sin” is actually mentioned in the Bible.

It’s a story in which each and every sentence carries the weight of the world.

Cain and Abel are the world’s first siblings; brothas from the same motha.

Cain favors the life of a farmer, working the land which produces much fruit and vegetables.

Abel admires the life of a cowboy, raising livestock full of tasty fat.

Who knows why God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s on that fateful day.

Sometimes you just don’t want a salad; maybe God’s nose enjoyed the smell of BBQ.

But oh, does that upset Cain-so much that he can kill. The irony cannot be lost-the one who would appear to be the hippie vegetarian is so hate-filled he thinks the only answer is to spill his brother’s blood.

Note how God is all-too-aware of what’s going on in Cain’s mind. Note how God, fully aware of what Cain is capable of, still has compassion.

God tries the best God can to curtail the events. “Cain- why so mad; why do you look so upset?”

“Hate is hunting you like a hungry hog, but if you just let it go, you’ll have won, and tomorrow I’ll gladly eat some of your corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes and turnip greens.”

“But Cain, dear Cain, do not let sin suck you in and cause you to do something you can never take back.”

Sadly, Cain invites his brother out to his own self-created battlefield and detonates his own IED, senselessly killing Abel.

In this archetypal story, Eve is not only the first woman to experience the joy of motherhood, but she is also the first to experience the pain.

This archetypal story makes clear that more often than not the most dangerous people in our lives are sadly the ones we know and the ones from our own family.

It also makes clear, that when we inflict our own hate, our jealousy, our insecurities upon another, all of creation suffers, as Abel’s blood cries out from the ground.

But so as not to totally depress us and to destroy our sense of hope for the world, there is also a sliver of grace.

Yes, Cain is expelled from his home. Yes, he will now have to toil as a consequence for giving into the sin.

But God does not completely abandon Cain.

God places a mark upon Cain. A mark that says “He is mine, and I AM his.”

A mark that says “Although you can never undo what you have done, although you chose not to be your brother’s keeper, I WILL keep you.”

Grace. Grace. Grace. Even when Cain refused to bestow it upon his own.

This is akin to Jesus saying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

You know what’s another sign of God’s amazing grace- that it is through Cain, this perverter of brothers-in-arms, that God starts the restoration of God’s relationship with humankind.

Cain-the jealous; Cain- the subservient of sin; Cain- the murderer, who gets another chance by God to live, to get things right, to build a city, and to carry on the human story.

God could have stopped it all right there on the battlefield that day. God could have forced Cain to face his own IED, his own Holocaust, but God did not.

Because of God’s grace, Cain got to live another day; and so do we.

Like Cain we have our own relations to contend with. We have our own relations to choose if we will coexist with or to combat.

For example, we have our UCC brothers. How are we relating with them; what are we doing right? What can we be doing better?

What about our Christian sisters in Sebring? How are we doing in terms of ecumenical activity?

Have we been working together and sharing our resources, or have we been saying “You take care of the vegetables, you take care of the fruit, you take care of the meat, but let’s leave each other alone.”

What about our siblings from out-of-state and those who are born right here or who’ve made Highlands County their permanent home?

Because truth be told, sometimes there seems to be too much of a distinction and action as if one is better than the other; that one sibling may be smarter than the other; or more American than the other; and so on.

What about our kin of color? Those who are black, Hispanic, Haitian, Asian? Those whose ancestors were here thousands of years ago and those who recently arrived.

Are we aware that there are communities beyond Hammock Road and 27, and that our kin of color are more than just people whose only role on earth is to care for us in the hospital, pick oranges for our juice or to serve us at the supermarket?

Are we aware that although the issues at hand are complex, we have siblings for whom:

the Confederate flag hurts;

that the murders at Emmanuel mean more than talking heads on TV stations;

that each arrest, killing and incarceration of a son, a sista, a brotha, or a daughter feels like a cut to the skin;

that the ability to marry the one in whom one loves means more than what one’s sex is???

…Thousands of years ago Cain allowed sin to creep into his life and he killed his brother.

Thousands of years later it continues to happen again and again and again and again.

God was speaking to Cain than; God is still speaking to us now.

What do you think God is trying to say?

What is it you think God wants us to do?

When does the blood of our brother, our sister, our sibling, our kin stop spilling on the field?

When do the mothers, the fathers, the earth stop crying out?

How much more do we have to lose?

When do we stop agonizing over it and do something, anything about it?

Amen and amen.