Saturday, August 22, 2015

Was Jesus Canadian? Aug 23, 2015 sermon; Mark 5:21-43

Rev. George Miller
Mark 5:21-43
August 23, 2015

Last week, Rev. White preached about being on the road to Jericho. Today, Jesus is on another kind of road, a road full of folk pressing in, following him, caught up in the promise of his presence. Folk who are leaders, sinners, mourners and those dealing with the chronic conditions of life.

Previously, Jesus was confronted by a man living with an unclean spirit. This time, he is confronted by the uncleanliness of a woman hemorrhaging blood and the uncleanliness of a dead young girl.

Earlier this month I stated that Jesus was provocative. That what he said, did and taught led him one step closer to the cross.

There are at least two different kinds of provocative people. There are those who provoke and rock the boat for the sake of others, to make the Kingdom of God a bit more real, and to bring about much needed, positive change.

Then there are those who are provocative simply for the sake of provoking. To shock, offend, to dominate, and to make it all about them.

We certainly experienced some provocative behavior this political season, especially during the debates broadcast on FOX, especially from Donald Trump.

By now we’re all aware of the question moderator Megan Kelly asked him about some of his misogynistic statements. We also know that the following night on CNN, Trump said “You could see there was blood
coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

Trump says he said nothing wrong. Instead he’s blaming everyone else for the backlash that has occurred, blaming Kelly, blaming the media, blaming the other candidates.

But no amount of blaming can erase what Trump said. He wanted to make Kelly look like she was in the wrong, so he turned to blood, and regardless of what he thinks he meant, at least 50% of the US population knows exactly what he was inferring.

If blood could be used to shame and silence enlightened folk in 2015 America, imagine how much more so blood was used to shame and silence people 2,000 years ago in Israel.

So today we are on the road with Jesus. On this road we meet other provocative people.

Let’s start with Jairus. He’s a husband; he’s a father. And right now his little girl is ill, very ill; to the point of death. He comes to Jesus in hopes that she may be made well.

But Jairus does not just ask, he begs; he pleads. He is tenacious like a mustard weed.

He falls onto the road; he grovels at Jesus’ feet and implores him not once, not twice, but many times to help.

Sure, we can say Jairus is a devoted father willing to do anything to save his little girl. But there is more going on.

Jairus is not just anybody; he’s a somebody. He’s a religious figure, a leader at a house of worship. It’s assumed he has his own close connection with the Almighty. He’s the one people come to asking for assistance.

Which means that by coming to Jesus for help, by throwing himself at his feet, Jairus has just placed his entire reputation at stake.

He has publicly acted in a way that’s seen as shameful; he has acted in a way that would bring humiliation.

He is a man who has everything to lose, and yet he is willing to do whatever it may take so his daughter can experience life.

Whereas Jairus is a man who has everything to lose, the unnamed woman is at the point of her life where she has nothing left to lose.

For 12 years she’s been bleeding out, and the doctors cannot make her well.

For 12 years she has spent every cent, every dime, every dollar she has seeking a solution: cat-scans, co-pays, referrals, prescriptions, alternative medicine, the Mayo Clinic.

Nothing has helped; in fact it’s become worse.

She’s not just bleeding out physically and financially, but for 12 years she’s been living with the shame of being seen as unclean and ritually impure.

This would have prevented her from entering a house of worship; this would prohibit her from attending block parties and street fairs.

No doubt she would have encountered her own set of Trumps talking smack about her and shaming her on how she’s bleeding from her “wherever”.

Yet here she is, tenacious like a mustard weed, amongst the people, trusting that if she just touches the clothes of Jesus she will be made well.

And what happens? Jesus refers to her compassionately as “daughter” and tells her to go in peace and healing.

And Jairus? Jesus travels with him along the road to his house where they meet mourners grieving the death of his daughter.

Jesus tells them “Do not fear, but believe” and brings the girl back to life.

Wonderful stories that should make us feel oh so good about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…but remember- I believe Jesus was provocative and everything he did brought him one step closer to the cross.

How could healing a woman be a bad thing? How could telling people not to be afraid make anyone angry?

Well, let us think for a moment.

Let’s move these stories into present time. Let’s place Jesus along Highway 27 by Lake Jackson. Better yet, let’s place Jesus right in front of the CVS.

Could you imagine the ruckus Jesus would cause if he was out there, healing people simply by their faith alone?

There would be no need for people to come in to pick up or drop off their prescriptions. No need for ACE bandages. No need for aspirin or cough drops.

How much business would CVS lose in one day if Jesus himself was standing by the doors, with a crowd of folk surrounding him?

The fact that faith in Jesus can bring healing sounds good, but if Jesus was indeed here today, there’d be no need for doctors or specialists. No HMO’s or co-pays or inflated emergency room fees, and none of the urgent care offices that have been popping up all over town.

Why, if Jesus was here, he’d be offering free health care to all. Wait…I didn’t realize Jesus was Canadian!

Can we begin to hear a bit more how provocative Jesus really is, and why there were leaders who did not like him?

Jesus gives life to the daughter of Jairus. How can that be bad? He tells the crowd not to fear, but believe. How can that be provocative?

It is if you’re a business owner or a politician or a religious leader who gains your power and makes your money based off of people’s fear.

Imagine Jesus as the lead reporter for a newspaper. Put him on the news as an anchor. Better yet, put him on FOX.

Could you imagine if all the stories Jesus shared were about hope; if every story he covered was about how the Kingdom of God is here?

If instead of telling stories about a random attack in a movie-theater or an abducted child or a rare shark attack, he instead shared the news that we are now living in the safest time of human history?

Could you imagine Jesus saying “Do not fear: fewer people are dying in war, violent crime has dropped 48%, homicide has dropped 50%, and of the 115 kids abducted each year by strangers, 90% of them are returned within 24 hours.”

No one would buy it. They’d laugh at him and debate. The truth is, crime and violence has gone way down, but the advent of TV, radio, internet, social media has increased reporting and made it known immediately.

And fear is power. Fear sells papers. Fear increases ratings. Fear sells products. Fear dictates government spending.

Fear keeps people in their place, feeling helpless and easy to control.

To live with hope instead of fear means more kids on the street playing. It means more bicycles at the park with jungle gyms being utilized, and it would mean knowing more about your neighbor.

To live with hope instead of fear means there would be less need for cops, less jails, less defense spending, less security systems, and way less cell phones per family.

Fear also distracts us from the real issues.

Don’t believe this? 115 children may be kidnapped this year, but 1,300 will die in a car accident. Yet what would happen to the auto industry if we said that?

We are a nation concerned about safety, so much so that the security industry is reported to make $350 billion dollars.

That’s a lot of money to be lost if folk stop living in fear.

Look at Highland County’s budget which spends 32% on public safety, but only 4% on human services and it’s been decided to put off hiring new paramedics for 3 months.

Here’s an exercise for anyone to see how much of our news is fear based- for one week try not to read any articles about war, crime, ISIS, police brutality and possible hurricanes and only stick to the feel good articles that offer hope and inspiration.

See how long that lasts and how difficult it is to do.

During the presidential candidate season, listen to how much of the discussion and debates are based on fear and perceived threats, from terrorists, illegal aliens, gays getting married, and a female Democrat running for president.

Have we heard any candidate run on the platform of hope? Have we heard any candidate evoke images of the Kingdom of God?

In today’s story, Jesus offers free health care to a woman and he restores life to the daughter of a public figure, assuring people that it is better to believe than to fear.

This is the radicalness of Jesus Christ. This is the radical nature of being a Christian.

This very provocative, progressive notion that in Jesus Christ:
-we can be healed
-we can be fearless.

Today’s story places us on the road with Jesus. Are we willing to mix and mingle with people different from us, people who are hurting, wounded, bleeding out?

On the road with Jesus are we willing to mix and mingle with people of authority, with people who have nothing left to lose, people in pain, people in loss, people confronting death and grief head on?

On the road with Jesus are we willing to let go of fear and to believe?

Are we willing to let the sick become well? The fearful to become brave? The dead to experience new life? The mourners to rejoice?

Are we willing to find ways to play our part in making God’s Kingdom more evident to those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to welcome?

In Christ, are we willing to allow healing and hope to pave the road we travel?

If so, let us say “amen.”

*Crime info taken from As always, consider the source & do your own research

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Speaking About Mental Illness; a sermon on Mark 1:21-28 from Aug. 9, 2015

Rev. George Miller
Mark 1:21-28
August 9, 2015

When beginning seminary the professor of Pastoral Care, Dr. Peggy Way stated “We are biological, chemical creatures dealing with the chronicity of life.”

14 years later this quote still resonates.

It’s a reminder that all the people we meet are complex humans made up of all these different, magnificent, finite pieces that work, don’t work, age, break down and require more than just prayers and positive thoughts.

We are complex, intricate, knowable and all together mysterious.

So when we say “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” we are making a bigger, bolder statement than we realize…and that we may not always be prepared to follow through on.

For a church or a pastor to say “Accept that you are accepted” is a big deal, but what does that mean, what does it look like and are there any caveats?

This became clear during the recent General Synod. Among the topics were dismantling systems of racism and welcoming those who are transgendered.

It became clear that the UCC’s Open and Affirming campaign has moved beyond the topic of gays and lesbians being welcomed and into newer territory.

One group of people the UCC is being proactive in welcoming is those living with and affected by the reality of mental illness.

Mental illness is not something we talk about in mass gatherings with bullhorns and catchy slogans.

Often times the topic is talked about in private, with hushed tones, if at all.

There is often a sense of silence, shame or guilt. Yet it is a reality, affecting 1 in every 4 people, and appearing throughout many of the folk we have locked up in jail or who are homeless on the street.

Our former Regional Conference Minister, Rev. Sarah Lund, taught a workshop. In it, she shared her family history, as told in her book Blessed are the Crazy.

Rev. Lund talked of her father, a smart, charismatic man who ran a successful business, raised a family and made every day a thrilling moment.

But darkness crept in, as there became mood swings, difficult moments and abuse. As Rev. Lund wrote, she had to learn that “normal doesn’t include lots of yelling, lots of sleeping or lots of beating.”

Her father, as it turns out, was living with bi-polar disorder. Things became so intense her mother fled with the kids and her dad became one of the homeless statistics.

In her book, Rev. Lund asks the difficult, provocative question: “If God is in all places and is present at all times, is God in mental illness?”

At the workshop, people talked of their own realities: a young woman who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a church dealing with a possible narcissist, a spouse receiving medical care who finds the word “crazy” to be offensive.

Rev. Lund shared a statistic- that 50-60% of people with mental health issues will go to their pastor first, seeking spiritual care.

Yet few churches have a mental health professional as an advisor or on a committee. Nor do many churches talk about this reality or have many parishioners openly share their reality.

Every week I get requests for prayers, but I have yet to hear someone say “Pastor, can you put me on the prayer list because I’m going to a psychologist?”

People will share their cancer diagnoses, but I have not had anyone say “I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness.”

No one has come up to me to say “I’ve begun a new set of psycho-tropic drugs, can you bless a prayer shawl for me?”

A few brave people have told me their stories or about loved ones living with addiction or personality disorders, but overall in regards to mental illness it has been a mask of silence and secrecy.

But there is hope, and the winds of change.

During Synod, Resolution #6 was passed: “Developing Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged Congregations for Mental Health.”

It was a time in which our denomination came together in agreement and support. A speaker asked for all those affected by mental illness to stand, and virtually the entire conference center was on their feet, me included.

As Rev. Lund shared, “We are as sick as our secrets” and one way to break the silence and to take down the masks we wear is to “start by naming and owning our story.”

Speaking the truth about mental illness is a brave frontier that our denomination is traveling upon.

Knowing that over 63 million American’s live with it, and about half go without treatment, it is time to start dismantling the silence, shame and feelings of guilt that can come with the reality of mental illness.

My family knows this reality all too well. I had a cousin who was institutionalized, a great-grandfather who attempted suicide, a cousin who had a nervous break-down, and my aunt who was living with schizophrenia.

My aunt has left the biggest imprint upon me. Aunt Margie was gorgeous. She looked like a glamorous Hungarian princess, with upswept platinum hair. She could have passed as a Gabor sister and while growing up she had all the boys calling upon her.

In her twenties she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. This was back in the day when people were treated with electro-shock and my mom used to take her.

When Aunt Margie was on, she was captivating, but when she was off- watch out.

I grew up hearing the hushed stories that adults don’t think kids pay attention to, such as how one morning my uncle woke up with a butcher knife pointed at him.

There was a holiday gathering I was present at in which Aunt Margie was like a person possessed, threatening my grandmother and being taken away by the cops.

We’d get cards from her that looked as if they were done by a child. Mom would get phone calls that were more like prank calls rather than a conversation with a loved one.

Eventually, my aunt became so unstable our family cut off all conversation and contacts. I’d hear stories about how she was walking around town, looking like a homeless Raggedy Ann and the possibility that she was prostituting herself.

…I wonder if my aunt was aware of what was happening, and if so, how scary was it for her?

I wonder if she felt the sting of being alone; if she felt abandoned by my family; if she missed seeing me and my siblings grow up?

My parents thought that by severing all ties with Aunt Margie, she would not be in our lives. The truth is that in her absence she was always present.

Sadly, all these years later I barely recall the very human, ordinary things about her, like the 4th of Julys we spent swimming in the pool and grilling in the backyard.

A few weeks ago a parishioner asked if there was anything in my life that I’d do over.

I wish that I had stayed in contact with Aunt Margie; to have visited, written or called.

I wish I had the professional training I have now so I could have spent time with her, to see beyond her diagnosis, and to let her know I not only loved her, but accepted her.

I now grieve that I had an aunt who stopped existing after I was 9 even though she lived until I was in my early 30’s.

Aunt Margie may have been living with schizophrenia, but she was my aunt.

I say Aunt Margie’s name to drop the mask and to shatter the silence. I shared this difficult truth because today we have a difficult scripture.

It’s the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is at the synagogue teaching and just blowing people away with how much he knows and how powerful his presence is.

Immediately a man cries out “Why are you bothering us Jesus? Have you come to kick us out, Holy One of God?”

He is an unnamed man living with an unclean spirit within him. He is also the first to know just who Jesus is and the powerful healing that comes with his name.

“Stop the restlessness,” Jesus commands the spirit, “And leave that man be.”

After much crying and convulsions, the entity leaves the man and those in the synagogue are amazed.

Modern ears have a hard time with this story. It is difficult for some to believe. Are we to see this as a scene from The Exorcist or is there something else going on here?

Many of today’s progressive scholars don’t really believe in the existence of the demonic. Demons and the work of the devil are not topics the UCC typically talks about.

Those with medical backgrounds may describe this as an ancient account of an encounter with someone living with an extreme form of mental illness.

Either way we wish to perceive this story, one tract of thought is clear- Jesus in his compassionate way of being, is not one to be afraid of someone who is different.

Jesus is not about to ostracize or shame an innocent other. Nor is Jesus about to let himself be victimized or ignore the situation.

Jesus approaches the man with authority, with understanding, and with courage and says the words that need to be said; words that can bring wholeness and healing.

Instead of allowing this man to suffer alone or to be cut off from communion with the others, Jesus does something about it.

Jesus speaks. He breaks the silence. He interacts with the man and his spirit.

Jesus offers a chance of well-being. He accepts the man even if he seems to be unacceptable.

Jesus does an act that makes the Kingdom of God more present not just to the unclean spirit or to the man, but to all who are there.

Jesus seizes upon an opportunity that appears to be scary and makes it safe.

Jesus seizes upon a situation that’s illogical and brings about order.

So why have I not preached on this scripture before? Why don’t we talk about this kind of story more often?

It’s different. It’s difficult. It goes against common sense.

And yet…and yet every day we hear the stories about people doing extreme things that seem to make no sense at all.

The depressed mother who drives her car with her children into the ocean.

The comedian who commits suicide.

The teacher arrested for pedophilia.

The loner who enters a house of worship and guns the people down.

The TV father who’s been drugging and raping women for years all while telling young black men to pull their pants up.

All of these are situations in which someone clearly is living with an unclean spirit and with the reality of a mental illness or a personality disorder.

Then there are the more mundane, quiet forms of mental illness, the kind many experience: the grieving widower who simply can’t move beyond his wife’s death.

The teen dealing with mild depression and understandable angst. The friend suffering from anxiety in making major life choices.

Sometimes we don’t get it, or we make fun of it, or we become irate, but the root causes of some people’s behaviors go back to the reality that we are all biological, chemical creatures dealing with the chronicity of life.

Does a mental health diagnosis excuse what happens? Does it wipe away any hurt that’s caused? Does it replace lives lost or relationships fractured?


But knowing about the reality of mental illness and the ability to talk about it, allows for understanding, allows for compassion. It allows for grace and it allows Jesus to enter in and to bring about change.

…So, we have been talking about mental illness, talking of General Synod, talking of my Aunt Margie, talking of the demon being rebuked.

We’ve done enough talking. Now, what is the Good News?

The Good News is that the UCC is not afraid of discussing the topic of mental illness. Nor are we a denomination that wants to exclude, punish or ignore those in our lives and community who are living with this reality.

The Good News is that if you are living with mental illness, you are not alone.

The Good news is that if your family has its own Aunt Margie, you are not alone.

If you are affected by someone in your life living with mental illness, you are not alone.

In Christ, no one is alone. In Christ, no one has to feel ashamed.

Jesus meets us where we are, as we are and speaks in such a way that healing comes about, casting out what needs to be cast out.

Silencing what needs to be silenced. Restoring what needs to be restored.

All this to ensure that we can enjoy full lives in God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

As Christians we are not created to ignore, turn our back or to demonize another. We are called to love them.

To offer the opportunity for healing and wholeness. To welcome them into the community.

Yes, there are those who are as chaotic as a storm at sea and can seem demon possessed.

But one of the first steps of grace and hope we can offer is to say “We accept you and accept that you are accepted.”

What this means is that as Christians we can call upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit to allow for patience and grace, gentleness and love, speaking the truth and offering open arms.

It means that for some people we may need to create boundaries and safe-guards but within those boundaries we allow room to grow and mistakes to be made.

It means not making excuses for people or treating them as incapable of making correct choices, but allowing for compassionate accountability.

It also means accepting the fact that we are not the messiahs who will single-handily bring about change and redemption, but that it is God through Christ who can transform, cast out and restore.

In the mean time, for those living with mental illness either personally or in their lives, we offer our patience, our listening ear, our loving heart, and a hand to hold.

As sisters and brothers in Christ, we say “It is not as dark as you think and you are not as alone in this as you may feel.”

Starting today, we can embrace our name: Emmanuel- God is with Us, and to support resolution #6, and to find our own way to speak about mental illness.

In doing so, we can reduce the shame, reduce the secrecy, reduce the feeling of guilt that some may hold onto.

In doing so, we participate in God’s Kingdom being grander than we ever could have realized.

In Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God, let us all say “Amen.”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Invasive Kingdom of God? Sermon for Aug 2, 2015, Matthew 13:31-35

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 13:31-35
August 2, 2015

What is the Kingdom of Heaven, and who is this Jesus fellow that tells parables about how it’s like mustard seeds or yeast that has been hidden in flour?

For the past month we’ve explored the people who populated the Old Testament. The next three months we’ll explore the Gospels and our image of Jesus.

Today’s scripture is a good starting point. As we begin this seeking-out process I want to make two statements. These are my views, shaped by years of study:

1- I believe that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, he’s not focusing on a place we may go after we die, but a way of living right here, right now on earth.

I believe Jesus was concerned with the well-being of God’s Creation, which includes, but is not limited to people, with human bodies and human concerns,

such as having food to eat, a place to live, and the ability to live healthy lives, be it physically, mentally and socially.

2- I believe that Jesus was not all warm and cuddly, and that things he said were often meant to provoke, to get people to think, and to challenge the way in which they live and co-exist with the world.

I believe that because Jesus was crucified, we have to realize everything he said had something that made many people uncomfortable and afraid.

Because of this, I believe there are those who call themselves Christian who would crucify Jesus again if he was amongst us.

With my unapologetic views laid out, let’s take a look at today’s scripture.

Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, or to put it another way, how the Kingdom of God appears here on earth.

He talks of a mustard seed, which was considered the smallest seed of all. The smallest, but it can grow over 12 feet tall.

He talks of yeast hidden in flour, which would produce enough bread for 150 people.

That’s a lot of height for such a small seed, and that’s a lot of dough. It all sounds so good, so satisfying, and so, so extravagant.

But remember- I believe Jesus provoked and said things that brought him closer to the cross.

So here’s the deal: back then mustard was seen as a weed. They were tenacious and strong; once mustard starts growing, it’s nearly impossible to root out or control.

Like crab grass; like the greening that has taken place within our orange groves.

So Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to a weed that takes hold and can’t be rid of.

So here’s the deal: we may like yeast to make our Panera Bread taste so good, but back in Jesus’ day, yeast was a symbol of decay and corruption.

When the Israelites prepared to be freed from Pharaoh’s grasp, they celebrated the 1st Passover with instructions to remove all yeast from their homes and to only eat unleavened bread. This observance was to happen for all other future high holy days.

So this parable equating the Kingdom of God to being like yeast is bound to raise some eyebrows.

Not to mention, in the original Hebrew, the woman does not “mix” the yeast with the flour, she “hid” the yeast, inferring a sense of stealth and secrecy.

So Jesus is equating the Kingdom to an act of trickery, deconstruction and a fungus.

Can you begin to hear how Jesus provoked?

Can you understand why some religious and political leaders thought the cross was the right thing to do?

Yes, we can say Jesus is talking about the unexpected ways in which the Kingdom of Heaven surprises us, but it also sounds like the Kingdom can be outright invasive.

Invasive: that word has been swimming through my mind since last Saturday, when my friend Dan took me on a trip through the Everglades.

What a memorable day that was.

Dan picked me up in his wife’s SUV. It had no air-conditioning and decals that read “Redneck Girl” and “Flo-Grown” with Florida in the shape on a handgun.

We stopped at Golden Coral for breakfast and ate friend chicken, fried bacon and fried corn nuggets.

Then we drove for 360 miles round trip. We shared stories. I learned that Dan is a hunter and fisherman who sincerely cares about the environment.

He assists on surveying deer, checking to make sure they aren’t starving or diseased. He works at check-point stations to ensure hunters have followed the proper laws.

Dan cares about well being of the alligators and the rare, endangered tree snails.

He worries about the invasive species that threaten the Everglades. He has a phone app to report where such species turn up.

He has a full hunter’s license so he can do his part is limiting the number of pythons that have slithered into the swamp.

He may fish for sport and food, but he also fishes to limit the number of exotic fish that have found their ways into our waters and decimate the eco-system.

Once in the Everglades, we slowly drove down a 23 mile dirt road, stopping to see the alligators, the hatchlings and the gar.

I learned to be aware of where I went and to use my ears, so there was no need for cell phones or i-Tunes to entertain.

I learned to use my eyes and to train them for what to look for, because you never know what lies right below the surface.

A log can look like an alligator; a resting gator can look like a piece of wood. Soon everything began to look like something.

Right away, I got to see the invasive species, like the Mayan cichlids that came out of nowhere in packs and would strike anything, even an empty hook.

Shells after shells after shells of African snails that lined the canals.

Even something as unseemly as eucalyptus trees that looked nice, but as Dan explained, quickly spread and choked out the growth of the native trees.

It made me think, if Jesus was in Florida, would he use the Everglades to make a comparison to the Kingdom of God?

Would Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pet iguana let loose in Davie County that grows to the size of Godzilla?

Would Jesus compare the Kingdom of Heaven to cichlids let loose in the waterways that travel in gangs and eat the other fish?

Would Jesus compare the Kingdom to a Burmese python who lurks in the high grass and consumes an unaware deer quenching its thirst?

Talk about how provocative that is.

But here’s the thing, the mustard seed may be a weed, but in Jesus’ parable, it does co-exist with Creation to become a place where all the birds of the air can build a home.

The yeast may be hidden, but it creates enough daily bread for about 30 families.

These parables may feature secrecy and surprise, but they also feature elements of co-existence and bountiful goodness.

The invasive species in the Everglades do not know how to coexist. They only know how to devour and destroy.

The invasive pythons only know how to consume large numbers of deer and bobcats that have been survived for centuries in a balanced ecosystem.

The invasive snails can wreak havoc on humans, causing liver and brain damage.

The invasive iguanas are treating local vegetation like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

…So, where is the Good News in today’s parables? This is what I believe today’s parables shed light on:

From the perspective of deconstruction, it can mean the ways in God’s Kingdom can dismantle, weed out and attack those things like racism that try to keep a people down.

It can mean how the Kingdom can challenge sexist thoughts about what girls and boys, women and men can and cannot do.

It can means that in the Kingdom, laws limiting who can fall in love, be married and raise a family can be choked out and deemed obsolete.

From the perspective of surprise and abundance, these parables show how God is able to take any situation to make God’s Kingdom’s known here on earth.

For example, how God is able to place a good ol’ boy from the south and a loud-mouthed Yankee into a non-air-conditioned SUV for 14 hours and they have a rip-roaring good time.

How God can work through a horrible recession to bring about economic growth and a thriving local community.

How God can take a church that has 3 young children and create a program in which 16 amazing youth and an equal number of volunteers have the best week ever.

How God can take children who barely know each other, have them gather in the Chapel to bless a prayer shawl for a little girl about to have surgery, and move them to comfort each other through tears and hugs.

How food coloring, flowers and glow sticks in bottles of water can be means to teach children about praying with Jesus.

How empty coffee cans become instruments to make a joyful noise to the Lord.

How waffles dipped in chocolate, buttered ears of corn and deep-fried funnel cakes teach about the extravagant welcome of Jesus Christ.

How through the mystery of the Holy Spirit, even though we may have different opinions and not always agree, we are able to come together to make the Kingdom of God a bit more real.

Heaven is indeed a place on earth, and as Jesus reminds us again and again, how the Kingdom appears, and the ways it makes itself known, will continue to be a surprise.

It may not always make us comfortable, we may not be aware when it’s happening, and it’s more expansive than we can ever imagine.

But the Kingdom of God is real, and it’s always present, and always growing.

Therefore let us have ears to hear, eyes to see, hands to help, minds to not over-think and hearts to welcome.

For all these good things, we can say Amen and amen.