Sunday, December 25, 2016

Imperfect and Broken, yet Beautifully Wonderful; Christmas 2016 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Sermon for 12-25-16
Luke 2:15-20

Recently we had a wedding at Emmanuel.

It was for a young lady who always dreamt of having the perfect wedding. A traditional wedding, in a church, with a white dress, bridesmaids and the happily ever after.

She wanted it just right, with the white floor runner, flower girls, a Unity Candle, and aisles decorated in ribbons.

But, as anyone can imagine, the striving for a perfect wedding can create a lot of stress, sleepless nights, and sadness.

The days leading up to the wedding she couldn’t sleep; the day of the wedding she ran more than 2 hours late.

In the process, she forgot the Unity Candle, the aisle runner, the ribbons, and one of the flower baskets.

But she didn’t forget her exquisite gown made up of 50 pounds of stunning.

Her bridal party wore blue dresses that complimented our window.

Her wife and her best men stood proud and strong in their Army uniforms.

And their wedding was…beautiful. It was wonderful. Sue played gorgeously, the ring bearer paid attention the whole time and responded on cue, and without a doubt the Holy Spirit was present.

After all, a wedding is not about pomp and circumstance, flower baskets and candles- it’s about the covenant made between 2 people in-front of God and their community.

A wedding is the prelude to the marriage, a lifetime event that is more important than any 20 minute ceremony could possibly be.

During the week of the wedding, as the bride worried about getting everything just right, I found myself thinking about a hero of mine, Stephen Sondheim.

Sondheim is a Broadway composer, having created music for “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” and “Into the Woods.”

Sondheim once shared what the creative process was like for one of his shows, called “Sunday in The Park with George.”

He said that the show was imperfect, that there were things that were flawed that they could not figure out how to fix.

Until they did fix them…but then they discovered with the fixes the show became too perfect, it lost its heart, its edge, its soul.

So they restored the play to its original state, and not only did it prove to be a success, but it won the Pulitzer Prize, a rare feat for a musical.

It was in the imperfections of the play that the beauty and wonder shone through.

I personally feel that the same can be said about our reading today, which is Luke’s telling of the Christmas Story.

It is a story that is beautiful, it is a story that is wonderful, however it is not a story that is perfect.

In fact, it is a story that is very broken, about broken people living during an imperfect time experiencing something brand new.

No, Luke does not tell a story of family perfection, nor is it a story of prestige.

It begins in the midst of political turmoil, in which Caesar decides there is a need to do a census. A census, so that no doubt the people can be taxed and the government leaders can be made richer.

Into this political climate of a census, everyone is to return to their family home.

And there is Joseph, with his fiancée Mary. Though they are not married, she was with child.

The scandal of imperfection is present. For there are words for young ladies who are found in such a state.

Though she is nearing the end of her 9 months, there is no where to stay. Family members of Joseph, for whatever reason, are not willing to relinquish a room, a bed, a corner of the kitchen to the unmarried couple.

For who would allow the shame of an unwed mom-to-be in their home?

At least there is the place where the animals are cared for. That should do. Just watch where you step, and cover your nose.

So far nothing about the Christmas story is perfect or prestigious.

Mary gives birth to her 1st born son, and with no proper place to put him, she makes do with a feeding trough for livestock.

In darkness, in a time of danger, angels appear to shepherds with news of the child’s birth. The shepherds make way to Mary and their pay their honor, they pay their respects.

But there is a part of this story I never noticed until Tuesday, a part of the story I never heard anyone else articulate.

Where was Joseph’s family? Where was his kin?

If Bethlehem was the home of Joseph’s descendents, where were his uncles, his aunties, his 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins?

Why wasn’t Joseph’s family there?

Did they not know Joseph had come in for the census? Did they not know that his bride-to-be-was pregnant?

Or did they know, and just not…care?

What does it mean to say that the Son of God, the Baby Jesus was born, and he was greeted by working class shepherds, but not by his own kin?

Is that not heartbreaking? Is it not…real?

For anyone here who has had their own share of family issues, for anyone here who may feel alone this Christmas, or neglected by those around you, is it not in some ways affirming that even at his birth Jesus experienced those same things too?

And then, his name- Jesus.

Most people may not realize this, but Jesus was actually a very common name of his day. Jesus was not a unique name at all.

It would be as if he was born in New York and called Tony, or in the South and called Billy Bob, or born in LA and called Trevor.

Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, wasn’t even born with a one-of-a-kind or fascinating name. His name was run of the mill, just like everyone else.

So the birth of Jesus was not a dream. It was not perfect. It was not whole.

His birth was nightmarish. It was imperfect. It was broken.

But here is the thing- just because the birth of Jesus isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

Just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful.

In fact, I find the birth of Jesus to be beautifully wonderful, because it is so real, it is so down-to-earth, it is so what we all go through in our own lives.

Like a wedding, the Christmas story is not about candles or bows or flower baskets. It’s about what does the birth mean to us, and where does it lead.

For me, at this time, at this moment- the birth of Jesus means this-

That God so loved us, that God was willing to enter into our lives even if the means was not always easy, even if the going was tough, even if it was a bit smelly, and lonely.

That the God we worship, the God we are willing to believe in, was willing to enter into our lives and experience the same things we do.

Do you feel like you are living in a time of political confusion?

So does God, because that’s the time Jesus was born into.

Do you feel like your identity is not your own and taxes dominate your life? So does Jesus because that’s the situation that set the stage for his birth.

Ever feel like your wandering, or homeless, or without roots? That’s the existence into which our Savior was born.

Ever feel detached from family, friends, or community? Ever wonder why no one is there for you at your time of need?

That’s the brokenness that Joseph, Mary, and their Son experienced together.

But I am Ok with the Christmas story being imperfect.

Think of how exhausting things are when people try to be perfect; when people try to make everything just right, or to make a dream come true.

Trying to have the perfect wedding. Trying to raise the perfect family. Trying to be the perfect wife, the perfect husband, to have the perfect child.

The stress of trying to create the perfect vacation memory, or cook the perfect meal, or host the perfect party.

The stress of removing all mistakes, trying to erase all the blemishes, to cover all the flaws.

Yet it is often the flaws, the blemishes, the mistakes that makes things the most real, the most honest, the most true.

It is often the bumps in the road, the misplaced ingredients, the forgotten items that create the memories, that make the stories memorable, that create opportunities for something new and unexpected.

Just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

Just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful.

For though the fields were covered in darkness, angels filled the skies and sang their songs of glory.

Though family was nowhere to be seen, good news comes from the unexpected visit of the shepherds.

Though the future was uncertain, and the past not the best, what this Holy Family had was…NOW.

A mother. A father. A new born babe.

Though the birth was not perfect, what exists in the now is possibilities, promise, and…peace.

Emmanuel, God With Us, is born against the odds.

Emmanuel, God With Us, is gently crying in the night.

Emmanuel, God With Us, has entered into our lives to share our experiences, to celebrate our success, and to console our scars.

The Birth of Jesus may not be perfect, it may be broken, but it is beautiful, and it is wonderful.

For that we can say “Amen.”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How Many of Ya'll Know the Tate Family? Sermon for 12/11/16; Matthew 11:2-11

Rev. George Miller
Dec 11, 2016
Matthew 11:2-11

Last week we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of our Sanctuary. January marks the 27th Anniversary of our congregation.

April marks my 7th year of being here; July will mark my 12 years of being a pastor.

During all these years we have all had our share of leadership, volunteering, being part of a team, and not just here at church.

It’s safe to say that we at Emmanuel UCC have an active congregation in which people have been members of other churches, sat on other boards, held other jobs, and volunteered at other non-profits.

And we can all, unequivocally testify, that each and every one of us, no matter where we have been, no matter what we have done, have come across the Tate family.

Ya’ll know the Tate family- they are everywhere.

There is old man Dic-Tate; he likes to run everything and tell people what to do.

While Uncle Ro-Tate tries to change everything.

There’s Sister Agi-Tate who is sure to stir up plenty of trouble with the help of her favorite cousin Irri-Tate.

Lord knows if your organization, board, church, or group try to do something that benefits the good of the community you’ll come across Mr. Hesi-Tate, along with his spouse Vega-Tate, both who like to keep postponing things or creating committees that’ll put things off for another year.

There’s Imi-Tate who tries to be like the popular kids, and the dramatic diva Devas-Tate who is the voice of doom and gloom.

And don’t get me wrong- it’s not that the Tates are a bad bunch.

After all Dic-Tate has a way of getting things done. Ro-Tate keeps things fresh. Agi-Tate can keep people sharp and alert.

Hesi-Tate and Vegi-Tate can prevent others from foolishly running into things.

And let’s not forget the other Tate family members, such as Facili-Tate who is helpful in matters that need clarity and redirection.

And Medi-Tate who is always available to think things over, lend a helpful hand, breath in, breathe out…Namaste.

Yes- we all know the Tate family. They have been around since the beginning of time.

No doubt we see a bit of the Tate’s in the family of Adam and Eve. The Tate’s where right there with Moses and his mob of folk.

And the Tate’s where surely there while John the Baptist and Jesus were doing their separate ministries.

In today’s reading Jesus has been busy doing his thing. People are hearing and seeing things that make the heart proud.

Blind are regaining their sight, the lame are walking, and the lepers are being made clean. Surely a successful ministry of healing and kindness if there ever was one.

But John, who had spent time in the countryside encouraging people to repent and be ready for the Lord, is not so sure Jesus is doing what his job description says.

John had people in the Jordan River being baptized and confessing their sins. He called out the Pharisees and Sadducees as vipers who think they are better than others.

John is expecting the Messiah to come and cut down those who are not bearing good fruit. John is expecting a Messiah who will arrive like a Lion and bring fire and destruction with him.

John in waiting for a Messiah who is more like Dict-Tate or Devis-Tate, who will infiltrate and annihilate…

…but, instead, the Messiah he sees in Jesus, the Messiah that emerges from the waters of baptism, is one who gives sight to the blind, mobility to the wheelchair bound, and clearer skin to those with bad acne.

It’s like John was hoping for General George Patton, and instead he got Doctor Oz.

John expected a Messianic Lion; instead he got a Good Shepherd.

So John is understandably confused. He is in jail because of his actions and the things he has said and done, and with nothing but time on his hand, he sends word to Jesus.

John has his people ask a very simple question: “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or are we waiting for another?”

Now, the Gospel writer does not tell us what Jesus’ reaction was. We know nothing about his body language or tone of voice.

But if we are to see Jesus as fully human, as fully one of us, I think it would be fun to imagine Jesus being like….

“…Dude!...Really? I’m going from city to city teaching and proclaiming and telling these really awesome parables and John wants to know if I’m the one?”

Just picture this- Jesus with his hands and feet dirty from all the walking he’s done. He’s surrounded by people he’s helped. He’s probably been so busy he skipped breakfast and is having a late lunch.

And Jesus, after experiencing a bit of Agi-Tate in John’s question, looks around and points to all he’s done. “The deaf can hear, the poor have good news, and even the dead are coming back to life. What more can John want?”

When read this way, there is great humor and realness in this story. After all, how many of us have had a boss or co-worker question what we are doing.

John’s people go away, and Jesus turns to those around him. In his typical style, conducive of a teacher and religious scholar, Jesus deepens the dialogue by providing his own questions.

“What were you all expecting? Did you go into the wilderness expecting someone who was wishy-washy, who would flip-flop like a reed in the wind?”

“Were you expecting someone in a tower wearing luxurious clothes who is all about pomp and pop?”

“Or,” states Jesus, “Were you expecting a prophet? I tell you, John is amazing. There is no one like him, and there never will be.”

“But the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that is already here and yet to be, has a new way of measuring greatness, and it is not how humans sees things, but how things are seen through Heaven’s Eyes.”

Jesus has an encounter with the Tate family, and instead of caving in, instead of losing faith, he has another way of expressing to the people what his ministry is…

Today we are one step closer to welcoming the birth of the Lord. We have experienced another week of waiting.

We have welcomed the lights of HOPE, PEACE, and JOY. We have talked about the promise of COMFORT, and the truth that life goes on.

Today we are reminded of the radical nature of Jesus Christ. That he was and is the Messiah that was promised. But he did not necessarily arrive as one expected, and he did not always do what people thought a Messiah does.

Advent Season reminds us again and again, and again and again the very freedom of God, the surprising ways in which the Lord enters into our lives and defies what we think, or expect, or demand.

That Emmanuel, God With Us, can enter into our world as a defenseless baby boy.

That Emmanuel, God With Us, can be more focused on healing and restoration than damnation and devastation.

That Emmanuel, God With Us, is not wishy-washy or looking down from a tower, but is right with us, in the midst of our existence.

Tending to our needs. Teaching us how to grow. Telling us that we are loved, and that we are lovely.

How much more could we possibly need?

Yet how much more does God, through Christ do for us?

No matter what the Tate family may say, no matter the wilderness we are in, no matter what we expect or assume, God is with us.

God is ready to do something new. God is ready to surprise us in ways we cannot even begin to expect.

For that we can say “Amen” and “Amen.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Comfort- sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Isaiah 40:1-11
Dec 4, 2016

In our world, there is so much uncertainty. Everything can hang on such a thin, breakable string: finances, health, family.

Fires in TN, shooting at Ohio State, and standing firm at Standing Rock.

With so little to be sure of, the season of Advent brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words: COMFORT.

But first, a story: a family arrived at a local establishment to have a meal, it may have been Dot’s, it may have been Dee’s, it may have been Marley’s or Don Jose’s.

As the mother placed her son, Erik, in his highchair, she noticed how everyone else seemed to be eating and talking quietly.

Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said “Hi!” He pounded his chubby baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes crinkled with laughter; he giggled in merriment.

The mother looked around to see the source of his joy: it was an old man who had clearly seen better days: his shirt was dirty, his hair uncombed, his toes poked out of a pair of sorry-lookin’ shoes.

He waved to the baby. “Hey there, baby. Hi there, big boy. I see you buster.”

The mother and father exchanged looks, not knowing what to do. Erik continued to laugh and say “Hi!”

When their meal came, the parents ate as fast as they could. The old man continued the conversation with the baby: “Do ya patty cake? Do ya peek-a-boo?”

At this point, everyone in the restaurant was glaring at the man; nobody thought this man was cute.

Nobody that is, except for Erik.

With their meal finished, the parents headed to the door. The father went to get the car. The mother took Erik to meet him at the door.

The old man sat poised between them and the exit. “Lord,” she thought to herself, “Just let me out of here before he speaks to us.”

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back so she could avoid breathing in his stench. But as she did, Erik leaned over her arms into a baby’s “pick-me-up” position.

Before she could stop him, Erik had propelled himself into the old man’s arms.

Suddenly a ragged man with sorry-old shoes and a young child with a face full of giggles were in full embrace.

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.

The man’s eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

The mother stood awestruck.

The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and he looked at the mother and said “You take care of this baby.”

Somehow, she managed to say “I will.”

He handed Erik back to her and said “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.”

She could say nothing more then muttered thanks. With Erik in her arms she ran to the car, crying “My God, my God, forgive me.”

That day, the mother and the patrons at the diner had witnessed God’s love made known through the innocence of a tiny child.

A child who showed love with abandon, who passed no judgment, who saw a person while all the others saw a problem…

“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.”

These words speak to us today, just as they did to the people of Israel 3,000 years ago.

These are words spoken for people who had experienced great shame and uncertainty.

They thought that God had forgotten about them. Their lives were a series of trials in which they felt beaten up by life, stuck in a spiritual wilderness, punished for their sins.

But in this sense of spiritual darkness, comes a voice…

A word of hope and encouragement; a powerful proclamation that God was about to do something new.

The people of Israel were going to be delivered, God was going to make a way out of no way, in which obstacles would be overcome and their emptiness eradicated.

God’s word came to them, filled with mystery and hope- “COMFORT.”

“Comfort, O comfort my people.”

Not comfort based on high hopes or wanton wishfulness, but comfort based on God’s eternal love.

Comfort based on the covenants given to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Moses; a promise enthroned with King David and enlarged to include all of the people.

God speaks words of comfort that assures them that as sorry and ragged as they may feel, God has claimed them as God’s own.

This is an intimate bond that no human-caused drama could ever erase.

These words of comfort are words that are spoken again and again, because they are words that are made forever true by God’s promise made long ago to our ancestors.

For us, as Christians, these are words that find their ultimate manifestation in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, although these words were spoken to others long, long ago, and far, far away, they speak to us today.

This Advent, as we wait with joyful anticipation, we also prepare for the gift of comfort, of experiencing how through a child born on Christmas morn, God claims us as God’s own.

That even though we have our own share of wildernesses, worry and woe, we know that our restoration rests in Christ our Lord.

And that although comfort may not be instantly experienced or solve all of our dilemmas, we realize that through Christ, God has entered into our story.

We are gathered, we are fed, and we are carried gently by the Great Shepherd, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the freedom that comes from such awareness.

Advent is about us hopefully waiting for the promise to be fulfilled in a savior who begins as a baby, meek and mild.

The gift of a child, the promise of a King who will govern over a spiritual kingdom where we are seen, we are fed, and we are loved.

That is the meaning of this season

Advent reminds us that through God there is always hope for the world, and that hope comes in the comfort of a child who will reach out to us with laughter and giggles, who will offer us joy and give us rest.

And yes- it does not stop our world from being filled with so much uncertainty. Everything may still seem to hang on a thin, breakable string.

Fires still burn, people still protest, shooters will still shoot.

Yet even with so little to be sure of, this Advent season brings with it the assurance that through it all, a child, a babe, will bring hope to the hopeless, and rest to the restless.

In other words, COMFORT.

Comfort in knowing that God has not forgotten us, that the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and in Jesus Christ we are each compassionately embraced.

For that we can all say “Amen” and “Amen!”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Waiting with the Lord; Matthew 24:46-44 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 24:36-44
November 27, 2016


Waiting seems to becoming more and more a lost way of life.

With the flick of a switch we have light regardless if it’s morning or not.

With the turn of a faucet we can have cold, warm or hot water instantly.

With a spin of the washing machine and a tumble in the dryer, clothes worn all day immediately become fresh and ready to wear once more.

With cell phones we don’t have to wait to get home to hear who called us. With the internet we don’t have to wait for breaking news. With social media we only get but a second before we hear everyone’s knee-jerk thoughts about who, what, where, when, why, and how dare they.

Waiting is a lost way of life. Writing a letter and waiting days, weeks, months to get a response. Then reading, and rereading that letter, treasuring it, and putting it into safe keeping.

Waiting for the new Sears-Roebuck catalogue to come in the mail. Waiting for the Wells Fargo wagon to come into town.

Waiting for the annual showing of “Wizard of Oz” to come on network TV.

I probably grew up during one of the last generations of waiting. And waiting was not always fun. Waiting wasn’t always preferred. Waiting wasn’t always wonderful.

Waiting can be downright boring.

But waiting also meant something.

Waiting added value to an event. For example I recall as a child the time “Alice in Wonderland” came back to the theaters. My Mom cut out the advertisement in the paper. I carried it around for days, going next door my neighbor to share the excitement that soon we’d be going to see it.

Waiting added meaning to what was about to happen. Or the time “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out, years before there were multiplexes.

We had to drive another town. We had to wait in line for an hour just to get our tickets. Then we had to wait in line for another hour just to get into the theater.

It was boring and annoying as heck. But when we sat down, and the movie began, and the opening notes came on “Da-da-da-daaa, da da daa”, it was magic….

Waiting created rituals. I have to give it to my parents. They utilized waiting to their best advantage, making every Christmas morning exactly as it should be- filled with anticipation, wonder, and mystery.

On Christmas morning, my 3 siblings and I were to stay in our rooms until…until we heard the sound of sleigh bells outside our windows, signaling that Santa had just left our house.

We got out of bed and into the hallway, which was draped with a large bed sheet, hiding from view what Santa had left for us.

When we waited long enough and the time was right, the bed sheet was taken down and behold- a view of the stockings hanging on the living room railing, filled with delights.

Behold- there was the tree, with presents stacked around.

Behold- there was Dad on the couch with his cup of coffee and yearly calendar from Mom.

Behold- the empty glass of milk and plate of cookie crumbs with our Christmas list on one side and a personally handwritten note from Santa on the other, addressing each and every one of us personally.

The waiting continued as we sat, and gifts were passed out one at a time.

We could open up our gift slow or fast, it didn’t matter because we didn’t get another one until everyone had theirs.

Then going through our stockings, to see who got the biggest onion, signifying they were the naughtiest of the year.

Then waiting for Mom to take one of the onions, chop it up and make scrambled eggs with bacon and toast.

I had no idea then just how special and unique this ritual of waiting was, and how wonderful that our parents made us wait, because the waiting created the memories.

Even as we grew older, we would gleefully complete this ritual.

My sister has continued this ritual by hanging a bed sheet in the hallway of her home, and her boys love it.

I cannot wait to continue the tradition of waiting with my own children.


A few years ago a book came out by Temple Grandin (“Animals Make Us Human”) which talked about the emotions that animals experience, such as fear, panic, and play.

She also mentioned seeking, which is the same as waiting. The author stated that for animals, the act of seeking or waiting is a positive emotion.

She stated that animals have an emotionally richer life when they have aspects of waiting.

Such as the dog that intuitively waits by the door, knowing that soon their human companion is coming home.

Waiting, as when our cats listen to our waking moments, knowing that soon we’ll be up to open the blinds, give them fresh water and open a can of food.

Even the waiting of a predatory animal as it stalks their prey, or hides in the garden waiting for the right time to pounce on a mouse or a bird.

According to the author, when animals have nothing to seek or no reason to wait for something good to happen, it can affect their mood, their energy, their way of life.

Not having a reason to seek out or to wait far can actually cause a sense of depression or lack of purpose.

And one is left to wonder if this is not true for humans.

That waiting is perhaps more of an emotion, a way of being.

Think of how positive waiting stirs up feelings, anticipation, wonder and joy.

Like kids on Christmas morning, waiting for the bed sheet to be pulled back. Waiting to see what will be. Waiting to be fed and to share a meal.


For me, that is what I got out of today’s reading. That sense of waiting. That sense of seeking. That sense of planning.

That sense of pulling back the bed sheet.

Here we have Jesus talking to his disciples. He is on the Mt. of Olives, when they come to him, asking “When will the sign be of the end of the age?”

Jesus talks to them, and like a good teacher, like a classic rabbi, like a UCC pastor, he does not give them the answer they want; he doesn’t really give them an answer at all.

The disciples seek him out to know how long they have to wait until the age comes to an end.

His response is a big “No one knows, not even me.”

His response is “You’re going to have to wait it out. As you wait, beware of those who’ll try to lead you off the path you are on.”

“Know that there will be trials, tribulations, and upheavels. There will be breaking apart, and tearing down. And there will be things to endure, and things to overcome.”

“But don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith, because the Good News of God’s Kingdom will be shouted out and shared across the land.”


Jesus instructs them that just as in the days before the flood, life will go on, and because no one knows when the end of the age will be, we wait, we anticipate, we become ready.

In other words- we live.

This is the kind of scripture that, like Revelations, some people are scared by.

But in my opinion, it is not meant to scare, it is meant to give us hope.

This is a scripture that takes the emotional act of waiting and says “This is beyond your control; no one knows but God, so put your energy into other things.”

As Christians, as members of the United Church of Christ, what are the other things we are called to put our energy into?

To not only proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That as we wait, as we seek for the Kingdom of God to be made known…we can actually live and act as if the Kingdom of God is already here.

Now, if you’ve been attending here for any length of time you have heard me say that I believe the Kingdom of God is already here.

I truly believe the Kingdom of God is not far off in a distant time achieved only in death; I do not believe the Kingdom is far off in a distant, cloud-filled place.

I believe the Kingdom of God is in the now and present moment, in the now and present place, and it is waiting for us to seek out and discover it.

I believe the Kingdom of God is here, waiting to be seen, waiting to be experienced, waiting to be shared.

Waiting to be realized…

Following the theology found in Matthew, I believe that as we wait for the end of the age, we make God’s Kingdom known by our deeds of mercy, by our acts of forgiveness, by our ways of peace.

Which means that as we enter into the Advent Season, as we await the birth of Jesus Christ, we find our way to live and to discover the Kingdom of God.

This can involve the way we treat one another. With dignity. With respect. With care. With justice. Mindful of the vulnerable, lonely and the scared.

This can involve the way we greet one another. Do we see them as peers, as fellow humans, as neighbors with their own hopes and dreams, worries and needs?

This can involve the way we live and the way we worship. To give God proper honor. To give God proper praise. To humbly trust in the Holy Spirit.

To offer the best we have. To turn to Jesus with all of ourselves- our emotions, our thoughts, our flaws, our wounds.

How can we wait? How can we seek? How can we pull back the bed sheet and discover all the goodness God has in store?

We share the good news with one another, we share the good news with the world, we share the good news with our selves.

Because no matter what things may seem like, no matter what those who are impatient may say, tomorrow is just another day.

So with Christ, and in Christ, we work, we worship, and we wait, knowing that we are waiting with the Lord.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Post Election Thoughts pt 2- The Sebring That I Know

I moved to Sebring, FL 6 ½ years ago. Originally, I am from Long Island, NY, but I have also called MN, MO and MI home.

Moving here was not easy, as Sebring was a small, rural-like town, in which the nearest Target and Best Buy was an hour away, and I had to drive ninety minutes away to Tampa to get a decent pair of dress shoes.

It took me awhile to adjust to the people, the pace, and the culture. The turning point happened one Sunday when I came home from church. My neighbors were down by the lake, fishing, playing country music, and their kids were loudly playing and splashing about. I was tired and wanted quiet, but decided I was not going to be “that neighbor.”

More importantly, I was not going to be that privileged Yankee pastor (who happens to be gay), who expected everyone to abide by my momentary needs.

So taking a cue from Christ, and the spirit of Communion, I took out my bottle of tequila, all my shot glasses, and my serving tray, walked down to the dock, and invited everyone to join me in shots.

Here’s what happened- we had fun. We bonded. We joked. Before the afternoon ended, I was called “Bubba” and “Uncle”- signs of respect and friendlessness that I did not take for granted. From that night on I left my front door unlocked because I knew I was part of a community, that I was safe, and if anyone tried to mess with me, I had neighbors who had my back. Every Sunday afterwards we would hang out at the dock, doing what Floridians do.

This is the Sebring I know; this is the Sebring I have come to love.

Yes, Sebring is uber-Republican; yes- many people voted for Trump; yes- Sebring is conservative. But it is conservative in the way one would use the word “traditional.”

Not traditional in the negative sense we New Yorkers or so-called progressives view the word, but traditional as in:

-family comes first,
-your friends and their family are important,
-children are taught at an early age to say “sir” and “ma’am,”
-people are comfortable praying in public (be it at a restaurant, before a game, a performance at the local theatre, a County Commissioner Meeting, an art gallery opening),
-somehow everyone is connected, so when something tragic occurs, we all know someone who knows someone, so we are affected as well.

Traditional as in people are connected to their land. People work with their hands. People have guns but are not reckless with them. People have guns so they can hunt, so they can protect their farm/ friends/family from venomous snakes or unsavory animals, and yes- to protect themselves from criminals and not be a helpless victim.

Most people I know have a gun. None of them treat their firearm lightly; they are cautious. I have friends who I would trust 100% to come armed to my church, theatre or house (just as my Dad, a NYC cop, always had a gun).

Here’s what else I learned- here in Sebring, folk are folk. Most people I know let others do what they do, as long as they do not interfere with their rights, or act as if they are better/smarter/different. In other words- don’t have airs, don’t act high and mighty, and don’t condescend.

So I can be an openly gay Yankee pastor of a progressive, liberal-leaning church who’s seen out and about with friends who are black, Hispanic, or/and gay. And no one cares.

Which means you can go to Sonny’s BBQ during lunch time and see blue-collar workers in plaid shirts sit next to retirees with Vietnam veterans hats with business-folk in white shirts and ties, and me- working on a sermon with books spread out around me- all drinking sweet tea, eating pulled pork or ribs, and no one bothers nobody.

Sebring is the kind of town that when South Publix closed for a year to remodel, we all felt the affect, and when it reopened we all made a pilgrimage there.

Sebring is the kind of town in which thousands of people- young, old, black, white, Hispanic- will gather at the Downtown Circle to spend 2 hours cheering on the participants of the Christmas parade, even if the float is nothing more than a few people waving from a barely-decorated pick-up truck.

The kind of town in which if you need someone to do something at your house you know somebody who knows somebody who they can recommend and you can trust.

Is Sebring perfect? Is Sebring free of all hate, racism, sexism or homophobia? Heck no. But is any town? Those things have been around since time began, and they always will be (to some degree).

Why am I sharing all this? Because it’s been nearly 2 weeks in this post-election President-Elect world. And I know people are scared, worried, anxious, unsure.

Incidents of hate crime and speech have spiked around the nation. I wonder, however, if this is a natural form of pent-up release from some people who have felt ignored, judged, looked-down upon for the past few years. (Kind of like the anger/frustration 2nd or 3rd born children may feel about the 1st born child who acts as if he/she is better/smarter/more important than the rest.) And that eventually, this will fade back to how things were.

Not perfect, but not ramped up.

I worry that people are turning too much, too soon to social media, in which they put everything out there, immediately, without time to give critical thought to the power of their words.

I worry that those who express fear, anger, and assumption-based anxiety are not in fact creating they very thing they are fearful/anxious about. Spiritually speaking, we can create bad things or evil when we speak bad and evil; we can create monsters by expecting someone to be a monster.

I also worry that those who voted for Trump, those who are decent hard-working, family/friend/land/God based people, and those who have always been (and will always be) Republicans may also be unintentionally creating monsters or speaking bad/evil into being by some of their comments that can sound like attacks, or misogyny, or delight in half the nation feeling deep grief.

As a pastor, who loves my church, and loves my adopted Sebring home, I have not publicly (or from the pulpit) spoken out against or for any of our presidential candidates.

What I can say is that I’ve observed some behaviors of Trump that seems to be narcissistic in nature, and I am aware of what a narcissist can do to a person or group of people. I am paying attention to decisions being made and people being suggested/appointed to certain roles.

But I am willing to wait, to see, to trust. Who knows- with one party leading the country for the first time in a long time, things may change, get done and improve.

Or, maybe our leaders will be given a long enough rope that they will hang themselves and have no one else to blame.

Maybe the middle class will rise; maybe they will stay as-is maybe they will fall. If things go great we know who to thank. If they go bad we know who to blame.

Maybe we’ll become a police-state, or maybe we’ll become more Libertarian minded. Maybe we can trust that most republicans want what is best for all, and if there are any abuses of power or mistreatment to our “tired, poor…(and) huddled masses” or anything that desecrates our “Land of the Free” that they will speak up and act.

Maybe, post-election, more people will become involved in their local government, their state government, and continue to vote in all elections. Maybe it would be good for us, as individuals, to attend not just the meetings of our own political party, but to attend the Tea-Party, the Democratic, and Republican parties so as to hear the joys, the concerns, the issues, the differing view-points, and to understand one another’s wants.

Maybe- for those of us living in Sebring, we can trust that we will be OK. That our locally-elected leaders will do their best to ensure that all our citizens have a good way of life. That our newly elected Sherriff will work to keep us safe. That our local economy will continue to grow and improve.

Maybe, we can believe that if anyone, anywhere does tries to start some mess, be it with racist, or Islamaphobic, anti-Jewish or homophobic, that our leaders, our neighbors, our citizens will not allow it, and stand up for the right of Sebring’s folk to be folk.

And though I have not said or written much during this election period, I hope that I will be able to speak up or write if I do perceive there to be injustice or acts that go against my understanding of what a People’s President should and should not do.

And I hope that I can welcome other views, as long as they do not inflict or create great harm.

In closing, one story to share.

Since the election I noticed a guy across the street, a few doors down has put up three (3!) Trump/Pence signs and has been building something at night. I fearfully imagined that he was building a barricade or a shelter. Not wanting to give in to fear, I decided to walk to his house. I said hello and immediately I was warmly greeted.

Turns out the guy is making his own “Margaritaville” bar/deck. He works with concrete during the day. At night he is repurposing pieces of wood (some from an old door) into a bar that his wife has painted many different colors. His wife and daughter came out and instantly acknowledged that I am a pastor and asked about my church.

Then another neighbor, a teenage boy of Puerto Rican descent, came over to hang out with all of us. Not a big deal. Just folk being folk being folk being folk.

That’s the Sebring I have known and come to love. That’s the Sebring made up with a diversity of people all trying to make the best out of what they got.

That’s the Sebring I expect it to be when all the fuss slowly eases away after such a long, painful election process.

I trust that no matter what, we will see this through. I trust my friends, I trust my church family, and I trust our community. I trust God.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Playing Our Part; Being the Light; post-election sermon on Luke 1:68-79

Rev. George Miller
Luke 1:68-79
November 13, 2016

In preparing today’s sermon I realized that we have a unique balance to present. Today we acknowledge our Veterans. Next week is Christ the King Sunday. And of course, our presidential election just took place.

November 8 is a day that will go down in history. A day in which people from all throughout the world watched to find out what would happen.

How would the election go; how would the America people vote?

The results slowly came in, but at midnight it seemed clear where things were going. It was also clear the emotions that people felt.

Some felt jubilation and pride. Some felt confusion. Others felt let down.

I felt fear- fear of what could come.

Fear that whispered in my ear “What if they come for me?”

Fear that made me mindful of what to wear as I went to bed.

If the worst was to happen, and a mob of people came to my door ready to start some mess, what was I going to look like?

I admit this kind of thinking may sound over-the-top to some. I know that some here today have no idea what I’m even talking about. I also know some here today know exactly what I mean.

If a mob was to come to my door in the middle of the night to make me an example, to embarrass, or humiliate me, what should I wear as an expression of who I am?

I opted for a t-shirt I got during Comcast Care Days, when I worked alongside newly elected Sheriff, Paul Blackman.

I wore it because it represented my care for the community and my role as a Board Member for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

I wore it because it was green, the color of life. It had the figure of a person in joyful display, and featured bright cheerful colors in the shapes of stars and leaves.

I wore it because in the back it said “Looking Forward
Giving Back.”

It represented Highlands Community, and the love and pride I have of living and pastoring here.

I was afraid, so I wore that green Comcast Cares T-shirt because in the horrible chance something did happen, and anyone tried to hurt me, they’d have to do so looking at it, and me, as a person.

Wearing that green t-shirt was for me a sign of protest, and a sign of hope.

There are many ways in which people who feel scared, upset, lost, can find hope.

Hope can come in the songs we sing. Hope can come in the stories we share. Hope can come from remembering previous times in which salvation arrived and things worked themselves out.

Hope can come from children.

Hope can also come from laughter, humor, and finding the ironies of life.

Before we get any more serious, let’s pause for a moment. Let’s allow for a time of levity. A time in which story, children, humor come into play, and offer a moment of lighthearted hope.

Who here is a fan of the TV show “Modern Family”? It’s been on for some time now, featuring one grand family that is made up of 3 distinct family units.

A common theme of the show is that of diversity; another theme is fathers and sons.

3 years ago “Modern Family” had an episode centered on Jay, the family patriarch, and his adopted 12-year-old son, Manny, who is not like other boys and certainly not like Jay.

Jay is gruff and manly; he likes to wear sweats, watch football, and drink scotch. Manny is polite and sensitive; he enjoys wearing fedoras, poetry, and drinking espresso.

So picture this- it’s the state fair and Manny enters the baking contest. He creates a confectionary replica of Los Angeles.

Jay is not happy about this. He’s worried that Manny will be teased by the other kids.

Why can’t he just enjoy things like football!

The story moves along at a sitcom pace. The cake judging is about to take place, but Manny’s cake is not there. They have 10 seconds to get it to the table.

“Don’t worry,” Manny says.

He grabs the cake, cradles it with pride, and he barrels through the crowd of people, knocking down anyone who gets in his way.

Just so happens that the football coach witnesses Manny’s strength and determination and next thing you know, Manny is on the football team as their ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬-fullback and leads the team to their very first victory.

Jay is so proud!

Children surprise us.

Children give us hope. Children represent the days ahead. Children are the reminder that no matter what, life goes on.

Good or bad, happy or sad, jubilant or scared, children give us hope.

Though I am not yet a parent, I look forward to experiencing this first hand when I get to adopt, and to have you all right by my side.

Most fathers and sons have interesting relationships, and in today’s reading we hear the words of a Dad speaking about his son.

In the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we meet Zechariah, a priest. One day, while in the Temple, Zechariah is visited by an angel who tells him the good news: Zechariah will have a son; the child will be called John, and he will be the reason for much joy.

But the news is tempered with a reality: as amazing as John will be, he is not to be the star player, but a precursor of what’s to come.

John will bring families back together and he will bring wisdom to the foolish, but alas, John is not going to be the MVP.

He is not going to be the quarterback of the team or the one who scores the winning touchdown. He is going to be more like the fullback, making the way for the Lord.

How did Zechariah feel about this news? He must have been amazed and perplexed: “Holy Cow there’s an angel talking to me!”

But then there’s the other part- His son will pave the way; but he will never ever, be The Way.

His son will bring great joy, but his son will not be the ultimate reason for that gladness.

Often times, when we read the Bible, we place its people on high holy-chairs. And if we know the story and how it plays out, we may become numb to the human element.

We know what Jesus is going to do; we know the lives he’ll forever transform.

But we forget that the people in these stories didn’t truly know the outcome. They couldn’t turn to chapter 24 to see how it all works out.

The people in these stories had to live through the story; they had to live through the happenings, good or bad, triumphant or sad.

We are told that Zechariah is struck mute by the angel. During his wife’s pregnancy, he is not able to speak a single word.

This time of silence must have given Zechariah a lot of time to think about things, time to ponder, time to wrestle what was and what was not to be.

His son was to be great; but not the greatest.

Would that be good enough for Zechariah? Would that do?

If this was a Shakespearean play, Zechariah would have railed against the prophecy. He would found some way, any way to make his son the star; to make his son the King.

He would have visited witches at a cauldron or got his hands on a poisoned potion or kidnapped the Christ child.

Maybe at some point, Zechariah did entertain those thoughts; but then, somehow he found the ability to…let them go.

Instead of harboring a grudge or focusing on what would never be for his son, Zechariah found a way to faithfully look ahead and embrace the promise…of what’s to come.

After his son is born, Zechariah’s speech is restored. And after giving praise to God, he speaks the words we heard today.

He speaks eloquently of what God has done and what God will do.

Zechariah acknowledges that it will be the son of Mary who will fulfill the words of the prophets, who will lead the people to victory and rescue them from their enemies.

What an amazing, humble thing to say about someone else’s child. What class, what character Zechariah shows.

Zechariah conceded that as great as his son is, there is another child that will be greater.

But I do not sense it means that Zechariah loves his own son any less, it just means that he fully understands who his son is and what he is meant to be.

His son is the one to go up ahead and to prepare the way.

His son is the one to plant the seeds of salvation and forgiveness.

He may not be the Messiah but he will be called the prophet of the Most High.

He may not be “The Son of God” but he will play a role in bringing light into the life of the people.

His feet may not be the ones that bring people over the winning goal line, but he will play his own part in guiding to victory.

And there is nothing wrong about that; and any father, anywhere, should be proud that their son could play such a role…

…Tuesday we voted in our new president. Today we have honored our Veterans. Next week is Christ the King Sunday.

Today I believe it is good for us to lift up and to remember that we are Christians. As such we follow Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate that Jesus was more than a rabbi. More than a teacher, doctor, story-teller. More than our friend.

Today we also lift up that Christ is King in our lives.

A King who heals. A king who gathers and restores. A king who feeds the flock. A king who welcomes the wayward home.

A King who preaches and practiced forgiveness, whose strength came from the Heavenly Kingdom.

Because Christ is King, we do not have to be.

Because Christ is and forever shall be King, we don’t have to burden ourselves with tasks we were not created for or called to do.

Because Christ is King, we can focus our attention onto who we are and the best version of ourselves that we can be.

I do not believe John is the one and only person called to pave a way for the Lord.

I do not believe John is the only one who can share light with others in darkness.

We can each pave a way for the Lord in our own, special way.

We have each been blessed with our own unique spiritual gifts; we all have our own talents, ways of sharing joy, ways of being bearers of gladness.

With knowledge that Christ is King, we have the opportunity to speak words of hope, to be actors of hope, and to be team players, each doing what we know we can do the best.

In conclusion, God has always had a plan for the world.

Beginning with Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Deborah and Gideon, continuing with people like Zechariah and his son John, that plan has continued, even when unexpected events have taken place, even when fear seems to take hold.

Christ is indeed King and in him God has a heavenly playbook and a heavenly plan.

Some of us are best at baking cakes; others as being fullbacks; some may even be able to do both.

But we each get to play our own role; we each get to share our part.

In doing so we each get to shine a light into the darkness: to have hope, to share the gift of mercy with the oppressed, joy to those who weep, and forgiveness to the broken down.

In Christ, we all get to play our role on the field, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our Lord, and with one another.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Pastoral Letter to Emmanuel United Church of Christ

Dear Beloved Community, Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and example.

Last night/this morning we witnessed a historic event, an election that created a whirlpool of emotions for everyone.  The reactions are numerous and diverse.  There are those filled with great hope; there are those filled with great fear.  There are those that feel fully alive; there are those that feel utterly numb.

After going to sleep at 2:30 a.m., I awoke 4 hours later, feeling as if the world has changed.  But then I went to my front window, and saw my yard filled with birds at the feeder, doing what they have always done- signing, flying, eating. 

And this was a sign, for me, that the world continues; life does go on.  As the birds of the air continue, so do we all, as a nation, as a community, as the people of God.

My request today is that no matter how we voted, no matter where we stand or where we rest on the results, that we, as a church, as members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ, stay united.  That we honor and respect one another; that we honor and respect one another's voices, opinions, thoughts.

I also continue to hold true to what I have come to know about Emmanuel UCC-that we are a congregation full of loving, welcoming folk, with a superb spirit of hospitality and inclusion, always growing, always moving ahead, always becoming the people in Christ we were called to be.

We live.  We worship.  We fellowship.  We give thanks and honor to God.  We follow the way of Christ.  We are guided by the Holy Spirit.

We live. 

One way we do that is to continue.  For example, we continue with our plans and preparations for our Cottin' Pickin' Chicken Pickin' Night tomorrow, starting at 6:30 pm.  We continue with our Annual Meeting taking place on Sunday after worship.  We continue with our Harvest Home Festival on November 19.  We continue reaching out to the community with our Shepherd's Pantry on November 21.

No  matter how we feel about the election, no matter who we voted are, no matter where we are on the political spectrum, we are Emmanuel UCC, we are united in Christ, we are part of the family of God.

As thus we are still called to do justice, to love kindness, and to continue humbly walking with our Lord.

Peace, Rev. George Miller
Emmanuel United Church of Christ

Monday, October 31, 2016

Welcoming Jesus Into Your House; Luke 19:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Oct 30, 2016
Luke 19:1-10

Confession time- I’ve had no idea what to preach about today. We’ve talked about so much over the past year- mental illness, racial tensions, the election, finances.

It’s time for some levity.

In yesterday’s paper, amidst all the super-serious news was an article about the president of the Philippines who said God told him to stop cussing.

He was on a flight to his hometown when God woke him up and said “If you don’t stop with the foul language I am going to bring this plane down to the ground!”

Now, the president of the Philippines is known for being crass and crude, cussing out both the pope and our president.

He’s used off-color language when talking about the UN Secretary General, human rights advocates and Islamic extremists, and he’s been seen in public chewing gum in front of emperors.

And the man is not a teenager, he is 71 years old.

He’s a political bad boy, but he claims God had a come-to-Jesus-moment with him, so he will try his best to change his ways.

I love the notion that God can enter into someone’s life unexpectedly and change them for the better.

Of course, this notion is Biblical. In the book of Acts, Saul, an enemy of the Christians, has an encounter with the resurrected Christ and becomes the biggest cheerleader for Jesus.

In the book of Judges we have God appearing to Gideon, who is the weakest member of the weakest clan, calling him to be the mightiest of leaders.

Today, in the Gospel of Luke, we have Jesus inviting himself over to the house of Zacchaeus, enemy of the state.

The delight is in the details.

Jesus is entering into Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, and a crowd has gathered. And we have Zacchaeus, who is a short, short man climbing a sycamore tree just so he can see him.

To fully enjoy this story, we realize this was 2,000 years before Facebook; 2,000 years before you can tag someone in a photo or hashtag someone in a post if you wanted to get their eye.

This is before selfies and cell phones, so if Zacchaeus was to get Jesus’ attention, he was gonna have to do it the old fashioned way- he climbed a tree.

The interesting thing is that apparently Jesus already knew who he was. We’re not told how, we are not told why, but we are told that Jesus looked up, saw this short man in the tree and said-

“Zacchaeus! Bro! Hombre! Get down from there so I can hang with you at your house.”

Of course, people didn’t like it one bit. Not only did Zacchaeus collect taxes for the Roman government, but he was their chief guy.

What kind of rabbi would eat with their enemy? What kind of savior would stay with a sinner?

But Jesus doesn’t mind what the others say.

Zacchaeus stands there, on solid ground, short in stature, but soaring in spirit, and he says-

“Look- half of what I own I will give to the needy, and I will pay back 4X to those I defrauded.”

His reward: the gift of acceptance. He is accepted into the Family of God, guaranteed a place at the table.

No longer an outsider, an enemy, a sell-out, but a brother, a friend, and among the found.

There is a lightness, a joy, that comes from this scripture. That is a good thing, because in the same chapter Jesus will enter into Jerusalem, cry over the sins of the city, and cleanse the Temple.

But for now, for this moment, separating all that has come before and all the drama that will come later, is this perfectly captured moment in time in which Jesus is standing before a sinner who may be short in stature, but he is extraordinary in heart.

And the possibility for positive change is present.

Change that can bless the poor, change that can bless the community, change that can bless Zacchaeus himself.

Once again we get to see the Still Speaking God at work.

Once again we hear what happens when holiness enters into a person’s life.

Once again we are reminded that no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey- Jesus wants to be welcomed into your house.

No matter who you are, or what you have done- Jesus wants to be welcomed into your house.

No matter who you are, no matter who you have-
-robbed from
-cursed at
-lied about
-sinned against

Jesus wants to be welcomed into your house.

Every day.

No matter what you have said, no matter what you have done, no matter your age, your height, your sex, your role in life-

Jesus wants to be welcomed into your house.

It’s never too late, it’s never too early. You’re never too rich, you’re never too poor.

Jesus wants to be welcomed into your house.

For that, we can all say amen and amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shades of Grey- Election Edition

Rev. George Miller
Oct. 23, 2016
Luke 18:9-14

Today is a day in which I’m going to talk like I am a Big Boy. And I trust that you all here are Big Boys and Big Girls, and like Stephanie would say, that you are each able to pull on your Big Boy and Big Girl pants.

Because it is about time that we talk about this election. It is safe to say that this is an election unlike anything we have ever seen.

All these issues of lies and misbehavior, misbehavior and more lies.

But I got news for you- I was born in 1970, which means I came to consciousness during the Watergate Era, and in a country still dazzled by the Kennedy Legacy.

So I have never known a time in which presidents didn’t lie and politicians did not misbehave or cheat on their wives.

Call me jaded, call me a realist, but when I hear about these things I’m like “Yeah, so?”

I’m not looking for my leaders to be my buddies, or my friends, or my Sunday School teachers.

I’m looking for them to be the best leaders they can be who put the welfare of the people and the land before themselves and their cronies; leaders who can protect but can also play well with all the other leaders of the world.

In other words-justice. But not- perfection.

It’s a shame that we expect people to be so perfect. We live in and have co-created a society in which we expect everything to be so black and white.

Either everything is all good or all bad.

Someone is either all saint or all sinner.

Things are heavenly or they are hellish.

Where is the in-between?

The truth is that we are all in-between. We all are composed of good and bad, saint and sinner, heavenly and hellish.

Question is- do we hide it? Do we deny it? Do we push people away if they get too close to our truths? Do we attack those who stumble upon our shades of grey?

What if…what if Hillary had said 2 years ago, upfront, and on her own “Guess what- I made a HUGE mistake. I used my own personal server and in the process received and sent confidential e-mails.”

What if Hillary said “I admit that what I did was wrong, and once it was brought to my attention I stopped and sought council on how to best address my mistake.”

Would she have been justified by the American voters, humbled by her honest confession of non-compliance?

What if…what if Trump spoke up immediately and said “I have said some inappropriate things in private that I now realize were harmful to others. And I acknowledge that there are instances in which I have disrespected women; some of these are on tape.”

What if he said “I never meant to harm anyone, but I am seeking council and advise on how my words and actions can affect another, and I intend to learn and grow from these unfortunate experiences.”

Would he have been justified by the American voters, humbled by his honest admittance of objectification?

Is either candidate all good or all bad? All saint or all sinner? All heavenly or all hellish?

Today’s reading is one of those scriptures that if one is not careful, it can place people in a one or the other category.

Jesus is telling a parable.

A parable is a story that defies description. It seems to go one way, and then veers to the other. It shakes up pre-conceived notions of the world.

Parables challenge us to think, and no matter how much time we devote to them, we can never quite fully grasp them.

Parables force us to wrestle with God, and it is in the wrestling that we become closer to our Creator.

Here Jesus tells a parable in which he talks of 2 distinct people.

First, there is the Pharisee. Pharisees back in the day were akin to our church elders and church leaders.

They were the ones who served as deacons, they were the ones who sat on the boards, they were the ones who ensured things kept running.

They were the ones who gave greatly, tithed ten percent, and made sure the bills were paid and the lights were kept on.

The Pharisees were also notorious for being big on following the rules, and not straying from how things were done.

They preferred the old hymnals, and liturgy spoken in the proper language, and everyone to dress a certain way.

The Pharisees kept the Temple going, but they could also be overly righteous, quick to judge, and assume that only they worshipped God the right way.

Then we have the Tax Collector. Back in the day tax collectors were seen as greedy, untrustworthy, and unclean.

Perhaps worse- they were seen as traitors to their own people. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government, collecting the taxes from their Jewish peers living in Jerusalem.

They made their money off of commission, so they could charge people whatever they wanted. If the person refused or was unable to pay, they could be fined or arrested.

It would be akin to Isis conquering America and your neighbor going to work for them collecting taxes to strengthen their army.

So, who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? The one who is holier than thou but keeps the Temple running? The one who works for the enemy but is humble?

Does it make a difference on how we view them if we realize there’s a good chance the Pharisee was born into a Pharisee family that was well-to do, had power and position, so he had the luxury of fasting, tithing and following all the laws of the land?

Does it make a difference if we realize there’s a good chance the Tax Collector was born into a poor family that struggled every day, had no power, no position, and none of the luxuries that allowed for fasting, giving, and following all the laws of the land?

What kind of desperate background may someone come from that they would be willing to work for the enemy?

What if the Tax Collector had a family to feed and needed some way to earn money?

Who is good, who is bad?

So you are being asked not to see either man as black or white, good or bad, saint or sinner, heavenly or hellish.

But to see them as doing what they know, and doing what they can in a complex world.

As the parable continues, Jesus tells us what the Pharisee says. It is interesting to note that his prayer features
-33 words
-1 reference to “God”
-5 references to himself, and all the good he’s done

Clearly, the Pharisee’s prayer is not so much to God or about God, as it is about him.

Jesus then tells us what the Tax Collector says. It is interesting to note that his prayer features
-7 words
-1 reference to God
-1 reference to himself as sinner

Clearly, the Tax Collector’s prayer comes from a heavy heart.

The twist in the parable is when Jesus tells us that it is the Tax Collector who is justified.

Why? Because he was honest before God. He spoke his imperfect truth, he confessed his sins, he admitted his flaws.

He sought mercy.

Therefore mercy is what he received.

Justification is what he got. Grace is what rained down upon him as he returned home.

Does this mean that he was the better person? Does it mean he is now the one who is all good, all saint, all heavenly?

Does it mean that upon being justified he changed his ways? Does it mean he stopped collecting taxes and working for the enemy?

We don’t know; we will never know.

Jesus doesn’t tell us, because a parable is not meant to be easy.

A parable is meant to make us think. Make us uneasy. Make us wrestle with God.

If the world was only in black and whites we’d be left to wonder:

-Is it better to be holy but unhumble?
-Is it better to be unholy but be humble?

We do not live in a world of black or white. We live in a world of grays.

Which means we are constantly surrounded by people who are like both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We are surrounded by people who can boast and be humble.

And truth be told, we all have a bit of the Pharisee in us, and we all have a bit of the Tax Collector in us.

We have all done things for the benefit of others, and we have all done things for the benefit of ourselves.

We have all bragged upon how much better we are than another, and we have all had times in which we said that we were worms in the dirt.

Today’s parable does not give us an easy answer or easy insight but maybe we can take a bit of what we like from each person in today’s tale.

That we can be inspired to try our best, and to admit our worst.

That if we trying to do what we need to get by, we can still find ways to help another.

That we don’t judge so quickly, but we are brave enough to present ourselves before God to be judged.

That we can be honest enough with God about how we have messed up, and humble enough to receive the gifts of grace.

To not only see ourselves in shades of grey, but to see others in grey, realizing that people are not all good, people are not all bad.

…No one is perfect; everyone is perfectly flawed…

…As we near the close of today’s message, I have a brief story to share.

A few weeks ago for the adoption class, I had to find someone to sit down with and to share my fears.

My real fears. The ones I keep hidden, even from myself.

I invited my friend Aisha over, she’s a mother of 7 and radiates a spirit of love.

So in the comfort of my sun room, I talked. I shared my fear, and as I shared one fear, another came out, and another, and another.

And with the admittance of fears, came the tears, and admittance of other feelings, like anger, doubt, and even joy.

And Aisha just…listened.

She didn’t cut off. She didn’t critique. She didn’t shame or explain away.

Aisha was simply there, hearing every word.

At the end she smiled. We hugged.

I felt like five pounds from each shoulder had been removed.

That moment became, for me, an example of how God is. That God is there. God listens.

And when we give ourselves the gift of confessing and speaking our truth, God is there to release, to embrace, and to justify.

Days later, Aisha confided that there wasn’t a single thing I said that she herself had not felt or experienced, confirming that my grays were here grays too.

In conclusion, today’s scripture has so many things to say. Today is can be a reminder that we can come before God and be who we truly are and to admit what we truly feel.

To know that God can handle it.

God is a Big Boy.

God’s got Big Girl pants.

There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that God is shocked by.

There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that God doesn’t already know.

There is nothing we can say or confess or admit to that would ever make God take God’s love away.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Women Warriors Judges 4:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Judges 4:1-10
October 16, 2016

There are those who would say that we are in “The Year of the Woman.”

At the Olympics, women won 61 medals for the USA. The Women’s Gymnastics Team won 9, and Simone Biles and Simone Manuel set records.

Music wise, women have ruled the airwaves. Rhianna told us to “Work, work, work, work, work.” Beyonce visually and sonically poured us a big ol’ glass of “Lemonade.”

Adele sang “Hello from the other side” and sold 10 million copies of her latest CD.

In the world of literature and stage, J.K. Rowling is making magic with her newest Harry Potter creations and “Girl on the Train” has become the must read book.

By reimagining their classic cartoons with real people, Disney has been crafting films that feature women as the main character.

Last week Disney made news with their live action remake of “Mulan,” undertaking a huge, international casting call for one of the few Asian female leading roles in history.

As we prepare for this year’s Trunk-o-Treat, retailers report that female anti-hero Harley Quinn is the number one costume, with people of all ages dressing up like the “Suicide Squad” character.

Then there is this little thing called the Election, in which for the first time in American History we have a female presidential nominee for a major political party.

Personal preferences and politics aside, we can all agree that this is a historic moment in time.

But yet, other countries have had women in powerful positions for quite awhile, such as England and Germany.

And then we have the Bible, and though it is much harder to come across, we encounter a handful of stories featuring women in prominent roles.

For example, Miriam, the sister of Moses. She followed him down the river, ensured his survival, and worked alongside Moses and their brother Aaron in delivering the people.

Upon crossing the Red Sea, Miriam leads the women in a song of praise which is believed to be the first piece of recorded scripture.

For those who are taking part in our Daily Bible readings, you know that this week we met the Queen of Sheba in Chronicles 9, who paid a visit to King Solomon.

The Queen of Sheba came to the Holy City to test Solomon, to see if he was as truly wise as others said.

She brought with her spices, gold, and precious stones. Upon investigating and interviewing him, she gives her approval and rewards him with her blessings and gifts.

In the Gospels we have Mary Magdalene being the first one to hear about and to experience the resurrection of Christ.

While the disciples hide away in fear, it is she who bravely goes to the tomb and experiences the Good News.

Then we have today’s reading. Like last week, it is also from the Book of Judges.

Here is a story that not too many people are familiar with, and that is a shame.

Here is a story about a woman of great power, of great wisdom, of great might.

During a time in which Israel has yet to be ruled by Kings, Deborah is a judge.

She is married to a man named Lappidath, which in Hebrew means torches. Therefore Deborah is literally a “fiery woman” or a “woman of spirit.”

Deborah was not just someone’s wife. She had many roles. She was a prophetess, which meant she was looked upon to declare whether or not God would give the people victory in battle.

Deborah was also a judge, which had a different meaning back then. Judges were seen as deliverers, they were responsible for bringing their people up out of harm’s way.

But if you also noticed, she was sought after by people who came up to her, seeking her knowledge as she sat under the palms.

Deborah was many things to many people. And in today’s story we also witness as she becomes a general.

Once again, the people of Israel have failed God. They have failed to trust God. They have failed to believe that God will do what God says can be done.

Because of that, new trouble and new enemies arise.

But Deborah is not afraid. When Barak comes to her, she says “The Lord says Go! Bring an army of 10,000 men and God will defeat your enemy for you.”

Barak asks her to go with him. Who knows why. Was it because he was scared and wanted her there for support?

Was it because he was untrusting of Deborah and God’s promise?

Was it because he so highly valued her leadership that he wanted Deborah right by his side?

We never know, but it is clear that Barak has no issue going into battle with Deborah, and we are told she gets up, she goes, and like General Patton she leads 10,000 men to war.


Just recently we as a nation were debating if women should and could serve in combat, and right here, in a biblical story that’s nearly 3,000 years old, we have a tale of a fiery woman who bears the light of freedom, justice, and victory for her people.

Makes you wonder how different we would be as a people if we all knew this story.

Makes you wonder where we would be as a nation if we taught every child this story.

Makes you wonder how the church could go centuries debating if women could or should be ordained, or be ministers, or hold leadership roles.

This story, though 3,000 years old, is still so revolutionary. Just this week we had a pastor say that it is against the will of God for a woman to be president.

But right here, in sacred scripture, we have God using a woman to lead, to judge, to discern, to save.

Once again, today’s reading goes along with the theme of last week’s reading- the freedom of God.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it much more- scripture teaches us again and again, and again and again that God is free. God acts unexpectedly; God cannot be controlled.

Which means if God wants to use a lefty in a world of righties- God will.

If God wants to rely upon crafty word-play- God will.

If God wants to use the tools of the enemy against them- God will.

If God wants to appoint a woman as a judge and use her as a prophetess- God will.

If God wants to use a woman as a soldier in the Army of the Lord and promote her to general- God will.

If God wants to stop injustice, unkindness, and the evil of the enemy- God will.

God is free, God is wild, God is funny. God is complex. God is with us in the high places, and with us in the low places.

God is not sexist. God does not discriminate based on gender. God does not fall victim to gender roles placed upon people by their society.

God hears, God sees, God acts, God moves.

God will use who, what, where, and when, and God does not have to answer to the “why?”

God is not limited. God is forever free.

For that, I believe we can ALL say Amen and amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Bible's Bathroom Joke; Judges 3:12-20

Rev. George Miller
Judges 3:12-30
October 9, 2016

Here is a list of current events:

-tension between groups in the Mid East
-Uncertainty over gender roles
-Power-hungry political leaders who chase after and demean women
-Child and spouse abuse
-Senseless acts of violence
-Moral confusion
-Narcissism (J. Clinton McCann, “Judges”, pp 1-2)

Except these aren’t today’s events, they were the current events taking place in Israel during the time period the Book of Judges covers.

Judges is a book that has familiar names, like Gideon, Samson, and Deborah. But it’s a book that’s rarely preached on in churches. In fact, the Lectionary (which I often use), recommends one reading from this book once every 3 years.


One guess is because Judges is the kind of Old Testament book in which God seems to always be angry, inflicting punishment and revenge, and seems to prefer war over the ways of peace that us progressive, protestant followers of Christ tend to prefer.

But read this book and you are left with deep theological questions about the nature and actions of God, and if God actually cares just about Israel and not one whit about the rest of the citizens of creation.

And then of course we have today’s reading, a raunchy, ribald action-adventure that is fit more for a Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” sequel than a Sunday reading. (And having Jean read it aloud is such a delight.)

Let’s be honest- Judges 3 is vulgar, violent, possibly racist, heroic, and funny as heck.

Not just funny, but punny.

In the original Hebrew, the left-handed Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin, which literally means “Son of the Right-Hand.”

The name of the fat king is Eglon, which means “calf” or “bull.” So King Eglon is literally a fat cow.

The word for “message” is the same word as “thing”, so when Ehud tells the King he has a secret for him, and then pulls out a sword, Ehud is both lying and telling the truth.

“Dirt” can be a nice way of saying the inside of one’s bowels.

And we have this gratuitous scene in which the King’s staff think they’re smelling him going to the bathroom, but what they are really smelling is the after effects of said “dirt” being spilt out.

Not to mention this story is not easy for any of us men who are rather larger in girth and have been meaning to lose weight for the past 2-20 years but just haven’t gotten around to it.

Why such a story exist? What possible good can come from a vulgar bathroom joke in which 10,000 men die?

Well, we have to remove ourselves from our current station in life to understand.

This was as a story told, and written by, people who had experienced great oppression.

They were people who knew all about impotent rage.

They were people who underwent years, decades, and centuries of being oppressed and experienced all kinds of injustice.

And for people who’ve been oppressed, who are being held down by an oppressor, sometimes the only thing they have is humor.

The ability to laugh at one’s enemies is one of the most powerful balms; poking fun at those who hurt us can diminish their power and make them seem less invincible.

This story’s original tellers and listeners weren’t being cautiously politically correct.

They did not see this as a story of unfair murder, but a story of how their enemy was defeated, and how God rained down righteous vengeance upon people who had held them down for 18 years.

And the questions arise-
-did God really act this way back then or is this how people perceived God as working?
-does God still act this way now, and if so, what does that mean?
-did having a son in Jesus Christ change God?

There are numerous other questions, but for this remaining of our morning, I’d like to ask “How can we apply such a vulgar, violent, funny tale to today’s life?”

I say “easy.”

First thing to do is to think of who or what an enemy or a threat would be.

We just survived Hurricane Matthew. Matthew posed a threat to the entire state and east coast.

Gusts of wind, heavy rain, booming thunder, assured death and destruction.

What if Hurricane Matthew replaced King Eglon in our story?

Then we have a metaphorical tale about how God will deliver us from even the worst of storms, and that even though there is dirt, and mess, and uncertainty, God will prevail.

What if we replace Ehud with Jenny Craig?

Then we have a metaphorical story about how individual fat and America’s chronic-obesity epidemic is able to be slayed and destroyed through God.

That instead of using a knife to cut another piece of rich, decadent cake, Jenny Craig is able to cut down the fat that is enveloping our bodies and health-care system.

What if we replace King Eglon and the Moabites with other kinds of enemies?

What if the Moabites and King represented cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or AIDS?

And this story is about how God is able to come into our lives and destroy illness?

What if Ehud represents the medical community?

Then this story becomes a metaphorical telling of how God is able to use doctors, surgeons, medicine, and technology to care for and protect those living with illness.

If we see the king as disease and Ehud as the presence of God, then we can say that no matter how devastating, no matter how oppressive, no matter how evil cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS are-

-they are not more powerful than God, and they do not get to have the final say.

What if we went back 70 years and simply said Ehud represents our American military, and Eglon represented Hitler?

Then we would have a clear understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, free and oppression, and we would have zero issue with Hitler being taken down in a vulgar, funny, violent way.

Yes, today’s story is not what many expect out of the Bible.

Yes, today’s story is not neat, pretty and smelling like roses and lavender.

But today’s story is once again another instance in which we get to glimpse into the history of God and God’s people, and be reminded:

That God is free. God acts unexpectedly; God cannot be controlled.

Which means if God wants to use a lefty in a world of righties- God will.

If God wants to rely upon crafty word-play that borders on the deceptive- God will.

If God wants to use the tools of the enemy against them, such as their greed, their over-consumption, their false idols- God will.

If God wants to enjoy a good fart joke- God will.

If God wants to stop injustice, unkindness, and egocentrism- God will.

God is free, God is wild, God is funny. God is complex. God is with us in the lofty places, and God is even with us in the outhouse.

That’s amazing when you realize there is not a place in which God will not go; there is not a story in which God cannot be made known.

For that, I believe we can ALL say Amen and amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

When Human Rights are Perverted does the Lord Not See It? Sermon on Lamentations 3:19-36

Rev. George Miller
Lamentations 3:19-36
Oct 2, 2016

“When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”

Last March, Eden Seminary hosted a gathering called “Forward from Ferguson: Prophetic & Pastoral Visions.”

I attended that gathering and the most memorable moment was when guest lecturer Gregory Ellison came out from behind the pulpit, walked throughout the sanctuary and silently…

…looked at all the people present, nodding his head and making small gestures of acknowledgment.

After what felt like 5 minutes he stood in front of everyone and said “It is good to see you.”

He then spoke about what it is like not to be seen. To be a young black man in society and to feel like people do not see you.

To be a homeless person and to feel as though people do not see you.

To be an elderly person in a nursing home and to feel like people do not see you.

According to Mr. Ellison, when you go a long time feeling unseen, you develop a series of emotions- insecurity, sadness, and anger.

When people’s blindness to you causes them to mistreat you, it can develop into what he labeled “impotent rage.”

Impotent rage is when you have been made to feel so helpless, so silenced, so invisible, that all this anger bubbles up and eventually erupts.

In other words, look at the riots that recently took place in South Carolina regarding the shooting of yet another black man.

For decades, actually centuries, there have been issues about the way authorities have treated people of color, people on the fringe of society, and people from another land.

Back in February Beyonce tried to address the issues of police-related shootings through song, dance, and video.

Instead of people listening to what she had to say, and trying to see as she saw, they became outraged, condemned her and threatened boycotts.

Months later on the BET awards, actor Jesse Williams addressed the issue with an eloquent, impassioned speech.

Instead of people listening to what he had to say, and trying to see as he saw, talk shows went into a frenzy and people demanded he be fired from his television show.

Footballer Colin Kaepernick peacefully addressed the issue by doing nothing- he sat during the National Anthem to bring people’s attention to social injustices.

Instead of people trying understand what he was saying, and to see as he saw, he was immediately judged, the recipient of hateful comments, and called to leave the country.

So, in South Carolina when yet another black man, when another mother’s son was shot, people responded with impotent rage.

Music didn’t get the message out. Speeches didn’t get the message out. Sitting didn’t get the message out.

So with nothing left, people took to the streets, protesting, rioting, shooting and looting.

And still- we have yet to hear that what they are trying so hard to say- that human rights are being perverted and can we not see it.

Let’s go back 47 years, to New York City. An establishment known as Stonewall, a place frequented by the LGBT community.

A time in which being so was a crime.

It was not unusual for the cops to come in and do a raid, usually once a month. Lights would be turned on, patrons lined up, IDs checked.

If men were dressed as women they were arrested; if women did not have on 3 identifiable pieces of feminine attire they were arrested.

Names would be printed in the papers, families humiliated, people lost their jobs.

At 1:20 am on a Saturday night in June 1969, the authorities came once again. 205 people were present. Some began to run away, but the cops barred the doors.

Tired of the injustice and humiliation, something snapped. Impotent rage kicked in.

Patrons refused to be arrested. People refused to show their Ids.

It is reported that some of the cops began to assault some of the women, while others pushed and kicked customers outside.

A bystander began to sing “We Shall Overcome”. Someone was shoved.

Soon little things like pennies were being thrown. Then beer bottles. Then bricks from a nearby construction sight.

Impotent rage filled the street as officers barricades themselves inside the bar while the crowd grew in size.

Garbage cans, rocks, a parking meter- all used as expressions of rage and anger.

Nights later thousands gathered to show their support for the LGBT community.

As a result of that night, the Gay Rights Movement began, with the institution of community organizations, Pride Parades, and nearly 50 years later we see the result with marriage equality becoming law and the chance for people like me to adopt.

“When human rights are perverted does the Lord not see it?”

Let’s go further back. Boston, 1773, at a congregational church known as the Old South Meeting House, which is part of the UCC.

A group of white men meet, filled with impotent rage.

These colonists are angry because they object to the Tea Act that’s been passed by British Parliament. They feel it violates their rights to “No taxation without representation.”

These colonists believe it is unfair that they can only import their tea from Great Britain. They are offended by the extremely high tea tax that at one point was as high as 25%.

These men hear that seven ships carrying 2,000 chests of tea are coming their way to the colonies.

They realize they have had it with the way the British have treated them. They hate how they are being over taxed.

Since England will neither listen nor see them, they do something that gets their message across very clear-

They protest. Thousands of people arrive; 7,000 people surround the Meeting House.

With ships in the Boston Harbor, people pour out of the church. Up to 130 men, some dressed in Mohawk costumes, board the tea-bearing boats.

Over the course of 3 hours they dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the water, costing up to $1.7 million dollars in today’s money

Talk about an act of impotent rage, in which those who felt helpless forced others to see them.

As Americans we view these men as heroes.

But the British were aghast, calling this destruction of private property, viewing the colonists as hooligans, riff raff, trash.

Britain punished the colonies, shutting down the port, implementing harsher laws that became known as the Intolerable Acts.

When human rights are violated does the Lord not see it?

Throughout history we see episodes of impotent rage.

Whenever people deemed as less than, savages, wormwood, gall, and hopeless are ignored, abused, arrested and told to shut up and take it, there is likely going to be some kind of response.

Throughout history we see people who have been bearing the yoke of hate, of those whose mouths have been made to taste the dust of the ground, and of those whose cheeks have been hit by the smiter.

They are left to wonder- does the Lord not see it, does the Lord not care?

And in many circumstances it can appear as if the answer is “No…no the Lord does not see it, the Lord does not care.”

But then a sliver of hope can come in by the act of remembering; hope can come from the stories and narratives that are stored in our soul.

Hope can come from the recalling of scripture and found in our Holy Text.

Hope comes from the ways in which the Bible reminds us that yes- God does see, yes- God does care, and yes- God does act.

God saw the suffering of the slaves in Egypt, God heard their pleas for help and God delivered them.

God saw the Samaritan woman as her jars of oil and grain nearly run out, and God made sure both of them never went bare.

God saw the cries and suffering of Jesus on the cross, and God responded by resurrecting him on the 3rd day.

We recall these stories; we remember that God saw, God heard, and God acted.

In these narrative truths comes hope.


Hope is like impotent rage in that it comes from the same place- it is born out of pain.

Hope and impotent rage are both expressions of profound yearning rooted in hurt.

Hope and impotent rage come from wounded insides and scarred psyches.

And when we have hope, we are able to hope with God.

Hope that things can change.

Hope that things can get better.

Hope that although things are not like they were, and they are not as they should be, in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, things are still becoming.

Hope says things are still happening.

Hope says that possibilities are still unfolding.

Hope says that New Beginnings lay just beyond the horizon.

Hope- the kind that comes from remembering and recalling that if God has done it before, God can do it again.

Hope that says the very worst of human kind pales when compared to the very best that God has to offer.

Hope that says as long as we have breathe, there is always the chance for a grander tomorrow.

Hope manifests itself into acts of life and victory that defy the odds, defy the -isms, and defy those who say “No you can’t.”

Hope is the weed that grows out of the concrete sidewalk.

Hope is the budget that believes great things will transpire.

Hope is the breaking of bread and pouring of wine during your last meal.

Hope is a confidence born out of trust in God that says if waters can part, if jars can stay full, if the dead can rise, then God’s steadfast love can see us through.

Hope is not superficial. Hope is not naïve. Nor does hope in God mean that we expect God will do it alone.

But in hope we trust that God will work through history, work through creation, work through the people.

That God will use us to speak, to act, to step, to rise, to march, to cross over, to give, to share, to welcome, to love, to point out.

Hope asks that we see.

God asks us to see as things really are, and God asks that we act accordingly, to do what is right.

That we see injustice and act justly.

That we see meanness and act kindly.

That we see hubris and act humbly.

“When human rights are perverted…does the Lord not see it?”

I say the answer is yes. And in that answer I believe there is hope.

And in that hope comes strength.

When there is hope and when there is strength, there is the ability to believe in and to face tomorrow.

When there is hope, instead of impotent rage, there can be infinite glory.

Amen and amen.