Sunday, February 28, 2016

Piece by Piece; Character Sermon based on Luke 13:1-9; Feb 28, 2016

Rev. George Miller
Luke 13:1-9
February 28, 2016

Piece by piece, I feel like I’m falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

My name is Joe, one of the countless millions affected by the recession, one of the many trying to make sense of it all.

I come from a family of decent working class folk whose parents came here hoping to build a better life.

“Go to college so you can get a better job,” they told us. “Go to school so you can earn a good living,” they said.

So that’s what we did. Bright eyed, bright faced, bright future.

“Take out a student loan,” they said. “Get a college degree and the world is yours,” is how we were sold. “Explore yourself and have fun,” seemed to be the motto.

What no one tells you is that after you graduate there’s not much you can do with a BA in English.

After trying to get numerous jobs in my field, I began to admire those who got into computers, or those who learned how to fix cars, or repair A/C Units.

So for years now I’ve been barely getting by, going from job to job trying to figure it out, piece by piece.

What can I do with a BA in English? How to pay off my student debt? How to feel like I am actually making a difference.

Then the recession hit, and it hit hard. People were losing their jobs; folk more talented than I were being laid off.

Once sure sources of income went bust, and with it, people like me.

I tried to get a job. I went to Red Lobster and there were 30 other people there in business suits, filling out applications to be an afternoon server.

I applied to a group home but was told I was too qualified to be a resident counselor; that I was more management material. But they weren’t hiring managers.

I applied at a factory but they said they were unsure that I’d actually stay with them.

I tried to start my own business but all I got was calls from con artists trying to sucker me out of my remaining savings.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

A doctor said I was depressed so she prescribed me anti-depressants, but they didn’t work; they didn’t solve the problem of getting a job.

Instead of taking away my pain, I had no feeling at all, just complete and utter numbness.

People with jobs tried to cheer me up. “Something will come through.” “When one door closes, another opens.” “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

How I dislike that sentiment. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

Really? Three years into unemployment, heat turned off, bill collectors at my door, days away from eviction, stomach in knots?

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Who made that statement up?

Do you know that it exists nowhere in the Bible? There is not one single scripture that says anything close to that expression, and yet people say it to me all the time, as if that is supposed to give me hope.

And what’s the logic? Why would a loving God give me a burden? Why would God want to see me suffer? Why would God want me to go 3 years without a job?

I think of people who have suffered throughout history. Like slavery. Are we saying that wasn’t too much for people to handle?

Or the Holocaust? Are we saying that wasn’t a burden?

Or all the men and women who’ve had their legs and arms blown off Iraq? Does that really seem manageable?

People will say “Everything happens for a reason.” Really? Like it’s part of some cosmic plan that I should suffer and struggle all this time?

Like God is some puppet master in the sky who controls everything we say, do, and experience.

That we are pawns in God’s hand, to be used for something we can’t see or understand?

Then there are those who look at me with the judgmental look, and say in no uncertain words that I must’ve done something wrong.

Like the recession was my fault. Like my actions caused the housing bubble to burst.

There are people who think that God dishes out bad things for the sins we have done.

Like the people killed in Kansas all deserved to die by gunfire? Like the folk in Kalamazoo were receiving some sort of cosmic payback?

Like those who’ve been killed by Isis or fell with the Twin Towers suffered for their sins.

Didn’t they experience more than any human can handle? Did any of their deaths have a reason?

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

Perhaps all of this is just life. Maybe this is just the way it is.

Bad things happen. Good people suffer. Like fig trees we go 1, 2, 3 years without bearing any fruit before we are cut down.

And somewhere, some place God is asleep, or watching unawares, or perhaps worse of all, God is amused with our suffering.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

…but then, I force myself to remember…

…to remember the stories I was told in my childhood days, about my ancestors. Not the ancestors who came over on a boat, but those in Israel a long, long time ago.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we learned in the safety of Sunday School.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we heard in sermons.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we studied in scripture.

I remember the promises made to Abraham and Sarah. That they would have land, they would have a family, and their family would bless all the families of the world.

I remember how even after God made all those promises to them, it took years and years for it to become true.

And although it seemed to take forever, God never abandoned them, nor were they ever alone.

I remember that I am part of their family of faith, and that if God made the promise to them, that means God has made that promise to me too.

So I’m willing to believe that somehow, some way God will follow through with me too.

So I am willing to hold on, piece by piece.

I remember all the stories that were told about the wilderness. Of how the Israelites wandered the wasteland.

And though things were not easy, there were ways in which God provided, like water from a rock, bread from heaven and quail from the skies.

So I look out for my own wilderness moments, those times when it seems like God is indeed providing, piece by piece.

Like a friend who takes me out to dinner, an unexpected check that comes in the mail, when Emmanuel UCC has their Shepherd’s Pantry.

Piece by piece, I embrace the Lenten journey and the miracle of the resurrection.

I look at Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and though it is different than mine, I feel as if these three years I have been suffering too.

I look to the cross and I see the sense of loss, the sense of loneliness, the sense of lunacy that I’ve been going through, and I find comfort in knowing I am not suffering alone.

And, I look beyond the cross, beyond the empty tomb, into the garden, at the upper room, at the mountain in Galilee…and the promise of new life, of Christ’s eternal presence, of new beginnings, and I find hope.

Piece by piece I tell myself that if this is indeed my own personal time on the cross, than perhaps I too can experience my own kind of resurrection, my own kind of new life, my own kind of rebirth.

I may be like a fig tree, three years bare, but perhaps in the fourth year I will come alive.

And piece by piece, I find the ability to persevere, I find the ability to prevail, I find the ability to go on, step by step, story by story, and yes, piece by piece.

I do not believe my current situations are a burden that I can bear, alone. I do not believe my burdens are a part of a plan. Nor do I believe that I am being punished for any sins I have committed.

But I do believe that in Christ, I have a Savior who will bare my burdens with me.

I do believe that the Holy Spirit will work with me through my burdens and from them bring forward something new.

I do believe that although I do sin, I have been forgiven, and that God wants nothing more than for me to thrive and survive.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am coming back together.

Piece by piece, I know there is much more that I can get done.

Piece by piece, because I can remember, I know that I have hope.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Between War and Sex

Rev. George Miller
Feb 21, 2016
Genesis 15:1-18

In December I took on a new responsibility at Emmanuel UCC- contacting people to be liturgists and ushers, and I love it.

One of my absolute favorite things is to call people forward to share their God-given gifts.

Part of the joy is that many people don’t realize their spiritual talents, or they are shy about them and humbly keep their light under a bushel.

When I contact people to be a liturgist or an usher, there’s a sort of dance we do.

First, there’s the volume of their voice and the musicality of their words.

Some take long pauses. Some voices go high; some become hushed. Some start off by saying “Well…”, others give a big exhale, while others simply say “No.”

I admire folk who say “No.” That word doesn’t bother me, because at least by asking, a seed has been planted, and maybe next time they’ll find the courage to say “yes.”

Some will say they’ve never been an usher or a liturgist before and they’re not sure if they can, to which I find the words to reassure and comfort them that they will be fine and the world will not implode if things don’t go exactly perfect.

Others will reveal that they always wanted to be an usher or a liturgist but were unsure if they were ready, in which I share how no one is ever really ready- you just do.

Others will say they have been ushers or liturgists in their churches up north; others will say “But I’m not a member” or “I’m only here in the winter” or “I’ve only been attending awhile.”

Inviting people to boldly, bravely be an usher or a liturgist is basically the story of life, because the truth is no one is ever really ready, there is never a right time, and there’s lots of people with inner 13-year-olds waiting for a chance to be invited.

We see this in the story of Abram and Sarai.

Today we hear a mystical telling of a time in which Abram has a vision of God in which a covenant is established; a promise that this childless couple will indeed have descendants and the land.

However, what is fascinating to me is what happens before and after today’s reading.

In Genesis 14 we hear of a time in which Abram leads an army of men into a battle against an enemy king who has kidnapped his nephew.

Abram and his men are successful, and are rewarded for their war-time bravery.

In Genesis 16 we have the story of how Abram’s wife convinces him to have relations with her slave-girl so they can have a child.

And Abram, being a man and given a free-pass by his wife, says “OK” and away he goes to have an affair with the servant.

In essence, today’s story takes place between war…and sex. Today’s story takes place between battles…and the boudoir.

Think about that for a moment. Today’s story of how God makes a covenantal promise of children and land takes place between two powerful arenas of life.

Besides death and money, are there two things we hear, read, talk and think about more than war and sex?

Take those two elements away and basically we have no newspapers, no Shakespeare and no 6 o’clock news.

In other words, one of the “a-ha!” moments of today’s reading is that God appears to Abram at a time that is not the most opportune or the most convenient.

God does not wait for the dust of battle to fall, or the longing of loins to be over in order to act.

No, God steps in, on God’s time, and God says to Abram “Hey buddy- let’s go look at the stars!”

God steps in, on God’s time, and God says to Abram “Hey homie- you’re gonna be a papi and a patriarch.”

God steps in, on God’s time, and God says to Abram, “Hey Abe- I’m about to do a great thing and I want you and your wife to be a part of it!”

In essence, what we have in today’s reading is another example of the freedom of God. How God is free. God is wild. God is unlimited.

What we have in today’s reading is the reality that God will act as God chooses to act, regardless if it’s right after a time of war, or right before a time of romance.

God will act as God chooses to act regardless if one is involved with destruction or procreation, breaking down or building up, endings or beginnings.

God is free and unlimited and so very, very full of surprises.

That is why God would call Jeremiah at the age of 13, and call Joseph who was a full grown man.

That is why God would visit a post-menopausal woman like Sarai, as well as a maiden like Mary and inform them that they will have a child.

That is why God would tell one prophet to visit a Gentile widow, and have another prophet visit a Gentile warrior.

That is why God would use a manger to make Godself known, and a cross to reveal God’s glory.

God is wild, God is free, God cannot be contained and God cannot be expected to act at the precisely perfect moment.

This may be a shock for some, but here in Sebring God does not only act between the months of December and May.

This may be a surprise for some, but God does not only act during non-election years.

This may be a head-scratcher, but God does not only act through seminary-trained pastors who use big words and a library full of books.

God acts year round. God acts at all times. God acts with and through all peoples.

God acts in the moments between Superbowl Sunday and the Grammys.

God acts between MLK and President’s Day.

God acts between Republican and Democratic debates.

God acts between times of war and peace, between moments of wandering and grounding, between moments of bareness and fullness, between hellos and goodbyes.

God works in both the best and the worst of times, using the best and worst of people.

Because the truth is that there never really is an opportune moment, there rarely is the ideal person.

And if we wait around for the opportune moment; we wait around for the ideal person…well we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.

God is free. God is unexpected. God is good. Amen and amen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Rev. George Miller
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Feb 14, 2016

A few weeks ago we welcomed 8 New Members and 1 Jr. Member to the Emmanuel UCC community.

One of the things I enjoy about teaching the New Member Class is the chance to watch folks reactions when they learn how significant the UCC has been to US history.

That a UCC Church hosted the original Tea Party. A UCC Church hid the Liberty Bell from the British. The UCC was basically run out of Mississippi because we had the courage to speak out against discrimination.

Our New Members learn of the four branches that make up our denomination.

One branch, called the Congregationalists, was the Pilgrims and Puritans who came to America to seek religious freedom and the right to worship God as they saw fit.

Another branch of the UCC was the Evangelicals who fled persecution in Germany and Hungary and settled in Missouri. They were literally living in fear of being killed because they didn’t believe what the church was telling them to believe.

Not only is our denomination rooted in people who came to America to seek freedom of religion, and freedom from persecution, but so is our entire country.

The United States is ultimately grounded in the notion of being free.

The United States is grounded in the idea that this is a beautiful and bountiful land, flowing with milk and honey, produce and prosperity, cattle and compassion.

But we, as a denomination, and we as a people, have failed to remember.

We have forgotten that not too long ago our ancestors who settled here were aliens and wanderers; some who came here by choice, some who came here against their will, some who felt this was their only shot at having a good and abundant life.

Because we have forgotten, we have strayed, as humans are apt to do. But thankfully, there have always been those who remember.

And by remembering, they re-root us back in the Call of Christ and what it means to be God’s people.

For example, in the most recent edition of Heartland Living there is a 10-page pictorial spread about a mission in Bartow called “Mosaics Community CafĂ©.”

Mosaics is a meal-based program designed for anyone who is trying to overcome an addiction, as well as seniors who are having difficulty getting by.

Throughout Mosaics are artfully created signs that inspire and educate. One sign says “It’s not what you Get. It’s what you Give.”

Another sign states “Americans throw away enough food every year to fill 730 football stadiums.”

“The United States spends about 1 billion dollars a year just to dispose of food waste.”

“33% of all the food on the planet is either wasted or spoils before it can be consumed.”

“40% of the people in the US are Hungry.”

That is sad. That is scary. We have become a nation in which over 1/3 of us are overfed, while over 1/3 are underfed.

What would our Congregational and Evangelical Ancestors say, the ones who left their country for freedom and fled their country for safety, who settled along the Atlantic Ocean and the rivers of Missouri?

Would these statistics be, for them, signs that we are a people founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs?

How did we get to this point?

We hoard, we consume. We throw away; others starve.

Is this way of living what it means when our politicians claim we are a Christian nation?

…That is why, today, I am so proud to stand before you and to give thanks to all of our volunteers.

That is why I am proud to celebrate the ministry we are doing, and continue to do through our Shepherd’s Pantry.

That is why I am proud, and we should all be incredibly, faithfully humbled that in January, everyone here gave over $1,100 to the AGAPE OFFERING in which-

Every. Single. Penny. Is going directly to our community and to our Pantry clients.

The offering of your 1st Fruits was enough that we could purchase 3 days worth of food for over 80 families, and still have some money left over.

The generosity of the EUCC Community meant that basically each person in attendance on Sunday unselfishly donated $8.50, and that was enough.

And I would venture to say that we are blessed enough that no one misses that $8.

God is good; can we get an “amen!”?

But the work of a church, the work of the Shepherd’s Pantry is not solely based on the goodness of God, or the generosity of folk with their goods and finances.

It also is dependant of those who volunteer. Those who give their time. Those who shop. Those who sort.

Those who show up every month to sign our clients in, who work the Miscellaneous table, who set up and serve food in the kitchen.

Those who bag the groceries. Those who greet the guests. Those who walk them through the mini-store. Those who go from table to table to teach, to talk, to reach out.

At this time, we’d like to ask everyone who volunteers in any way at the Shepherd’s Pantry to please stand up. “Thank you.”

Of course the Pantry is not the only place in which people get to volunteer at Emmanuel UCC.

There are those who have spent months preparing for the upcoming Yard Sale. There are those who participate in the Harvest Home Sale. There are those who came in for the Cotton Pickin’ Chicken Pickin’ Noodle Makin’ Night.

If you in any way, shape or form, volunteered for any of those events, please stand or wave your hand.

“Thank you.”

Of course we at Emmanuel don’t just sell- we cook, we bake, we eat.

We’ve had our Spaghetti Supper, our Sunday Brunches, our weekly Hospitality, our Global Mission Fair, our Cake & Pie Walks, and the meals prepared for Vacation Bible School.

If you, at any point, cooked a dish, served a meal, shopped, donated, cleaned a plate for any of these events, please stand.

“Thank you.”

We don’t just serve, we don’t just sell, we don’t just spaghettify the city, we also sang and make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

Anyone here who has sung in the choir, played an instrument, been a Hope Street Ringer or chimed one of our chimes, please stand up.

“Thank you.”

We don’t just serve, we don’t just sell, we don’t just spaghettify, we don’t just sang, we also safely keep-care of our property.

We’re talking of our Willing Workers and everyone else who has moved a chair, mowed a lawn, trimmed a tree, taken down a light bulb, put up a banner, polished the floor and kept our church looking nice, inside and out.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Then there are those who come in each and every week to participate in crafts, who make things to be sold, who create prayer shawls to be blessed, who’ll do anything that Christian Ed asks them for if it means giving something to our children.

Please stand or raise your hand.

“Thank you.”

What about our teachers? Those who have taught a class, led a retreat, hosted a Book or Bible discussion, who created a curriculum for VBS?

Please stand up so we can say “Thank you.”

What about those who lead worship and make every Sunday possible. Those who acts as ushers, greeting our guests at the door and serve the Sacraments?

Those who lead the liturgy, who create the visuals, who ensure the sound system works? We could not do this each and every Sunday without you.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Finally, there are those who sit on the committees, those who head committees, those who make up the church leadership by committing to their Council duties.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Our denomination and our country is not what it could be; it is not yet what it should be.

However, I believe that because of our volunteers, we are getting closer and closer there.

When we see those moments we work together, those moments we wrestle to figure out what’s right, our Congregational and Evangelical ancestors are proud of us.

When we volunteer to keep our church ministering; when we volunteer to keep our church compassionately caring for our clients, I believe our Congregational and Evangelical ancestors are cheering us on.

Friends and Family of Emmanuel UCC, in Christ we are wanderers no more; in the Good News we are grounded.

We have been blessed with our own lovely and abundant land, in which we are invited to give God thanks; we are encouraged to continue volunteering our gifts.

Amen and amen.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Betty White and the Eternal 13 Year-Old; Jan 31, 2016 sermon on Jer. 1:4-10

Rev. George Miller
Jeremiah 1:4-10
January 31, 2016

Last week, American Treasure Betty White celebrated her 94th Birthday.

Like any good friend of Dorothy, and Blanche, and Sophia, I am a fan of Betty White, but my favorite Betty White moment is not from “The Golden Girls” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” but from her recent sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”

In this particular scene, Betty is talking to Joy, an insecure woman in her late 40’s who is dreading the big 5-0.

In a moment of heartfelt vulnerability, Betty says to her “There’s a secret that nobody ever tells you- you don’t feel old. You feel like yourself.”

There is scientific research that backs this up. It turns out that there is a part of our brain that never ages. It is forever youthful; it is forever young.

Therefore, we always see ourselves as perpetually in our teens and our twenties.

That is why, as we age, it is a shock when we look in the mirror and see someone else looking back, someone much older, someone with much more wrinkles, someone with a bit more wear and tear than our young brain can comprehend.

That is why no matter how old we get, when we are sick we want our Mommy; when something needs fixing we miss our Daddy.

This comment from Betty White, and this science of the brain, reinforces something I have often said.

I believe that our lives are nothing but 7th grade relived over and over and over again.

That deep down, just below the face we portray to the world, we are all 12 to 13 year-olds just trying to figure things out, asking ourselves “Where do I fit in?”

That when we attend a public function, we go a party, we enter the Fellowship Hall, we navigate where we belong and what table we sit at.

The table with the popular kids? The table with the jocks and homecoming queens? The table with the leaders and members of student government?

The table with those of different skin color or different lifestyles? The table of misfits who bare no definition?

The table where we sit all alone, afraid to join the others, but hoping someone will sit beside us?

Each and every person here, deep, deep, down, is harboring a 12-13 year old kid hoping they are welcomed and loved, hoping no one can see just how scared and lonely they really are.

There is a book coming out called “Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It”, written by talk show host Grace Klebig.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at “faking it until you make it.” The author states that she had a revelation: “No one knows what they are doing, and (success is) basically about who can pretend the best.”

So to sum the first 5 minutes up:
-no one really knows what they are doing
-Deep down we are all 12-13 year-olds
-Part of our brain never ages
-And in the words of Saint Betty- “you don’t feel old. You feel like yourself.”

Which brings us to today’s reading.

Jeremiah was a prophet living during a time of Israel’s history in which no one is getting it right, the nation is not united, people have turned from God, and they could care less about doing justice, loving kindness, and humbly walking with the Lord.

Therefore, they have become vulnerable to the enemy, who in a few short years will attack the city, capture the king, burn the Temple down to the ground, and kidnap thousands of the city’s citizens.

Guess who gets to be the one to share this news with the nation? Jeremiah.

Guess how old Jeremiah is when he first gets this word from the Lord? About 13.

“Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” Jeremiah says to God when he first receives the call to speak up.

To which God says “Do not say ‘I am only a boy’, for you shall go to all to whom I send you. You shall speak what I tell you. Do not be afraid of them…for I have put my words in your mouth.”

People here will get nervous when they are asked to pray, be ushers, and liturgists. Imagine being 13 year-old Jeremiah and receiving such a direct directive from God herself.

And Jeremiah does what any true leader does- he says he is not ready; he does not want such awesome responsibility; he finds all the reasons why he should not be the one to carry such tremendous responsibility.

Jeremiah really does not want to do this; he feels he’s not ready; he thinks he is way too young; he is afraid to fake it until he makes it.

This is a common theme throughout the Bible- God calling people who doubt their ability to do the work of the Kingdom.

God calls Moses to free the slaves, but Moses asks “Who am I?”

God calls Moses, but Moses says “What if they ask your name? Suppose they don’t believe me? But I don’t speak so good.”

God calls Gideon to deliver the people from their enemies, but Gideon says “How can you care about us when all these bad things have happened to my people?”

God calls Gideon to deliver the people, and Gideon says “How do you expect me to help when I am the weakest member of my family, and my family belongs to the weakest clan?”

No one in the Bible really seems to know what they are doing. No one in the Bible really is prepared for what is asked of them.

Even Jesus has his moment in the Garden when he begs and pleads the Lord to remove the cup that has been placed before him.

You never feel old, and deep, deep down, no one really knows what they are doing.

Yet, we place so many people upon a pedestal, and we assume that they have all the answers, that they will get it right the first time, that they won’t make a single mistake, or be afraid, or be flawed.

So when they fail, when they falter, when they fall way, way down, we get upset. We get angry.

Because we fail to realize that each and every one of us harbors a 13 year-old inside of us, trying to figure it all out, we punish people when they get it wrong.

How quick we have become to sue a doctor because a difficult surgery has gone wrong.

How quick we are to bring a teacher before the school board because we don’t like a particular chapter of a book that’s being taught.

How quick we have become to comment on what was said, what wasn’t said, or the timeline in which everything takes place.

No one really knows what they are doing. Not a CEO, not the President, not the single parent trying to care for their four children.

And when we look upon the biographies and testimonies of those who have made it, of those who made a difference in the world, we will discover that they have actually experienced way more failures than they ever had successes; that they had more naysayers than they had fans.

That often times those who are successful just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right people with the right plan.

The rest of the time they were just as confused as a 13 year-old kid trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria.

And here is where the nature of Grace comes in. Here is the beauty which we find in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, as the incarnation of God who knew us when we were still in the womb, knew that we do not know what we are doing.

Jesus knew we were all imperfect, we were all flawed, we were all unprepared, and scared.

And yet, Emmanuel- God With Us- surrounded himself with all these amazing, imperfect, broken, flawed human beings who were constantly falling down.

Jesus just didn’t surround himself with imperfect people, he welcomed them, he worked alongside them, he saw them for who they were, who they are, and who they could be, if just given a chance.

I believe that Jesus saw the 13 year-old in each and every person he encountered.

That when Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree so they could eat together, he saw the 13 year-old who just wanted to be liked.

That when Jesus forgave the woman who committed adultery, he saw the 13 year-old girl who really just wanted to be loved.

That when Jesus called Peter to be a fisher of men, he saw the 13 year-old who watched his father slave away day in and day out.

That when Jesus saw Nathanael sitting alone under the tree, he saw the 13 year-old boy who was being crushed by feelings of intense loneliness.

That when Jesus saw Martha rushing about doing her many tasks, he saw a 13 year-old girl who thought she always had to please her parents.

And Jesus did not shame them. He did not put them on a pedestal to knock them down.

He loved them. He forgave them. He offered them a new way of living in which their inner 13 year-old could thrive.

Even after he was crucified and deserted by the disciples, Jesus came back, resurrected, and instead of chastising them, he said “Peace be with you; receive the Holy Spirit. I am sending you out to do my work.”

Jesus knew that they were all imperfect, but he loved and trusted them anyway.

I believe that deep down inside, we are all like Jeremiah. We all have within us a 13 year-old boy or 13 year-old girl who is scared, insecure, and unsure.

I believe that like Jeremiah, many of us are doing things in which we actually feel like we don’t know what we are doing, and so we are making it up along the way, hoping others don’t pick up on it.

And that’s where the grace of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the grace of Jesus Christ becomes so important.

Because it is that grace which says we don’t have to know it all, we don’t have to fool the world, we don’t have to have all the answers, and we won’t always do the right thing all the time.

But we can show grace to our leaders, we can show grace to one another, and we can show grace to ourselves by simply acknowledging that there is that 13 year old in each and every person, who wants to be liked, who wants to be loved, who wants to please, who doesn’t want to be alone.

And when we show that grace to one another, when we show that grace to ourselves, we create space for the Holy Spirit to swoop in.

We create space so we can be brave in the midst of fear, secure in the middle of rough waters, find the right words to brighten the darkness, and to feel connected even when we are the only one in the room.

Deep down we may all feel young, we may all feel we are just a boy, or just a girl, but through the gift of grace found in Jesus Christ, we are all so much, much more.

Amen and amen.