Sunday, March 27, 2016

Remember- Easter Sermon, 2016

Rev. George Miller
March 27, 2016; Easter
Luke 24:1-12

If you’ve been attending Emmanuel UCC since September, you may remember that there’s been a theme that has been threaded through many of the sermons.

It’s a theme you may remember if your memory was jogged just a bit.

Of course I can’t be hypercritical and expect you to remember as far back as September, since I don’t have the best memory of things that happened the day before.

But, who here can remember the theme that we’ve been remembering since as far back as I can remember?

To remember.

If you recall, it started with a sermon given on Sept. 27 which stated “Once we were slaves in Egypt.” If you remember, we said that this simple statement is the very basis of Judaism and the truth that propels the Biblical narrative forward.

“Once we were slaves in Egypt.”

This quote starts the celebration of Passover, in which people gather to remember what God has done.

The ability to remember is what binds the Jewish community together. This shared memory of freedom from bondage, means they are free to serve God and they are free to live as if heaven is at hand.

This shared memory reminds them of the humble beginnings from which they came; to ground them when they got too big for their britches and to encourage them when they are feeling used, abused and forsaken.

To remember is a powerful thing. Why?

Because the ability to remember can ground one in hope.

When one is grounded in hope, their roots go deep, their core is strong, and they can endure almost any storm that comes along.

It is not just the Jewish community that remembers all the good that God has done. We as Christians remember as well.

We remember how God gave Abraham and Sarah a promise that their family would be limitless and bless the entire world.

We remember how God called Moses who said “Who am I?” How God called Gideon who said “But I am the weakest member of the weakest tribe.” How God called Jeremiah who said “But I am just a boy.”

We remember how God sent one prophet to care for a foreign widow and how God sent another prophet to heal a Syrian soldier.

We remember how 2,000 years ago, a couple named Mary and Joseph welcomed a baby boy into the world named Jesus.

We remember how that baby boy grew into a man. A man who claimed he came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and restoration to the blind.

We remember how Jesus turned water into wine, reminding us that there is an abundance to be found in God.

We remember how Jesus called Zacheaus down from a tree to dine with him; how he forgave a woman who had committed adultery; how he spotted Nathaniel all alone, seeing, perhaps, the 13-year old child that dwelled with each and every one of them.

We remember how Jesus told stories about stray sheep and lost coins, reminding us that if we are ever lost, if we ever go astray, God will search us out, God will find us, and God will carry us back upon God’s shoulders.

We remember that even as the nation was falling apart and feeding into a frenzy, Jesus found time to be with his best friends and to speak and to share the languages of love.

We remember that during a time of political, economic, and religious corruption, the angry world sought out a scapegoat, choosing for Jesus 2 rugged pieces of wood, and hammer, and a set of nails.

That is a lot for us to remember.

And if the ability to remember gives one grounding, if the ability to remember gives one hope, how much grounding or hope can be found when a good man is crucified?

And that is where we find today’s story.

Within 8 days Jesus has gone from sitting at the table with best friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to sharing his Last Supper with the Disciples.

Jesus has gone from being greeted by the crowds with palms and cheers, to being scorned with lies and jeers.

He has gone from talking about fig trees, to being silenced and laid dead in a tomb.

And as the sun rises, the women journey to his tomb. Mary the mother of James, Joanne, Mary Magdalene, and other women.

Women who had been there for all the stages of Jesus’ ministry. They were there when he taught. They were there when he ate. They were there when he healed. They were there when he forgave.

They were even there the times he spoke about how the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and killed.

They were there when Jesus said he was going to Jerusalem, to be handed over, mocked, and spat upon.

Since the women would’ve been there, they would’ve also heard Jesus say how the Son of Man

Sadly, horrifically, all those things came true, and with them the chaos and confusion, that comes from observing such a crime.

When the women got to the tomb, Luke tells us the stone was rolled away, and the body of Jesus was not there.

They were perplexed. They were confounded. They were discombobulated.

Bad enough their rabbi has suffered. Bad enough their teacher had died. But now their friend’s body is gone.

Two mysterious men greet the women, terrifying them. The men say “He is not here. He is risen. Remember how he told you…”

Remember: the key word of our messages since September; the key word of our sermon; the key word of today’s scripture.


Not an easy thing to do when you have watched your rabbi-teacher-friend be rejected, arrested and mocked.


Not an easy thing to do when you have watched your rabbi-teacher-friend be insulted, flogged, and crucified.


Not an easy thing to do when you have watched your rabbi-teacher-friend cry out in a loud voice, take his final breathe, and his body placed in a rock-hewn tomb.


It’s hard for anyone experiencing stress, trauma, grief, or fear to remember.

So it takes the words of another to jog the memory of Mary, Joanne, and Mary. It takes the words of another to begin the process of restoring hope.


Remember how once we were slaves. Remember the promises to Abraham and Sarah.

Remember the call of Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah.

Remember the widow who was fed; remember the soldier who was healed.

Remember the water into wine, remember Zacheaus being called down from the tree.

Remember the good news to the poor, the captives set free, new sight given to the blind.

Remember the stories of lost sheep and missing coins.

Remember the languages of love Jesus spoke to you.

Remember how he told you that bad things were going to happen, but on the third day the Son of Man will be raised.


And in that moment, on that Sunday morning, in that empty tomb, that is exactly what the women do.

In that moment the stress, trauma, grief, and fear subsides and the women recall what Jesus had said.

In that moment the women remember, and by remembering, they act. They leave behind the tomb and they return to the world, telling people of what they have experienced, and what they have seen.

And in doing so, these women, this Mary, this Joanne, and this Mary, mother of James, have given us a new memory.

Not a memory rooted in slavery. Not a memory rooted in a childless couple.

But a memory rooted in an empty tomb. A memory that said when the world said “no”, God said “Yes.”

A memory that our Creator sent us someone who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, who ate with sinners, and who offered healing to all.

A memory that while the world’s response was to kill him, God’s response was to raise Jesus from the dead.

A memory that because of God’s wild and mysterious actions, the world now has the eternal presence of Christ, who will exist into eternity.

A memory that while the world tried to create a scapegoat, God gave us a Savior.

A memory that faith may not always make sense, faith may not always be easy to understand, but faith allows us to endure our present and to move into our future.

Today we join a long line of people who remember. We remember what Christ has done. We remember what Christ had said.

We remember that Christ was raised, and we remember that it was God who raised him.

By remembering we find ourselves grounded in hope.

And when one is grounded in hope, one’s roots go deep, one’s core is strong, and one can endure almost any storm that comes along.

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Savior or Scapegoat? Palm Sunday Sermon, 2016

Rev. George Miller
March 20, 2016
Psalm 126

Welcome dreamers, laughers, and all who rejoice!

Are you ready for your fortunes to be restored? Are you ready for the great things God can do?

Welcome, those who are waiting, those who are weeping, those with tears too great for words.

Are you ready for your fortunes to be restored? Are you ready for the great things God can do?

Welcome all who are grounded in the Good News- each and every one of you bare seeds that are ripe for sowing!

Are you ready to flourish in the presence of the Lord?

If so let me hear you say “Hallelujah!”

If so, let me hear you say “Hosanna!”

Are you ready to say yes we can? Are we ready to make the nation great again?

…because, as it turns out it has not been an easy time for the nation; it has not been an easy time for the people of God.

The system is broken; the system is corrupt. And it’s the everyday person like Joe and Joanna who are paying for it.

For far too long the nation has been under what is called the “Domination System.”

It’s a system that has been around for centuries. There are 3 components to the Domination System.

The 1st is political oppression- this is where the government is run by a few, made up of the wealthy elite; people with deep, deep pockets who have friends in all the right places.

The 2nd component is economic exploitation, when working class folks are kept trapped in a cycle in which they are underpaid, overtaxed, overcharged, given loans with exorbitant interest rates, and constantly reminded that if they don’t adhere to the rules they’ll be arrested and locked away.

The 3rd component is religious legitimization. This is where the name of God is repeated over and over again by those in power, in which leadership is wrapped in words of faith, the idea that God has deemed things so, and anyone who disagrees must not believe in God, and therefore must be an enemy of the nation.

The Domination System has been used before; the Domination System will be used again.

Keep the elite in power; keep the working class in place, and say it’s all part of God’s plan.

However, the people are not fools. The people are not as asleep as they seem. And the people remember- the people of the nation remember when things were good.

They recall when there was laughter and joy. They recall when the Lord had done great, great things.

They remember the gifts of life, liberty, and freedom. They recall when there seemed to be abundance for all, leaders did what was right for the people, and they were kept out of harm’s way.

They remember when things were like Camelot…

…But now the nation is feeling dry; dry like a riverbed in the dessert. Dry from all the weeping, and worrying that has been going on.

Instead of people shouting “Yes we can!” they are feeling like “No we cannot.”

So the people are angry, they are mad. They are simultaneously looking for a scapegoat, and hoping for a savior.

The people are ready to make their nation great again, just as they remember…

…Of course, ya’ll know what nation I’m talkin’ about, right? You know who the people are, don’t know?

I’m talkin’ about the Israelites living in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago.

I’m talking about the people of God who remember when life was good, when God freed them from slavery, when David was their king.

I’m talking about people who recall when they were freed from the Exile, when God led them back to the Holy City, singing and skipping along the river.

I’m talking about people who recall the good times but have now found themselves living in chaos, who realized their current conditions were corrupt, who grew sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I’m talking about the Israelite people living in Jerusalem who wondered just where God was, did God still care about them, was God punishing them, or was God asleep.

And sadly, these feelings did not go away any time soon. Sadly, the nation continued to be challenged. Sadly, the nation continued its identity crises. Sadly, the nation was corrupt and in chaos.

And by the beginning of Holy Week in the year 30-33, the whole nation was really, really ready for someone to be their savior, and they were really, really ready for someone to be their scapegoat...

…and that’s where Jesus comes in.

Into a cultural climate in which 90% of the population is living on a farm, forgiveness of sins can only come from the priests, and the Roman government gets a cut of all the Temple offerings.

Jesus’ ministry to the people takes place during this time.

Piece by piece, people with unclean spirits have their demons cast out; and how good it is.

People living with leprosy and dreaded diseases are offered healing; and how good it is.

People who have been paralyzed, kept in place and left for dead are restored to abundant life; and how good it is.

Except for the business men, religious leaders and government officials who benefit from having people marked as outsiders and outcasts- how good it is not.

Piece by piece Jesus has the audacity to forgive sins.

Jesus shamelessly speaks his mind. He is seen with all kinds of people, from women, to kids, to immigrants, to those with open sores and who are dripping with blood.

He not only welcomes them, he not only heals them, he teaches them, and he talks about living a different kind of way.

How good it is.

Except for the business men, the religious leaders and the politicians- how good it is not.

Piece by piece, Jesus shares with the people stories. Stories in which despised foreigners like Samaritans can be the hero of the tales.

Jesus shared with them stories about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom where great banquets are held in which the crippled, the blind, the lame, the poor, and the common every-day woman, man, and child is invited to sit, to eat, and to be.

How good it is.

Except for the business men, the religious leaders and the politicians- how good it is not.

So today, when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, we have him entering into a political climate in which the wealthy elite are in power, the working folk are economically exploited, and religion has been used as a weapon.

So today, when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, 90% of the population is disenfranchised, angry, sad and mad as heck.

They are hoping for a savior. They want someone to step up and speak on their behalf. They want someone to right all the wrongs.

They want someone to restore the fortunes of their once great nation back to the way things were.

They want someone to make their nation great again; they want someone who will lead the way, destroy their enemies and make them say “Yes, we can!”

They believe Jesus is the One. They believe he has come to right all the wrongs. They believe he will restore their fortunes, erase their tears, and make them bountiful again.

So when they hear that Jesus is coming to town, they great him with cheers. They great him with palms and leafy braches that symbolize triumph and victory.

They greet him with Hallelujahs and Hosannas.

How. Good. It. Is.

The people have been waiting for a savior…

…but deep, deep down, if they are to honest with themselves, they are also looking for a scapegoat as well.

They are looking for someone to place all their tears, all their fears, all their frustration upon.

Deep, deep down, 90% of the nation is really looking for someone to demonize, make an enemy, and punish so they can find a way to deal with all their weeping, their worries, and their woes.

And the other 10% made of up corrupt businessmen, politicians and religious leaders are looking for someone to misdirect the population’s anger, rage and fear.

They are looking for someone to set as an example, to feed the frenzy of the crowds, and to keep the people in place.

Folk are cheering for Jesus now, but before the week comes to an end they will call for his death.

…So we ask this question, this week:

Where do you stand? What do you believe?

Are you for the Kingdom of God or for the Kingdom of Man?

Do the teachings of Jesus and the life example he sets make you say “How good it is” or “How good it is not”?

Do you welcome all that Jesus stands for with leafy palm branches of green, or do you welcome all that Jesus stands for with two rugged pieces of wood, a hammer and a set of nails?

Are you resigned to a life of weeping, waiting and worry?

Or are you ready to dream, laugh, and rejoice?

Where do you stand; what do you believe?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Languages of Love; John 12:1-8

Rev. George Miller
March 13, 2016
John 12:1-8

Thank God for true friends. We are happy when they are here; miss them when they’re gone. We rejoice when they are with us, and grieve when they go away.

Thank God for moments when we can just be present. We don’t have to work. We don’t have to fix. We don’t have to be anything else but who we are.

Thank God for love. Love that is mutual. Love that nurtures. Love that restores. Love that manifests itself in so many ways.

There are many ways we can be friends. Many ways we can be present. Many ways we can love.

And there are many ways we can say “I love you” to someone, be it a lover, a family member, or a dear, dear friend.

I recall years ago when I was dating someone who put a picture of me up in his room, and someone told me that this was one of the languages of love.

I was intrigued, and came to learn that there are at least 7 different languages people use to express love, ranging from the obvious to the oh-so-subtle.

The most obvious love language is when someone says “I love you.” Or showers you with compliments.

Similar is the language of affirmation, when someone is shown appreciation, and thanked for what they do, from taking out the garbage, to the dinner that was cooked.

To say “Thank you for doing the laundry” or “Thank you for raking the lawn” is to say “You are appreciated, and you are loved.”

There is the language of service; of not just saying, but doing something for that person. Taking their car to be washed. Coming over to fix their bathroom door. Offering to wash the dishes.

There is the language of giving gifts and cards. Not just gifts on holidays, birthdays or anniversaries, but gifts “just because.”

These gifts can be expensive as a necklace from Tiffanies, or as inexpensive as a toy from the Dollar Store; they can be as intricate as a subscription to the Wine-of-the-Month club, or as simple as a bouquet of wildflowers from right outside the backdoor.

Another language of love is that of quality time. This is time that is not only spent together, but it is that undivided attention time in which one is fully present.

It is not scrolling through the cell phone, switching through the TV channels, or saying “ahh-hah” while reading the paper.

It is putting the TV on mute when someone walks in the room, shutting off the stereo when someone calls, it is looking at someone straight on and listening.

There is the language of touch; the physical intimacy we have with another. The holding of hands, kissing of lips, sitting side-by-side with shoulders touching, playing footsies underneath the table.

Another language of love is the kind that nurtures the spirit. Detecting when that person may be tired or feeling swamped, and doing something like running a hot bath for them, treating them to a meal, giving them a day at the spa, rubbing them with lotion.

Those are 7 languages of Love: words, affirmation, service, gifts, time, touch, nurturing.

I also think there’s at least 1 more love language- that of just being. The kind where you can both just sit at a cafĂ© with a book or a magazine and not say a word, or watch a show on the couch uninterrupted.

Or you can just look at one another and know exactly what the other is thinking.

These languages of love are so simple, and yet so complex.

Most folk don’t realize there are different ways to say “I love you”, so they fail to hear it when it’s being said to them, and they fail to say it in a way the other needs to hear it

For example, some folk need to hear over and over again “I love you, I love you, I love you.” And no amount of gifts, or time together, or acts of service will satisfy them.

I had a friend who dated a guy who worked tirelessly at her house. If something was broken, he fixed it. It something needed painting, he took care of it.

Everything he did was saying “I love you” in his language, but because he rarely verbalized those 3 little words, she was like a wilted flower, feeling parched of affection.

I think of my parents. My father loved my mother very much, but he wasn’t the best at speaking her language of quality time.

At night she’d sit down to watch TV and complain that he was reading, or when they went places he was always 2 steps ahead, as if he was rushing to somewhere of great importance.

And my mom wasn’t the best of speaking his language of just being. That he was content eating in silence, or sitting around a camp fire. He didn’t need to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk to express or feel love.

We are all precious flowers, and in order for us to feel grounded, to feel watered, to bloom and thrive, we need to “hear” the love language in a way we understand it.

But because folk speak different love languages, we can often feel like we are parched, wilting, and barely surviving.

Successful couples, successful families, and successful friends have learned how to speak and hear one another’s language of love.

I believe that’s part of what we get to witness in today’s reading.

I feel a deep affection for this scripture. I think that in some ways this gives us a brief, but important glance into the life of Jesus.

Not Jesus the Divine. Not Jesus the Messiah. Not Jesus, the Superman striding the Earth ready to die for all of our sakes.

But Jesus the man. Jesus the person. Jesus the friend.

Forget about Judas sticking his nose into something that not’s his business. Never mind about the poor always being with us.

But instead, look at this little bit of Jesus just being in which he’s hanging out with three people who could very well be his best friends.

We don’t really know much about Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus, but what we do know is that all three of them were very dear to Jesus’ heart.

We know that in the Gospel of Luke their relationship was intimate enough that Martha had no issue with welcoming Jesus into her home, and Jesus had no problem accepting.

We know that Martha expressed her love for Jesus by doing many tasks; and we know that Mary expressed her love by sitting by his feet; and we know Jesus expressed his love by teaching her.

We know that Martha felt close enough to Jesus to chastise him, and Jesus felt comfortable enough to challenge her back.

A sign of true friends and a sign of true love is when we are able to speak our mind to one another without worry of ramification.

We know that Jesus loved Lazarus, and when faced with his death, Jesus weeps.

We know that when Jesus is late to prevent Lazarus from dying, Martha is unafraid to meet him in public and hold him accountable, and Mary goes as quickly as she can to meet Jesus, cry at his feet, and express her displeasure.

A sign of true friends and of true love is when one is able to meet us where we are, to say what needs to be said, and the ability to express true emotions.

A sign of a true friend and of true love is the ability to be met, to hear what has to be said, and to allow another to express themselves without being shamed or silence.

We know that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he made many enemies, and people in Jerusalem were plotting to kill.

And we know that Jesus knew this.

Yet that does not stop Jesus from going to Bethany, into the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, for supper, even though it’s only 2 miles away from Jerusalem.

A sign of a true friend and of true love is when one does not let fear, circumstances or possibilities to get in the way of being together.

Clearly there was no mountain high enough, no ocean wide enough, no valley deep enough to keep Jesus away from spending time with his good friends.

And here we are, six days before he’s to eat his last Supper, six days before everything falls to waste- Jesus is at table with three of his closest and dearest of friends.

And virtually every language of love is being spoken amongst them.

There is the love language of just being. They are not at a fancy restaurant; they are not at a loud, wine-filled wedding, but at home, having a meal. Lazarus is just chilling at the table, not really having to say or do anything.

Martha is speaking her love language of service, once again busy with her many things, performing her acts of diakonia.

Jesus is speaking his language of quality time. He’s done enough teaching; he’s done enough arguing with the authorities.

He’s not in the office, he’s not at his desk, he’s not checking e-mails or returning calls.

He’s not turning water into wine or restoring sight to the blind.

Jesus is fully present; sharing his time with his three best friends.

Then there is Mary. Wow- Mary speaks lots of love languages here. The perfume of pure nard- a gift that would’ve cost a full year’s worth of pay.

The love language of nurturing she speaks through her act of anointing.

The love language of physicality she speaks as she touches his feet and let’s down her hair to wipe his soles with her locks of love.

The love language of words and affirmation Jesus spoke in support of her, verbally assuring Mary that what she did was a good thing, and something that would not be forgotten.

Forget the intrusion of Judas’ judgment, forget the horror of what’s to come, and instead focus on the love that exists within this story, the love that existed between these four friends.

That here we have an image of Jesus we may not always think of- of a human being, a man, a friend, a person, a fellow-traveler, a companion.

We have an image of Jesus away from the mountaintops and seashore; we have an image of Jesus away from the crowds and the synagogues.

We have this image of Jesus just being, eating, hanging out, chilling, loving, and being loved in return.

He doesn’t need gold, he doesn’t need frankincense, he doesn’t need palms, he doesn’t need hallelujahs.

2 miles away the city is in chaos, but for now, Jesus just is…

Jesus is with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Speaking, hearing, sharing, and seeing all the different languages of love that dear, dear friends can say to one another.

Thank God for love. Love that is mutual. Love that nurtures. Love that restores. Love that manifests itself in so many ways.

Thank God for moments when we can just be present. We don’t have to work. We don’t have to fix. We don’t have to be anything else but who we are.

Thank God for true friends. We are happy when they are here; miss them when they’re gone. We rejoice when they are with us, and grieve when they go away.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Does God Miss Us?

Rev. George Miller
March 6. 2016
Luke 15:1-10

Last week we said good bye to two members of our congregation- Rita Timberman and Stanley Brandt, both who moved back north to be with their family.

Of course, they are not the only people we have said goodbye to over the years. There was Ron & Judy Davis, Blaine & Marge Pederson, Mary Lindsay, Al & Joyce Gordon.

Soon we’ll be saying goodbye to Gene & John.

Different people respond different ways to saying goodbye.

Some people ritualize it, by having some kind of farewell gathering or creating a craft or signing a card.

Some cry and experience great sadness, even depression.

Me? I just go…numb.

It’s a survival technique I learned early in life. I had to. Death’s been too much of a reality.

I buried 3 grandparents and a cousin by the time I was 9; an aunt, a godfather, a grandfather, and 2 teenage co-workers by the time I was 16; and buried a father, a best friend, 3 seminary classmates, and 2 remaining grandparents by the time I was 34.

I’ve been saying goodbye all my life, since before starting kindergarten.

Add to the fact that for the last 20 years my career has been in social services and ministry. When working in the foster care system, or hospitals, or nursing homes, you deal with the fact that anyone can be moved, leave, or die at any time.

So you appreciate and love them while they are in your presence; you find a way to survive when they are gone.

In other words- out of sight, out of mind.

Lastly, my ability to go numb when saying goodbye also stems from the fact that for the last 25 years I’ve been a wandering gypsy.

Since 1990, I have lived in 14 different residences, in 9 different cities, in 5 different states. The longest time I’ve lived in one place was 4 years and 11 months.

So out of sight, out of mind has applied to countless people, parishioners, friends, and family I have known throughout the years.

But it doesn’t mean I don’t miss them; I’ve just learned to not always think about them.

I can’t; it would hurt too much if I thought of every person I have lost or no longer see.

For example, I miss Cornelius something awful. I love that kid like he could be my own son.

It pains me to think that I’ve only seen him 2 times in the past 12 months, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.

That’s why when people ask how he’s doing I can be brief and seem non-present in my answer. To talk too much about Cornelius is to talk about how much I miss him.

I miss my nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, who are all scattered around the country, my Mom who lives in Arizona, my Dad who’s been dead now for 21 years, and my 2 oldest and dearest friends Matt and Christine who are back in New York.

Out of sight, out of mind. It had to be that way in order for me to survive and to do what I do.

But I sense that things may change, because with the purchase of my home, with the acquiring of my cozy cottage, there has been the laying down of roots.

Roots that say “I’m not going anywhere.” Roots that say “Now it’s really time to know one another.”

Roots that will no doubt hurt when someone in this Sebring life does move, or die, or go away.

Not sure how true “out of sight, out of mind” will be then.

Looking back over my life I can honestly say the only constant has been God.

God was there in the choir room of the United Methodist Church with its metal folding chairs as we sung “Morning Has Broken.”

God was in the sanctuary of Grace Temple with its plush red movie-theater style-seats as Doris Akers played organ and sang “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”

In the stoic, very German-evangelical carvings of Eden’s Chapel in which the likes of Walter Brueggemann taught.

The wooden benches of Burlingame Congregational where I got to preach for 4 years.

Sunlit sanctuary in Sebring where blue and yellow stained glass makes it so we can never forget what God did for us on the cross.

God has always been there.

The beaches of Long Island with seagulls and seashells.

Lakes of Minnesota that overflowed in Spring; the current of the Mighty Mississippi as it winds through Missouri.

The shore of Lake Michigan with its sand dunes and lake-effect snow.

The still, beautiful blue waters of Dinner Lake with its alligators and butter catfish

The east and west coast beaches of Florida with their pelicans and manatees.

God is there; God has always been there.

…but sometimes I feel like I miss God.

Not that God is absent or far away, but that I have been absent or far away.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too busy, or having too much fun. Or on the couch, binge watching TV, or wasting time scrolling through Facebook, or doing something, going somewhere with my friends.

Used to be a time when I read the Bible every day. Or I’d set aside time 4-5 days a week to just be with God.

Lately, that one-on-one time with God has become just once a week, on Wednesdays, before writing the sermon.

Because of the APC gathering in Orlando, I went two weeks before intentionally spending some quality time with God.

I missed that; I missed God. Which got me thinking-

Does God miss me?

Sure, there are billions upon billions of people upon the face of the earth, but did God miss the one-on-one time we spent together in which the world stopped, time didn’t matter, and the phone did not ring?

It’s just God and I- chilling, talking, listening, just…being.

Does God miss us when we are gone?

Now, I’ve counseled lots of people who have had a crises of faith. They ask questions like “Where is God?” “Is God asleep?” “Why does God feel so far away?”

I wonder- does God ever feel the same way about us?

Are there times when God asks “Where is my beloved child?”, “Are they awake?” and “Why do my people feel so far away?”

And Jesus, with his amazing gift of story-telling, gives us the answer to that question.

In the parables which we heard today, we learn that our God is not an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of God.

We learn that God does not take our absence lightly.

We learn that there can be 99 sheep, safe and sound enjoying the sun, but if we’ve gone astray, God notices.

God knows we if are not present; God knows if we are not where we ought to be.

God seeks, God searches…and God finds.

We learn that there can be 9 bright and shiny coins ready to be used, but God will notice if we are unaccounted for, if we have fallen between the cracks, if we have been consumed by dark shadows.

God seeks, God searches, God shines God’s light…and God finds.

Think about that.

Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even me.

Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even you.

Just how amazing, how personal God truly is. That God cares for even the people we don’t know, the people we don’t really care about, even the people we just do not like.

Even them, those that we hate, those we despise- God cares for them.

God cares, God searches, God seeks, God finds.

God carries the stray upon God’s shoulders. God celebrates when the lost has been found.

Our God is not an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of God.

God loves us when we are present; God misses us when we are not.

God waits for us to come home; and when we don’t God sets out to find us.

God misses us.

God misses me; God misses you; God misses us all.

That’s one reason why it’s so important that God feeds us at the Lord’s Table.

Because when we share in Communion, God is not are only saying “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

God is also saying “No matter where you have been, no matter where you have gone, no matter what you have done, you are welcome here- at the Table of Grace, the Table of Mercy, the Table of Eternal Love.”

God says “No matter what you have seen, no matter what you have experienced- if you’ve been stuck in briars and brambles or you fell between the floorboards, rolled into a rat hole, or lost some of your shine sitting in some dark corner, you are welcome here- at the Table of Grace, the Table of Mercy, the Table of Eternal Love.”

God misses us, and the Table becomes a great way to say “Hello!”

Now, maybe you’ve been gone for awhile; you’ve been busy; too much going on. God invites you to sit, eat.

Maybe you have been gone a long, long time and never thought you’d be welcomed back. God invites you to sit, drink.

Maybe you and God are just fine; you’re like old friends who talk to each other all the time. Then maybe this is like a weekly meal at Homers, or McDonalds or an afternoon get away to Starbucks in which you can catch up.

God still invites you to sit, be calm, enjoy.

Today, during worship, we get to eat with God, and we get to eat with one another, because we remember.

We remember not only the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, we remember not only the miracles in the wilderness, we remember not only the mystery of the Cross-

…but we remember that God knows us. God loves us.

God misses us when we go away. God rejoices when we come back.

God worries when we are lost. God celebrates when we are found.

Amen and amen.