Monday, May 30, 2016

When Do We Stop Doing What We're Doing? 1 Kings 18:30-39

Rev. George Miller
May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:30-39

Today’s reading is like a World Wide Wrestling Match taken to the highest level.

In one corner, we have King Ahab and his god Baal; in the other corner we have the prophet Elijah and his god, Yahweh.

In King Ahab’s corner we have 450 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of Asherah, and all the citizens of the northern kingdom.

In Elijah’s corner, we have…no one (wah wahhhhh).

It’s a battle to see whose God is bigger. Elijah makes a bet- each one will dismember a bull, place it on wood, call upon their god and see which god is the better Grill Master.

Ding, ding! King Ahab’s guys go first. They kill a bull, put it on wood, call out to Baal, and nothing happens.

They limp around the altar, calling upon Ball for hours. Morning turns into afternoon. They call, they cry, they cut themselves.

Midday comes along and there’s nothing, simply silence. No voice, no fire, nada.

It’s Elijah’s turn. “Gather around” he tells the audience. “Look what God can do!”

Slowly, meticulously, he fixes the altar. He gathers 12 stones. He makes a trench. He puts the wood in an orderly pile. He cuts the bull into uniform chops.

Then to up the ante he has them pour 4 jars of water over everything, not once, not twice, but three times, so it’s all good-n-wet.

Then Elijah calls out “O Yahweh, God of our ancestors, answer me so they know you are God, I am your prophet and they can give their hearts back to you.”

Boom! Crash!! Bang!!! Sizzle!!!!

A lightning bolt hits the altar and everything, every single thing, from the stones, to the dust, to the water is burnt to a crisp.

Yahweh, the God of Israel, has won the belt!

And now that God has won, the people fall on their faces, make an announcement of faith, and soon after, the rains begin to fall…

Now on Tuesday, our Lectionary Bible Study class talked about the faith of the people. Wednesday, in the K.I.T., I talked about the horrifying notion that in verse 40 Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Baal.

Today we are going to talk about King Ahab. He’s such an interesting fellow.

King Ahab is one of those biblical beings who just never seems to get it right. He has great power, yet makes huge mistakes.

He’s given ample opportunities, but makes poor decisions. He’s given numerous choices, but always seems to pick the wrong one.

So let’s talk a bit about Ahab.

Ahab was the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He ruled a nation that truly was rooted in the Word of God.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were their ancestors. God led them into the Promised Land, giving them the Commandments, and the simplest of directives- “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

They had King David, the greatest king who ever lived. They had Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived.

But then everything went downhill: the nation split, the kingdoms were divided, and basically every king who followed was a great big mess-up.

Ahab was perhaps the biggest one.

For starters, he marries a woman named Jezebel and begins to worship Baal.

Then the prophet Elijah tells him that because of his actions God will not allow any dew or rain to fall.

For three years a drought hits, and instead of taking ownership for his actions, King Ahab searches high and low for Elijah, and allows his wife to kill the Lord’s prophets.

Then when King Ahab and Elijah cross paths this Battle of the Gods takes place, and although Yahweh clearly wins, it seems like King Ahab has not changed his ways.

Apparently for King Ahab, a miracle of majestic proportions is not enough.

Later on, the king engages in a war with the nation of Aram. But not to worry. God sends a prophet, not once, but twice to assure Ahab that all be will OK.

“Don’t worry,” the first prophet tells Ahab, “the Lord will take care of your enemies and you will know the Lord is your God.”

Later, the second prophet says “The Lord will give you victory over your enemies, and you will know the Lord is your God. But just do one teeny, tiny thing- when you capture the enemy king, don’t let him go.”

But what happens. The enemy king sweet talks his way out of captivity. “Hey,” he says to Ahab, “If you let me go I’ll give you back all the land my father took from your father.

“And if you like, you can use the land to put up a strip mall, a Dollar Tree, a Sam’s Club, and a Starbucks.

Then you can go shopping whenever you want and buy your wife a diamond necklace, you can get yourself the latest I-Phone, and one of those double-mocha grande frappacinos with whipped cream and caramel drizzle.”

King Ahab’s response is “OK.”

Apparently, the fact that God just fought for him and won was not enough.

Finally, there is a day in which Ahab is heading home after a long day of doing whatever a bad king does, and he sees right next to his a house a beautiful vineyard.

“This is nice,” he says, “But it would be so much nicer if it was turned into a vegetable garden and if it was all mine.

Then I can grow kale and collards and beets and avocados so I can make my own shakes and guacamole.”

So Ahab tried to convince the owner to part with his property, and when the owner doesn’t, Ahab and his wife concoct a plot in which the man is falsely accused of bad-mouthing God and he is stoned to death.

This becomes the last straw for God. Elijah is called to give Ahab this message:

“When you die, dogs are going to lick up your blood. Every male in your household will meet disaster. Stray mutts will eat your wife, and your relatives who die out in the country will be pecked apart by birds.”

Pleasant, right?

But apparently the idea of him and his wife becoming Kibbles-n-Bits at the Humane Society is just what it takes for King Ahab to finally open his heart.

He rips his clothes, he puts on a sackcloth, he fasts, and he goes around humbled and acting dejected.

Finally, there is a breakthrough.

A 3 years drought did not do it. Fire from a sky did not do it. Rain from the heavens did not do it. Victory in battle did not do it.

The thought of he and his family being consumed by dogs and birds did it.

God is touched by Ahab’s actions. God acknowledges the change, and delays the disaster that’s set to befall the king.

Ahab, Ahab, Ahab.

His story would be funnier if it wasn’t so tragic; his story would be less tragic if it wasn’t so true.

Ahab’s narrative is such an interesting study in human nature when it comes to faith and when it comes to behavior.

We can look at the life of King Ahab and wonder “What point do we stop doing what we’re doing?” and “What point do we stop not doing what we’re not doing?”

For example, what if instead of blaming Elijah for the drought, Ahab looked at his own actions and how worshipping Baal was bringing misery upon the people and the land?

Was Ahab really that stubborn and thick headed that he allowed everyone and everything around him to suffer for three years?

What if instead of spending all that energy to hunt Elijah down, King Ahab turned back to God and said “I am so sorry for my mistakes. Please forgive me and stop punishing the people for my transgressions.”?

When God fought for Ahab, giving his enemies to him and delivering him from evil, Ahab should have made a better effort to do thing right.

A military victory would have been the perfect time to bring peace upon the land and to re-embrace the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord.

Not cave in to consumerism and kill someone for a garden full of greens.

It shouldn’t have taken the fear of Fido feasting on his flesh for Ahab to turn back to God.

But you know what? I don’t think any of us have the right to judge King Ahab, because in many ways his story is our story.

How often?

How often do we need a mind-blowing miracle in order for us to believe God is real?

How often do we need to hear a prophetic word being spoken in order for us to realize we’ve brought a drought into our lives?

How often do we need to be reminded of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all they’ve been through in order for us to believe?

How often do we have to be reminded that:
-once we were slaves in Egypt?
-God came to us in a manger?
-Jesus died upon and a cross and
-Christ was raised by God on the 3rd day?

How often do we have to be reminded of these things so that we believe, and by believing, we are empowered to act?

To be brave? To do what’s right? To confront unfairness?

To wonder if we’re possibly the cause of the dry spell?

To not be fooled and lured in by false idols, or things, or having the easiest access to the items we don’t need, but want?

How many of us here today are just one variation of King Ahab?

To many degrees, we all are. I am.

We’ve experienced fiery events. We’ve experienced an outpouring of blessings.

We’ve been given second, third, fourth chances to infinity.

We’ve received words of warning. We’ve received grace, and yet…

…yet we still act like we haven’t experienced a dang thing.

We fail to fully trust in God. We are quick to forget the wondrous things we’ve seen. We allow others to lead us down false paths. We punish those who speak the truth.

We lie, we trick, we inflict harm, we place the blame on others.

We turn from God again and again and again and again, no matter how many times God turns to us and says “I’m here, I’m here. I AM here.”

King Ahab was as far from imperfect as one can be, and we are not that far from him.

Fortunately, I believe that our God is patient. I believe that despite what some scriptures say, our God is kind.

Fortunately, I know that as human beings blessed with the gift of free will, we will never get things 100% right.

Fortunately because of Jesus I know that our God is full of grace and mercy, and we are given ample opportunities to learn, to grow from our mistakes and to be better versions of ourselves.

Fortunately, because of the Resurrection, I believe we have all of eternity, and beyond to do that learning, that growing, the evolving.

Sometimes we need fire from the sky to be woken up. Sometimes we need God to win our battles so we can do better than we are.

Sometimes we need to hear the harsh truth to realize that our actions do affect others.

It can start by remembering and realizing that there is more to the world than just us.

That there is the great Mystery and we are all part of the Holy Narrative.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Why Bother with God? 1 Kings 17:1-7

Rev. George Miller
May 22, 2016
1 Kings 17:1-7

Ever wonder what it was like to be a baby? To be a young innocent whose every need is attended too?

When you cry, you’re held. When you go to the bathroom, your butt is wiped. When you’re hungry, you’re fed.

In order to eat, you don’t have to do anything. You’re guided to the breast or the bottle. Or you’re put in a seat and someone places the food into your mouth using a spoon and making silly noises like “choo-choo”.

Sometimes it seems like life would be so much better if we can each be spoon fed.

After a long day at work, or a hot day in the sun, and you can come inside, and sit down. You don’t have to lift your arms; you don’t have to hold a thing.

You don’t have to shop, cook, or prepare. Someone else spoons the food into your mouth and lulls you to sleep with silly sounds or a lullaby.

Sometimes that’s how we want our faith to be; sometimes we just want to be spoon fed.

Told what to believe; assured that the world is good. That ultimately everyone is nice and God’s always fair.

Sometimes we just want to be given all the answers. Hear a sermon in which everything is left nice and tidy.

Have a great worship in which you leave saying “We had church today!” You feel great. Feel beautiful, loved, and blessed.

Knowing that it’s all good cause it’s all God.

But truthfully, real, mature worship, and real, mature faith isn’t always like that.

Real, mature faith isn’t about being spoon fed, it’s not about being given all the answers.

Real, mature faith isn’t like that.

Scripture isn’t always like that.

God isn’t always like that.

Example- today is Trinity Sunday in which we’re supposed to talk about how there is only 1 God, but God is 3 persons.

1-in-3, 3-in-1.

But ain’t nobody got time for that, and I can barely articulate what the Trinity’s about.

Another example is today’s reading. What the heck!?!

It seems abbreviated; it’s shorter than most. It feels unfinished and leaves one hanging, waiting for a resolution.

Not to mention, today’s reading is not part of the suggested Lectionary, which means that unless you read the Bible on your own (or your pastor preaches about it), you’d never encounter this story from the pulpit.

Just what is this story about?

It’s about as king. A king who is willing to compromise himself and his kingdom by worshipping a different god, a god named Baal who supposedly controls the rain and makes things grow.

This story is about a prophet, a prophet who comes out of nowhere, with no known pedigree or training, who confronts the king and tells him there will be neither morning dew nor afternoon rain until he says so.

This story is about Yahweh, the God of Israel; the God of the king and of the prophet and of the people.

But do we like how God is portrayed here?

How do you feel hearing that because the king worshipped another god that the Lord was willing to put a hold on all precipitation for three years?

This just didn’t mean no rain, but no dew, no sleet, and no snow.

Doesn’t God seem just a bit extreme, perhaps even obsessed?

How do you feel hearing that because Elijah spoke on God’s behalf, he’s now becomes an enemy of the state and he’s told he has to turn eastward and go back the way his ancestors came?

How do you feel hearing that because Elijah did just as he was told, that he is now all alone, outside the city, sipping muddy water from a wadi, his only source of companionship are filthy, messy, squawking birds that bring him meat and bread?

And where did this meat come from, and what kind is it? Are we talking filet mignon or eye of newt and kidney of possum?

If the king is an example of what it means to upset God, why bother?

If Elijah is an example of what it means to obey God, why bother?

According to this story, either you’ll be in the palace starving, or you’ll be outside the city eating take-out from unclean birds.

And what message should you leave church with today?

Does God curse an entire nation of men, women, children and animals based on the actions of their leader?

According to today’s reading- yes.

Does God get jealous and throw temper tantrums when God doesn’t get all the attention?

According to today’s reading- yes.

Does God withdraw life-giving things like rain even if it means families will starve, rivers will dry up, and grass will wither away?

According to today’s reading- yes…

…Is God able to provide even in times of dire need and distress?


Is God able to deliver in ways we could never expect or anticipate?


Is God able to work through people, places, weather, animals, and historical events to bring about deliverance?


For every seemingly bad thing today’s scripture says about God, there’s a seemingly good thing that is said.

For every seemingly good thing today’s scripture says about God, there’s a seemingly bad thing.

So…why bother?

Why bother with God?

Why bother with scripture?

Why bother with faith?

Welcome to the most complex and most elemental aspect of being a believer.

Here we are, talking openly and honestly about faith, in which I can’t spoon feed you, and you can’t be given all the answers.

As they say, “Faith is not faith until it’s all you have left.”

Why bother with faith?

Sometimes faith is the only thing that keeps us going.

Sometimes faith is the only thing that keeps us moving ahead.

Sometimes faith is the only reason we have to get up in the morning and fall asleep at night.

Faith keeps us in conversation with our Creator.

Faith keeps us humble, because we don’t know all the answers.

Faith keeps us strong, even when we are at our weakest.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a baby?

It’s about not knowing. It’s about trusting. It’s about depending on others. It’s about learning, growing, crying, and laughing.

It’s about crawling and trying to walk. It’s about bumping your head and unexpected spills.

It’s about entering the mystery of not knowing what’s ahead.

Today we may leave worship feeling more confused than when we entered. Today we may leave not sure of what we learned.

But may we leave feeling comfort in knowing that we don’t have to know it all, and that we are not expected to.

Let us leave with the mystery of God and the knowledge that we have all of eternity to wonder and to learn, and to ask our questions.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I'm Not Sorry; Reflections on John 14:8-18

Rev. George Miller
May 15, 2016
John 14:8-18

25 years ago, while attending college in Minnesota, I had one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

For a class project, we visited a Pentecostal congregation named Grace Temple Deliverance Church. It was housed in an old movie theater, located in a part of Minneapolis in which a highway had been built right through the center of the city.

The narthex had a distinct smell to it, one of age and welcome. The seats were a vibrant red, like ours.

The moment I walked in, I knew I had found what I’d been looking for all my life.

Worship started at 11:30 and was 3 hours long, but I didn’t care. The music was lively; the message timely. Folk were dressed in their Sunday finest and they were friendly as can be.

A few weeks later I went back. I borrowed a friend’s car, drove the 75 minutes into the city, and attended worship.

My spirit soared, we sang, we clapped, we laughed, folk spoke back with “amens” and “uh-huhs” and “preach!”

But half-way through the service I began to get a little drowsy, closing my eyes so I could rest, trying to pay attention but fading away.

I was startled awake when I heard the Minister of Music begin speaking, and she said “That young man over there, I want you to come up and talk to me after worship.”

That kept me awake during the rest of service, and I was nervous, thinking I had been busted for falling asleep in church.

About an hour later, worship ended, and I made my way up to the Minister of Music, named Doris Akers.

Ms. Akers was a much older woman with red hair and bright ruby lipstick. She was extremely light-skinned, so much so that I couldn’t figure out if she was white or black.

I had no idea why she wanted to talk with me.

“I’ve been watching you,” she said. “There’s something here that’s speaking to you, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I had the same experience the first time I came here. I want you to do me a favor, and come back.”

I made my excuses- I lived too far away, I didn’t have a car.

For every reason I gave as to “why not”, Ms. Akers gave me a “how”- I can take the bus, someone can pick me up at the station etc.

I left worship that day, and it was almost three years before I returned and became a regular worshipper at Grace Temple, and there she was, our Minister of Music, Ms. Doris Akers.

I didn’t know it then, but I was speaking to a very important person.

Doris Akers is the composer of the song we sung today, “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit.” Not only that, she’s listed in the Smithsonian as the most prolific black gospel composer of all time.

Sadly, I was too young, and too na├»ve to realize what that meant. I didn’t know that I was worshipping with a national, spiritual treasure each and every week.

Because I wasn’t raised in a Pentecostal Church I didn’t understand nor appreciate that what Ms. Akers did was a time-honored tradition of acknowledging and calling forth my gifts.

Sadly, Ms. Akers’ health was not well. A year after I began attending Grace Temple, she died.

She left all of her music royalty rights to a mission in Haiti started by the church. The money from those rights was used to build a school, and a hospital, and to continue caring for the people who live there.

Decades later I still carry with me the regrets of not fully knowing or appreciating the fact that Doris Akers was the Minister of Music at the church I attended.

If I fully knew then what I know now, I would have spent much more time with her.

I would have sat by her feet so she could have taught me what she knew, and to tell me her stories.

To this day, I grieve the lost possibilities of what could have been, wishing I could go back in time to better get to know, and to value, her.

So whenever I hear “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit” there is a sense of comfort; that Doris Akers is back; that she is here.

There is comfort in knowing anytime we sing one of her songs, the royalties are going to feed, heal, and teach those living in Haiti.

There is comfort in knowing that in some way, I am still in relationship with her…

Earlier this week, our Living After Loss group met and we discussed the needs people have after they’ve experienced a loss.

One of those needs is to somehow maintain a relationship with the person who is deceased.

There is the reality that physically we will never see our loved one again. We will never be able to touch them, smell their scent, or hear their voice.

But that we can still have a relationship with them, if we navigate and figure out what that means. How a photograph reminds us of them. How a personal belonging, a song, or a story stirs up memories.

And if even just for a moment, we feel reconnected to the one we lost.

Sometimes that reconnection becomes the difference between hope and hopelessness.

Taking this all in, I can’t help but to appreciate what Jesus is doing in today’s reading.

Here we have part of what is considered his “Farewell Discourse” to the disciples. After 1-3 years together, Jesus knows his time has come to an end.

So he takes time to prepare them for the fact that soon he will be leaving them.

He washed their feet. He shares a last meal. He reminds them of all the ministry they have done together. He assures them that even after he leaves they will continue to do great things; perhaps even greater things.

This is Succession Planning at its best. This is Jesus, as a true, healthy leader, assuring his followers that the sky is not falling and that they will carry on just fine without him.

But more than that, I sense that Jesus is doing grief ministry with his disciples. He knows they love him; he knows they will feel lost and orphaned without him.

So instead of ignoring the reality of what is to come, Jesus addresses it head on. He does it in an empowering way.

In today’s passage, here he is saying “You have seen who God is through the things we have done. The Father is in me, and I am in the Father. If you believe in me, continue to do the things I’ve done- feed, heal, teach, love.”

Jesus continues “Although physically I will be gone, I will be with you in Spirit. God will send you a Heavenly Advocate, a Spirit who will encourage you and cheer you on.”

“A Spirit that will help you in times of trouble; who will comfort you in times of distress; who will give you wisdom so you can figure things out.”

“This Spirit represents all that is true, and truly felt, and will live within you, and you will be in the Spirit.”

Jesus continues “And because of this you will not be like orphans; because of this you will never be truly alone. I will be with you always.”

I sense that this is Jesus’ wonderful way of doing pro-active grief ministry, in which he is assuring his beloved followers that even though he will no longer be with them physically, he will still be in relationship with them.

And because of the Spirit, the disciples can continue to be in relationship with one another.

And, because of the Spirit, they can continue their relationship with the community in which they have been called to care for.

Deeper still, what I sense here in today’s reading is that Jesus is saying to the disciples that he has no regrets.

I think this is Jesus saying to them that he is not sorry for how things have turned out.

I think this is Jesus, knowing he is about to face the cross, saying “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the exact same way.”

I think this is Jesus looking back over his life, and saying it is well with his soul, and that everything has happened as it should.

With this understanding, we can have a new appreciation and perception for what Pentecost is all about.

Today is the day we call the birthday of the Christian Church.

It is the day in which, according to the Book of Acts, that the Holy Spirit fell upon the people like tongues of fire, causing them to speak with great passion and to hear and to be heard in new ways.

Pentecost is a day in which something new entered into the lives of the believers, and though they were amazed and perplexed, they were filled with a new energy to get things done and to share the Good News.

And this is all well and good, and exciting.

But this week I came to a realization that perhaps Pentecost is also the day in which the disciples realized that Jesus was not lying.

Pentecost is the day in which the grieving disciples realized that Jesus did indeed care about them; that Jesus was still present to them, in a new and very different way.

That Pentecost is the day in which the promised Spirit fell upon the people, and in this Spirit the people did indeed find that the memory of Jesus still lived on.

That Pentecost is the day in which the people experienced the gifts of wisdom, the gifts of help, the gifts of cheerleading, the gifts of empowerment.

These weren’t gifts that were to be used for selfish and self-serving purposes, but gifts so that they could continue to do the work that Jesus had taught them.

Works, that as long as they did them, it was as if Jesus was still right beside them.

Works that made such a difference in their part of the world, that there was no need for regrets, or worry, or bitterness.

Maybe Pentecost can be seen as the day in which we were reminded that in Christ we are all beautiful, loved and blessed, so therefore we can continue to make glad the city of God.

Maybe Pentecost is that moment we get to relive again and again and again in which the works begun in Christ get to continue in us, so therefore neither Jesus, nor the disciples, nor any of us are ever truly gone.

But we live on whenever justice, kindness, and humility prevail.

Maybe Pentecost is saying there is a sweet, sweet Spirit, and we all get to play a part in sharing that sweetness with everyone we meet.

And the regrets we have will be far outweighed by the manner in which we have lived.

For in Christ we are not orphaned; in Christ we are not beyond help.

In Christ, we are all beautiful, loved, and blessed.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Message; Acts 16:11-15

Rev. George Miller
Acts 16:11-15
May 8, 2016

In the Book of Revelation, ch. 21, the author says “I saw a holy city, the new Jerusalem...It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel...its gates will never be shut by day...people will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.”

The Holy City: it is a place where God is the light, Jesus is the lamp, there is gladness and joy.

It is a city in which everyone is beautiful, loved and blessed.

Some say this is an image of a time and place that is far away, while others say it is a vision that can pertain to the here and now.

That we do not have to wait to die or for the end of the world to experience God’s heavenly city, but if we open our hearts, we open our minds, there are ways we can experience it today.

It’s a matter of wanting to look for it, the ability to embrace it, and accepting the invitation to be a part of it.

Communion can be a time when the Holy City, breaks into our reality and says hello. The Shepherd’s Pantry is another time when the City makes itself known.

We can experience a glimpse of the City in the laughter of a child, a healthy home, and the unconditional love of a mother.

The City of God is all around us, if we only take the time to look, realizing its citizens are many and do not always look or act like us.

To get a glimpse of who makes up God’s city, and to see just how boundary breaking Christianity is, we can turn to today’s reading.

Our scripture features Paul who is traveling with Timothy, the son of a mixed marriage. Together they are going from city to city, guided by the Holy Spirit. A vision sends them to Europe.

While there they meet a group of women who are outside the gates of the city, praying. One woman, Lydia, listens with great intensity. Her heart is opened by God and she is baptized.

More than that- this Lydia, a woman found outside of the city, becomes the 1st person in Europe to be converted, and her home becomes the Philippian church.

At first listen, this scripture sounds like a travelogue, with city after city being named. Pay closer attention and you’ll hear all the people who are making glad this particular city of God.

First, there is Paul. Once he was an enemy of the Church, who arrested and brutalized the earliest believers before having his own come to Jesus moment.

In other words, a former thug is helping to make glad the City of God.

Second, there is Timothy. His mother was a Jew, his father a gentile Greek. Because of that, he did not look like everyone else.

In other words a poster child for diversity is helping to make glad the City of God.

Third and fourth are the women worshiping by the river, including Lydia, a non-native who some scholars may believe have been a freed slave.

Who is helping to make glad the City of God? A group of people located on the outside of society.

This is reminiscent of Galatians 3:28- “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In the past few weeks we’ve heard about all the various people who made up the early church. We’ve heard of Peter, Tabitha, and Cornelius.

Since today is Mother’s Day, let’s focus on Lydia, one of the first Church Mothers.

As today’s reading begins, Paul and Timothy have made their way onto European soil. They’re looking for a place to pray. For some reason, they go outside the city gates, beyond the city limit, to the river.

A group of women have gathered there. They’re praying. Paul and Timothy sit down, join the women, and talk with them.

And Lydia, a woman from another town, a dealer in expensive fabrics, has her heart opened.

She is so moved by what she hears. She has everyone in her household baptized. She offers the men a place to stay.

Who is this Lydia? We know she was the mother of the Philippian church. But she was also someone who was on the outside.

Outside, not just in terms of the city gates, but outside in terms of the gates of society.

Lydia was a woman, which immediately placed her and the women she was with on the outside.

She was an artisan; someone who most likely worked with her hands. If you know anything about how purple cloth was made back then, you’d know it was not a pretty or neat process.

Artisans and people with hands stained with purple dye would probably be on the outside of the society pages.

Lydia was not from Macedonia, where the story takes place. She was a foreigner. How often have foreigners been made to feel like they are on the outside, or should stay on the outside?

There may not have been a wall, but there sure was a gate.

Lastly, just like Tabitha, there’s no indication that Lydia was married. There’s no mention of a husband. So is Lydia single, widowed, divorced, or a Sister of Sappho?

For all us single people, let’s be honest- we know how it is. Married couples, you’re on the inside. Ya’ll go to events together; socialize with other couples.

But what happens when someone is single or finds themselves widowed or divorced?


Sure- you may go out with coupled friends. But it’s hard not to feel like a 3rd-Wheel, or to feel as if you were on the outside looking in.

Outside, outside- in so many ways Lydia, was on the outside.

But what do Timothy and Paul do? They go to where she and the other outsiders are. They sit; they speak.

They welcome her into the Family, and like that!- the City of God is made that much more glad...

...Today is Mother’s Day. It is a chance for us to celebrate and give thanks for all the women who have made our lives glad.

Our mothers and grandmothers, aunts and wives, friends and neighbors.

But there’s also a poignancy with today’s celebration, because the reality of motherhood is that, like Lydia, there is much time that is spent on the outside.

Those Moms who were in the kitchen cooking the Thanksgiving meal while everyone else is watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

That’s like being on the outside.

Those Mothers and caregivers who awoke hours before everyone else to make sure there was breakfast on the table, and those who were the last ones to go to bed, making sure the bills were paid and the house was secure.

That was like being on the outside.

For those who watch again and again as their children make the same mistakes, wanting to solve all their problems for them, but knowing that you can’t.

That is being on the outside.

Socially, motherhood places one on the outside. Having to turn down invites, not having the cash to spend on a night out, canceling because a child is sick.

And for those mothers who don’t live near their kids? My Mom once described motherhood as going to the mailbox everyday hoping that there’s a letter from one of her kids, or some photos so she can show off her family to her friends.

That is being on the outside.

I’m not trying to make today a downer, but to acknowledge an all-true side of motherhood, adulthood, and of the human condition- that there is time which is spent on the outside.

But Christ? Well Christ just brings everyone in. Christ reminds us that we are each a rare jewel. Christ empowers us to celebrate just how special we are.

Today is meant to celebrate all the wonderful women in our lives. They give birth to us, they nurture us, guide us, give us direction and they offer us their unconditional love.

But how often are they doing it from the outside?

If you are a mother, and you are honestly doing the best you can do- thank you.

If you have a mother and she raised you right- thank her.

If you had a mother and she did not always do the best job, find a way, if you can, to forgive her, if even only in your heart.

In conclusion, today’s reading gives us a glimpse of what the City of God looks like. In some ways it is like a hard working, strong-loving mother in which all children are cared about.

Those children who use to be bad; those children who are different and unique from all the others. Those children who are on the outside.

They are already beautiful, loved and blessed.

But through Christ, God has made them all part of the inside. Can we find a way to do the same thing too?

All praise and honor to God who loves us like a mother, Jesus Christ who is a radiant light, and the Holy Spirit who opens up the gates so all the nations can come in.

Amen and amen.