Sunday, August 28, 2016

WE Matter; Hebrews 13:1-8 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Hebrews 13:1-8
August 28, 2016

Today we wrap up our month long sermon series on the book of Hebrews, and it is fitting that as we get to the end, we go back to the beginning.

In Hebrews chapter 2:14 the author states that Jesus shared the same things that we do.

We may not realize it, but this is a profound statement to make- that God, through Jesus, would choose to share the same things we do.

The same cannot be said for Baal. The same cannot be said for Zeus. The same cannot be said for a multitude of gods that people have worshipped over the ions.

But we, as Christians, make the bold claim that God, through Christ, made the choice to dwell on earth in human form and to share the highs and lows of what it is like to be human.

This theological statement is so profound.

That Jesus, Emmanuel, “God With Us” would choose to come to us, vulnerable, as a baby. So vulnerable that his parents had to wrap him in swaddling clothes and flee to Egypt to protect his life.

That Jesus, Emmanuel, experienced as a teenager what it is like to be lost, left behind and separated from his family.

That Jesus, Emmanuel, knew what it was like to go to celebrations, like weddings, feasts, and to participate in political parades.

That Jesus, Emmanuel, shared with us what it is like to have people talk smack and gossip.

Jesus knew what it was like to have people judge what he ate, what he drank, when he worked, and who he socialized with.

So emotionally vulnerable was Jesus that he too experienced the death of someone close to him, and he wept when he heard the news that his dear friend had died.

That’s real.

Who would ever imagine any god wanting to share such a heartbreaking experience?

Jesus shared the busyness of life, to multi-task, to have so much to do, to be stopped by someone who wants something from you.

In the ultimate form of shared experiences, Jesus knew what it was like to age, to suffer in the body, to deal with the sense of shame and forsakenness that death brings about.

Jesus, Emmanuel, knew was it was like to be violated, lied about, mistreated, and wounded by other people’s actions and words.

What kind of God is this?

A God who chose to share in the same things we do.


The reasons are many. One reason is to know, to truly and honestly know, what the human condition is really, really like.

Why would God chose to share in the same things we do?

To be close at hand and to help us when we go through our own joys and sufferings.


To be ever more so merciful, ever more so faithful, ever more so present…

…But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that God, through Jesus, chose to share in our life experiences and to suffer at the hands of others?

What could it possibly mean?

For one thing- it means that we matter.

We matter to God.

We are not insignificant. We are not tiny specks of dust and dirt.

We are not living meaningless lives.


We matter to God, we matter to Jesus, we matter to the Holy Spirit.

We matter to the winds, the rains, the waters, the universe.

We matter to one another.

Second- it means that others matter as well; that others matter just as much as we do.

This means that strangers matter, after all didn’t Jesus come as a stranger to many?

This means any and all people in prison matter, after all wasn’t Jesus imprisoned as well?

This means that those who are afflicted, abused, tortured, and in any kind of pain matter, after all, wasn’t Jesus, Emmanuel, afflicted, abused, tortured, and in pain as well?

Third- it means that relationships matter.

Not just relationships between spouses. But relationships between friends, co-workers, family, and fellow-saints.

It means always finding ways to grow.

It means always learning how to respect, to love, to honor, to empathize, and to strengthen one another.

After all, those were the marks of the earliest Christians that Hebrews was speaking too.

The book of Hebrews has such a strong sense of who Christ is and what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to have faith.

It also gives us a clear sense of who God is.

God is not distant.

God is not far, far above us on some other realm.

But as the book Grounded in God states, God is living horizontally with us.

Yes-God is holy and mysterious. But God is also on the same level as us, with us, next to us, around us, beside us.

For us.

Which means that God is near; which means that God is vulnerable.

God cares.

God shares in our joys; God shares in our suffering.


Because we matter.

We always have.
We always will.
We were always meant to.

We matter just as much today as we mattered yesterday, and just as much as we’ll matter tomorrow.

As do ALL those who were before us, all those who are around us, and all those we have yet to meet.

And all those who will come after us.

In Christ, everyone matters. Every. Single. One.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Stay Stuck in the Past or Move Forward in Christ? Hebrews 12:18-29 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Hebrews 12:18-29
August 21, 2016

Wednesday is the day I clean my home; it’s something I like to do.

Sweep the floors, vacuum the carpets, scrub the stovetop, wash the clothes.

This Wednesday was different. With the news that I’ve been accepted into the 8-week adoption class, I am now one step closer to being a Daddy.

I knew I had to begin preparing.

First, the closet in the guest bedroom needs to be emptied with the hopes of schoolbags, Legos and Pokémon taking the place of suits, luggage and 20 years worth of LPs.

But where to put the stuff?

Sure-some can go into my bedroom closet, but there’s limited space.

I have a shed, but vinyl records won’t do well in Florida’s heat.

There is a hallway linen closet. It’s tall, with lot of shelves, and it’s deep.

Trouble is, the hall closet is filled with lots of linens, towels and blankets.

It also has the smell of an enclosed space that was built in 1960 and is 56 years old.

So I got to work.

Now truth be told- I like to clean. Not clean as in washing the windows or wiping the dust off of ceiling fans.

But clean as in getting stuff the heck out.

I love throwing things away or donating them. Yet, no matter how much I’ve moved over the past 6 years, no much how much I have condensed, condensed, condensed, I still have too much stuff.

Talk about 1st World Problems!

Some of this is not my fault; it’s my Mom’s fault. It’s the fault of my generous friends. It’s the people from my past.

They unselfishly gave me things. Some of the things I liked. Some I never, ever needed. Some were never really me.

But I held onto them because of the sentiment behind them.

Some things are items I bought, items I purchased at another era or stage of my life.

These items have an emotional energy attached to them- of when I felt lost, or felt lonely, or couldn’t afford anything else.

So like many people, I held onto these items, even if I never used them.

There was always that “what if?”

What if I lose the ability to buy more things? What if the giver of the gift came over and asked to see it?

What if all of a sudden I need the 6 bath towels, 8 face towels, 10 washcloths, 2 sets of unused bed linen, the pink pillowcases and the numerous blankets I have?

Almost all of them I never use.

Like most bachelors, I can make a bath towel last a week, and who really uses hand towels and washcloths anyway?

So not only does the hallway linen closet smell of 56 years, so does the unused towels, cloths, sheets and blankets that sit in there.

What to do?

Step 1- everything came out of the closet.

Step 2- everything went through the “Happiness Test.”

The “Happiness Test” is when you hold an item to your chest and if it doesn’t make you feel completely happy, you get rid of it.

So there was the “keep” pile, the “rag” pile, and the “donate” pile.

After all, why hold onto things that make you sad? Or items that remind you of struggle, shame, loss or heartbreak?

Why hold onto things that were never really me, or never really mine?

Brown washcloths are not me. Orange blankets are not me. Pink pillowcases are not me, not matter how cheap they were.

But a deep blue extra extra large super comfy towel- that’s me.

The 20 year old Cookie Monster blanket that’s been used by my brother, my niece and Cornelius at various beaches throughout the years? That’s me.

Step 3- spray the closet shelves with all-purpose cleaner, wipe them down, Febreeze the heck out of the floor rug, then light a coconut-vanilla candle and coconut incense to burn away the closet’s smell.

Why? To cleanse and to create a physical, symbolic divide between the old and the new, the past and the hoped-for-future.

So instead of smelling like 56 years of someone else and their family, it can start to smell more like me, and my family to be…

This reminds of today’s reading. A reading about 2 ways of living; 2 eras symbolized by two mountains- Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion.

Mt. Sinai is the mountain where Moses and the Israelites experienced God.

Mt. Sinai represents the people’s time in the wilderness, wandering, feeling lost, lonely, confused, fearful, feeling both disappointed by and scared of God.

On the other hand, Mt. Zion represents the glorious moment in Israel’s history when King David and Solomon were their rulers.

They were safe, protected, unified, happy and feeling blessed by God.

Mt. Zion was the place where the Temple sat, a stunning building that seemed to shimmer when the sun hit it just right.

In today’s reading, Mt. Zion represents more than that- it represents the possible future; it represents the eternal Kingdom of God.

Mt. Zion represents paradise, roots, community, clarity, peace, feeling the grace of God, and knowing that God is indeed well pleased.

Thus, for the author of Hebrews, Mt. Zion is the result of a life lived in Christ. A life in which one is content. A life in which one does not need much to be satisfied.

A life in which mutual love exists, money doesn’t have the most say, hospitality is extended to those we don’t know.

Mt. Zion is the place where relationships are honored, the hurting and imprisoned are cared for, and no one feels forsaken.

A life in which one can say “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

In today’s reading the author is stating that we have choices. In life we always have choices.

Now that you have Jesus Christ in your life, do you want to go back?

Do you want to go back to Mt. Sinai?

Do you want to go back to feeling homeless, lost, lonely, confused, fearful, and scared that you are not pleasing to God?

Or do you want to press forward to Mt. Zion?

Do you want to experience what it’s like to have roots, to feel you’re part of something bigger than yourself, to feel enlightened, to feel at peace?

Do you want to feel that you are home because you have the love of Christ in your heart?

If Mt. Zion is what you desire- clean out your closets.

Let go of what you no longer need.

Let got that which makes you feel sad, bad.

Let go of what other people have placed upon you.

Let go of holding onto other people’s stuff.

Burn away the negativity and the mildew that you inherited or lingers on.

Shine a light in the places you’ve kept closed off or hidden.

Open the door of your heart so the breath of the Holy Spirit can do what Febreeze cannot.

Wash clean that which you have.

Know that in Jesus Christ you have enough.

This doesn’t mean you won’t face persecution. Doesn’t mean there won’t be trials.

Doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel lost, lonely, sad or scared again.

But this time when those emotions occur, you won’t be so alone.

This time you will know that Christ is with you.

This time you’ll look around and realize you have a company of living angels around you.

This time you are moving into a better, brighter, fresher reality and a glorious future.

This time, instead of being stifled by an unfortunate fear of a punishing God, you are thriving in the grace of a living and loving Lord.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Who Are We To Judge? God is Free! Aug 14, 2016 Sermon; Hebrews 11:29 to 12:2

Rev. George Miller
August 14, 2016
Hebrews 11:29- 12:2

Today we continue our reading of Hebrews, and we continue with the theme of faith.

Not faith as in “I hope to win the LOTTO” or “I hope it doesn’t rain during my vacation.”

But faith as in that invisible, indescribable, unstoppable force that allows one to endure the most difficult of situations.

Faith, that in the time of this particular writing, meant the ability to endure persecution.

Not persecution like when the cashier at Wal-Mart says “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas”.

Or suffering like not having a crèche on display in the center of City Hall.

But persecution of the most intense, real kind, like having the Roman government take away your home because you’re a follower of Christ.

Like having the Roman government lock you up in jail because you’re a follower of Christ.

Like having the Roman government publicly kill you because you’re a follower of Christ.

That’s the kind of persecution the founders of our faith faced on a daily basis, and the author is painfully aware of all these things.

Yet he encourages them not to be afraid, but to keep their faith. He reminds them that in their faith they are never alone.

In their faith they can look towards Christ to learn how he endured.

They can look forward to the future faithful who will come after them. They can look backward to the former faithful who came way before.

The author refers to those who crossed the Red Sea, to Gideon, and to Samson.

The author also devotes time to a woman named Rahab. Who is she?

We haven’t talked about Rahab since I’ve been here, but if you’re current on your Daily Bible Reading, you know just how fascinating a woman she is.

Rahab first appears in the book of Joshua, chapter 2. In fact, she is the star of the entire chapter.

Rahab is a business woman who lives and operates her business in Jericho.

She owns her own home. She is a caring daughter, sister and employer.

She is a woman who is up to date with current events and knows the ins and outs of what’s going on politically in her town.

Rahab is a Gentile, which means she is a non-Jew, but she knows that the God of Israel is powerful and strong.

When we meet Rahab, she is harboring two Jewish spies who have come to check Jericho out.

Rahab, who is bold, cunning, and whip-smart, has hidden the men on the roof of her hotel, having them lay under stalks of flax.

The King of Jericho asks Rahab if she knows where the men are. She says “Yes, the men came to visit, but they already left. But I’m sure if you leave now and hurry quickly you’ll find them.”

Imagine how powerful Rahab is if Kings come to her with questions and believe every word she says.

Imagine how brave she is to lie to the most powerful person in town.

So as the King’s men foolishly leave, Rahab goes to the spies she has hidden, and says “I know your God is great. I know your God has given you the land. I know your God allowed you to cross the Red Sea and I know your God scares your enemies.”

“I have a favor to ask,” Rahab says to the spies. “Since I helped you, I want you to help me. When you come back and make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down, I want you to save me, my parents, my siblings, and my staff.”

Clearly Rahab knows the true art of the deal.

After making arrangements with the men, she instructs them on how to survive in the wild. After getting their promise, she lowers them down to the ground with a rope.

Not only is Rahab a smart, savvy businesswoman, she is also super-strong.

Weeks later when the Israelites attack Jericho they keep their promise and save not only Rahab, but her father, her mother, her brothers, her staff, and her servants.

Rahab and all who belong to her become a permanent part of the Israelite community.

Not only that, Rahab marries a man named Salmon and becomes the great-great grandmother of King David.

But more than that, she also becomes the ancestor of Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ.

So not only is Rahab the grandmother of the greatest king who ever lived, she is the grandmother of the King-of-All.

…oh, and in case you missed it- Rahab was a prostitute.

Say what?

That’s right- Rahab was a prostitute.

Rahab the great-great grandmother of King David and ancestor of King Jesus was a prostitute.

The home she owned was most likely a brothel; her staff was most likely other prostitutes…

…That’s the fascinating thing about faith and why reading your Bible is so important- you get to see the full picture of what God has done and what God is capable of doing.

For ages now people have tried to dictate what constitutes a faithful person.

People in religious power will try to create a long list of who’s in and who’s out in regards to the Kingdom of God.

Supposedly pious people will point fingers, judge and become self-appointed moral police.

They will cherry-pick scripture; they will try to select certain verses to prove their point.

But God…

…God has a funny way of sneaking on in.

God has a funny way of doing the unexpected.

God has a funny way of being free.

God is the author of the faith story and God will use the characters God wishes to use.

God is free.

If God wants to use a childless couple to bless all the families of the world, God will use a childless couple.

If God wants to free Israelite slaves, God will free the slaves.

If God wants to use a cross for glory and to redeem the world, God will use a cross.

If God wants to use a prostitute who is comfortable telling a few little white lies, God will use a prostitute.

And it is not our place to judge.

So why have we, as Christians, not gotten to that point yet of fully embracing the radical freedom and inclusiveness of God?

Why isn’t the Christian faith viewed the world over as the most awesome, welcoming, freedom-based group of folk?

Why has Christianity been hijacked by righteous-finger pointers who prefer to judge, condemn, and talk of traditional values?

Why has Christianity been high-jacked by high and mighty types who want to set standards of who is in and who is out?

Why has Christianity been hijacked to hurt millions upon millions of people because of

-Who they love?
-What they do with their bodies?
-Where they socialize?
-When they get baptized?
-Why they dress the way they do?
-How they identify?

How can I say Christianity has been hijacked? How do we know Christianity has been hijacked?

Because here we are promoting a message of radical inclusion and hospitality and out of 200 chairs, 110 are empty.

They are empty not because people don’t want to worship God but because too many folk have been hurt too many times for too many years by other Christians.

Our beautiful, bold Christian faith, meant to uplift, empower and encourage others has somehow been used to do most of the hurting, the harm, and the hate-mongering.

If this was not true, protestors would not have gathered in Orlando on Thursday to stand up to ordained clergy who were promoting their own hate filled set of values.

As we observe in today’s reading, the faith journey is intimately unique, it’s intrinsically personal, and it’s infinitely complex.

God calls who God calls.

God uses who God uses.

God speaks to who God speaks.

And each and every person chooses to respond to God’s call in their own way.

Sometimes it’s a childless couple who’ve immigrated to another part of the world.

Sometimes it’s enslaved people of a different faith and skin tone.

Sometimes it’s a single man who is nailed to a cross.

Sometimes it’s a savvy businesswoman who uses the resources she has at hand.

Who are any of us to judge?

Who are we to say who can or can’t be used by God?

Who truly knows what another’s faith journey looks like?

Who of us can see as God sees, and know as God knows?

Who of us could ever stop God from being free? And why would we ever want to?

Amen and amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Yes- We're Flawed but Faith is the Strongest Force in the Universe; Hebrews 11:1-22

Rev. George Miller
Hebrews 11:1-22
August 7, 2016

What you just heard was an expert recap of the Book of Genesis, similar to the recaps from our favorite weekly TV dramas, like Grey’s Anatomy or Game of Thrones.

“Here’s what happened previously in the Good Book: Abel made an acceptable sacrifice unto the Lord. Noah, facing a flood, fashioned a floating farm.

Abraham ambled ahead until he was able to sire a son. And Joseph jostled for justice.

Each doing so with a faith of assurance hoped for, but unseen; a faith in which they received approval from their God.”

Faith is the theme of Hebrews 11, the word mentioned almost too many times to count.

Faith rules supreme.

Faith that encourages us to be strong, to move forward no matter what pop culture says, no matter what the government threatens, and no matter if our beliefs are the same as everyone else around us.

Faith- the faith of Abel, the faith of Sarah and her husband Abraham; the faith of Joseph, the faith of Noah and his family.

Oh if we only had faith like them, things would be so great…but let’s dig a bit deeper.

Abel’s faith led him to offer God a delicious BBQ of sheep short-ribs. It was an offering that pleased God and made God very, very happy.

But…Abel’s faith also caused his brother to become angry and to kill him.

So what good is faith if it leads to your own demise?

Joseph had a faith in which he saw God active in every aspect of his life.

But those aspects included being attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of rape and jailed on trumped up allegations.

How nice that folks like Abel and Joseph had faith, but if the reward is death and detainment, wouldn’t you rather say “No thanks”?

What good is faith if it doesn’t protect you from bad times? What good is faith if it doesn’t protect you from bad people?

What good is faith if it means watching everything and everyone around you being destroyed in a flood while you watch from your floating farm?

Yet faith is perhaps the strongest force in the universe.

Faith is frail. Faith is invisible. Faith is hard to fathom.

Faith in God is what kept the Israelites going when they wandered through the wilderness. Faith is what kept the earliest Christians centered when crosses loomed large.

Faith is what made the Congregationalists cross the sea so they could seek religious freedom. Faith is what fed the Jews in the Concentration Camps even as they were being starved, annihilated and scape-goated.

I’d venture to say faith is what allowed us to see the election of a black man to the White House, the marriage of gays and lesbians, and faith is what will get us through whatever-the-heck this election-circus is.

But faith is not always easy. Faith is not always neat. Faith is not always pretty.

Faith does not involve practically perfect people.

For proof of this we don’t have to go any further than Abraham and Sarah, our spiritual grandparents.

The author of Hebrews wants us to believe that Abraham was overly obedient, a man who did as God told, who patiently waited for the promises of God to come true.

You know the promises- they would have land, they would have a family, and their family would bless all the families of the world.

Trouble is, when God made this promise to Abraham and Sarah they were already past child-bearing years and had no children of their own.

But God told them to “Go!” and go they did, although they never knew why they were going or where God was leading them.

And though Hebrews would like us to think Abraham and Sarah always had their eyes faithfully forward, this is not true.

In the 25 years it took for God’s promise to come true, Abraham and Sarah made plenty of mistakes along the way.

For starters, Abraham was an incredibly insecure husband who thought everyone wanted his wife.

So not once but twice he passed his wife off as his sister, allowing her to engage in questionable relationships with local kings.

Then there’s Sarah who gets tired of waiting for God to follow through on God’s promises, so she convinces her husband to have sex with her slave-girl Hagar.

But Sarah is notoriously jealous and insecure herself and ends up shaming her husband while abusing and exiling Hagar.

Not to mention Abraham has two sons with these two very different women, but he has no problem sending the first off into the wilderness and nearly killing the second.

Are these the family values people try to force down our throats when they talk about the biblical definition of marriage?

But here is the beauty of the Abraham and Sarah story- they were never, ever flawless. They were imperfect. They made many mistakes, poor decisions, and caused entire communities to become caught up in the consequences of their choices.

But none of this ever changed the fact that they had faith.

And it wasn’t the kind of faith in which they sat around doing nothing, expecting God’s promises to fall fully formed from the sky.

Abraham and Sarah, just like Abel, Joseph and Noah did something about their faith.

They acted. They listened. They discerned.

They did not fully understand why they were doing what they were doing. But they did.

They offered the fat of their flocks. They built boats out of cypress. They left their homeland, meeting kings, leading rescue missions and entertaining angels. They divined dreams and devised plans.

These amazing people of faith did not sit still and wait for others to save them. They did not expect God to do it all alone. Nor did they always get it right.

Abraham and Sarah made so many mistakes, but by God they made them.

Yes, they had faith that was fragile, faith that was feckless, but it was faith nevertheless.

Faith that got them through 25 years of traveling through unknown places. Faith that got them through difficult situations.

Faith that finally resulted in the promised son.

Faith, that led them to become the grandparents of a family that has indeed blessed all the families of the world.

Their faith runs through the core essence of every Jew and Christian to this very day.

That’s the thing about faith- anyone can have it, and it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.

In fact there is not one single person in the Biblical narrative that is perfect; there is not one single person in the faith narrative that doesn’t have areas for improvement.

Even Jesus himself was questioned about how much he ate, how much he drank and who he chose to spend his time with.

Even Paul was known to go from hot to cold in an emotionally charged moment.

Even God had times in which Abraham, Moses, or the Psalmist had to remind God of what should be done.

So today, we can give ourselves a break. We can give a break to others. We can say that no one is flawless; no one is without room to grow.

We can also say that faith is a gift that gets us through, faith is a function that allows us to endure foolishness and to face our fears.

Faith is that which keeps us moving forward into the future in which the foundations are built on Jesus Christ.

When there have been jealousies and rivalries, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When there have been attacks, arrests, and slavery, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When there have been issues of impotence, infidelity, insecurity and insanity, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When kings have confiscated land, when governments have overtaxed their people, when politicians have misbehaved, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When people have been oppressed, beaten, or deprived of their humanhood, faith is what allowed the people of God to survive.

When we have nothing left in the world but our final, final breathe, faith is what will usher us into our future.

The foundation of Heaven’s kingdom is founded on faith; and in faith we shall find our comfort and our rest.

For that we can say amen and amen.