Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Eve Message; Luke 1:26-38

Rev. George Miller
Dec 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38

Last week FOX TV showed a live musical version of “The Christmas Story.” It received low ratings and poor reviews, but I enjoyed it.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any allegiance to the original film. Perhaps it’s because I knew some of the music. Perhaps it’s because of the way they fleshed out the mother’s role.

The show took place during an era when news came from the radio, milk was delivered to the porch, and meatloaf was sure to cheer a child up.

Just like the movie, we see the messy things that take place during the holidays- how fuses can burn out, tired go flat, and entire meals can be ruined by unexpected circumstances.

In one scene the mother sings that she is the one to help her family forget that times have been tough. She laments that there always seems to be a new stain on the carpet and papers are always piling up, but it is so clear that she loves her role as a mother.

In another scene she consoles her worried sons by telling them that nothing is falling from the sky or crumbling to the ground. That moments come, moments go, and just like that- they are gone.

By song’s end, the mother is by herself, looking around the home she has created for her family and she sings “All these crazy moments, they flicker, they pass…Crazy, messy moments that you try to hold onto…don’t last...”

Her song and the show is a testimony that Christmas is not magical because it is perfect, but that Christmas is magical because it is messy…

Something has taken place in the past few months. I don’t know if it’s because we’re living in a post-Irma reality. Or the political climate has actually made us pull more together.

Or if I’m at that age where I’ve got my home, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got some money in the bank and things don’t seem so root-less anymore.

Something akin to a great calm has allowed me to see today’s reading with a new set of eyes.

I don’t know about you, but in the past it’s seemed like Mary, the mother of Jesus, has always been up “here.”

Preachers will give sermons about her and tell us how, if we follow her example, we can be holy and favored just like her.

How Mary becomes an example for all the women of the world on how to be a parent.

I myself recall spending so much time trying to figure out why God chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

That she must have been so special, she must have been so unique, she must have been so pure and so perfect that she amongst all people were chosen to bear Emmanuel.

So therefore, if one was to be just like her, if one was to live just like her, if one was to be more Mary and less themselves than perhaps God will find favor and bless them too.

I recall being in my 20’s trying so hard to unlock the mystery of getting God to bless me- perhaps if I was more patient, or more humble, or more prayerful, or more MORE than perhaps I’d be rewarded with a life that wasn’t so meandering and messy.

If one is not careful, scripture about Mary can become a tool, a measuring stick, a way to wonder what God is looking for to reward a person with blessings.

Now, scripture doesn’t say much about Mary, but if you comb over the few verses she’s in, you’ll find that she is described as thoughtful, obedient, believing, worshipful, and devoted to her faith.

But then again, who isn’t?

Is anyone here today not thoughtful from time to time? Is anyone here not trying their best to follow what they think God wants?

But Mary, if Mary is to become the Mother of Jesus, if she is to carry the Christ-child in her womb, she must be more so.

She must be above, she must be beyond, she must be as unblemished and unmessy as unblemished and unmessy can be.

And perhaps, perhaps if we try our best, and try really, really hard and try more and do better at being thoughtful and obedient and believing, then God will look down and find favor on us too!

But how exhausting that train of thought is.

How self defeating it is to compare yourself to another, and to think that if you carbon copied them you too would get the same results.


Not this year. Not this time.

Maybe, just maybe what Scripture is telling us is that Mary wasn’t chosen because she was the favored one, BUT that she was favored because she was the chosen one.

Allow me to explain- what if, what if Mary was more like us than we realize?

What if Mary really was just a small town girl, living in a small town world?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be in Lorida or Zolfo Springs working at Dollar General or McDonalds?

That if Mary was alive today she’d probably be a B and C student in high school?

That if Mary was alive today her fiancĂ©’s name could have been Joey or JoBob just as much as it was Joseph?

For God to do something magical, for God to do something so amazing, did Jesus have to be born to a perfect person who was purer than pure?

What sounds more like a miracle to you- that Jesus was born to a mother who was the most thoughtful, obedient, believing woman alive.

Or would the greater miracle be that Jesus was born to a mother who experienced new stains on the floor, papers piling up, and could make magic out of meatloaf?

What we are talking about here is the very notion of how we see God at work in the world.

Do we think that God only uses perfect people who are beyond reproach?

Or do we think that God uses people who are imperfect, flawed and one of us?

Do we think God can only do wonders with jars that are full, people that are pure, and baskets that are overloaded with bread?

Or do we make the claim that God can do wonders with empty vessels, impure people and with limited supplies?

Why search for explanations as to why God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, when scripture tells us again and again that we will never fully know why God does what God does.

Why would God choose Moses, a middle-aged murderer, to deliver God’s people?

Why would God chose Gideon, the youngest member of the weakest family of the smallest tribe to lead God’s army?

Why would God chose David, the ruddy 8th born son of a farmer to be God’s greatest monarch?

…why would God choose Sebring to build a church?

Why would God call someone like me to be the pastor?

Why would God call you to participate in this holy space and this holy time?

Is it because any of us are perfect? Is it because any of us are pure?

Is it because any of us are more thoughtful, obedient, believing than anyone else?

Why does God do anything God does?

So, at least for this year, I think it is Ok to not place Mary so high on a pedestal.

I think it is OK to say that she was most likely more like you and me, than she was not.

That it was her being chosen that made her favored. And it was her accepting the privilege to carry the Christ child that made her so awesome.

Maybe the magic of this Christmas season isn’t that God called upon the most perfect and pure of people to play a role in God’s story, but that God called someone who was just like us.

Maybe the magic of Christmas is not that it is perfect, but that it is messy.

That the Christmas story is more about the stains on the carpet and the papers that pile up then it is about unreachable ideals and perfect times.

That Christmas is a reminder that while it may feel like things are crumbling to the ground, or falling from the sky, we can catch our breath.

Christmas reminds us that these crazy, messy moments we live in are also the crazy, messy moments in which we can find God.

And in these crazy, messy moments God is able to do the most amazing, cool things.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Privilege to be a Witness; Dec 17, 2017 sermon on John 1:19-28

Rev. George Miller
Dec 17, 2017
John 1:19-28

Years ago I became a fan of “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” book series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Set in Botswana, it features a woman named Precious Ramotswe who runs her own detective agency.

The books are gentle forms of testimony to what it’s like to live in a place in which you feel privileged to be a part of.

A place in which the tinkling of cow bells can be heard, one always has time for friends and family, and true happiness comes from knowing who you are and honoring where you came from.

Every November I look forward to the newest installment, and this year’s 18th book, titled “The House of Unexpected Sisters” was no disappointment.

Each day of reading was like being with a dear, dear friend I’ve grown to know and love. How Precious adores the mini white van she drives, how pumpkin is her favorite food, and red bush tea is her beverage of choice.

How proud she is to know that her husband is the most honest mechanic in the city, and her late father was the best cattleman in the country.

So it was a bit of a shock when towards the end of the book, an important chunk of information comes out that changes everything Precious, and we the reader, ever knew about her.

It is a moment that the author handles so well and you don’t see coming.

Precious Ramotswe, who usually speaks so eloquently and clear, is not able to finish her sentences. She can’t finish her tea. She refuses her husband’s company, saying over and over again “My heart is broken.”

The author creates a deeply moving scene in which we, the reader, journey with Precious to the grave of her parents.

We feel her sorrow. We feel her loss. We see the sun, the sky, and the headstones before her.

She speaks to her parents the words she needs to say to confront her new reality. The author does not tell us what she says, because he knows that we know what is being said.

Instead of English, she speaks in Setswana, the language of her people, because that is the language her ancestors would understand.

This scene has haunted me all week because of its simple eloquence, and how well it deals with the issues of reality, and identity.

Who we are.

Who are we?

These same issues emerge beside the Jordan River in today’s story.

Here we have another account of the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist is out in the wilderness, baptizing folk in the waters when he is confronted by religious leaders wanting to know “Who are you?”

Like the Caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland” they ask this rather existential question again and again.

“Who are you?”
-“I am not the Messiah.”

“What then? Are you Elijah?”
-“No, I am not.”

“Who are you? Answer us; what do you have to say?”

It’s a rather interesting interaction.

“Who are you?”

Like an earworm, this question seemed to penetrate my mind.

Then a thought occurred- what if this question, being posed to John the Baptist beside the river’s waters nearly 2,000 years ago, is being posed to us, near Lake Jackson, today?

What if this is the author’s attempt to reach out to us, across time and space, to ask us the very same question-

“Who are you?”

One of the oldest questions of the ages-

Who are we? What are we about? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Why are any of us here?

Books have been written about this. Philosophies created over it. People have lost hours of sleep pondering these questions late into the night.

“Who are you?”

John is asked these questions while he stands by the water’s edge, and he is clear in his identity.

He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He is not ‘the prophet.’

Who is he?

He says that he is a voice, a testimony, a witness crying out in the bleak, bad wilderness that something greater, something good is about to happen.

There is power in John’s ability to articulate who he is, and who he is not.

And in a metaphysical timey-wimey way, John can also be speaking for us.

After all- who wants to be the Messiah? Who wants to be the Savior of the World?

Who wants to carry the weight and worry of always having to save and rescue and heal the woes of everybody?

How many folk here have ever played the role of Savior or are currently playing it?

Done that. Tried it. No thanks. Being a Messiah is too much work and gets you no reward.

Who wants to be Elijah? Talk about work!

Always having a king to stand before, always having priests to contend with, droughts and starving widows to deal with, and having words of judgment to speak.

Not to mention Elijah was supposed to return when the end of the world was near.

Who’d want that job? “Guess what folks? The clock is set to stop ticking!”

“Who are you?” John is asked while standing besides the river, and essentially he states “I am a voice. I am a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

One theologian stated that John gets to give testimony that a new reality is about to begin.

Another scholar stated that John has the privilege of introducing Jesus to the nation.

I like this. This notion of privilege.

That John is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, but he has an important purpose, and he has the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

Have we ever stopped to think of our faith that way?

That as Christians, as members of Emmanuel UCC, we have the privilege to introduce Jesus to the people.

We don’t have to be Jesus. We don’t have to take on all the stress of being the Son of God.

But we get the privilege to introduce Jesus to others.


It is a privilege to be able to worship together, in this holy space and this holy time. Not because we must, but because we may.


It is a privilege to serve the community side by side. To gather in the Fellowship Hall to bag groceries; to meet tomorrow to hand out 180 Christmas baskets, not because we must, but because we may.


It is a privilege to share our resources, to share our time, our talents, and our tithes, not because we must, but because we may.


Because we know who we are; and we know who we are not.

Oh, it feels so good, it feels so freeing when we can stand beside the waters of our baptism and accept the fact that we are not the Messiah, we are not the Son of God, we are not the Saviors of the World.

It feels so good to let that stress, those expectations, that ego, go.

And to say we are a voice, we are witness, we are a testimony.

That as Christians, we have the privilege to be a witness to the light, the life, and the grace that the birth of Jesus Christ will represent.

That we get to be a voice in the dark and scary wildernesses that reminds people that God has not forsaken us.

That we too get to be characters in the eternal story of God, in which we will each have our own role, our own place, and our own special scene.

That just like John we are not the Messiah, but we do have the privilege to make Jesus known and to help welcome him into our world.

How sweet it is that by the Jordan Rivers we can join our ancestors in embracing our identity and sharing the light of Christ with the world.

For that we can say amen and amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sharks in the Ocean/Guns in Church Dec 10, 2017 sermon; Mark 1:1-8

Rev. George Miller
Dec 10, 2017
Mark 1:1-8

A few days ago, a news story came out about a nativity scene created in a shark tank located in Rome, in which 3,000 sea creatures are present.

This caught my attention, because as someone raised on Long Island, I grew up with a deep love for the ocean.

I was also born in the 70’s, which means I grew up with movies like “Jaws.” So, I love being in the water while also being afraid of what’s in the water.

So much so, that as a child I was afraid to swim in our backyard pool by myself, imagining that somehow a time/space portal would open up, allowing a shark to enter our 4-foot deep, above the ground pool, and eat me alive.

I’ve spent years loving the ocean, but having nightmares of being attacked.

An ex once shared that statistically speaking, I was more likely to be killed by a wild boar than a shark, but that didn’t put my fears to rest.

Then 4 years ago, something liberating happened. I met a surfer from South Africa, and when I asked him if he ever saw a shark he said “Oh yes, all the time. They’re always there.”

This thought should have scared me, but it did the opposite. Here was someone who surfed every day who stated this reality so matter of fact and calmly, that it got me thinking-

-if sharks are always there, and I have never once been bit, attacked, or even seen one, then they really have no interest in attacking me.

So I began a new relationship with the ocean. Mindful and cautious, but not as paralyzing afraid.

I’ve learned that when you step into the water, be mindful of what is around. Watch for shadows. If fish are racing past you or jumping out of the water, it usually means something bigger is chasing after them.

Use your instincts.

Last year, something inside me said “Get out of the water” and I followed that instinct.

I saw a female surfer also come in. When asked why, she stated that she saw a bull shark acting aggressively.

Since then, the moment I feel my 6th sense say “Get out,” I get out.

But also since then, I’ve witnessed great wonders, like being in the water with a sea turtle, watching a porpoise play in the waves, and twice now seeing a shark on the shoreline.

Yes, Florida is ranked as having the highest rate of shark attacks, but the chance of me being attacked is 1 in 4,000,000.

I love being in the ocean too much to ever stop going in it based on a fear of being attacked by a shark…but I never stop being aware of the great “what if.”

I share all this because America has moved into a heightened sense of fear.

Although crime in Highlands County has gone down, our nation’s murder rates are lower than 30 years ago, and we’re living in the most peaceful time in history, we don’t act that way.

Our awareness of killings and unprovoked attacks has become heightened thanks to instant news, social media, and commerce.

Fear is sexy. Fear is powerful. Fear wins presidential elections. Fear gets you to spend money on security systems, car alarms and firearms.

At our last council meeting we had people express concern that our congregation could become the target of an attack.

Personally, this fear is not new to me. You can’t be an openly gay pastor without being aware you’re at some sort of risk.

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that people of faith have always been the targets of hate, be it slaves fleeing across the Red Sea, to the Jews in Jerusalem, or the disciples as they went from town to town.

But something very tangible, very real has taken place-

In the past, when people heard about synagogues being burned down, we wrote it off as happening to “them.”

When black churches were the target of violence, we could write it off as acts of racism.

When mosques are attacked overseas or vandalized here, well…many people secretly think they got what they deserved.

But when a gunman attacks a primarily white crowd in Las Vegas, and another gunman brutally kills members of a church in rural Texas…then it sets off something real, very primal-

-no one is every truly safe and it can happen here; it can happen to me; it can happen to us.

Something must be done.

I’d like to share with you that things are being done. Last week about 9 church members attended a seminar on active shooters.

Mike Griffith has attended a county wide safety taskforce that will meet again in January.

Mike and I met last Wednesday to share notes and begin the process of creating a Disaster Response Team.

Through all this, we’ll come up with ways to be prepared if human and natural caused disasters take place.

I like this idea of being prepared.

It’s smart; it’s solid.

However, there is one part of the conversation we had at Council that I was very uncomfortable with-

The idea of locking our church doors during worship.

There are some who feel that worship is no longer safe and the only solution is to lock ourselves in and the public out once the prelude begins.

This fear is very real, very tangible, very primal.

But despite recent news, it is also very unlikely. You can go online and discover that the chance of being killed in a church shooting is 1 in 6,552,000.

To give you some perspective, the chance of dying by heart attack is 1 in 5, but no one is talking about doing away with bacon and sausage during brunch.

The odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 165, but no one says they’re skipping Sunday service because the commute is too risky.

So why is the 1 in 6,552,000 chance of being killed in church enough to make us want to lock our doors and worship in fear?

Because it’s about the sense of helplessness. About the unknown; being a sitting duck; the lack of control.

It’s the way that guns level the playing field. It does not matter how big or strong you are, if you are old or young, male or female, gay or straight - a bullet is a bullet.

Understandably, people are afraid, and it seems like locking the doors is a safe solution.

I don’t know about you, but I did not come out of the closet to be locked behind the doors of a church.

Not to mention, once a church locks its doors to the stranger it stops being church, and in an effort to stay alive, actually begins to die.

There is no biblical passage that even suggests the way to preach or to embody the Good News is to do so within locked doors.

There is no Psalm that says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall sequester away.”

Matthew 25 does not say “When you locked the doors you ministered to me.”

I have more of a chance of being killed by a shark in the ocean than I do of being a victim of gunfire in the church…

…but then this week the news came out that a woman in Costa Rica died after being attacked by a shark while scuba diving.

1 in 4 million sounds really high, until it is you.

So how we deal with this new reality, this new normal we have of perceived danger within the church setting?

We do so by addressing it, as we have in Council, and as we are in the sermon. We address it by doing our best to be prepared.

We also do it by trying to see what scripture has to say.

Here we have Mark telling us his version of the Gospel.

How does he start his story? By saying “In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…”

But this is not fake good news. This is good news rooted in the darkness and despair of history.

Mark was written during a very dangerous and violent time.

Mark wrote during the 70s, a time of war, in which Jerusalem was under the attack of the Romans. Hundreds and thousands of Jews and Gentiles were being slaughtered in the streets.

People were fleeing to the hills for safety. The mighty, mighty Jewish Temple was utterly destroyed.

If you thought things in Palestine are tense now, they were nothing compared to what was happening when Mark wrote his Gospel.

And yet…and yet even with the Temple under attack, so much darkness, so much hate, Mark felt compelled to tell this story, and to start it by saying “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ…”

This, this is the stock we come from. This is the spiritual ancestor we are descended from.

This is a patriarch of our faith who in the bleakest of historical moments, begins with words of hope.

Good news.

Mark goes on, to tell us about John the Baptist, who is out in the wilderness, saying “Prepare a way for the Lord.”

Wilderness is a code word.

Others words for wilderness are dessert, outback, wasteland, and badlands.

A wilderness was seen as a dangerous place in which one was left utterly vulnerable and in harm’s way.

In the wilderness one is an easy target for thieves, marauders, and criminals.

From a biblical perspective, when someone is in the wilderness they will face issues of fear, and forsakenness.

So when Mark starts his story in the wilderness, he is essentially saying “Yo, things are not good and are scary as heck!”

And yet, even though Mark is writing during a time of war, although he sets his first chapter in the most dangerous of places, he has the audacity to say “The beginning of the Good News…”

Does this sound like a person who is behind locked doors; does this sound like a man who feels the ways of the world are more powerful than the ways of God?

What we have here is a narrator who is saying “Things may seem crooked and scary, but the LORD will make the paths straight.”

What we have here is a narrator who knows all too well the violence that men do, and yet is willing to let us know that Jesus Christ is coming to shower us with the Holy Spirit.

What we have here is a narrator who within a few short verses, sets the stage and says “Yes, we live in a wilderness of fear, forsakenness, and danger, but through Jesus Christ we can also experience faith, deliverance and new beginnings.”

What follows is a story about how Jesus overcomes temptation, welcomes the stranger, and moves throughout the community.

Though Mark wrote during a time more dangerous than we could ever imagine, he shows how Jesus stills a storm, deals with demons, and sits among the thousands.

Yes- there were times in which Jesus was threatened, we know there were times he had to leave town for his own safety, and we know all too well how he was betrayed.

But it did not stop Jesus from being Jesus; it did not stop him from embodying the highest hope.

In conclusion, we know that people are scared; we know they are worried. We know that there are preparations we should be doing.

But how far do we go? How much do we sequester ourselves away?

If we give in to fear, have we also given up on hope?

If we lock our doors, can we truly worship God?

Is faith still faith if we give in to “what ifs?”, or is faith truly faith when it looks fear in the face and says “You have no power here.”

Do we believe the darkness of men overcomes the light of Christ, or that the light of Christ overcomes the darkness of men?

This is for each and every one of us to think about as we continue to find our own way to embody Matthew 25 and to find our own way to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Lord.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Get Your Butt Off Your Throne, God" Psalm 80:1-7 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Dec 3, 2017
Psalm 80:1-7

Dressing up in our state is an interesting experience. The first week I moved here in 2010, I attended our Conference’s Spring Gathering in Naples wearing a pair of jeans paired with dress shoes, a pink button shirt and a navy blue sport coat.

A clergy colleague came over and said “I’ve been living here all these years and can never figure out what to wear, and it looks like you already have.”

7 years later I now know what he means. There are days in which long pants and a button down shirt feel just about right, other days a pair of shorts with Jesus sandals make more sense and is way more comfortable.

Look out into our congregation and you’ll see where the real meets the ideal, from folk like Hardric and Gerry who are always dressed to the “T”, to Ken who wears festive Hawaiian shirts and always ready for his next cruise, to Norma with her purple streak of hair.

All solid sartorial choices in which they are wearing what they feel comfortable with to praise the Lord.

As a pastor, I always want to look presentable, but I also want to be realistic. It doesn’t matter how fancy my clothes are if I’m sweating through my armpits or tugging on my collar.

There are events I go to and people to visit in which if I’m too dressed up it comes across as aloof and out of touch, but if I’m too dressed down, I can sense they are saying to themselves “Well bless your heart.”

That’s why I am ever-so thankful for the Emmanuel UCC polo shirts we have.

I can pair our church polo with a pair of slacks and shoes and look like I have the good sense God gave a goose. Or I can rock them out with a cargo shorts and Birkenstocks and I’m ready to go-go-go and get my hands dirty.

Or I can put a sports coat over it, and viola- ready for a banquet.

Yes- clothes can be a mystery here in Florida, but they can also be a ministry.

Is the pastor one of the people, apart from the people, or somewhere in between?

Which brings us to today’s reading. Here we have in Psalm 80 a song that is known as a “Psalm of Lament.”

It is sung by folk who feel like God has not been present in their lives, God has been somewhat asleep, and they have been left to fend for themselves.

Anyone here ever feel that way?

Anyone here ever have a time in your life in which nothing seems right, you’ve been crying for days, and it feels as if God is far, far away?

We all have, and we all will. It is part of the spiritual, human condition.

Three times in the Psalm they sing out to God “Restore us, make your face shine, and bring us back to a life worth living.”

But sadly, God seems silent; sleepy.

“Hear us. Save us,” they say.

“Don’t you remember that time you took our ancestors out of Egypt and put them in the Promised Land?”

But now?

Well now the people feel like they have been left unprotected and made vulnerable to all their enemies.

They assume God is mad at them; that God’s smile has turned into a scowl.

They feel like the bread and cup they used in worship has now been replaced with a pitiful portion of salty tears.

Yup- sometimes our experience of God can be that way.

If you go through this entire Psalm, you see all the ways they view God- as a Shepherd who leads the flock, as a farmer who clears the ground, and as a king who sits on a mighty throne.

All those descriptions sound wonderful…at first. Until you think about what they mean.

A shepherd and a farmer sound cool- hands on folk who deal with the every day. But the image of God enthroned upon the cherubim?

First of all, what the heck is a cherubim and how do you sit on it?

It’s cool to imagine God as king, but a king who is sitting on a fancy, schmancy throne while the people suffer?

I don’t know about that.

Sounds to me like this particular kind of king has been too comfortably snoozing while the people are crying and dying.

I can’t help but to feel that what the psalm is actually saying is:

“Hey, you- God. Get off your big ol’ BUTT and get down and do something to help us out!”

Personally, I love this, because once again we have another biblical example of deeply faithful people who have NO problem holding God accountable and telling God what to do.

Too often folk think they have to be all meek and mild with God, when sometimes we need to remind God just what it means to be God, just as Moses and Abraham did.

“God,” the psalm seems to say “Wake up, wipe the sleep from your eyes and help us out just like you helped all those slaves you freed hundreds of years ago.”

That’s faith. That’s courage.

That’s being in a real relationship with your Creator.

That’s covenant- making sure that all sides stick to their end of the deal.

“Get your butt off the throne, put on a pair of overalls and work gloves, and start to digging!”

…and as we enter into the Advent Season, isn’t that just what God did?

We are just weeks away of welcoming the birth of Jesus Christ into our complex world.

As Christians we claim that Jesus embodied the incarnate God, and by encountering Jesus one was encountering the face of God.

A face that was not scowling, or asleep, or set apart and far away.

But a face that was near, and dear, and real, a face that was like one of us.

With Advent we experience this amazing miracle that when God chose to enter into the world in a new and unexpected way, it was not as a prince in a palace with servants and tutors and trust funds and polished finger nails.

But when God entered into our lives, God did so in the most meek and mild, most messy, ordinary and vulnerable way-

A child born to blue collar folk, surviving the political climate of their time, who needed to learn a trade, figure out what his 20’s were all about, who wasn’t above drinking wine at weddings and talking to wild women at a well.

Forget about the Son of God being an untouchable king asleep on a throne, what we got in Jesus is a tangible, human presence who was not afraid to face the elements, mix with all members of society, and teach and preach and demonstrate what it meant to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Lord.

In Jesus Christ, we see that God was anything but asleep and far removed.

BUT- there is another element to today’s scripture.

If we feel that God is asleep, or not keeping the covenant or needs to get off God’s big BUTT…well that means we have to be willing to get off our big butt too, doesn’t it?

If we are in a true, honest relationship with our Creator, it means there are things for us to do as well.

And fortunately, as we learned last week, Jesus has made it so, so easy for us.

If you remember, last week we explored Matthew 25, which is so foundational to our UCC faith.

And what is it that Jesus invited us to do?

Give food to the hungry. Quench people’s thirst. Clothe the naked. Show care to the sick. Let the imprisoned know they are not alone.

Welcome the stranger.

So simple. So clear. So concise.

Not because we must, but because we may.

Not because we are trying to buy our way into heaven, but because we already know we were given a ticket via the gift of grace.

Feed. Quench. Care. Visit. Welcome.

Part of our Covenantal Relationship with our Creator.

In conclusion, there are times in all of our lives in which God will seem far away, life will be filled with sorrow, and all we want is to sense that God’s smiling, sparkling face is nearby.

Today’s reading reminds us that it is Ok to feel that way. It is Ok to call upon God.

It is Ok to remind God of what has been done in the past, and to expect God to do it again.

It is Ok to say to God “It’s time to get your BUTT off the throne and get to work.”

And it is Ok to say “Alright, God- you need to take off that sport coat and put on some shorts and get your hands dirty and face sweaty.”

And as Christians, we can expect that God will say the same thing too, and expect that we will work together.

It’s not just God; it’s not just us.

It is ALL of us- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pastor, parishioners, friends, and Conference Ministers who can-

work together, clear the ground, plant the vine, and make the Kingdom of God a little bit better known right here on Earth. For that we can say “amen” and “amen.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christianity- Compassion or Condemnation? Nov 22, 2017 sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Rev. George Miller
Matthew 25:31-46
Nov 22, 2017

There was once a preacher who gave the sermon of his life. It was all about the evils of alcohol, a message he gave with great passion.

As he came to the end of the sermon he was on a role, declaring “If I had all the beer in the world, I’d take it and pour it into the Mighty Mississippi River.”

“If I had all the wine in the world, I’d take it and pour it into the river.”

And finally, shaking a fist into the heavens, he said “And if I had all the whiskey in the world I’d take it and pour it into the river!”

With a rousing “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” from the congregation, the pastor proudly sat down, knowing he had made a point no one, not one, could argue against…

…and ever so cautiously, the Minister of Music stood up, and with a nervous smile, she announced, “For our closing song, let us turn to hymn 365, ‘Shall We Gather at the River’.”…

…Ever notice that when it comes to organized religion, there seem to be two ways to use Christianity?

Some, like the preacher in the story above, use it to judge and condemn others, to tell them what they should not do; placing emphasis on what they perceive to be evil.

For them, Christianity becomes a check list of things “thou shall not do.”

Then, there is the other side of Christianity which is not so much about condemnation, but about showing compassion and care.

It’s less about monitoring the moral lives of grown folk and more about how to be caregivers to a world that is often feeling lost and lonely, broken and sick.

Today’s reading does have images of judgment, but as I read it, I feel it to be more about what we can do and what Christ expects to be done.

As we discussed in Tuesday’s Lectionary Bible Study, today’s reading played a major role in shaping our denomination.

The United Church of Christ is composed of at least four denominations that came together in 1957. The four branches were the congregational, the evangelical, the reformed and the Christian.

While the congregational side was primarily the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled along the east coast, the evangelical side was German, Hungarian and Swiss who settled in places like PA and Missouri.

They had experienced severe persecution in their homeland, so when they came to America they embraced a peace-loving life-style.

They also embraced Matthew 25, allowing it to guide their faith. And guide it did.

Caring about pastoral ministry, they set out to create social institutions that benefited all kind of people. They explored new ways that Christ’s love could be made manifest.

Such as residential homes for people living with developmental disabilities that treated them as people, not things.

Retirement communities that surrounded the elderly with the things that make life good, and empowered them to live as fully as possible.

Instead of focusing only on building churches, they built hospitals, community centers, and schools, such as Eden seminary, which I attended.

They did all of these things based on their understanding of Matthew 25.

Part of their faith stemmed from the fact that they knew what it was like to be persecuted.

Matthew’s church also knew a bit about being judged. After all, they were doing something entirely new. What we call “church” basically began with them.

Most of them were born in the Jewish faith; chances are they had been kicked out of the synagogues for what they believed. With no real road map, they were trying to figure out what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.

So it’s very telling that Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats is placed where it’s placed; it’s as if everything in Matthew’s Gospel has been leading up to this.

For 25 1/2 chapters we have followed Jesus, seeing how his ministry begins, witnessing his teaching, his healing, and his miracles.

And then right before he is betrayed, Jesus teaches this one last story, a story that tells us that when we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and comfort to the ill and imprisoned, we are actually doing it to Jesus himself.

And as the story goes, in doing so we are the inheritors of the Kingdom even if we are not fully aware of what we were doing.

What is so interesting is that right after Jesus teaches this story, the exact opposite happens to him.

He is betrayed by one of his own flock. He is falsely arrested, mistreated, and mocked; he is stripped naked, and hung between two criminals where he hungers and thirsts, asking why God would have forsaken him…

…but the story doesn’t end there, does it?


Because 2,000 years later we are here, giving thanks that Jesus was not forsaken at all, but was raised by the God Most High, in which nothing is impossible…

This is a scripture that everyone should know. Why?

Because it impacted Matthew’s church. Because it shaped our denomination.

Because it’s a story about how we are to treat one another.

Not because we must, but because we may.

Not because we’re seeking heaven’s reward but because no one alive should experience hell on earth.

This is a story that everyone should know because it’s not about earning brownie points with Christ, but because it reminds us that by being generous, and by generously caring for other, we are actually caring for Christ.

Not because we want the world to know us by what we say, but because God wants to recognize us by what we do.

Not because we desperately want to be part of the Heavenly Family but because we already are part of the Heavenly Family; created by God, restored in Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, let’s end with another story:

The other day I was on the Circle, enjoying the Chili Cook-off. There was a driver who stopped for a man at the crosswalk even though he could have blazed on through.

Well, this infuriated the woman behind him. She started tailgating him, honking her horn, screaming out her window in frustration, and flipping him a few choice signs.

Next thing I knew, while she was in mid-rant, a very serious looking police officer was tapping on her window.

The officer asked her to exit the car with her hands up. She began to beg and plead and wonder what was wrong, but he placed her in handcuffs and had her sit in the back of his squad car.

A few minutes later, after a rather lengthy conversation on his cell phone, the officer released her with an apology.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said in a wonderful southern manner, “When I pulled up behind your car I saw you blowing your horn, yelling out the window and flipping off the guy in front of you.”

“And when I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, and ‘Follow me to Sunday School’ decal, well, I just figured you must have stolen the car!”

Emmanuel UCC- we don’t need bumper stickers or decals to declare our faith if our actions are already doing it.

So let us prepare to enter into the Advent season, displaying the deeds of our faith and allowing the Lord to prosper the works of our hearts.

For that, let me hear a mighty “Hallelujah!” and a grateful “Amen.”

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Home; Psalm 90:1-6

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 90:1-6
Nov 19, 2017

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

That’s the opening line of today’s psalm. When I hear it, I find great comfort; the notion of God being our dwelling place.

Roots. Grounded. Eternal.

But when put in context of the entire song, conflicting thoughts emerge.

Why would someone claim that God has been their home? Could it be that perhaps the person who wrote this is homeless?

Could it be they’ve been wandering around some kind of wilderness, waiting for a permanent place to rest their head?

Think about it: would a person who is already home in a secure place need to make the claim that God is home?

Or would it make more sense if that person is far away from momma’s cooking, far from fixing things with Dad, far from their pesky siblings, beloved pets, and childhood friends?

A person who is far from home, in a strange place, may just be the kind of person who calls God their dwelling place.

They may also be the kind of person who thinks about things like the mistakes we make, and how life seems too short and filled with too much toil.

And to what end? That we die, like a sigh, to become dust that gathers in the corner of a room?

These are the thoughts that fill Psalm 90. “How long?” the singer asks God. “How long?”

So, if we go back to the first line of the psalm and reread it, we can wonder if it’s designed to be words of comfort, words of distress, or words meant to remind God just what it means to be God.

Perhaps it’s all of these things; perhaps it is none.

Perhaps this is an appropriate scripture for acknowledging Thanksgiving.

Can’t you imagine these words being composed by one of the Pilgrims after they travelled overseas to an unknown land?

That someone in the wilderness of early America could write this?

Or, since last week we acknowledged Veteran’s Day, could you imagine a soldier currently across the ocean composing this?

Calling God their dwelling place, their refuge, when they know their life can be ended in a moment?

Could any of our veterans here today have composed such a song, knowing all too well the fragility of life, especially after watching one of their comrades die?

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust we were made, to dust we shall return.


My father, who served in Vietnam, could have been one of those men.

I’d like to share something with you, the most emotionally valuable thing I own.

It’s a Bible that’s been in my family for three generations, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, used to mark an important transition in each life.

My father gave it to me in 1990 when I left for college. His father gave it to him in 1968 when he left for Vietnam.

His grandparents gave it to him when he was confirmed April 6, 1926.

This tattered Bible is one of the two things I put in my backpack in case I had to flee my home during Hurricane Irma.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the true story of this Bible.

When my father was oversees, his unit was the victim of a roadside bombing.

It killed my father’s friend, and badly wounded my Dad. He had shrapnel throughout his body and a permanently damaged eardrum.

In fact, after the bomb went off, the enemy came and stripped my father of everything he had and left him for dead in the dirt on the side of the road.

Everything that is, except for this Bible.

My Dad received the Purple Heart and he returned home to start a family. Like many veterans, he carried deep wounds from the war.

I find comfort in knowing that even though he was left for dead in a strange, foreign wilderness, surrounded by those who tried to hurt him, this Word of God remained by his side.

Could it be that this family Bible, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, became some kind of refuge, shelter, fortress, home?

What is home?

In an idealized sense, home is where compassion begins, where we learn how to say “please” and “thank you.”

Home is where we discover that we are loved, we are forgiven and we are part of something bigger then ourselves.

If you are lucky, home is the place in which you are welcomed no matter who we are, and welcomed back when we have gone away or astray.

It’s those places the Pilgrims left behind to get a second chance at life, to have a piece of land to call their own, and to worship God the way they felt best.

Home is the place our veteran’s and current soldiers have left behind for months and for years.

I am sure that for the Pilgrims, and for many of our veterans and soldiers, God would become or is the only home they could count on, even if they were wondering “how long?” and about the toil of human life.

In closing, the psalmist referred to God as the eternal dwelling place.

Did such a statement come from a place of comfort or a place of distress?

Think of where you are in your life. Of where you came from, and all you have been through.

What does it mean for you to say that God is your home?

One writer stated that “Home is the place where when you get there, they take you in.”

If Scripture teaches us anything, and if the life and resurrection of Christ teaches us anything, is that no matter what we go through in life, no matter where we go, no matter what we do-

We will always be welcomed into the home that we call God.

Eternal. Everlasting. Offering grace upon grace upon grace.

For that, we can say “Amen” and amen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pastoral Response- Shooting at Sutherland Springs

Dear Editor,

Psalm 90, begins with "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations." Other translations use the word "home" or "refuge", thus making the claim that God is a safe place.

Yet, on Sunday November 5, the members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX did not experience safety or refuge.

At a time like this, people want words of comfort, but perhaps what we need most are words of discomfort. Comfort can lull us into a sense of complacency; discomfort can cause us to respond, think, and act.

Once again the issues of mental illness, hate, and guns enter into the political discourse, but at what value?

We look at the number of people killed by guns this year alone, and some say there needs to be more gun control. But then we can look at the number of people killed by cars or automobile accidents, and no one says "Cars are dangerous and need to be taken off the street."

We can look at scripture, when Jesus was arrested in the garden, and one of the disciples drew their sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's slave, which indicates that the disciples were strapped. But...we also have Jesus say "Put your sword back into place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:31-31)

I wonder, while wrestling with all that has taken place, if perhaps there needs to be a change in vocabulary as we discuss events like those that took place in TX, Las Vegas and PULSE.

Words matter. Maybe the phrases "gun rights" and "gun control" need to be replaced. Personally, I believe everyone has the right to own a gun. But "gun rights" makes it sound like an inanimate object has more meaning than a human life. I also believe there should be certain rules around guns, but "gun control" sounds like someone wants to take guns away.

So, maybe a better phrase is "gun wisdom." Wisdom is a word that infers deep thought, a process, and the ability to see things from all sides.

In the discomfort of the events at First Baptist, I wonder if what we could must benefit from is a discussion about the wisdom around what it means to own, sell, and care for guns; wisdom on how they are to be used, stored, treated; wisdom on the consequences of misuse; and wisdom on how to prevent and respond to events like those that recently happened.

I see the gun debate as one in which people are digging in their heels on either side, doubling down on what they think is the true, and only, solution. I think there is so much more to discuss and to learn.

People have always found weapons to inflict great harm, pain, and power over others. Lest we forget, the swords the disciples carried were weapons. Lest we forget, the means by which Jesus was crucified, the cross, was the weapon of choice for the Roman government.

There are no words of comfort that I feel I can honestly convey. It is more like a numbness; a "here-we-go-again-itis." But I do think that we, as a community, and as a country, can begin really wrestling with the wisdom around what guns are, why we have them, and what are the ways to ensure our children, our churches and our communities are kept as safe as possible.

As Psalm 90 begins with the claim that God is our home/dwelling place/refuge, it ends with a prayer that makes so much sense, and proves to be so timely-

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands- O prosper the work of our hands!"

Peace and prosperity to everybody.

Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Courage to Stand Still; Joshua 3:7-17

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 3:7-17
Nov 5, 2017

Veteran TV actress Jenifer Lewis has stated “The elevator to success is broken; take the stairs.”

How true are these words. Success can take a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 40.

40 years.

That’s a long time. A lot can take place.

Think of what life was like 40 years ago. No cell phones. No Google. Diet Coke did not exist for another 5 years.

Fleetwood Mac’s infamous album “Rumors” is released on vinyl because there is no such thing as CDs or iTunes.

“Three’s Company” made its debut on ABC during a time in which there were only about 7 stations. No cable, live-streaming or Netflix. You adjusted the antenna on your TV to get better reception and your children were the remote.

Jimmy Carter is President. The world’s 1st all-in-one home computer debuts, and an unknown movie called “Star Wars” opens.

If you’re like me, you enjoy our paper’s daily column that shares all the “On-This-Day” events.

It makes history a bit more real. It also makes me realize that things I grew up taking for granted are relatively recent in the span of human history.

For example, as Millie Grime shared a few weeks ago, women in the United States did not get the right to vote until 1920.

People of two different races were not legally allowed to be husband and wife until 1967.

That’s just 3 years before I was born.

40 years from now, I wonder if some preacher will say “Can you believe it wasn’t until June 26, 2015 that same-sex marriage was legal in the U.S.?”

To which someone in the congregation will be thinking, “Yeah, and by June 27 they also got the right to be divorced!”

These events are revolutionary.

We can look at such moments in time and say that there was a before and after; there was a way in which things used to be done and a way they are done now.

On paper, such things can give the impression of an easy transition. But that is rarely the case. Usually there is some type of symbolic river to cross.

Often times, things that we take for granted, like women having the right to vote, came about thanks to the actions of those who paid a great price.

Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff sang “there are many rivers to cross.”

If there is anything we learn from history and from scripture is that it’s not unusual to take a long, long time to get to the other side of the river.

And on a day in which we are honoring All Saints, we should give thanks to those who faithfully took those steps forward, knowing they were not easy.

Take for example today’s reading.

The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land after wandering through the wilderness for forty years.

4 decades ago their ancestors were freed from slavery and lead across the Red Sea waters.

They camped out by Mt. Sinai, where they were given the Law and taught the commandments.

Moses led them through the wilderness towards the Promised Land in which they experienced how God could and would provide food and water for them.

But something went wrong.

Numbers 13-14 tells us that the people were poised to enter the Promised Land. The ancestors were right on the cusp of true freedom…but then they became scared.

As the story goes, God had them send 12 of their leaders to check out the land the Lord had promised the people.

It was harvest time. The land was filled with plenty. Grapes big and abundant, milk and honey for all.

But there were also people who lived there who were much taller them they, so 10 of the leaders became afraid.

Though God had set them free, parted the Red Sea waters and filled their bellies with food, 10 of the 12 leaders decided to give the people a bad, and fear-based, report.

They said that the land devoured its inhabitants and its citizens seemed tall and strong.

And though God had promised them the land, though God had performed amazing deeds of deliverance, the people believed the false report of 10 fear-based individuals.

The people became scared. They rebelled. They cried and they wept.

Their behavior saddens Moses.

It saddens Joshua who says to the people “Don’t listen to their fearful reports, the land is good. God is pleased with us. Do not be afraid: we are on the verge of being blessed.”

But the ancestors were afraid. They complain that it would’ve been better to die as slaves in Egypt.

They think of turning back, threatening to kill anyone who tries to move them forward into God’s Promised Land.

This angers God. God feels hurt and despised.

As a consequence to their unfounded fears and unfaithful lies, God decides the people will wander the dessert for 40 years before their children will get a second chance to enter the Promised Land.

For 4 decades they struggle, they live, they die, they wait, when all God wanted to give them was paradise.

It is not until the next generation comes along that God’s people get to finally enter the land of milk and honey.

As we heard in today’s reading, God gives clear directions to Joshua and the priests and the people follow.

The priests carry the arc of the covenant into the Jordan River and when the soles of their feet rest in the river, the water stops flowing, and a path of dry ground is created for the people to journey across to the other side.

And they all do so, without a hitch, without complaint, without a quarrel, without a “what if?’ or a “woe is me.”

Perhaps that was the true miracle, not that the water had stopped flowing. But that after 40 years the people had finally learned how to trust God

The result: they are wilderness travelers no more; they are people of the Promised Land. Grounded in God, able to establish roots.

That’s how it is sometimes, isn’t it?

The things we fear the most, or have been taught by others to fear, are sometimes nothing more than just a river to cross, trusting God to keep us dry.

Like allowing women to vote or people of different races to marry.

To get from here to there took working together. It took some people to simply stand still.

It took trust in the Lord and believing in the promise.

It took courage.

You know, images of courage occur throughout the stories of our spiritual ancestors; stories designed to show us how to find and to have courage in the Lord.

As Christians, our ultimate example of courage would be Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a man of courage.

Jesus showed courage by fraternizing with those who were seen as “not one of us.” He wasn’t afraid to reach out to those who were seen as different.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to be close to someone who was unwell, or to touch the hands of someone who was sick.

He was willing to be seen talking with those of questionable morals or those deemed too dangerous for society.

Jesus had great courage. How else could he talk to a Samaritan woman at the well? Or walk across rough seas in the middle of a storm? Or stand before a multitude of hungry folk?

Jesus, like Joshua, was a person of faith, a person of action.

He was a person who showed courage by reaching out to folks when the world around them would not.

Jesus would meet people where they were, when they were here, on one side of the river, and he would metaphorically take them to there, the other side in which they experienced spiritual, physical, and social healing.

Where did this courage of Christ come from?

His relationship with God. His understanding of scripture. Knowing the stories of the saints and ancestors who came before him.

His ability to sometimes be still.

His sense of justice, kindness, and humility.

His sense that who we are now is not always who we are capable of being.

Knowing that each of us deserve the chance to grow, to learn, and to cross over to the other side.

The feet of the saints from oh so long ago led us out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

And the feat of our ancestors is that although they were often afraid and unsure, they did learn how to trust the Lord, and in trust, they were able to move forward in faith and action.

We too are following in the feet of our ancestors.

Some are the saints who came long ago. Some are our immediate relatives.

Some are those who helped to shape the denomination, those who worked hard to build this specific church; some are even amongst us today.

Regardless if they knew it or not, what they did and have done took courage, courage based on faith and an understanding of God’s grace and love for all.

In conclusion, each person, each community has many, many moments in which they come to a symbolic river and are invited by God to cross over into something wonderful, something new, and yes, perhaps even something scary.

But may none of that stop us from getting our own feet a little wet, trusting that in God the path ahead will be doable.

And with the grace of Christ, we have the chance to go from here to there with feet of faith that moves us forward into feats of faith.

For that, we can say amen and “Amen!”

Monday, October 23, 2017

Kaepernick, #MeToo and Paper Towels- What Do We See?; Exodus 33:12-23

Rev. George Miller
Oct 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23


To see/to be seen.

To hear/to be heard.

To know/to be known.

To believe/to be believed.

To see…

When Colin Kaepernick kneels during the National Anthem, what do you see?

A brown-skinned American man peacefully bringing national attention to the fact that 180 black men have been killed by cops in this year alone?

Or an overpaid athlete disrespecting the flag and our military?

When women post on Facebook #MeToo do you see the courageous act of individuals bringing to national attention the fact that at least 1 in 4 of our mothers/sisters, wives/friends have been sexually assaulted?

Or do you see an overly sensitive movement of political correctness in which you’re sure many of the women are lying or making more out of it then what’s really there?

When you saw Trump throwing paper towels into a crowd of people in Puerto Rico did you see a man who was acting presidential and compassionate towards citizens of the USA?

Or did you see a world leader out of touch and insensitive to the needs of his nation’s citizens?

What do you see?

What do your eyes tell you?

What do you hear?

What do you know?

What do you believe?

What does your heart say?

Today’s reading, based on the NRSV version of the Bible, is all about sight and the ability or inability to see.

Took a look at today’s scripture and the words “sight” and “see” each appear 5 times.

Clearly, the narrator wants to bring the ability to see to the forefront of the story.

See- this is a glimpse into the intimate relationship that God and Moses shared. We are given a chance to witness the kind of relationship they had, in which Moses and God talked as if they were old, dear friends.

God has set the Israelites free- an act of spiritual, physical, and political liberation. And now they are about to leave Mt. Sinai to wander through the wilderness, towards the Promised Land.

At first God was going to leave them on their own, but Moses says “Umm-hmmm God, we ain’t going nowhere without you. See- we want the whole world to know what a mighty God we serve.”

So God acquiesces with one caveat- “I will let all my goodness pass before you, but you cannot see my face.”


Why can’t the face of God be seen? People have pondered this question for centuries, and people will have to ponder it for many centuries to come.

Because today we’re not going to talk about the “why?” That’s a mystery best left for you to walk around with.

Today we are going to talk about the “what?” As in “What do you see?”

See- as Christians we make a rather radical claim. A claim that although God is transcendent and invisible, we can actually catch a glimpse of God in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.

The faithful have believed that if you want to know who God is- look to Jesus. If you want to know the extent of God’s grace and mercy- look to Jesus.

If you want to see what the love of God looks like- look to Jesus and what he did, how he interacted with others, and even how he died.

Emmanuel- meaning God with Us.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

We saw a time in which the disciples were in a boat, facing a horrible storm, and they were terribly afraid.

What did we see Jesus do?

He came down from the mountain, walked across the water, spoke words of comfort, got into the boat, and took them to the other side.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

A time when he met a foreign woman with a daughter in need, and although he was a bit slow to help, he engaged the woman in dialogue, hearing her out.

As a result, Jesus learned something from her, and he offered wholeness and healing to both mother and daughter.

Look to Jesus, and what do we see?

A brown-skinned middle-eastern man who was falsely arrested, brought before the courts on trumped up charges, and unfairly executed in a public manner in which some spectators ridiculed him, some ignored his pain, and others said he only had himself to blame.

Look to Jesus, and what do you see?

If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Emmanuel, what do we see in him that allows you to better see, hear, and know the Most Holy of Holies???


To see/to be seen.

To hear/to be heard.

To know/to be known.

To believe/to be believed.

To see…

If Jesus was here today and you saw him kneeling during the National Anthem would you try to understand why or would you condemn his actions?

If Jesus was on Facebook today and posted #MeToo would you believe him or disregard his testimony?

If Jesus was in Puerto Rico, do you think you would see him throw paper towels into the masses or could you see him doing something else?

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What does it mean to say we follow Christ?

What do you think we see in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God With Us, Emmanuel?

What do we hear?
What do we know?
What do we believe?
What do we see???

Amen & amen.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Letter to the Editor- President's Actions Show Us Who He Is

When someone shows you who they are, believe them. What have we seen in President Trump?

He was slow to respond to Hurricane Harvey, late in visiting the folks of Texas and quick to make a joke at their expense. When Irma hit Florida, he spent his time on the coast but never ventured inland to places like Highlands County where honest working, blue-collar folk dealt with the loss of cattle, citrus, and uninsured homes.

When Maria hit Puerto Rico, he was slow in responding but quick to publicly shame the mayor of San Juan and to throw towels into a crowd of brown-skinned American citizens. When primarily Caucasian, country-music loving folk faced a brutal assault in cash-fueled Las Vegas, he was there as fast as he could be with a sense of dignity and remorse.

While California, a predominately Democratic state, is besieged with wildfires, he has yet to visit them, make any plans to visit, or show any sign that he legitimately cares.

President Trump- your actions speak loudly. We see who you really are. Half of America is not surprised because we knew this was truly you all along. The other half of America is either enjoying your disregard for humanity or they are doing their best to fool themselves into thinking you are an OK guy.

But you are not. What we have witnessed in our Republican President is someone who is callous, uncaring and non-compassionate. It is time for the other half of our beloved country to open up their eyes and to truly see who our President is.

Rev. George Miller

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Advice to Far-Away Friends When Disaster Strikes

“Advice to Far-Away Friends When Disaster Strikes”
By Rev. George Miller
Emmanuel UCC, Sebring, FL

Having recently experienced the destructive actions of Hurricane Irma, I also experienced the compassionate care of family and friends who lived far away. What I learned was that natural disasters cause many people to feel helpless.

There are those who go through the disaster, and then there are those who watch it from afar, wanting to help, but knowing there is nothing they can do but to call, text, and pray. Though everything my family and friends did was well-intentioned, there are four bits of information I’d like to share.

Do not stay-shame. The days leading up to Irma I got FB posts telling me to leave, get out, go. That my house would not hold up, prayers do not work, and my life was more important than things. These comments were written as signs of love and concern, but they felt like daggers of shame.

There are reasons why people choose to stay. For some, like me, they are care-givers and community leaders. As a church pastor I was not going to drive away and leave my congregation and community behind. My calling to ministry made it very clear that I was there to stay and be present before, during and after the storm.

Many people I knew are caregivers- nurses, social workers, home help aides, non-profit administrators, first responders. If we all left, who would be there for the community immediately after Irma?

Many of us had pets and most shelters do not accept pets. So out of love for our animals, and because they love us, we chose to stay instead of leaving them alone.

There is also the importance of HOME. For those who chose to stay it wasn’t about things, or items that can be replaced. I made peace that everything I had could be lost, and I was Ok with that. But I was not Ok leaving my HOME, where my roots were. There are those who will understand this, and there are those who will not, but I was willing to die within my home. That sense of bravery gave me peace and purpose.

Also, there comes a point in which even if someone decides to leave it may no longer be wise. For example, right before Irma hit, traffic out of state slowed down to an 11-mile-an-hour crawl. It took 8 hours to go what should have only taken 90 minutes. People ran out of gas; cars were stranded on the side of the road.

What’s safer- to be in your own home during a hurricane, or to be caught in traffic with cars full of fearful, angry people?

So please, don’t try to shame your friends or family into leaving their home or a community during a storm or disaster; simply say “I support you and will be here for you.”

Keep communication during the storm short. Cell phones have changed the way we live. Contacting people via text, FB, messenger and phone is instant and real time. It was comforting to see how many people cared about me and was contacting me during the storm.

However, many people wanted to engage in long conversations via text and messenger. This was difficult to do while riding out the storm. It also left me in a quandary- do I ignore their numerous text messages and appear rude or give the impression something bad just happened or do I respond?

This sounds frivolous but the fear and worry from family/friends during the storm was palpable and I felt like I was doing as much work to calm their nerves as I was calming mine.

At one point I was sitting on a chair against my front door trying to keep the wind from blowing it open, while individuals kept trying to engage me in a text conversations while the eye of the storm was overhead.

Keep communication after the storm simple. Cell phones work differently after disaster. There is no rhyme or reason, they just don’t function. Memes, attachments, links, voice mails, and long texts do not go through. Folks up north still wanted to communicate but did not fully understand that my cell phone was not always functional, nor did I always have the emotional energy to respond or to reassure them that I was OK, or repeatedly detail what the experience as like.

Not only was I in survival mode (living without electricity, stinky and sweaty, working on little sleep, worrying about if my car would run out of gas or my tires go flat, barely hungry yet always thirsty), but our cell phones were wonky.

I could text, but not receive instant messages on FB. I could receive calls, but not call out. My cell didn’t work at all at church, but did work in my home. Sometimes I’d have to step out into the middle of the street to send a text. Other times I’d cross a road and all of a sudden, the cell phone would blow up with message alerts spanning a few days.

What I most appreciated were folks who left a brief text saying they loved me and were glad that I was OK. The long, drawn out texts in which a loved one tried to engage me in back and forth conversation as if everything was fine…. did not feel fine, and added emotional exhaustion on top of the physical and spiritual exhaustion.

Don’t forget us when we need you most. Ok- the storm passes. A month goes by. But we have what’s called “hurricane brain.” We’ve become forgetful. We’ve lost a month of our life. Everywhere we look there is still damage and debris from Irma. Depression is setting in; folk are getting sick. And some other storm or disaster or political event has taken center stage and we are no longer “sexy” and everybody has moved on.

NOW is the time when what you do can make the biggest difference.
NOW is when you can offer hope, show your love, and share your resources.

And it is so simple- send them a card that features words of hope. Send them a letter that celebrates who they are and what that person means to you. Better yet, get a little gift card to a store or place or website they like- be it CVS, Panera, Olive Garden, i-Tunes, and say “Treat yourself to something you like.”

A month into surviving a disaster is when folk seem to lose hope and wonder if things will ever be the same again. This is a time in which they don’t need utilitarian things, but fun things that make life a bit better, a bit easier, a bit more enjoyable.

Trust me- you send a note with a gift card to a friend a month after they experienced a disaster- you will make a difference in their day and their life that they will not forget.

In conclusion, next time you have a dear family member of friend facing a disaster, and you feel incredibly helpless and wish there was something you can do, keep in mind these things
1) Don’t stay-shame, but support their decision to remain at home.
2) Keep communication short with your loved one during the storm.
3) Keep communication simple after the storm- don’t send memes, attachments, long messages/texts that require full responses
4) A month after the storm surprise your loved one with a card and a little gift.

Trust me, these four things will make a huge difference and truly say “I care about you, and I am here.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Seeds of Hope; Pollinators of Peace- Philippians 4:4-9

Rev. George Miller
Oct 15, 2017
Philippians 4:4-9

Pollinators of peace:
Truth; honor; justice.
Purity; nobility; excellence.

There is story from this week that is worthy to be told.

We have a child on our prayer-list named Gunner, a young boy living with severe disabilities. Twice this year he nearly died. After the hurricane he required a working generator to keep cool air on him so he would not have a seizure.

His mom, an amazing woman named Tonya, rode back and forth from Sebring to Fort Pierce twice a week to ensure they had enough gas to run their generator.

Tonya did not just get gas for her own son, but for the parents of other special needs children, as well as for a local UCC pastor you may know.

She also brought back cases of water, coolers with ice packs, and let others know about our Shepherd’s Pantry.

Tonya is a mother and community leader who is always on the go go go, caring for her son and others in need.

Earlier this week, she and Gunner were at a gas station. Gunner’s IV pole was in the van and his feeds were running, and as Tonya was pumping gas, she noticed her son had fallen over.

So, she went to the side of the van, opened it up, adjusted him and gave Gunner a kiss like she always does.

A few minutes later a man with a truck pulling a jet ski approached her. He said “I’ve been watching you and it looks like life is probably pretty tough for you.”

He took out money from his pocket and placed a folded $100 bill into the hand she was pumping gas with.

Tonya didn’t know how to respond so she said “No, no, no.” But he more than insisted.

This immediately made her think of her own mother who had died, and that perhaps this was a way she was reaching out to help and to give hope.

As Tonya shared on her Facebook page “I don’t know who this man is but a small gesture as it seemed to him…was impacting and large on my side. No real words will suffice.”

Tonya’s testimony of hope, complete with photos of the man, has been viewed by over 200 people, but no one knows who he is.

We don’t know his name. Where he’s from; where he’s going, the sins he may have committed, or the other lives he may have helped

What we do know is that he acted honorable and just, pure and noble, bringing a sense of wholeness to a family.

Making the Kingdom of God near…

Today we revisit Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. It is a letter composed during a time of imprisonment.

Paul was arrested for preaching the Good News. His freedom has been taken away. He is shackled in chains, far from the people of Philippi.

It would appear to be a hopeless situation, an experience that could challenge the fragility of faith and make anyone wonder where God is.

In his letter, Paul admits to the Philippian church that he has experienced a period of despondency. His physical pain has been so great he wonders if it would be better to die.

But something happens…a care package arrives from this congregation; a gift; a sweet-smelling offering.

We don’t know for sure what the gift is, but we do know that of all the churches Paul has been associated with, this is the only one that has reached out to him.

And out of thanksgiving, he tells the congregation that he is fully satisfied.

Clearly, their gift to Paul was more than just a gift; just like the $100 Tonya received was more than just money.

Their gift was not just an item; not just a thing.

It was hope. It was friendship. It was the gift of tomorrow’s promise.

Paul responds in kind by creating a letter to them that says “Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord!”

Reading through this letter it is clear that Paul is not expressing false hope. This is not hope based on denial. This is not hope that magically melts his chains away.

This is the kind of hope that gives one a reprieve from their current situation.

This is the kind of hope that helps pollinate the possibilities of days to come.

This is empowering hope that propels Paul to meditate on what he knows about a life lived in Christ.

This is the kind of hope that soothes the soul.

Hope that is rooted in the reality that the Lord is near. Hope that even in the darkest valley, there is comfort.

Hope that says we can find peace in the Lord. Not peace that is absent of conflict, or peace that means a perfect life.

But peace in knowing that God has a way to work through things; that God is greater than a jail cell; that God’s ability to restore is more powerful than any storm’s ability to demolish.

With the peace provided by the Philippians’ unexpected gift, Paul is able to hold onto hope, and though he is incarcerated, he finds his own way to inspire.

“Imagine,” he says. “Think about these things- think about what is truly true. Think of what is honorable. Think of what is just and what is right.”

“Think of what’s pure and untainted. Think of what is excellent. Think of anything worthy of being praised- and God will be with you.”

Though his body is shackled, Paul encourages them to free their mind as he states “Think thoughts of thanksgiving and the wholeness of the Lord will bloom and be within you…”

Paul is offering a vision of heavenly living in which one does not have to die to experience the glory of God…one just has to be willing to live in truth and justice, honor and thanksgiving.

How wonderful would the world be if we lived with this as our definition of a faithful life?

What hope Paul was giving to himself, what hope he was giving to the Philippian church, and what hope he is giving to us today.

While thinking of the testimony that Tonya shared about the man with the $100 bill, I have thoughts of another testimony taking place.

Though there is still tons of debris lining Lakeview, and so much of our soil is beyond saturation, there has been solace coming from the earth.

I look out upon my own yard. A plumbago bush by the driveway that a month ago seemed worse for the wear has bloomed beautifully with blue flowers that have quadrupled after the storm.

Hundreds of purple flowers now fill the wooded area of my back yard, filling out the spots that Irma leveled and dressing a cactus with a royal robe of amethyst that even King Solomon would be jealous of.

A long wished-for wildflower garden that was started in August is now alive with the colors of maroon, mimosa, mandarin, and lavender. Each plant growing taller; dancing in the breeze.

Perhaps best of all, there are now yellow moths, bees and butterflies visiting my home, flitting about, sipping nectar, adding life amidst the fallen fences and browning leaves.

There is comfort in knowing that all these things that have come about post- Irma are playing a part in a new creation.

There is also the hope that as the moths, bees and butterflies go from bloom to bloom to bloom that they are doing their part to pollinate the area and possibly create sweet, sweet honey.

In conclusion, Paul received such unexpected sweetness from the Philippian church, and he could not help but to be sweet in return, and nearly 2,000 years later his message of hope continues to-

Pollinate our hearts.
Sow seeds of salvation.
Remind us that the Lord is near.
Not far away; not absent.
But near.

And with that, we have hope beyond understanding; we have hope that allows us to praise the Lord from the wholeness of our hearts.

For that, we can say Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2 Days Off for Jesus; John 4:39-45

Rev. George Miller
Oct 8, 2017
John 4:39-45

2 Different Worlds.

When anyone moves to a place like Florida they will become aware that they are living in at least 2 different worlds.

South and north. Conservative and progressive. Coastal and inland. Retired and working. Transplants and 4, 5, 6 generation.

If you are lucky and willing to move from world to world, you become enriched and learn how others live.

For example, I think of a house party I went to hosted by a family from the Caribbean.

You learn that a 4 pm invite does not mean you arrive at 4, but means “We’re gonna start thinking about getting ready around 4 but we won’t actually start cooking until 5 so don’t come until 6.”

Then the world of the hunters, in which trucks, chewing tobacco, blue jeans, plaid shirts, country music, polarized sunglasses and guns take the forefront.

And if a hunter tells you to be ready at 6 am, they are parked in front of your home at 6 am.

I’ve been to a few gatherings hosted by a couple from Puerto Rico in which the main event was dominoes.

Not dominoes as in old men sitting in the park or young kids at Vacation Bible School, but dominoes as a sport, in which each man brings his own custom-made domino table complete with a picture of the Puerto Rican flag.

You learn there’s a whole way of talking when playing dominoes- talking big and saying smack is an art form, and no one just places their pieces gently on the table, but presents them with passion, as bones are slammed down and counted up.

I love all these worlds and am thankful for every one I’ve been welcome to.

My own world was shook when last week our planning committee met and worked over slices of pizza.

There, in front of my eyes, Sam Darley ate her pizza with a fork.

The horror! Pizza is to be folded and honored, not cruelly cutlery-ized!

2 different worlds.

That’s what we witness in today’s readings. Jesus a Jew, hanging out with Gentiles.

Jesus, a good ol’ boy from the southern kingdom hanging out with a bunch of Samaritans in the north.

Shocking. Scandalous. Something that simply was not done.

Back in the day Jews and Samaritans were mortal enemies, total opposites:

Crips and Bloods. Jets and Sharks. ISIS and the US. Fox News and CNN.

That’s how people saw Jews and Samaritans.

So to have a story in which Rabbi Jesus is not only in Samaria, but socializing with the Samaritans is not only controversial it is boundary-breaking revolutionary.

The fact that the Samaritans come to Jesus and invite him to spend 2 days with them is mind-blowing, and the fact that he said “yes” and stayed in their homes, ate their meals, and entered into a relationship with them is beyond comprehension.

This reading is about radical hospitality in which the Hatfields have invited a McCoy over for a weekend retreat, and the McCoy has graciously accepted.

Jesus, the Son of God, is invited to spend 2 days in Samaria, and he says “Yes.”

And you know what- I am so grateful that he did.

This scripture gives us a brief glimpse into Jesus, the man.

Part of me is sad that the Gospel Writer didn’t think it was important enough to tell us what Jesus’ 2 days off were like.

We’re told of his baptism, his teachings, his healing, his miracles, the people who didn’t like him and the threats he endured.

But we’re not told what these 2 days off were like, almost as if what Jesus did doesn’t matter unless if he’s giving giving giving to others.

Another part of me is thankful we’re not told what the 2 days off were like because it gives Jesus some much deserved privacy.

It also allows our imagination to have some fun.

What do you think it was like for Jesus to be away from Judea and all the work waiting to be done there, and for Jesus to just be…Jesus…one of us.

What do you think Jesus did during those 2 days off?

What do you wish he got to do?

I like to think that Jesus had his own Jimmy Buffet, How Stella Got Her Groove Back experience.

I like to think that he was given the most welcoming guest room with 1,000 thread count bed-sheets and a big comfortable quilt.

I like to think that Jesus got a chance to catch up on his ZZZ’s; that his hosts allowed him to sleep in that morning.

I imagine Jesus waking up late the next day to the aroma of freshly made coffee and the sounds of someone singing in the kitchen as eggs are frying on the stove.

Imagine Jesus sitting down to a breakfast of fresh buttermilk biscuits with all kinds of jams and jellies and a big bowl of fresh fruit at his side.

Imagine Jesus eating his fill, not having to turn water into wine or loaves and fishes into a banquet.

Picture Jesus going for a long, uninterrupted, peaceful walk along the shore, his skin getting tan from the sun, his toes in the water, exhaling and breathing in the air.

Imagine that during the 2 days off, the women of Samaria take him to the local beauty shop where he gets a deep scalp massage, a hot oil treatment for his hair, and a soothing manicure/pedicure.

Imagine the kids of the community coming to play hop scotch, or double-dutch, or duck duck goose.

Imagine at night the men of the town take him out to the local tavern where Jesus is able to throw back a few beers, play some pool, talk sports and brag about the biggest fish he ever caught.

Do we ever think of Jesus this way?

Could you see him at a cook-out, or grilling a steak, or playing Spades and blackjack?

Do we ever allow Jesus just to be…not as someone who has to teach, or heal, or fix, or save, or die for our behalf?

You know what I hope Jesus got to do?

I hope he had a weekend romance.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that there was a time in Jesus’ life in which he had a special girl (or a special guy) in which he was able to share secrets, hold hands, and sit beside while watching the sun set…

…Jesus lived during such a complicated time filled with natural disasters, political unrest and religious warring.

It would be nice to know that for 2 days he got away and was welcomed into a different world in which Jesus could just be Jesus.

In conclusion, I’d like to invite us, for this week, to reevaluate our relationship with and our view of Jesus.

Is he someone who is only of use to us when we cry out for help, when we seek healing, and we need hope, or is Jesus someone we can welcome into our lives to simply be there, as a friend, a companion, a guest?

Do we love Jesus only because of what he can do for us, or do we love Jesus because he is loveable, likeable and willing to walk beside us?

Does Jesus always have to be about results, sacrifice and salvation, or can Jesus also be about relationships, celebration and simple joys?

In the midst of a chaotic world, Jesus was given the chance to take 2 days off and just….be.

And sometimes just being is the loveliest thing one can achieve.

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Monday, October 2, 2017

God Cares for Even the Smallest of Seeds; Leviticus 19:13-19

Rev. George Miller
Oct 1, 2017
Leviticus 19:13-19

To All the Saints in Christ Jesus, grace to you and peace from God our Parent.

Here we are-3rd Sunday post Irma. We are not perfect, but we are strong, adapting to our New Normal as Jesus continues taking us to the other side.

Though the threat of Irma is over, we are still reminded on a daily basis what we have survived- destroyed docks, debris lined streets, damaged drains.

And like the stages of grief, we are going through the expected phases.

There’s denial, in which one pretends Irma did not happen, or wasn’t as bad as it seems.

There’s bargaining. The whole shouda-couda-wouda stage in which one wishes they could go back in time.

I shouda had a home generator. We couda have had a better disaster plan. Things wouda been better if our officials had known Irma’s eye would come here.

There’s the anger stage. Why did you do a,b,c and not x,y,z? How did they mess it up? Why aren’t Comcast, Duke, FEMA, FL Conference doing anything?

There is the depression stage. The inability to get out of bed or off the couch and the increase of headaches, backaches, sickness and sinuses.

These stages come in and out as people wait for insurance adjusters, or receive checks that barely cover their claim.

Such stages of grief are enough to challenge one’s faith, their church, and if they’re to be honest, God.

It’s not unusual during a disaster for some people to stop attending their place of worship, to question what they believe, or to have a crisis of identity.

Eventually, there comes some sense of acceptance. The realization that things did happen, a person did the best they could have done at that time, and the lessons learned for the next real or metaphoric storm.

Most of us in Highlands County are dealing with denial, anger, depression, and the shouda- couda-woudas.

And that’s OK- because we are survivors; we may not be perfect, but in Christ Jesus, we are strong.

This also ties into today’s reading.

If you recall from last week, we made the claim that this big, beautiful book we call the Bible is a book written by survivors that is all about surviving.

Through one way of thought, Leviticus can be seen as a generator or a power line of how to live after a storm.

First, some history- progressive scholars will say that no one is 1000% certain who wrote Leviticus and when.

There is the traditional belief that these are the laws God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai and Moses wrote them down.

Some believe these laws were created centuries later by the monarchy as a way to unify Israel and redirect them back to their religious roots.

Then there are those that believe these
were created by religious leaders post-Exile as a way for survivors to live and honor God during their New Normal.

What is the Exile?

It was a time when the Babylonians came in and attacked Judah. They decimated the land and destroyed the Temple, where God was worshipped.

They took the best of the best of Judah’s citizens away to live in Babylon for 50 years. They left the undesirables behind to fend for themselves amongst the wreckage.

After 50 years, the exiles were allowed to return to their native land, and it took 100 years for the Temple to be rebuilt.

This created all sorts of denial, anger, and depression for the people of God.

How do you worship God if there is no longer a place to worship?

How do you maintain your identity if your entire identity is wrapped in your religious beliefs and practices?

Possible answers became rituals you could do any place, and any time, and the ethical ways in which one lived.

And what better way to give validation to these rituals and practices than to claim that they were given to Moses by God a long, long time ago?

Here in chapter 19 we have the theological foundation of Leviticus, as vs. 2 states “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy.”

Holy means separate. Holy means beyond and greater than the greatest thing you can imagine.

To say God is holy means that God is more powerful than the mightiest of mighties; more mysterious than the greatest mysteries.

The Lord, our God, is Holy.

Which means God is indestructible, untouchable, and unstoppable. There is no place in which God is not; no event in which God cannot act, and no boat in which the Lord cannot step into.

And because our eternal Father/Mother is holy, there are ways we can live that welcome that holiness in, remind us of whose we are, and make us holy too.

Leviticus conveys this.

And yes, some of these laws seem to make no sense, and yes- some of them seem to go out of their way to keep others in their place, but if we see them as a reflection of their time and their culture, we discover a way in which Leviticus says “God is still speaking, so you can keep living the best way possible.”

So, let’s apply this one way of viewing Leviticus into real life scenarios.

We know there are laws about food; what you can eat and what you cannot. It may not make total sense to us today.

But what if you had lost your home, your place of worship, and lived amongst people who didn’t share the same faith, but you still wanted to honor God?

One way is what you eat and how. Everyone’s got to eat. So maybe one way to honor God is to refrain from eating things like pork and shellfish.

Folk love a good BBQ and fish fry, but what if by choosing not to consume hot dogs and shrimp, you’re finding a way to respect God and say the Lord is holy?

Maybe before a meal you make sure the floor is swept, the plates and cups are washed, and you only use certain utensils.

This can sound a bit OCD, but by doing these things, suddenly the dining room table becomes sacred, the meal becomes a time in which God is welcomed, and the family is engaging in a way of worship that does not require a building that’s been destroyed.

Think about the Sabbath. If there is one thing every human being shares, it is time.

We all live in the same hour, same minute, same second, no matter who you are.

But what if you make a conscious choice to set aside a bit of time to do nothing?

You are setting aside a piece of time that just belongs to you and God. You are creating holy space through the invisible reality of time.

Best yet- it requires no tools, no talent, no money, and no energy.

By not doing anything, that time becomes holy, which brings us closer to God.

Today’s reading talks about paying fair wages, making just decisions, and not sowing two seeds in the same spot.

Think of the mercy these statutes provide to people who have endured much and may wonder where God is.

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Maybe you have lost your home, your place of worship, and you’re living amongst people with different beliefs, but you’re fortunate enough to own your own business.

Guess what- even if you can’t attend worship, even if you have to hide what you believe, you can worship God in the way you treat your employees and how you pay them.

Think about it- if you pay your workers in a timely manner, you are doing an act of worship; you are being holy, and therefore being brought closer to God.

If you can’t attend worship or have to hide what you believe, you can still worship God by trying your best to make fair decisions.

If you look at each situation before you as its own entity, and don’t make elitist excuses for the powerfully rich, or make enabling excuses for those you feel sorry for, you have a way to use justice as a way to worship; you are being holy, and therefore being brought closer to God.

What if you can’t do anything of these things?

What if can’t change how you eat, or take 24 hours off, or pay employees on time, or always exact justice?

Then vs. 19 says you can do something as simple as make sure that you don’t sow two seeds into the same spot.

This interesting bit of agricultural instruction is my favorite part of today’s reading.

Do not sow your field with two kinds of seed. Why?

One possible reason is this- that it is simply too unfair to make two seeds have to struggle and fight it out to see who will flourish and who will survive.

This seemingly simple direction is profoundly deep; as it indicates the all inclusiveness of God’s love.

If God knows every hair on our head, if God’s eye is on each sparrow, then it makes sense that God’s compassionate love is extended to even the smallness of seeds.

Ever wonder how deep and wide God’s love is for all of Creation? In my opinion- it is right here.

That God’s love is so grand, so mighty, so holy, that it even extends to a seed.

That God has blessed us all with so much- so much land, so much water, so much nourishment, that God says-

“There is enough for all, and no one and no thing should have to fight it out to flourish- not an employee, not a neighbor, not cattle, not even a seed of wheat, or barley, or sunflower.”

If God’s love is so rich that it even extends to seeds planted in the same soil, imagine just how great and mighty God’s love is for you, no matter what you have endured, where you are, or the things you have done or done not.

In conclusion, we are living in a New Normal, just as the people of Jerusalem did after the Exile. Like them, we are relearning, rebuilding and being resurrected.

In the process, we are reminded that the ways we live, things we do and how we treat one another is a way to worship God and a testimony to who we are and what we believe.

In doing so, we continue to grow into our identity and into our faith.

And with faith and we have hope, and with hope we have strength.

We are each in our own way holy.

We are each special seeds that have been personally planted by God, watered by the Holy Spirit, fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

We each have the ability to find our way out of the dirt, to stand tall, face the Son, and praise the Lord our God.

For that, we can say amen and amen.