Monday, January 30, 2017

Blessed- Jesus' Inauguration Speech; Matthew 5:1-12

Rev. George Miller
Date: Jan 29, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

One day, when the eyes of Jesus saw the people, he went up a mountain. He sat down on the ground. And he said “Blessed.”

“Blessed…for they will be filled.”

“Blessed…for they will inherit.”

“Blessed…for they shall see.”


Today we conclude our “Land Of Delight” sermon series inspired by the book Grounded.

We have talked about the atmosphere. We have talked about the water. Today we talk about dirt, because, after all, our faith is a dirty religion.

Our faith is one that is intrinsically attached to the soil.

If you don’t believe so, look at the biblical narratives that have been handed down. See how the land is used as a gift, and a promise.

See how the land introduces good news, from Milk and Honey, to the Garden of Resurrection.

See how the land suffers the affects of sin, from the burnt fields of the Exile, to the flooded planes that carry the Ark.

See how the ground plays a part in our own formation.

Yes, our faith is a dirty religion. To see that, take a look at the Creation stories in Genesis.

I say stories because there is not one, but two different tales that tell of our beginnings with God.

Genesis 1 tells of how God created the world in 7 days, with the breath of God moving over the waters, and God speaking words into being.

“Let there be light. Let there be sun, moon, and stars. Let there be birds and animals.”

“Let there be humanity,” God says, seemingly far away, clean and detached.


In Genesis 2 things unfold much differently; horizontally.

There’s a patch of earth in which a stream rises and wets the ground.

God digs into this well watered red clay, forming the clump of soil into a figure, breathes into its nostrils the breath, the wind, the ruach of God…

…and this well watered red clay soil becomes animated. It becomes alive.

It becomes us: you and me.

Living soil. Soil that is infused with the breath of our Creator.

Soil that is infused with sacred waters.

It is then that God plants a garden, grows the trees, makes the animals, and gives this Soil-Civilian the responsibility to take care of the land.

The word in Hebrew for soil- adamah.

We are from adamah, and to adamah we shall return…

For 3 weeks we have been so blessed to spend holy time talking about the ways in which the Sacred is made known through the elements around us.

We started by talking about wind and air, celebrating that though out feet are on the ground, we are each sky creatures striding through the heavens.

Last week we talked of how the Living Waters dwell within us, making up not only most of our bodies, but making up most of the planet.

Today we end our sermon series by talking about dirt; soil.

As the author of the book Grounded states, it is time we begin rethinking our relationship with the ground.

Soil, the author says, is alive; it’s a portal to another world with an entire eco-system that exists in just a handful of dirt.

When we stand on top of earth’s surface, we are standing atop a vast kingdom of microorganisms without which life would not exist.

According to Diana Butler Bass, the author of Grounded, for the longest time we were connected to the soil.

But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution about two hundred years ago, things changed.

We went from living upon the land, depending on it, farming it, passing it down from generation to generation, to seeing dirt as a problem.

We went from seeing the ground as a living entity to an object to be manipulated.

Once we became more industrial based we moved away from the country into lands of concrete.

Instead of seeing land as full and fertile, we saw it as something that needed to be moved, removed, managed, washed away, used, and abused.

The result of this mindset is that in less than 200 years we have lost ½ of our topsoil.

Georgia’s grand red hills have lost 7 inches of cover; her rivers and streams are filled with silt.

Soil, like oil, is not renewable. It took millions of years to make, so once it is gone, it’s gone. You can’t get it back.

As Butler Bass writes, the ground holds the memory of the beginning of all things. The ground holds the memory of God.

That’s deep.

The earth, the soil, the well watered red clay from which we come from is holy. It is sacred. It is full of life.

Over the past year my relationship with dirt has changed. Home ownership will do that.

Now that I own a small parcel of land, there is a new appreciation.

It went from “Oh, that’s a lovely tree,” to becoming “That’s my tree, and it is beautiful.”

Then the realization that the tree was there way before I came here, and will hopefully be here long after I am gone.

So it’s now more like “At this moment in time I have the privilege of being responsible for this magnificent tree, and maybe my child’s child will too.”

The soil, the ground, that I am blessed to own is not just dirt, but it is sand and it is earth is rich, deep mocha colored, and magnificent.

Nothing new may ever be planted in the soil, but it does not matter, because it is living…


Which brings us to today’s reading. It is Jesus’ Inauguration Speech, as told by Matthew.

After Jesus has been baptized in the river Jordan, after he has been tempted in the wilderness, after he saw the disciples upon the waters of Galilee, Jesus has gone out and about doing a few cool things, like curing diseases and becoming famous.

When crowds appear, Jesus climbs up a mountain. The disciples gather around him.

He begins to speak, teaching them “Blessed.”

But…before he says a single thing, before he utters a word, Jesus does something so extraordinary, so life affirming, so amazing…

…that it took someone like Jean Blough to point it out.

What does Jesus do?

He sits.

Jesus climbs a mountain, which is basically a big ol’ pile of dirt, and he sits down.

Jesus, Son of God, our Emmanuel, sits upon the living, nutrient rich soil of the earth. No concern if he’ll get soil in his shoes or dirt on his clothes.

If we don’t think that is amazing, then we’re missing something, or we’ve become numb to just how astounding Christianity truly is.

We are taught that Jesus is God incarnate. We believe that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us.

If the most Holy of Holies was to come down to earth, don’t you think it would be in a more regal, cleaner manner?

If the Sacred of All Things Sacred was to come down to our planet, don’t you think God would opt to be born in a palace, or carried by a horse-drawn carriage, or have people carry around a royal throne for when he wanted to sit?

If the Alpha and Omega of all breathe, all water, all life was to come down to speak to us, wouldn’t you expect it to be from a balcony like Evita, or a press conference like Trump, or decree after decree like Caesar?

No, not our God. Not our Jesus. He has a horizontal relationship with us.

He came down to earth, to be amongst the people, and to be on OUR level.

Jesus Christ- fully divine and fully human...

…fully human, meaning Jesus would have been made out of the same adamah, the same red clay we were fashioned out of.

Think of what this means for all of us, for the elements, for all of Creation:

That Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, came here as a soil based creature.

Born surrounded by the smell and sounds of animals.

Healing a blind man with his own spit and soil.

Telling stories of such earthy, ordinary things as vineyards and farmers.

Throwing himself on Gethsemane ground, praying that his time of trouble may pass.

Dying on desecrated ground and being buried in an earthen tomb.

Meeting Mary in the Garden as she weeps, confusing him for the gardener.

Our Lord and Savior, our Jesus, our Christ, was of the soil. He was of the dirt. He was of the earth.

He walked upon it. He healed with it. He talked about it.

He shed tears upon it.

And one day, when it came time to give his first public speech, he sat upon it.

He said to the disciples, he said to the people, and he says to us here today-

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

While sitting upon the soil, our Messiah says “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”

While sitting upon the dirt, our Savior says “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

While sitting upon the topsoil of a mighty mountain, the King of All Kings says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

If that does not make us humble, if that does not make us reevaluate what following Christ means, what does?

God not only loved the world, the earth, the ground, the soil, but he fashioned us out of it using God’s own hands and God’s own breathe, and asked us to care for it.

God not only loved the world, the earth, the ground, the soil, but God’s Son sat upon it, and he said “Blessed.”

If we ever wonder if we are worth it, if we ever wonder if we matter, if we ever wonder what it is all about,

we can go out into the world, get on our hands and knees, scoop up a handful of rich, dark soil and realize that God is not in a far off place.

God is right here, the very core of all that was, all that is, and all that will be.

God is not apart from us, nor are we ever too far away from God.

We are already striding through the heavens.

We all possess the Waters of Life.

Our very makeup was there in the beginning garden when the Holiest of Holies scooped up the adamah and breathed us into existence.

Air, water, earth.

We are living in the Land of Delight.

From soil we came, from soil we shall return.

Between those two realities, we are Blessed.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mama Ocean and the Living Waters That Dwell Within; Matthew 4:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Date: Jan 22, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 4:18-25


Does anyone in modern-day America realize just how magical our relationship with water is?

Turn on a faucet-it’s there. Turn another knob- it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s lukewarm!

Without a thought or ounce of effort we can wash with it, bathe in it, cook with it, care for our lawn, and flush our wastes away.

No need to think of water…unless if you live somewhere in which access to clean water does not exist.

I’ll admit- when I’ve heard stories about people having to walk a mile for water, I thought- “Big deal. A mile’s not that far.”

Until the day lightening hit the pump at my old apartment and we went without water for 3 days. Fortunately, I already had water in the fridge, but when it came time to flush the toilet???

I went down to the dock and filled up a bucket with lake water to pour into the bowl.

Let me tell you- Never again.

A bucket full of water is heavy, and the weight of the strained handle tears at your knuckles. Plus it sloshes out.

Either you walk fast and lose half of what you got, or you walk slow and dread every moment.

And that was just the length of my backyard; if it had been a mile- oh no, child.

THAT’S when I realized that folk with no access to fresh water the way we do have it hard.


Here in Florida we are truly blessed to be surrounded so many made shades of blue, turquoise, aquamarine, muddy, and brown.

You don’t have to go more than five minutes in Florida and there it is- water hazards on the golf course, rain-filled ditches on the roadside, streams, swamps, lakes, creeks, ocean, the Gulf.

During the rainy season it falls from the sky. During hurricane season it collects on the streets.

Sadly, the waters are not safe from the dangers of modern living.

In 2005 an African-American community in Manatee County was not warned that toxic wastes were in their water.

Last year, 215 million gallons of polluted water drained into the aquifer from a sinkhole at a phosphate facility.

In St. Petersburg, 100 million gallons of sewage escaped from a treatment plant and polluted Tampa Bay.

Governor Scott imposed an emergency rule saying that authorities are be to be notified 24 hours of anything threatening our waters.

When you think about it, water is life. If the air is the lungs of the planet, then water is the blood.

Last week we began our “Land Of Delight” sermon series based on the book Grounded by Diana Butler-Bass.

According to the book, 70% of the human body is made up of water; 71% of the earth is composed of water.

From space, our planet looks like a big beautiful blue marble, which prompted one writer to state that we should not call our planet “earth”, but we should call it “ocean.”

So, Planet Ocean, is made up of 71% water. But - only .3% of that water is available to us to use via lakes, rivers, streams.


96% of the earth’s water is saline.
2% is ice.
2% is fresh water, but most of that water is trapped underground.

Leaving only .3% of fresh, useable water for all of non-sea based creation.

That’s not a lot, and yet- here we are, here we have been, living and surviving all these thousands of years on less than .3%.

According to Butler-Bass humans have always had a spiritual connection with water.

Buddhists leave water at their shrines to achieve serenity, clarity, and purity.

Hindus build holy sites by rivers, seen as sacred, where one is made pure, sins are forgiven and ancestors are honored.

Muslims associate water with motherhood, creation, and God’s provision. To deny water to a thirsty traveler is an affront to Allah.

There are at least 18 metaphors that water represents in world religions.

Think of our own Biblically-rooted faith. Whenever scriptures tell of wells, springs and oases, we often encounter renewal, hospitality, spiritual vision, and blessing.

Water is present in the beginning; it’s there as the Israelites journey to the Promised Land.

Water is there when Jesus begins his ministry, and when the new heaven and new earth is made known.

Our interaction with water is complex. What is your relationship with water?
Some fear it; some have had horrible experiences.

My relationship with water is deep. Perhaps it’s because I was born on an island; perhaps it’s because I’m a Pisces through and through.

Perhaps it’s because the ocean holds my fondest memories.

Fishing for flounder in a small boat with my grandfather, dad, and uncle.

Spending all day at the beach with family, swimming in the surf, digging in the sand, grilling as the sun set.

Summers with best friends at Smiths Point, than going for ice cream on the North Shore.

Taking Cornelius to the east coast, teaching him how jump over/under the waves.

Monthly sojourns to Ft. Pierce in which I spend solitary time with Mama Ocean, listening to the surf, seeing the sand crabs and packs of pelicans.

Some prefer the mountains; some the fields. Give me the ocean anytime.

Butler-Bass would understand. As we discussed last week, her book invites us to rethink how we see God.

She states that we should start thinking of God in a horizontal way; to look to the horizon, where earth and sky touch; that God is present there and beyond.

The same can be said for where the shore touches the ground; where sky touches sea.

Think of how present God seems when you look upon the waters; seeing the sun rise, seeing the sun set, seeing the stars sparkling in the sky.

Interestingly, in Hebrew the same word for water is also the same word for eye-“ayin.”

So when we look upon the Atlantic Ocean, or Lake Jackson, or the pesky golf course hazard, it is water seeing water.

That’s deep, and it helps us to see today’s scripture in another way.

We have Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry. After he is baptized in the Jordan, and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus finds himself on the north-west shore of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is located near the mouth of the Jordan River, which was the major source of water for Israel.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a huge lake, bigger than Jackson, smaller than Okeechobee.

Jesus walks along this watery source of life, proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Note how an element of horizontal faith is at play. God’s Kingdom is near- like the horizon where sea touches sky.

As Jesus walks along the water he saw 2 brothers casting nets into the sea and he invites them to follow him. Next, Jesus saw two other brothers in a boat and he calls upon them.

Note how we are told that Jesus “saw” these men. He saw them casting a net into the sea. He saw them in a boat upon the sea.

With his eyes he sees them upon the water.

And if humans are 70% water, this is a story about water seeing water around water.

“Booooommmmmmm- mind blown!”

We could say that the holy/sacred water in Jesus sees the holy/sacred water in the men, and the holy/sacred water in the men recognize the holy/sacred and eternal/living water in Jesus.

Think of that.

Jesus is preaching that the kingdom of heaven is near, and it sure is.

In so many ways water is the very symbolic, spiritual, physical reality of God.

Ever notice how soothing it can be to walk along water?

How being in an environment featuring water, be it a fountain or a lake-view can make you feel more relaxed and satisfied?

Science shows that engaging with nature and water stimulates the same area of our brain as food, money, and sex.

How 15 minutes walking along a river can boost energy levels and positive emotions. Those who live on or near water express higher levels of happiness and sometimes better health outcomes.

That even the color blue can prompt feelings of wellness.

Ever wonder why?

Could it be that water is life; life is water?

After all, the Bible begins with Genesis telling us that in the beginning the breath of God blew over the waters.

In The Garden a river flowed from all four directions.

When the Israelites crossed the sea they were free; when they crossed the Jordan they were home.

When John baptized people with water, they repented. When Jesus was submerged, the skies opened up and the Wind of God poured down.

When the water of Jesus saw the water of the fisherman upon the Sea, his ministry began.

When he came upon a foreign, forsaken woman at a well, he offered her water that was alive.

And the Book of Revelation concludes the biblical narrative by telling us about the River of Life.

How we will dwell in a holy city in which the water of life flows from God, “bright as crystal”, and on either side of the river is the tree of life, with fruit of every kind.

In the Bible we see that water is with God in the beginning, and water is with God at the very end.

It is as if we are being told the “Living water is God; God is living water.”

As we prepare to conclude, the waters belong to God- from the oceans to the streams, the rivers to the ravines, the wells in the wilderness, and the ice-caps in Alaska.

Therefore- so do the waters in us…

…Last week you were invited to think of how wind and air connects us all, and how the atmosphere makes us all neighbors.

Today, think of how we are all made up of water, water that’s connected to God.

Really think of what that means-

That we have eyes basically made up of water so that we can see.

We have saliva made up of basically water so we can enjoy eating and digest our food.

We have water lining our throat and tongue so we can talk, sing, speak out and speak up.

Water on our lips so we can kiss.

Water in our tears so we can express sadness, empathy, and joy.

Water from within that flush out our toxins.

Water in our blood that carries breath to our organs and life to our flesh.

Last week we said that our feet may be on the ground, but we are sky creatures striding through the heavens.

This week we can say that though we exist on the land, within us dwells the holy waters.

Each of us contains our own oceans, rivers, streams, wells, and rainfalls.

We may live on earth but our bodies already have the eternal Living Waters dwelling within.

What does that mean?

How does such knowledge affect how we see, how we see the world around us, and how we see one another?

We are water seeing water that belongs to the Alpha and Omega of all the waters.

For that, we can say “Amen” and “Amen.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Sky Begins at Our Feet; Sermon on John 1:29-34

Rev. George Miller
Jan 22, 2017
John 1:29-34

This week marks the hello, the goodbye, and the remembrance of 3 historic men.

One who said he’ll make America great again. One who said “Yes we can.” And another who said “I have a dream.”

The life and lasting impact of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be celebrated tomorrow.

A holiday to remember an individual who stood up for justice, who spoke out for the oppressed, who had a vision that included all, and not just some.

An everyday person who rose up to be extraordinary because no matter how tough things got, he never lost hope; no matter how much he was threatened, he never resorted to physical violence.

A man who met the darkness of hate with the bold, beautiful light of a dream.

Dreams. What are they?

They come; they go. Wisps of air, invisible, yet so powerful. So strong.

Dreams can stretch and reconfigure the very physical structure to the world.

Dreams affect and influence everything: art, industry, architecture. From the dreams parents have for their children, to the dreams that can cause thousands to march and millions to take notice.


They are like the wind. They can bring change, disrupt that “static quo”, and create new beginnings…

Today we begin a sermon series in which last week’s service was the prologue-

“The Land of Delight”, based on the poetic words of Malachi 3:12, inspired by the work of Diana Butler Bass in her 2015 book Grounded.

This book, subtitled “Finding God in the World” was first brought to our attention by Rev. Peggy Davis, who preached about it, led a retreat based on it, and became the inspiration of last year’s Vacation Bible School.

Following the prophetic inspiration of Rev. Davis and the spiritually revolutionary work of Butler Bass, we will spend three weeks talking about the wind, the waters, and the earth which supports our feet.

First- the wind.

The other day, I took a walk to cleanse my head and made my way over to Lake Jackson as the sun was setting.

It was a twilight in which the lake was alive- the water was loud and splashing against the sidewalk and shore. Beneath the pier were ripples catching the light from the streetlamps and Fountainhead apartments.

Lake Jackson was spirited- waves, foam, watery reflections.

I realized that is wasn’t really the water’s doing- it was the wind. The wintery wind that had settled upon the city, making the air around us cold, the leaves dance, and animating the water.

The wind- something that Butler Bass states cannot be observed, but its impact can be noticed. Wind, which is powerful, yet unseen to the naked eye.

…I wonder what other great unseen universal force is powerful, impactful, and able to bring change…

Standing by Lake Jackson, watching the wind animate the world, I thought of “Mary Poppins.”

Since it was the 1st film I saw in a theater, I can’t imagine any movie more majestic than that: the swelling of the orchestra; the heavenly view of London from above the clouds.

The moment in which Mary Poppins floats into town, carried along by the air while all the nannies are lifted off in the wind.

This secular movie invokes the characteristics of the Holy Spirit so well.

Poppins comes into the lives of an overly-structured, stale, static family to bring about change, confusion, mirth, new lands, new ideas, all while imparting lessons on the ministry of the poor, feeding the birds, reevaluating the importance of money, and reexamining family.

Today’s scripture ties so many of these themes together. The Gospel writer, astute and articulate, uses the testimony of John the Baptist to introduce us to Jesus.

Jesus enters into the story, much like Poppins, unannounced and out of nowhere.

It is the Baptist who tells the people about his experience with this mysterious figure. That he saw the Spirit descending on Jesus from heaven, like a bird.

Though the word wind is not explicitly mentioned, its impact can be felt throughout.

That’s the thing about wind- you don’t have to see it to know it’s there; it does not have to be spoken about for its presence to be felt.

So today we begin our “Land Of Delight” sermon series, inspired by Grounded.

I’m thankful that Rev. Davis introduced us to this book because it provides new ways to talk about the Holy, it opens our eyes to the universe around us, and it challenges the way we have been taught to view God.

For me, most profound is the notion that it is time we stop having a vertical-only faith. It is time that we stop looking up to the skies thinking God is far, far above and removed.

That it is time we start looking straight ahead, to the horizon, realizing that God is everywhere, at all times.

This, the author calls, is horizontal faith. It maintains the holiness of God, but ensures we find a way to experience the sacred in the world around us.

In chapter 3, titled “Sky”, the author shares her wisdom with us.

Think of the sky, she states, how the heavens above us are not static.

Think of how the sky is always changing, always moving; always familiar, yet always brand new; with us from the beginning.

Eternal but not stuck in place.

The sky becomes a way for us to ponder the existence of God’s presence, one that extends to beyond the stars and “wafts through our lives like a spiritual breeze.”

From there, the author talks about the spiritual nature of wind, breath, and spirit, how in Hebrew they are all the same word-

Ruah; or ruach.

Genesis tells us that in the beginning God’s ruach moved across the waters and brought forth life.

Scripture tells us how at each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world; God’s spirit, God’s wind speaks all things into being.

It is this holy wind of God that animates life, which creates and recreates the world. It is this holy wind that the resurrected Christ breathes upon the disciples and that falls upon the beginning of Christ’s church.

Not that Christians have the market on wind, spirit and breath.

Buddhists believe that to breathe is to achieve mindfulness. Hindus say that “from Him springs forth the breath of life.”

Native Americans teach that wind spirits from the 4 directions of the world unite all earthly things and connect all things past and present.

Wind. Breath. Spirit.

And as Christians, the workings of the Holy Spirit are represented by a dove, a bird, a rush of wind, reminding us that God cannot be separated from our need of air.

And science teaches us that breathe is what animates life. It makes us possible. It makes us real. It keeps us alive.

So what happens when we pollute the very thing we need? What happens when carbon and chemicals are blown into the breeze and permeate the air?

Has our own existence changed the atmosphere, and if so, how?

And if the way we live can hurt the lungs of the planet, can the way we live also play a role in earth’s respiratory healing?

Have we thought about the wind? Have we thought about the sky?

Rev. Jim Antel, president of the U.C.C.’s Massachusetts Conference stated that “All of life is connected. We are all in this together. We all live at the same address found above every door…” (pg 116)

What a unique and wonderful way to think of the wind and air- that because it surrounds us all, it unifies everyone and everything, making us neighbors who dwell in the same abode…

As we wrap up today’s message, there is a thought that the author of Grounded shares- the realization that the wind, the sky, the heavens are not as far away from us as we once thought.

That for the longest time we were taught to distance heaven from where we physically are. But…

…have we realized that heaven is not far away at all? As Butler Bass writes-

“We may walk on the ground, but the rest of our bodies move through the sky all the time…The sky begins at our feet. Thus, we actually live in the heavens now, in the space in which earth and sky meet.

God’s ‘heavenly’ presence is in the air we breathe.” (pg 120)

…The sky begins at our feet, meaning that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet.

Upon the horizon-in constant view…

Malachi calls us to be bold in blessing God.

Butler Bass calls us to be bold in embracing that we are already heavenly beings striding upon the earth.

John’s testimony of Jesus boldly claims that sky, water and earth are all playing a part in making the Son of God known to us.

A Lamb, an earth creature who will take away the sin of the world, who will bring light into our life,

who will bring the wind of change into our static, so-serious, and worrisome ways.

A holy, life-giving wind that will animate, create ripples, reflections, dreams, and breathe that allows us to be…

For that, let us say “Amen” and “Amen.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blessings Upon Blessings Upon Blessings; Malachi 3:10-12

Rev. George Miller
Malachi 3:10-12
Jan 8, 2017

It seems like our President-Elect and the state of Florida have once again made the news.

Trump has selected Paula White, the pastor of a mega-church in Florida to give the prayer at his Inauguration.

Though we should celebrate that a pastor from Apopka gets to participate in something so historic, many people are unhappy with the pastoral pick.

Why? Because Rev. White preaches what is called “The Prosperity Gospel”, a message that says if you give enough money to her church, God will return your investments.

The Prosperity Gospel is a movement that has been around for decades, made popular by the preachers you see on TV.

As with anything faith-based, the Prosperity Gospel is more complex than it sounds.

I know some people are bothered by it. But as someone who has had my own share of financial struggles, I’m not that bothered by the notion that God wants to bless us.

So today we are going to talk about tithing. Today we are going to talk about giving.

Soon we’ll be entering into our Stewardship Season, and I wonder- have we been approaching stewardship in the wrong way?

Often times we talk about giving as a problem to be solved, as opposed to it being an opportunity to be blessed.

Every year we try to create a bare-bones budget with as little fat as possible. Every year we have a Stewardship Campaign. Every year we stress out over raising funds through the Spaghetti Supper, Yard Sale, and Harvest Home.

Every year we ask that you give give give to the Meet the Budget Match.

It makes it seem as if giving is chore, not a joy. As if giving is an obligation, not an opportunity. As if giving is a punishment, as opposed to a blessing in disguise.

I realize that I have not fully preached on giving, I have not preached on what stewardship means; I have not preached about the biblical notion of tithing.

Yes, we teach these things in our new member class. We talk about them during Bible Study. We worry and debate about it during Council meetings.

But have we really talked about tithing from this pulpit, during this holy time, in this holy place?

If we don’t talk about tithing, how can we expect people to know what tithing means?

Tithing is the spiritual principal in which God calls us to give 10% of what we have back to God.

It’s the idea that for every dollar we earn, 10 cents goes back to our Creator.

Tithing is based on the notion that God is the source of all, therefore all things belong to God. The fact that God only asks for 10 percent back is actually amazing.

But there are also other elements, deeper elements behind this act of faith.

The act of tithing, the act of giving 10% back to God, is an act of trust. It is an act that says “I am willing to believe that God will care for me; I am willing to trust that God will not forsake me.”

Tithing is an act that says “In you, O Lord, I have enough; in your grace I have plenty.”

Tithing is the means through which kindness and justice are carried out in the world, in which hungry are fed, the Gospel is shared, and the needy are cared for.

Tithing is a way in which God is able to teach us, mold us and to ultimately bless us.

I truly believe that our God is a God of abundance; God wants us to live fulfilled lives in which we can marvel at Creation, living in contentment and community.

My beliefs rest in God the Creator who wants to love and bless us, and who wants to be loved and blessed in return.

Why else would we have stories of God sending manna from heaven, Jesus feeding the masses, or keeping the wedding party going with the choicest of wine?

Some say that God is a punishing God who gets angry at everything we do wrong. I say that our God is a loving God who is happy when we show our trust and do what is just, humble, and kind.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse into the giving nature of our Lord.

Here we have the prophet Malachi, sharing a message from God to the people. More than a message, it is a faith-based challenge.

The people have been wondering why things are not as good as they can be. They wonder why they seem to be stuck in a rut. They wonder if God is aware.

To which the prophet says “God has never left you. God is right here. God is waiting to bless you.”

“But,” says the prophet, “You don’t seem to want to be blessed. So God is giving you a challenge-

Stop holding back your offerings, stop holding back your tithes. Stop thinking you’ll go broke or worry that you can’t do without.”

Speaking through the prophet, God says “Give 10% of what you have been given, and watch- see how I am going to bless you. Watch how I open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings upon blessings upon blessings upon you.”

God says “Put me to the test and see how I will watch over you, I will make sure you have what you need. Watch how by tithing 10% you will live in a land of delight.”

…Land of Delight.

I like that expression. So poetic. So beautiful. So true.

I think of my own experience in becoming a faithful tither. It was roughly 21 years ago, back when I was living in a studio apartment in snow-filled Minneapolis, working 2-3 jobs at a time, making about $8 an hour.

No matter how much I worked, no matter how much over-time I did, or double-time I earned, it was barely enough to pay the bills.

Things seemed so hopeless, so dead-end, as if I would spend forever in that 3 story walk up, trudging through 2 feet of snow.

But the church I attended talked about tithing. The members discussed the spiritual meaning behind giving.

We’d hear testimonies about what God had done for them: unexpected checks that came in the mail; bills that got miraculously paid.

This was not a rich church, but a church located in the poor part of the city.

Still, people came to worship in their best clothes, singing praises to God, finding ways to support the mission in Haiti and the local community, testifying that when the praises went up, the blessings came down.

I thought this was foolishness, until I decided to give it a try. I began to set aside 10% of every check, putting the money into a coffee cup on the shelf.

I never gave it away all at once, saving some in case an emergency happened. Funny thing- an emergency rarely did occur.

I set aside that 10% and what I discovered was that as tight as the money seemed, I was somehow always able to get by.

Sure, I could not eat at McDonalds as much as I used to. Or immediately buy that music CD I wanted.

Truth be told, I didn’t really need that fast food or extra entertainment anyway.

Then, I discovered that when I walked down the street and someone asked for money, instead of getting upset and saying no, I could give them a dollar and take it out of the coffee cup when I got home.

I discovered how good it felt to give; that although I was still struggling, my struggles weren’t so bad that I couldn’t help another.

Then, those blessings people talked about actually started to happen. Somehow, someway, an unexpected check came in the mail, an extra shift opened up, people gave me things for no reason.

Soon, tithing became natural. Soon, the offering became my favorite part of the worship service, because it was a testimony to the ways God was blessing me.

This does not mean things have always been easy or financial struggles still did not exist.

But through the 20 years of tithing I have zero regrets, and I can testify to all the ways God has blessed me- from seminary, to Emmanuel, from this community, to my Cozy Cottage, to the reality that soon I may have my own family.

I know that God has blessed me, and I want you to have the chance to feel that God is blessing you too. So taking a cue from Malachi- here is a challenge extended to all who are here today.

You are invited to take this morning’s scripture to heart. It would be wonderful to see each of you put God to the test and to experience just what happens when a tithe is given back to God.

Here’s what you are invited to do: take 3 months. See if you can set aside 10% of what you get, whatever comes your way.

What you decide to do with that money is up to you. Give some to the church. Give some The Shepherd’s Pantry.

Give some to your favorite charities, like the Humane Society or Boys and Girls Club.

Give some to that person on Thunderbird who is always asking for help. Give some to a friend who is having financial trouble. Give some to a grandchild who wants to take a special class.

Or use that money to buy a ticket to a fancy local fundraiser in which you get to dress up; or bring two rolls of coins to Quarters for a Cuase and bid on everything you see.

But find a way, anyway to give back 10% of whatever it is you earn or receive.

Give…and watch how God will bless you. Watch…how you will not miss what has been released. Experience… how joy and love will fill your heart.

See… how through the act of tithing it will indeed seem as if the skies have opened and blessings have come pouring down.

If after 3 months you haven’t experienced the overflowing of goodness or felt transformed, then you can stop, and reevaluate what it is you feel called to give.

Today’s scripture calls us to experience an overflowing of blessings. I wonder who here is ready to faithfully put God to the test.

I wonder who is ready to experience what it means to live in the Land of Delight.

For that, we are invited to say “Amen” and “Amen.”