Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Radicalness of Just....Being; Matthew 17:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 26, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9

If you haven’t noticed by now, the Bible has a thing about numbers.

40 days of rain; 40 years in the wilderness.

12 tribes of Israel; 12 disciples.

3 days of Jonah being in the belly of the fish; 3 days of Jesus being in the tomb.

So when today’s reading begins “6 days later,” our ears should perk up.

6 days later, which means something happened 6 days before, which means a total of 7 days has passed.

7. 7 days in a week; 7 days of Creation

7th day is the Sabbath; 7th day is holy.

Holy, which we learned 7 days ago, means special, separate, and sacred.

Because today’s story takes place on the 7th day, we can assume the author wants us to think of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is time set aside to honor God; a day of no work, a day of rest.

The Sabbath- a sanctuary of time, a temple of time, a tent of time.

Within this shrine of time, Jesus goes for a walk up a high mountain; while there a supernatural experience takes place in which Moses and Elijah appear.

This is akin to Trump meeting Washington and Lincoln.

Or Carol Burnett meeting Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore.

Or Chance the Rapper meeting Biggie Smalls and 2-Pac.

Moses- the greatest liberator of all time.

Elijah- the greatest prophet of all time.

They were the movers and shakers of the people.

Moses freed the slaves, faced their enemies, and received the 10 Commandments while on Mt. Horeb.

Elijah stopped the rains, challenged kings, and experienced the silent hush of the Still Speaking God while on a mountain.

Jesus healed the masses, confronted unjust leaders, and gave his inaugural speech while sitting upon a mountain.

What do these doers do? What do these mammoth men discuss? What trying tasks do they tackle?

This liberator, this prophet, this messiah?

…we have no idea…

We have no indication that there is anything they said. We have no indication that there is anything they did.

This Moses. This Elijah. This Jesus Christ.

They were just…there.
On a Sabbath day.
On a mountain way up high.
Jesus radiating like the sun.

How interesting that there is no conversation, no planning, no problem solving, no concerns for the tasks ahead, no mention of events before.

3 of our faith’s greatest leaders, and they just…are…

…and then Peter speaks because Peter thinks something should be done.

“Hey- it’s so good to be here let me interrupt this moment by offering to make something.”

This feels like the equivalent of taking a selfie; of posting something on Facebook because if it’s not commemorated by a photo it never happened.

If a task was not done, then the trip was not worthwhile.

That’s how we seem to live. Take a situation that’s meant to be special and add unneeded stress to it.

Take a moment that’s supposed to be ethereal and try to capture it with a photo or trinket.

I think of my own experience of trying to capture memories.

Of how the summer of 1992 was the best summer of my life, spending almost every day with my friends going to the beach, laying by the pool, working crazy hours at the restaurant, going out for ice cream on the north shore, going to the nightclubs on the south shore, singing to every song that came on the radio.

Not a single picture exists from that summer. Not one snap shot; not one tan line, not one dessert captured on film.

We were so blessed to be that there was no need to freeze a moment in time or create any unnecessary tasks.

Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is nothing.

Sometimes the most responsible thing we can do is no thing at all.

Sometimes the best way to honor the Holy is to allow the special, separate, and sacred time to be special, separate, and sacred.

Look at Jesus.

6 days before, in chapter 18, Jesus broke the news to the disciples that he was going to die.

6 days before Jesus told Simon that he would have the keys to the kingdom and be responsible for loosing and bounding earthly and heavenly things.

For 6 days Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the unprecedented task he has at hand, letting the disciples know that if they follow him, they will suffer as well.

But on the 7th day, Jesus climbed a mountain with them. He became radiant like the sun. He stood amongst the ancestors…

…and we get to do the same today too.

We come into this sanctuary, entering into this holy space and this holy time.

Here, under the blue and yellow stained glass, we can temporarily let go of the 6 days before.

Here, in front of the altar, we can temporarily let go of the 6 days ahead.

Here, in the glow of the candles, we can let our light shine and our salt to season our sanctuary.

Here, in seats of red, we can delight in being beside all the other saints who are also sharing this same exact moment with us.

We don’t have to build, we don’t have to save, we don’t have to fear.

We can just…be.

And sometimes just being is the most radical, holy thing there is.

Holy adamah, filled with Living Waters, breathing in the Spirit of God.
Amen and amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Special, Separate, and Sacred; Leviticus 19:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 19, 2017
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-10

Worship is an odd thing, if you allow yourself to actually stop and think about it.

Why do we have an altar? Why do we light candles? Why does the pastor wear a robe?

We may think that in order to correctly worship God we must have an altar, we must light candles, and a robe must be worn, otherwise God is not being properly admired.

And if we are not really careful, we may actually begin to think that an altar is God, a candle is God, and a robe is God.

I believe that we can worship God with all these things, but we can also worship God with none of them.

So why do we use them? Why do we do what we do?

To answer, allow me to share a once-in-a-lifetime event I experienced last week: a 7-Course Meal at the home of Robert and Roger.

And it was exquisite.

My friends and I were greeted with hors d’oeuvres and cosmos. We dined on Foire Gras and crab bisque, shrimp remoulade and Caesar Salad, beef tornados and mixed berries in a Sabayon Sauce, each course lovingly paired with an appropriate wine.

The table was set perfectly; out of a page from Emily Post…except none of my friends are Emily Post kinda people.

We’re more like Publix brand boxed wine and pulled pork kinda people.

So when everyone sat down and saw all the different types of forks there was a moment of “What do we do?”

So I recalled an episode from the TV show “Designing Women” which explained that you start from the outside fork and work your way in.

So that’s what we did; and we had a wonderful time. We joked, we laughed, we spent 6 hours eating 7 courses plus an intermezzo and a digestif.

Following the proper table etiquette of using our forks from the outside in made so much sense. As each course ended, a fork was removed, we had more space, the table stayed organized, and in its organization we were comfortable and free to be fun loving guests.

I was reminded again of “Designing Women” and how one character stated that manners were never meant to be used as a weapon, but as a way to make your guests feel welcome and comfortable.

That’s how I feel about the book of Leviticus.

Now, Leviticus gets a bad rap with its collection of laws and ordinances. Some of them seem odd, some archaic, some culturally cruel.

But in the end, the reason for the laws is so that the people can welcome God, welcome one another, and be more comfortable in what they do.

Today’s reading contains what we call the Holiness Codes, with numerous references to God being Holy.

Holy, meaning that God is separate, God is set apart, God is different.

Now this may seem to contradict the last 6 weeks of sermons, in which we talked about viewing our relationship with God as being horizontal and close by as opposed to vertical and far away.

But I don’t think it does. Holy may mean separate, but it does not mean aloof.

Holy may mean set apart, but it doesn’t have to mean far off.

Holy may mean different, but it doesn’t have to mean distant.

To say God is holy is to mean that God is sacred, separate, and special. As such, it means the relationship and the time we have with God can be special, different and sacred.

Our recent sermon series shone a light on how we’ve been blessed. We’re blessed with a Creator who has given us what we need: air to breathe, soil to plant, water to live.

With all that God has given, what does God ask? That we set aside some of what we have and to mark it as sacred.

Take a look at today’s reading.

Holiness is applied to the land and how it is to be treated. That when collecting crops, leave the outer perimeter alone and leave the things that fall to the floor.

Doing so gives the land owner a bit of rest; they don’t have to do it all or worry about picking up what falls; they don’t have to bend their backs any more than they already are.

Rest for the owner gives the poor and the alien a chance to care for themselves in a way that equals more of a hand up than a handout.

Holiness applies to animal welfare and sacrifice. If you’re going to take the life of an animal, have the respect to eat all of it before it goes bad.

Holiness applies to time, which is the great equalizer.

No matter how old or young, no matter how rich or poor any of us may be, we are sharing the same exact time at this moment. We are all experiencing the same seconds, same minutes, same hour.

We all share the same time, but God says that time can be a sanctuary; set aside some time that is sacred, that is separate from all you do.

Go ahead and work, work 5 or 6 days a week; but for God give yourself one day of rest.

Trust that the world will still turn, trust that God has got this, trust that you can enjoy a second, a minute, an hour, a day in which nothing is done yet everything is accomplished.

Holy- to claim something as sacred, as separate, as special.

God says “I am holy, so you should be holy too.”

God says “I made you out of holy earth, I filled with my holy breathe, I placed inside you my holy waters, so embrace how holy you are.”

God says “You are the spice of life and you are the light to the world, so set things aside so you can regain your flavor, set things aside so you can rekindle your inner flame.”

God says “I am holy, so you should be holy too.”

There are so many ways to experience holiness. For some it is setting aside time to pray or time to read or to create.

For some it is setting aside time to do acts of justice and compassion.

For some it is that time in the garden, time in the woods, or time in the waves.

Church helps us to be hosts of holiness.

We set aside time when we come to worship. Of all the things we could be doing, we choose to say from 9:30-10:30 we are going to be here celebrating God.

We set aside resources when we give our offerings. Of all the things we can spend our money on, we choose to give so that we can keep God’s ministry going.

We set aside our bodies and abilities when we volunteer. Of all the ways we can share our talents, we choose to play a role in making God’s Kingdom a little bit more knowable here on earth.

I think that Leviticus is trying to tell us that God wants appreciation; that God want to be loved.

That God wants to know that God matters.

That God is so pleased with us that God wants to spend time with us.

That God loves our spiciness and light, that God wants us to share our seasoning and our radiance with God.

People can get caught up in all that Leviticus says, and how stringent the laws can seem.

But I don’t so much see the laws as God, but as a way to better experience God.

You see- the altar is not God. A candle is not God. A robe is not God.

But they are ways to say “Welcome. This time we are about to spend together is sacred.”

They are symbols that say “Welcome. You are invited to separate yourself, if even for just a moment, from all that is going on, and to feel, act, be, and to treat one differently than how the world wants us to.”

They are a way to say “This place in which we have gathered is unique.”

Today’s reading says “God is special, and so are you. Embrace that specialness. Experience that specialness with your Creator. Share that specialness with the saints around you.”

“Know that just as you are special, others are special too.”

Because when we do that, when we realize there is holiness in all, we are better able to welcome the stranger, be a neighbor, and to do justice, love kindness, and walk with humility.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Tenacity of Teamwork; Nehemiah 1:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 12, 2017
Scripture: Nehemiah 1: 1-11

Throughout history there have been many mentions about walls.

There’s the wall of Jericho that came a-tumblin’ down. The wall of Humpty Dumpty in which he had a great fall, and the wall in today’s reading.

One of these walls is about what’s possible when God is on your side.

One is about the foolishness of folly.

Today’s wall- well I like to think it’s about the Tenacity of Teamwork.

Today’s reading shows what’s possible when one person is filled with so much spice of life that they flavor an entire community.

But first- some history: the people of God were living in Jerusalem, a magnificent city with a magnificent temple that sat atop a magnificent hill.

It was indeed the Land of Delight: a place of beauty, a city rooted in faith.

But within the city’s walls crept the sins of injustice, greed, and lack of compassion for the orphan, the widow, the alien, and the poor.

The rich got richer while the poor paid more taxes and struggled to have their daily bread.

The citizens of Jerusalem stopped caring about the commandments and ignored the ordinances.

As a result, a catastrophe came upon them: their Babylonian enemies came and attacked the city.

They broke down their walls, burned up their gates, tore apart their temple, and razed their houses, fields, and businesses down to the ground.

Some of the Jerusalem Jews ran away. Thousands were taken to Babylon as captives. Those deemed not good enough to be captured were left to live amongst their city’s ruins.

50 years later the Persians attacked Babylon and in an act of mercy set the Jewish captives free to go back home.

But what home? Their gardens and businesses were gone; their temple no more, and their mighty wall was in ruin.

For 100 years that’s how the people lived, surrounded by the hopelessness of brokenness.

Until one day- one day in the court of the Persian king there is a cupbearer named Nehemiah, and he decides to do something about it.

What Nehemiah does unfolds over the next 7 ½ chapters, so let’s take a look.

Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, meaning he’s a butler, a sommelier.

But more than that- he is a man of faith; a man who is rooted in his family history and a sense of national pride.

Note how Nehemiah is not afraid to feel. He asks how his Jewish kin are doing in Jerusalem, and when he hears the bad news, he cries.

Upon learning that they are living amongst rubble and ruin, he sits, he weeps. He simply doesn’t just “get over it”; he simmers in his sadness, mourning, and choosing not to eat for days.

Nehemiah is not “fine.” There is no “fine” when the place you know and the people you love are living like that.

Nehemiah feels, and out of his feeling, he turns to God with the expectation that God needs to do something.

“Listen to me, O God,” he says. “This is not the time for us to have a vertical relationship. I need you to hear my voice and I need you to pay attention and see what I am saying.”

Nehemiah’s relationship with God is real, how else can he be so comfortable saying to his Creator “Remember what you said to Moses? Remember how you said if we do right you’ll gather us and establish your name?”

Nehemiah takes God to task to remember what God says, and asks that God guides the way.

Though Nehemiah holds God accountable, he takes ownership for the role his ancestors played in the fall of Jerusalem.

Though those events took place 150 years before, Nehemiah doesn’t pass blame, he doesn’t point fingers.

He says “My family and I have sinned.
We have not always done what is right. We have offended you and we could have done much better.”

As American’s we may struggle with this concept, but Nehemiah is not separating himself from his ancestors and what they may or may not have done in the past; he names it and he claims it as his inherited own.

As a result; things fall into place. The Persian king asks Nehemiah what he can do to alleviate his sadness.

Nehemiah replies “Let me go back to the land of my people, where the graves of my ancestors rest, so that can I rebuild our wall.”

And here’s the cool thing- Nehemiah gets done in 52 DAYS what no one else could accomplish in 100 years.


I think one reason is because he delegates, delegates, delegates.

Focused on the City of God, Nehemiah has a goal, he has a vision, he has zero doubt that the Lord will grant them success, so he sets about getting it done via the Tenacity of Teamwork.

He asks the Persian King to write the letters needed to get the supplies and be assured safe passage.

He shows the people the issue at hand and inspires them to say “Let US start building.”

He breaks the job into tiny tasks, organizing teams made up of priests, families, and tradesmiths to
do certain things that they are good at.

When folk worry about safety, Nehemiah hears them and stations security guards. He empowers them to build the wall with one hand while carrying a weapon in the other.

When confronted with the rise of unjust acts perpetuated from within, he holds the folks accountable, reminding them that in God they are ONE.

When people complain, criticize, insult and make threats, Nehemiah keeps on keepin’ on.

And in 52 days, to the glory of God, the wall is built.

This restored wall gives the people what they so needed- an identity, a sense of pride, a way to feel safe, and a chance to once again feel the presence of God.

Think of how spicy Nehemiah must have been. Talk about letting your light shine; talk about being the salt of the earth.

Nehemiah must have shown like a lighthouse; he must have been as spicy as a packet of Goya Sazon seasoning and a bottle of hot sauce combined.

With his feet rooted on the earth, he was certainly filled with the ruach of God and the waters of life.

How he must have spoken; how he must have stood! How grounded in God he most certainly must have been.

So grounded that it clearly was not about him; it so clearly was not about just his immediate family.

So grounded in God that Nehemiah embraced the Tenacity of Teamwork.

We see this in chapter 3 when we hear how the work was organized and who did what. And there is one phrase used in chapter 3 over and over again.

That phrase is “next to.”

We are told that as the sons of Hessenaah built a gate and set up the doors, next to them the son of Hakkoz made repairs.

While Joiada set up bolts and bars, the men of Gibeon and Mizpah were next to him fixing whatever needed fixing.

Uzziel, a goldsmith, goes about doing his thing, while next to him Hananiah, a perfumer, is doing restoration.

Next to, next to, next to.

The phrase “next to” is used 12 times in 12 sentences, telling us that no one worked in a vacuum, no one worked all alone, no one carried all the burden.

But next to, next to, next to was how they worked for the glory of God.

The result of this Tenacious Teamwork is that out of the ruined rubble and destroyed doors, they built not just a wall, but a wall with gardens, pools, and at least 9 different gates in which people could come in and out of.

But want to know what else their Tenacious Teamwork created?

What do you think that wall, and those gates will do?

…About 500 years later, one of those gates will be opened, and one of those gates will welcome inside…a man.

A man made of blessed adamah, baptized in the Jordan waters, and filled with the breath of God.

One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who said “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who once sat with the people and said “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

One of those gates that Nehemiah and his Tenacious Teammates constructed will open up to allow Emmanuel, God With Us, into the Holy City,

riding on a humble donkey while the people sing “Hosanna” and the people shout “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

One of these gates will open up and allow inside the Prince of Peace, the one who sat with the people, walked along the shore, and had a horizontal relationship with all of creation.

The Tenacity of Teamwork set the stage for Jesus Christ to enter into all of our lives and to transform the world.

Just think- if a butler like Nehemiah and his tenacious team could do that with a 100 years of rubble and woes, imagine what we can do-

-with our own lives
-with our own church
-our own community.

Nothing is impossible with the Lord when we stay focused on the God of the heavens, the God of the waters, and the God of the earth.

There is no wall too big, no gate too grand, no task too trying.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

YOU are the Goya Sazon Seasoning of Life; Matthew 5:13-16 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 5, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16

In Tuesday’s paper there was an article titled “Doing Dinner On a Dime” by Leanne Ely.

As a homeowner and expectant Dad, I was curious about how to make my dollar stretch.

First thing first, according to Leanne, you are to “cook up a batch o’ beans.” Doesn’t matter which kind.

Next, make rice; long grain brown rice, which is nutritious, and preferred.

Then once you have a “big batch o’ beans and a big batch o’ rice…look at all the possibilities:”

Mexican -style beans and rice.
Jamaican -style beans and rice.
New Orleans -style beans and rice.
Southern-style greens, beans and rice.
Indian-style beans and rice.

That’s a whole week worth of meals out of one batch o’ beans and rice, so I read further.

Mexican style is with salsa, sour cream, and grated cheese with a quesadilla on the side. Nothing difficult about that.

Jamaican style was done is a saucepan with coconut milk, a pinch of thyme, clove of garlic, and green onions.

Ok- now you’re talkin’.

New Orleans style was done with olive oil, onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, and Tabasco.

Yes sir!

Southern style with olive oil, greens, chicken stock, onion, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper.


Indian style was onion, tomato, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry powder.

Please and thank you!!!

Just thinking about all the ways to serve rice and beans makes me hungry.

I was intrigued that the recipes were virtually the same except for a different spice here, or some extra heat there.

Coconut, cumin, chives, curry- all sound goo-oo-ood to me.

What Leanne Ely did was show how with a little bit of a twist, and a little bit of spice, you have something delicious, and you have something nice.

Something nice.

Today’s reading sure is something nice, isn’t it?

It is a continuation of Jesus’ 1st public speech to the people, as told by the writer of Matthew.

Jesus has climbed up the mountain, he has sat down on the dirty earth, and he has repeatedly used the word “Blessed.”

“Blessed are the meek…blessed are the merciful…blessed are the peacemakers.”

Then he goes on to tell them that they are the salt of the earth, and that they are the light of the world.

Now that’s how to share a Christian message.

Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, is sitting level with the people around him; he is sitting upon the earth and he says these wonderful words.

He makes them feel good, when the Roman government is telling them they are bad.

He makes them feel calm, although the political climate has created a chaotic world.

Jesus reassures them that they are important and unique; salt and light; flavor and hope.

I wonder: how many people needed to hear that message then, and how many need to hear this message now?

That you are important and unique; YOU are salt and light; YOU are flavor and hope.

As evidenced by the behaviors we are witnessing around us, apparently not enough people have been told that in their lifetime.

It seems as if we are living in world in which too many people have been told they were not good enough.

I wish you were a boy.
Why can’t you be more like your sister?
You’re not good at sports.
You’re not good at math.
You’re too fat.
You’re too skinny.
You’re too brown.
You’re too gay.
You’re too old.
You’re too country.

You’ve brought shame upon our family.
You’re an embarrassment to your people.
You are not a true citizen of our country.

Note that Jesus does not do any of those things.

He says “You are magnificent. You are the salt of the earth; don’t lose your flavor.”

“You are the light of the world, let your light shine, let it shine, let is shine.”

It is as if Jesus is saying to the people back then, and to all of us today:

“You are the anointed adamah of God…You are the vessel of God’s Living Waters…You are a Heavenly Creature walking on God’s Good Ground.”

You are the light of the world, so don’t hide it.

You are the salt of the earth, so don’t lose your flavor.

Now, it’s interesting because we have grown up hearing the expression “salt of the earth.”

When we say someone is the “salt of the earth” it means that they are a good person, decent and honest.

But this expression did not exist in Jesus’ time. This would have been a brand new thing that the people were hearing.

So when Jesus told them they were the salt of the earth, there probably would have been some “say what?” or some “come again?”

And just like how water has many metaphors, so does salt.

But one way we can understand one meaning of today’s reading is through the “Dinner On A Dime” article.

It’s possible that what Jesus is saying to the people is that you are the seasoning of the world.

Or in other words- you are the Spice of Life.

Think about that.

You are the Spice of Life.


Meaning that in you there is an extra zing, there is an extra “pow”, there is an extra “yum”, there is an extra “oh yeah” that no one else has.

You are the salt of the earth; you are the spice of life.

Meaning you are unique, you are special, and you are necessary.

You are the Spice of Life meaning there is something about you, there is an energy about you, there is something that you do that no one else can do the way you do.

And if anyone ever tells you anything different, tell them they are wrong!

You are the Spice of Life!

You bring your own gifts, you bring your own story, you bring your own ancestry, you bring your own hopes and dreams.

You bring your own YOUNESS so that the world is blessed; WE are blessed- when you share it…

…In a time of political strife and chaos, Jesus goes up a mountain, sits down on the earth, and engages in a horizontal monologue with the people in which he says-

Don’t’ sell yourself short.
Don’t hide your light.

And for the Lord’s sake, do not let God’s big ol’ batch o’ beans and rice be bland.

You are all the Salt of the Earth; you are the Spice of Life.

You are the garlic powder.

You are the lemon pepper.

You are the cumin and the coriander.

You are the Crystal Hot Sauce and the coconut milk.

Don’t let this big ol’ batch o’ beans and rice be boring.

You are the fresh basil.

You are the marjoram.

You are the packets of Goya Sazon seasoning.

You are the dollop of sour cream, the sprig of parsley, and the fresh salsa splashed on top.

In Christ, you are the Spice of Life; you are the Light of the World.

Don’t ever forget that; don’t ever let anyone steal your flavor.

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