Thursday, December 20, 2018

Joseph, JoBob, Joey, Jose- Sermon on Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Dec 23, 2019
Matthew 1:18-25

It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent. We have been journeying from darkness into light, following a star, about to enter into Bethlehem to see the Face of God.

The God who dreams of justice, kindness, and humility.

The God of Creation who pulls down, plucks up, builds and recreates.

The God who is full of surprises. The God who does things in the most unexpected ways.

The God who chooses a migrant family over a royal family to make Godself known.

The God who finds rest in a manger as opposed to a Marriot.

The God who sends angels to shepherds in a field as opposed to CEOS around the boardroom table.

The God who bestows upon an ordinary man the most extraordinary job of being the earthly father to the savior of all creation.


That’s the name of Jesus’ Dad.

No offense to any Josephs who may be here today, but Joseph is such an ordinary name.

It’s not unique, like Habakkuk.

It’s not prophetic sounding, like Jeremiah.

It’s not regal, like David.

It’s not historical, like Abraham.

Joseph, well, it’s just Joseph. Middle of the road. Common.

Sure, you can switch it up and call him Jo Bob, or Joey, or Jose. But it’s still…ordinary.

Jo Bob is the guy you play pool with at Yogi’s Bar, discussing NASCAR over a few beers.

Joey is the guy you grab a slice of pizza from when you’re at Little Italy in Avon Park.

Jose is the guy at the Caladium Festival who sells lemonade and his mother’s empanadas out of a food truck.

Joseph is a regular, righteous man.

Someone we would call the “salt of the earth” who tries his best to earn a living, raise his family, be a good citizen, and follow his faith.

So….imagine what it would be like for Joseph, Jo Bob, Joey, Jose to be living in a small town.

The kind where everyone knows your name. Everyone knows your family. Everyone goes to church (or at least gives the impression they go to church), and everyone knows your business.

Joseph works during the day, enjoys a drink when he’s done, and volunteers at the local synagogue.

And then word gets around that his fiancĂ© is pregnant. They’re not married, and there’s no proof that it’s his.

Imagine the gossip that would fly.

Joseph goes to Yogi’s and the guys start razzing him, taking jabs at his masculinity, making jokes at his experience.

He and Mary step into CVS and all of a sudden they can feel all eyes on them and see the cashiers whispering to one other.

He’s at the synagogue and one of the elders comes up to him with concerns about Mary’s condition, worried about what kind of example they’re setting for the children, and says something like…

“Well, you know that Deuteronomy 22:20-30 does say that Mary should be stoned to death and purged from Israel.”

Or he takes Mary to the family cook out and over the potato salad and sweet tea he hears what all his uncles and aunties are saying.

How do you think Joseph may have responded to his community?

Do you think he may have gotten into a fight or two and taken a few punches?

Do you think his male ego would have been a bit bruised?

Do you think he would have questioned his faith and all the commandments?

Do you think he would have questioned or been angry with God?

If Joseph was human, he would have.

If Joseph had not thought of any of these things, there would’ve been no reason for him to think about sending Mary away.

If Joseph had not felt any of these things there would’ve been no reason for an angel to appear in a dream saying “Do not be afraid.”

If Joseph was not morally, ethically conflicted there would have been no reason for him to receive the Ok to take Mary as his wife, child and all.

If Joseph was some otherworldy, practically perfect, wholesomely holy icon he never would have needed any of these things.

But Joseph…was Joseph.

He was just a man. Ordinary. Flawed.


Which would have meant that when he learned Mary was pregnant he would have felt scared, unsure, torn between what scripture told him and what his heart was saying.

He must have felt totally and utterly despondent and totally and utterly …alone.

…BUT into this dark night of his soul came hope.

Into this dark night of the soul came peace and love.

For Joseph finds the assurance he needs, the guidance he requires, and the understanding that somehow, some way God is working through all these things.

The result is that Joseph keeps his commitment to Mary and when her child is born, it is Joseph who names him: Jesus, which means “God Is My Salvation.”

As one theologian stated, it is through the act of naming Jesus that Joseph adopts him into his family and brings him into the Davidic line.

Think about that for a moment. According to one scholar, Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

Why does this matter? Because it means that Jesus came from a non-traditional family.

It also means that Jesus was raised by 2 ordinary people with 2 ordinary names who played a role in the most extraordinary event by ushering in the Savior of the World.

Not Caesar and one of his wives.

Not Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Not Ron and Nancy Reagan.

But Joseph and Mary, the Jack and Diane of their time, doing the best they can.

They would have been the ones who would have waited on line at the Shepherd’s Pantry.

They would have been amongst the families lining Ridgewood Ave waiting for the parade to begin.

They would have been the ones lining up displays during the overnight shift at Wal-Mart.

This makes Joseph and Mary, in my opinion, all the more wonderful, all the more real, all the more true.

It would mean that Jesus would most likely have grown up in a family that struggled to pay their bills.

His Dad may have had to get a 2nd job.

His mother may have done things like slice the toothpaste tube down the middle to get another week’s worth, put water in the ketchup bottle and shake it up, and use margarine containers to hold any leftovers.

Think of Jesus being like one of us, with a Dad called Joseph and a Mom called Mary. Knowing all too well what it’s like:
to struggle,
to worry,
to hope,
to dream,
to live within history,
to have your life disrupted by
unexpected events.

Jesus, Immanuel, Son of God, really knew what it was like to be one of us because he was one of us.

And perhaps that is the greatest surprise of all.

That when God came down to earth, when God revealed Godself, in the midst of all the places and possibilities there could have been,

God chose to do so in a way that did not separate God from the human condition.

God did so in a way that intrinsically connected God to humanity and creation forever.

God, whose spirit moved over the waters, who parted the seas, who spoke from the mountain, and empowered kings and queens to do amazing things,

would choose an ordinary man, with an ordinary life, with an ordinary name to be the caretaker of the Cosmo’s savior.

And in doing so, God validates that all of us matter, all of us have a purpose, and all of us can be vehicles for God’s great surprises.

For that we can say “Amen.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sermon for Dec 16, 2018; The Ways of God Don't Make No Dang Sense

Rev. George Miller
Dec 16, 2018
Isaiah 42:1-9

There is a perception held by some people that Christianity is all about what will happen after we die.

That our entire faith comes down to doing the right thing so that we can get to the right place, with the right people, with the right rewards.

For some, our faith is all about waiting for that day in which we get to enter into glory so that we can see our loved ones once again, in which pain is no more.

Though there are scriptures that appear to point towards this possibility and there are plenty of preachers who press this point,

there is also plenty of scripture that supports the idea that what God really cares about, what God is most focused on, is the Here and Now:
how we currently live,
how we treat one another,
and how we relate to God.

Many progressive theologians will tell you that God is most concerned about what is happening today and what is happening now.

Why? Why would God care about the now as opposed to the great moment in which we all gather in heaven to sing praises for the rest of time?

As today’s reading reminds us- it was God who created the world.

Thoughtfully made and thoughtfully laid out, it is God who stretched out the skies, who spread out the earth and filled humans with spirit and breathe.

If the sea is to roar, and the desserts shout out, and the island citizens sing songs of glory, it is because God has created them and made them so.

And it is in this act of creating that God is connected to Creation. That God cares. That God is concerned.

Be it the sparrow or the mustard seed, the hambakuku plant or the provinces from India to Ethiopia;

God as Creator is connected, cares, and is concerned.

When you think about it, all of these words pertain in some way to justice.

Maybe that’s all that justice is- finding ways to show respect to creation and to honor that and those whom God has created.

Do we think God is more concerned about what happens in the great beyond, or that God is concerned about the here and now?

Think of The Lord’s Prayer: God’s will be done on Earth, our daily bread, forgiveness of debts, deliverance from evil.

These all sound like spiritual expressions of justice, a word that appears 3 times in today’s scripture.

It sounds that what God is dreaming of is justice.

After all, was it not justice that led to the parting of the Red Sea?

Was it not justice that led to the giving of the 10 Commandments?

Was it not justice that led Queen Esther to speak her truth and save her people?

And for those who’ve been attending since September, isn’t it interesting to witness the ways in which God made justice possible?

A prophet with a funny-sounding nickname based on a plant.

A stunningly beautiful queen with a very big secret.

A pregnant unmarried woman who isn’t afraid to walk great distances.

Through our journey of the Bible we are hopefully beginning to get the sense that not only does God care about creation and current events, and that God cares about justice, but that God does things in the most unusual ways.

All of our readings show that God does not follow expectations. God does not follow the norms of society.

God is not really a Robert’s Rules of Order kind of God.

That the Lord who created the heavens and spread out the earth is all about taking chances, going against the status-quo and creating new practices.

Scripture shows again and again how God is not just creating,
but re-creating,
pulling down,
plucking up,
calling forth,
setting free,
giving breath,
welcoming new things

all while constantly usurping expectations.

I fear that Christianity has lost some of its magic, some of its edge, some of its “What now” jena se qua because either we keep thinking it’s all about heaven, OR

We keep looking for God to show up in the traditional, expected ways:

the same songs, the same instruments, the same kinds of people, the same steps, the same structure.

But our journey through the Narrative Lectionary has shown that who and what God is constantly using to bring about heaven on earth have included:

the infertile
the imprisoned
the mountain and the sea

the youngest child
the diseased foreigner
swords into plowshares

the one is who is too young
the one who is too pretty
the one who is too unmarried and too pregnant.

The ones who have been right under our very nose.

The ones who society deemed too old.

The ones who were more like isolated islands than eternal empires.

Why does any of this matter?

Because we are continuing our Advent Journey from blindness into light.

We are one step closer to Bethlehem; one step closer to meeting our Savior.

But is it possible we have become all too numb to the Christmas story?

Have we become all too aware of how it unfolds, so we think this is the only way it could have taken place?

Is it possible that we have taken for granted how Immanuel comes into the world; that we have lost the surprise?

We have grown so use to the idea of a manger and a mother and a myriad of animals and field hands and magi that we may have actually forgotten,

(or maybe we have failed to realize),

that this new way of God bringing justice into the world makes no dang sense.

Think about all the events we as a nation are facing right now, and then look to the Christmas story and ask

“Why would God use a refugee family to bring salvation upon the world and not the 1st Family?”

“Why a manger to welcome the Lord and not a Marriot or a Mayo Clinic?”

“Why shepherds to be the first to arrive and not CEOS or Oprah?”

Can we let go of what we know in order to realize that what God has done in Bethlehem, and what God is about to do again is a complete and utter surprise?

One that makes no sense, follows no reason, and flies in the face of all human expectations.

God, the creator, who calls for justice, is a God who continues to go against the grain.

And the God of Jesus, the God of Esther and God of Habukkuk is not done yet.

God, who created, is still creating and recreating.

God, who stretched out the heavens is still expanding what we know to be true.

God who gave breathe to life still breathes over us with new opportunities.

God, who allows former things to pass, and new things to spring forth, is Still Speaking.

Do we hear? Do we listen?

Are we willing to allow the unknown, the unexpected, the inconceivable, to become our new reality?

Are we willing to trust that the God is still full of many, many surprises?

For that we can say “Amen.”

Friday, December 7, 2018

3 Queens Who Say No, Yes, and Here I Am!; Dec 9, 2018 Sermon on Esther

Rev. George Miller
Dec 9, 2018
Esther 4:1-17

Once upon a time in a land called Susa, about 600 miles east of Bethlehem, lived a Queen named Vashti.

Queen Vashti was fair to behold and known for her beauty. Her husband, the king, ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.

One day, Queen Vashti was hanging with her homegirls, enjoying surf-n-turf, champagne, and Godiva ice-cream when the king sent for her so he could show her off to his drinking buddies.

Queen Vashti said “No.”

We don’t know why she said it, but when given the command to parade around like a prized possession, Queen Vashti declined.

As punishment she was sent packing from the palace lest other women thought they also had the right to say “No.”

After enough time passed, the king grew tired of being the world’s most eligible bachelor. So his cronies gathered the most beautiful, young virgins from throughout the land.

The women were bathed, given make-overs and one by one they were lead to the king’s bed.

There was an absolutely stunning woman named Esther who caught the king’s heart. She was handed the bachelor’s rose and crowned Queen of the Kingdom.

But it was not an easy existence. Although she was now queen, she was kept in the castle, sequestered away from the world.

Under the threat of death, she could only see her husband when he summoned her. She could only speak when he granted her permission.

And it had been a whole month since he even expressed any romantic desire for her.

Esther may have been a beautiful queen who appeared to have it all, but in actuality all she had were her maids and a group of fabulous eunuchs who were quite different from all the other guys.

Oh, and one more thing, in a country in which anti-Semitism run rampant, Esther was Jewish, a secret she kept from her husband for 5 years.

But, something unfortunate has taken place. The spirit of hate has overtaken the land and her husband’s tricked into signing an edict that every Jewish person throughout the 127 provinces is to be put to death by year’s end.

As you can imagine, Queen Esther is faced with a dilemma. What to do?

Stay silent and let her people be put to death? OR dare to speak her truth even if it means she could die?

Queen Vashti was punished for refusing to enter the king’s court.

Queen Esther could be killed for walking in and speaking out…..

…..The other night, while putting up Christmas decorations, I came across my box of Disney ornaments.

While putting up Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, I began to think about the various Disney princesses and wondered if they have really been the best role models for young girls and the understanding of healthy relationships.

One found delight in cleaning up after 7 very messy man-children, one was kissed while asleep, and another was given worth by fitting into the right shoe.

Thankfully Disney has created a new set of princesses.

Moana who sails a boat across the sea to save her people.

Merida who wields a bow and arrow better than anyone else in Scotland.

Elsa and Anna who learn that sisterhood and embracing your inner gifts are far better than any boy you meet.

What Moana, Merida, Elsa and Anna have done is create new archetypes.

Archetypes are examples and symbols of the kind of people and personality types there are.

Archetypes can tell us -
-what kind of people we are and what we are not;
-what kind of people we want to be;
-what kind of people we’re dealing with.

Archetypes appear throughout books, film, and the Bible, some are favorable, some are dubious. Think of Potiphar’s wife, or Sarah and Miriam.

With this being Advent season we get to encounter another kind of archetype, although I think an archetype who has been grossly misunderstood-Mary, the mother of Jesus.

While many people think of Mary as meek and mild, I like to think of her as a Bad Mamma Jamma.

Think about it. Mary is a young, unmarried Jewish woman living during a time in which Rome is crucifying people and engaging in unfair taxation.

One day she is visited by a celestial being and she barely bats an eye.

She’s told she’ll give birth to the Son of God and she responds “Sure- here I am, Servant of the Lord. Have at it!”

As if that’s not enough, she then takes a 6 mile journey alone, while pregnant, to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Shoot- last week I ate a big meal at Henry and Fe’s and didn’t want to drive the 10 minutes back to my house.

While at her cousin’s house, Mary gives this riot-girl, fist-bumping, motivational monologue in which she praises God, celebrates the powerful being dethroned and talks about the hungry being fed.

And as if that’s not enough, when Mary is 9 months pregnant she travels to Bethlehem with no hotel reservation, gives birth to a child inside a barn and turns a feeding trough into a basinet.

If that’s not a Bad Mamma Jamma, I don’t know who is.

Just how did Mary, this young, unmarried Jewish girl living in a time of political unrest find the ability to be so strong, to accept God’s challenge, and to willingly play a part in the salvation of God’s people?

I wonder…

I wonder- was it possible that young, Jewish Queen Esther who also lived during difficult times was her role model just like Moana and Merida are role models to young girls today?

Did Mary look upon Esther’s story to find her own inner strength?

Did Mary look upon Esther’s story to learn how to accept a challenge and assist in bringing salvation to her people?

Now, notice- we have not told you how Esther’s story unfolds and all that will happen.

The book of Esther is only 8 pages long and we’d really like you to read it yourself to discover all the twists, turns, surprises, and controversies that unfold.

But what we can tell you is that the book of Esther is a very necessary story which reminds us that sometimes all it takes is:

one person, in the right place, at the right time, who is willing to do the right thing, who has the ability to change the world.

Esther is an inspiring tale that teaches all of us, male and female, young and not-so-young, Jew and gentile, that sometimes:

the things that seem the most superficial, like our looks, can be the things that get us in the door.

Sometimes the things we are most ashamed of or keep a secret about can be the very things that God uses to set us and others free.

Sometimes we may even be put in a situation in which we decide “Do I live or do I die?”

Esther is that story, Queen Esther is that archetype that asks:

-What does it mean to be a Child of God?

-What does salvation look like?

-What does it mean to be a part of the greater whole than only focused on #1?

And -Who, except God, truly knows what tomorrow may bring???

…Once upon a time, in a kingdom 600 miles away from Bethlehem, lived one Queen who dared to say “No” when expected to be an object.

Once upon a time, there was another Queen who had the courage to say “Yes!” for the sake of all her people.

And once upon a time, in a tiny town of Nazareth was a different type of Queen who said “Here I am Lord.”

And WE are all the better because of it. Amen and amen.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Questioning God; Sermon on Habakkuk given Dec 2, 2018

Rev. George Miller
Dec 2, 2018
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, 3:17-19

On Wednesday, after we decorated the sanctuary for Christmas, Nancy and David engaged in a lively conversation.

Nancy thought it would be cool to revive our former “Fun Nights” and do things that allowed people to get to know one another better.

For example, ask simple questions like “What famous person have you met?” or “What’s the most exotic location you’ve been to?”

Another fun question is “What’s your nickname and how did you get it?”

Think of the nicknames we give to people: Princess, Pumpkin, Pooh-bear, Peanut, Puddin’, Papa.

Turns out today’s scripture may be the nickname of the person who wrote it.

Though little is known about the author, it turns out that back then there was a plant called a hambakuku, which could mean Habakkuk was actually a fun little nickname, such as when you call a child Sunflower or Daffodil.

This little bit of information may not seem like much, but what it does do is make the prophet seem a little bit more real, and a little more accessible.

Just imagine, if you will, Habakkuk’s Dad coming home from work and being like “Honey, I’m home. What did our Little Plant do today?”

“Oh, he learned his ABC’s and 123’s.”

“That’s nice.”

“Honey, I’m home! I stopped by Publix to pick up dinner. What did Little Habakkuk learn today?”

“Oh, he learned about how God remembered Noah and made a bunch of promises to Abraham.”

“That’s nice.”

“Honey, I’m home. Sorry I’m late. Boss kept us an extra hour. How’s Hambooky today?”

“Oh, you know, he said he had a long talk with the Lord and accused God of being deaf and lazy.”

“What, what, what???”

…Oh Habukkuk…you funny little plant.

Basically, this is what we have in today’s reading. Habakkuk is a prophet living and working around the same time as Jeremiah.

The nation’s in turmoil; war is inevitable. But instead of pointing a finger at the people, this plant-named prophet points a few fingers directly at God.

He is very direct and upfront. He asks God how long things are going to go the way they are going.

He asks God how long he has to cry out for help before God listens. He asks how much more violence has to happen before God steps in and intervenes.

Habakkuk is relentless; he refuses to let God off the hook.

He is of the mindset that God is big enough, strong enough and capable enough to receive some much needed constructive criticism.

“How long are you going to let sin surround us before you do what you are supposed to do?”

This is a conversation in which Habakkuk displays incredible faith; a strong faith rooted in his knowledge of who God is, what God is about, and the things God has done in the past.

Habakkuk is tired of looking around and seeing nothing but strife and suffering, so he challenges God to act, daring God to be God.

Cool thing is this- God hears his complaint, God acknowledges his concerns, and God accepts his challenge…just not in the way Habakkuk expected.

God says that God is working things out, there is a plan in place, but 1st- things will get worse before they get better.

God hears Habakkuk’s complaint, and God says “Be patient. Wait. Stay right where you are.”

This message may not seem like enough, but apparently it is for Habakkuk, because it plants within him a much needed sense of hope.

Although things have not changed, although situations are still the same, Habakkuk does find a sense of peace, he does achieve a sense of comfort.

Even though the fig trees are still bare and the olive branches remain empty, this Flower-Of-A-Man finds a way to

faithfully rise up,
hold onto God’s promise,
stay strong,
dance like a deer, and
rejoice in the Lord.

Habakkuk starts off by confronting God, boldly asking “How long?” and he ends by saying “I will glorify the Lord!”

But how? How did he get there if nothing changed? Chaos still ruled the land and war was certain to arrive.

If the situation did not change, what changed in Habakkuk?

One theological theory is this:

by being totally honest with God, by not holding anything back, by saying exactly what he felt without apologizing or sugar-coating it,

he created a path for God’s healing spirit to enter in and to start planting the seeds of hope.

He felt God was not being God, so he held God accountable.

He had chutzpah, he had brass, he had a solid set of roots that went back thousands of years to his earliest ancestors.

Because he knew their stories, because he knew just what God had done before, he called upon God to do it again.

Habakkuk had the courage to confront and the courage to question God and in the process he became resilient!

On Tuesday’s Bible Study we had the chance to read the entire book and really delve into its dark places.

At one point Norma asked one of the most profound things: “Who am I to question?”

It was both existential and theological in nature.

“Who am I to question?” Norma asked.

Habakkuk questioned God.

Who am I too question?

Habakkuk questioned God.

Who are we to question God?

Who are we?

The Holy Spirit moved in Tuesday’s class, and the answers came quickly.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Rainbow, descendants of Noah who was not forgotten.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Covenant, grandchildren of Sarah who was promised her descendants would bless the world.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of Dreamers, cousins of Joseph who found ways to flourish even when in jail.

Who are we to question?

We are Children of Muddy Feet and Mt. Zion, whose aunts and uncles walked through the Red Sea and received the commandments.

Who are we?

We are Children of Prophecy, whose kin called for justice and kindness, and dared God to do the same.

But perhaps, most importantly, as we start the Advent Season, who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Journey, joining others as they make their way into Bethlehem to see a newborn baby.

Who are we?

We are God’s Beloved Children, Brothers and Sisters preparing to see our Blessed Savior wrapped in swaddling clothing.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of The Manger.
We are Survivors of The Cross.
We are Witnesses of the Resurrection.

We are Bearers of Good News, letting everyone know that:

nothing can separate us from the love of God, not death, not life, not angels, nor principalities, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation (Romans 8:38-39)

Who are we to question God?

We are God’s Chosen, God’s Beloved, God’s Righteous.

Just like ‘Lil Habakkuk, we are God’s flowers, we are God’s plants.

We are God’s mustard seeds, olive branches, and lily’s of the valley.

We are God’s cedars, mighty cypress, and oaks of Mamre.

We are God’s holly, ivy, and mistletoe.

Who are we to question God this Advent Season?

We are people on a journey,
starting in darkness,
heading to Bethlehem,
guided by a star,
filled with the hope
that God’s Great Light will burn bright and we can dance like the deer.

Because of this, there is nothing we can say, nothing we can ask, nothing we can question that God won’t be willing to hear and to understand. Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

God Has Not Given Up On Us; Sermon for Nov. 25, 2018

Rev. George Miller
November 25, 2018
Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

A few months ago, I was given the critique by a few church members that my sermons had become a bit too inward-focused; that I was spending a bit too much time talking about things like my garden and Little Brother.

These constructive comments were taken as intended and for the past 3 months the messages have been more educational and outward based.

However, sometimes in life we go through an experience that deeply affects us, and the more we try to hide it, the more it shows through.

Such has been the case for me. For those who are unaware, I’ve been dealing with a breakup for the past month.

I had been dating someone for a few months in which everything seemed to be just fine. I had let my guard down and imagined a future for the 2 of us.

Then unexpectedly, in the cruelest of ways, he broke up with me, through a card in the mail, thus taking away my voice and any chance to ask “Why?” or to cry, or be angry, or even express gratitude for the good times we had shared.

In many ways, this unexpected event is more than a break-up, it feels like a death. As if the person has unexpectedly died or disappeared with no chance to say goodbye or be prepared.

I share this for two reasons- to be honest with you instead of wasting energy pretending things are fine when they are not.

Two- how do you celebrate the grace of God or the hope of the upcoming Advent Season when you feel like you’re living in the Heartbreak Hotel?

Any good pastor or counselor would say that the only way through grief is to go through it; that it is Ok to give in to the pain, speak your truth, wallow in your woe, be honest with the world and have a pity party.

Thankfully, today’s reading allows us to do just that as Jeremiah is a prophet who is wracked with pain, sorrow, and concern for the future.

When today’s reading begins, Jeremiah is a young man living during a capricious time of history. The northern part of his country was taken over by the Assyrians.

The current King of the south is about to form an alliance with a well known enemy, setting into motion another major war that will utterly destroy the land, the people, and their house of worship.

Young Jeremiah receives a call from God to be God’s mouthpiece, to speak to the citizens of Jerusalem.

In this seemingly innocent vignette we overhear this conversation between God and Jeremiah.

On the surface it sounds so heartwarming. God says to the youth “I knew you before you were born. When you were still in your Mama’s tummy I made you oh so special.”

Jeremiah protests, claiming he has no idea what to do. To which God says “Oh, Jeremiah- don’t sell yourself short. Everything you need I will provide. Don’t be afraid. I will give you the words to say, and I will stay right by your side.”

How wonderful. How sweet it seems. How so very, very nice- knowing that God has spoken directly to you with your own special job and the assurance that the Holy One will be right there!

Who could resist? Who would want to resist? How many people would’ve loved to be an apprentice to the God Most High?

What could go wrong? Think of all the green pastures, still waters, and prepared meals there would be!

Who would ever want to say no to a god who knew you before you even took your first breath?

…well, there is this teeny-weeny thing that Jeremiah is about to find out.

He’s not being called to baptize babies, or perform weddings, or sip sweet tea with people out on the veranda…

he’s being called to give a message about how God is about to tear things up.

Jeremiah is given the daunting task of telling the nation that they have been acting all wrong and that everything they know is about to be plucked up, pulled down, overthrown and destroyed.

No wonder young Jeremiah wasn’t so keen on being God’s messenger. Who would want to share that news with the people you know?

In fact, it takes awhile for Jeremiah to share this message with the nation, about 18 years.

But when Jeremiah gives this message, he does so in a huge way.

Jeremiah waits until one of the biggest worship days of the year, stands outside the Temple and starts preaching to the people as they walk in.

You know how we like to say “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”?

Well- Jeremiah says the complete opposite!

While everyone is flocking in to get their praise on, Jeremiah starts calling them out on their hypocrisy.

He says to them “God is unhappy with your unholy ways. Don’t think that you can come into this Temple acting like you’re better than everyone else when you’re not.”

“Susan-you know you’ve been shoplifting.”

“Mark- how many folk have you murdered?”

“Cory- everyone knows your cheating on your wife.”

“Geraldine- ain’t it about time you stopped your gossiping?

“And Bobby- you’ve been going to the house of Baal all week long worshipping another god!”

Jeremiah is unrelentless.

He calls them out for mistreating foreigners, abusing children and the elderly, for robbery and all kinds of injustice.

Speaking on behalf of God, Jeremiah says “How dare you come to this holy place and put on an act like you’re all goody-goody when you’re bringing pain upon others.”

“And how dare you ignore God’s voice and commandments and think God is going to keep you safe and condone your evil actions just because you come to praise him once a week?”

It should be no surprise to hear that Jeremiah is arrested and put on trial for his life.

He learned the hard way that you can’t call religious people on their stuff without suffering some kind of consequence.

If you read all 52 chapters of Jeremiah you will discover just how much pain the prophet and God are going through.

It is a deeply disturbing collection in which either God or the prophet or both are suffering, in deep tears, and experiencing great anguish.

Sorrow permeates every page, as the prophet shares God’s disappointment over the people God loves, and the awareness that their abuse of power, mistreatment of immigrants, and disregard for human life is going to result in the nation’s demise.

The people thought they could do whatever they wanted to do as long as they made an appearance in the Temple once a week; instead they are soon going to experience how God will pluck up and pull down, destroy and overthrow.

But…if that was all there was to today’s reading, if that’s all there was to Jeremiah’s message, then none of us would be here today.

Fortunately, there is more that is going on.

Because in the midst of the accusations and the ramifications, there is hope.

Because as Jeremiah states, there just won’t be a plucking up and a pulling down, but there is also going to be planting and building.

Though there will be a shuffling of circumstances, God assures them that if they reclaim the ways of justice, and kindness, if they live with true humility, then God would have no problem dwelling amongst them again.

In other words, God is saying something truly amazing to the people: God has not given up on them.

Even though it appears they have walked out on God, God has not walked out on them.

Even though they turn a deaf ear to God, God has not stopped speaking.

Even though they ceased coming to the Temple for holy reasons, God has not stopped being holy, fair, and full of grace.

The people may have forgotten the stories of their ancestors and what it means to be Children of God, but God has not forgotten the narrative and the promises he made so long ago.

God remembers the promises made via Moses on the mountaintop. God remembers the covenant made with a childless couple about people, land and blessings.

God remembers the rainbow that was cast across the sky as a promise.

Today’s reading deals with the joys and pains of being in a relationship and just what a relationship with God truly means.

A part of that relationship is knowing that no matter how bad things get, no matter how bad things seem, no matter how much we mess up and fail, no matter how severe the consequences may be…

…God does give up.

Even when we give up on others, even when we give up on God, even when we give up on ourselves, God does not give up on us.

God is present. God is constant. God is there. Good times or bad; happy or sad.

BUT this does not mean everything will be hunky-dory; it doesn’t mean things will be green pastures, still waters, and prepared meals.

Nor does it mean that when bad things come to an end, we will go back to being the same.

Because when things happen, no one ever goes back to being the same.

When tragedy occurs and life circumstances take place, there will always be a change.

No one plucks up and pulls down, to only plant and build the exact same thing.

Today’s reading is a difficult one because it speaks of God’s pain and of God’s disappointment.

Today’s reading reaches across time to point a finger towards us to ask “What are we doing here if we continue to turn our back on justice, kindness, and humility?

Today’s reading asks us as a nation “How can we claim to follow God if we oppress immigrants, refuse to help the vulnerable, and hurt the innocent?”

But today’s reading also has that ember of hope, that gift of grace, as it assures us that as bad as things may seem, God has not left us; God will not leave us.

As long as there is a still a remnant of humanity, as long as there is still the hope of a 2nd, 3rd, 30th, or 3 millionth chance, God will remember us, and God will be right here.

Ready to plant, ready to build.

Ready to continue the narrative and to do something new.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

What Does God Want? Sermon for November 11, 2018 based on Micah 5 & 6

Rev. George Miller
November 11, 2018
Micah 5:2-5a, 6:6-8

Today’s scripture is one that should sound familiar to anyone who has ever worshipped at Emmanuel or sung a Christmas Carol.

Micah 5:2 is the basis for “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” while Micah 6:8 is how we finish worship and is written on our Fellowship Hall wall.

It’s a wonderful theology, with a wonderful intent, this notion of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord.

It feels good to say these words each and every Sunday and it appears that people have grown to love it, accept it, and embrace it.

But the truth is that today’s reading does not come from a very good and happy place.

Today’s scripture is the result of doom, gloom and discontent.

Do you recall how just last week we discussed the healing of Naaman in the Jordan River?

Then there was the wonder of Solomon’s wisdom, the celebration of Joshua’s call to “choose today” and the passage through parted sea?

Well…it has all fallen apart.

The Promised Land. The Glorious Kingdom. The decades of peace and prosperity in which Israel and her neighbors enjoyed a time of imports, shared labor, and conversation.

The cracks began to appear with King David who committed acts of rape, murder, adultery and deceit.

The cracks deepened when his son Solomon to worship other gods and build temples in their honor.

Eventually these fissures created a ripping apart in Israel that resulted in 2 separate kingdoms, one that was north, one that was south.

The same people, but living in a divided nation, in which both claimed God as their own.

It was in the northern kingdom that Naaman went to last week when he sought out healing and became a believer in the Lord.

But since last week, there has been a major rupture.

The northern kingdom had become so dishonest, so unhealthy, so unholy that it has fallen under enemy capture.

The possibilities of the Promised Land have fallen so!

Enter into this reality the prophet Micah. He is a citizen of the Southern Kingdom, which still stands, but he’s not sure for how long.

See, Micah is very aware and very astute to all that is going on.

He’s a small-town boy with small town morals who has moved into the capital city of Jerusalem, and he does not like what he sees.

He sees how corrupt the political, economic, and religious leaders are.

He calls them out for how they take property away from the citizens, kick women out of their homes, and declare war on the hungry (3:5).

He sees merchants charging false prices, courts perverting the law, and
prophets accepting bribes to mislead their congregations.

Not to mention that during this time, the Assyrian enemy has control of land just 10 miles from the capital, and Jerusalem was swelling in size from political refugees fleeing the Northern Kingdom to seek safety.

Micah sees all these things going on and is absolutely sure that the nation is about to implode and everything God has worked so hard for is about to fall to bits.

So Micah laments. He cries for the injustice he sees. He weeps over the corruption and constant lies of the leaders.

He mourns how it seems the wicked have won and how at any moment everything will be blown to smithereens.

In chapter 6 he even envisions a courtroom scene in which God stands before the people and says

“What have I done to deserve this; how have I wearied you?”

God states all that has been done on the people’s behalf.

“I brought you out of Egypt. I saved you from slavery. I sent you Moses and Miriam to guide you through tough times. I prevented people from cursing you. I blessed you every chance I got.”

Micah channels God’s heartbreak and destitution in such a powerful way.

Yet- even in a scene of such wretchedness, there is hope.

Micah envisions that in this holy courtroom, the people display a contrite heart, offering to give God anything God wants to make things right- food, oil, their first born.

It turns out that even though God is hurt, even though God appears to have given all that God can give, God responds to the sinful people in the most amazing way.

In this holy courtroom scene of Micah’s prophetic imagination, God stands before the very people who have turned from him, and says

“Don’t you realize, don’t you know by now, that all I want is you. I don’t want a thing; I don’t want an object you can buy at the store.”

“I want YOU. I want you, and the very best you that there can be.”

God says to the people “What I want, all that I have ever wanted, is for you to do what is right, love being kind, and include me in everything you do.”

According to Micah, this is all God wants from us- justice, mercy, and mindfulness.

This is basically what Jesus meant when he said the 2 greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

What does God want; God wants YOU; the very best version of you that you can be.

Isn’t that amazing? Here we are with such a bleak chapter in the nation’s narrative, and there is still hope.

Here we are, in the city of Jerusalem, in which refugees are flooding in to seek safety, the enemy is at the door,

religious leaders are misteaching for the sake of a buck, businesses are mistreating their customers,

and politicians are punishing the starving, the widowed and the land owners,

and even though they seem to be on the verge of extinction, God is offering another chance of hope and another chance of redemption?


Just as God remembered Noah in the ark, just as Joseph was not forgotten in the jail, just as Naaman could be made clean by dipping himself in the river…

…there is hope that is given to the people. There is hope in knowing that although the enemy is close, the good old days are gone, and sin has seized the day,

evil has not won out and evil will never have the last word.

Although difficult dark days may eventually fall upon the land due to their behavior and bad choices, God will not completely give up on or forget about the people and the promises God made to Abraham and Sarah oh so long ago.

Micah sees that hope coming from such an unexpected, and yet such a familiar place. Micah claims that hope will come from a little town named Bethlehem, from a family that most would pay no mind.

Now, we can’t speak for Micah, or assume we really know just what he really meant.

But in our troubled world, in our culture of chaos and corruption, we can make the claim that perhaps the one who Micah is pointing us to is the one we know as Jesus Christ.

Micah alludes to one who is both new and yet ancient, who feeds his flock and stands in the Lord’s name, who is both strong and represents peace.

Is it not in Jesus that we see these words of Micah become incarnate?

How Jesus enacted justice by feeding, by healing, by caring for all?

How Jesus embodied mercy by telling people not to cast stones, to take the planks out of their eyes, and to forgive?

How everything Jesus said, everything he did, and the way he lived was for the sake of God’s glory and the advancement of his Father’s heavenly kingdom…

We are not Jesus, and none of us ever will be. We are imperfect. We are incomplete.

We all still have so much self work to do and growing to accomplish.

But isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it inspiring to know that God is not looking for perfection?

God is not looking for things.

God is not looking for robots or rivers of oil or an abundance of gold.

What God is looking for is YOU. The best you that can be.

The you who does justice. The you who loves and wants to be kind.

The you who will walk with God in the garden, trust God in the storm, call upon God in the wilderness, choose God even in prosperity, seek out God’s wisdom for the benefit of all, and be willing to dip into the waters even if seems silly.

What does God want? God wants YOU.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

God's Healing Grace Goes Beyond Borders; Nov 4, 2018 message on 2 Kings 5:1-15

Rev. George Miller
November 4, 2018
2 Kings 5:1-15

What would you be willing to do to be a better, healthier you?

Would you be willing to cut 500 calories a day from your diet?

Would you be willing to go to the gym 3-5 times a week?

Would you be willing to travel 125 miles by foot or by horse?

Would you be willing to dip yourself 7 times into a dried up river full of algae and dead fish?

Would you be willing to take advice from a little girl from a foreign country who believes in a completely different god?

What would you be willing to do to be a better, healthier you?

That is just one of the many questions raised by today’s story.

It is a timeless story, one that speaks through multi-dimensions, and a story that Jesus referred to in his first post-temptation sermon.

A quick review- today’s tale takes place in the foreign land of Aram after they have recently defeated the Israelites in battle.

One of Aram’s warriors, named Naaman, has taken a little Jewish girl as a slave. One day this little girl says to Naaman’s wife “Your husband is in pretty bad health. If he went to see my God’s prophet, I know he’d be healed.”

A chain of events takes place in which Naaman goes to his king, who sends him to the enemy king.

Neither king is of any use, but the Jewish prophet Elisha intervenes and has his message-boy tell Naaman to wade in the waters of the Jordan.

Mighty warrior Naaman has a hissy fit, but after some coaxing from his employees, his dips himself into the Jordan and bing-bam-boom!, he’s made clean.

What a wonderful, rich story we have before us, full of exotic lands, complex characters, and a mighty miracle of God.

But if we take a step back and look at this story as a whole, we discover how we’ve been tricked, because nothing is as it seems.

First, we have a story full of all these power players.

Naaman, the mighty warrior prone to angry outbursts who seems to have it all: money, power, wife and servants.

We have not one but two kings who hold court, have unlimited resources, and own enough clothes to rip at whim.

Then there’s Elisha who can come and go as he pleases, capturing the attention of world leaders with a single message or seemingly silly directive.

But are they truly the power players in this tale of God’s mercy and might?

No, they’re not. Look closer at who the real power players are: a little Jewish girl who’s been captured and became a slave.

Messengers of the prophet who come before a king and stand before a warrior to tell them what to do.

And foreign servants who convince their highly emotional master what’s the right thing to do if he wants to be made well.

The author of today’s story has created such a magnificent account in which it is not the people in power who are avenues for God’s grace, but it is the least of these, the unexpected, the often unseen and unheard members of society.

The heroes of today’s story are the ones we have kept in cages, attacked in synagogues, and labeled as invaders.

What we see in this ancient, ancient story is just how much God will use the least of these to do the blessings, how even enemies are recipients of God’s healing, and how God’s grace continues to grow and expand, crossing borders, beliefs, and bad situations.

We saw that grace when God looked down upon Noah’s family huddled within the ark and remembered them.

We saw that grace continue to Sarah and Abraham as they traveled for decades across that land.

We saw that grace carry Joseph through years of false imprisonment, growing to include the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea.

That gift of grace continued with Moses on the mountain, Joshua in the Promised Land, and King Solomon as he humbly sought out wisdom.

In today’s reading we witness how God’s grace and mercy, God’s love for all expands beyond the borders and includes those who are considered enemies and those who have yet to know the Lord.

Oh how God brings healing and good news! A little girl; the least of these; a slave. The absolute lowest of the low who looks at her captors and says “There is a balm that can heal your soul.”

Unnamed messengers who take the good news out to highways and byways so someone they don’t even know can experience salvation.

Servants from another land who endure their master’s wrath just so they can convince him that it’s worth giving God a try even if it seems silly to take a dip into the waters of life.

Who would ever think that these characters, these individuals could be the agents of change and the ways in which God would work?

And then there is Naaman, who appears mighty, but is perhaps the weakest of them all.

When the story starts out he is a foreign enemy who worships a different god and is riddled with disease.

But note how he is transformed by God and a poster boy for what God’s grace can do.

He goes from unclean to clean, from outsider to a member of the worship community.

He goes from non-believer to someone who believes, someone who wants to donate, wants to worship, and even wishes for forgiveness for all the future sins he is sure to do.

Today we witness the ever expanding reach of God’s Kingdom.

We see how something begun on an ark and continued with an elderly couple has expanded beyond pharaohs and parted seas and promised lands, growing beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, to include-

enemies, foreigners, and disease.

No wonder Jesus would refer to this story in Luke 4 when he gave his first post-temptation sermon, reminding the people that God’s healing is offered to all, even those who are not like us.

No wonder why the people of Jesus’ day did not like being reminded of this truth.

It is a shame that these very same issues Jesus and 2 Kings addressed are still plaguing us in modern times.

But for today…today we have a chance in the sanctity of this holy space and this holy time to revisit this story, to embrace this tale and to celebrate it and what it dares to teach:

That the grace of God is ever growing.

The grace of God is a gift that only needs to be received.

It does not matter how old or young you are. No matter how rich or poor. No matter if master or servant, king of the country or foreign resident.

The grace of God is transformative, offering healing to individuals, families and to entire communities when it is accepted, and when it is glorified.

The waters of heaven are abundant and the healing of God is for all.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What Kind of King Will He Be? Sermon on 1 Kings 3:3-15

Rev. George Miller
Oct 28, 2018
1 Kings 3:3-15

Today our journey through the Narrative Lectionary takes us to the familiar tale of King Solomon.

The question is this “What kind of king will Solomon be?”

Will he be the kind of leader who enjoys starting fires, or will he be the kind that prefers to plant gardens?

Will he be the kind of king who destroys creation or the kind that builds communities?

Will he be the kind of leader in which everything is from the perspective of “Me, mine and I”?

Or will it be from the perspective of “We, ours and us?”

In other words, will Solomon be the kind of king who leads from domination, or will he be the kind that leads in more of a servant-style?

We heard last week how his father David was a king who lead with armies and war, adultery and murder, conflict and chaos.

Will King Solomon’s rule be any different?

We find out in today’s reading.

Here we have a classic story about how Solomon has a dream in which the Lord asks what he wants.

Solomon could have asked for silver and gold, he could have asked for riches and women, but instead he asks for something else:


He says to God “YOU have made me your servant even though I don’t know much about anything. YOU have shown steadfast love to your people.”

“Therefore, give me a listening heart and a way to know right from wrong so I can better serve your flock.”

This act of humility, this seeking of justice and kindness pleases the Lord so much, that God not only bestows upon Solomon the heavenly gifts of wisdom, but the earthly gifts of honor and glory.

As a result, we are introduced to King Solomon’s first act of servant leadership.

2 women come to him with an issue involving children. They are both prostitutes and they both recently had a child, but one child has died while the other is alive.

The women argue over who the living boy belongs to, while King Solomon listens with his new heart.

He comes upon a creative way to discern which woman is more the mother than the other, and settles the dispute in such a unique way that soon the whole kingdom hears about his wisdom.

It’s interesting to note what King Solomon’s first task is after his encounter with God.

It is not about war, and it’s not about taxes. It’s not about business, and it’s not about the economy.

King Solomon’s first issue involves women and their children.

Solomon’s first act deals with the most basic, elemental, human topic there is- family.

Not just family, but he is confronted by individuals who would’ve been considered the lowest, most vulnerable of people.

Not only does his decision involve women and children, but prostitutes and their illegitimate offspring.

King Solomon is not called to use his new gifts of discernment for the sake of land barons and billionaires, but for those members of society who would be deemed the unclean, the uncouth; unseen and unheard.

And yet…and yet- King Solomon, the most powerful, most wise person in all of the land stops all that he is doing.

He sees them…He hears them.

He listens to their words and the contents of their hearts.

And he makes a decision, based on compassion, based on justice, based on his humbly walking with the Lord.

This way of Solomon watching over God’s people is so radically different from what has been done before and what’s been done since.

If you read through chapters 4-10 you’ll hear how he had officials that were delegated specific responsibilities for each month of the year.

You’ll hear how he made sure his citizens had enough food and drink to be nourished and content.

He honored the environment, composing songs that celebrated the trees and animals, birds and fish.

He shared his wisdom and understanding with the world, so much so that people would travel to hear what he had to say.

He found ways to create peace with Israel’s former enemies. He used his relationship with other leaders to build the Holy Temple, making sure to pay fair wages to the laborers.

He found ways to create employment for all the men, employing artists and artisans, blue and white collar workers.

For 20 years King Solomon used God’s wisdom to create steady employment and peace-time rest for the people.

He surrounded himself with people of skill, intelligence and knowledge.

He gathered the elders, the community heads and all the citizens to bless and be blessed by the work that had been done via the Temple.

He called upon all the people to give honors and blessings unto the Lord, and he called upon God to always be good to the people, giving them rain, times of peace, and the gifts of forgiveness.

He welcomed leaders from other nations, showed hospitality to men and women of other ethnicities, and had a thriving economy of imports.

Sadly, in chapter 11 we do witness a reversal. After 20 years of being such a successful servant leader, King Solomon eventually trip ups.

He allows his own desires to get in the way. He turns from God and begins to worship false idols and build other temples.

This displeases God and sets into motion a chain of events to leads to Israel’s downfall.

…but even then, there is still an ember of hope, there is still a shoot that endures, for from Solomon’s lineage eventually we will come to arrival of the greatest and the truest King there will ever be- Jesus Christ, son of Joseph, descendant of King David.

Today’s reading shows us a way in which we can each seek after God’s heart.

Today’s scriptures celebrates a time in which there was once a leader who sought to do what was right, what was good, and what was pleasing to the Lord.

And as Christians, isn’t that what we see in the life of Jesus Christ?

We see in Jesus that gift of discernment. We see in Jesus that close connection with God and the ways of heaven.

We also see in Jesus that connection with the personal.

Just as Solomon became involved with the issues of family and children, Jesus reaches out to the simple, to the every day, to the common, often addressing the things that happen within our very own homes.

In Jesus we see how God is made known through the meals we eat and the tasks we undertake. In Jesus we see how God is concerned about our health and our healing.

In Jesus we see how God is concerned about the least of these and the mustard seeds and the sparrows that fall.

In Jesus we see just how much the personal, mundane, and every day truly matters to God.

In Jesus we see one who walked in the gardens, built communities, and lead from a servant model of “We, ours and us.”

Today’s reading offers a glimpse into a time when justice, kindness, and humility reigned upon the earth.

It’s a reminder that those very same things are still possible for us when we choose to follow the Lord, when we dare to dream, and when we seek out what is best for others and not just ourselves.

May each of us today find our own way to please the God of Solomon.

May we each find a way to seek an understanding mind, a hearing heart, and a spirit that is stayed on Jesus.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Did Bathsheba Really Have a Choice? Sermon on 2 Samuel 11 & 12

Rev. George Miller
Oct 21, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27, 12:1-9

Last week we talked about choices: how the average person makes about 70 choices per day, 25,000 choices per year, and 2 million choices in a lifetime.

We discussed how life is filled with choices and how there is almost always a choice we can make.

Today is going to challenge that statement, as we confront a timeless tale that is also perhaps the most tragically misunderstood story there is.

It is the story of King David and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.

In an age of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and a country caught up in the hearing of Brett Kavenaugh, this reading has the ability to speak volumes to us, even if the subject matter is sensitive and triggering for many.

The story starts during a time of war. The author tells us that as the king’s army is ravaging and besieging cities, the King is enjoying a mid-day nap.

He wakes up, goes for a walk and sees a beautiful woman bathing. He asks about the woman, who is named Bathsheba, and though she is married to one of his soldiers, the king decides he wants to enjoy an afternoon delight.

The NRSV tells us in vs. 4 that he sent messengers to “get her”, BUT do not be fooled. That is a softened translation.

The real Hebrew text tells us that the men were sent to “take her” much the same way one would take a city.

Bathsheba comes to the King in which he has his way with her. She becomes pregnant, which sets off a chain of events in which the King eventually has her husband and other innocent men killed as opposed to owning up to what he has done.

Choices. Last week we talked about choices and how in life we almost always have a choice.

Forget everything you’ve been taught in Sunday School. Forget what other preachers or authors or Hollywood producers have tried to teach you about this story.

Instead, focus on Bathsheba. Did she have any real choice in this story?

Sure. She made the choice to take a bath. She did so at a time in which there was no indoor plumbing or running water. She also did so during a time in which social ethics dictated that if you saw someone bathing or in a state of undress, you were to avert your eyes and turn your head.

Did Bathsheba have a choice to come to the palace?

When the most powerful man in the country knows your husband is away and sends his goons to take you, what kind of choice do you really have?

To go along? Or to say “No” and deal with the consequences?

Can an insubordinate really say no to a king who has all the authority and power?

If Bathsheba said “no,” would they have accepted her decision or would they have dragged her there kicking and screaming?

If she said “no”, what other consequences could’ve befallen her and her household?

And then Bathsheba becomes pregnant. At least, unlike the King, she takes some form of responsibility and makes the choice to tell the King the news.

But the King? What are we to think about him?

Look at all the choices he has before him, as the most powerful person in all the land-

He could be at the front line fighting alongside his men, but instead he’s napping and walking along the roof of his palace.

The King could have averted his eyes when he saw Bathsheba bathing, which would have been the right thing to do.

He could have chosen not to send messengers to take her.

He could have chosen not to sleep with her. He could have chosen not to engage in an act of adultery.

As the King of Israel, personally selected by the God of his ancestors, he could have made the choice to not break at least 4 of the Commandments.

He could have chosen to take responsibility for his actions.

He could have told Bathsheba’s husband the truth.

He could have come before God, admitted his sins and begged for forgiveness.

The King had choice after choice after choice after choice; whereas Bathsheba basically had one-two choices which were really a no win situation.

This narrative is about the arrogant misuse of power for personal pleasure and how a nation’s leader exploits others for his own self-interest.

The King is manipulative, capable of lying, cheating, and killing.

And yet this is Kind David, the one who will be the greatest king Israel had ever known. King David was someone after God’s heart.

Numerous Psalms were supposedly written by him, numerous books of the Bible make reference to him, and the Messiah was said to come from his family tree and be a modern day version of him.

And yet if King David was alive today…if he was here to engage in a Supreme Court hearing…if he was here in an age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and Harvey Weinstein…

…If he was here in an age in which women and victims of sexual violence are sick and tired of being sick and tired and done with being silent or scared, where would King David and the nation of Israel be???

Nearly 3,000 years after the events of today’s reading, Bathsheba has finally been given her moment to testify and the truth of her encounter is being seen for what it actually has always been.

So….what do we do with this story today, in worship, during a time in which we have gathered to hear the Good News and leave service feeling refreshed?

What do we do, knowing all too well that roughly 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused, and those children grow into adults.

Which means that in this congregation, as with any congregation in America, sit those who have been abused, and those who did the abusing.

What do we do?

We could take the easy route.

We can say that this story is further proof that God uses imperfect people to do God’s work in the world, and King David was no different.

But is there a difference between being imperfect and having committed a crime like murder and rape?

We can say that even people who have flawed pasts and made bad choices can be redeemed and forgiven by the Lord.

But are there certain acts that should automatically disqualify someone from places of power, regardless if it happened when they were 18, 36 or 72?

We can say that this story is an illustration about how God looks beyond who we were and instead looks at who we are yet to be.

But all these things feel like a theological cop-out in today’s social, political climate.

So where is the Good News? What can be said that will leave us feeling as if we had an uplifting church service?

Maybe today the Holy Spirit is not asking us to be uplifted, but is asking us to be uncomfortable with the questions and to wrestle with what we just heard.

….Maybe there is something we can do…

Last week we talked about choices, but we also talked about Jesus Christ.

We shared that as Protestants, we believe that the ultimate revelation of God is Jesus, which means that if you really want to know who God is, what God is about, look no further than the life and ministry of Jesus.

Want to know who God is, how God loves, how God is concerned about justice, kindness, and compassion?

Look at what Jesus said, did, and what he taught.

In doing so, we take a look at Jesus, and we witness his relationships with others, and we witness his relationship with women.

If Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, what do we see?

We see that when a woman is accused of adultery, Jesus does not join the mob in condemning her and casting stones.

Instead, he stands beside her and challenges the others to look inwards at themselves and if they are free from imperfections, blemishes and skeletons in the closet, then they can cast the first stone.

When Jesus meets the Samaritan women at the well during a time of day in which it is just the two of them, he does not take advantage of her.

He does not shame her for being a different religion or a different nationality. He does not shame her for her past relationships.

He spends time with her. Talks with her. Offers her the gifts of Living Water. Allows her to make the choice to accept or not, and to come and go as she pleases.

When Jesus accepts the radical hospitality of Martha and Mary he does not take advantage of them. He does not assume that if a woman invited him into her home than she must be “asking for it” or “wanting something more.”

No, both Martha and Mary are safely and appropriately able to be their full authentic selves with Jesus while within the privacy of their own home.

Jesus is able to enter the bed chambers of Peter’s mother-in-law and the soldier’s daughter and offer gifts of healing as opposed to anyone worrying about what may or may not take place.

Jesus welcomes children and warns those who would do anything to harm a child.

He uses his position as the Son of God to fill fishermen’s nets with fish, to turn water into wine, offer health care to all, and to make sure thousands of hungry peasants have enough food to eat.

And the one time Jesus falters, the one time he makes the mistake and insults a foreign woman and her daughter by calling them “dogs”, he is quickly reprimanded by the woman, held accountable for his words, and he learns a valuable lesson in which he never repeats that mistake again.

What is the Good News in today’s message? That if we want to best know who God is, we do not need to look towards King David or Moses or Noah.

But we can look towards Jesus, the man who was willing to eat with sinners, who was willing to offer light in a time of darkness, who was willing to offer everyone a choice of whether they wanted to receive his gifts or not.

We look towards Jesus, who taught us to pray, not about fast cars or filet mignon or the Kingdoms of Man, but to pray for the Kingdom of God, in which daily bread, forgiveness, and God’s desire for justice and kindness prevail.

Today’s scripture is a difficult one. There is no denying that. The choices Bathsheba had were few and not easy.

The choices King David had were many and mostly all wrong.

But as Christians, we get to make choices too. About 70 each day, 25,000 each year, about 2 million before we die.

No matter what choices we have made in the past, no matter what bad decisions we have done, or hurt we have caused, we can start the process today, and every day after that, looking towards Jesus, looking towards Christ, and trying our best to do what is honest, doing what is right, and doing what is good.

None of us can ever undo what has taken place in the past, but by following Jesus we can make better choices in our days, our weeks, and our months ahead.

For that, we can amen and amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Choices: Sermon on Joshua 24 from Oct 14, 2018

Rev. George Miller
Oct 14, 2018
Joshua 24:1-26

Life is filled with choices. In fact, it’s been said that an average person makes about 70 choices a day, or 25,000 choices in a year.

There are those choices that are fun:
Stay in or go out?
Cook dinner or order pizza?
Watch TV or rent a movie?

There are those that are a bit more serious:
Go to college or trade school?
Take the job offer or not?

There are those choices that are downright difficult:
Pay the car note or buy groceries?
Stay in this relationship or go?

Then there are the choices in which either one is a no win situation:
Stop receiving cancer treatment now or continue with the hopes of 6 more months?
Send my loved one to Good Shepherd Hospice or allow them to die at home?

Life is full of choices, and more often than not we always get to make a choice even if it does not feel that way, even if the choice is difficult, even when either outcome breaks our hearts.

A sign of a person’s emotional health and spiritual wellness is when they make a difficult choice and come to peace with it.

A sign that a person is overwhelmed or about to break is when they say “I have no choice” or “If I don’t do it, who will?”

Except for extreme situations, there is almost always a choice, even if it is choosing how to respond, how to sink or how to swim.

This notion of choice is so prevalent in today’s reading. In fact, this theme of choice has appeared throughout every reading we have done over the past 6 weeks.

Noah is called to build an ark; he could have said “No.”

Abraham is told to get up and go; he could have said “Heck no!”

Joseph could have engaged in an adulterous relationship with Potiphar’s wife.

The Israelites could have taken one look at the parted waters and said “There’s no way on earth we’re walking through that!”

Moses was invited up the mountain to have a meeting with God and he could have said “No way, Jose!”

And the people could have taken one look at the 10 Commandments and said “Sorry God, but we’re gonna have to pass. We like working on Saturday and don’t want to have to edit what we say or do.”

Choice after choice after choice is made by our ancestors in the Old Testament, and they get to make these choices consciously, even if they don’t always fully understand what the long-term rewards and consequences are.

And if you notice- God also has the ability to make choices. Nowhere does scripture say that because God created the world, God had to look after it.

God could have been like an absentee Father. God could have been like a potter who makes a vase and gives it away. God could have been like a mama shark who gives birth to her young and then gobbles them all up.

But that’s not what we see with God. The idea of God being removed or uninvolved in Creation is the furthest thing from the biblical narratives.

We see God engage with us in the garden. We see God remember us in the flood. We see God invite us into new wilderness adventures.

We see God bless us in the jail cell. We see God part the waters, and we see God provide nourishment in the dessert.

Today we see God take it upon Godself to once again strengthen the love affair between God and the Israelites.

It has been decades now since the people crossed the Red Sea. It’s been decades since they wandered the desert. It’s been decades since they have been in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

It has been years of rest. Of comfort. Of peace. It’s sort of like a spiritual retirement for the people, as they have a chance to enjoy their days after years and years of hard work and struggle.

Joshua has been their faithful leader. He has taken over the role of Moses. Joshua is now the one who stands before God on the people’s behalf and shares the intra-holy communication with the folks.

But now Joshua is coming to the end of his days, and the end of his ministry. So he gives the people one final sermon.

In this sermon he reminds them of who they were. He reminds them of all that God has done on their behalf. He reminds them of who they are now.

After recounting all the wonderful works of the LORD, Joshua invites the people to make a choice.

They can choose to continue worshipping God and following the commandments, or they can choose to walk away, do their own thing, and worship whoever or whatever they please.

This invitation is astounding. This invitation is indicative to just how awesome and abundantly loving God is.

Even after all that God has done, even after all the promises their ancestors have made in years past, God still gives this new generation a choice- they can choose God or they can choose another way.

The freedom is theirs; they are not being forced; their arm is not being twisted; there is no shotgun at their back or shackles on their feet.

God wants their relationship to be so valid, so real, so true, that God is willing to lose them then to force them to stay…

…Think on that for a moment…

For the sake of having a true, meaningful connection with the people, God is willing to lose it all.

If that is not love…

What we are witnessing here today is that notion of Covenant that guides the Old Testament narratives.

This notion of Covenant is the very basis of our denomination’s faith and structure.


Covenant is that rainbow God placed in the sky after the Flood. Covenant is the words God spoke to Abraham about children and land and blessings. Covenant is what inspired God to give the 10 Commandments.

As our new members learned 2 weeks ago, a covenant is an agreement between 2 parties.

It’s kind of like a promise, but it is so much more than that.

A covenant is a decision that is made because one wants to, not because one has to. A covenant does not involve force or ultimatums.

A covenant is a choice that 2 people or 2 parties make, not because they must, but because they may.

For example, no one forced Marjorie or James to join Emmanuel UCC; it is something they asked about; something they discussed; something in which there were willing to meet certain criteria.

Our church is in Covenant with the FL Conference of the UCC; not because the regional ministers bribed us or forced our hand, but because we chose to be in relationship with the other UCC churches in our state.

A Covenant is a beautiful reality because it is based on mutuality, it is based on freedom, it is based on love.

A Covenant is based on choice.

In our New Member class we talked about certain beliefs that Protestants have. Perhaps none is greater than the belief that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.

What this means is that if you want to know who God is, if you want to see God’s love and compassion in action, we don’t have to look any further than the life Jesus lived.

And if we look at the life of Jesus, we will see how much of his ministry and interactions with the people dealt with choice.

For example, when Jesus met the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethsaida, he didn’t offer the man what he wasn’t ready for, instead Jesus asked “Do you want to be made clean?”

When Jesus accepted the hospitality of Martha, he did not take away Mary’s choice to sit by his feet and to learn while her sister served with anxious abandon.

We see this when Jesus meets the woman at the well, and he gives her the chance to accept the gift of Living Water.

And we see how Jesus is given his own choice to make when he is in the garden and he is faced with a no-win situation- to accept the cup God had given him or to deny who he was meant to be.

Choices. We make about 70 a day; 25,000 a year, about 2 million choices in a life-time.

Some are easy. Coke or Pepsi?

Some are hard. Stay or go?

Some choices are painful; while others are outright unfair.

But we almost always have a choice we can make.

Today’s reading is a reminder that when it comes to God, things are no different.

God does not force Godself upon us. God does not demand we unknowingly give it all to Him.

God does not force us against our will or black mail us into submission.

God calls to us. God speaks. God invites.

God watches over us. God remembers.

God blesses, God parts the seas and God says “Look what I have done for you.”

God calls to each and every one of us; God is patient.

God says “Choose me today,” and even if we say “No!” or we mess up, God is right there the next day saying “Choose me today, because I have already chosen you.”

God is waiting; God is ready.

What will your choice be?

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Mutual Love; Sermon on Exodus 19 & 20

Rev. George Miller
Oct 7, 2018
Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17

3 months. What do 3 months mean to you?

If you’re a student in Minnesota, 3 months is the length of a college quarter. If you’re pregnant, 3 months is the length of your first trimester. If you’re a party planner you’re one week behind in welcoming 2019.

3 months. That’s how long ago the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. 3 months is how long ago they were slaves in Egypt, serving the Pharaoh.

3 months have passed.

You would’ve thought things had become easier for the people after being set free, but nu-huh.

Just 3 days after crossing the Red Sea they had run out of drinkable water. A month later they ran out of food. 2 months later they began turning on one another with disputes and accusations.

God addressed the physical issues by giving them bread from heaven, quail at night, and sweet water from a rock.

Moses’ father-in-law addressed the personnel issue by creating a team of trusted leaders to deal with the petty arguments.

By the time we get to today’s reading the people have been wandering through countless wildernesses before arriving at Mt. Sinai in which they rest.

Take a moment to place yourself in their worn out shoes.

3 months of seemingly endless wandering with no clear sense of direction.

3 full moons come and go. The weather goes from Spring to Summer.

Imagine the stink.
The sweat stains.
The sunburned skin.
The flea and mosquito bites.

Imagine the dehydration; the thirst and hunger that never fully goes away.

If you’re a man think of the beard you would have grown with all the dust and dirt that would accumulate in it.

If you’re a woman who enjoys the cosmetic way of life, think of 3 months without being able to color or style your hair, apply make-up, paint your nails or find something nice at Beals.

Perhaps in the beginning you would try to do your best to look presentable, but after awhile most folk would give up as the beard grew in, the hairs turned grey and the nails cracked and chipped.

After 3 months of wandering the wilderness you’d start thinking about what you lost, what you left behind, what you miss, and who is no longer with you.

You’d miss your home. Miss your morning routine. Your favorite tree or place in the yard.

3 months of seemingly senseless wandering with nothing but bread, quail, and water would be difficult for anybody.

3 months after crossing the Red Sea and no wonder they look back and think that their time as slaves wasn’t so bad.

At least they had 3 hots and a cot. They had someone tell them what to do. They knew what to expect each day.

But now each day is different; each day they wake up and go to sleep in a brand new location.

And it’s not glamorous traveling. They are not doing this mobile-home style. They are not staying at a park where they can plug in their RV.

They do not have cell phone service. Or a laundry mat. There is no Popeye’s to pop off to, or Sonic’s to drive up to.

There is no 24-hour Walmarts or Publix 2-for-1 specials.

3 months of traveling by foot, cart or beast of burden, imagine the injuries they would have endured.

The uncertainties.

The infighting that stress causes full of he said/she said, finger pointing, emotional allegations, and inappropriate childish outbursts.

3 months. That is how much time has gone by since the people were set free and crossed the Red Sea.

3 months is also how much time went by before God decided to bestow upon them the 10 Commandments.

3 months is the time that God apparently felt was needed before moving to the next step of God’s relationship with the people, and what a stage it would be.

This relationship had first begun with Eve and Adam in the garden, continued with Noah in the ark, traveled with Sarah and Abraham, and even found its way into the jail cell of Joseph.

Now this Holy Love Affair was about to go to the next level, but in order for this relationship to go to that next place, a few things needed to happen.

First, there is the mutual meeting spot, Mt. Sinai.

God descends from the heavens onto the mountaintop, an experience of cosmic proportions in which thunder and lightning fill the skies; smoke surrounds the place, and trumpets blast.

Moses, on behalf of the people, journeys atop the quaking mountain, where he and God meet in the middle of heaven and earth.

God is ready to invite the people into a mutual relationship, not because God must, but because God may.

God comes from a place of true love. God does not coerce the people. God does not force their hands. God makes it very clear that in this relationship they have choices and can say “No” any step of the way.

But God also does not come to play. God comes to the relationship with certain expectations. After all, God has standards and certain expectations.

God has a Valentine for the people that Moses is to deliver. The message is this: “You know what I have done for you. You see how I care for you like a mother bird. If you want, you can be mine forever and I will treat you like the greatest treasure on earth.”

Though the people are tired, scared, hungry, unsure, they say “Yes, everything you say we will do.”

This makes God so happy. So God shares 10 simple things that God asks in order for the relationship to work.

1st- Be faithful.

2nd – Don’t seek out a younger, sleeker, better looking model when you get bored or grow older.

3rd- Don’t curse God out.

4th - Give God one day a week to chill out together where they can just sit on the couch or look at the sky together.

5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th: Do justice and love kindness by honoring your elders, and do not kill, cheat, steal, or lie.

And 10- be happy with what you got and don’t waste your energy or hurt your heart by trying to keep up with the Johnsons, the Ramirezes and the Goldbergs.

That’s it- put God first, be decent to others and be decent to yourself.

What we have here is a testimony to the truly relational nature of God, of how much God loves us, and how much God just wants to hang out with us.

We saw this when God was with Joseph in Potiphar’s house and in the jail and how God blessed Joseph so everyone else around him could be blessed.

We saw this with Noah, how in the midst of a flood God looked down and remembered Noah and his family.

Today’s story is another testimony to God’s relationship with us based on love, mutual love, like the kind Abraham had for Sarah.

Love that makes itself known through God’s actions and God’s gifts.

Mutual love that makes itself known as God is willing to meet the people half way and atop the mountain.

Mutual love that comes with an articulate expression of wants and requirements.

Mutual love in which both sides of the relationship could have said “No.”

This love that God expresses for the people is so pure, so uncomplicated, that at the end of chapter 20, God says-

“I only need a simple altar for your offerings and gifts, and if you choose to make me one of stone, the rocks don’t have to be fancy, or chiseled, or from Tiffany’s. I’m not that kind of God.”

“You can give me stones from the side of the mountain and weeds from the wilderness, and I’ll be happy.”

In conclusion, what we have here today is another step in our relationship with God, a love affair in which we are asked to be unafraid, to try our best to do what is right, and to leave the world a better place.

This is a story of faith, and ours is a faith based on love.

A love affair with God that is not forced, or coerced, not a drunken stupor at a frat party or a wedding held at shot gun.

But a love that is mutual. A love that is real. A love that comes with expectations and opportunities.

A love that is designed to be unbreakable and able to withstand the floods, the wildernesses, the jail cells, the seas of life.

Are you willing to accept God’s invitation; are you willing to accept God’s valentine and to say “Yes.”

If so, you will make God very, very happy.

Amen and amen.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sermon on Exodus 14; Stepping Forward with the Power to Make Things Happen

Rev. George Miller
Sept 30, 2018
Exodus 14

A few days ago the most unexpected phone-call came in. It was from a girl I used to take care of over 2 decades ago in Minneapolis, except she is no longer a child, but a middle aged woman.

She shared her memories of our group walks along the creek, the trips to Minnehaha Falls, and the old Hollywood films we’d watch.

This young woman had been through so much while growing up: in and out of the foster care system, dating the wrong kinds of men and being in the worst situations.

In many ways, she should not be alive. Still, through it all, she somehow managed to survive and make it through to the other side, in which she is happily married to a great guy, living a comfortable life in the suburbs.

She called to share good news- she is planning to have a baby, and if it’s a girl, she will be called Cadence Kitt.

Cadence after the military word to march and to step forward with intent, usually in beat and in time.

And Kitt- named after Eartha Kitt, one of the brightest, glamorous stars in the universe, who Orson Welles called “the most exciting woman in the world.”

She had learned about Eartha from the old films we used to watch and found a kindred soul in this powerhouse of a woman who also overcame hardships.

“My daughter is going to be strong, and smart and confident,” she said.

Cadence Kitt: what a name, a true testimony to the audacity of hope, and the ability to leave the past behind while marching forward with the power to make things happen.

What a fitting phone call to receive considering the contents of today’s scripture; a fabulous tale of faith.

If the story of Joseph gives us hope, Abraham and Sarah teaches about our grandparents, and Noah assures us that God remembers, then this story tells us how God’s people came to be, moving from a life of woe into a life of wonder.

And as usual, none of it makes any sense.

Moses being called by God to be his chosen leader makes no sense.

He was born to slaves, cast into the Nile, and adopted as child. As a young person he killed a man and ran away in fear, spending decades as a shepherd before finding himself having a conversation with a burning bush.

Yet God called him and not a soldier or a scholar or a politician to set the people free.

It makes no sense that poor, beat down slaves with rickety wagons and babies on their hips would stand a chance against an educated, elite army with streamlined chariots and weapons of war.

It certainly makes no sense that a wall of water could form on the right and on the left or that a cloud of light or pillar of fire would follow them. Yet we’re told that’s what happens.

This lack of sense, this leaving of logic is made even more apparent in the cries of the people.

With certain death coming their way, they look back, pining for what once was.

They fool themselves into thinking the past was not so bad, thinking it’s better to go back to the way things were than to take a chance and march into what can be.

This lack of sense is apparent in their quick ability to blame Moses, who was only doing what God had called him to do.

They absolutely dread the idea that they may die in the middle of nowhere.

Moses tries his best to soothe them. “Stand firm.” “See what God’s gonna do.” “Stay still.”

But God? God has another plan.

“Na-ah Moses,” God says, “NOW is not the time to be complacent. NOW is not the time to be like stones.”

“NOW is the time to go ahead! NOW is the time to move forward with the power to make things happen!!”

“NOW is the time to pick up the cadence!!!”

And somehow, someway that’s just what the people did.

The winds blew.
The waves parted.
Walls of water manifested on the
right and on the left.
Wet earth became dry ground.

Wouldn’t you know it- the people: scared, unsure, angry…

And stepped forward.
And moved as a unified body.

1,2,3 step.
1,2,3 step.

Left, left, left, right, left.

They, with their
wounded past, rickety wagons
callused hands, sore feet
crying babies, aging elderly
sunburned skin, bruised backs

moved through the Waters of Freedom to the other side…

…Faith does not always come in the form of logic. Faith does not always come from privileged places and easy situations.

Faith does not always manifest in the right people, perfect politicians or well-oiled communities.

Faith is often the most scandalous, confusing, and awe inspiring thing there is.

Faith is building an ark so you can float upon rough waters.

Faith is the willingness to get up and go, as well as the willingness to stop at the oak of Moreh.

Faith is sometimes found in a jail cell and an unfair situation.

Faith is having your back against the water and stepping into the turbulent sea.

Faith is the very thing that brings us from the “then” into the “now.”

Faith brings us from victim-hood into victory.

Faith delivers us from death into new life.

Faith is the ability to stand still AND the ability to step forward, leaving behind that which we no longer need and embracing who we are to become.

Faith is often unexpected and comes as a cadence that purrs along with the cosmos.

Faith is always ready for another river to cross.

Amen and amen.