Monday, March 26, 2018

Palm Sunday Message; Mark 11:1-11

Rev. George Miller
March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11

(This character sermon was 1st given in 2015, yet feels timely. This is the rebooted version with some changes made.)

The weather’s been grey for the past few days, unsure of what it wants to do. Dark and cloudy, with hints of rain.

Seems about right.

It’s like the world is ready for some thing; as if the old is dying to make room for the new.

Whatever it is, it’s got to be better that what we have now.

Things have been dreary; blah.

Tired of work. Tired of earning just enough for my daily bread. Tired of paying all these dang taxes.

Tired of being tired.

We could us a holiday. A celebration.

Thankfully, Passover is here.

That’s the time we gather with family and friends to remember how God heard our cries; how God sent us Moses and Miriam so we could be free.

Free from Egypt; free to cross the Red Sea; free to be something more.

Passover is a time of celebration. Folk we ain’t seen in a while coming back to town to worship at the Temple.

We sing songs, tell stories, eat good food.

Despite the grey and the current circumstances, we celebrate.

Of course, the news that thousands of us are descending upon the city doesn’t sit well with the Romans; they get a little scared; a little jumpy.

They’ve done their best to beat us down, to take away our voting rights, to unfairly tax us and to find new ways to steal our land.

But I tell you what- Rome may tax our land and tax our home, but Rome cannot own our heart, or own our soul.

We belong to God.

So every Passover, as kinfolk gather, we all wonder if this’ll be the year we’ll finally revolt and say “no more!”

And today, while Pilate entered the city from the west on his pompous steed, another kind of King entered from the east: a man we call Jesus.

Except instead of being a rich governor, Jesus is a poor peasant.

Instead of living in a castle, he sleeps wherever his head can find rest.

Instead of only caring about his cronies, he cares about everyone.

We’ve been hearing about Jesus for a while now; how he’s like no one else.

-He stands up to the religious and political hypocrites. He eats with regular folk, like you and I. He brings healing to all, no matter if they are a servant, a soldier, or a son.

Some say he embodies the wisdom of God. Some say he’s a reflection of God’s Love.

Others say he is the Messiah- the one we’ve all been waiting for to set us free from Rome’s choke-hold.

So when news go out that Jesus and his gang of merry men were coming into town for the Passover, we knew things were gonna get good.

Word was that Jesus was entering from the east, from the Mount of Olives, the place the prophets had written about.

So we gathered to greet him; we gathered to cheer him on. Not the hoity-toitys out to kiss Rome’s butt.

But the regular folk.

Those who worked the land. Those who weren’t afraid to get dirt under their nails.

Those struggling for their daily bread, those struggling with debt, those who were paying high taxes, and those who had mortgaged off their family land.

We gathered to celebrate this man who was going to change our lives forever.

It was a celebration, and ya’ll know what it’s like when people get together for a good time: things just happen, a spark of energy hits the air.

Someone began to sing “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

Another voice joined in signing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Someone else sang out “Hosanna! Hosanna! David’s kingdom is near!”

“Hosanna! Hosanna!” they sang out, and it sounded just about right.

“Hosanna” is just a fancy way of saying “Help!”

“Hosanna” is just a way to say “Lord save us!”

That’s what we were singing “Lord-help us! Lord, save us! Hosanna!”

For those living with hunger-“Hosanna!”

For those in unfair debt- “Hosanna!”

For those blind, deaf, lame, and bent over with shame- “Hosanna!”

For those lost in the wilderness, locked up in jail, sick, or sailors whose ships had sunk- “Hosanna!”

“Hosanna! Hosanna” we sang.

Then the celebration really kicked in.

Some took off their coats to place before the animal Jesus was riding.

But I am too poor to even have a coat.
What was I to give?

I’m not a magi able to offer gifts of frankincense and myrrh. I’m not a drummer boy able to supply a song.

I’m not a beautiful woman with long hair that can be used to wash his feet.

I looked to sky for help, and that’s when I saw the palms growing on the tree. How abundant they were.

I thought of how the palms were like me- hearty and able to endure.

They can grow in the extreme heat. They can handle intense rain; they can handle the long, dry spells.

And through it all, they are green, and they are alive!

Green- the color of life.

So I ran onto into the road, in front of Jesus, in front of his colt, and I placed the palm branch down, humbly stating “Hosanna” or “Help.”

Who could have guessed what happened next-

Others just like me- destitute, lost, lonely, afraid- followed suit; they climbed up the trees, they ran into the nearby fields.

They took whatever they could find- grass, straw, leaves, branches, the riches of the land, and we laid all that we had before the Lord.

We sang and we celebrated and for that brief moment we were One¬, with a feeling that anything is possible and the grey skies are gone forever.

…of course no grey sky is ever gone completely.

As Passover week continues, an odd air of uncertainty has appeared.

You know how sometimes you can just tell something’s not right, even if you’re not entirely sure why?

That’s how things have been since Sunday.

After Jesus entered into Jerusalem, there’s been buzzing on the street, and not the good kind.

Some say that Rome is upset with his teachings. Some say our religious leaders ain’t too happy with him.

Some claim that Jesus is unruly; he’s riling the masses and stirring things up.

There’s even whispers that Rome is constructing a cross for Jesus, a sure sign that he’s got them feeling scared.

Jesus isn’t helping matters.

One moment he’s teaching about love, the next he’s shaming the scribes.

One moment he’s pointing out how much people are putting into the offering plate, the next moment he’s telling us the Temple will be destroyed.

That ain’t good.

The other night, a woman came and anointed Jesus just as one would a dead body.

It feels as if the songs of celebration have been silenced.

It’s as if the hosannas have made way to hopelessness.

Ominous clouds are forming; seems a storm is a brewing. Something bad is sure to happen.

What does this all mean? What does the rest of the week hold? How will the events unfold? What’s next?

I don’t know; we don’t know.

Only God knows; only God knows…

Monday, March 19, 2018

Is God the Least Successful Entity Of All Time? March 18, 2018 Sermon on Jeremiah 31:31-34

Rev. George Miller
March 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31-34

How do we define success?

Is it arriving at a place you set out for? Is it following through with something you said? Is it having a long career?

How do we measure the worth of a journey, a goal, a calling?

And if the journey, goal, or vision is not achieved as we might have assumed or anticipated is it folly, worthless, or bitter defeat?

I ask this because as Americans living in a technological age, with Common Core Classes, job performance reviews, and a whole industry based on polls and opinions,

we seem to be so, so focused on end products, bottom lines, and seeable results…

…and yet, we are said to be a largely Christian country, in which our beliefs are based on a book full of failure.

Moses- never did get into the Promised Land.

Paul- never did get to visit that church in Rome as planned.

Jesus- barely got to see more than Jerusalem before he was crucified.

Would you call men who were hung on a cross, incarcerated by the state, or died in the wilderness as success stories?

Yet we base our entire faith on these 3 individuals.

We believe in Moses, a man who set out to bring people to the Promised Land, who fooled a Pharaoh, met with the Mighty upon a mountain, who never, ever got to step a single, solitary foot into the Land of Milk and Honey.

We believe in Paul, a world traveler, who wrote to a congregation that soon he’ll be traveling to Spain and he’ll see them right after he takes a collection for the poor.

Instead, he is arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Rome as a prisoner, and is executed.

Who was it that once said “I like people who weren’t captured.”?

We believe in Jesus, a man whose entire ministry was no more than 1-3 years.

He had no church, no home, no wife, no kids, no real career, who purposely journeys to the place he know he will be captured and killed, hung between two common thieves.

Who does that?

How is that success?

Imagine what the trolls on FaceBook would say if Moses, Paul, or Jesus were alive today!

Since we’re talking about failed missions- what about God?

God is perhaps the least successful entity of all time.

Why do I say that?

Look at God’s track record-

Creates a garden that is so, so good, yet brother kills brother, while Adam and Eve eat from the one tree they were told not to.

Makes a promise to Abraham and Sarah that they will have land, have descendents more numerous than the stars, and a family that will bless the world.

Yet it takes decades before they even have one child, and both die centuries before any of the promises come true.

Then there is the whole fiasco about God looking down upon a raggedy bunch of no-counts, hearing their cries, delivering them from slavery, giving them clear instructions on stone, leading them to a land that already had homes and farms built and ready to go…

…and then watching as they turn their back on everything, act as if they have amnesia, and cheat on God with false gods full of flash and fake promises.

God gives them chance after chance after chance to get it right, and they keep cheating, and cheating, and cheating.

Does that sound like a healthy, successful track record or relationship to you?

Then there’s today’s reading, Jeremiah 31. Oh, it sounds lovely; sounds beautiful. But it’s based on yet again another failed attempt of faithfulness.

The people of Judah were supposed to live a life focused on God, a life in which they were to do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with the Lord.

But they continued to miss the mark, they continue to rebel, they continued to do things that twisted and contorted their spirits, and caused them to be bowed down with sin and shame.

This makes them vulnerable to outside forces, and they fall victims to their enemies who come and destroy all that God has worked so hard for.

Though this is another failure, akin to Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden, God chooses not to give up on the people.

He comes up with a new plan, a new attempt to win them over.

God says “Don’t worry. I’m about to do something new. Instead of stone or papyrus that you got to lug around, I am going to make a new covenant with you.”

“This covenant, this promise, will be written with your heart, inside of you, so that as long as you live you will never be without it.”

“Like permanent eye-liner, or a pacemaker, you don’t have to worry because this new covenant will act like a spiritual GPS that will always lead you home and will always lead you right back to me.”

“And you and I, me and thee- well we will be happy, happy, happy for the rest of eternity.”

….How do you think that went for God?

Think it worked?

Think that 2,500 years ago, when this was most likely written, the people unequivocally did get right with God in which they did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with the Lord?

Think they stayed faithful to God and didn’t wonder back to false idols and worship foolish deities?

Think they honored the elderly, cared for the children?

Think they welcomed foreigners with open arms, provided food and medicine to the hungry and sick?

Think they paid a living wage, charged fair prices, and kept the covenant in their heart???

…Heck no!!!

They went right back to the same ol’, same ol’, eventually leading God to send God’s Son, to do what?

Walk in our midst. Share in our joy. Point us towards heaven. Turn little into much.

How did that turn out???...

…Yes, Moses never did make it into the Promised Land. Paul never made it to that church on his way to Spain.

Jesus ended his mortal ministry nailed to a cross.

All while God’s people kept doing what they do.

So- is God the biggest fool?

The ultimate enabler?

Least likely to run a successful cooperation?

Thought about these things on Tuesday, after our Bible Study.

What is this written on the heart thing and is a worth a darn?

Then Wednesday came along; the day we stood in solidarity with our students.

Would it make any kind of difference? Standing outside for 17 minutes? Silent? White shirt? Chime?

Most of my adult life I’ve wondered if things like vigils, marches, and letters to the editor, do a nab dab thing.

Come to discover it does.

Please allow me a few more minutes to explain. I can’t speak for the others who were there. But for me this is how Wednesday went-

We gather in a circle. Say a few words. Offer a prayer. Walk to the corner of Hammock and Hope. Close our eyes.

1st minute- I got this.

2nd minute- am I keeping correct time?

3rd minute- ooh, the sun feels good, and someone just honked their horn.

4th minute- wind.

Following minutes-
sound of cars passing, so many cars
a bird chirping
Am I ringing too loud, too soft?

My heart…

…is this writing on my heart?

Stand tall.
Shoulders back.

It doesn’t matter how many people are here- There are cars seeing us
There are people in those cars
What are the people thinking?

Will their seeing us standing in silence affect how they will interact with the next people they meet?

Writing on my heart…is this God writing on my heart?


Open my eyes to get a peek-
We’re all together
Real strong

Glow on faces
Sense of zen for the rest of the day

During this time, it felt like God was writing on my heart. And at least for that one day, I felt like I was more present, more at peace, more nice.

Perhaps this scripture is not meant to be taken concretely as a one-time deal.

Perhaps Jeremiah 31 is about how God writes on our heart again and again, non-stop, every day.

Again and again and again, God is writing on our heart.

And why not- God’s got all day.

God’s got all night.

God’s got all time.

God’s in no rush.

God’s got no quota to fill. God’s got no set place to be.

God’s got no employer; God’s got no board of directors to answer to.

What God DOES have is GRACE.
And amazing…

What may appear to be folly, God sees as wisdom.

What we see as worthless, God sees as more precious than diamonds and pearls.

What we see as bitter defeat, God claims as sweet, sweet victory.

So as we continue the Lenten Season, as we look at events like Marjory Stoneman, as we look at events that are unfolding here or at nations abroad,

As we look at events in our own lives, our own family, our own local community,

May we realize it is not always about the getting there. It is not always about the follow through. It is not always about the accomplishments we can check off our list.

It’s that YOU began. It’s that YOU were HERE at all!

It’s the blessed assurance that God is not located in a book, or locked in a box, or controlled by a bishop-

But that God is right here; right here in YOUR heart.

And her heart, and his heart, and in my heart.

And no thing, no event can ever, ever make that fact untrue, or foolish, or unwise.

And for that, we can say “Amen” and “amen.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When Crying "Help" Is the Most We Can Do; Psalm 107:1-9, sermon for March 11, 2018

Rev. George Miller
March 11, 2018
Psalm 107:1-9

Today’s Psalm was designed to be sung in the Temple, and it plays out like its’ own little action movie.

Read all of Psalm 107 and you’ll see that is features folk who’ve been lost in a wilderness, people who’ve been in prison, souls who’ve been sick, and even sailors that were in shipwrecks.

One reads it and can’t help but to think “Wow, this congregation was a real exciting bunch!”

Makes me wonder what kind of scenarios Psalm 107 would address if it was written today:

“Some wandered south on 27,
There were those who passed
swiftly by on the right;
those who drove ever so-slowly
on the left.
Then I cried out to the Lord,
and God brought me to the CVS.”


“Some wheezed and coughed
Near the citrus groves;
their insides full of phlegm,
their head stuffed and sorrowful.
Then they cried out to the Lord,
and Claritin gave them a
24 hour reprieve.”


“Some hid in horror in the school halls,
the sounds of gunfire filling their ears.
Afterwards, they cried out to the lawmakers, adults, and teachers,
but their voices felt unheard
or denied…”

Life is hard. There is no denying that.

Whether one is battling the weather, facing many tasks, or dealing with current relations, there has never been an easy time to be alive.

Sure, we can point to the 60’s, but let’s not forget:

images of Vietnam that played out on TV, teenagers protesting segregation who were met with water hoses and biting dogs, or bomb drills in school, in which students had to pretend that a desk could do anything at all.

We can look at the 40’s as a much simpler time, but let’s not forget:

all the young men we sent off to war to battle a tyrant who was placing Jewish people in ovens, or those of Japanese descent who were put into internment camps, or the requirement to reuse and recycle things like aluminum foil, tin cans and rubber.

Was there ever a simpler time?

Truth is that many of our ancestors had it so bad oversees that they came to America hoping to have a better life.

Those that survived worked dangerous, low paying jobs, or spent hours out in the fields.

So, we have never really had “good old days.”

There has never really been a perfect time, a Camelot, or a Wakanda, in which everything was good for everybody all the time.

What most of us have had are hopes, dreams…and God.

Going back to Psalm 107, it’s a communal song, but more than that- it is a communal calling out to the Lord.

It’s about having nothing left but the hope of hopelessness that causes one to cry to God “Help!”

And to trust that God hears, God sees, God acts.

To trust that God delivers, God frees, God heals, and God saves.

Read all of Psalm 107, and you’ll discover something interesting-

We are not told why God delivers, frees, heals, or saves these individuals.

We are not told that any of the people in this song were of the right faith, we are not told if any of them lived the right lives, we are not told that they were free from sin.

We are not told that they made the mark, followed all the orders, or stood upright, straight and tall.


We are told one thing and one thing only about these people facing their own disaster-

Each and every one of them lifted up their voices and cried out to the Lord in distress.

In fact the phrase “Then they cried to the Lord” is repeated 4 separate times is this Psalm-

Some wandered in desert wastes, hungry and thirsty, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) delivered them from their distress.

Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) saved them from their distress.

Some were sick, loathing any kind of food, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) saved them from their distress.

Some went down to the sea in ships, they mounted up to the heavens, they were down to the depths, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and (God) bought them out from their distress.

Each and every time they face a certain peril, they face a certain death, and God brings salvation, God gives them life…

…It has been said that there are only 2 kinds of prayers:

Help, help, help.

And thanks, thanks, thanks.

Here in Psalm 107 we hear the most elemental form of prayer there is-

A crying out for help.

A singing forth of thanks.

There is nothing here that says in order for God to act or save one must have the proper doctrine, or the right version of the Bible, or membership to the right denomination, or the right amount filled in on their Pledge Cards.

The only thing here is “help.”

How simple. How revolutionary.

And yet, we see this in the ministry of Jesus.

The many who came to the home of Simon’s Mother-In-Law who were sick and demon possessed.

There is no word that anyone was made to make a pledge of faith or to prove their authenticity.

Jesus saw, he heard, he acted on their behalf.

The leper who comes to Jesus begging him with all humility “If you chose, you could make me clean.”

To which the Son of God says “I do chose.”

Or the day a foreign woman of a completely different faith begged to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, and Jesus was moved to bring about wholeness and healing into the life of the child…

…As a pastor I am amazed at how many people come to me to say “Pastor, can you pray for me.”

Or “Pastor, I need your prayers.” Or “I know God will listen to you.”

When the truth is that God listens to all.

There are no magic words. There is no required degree.

There is no right or wrong physical stance. There is no right or wrong political party.

All that is needed during those times of distress is a heart, a body, a spirit that is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

All that’s needed is the audacity, the humility, and the courage to cry out to God.

To cry “Help!”

To cry “Save!”

To cry “I’m in pain.”

Because God hears.
God sees.
God acts.

God delivers.
God frees.
God heals.

God saves.

God turns dry spots into an oasis of hope.

God takes the hungry and finds a way to make their bellies full.

God takes the distressed and makes them glad…

…Life has always been hard.

Times have always been full of waste lands, prisons, sickness and shipwrecks.

But God is always steadfast and sure.

God is always seeing and sweet.

Hearing us when we have the courage to say “Help!”

Delighting when we say “Thanks…”

For that, we can say amen and amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Relation-pus: Psalm 19 via Blue World 2; March 4, 2018 sermon

Rev. George Miller
March 4, 2018
Psalm 19

A few days ago I saw a TV show that captured my attention, called “Blue Planet II” on BBC America.

This particular episode showed how kelp, algae, and plankton play a part in the life of the ocean, and therefore the world.

There was one scene that featured a purple octopus that creeps out from under a rock to catch a passing crab.

No big deal, nothing we have not seen before on a nature documentary until a pajama shark comes along and grabs the octopus.

It seems for certain the purple fellow is going to be dinner, until he uses his tentacles to go into the shark’s mouth and through its gills, preventing it from breathing.

The shark spits out the octopus who then does something never observed before- the vulnerable mollusk, stuck out in the open with no place to hide, uses its 8 arms to gather as many shells, stones and rocks around it to create its own camouflage fortress, tricking the shark until it can get away.

Though this scene was heart-racing to watch, perhaps more interesting was the “Making-of” feature that followed.

Turns out that filming that scene was six years in the making.

It began with a guy named Craig who went snorkeling off the coast of South Africa. For six years he was in that water and he got to know the various octopi that lived there.

He claimed that each octopus had its own personality and level of curiosity, and eventually he found this purple fellow who not only was comfortable around him, but seemed to enjoy performing for the camera.

So after weeks of having the film crew with Craig and the octopus, they were able to catch this moment of crab catching, shark suffocating and shell shenanigans.

All made possible because of the relationship that had been created between this man and this mollusk.

A relationship that allowed the world to be a seen in a newer, deeper way.

Though today’s scripture does not feature an octopus, a crab, or a shark, it is a song that sings about relationship; it is a song that sings about creation.

Psalm 19 starts in the heavens, looking upon all there is like the lens of a documentary camera.

It notes how it appears that the natural world praises God. That even though our ears cannot hear it, the skies, the ground, the day, the night are all saying “Hallelujah” to the Lord.

That this is a relationship beyond space and time in which even something as enormous as the sun seems to emerge with the knowledge of God’s love and glory.

The psalm then takes this cosmic sense of relationship with God and brings it a little bit closer.

It talks about the laws God has given. It talks about the precepts and decrees, the commandments and rules.

But if you note, there is no sense of these laws being used as tentacles to suffocate our souls; there is no sense of these precepts being used as a way to camouflage and keep God away.

Instead, what we get is this relational sense that God is using this wisdom to make life as rich and full as possible.

Words that bring to mind the benefits of the sun shine forth in these passages- to revive the soul, to enlighten the eyes, and to rejoice the heart.

By using images of honeycomb and precious metal, the psalmist assures us that the kind of relationship our Creator wants with us is a relationship that is pure, a relationship that is sweet, and a relationship that empowers us to live golden.

Finally, after starting in the heavens and speaking about the Law, the singer makes it most personal, by bringing everything down to us: you and me.

The singer says to God, on our behalf:

Keep me safe, keep me blameless, clear me from my mistakes, clear me from my rebellious past, and clear me from my guilty, guilty ways.

This Psalm is a song for the soul, because it speaks about the relational way in which God interacts with creation, the way in which God interacts with the world, and the ways in which God interacts with the individual.

I think that sometimes we forget about this truly relational nature that God has with everything and with everybody.

I think that sometimes it is easy for us to become fragmented in our own faith.

There at times in which we only think God is “out there”. We feel we can only experience God in a sunrise or a sunset, or God can only be heard in the song of a bird or seen in the leaves of a tree.

That we can mistake the created for the Creator.

There are other times in which folk only think God exists in here- the pages of the Bible, in which God boils down to what you must or must not do,

In which religion is all about rules and rituals, with only a right or wrong way and no chance of an in-between or the possibility that God is still speaking.

There are others who think God only exists in the act of forgiveness, that we are all wretched, wretched beings who need to be constantly forgiven, constantly reminded of their sin, and constantly washed in the blood of a Savior who died for us.

But this psalm, this psalm, finds its own unique way to say God is simpler than you can imagine AND God is more complicated than you know,

God is more mysterious than we can ever think AND YET God is more personal than the things we try to hide.

This is a song that celebrates the relationship we all have with our Creator, from the skies to the sun, from the land to the law, from the servant to our self.

We are each unique. We are each greater than ourselves. We are all a part of the whole.

God intimately knows who we are. God knows each of our own personalities and quirks.

God is always engaging with us, ready to do something new, and ready to see how we are going to act, how we are going to engage, and how we are each going to be golden in our own ways.

For that, we can say, amen.