Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon for April 29, 2018; Psalm 22:25-31

Rev. George Miller
April 29, 2018
Psalm 22:25-31

It’s been said that in the Eskimo language there are 100 words for snow. English has about 32 words for rain.

And in Hebrew, there are 7 words for “praise.”

There is zamar (zaw-mar) which means to sing with instruments and to touch the strings.

There’s yadah (yaw-daw) which means to raise an extended hand, it is a form of surrender and affection, as when a child says “pick me up, Papa.”

There’s tehillah (teh-hil-law) which means to sing out, to be spontaneous, to share the melody that’s in your heart, unrehearsed.

There is barak (baw-rak) which means to kneel or bow, to be reverent before the Lord.

Shabach (shaw-bakh)- to address with shouts and loud adoration, giving testimony in praise while being unashamed.

Then there is towdah (to-daw) which means to extend the hand in agreement, saying “That’s right,” “Hmm-mmm,” and “All that I am is yours.”

Finally there is halal which means to shine, to celebrate, to act a fool.

Now, why would anybody want to act like a fool?

Anyone who has sunk to the pits of despair and emerged with new breath.

Why would anybody act a fool?

Anyone who has been encircled by the bulls of Bashan and found their way out.

Why would anybody act a fool?

Anyone who has ever uttered the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me???”

Why would anybody act a fool?

Anyone who can testify what God has done, not caring what anyone else has to say.

Today we take a look at Psalm 22, a scripture that everybody should know.


Because Psalm 22 addresses perhaps the most universal experience- the suffering of man and the abandonment of God.

It does not sugarcoat. It doesn’t pretend. It puts it out there for anyone who has ever said “God- where are you?”

Psalm 22 is a song for the lonely.

It is a song for anyone who feels dejected and down in the dirt.

It is for those who know what it’s like to have people mock you or use unflattering names.

Psalm 22 is for anyone who feels that trouble is near, their body is breaking down and their heart is melting away.

Psalm 22 is for anyone who has ever been abused, traumatized, neglected, hurt and left to wonder “Why me?

Psalm 22 is for anyone who knows what it is like to have a sleepless night, an endless day, and to spend hours in humiliation.

Psalm 22 is for anyone who has ever wondered “Where is God?”

“Is God asleep?”

“Is God deaf?”

“Is God punishing me?”

“Has God utterly and completely forgotten all about me?”

Anyone who says they never felt this way is a liar.

Anyone who never felt these things has been living in a dream.

There is a reason why Jesus spoke these words from the cross; there is a reason why we read them every Maundy Thursday.

They are the words of anybody who has ever lived.

But thankfully…they are not the last words.

Fortunately these words of despair do not have the final say, because while sorrow may last from verses 1-20, joy comes in verse 21.

The psalmist, in their lowest moment, cries out “Save me from the mouth of the lion!”

…and then, in the very next line says “From the horn of the wild oxen you have rescued me…”

Salvation comes to the person at hand.

We don’t know how, we don’t know when but the person experienced the presence of God, and after the trauma of his experience loosens its grip, he moves into all kinds of praise.

“I will tell your name; in the midst of everyone I will praise you.”

The praiser praises God by saying “My vow I will pay before everybody.”

With jubilant testimony, he states “God heard me when I cried.”

The psalmist is ecstatic. The psalmist offers praises with song, praises with promises, praises with vows.

You can just picture the person raising their hand, laughing out loud, shouting their song, and shining forth in such a way that no basket could have hidden his light.

There is something more to this psalm.

In the words of Kim, the head of our Word and Sacrament committee, the psalmist could clearly see the “Big Picture.”

They had experienced all the bad, they had experienced all the good, and now they know what their response will be:

To establish radical inclusiveness in which no one is left out of worshipping God.

The poor shall be fed.
Seekers shall find.
Families will praise God together.

What is even more amazing is how this person’s praise transcends all of time and every single life-

Those who are already dead will bow down.

Those who are yet to be born will learn the old, old story.

Though everyone past, present and future will eventually return to dust, as long as there is breath, we will all praise God’s holy and sacred name!

Last week we talked about what happens when water boils.

Are we like carrots, which turn to mush? Are we like eggs that harden their shell?

Or are we like coffee beans that flavor their environment?

Today we clearly witness coffee beans in the making.

Though life can be hard, though we may feel God is far away as far can be, we are reassured once again that-

No matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the situation may be,

God is present.
God is HERE.
God sees.
God acts.

God is worthy of our praise and admiration.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon for April 22, 2108; Acts 4:1-13

Rev. George N. Miller
Acts 4:1-13
April 22, 2018

A woman went to her mother to talk about her life and how things had become so hard for her.

She didn’t know how she was going to make it. She wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting, struggling, and it seemed as one problem arose right after another problem was solved.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high flame.

Soon the pots came to boil.

In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil. Twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners.

She fished the carrots out and placed
them on a plate. She pulled the eggs out and put them in a bowl. She ladled the coffee out and into a mug.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She noted that they were soft.

The mother asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the egg was hard boiled.

The mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter asked "What does it mean?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. But each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, in the boiling water, it softened and became mushy.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its interior, but after enduring the hot water, its insides were hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique. After being in the boiling water, they changed the water, infusing it with their own rich uniqueness.

"Which are you?" the mother asked her daughter. "When adversity boils around you, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"

Which are you?

Are you most like the carrot that seems strong, but with adversity wilts and loses strength?

Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a hardship you become hardened and tough?

Are you the coffee grounds, changing with the situation, able to transform the surroundings and yourself through the process?

When the hour is the hottest and trials are their greatest, can you elevate yourself to another level?

In today’s reading, the disciples find themselves in hot water.

The disciples are continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ. They’ve healed a lame man inside the Temple. But the people in power aren’t too happy about this, so they’re locked up.

The next day Peter and John are brought before the high court, and they’re asked “By what power do you have to do what you’ve done?”

Peter, cool as cool can be, says to the court “The good we have done was done through the power of Jesus Christ, the one you treated like a common crook. It is Christ alone who offers salvation.”

This surprises the council.

Here they are, a court made up of the wealthiest, most powerful people, and they have just been told off by a fisherman.

The court wants to punish the disciples, but they knew it would make matters worse, so they let them off with a warning.

But the disciples go right back to preaching, teaching and healing.

By the next chapter they are arrested again. Peter tells the court “We must obey the God of our ancestors, the one who raised Jesus from the grave.”

This time the court wants to kill them, but one man convinces them “If you pay them no mind, eventually they will fade away.”

So the disciples are given another warning, along with a brutal flogging.

But being as stubborn and sure of their faith as they are, the disciples go right back to teaching, preaching and healing.

Here we witness the awesome power of Christianity. After having Jesus crucified, after the disciples are arrested and flogged, everyone should have just called it a day, given up and gone home.

But our spiritual ancestors were not carrots or eggs, they were more like coffee, and because of this Christianity grew from 12 to 100 to 5,000 and beyond.

How could this possibly be?

So many other religions have come and gone, but Christianity grew and thrived, even while existing in social and political pots of boiling water.

Not only has our faith survived, but it has changed the culture around it.

This story is part of our collective heritage, and it is an example of what life is like.

If you read the Book of Acts, you’ll witness how the disciples are always meeting and overcoming obstacles.

In Acts we come across every day folk that begin as no different than us, who allow themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit in all situations.

Acts is an adventurous book with scenes of miraculous healing, heart pounding ship wrecks, and constant run-ins with the law.

In many ways the disciples become models for how we can face challenges.

Now, some of you may be wondering- when will we stand before a court due to our faith?

When are we ever going to be flogged because of our faith?

But we do stand before a court almost every day, don’t we?

It’s called the Court of Life.

The Court of Circumstances.

The Court of Cancer and Chronic Illnesses.

The Court of Accidents and Economics.

The Court of Prejudice and Sexism.

The Court of Aging and Mortality.

We symbolically stand before all kinds of courts all the time even if we don’t realize it.

There are those of us who are standing before the Court of Health. Our bodies are changing and going through things we never signed up for.

We age, our eyes dim, our hearing goes. We stand up and something squeaks, we sit down and something else pops.

We stand before the Court of Health which says “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.”

Or like the disciples we can find a way to say “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, and as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

There are other courts we stand before.

Some of us may be standing before the Court of Family Life.

This particular court tells us that our children are struggling or our parents are aging. It tells us that our siblings are dealing with sickness, memories are being erased, and feuds are continuing to pull apart and destroy.

We stand before the Court of Family which tells us that “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.” Or we can reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, as long as I have hope, I will never be alone.”

There is also the Court of Cultural Climate.

It tells us that no one will ever get along, that one side is wrong all the time, that the issues are too great, our differences are too divisive, and our nation is doomed to not survive.

This court tries to scare everyone and says “You’re in hot water and look what you got. God is not real, Jesus is a lie, and you are forsaken.”

We can choose to say “It appears that you are right.” Or we can find our own way to reply “I know my God is real, Jesus loves me so, as long as I have hope I will never be alone.”

We each live our lives in symbolic pots of water.

Sometimes everything is OK and we are not even aware that water is around us.

Sometimes the pots are lukewarm; sometimes they are boiling hot.

When this happens, and the initial shock of our situation subsides, what do we do?

If we’re not careful, we can be like the carrots and become soft and weak, leached all of valuable nutrients.

We can be like the egg and create such a tough interior that no one else can ever get through or make us feel good again.

Or, we can learn to faithfully ride the scalding current and work with the situation, like the coffee beans, finding a way to both transform the situation and to be transformed by it.

Through the Book of Acts and the example of the disciples we see one way to do it.

We see how we can welcome the Holy Spirit, trust it to move in our lives, and to fill us with that cool courage that Peter and the others had.

We also learn how to see our troubles through the scope of time.

To realize that we are all involved in the Christian story, and we already know the ultimate outcome: God prevails, evil loses, and the joy of Christ endures forever.

Life is difficult. Just as much as we win, there is also defeat.

But even situations that seem to be absolute defeat, God can turn into victory.

Even with despair, God can bring out hope.

Even when there seems to be astounding loss there can be ecstatic love.

Today we experience the disciples in boiling pots of water, but instead of becoming mush or hardening their hearts, they became coolly courageous.

No matter what court they stood before, they survived the situation and in doing so they changed the world around them.

When the waters around us begin to boil, may we muster up our courage, harness our strength, and allow God’s Spirit to take us to that higher level, in which we too can change and flavor the world around us.

For that we can say thanks be to God who gives us strength, to Christ who offers us salvation, and the Holy Spirit that fills us with courage.

Amen and amen.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Message 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Rev. George Miller
April 1, 2018
Mark 16:1-8

Though we live in a rapidly changing technological world of Snapchat, Firestick, and Amazon Prime, I’m still a little bit old-school.

I get Netflix through the mail, my DVD player also plays videotapes, and I prefer to read books made of paper that can be held, bent and written in.

So when my Emerson 6 CD Direct Access Changer System, circa 2004, decided to stop working, I was not happy.

For weeks there were some problems: the tray eject would stop half way through or a CD wouldn’t play.

No problem, it was easy to fix; nothing that a good whack on the side or tap on the top could not fix.

But then last week, at an inopportune time, it decided to die. It was the day the Adoption Specialist was coming over to update my Home Study so I could continue the adoption process.

On her last visit, she wrote that my home had a calm, warm atmosphere, due to the music I played.

Sooo, I had to make sure she got to experience my smooth grooves once again.

There was the most perfect line-up of CDs ready in the player, but when I hit play, nothing.

First the screen said no CD. Then when the changer button was pushed, it just whirred and clicked.

Wanting nothing more than to present a calm and warm environment to the Adoption Specialist I whacked the side of the stereo. I smacked the top! One hand, two hand; three times, four!

No luck.

I shut it off, unplugged it, said my prayers, doing all I could, until finally, a CD began to play, and not wanting to take any chances, I just hit “repeat”.

The next day a representative from Home Depot come over to give a quote on new windows. I decided to turn on the CD player.

But this time, not only wouldn’t it play, the changer wouldn’t move, whir or do anything.

I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to head to Habitat for Humanity to get a new stereo, or go online and fork over $200 for a brand new one.

Home Depot comes over, does what they do, giving a quote $11,000 to replace 13 windows!

Not today!!!

So when they left, with sticker shock rattling my spirit, and an uneasy silence in my home, I looked over at that Emerson 6 CD Direct Access Changer System, circa 2004, and thought:

“Oh, you may be playing dead, but I’m gonna figure out a way to make you work!”

And with a sense of fear and purpose born out of that sticker shock, I went to task taking that sucker apart.

Me: who just a few weeks ago had to ask someone at the hardware store what was the difference was between 2 light bulbs,

and just a few months ago learned that there are screws with drill bits built into them…

I was going to fix that CD player!!!

I took it apart, lifted the top of the stereo…

…and I was transfixed by what I saw.

First, I found the causes of the problem- one CD was laying on top of another, while one CD stood at a slant between the trays, preventing it from moving.

With one mystery solved and easily fixed, I sought out the answer to another mystery: how do multi-CD players actually work?

With the Mr. Emerson plugged in, 5 of the 6 CD trays loaded, and the top off, I began hitting all the buttons.

It may sound silly, but for me to see how the trays turned, how they ejected out, how the CDS were lifted up and spun fascinated me.

I was surprised that when the “stop” button was hit, the CD was not dropped back into place, but kept suspended, until the next instruction was given.

I learned that the CDs were played from the back of the machine, not from the front as I would have assumed.

I discovered that though the tray ejection was clunky and slow, it was nowhere near broken, and if well cared for, the system will last a long, long time.

I also discovered something else- the inside of the CD player reminded me very much like a tomb.

There was nothing super fancy about it. There was nothing colorful about it; nothing that seemed alive.

There were 6 slots to place 6 CDs, but I only had 5, and the slot that was empty seemed really, really bare.

And the CDs themselves; they’re basically nothing: flat, lifeless discs with somewhat shiny backs that have little smudges and scratches.

The stereo is basically a CD cemetery, until you hit play, the trays shift, a beam of light hits the disc, and then…sweet, sweet sounds emerge.

In some ways I felt like I experienced my own technological type of resurrection, but of course, Easter is in no ways at all like a CD player.

Easter is like nothing at all.

Easter is a day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and unlike a light bulb, or a screw, or a CD player, the Resurrection is not something anyone can truly figure out at all.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a narrative that is easy to take apart; it is not an electronic that’s easy to assemble.

The Resurrection is one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

Why can we say that?

Because none of the parts fit.

All 4 of the Gospels tell about the Resurrection completely different.

When you read Mathew, Mark, Luke and John it’s not clear just how many days Jesus was really dead. Or who went to the tomb. Or who was at the tomb.

Or, who this guy inside the tomb?

What does it mean to say Jesus has been raised? Like a zombie, or a ghost, or like Frankenstein?

Theories abound and people make assumptions, but that is all they are- assumptions, because no one really knows, and unlike CD players and light bulbs,

I don’t think we’re supposed to know.

And if you notice, the way in which Mark tells his version of the resurrection is very curious.

Mark was the 1st of the Gospel writers to write his account down, and almost all scholars agree that his story ends right here, at verse 8, with the expression “for they were afraid.”

There is no vision of the Resurrected Christ, there is no appearance of Peter, there are no tears in the garden.

Just this scene of three women fleeing in fear from the tomb where the body of Jesus once laid.

“…for they were afraid” is how Mark ends his account of his Gospel.

And we wonder- why fear? How is fear a proper way to end a story about Easter Sunday? How can fear connect us to Good News?

…I’ve been thinking about this all week, and came to this conclusion- “Who says fear is such a bad thing?”

After all, emotions are just emotions, neither good nor bad, until we attach qualifiers to them.

Think about the times you’ve been afraid and how it may have saved your life.

The time you just didn’t feel right walking down a street and something inside you said to leave, now.

The time you didn’t feel safe driving your car and sure enough there was an accident or the check engine came on.

That’s fear as intuition, meant to keep us alive and well.

Then there is the kind of fear that’s attached to new beginnings, or something good that is about to happen.

For those who’ve been happily married, think of that sense of fear the night before and the day of your wedding; jitters that cause one to wonder if they’re doing the right thing.

For those who decide to go back to school or to seek out a new career- there’s an element of fear that can certainly freeze you in your tracks:

Am I doing the right thing? Am I too old? Can I still learn?

For those who have children, and either went through pregnancy or the adoption process, think of all the fear and mystery that was involved.

The not knowing, the waiting, the hoping, the worrying.

For anyone who buys a home- there are all sorts of fears. Can we afford it? Will the closing go smooth? How do we move all our stuff in?

These are just 4 life events that almost always involve some sort of fear, but they can also involve and create some kind of joy, happiness, and glee.

Mark chooses to tell the Easter story through the lens of fear, and in doing so, he lets us know that sometimes being afraid is ok.

When the women flee from the tomb full of terror and amazement, it meant they were very much alive.

It meant they were present.

It meant there was still much more of the story to be told.

And their fear signaled something new- that Jesus was no longer tied down to an earthly realm and limited to bodily form.

Yes- Mark tells us about the Resurrection and chooses to talk about fear. But that is not such a bad thing.

Fear can be used to dismantle systems that no longer work

Fear can be used to create new beginnings.

Fear can push one to discover that they are smarter, stronger, more capable of success than they ever thought before.

Fear can be used to change the world.

Fear can make complacent people get involved to go out and vote, or inspire students to march.

Fear is almost a component of anything worth doing.

Think of our Shepherd’s Pantry. How worried people were in the beginning. How it took a year of meetings to get it off the ground.

How people were afraid it wouldn’t work; we were afraid the money would run out; we were afraid the people would not come.

And look where we are now- feeding over 100 families a month with over $5,000 in our account.

…“Go to Galilee, and there you will see him,” the women are told.

Though they flee in fear, there is no doubt that this fear allowed them to go out into the world and experience Christ in a whole new way.

Perhaps this fear allowed them to discover how Christ is there in the wilderness and the seashores, how Christ is there in the community and in our homes.

How even in death, and in illness, in the unknown and in things that seem broken, and beyond repair- Christ is there.

The Resurrection will always be a mystery, but what a wonderful mystery it is, because no matter how it is told, it is a reminder that God is not done amazing us.

And if we learn how to embrace our fears, we can even amaze ourselves.

For that, we can say amen and amen.