Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sermon for May 13, 2018; Psalm 1

Rev. George Miller
May 13, 2018
Psalm 1


Noted Old Testament professor, James Limburg, begins his commentary on Psalm 1 by stating that the psalms use powerful pictures.

The Lord as shepherd (23), as king (53), as a rock (92), as a father (103).


They are used by the psalmists not just to convey images of God, but to convey images of us.

The Lord’s people as sheep (28,80), as servants (90), as vines (128), as arrows (129).

Psalm 131 paints the picture of us as dependent children, and God as a Mom, when it states “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.”

As James Limburg states, pictures are used to make points, and to convey a message. He then points out the first picture presented in the Psalms:

“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…they are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in the season, and their leaves do not wither…”

A tree.

Of all the images, of all the pictures, of all the ways one can begin a collection of 150 praise songs to God, this is what was chosen, thousands of years ago.

The Book of Psalms could have begun with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(22)

It could have begun with “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up…” (131).

But instead the Book of Psalms starts with the word “Happy” and it begins with the picture of a tree besides the water.


Why a tree? What kind of tree?

A maple? An oak? A cypress or sequoias?

When picturing a tree, what kind of words come to mind?

Sturdy? Alive? Rooted? Bending without breaking? Beautiful?

Limburg goes on to state that Psalm 1 seems to be saying to us “This tree can be the picture of your life.”

A key aspect of this picture of a tree is not just that it is by water, or that it’s bearing much fruit, but that it is prospering; it is happy.

And what brings this happiness?

Not following the ways of the wicked. Not surrounding yourself with people who feel the need to scoff and scorn.

But most importantly happiness comes from finding delight, and experiencing joy in the Lord’s teachings.

This right here is how Psalm 1 defines prosperity. From the psalmist’s view, happiness is not based solely on money, or purchases or always getting what you want.

From a scriptural perspective, prosperity is about being connected with God, who is the source of life.

We may be the tree, but God is the water.

We may bear fruit, but it is God who provides the nourishment.

From God’s commands come other examples of happiness- Psalm 41:1 says that those who care for the poor are happy.

Psalm 89: 15 says those who walk with God, offering praise are happy.

Psalm 127:5 says happiness belongs to those who raise a family in which God builds the home.

Happiness is prosperity.

Being planted by God is prosperity.

Meditating on God’s commands brings prosperity.

Like a tree by streams of water.


Jesus was notorious for the use of pictures.

Think of the images Jesus used to teach about God:

the waiting Dad, the rebellious child, the woman searching for a lost coin.

Think of how Jesus used pictures when he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…you are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…look at the birds of the air…consider the lilies of the field...”

Of course, if we are to talk about pictures, there is perhaps no greater image for us Christians than that of the Cross.

The Cross in which Jesus hung. The Cross in which all of history revolves around. The Cross, in which suffering and salvation meet.

And, after all, what is a Cross, but a tree.

The Cross, which is the ultimate sign of our faith, is also perhaps the ultimate picture of our very depravity.

Think about the depravity of humanity- that we would take something so beautiful, so life giving as a tree.

We would take something meant to give shade in the heat, home to the birds of the air, and a fortress from winds and storms…

…and chop it down, cut it up, carve it into what? A vehicle for murder. A tool to humiliate. A means to kill.

It is heartbreaking.

It is heartbreaking to think that God wanted us to be so blessed that Christ was willing to be cursed.

It is so heartbreaking to think that our faith is such that one moment we may sing “Like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved,” to a song that solemnly asks “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”

…and yet, the depravity of humanity is no match for the redemptive power of God.

It is so astounding to think that God could take something that was rough and rugged, and turn it into a picture of amazing grace.

How astonishing that God could take desecrated wood, and turn it into a picture of God’s love for us.

How unbelievable that God could take something that was deadly and turn it into a picture of unity.

How shocking that God could take something that was used as a source of fear and transform it into a sign in which east meets west, north meets south, earth touches heaven, and the wounded reaches out to those who are doing the wounding.

The Christian narrative is seamlessly portrayed through the picture of trees.

A tree that was planted in the very first garden. A tree from which our savior hung. A tree that is prosperous beside streams of water.

In closing, as we prepare to enter into this summer season, as we prepare to enter into our congregation’s first ever sabbatical, let us do so mindful of today’s scripture.

That’s God’s desire for us is to be happy.

God’s desire for us is to be prosperous and to meditate on God’s commands.

That God’s desire for us is that we be like strong, sturdy, rooted trees that are well nourished, able to withstand tough times, and able to bear much fruit.

Like a loving father, like a loving mother, what God wants is for us to be happy.

For that we can say amen and amen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

May 6, 2018 Sermon on 1 John 5:1-6

Rev. George Miller
May 6, 2018
1 John 5:1-6

(Sermon starts with holding up a small plastic cup) Who knows what this is?

It’s the Family Cup.

Perhaps you had one in your home growing up. This is the cup that was kept in the family bathroom by the toothbrushes.

Maybe you didn’t have a Family Cup.

Maybe you grew up in a home that had a dispenser attached to the wall in which you used disposable Dixie cups with cartoon characters or sassy sayings on them.

Maybe after brushing your teeth, you cupped your hand under the faucet to catch water to rinse your mouth out.

Or, maybe you had the good old fashioned Family Cup. The cup that everyone used after they brushed their teeth.

If you had a Family Cup you can testify that it was rarely washed and would eventually develop its own series of fluoride-based water stains running down the side.

The Family Cup is what you did. You didn’t think about it; you didn’t know any better.

You didn’t think it was gross to drink from the Family Cup.

You were part of a family in which mother, father, sister, brother all used the same cup.

Why not? Sharing is what family does.

Besides, it built your immune system

There is a beauty in the shared Family Cup.

Without anyone realizing it, it symbolized belonging, it symbolized being part of something bigger than yourself, and it symbolized that as a family, we are ONE.

There is a beauty in the ability to share.

Think of what it is like to date. You meet someone you like, you go to the movies. You start off by getting separate sodas and separate bags of popcorn.

But eventually, what happens? You get a tub of popcorn to share, your hands melting into the buttery goodness.

In courtship or friendship, you get to a place in which you share something off the other’s plate.

Then you may share something off the same fork.

You know it’s serious, and you know it’s real, when you eventually sip from the same straw.

This notion of intimate sharing, of family unity is a huge part of today’s scripture.

As we move from Easter into Pentecost, we have a chance to hear the communal nature of the good news.

As theologian Amy Oden notes, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about being a lone ranger; it’s about a partnership that involves all the people of the church.

Today we have a letter that has been written to a congregation. Though the early church attributed this letter to John, the author is actually anonymous, choosing to identify himself as “the elder.”

Already the theme of family weaves itself through this testimony of faith.

It is not a letter written just to the head bishop, or to the board of deacons, but it is written to the entire church family.

It is a letter crafted from words of faith, and words based on belief.

Belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the unifying factor of the Christian family.

The elder states that if we believe in Christ, then we are a child of God.

And if we love God, we love All God’s children. More than that- if we love God, than we see God’s children as our sisters and brothers; as our kin.

This is not love as in a general feeling of good will.

This is not love as in the way we love a purse, or love a sports team, or love the latest Marvel movie.

It is love that is communal. It is love that is beyond agreements and like-mindedness.

It is love that is an ACTION.

Love that is a verb.

Love that makes you raise your hand in thanks, close your eyes in gratitude, and makes you want to be a better person.

It is love that says “I will Care 4 U, just as U Care 4 me.”

This is the kind of love that says “We are the same body, filled with the same blood coursing through our veins, and the same water flowing out of our eyes.”

This is the kind of love that says “When you hurt, I hurt. When you heal, I heal.”

This kind of love made known through Christ is the kind of love that manifests itself in welcome; love that manifests itself in acts of compassion.

Love that comes across so clearly in the things we do- like meal sites and pantries, prayer shawls and music programs.

This is the kind of Christian love that manifests itself in cards of condolence, phone calls of care, and Coins for Kids

This is the kind of love that one would experience in the Family Cup, in which everyone shares, and everyone sips.

It’s sad to say, but culture has become way too fragmented, way too divided, way to isolationistic for anyone’s good.

But Christ…Christ calls us to do the opposite.

Christ, as the son of our Heavenly Father, calls us to come together.

To find common ground.

To create community.

Christ calls us to be comfortable with conflict, to take chances, and to welcome complicated conversation.

Jesus Christ, as our sacred sibling, calls us to conquer the world through a few simple commandments-

That we love God. We love neighbor. We love our congregational brothers and sisters.

That we dare to love ourselves.

With Christ as the Son, and God as the Father, we realize that we are not in this alone, we were not meant to be isolated from one another, but that we are a family.

We are meant to share the same cup. Meant to share the same meal. Meant to eat at the same table no matter what we may be going through.

In doing so we welcome the Spirit of truth; we welcome the Spirit of love, and we become ONE. Amen and amen.