Saturday, August 25, 2018

What Does Kanye, Madonna and Jesus Have In Common? Aug 26, 2018 Sermon on John 6:56-69

Rev. George Miller
Sept 26, 2018
John 6:56-69

During the summer we have experienced a series of people whose careers have imploded over a single tweet, or public statement, or something they wrote in the past.

We witnessed a TV comedy queen lose her kingdom over a misogynistic and racist post on her Twitter account.

An iconoclastic rapper abolished his fan base with a statement that both shamed them and nullified 400 years of history.

A movie director loses his role in the next installment of his multi-billion dollar science fiction franchise.

Then on Monday, the music world watched in utter shock as Madonna gave a tone-deaf tribute to Aretha Franklin by appropriating African garb and speaking more about herself than about the Queen of Soul.

Madonna, like Cher and cockroaches, will withstand the fall-out but the other 3 personalities probably will not.

With today’s reading, we can add Jesus to the list of public figures who had a moment in which his message nearly destroyed his career and reputation.

Some background- chapter 6 begins with Jesus doing amazing things. After healing a multitude of sick people, Jesus has a crowd of 5,000 folk following him around.

He goes up the mountain where he proceeds to teach and to feed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

After that miracle takes place, Jesus walks on water, amazing the masses even more.

Folk are so eager to seek him out and things are going great for Jesus and his ministry…but then he opened up his mouth, goes into an overlong and very complex sermon that not only confuses the crowd, but outright angers them.

First, Jesus challenges their ancient faith. He reminds them it was not Moses who gave the Israelites bread in the wilderness, but it was God.

Jesus then goes on to state that he is the bread, and that he has come down from heaven, and that God is his father.

These statements alone upset the congregation. What insolence to disrespect Moses! What audacity to claim you came down from heaven!

Jesus should have stopped there at the first sign that the crowd was unhappy with him, but he continues.

He tells them to stop their whining. He tells them that he will raise them up at the end of days. He tells them that the bread their ancestors ate was not good enough.

Then as final insult, he makes the claim that unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you cannot experience eternal life.

Let us pause here for a moment….

We may have 2,000 years of learning, history, and writing ahead of us to try an understand what Jesus was saying, but this crowd is hearing these claims for the very first time.

They have no basis on which to understand what he is saying, no precedent on which to respond.

Not to mention, many of them are Torah observing, kosher Jews, in which the thought of drinking any kind of blood goes against their faith.

And the idea of consuming human flesh? Unholy. Unclean. A complete abomination and insult to the Lord.

So when Jesus concluded his sermon by telling the multitudes that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, well- they had no other choice but to turn around, walk away, and stop following Jesus all together.

In the beginning of chapter 6, when Jesus is doing signs and miracles and feeding the people, he has 5,000 followers. By the end of his sermon he has just 12, and one of them is going to betray him.

It is a wonder that Jesus’ ministry survived. It is amazing that Christianity exists. It is astounding that we are even here.

Like Madonna, Roseanne Barr and Kanye West, Jesus says something so outrageous he is immediately lambasted and publicly scorned.

So, what do we do with today’s reading? What is there to say about such a confusing scripture that even today scholars and church leaders cannot agree about what Jesus was saying?

One way is to embrace the unembraceable. Another is to mystically welcome the mystery.

Do we think that when Jesus talked about consuming his flesh and imbibing on his blood that he was talking literally, that we must feast upon him as a cannibal would?

Or do we think that Jesus was talking metaphorically? That he was using strong, provocative symbols to prod us into thinking and wondering how we can become a part of Jesus and Jesus becomes a part of us?

Was Jesus teaching a fact, something that is concrete, like 2 plus 2 equals 4? Or was he teaching more of a truth, something that exists within the abstract, like being knee high to a grasshopper or that it’s been raining cats and dogs?

Was Jesus teaching dogma and liturgy, pointing his listeners towards the Last Supper and what happens when we share the sacred elements?

If so, how can anyone expect to understand what Communion is if it will be weeks, months, even years before Jesus is crucified, resurrected and the Christian Church begins?

Were the crowds of 5,000 living 2,000 years ago in the middle-east supposed to hear his words and think “Oh yes, he’s talking about what Emmanuel UCC does the 1st Sunday of every month in Sebring, Florida!”

Or was Jesus using his words and intense imagery to talk about a lifestyle, a way of being in which every aspect of our life is touched by our relationship with Jesus, in which you are wholly present to God, and the Lord is wholly present to you?

Just how are we supposed to take this scandalous sermon of Jesus? As a metaphor or literally? As a poetic truth or scientific fact? As a way to live or the proper way to worship?

No one can fully say with 100% certainty, and in many ways, that is a good, good thing.

What we have here is a shining example of Wisdom at work and what it means to walk with and to wrestle with the Lord.

Sometimes that walk is pleasant, like when we sit with Jesus upon the grass and he reminds us that we are blessed.

Sometimes that walk is healing, as he takes care of our most basic needs, answers our prayers, and restores our health.

Sometimes that walk is uncomfortable, like when Jesus asks us to forgive 70 X 7 times or he calls us out on our own transgressions.

Sometimes that walk can infuriate us, just as today’s sermon angered the 5,000.

The challenge for us is that we continue to walk with Jesus, even when things do not seem easy, even when the lessons seem hard to learn, even when Jesus makes us angry.

If you have come here today wanting to hear a clear cut description of just what Jesus meant or what his words say, there is no answer that can be faithfully given.

But instead what can be shared is that we each have our very own unique and personal experience with the Lord. It is a relationship that will never be quite the same for each person.

Because of this, no one can truly be told what to think, what to believe, or how to act.

But instead, like last week’s reading from Proverbs 9, what we have is the gifts of Wisdom and the opportunity to listen and to read and to hear and to learn for ourselves.

When it comes to our continuing growth and understanding of the Christian experience and what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Son, the Crucified, and the Resurrected, it means to continue wrestling, continuing to be guided by wonder, to be guided by wisdom, and to be guided by compassion.

It also means to be Ok with not always knowing and with not always understanding.

In closing, there is perhaps some insight that can be applied to today’s reading.

Author and church pastor Warren Wiersbe puts a unique spin upon what Jesus could have meant about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Have you ever walked into a library or a bookstore and been in such awe and overwhelmed by so many books?

You look around wondering just how can so much knowledge exist?

Then a book calls out to you.

You take it down from the shelf.

You bring it home.

You read it. You consume it.

By the last page you close that book, feeling content, feeling you have just experienced something.

And now that book is inside of you. It’s a part of you. It is forever with you.

Perhaps what Jesus was metaphorically saying to the people back then, and to us today is that to be nourished by Jesus is to welcome his Word, to welcome his wisdom, to welcome his teachings and his ways, and to allow them to become a part of us also.

If so, then we can end today’s message by saying that Jesus Christ is the Living Savior, always present, always waiting to be discovered, always there to be debated, to be discussed, to be absorbed into our very being.

And the more present we are to Christ, the more present heaven and eternal life will be to us.

For that we can say “Amen.”

Monday, August 20, 2018

Aug 19, 2018 sermon on Proverbs 9:1-6

Rev. George Miller
Aug 19, 2018
Proverbs 9:1-6

The internet is an interesting place. Offering a world of sneaky advertising, addictive games, and pervasive public opinion, it is a rabbit hole that can suck up your time, feed you with fearful anger, and stoke all your emotional fires.

The internet can also be a good thing- creation’s largest card catalogue; opening you up to a world and to people you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

For example, discovering via Twitter that June 16 marks a very important day for those living in South Africa.

June 16, 1976 is the day the youth uprised in an act against apartheid, a system of racial separation that existed in South Africa from 1948-1994.

Frustrated with the injustice that caused the black community to live in impoverished neighborhoods with substandard schools, about 10,000 students peacefully marched together against the government’s directive, on their way to a rally set to take place in Orlando Stadium, Soweto.

On their way there, the students were met with heavily armed police who used tear gas and live ammunition, killing 13 year old Hector Pieterson and 22 other children, resulting in a widespread revolt. By the end of the month 176 students were killed and thousands more were injured.

Because of the internet, and the world of Twitter, one can easily find this information, learn more about it, and engage with people in South Africa who have lived through this and celebrate the national holiday.

It turns out that each year, the South Africa TV station, channel 138, shows the musical "Sarafina" which depicts the Soweto Youth Uprising.

"Sarafina" was a Broadway musical turned into a movie by Disney back in 1992. Although the movie bombed here in America, it is one of the biggest films in South Africa.

They show “Sarafina” in June the same way here in America they show “The 10 Commandments” during Easter.

According to the world of Twitter, the showing of “Sarafina” is a big communal event in which people will sit glued to their TV, post about it on social media, and it’s even been said that the day after its showing people will be dancing in the streets, singing the songs and reprising the dance steps.

In the movie there is a scene in which the history teacher stands before her students and says this-

“History is a beautiful thing…It teaches you were you come from. I want you to know this. I want you to be proud of what we got right, and tell the truth about what we got wrong and learn from it; otherwise what’s the use of tomorrow if you don’t learn?”

“All you got is today and today and today, and we are much better than that. Believe me.”

History. As presented by this teacher it is a living thing, a reality: a barometer for true life and how to live-live-live with honesty, integrity, and pride.

History is a beautiful thing.

In the context of what the teacher taught the students, we can also say that history can be another word used for knowledge, for opportunity, for common sense, and for wisdom.

Wisdom, or Lady Wisdom, as she is so eloquently portrayed in the Book of Proverbs, is an important part of today’s Old Testament reading.

In chapter 9, we hear how wisdom is a cosmic hostess who builds a magnificent home, creates an elaborate feast, and invites people to come, enjoy, and to walk in the way of insight.

Wisdom also appears in chapters 1 and 8.

The poet tells us that wisdom was created at the beginning of God’s work; the 1st of God’s actions.

According to Proverbs, before there was even the mountains, seas, and stars, God created Wisdom, and wisdom stood beside God, like a willing worker.

It’s a complex description written centuries before the birth of Jesus, in which Wisdom is given very clearly feminine attributes and is said to delight with God in the human race.

This personification of Wisdom as a woman, an entity, talks about how she calls out to us, how she reaches out her hand, how she gives council and security.

In astounding detail, we are told how wisdom plays a role in understanding, in insight, and acquiring skill.

Perhaps most telling of all is the claim that wisdom is essential in justice and equity.

Wisdom, as proverbs 9 states builds, nourishes, and calls- “Come and eat the bread; come and drink the wine. Live and walk in the way of truth.”

Wisdom….sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t she?; this unique cosmic expression of righteousness, who invites, shares a meal, and promises life.

Think of Jesus, of all the wisdom Jesus has imparted upon us throughout the centuries.

When we think of Jesus and his ministry, we may first think about his healing, his feeding the thousands, the miracles. We may think of his casting out the demons, or his death on the cross.

But we can also think about Jesus and just how much of his ministry was actually wisdom based. Just how much time he spent teaching, how much time he devoted to knowledge and learning.

Jesus was not just a miracle worker or a magic show, but he was a teacher, always providing people with new ways to think, with stories that challenged their understanding.

In fact, the 1st known writing about Jesus was a collection of the lessons he taught.

Jesus was a living embodiment of wisdom, using his words, his stories to teach people about God, to illuminate the kingdom and to get people to think on their own about what it meant to be in relationship with and to be in awe with God.

Think of all the ways Jesus encouraged people to embrace wisdom and to learn and to think for themselves.

On the mountaintop, when Jesus sat amongst the crowds and said “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others.”

On the plain, where Jesus stood among them on a level place, and said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

On the seashore, where Jesus rested upon a boat in the water and taught “The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows mighty and becomes a home for all the birds to find shade.”

Or in the home, in which Jesus went against all accepted social conventions, by allowing Mary to sit at his feet as an apt pupil equal to any man of her day.

Jesus taught and taught and taught, sharing wisdom like seeds to be scattered everywhere, and Jesus didn’t worry if the knowledge he shared landed amongst rocks or briars or fertilized soil.

Jesus shared wisdom as the unlimited, life affirming, God-created resource it is.

Jesus was Twitter before there was Twitter. Jesus was the free press before there was a 1st Amendment. Jesus was and is the ultimate cosmic card catalogue.

Which means that when we say your prayers, when we lift our voices up to the Lord, we can ask that in addition to there being healing and miracles and answered prayers, we can ask that God gives us the wisdom to figure things out, the wisdom to wait things through, and the wisdom to be our own rescuers.

In closing, let us share a story that was told amongst the early Christians. It is a story that does not appear in the Bible but can be found in ancient texts.

It tells another view of the creation narrative.

The story says that in the beginning was a realm of harmony and concord and the world as we know it was born.

A human being was created but no matter how huffing and puffing was done, Adam remained still on the ground.

The divine realm saw Adam and Wisdom decided to send down her daughter, Life, to help him. Life, also called Eve, saw Adam on the ground and said to him “Adam, live, arise from the ground.”

And Eve’s words became a work.

Adam rose, opened his eyes and said “You will be called Mother of the Living, for you have given me life.”

History, knowledge, common sense, wisdom- they lead to righteousness, they lead to justice, they lead to understanding.

Wisdom leads us closer to creation, closer to one another, and closer to God.

Let us give thanks for God’s wisdom which was here before the beginning of time, thanks to the wisdom made known in the life of Jesus Christ, and thanks to the Holy Spirit for the ways she councils and speaks to us.

Amen and Amen.