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.