Thursday, December 20, 2018

Joseph, JoBob, Joey, Jose- Sermon on Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. George Miller
Dec 23, 2019
Matthew 1:18-25

It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent. We have been journeying from darkness into light, following a star, about to enter into Bethlehem to see the Face of God.

The God who dreams of justice, kindness, and humility.

The God of Creation who pulls down, plucks up, builds and recreates.

The God who is full of surprises. The God who does things in the most unexpected ways.

The God who chooses a migrant family over a royal family to make Godself known.

The God who finds rest in a manger as opposed to a Marriot.

The God who sends angels to shepherds in a field as opposed to CEOS around the boardroom table.

The God who bestows upon an ordinary man the most extraordinary job of being the earthly father to the savior of all creation.


That’s the name of Jesus’ Dad.

No offense to any Josephs who may be here today, but Joseph is such an ordinary name.

It’s not unique, like Habakkuk.

It’s not prophetic sounding, like Jeremiah.

It’s not regal, like David.

It’s not historical, like Abraham.

Joseph, well, it’s just Joseph. Middle of the road. Common.

Sure, you can switch it up and call him Jo Bob, or Joey, or Jose. But it’s still…ordinary.

Jo Bob is the guy you play pool with at Yogi’s Bar, discussing NASCAR over a few beers.

Joey is the guy you grab a slice of pizza from when you’re at Little Italy in Avon Park.

Jose is the guy at the Caladium Festival who sells lemonade and his mother’s empanadas out of a food truck.

Joseph is a regular, righteous man.

Someone we would call the “salt of the earth” who tries his best to earn a living, raise his family, be a good citizen, and follow his faith.

So….imagine what it would be like for Joseph, Jo Bob, Joey, Jose to be living in a small town.

The kind where everyone knows your name. Everyone knows your family. Everyone goes to church (or at least gives the impression they go to church), and everyone knows your business.

Joseph works during the day, enjoys a drink when he’s done, and volunteers at the local synagogue.

And then word gets around that his fiancĂ© is pregnant. They’re not married, and there’s no proof that it’s his.

Imagine the gossip that would fly.

Joseph goes to Yogi’s and the guys start razzing him, taking jabs at his masculinity, making jokes at his experience.

He and Mary step into CVS and all of a sudden they can feel all eyes on them and see the cashiers whispering to one other.

He’s at the synagogue and one of the elders comes up to him with concerns about Mary’s condition, worried about what kind of example they’re setting for the children, and says something like…

“Well, you know that Deuteronomy 22:20-30 does say that Mary should be stoned to death and purged from Israel.”

Or he takes Mary to the family cook out and over the potato salad and sweet tea he hears what all his uncles and aunties are saying.

How do you think Joseph may have responded to his community?

Do you think he may have gotten into a fight or two and taken a few punches?

Do you think his male ego would have been a bit bruised?

Do you think he would have questioned his faith and all the commandments?

Do you think he would have questioned or been angry with God?

If Joseph was human, he would have.

If Joseph had not thought of any of these things, there would’ve been no reason for him to think about sending Mary away.

If Joseph had not felt any of these things there would’ve been no reason for an angel to appear in a dream saying “Do not be afraid.”

If Joseph was not morally, ethically conflicted there would have been no reason for him to receive the Ok to take Mary as his wife, child and all.

If Joseph was some otherworldy, practically perfect, wholesomely holy icon he never would have needed any of these things.

But Joseph…was Joseph.

He was just a man. Ordinary. Flawed.


Which would have meant that when he learned Mary was pregnant he would have felt scared, unsure, torn between what scripture told him and what his heart was saying.

He must have felt totally and utterly despondent and totally and utterly …alone.

…BUT into this dark night of his soul came hope.

Into this dark night of the soul came peace and love.

For Joseph finds the assurance he needs, the guidance he requires, and the understanding that somehow, some way God is working through all these things.

The result is that Joseph keeps his commitment to Mary and when her child is born, it is Joseph who names him: Jesus, which means “God Is My Salvation.”

As one theologian stated, it is through the act of naming Jesus that Joseph adopts him into his family and brings him into the Davidic line.

Think about that for a moment. According to one scholar, Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

Why does this matter? Because it means that Jesus came from a non-traditional family.

It also means that Jesus was raised by 2 ordinary people with 2 ordinary names who played a role in the most extraordinary event by ushering in the Savior of the World.

Not Caesar and one of his wives.

Not Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Not Ron and Nancy Reagan.

But Joseph and Mary, the Jack and Diane of their time, doing the best they can.

They would have been the ones who would have waited on line at the Shepherd’s Pantry.

They would have been amongst the families lining Ridgewood Ave waiting for the parade to begin.

They would have been the ones lining up displays during the overnight shift at Wal-Mart.

This makes Joseph and Mary, in my opinion, all the more wonderful, all the more real, all the more true.

It would mean that Jesus would most likely have grown up in a family that struggled to pay their bills.

His Dad may have had to get a 2nd job.

His mother may have done things like slice the toothpaste tube down the middle to get another week’s worth, put water in the ketchup bottle and shake it up, and use margarine containers to hold any leftovers.

Think of Jesus being like one of us, with a Dad called Joseph and a Mom called Mary. Knowing all too well what it’s like:
to struggle,
to worry,
to hope,
to dream,
to live within history,
to have your life disrupted by
unexpected events.

Jesus, Immanuel, Son of God, really knew what it was like to be one of us because he was one of us.

And perhaps that is the greatest surprise of all.

That when God came down to earth, when God revealed Godself, in the midst of all the places and possibilities there could have been,

God chose to do so in a way that did not separate God from the human condition.

God did so in a way that intrinsically connected God to humanity and creation forever.

God, whose spirit moved over the waters, who parted the seas, who spoke from the mountain, and empowered kings and queens to do amazing things,

would choose an ordinary man, with an ordinary life, with an ordinary name to be the caretaker of the Cosmo’s savior.

And in doing so, God validates that all of us matter, all of us have a purpose, and all of us can be vehicles for God’s great surprises.

For that we can say “Amen.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sermon for Dec 16, 2018; The Ways of God Don't Make No Dang Sense

Rev. George Miller
Dec 16, 2018
Isaiah 42:1-9

There is a perception held by some people that Christianity is all about what will happen after we die.

That our entire faith comes down to doing the right thing so that we can get to the right place, with the right people, with the right rewards.

For some, our faith is all about waiting for that day in which we get to enter into glory so that we can see our loved ones once again, in which pain is no more.

Though there are scriptures that appear to point towards this possibility and there are plenty of preachers who press this point,

there is also plenty of scripture that supports the idea that what God really cares about, what God is most focused on, is the Here and Now:
how we currently live,
how we treat one another,
and how we relate to God.

Many progressive theologians will tell you that God is most concerned about what is happening today and what is happening now.

Why? Why would God care about the now as opposed to the great moment in which we all gather in heaven to sing praises for the rest of time?

As today’s reading reminds us- it was God who created the world.

Thoughtfully made and thoughtfully laid out, it is God who stretched out the skies, who spread out the earth and filled humans with spirit and breathe.

If the sea is to roar, and the desserts shout out, and the island citizens sing songs of glory, it is because God has created them and made them so.

And it is in this act of creating that God is connected to Creation. That God cares. That God is concerned.

Be it the sparrow or the mustard seed, the hambakuku plant or the provinces from India to Ethiopia;

God as Creator is connected, cares, and is concerned.

When you think about it, all of these words pertain in some way to justice.

Maybe that’s all that justice is- finding ways to show respect to creation and to honor that and those whom God has created.

Do we think God is more concerned about what happens in the great beyond, or that God is concerned about the here and now?

Think of The Lord’s Prayer: God’s will be done on Earth, our daily bread, forgiveness of debts, deliverance from evil.

These all sound like spiritual expressions of justice, a word that appears 3 times in today’s scripture.

It sounds that what God is dreaming of is justice.

After all, was it not justice that led to the parting of the Red Sea?

Was it not justice that led to the giving of the 10 Commandments?

Was it not justice that led Queen Esther to speak her truth and save her people?

And for those who’ve been attending since September, isn’t it interesting to witness the ways in which God made justice possible?

A prophet with a funny-sounding nickname based on a plant.

A stunningly beautiful queen with a very big secret.

A pregnant unmarried woman who isn’t afraid to walk great distances.

Through our journey of the Bible we are hopefully beginning to get the sense that not only does God care about creation and current events, and that God cares about justice, but that God does things in the most unusual ways.

All of our readings show that God does not follow expectations. God does not follow the norms of society.

God is not really a Robert’s Rules of Order kind of God.

That the Lord who created the heavens and spread out the earth is all about taking chances, going against the status-quo and creating new practices.

Scripture shows again and again how God is not just creating,
but re-creating,
pulling down,
plucking up,
calling forth,
setting free,
giving breath,
welcoming new things

all while constantly usurping expectations.

I fear that Christianity has lost some of its magic, some of its edge, some of its “What now” jena se qua because either we keep thinking it’s all about heaven, OR

We keep looking for God to show up in the traditional, expected ways:

the same songs, the same instruments, the same kinds of people, the same steps, the same structure.

But our journey through the Narrative Lectionary has shown that who and what God is constantly using to bring about heaven on earth have included:

the infertile
the imprisoned
the mountain and the sea

the youngest child
the diseased foreigner
swords into plowshares

the one is who is too young
the one who is too pretty
the one who is too unmarried and too pregnant.

The ones who have been right under our very nose.

The ones who society deemed too old.

The ones who were more like isolated islands than eternal empires.

Why does any of this matter?

Because we are continuing our Advent Journey from blindness into light.

We are one step closer to Bethlehem; one step closer to meeting our Savior.

But is it possible we have become all too numb to the Christmas story?

Have we become all too aware of how it unfolds, so we think this is the only way it could have taken place?

Is it possible that we have taken for granted how Immanuel comes into the world; that we have lost the surprise?

We have grown so use to the idea of a manger and a mother and a myriad of animals and field hands and magi that we may have actually forgotten,

(or maybe we have failed to realize),

that this new way of God bringing justice into the world makes no dang sense.

Think about all the events we as a nation are facing right now, and then look to the Christmas story and ask

“Why would God use a refugee family to bring salvation upon the world and not the 1st Family?”

“Why a manger to welcome the Lord and not a Marriot or a Mayo Clinic?”

“Why shepherds to be the first to arrive and not CEOS or Oprah?”

Can we let go of what we know in order to realize that what God has done in Bethlehem, and what God is about to do again is a complete and utter surprise?

One that makes no sense, follows no reason, and flies in the face of all human expectations.

God, the creator, who calls for justice, is a God who continues to go against the grain.

And the God of Jesus, the God of Esther and God of Habukkuk is not done yet.

God, who created, is still creating and recreating.

God, who stretched out the heavens is still expanding what we know to be true.

God who gave breathe to life still breathes over us with new opportunities.

God, who allows former things to pass, and new things to spring forth, is Still Speaking.

Do we hear? Do we listen?

Are we willing to allow the unknown, the unexpected, the inconceivable, to become our new reality?

Are we willing to trust that the God is still full of many, many surprises?

For that we can say “Amen.”

Friday, December 7, 2018

3 Queens Who Say No, Yes, and Here I Am!; Dec 9, 2018 Sermon on Esther

Rev. George Miller
Dec 9, 2018
Esther 4:1-17

Once upon a time in a land called Susa, about 600 miles east of Bethlehem, lived a Queen named Vashti.

Queen Vashti was fair to behold and known for her beauty. Her husband, the king, ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.

One day, Queen Vashti was hanging with her homegirls, enjoying surf-n-turf, champagne, and Godiva ice-cream when the king sent for her so he could show her off to his drinking buddies.

Queen Vashti said “No.”

We don’t know why she said it, but when given the command to parade around like a prized possession, Queen Vashti declined.

As punishment she was sent packing from the palace lest other women thought they also had the right to say “No.”

After enough time passed, the king grew tired of being the world’s most eligible bachelor. So his cronies gathered the most beautiful, young virgins from throughout the land.

The women were bathed, given make-overs and one by one they were lead to the king’s bed.

There was an absolutely stunning woman named Esther who caught the king’s heart. She was handed the bachelor’s rose and crowned Queen of the Kingdom.

But it was not an easy existence. Although she was now queen, she was kept in the castle, sequestered away from the world.

Under the threat of death, she could only see her husband when he summoned her. She could only speak when he granted her permission.

And it had been a whole month since he even expressed any romantic desire for her.

Esther may have been a beautiful queen who appeared to have it all, but in actuality all she had were her maids and a group of fabulous eunuchs who were quite different from all the other guys.

Oh, and one more thing, in a country in which anti-Semitism run rampant, Esther was Jewish, a secret she kept from her husband for 5 years.

But, something unfortunate has taken place. The spirit of hate has overtaken the land and her husband’s tricked into signing an edict that every Jewish person throughout the 127 provinces is to be put to death by year’s end.

As you can imagine, Queen Esther is faced with a dilemma. What to do?

Stay silent and let her people be put to death? OR dare to speak her truth even if it means she could die?

Queen Vashti was punished for refusing to enter the king’s court.

Queen Esther could be killed for walking in and speaking out…..

…..The other night, while putting up Christmas decorations, I came across my box of Disney ornaments.

While putting up Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, I began to think about the various Disney princesses and wondered if they have really been the best role models for young girls and the understanding of healthy relationships.

One found delight in cleaning up after 7 very messy man-children, one was kissed while asleep, and another was given worth by fitting into the right shoe.

Thankfully Disney has created a new set of princesses.

Moana who sails a boat across the sea to save her people.

Merida who wields a bow and arrow better than anyone else in Scotland.

Elsa and Anna who learn that sisterhood and embracing your inner gifts are far better than any boy you meet.

What Moana, Merida, Elsa and Anna have done is create new archetypes.

Archetypes are examples and symbols of the kind of people and personality types there are.

Archetypes can tell us -
-what kind of people we are and what we are not;
-what kind of people we want to be;
-what kind of people we’re dealing with.

Archetypes appear throughout books, film, and the Bible, some are favorable, some are dubious. Think of Potiphar’s wife, or Sarah and Miriam.

With this being Advent season we get to encounter another kind of archetype, although I think an archetype who has been grossly misunderstood-Mary, the mother of Jesus.

While many people think of Mary as meek and mild, I like to think of her as a Bad Mamma Jamma.

Think about it. Mary is a young, unmarried Jewish woman living during a time in which Rome is crucifying people and engaging in unfair taxation.

One day she is visited by a celestial being and she barely bats an eye.

She’s told she’ll give birth to the Son of God and she responds “Sure- here I am, Servant of the Lord. Have at it!”

As if that’s not enough, she then takes a 6 mile journey alone, while pregnant, to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Shoot- last week I ate a big meal at Henry and Fe’s and didn’t want to drive the 10 minutes back to my house.

While at her cousin’s house, Mary gives this riot-girl, fist-bumping, motivational monologue in which she praises God, celebrates the powerful being dethroned and talks about the hungry being fed.

And as if that’s not enough, when Mary is 9 months pregnant she travels to Bethlehem with no hotel reservation, gives birth to a child inside a barn and turns a feeding trough into a basinet.

If that’s not a Bad Mamma Jamma, I don’t know who is.

Just how did Mary, this young, unmarried Jewish girl living in a time of political unrest find the ability to be so strong, to accept God’s challenge, and to willingly play a part in the salvation of God’s people?

I wonder…

I wonder- was it possible that young, Jewish Queen Esther who also lived during difficult times was her role model just like Moana and Merida are role models to young girls today?

Did Mary look upon Esther’s story to find her own inner strength?

Did Mary look upon Esther’s story to learn how to accept a challenge and assist in bringing salvation to her people?

Now, notice- we have not told you how Esther’s story unfolds and all that will happen.

The book of Esther is only 8 pages long and we’d really like you to read it yourself to discover all the twists, turns, surprises, and controversies that unfold.

But what we can tell you is that the book of Esther is a very necessary story which reminds us that sometimes all it takes is:

one person, in the right place, at the right time, who is willing to do the right thing, who has the ability to change the world.

Esther is an inspiring tale that teaches all of us, male and female, young and not-so-young, Jew and gentile, that sometimes:

the things that seem the most superficial, like our looks, can be the things that get us in the door.

Sometimes the things we are most ashamed of or keep a secret about can be the very things that God uses to set us and others free.

Sometimes we may even be put in a situation in which we decide “Do I live or do I die?”

Esther is that story, Queen Esther is that archetype that asks:

-What does it mean to be a Child of God?

-What does salvation look like?

-What does it mean to be a part of the greater whole than only focused on #1?

And -Who, except God, truly knows what tomorrow may bring???

…Once upon a time, in a kingdom 600 miles away from Bethlehem, lived one Queen who dared to say “No” when expected to be an object.

Once upon a time, there was another Queen who had the courage to say “Yes!” for the sake of all her people.

And once upon a time, in a tiny town of Nazareth was a different type of Queen who said “Here I am Lord.”

And WE are all the better because of it. Amen and amen.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Questioning God; Sermon on Habakkuk given Dec 2, 2018

Rev. George Miller
Dec 2, 2018
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, 3:17-19

On Wednesday, after we decorated the sanctuary for Christmas, Nancy and David engaged in a lively conversation.

Nancy thought it would be cool to revive our former “Fun Nights” and do things that allowed people to get to know one another better.

For example, ask simple questions like “What famous person have you met?” or “What’s the most exotic location you’ve been to?”

Another fun question is “What’s your nickname and how did you get it?”

Think of the nicknames we give to people: Princess, Pumpkin, Pooh-bear, Peanut, Puddin’, Papa.

Turns out today’s scripture may be the nickname of the person who wrote it.

Though little is known about the author, it turns out that back then there was a plant called a hambakuku, which could mean Habakkuk was actually a fun little nickname, such as when you call a child Sunflower or Daffodil.

This little bit of information may not seem like much, but what it does do is make the prophet seem a little bit more real, and a little more accessible.

Just imagine, if you will, Habakkuk’s Dad coming home from work and being like “Honey, I’m home. What did our Little Plant do today?”

“Oh, he learned his ABC’s and 123’s.”

“That’s nice.”

“Honey, I’m home! I stopped by Publix to pick up dinner. What did Little Habakkuk learn today?”

“Oh, he learned about how God remembered Noah and made a bunch of promises to Abraham.”

“That’s nice.”

“Honey, I’m home. Sorry I’m late. Boss kept us an extra hour. How’s Hambooky today?”

“Oh, you know, he said he had a long talk with the Lord and accused God of being deaf and lazy.”

“What, what, what???”

…Oh Habukkuk…you funny little plant.

Basically, this is what we have in today’s reading. Habakkuk is a prophet living and working around the same time as Jeremiah.

The nation’s in turmoil; war is inevitable. But instead of pointing a finger at the people, this plant-named prophet points a few fingers directly at God.

He is very direct and upfront. He asks God how long things are going to go the way they are going.

He asks God how long he has to cry out for help before God listens. He asks how much more violence has to happen before God steps in and intervenes.

Habakkuk is relentless; he refuses to let God off the hook.

He is of the mindset that God is big enough, strong enough and capable enough to receive some much needed constructive criticism.

“How long are you going to let sin surround us before you do what you are supposed to do?”

This is a conversation in which Habakkuk displays incredible faith; a strong faith rooted in his knowledge of who God is, what God is about, and the things God has done in the past.

Habakkuk is tired of looking around and seeing nothing but strife and suffering, so he challenges God to act, daring God to be God.

Cool thing is this- God hears his complaint, God acknowledges his concerns, and God accepts his challenge…just not in the way Habakkuk expected.

God says that God is working things out, there is a plan in place, but 1st- things will get worse before they get better.

God hears Habakkuk’s complaint, and God says “Be patient. Wait. Stay right where you are.”

This message may not seem like enough, but apparently it is for Habakkuk, because it plants within him a much needed sense of hope.

Although things have not changed, although situations are still the same, Habakkuk does find a sense of peace, he does achieve a sense of comfort.

Even though the fig trees are still bare and the olive branches remain empty, this Flower-Of-A-Man finds a way to

faithfully rise up,
hold onto God’s promise,
stay strong,
dance like a deer, and
rejoice in the Lord.

Habakkuk starts off by confronting God, boldly asking “How long?” and he ends by saying “I will glorify the Lord!”

But how? How did he get there if nothing changed? Chaos still ruled the land and war was certain to arrive.

If the situation did not change, what changed in Habakkuk?

One theological theory is this:

by being totally honest with God, by not holding anything back, by saying exactly what he felt without apologizing or sugar-coating it,

he created a path for God’s healing spirit to enter in and to start planting the seeds of hope.

He felt God was not being God, so he held God accountable.

He had chutzpah, he had brass, he had a solid set of roots that went back thousands of years to his earliest ancestors.

Because he knew their stories, because he knew just what God had done before, he called upon God to do it again.

Habakkuk had the courage to confront and the courage to question God and in the process he became resilient!

On Tuesday’s Bible Study we had the chance to read the entire book and really delve into its dark places.

At one point Norma asked one of the most profound things: “Who am I to question?”

It was both existential and theological in nature.

“Who am I to question?” Norma asked.

Habakkuk questioned God.

Who am I too question?

Habakkuk questioned God.

Who are we to question God?

Who are we?

The Holy Spirit moved in Tuesday’s class, and the answers came quickly.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Rainbow, descendants of Noah who was not forgotten.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Covenant, grandchildren of Sarah who was promised her descendants would bless the world.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of Dreamers, cousins of Joseph who found ways to flourish even when in jail.

Who are we to question?

We are Children of Muddy Feet and Mt. Zion, whose aunts and uncles walked through the Red Sea and received the commandments.

Who are we?

We are Children of Prophecy, whose kin called for justice and kindness, and dared God to do the same.

But perhaps, most importantly, as we start the Advent Season, who are we to question God?

We are Children of the Journey, joining others as they make their way into Bethlehem to see a newborn baby.

Who are we?

We are God’s Beloved Children, Brothers and Sisters preparing to see our Blessed Savior wrapped in swaddling clothing.

Who are we to question God?

We are Children of The Manger.
We are Survivors of The Cross.
We are Witnesses of the Resurrection.

We are Bearers of Good News, letting everyone know that:

nothing can separate us from the love of God, not death, not life, not angels, nor principalities, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation (Romans 8:38-39)

Who are we to question God?

We are God’s Chosen, God’s Beloved, God’s Righteous.

Just like ‘Lil Habakkuk, we are God’s flowers, we are God’s plants.

We are God’s mustard seeds, olive branches, and lily’s of the valley.

We are God’s cedars, mighty cypress, and oaks of Mamre.

We are God’s holly, ivy, and mistletoe.

Who are we to question God this Advent Season?

We are people on a journey,
starting in darkness,
heading to Bethlehem,
guided by a star,
filled with the hope
that God’s Great Light will burn bright and we can dance like the deer.

Because of this, there is nothing we can say, nothing we can ask, nothing we can question that God won’t be willing to hear and to understand. Amen.