Monday, December 23, 2019

Sermon for Dec 22, 2019; Luke 1:5-13

Rev. George Miller
Dec 22, 2019
Luke 1:5-13

Ladies and gentlemen- the waiting is over! The exile has come to an end!

Can we get an “amen!”?

The altar and Temple have been rebuilt, bigger and better than before!

Can we get an “amen!”?

Jerusalem is once again a thriving center of commerce, culture and celebrations!

Can we get an “amen!”?

The waiting is over, and thank God, because the past few weeks we have been dealing with deep topics like exile, loss, and in-between time.

These deep topics have coincided with deep events in my life, and together they’ve made me aware of something-

Americans have a horrible way of greeting one another.

Have you noticed that?

For some reason, when we greet one another, instead of simply saying “Hi”, or “Good to see you,” we ask such an insincere, intrusive question-

“How are you?”

It seems like an innocent little question; but it’s really not.

1st of all, not everyone who asks means it. 2nd, not everyone who answers is honest.

The expected cultural response is to say “Fine, and you?”

I so dislike that fake formality. I try my best to be truthful when people ask.

On days when I’m fantabulous and someone asks “How are you?”, I may pull out a Pentecostal favorite- “Blessed, and you?”

There are days when things are status quo, so the response is “OK.”

Other days the answer may be “Just OK,” or “It’s a Monday.”

Those who are OK with someone being OK get it and seem to appreciate the honesty; others act a little confused.

Back in October there was an experience I had while visiting my Mom in the hospital.

While signing in at the front desk the receptionist asked me how I was doing.

“Not great,” I replied.

“Oh, why?” she asked, as I’m writing my Mom’s name in the patient line.

You can guess all the not-so-polite responses that went through my mind while holding that pen…

Bless her heart; she really was concerned, but I continue to chuckle in disbelief that she assumed anyone to answer that question with a “Great!”

I wonder- what would Zechariah from today’s reading say if he was living in modern day America?

Luke starts his version of the Good News by featuring Zechariah, a Temple priest. He’s an older man, closer to retirement than starting off.

He’s been married to Elizabeth for many years, and there’s a great emptiness in their lives- they have no children.

It has not been easy for them, as Zechariah has been praying and praying for a child and Elizabeth has endured feelings of shame from others.

But one day, Zechariah is selected to offer incense in the sanctuary; an honor that happens only once in a lifetime.

While there he’s greeted by an angel who gives joyful news- his prayers have been answered!

He will have a son named John who will be great in the sight of God and lead many people to the Lord.

It’s amazing news, but due to certain circumstances, Zechariah is rendered mute for the next 9 months.

Now picture this in today’s setting.

Imagine Zechariah 1st starting out in the priesthood. People on the street ask him how he is- the answer could be “Blessed and highly favored!”

He gets married to Elizabeth and people passing by ask how he is; “Fantastic!”

It’s the honeymoon phase, he’s strutting around town, head held high. When folks ask how he is the answer is “Never been better.”

But then the years go on; he’s been waiting and praying for a child that never comes.

Folks ask how he is; what’s the correct response?

More years pass. There’s no baby crib, no newborn laughter to be heard.

“How are you?”

More years pass. Not only is there no child, but no chance for grandchildren.

“…If one more person asks how I am…”

But then one day he reaches his professional and personal pinnacle-
he’s chosen to offer incense, greeted by an angel, and told he’ll have a son…

…But he is rendered mute and he can’t tell anyone!

You got to be kidding me!

All these years people asking again and again “How are you?” And now that Zechariah has good news to share, he can’t answer!

He can’t say “Holy heck- I just saw an angel!”

He can’t shout out “I’m finally going to be a Dad!”

Now that he has an answer to “How are you?” he can’t say a single word and won’t be able to for almost a year!

You have got to be kidding! How can this be?

There is mischievous humor in this story if you allow it to be there.

This idea that Luke’s telling of the Good News begins with a man who can’t speak the good news.

The idea that after having nothing substantial to say for years, he finally has something to shout out to the world, but he can’t speak.

The idea that Zechariah was a step away from moving into a 55-and-over community but now instead he’s got to start thinking about poopy diapers and pre-school for his son.

What in the world is going on here!

…and that is exactly the point. Luke is starting his Gospel by letting us know that once again God is breaking into our world and doing a new thing.

The wait is over, the exile is done, what was once destroyed has been rebuilt and the time has come for Christ to come into the world.

Today’s reading is a reminder that we worship an Impossibly Possible tenacious God who is still full of surprises, never gives up, and holds onto the covenant made so long ago.

Today’s reading shows us that God acts in a multitude of ways that are not limited by our pre-conceived notions.

God can use traditional settings, like the temple, to act in forward-thinking ways.

God can use unexpected people, like an elderly couple, to bring about long expected promises.

God can use the most natural of events, like childbirth, to bring about Spirit-filled surprises.

God can step into what seems to be the final chapter to usher in a brand-new beginning.

God can even take our pain-filled waiting and turn it into joyful anticipation.

Amen and amen.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Waiting During the In-Between Time; Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4 and 10-13

Rev. George Miller
Dec 15, 2019
Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13

As we continue this Advent season we continue waiting for the birth of our Lord. As with any kind of waiting, there is a mix of emotions.

Think about the waiting of a child who has not a care in the world-

-waiting for your birthday
-waiting for Christmas
-waiting for the trip to Disney.

Think about the waiting of a child learning about responsibility and consequences-

-Report Card Day
-“Wait until your Father comes home!”

Change of life waiting-

-college acceptance letter
-job offer
-bid on the home to be accepted.

Waiting for new life- birth of a child.

Then as we grow older the reality of the other kinds of waiting creep in-

-lab results
-surgery dates

There is also the waiting of when we are feeling alone and lonely-

-phone call from somebody, anybody
-favorite tv show to come on so it breaks up the monotony
-the day to end so we can escape into sleep.

Personally, my last 4 months have been nothing but waiting-

-waiting for Hurricane Dorian
-waiting to transport my Mom to MO
-waiting to hear from social workers
-waiting for my car to be fixed.

All this while also preparing and waiting for Christmas.

Truthfully, it has felt like too much, and this last quarter of 2019 is one I can’t wait to have as a distant memory.

Waiting can be hopeful; waiting can be painful.

Waiting can be joyful; waiting can be mournful.

Waiting can be exciting; waiting can be as boring as heck.

Waiting is all about being in the in-between, and as one clergy colleague said, “In-between time is a mean time.”

In today’s reading, the waiting that the people of Israel have been doing for decades has finally come to an end.

50 years ago, they witnessed their city attacked and their Temple demolished.

50 years ago, they were taken as captives to Babylon and they wept over everything they had to leave behind.

But now, just as the prophets predicted, their exile is over and they’re free return home.

They’re waiting is over!

But when they get back to Jerusalem, they realize that everything is still in shambles- their homes, their streets, their Temple.

So the people work on rebuilding their lives.

They rebuild the altar, using a stone from the original one. This allows them to resume making offerings that are pleasing to God.

Then they lay the foundation of the Temple. After the foundation is laid, the people come together.

It is meant to be a joyous time; a time of new beginnings. There’s trumpets and cymbals and songs of joy. There’s pomp and circumstance and priests in beautiful robes.

People are shouting; cheering; praising God and singing about God’s never-ending love…

…but there’s also another sound.

Weeping.

The elder members of the congregation, the older priests and leaders who saw the first Temple fall, who remembered what things were like back in their day, can’t help but to cry.

We are not told why they cried, but we can guess.

The patriarchs and matriarchs of the community cried for what they lost.
They cried for all they endured.

They cried from the emotional weight of waiting.

They cried knowing they would not live long enough to see the Temple rebuilt.

They cried because they knew no matter what, things would never, ever be the same again.

No matter how hard they tried; no matter that they did; no matter how much of a false smile they plastered upon their face.

It is this reality that Ezra chooses to tell us today.

That even though their waiting has come to an end, amid the joy and celebration and songs of good cheer,

there was also grief, there was suffering, and there were tears.

Today’s reading offers such a profound reality.

That at any given time, at any given event, that at any moment of new beginnings, there can be joy and gladness,

and there can also be pain and weeping, stemming from memories of what was lost, awareness of our own mortality and knowledge that so much of our life is beyond our control.

Which reminds us of why our faith is so important.

Not to say that our faith can fix these things, or that faith magically makes them go away.

But to know that theses 2 realities of joy and sorrow are happening at the very same time

-in any given community
-in any given congregation
-in any given family
-even in any given person.

The crowds in today’s reading are a microcosm, representing great truth of what’s going on all the time.

Joy and pain; smiles and sadness; gain and loss.

The gift that we can give to others is the acceptance that this reality exists and that it is real.

And if we are in a good place in which we are filled and full of songs, when we encounter someone who is empty and unable to sing, we can be there for them.

To simply be present. To not fix. To not stop or silence their tears. Not offer platitudes.

But to be there; with them, beside them.

And if we are in an “in-between time” or “mean time” in which we hurt, we are tired, we are sad,

we allow others into our brokenness, be honest about our truth; how we feel. To not apologize for our tears or negate the importance of our memories.

Perhaps there is a reason why Jesus said “Blessed are the meek” and “Blessed are those who mourn”.

Perhaps it is because in our meekness, in our grief, we are more open to welcome the gift of comfort.

Perhaps it is in our brokenness that we provide space for Gods’ Holy Spirit to float in like a river of honey.

Perhaps it is in our uncertainty of the future that we are most open to Christ’s assurance.

Perhaps it is in our moments of darkness that we reach out to others and discover they are reaching right back.

God’s eye is indeed on the sparrow, even when the sparrow is waiting and in-between. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Letter to the Editor Re: Making Highlands a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary County

While I don't dispute the importance of the 2nd Amendment, it seems that there are so many other ways in which Highlands can set ourselves apart as a Sanctuary County. We could become an intentional place of refuge for Veterans, especially for those living with PTSD, or for retiring 1st Responders who gave so much of themselves to help others. We could become a sanctuary from hunger, in which we vow, as a county, to ensure that no one will ever go hungry, or a sanctuary of religious freedom in which we value all beliefs- Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, Christian, etc. But to single out gun ownership seems not only out-of-touch but insensitive in light of the upcoming anniversary of the SunTrust murders. Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Sunday, December 8, 2019

An Ode to SISTER ACT 2 and His Eye Is On the Sparrow; Isaiah 40:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Dec 8, 2019
Isaiah 40:1-11

A few years ago, I developed a theory: there are 2 kinds of people in America- those who prefer SISTER ACT 1 and those who prefer SISTER ACT 2.

SISTER ACT is a movie in which Whoopi Goldberg poses as a nun and teaches the sisters to sing songs like “I Will Follow Him.”

SISTER ACT 2 features Whoopi teaching inner city youth how to sing modern day versions of “Oh Happy Day” and “Joyful, Joyful.”

Those of us who are disciples of pt. 2 can testify that it’s CD was the soundtrack of our generation and the film’s influence is all over music videos and tv shows.

Perhaps the heart of SISTER ACT 2 is “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”.

In this scene, two young ladies are singing at the piano. One says to the other “Your voice is amazing. You could be selling out stadiums.”

To which the other says “Na-ah girl. This gift is for God only.”

A sentiment that has always stayed with me.

“His Eye Is On the Sparrow” was on the gospel channel all the time, and even after all these years, when it comes on, you just stop…and soak it in.

Yes, there are those who prefer SISTER ACT and there are those who prefer SISTER ACT 2.

In the children’s facility I worked in, there was no guessing which one the kids liked the most.

We were always watching the VHS copy of pt. 2; we were always playing the CD and singing along.

And no wonder- the kids could relate and the characters looked like them.

What did it mean for a neglected child in the system to hear and sing along to a song that dares to say “His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me.”

Why a sparrow? Why of all the kinds of birds there are, did the songwriter choose a sparrow?

Why not an eagle? Why not a sandhill crane? Why not a vulture?

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate why. “God’s Eye Is On the Eagle” wouldn’t work because by their very nature, eagles attract respect and awe.

It’s hard not to go “Wow” when an eagle flies by.

A sand-hill crane wouldn’t work because they capture your attention the moment they walk onto your lawn or into the road.

Sandhill cranes literally stop traffic, so of course God sees them.

Vultures? Any of us driving along Florida’s country roads are always keeping our eye out for them because you never want one to hit your windshield.

But sparrows? Do we even notice? Do we pay attention when they appear? When they come and when they go?

Has a sparrow ever made you say “wow!”?

Has a sparrow ever made you stop your car?

No. Sparrows are in many ways the most insignificant, ignored creature of the air.

They don’t stand out in the snow like cardinals. They don’t knock-knock-knock like woodpeckers. They don’t swoop down like hawks.

Sparrows are just sparrows; and if one goes missing, who even notices?

And THAT’S the power of the song.

It’s a bold, beautiful statement that God sees, God hears, God knows even the most seemingly invisible and insignificant.

No wonder such a song and movie could have so much power for those in foster care because if anything, for 2 hours they were affirmed that they were seen and they mattered to God.

What hope. What peace. What comfort.

“Comfort, O comfort”- the opening words to today’s reading.

These are much welcomed words.

“Comfort, O comfort.” What a soothing expression to hear; a balm to the ears and heart.

These are words offered to people who have gone through so much; words spoken to people who have lost a tremendous amount.

Last week we shared how Jeremiah spoke words to those who were in the beginning stages of a difficult time in which their nation was torn apart and their Temple destroyed.

Today’s words are to the same people but many, many years later, deep into their despair.

They’re scattered all over the world. Some have been kidnapped. Some have run away into hiding. Others have been left behind.

They’ve been treated as worthless, disposable, inconsequential.

In other words, they are now like sparrows.

If ever there was a time when people needed God, if ever there was a time they needed a reminder of who they are, now is the time.

But time passes. They wait. With great anxiety they wait.

Then, one day they hear the voice of the Still Speaking God, and that voices says “Comfort, O comfort.”

And with this voice the possibility of a new future begins to emerge.

The possibility that in the barren land, a highway will be created.

The possibility that hills and other obstacles will be overcome.

The possibility that all of those lost, lonely, afraid, and forgotten, will once again be gathered.

They will once again be a flock.

A flock that is fed, a flock that is gently carried and lovingly led.

A flock in which God will have His eye on each and every one.

As we continue this season of Advent, we continue a time of dark nights and empty lives, of people gone and memories left behind.

We also continue this season of waiting; waiting for the Lord.

Waiting for God to make the covenant known in a new way, by slipping into our flesh and bone as Jesus Christ,

saying to each and every one of us “I know you, I love you, I have not forgotten you.”

Waiting for the birth of Jesus, in which God says “I am with you. I am beside you. And I see you.”

Waiting to be reminded that God’s eye is indeed on us, always, regardless if we are the eagle, the sandhill crane, the vulture.

Or even the tiny, tiny sparrow.

God sees, God watches over, even when we feel discouraged or the shadows come.

In Christ, we have a light that brings with it hope and peace and comfort.

Amen and amen.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Funk and Faith; Sermon on Jeremiah 33 14-18

Rev. George Miller
Dec 1, 2019
Jeremiah 33:14-18

Today we enter the Season of Advent; a time of waiting.

The Macy’s Parade is a memory, the Thanksgiving leftovers are ready to be tossed away, and shopping is in full swing.

But if we are to be honest, for a lot of people this is a stressful time, a sad time, a dark time.

Last week was not an easy one. My car is still in the shop; Mom’s 100 days of Medicare is running out. Due to the shortened work week, the mechanic and social worker were on an abridged schedule, prolonging everything.

I know I’m not the only one feeling the Holiday funk. A professional shared with me that their clients are coming in complaining about how all they want to do is eat and sleep.

Someone in the medical field shared the level of anxiety that people are having, commenting that the other day he walked into a store and just had to leave, overwhelmed with all the stuff.

This is a season of great stress that we often place open ourselves; a stress to perform.

To make the perfect meal.
To buy the perfect gift.
To host the perfect gathering.
To have the perfect smile
To show the right amount of cheer.

If anyone feels this way- know that you are not alone. In fact, if we were to conduct a poll, we would find:

-there are those who dread the holidays because of painful memories attached to them

-there are those who dread the holidays because of a loss or change of life

-there are those who are numb to the whole thing

-those who’d prefer to skip the whole holiday thing and get to January 2 so they don’t have to pretend, perform...

…which is the very reason why we need Christmas.

Right now we are living day to day in which each night is literally getting darker and darker and hopelessness can feel greater and great.

But if we just hold on, Christmas comes along, and we discover that through the birth of Jesus there is indeed hope for the world and the darkness literally becomes less and less.

Today’s prophet, Jeremiah, knew a thing about dread, despair and hopelessness.

Jeremiah was a fascinating fellow. He was an empath; someone who could feel the energy around him.

While everyone else was acting all festive and as if there was not a care in the world, Jeremiah was in-tune with the current political and spiritual reality.

He knew they were living through a difficult time. The north and south were torn apart. Foreign enemies had infiltrated the nation. The Temple is a sham. People were not living as they ought to.

In today’s terms, Jeremiah would be considered “too sensitive.” He was always crying, claiming to literally feel the pain God felt.

He cried for the people, he cried for the land, he cried for the animals that suffered due to human choices.

The people refused to listen to him; they brushed him off; even tossed him into jail.

But when the events he predicted took place, when the struggle became real, and life as they knew it came to a jarring end, Jeremiah switched gears.

Because he had already dealt with his own grief, Jeremiah was able to become a beacon of hope and a cheerleader to the nation.

As we discussed a few months back, in chapter 32, Jeremiah performs a public act of faith and trust in the Lord.

In a dying economy, besieged by foreign enemies and everyone living in fear, Jeremiah does the unthinkable- he purchases a plot of barren land.

He does this in the town square, where everyone can see. He lays out the money, he signs and submits the deed.

Even though he knows he will not live long enough to see the land produce good grapes and grow shade producing-trees, he does so as a reminder, a sign of hope to the people,

that no matter what people see, no matter how they feel, God will indeed restore their fortunes, bring mercy upon them, and life will go on.

In today’s reading Jeremiah’s words of hope continues.

Like the Apostle Paul, Jeremiah is writing from a jail cell. Like Paul, he writes to give the people hope, and to offer then healing.

Everything they knew is gone but Jeremiah reminds them of the covenant that God had made to the people of David.

Though it seems like all hope is lost, Jeremiah reminds the people that there is still that branch of David that exists, and from that branch there will grow justice and righteousness, mercy and new beginnings.

Just like Mr. Twiggy.

If you were here two weeks ago, you’ll recall the story I gave of pruning back my hibiscus plant so much I thought I killed it, as nothing but a stick was left jutting out of the ground.

But over the weeks it began to bud and grow and produce leaves.

Today it’s crept up a few more inches and its leaves are growing fuller. Perhaps by spring it’ll even bloom.

That’s the hope that Jeremiah is giving the people; a hope that is challenging their current reality.

From his jail cell he is writing to them that though days are dark, things feel difficult and overwhelming, God has not forgotten the covenant.

God is already at work to bring restoration in which their personal, public, and spiritual lives will bloom once more.

Back then the people wondered just who Jeremiah meant when he referred to this Branch of David.

But for us, as Christians, we like to believe that he is referring to Jesus.

That Jesus, born of Mary, son of Joseph, is the righteous branch that springs from the tribe of David.

Just Genesis 2 shows God creating by being hands on, getting dirty in the mud, breathing life into our beings,

God will once again become intimately involved in our lives in the most fantastic way-

by slipping into our skin, entering the world as one of us, to show us just who God is and how much we matter.

That’s what Christmas is about.

No matter how we are feeling, no matter the loss we’ve experienced or the change we’re anticipating,

no matter what the signs may say or tumult the world is going through,

God has not forgotten.

God has not forgotten us, nor has God forgotten the covenant that was made so long with the branch of David about US and WE, for always and forever, flesh and bone.

Not only has God not forgotten, but our tenacious, Impossibly Possible God has taken the covenant to heart.

Christmas is God saying “Listen- I take the covenant so seriously that I am willing to slip into your flesh and bone and live just as you do

Beside you
With you
Joys, pains, trials, tribulations.

And I am willing to show you my grace and mercy, my love and my righteousness, my passion and compassion.”

And that’s who Jesus was, and that’s how Jesus lived.

As the season continues, many of us will focus on what we lost, what we’re losing, what we’re going through, and memories of years gone past.

That is normal.

If you do feel the funk, if you feel the anxiety, if you feel weight of the world, know that you are not alone.

And that you do not have to go through it alone.

You have a church you can turn to. There are people you can talk to.

Also know that this season is designed to be a time of active waiting.

Waiting with our woes and our worry, our anxiety and our sadness.

Waiting for how the glory of God will be revealed in the birth of a baby.

And waiting to rediscover that in Christ we have a Savior you can look to, because he knows; he knows.

Because he was once like you, like I, like us.

And in some ways that can provide great comfort during uncomfortable times.

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Passion and Compassion; Sermon on 2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3

Rev. George Miller
November 24, 2019
2 Kings 22:8-13, 23:1-3

Today’s reading sounds so wonderfully simple, yet it is also so complex, with many directions a preacher can go.

It’s a reading full of history and historic names.

Though it talks about God’s wrath and the people’s disobedience, it is also filled with great hope.

Hope that’s based on the past: who they were, what God has done, what they’ve been through.

It’s also based on the hope of what they can accomplish by remembering their Impossibly Possible God, the one who is full of divine tenacity.

Today’s reading offers a glimpse into a nation that discovers their heavenly past, and is willing to bring it into their earthly present, based on the covenant God had made with their ancestors.

Covenant is an ancient concept. It’s a spiritual way to discuss a promise that’s been made, an agreement that’s been entered into.

Not a promise based on empty pledges, or an agreement made by force.

But a mutual decision made by all parties; a choice based on expectations, hope and dreams, filled with good gifts and natural consequences.

We have the covenant God made with Noah by placing a rainbow in the sky.

A covenant made with Abraham about land, children, and universal blessing.

A few weeks ago we witnessed the covenant made with King David that involved the north and south, the elders, the people, and God;

a covenant in which it was not about “I” or “you” but “US” and “WE”, flesh and bone, rooted in servant leadership.

Can’t help but to think about Emmanuel’s own covenant made 30 years ago between God, our founding members, Rev. Loffer, the FL Conference, and the national body.

A covenant that we would be a forward-thinking congregation that would be a place of social justice and care in the Sebring community.

Many here today are familiar with our opening statement “No matter who you are or where we are on life’s journey, you are here.”

That’s something from the national setting that we have chosen to say each week.

But how many are familiar with what’s on page 1 of the bulletin- “We have a passion for God and compassion for ALL people.”

We should be proud to say that we try our best to embody that idea.

We embody it through our worship. Our Bible Study. Our Fellowship. Our ministries.

The yearly trips to Back Bay. The Nu-Hope Elder Care meal site. The Highlands Community soup kitchen.

The Gifts of Comfort that dare to say everyone has the right to look beautiful and feel good about their bodies, and the ways in which we have involved local dentists and the residents of Golf Hammock.

The Sit and Stitch group which is an active place of crafting and creating Prayer Blankets and signs of God’s love.

TOPS, which has become a safe space in which weight is lost, healthy living is embraced, long-term relationships are formed, and lives are transformed.

But perhaps no ministry at Emmanuel UCC has done more to show a passion for God and a compassion for all people than The Shepherd’s Pantry.

The covenants that God established with Noah, with Abraham, with David all come down to 2 basic things- to love the Lord and to love your neighbor.

And that’s what The Shepherd’s Pantry has been doing all these years.

Just last Monday we served 170 families.

But the passion for God and compassion for ALL is not just in the grocery bags filled with food.

It’s in the sandwiches that are lovingly prepared. The drinks passed out with a smile. The toys given to the children who are in situations beyond their own control.

It’s in the handshakes, the conversations, the relationships that every one of our volunteers demonstrates to every client…no- to each PERSON, each HUMAN BEING that comes through the doors.

No explanation sought out, no proof of need required.

As anyone who meets our guests knows, each month we have those 1st time visitors who don’t know what to expect.

They can be nervous, embarrassed, apologetic, and worried.

Many just want to take the pre-packed food and leave…

…until they step through our doors…and are greeted by our volunteers.

They discover this is not just a place in which they can be fed, but a place in which they are cared for.

The way YOU…WE…US…engage in conversations, shake their hands, look them in the eye, take the time to listen, sit beside, talk, laugh, carry out their groceries as if they are paying customers.

Sure, sometimes things get messy, sometimes things get confusing, sometimes we have to make uncomfortable decisions.

But we are living out the covenant we made 30 years ago with God, the Conference and the Community.

Last week when Rev. Etheredge visited with her partner, they commented on how welcome they were made to feel.

How much they loved the music. Diane’s leadership. The food!

Randy- you have no idea how much they loved, loved, loved the food and hospitality.

The kitchen. They were blown away by our kitchen, not only it’s size but what we are doing with it.

And now as we enter Advent, we get to decorate our buildings in preparation of the Jesus’ birth.

But it’s not just trees and fun-filled ornaments we’re putting up, we are putting up reminders of what Jesus means to us.

Jesus- the one who not only believed in the tenacity of God, but embodied God’s tenacity.

Jesus- the one who not only believed in the Impossibly Possible God, but showed just how Possible God truly is.

We enter the Advent Season aware that Jesus Christ certainly had a passion for God and a compassion for all people.

And as we embrace this, who knows what wonderful things will come our way.

With the blossoming of the Shepherd’s Pantry and the Gifts of Comfort, we can look forward to how we are:

-Working together to make God’s heart glad.

-Inspired by the Holy Spirit.

-Continuing to claim what Christ is about, for us.

Making real the covenant that was made 30 years ago, as well as the covenant Josiah and the people reentered into nearly 2,700 years ago.

So often, people think that the laws or the Bible are only about unrealistic rules about what you can or cannot do.

But the covenants, the scriptures are also based on memories of who we were, who we currently are, and what we’re meant to be.

The covenant that Josiah rediscovered, which Jesus Christ so embodied, is about loving God and loving neighbor, with passion and compassion.

The covenant is about “WE” and “US” about being of the same flesh and bone.

We are all modern-day Josiah’s who have the ability to follow the Lord, and join in the covenant of grace and love.

We are meant to be good grapes in God’s earthly vineyard.

We are beloved children of our Heavenly Parent.

Called to love and live in relationship.

Called to embody passion and compassion.

For that, let us say “Amen.”

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Tenacity of God; Sermon on Isaiah 5:1-7

Rev. George Miller
November 17, 2019
Isaiah 5:1-7

While the country is awash in winter, I’ve been working in the yard all week. It’s easy to think about the conditions of our geographic location. More specifically- the tenacity of nature.

That’s something we here in Florida know all too well. We are living in a part of the world in which the wild things grow and grow…and grow.

And no matter what, they seem to survive and thrive.

Florida nature has great tenacity. Tenacity means the ability to grip, to hold on, and to persist.

The crab grass; no matter how much you pull it up or spray, it will grow amongst the cracks of the sidewalk.

Fire ants, no matter how many times you disrupt their hills or sprinkle pesticides on the ground, there they are.

And all these wildflowers, bushes and plants that have the seeds and sticks that cling to your skin and wedge themselves under your clothes.

Where do they come from and how do they get there?

The other day I walked out to the shed and half-way there had the stop because a whole glob of stickily-somethings had latched onto the hairs of my leg.

Wednesday, I went to get the paper and upon sitting down felt a whole bunch of green seedamathigs that had hooked themselves inside the bottom of my pjs.

Florida nature is tenacious…except when you want it to be.

The purple plants purchased at Lowe’s that simply burnt up under the sun. The grapefruit tree in the backyard that never grew beyond 5 feet.

The pink hibiscus that caught my eye in 2016 that was planted in the front flower bed.

It has yet to grow no matter how much it’s been watered, pampered, and surrounded by good soil. I even speak to it, calling it Mr. Pinky.

Nothing worked, so a few weeks ago, I took out the sheers and pruned it back, but I was afraid I cut it back too much, because Mr. Pinky ended up looking like Mr. Twiggy…

Still, I stand by the original claim that nature can be tenacious. The way it grips, holds on, persists.

So is God. God has great tenacity.

For the past few months, we’ve explored how God is the Impossibly Possible God.

This morning, let us talk about the Tenacity of God.

From the very beginning of creation, God has exhibited great determination and phenomenal persistence.

God had to.

With Cain killing Abel. The Hebrews refusing to enter the Promised Land in the height of season. The people demanding a King to lead them and choosing to worship Baal instead.

When the nation split in two leaving only the tribe of Jesse in the southern part of Judah.

Through all these stories we have studied, we have heard again and again how God hears, God wrestles, God wants to bless, but the people continue to be deaf, disengage, and turn away.

And yet, God chooses to hold on. God continues to seek out relationship.

God continues to make covenant after covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with David.

As we learned last week via the prophet Hosea, God even chooses to love.

Even when we don’t love back.

Does this mean that God is foolish?

Is God foolish for having created? Is God foolish to have hope? Is God foolish to hold on?

Is God foolish to love?

We ask this question because once again we are confronted with scripture that features the heartbreak of God.

This time, instead of being portrayed as a parent, God is seen as a vineyard owner.

We see God using the best soil; creating with care; planting with purpose.

We witness God doing all that can possibly be done to bring forth the greatest of grapes. But instead what comes forth is wild.

The NRSV is the gentlest of translations, as other versions call the grapes bitter, rank, worthless, even bad.

What makes the grapes not the best?

Because instead of being justice-led they are bloodshed-based. Instead of living right, they purposely cause the oppressed to cry.

Instead of humbly being beside the Lord; they disregard God’ deeds and words, no matter how simple or clear they were made to be.

As a result, in profound poetic expression, the prophet portrays God as one who is filled with rage, who is filled with disappointment, filled with the sourness of dashed hopes.

God is ready to pull up the weeds. God is ready to get out the bugspray. God is ready to prune everything back beyond any hope of recovery.

You read today’s reading and it’s nearly impossible not to get the sense that God has had enough, God is ready to walk away from it all…

…Yet, if we read further along, we discover that God persists; God holds on. God is tenacious.

As chapter 11 expresses “a shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

Now, I’ll be honest with you- I’ve never fully understood this reading.

As a non-gardener, raised in a suburb, this notion of a shoot shooting out from a stump made no sense.

A stump is a stump. When a tree is cut down, isn’t it dead? What’s left behind is at best something you can sit upon; at worst something you got to mow around.

So, what is this shoot? What is this branch?

I finally learned a few weeks ago.

If you recall, from the beginning of the message, Mr. Pinky was left looking like Mr. Twiggy.

Seriously, the hibiscus was nothing more than a stick jutting out of the ground; sure to be dead forever.

But about 3 days later, a little green bud appeared at the bottom. It began to grow a little.

A few days more, a few more green buds; and soon the buds began to stretch out and take the form of leaves.

And now, about a month later there’s a series of green leaves up and down this branch-like thing, about 30 in all.

This has encouraged me to water it, weed around it, even speak to it, hoping that one day it will bloom again and grow…

The Tenacity of God.

God is tenacious- able to hold on, to persist, and to be deliberate.

How else can we explain God calling Abraham and Sarah, a childless couple, to become the ancestors of many?

How else can we explain the Israelites, a people made up of the disregarded and enslaved as being led through deep waters and parched wastelands?

If God did not have tenacity, how else can we explain that at 2,000 years ago, when only 1 tribe of Israel was left, that in the smallest of towns in one of the southern-most states,

An angel appeared to a maiden named Mary and said “Be not afraid.”?

How else could an angel appear to a simple, ordinary guy like Joseph and say “Do not be scared.”?

And though they lived during difficult times and had to travel great distances, they would give life

to such a root;
to such a branch;
to such a holy seed
that we call Jesus;
Emmanuel;
God with us.

And that their son, born into poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness,

Would not only believe in the Tenacity of God; but that Jesus would embody the Tenacity of God.

Think of how much tenacity Jesus Christ, as the shoot of Jesse, exhibited-

Feeding the hungry when there didn’t appear to be enough.

Walking on water even when the storms were tough.

Bestowing a banquet of good wine upon a community that had run out.

Think of how Jesus embodied the Tenacity of God by teaching the Beatitudes and offering healing to anyone who dared to ask.

The Jesus we are preparing to welcome is one who embodied the Tenacity of God who dared to dream; dared to create; and dared to love.

God’s tenacity is greater than our timidity.

God’s belief in us is greater than our doubts.

God’s deeds are greater than our denials.

God’s love is greater than our hate.

God’s tenacity dares to believe that we have the ability to become good grapes.

God’s tenacity is to keep loving us until that is so. For that, we can say “Amen.”

Monday, November 11, 2019

Resting On God's Shoulder; Sermon on Hosea 11:1-9

Rev. George Miller
November 10, 2019
Hosea 11:1-9

Last Wednesday I had a much-needed magical night. I took my ‘Lil Brother Cornelius and his sister Carmela to Highlands Lakeside Theatre to see “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Last time I took Cornelius to the theatre he was young enough to be captivated by the Wicked Witch of the West, and to fall asleep on my arm during the 2nd Act of “Always, Patsy Kline.”

But now he’s a 16-year-old with hair on his chin and a Learners Permit in his pocket, and his sister is 15.

I was unsure if they even wanted to go. Would they enjoy live theatre? Would they be bored and roll their eyes the entire time?

We had a great time. The experience was everything theatre is meant to be.

They got Shirley Temple’s in the lounge; candy from the concession stand.

They laughed throughout the show, spending just as much time laughing at the show as laughing with.

They also spent a lot of time laughing at me.

Over the months I’ve moved into the Awkward Uncle status, the beloved elder in which what I wear, how I walk, what I say, and how I shoot them the “Be Quiet” look makes them giggle.

I get it, but sometimes it’s hard to know how they really feel about me.

Do I still matter in their lives? Does my presence really make a difference?

By the 2nd Act, “it” happened, and I got my answer.

Something funny happened on stage that made the audience laugh, which made me laugh, which made Cornelius laugh, which made me laugh even more, and Carmela, in a fit of hysterics, leaned her head on my shoulder…

She lifted her head up to laugh more, then she rested her head back onto my shoulder, then she really laughed, and laid her head on my shoulder…and kept it there for as a long as a 15-year-old could.

…It was exactly what I needed.

The validation that although these kids are grown and growing, I still mattered, and that deep down, no matter how goofy they thought I was, they truly cared for me…as I do for them.

For now, these 2 kids are the closest I’ve come to being a parent.

With Cornelius, over the years we’ve had “the talk”-

-the sex talk
-the “you’re funky and need to use deodorant” talk
-The shaving talk
-The “how to respond when a cop pulls you over” talk, twice
-the “I’m scared for your safety” talk

Last Sunday Cornelius sat behind the wheel of my car and drove us from Arbuckle Creek to 66 to 27.

Such a myriad of emotions I’ve had the honor to experience with this young man and his sister-

The innocent joy of getting to share things with them for the 1st time, like theatre and Disney.

The measured wisdom of sharing knowledge from life’s experiences.

Fear of knowing that they are old enough to make choices that can affect their entire lives.

That everything has been worth it the moment they rest their head against your shoulder or send a text to see how you are, or simply say “Thank you” after a long day.

The only things I have not experienced from them is abandonment, disappointment, and seeing them make disastrous decisions…yet.

That’s what we see in today’s reading from Hosea.

Today’s scripture is not just an emotionally moving one, it is also a theologically important one.

Hosea 11 may be the earliest recorded expression of God’s love in the Bible.

What we have here is perhaps the first articulation that God loves us, and it’s not a love based on a promise to an ancestor, or a covenant made 1,000 years ago, or because God has to.

It’s an articulation of love as a verb in which God wants to love us.

This love that Hosea writes about is a parental kind of love, but it is deeper than that- it’s the love of a parent who has adopted their child, who has chosen to love their child out of their own free will.

Today’s reading is about God as the Heavenly Parent who chooses to adopt and love the Earthly Children, not because God has to, but because God wants to.

That’s deep.

But for anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few weeks, you know that choice wasn’t always reciprocated.

God wants to be the King of the Kingdom but the people say “No, we think we can do better with a human.”

God bestows wisdom upon Solomon, but he builds shrines to other gods.

God sends lightening down during a 3 year drought and still the people follow baals and corrupt kings.

God says “Come, walk humbly with me” but the people say “Na…we’d rather pledge our loyalty to the Assyrians.”

Today’s reading not only captures the parental love of God, but also the parental heartbreak of God.

This isn’t about God being seen as goofy but still headrest worthy…this is about God not even being seen at all.

Hosea 11 shows us a very vulnerable, emotional, wounded side of God.

It asks the question- what does it cost God to be God?

What does it cost God to be in relationship with us?

What does it cost God
-to create?
-to hear?
-to be vulnerable?
-to allow us the freedom to choose?

What does it cost God to adopt us, to raise us, to care for us?

It is interesting to think of all the things we want from God.

Many of us want to be blessed by God.

We want to be assured a place in Heaven.

We want to be forgiven.

We want to be helped, rescued, saved.

But do we ever think what God wants?

After all, if our relationship with God is a true relationship, it can’t be all one sided, it can’t be all about us.

What does God want?

If we read Hosea 11, we can say that what God wants is

-to love us
-to call us son and daughter
-to teach us how to walk
-to lift us up in God’s arms
-to heal
-to lead
-to feed
-to hold onto
-to not see us suffer.

So, why do we often act like we’re deaf? Or that we forgot?

Why do we continue to stumble over the same things we’ve been stumbling over?

Why do we turn away from God’s nourishment?

Why do we pledge loyalty to earthly powers or foreign kings?

Why do we still long for the land we were enslaved in?

Why do we do things that make God’s heart recoil and cause God great hurt?

I don’t know. After 3-4,000 years of this relationship you’d think we’d get things right with the Lord.

Thankfully God forgives; thankfully God waits; thankfully God loves.

As we end today’s message, you are invited to participate in a little exercise.

Imagine, that right here, right now, in this sanctuary, that God is literally sitting right beside you.

Let that reality be absorbed.

Now, no matter how goofy you may think God is, no matter what issues you two may have had in the past,

You invited to imagine that you are resting your head against God’s shoulder.

How does that feel?

How does that feel for you? How does that feel for God?

Do you think God’s heart is recoiling, or do you think God’s heart is filled with gladness?

Think of this week-

How can you welcome God lifting you up?

How can you allow God to nourish you?

How can God lead you, walk with you, guide you?

We are never too old to be young; we are never too old to be children of the Lord, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, related by the Holy Spirit.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Impossible Things Are Happening Every Day; Sermon on 1 Kings 18 20-39

Rev. George Miller
Nov 3, 2019
1 Kings 18:20-39

Last week on “Saturday Night Live” Chance the Rapper was the musical guest.

He started his 1st song by featuring a clip of his young daughter singing “Impossible” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”, except it wasn’t the 1950’s version sung by Julie Andrews, but the 1990’s version sung by Brandy and Whitney Houston.

This may not seem like a big deal until we realize that it wasn’t until 1997 that a child of color had the opportunity to see a Disney Princess, Prince, or Fairy Godmother who looked like them.

So, a song featuring the lyric “Impossible things are happening every day” takes on a much greater pop cultural, social and spiritual meaning.

“Impossible things are happening every day.” If that doesn’t fit into today’s reading, I don’t know what does.

1 Kings 18 is one of those scriptures that becomes a real barometer for faith and how you approach the Bible.

Do you see the Bible as full of stories that may be nice and all, but really hold no truth?

Or do you see the Bible as full of stories made to awe and wonder, to inspire and surprise in which God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are making impossible things happen every day?

Are you the kind of person who believes that miracles are taking place all the time, or do you believe there is no magic, no wonder, no extra-ordinariness in the world?

Today’s reading is truly one that puts us to the test.

As it turns out, there are a lot of my clergy colleagues from around the nation who are choosing not to preach on this reading today.

I was unprepared to go into the Narrative Lectionary chatroom and discover how many preachers find this story uncomfortable.

They find it confusing. They can’t understand why this story exists, or why such a supposedly archaic tale needs to be retold.

They’re bothered by the image of an all-powerful God who with a single act can burn it all down to the ground.

But if you have ever been part of a minority group, if you’ve ever faced great odds, if you’ve ever been surrounded by enemies,

if you’ve ever experienced a way out of no way, if you’ve ever been the lone dissenting voice, if you’ve ever lived with a chronic illness,

if you’ve ever had to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, or poverty on a daily basis,

then you should understand why this story is in the Bible and why it should still be taught today.

This is yet another story about our Impossibly Possible God,

the one who gave Sarah a child, who heard the cries of the Hebrews, who chose the 8th born son of a small town nobody to be the greatest somebody.

This is a story that is set in the bleakest of times.

The nation has been torn into two. The citizens of the north have endured corrupt king after king after king.

There has been a three-year drought in which the lack of rain has caused extreme hunger and hopelessness.

The people are without a strong identity of who they are, what they believe, and if they will even make it through to the next day.

Enter into this story the prophet Elijah who is seen as a threat to the king, the state, and the economy.

He proposes a challenge for all to experience- who are you willing to trust, the God who created the world, or the various gods of the world?

Who do you think really sees you, knows you, and cares for you-

the false idols and personalities you put your trust and fear into?

Or the One who knows you by name, hears your cries, and is willing to wrestle with you in the dark of night?

This is a story in which all the odds are stacked against God, and yet God prevails.

Instead of a sanctuary full of believers, there’s just one man standing solo.

There’s an altar that’s been demolished.

There’s a trench deep and wide enough to plant about 20 pounds of seed.

There’s 12 barrels of water poured over everything.

There’s the reality that there hasn’t been any rain, thunder, or lightening in 3 years.

1 person, in an imperfect, destitute place with a ditch and dampened resources, surrounded by naysayers, in a cultural climate that has lost its soul and sense of right and wrong…

…and yet, the Impossibly Possible God answers, acts, and overcomes.

While the false gods of the world are helplessly silent and lead their followers to hurt and humiliate themselves,

the one true God does what no one else thinks can be done.

This is not just a story about how God is able to fill our world with wonder,

it is also about how sometimes it takes just 1 person, with an unshakeable trust in the Impossibly Possible God, to change the world and to start a revolution.

1 person with a sense of purpose, a sense of clarity, a sense of the Spirit.

When encountering this story, I can’t help but to think of Martin Luther.

Back in 1517, instead of being a place of hope and possibilities, the church was a place of fear and dread.

People were fooled into thinking that God was out to punish them, and the only way to earn God’s favor was to work for it, pay for it, or cower under the priests.

Yet one man stormed up to the church’s doors and condemned them for how far they strayed from the Gospel Truth.

Martin Luther, in a time of spiritual darkness and drought, rediscovered the gift of grace, making room for God’s goodness to rain down upon the people, freeing us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

Just as the Elijah stood up to the abusers of his day, Martin Luther stood up to the abusers of his day to make the God of amazing grace known.

Today’s story is one for the ages.

It is for anyone, who feels as if they are alone, and are facing great obstacles,

as if all opportunities are dried up, all dreams are dashed,

and all hope has been doused.

This is a story for anyone who has had to overcome great odds, face certain defeat, and look upon lost chances.

This is a story for anyone who has ever felt ignored, rejected, up against the wall, and hope is completely lost.

This story is for anyone who has had the courage to call upon the Lord…and discovered that God does hear, God does answer, God does act.

This story is for anyone who has been a part of a revolution. Who has faced the voices of naysayers and didn’t quit.

This is a story for anyone who believes in miracles,

who is willing to believe that with God,
impossible things are happening every day.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Jr., JoJo and God's Hopeful Heart; Message on 1 Kings 12:1-17

Rev. George Miller
Oct 27, 2019
1 Kings 12:1-17

(Today’s message is character-based.)

We are at an interesting time in our nation’s history. For the past 200 years we’ve been divided and now it seems as if either we are going to stay that way or something good is ‘bout to happen.

My name is Simon, from the tribe of Simeon. My people have been living here in the North for as long as we can remember.

It is here that our ancestor Abraham heard the call from God to get up and go. It is here that the bones of Joseph are buried.

Our nation has a rich and complex history; a soap opera some will say.

We are a people of the promise, who were originally brought together by our Impossibly Possible God…but somehow, we have been torn apart, led astray, repeat breakers of God’s heart.

Let me tell you our story-

300 years ago everything seemed just right. After a troubling time, God gave us a new king named David.

It was a glorious day.

The north and the south came together. The elders acted as ONE. There was no “You” or “I” but instead there was “we” and “us”, bone and flesh.

Before God, before one another, we entered into a covenant with our King in which he was called to be our shepherd-

to care and protect, feed and comfort,
follow God’s commandments, and walk in God’s ways.

Everything seemed possible; we were certain all wrongs would be made right.

And King David was a great King… except when he wasn’t.

He coveted, he lied, he committed adultery; some say rape.

He was followed by his son Solomon, who led with God’s wisdom. He built the holy temple in Jerusalem.

He spent tons of money, employed tons of workers, used up tons of resources, and the results were magnificent-

a gleaming, golden House of the Lord in which everyone from the north and south could go to worship.

How beautiful upon the hill it looked, becoming a beacon of hope to all.

Like any nation, there were those who liked our leaders, there were those who did not.

Those in the south enjoyed the prestige of having the Temple in their vicinity. But those of us in the north? Not so much.

We felt that King David and Solomon played favorites. We noticed how there were certain parts of the nation they taxed more than others; that certain people were more likely to be forced into labor than others.

Often times it was us in the north who paid the most and worked the hardest while King Solomon and his crew were off having fun or making more money.

Then there was the issue of Solomon’s wandering eye. Just like his dad, one woman was not enough. Solomon had a thing for exotic women who worshipped other gods, so to please them he built them shrines and temples and worshipped their false idols.

Imagine- the same man who built the Holy Temple was the same man who worshipped Astarte and Milcom all for the sake of a pretty face.

Imagine how this broke God’s heart…

Then 200 years ago something happened that we still talk about today- Solomon’s son was crowned. His name was Rehoboam, but I call him Jr.

The people from the north came to Jr. and said “We loved your dad, but he worked us really hard. If you show us respect and give us some rest, we will serve you forever.”

Jr. went to his father’s council of elders for advice and they said “Do what they ask. If you serve the people, speaking to them with kindness and compassion, they will be your biggest fans.”

Then Jr. went to his drinking buddies, the ones who worked on Wall Street, and asked the same question.

They said “Heck no! Tell them your little finger is bigger than your father’s you-know-what! Tell them that since they’re complaining about how hard they work, they will now have to work harder and be punished greater.”

Can you guess whose advice Jr. took?

And just like that!, the nation split. The men who came to Jr. simply seeking kindness from their leader, waved goodbye, and 10 of the 12 tribes went with them.

This left Jr. with a country torn in two. Sure, he still had the Temple, but now he was King of only 1 tribe.

God’s heart broke even more.

Sadly, the soap opera doesn’t stop there. The north called their own king, Jeroboam. I call him JoJo.

JoJo is given a great opportunity. God told him that if listens to God’s voice and walks humbly in God’s ways, then he’ll have everything his soul desires.

God tells JoJo “Do what I ask and I will build you the same thing I built David and the nation will be yours!”

Guess what JoJo does: somehow he gets it into his head that if people go down south to worship God at the Temple, they’ll end up liking Jr. more.

So he builds two golden calves, tells everyone to stop going south to praise God, and to worship these idols instead, claiming they were the ones who set us free from slavery.

And like that!, over a thousand years of faith in the Lord is flushed away and we were expected to turn our back on our Impossibly Possible God.

And God’s heart broke even more.

That was 200 years ago, and here we are, in a nation town in two. In the south is the Temple and the tribe of Judah.

In the north we don’t really know what we are. We’re Jew but not Jew, Gentile but not Gentile. Outsiders, yet insiders.

We see those in the south as all uppity. Those in the south see us as robbers and rapists.

How it must hurt God’s heart to see the beloved nation of Israel torn into two.

Yet, there is hope. I can’t help but to feel there is a change coming in the air,
That God is getting ready to do something new.

There’s a prophet in town called Isaiah. Most folk think he’s out there, but I like what he says.

Isaiah seems to have finger on the pulse of the nation and he’s been busy warning us that if things continue as is, something bad is bound to happen.

Yet, he also offers hints of hope.

He speaks about someone we have yet to meet, someone we don’t know, named Immanuel.

That God will take what remains and bring forth new life.

That God will bring forth a new kind of leader, someone who will truly be filled with wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, who is filled with knowledge and delight in the Lord.

Isaiah talks of this new leader as someone who will care for the poor, decide what’s right for the helpless, who will be righteous and faithful.

A new kind of leader in which even the wolf will rest with the lamb, cows and bears will eat side by side, and children shall be safe from harm.

A leader in which kindness, care and love for the Lord will cover the earth just as the waters of creation did.

Imagine such a day! Imagine what sort of peace that will create!

Imagine getting to the place in which wrongs are made right, the north is reunified with the south, and God’s heart is truly made glad!

I don’t know who this Immanuel is. I don’t know when he’s set to arrive. It could be in my lifetime; it could be in the next.

But it does not matter. I am willing to wait; for the love of the Lord, I wait.

Who can this Immanuel be? Just what, exactly, will this Immanuel do?

What does our Impossibly Possible God have in store for us all?

And can we, will we, this time, do what needs to be done so God’s heart will no longer be broken?

Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

God's Love Story; "The King and We" Edition; Sermon on 2 Samuel 5:1-5

Rev. George Miller
Oct 20, 2019
2 Samuel 5:1-5

There are many ways that you can read the Bible. You may view the Bible as a guide to salvation and how to save your soul. You may think of the Bible as a set of instructions on how to live your most heavenly life while on earth.

I see the Bible as a love story. A love story in which God creates us, frees us, leads us, and blesses us.

A love story in which God does the impossibly possible and gives us family when there is none, parts the sea when there is no way out, and cares for us when we are in the desert.

A love story in which God makes sure our jars of flour never run out, miraculous healings take place, and we are invited to sit and eat together- bread and wine, loaves and fishes.

A love story in which God makes it so simple- don’t turn God into a thing, say “Yes Ma’am” to your Momma, don’t spread false lies about others, and take time each week to relax, rest, and to humbly be one with your Creator.

But ever so sadly, the Bible is a love story in which God is constantly getting God’s heart broken.

No matter what miraculous things God does, we soon forget.

No matter what gifts God gives, we aren’t content.

No matter how simple God makes things, we find a way to muck it up.

In Genesis, God creates us so we can walk together in the cool breeze of the afternoon, only to find us hiding in the undergrowth, afraid.

In Numbers 13 God leads the people right to the Promised Land in the height of spring, when the grapes are growing and butterflies are flying, they spread lies, act in fear and refuse to step forward, which causes them to wander the wilderness for 40 more years.

In 1 Samuel 8 we see one of God’s biggest heartbreaks. The people have been living in the Promised Land for years. God’s love for them has continued even with all their missteps.

God wants to be their King, guiding them through priests and judges, visions and prophecy, through patience and miracles, and an unstoppable, unshakeable love for them.

God assures them that if they do the simple things God has asked, God will continue to provide and care for them.

But sadly, this is not enough for the people of Israel.

They look around at the other nations and see that they all have Kings, so they want the same thing to.

They feel the God who set them free, parted the sea, and gave them rest is no longer good enough.

“Give us a king to govern us!” they demand.

Their rejection breaks God’s heart. God tries to warn them “If you have a king, bad things will happen. A king will take your sons and turn them into soldiers. A king will take your daughters and turn them into servants.”

“A King will take the best of your land and the best of your crops and give them to his cronies.”

“A King will take your possessions and use them for his own satisfaction.”

“A King will wage wars, see everyone as expendable, and turn you into slaves. You will cry out and regret your choice.”

“Please, whatever you do- don’t do this.”

But the people, not caring about what God has done, what God has given, respond by saying “We know best, we want a king over us, we want to be like everybody else.”

The people had forgotten that what made them so special was that they were not like everybody else, they were not supposed to be like everybody else.

So God, broken hearted, and totally rejected, gives the people what they want- a King.

And at first the King seemed to do everything right. He won battles. He conquered enemies. He kept the people safe…but soon things fall apart.

In a moment of distress, the King makes an unlawful sacrifice, followed by decisions to starve his soldiers, disobey God, not follow the commandments, and getting caught up in things like flocks and gold, opulence and unwarranted opportunity.

Once again God’s heart is broken, yet God does not give up. A second king is anointed to take the 1st Kings place.

This 2nd King is David. And in typical God-Style, God does it in God’s own unique, unexpected way.

David is not from a big city. He’s not from the best family. He is not the 1st born. He is not the best looking or well educated.

David is the 8th born son of a farming family living in a small southern town, considered so inconsequential that his own father forgets about him.

David is ruddy and rough around the edges, but he plays a mean harp, can cast a sharp stone, and knows how to protect his father’s flock.

It is David who becomes Israel’s second king, an event has twists and turns, invokes great controversy, and more drama than a weekly soap opera such as “Dynasty” or “Empire”.

But here we are, 2 Samuel, to witness the anointing of David. It is an event that unifies the entire country, bringing the northern and southern towns together.

It is an event that involves both God, the people and the King.

And look at the words that are used in this story: we, shepherd, covenant.

So simple, yet so powerful.

This event becomes one in which it seems possible as if all the wrongs will be made right, as if all the lessons have been learned from their mistakes, as if this time God’s heart will be made happy.

“We.”

The elders realize it is not just about “I”, it is not just about “you”, it is not just about “Everybody else” but it is about “us”; it is about “we.”

“We are your bone and flesh,” they say to their new king. Meaning we are not alone, we are not apart, we are not separated, but we are all in this, together, untied.

And not just us, doing it alone, but with the Lord, beside us, guiding us.

“Covenant.”

The people and King David make a covenant with one another. It is not just a business deal. It is not just a worldly transaction.

It is a holy agreement they chose to make before the Lord, a heavenly promise they enter into, in which they trust David to be their leader on the ground while God will be their leader from the cosmic control room.

“Shepherd.”

Such a simple world, yet revolutionary.

Whereas all the other kings ruled by fear and domination, this new king was expected to rule via care and compassion.

Whereas the kings of the world forced their people into back breaking work, crushed their spirits and filled them with fear, King David was expected to guide the people into prosperity, calm their souls, and use his strength as a source of comfort.

While other kings preferred to starve their citizens, twist justice into punishment, and rule with hateful anger, King David was expected to make sure the bellies of God’s people were full, kindness and mercy prevailed, and decisions were based on righteousness and care.

In other words, as a shepherd, King David was being called upon to lead the people through green pastures, comfort them in times of distress, and try his best to remove whatever metaphoric briars and brambles, thieves and bears may come their way.

How awesome that this is the model of leadership that God desires for the people. That what God wants is what’s best for all.

With this model of covenant, using words like “we” and “shepherd”, and including the Lord, it seems as if things are off to a good start, and perhaps now God’s heart will no longer be broken, and the people can be happy.

Will it work? Will kindness and compassion prevail?

Will the people God created, delivered, and blessed finally learn how to trust and obey, work as partners, and believe?

Like any good love story, like any good television soap opera….

…you’ll have to tune in next week to see what happens. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sabbath Rest; Oct 6, 2019 Sermon on Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Rev. George Miller
Oct 6, 2019
Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Today we continue our journey through the Old Testament with our Impossibly Possible God.

We were right there to witness how God created us out of earth and breath.

We were there to hear Sarah laugh, to watch Jacob wrestle, and to see Shiphrah and Puah bravely stand before the king.

Now, we join the Israelites as they listen to a sermon from Moses, being reminded once more of just how much we are connected.

Thanks to his trickster mother, Moses is one of the Hebrew boys who survived the pharaoh’s holocaust.

He has risen to be an unlikely liberator, leading God’s people to freedom, crossing the Red Sea, and surviving the sands of time.

We are now just a step away from entering the Promised Land. Before that happens, Moses wants us to be prepared.

His sermon reminds the people of who they were, who they are now, and all that God has done.

His sermon gives instructions on how to live their best life possible and how to stay connected to God, to the land, and to one another.

How to be a community that flourishes.

The instructions are so simple so clear: don’t tell lies, don’t kill, don’t steal.

Don’t use God’s name as a curse, don’t turn God into a thing.

But there is one commandment that seems to be the simplest and yet the most possibly impossible of all- take one day a week to rest, to not work, and to just….be.

Sabbath.

I have a deep fondness for the Sabbath. Back in seminary I wrote a paper on the sabbath, and as part of my “research” I took every Saturday off for a month.

It was exquisite.

I began each Sabbath by preparing a crock pot with pot-roast and putting it on a timer, cleaning the apartment, and setting aside my assignments.

To welcome the sabbath on Friday night, I’d go to the local synagogue with friends for worship and prayer.

Saturday morning came and I didn’t study, didn’t wash dishes, didn’t go to the library stressed out over the never-ending class work.

Instead I did things like go outside, play frisbee, sit in the sun, watch Gone With the Wind from start to finish.

It was an enlightening experience, learning how to let go, to trust God, to believe that no matter how busy I was, no matter how fast the world seemed to be going, that life would continue with one day off.

This gift of Sabbath has transcended time to my current life situation.

As many of you know, my Mom in AZ has been facing major health problems. The past 4 weeks time has been the most wibbly-wobbly of things.

Literally, I’ve been dealing with 3 different times zones, communicating with people in 8 different states, all working together to do what is best for Mom.

Time takes on a whole new essence when your 9 am is someone else’s 6, and someone else’s 8 pm is your midnight.

So, I’ve been ever so grateful for today’s reading, because this scripture has been my sanctuary and calm in the storm.

Why? Because today’s reading is a reminder that we all need a time of rest.

Because of this reading, I have found a way, each day, to create my own sabbath, be it shutting off the phone for an hour, escaping with a tv show, sitting with a friend, being in the yard, or having a true heart-2-heart with God.

Sabbath.

It is such a valuable expression of faith.

By why? Why would God invite us, to take one day off and to just….be?

If you recall, this commandment was given to the Israelites, who were once slaves. For centuries they had worked under the oppressive rule of the Pharaoh, told what to do, when to do it.

All they had known was hard oppressive work.

That may have been the way of Earth’s King, but the Lord of Heaven wants them to experience something new- the chance to enjoy the beauty of the earth, to enjoy one another, and to enjoy being with God.

Sabbath is a way for the people to rediscover the connectedness they were meant to have when created.

But there is something perhaps most beautiful, most elemental about the Sabbath…and it’s about time.

Time is one thing that belongs to all people, everywhere.

Time is not like space; it cannot be owned, it cannot be bought and sold, it can’t be built upon, which also means it can be torn down.

Right now you are each inhabiting your very own space in this sanctuary. You are there, and no one else. Where you sit belongs to you and only you, exclusively.

But time…time is not exclusive.

We are all sharing this same time, this same moment no matter who we are, no matter if we are old or older, black or white, founding member or 1st time visitor.

We are all sharing this same moment of time as everyone who is here, everyone who is outside our walls, and everyone around the globe.

We can not purchase time, prevent time, or rewind time.

It is the great equalizer; but scripturally it is more than that.

When we study scripture, we discover that it is time through which God acts.

Whereas other gods were believed to be attached to idols or statues, things or individuals, the Israelites viewed God through the lense of time and events.

That’s why Genesis begins with “In the beginning” and not something like “In the garden.”

Time belong to God, and time is a gift from God.

According to today’s reading, if we wish to honor God, we will set aside time each week in which we will let go.

We will let go of the very human need to have and to own, to possess and control, to subdue and figure out.

To just spend time with God; to allow time to be a sanctuary in which we can breathe and be, rest and restore, to listen and to hear what our Creator may be trying to say.

This notion of experiencing God through rest and time set aside is so beautiful and so holy.

And it does something so wonderful.

Think of the things we often associate with faith. We have preachers, we have buildings, we have books, we have tables, we have candles, we have bulletins.

But preachers are just people and they can disappoint, buildings can be blown away, books can become mildewed, and candles can burn down.

But time continues doesn’t it?

Think of the all realities of life. People move, people age, people get hospitalized, go to war, get imprisoned.

Spaces, places and faces can all change in a moment due to an act of nature, an act of the enemy, an act of the economy.

But time? Time continues. No matter what, time continues.

In that notion there is to be comfort in the Sabbath.

Observing the Sabbath means that no matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey, no matter what we face, no matter what we endure, God has established a way in which we can always be connected with God.

And it’s not through a person, place, or a thing. But it is through time.

Which means that no matter what, we have the ability to connect with God. No matter where, we have a way to connect with God.

We do so by setting aside time to just be present with the Lord.

To put away things, to put away the lawnmower, to put away the bills.

To set aside time to just be with God, to connect.

And as long as there is time, it means the people can always experience God.

You can be in jail, you can be in war, you can be in a hospital bed, but if you set aside a moment, that moment can be filled with God.

Today’s reading not only helps us with how to be better neighbors and stewards of the earth but how to keep that connection with God.

This is God, saying to us “It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are going through, if you are wandering across a wilderness, or wrestling with the unknown, or if you have found your Promised Land surrounded by milk and honey…if you can find time to just be…I am there.”

“From Back Bay to Highlands County, from your home here or your home up north, if you can find time to just rest…I am there.”

“You don’t have to possess or own, build or control…You simply just have to be in the moment and allow the moment to be in you, and I AM there.”

This notion creates a great freedom, another way to be connected, and I hope it creates a great sense of comfort for you, as it has for me.

Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Stepping Out of Line with Shiphrah and Puah; Sermon on Genesis 1:8-21

Rev. George Miller
Sept 29, 2019
Genesis 1:8-21

Last Sunday, at the Emmy Awards, Alex Bornstein won the Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy.

She ended up telling the story about her grandmother, who was a concentration camp survivor.

Her grandmother was on line to be shot. She turned to the guard and asked what would happen if she stepped out of line.

The guard said “I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but another guard will.”

So she stepped out of line…

Today we continue our journey through the Old Testament and our Impossibly Possible God.

We were reacquainted with our spiritual ancestors- Grandmother Sarah who laughed and father Jacob who dared to wrestle with God.

Today we remember our aunties, Shiphrah and Puah, who chose life as opposed to death.

I have a deep fondness for this story, and a deep love for Shiphrah and Puah. They are perhaps my favorite biblical characters and who I most want to be when I grow up.

Shiphrah and Puah are Hebrew midwives, women who are called to assist in the delivery of newborns.

But they are more than that- S & P are tricksters; they are common, every day individuals who have learned how to use their wit, their wisdom, and their inner strength to survive in a world that wishes to silence or ignore them.

Shiphrah and Puah are part of a long lineage of tricksters.

Tricksters are characters in stories told largely by oppressed and persecuted people. Tricksters are characters who are smooth, slick, and do what they need to do to survive and resist.

Jacob, from last week’s reading, was a trickster.

As the 2nd born son, he had no access to certain resources, so he smoothly found a way to trick his brother, his father, and his uncle into giving him what he desired.

Brer Rabbit and Bugs Bunny are classic tricksters, doing what they need to do to outwit Elmer Fudd and Brer Fox.

Lucy Ricardo was a laugh-out-loud trickster, using every tool she had to be in the show, meet John Wayne, or sneak cheese onto a plane despite what Ricky or the other authorities said.

And Jesus, in many ways, was a trickster, telling parables about women who hide yeast in flour, slipping away from murderous crowds, and standing before authorities and answering their questions with more questions.

When stakes are high and opportunities low, it is often the trickster who finds a way out of no way.

So let’s take a look at today’s story. The Israelites have been living in Egypt for a long time. They came there as immigrants, following the success of Joseph, the great-great grandchild of Laughing Sarah, and the son of Wrestling Jacob.

Sarah’s descendants are something else. They have been blessed by God, they are living their best life, working hard, making love, having baby after baby after baby.

Their fertility and otherness scare the heck out of Egypt’s king, so he comes up with a plan- if we enslave these foreigners and work them real, real hard, they’ll be too tired to make more babies.

….Silly King- don’t you know that love will always win?

So, he comes up with a new plan- if I tell the Israelite midwives to kill the male babies, then I will never have to worry about them growing into men who can rise up and defeat me.

Note the irony of today’s story- the King thinks that only men could be a threat to his plan; he never once considers that 2 middle-aged midwives could be his biggest adversary.

The Pharaoh failed to realize that Shiphrah and Puah loved the Lord more than they feared him, and therefor they let every boy-child lived.

When you are connected to God and connected to one another, death and evil are not so strong.

The King can’t understand. How can this be? He calls S & P before him and ask “Why? Why have you allowed life to live?”

To which Shiphrah and Puah, having everything, EVERY THING, to lose, stand firm in the faith and knowledge of good and evil, and say “Because….”

“Because they are not like all the others.”

Pay attention to what they next say, and how brilliant it is “The God-Strivers are more vigorous and give birth faster than we can arrive.”

You ought to wonder- are they lying, telling the truth, or are they taking the King’s fears and prejudice and using it against him?

If he thinks the Hebrews are nothing but rampant baby makers, let’s play to his beliefs so that our people can live.

Tricksters, tricksters, tricksters.

So brilliant, smart, and brave.

Shiphrah and Puah have everything to lose and they end out outplaying the most powerful person in the world.

The King of Earth demands death, but as Citizens of Heaven, Shiphrah and Puah chose life.

Can you begin to comprehend how radical our faith truly is, and how threatening it can be to governments, businesses, and organizations?

That those who truly, truly follow God and claim Heaven as their Kingdom have ability to disrupt injustice, preserve life, and change the world!

Is it possible that the bravery of Shiphrah and Puah inspired Harriet Tubman to free over 300 men and women from slavery?

Is it possible that the trickery of S & P is what empowered the Van Peel family to hide Anne Frank for over 2 years?

Is it possible that the spirit of Shiphrah and Puah empowered 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to stand before grown men and verbally fight for her life and the life of the planet?

Was it in solidarity with Shiphrah and Puah that Alex Bornstein’s grandmother stepped out of line?

What would Auntie Shiphrah and Auntie Puah do today if they heard the gunshots at Marjory Stoneman or saw the children in Homestead?

Shiphrah and Puah join the likes of Wrestling Jacob, Laughing Sarah, and Imprisoned Paul as our long line of ancestors who dared to stand up for life when the world would rather welcome death.

Shiphrah and Puah demonstrate that as Citizens of Heaven we have a different calling than what others expect.

They also remind us that no matter how bleak, no matter how dark, no matter how dangerous, God is there.

God is King.

God is ready and able to bless.

We ought to be willing to play our part, laughing, wrestling, or choosing to say “yes!” to life and to the promises of tomorrow.

We can do all things through He who strengthens us, and nothing is too difficult for our Impossibly Possible God.

Amen.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Wrestling with the Impossibly Possible God; Sermon for Sept 22, 2019

Rev. George Miller
Sept 22, 2019
Genesis 32:22-30

2 weeks ago, we began our study of the Old Testament and our Impossibly Possible God.

We made the claim that Genesis 2 teaches us that we were created to be connected to one another, connected to the earth, and connected to God.

Well, you can’t be anymore connected to God than in a good old-fashioned wrestling match in which your arms are entwined, your feet are firmly planted on the ground, and you’re sweating like a farm hand at 3 pm.

But first-some back story.

Jacob is the impossibly possible grandchild of Sarah- she who laughed at God’s promise.

His mother is Rachel, his father is Isaac, and his twin-brother is Esau.

Jacob’s birth was a wrestling match of its own kind. His parents had a heck of a time conceiving, and when they did, Jacob and his brother would toss and turn inside their mother’s womb, causing Rachel great distress.

Esau was born first, but Jacob was holding tight onto his brother’s heel, trying so hard to be the 1st born.

Esau was what you’d call a man’s man- burly, hairy, swarthy and a real out-doorsman.

Jacob was more what you’d call a momma’s boy- introverted, preferring the indoors, and he was smooth; not just hairless smooth; but smooth as in slick, cunning, and a trickster.

Jacob was like the male, Palestinian version of Scarlett Ohara.

He tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright.

He tricked his father Isaac into giving him the family blessing.

He tricked his uncle into giving him specific sheep and lambs that allowed him to grow in wealth.

Jacob deceived and tricked every man in his family.

But now Jacob, the heel-clutcher, the Scarlett Ohara of his time, has met his match, and it is God.

And if Jacob is to get a blessing this time, it cannot be with lies, deceit, or agricultural voodoo, it’s gonna have to be through:

-strength and perseverance
-fighting and striving
-By keeping on, holding on
-And standing on the promises.

Jacob not only receives a blessing, he receives a brand new name and a new identity- Israel; loosely meaning “He Who Strives With God.”

What an elemental story of how the beloved children of God got their name. What a testament to who we are and where we come from.

Look at Israel’s name and how connected it is to the Creator- to strive with God, to struggle with God, to go toe-to-toe with God.

…now note what the new name Israel is not-

It does not mean “To pick dandelions while dreaming your day away.”

It does not mean “To be in blissful ignorance.”

Nor does it mean “To lose faith,” “To give up easily,” or

“To lower the bar so you don’t have to succeed, discover what you’re capable of, and trust that grown folk will do the right thing.”

Nor does Israel mean “To make excuses for others.”

“To set yourself up to fail.”

Or “To fight amongst yourselves because you’re afraid.”

Israel means “To strive with God.”

Connectedness; just as it’s supposed to.

To face the difficulties of life with God.

To trust that even though sorrow may last all night, joy comes in the morning.

THIS, sisters and brothers in Christ, is where we come from.

This is who we are, reborn by the river in the darkness of night.

This is the heavenly spirit of faith that flows through our soul and waters our very being.

This Jacob who wrestles with God all night long until he is blessed and transformed, is the very core of our identity.

We, as citizens of heaven, are warriors.

We are wrestlers.

Why do you think Paul had the audacity to say, from prison, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”? (Philippians 4:13)

Why do you think the prophet Jeremiah could dare to purchase land when a war was waging on?

As descendants of Israel, we are supposed to have the courage and the conviction to confront God, to hold on, and to ask for what we need and to expect to be blessed.

Now, this does not mean everything will go our way; it does not mean everything will go as planned.

Nor does it mean that we will leave unscathed.

Just like Israel, after we wrestle with God, side by side, arm in arm, connected, we may leave with a limp.

We may have a bit of a hobble. We may not move as fast; we may be a bit out of breath; we may be tired.

But if we have truly strived with the Impossibly Possible God, we will find that we are moving forward and not back.

We will find ourselves moving ahead as opposed to being stuck in a rut.

We will discover that even with the battle scars, we are still very much alive.

As Citizens of Heaven and Children of Israel, we are resilient.

And we have so much more story to live.

Jacob had a wrestling match with God in which he had to be 100%, authentic, real.

Connected.

He could not lie, cheat, trick, or act all smooth.

He had to be strong. Stand his ground, and not let go.

He had to be honest; forceful; unafraid.

And in return he was blessed.

He experienced the Impossibly Possible God.

His persevered.

And just like Scarlett Ohara, he lived to see another day.

And so can we; connected to God, connected to the earth, and connected to one another.

Striving, surviving.

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Impossibly Possible God; Sermon on Genesis 18/21

Rev. George Miller
Sept 15, 2019
Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7

As many of you know, I was in Arizona this week to be with my Mom.

She had fallen a few weeks ago and wasn’t discovered until 3 days later. Due to long term diabetic conditions, she had to have half her leg amputated.

While in Arizona I had the tasks of talking with doctors, working with the social worker, chaplain and agency officials, coming with up with a plan and locating a place for Mom to receive wound and short-term care.

My brother is there with her until October 19, with the goal of moving her to MO where he and his family live.

In the meantime, my brother is cleaning her condo, preparing for it to be sold.

Mom has a lot of work, exercising, and resting to do in order to walk again and prepare for the next chapter of her life.

Being in Arizona was not easy for me. The emotional and decision-making process was draining. Being in her cluttered and tiny condo was not helpful.

Perhaps most difficult, for me, was how brown Arizona is.

So very, very brown, with its dry earth, yards full of rocks, and bare mountains that rose to the heavens.

I longed for my Cozy Cottage with its green grass, purple flowers and the blue of Lake Jackson.

It was an emotional and spiritual relief to fly back to Florida and to see from the plane’s window the rivers, the canals, the Atlantic, the lawns.

While driving back from the airport I marveled at the thought that 10 years ago I had 1st come to Sebring to interview for the pastoral position here.

Back in 2009 I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. Everything appeared so foreign. The amount of rain. The humidity. The palm trees. The tiny, tiny squirrels. The giant bird that flew in front of the windshield.

The orange groves. How cool they first appeared…but then they went on for miles and miles….and miles.

I felt like I had landed on Mars, and yet now this place is home.

When first coming to Emmanuel, things were different. We had the tiny kitchen, the empty nursery, and the Parish Nurse office that wasn’t being utilized.

Sunday Fellowship only took place twice a month. Our weekly programs consisted of a Bible Study and the TOPS group.

Years later we now have a big, beautiful kitchen. In addition to TOPS and Bible Study we now have Sit and Stitch, The Diamond CafĂ©, AARP, and the thriving Shepherd’s Pantry.

Though Harvest Home has taken a break, we have a multitude of food-based events, like the upcoming Oktoberfest.

For 7 years we offered a Vacation Bible School, for 5 years we’ve had trips to Back Bay Mission, and in this month alone we had the Doula Project and Indivisible offering community programs here.

Not to mention we now have the gifts of Carnide and Ari and the addition of violin to our worship.

There has been a lot of thriving and new growth, yet in many ways we are also in a dry place. The beloved members who have died, moved away, or moved on to other places of worship.

Not to mention our financial reserves are now virtually dry.

On Tuesday we’ll meet for our 2020 budget planning, and the truth is that we are down to a bare bones budget and facing the possibility that 2020 may be the last year we can afford a full-time pastor.

So, we, as a church, have many decisions to make. Who God is calling us to be; what we are being challenged to do, and if we are to continue with a full or part time pastor.

Many, many options. Options, just like my Mom has.

But when financial reserves are low, or part of a leg is missing, things can seem just too hard, too difficult, too impossible to do…

…That’s why, thank God, we have the Bible. To teach us, and encourage us, and to remind us again and again that even in the face of impossibly laughable situations, there is truly nothing too difficult for the Lord.

As Genesis chapter 2 reminds us, God is not far away, God is not distant, God is not aloof, but God’s is hands-on, right in the mud and muck with us, willing to get God’s hands dirty, sweaty and grass stained.

So let’s take a look at today’s reading.

We have left the Garden behind. Our call to be connected to God, connected to the earth, and connected to one another continues.

It continues in the story of Abraham and Sarah, who receive a call from God to go, leave behind their past, and trust God’s promise that they will have new land and a family.

What makes this seem so impossible is that Abraham and Sarah are quite along in their age. They’ve been married for decades and have had not any luck in having a child.

In a culture in which leaving a legacy in your offspring is everything, their reality is devastating.

Without a child, it means their particular family tree has been cut off; it’s a stump.

Which means they are as good as dead.

But if you’ve noticed, God doesn’t really deal with dead ends; God much prefers to deal with life and new beginnings.

So, into the unbearable heat of the day, God enters into the life of Abraham and Sarah while Abraham seeks refuge under the oaks of Mamre.

They are reminded of the promise God had made many years ago- that Sarah will have a child.

The first time they heard the news it is Abraham who falls on his face laughing at the impossibility of it all.

Now, it is Sarah’s turn.

She’s in the tent preparing a meal for their heavenly guests when she hears the news that within a year she will have a child.

Sarah, considered too old for such a reality, can’t help but to laugh at how foolish it is.

“After I’ve grown old, am I really supposed to experience new joy?”

God hears her chuckle and asks her this life-changing question- “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

If this line sounds familiar, it is, because last week the prophet Jeremiah said the same thing when he purchased that plot of war-torn land.

“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

Other translations switch it up and use the word difficult, hard and impossible.

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”

This is perhaps one of the 10 most important statements in the Bible.

How you respond, and what you think is the answer can make all the difference between life…and death.

Sarah laughs.

Thank God. I personally see this as such an honest, human reaction to God’s Good News.

Sarah doesn’t try to hide her feelings. She doesn’t try to stifle her initial reaction. She allows herself to be fully, truly present and in the moment.

Sure, when questioned about it, she tells a little white lie, but at this moment we see Sarah doing exactly what any of us would do if we were beyond the age of parenthood and told our whole world was about to change.

Sarah doesn’t try to act all pious. Sarah doesn’t immediately fall in line or make herself into a martyr.

She is not Pollyanna about this; she is not pie-in-the-sky. She is realistic.

Sarah responds as almost any of us here would have.

“Really?” Really God, you’re going to take what seems like the end and turn it into a new beginning?

You have got to be kidding!!!

And good thing that Sarah responds this way, because her honest reaction allows a deeper, more personal conversation with God.

It allows the heavenly testimony to be made known – Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

That’s the question we should all have on our mind each and every day.

And of course, the Bible goes to great lengths to give us the answer.

God is the perfecter of making the impossible possible.

After all, Genesis 2 shows us how God took mud, breathe and a side order of ribs to make human life possible.

Exodus shows us how God parts the Red Sea.

The prophet Jeremiah reminded us that even in the midst of war that houses and farms can be restored.

On Easter Morning God raised Jesus from the grave and beyond the shame of the cross.

Throughout Paul’s letters we see how God changed the heart of the church’s number 1 persecutor into its number 1 worker.

Any of these situations would have elicited laughs from anyone who cares to think logically and within the confines of what is and is not possible.

But of course, none of these difficult deeds of the Lord would have been truly fruitful if the human participants weren’t willing to play their part.

Adam and Eve had to be willing to care for the earth, working as equals side by side.

The Israelites had to be willing to bravely step through the parted sea to make it to the other side.

Jeremiah had to be willing to put his money where his mouth was, placing down 17 shekels to buy the land.

God may have resurrected Christ, but it took Mary Magdalene to go out into the world and make the Good News known.

Paul’s heart may have been changed, but it took him learning how to publicly embrace and live out the changes within him.

Sarah laughed at the impossible, but in the end she did conceive new life and begin another chapter in her life.

My Mom has the ability to heal, to walk again, and to begin again in Missouri, surrounded by green grass, robins, and family…but first she will have to do the work.

She will have to want it, fight for it, exercise, rest, let go of her past, and to learn how to welcome the help and care of others.

Here at Emmanuel, we can meet our budget and continue our ministry, if that’s what we feel called to do.

But we must also be willing to fight for it, exercise our faith, move into our future, dream of new ways, and welcome the help and care of others.

Is anything too wonderful or too difficult for the Lord?

Scripture tells us that nothing is too difficult, but scripture also makes it clear that we can’t expect God to do it alone.

Like Eve, like Adam, like Jeremiah, like Paul, like Abraham, and like Laughing Sarah, we all have a role we can play.

We all have a part in making the Impossibly Possible a possibility.

For that, we can say “Amen.”