Sunday, April 28, 2019

Rediscovering the Joys that Trauma Can Box Up; Matthew 28:1-10

Rev. George Miller
April 28, 2019
Matthew 28:1-10

2019 has been a milestone year for me.

April marked 25 years since I moved to Minneapolis.

It was not a positive move, but one based on severe trauma.

As some of you know, in 1994 I was stalked by an ex-boyfriend, an experience that included death threats, car damage, and many police reports.

As a result I packed up my life and moved from Long Island to the many streams, rivers and lakes of MN.

But not my entire life went with me.

Besides friends and family, I also left behind things that seemed trivial but were actually monumental- like my fish tank, record player, and a box of LPS.

I was raised in a family that always had fishtanks and always had music playing. But because the trauma of being stalked was so damaging, I never brought a fishtank into my home again, lest I had to leave for some reason.

That changed this month when I realized I’d be darned to go another day not having what I love.

So a 10 gallon tank with fish now resides in my home.

This simple act of victory allowed me to take a bigger step- purchasing a record player.

I plugged it in, took out the box of records that had been stored away for 25 years…and it was heaven.

I danced, I sang, I smiled. But something else happened, something I had forgotten about and buried in the recesses of my mind because of the trauma I had endured.

These weren’t just records I was playing; they were the means through which I had experienced God while growing up.

See- for me, God was not found at the church I attended. I never found God in the preacher’s sermons, or the uncomfortable pews, or the tired hymns.

God, for me, was found in the Bible I read, and in the music I listened to in my room; the drums, the beats, the vocals, the lyrics.

God was found in the tactile way of picking an album up, taking the record out, placing the needle down, and the kinetic joy that came from dancing around in a room filled with rhythm.

So this week I’ve had the unexpected experience of re-encountering God in a way that is so elemental, so authentic to my particular walk of faith, but had been buried away and basically dead to me.

It felt like a Mountain Moment…

Today we come to the end of our journey through the Gospel of Matthew, and perhaps you’ve noticed that mountains play a very important part in Matthew’s Gospel.

And for good reason.

See, the author of Matthew was a Jew writing for other Jewish people, encouraging them to see Jesus as the Messiah.

So Matthew relied upon the roles that mountains played throughout scripture.

How Moses was called upon a mountain. How Moses received the 10 Commandments upon a mountain. How the prophet Elijah fled to a mountain and experienced the Still Speaking God.

For Matthew, a mountain did not just represent a specific geographical location. A mountain was not a location on a map, or a specific spot you plugged into your GPS to find.

For Matthew, mountains represented a place where good triumphed evil, where God was made known, and where something good was bound to happen.

It was on an exceedingly high mountain that Jesus triumphed over temptation, finding the strength to say “No!” to Satan’s “Why don’t you…”

It was on a mountain that Jesus gave his first public message, calling the people blessed, teaching them how to pray, how to live authentic lives, and how to do unto others as they would do unto you.

It was upon a mountain that Jesus went to pray in solitude and to spend private time with God.

It was upon a mountain in which he offered healing to the sick, and miraculously fed the masses.

It was upon the mountain he was transfigured and stood beside Moses and Elijah while the voice of God called him Beloved.

Again and again we see throughout Matthew how mountains play such a vital role in the ministry of Jesus, his interactions with humanity, and the revelation of God.

So, it would make sense that in Matthew, after the victory of the Resurrection, it would be upon a mountain that Christ meets the remaining disciples.

And what an experience that must have been for them.

Now keep in mind, that the disciples had had undergone their own trauma as well.

The fear they must have felt, wondering if they were next to be crucified.

The anxiety over what to do now. The shame over what they did and didn’t do.

The confusion about hearing Christ had been raised. The worry that maybe he would seek revenge for them deserting and denying him.

Though a few days had passed, how much they must have missed Jesus.

How much they must have hungered for another moment with him; how much they must have felt that a piece of themselves were gone…forever.

And now? Now here they stood, on a mountain, with Jesus Christ before them!

He was not dead! He had been risen!

And here he was; here they were, on a mountain that symbolized so much.

A mountain that represented the overcoming of temptation, a place to pray, a place to be fed, a place to be healed, encouraged, and transfigured.

And now the place to witness God’s victory over death, and to receive the promise that Christ will be with us always, until the end of time.

Mountain Moments, where God is so clearly known.

Mountain Moments, where Jesus shapes us into our authentic selves.

Mountain Moments, where the Resurrected Christ reminds us of who we are and empowers us to share the word and the work of the Kingdom.

What is your Mountain?

I’m not asking you what is the place in which you experience God now, or what are the things you currently do that connect you to God.

I’d like us to go a bit deeper today.

What is the Mountain Moment from your past, that you have lost or forgotten about, or boxed away?

What is the symbolic mountain in which you most experienced God while growing up before work or bills or adult responsibilities got in the way?

What is the metaphorical mountain you used to go to alone, to spend private time with God before a traumatic event disrupted it or stripped it away?

I already shared my mountain- the music from my old albums played in a room I can dance in with no apology.

What is your Mountain?

The thing, the event, the act, the task, the chore, the toy, the movie, the song, the person, the place in which you felt the most connected to God.

Can you recall it? Can you reclaim it?

Can you find a way to resurrect it without being stuck in the past but being in the “now” and stepping into the future?

See, when the Resurrected Christ met the 11 disciples on the mountain, it was a way to reaffirm all that had gone on before- the meals, the ministry, the lessons, and the good times.

But Christ did not mean to keep them on the mountain, or to have them stuck in the past.

He did so to remind them of their roots, both as a historic people and a contemporary community.

But Christ also met them on the mountain so they could be sent out into the world to carry the Good News, be part of a new creation, and to move forward The Message.

We should all be ever so grateful for the Mountain Moments we have each had in our own lives; Mountain Moments that connected us to Christ in our own unique way.

And if we have lost sight of those Mountains, the Resurrection allows us to reclaim them.

If we have forgotten what those Mountains were, in Christ we can be reminded.

And even if we were to never see or experience those Mountains again, we can be thankful that we had them to experience.

For as long as we keep living, there will be many more Mountains to climb.

As long as we keep breathing, there will be many more Mountains in which we can experience the Resurrected Christ.

Even if 25, 50, 75 years go past, we can be assured that Christ will be with us always, even until the end of time.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Ultimate Story of Triumph; Easter 2019; Matthew 28:1-10

Rev. George Miller
April 21, 2019
Matthew 28:1-10

If you’ve been paying attention to this week’s news, you’d notice that there’s been quite a few stories about triumph.

In the sports world, Tiger Woods winning The Masters after an 11-year losing streak.

For animal lovers, the dog rescued after being found swimming 135 miles off of Thailand.

For veterans, the Marine who ran a marathon in honor of his fallen comrades, whose legs gave out, and crawled the final 100 yards to the finish line.

Even with the news about Notre Dame, we have the images of citizens rallying around the building to sing “Ava Marie,” the record-breaking donations, and the pledge to rebuild in 5 years.

There is something so empowering about the human and animal spirit to overcome, move past and to triumph.

Today, we celebrate the ultimate story of triumph- the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The last time we met, we experienced a bleak, hopeless reality.

Jesus, who we have been following since before he was even born, had entered Jerusalem.

In a series of events, he was betrayed by Judas. Arrested by the authorities. Deserted by the disciples. Denied by Peter. Handed over by the government to be crucified.

Jesus has been brutally murdered, humiliated, and shamed.

That baby boy born into poverty that we welcomed in the manger on Christmas morn, has died the enemy of the state, a common criminal.

Just another statistic.

Just another brown skinned man who got what he deserved, and would’ve been fine if he had just done what the authorities had asked…

…but then something happened.

Something Jesus had predicted, something he had promised, something that no one believed, until they too experienced it 1st hand-

He had been raised, and it was God who raised Jesus from the grave.

And not just any god, mind you, but the One True God.

The God who had moved over the waters of chaos and said “Let there be light!”, and there was light, and life, and lemons.

The God who looked down upon a family surrounded by a great flood, and remembered them and placed a rainbow in the sky.

The God who saw a runaway female slave and gave her not just a cool drink of water, but a purpose and a promise.

The God who heard the cries of the Hebrews and set them free by separating the Sea.

The God who gave words to a beautiful Jewish queen so that she could save her people from total annihilation.

The God who had the prophet Micah remind us that what God wants, what God really, really wants, is for us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with the Lord.

The God who used Jesus to call us blessed, to be our friend, and to thank us for feeding, clothing, caring for, and watching over one another.

That’s the God who raised Jesus from the grave; that’s the God whose Good News triumphs over death, destruction, and desolation.

Today we celebrate that Jesus was raised, it was God who raised him.

Jesus was raised and it was God who found a way out of no way.

Jesus was raised and it was God who made sure the message would be sent out for the world to know.

The authorities tried to silence Jesus, but God said “Oh no, my Son has so much more to say!”

The courts and the government tried to kill him, but God said “Oh no, my Son embodies the true Law and Way of the land!”

The world tried to end him, but God said “Oh no, child; this is just the beginning! Just you watch.”

“Watch as I use these 2 women to tell these 11 men who will tell a city, who will tell a nation, who will tell the world that He is Risen.”

“Watch as your children, and your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children will say to the whole world ‘Christ has risen! He is not dead!’”

You see-the world may tell you that you’re past your prime, but the Resurrection says “Just keep swinging!”

The world will tell you you’re too far out at sea, but the Resurrection says “Just keep swimming!”

The world will tell you that it’s all over the moment you fall down, but the Resurrection says “Crawl if you have to, but by God finish the race!”

The world may see nothing but embers and smoke, but the Resurrection says “Sing out to the Lord! Come together as One, and look to the future, because honey- you ain’t seen anything yet!”

For that, we can say “Amen!”

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Disruption of Christ; Message on Matthew 21:1-17

Rev. George Miller
April 14, 2019
Matthew 21:1-17

A few nights ago I was in my cozy cottage; lights off, music on. As the velvet voice of Luther Vandross drifted through the living room, I laid on the couch looking at my fish tank.

Golden fish glided over blue gravel, slipping through green, pink, and white plants while bubbles of freshly filtered water waltzed across the tank’s surface.

In a word: PEACE.

Which allowed my relaxed mind to think of the Peace of Christ. The Joy of Christ. The Love of Christ. Being United in Christ…

How very good and pleasant it is whenever we get say to one another “The Peace of Christ be with you.”

…but then another thought entered my calm mind: do we ever think about being Divided in Christ?

Or the Disappointment of Christ? Or the Anger of Christ? Or the Disruption of Christ?

Think about that- could you imagine if you were asked to turn to your neighbor and say “The Disruption of Christ be with you”?

Yet this is exactly what we experience in today’s reading- complete and utter disruption; and we shouldn’t be at all surprised, after all John the Baptist did try to prepare us.

Do you remember back on January 13, we read from Matthew 3, and met John in the wilderness, baptizing folk and calling them to repent?

He had a very clear message. He challenged the Sadducees and Pharisees about the wrath to come.

He talked about an ax on the ground ready to cut down trees and a winnowing fork that will gather the chaff from the floor.

Well, in Matthew 21 it appears the time has come.

Sure, in the past it seemed as if Jesus had played nice.

He walked along the shore gathering his disciples, he cured the sick and called us blessed.

Jesus taught us to pray and to do unto others. He fed us on the mountaintop, walked on water, and saved Peter from drowning.

Jesus encouraged us to forgive and called us “Friend.”

But now, now the time has come, just as Jesus told us. He is entering into Jerusalem, heading towards his death.

The crowds are shouting “Hosanna” which actually means “Save Us!”, and Jesus goes about doing just that.

He teaches parables about wedding banquets, bridesmaids, goats and sheep.

He goes to the cross.

But before any of that happens, the very 1st thing Jesus does is to go to the Temple, the holiest place in the Hebrew World.

And just as if he had an ax in his hand, or fire flaming from his mouth, Jesus, Son of David, disrupts everything, by throwing tables and driving folk away.

How interesting that what John predicted in chapter 3 about cutting down and winnowing away will eventually take place in the courtyard of the holiest of places.

That Jesus, full of wrath, will direct it at the very place where organized religion took place, where there was supposed to be praise and worship; the very House of God.

Note that Jesus did not direct his wrath at the crowds of ordinary folk singing “Hosanna!”

Nor did Jesus take it out on the blind, the lame, or the children crying out “Save us!”

Jesus took it out on the one place that should have been the most filled with justice, kindness, and humility…but was not.

Jesus utterly, completely disrupts the order of things and how they had been done for years, decades, and centuries.

And then after cleansing the temple, he continues to disrupt as he denounces the Pharisees and scribes, teaches about God’s Kingdom, and calls us “Good Goats.”

…I realize that many of us have come here today expecting worship to be all about waving palms, shouting “Hosanna!” and having a joyful time.

But that would not be very authentic.

Because as we read through the Gospel of Matthew, really read through it, we realize that Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem was not all about praise and joy and celebration, but it was primarily about disruption…

…so the question for today is- what good news can we take away from this story? What was the purpose of coming here today?

There is the chance to think. There is the chance to wrestle. There is the chance to grow.

We can start by asking this question-

What disruption do you think needs to take place in our church for Christ to be truly known?

Then a step closer- what in our community do you think Jesus need to disrupt?

Then another step, right up to your very heartbeat and breath- what in your life needs to be disrupted if you are to truly be authentic to who you are in Christ?

What is the very thing in your life that needs to be turned over?

What cage needs to be opened up? What doves need to be set free?

What or who is it that you need to be saved from?

What has blocked or prohibited your inner child, your authentic self from singing out, rejoicing and offering praise?

What table does Jesus need to overturn in your life so you are no longer blind and lame or silent and shamed?

I can’t tell you what that is. Only you and Jesus know, but this is the spiritual work we are invited to do this week.

To ponder, to wonder, to look back over our life.

With the ax on the orchard floor, what non-bearing fruit-tree in your life is best cut down?

With the winnowing fork in hand, what is the chaff that you are ready to release into the purifying fires?

How can Jesus best disrupt your life?

How can that disruption ultimately bring you peace beyond peace beyond understanding?

In Christ’s name we say “Amen.”

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Being Your Authentic Self; Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Rev. George Miller
April 7, 2019
Matthew 25:31-46

Recently a very wise person said “A blessing is not a blessing until you give it away or share it.”

Lord, let this message be a blessing…

Over the years a phrase has entered the motivational movement- it is called the “authentic self.”

The authentic self is when someone is true to who they are, not who they think they are supposed to be.

How can you tell when you are in the presence of someone who is their authentic self?

They radiate joy; they radiate confidence.

They are infectious, influential, and inspiring.

They make it look so easy, even when it’s not, even when it’s impossible.

They are someone who seems to glide, like a river flowing around rocks, a pelican in the wind, or a tree bending, but not breaking, in the storm.

We all have an authentic self, and they are all so unique, and so diverse.

For example, Dean in his work jeans, fixing something. Steve stocking the pantry with supplies. Carnide at the keyboards.

When you live an authentic life, you feel immediate reward; you belong to something greater than you, you know that you are part of a bigger picture.

You feel joy, contentment, and a generous spirit.

A sure sign that you are being your authentic self is that you feel that as much as you have given, it is you who has received way more in return.

In other words, if you are being your authentic self, you are experiencing heaven, true holiness, and what we in Bible Study called “A Kingdom Moment.”

That wonderful aha moment that says “Yes!!!”

Then, there are those who are not living their authentic selves.

They dislike what they do, they despise who’s around.

They excrete despair and insecurity.

They are ineffective, uninspiring, and seem to suck the air out of any room.

They make everything seem to be a chore, even when it is not, regardless if it’s easy or possible.

They limp along, like water leaking from a rusty pipe, a seagull with a lifeless leg, and Spanish moss tossed about in a breeze.

We all know when someone is not being their authentic self.

It would be like me wearing work jeans and carrying a toolbox. Or Millie not playing mah-jong. Or Ken being unable to move to the music.

To not be your authentic self is to feel like you are being eternally punished, totally alone, and that you are on the outside looking in.

You experience misery, melancholy, and an ungenerous spirit.

A sure sign that you are not being your authentic self is that you feel that as much as you have given, you have been sucked dry and unrewarded.

In other words, if you are not being your authentic self, you are bound to experience hell on earth.

That dreadful moment in which every ounce of your spiritual being says “Heck to the N-O!!!”

This is one way to process today’s scripture.

Here we have Matthew’s version of Jesus’ last public teaching. This is the last message he will give while still free and alive.

Immediately after he teaches this parable, the leaders will conspire to arrest him and Judas will betray him.

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus first began his public preaching, he did so upon a mountain with the Beatitudes in which he called those who were persecuted and meek as blessed.

He said “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.”

Then from there, Jesus ratcheted things up. He set the bar high. He shared expectations, provided opportunities, gave us chance after chance to succeed.

Once inside the walls of the Jerusalem, Jesus told parables about being faithful, wise, resourceful, and respectful.

And then Jesus ends his public preaching with this parable, going back to the roots of the Beatitudes.

How interesting that his last public appearance was not about the 10 commandments or prayer, it was not about grace or dogma, or proper ways to worship.

But it was about compassion; about love in action.

About doing justice and loving kindness as a way to humbly experience the Lord.

As his parting words to us, Jesus boils it down so clear to help us truly understand how to best be our authentic selves, how to live an authentic life, and how to have an authentic Kingdom moment.

It all comes down to blessing and sharing.

If you see someone hungry; feed them.

If someone is naked, clothe them.

If someone is unwell, offer care.

If someone is in prison, stop by.

If you see someone thirsty, offer them a cool glass of lemonade, and if you don’t have any more juice to squeeze out of the lemon, plain water will do.

This is what it means to be authentic.

What it means to be a true child of God; what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom.

The authentic self will do these things, not because you must, but because you may.

Not because you will receive heaven’s reward but because you know heaven has already rewarded you.

Not because you are strong, but because you too have known what it is like to be weak.

Not because you are righteous but because you have already been blessed with the kingdom’s mercy and grace.

Jesus leaves us with a message which says every time we bless others, we are being blessed is return.

But because he is Jesus, and he is provocative, Jesus makes us wrestle just a bit with another reality-

that when we have the chance to do justice and love kindness, and choose not to,

well, we experience our own personal hell, our own place of isolation, or own set of shoulda-coulda-wouldas that remind us we were not true to who we are.

Once again, in this parable, Jesus is setting that bar high, and wants us to exceed.

But I would venture to say this-

That the times we fail, the times we turn a deaf ear, the times we turn a blind eye,

the times we clutch onto our blessings too tightly, and are afraid to let go,

the times we feel guilt or shame or self-disempowerment creep on in,

there is always another chance, there is always another opportunity, there is always another day.

There is always someone else who is thirsty, who is hungry, who is ready to be loved.

Today’s lesson teaches an important truth- we all have the chance to be sheep; we all have the chance to be goats.

And the truth is that more often than not, we are all a bit of both.

More often than not, we are good goats who are always learning, always growing, always discovering how to be the most authentic selves God has created us to be.

Jesus is not calling us to be the most perfect, the most wonderful, the most astounding.

Jesus is inviting us to be the most authentic, the most vibrant, and to be the best that we can be.

For that, we can say “Amen."