Sunday, June 30, 2019

Blanche Devereaux and the Message of Magenta; Sermon on Acts 8:26-40

Rev. George Miller
June 30, 2019
Acts 8:26-40

One of the most enduring television shows of the past 30 years has been “The Golden Girls.”

Thanks to constant repeats, “The Golden Girls” has maintained one of the most diverse fan bases; everyone from 14 to 104 years old.

There are many reasons why the show stays popular: sharp writing, timely topics, cutting one-liners.

But perhaps the truest reason is because “The Golden Girls” is about people from broken backgrounds who have somehow, some way been fortunate to have found one another and create their own unique community/family.

There’s one scene that always rings true. It’s when Blanche Devereaux is asked how’s she’s feeling, and she responds “Magenta.”

Blanche goes on to explain that she’s not feeling blue, she’s not green with envy, or red with anger, or yellow with sickness, she’s just…..magenta.

In other words, Blanche is just OK. Not good, not great, not bad, no sad, just OK.

Pastorally, this expression of “feeling magenta” is such a gift we can give ourselves.

In a world in which people are often made to feel extremes, to either put on a happy face, or play helpless victim, it is nice to be given permission to just feel magenta from time to time.

Feeling magenta is normal.

It can be when it’s a rainy day. Or you’re stuck on the phone with the insurance company. Or you’re caught in traffic due to an accident.

You can’t help but to feel…magenta.

Biblically speaking, there is another word for being magenta, and that’s “wilderness.”

The wilderness is that place in which things seems to be at their blandest, or most boring, in which there is nothing but waiting, worrying, or hoping.

The wilderness can also be a place fraught with danger, uncertainty, and mystery.

Almost always, the wilderness is lonely.

Throughout the Bible we have numerous wilderness stories. When Hagar flees from Sarah.

When middle-aged Moses is minding his father-in-laws flock. When the freed-slaves wander for 40 years.

The wilderness is where John the Baptist preaches. Where Jesus is tempted.

In today’s readings, when an apostle of Christ finds a seeker of God in the noon day sun.

Many times the wilderness, as boring, empty, and magenta as it is, is where God most often meets the people.

And a good portion of the Bible takes place in the magenta wilderness of the world.

Today we hear about how the Lord tells Philip to take an afternoon stroll down the Gaza highway. While doing so he comes across a court official for the Queen of Ethiopia.

The man, returning from a trip to Jerusalem, is sitting in his chariot, reading the words of Isaiah 53, trying to figure out what it all means.

The Spirit says to Philip “Go on and join that man,” which Philip does, and it becomes a moment of bonding, a moment of teaching, and it results in an unexpected baptism and increase in the Family of God.

In many ways, this is a story about 2 broken people from 2 different backgrounds who were fortunate enough to find one another in the magenta moment of their life.

Many theologians will bring attention to the court official. That as an Ethiopian, he was a foreigner, he was of a different race, he was a gentile, and he was part of a sexual minority.

As a eunuch, he was a man who had been castrated, and though this served a purpose in the ancient world, it created various barriers.

It meant he could not have children, not engage in certain acts of intimacy, and in the Jewish laws, it denied full inclusion into the household of God, no matter how much he believed or studied scripture.

But he is not the only person in this story dealing with a kind of brokenness. There is also Philip.

If you recall, back home Philip was a member of the Service Committee, feeding the widows and stocking the pantry. But due to threats of violence, he has fled Jerusalem for fear of his life, seeking safety in Samaria.

They each have their wounds, their fears, their magenta-ness.

But this does not mean they are completely down and out, or total victims.

Philip, during his time of distress, discovers that he has the gift of preaching and healing.

And the eunuch may be missing a vital part, but he is an exceptionally powerful, educated man of position.

He is chancellor to the Queen, in charge of all her money. When most are illiterate, he can read. When most drive a Hyundai, he has a Mazarati

So both men have hurt, and they both have success. They both have experienced other-ness and they both know what it’s like to be excluded for one reason or another.

So there is something so beautiful, so touching about this scene, that these two individuals are able to come together.

One is fleeing from a place that is no longer safe, one is returning from a place in which he is not truly welcome.

Both are on a deserted, wilderness road in the middle of the day, when the weather is at its most hot and the conditions are most unbearable.

In other words, they are both…magenta.

And yet they are so fortunate that the Holy Spirit brings them together, if even for just a moment.

And if you notice, the text that unites them is not about green pastures, or abundant catches of fish, but it is about injustice, humiliation, and denial.

Topics that many people wish to ignore or sidestep in cocktail conversation.

And yet these two mighty men confront the difficulty of life head on.

They study scripture, they talk about God, they celebrate Jesus Christ, and together they come across a cool body of water in which the chancellor asks to be baptized, and the apostle gladly abides.

It is almost like a movie. A Bro-mance. The original “Green Book.”

Today’s scripture is a wonderful validation of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.

How it can take a man on the run from violence, and a man who seems to have everything, yet doesn’t, and brings them together for the glory of God.

The eunuch is unable to have his own family, but the Holy Spirit speaks, Philip listens, and now the man is part of a much bigger family than anyone could have ever imagined.

Life can often be filled with the magenta.

There will be highs/lows.


Calm waters/rough seas.

Green pastures/barren lands.

Blues, greens, reds, and yellows.

But more often there will be those wilderness moments. Those in-between periods of waiting.

Those magentas.

Those times when you’re waiting for the doctor’s report or the closing of your home.

Those times when you’re waiting for a job offer, or the airplane, or for the car to be repaired.

Those times when you’re waiting for your son or daughter to return. Or for the day you’ll be reunited in glory….

Life is filled with roads in the wilderness; with times in which we will sit by ourselves; with times we are not sure what to do.

Those wildernesses moments can also be the times when God most calls; when others reach out; when we are encouraged by the Holy Spirit to reach out to another.

We discover that God, through Christ, has a way to bring us together, no matter how different we may seem, no matter how broken we are, no matter the obstacles before us.

We are fortunate that the Holy Spirit has a way to move, to empower us, and to create such a unique and universal community of mercy and grace.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

What Do You Expect From God?

Rev. George Miller
June 16, 2019
Acts 8:14-25

Have you ever had someone step into the middle of a conversation in which they think they know what you are talking about…but it turns out that they have no idea at all because they don’t know the history, or underlying issues?

They think you’re talking about Pam and Tommy going on a date, but what you’re really saying is that Pam used to date Tommy’s brother, and Tommy is the daddy of Pam’s best-friend’s child.

That’s kind of like today’s reading.

At face value and it seems like a simple story about how a Samaritan man tried to commodify the Holy Spirit, but place it in a larger context and you learn it’s about so much more.

So let’s do some simple history.

About 750 years before this story took place, Israel was a much bigger nation, but political infighting split it into two kingdoms- the north and the south.

Eventually the north was conquered by a foreign enemy, and Samaria was one of those conquered cities.

So for the past 7 centuries those in Samaria were seen as outsiders who were once insiders; people who were not really Jew, but not really Gentile.

They’re like your 2nd-cousins who live in another state that you try not to claim, who walk around barefooted, even in the grocery store, and let their dogs run free, but they’re still your kin.

Samaritans were said to steal you blind, not to be trusted, and if you saw one coming it was best to cross to the other side of the street.

That’s where Peter and John are in today’s reading. But if Samaria was looked down upon, why are they there?

Because of horrific events that took place in chapter 7.

The Pentecost Experience has rained down upon the people, filling them with the Holy Spirit, and one of the results is that people are speaking up and speaking out.

Well, one young man named Stephen spoke out a bit too much and was seen as a little too uppity for his own good. As a result, a crowd of men dragged him out of the city and killed him.

This sets off a series of events in Jerusalem in which followers of Jesus were attacked, pulled from their homes, sent into prisons and worse.

These mob-mentality moments of violence cause the early believers to scatter for safety and to seek refuge.

One such person was Philip.

In Jerusalem he was part of the Service Committee, feeding the local widows and making sure the pantry was full.

But due to the violence, Philip fled to Samaria, and while there he found a new calling: he had the ability to heal and to preach.

He preached the Good News in such a way that folk clamored to be baptized.

Philip had such a Spirit-inspired gift of healing that people were freed from the things that held them back, and their personal demons were destroyed.

Philip was such a real-deal that a local magician named Simon stopped all he was doing just so he could personally experience these events for himself.

Simon was a big shot; the kind of headliner you’d find on the Vegas Strip.

When he saw how people like Philip, Peter and John could lay hands upon people and share with them the Holy Spirit, his eyes lit up.

He took out his wallet saying “Hey, man, give me a piece of the action!”

“How much will it cost for me to incorporate this into my show so I can impress the locals?”

To which Peter speaks up, and rather bluntly says “You can take your money and go to hell, and may your credit score be ruined forever because you tried to buy what God has given for free.”

So, to recap, once again, God took something that humans meant for bad and turned it into something good.

People thought that by arresting and killing the followers of Christ, they’d put an end to the Christian movement.

But instead of stopping Christianity, this act of injustice actually helped to further spread the Good News.

It allowed the disciples to enter into so-called enemy territory to bring healing, cast out demons, and unite families.

Not to mention smoothing over long-fractured relationship between the north and the south.

But then we also see how humans found a way to take something God meant for good, and turn it into something bad; a commodity that can be bought, sold and controlled.

Peter and John shared the Holy Spirit to save souls; Simon wanted to purchase the Spirit to put on a show.

The Holy Spirit fills up; the Holy Spirit pour out? And what do some people want to do?

Put it in a box so they can make a buck.

You got to hand it to us humans; we can take anything meant for good and twist it to fulfill our own ego-driven ways.

So what is all this rambling doing?

Well, it’s bringing us to some questions to think about for today.

The first question is “Why God?”

Why do you believe in God and what do you expect from God?

Do you see God as Father? If so, what kind?

The kind who is absent or the kind who is present?

The kind of Father who loves only some of the family or the kind who loves all, even the cousins who refuse to wear shoes?

Why Jesus? And what do you expect from Christ?

Perhaps you see Jesus as a Brother. If so, what kind?

The kind you can tell anything to, or the kind you fearfully hide your identity from?

The kind of Brother who makes sure you are fed, or the kind eats the last ice cream bar in the freezer?

Why the Holy Spirit? And what do you expect from the Spirit?

A source of knowledge so you can face your problems, or a magic wand that can wave your issues away?

A presence that fills you with breathe and imagination, or a burst of hot air that can be manipulated and manufactured?

Now, let’s flip it.

Why you?

What do you think God expects from you?

Is God wanting you to live a certain way; to act a certain way; to be present in a certain way?

Think further: why the person beside you?

What do you think Jesus expects in your relationship with them?

Is Christ wanting you to treat them in a certain way; to respond to them in a certain way: to see them in a certain way?

Let’s think even further: why us? What do you think the Holy Spirit expects from us as a church?

Is the Holy Spirit wanting us to be about bright lights and show girls?

Is it about getting that cash and wowing them in the aisles?

Or does the Holy Spirit want something more?

Does the Holy Spirit move so that we can play a part in the wholeness and healing of others?

To assist the community in confronting and ridding itself of demons?

Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants work and wonder, stewardship and mystery, all wrapped up in a ribbon of wisdom and awe.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants us to think but to also feel; to be mystical but to also be aware of the world out there.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants us to teach as well as to offer healing; to feed the body as well as to feed the soul.

If there is one thing made very clear by today’s reading, the Holy Spirit does not want to be bought or sold.

It is not for the greed of man but for the benefit to humankind.

And the Holy Spirit is not to be played with; although it is meant to be playful.

So as we continue our journey through the Book of Acts, as we move forward embracing the Good News of Easter and the fruits of Pentecost, let us keep in mind these things.

That God, our Father, has a way of moving us from beyond the Cross into Resurrection.

God moves us from beyond persecution into restitution.

God moves us from beyond commandeering into collectively sharing.

Jesus shows us how.

The Holy Spirit gives us the ability.

And God, as Father, stays eternally proud of how we learn, how we grow, and how we continue to rise up and walk right.

For that, we can say “AMEN!”

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Before the cross exists our regrets; beyond the cross exists our possibilities; Pentecost Sermon 2019

Rev. George Miller
June 9, 2019
Acts 2:1-4

Once upon a time there was an ordinary hardworking man named Peter, who simply wanted to earn a living.

He worked tirelessly as a fisherman alongside his brother Andrew.

One morning, after a long night of fishing, Peter was washing his nets, when Jesus stepped into his boat, asked Peter to go out a little, and Jesus taught, using Peter’s boat as a pulpit.

Later, Jesus told Peter to let down his nets, and when Peter saw how many fish they caught, his response was to sell himself short and say “I am a sinful man, unworthy of such a bounty of blessings.”

Peter’s time with Jesus had some highs- being there during the transfiguration, being told he was given the keys to the kingdom.

Peter also had some lows, like the time he tried to walk on water but sunk like a stone.

Or the time Jesus said “Get behind me, Satan- you are getting in my way.”

But perhaps worse of all was the last night of Jesus’ life, in which Peter denied Jesus three times.

While Jesus was taken away, Peter sat freely beside a fire. When a servant girl said “Didn’t I see you with Jesus?” Peter’s knee jerk response was “No.”

By the third time Peter was asked this simple question, he blurted out a bold face lie- “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

After Peter realized what he had done, he went away and wept like a baby, filled with shame and regret…

…if the story of Jesus ended there, at the cross, and if the crucifixion was all there was, this is what Peter would’ve been known for:

The man who sunk like a stone.

The man who was called a stumbling block.

The man who squandered the keys to the kingdom by denying Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.

But as we know, the story of Jesus did not end at the cross, but continued on with the resurrection.

For though things seemed to end on Good Friday, Easter Sunday came along to say “Things are just beginning.”

Because somehow, someway, something happened in which the resurrected Christ was met by Mary in the garden.

The resurrected Christ was met on the road along the way.

The resurrected Christ was experienced at the table.

The resurrected Christ was experienced on the mountaintops and at further gatherings of the disciples.

So 50 days later, when the Festival of Pentecost came along, and the Holy Spirit poured down upon the people, not only was there wind and fire and foreign languages, there was something else amazing that took place:

Peter stood up, and he spoke…

Peter spoke, and the man who once denied Jesus 3 times before a fire, ended up giving the world’s first Christian sermon.

Peter spoke and even though he may have been filled with fear and worry, gone were any signs of sinking stones, stumbling blocks, or words of denial.

Before hundreds, thousands of men from all over the world, Peter stood with the confidence of a natural man…

Peter spoke from his authentic self.

He spoke his wisdom; he spoke his knowledge.

Peter spoke his TRUTH.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter did not sink.

He did not stumble.

He did not deny.

Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, spoke…

…and because of that, 1,986 years later we are here, remembering his Spirit filled soliloquy.

That’s the power of the resurrection.

Our stories do not stop at the cross.

Our stories do not stop at defeat.

Our stories do not stop with regretful last words, or sinking into the water, or being labeled as a stumbling block.

Our stories do not stop when the world says so…

…The power of the resurrection is that our stories begin when God says “GO!”

The power of the resurrection is that just like Peter, our stories may lead to the cross, but they do not end at the cross!

Our stories continue beyond the cross…into the garden…into the road to Emmaus…to the tables…to the mountaintops…to the gatherings of the saints and the apostles…

The power of the resurrection is that thanks to God’s grace and mercy we are pulled through.

We are pulled up, out of the waters.

We are pulled beyond the words we’ve said.

We are pulled off from the cross.

We are placed down upon new, fertile paths we could never have imagined.

The power of the resurrection is to realize that all things come through the Holy Spirit of God.

And if the Holy Spirit wants to break down walls, it will break down walls.

If the Holy Spirit wants to make sure what’s said is heard, it will be heard.

If the Holy Spirit wants to unite folks from the north, south, east, and west, it will unite folks from the north, south, east, and west.

If the Holy Spirit wants to take your sinking, stumbling, denying self and make you speak up, speak out, and shine…it will.

If the Holy Spirit wants to empower you to visit, feed, clothe, care, love, or endure…it will.

If the Holy Spirit wants you to be still…it will.

Before the cross exists our regrets; beyond the cross exists our possibilities.

And the Holy Spirit is ready to rain down and fill us up.

Are you ready for a miracle?

Are you ready to receive, to believe, and to act?

In Jesus Christ, let us say “Amen!”

Saturday, June 1, 2019

From Divine Decadence to Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace; Sermon on Romans 6:1-14

Rev. George Miller
June 2, 2019
Romans 6:1-14

Bestselling author Martha Beck has written about an interesting concept called “Divine Decadence.”

Martha has worked with adults who’ve lived through traumatic experiences that have caused them to either hoard items or deprive themselves of the things they truly enjoy.

She says her favorite remedy for this is what she calls “Divine Decadence.”

Step One- think of something you really like; like really, really like.

Step Two- by an oversupply of it. Don’t just get a lot of it, but buy 2x as much, 5x as much, as you think you really want.

Martha herself maintains a permanent supply of gourmet boxed chocolates.

Step Three- Enjoy the heck out of it. And yes, for Martha that meant eating nothing but chocolate for about 3 days.

Why does she recommend this?

She states that as long as we define ourselves by scarcity, deprive ourselves, or see something as forbidden, it will have a hold upon us, making us feel compulsive and greedy.

But eventually, by allowing ourselves to experience Divine Decadence, and flooding ourselves with goodness, the psychological grip of that item loosens, and our worrying about running out decreases, and we begin to let go.

Which leads to Step Four- give away.

Once we have collected and enjoyed as much of our favorite thing, we are ready to give some of it away to others, knowing that we will be Ok and there will always be more.

Divine Decadence.

What a great word and wonderful idea; though not exactly sure how Paul would feel about this concept. Perhaps he would agree with Martha when it comes to God and the giving of grace.

Grace is one of today’s themes. While reading Romans you get the idea that God is in the business of grace.

As Paul paints it, grace is an unlimited resource that God loves to give.

Grace is not something God hoards; it is not something God secrets away under a floorboard, or behind the bookcase, or inside a coffee canister.

Grace is something God has in abundant supply, and God loves to give away because there is always, always, ALWAYS more, more, more.

But what is grace?

Is grace when a figure skater glides upon the ice in perfect presentation?

Is grace what you heard at the family table during Thanksgiving when you were a child sitting upon a phonebook?

Is Grace the best friend of Will and the wife of George Burns?

Grace is a marvelous, abstract term that is, at least for me, something you more feel here (in your heart) than you understand here (in your head).

Some would say that grace is a type of amnesty we receive from all of our old sins, an official pardon, meaning that whatever happened before is over and done with and counts no more.

So grace is like a judge saying “Case dismissed, you are free to go.”

Another way of describing grace is that you have won the race and earned a prize, even if you ran it poorly, or took longer than expected, or cheated, or showed up late.

Grace is like a prized blue ribbon that says “Bravo!” and “1st Place!”

The good, great news is that God has an unlimited amount of these 1st place ribbons, and thanks to Jesus Christ, everyone gets one.

For those who have never won anything, or spent their whole life feeling they were not good enough, the idea of winning 1st place sounds great.

But for those who think they can only win if someone else loses, this concept of grace can seem a bit….unfair.

Some would say “If God’s grace is unlimited, and everyone, through Christ now has access to God’s grace, who cares? Why bother?”

Then, there are others who think another way: if everyone receives grace, then let’s go ahead and be really decadent, like uber decadent, like, let’s do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whoever we want, ethics be damned…

…It’s always interesting to see how as humans we love to find a loophole, and we have this uncanny ability to take something beautiful meant for joy and turn it into something that can be a real, real detriment to ourselves and others.

That’s part of what Paul is addressing in today’s letter.

As we recall, Paul is in his mid-50s, most likely living in Corinth, writing to the Roman churches.

Paul is trying to circumvent a possible kink in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It turns out that some of the church members in Corinth have found a loop-hole in the Good News.

They’ve embraced the idea that thanks to Jesus Christ, God really loves giving them grace. And since God really loves to give them grace…well they are going to sin, sin, sin and sin some more so God can give them as much grace as God wants!

They’ve figured out “Hey! We can actually help God out by purposely sinning, and trespassing and indulging and forsaking and debting and neglecting and being rotten horrible, unethical people because the more we do that, then the more God gets to give grace.”

In other words- there are those within Corinth who think the more they sin, the more they win because they are aiding God in bestowing amnesty.

It sounds ludicrous, but that’s the way some of the Christians are thinking, and so Paul is writing to the churches hoping that he can circumvent this newest craze and help them understand that the response to grace is not more sin, but it is more gratitude.

Paul is aware that yes, in Christ we are given new freedom, and yes, we are free to do what we want, but is that really what we desire, deep down?

In the words of my Theology professor, “You could get drunk every single night and wake up each morning in the gutter…but would you really want to?”

In other words (and speaking in extremes), yes- you could go around killing people left and right; but would you really want to?

Yes- you could go around robbing banks every day and night; but would you really want to?

Yes- you could be the biggest bully in the world; creating harsh nick names for each and every person you despise; but would you really want to?

…You could hold onto every grudge; but would you really want to?

…You could be angry for the rest of eternity; but would you really want to?

…You could never, ever, not once more, praise God’s name; but would you really not want to?

You could even hate yourself every second you are alive; but would you really want to???

…Paul is writing to the Roman churches about grace, hoping they don’t neglect it, but also hoping they don’t abuse it to their own detriment.

Because not only is grace a type of amnesty, or a kind of prize, but grace is also a space, a place of consciousness.

Grace, in many ways is an emotional, psychological sphere of being.

Grace is a sanctuary of is-ness, of I-amness; of authenticity.

Grace is in many ways the Kingdom of God, in which a person knows they are welcome, they are loved, and they are cared for by the very God who created them.

Yes, thanks to grace, you can do what you want, say what you want, but that would also involve a lot of fear, a lot of looking back, a lot of hurting others.

But grace, when truly embraced, means that you do what you were meant to do, say what you were meant to say, and be who you were meant to be.

Grace, as a space you live in, is about achieving a sense of peace, a lot of looking ahead, and a lot of loving others.

Thanks to Christ, grace is a place in which we can build relationships, create communities, and humbly trust that no matter what, we will be sitting on the cosmic porch with God, enjoying a cool glass of lemonade, knowing that we will be called “Friend.”

Grace is what sets us free to best be you, and to best be me.

Amen and amen.