Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sweet, Soothing Fragrance of God; Sermon on Philippians 4:10-23

Rev. George Miller
Sept 1, 2019
Philippians 4:10-23

Back in the 1990’s I had an experience that has always stayed with me.

Like most people in their 20’s I was still struggling to get by, still figuring out who I was meant to be.

A dear friend knew about my situation, so she reached out to an organization that gave out Christmas baskets to individuals in need.

I still remember that Christmas morning, sitting on the bare floor of my 3rd story walk-up studio apartment, opening up that brown box of items.

I don’t recall anything that was in there, but I will always remember that there was a beautiful blue button-down plaid shirt.

It was the good kind. It was not synthetic, or a blend, or a hand-me-down. It was a high-quality cotton shirt with all the tags still on, and it fit perfectly.

It was so clear that this shirt was purchased at a real department store and that the giver of the gift had taken time and thought into what they were buying.

For anyone who has ever received assistance, you can always tell when something is an after-thought, or cheap, or given with a “it’ll do” attitude.”

This was not one of those gifts; it was an intentional expression of compassion.

And I just remember sitting on the floor, crying…crying because someone who didn’t even know me loved me enough to give something that meant so much.

I wore that shirt with joy and pride until it wore out.

That single shirt was Christ to me on that Christmas day…

…This morning we come to our end of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, a letter he wrote in jail, under a foreign government’s rule.

In this letter Paul wrote about how to be the church, how to work out our own salvation, and to remind us that we are Citizens of Heaven.

As he ends his letter, Paul switches gears and he directs it towards his own experience of Christ.

He addresses relationships, he addresses attitudes, and he addresses something the Philippian church has done for him.

During Paul’s ministry he has been much of a leader and much of a loner, he has done things for other people, he has done things self-sufficiently.

He has turned down assistance from others, but there is something different about his interactions with those in Philippi- they have reached out to him and he has accepted their generosity, gifts they have sent him via a church member named Epaphroditus who has visited Paul while in jail.

What these gifts are, no one is really sure, but in verse 18 Paul refers to them as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice accepting and pleasing to the Lord.

There are at least two ways of understanding what Paul means.

The 1st way is metaphorically. There is a good chance that Paul is making references to the Old Testament when people made animal sacrifices to God.

As one theologian stated, it appears that God likes a good barbeque, so the smell of all that flavorful, fatty goodness would be pleasing to God.

We see this in Genesis when Abel makes an offering of his firstlings to God, and when Moses makes an offering after surviving The Flood.

We see this sense of God enjoying a fragrant offering throughout Numbers and Leviticus.

Different Bibles will use other words like, such as pleasing. The New American Standard Bible uses the word “soothing”, such as in Leviticus 6:14 in which an offering of frankincense and flour was called a “soothing aroma” to the Lord.

Fragrant, pleasing, soothing- we get the idea of how God enjoys these gifts.

Paul, always with a mind thinking so brilliantly, takes this notion and turns it on its head when he writes a letter to the Corinthian church and he states that thanks to Jesus, we become the recipients of that pleasing, soothing fragrance.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul goes even further by stating that as followers of Christ, we are the ones who become the soothing aroma to those who are suffering, those who are going through dark times, and those who are experiencing death.

Isn’t that beautiful? The idea that as Citizens of Heaven, in which Christ is Lord, that it is we who get to be the fragrant aroma to others.

In Christ, we are fragrant.

In Christ, we get to be like balms of Gilead, roses in the garden. We get to be like scented candles in another’s darkness.

In other words, each and every time we open our Shepherd’s Pantry door, we are not just sharing the light of Christ, we are the aroma, the sweet, sweet fragrance of the Lord.

So, in verse 18 Paul could be writing in metaphor; but there is also a chance that he could be talking literally.

There’s a chance the gifts he received from the Philippian Church were along the lines of health and beauty items that would have had an actual fragrant aroma.

Perhaps Paul received a care package that was meant to brighten up his spirits, freshen up the stench of where he was, and restore his dignity with items such as healing oils and perfumes.

Use our modern imagination to think of what could have been placed in that Philippian gift box:

Soap, and not the cheap kind that crumbles away, but the likes of Dial, Dove or Neutrogena.

Maybe there was some really good Irish Spring or lavender scented body wash. Or shampoo like Garnier, Prell or Aveda.

Maybe they gave him some cocoa butter or Aveno body lotion to help prevent dry skin, and some shaving cream from Gillette or Edge.

Maybe they even threw in a bottle of Sean John cologne or Old Spice and a scented candle that smelled like fresh linen, spring rain or ocean breeze.

If that’s possible, imagine Paul, in prison. We’re not exactly sure, or when, or how long he was into his stay.

It could have been his 1st week, 1st month, 1st year, but to receive that care package from the folk in Philippi that they had lovingly, intentionally put together must have been inspiring.

Imagine Paul receiving this fragrant offering, and the joy and assurance it must have given him, if even for that moment.

Imagine how such a soothing array of aromatic gifts would have empowered him to hold onto hope, move forward in faith, and to keep on keeping on.

Perhaps their gift is the reason why he claimed to be content, to recall when he’s had plenty, when he’s been well fed, and how God strengthened him.

Regardless what the gift was, it’s clear that for Paul their generosity was not only a celebration of God, but their generosity was also pleasing to God.

Paul states that their gift to him was in essence an offering to God.

And that gift given to him while in prison did not just minister to Paul, but to those he was in prison with, it ministered beyond the walls of his captivity, into the household of Caesar.

The sweet aroma of that gift made it back to Philippi, and it has even made it across time and continents as it ministers to us today.

You know, so often in church we hear about what it is we can do for others.

How we can be a light, we can be a place of help, we can be a source of hope.

But as we close out today’s message, there is another part of our faith- that we can also be the recipients of hope, the recipients of help, and the recipients of light.

Being a Citizen of Heaven means that we also are open to receiving the Christ in others; that we will welcome those who will care for us, reach out to us, and love us.

As Paul’s letter comes to its joyful conclusion, there are some lessons we can learn:

When someone wants to give you love, it is Ok to accept it.

When someone wants to share love, it is OK to receive it.

When someone wants to show love, it is Ok to see it.

When you need love, it is Ok to request it.

Because when we do that, not only is God glorified, but God’s message is turned into a pleasing, fragrant offering.

The kind that sooths the world around us and can make even the darkest dungeon full of sweet aroma.

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

As Citizens of Heaven; Sermon on Philippians 3:12-21

Rev. George Miller
August 25, 2019
Philippians 3:12-21

If you’ve noticed, over the past few weeks there have been some new faces; people who have heard about the UCC and wanted to see what we are about.

It’s been so wonderful to know that people have been listening, paying attention, and taking note of the messages we are sharing and the work we are doing out in the community.

Last week, I was approached by someone who noted rather astutely that I don’t preach about heaven, so they asked me what I believe.

Well, when you ask a UCC pastor what they believe, you are more than likely to get 3-4 answers or “I don’t know- tell me what you believe.”

The UCC is a rather complex, diverse denomination. We are primarily a branch of Christianity that takes the Bible seriously, but not literally.

Our pastors tend to be well educated, many with a Master’s Degree in Theology.

We place much emphasis on research, history, textual analysis, paying attention to the use of metaphors, word play, and an awareness of how ancient cultures approached faith and storytelling.

As a denomination, we believe in local church autonomy. We have no creed you are required to subscribe to. No doctrine you have to conform to.

Many of us simply have a desire to be a better disciple of Christ, experiencing and sharing the love of God.

Unlike other denominations, we don’t always refer directly to heaven. We are more likely to refer to the Kingdom of God.

Each UCC pastor has their own theology, their own view of heaven.

Some may see heaven as a place; a location you go to when you die.

Some say heaven is a state of being; a way of being eternally close to God.

Others will say that heaven is just a metaphor, an artistic form of word play.

Words like God, heaven, Lord, Creator, Father are all one and the same and that writers used these various words to break up the monotony of saying the same thing over and over again.

Some pastors will say heaven is one or two of these things, some may say it is all of these things.

Then add to the discussion of heaven the fact that ancient Jews did not believe in a heaven or a hell; that when you’re dead, you are dead.

Then, add to that fact the realization that Paul, as a Jew, believed that Jesus was coming back in his lifetime and it wasn’t heaven that Paul was expecting, but that everyone would be resurrected, just as Christ was.

Then, add to that fact after adding to the other fact, that most of our modern-day view of heaven is not rooted in early Jewish or Christian theology, but is adapted from Greek mythology and culture which influenced the churches that were started in those areas.

To go back to the question I was asked last week, I personally believe that when we die, we go back to the source of all goodness, which is God.

What that looks like and what that exactly means, I don’t know, and I am personally OK with that.

Please keep in mind, that in the UCC we believe everyone has the freedom to read scripture on their own and develop their own beliefs. It is not the pastor’s place to tell you what to believe.

So, when I share with you what I believe, it is my belief. You are not expected to agree or to believe the same or change your theology.

With that in mind, here is what I can say- I believe that heaven is a state of mind and a way of being.

I believe that heaven is “already and not yet” meaning that there are times and places in which we can experience heaven here and now, and yet there are still so many opportunities to come.

For me, heaven is experienced every time we gather for worship and our musicians or liturgists or members say or do something that make my spirit soar and skin all goosepimply

For me, that is heaven.

But maybe for you, you see heaven another way, a place, a notion, a goal.

It can be gleaned from today’s reading that Paul saw heaven as an inspiration on how to live.

To recap, Paul is writing, from prison, a letter to one of his favorite churches. He is using this moment as an opportunity to share the Good News with everyone he comes into contact with.

Paul is such an interesting character; an acute observer of the world around him which he uses to articulate his beliefs.

Paul is living during a time in which Rome has a stronghold upon the world, and they have done so in such an impressive way.

The Roman empire has devised a system in which, when their military leaders retire, they are sent away to a spot on the map with certain privileges and opportunities.

These retired soldiers are given titles and an army of men, and wherever they end up, they are expected to continue living as if they are in Rome.

These retired soldiers are to continue wearing Roman clothes, eating Roman food, speaking Roman language, and following Roman laws.

In essence, wherever these retired Roman soldiers go, they are forever to act and to be seen as Roman citizens.

In doing so, they and their company of men help to further Rome’s presence and rule upon the world.

Paul is aware of this political maneuver, and he wisely, and cleverly, applies it to his faith.

What Paul says is this “We are citizens of heaven, and Jesus Christ is our Lord.”

It may seem subtle, but this is sooooo brilliant.

Paul takes a page from Rome, and what he says is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are citizens of heaven.

Therefor, as citizens, we should expect to always act, speak, live, fellowship, and overall be as citizens of heaven are expected to be.

What this means, is that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are, hands down a resident of heaven, first and foremost.

Think about that for a moment; let that sink in.

Paul is so brilliantly creating a new way of thinking and being that goes beyond geography or timelines or circumstances.

Paul is saying “No matter what, no matter where- your citizenship is in God’s realm, so act, live, do, speak as if you are from there.”

I love this notion, because regardless if we believe heaven is a place we will go after we die, or a state of being, or a metaphor, or a word play, or a made up idea, we can basically agree that we know…we know what heaven means.

That heaven is to be eternally, wonderfully connected to God and in the presence of the holy.

That heaven is where we are all equals, no slave or free, no friend or enemy.

That heaven is where we all are fed, cared for, heard, seen, respected.

That heaven is where beauty of every kind of level exists and expands and envelops.

That heaven is where love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, equality, and peace prevail.

Heaven is where the light of Christ shines and restores, welcomes and awakens.

Paul writes to remind us that though we may live in Philippi, or Florida, or North America, we are all ultimately citizens of God’s realm.

And as citizen’s we act accordingly.

Perhaps that is how Paul was able to survive all those years in lock down.

Perhaps Paul was able to use this theology as way to confront the daily reality that he was in chains.

Perhaps Paul was able to look beyond his current moment of where he was, and to metaphysically embrace where he came from and where he was ultimately going.

Maybe for Paul the writing of this letter was his way of experiencing heaven.

Maybe for Paul, the remembering of Lydia and all the good people of Philippi was his way of experiencing heaven.

Maybe for Paul, every chance he had to share the Good News with a guard was his way of experiencing heaven.

And perhaps in doing so, the dark corners of the dungeon seemed less disturbing, the hurt of the chains seemed less hellish.

Perhaps Paul found his own way to act, speak, and behave as a citizen of heaven even as he was a captive to the monarchy.

Was it always easy? I doubt it.

Did this make the 2 years in prison fly by? Probably not.

Did it given him the ability to look beyond? Yes.

Did it give him the chance to believe in the future regardless of his past and present moment? Without a doubt.

So, this week, when we face our own prisons, we face our own walls, our own worries and ghosts from our past, may we find our own way to mediate on heaven, and what being a citizen of heaven means.

May we find Christ even in the midst of crisis, may we find God even amongst the godless, and may we find the Holy Spirit even amongst the every day.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Good For the Soul Gumbo; Sermon on Philippians 2:1-5, 12-18

Rev. George Miller
August 18, 2019
Philippians 2:1-5, 12-18

“I feel sad.” “I feel angry.” “I feel great!” “I feel so sleeeeeeeppppyyyy.”

Author Elizabeth George shares a vision of people in the pews. Each person is listening to the sermon, but they are each thinking different things that appear as a cartoon thought bubble over their head-

“Fix me.” “Teach men.” “Comfort me.” “Support me.” “Understand me.”

It is with this vision that she delves into the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.

To catch up- Paul is imprisoned. He’s shackled to a guard; his physical freedom taken away.

Yet he takes this sour situation and uses it to create something sweet.

He shares the Message to those he’s chained to. He writes this letter to one of his favorite congregations.

Though he is ready to end his journey, he is encouraging others to keep on keepin’ on.

This is the church Paul helped to cook up when he sat beside Lydia by the river.

It’s the church that’s been there for him during his times of need. They don’t just offer thoughts and prayers; they serve up care and deeds.

This is a church bursting forth with so much spirit, so much energy, so many ideas that they’re starting to struggle with having too much to do and too many people suggesting the best way to do it.

In other words, Paul is aware that there are a whole lot of cartoon bubbles coming out of folks’ heads, and if not handled correctly, everything is going to go POP!

So Paul addresses this reality by using the very template he provided in chapter 1- the use of theology, history, knowledge and common sense.

He encourages them to stay focused on the Light; to be blemish free in a society that can be so sour.

Now, we’re going to stop right here, because I don’t know about you, but this sort of scripture causes my head to hurt.

Paul has given us what appears to be a list of what to do.

An agenda.

A step by step recipe of how to achieve that blemish-free, same mind, same love, pie in the sky kind of spiritual thang.

And us modern day Americans tend to love our lists that move through linear, sequential order that is all absolutes with no place for wiggle room or improvisation.

But- these sorts of lists can scare folk from even trying.

One may struggle with what’s laid out, allowing doubt to creep in, followed by the fear of doing it wrong, causing one to give up or judging themselves for not following the set way.

When read in such a style, this portion of Paul’s letter reads like Roberts Rules of Order or baking instructions for a delicate soufflĂ© or decadent pie-

you know what we mean- that kind of recipe in which you have to use exact measurements, in the exact order, at the exact temperature, for the exact time, otherwise it falls flat, or is too fluffy, or too firm.

Be of the same mind. Have the same love. Be in full accord.

Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition. Don’t murmur. Don’t argue.

And if you do all these things in this way you will be the most perfect confection on earth.

Read in this way it can seem like Paul is saying don’t be human, don’t be flawed, don’t be imperfect.

But the thing is this: we are imperfect, we are flawed, we are human.

So maybe there is another way to read Paul’s portion of this letter. Maybe it’s more like a gumbo recipe.

Anyone who prefers cooking over baking, you know what we mean.

To make a good gumbo, or a good soup, or a good spaghetti sauce, you got the recipe, you got the ingredients, you got the spices, the seasoning, the time frame, the cooking container.

But the recipe is more like a guideline; suggestions.

You may want more of this, you may need less of that; you may want to add; you may wish to subtract.

You may have forgotten to put in the beef before you put in the seafood, but that’s OK; it’ll still work out.

You may need to add in more water, you may need to spoon out the pepper that poured in when the lid popped off.

Unlike a souffle or pie or perfectly baked cake, a pot of gumbo or soup or sauce is something that you can let simmer, stir, remove from the heat, put away, freeze, reheat, add too.

Maybe this portion of Paul’s letter is not meant to be read as a step by step guide or agenda to being practically perfect and blemish free, but more like a recipe to be your sweetest self.

That’s why I am personally thankful for verse 12. Paul writes “Beloved…work out your own salvation with awe and wonder.”

I don’t know about you, but this notion of “work out your own salvation” sounds so much more realistic and doable to me.

Instead of sounding like such a stringent agenda or step by step manifesto, it sounds more like an opportunity, or a journey.

It sounds like a recipe that has worked into it all the falls, all the failures, all the successes, and all the unexpectedness that can be.

When Paul sweetly says to us to “work out your own salvation”, I hear an opportunity.

A chance to do something. A chance to try.

Even more than that- a chance to succeed.

“Work out your own salvation” sounds like an invite, and as an invite it empowers one to make choices, to accept or decline, to try or to say “not today.”

“Work out your own salvation” sounds like there is room for success, there is room for failure, there is room for trial and error, there is room for human and divine to cook and create together.

And it’s not as if Paul is giving us a blank recipe book. It’s not like he’s forcing us to forage for our own ingredients.

For throughout this entire chapter, Paul keeps us very focused on the main theme- Jesus Christ.

For Paul, Christ is the perfect example to follow; Christ is the recipe of all recipes.

Though Paul is confined to chains, he encourages us in our freedom to start with Christ.

To recall Christ’s relationship with God. To remember how he was humble in his faith. To remember how he followed what he was called to do.

Such memories provide the ingredients we need- the encouragement, the sharing, the compassion, the sympathy, the joy, the humility, the interests of others, the gladness and the ability to praise, praise, praise.

Today’s reading is yet another look into the early church and into one of our earliest leaders, but it is also a look into who we are, and what we can be.

Today’s reading could be read as a litmus test or an agenda or a congregational review.

Or it can be read as a recipe, an opportunity, a challenge that can engage us, encourage us, and continue us on the path we are all on, as individuals and as a congregation.

Paul may have been speaking to the church then, but he is also speaking to us now.

What he seems to be saying is “Keep stirring, keep simmering, and for Christ’s sake, keep being sweet.”

And for that, let us say “Amen.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sweet Freedom Even in Sour Times; Sermon on Philippians 1:1-14

Rev. George Miller
Aug 11, 2019
Philippians 1:1-14

So, earlier this week I had a situation at home. For some reason my kitchen was starting to smell like spoiled milk.

I thought maybe it had to do with all the rain, and my house being closed up while on vacation.

I checked the refrigerator to make sure it was running. Kept the fans spinning all night; put the AC on low even when I was gone.

Nothing worked.

Turns out it was one of the pineapples from my garden. I had brought it in a few days ago and like a good Floridian, sliced off the head so it could be replanted.

I let the top sit in a bowl of water for the past few days to keep it fresh.

Turns out that counter-top pineapple water was the culprit to the stink, so I got a new bowl, filled it with fresh water, and viola- the stank was gone.

Who could have known that something so sweet could easily turn so sour?

It some ways this ties into today’s reading, but in a reversal of sorts.

This summer we’ve witnessed Paul, Peter and Philip be inspired by the Holy Spirit. For the next month we’ll hear from Paul himself via this letter he wrote to one of his favorite churches.

But first, to set the scene: Paul is in a rather sour situation. He has been arrested and is writing from prison.

It’s hard to say exactly where he is, and what the exact conditions are, but it’s clear that his freedom to move about and travel freely has been stopped, and he is most likely shackled to a guard night and day.

But somehow, someway, Paul uses the moment in time to turn something that was meant to be sour into something that was sweet.

He writes to his favorite church; the one located in Philippi.

If you recall, this is most likely the church that was started by Lydia.

In Acts 16 Paul travels to Philippi, where he meets Lydia, the seller of purple cloth, who is gathered with other women outside the gates of the city, by the river.

He sits down amongst them, talks with them and Lydia asks for she and her household to be baptized. She invited Paul to stay a few days and it appears that her home becomes the first church on the European continent.

It was a congregation that encouraged Paul and provided refuge when he faced difficult times, so it is logical to assume that this letter is written to this particular group of Christian sisters and brothers.

So, here is Paul; imprisoned. Instead of setting sail for exotic places like Troas and Athens, he’s shackled to a series of guards.

Instead of the scent of fresh air and seawater, he is immersed in the stench of captivity.

Yet what could have been so sour he managed to find elements of sweet.

He writes this letter to those in Philippi who are busy being church.

Through the course of the letter he affirms all that they do that sheds light:

How they share in the Gospel.

How they work together as co-partners.

How they pray, but more than that-

how they’re faith goes beyond the cliched “thoughts and prayers” folk robotically say after a tragedy happens, but how their prayers manifest into actions.

They are a church that acts upon and does good things, sending Paul care packages and support through a member named Epaphroditus.

As we read through this letter, we hear from Paul how this church not only shares the Good News, they share in the Holy Spirit, they share in Christ’s suffering.

They share in each other’s highs and lows; they even share their resources.

Paul validates them for all they do, encouraging them to continue being co-partners, co-ministers, and co-creators.

He tells them to be of the same mind; to be of the same love; to work side by side and to actually think through what their faith means.

This is not Paul telling the parishioners of Philippi to put on a happy face and trust that the sun will come out tomorrow.

This is Paul encouraging them to reach out to those who are unhappy, and to shine the sun on those who think there is no tomorrow.

Perhaps what’s so amazing in today’s reading are the words of encouragement Paul gives in vss 9-10.

For here, Paul uses his time in prison to articulate what a community of faith should be about.

He tells them that he is praying that not only will their love overflow, but that it will do so with their use of knowledge, wisdom, and common sense to do the right thing.

In other words, Paul wants them to be aware of their scripture, to be aware of their history, to also use their intuition and their God-given sense of right and wrong to determine what they do.

This is not Paul saying to blindly have faith, but that faith involves your brains, your heart, your sense of ethics, and your morality to decide what is best.

This is Paul telling them not to be wishy washy or afraid or lukewarm, but to do what needs to be done, so that when they stand before Jesus Christ, they can say

“We have done our best, we have shined your light into a world full of darkness, and we have brought sweetness into the dungeons of life.”

It is absolutely inspiring to realize that 2,000 years ago, in the stench of imprisonment, Paul creates a template for how a church can best be free.

Filled with such a sweet, sweet spirit, Paul speaks beyond shackles and prison walls.

He speaks beyond peaceful rivers, patches of purple, and ancient ancestors.

Paul speaks to us today, in the safety of the sanctuary, beside the historical Hammock, under the blue and yellow window, surrounded by the living saints.

Paul is sweetly speaking to us, about how to act, how to live, how to respond, how to focus our faith not just on the Bible and theology, but on history, knowledge, and common sense.

This is Paul reminding us that they will know we are Christians by our love.

This is Paul telling us “In a world that chooses to be so sour, free yourself so you can be sweet.”

May the Holy Spirit continue to inspire us and may our full knowledge of Christ and insight of the Gospel overflow.


Monday, August 5, 2019

A Place of Rest; Aug 4 2019 sermon on Acts 20:7-20

Rev. George Miller
Aug 4, 2019
Acts 20:7-12

For the last 2 months we’ve journeyed through the Book of Acts. We’ve seen highs; we’ve experienced lows. We’ve seen success; we’ve experienced danger.

Last time we gathered Paul was all alone in Athens, trying to make the most of a magenta moment.

What a difference time and perseverance can make, because now Paul is traveling with a new tribe; a group of church leaders from Asia, Europe, and Greece.

They have exotic names likes Aristarchus and Gaius, and joy of joys- Paul has been reunited with his travel buddy Timothy.

They’re on their way back to Jerusalem with offerings from their individual churches to give to the main church so they can continue to run their food pantry, reaching out to the widows, orphans and immigrants.

But there’s a stop at Troas, and what we witness is one of the 1st reportings of a Christian worship service.

It takes place on Sunday, which is a marked difference from the Saturday Sabbath services that have taken place for hundreds of years.

As the official start of the week, most of those present have worked that day. So, they meet at night, upstairs in someone’s house.

They’ve shared a meal. Candles are burning. Paul is talking and teaching, teaching and talking, when they get a surprise.

Young Eutychus falls asleep and falls out the window, three stories down!

Why oh why does one of the earliest reports of a church service have to involve someone sleeping during the sermon!

And what’s the deal with Eutychus? Didn’t his parents teach him proper manners?

But let’s not be hasty with Euty. There can be many reasons why he fell asleep. After all, he most likely worked that day from sunup to sundown, and now it’s midnight.

He’s in a hot, stuffy room filled with all these candles; he’s had a good meal, and the cool air from the open window must have felt so refreshing.

I know that I can’t be hasty with Euty. I think of my own worship experiences, back in my 20’s when I worked 3 jobs just to make the bills.

Sunday service was the one time in the entire week in which I could just sit, and be, and not wait on tables, or wipe noses, or worry about tomorrow.

So, when the sermon came along, something inside me would just…release, exhale, and say “Everything is OK.”

I would close my eyes and give into that moment of total and utter calm.

Perhaps that’s how it was for Euty. To spend all day working, barely making a dent in his debt.

Then to come to worship Sunday night, to hear the Good News, to be surrounded by people hearing about grace and mercy.

Perhaps Euty did not fall asleep out of boredom but because he felt peace hearing about God’s kingdom.

Maybe there are other reasons Euty was there at that late-night worship service.

Maybe Euty did not want to go home?

What if his home was not a safe place? What if his home was a place of violence, or abuse, where family members said unkind words or did unkind things to one another?

What if there was no food at home? What if it was the 16th of the month and supplies had run out, and Euty knew that if he came to worship, he’d be fed?

What if Euty had no home? That he was like one of the people we see at the library who has no place to stay?

That worship was not just a time for him, but it was a place where he could receive shelter, and a place to rest his head, even if it was against a windowsill 3 stories up?

Or maybe Euty was having his own magenta moment and the chance to simply be surrounded by others was way better than being alone?

We will never know what reasons were behind Eutychus falling asleep and falling out the window.

But we do know that he was human, and what happened to him was a very human thing…

…It’s hard to believe, but I have now been here for over 9 years. In those 9 years there have been some enlightening learnings.

One of those learnings has been that going to church is not easy for some people, especially as we age and experience changes in our lives.

This became clear 5 years ago as one couple shared that it was getting harder and harder to make it to worship.

One of them was now doing the waking, changing, dressing and transporting of the other, a daily ritual that could take 1-3 hours of time.

To make it to worship they would have to wake up earlier than possible.

Over the years the reality of physicality and worship has become more real.

Those with back problems who have expressed how hard it is to sit in one place for extended periods of time.

Those with bowel issues who are unsure of when nature will call.

Those who find the ability to stand and sit, sit and stand more and more difficult; or to move around the sanctuary when passing the peace.

Or whose eyes continue to grow dim and the words in the bulletin, the hymnal, the screen are just too hard to see.

Why are we talking about this?

All of these physical realities are very real and shared by more people than we would like to imagine.

It is part of being human; and it is part of being church.

Today, I’d like to say something publicly that I find myself having to say more and more privately-

No matter who you are, or where you AND your body are on life’s journey- you are welcome here.

What does this mean?

It means that if you find yourself coming to a place in your life in which 9:30 is becoming more and more difficult to make, don’t let that stop you from attending worship.

Come at 9:35, come at 9:45, come at 10. Come at 10:30, because you’ll still get to experience worship through fellowship, food, and friends.

That also includes the Bible Study and Book Study- if you’re late, no one will mind.

If your back hurts and you can no longer sit for 60 minutes straight, don’t be afraid to stand up if need be.

You can walk to the back; you can step into the Narthex. It is OK.

If your body is doing what bodies do and you feel more comfortable sitting in the last row, sit in the last row.

If you’re invited to stand and your feet say “Nah ah, not today,” give yourself permission to sit.

If you feel the need to sleep, fall asleep with the assurance that no one will judge you and you won’t be falling down a flight of stairs.

We are in a sanctuary surrounded by the presence of Jesus Christ and embraced by the Holy Spirit.

This is a place of rest.

It is a place of refuge.

It is a place of restoration.

This is a place to let go of worries and give them to God; to exhale the pathogens of the world and inhale the medicine of our Maker.

Here is a sanctuary in which everyone should feel safe.

There is so much in our current time that can knock us out, drop us down 3 flights of stairs and take the wind out of us.

But, in this place, in this moment, we are free to be, to rest. To relax, to be present.

To have someone remind you that you are Ok, that life is still within you, and you are embraced by the arms of Christ.

Amen and amen.