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.


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.


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.”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Connected to God, Earth, and One Another; Sermon on Genesis 2

Rev. George Miller
September 8, 2019
Genesis 2:4-25

In the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 32, there is a story that has always stayed with me.

Jeremiah was a prophet in the King’s court abut 600 years before Jesus.

He had warned the people that due to their acts of injustice, mismanagement of the land, and the abusive behavior of their kings, that the earth and citizens of Judah would suffer.

And now Jeremiah’s prophecy has come true- the nation is under attack. People are petrified; buildings and businesses have been annihilated.

Folk are displaced; they have given up all hope and faith in tomorrow.

In steps Jeremiah who does a public act of great trust in the Lord.

Following God’s instructions, Jeremiah purchases a plot of land, a barren field.

Not just that, but he does it publicly so that people can see his act of faith.

He pays 17 shekels, has the coins weighed, signs the deed of purchase and hands it over to the proper person, all while his cousin and citizens of the city watch.

Jeremiah is doing this all as a prophetic sign of hope, pointing to the promise that no matter how bad things are now, no matter how much death and destruction surrounds them, they have been given the assurance by God that-

“Houses and vineyards shall again be built on this land.” (Jeremiah 32:15)

After this public act of faith, he offers a prayer, saying “Lord God- it is you who made the heavens and the earth. Nothing is too hard for you. You gave (your people) this land…flowing with milk and honey.” (Jeremiah 32: 17; 22)

Why would Jeremiah publicly purchase a piece of land he would most likely never get to see grow fruit?

To give the people hope. To strengthen their faith. To empower them to look toward the future.

He also did this to remind the folk that we are connected to the land, and that we are spirit-filled beings who are forever entwined with the soil.

Jeremiah’s act was a way of reminding us all that although we are Citizens of Heaven, we are embodied individuals who are connected to the earth below just as much as we are connected to God of the heavens, and to one another.

As the land goes, so do we. As we go, so does the land.

Connectedness- that is the theme of today’s message.

Connectedness is the thread that weaves through today’s scripture.

We see this connectedness in God, our Creator.

Note how intimate, how personal this telling of Genesis chapter 2 is. This is about a God who refuses to be far away and impersonal.

This is a God who prefers to get down and get the Hands of Creation dirty.

God does not design the living beings in Genesis 2 via a factory or computer program or underpaid servants.

God creates by getting deep in the mud, shaping and molding, lifting and breathing, dirt under the fingernails, with perspiration and grass stains.

God plants a garden; God places the person there; God crafts other living beings from birds to bisons, and when the time arrives, God becomes an architect, creating another human being to be a helpmate to the first.


This theme continues with humanity’s connection to the earth. Amongst the sweet tasting fruits and fragrant flowers, the human is constructed by God to care for creation.

Verse 15 makes it so clear-to till and to keep it. To protect the very ground that will provide nourishment and shade.

This is a relationship and connectedness that humanity is meant to have- to watch over and love the land.

To trim back the bushes, to do controlled burns, to plant and rotate crops, to be the best park rangers we can be.


Today’s scripture is also about the connectedness we have with one another.

God states “It is not good to be alone.”

But not just dogs or cats, deer or canaries will do, but for an equal, a partner, a co-worker, a park ranger of the same status to help us with all the caring, cleaning, pruning, planting and co-creating that will take place.

For far too long people have misinterpreted this story to form a battle of the sexes, or to place blame, or to justify misogyny.


This is a story about connectedness, about how we are not meant to be alone.

How the only way we can truly be whole is to share a part of our self.

That the only way we can survive is to strive side by side.

This woman, this man connected to one another, connected to the earth, and connected to God.

That is the essence of what Genesis is telling us; it is the essence of what Jesus Christ is about; it is the Message, the Good News in such a simple form.

We are created to be connected to God.

We’re created to be connected to the land.

We are created to be connected to one another.

Which should remind us of what Paul wrote to the Philippian Church. How it took him landing in jail to finally accept the love and help of others.

How it took Paul being in chains to finally open up his hands to receive the fragrant gifts of others.

Last week we saw how Paul allowed himself to be connected to others in which he benefitted.

Last week Paul taught us that part of our faith is to accept the generosity of others, and to see their gifts as a pleasing, soothing offering to God.

Adam was not whole until he had Eve beside him, sharing in the Lord’s work.

Paul found comfort in the care of others who sent a gift of goodness.

God was glorified in both of these things.

My prayer for all of us is that we do not lose sight of today’s lesson: that we are created to be connected.

To be connected to the land. To be connected to the Lord. To be connected to one another.

Each of us equal, magnificent, and infused with the breath of God.

We are Citizens of Heaven who are blessed to be connected to the earth, and to one another.

Good times or bad; happy or sad.