Friday, November 29, 2019

Funk and Faith; Sermon on Jeremiah 33 14-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-there are those who are numb to the whole thing

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

…which is the very reason why we need Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like Mr. Twiggy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what Christmas is about.

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

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

God has not forgotten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just last Monday we served 170 families.

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

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

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

No explanation sought out, no proof of need required.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Working together to make God’s heart glad.

-Inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are beloved children of our Heavenly Parent.

Called to love and live in relationship.

Called to embody passion and compassion.

For that, let us say “Amen.”

Monday, November 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is God. God has great tenacity.

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

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

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

God had to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even when we don’t love back.

Does this mean that God is foolish?

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

Is God foolish to love?

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

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

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

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

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

What makes the grapes not the best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I finally learned a few weeks ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tenacity of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on water even when the storms were tough.

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

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

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

God’s tenacity is greater than our timidity.

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

God’s deeds are greater than our denials.

God’s love is greater than our hate.

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also spent a lot of time laughing at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…It was exactly what I needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many of us want to be blessed by God.

We want to be assured a place in Heaven.

We want to be forgiven.

We want to be helped, rescued, saved.

But do we ever think what God wants?

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

What does God want?

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

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

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

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

Why do we turn away from God’s nourishment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let that reality be absorbed.

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

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

How does that feel?

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

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

Think of this week-

How can you welcome God lifting you up?

How can you allow God to nourish you?

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

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

Amen and amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is yet another story about our Impossibly Possible God,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s an altar that’s been demolished.

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

There’s 12 barrels of water poured over everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s story is one for the ages.

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

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

and all hope has been doused.

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

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

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

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

This is a story for anyone who believes in miracles,

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

Amen and amen.