Monday, December 23, 2019

Sermon for Dec 22, 2019; Luke 1:5-13

Rev. George Miller
Dec 22, 2019
Luke 1:5-13

Ladies and gentlemen- the waiting is over! The exile has come to an end!

Can we get an “amen!”?

The altar and Temple have been rebuilt, bigger and better than before!

Can we get an “amen!”?

Jerusalem is once again a thriving center of commerce, culture and celebrations!

Can we get an “amen!”?

The waiting is over, and thank God, because the past few weeks we have been dealing with deep topics like exile, loss, and in-between time.

These deep topics have coincided with deep events in my life, and together they’ve made me aware of something-

Americans have a horrible way of greeting one another.

Have you noticed that?

For some reason, when we greet one another, instead of simply saying “Hi”, or “Good to see you,” we ask such an insincere, intrusive question-

“How are you?”

It seems like an innocent little question; but it’s really not.

1st of all, not everyone who asks means it. 2nd, not everyone who answers is honest.

The expected cultural response is to say “Fine, and you?”

I so dislike that fake formality. I try my best to be truthful when people ask.

On days when I’m fantabulous and someone asks “How are you?”, I may pull out a Pentecostal favorite- “Blessed, and you?”

There are days when things are status quo, so the response is “OK.”

Other days the answer may be “Just OK,” or “It’s a Monday.”

Those who are OK with someone being OK get it and seem to appreciate the honesty; others act a little confused.

Back in October there was an experience I had while visiting my Mom in the hospital.

While signing in at the front desk the receptionist asked me how I was doing.

“Not great,” I replied.

“Oh, why?” she asked, as I’m writing my Mom’s name in the patient line.

You can guess all the not-so-polite responses that went through my mind while holding that pen…

Bless her heart; she really was concerned, but I continue to chuckle in disbelief that she assumed anyone to answer that question with a “Great!”

I wonder- what would Zechariah from today’s reading say if he was living in modern day America?

Luke starts his version of the Good News by featuring Zechariah, a Temple priest. He’s an older man, closer to retirement than starting off.

He’s been married to Elizabeth for many years, and there’s a great emptiness in their lives- they have no children.

It has not been easy for them, as Zechariah has been praying and praying for a child and Elizabeth has endured feelings of shame from others.

But one day, Zechariah is selected to offer incense in the sanctuary; an honor that happens only once in a lifetime.

While there he’s greeted by an angel who gives joyful news- his prayers have been answered!

He will have a son named John who will be great in the sight of God and lead many people to the Lord.

It’s amazing news, but due to certain circumstances, Zechariah is rendered mute for the next 9 months.

Now picture this in today’s setting.

Imagine Zechariah 1st starting out in the priesthood. People on the street ask him how he is- the answer could be “Blessed and highly favored!”

He gets married to Elizabeth and people passing by ask how he is; “Fantastic!”

It’s the honeymoon phase, he’s strutting around town, head held high. When folks ask how he is the answer is “Never been better.”

But then the years go on; he’s been waiting and praying for a child that never comes.

Folks ask how he is; what’s the correct response?

More years pass. There’s no baby crib, no newborn laughter to be heard.

“How are you?”

More years pass. Not only is there no child, but no chance for grandchildren.

“…If one more person asks how I am…”

But then one day he reaches his professional and personal pinnacle-
he’s chosen to offer incense, greeted by an angel, and told he’ll have a son…

…But he is rendered mute and he can’t tell anyone!

You got to be kidding me!

All these years people asking again and again “How are you?” And now that Zechariah has good news to share, he can’t answer!

He can’t say “Holy heck- I just saw an angel!”

He can’t shout out “I’m finally going to be a Dad!”

Now that he has an answer to “How are you?” he can’t say a single word and won’t be able to for almost a year!

You have got to be kidding! How can this be?

There is mischievous humor in this story if you allow it to be there.

This idea that Luke’s telling of the Good News begins with a man who can’t speak the good news.

The idea that after having nothing substantial to say for years, he finally has something to shout out to the world, but he can’t speak.

The idea that Zechariah was a step away from moving into a 55-and-over community but now instead he’s got to start thinking about poopy diapers and pre-school for his son.

What in the world is going on here!

…and that is exactly the point. Luke is starting his Gospel by letting us know that once again God is breaking into our world and doing a new thing.

The wait is over, the exile is done, what was once destroyed has been rebuilt and the time has come for Christ to come into the world.

Today’s reading is a reminder that we worship an Impossibly Possible tenacious God who is still full of surprises, never gives up, and holds onto the covenant made so long ago.

Today’s reading shows us that God acts in a multitude of ways that are not limited by our pre-conceived notions.

God can use traditional settings, like the temple, to act in forward-thinking ways.

God can use unexpected people, like an elderly couple, to bring about long expected promises.

God can use the most natural of events, like childbirth, to bring about Spirit-filled surprises.

God can step into what seems to be the final chapter to usher in a brand-new beginning.

God can even take our pain-filled waiting and turn it into joyful anticipation.

Amen and amen.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Waiting During the In-Between Time; Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4 and 10-13

Rev. George Miller
Dec 15, 2019
Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13

As we continue this Advent season we continue waiting for the birth of our Lord. As with any kind of waiting, there is a mix of emotions.

Think about the waiting of a child who has not a care in the world-

-waiting for your birthday
-waiting for Christmas
-waiting for the trip to Disney.

Think about the waiting of a child learning about responsibility and consequences-

-Report Card Day
-“Wait until your Father comes home!”

Change of life waiting-

-college acceptance letter
-job offer
-bid on the home to be accepted.

Waiting for new life- birth of a child.

Then as we grow older the reality of the other kinds of waiting creep in-

-lab results
-surgery dates

There is also the waiting of when we are feeling alone and lonely-

-phone call from somebody, anybody
-favorite tv show to come on so it breaks up the monotony
-the day to end so we can escape into sleep.

Personally, my last 4 months have been nothing but waiting-

-waiting for Hurricane Dorian
-waiting to transport my Mom to MO
-waiting to hear from social workers
-waiting for my car to be fixed.

All this while also preparing and waiting for Christmas.

Truthfully, it has felt like too much, and this last quarter of 2019 is one I can’t wait to have as a distant memory.

Waiting can be hopeful; waiting can be painful.

Waiting can be joyful; waiting can be mournful.

Waiting can be exciting; waiting can be as boring as heck.

Waiting is all about being in the in-between, and as one clergy colleague said, “In-between time is a mean time.”

In today’s reading, the waiting that the people of Israel have been doing for decades has finally come to an end.

50 years ago, they witnessed their city attacked and their Temple demolished.

50 years ago, they were taken as captives to Babylon and they wept over everything they had to leave behind.

But now, just as the prophets predicted, their exile is over and they’re free return home.

They’re waiting is over!

But when they get back to Jerusalem, they realize that everything is still in shambles- their homes, their streets, their Temple.

So the people work on rebuilding their lives.

They rebuild the altar, using a stone from the original one. This allows them to resume making offerings that are pleasing to God.

Then they lay the foundation of the Temple. After the foundation is laid, the people come together.

It is meant to be a joyous time; a time of new beginnings. There’s trumpets and cymbals and songs of joy. There’s pomp and circumstance and priests in beautiful robes.

People are shouting; cheering; praising God and singing about God’s never-ending love…

…but there’s also another sound.


The elder members of the congregation, the older priests and leaders who saw the first Temple fall, who remembered what things were like back in their day, can’t help but to cry.

We are not told why they cried, but we can guess.

The patriarchs and matriarchs of the community cried for what they lost.
They cried for all they endured.

They cried from the emotional weight of waiting.

They cried knowing they would not live long enough to see the Temple rebuilt.

They cried because they knew no matter what, things would never, ever be the same again.

No matter how hard they tried; no matter that they did; no matter how much of a false smile they plastered upon their face.

It is this reality that Ezra chooses to tell us today.

That even though their waiting has come to an end, amid the joy and celebration and songs of good cheer,

there was also grief, there was suffering, and there were tears.

Today’s reading offers such a profound reality.

That at any given time, at any given event, that at any moment of new beginnings, there can be joy and gladness,

and there can also be pain and weeping, stemming from memories of what was lost, awareness of our own mortality and knowledge that so much of our life is beyond our control.

Which reminds us of why our faith is so important.

Not to say that our faith can fix these things, or that faith magically makes them go away.

But to know that theses 2 realities of joy and sorrow are happening at the very same time

-in any given community
-in any given congregation
-in any given family
-even in any given person.

The crowds in today’s reading are a microcosm, representing great truth of what’s going on all the time.

Joy and pain; smiles and sadness; gain and loss.

The gift that we can give to others is the acceptance that this reality exists and that it is real.

And if we are in a good place in which we are filled and full of songs, when we encounter someone who is empty and unable to sing, we can be there for them.

To simply be present. To not fix. To not stop or silence their tears. Not offer platitudes.

But to be there; with them, beside them.

And if we are in an “in-between time” or “mean time” in which we hurt, we are tired, we are sad,

we allow others into our brokenness, be honest about our truth; how we feel. To not apologize for our tears or negate the importance of our memories.

Perhaps there is a reason why Jesus said “Blessed are the meek” and “Blessed are those who mourn”.

Perhaps it is because in our meekness, in our grief, we are more open to welcome the gift of comfort.

Perhaps it is in our brokenness that we provide space for Gods’ Holy Spirit to float in like a river of honey.

Perhaps it is in our uncertainty of the future that we are most open to Christ’s assurance.

Perhaps it is in our moments of darkness that we reach out to others and discover they are reaching right back.

God’s eye is indeed on the sparrow, even when the sparrow is waiting and in-between. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Letter to the Editor Re: Making Highlands a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary County

While I don't dispute the importance of the 2nd Amendment, it seems that there are so many other ways in which Highlands can set ourselves apart as a Sanctuary County. We could become an intentional place of refuge for Veterans, especially for those living with PTSD, or for retiring 1st Responders who gave so much of themselves to help others. We could become a sanctuary from hunger, in which we vow, as a county, to ensure that no one will ever go hungry, or a sanctuary of religious freedom in which we value all beliefs- Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, Christian, etc. But to single out gun ownership seems not only out-of-touch but insensitive in light of the upcoming anniversary of the SunTrust murders. Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Sunday, December 8, 2019

An Ode to SISTER ACT 2 and His Eye Is On the Sparrow; Isaiah 40:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Dec 8, 2019
Isaiah 40:1-11

A few years ago, I developed a theory: there are 2 kinds of people in America- those who prefer SISTER ACT 1 and those who prefer SISTER ACT 2.

SISTER ACT is a movie in which Whoopi Goldberg poses as a nun and teaches the sisters to sing songs like “I Will Follow Him.”

SISTER ACT 2 features Whoopi teaching inner city youth how to sing modern day versions of “Oh Happy Day” and “Joyful, Joyful.”

Those of us who are disciples of pt. 2 can testify that it’s CD was the soundtrack of our generation and the film’s influence is all over music videos and tv shows.

Perhaps the heart of SISTER ACT 2 is “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”.

In this scene, two young ladies are singing at the piano. One says to the other “Your voice is amazing. You could be selling out stadiums.”

To which the other says “Na-ah girl. This gift is for God only.”

A sentiment that has always stayed with me.

“His Eye Is On the Sparrow” was on the gospel channel all the time, and even after all these years, when it comes on, you just stop…and soak it in.

Yes, there are those who prefer SISTER ACT and there are those who prefer SISTER ACT 2.

In the children’s facility I worked in, there was no guessing which one the kids liked the most.

We were always watching the VHS copy of pt. 2; we were always playing the CD and singing along.

And no wonder- the kids could relate and the characters looked like them.

What did it mean for a neglected child in the system to hear and sing along to a song that dares to say “His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me.”

Why a sparrow? Why of all the kinds of birds there are, did the songwriter choose a sparrow?

Why not an eagle? Why not a sandhill crane? Why not a vulture?

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate why. “God’s Eye Is On the Eagle” wouldn’t work because by their very nature, eagles attract respect and awe.

It’s hard not to go “Wow” when an eagle flies by.

A sand-hill crane wouldn’t work because they capture your attention the moment they walk onto your lawn or into the road.

Sandhill cranes literally stop traffic, so of course God sees them.

Vultures? Any of us driving along Florida’s country roads are always keeping our eye out for them because you never want one to hit your windshield.

But sparrows? Do we even notice? Do we pay attention when they appear? When they come and when they go?

Has a sparrow ever made you say “wow!”?

Has a sparrow ever made you stop your car?

No. Sparrows are in many ways the most insignificant, ignored creature of the air.

They don’t stand out in the snow like cardinals. They don’t knock-knock-knock like woodpeckers. They don’t swoop down like hawks.

Sparrows are just sparrows; and if one goes missing, who even notices?

And THAT’S the power of the song.

It’s a bold, beautiful statement that God sees, God hears, God knows even the most seemingly invisible and insignificant.

No wonder such a song and movie could have so much power for those in foster care because if anything, for 2 hours they were affirmed that they were seen and they mattered to God.

What hope. What peace. What comfort.

“Comfort, O comfort”- the opening words to today’s reading.

These are much welcomed words.

“Comfort, O comfort.” What a soothing expression to hear; a balm to the ears and heart.

These are words offered to people who have gone through so much; words spoken to people who have lost a tremendous amount.

Last week we shared how Jeremiah spoke words to those who were in the beginning stages of a difficult time in which their nation was torn apart and their Temple destroyed.

Today’s words are to the same people but many, many years later, deep into their despair.

They’re scattered all over the world. Some have been kidnapped. Some have run away into hiding. Others have been left behind.

They’ve been treated as worthless, disposable, inconsequential.

In other words, they are now like sparrows.

If ever there was a time when people needed God, if ever there was a time they needed a reminder of who they are, now is the time.

But time passes. They wait. With great anxiety they wait.

Then, one day they hear the voice of the Still Speaking God, and that voices says “Comfort, O comfort.”

And with this voice the possibility of a new future begins to emerge.

The possibility that in the barren land, a highway will be created.

The possibility that hills and other obstacles will be overcome.

The possibility that all of those lost, lonely, afraid, and forgotten, will once again be gathered.

They will once again be a flock.

A flock that is fed, a flock that is gently carried and lovingly led.

A flock in which God will have His eye on each and every one.

As we continue this season of Advent, we continue a time of dark nights and empty lives, of people gone and memories left behind.

We also continue this season of waiting; waiting for the Lord.

Waiting for God to make the covenant known in a new way, by slipping into our flesh and bone as Jesus Christ,

saying to each and every one of us “I know you, I love you, I have not forgotten you.”

Waiting for the birth of Jesus, in which God says “I am with you. I am beside you. And I see you.”

Waiting to be reminded that God’s eye is indeed on us, always, regardless if we are the eagle, the sandhill crane, the vulture.

Or even the tiny, tiny sparrow.

God sees, God watches over, even when we feel discouraged or the shadows come.

In Christ, we have a light that brings with it hope and peace and comfort.

Amen and amen.