Sunday, February 23, 2020

We Press On; Sermon based on Mark 8:27-9:8

Rev. George Miller
Feb 23, 2020
Mark 8:27-9:8

Once upon a time, we lived in a much simpler moment.

Before fears of the Corona Virus and the spectacle of the impeachment; before the Australia wildfires and slow moving threat of Hurricane Dorian.

A more innocent moment when I was but a wee lad of only 49 and a half.

It was the much simpler days of August 2019. Wayyyy back when we were studying Philippians- a letter Paul penned to the church in Philippi.

As you may recall, Paul wrote about:

-not being wishy-washy
-working on our own salvation
-knowing we are Citizens of Heaven
-becoming a sweet fragrance to others.

In chapter 3 Paul wrote “…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.”

Paul acknowledged his own humanity, knowing that God is not yet done working through him.

He knows he is not a polished piece of perfection, there is still so much to learn, and he is making the choice to press on, move forward, and not stay in the same spiritual rut.

But, if you recall, Paul is writing these words while in prison. He is talking about pressing on while chains are pressing down on his flesh.

He’s writing about following a heavenly call even while he’s suffering through an earthly sentencing.

Paul’s freedom is stripped away, yet his eyes look forward to a future in Christ.

So therefor, he presses on.

Talk about having a passion for God.

Talk about allowing the Holy Spirit to rise you above current circumstances.

Talk about feeling no shame in Christ and taking up your cross.

Today we reach the middle of Mark’s Gospel; the hinge of the story in which two things happen-

1st- we discover who Jesus is and what he will experience.

2nd- we decide if we are going to stay behind or if we are going to follow.

In Mark’s telling, we come to a beautifully crafted moment in time.

A week in the life of Jesus in which everything changes, and the reality of mortality sets in.

Jesus’s ministry in Galilee is coming to an end. He has cast out demons, restored communities, renewed women, raised up girls, fed the masses, empowered mobility, and given sight.

Peter has figured out that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus has told the disciples that he will undergo great suffering.

The masses are told that to follow him from this point on means that you must also take up your own cross.

Then we have this moment 6 days later.

We are in a northern city, one that’s mostly made up of gentiles, where a temple of the Roman emperor stands.

Jesus takes us up a mountain.

If you look at the map of where this story takes place, all that’s been accomplished, all that they have experienced, is to the south.

What is also to the south is Jerusalem, the place that’s known for killing its prophets.

Picture this: you’re with Jesus after years of following him. You now know who he is, what will happen to him, and what’s being asked of you.

You climb to the top of a beautiful mountain; a place like Bok Tower, where you can look out in all directions: north, south, east, west.

You see that southwest is Jerusalem, the city in which your Savior will die.

Do you flee to the other side of the mountains as if you were the Von Trapp family in “The Sound of Music,” going as far north as you can until you are no longer in any kind of danger?

Do you try to stay on that mountain top for as long as you can, hoping to freeze that moment for all eternity?

Or do you go south, towards Heaven’s Destiny and you own mortality?

???Do you flee, do you freeze, or do you press on???

……………..Jesus presses on…………

In the words of Parker Palmer, Jesus comes to his own “Rosa Parks Decision” and in doing so he changes the whole entire world….

If there is one thing we can say about our faith, is that we are a people who press on.

It is in our stories; our spiritual ancestors.

Though Sarah was elderly and childless, when God said “Go!”, she pressed on.

Though Joseph was sold into slavery by his very own brothers, he pressed on.

Though Moses and Miriam came up against the Red Sea, they pressed on.

Diminutive David stood before gigantic Goliath and pressed on.

Queen Esther could’ve lost her life for speaking up, yet she pressed on.

Jesus was humiliated by his own hometown, yet he pressed on.

Jesus came to a mountaintop in which the heroes of his past appeared, and just a few steps north sat freedom…

…and yet he pressed on.

As Christians, that is what we do.

We press on.

Paul pressed on even while in prison.

The earliest Christians pressed on even when the threat of Rome pushed down.

The great reformer Martin Luther pressed on when he saw the church straying from the Gospel of Grace.

The Pilgrims pressed on when they realized they would rather live out their faith in a new world then die in a country where their spirits were suppressed.

The colonists pressed on when they met in a congregational church knowing it was better to dump tea into a sea than to drown in unfair taxation.

The suffragettes and civil rights movements pressed on, knowing equality for all was essential for everybody.

As followers of Christ, as recipients of Paul’s letters, we too press on.

Knowing that we are mortals, meaning that we are born, we live, and we die-

We press on.

It may seem safer to stay on the mountain,

it may look easier to run away,

but we know that’s not who Christ was,

therefor we know that’s not what we are called to do.

So what do we do, you and I, us and we?

We press on.
We press on.
We press on.


Monday, February 17, 2020

You Work On You, She Work On She, He Work On He; Let God Work Within All of Us; Sermon on Mark 7:1-23

Rev. George Miller
Feb 16, 2020
Mark 7:1-23

Today we start off our message by acknowledging the elephant in the room; except it’s not really an elephant, but a big, beautiful swan:

we are studying a scripture addressing food and what makes a person defiled.

Yet we have here today Carnide and Ari, our accompanist and Director of Music, who are members of the 7th Day Adventists and faithfully keep kosher.

If we’re not careful, we can twist around these words attributed to Jesus and use them as weapons to judge.

But that is not who we, as a church, are.

So let’s lift up what’s been our experience of the Adventist faith- they are deeply rooted, spiritually filled Christians who feel called to honor God through the way they work, the way they rest and the way they eat.

Anyone is welcome to worship at an Adventist Church but if one chooses to join, there is a profession of faith that speaks clearly about sabbath and the consumption of certain foods.

What we’ve experienced is that our Adventist Sisters and Brothers are some of the most loving, faithful, and authentic people there are.

They embrace their faith to offer wholeness, healing, and to bring people closer to God. We see this at the Adventist Hospital. We experience this each week through Ari and Carnide.

I have yet to see an Adventist point a finger and tell me what I must or must not do.

So that is how we are invited to engage today’s scripture and to think about what Jesus is trying to teach us.

Let’s set the stage- Jesus is out and about, all over the countryside.

He’s going to the small towns, he’s going to the farms; he’s going to the Piggly Wiggly and he’s going to Homer’s Buffet.

After his hometown humiliation, Jesus has shaken the dust off his feet, and people are hungry for his hands-on ministry.

He’s fed over 5,000 men, women and children. He’s healed so many sick.

Everywhere he goes folk are clamoring for his compassionate care, bringing the sick to where he’s at.

The leaders of the Temple hear about this, so they leave their big city offices in Jerusalem and travel to whatever Podunk town Jesus is in.

They see the ministry the disciples and Jesus are doing. They see the hungry being fed; they see the sick being healed…

…and instead of saying “Good job, Jesus!” or “Way to go!”,

instead of rewarding them with a dinner at Olive Garden or a spa package to Hammock Falls, they say-

“Ummmm, Jesus….why is there dirt under your fingernails? And why are the hands of your disciples covered with motor oil?”

The scribes with their Blue-tooth earpieces and the Pharisees with their finely tailored robes, are looking at the overalls and sweatstains and the farming implements of the common folk, and instead of saying to Jesus

“Job well done!”,

they run a white glove over the table to see if there’s any dust, and look with disgust at the jelly jars and chipped plates being used for their well-deserved lunch break.

And if you notice, if you are willing to see Jesus as living within human skin with human emotions,

Jesus responds in a way that can seem abrupt, and a bit like a clap-back.

It’s like Jesus ready to start a fight.

If Jesus was a woman, you can almost see him taking off his earrings and stepping out of his high heeled shoes.

If Jesus was playing pool at the Yogi Bar, you could see him turning to his friend and saying, “Hold my beer.”

Except instead of Jesus using his fists or a pool stick, he uses his words.

He says to them “The prophets of the past were right about you. You like to think you’re worshipping God, but you really don’t care about the ways of heaven-

You’d rather pass judgement, bend the rules so you don’t have to care for anyone else but yourself.

You’d rather worry about what ordinary folk eat then about your own greed, ego, and acts of injustice.”

Please note- in no way is Jesus condemning Judaism, the Kosher laws, or belittlingly anyone who chooses to follow the commandments.

What Jesus is saying to this particular group of individuals who purposely left the state capital so they could pass judgement is this-

“If you want to follow the handwashing codes, then follow them. If you want to keep Kosher, keep Kosher.

But do not come and judge others when you yourself are unable to do what you are so demanding of,

and don’t act like you are above anyone else in our community when you are constantly finding loopholes that get you out of doing what is just and kind.”

Jesus uses his words, calls upon the religious teachings of the past, and speak in such a way that says everyone is imperfect, everyone has stuff to work on, everyone has sides and shadows to them that they’d be better off without.

In a way, it’s like Jesus is coming to all of our defenses, saying

“Hey, no one has it all figured out, no one is perfect, so let’s stop the hate and let’s stop the judging.”

You work on you. She work on she. He work on he. And let God work within all of us.”

There’s also another part of today’s reading: there is a Pharisee and a scribe that lives within in each of us.

As theologian Lamar Williamson, Jr. states - in every religious community there are those who “come from Jerusalem” and everyone has “Jerusalem” tendencies. (Mark, 1983, pg. 136)

What this means is that every one of us comes to worship with certain expectations and certain rules about what is right, what is wrong, what is moral, what is ethical.

It may be about the proper way to light the candles, the attire of the preacher, the way children are to behave, the number of verses we sing of a song, if you sit or if you stand.

There is not necessarily a right or a wrong to that answer, but more like-

how does this shape your relationship with God, how does this affect your treatment of others?

Do you yourself talk the walk and walk the talk?

Or it is just a way to deflect attention from your own salvation’s work?

Jesus is on the move; Jesus can not be contained, and Jesus continues to prod us beyond our comfort zone-

What makes us holy?
What makes us unclean?

What makes us human?
What makes us Citizens of Heaven?

What work do we need to do on ourselves?

How can we celebrate the work of others?

These are questions no one else can answer, but God and ourselves.

Let us say “Amen.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Letter to the Editor re: Pelosi's Prophetic Act

As an ordained Christian pastor, I fully support the actions of Nancy Pelosi, who shredded the President's speech. In my opinion, it was not disrespectful, because one cannot disrespect something that is already disrespectful. Pelosi embodied prophetic wisdom by ripping up a manifesto of untruths, a celebration of hate speech, and orchestrated patriotic pandering. From a biblical perspective, Pelosi was shaking the dust off her feet, embodying Mary's Magnificat, and joining in the sisterhood of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1) who also refused to participate in the cruelty of an unjust leader. Because of her public act, future Americans can look upon this moment and say "When elected officials cowered in fear and sold out the soul of our country, there was at least one person who was brave enough to say 'No!'." I stand by Pelosi who had the courage to stand up for our country.

Rev. George Miller

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Josephine, Jesus and the Rosa Parks Decision; Sermon on Mark 6 1-13

Rev. George Miller
Feb 9, 2020
Mark 6:1-13

February is Black History Month, a time to lift up and celebrate the many achievements that have been made by our Sisters and Brothers.

Earlier this week, I came across a comment that is so appropriate for this month and today’s reading.

The author, Parker Palmer, discusses the importance of caring for oneself.

He states that we are a gift, and that self-care is not selfishness, but good stewardship.

He states that if we are untrue to who we are, we cause great damage to those around us. But- if we are true to ourselves, we end up planting seeds that create change.

He refers to this as the “Rosa Parks Decision.” Meaning, that on the day Mama Parks decided to stay where she was, she was being true to herself.

According to Parker, she was being bravely authentic, realizing the punishment she could receive was nothing compared to the punishment she was already experiencing in an unjust society.

There’s another element of the “Rosa Parks Decision”- she was just an ordinary person; she was no superwoman.

According to Parker, we tend to make people into otherworldly, untouchable icons because as long as they are on a pedestal, we never have to find our own courage to be challenged in our lives.

But if we see their every-day humanity, then we get to look at our own personhood and realize that we are our greatest gift, that we too have the seeds of change and greatness. (Let Your Light Shine, pp 31-35, 2000)

This notion makes me think of one of my heroes- Josephine Baker.

Born in 1906 St. Louis, Josephine lived at a time of great poverty and race-related violence, a dangerous era for anyone who did not have 100% European blood.

Overcoming numerous obstacles as a father-less black girl, Josephine discovered 2 things- she had a gift for making people laugh and she had a gift for alluring their curiosity.

She used these gifts on stage, at one moment making funny faces, at another time dancing with great sensuality.

Josephine was Beyoncé before there was a Beyoncé; she was Marilyn way before there was a Monroe.

Soon she was in Paris, finding herself beloved and admired as a model, actress, singer, dancer, muse.

She was larger than life, dripping in couture, literally walking a cheetah down the streets of France; one of the richest women who ever lived.

Josephine embraced who she was, becoming an outspoken advocate for equality, diversity, and love, adopting children of all backgrounds, doing her part for WWII.

Then there was the trip she made back to her home country of America.

People couldn’t wait to see her, but- the criticism soon poured in: she’s too odd; her voice is too weak, she’s too uppity.

There was the harsh American reality- Josephine, one of the biggest stars in world could not enter hotels through the front door, but had to walk through the kitchen, even as she dripped with diamonds and couture.

One day she was denied service at a restaurant. As they escorted her out, she confronted a member of the press about the injustice and his in-action.

He in turn publicly attacked her- questioning her talent, her morals.

Heartbroken, Josephine returned to France where she was once again greeted with open arms and restaurants that allowed her to walk in the front door and have a place at the table.

Though her heart was hurt, she did not allow it to squash her spirit. She continued to radiate welcoming love and je ne sais quoi.

One thing Josephine Baker said, that has shaped my entire life, ministry, and sense of stewardship is this- “One is never punished for giving too much.”

Like Rosa, Josephine was not a superwoman, or otherworldly.

She was an ordinary human being with humble beginnings who made the decision to be true to who she was, and therefor planted seeds that are still bearing fruit.

This fits into today’s reading from Mark, a story in which we witness Jesus in his hometown and how he is criticized, shamed, and dismissed.

This isn’t the 1st time this happens either. In ch. 3 his own family tries to constrain him, he’s accused of being demon- possessed, and unclean.

How can this happen? How can those he grew up with, those who knew him all his life shame him, judge him, deny him?

If what Mark states is fact, then we have such an insightful reading, a perspective into the ordinary, human, part of Jesus.

First, where he was raised- Nazareth, a small town, about 500 people.

His town was agricultural, which would explain why he spoke parables about seeds and weeds and wheat.

He’s called a carpenter, which means he’s a blue-collar artisan, working with his hands. He probably made farming tools like yokes and plows.

He had siblings, and since the sisters aren’t named, it could’ve meant they were married, meaning Jesus would have had brothers-in-law and perhaps nieces and nephews.

He’s referred to as “the son of Mary,” which has the hint of insult, a crafty way of saying the “B” word, inferring that he is illegitimate, and his mother has loose morals.

Perhaps most informative of all, verse 3 tell us the townsfolk took offense at him. However, there is another translation of this verse, found in the New American Bible-

The town-folk “found him too much for them.”

Meaning that Jesus was too much to take, too in your face, too loud, too obnoxious, too full of himself, too flamboyant, too dramatic.

As my friend Tonya would say, Jesus was “extra.”

I wonder if we know anyone here today who can be a bit “extra” or “too much” at times…

No wonder Jesus was not accepted. No wonder they questioned his right to teach and heal. No wonder they weren’t open to his restorative abilities.

They knew him too well. They saw him grow up. They knew what he was like as a kid.

They saw him through his awkward teenage years. They knew he went to trade school instead of Harvard.

So, who is he to teach them about God’s Kingdom and offer them authenticity?

He was not Emmanuel in their eyes.

He was just “Bubba”, the illegitimate child of Mary who made tractor supplies and was too much to take.

So, what do we do with this info?

What do we do knowing that folk like Rosa Parks and Josephine Baker were just ordinary folks?

What do we do with the knowledge of Jesus’ very human side?

That the one we call Emmanuel, God-With-US, who our church is named after, failed the popularity contest from time to time?

That even Jesus couldn’t successfully navigate small-town shenanigans?

That even he was questioned about his work, his wisdom, his right to teach, preach, and heal?

…Maybe, it is because his own family and neighbors tried to constrain him, thought he was demon possessed, and called him unclean,

maybe that is why Jesus was so able and available to-

cast out demons,
free men in chains,
heal women from sickness,
raise children from the dead,
deem people clean,
call the exiled “Daughter”,
sit at table with enemies of the state, prostitutes,
and anyone else who
truly, humbly sought out
to be their authentic
and whole selves.

We spend sooooo much time placing Jesus on a heavenly pedestal that we can often forget the deeply theological claim that he embodied the same flesh we do and he experienced the same societal highs and low that we do.

As today’s reading shows, Jesus had moments of great welcome, and moments of great disregard.

He had moments when he was looked up to, and moments when he was looked down upon.

He had moments when people couldn’t get enough of him, and moments when people wanted absolutely nothing to do with him.

The fact that Jesus stuck it out, the fact that he continued to be true to himself,

the fact that he still continued to teach and preach and heal…

…The fact that he was even willing to go to the cross for those who scorned him, betrayed him, belittled him…


We claim that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, but let’s be honest-

the notion that the divine would even want to slip into our skin is amazing enough.

But to know that the divine was willing to live as fully human, even if it meant suffering, rejection, and humiliation-

My God…

So, as we continue to celebrate our 30 years of ministry here in our own little small town of Sebring,

located in an agricultural society, anchored by our own lake made up of many, many sides,

may we accept that like Jesus, no matter what others will say or do, if we are authentic and true to ourselves, we are planting seeds that create change.

This is my prayer for us-

Like Josephine, may we embrace generosity, knowing that it will never be the cause of punishment.

Like Rosa, may we sit with the knowledge that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Like Parker, may we celebrate that we are a gift, and taking care of ourselves is perhaps the greatest act of stewardship.

In Christ, we are all apostles.

We are all daughters and sons.

We all a thread in the fabric of faith, sent out into the world to make God’s Eternal Kingdom better known

May we trust that we are enough, and the dust that’s on our feet is the dust that can be shaken off.

For that, let us say, “Amen!”

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Jesus Is On the Move and Not Confined; Sermon on Mark 5:21-43

Rev. George Miller
Feb 2, 2020
Mark 5:21-43

Today as we continue our pilgrimage with Jesus, there are 2 things that are very clear- Jesus is on the move and Jesus is not confined!

It doesn’t matter which side of the sea he is on. It doesn’t matter if Jesus is in the land of non-believers or in a city full of religious institutions.

It doesn’t matter if he’s in a graveyard or public square, if he’s dealing with demons or religious leaders.

It doesn’t matter one bit if you’re old or young, male or female, penniless or Master of the House-

Jesus is getting it done and making the Kingdom of Heaven known!

Today we encounter 2 miracle stories. Following last week’s message, this means that we’re not just witnessing how Jesus offers healing to 2 people, but how Jesus is offering healing to 2 sets of friends, families and neighbors.

And Jesus does it in his own unique Jesus-way.

1st- let’s talk about the revolutionary aspect of today’s reading- Jesus is offering healing to a destitute woman and a young girl at a time in which women and children were told their lives did not matter.

This story takes place in a culture and a century when the Greeks and Romans would leave their female babies behind.

This is taking place in a religious community in which all the previous stories that involved people coming back to life were either boys or men.

What we are witnessing is a scriptural 1st of its kind- a woman who seeks healing on behalf of herself without the help of a man or a guardian, a man who advocates for the life of his daughter, and a girl who is brought back to life.

This is Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Living Embodiment of God, literally undoing the seams of society and re-stitching them in a brand-new way.

No longer do just men matter. No longer do women have to rely on someone else advocating for them.

In the eyes of Jesus, everyone matters.

Not only is today’s narrative revolutionary, it is also so inclusionary.

Listen to the word that Jesus offers to the woman after she has touched his garment and tells him her truth.

He calls her “Daughter.”

This is so deep.

Like the man from last week who was possessed with demons, this woman was considered unclean.

She would have been despised and dejected. She would have been treated as an outsider.

For the 12 years she lived with her chronic condition she would not have been allowed to sleep on the same sheets as her husband, if she had one.

She would not have been allowed to prepare or enjoy food with her family.

She would not have been allowed into the synagogue, or allowed to attend public dedications, community forums, or invited to enjoy a night of making noodles and eating pizza.

In essence, this woman was living in exile.

Like her ancestors 600 years before, she was as emotionally, spiritually, socially distant from the life of her community as if she had been taken away to Babylon.

She was beyond being the prodigal son, she was the forgotten and shamed child.

So when Jesus turns around, when he hears her story and sees her faith, his first word to her is “Daughter.”


A term of endearment. A term of love. A term of one’s relational place.


With that one word, Jesus publicly welcomes her back.

He welcomes her back into the life of the community.

He exorcises the 12 years of exclusion, avoidance and judgement she has experienced.

For all those to see, including Jairus, the religious leader, Jesus welcomes her back into the Family of Israel.

He welcomes her “home”.

By calling her “daughter”, Jesus ends her exile and Jesus resurrects her back into the tapestry of the town.

And if we need further insight into the word “Daughter”, look no further than Jairus and how he behaved on behalf of his child.

We see a father’s love for his daughter, how Jairus submits himself to Jesus, how he falls before him, how he begs and pleads, how he willingly to puts his professional life and public reputation on the line to save his daughter.

Jairus demonstrates what a father’s love looks like, so when Jesus calls the woman “Daughter” we have a deeper understanding of what Jesus feels for God’s children.

That Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares if we are lost, cares if we are wounded, cares if we are excluded, cares if we are hurt by the wolves of the world.

If Jairus cries out and hurts on behalf of his child, imagine how much more God cares, cries out, and hurts for us too.

When Jesus looks upon this woman and calls her “Daughter” we know that what he felt, what he meant, was enough to make the stars shout out and all of creation sing.

Now we see, in just one chapter, how a man possessed with demons is restored back to life, a young girl that was thought dead was restored back to life.

A woman, left penniless, destitute and discarded, was restored back to life.

We are also now cognizant of what this news means for their family, their friends, their community.

Jesus is on the move; Jesus is beyond confinement.

If Jesus can restore a man chained in a cemetery,

if Jesus can give new life to a woman who’s been bleeding out for 12 years,

if Jesus can get the least of these to wake up and to walk…

That means that there is no one, nowhere, no circumstances in which Jesus will not be present-

Offering a chance of resurrection.

Offering a chance of coming home.

Offering a chance to be called “Son”.

offering a chance to be called “Daughter”.

For that, we can say, Amen.