Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Narrative Lectionary Bible Study for 03 24 20, Mark 13:1-23

Emmanuel UCC Narrative Lectionary Bible Study
Rev. George Miller

March 24, 2020
Mark 13:1-23

Greetings and welcome to our 1st Narrative Lectionary Bible Study during this era of uncertainty. If you haven’t attended one of our classes, here are some basic things to know-

1) All opinions/views are welcome; no one knows it all. If you wish to engage in conversation about what’s discussed, you can say anything as long as it is prefaced with an “I” statement- “This is what I believe,” “This is what I heard,” “This is what I was taught,”, etc.

It is in my opinion that I-statements allow us to hear one another much clearer. (See what I did right there?)

2) Pay attention to what Bible you’re using. Is it a translation, like the NRSV, NIV, KJV, The Good News? Or is it an interpretation/paraphrase, like The Message or The Living Bible? Translations try to stay true to the text, interpretations try to make the text more readable.

In my opinion, all Bibles have a bias and particular voice due to who their editor/translator/interpreters is, and when they get it right, they get it right, when they get it wrong….it can be way off base. (See what I did again?)

3) When reading the Bible, there is fact and there is truth. Fact is something that can be witnessed, measured and recorded. Truth is something that’s more poetic and filled with imagery that is used to convey an idea.

For example, I could tell you “Last night it rained 5 inches” and that would be a fact. Or, I could say “Last night it rained cats and dogs” and that would be a truth.

You know that it did not literally rain cats and dogs, and you’d understand that in American vernacular “cats and dogs” is a fun way to say “a lot.” A truth is not a lie, but it is not necessarily a fact.

Ancient people living in ancient times often told their stories using truth, but modern day Americans raised in a technological, industrial era often take everything as fact.

If this all makes your head hurt- welcome to the club. Don’t give up- we are all on our way to becoming wizened theologians.

So…..Let’s get started.

Today’s lesson is Mark 13:1-23

Take a moment to read it to yourself.
Now, read it out loud.

What are your “a-has!!”?
What are your “huhs???”/ Questions?
What things caused you to wrestle or feel uncomfortable?

What do you think Jesus is trying to say?
What do you think the author of Mark is trying to say?

For some historical info- the Gospel of Mark takes place around 30 or 33 CE, but it was most likely written around the year 70 CE (which means the Christian Era. CE is now used instead of the familiar AD).

Mark was most likely a Jew writing for other Jews.

Do you know what was going on in Mark’s hometown when Mark was writing this Gospel?

The Romans were attacking Jerusalem from 67-70 CE. In the year 70 the Romans sets fire to the Temple and then tore every last stone to the ground. (Some of the stones were 40 feet in length and weighed up to 100 tons.)

So…..there is a good chance that as Mark was reporting Jesus’ words in 13:1-23, that the Temple was either about to be attacked, was under attack, or the attack has just taken place.

Which leads us to wonder-

Did Jesus actually say what Mark reported (which would be a fact)?

Or did Mark put words into Jesus’ mouth to reflect Mark’s own experience (which would make it a truth)?

Or could it be a bit of both? Did Mark see the Temple being set aflame and torn down, and Mark recalled that Jesus had talked about that very thing?

Do you think Jesus, in the year 30-33 was speaking about the destruction of the Temple in 70, or do you think Jesus was talking about the end of the world as we know it?

Or… do you think Jesus (or/and Mark) are trying to tell us something else?

Also, here are some things to ponder-
1) This story features three of the disciples who went up the mountain with Jesus during the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8. See any similarities in these two texts?

2) This scripture takes place right after Jesus condemns the scribes inside the Temple and sees the widow give her last 2 coins. Do you think there is a connection to between12 and 13?

3) Do you see any parallels with this week’s reading and what we are going through at this moment?

4) Where do you see the hope? Is there Good News that can be gleaned from the reading?

5) In addition to today’s reading, you may want to check out Psalm 102, which was written during the Babylonian Exile, dealing with the 1st time the Temple was destroyed and not available as a place of worship.

This is enough, for now.

May you be blessed, and safe, and find comfort in the Lord.

Peace, Pastor George

Narrative Lectionary Bible Study for 03 31, 20; Mark 11:1-12

Emmanuel UCC Narrative Lectionary Bible Study
Rev. George Miller

March 31, 2020
Mark 11:1-12

Welcome to our 2nd Narrative Lectionary Bible Study during this era of uncertainty. A reminder of some basic things-

1) All opinions/views are welcome; no one knows it all. When responding, please use “I” statements

2) What Bible are you using? Is it a translation or an interpretation/paraphrase?

3) When reading the Bible, there is fact and there is truth. It was acceptable back then to use both to share info & ideas.

4) If anything challenges your belief of makes your head hurt- welcome to the club. Don’t give up- we are all on our way to becoming wizened theologians.

So…..Let’s get started.

Take a moment to read this Sunday’s text, Mark 11:1-11.

Take a breath to clear your head.

Let’s do some simple history. The story takes place at the beginning of Passover Week, a major event in Jerusalem, sort of like 12 Hours of Sebring, in which folk from all over came to town. A big part of the festival was the ruler riding into town on a huge war horse filled with pomp and circumstance, surrounded by all the important people.

Mark tells of another kind of leader riding into town from another direction, on a more humble, smaller creature. The crowd is made up of the regular folk, the “people.”

Imagine these two “parades” taking place at the same time, in opposite directions. 2 different kind of men who folk saw as a “king”, 2 different kind of creatures used for mobility, and 2 kinds of crowds.

What do you think Jesus is trying to accomplish? What do you think the author of Mark is trying to say?

Read Mark 11:1-11 again, this time pay attention to the words that are actually there, not what you think is there.

What do you think the author of Mark is trying to tell us?

Now…for the real head-hurting part, compare Mark’s account with the other Gospels. Find what is different, what’s the same.

As you read the 4 accounts, ask yourself, “Is this a fact? Or is it truth?” “Why would the same story be told 4 different ways?” And for great fun, see if you can spot the visual of Jesus’ entry that Matthew creates.

Mark 11:1-11
Matthew 21:1-17
Luke 19:28-46
John 12:12-19

May today’s study be a blessing to you.
Much love, Pastor George

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Be Aware, Be Present, Be Here; Sermon on Mark 13:1-23

Rev. George Miller
March 29, 2020
Mark 13:1-23

Today’s reading features the words “beware” and “Be alert.” Timely phrases for a time like this.

Many of you are on alert, perhaps too high of an alert.

Many are on alert filled with adrenaline which has placed you into flight, fight or freeze mode.

As a result, it is burning you out and wearing you down.

Yes, there are those who are using this time to rest, sleep in, chill…but there are others who are completely “on”-

The tv is on
News is on
Facebook is on
Twitter is on
Cell phone is on

Your car may resting in the garage but your own inner engine is revving away.

Jesus says to “be alert” but how much more alert can a nation be???

…Unless if there is another kind of alert that Jesus is talking about…

Today’s reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, written during a dangerous time in history.

Back then the Temple was a glorious building to behold. It stood 9 stories tall, with stone 40 feet long, some weighing over 100 tons.

The Temple was covered in gold, so much gold that when the sun shone upon it, a person could be blinded.

The Temple was not perfect. Corrupt leaders had slithered their way into its rituals. False preachers used it for their fame and gain.

But, as a symbol, the Temple was there to represent the presence and love of God.

It was supposed to be the stable center of society, a place in which you could go to find calm even when the world seemed so chaotic.

If the Temple stood safe, Jerusalem was safe…

Here we have Jesus telling of a time in which the Temple will fall, when the 40-foot stones will topple over.

Jesus tells of a time in which there will be total chaos, fear and worry and unfortunately the Temple will not be there to calm their fears or provide assurance.

How many people are feeling this right now? That we are at a time in history in which we could use a sign of stability, but…

Where is the Church?
Where is the building?
Why aren’t we inside the sanctuary?

How many are wondering right now-
Where is the Pastor?
Why isn’t the Pastor in my home?

Why am I in the hospital, sick and scared and the Pastor is not beside me?

How many are wondering-

Where are my church friends?
Where is the food we use to share?
Where are my sisters and brothers in Christ?

Where are the hugs?
The kisses?
The handshakes?
The embrace?

The time we all need positive touch the most…we can’t.

The time we need to gather as one body inside the safety and sacredness of the church…we can’t.

The time we most need our Old Time Religion…we are being pushed into a new age that is online, livestreamed, click and play.

In today’s reading Jesus told us of worries and woes, but Jesus also spoke of something else…hope.

In vs. 13 he says, “the one who endures…will be saved.”

Hope. Endurance.

The ability to hold on, be strong. To get back up even when you fall down.

To finish the race even if your shirt is drenched with sweat, your heel has broken off, and your hair’s a hot mess.

Jesus encourages us to endure not because he thinks we will fail, but because he knows that we can succeed.

We can endure.

How? By being alert, but perhaps not the kind of high alert we’re already in.

I don’t think Jesus is encouraging us to continue in this unhealthy Facebook, news cast, fearful way that is filled with adrenaline and no sleep.

Perhaps the alert we can most benefit from right now is more akin to the kind that was in the Garden of Eden.

Maybe the kind of alert Jesus wants for us in the 10 Commandments, Sabbath kind-of-rest alert.

What do we mean by that?

Perhaps Jesus wants us to be alert to the ways in which God is present.

In nature- the sounds of the birds that seem to be singing more sweetly than before.

In sleep that is restorative in which it is the sun, not an alarm clock, that wakes us up.

To be alert to the ways Christ is present.

The unexpected kindness of strangers.

The giving to people in need.

The neighbor who comes by with an extra bar of soap or extra roll of paper.

The ways in which people are being the hands of Christ, like Bolton who challenged the community to give to The Shepherd’s Pantry, and as a result ensured 2 months-worth of food.

Be alert to the Holy Spirit and the ways it is working.

Presenting new ways to live. New ways to communicate.

New ways to share music, dance, song, stories, art.

New ways to connect that is beyond
Paper books
Fixed Time frames
And door handles.

We are living in an unsure time.

Jesus spoke of a scary time.

Mark was written for people living through the kind of things that Jesus spoke about.

So what do we do? How do we live?

What is the Good News?

For today, let us take this call to be alert and instead of filling it with adrenaline and high-octane worry, let us see this call as an invitation.

An invitation to be present.
To be aware.
To be here.

To be rooted to the earth.
To be connected to God.

To find Sabbath rest even when there is worry.

To look for the ways nature is making God known, the ways our neighbors are being the hands of Christ, and the revolutionary ways in which the Holy Spirit is acting.

For that, let us say “Amen.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Is Church Essential? Sermon on Mark 12:28-34, 38-44

Rev. George Miller
March 22, 2020
Mark 12:28-34, 38-44

Today we gather in this holy time, in this holy space.

Through Christ, we are Citizens of Heaven even as we dwell in an unsure world.

The author of Mark wrote his gospel specifically for people who were living through uncertain times like this.

In fact, so much of the Bible was written during scary situations-

-The Exile
-Enemy attacks

Mark wrote for a city under siege from an outside intruder, an attack that would topple the Temple, take lives, cripple the economy and change their way of interacting.

So with that knowledge, we look at today’s reading with a set of woefully wisened eyes.

This story may sound familiar- the widow who gives away her last cent, but let’s look deeper.

One question we can ask is this-

Is she giving all that she has to God?

Or, is she giving all that she has to an institution?

Her last 2 copper coins- will they go towards the ministry of the Lord or to help run a business?

Note that in today’s reading, Jesus does not make a judgement statement, nor does he say anything about imitating her.

What Jesus says is that the poor widow put in more than all the others, all that she had to live on.

Let us pause and think for a moment- Jesus does not say “What she did is good,” or “What she did is bad.”

He doesn’t say “She will be rewarded” or “She will be punished” for her giving.

Jesus does not say “Be like the poor widow and give all you got.”

Could it be that this story, so often used in stewardship campaigns and preached about by pastors from high pulpits while in ornate apparel….

….is really a condemnation about a religious system that would willingly take all that a person has left to live?

Did you hear what Jesus said in verses 28-40?

Jesus says to a scribe that the greatest commandments are loving God and loving neighbor.

Then he says “Beware of religious leaders who walk around looking pretty, wearing expensive clothes, who like to be the stars, get the best piece of chicken, and say long prayers, all while consuming what the widows have. They will be judged greatly.”

Do you hear and see what happens? Jesus condemns those who will devour a widow, then… we watch as a widow places her last 2 coins into the offering.

What do you think Jesus is truly trying to say to the disciples when he gathers them around?

What do you think the author of Mark is actually trying to tell us???

…Today we celebrate meeting the budget, and though circumstances don’t allow us to do that through food, we can still celebrate through spirit.

Our church leadership set a goal of giving and everyone here has responded in faithful generosity.

But what were you giving to?

Were you giving to God, or were you giving to an institution?

Were you giving to the Lord’s ministry or to a place of business and entertainment?

What is the church really about and why do we gather to worship?

This moment in time really makes us think, to wonder “Why church?” and “Why do we get together?”

We are aware of all the places that are closed down: bars, nightclubs, theatres- places of socializing and entertainment.

What has not closed?

The places seen as essential.

Grocery stores- where we go to get food and to be nourished.

Gas stations- where we go to get refueled.

Doctor offices and hospitals- where we go to seek healing and be made well.

Which makes us wonder- why do we come to church, why do we come to worship?

Is church essential? Is gathering together a necessity, like going to Publix, Speedway and Doctor Chen?

Perhaps it depends on why we come to church and why church exist.

Is church a place of entertainment?

I read one pastor’s email that referred to worship as a “performance” in which those present were part of it.

This blew my mind, spiritually and pastorally finding it insulting. Worship may be many things, but to call it a “performance” goes against every understanding I feel about church.

Is church a place of business- a well disguised social club that’s no different than AMC or a bowling league?

Is church essential?

Perhaps its how you define church.

Is church a business in which you go to be entertained and socialize?

Is church a time and space in which we are fed, refueled, and healed?

Maybe church is all of the above?

But let’s take a look at who we are and what we have been doing throughout the past decade.

We start worship by bringing in the Light of Christ.

We sing our Mission Theme Song, stating “The challenge is at hand, in faith and strength we stand.”

We hear the words “Now is the time to let go of you worries and the stress from the week before…to allow yourself to sit, be still, and experience the compassionate care of Christ.”

We confess our sins. We receive forgiveness. In prayer we lift up the sick and vulnerable.

All of these are ways in which we offer healing and medicine of a spiritual sort.

We give God praise.

In song and scripture we celebrate and participate in testimonies that remind us of amazing grace, our ancestors who came before, the sparrows of the field, the rugged cross, and no matter how bleak Friday seems, there is resurrection.

All of these are ways in which we are refueled to enter the world, energized Citizens of Heaven.

We are fed as the Holy Spirit is called upon to make the message spiritual nourishment that can feed us throughout the week. We are fed through the acts of communion.

We close with a benediction that reminds us of justice, kindness, and humility.

This feeding, refueling, and healing is what empowers us throughout the week to be the hands of Christ in our giving, feeding, hosting, visiting, teaching, shopping, stocking, etc. etc.

Does that sound like we are a non-essential place of business or entertainment, or does it sound like we are an essential place of nourishment, refueling, and healing?

Our coming together in this sacred space and time does something else- it reminds us that we are not alone.

For loneliness can be one of the most damaging of all things.

Abandonment is often humanity’s greatest fear.

Loneliness can starve the soul, drain the spirit, and make the body unwell and do unhealthy things.

So, you may be asking yourself “What’s the point of today’s message?”

One point is this- why do we give and what is the church?

Another point is- how can we be church at a time in which we’re being advised not to gather, that it is not safe to gather?

Is physically coming together to worship the Lord an essential thing?

What brings about greater health and prevents greater distress- continuing to worship here, being smart and sitting apart?

Or is it healthier and better to say that for now we do it in our own homes via videos, phones, emails etc.?

Like those who experienced the Babylonian Exile and those who lived during Mark’s time, we are discerning what it looks like and what faith means when no longer tied to a physical place.

Like the earliest Christians, we now have better understanding of the resurrection’s importance and the realization that no matter what, no matter where, Jesus Christ is present.

Like the earliest church we’re experiencing a movement of the Holy Spirit, a sudden unexpected moment in history in which we’re being pushed to speak, worship and experience God in a whole new way and mindset.

I don’t doubt we can still worship God together inside this sanctuary, I have no doubt we can still worship God if we meet outside on the lawn with folding chairs.

I have no doubt we can worship God from home via the computer.

Whatever we do over the course of this historic event, let us keep in mind why we are church, why we do what we do, and what it means to say we are Emmanuel UCC.

Emmanuel- God With Us.

We will continue these conversations for as long as we are able, trusting that the resurrected Christ is beside us.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Ooh...Jesus throws SHADE! Sermon on Mark 12:13-17

Rev. George Miller
March 15, 2020
Mark 12:13-17

The other day a song came on the radio by the great gospel singer Shirley Caesar called “No Charge.”

It’s a story about a mother and child.

One day while Mom’s cooking supper, her son comes in the kitchen with a list of all the things he’s done.

Mowing the lawn, $5
Making my bed, $1
Raking the yard, $2 etc.

The list comes out to $14.75.

Mom looks upon the child as a thousand thoughts flash through her mind, wipes her hands upon her apron, flips over the list and writes-

For the 9 months I carried you, and held you inside me- No Charge.

The nights I sat, doctored you and prayed for you- No Charge.

For the times and tears- No Charge.

When you add it all up, the full cost of my love is – No Charge.

For the dark nights and worries ahead.
For future advice and knowledge.
For the toys, clothes, and wiping your nose.

When you add it all up, the full cost of my love is- No Charge.

The cost of Real Love is- No Charge…

Today we have another uncomfortable scripture about a very sticky topic- money.

And not just money, but paying taxes and the big “G” word- Government.

It seems like no matter what, Jesus just can’t stop talking about things that make people feel uncomfortable-

He’s openly discussed bodily functions, told a man to give all his wealth away, and talked to the disciples about his own death.

Even now when he’s just minding his own business, folk come along trying to stir up some mess.

‘Cuase as we all know, stirring things up is what some folk just love to do.

But watch what Jesus does.

Some high and mighty religious leaders come up to Jesus trying to trap him.

“Jesus,” they say, thinking they’re all slick, “We know you’re cool and your theology’s on drip, but do you think it’s Ok for religious folk to pay taxes to the emperor?”

They think they have Jesus trapped. No matter what he says his ministry is done for.

If he tells the Jews not to pay their taxes, the Roman soldiers will arrest him immediately as an enemy of the state.

If he tells the Jews to pay their taxes, then he’ll be seen as a sell-out who supports a foreign government and will lose all his pastoral authority.

But Jesus is too smart for them. Jesus throws shade.

If you don’t know what shade is, it’s a way of saying something to someone that may sound nice, but really isn’t.

In New York, if we say something is “interesting…” it’s really not.

In the Baptist Church if someone says “I’ll pray for you…” that means “Child, you need help!”

And in the South, the shade runs deep as cordial people will say in the most honey-sounding of tones “Bless your heart…” which really, really means “Honey, you’re a hot mess.”

Jesus does his own kind of shade.

Here they are in the Temple, Jesus, the disciples, and these religious leaders.

Their whole question around taxes revolves around the fact that the coin they used, called a denarius, has an image of the emperor on it, and as we know, graven images were forbidden in the 2nd commandment.

So, when they ask this question about taxes, Jesus says “Oh, well I don’t have one of those denary-things. Can you find me one?”

Sure enough, right there in the Temple, one of the religious leaders who is trying to trick Jesus produces…a denarius, with graven image and all.

Jesus, who they tried to trick, becomes the trickster. “Interesting…Whose image is this on the coin?”

“The emperor’s,” they respond. It’s unclear if they realize what Jesus has just done.

“Bless you heart,” Jesus says “Then give to the emperor what is his. And to God give the things that are God’s.”

“And while you’re doing that, I’ll pray for you.”

Jesus is so aware and alert, so patient and present, that he is prepared for what anyone will say.

Like a really good teacher, Jesus knows that the best answer is an answer that one has worked for on their own.

But here is what I think is really cool about today’s reading- Jesus uses his words to bring it all back to God.

Jesus takes what could’ve been an emotionally, politically charged moment and brings it back to the source of all goodness.

He does it in the most brilliant and subtle of ways.

He looks upon the denarius with the image of the emperor and says give it back to the emperor.

Jesus says give to God the things that belong to God.

Guess what that is?

Guess who bears the image of God?

Guess who was created in God’s image? Who was formed by God’s hand? Who God’s breathed life into?

You. We. Us.

We are what belongs to God.

We are what matters to God.

We are the ones that have been doctored by God and cared for by God.

Let the emperor be the make-pretend ruler of the earth because God is Lord of All.

The emperor will die and fade away, but God will endure forever.

And unlike the emperor, when it comes to the Lord of Heaven, there is no charge.

There is no tax God asks of us.

There is no denarius for God’s steadfast love and deliverance.

There is no service charge for God’s grace and mercy.

There is no fee for God to hear and see

The cost of God’s Love, Real Love is-No Charge.

The dark nights and worries ahead- God will be there- No Charge.

The calm and comfort- No Charge.

The Wisdom and the Way Ahead- No Charge.

The Gifts of Heaven and The Kingdom of God- No Charge.

A God who says no matter who you are, and where you are on life’s journey- you are welcome here- No Charge.

A God who says “I love you.”- No Charge.

For that, we can say, amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Child Shall Lead Them- Inspired by Cohen and the Boy in the Red Sweater; Sermon on Mark 10:32-45

Rev. George Miller
March 1, 2020
Mark 10:32-45

The other day while leaving the hospital there was a young child walking with his grandmother.

He was the cutest little pumpkin head you could imagine. Wearing neatly cuffed blue jeans, a smart red sweater over a blue and white gingham shirt.

One hand held onto his grandmother; the other held a toy that was ½ his size.

As they slowly walked outside his head turned to a nearby van where there were sounds of a crying child.

The entire time his legs stepped forward, his eyes stayed focused on the source of the crying.

“Baby” he said.

“Yes,” said grandma, patiently beside him. “Looks like she’s just a few months younger than you.”

Sneakers still moving forward, head still turned right, eyes still laser focused, he said “Crying.”

Grandma said “I don’t know why she’s crying.”

Not once did that precious child take his eyes off that baby and its tears.

I felt I had just witnessed something I’d never seen before-

Human empathy in its purest form.

This child was so aware, so in tune with the pain and cries of another, so aware that he was hearing another child’s emotional expression, that it was as if they were 1 being in 2 bodies.

It was…a miracle.

To witness what true empathy looks like- a face that does not look away.

To witness what true empathy sounds like; an innocent statement in 2 powerful words- Baby. Crying.

So pure. So unaltered.

A look at what love and empathy looks like before the world takes hold and tells you how to think, what to say.

If grandma was not holding onto his hand he would’ve run over to that baby to do what he could to address her tears.

I hope that for the rest of my life, when someone asks me what empathy looks like, I will remember that boy in the red sweater, allowing his image to shape how to interact with others.

“…and a little child shall lead them…”

The last time we celebrated a child was 11 weeks ago when we welcomed the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us.

For 2 months we’ve witnessed what it’s like when God slipped into our flesh to walk amongst us, to share in our sufferings and to experience our joys.

What we witnessed in Jesus was great empathy; proof that we are descendants of a God who cares.

Jesus displayed this great empathy in nearly everything he did.

Like that boy in the red sweater, Jesus did not ignore the cries of God’s children.

Jesus met a man living with leprosy and was moved with pity.

Jesus saw a roof raised and a body lowered, and responded with words of forgiveness and restoration.

Jesus sat and ate with the unpopular kids, no matter what the cool kids said.

When Jesus found out folk were hungry, he fed them.

When he saw someone bound in chains, he freed him.

When a father begged for help, he responded. When a desperate woman interrupted, he listened.

When Jesus looked upon a man possessed by possessions, he loved him.

Again and again we see the empathy that Jesus possessed and shared.

So much empathy that the world did not know what to do with him…

…so they humiliated him in his hometown. Big city folk came down to the farms just to judge his actions.

Eventually after all his talk of God’s Kingdom, and last will be first, it seemed the only solution was to punish him, that innocent Christmas baby who grew into an adult with empathy.

At Tuesday’s Bible Study, we had a lively discussion about the crucifixion- why did it happen, what does it mean?

There are many theories and theologies about the crucifixion.

His death was sacrifice.
His death was a ransom for our lives.
He died for our sins.
He died to buy us back from Satan.
He died to appease an angry God.

We’re not going to explore those options today, but here’s what I believe-

Jesus lived during a time in which the Romans persecuted those who were seen as a threat to the system.

I believe Jesus knew that one couldn’t be empathic, prophetic, and articulate without being punished in some way or form.

I’d argue that Jesus knew reaching out, speaking up, caring for the least of these could lead him to the cross-

…and still he chose to press on.

The Greeks would say that Jesus was willing to endure suffering for honor and obedience to a more noble cause.

Sadly, for some reason the ones who show empathy seems to be the ones punished by a jaded, wearied world.

Allow me to share a recent community experience.

A month ago a mother in the community reached out to our church.

Her 5th grade son named Cohen was preparing an anti-bullying presentation for his class to encourage kindness and to prevent suicide.

Cohen was told his presentation was too controversial to give.

Why? Because he was encouraging folks not to bully people who identify as LGBTQ.

His mother felt this was unjust and reached out the school board.

1st she was told Cohen could give his presentation to just the teachers, but after pressing on, they said Cohen could present to his classmates…

…if his manuscript was approved and after a notice was sent out to parents giving them the opportunity to opt their child out.

I was invited to proof-read Cohen’s speech, and he was such a polite, endearing child with big eyes and a mind that took everything in.

Fortunately, Cohen’s manuscript was approved, and he was granted permission to present it to his class.

Only half the students were present; the other half pulled out by their parents…

We’re going to stop right here for a moment.

What we just heard was an experience of the cross.

Cohen had been made to feel rejected and “inappropriate.”

The pain. The shame. The heartbreak one endures on behalf of a world that is not ready to move from condemnation.

…but as Christians, the story does not end there. Why?

Because WE PRESS ON.

Jesus’ story may have led to the cross, but it did not end there.

His story went beyond pain and shame into something much greater and everlasting.

Jesus’ story moved from the cross into the resurrection and Good News.

The Good News that when the world says “no”, God says “YES!”

When the world says “be quiet”, God says “SPEAK UP!”

When the world says “dull your light”, God says “LET IT SHINE, LET IT SHINE, LET IT SHINE!”

Rome tried to instill fear and shame into Jesus and to shut him up with the cross, but God said-

“Oh no honey, not a chance! Justice, Kindness, and Humility cannot be contained!”

…And Cohen? Well here is his good news- Wednesday morning he got to give his speech, and in the words of Cohen, he “Killed it.”

When his speech was over the applause was louder, longer than for anyone else, even with the room half empty.

The entire class clapped. His teacher said his speech will not be graded on attendance but the same rubric she used for everyone else.

He left class that day feeling happy and proud and looking forward to possibly engaging in further competition.

His Mom has used this experience to help start a gay/straight alliance at Florida State College where she works.

That’s resurrection.

…and a little child shall lead them…

As we continue with Jesus along the way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, we will continue to wonder what this all means, and why did he die.

But let us also ask yourself- why do we, and the rest of the world, continue to persecute and punish those who have empathy, those who do good, and those who ask for fairness and compassion for all?

As we continue to journey with Jesus, think of Cohen creating a speech that says “stop bullying and save lives.”

Think of that little boy in the red sweater who could not ignore the sound of another child crying.

Think of that baby born in the manger.

Think of how each of us have a child inside of us, holding onto the hand of our heavenly ancestor, hearing what’s around, and inspired to speak out.

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 2, 2020

What Could You Not Leave Behind? Sermon on Mark 10:17-31

Rev. George Miller
March 1, 2020
Mark 10:17-31

After last week’s moment upon the mountain, we have come down to the ground, knowing that every step we take with Jesus is a step closer to the Cross.

Today is going to be a difficult, uncomfortable sermon because we have a difficult, uncomfortable reading about possessions, persecutions and the disruption of the worldly order.

It’s a message provoked by Tuesday’s event at the mall, a presentation on American History and the African Diaspora.

When looking around, there were so many people with ties to Emmanuel UCC who were present.

Not just members like Roxie, Nancy and Clay, but other folk who have come to Emmanuel for worship and special events, like Pat and Dr. Powell.

A thought crossed my mind- how many of these same people have attended other events in the community-

the County Commissioners meeting, the Women’s Right to Vote event, the Gay Pride Event, and SunTrust Service.

This is where the uncomfortable part comes in- what if they, I, and us were not there because we had been asked to give up things that pertained to our identity?

I hope you can follow the train of thought that’s been going through my head. Here it goes-

Today we have a story that takes place as Jesus and the disciples are making their way south-west to Jerusalem.

A man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks what he can do to inherit eternal life.

When he is told to sell what he owns and give the money to the poor, his demeanor changes and he walks away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Now, it can be easy for us to judge this man. To claim he is self-centered. To call him greedy. To point a finger at all rich people and call them “bad.”

But we should withhold judgement.

After all, this man did seek Jesus out on his own. There is a chance he truly wanted to know more about eternal life.

Not only did he seek Jesus out, he did two things people in power are never supposed to do.

He ran to Jesus, which was often looked down upon by the upper-crust, like wearing white after Labor Day.

He kneeled before Jesus. A sign of subservience that maids, slaves, and members of the lower class may do, but not rich men.

Perhaps that is one reason why Jesus looked upon the man and loved him.

Maybe Jesus saw that the man’s actions as a demonstration of a true hunger and desire to know.

Perhaps Jesus looked upon the man with love because he knew he was about to push him so far out of his comfort zone.

Jesus told him to go, sell, give, follow.

The man could not, so he left in shock and sadness.

This is the only story in Mark in which someone is invited to follow Jesus and they choose not to.

In some ways, we can also say this is a story in which Jesus fails.

Jesus meets someone who is anxious to be a Citizen of Heaven, and yet this potential candidate slips away.

Thanks to Jesus’ words there is one less New Member to attend today’s New Member Class.

Could you imagine the phone calls and e-mails Diane would receive if I said anything that would prevent a possible new member, let alone a very, very rich one, from attending church?

We can say that in this story Jesus failed because he caused someone to walk away sad and unhappy.

Is it because there is something wrong with the guy, or is it because there is something wrong with Jesus’ ministry style?

What if Jesus just said “Fill out a pledge card”, or “Give $1,000 to the Shepherd’s Pantry.”?

Why did Jesus have to go whole hog and tell this potential patron to sell it all- diamonds, rubies, gold?

Is this just another case of Jesus speaking in extremes and hyperbole to get us to think and act?

And who are we to judge this man?

We don’t know him. We don’t know how he came across his wealth.

Was he born into it, did her earn it, did he come to the country with nothing in his pocket, work his butt off, spend years eating nothing but rice and beans while he saved every cent he made?

Ask someone who survived the depression or came here from Haiti to give up everything they had and see the trauma you create.

We can try to personalize today’s story to see how we would react.

You don’t have to be rich to have possessions; you don’t have to have possessions to be attached to things.

What if Jesus asked me to give up every one of my CDs and LPs, including my father’s case of 45’s?

What if Jesus said to all our Ohioans that you can never see or cheer for the Buckeye’s ever again?

What if Jesus came to Sit and Stitch and said, “You can never hold another needle, thread, nor knit, purl, and hem again.”?

Gets a bit more difficult, doesn’t it?

Gets a more uncomfortable once we take the focus off a millionaire and makes it something we can relate to.

What if instead of abundant wealth, Jesus asked us to give up something we needed in order to live a full life?

What if Jesus asked us to give up our reading glasses? Or our motorized chairs? Or our health insurance cards?

Could you do it; would you do it, even if you were guaranteed eternal life?

Maybe this reading even goes deeper, even more uncomfortable.

What if riches and wealth were not the issue?

After all, Jesus had friends with money, like Martha and Mary. How else do you think he got to enjoy so many free meals?

Maybe it wasn’t the man’s riches that Jesus was concerned about, but how the man’s riches shaped his identity.

That it was his money, his home, his mode of transportation, his collections, that defined who he was?

What if his image of self was entirely attached to what he owned? That the man only identified himself through his wealth?

In other words, he did not own his possessions, his possessions owned him.

If we allow for this interpretation, then today’s reading becomes really uncomfortable.

What if Jesus was challenging this man’s very identity, that Jesus was asking this man to leave behind the very essence of who he was, and what had shaped him?

Take away the concept of money, and just focus on identity and this reading can really become uncomfortable, it can really hit home.

I think back to the event on Tuesday and all of those who were present, and what matters to them.

And my heart broke.

Jesus asked this man to give up something that identifies who he is.

What if Jesus came up to Nancy, in her suffragette dress and sash, and asked her to give up her right to vote?

What if Jesus came up to Rev. Dr. Powell and told her to give up preaching??

What if Jesus came up to Pat and told her that in order to follow him, she must give up the 15th Amendment???

What if Jesus came up to me and said that I must go back into the closet if I wish to follow????

…It gets a lot harder to judge this man and be self-righteous when reading a scripture that could be about identity and giving up a part of who we are.

What if Jesus asked Ari to give up his violin? Told Carnide to never sing again?

What if Jesus stood before us in this sanctuary and said, “In order to follow me you must give up this building, the parking lot, and the Fellowship Hall?”

It’s not so easy now, is it?

The price of eternal life and the change Jesus is asking suddenly becomes too much to bear.

So….what is the Good News? What do we do with a rather out-there, uncomfortable interpretation?

First thing first, I don’t think Jesus would ever ask anyone to stop singing, or stop playing violin, especially when they use their gifts to praise the Lord.

I don’t think Jesus is asking anyone to give up their rights or step back into the closet.

I do think that once again Jesus is speaking in extreme hyperbole.

Jesus is going to extremes to get us to think, to participate in a wrestling match in which we must work and engage with God in a way we never would have before.

Jesus stirs up the soil around our feet because he knows that’s how to prepare the soul if you’re going to plant seeds.

Jesus raises the bar because he knows that is how we grow.

Jesus is asking 100% knowing that we may only be able to give 90 or 9%.

And who says that today’s reading is the end of the story for the man possessed by his possessions?

Sure, he walks away shocked and sad. But do we know what he did the next day, and the day after that?

What if after the shock of the experience wore off, he woke up one week and felt moved to donate some of his money to Jesus’ ministry?

What if one month while going through his closet full of clothes and shoes and things he decided to go down to the local charity and give it away?

What if after some time he discovered that the more he gave away the more he felt like he was getting back?

What if the man in today’s reading became the one who made possible the final Passover meal Jesus ate with the disciples?

What if he paid for the tomb that Jesus’ body was placed in?

What if this rich man never did part with all his wealth but he offered his home as one of the places for the early churches to meet, or he helped to fund the mission of Peter and Paul?

We don’t know. We can’t tell how this man’s story unfolded and how it ended.

But we can hope that through his encounter with Jesus he did in some way experience a change of heart.

We can hope that in some way he experienced his own grace.

We can hope that in some way this man’s encounter with Jesus opened his eyes over time, the hold of his possessions loosened around him, and that he was in some ways set free to follow Christ.

Today’s message may not fully make sense, but hopefully today’s message helps us to not be not so quick to judge others, but to look upon ourselves,

and to wonder, really, really wonder, what does it mean to follow Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus during Lent when we know that ultimately it will lead us to the Cross?

Are we willing to follow, or are we more likely to freeze or to flee?

No one can answer that for us; we ourselves may not even know until we are the one’s kneeling before the Lord and hearing what is being asked of us.