Friday, May 22, 2020

When Our Bodies Grieve; In Memory of Mary Bryant; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53

Rev. George Miller
May 24, 2020
1 Corinthians 15:51-53

In 2002 I met someone who became my best friend. Her name was Mary Bryant.

We met in the courtyard of Eden Seminary and in that moment it was like we knew each other all our life.

We had the kind of relationship that engaged all the senses.

Mary was a hippie chick who had a halo of hair crowning her head.

She smelled like incense and cooked so good you forgot she was a vegetarian.

We’d sit side by side in chapel, with her head on my shoulder, giggling over the unintended double entendres that popped up during worship.

Mary loved me unconditionally and never once asked me to explain myself.

She had a radiant spirit that shone so bright, it transfigured her.

In 2003, Mary died in a car accident. Like that… she was gone.

It devastated my life.

No more could I hear her giggle during chapel. No more could we lay side by side watching TV.

No more could I see that halo of hair or share Communion.

One day I sat outside her apartment door, sobbing as I smelt the remnants of her incense.

I wasn’t just missing my best friend spiritually and emotionally, my body was missing what I could no longer see, touch, hear, but could now only smell, until even that eventually died away…

Bodies matter. That’s a part of what today’s reading is about.

Christianity is an embodied faith.

We see this when God formed the first human and breathed life into it.

We hear this in the gift of Sabbath in which God calls all bodies to rest.

Christianity is an embodied faith, which means that bodies matter.

If God did not care about bodies, there would’ve been no reason to free them from slavery, heal them from diseases, or feed them with loaves and fishes.

After all, it was in human flesh that God came to us as Emmanuel, to walk with us, eat with us, even die.

In the early Christian church, the body mattered. People were viewed as a wholistic whole. Folk understood that life was as much about the physical as the spiritual.

That’s why they spent so much time feeding the hungry, caring for the sick.

But then something happened- over time, due to the influence of Greek culture, people stopped seeing humans as wholistic beings.

They divided people into 3 parts- body, mind, and soul.

In doing so, people began to forget that what happens to the body affects the mind and spirit.

What happens to the mind affects the spirit and body.

What happens to the spirit affects the body and mind.

Due to this Greek way of thinking, something else happened- folk began to see the soul as superior, and the body as insignificant.

Some decided to deny their body- they starved themselves, deprived themselves of rest.

Some went the other extreme- over eating, drinking, thinking that if just the soul matters, who cares what you do with your body.

Others took this way of thought further- if the body doesn’t matter, then we can do whatever we want to other bodies.

That’s how so-called Christians justified the slave trade. That’s how the earliest settlers justified uprooting our indigenous sisters and brothers.

That’s not what the original Christians believed- they believed that humans are complete beings in which physical, mental, and spiritual are one.

The proof of that is in the Resurrection.

The Resurrection not only proved that God is more powerful than death, but it is validation that bodies matter.

This is what makes Covid-19 so hard.

Covid-19 is a reminder that what our bodies can or can’t do affects our mind and spirit.

We know that this pandemic is difficult for so many of you right now. We’re thankful that you’re worshipping with us via the safety of the internet.

We know that you can see and hear us, but we also know it is not the same.

We know that your mind is engaged, that the Holy Spirit has a way of moving through YouTube.

But it’s not the same.

Why? Because your body is not here.

We know that no matter how well we sing or smile or share the Word, it is not feeding you the same way.

Your body is not here to take in all the visuals; to feel the touch of hugs and kisses; to hear the “Amens” of others.

To smell the aroma of Fellowship Hall. To taste the heartfelt cooking of others.

If your mind and soul seem to be lagging, it’s because your body is missing so much and is trying to figure out why it can’t see, touch, taste, smell, and hear what it grew used to doing.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds us that bodies matter.

So today we have 2 goals. 1st- to give your body permission to mourn.

It is Ok for your body to grieve what’s been lost. To feel sad about the sights, smells, touches it has gone without.

No matter how much your mind may understand what’s going on, your body does not understand, and that is affecting your spiritual and mental health.

The 2nd thing- to think beyond the current moment and focus on the fact that one day we will be together again.

We want you to hold onto the hope that one day we will resume face to face worship and be in the same space.

We are preparing you for our own sort of resurrection in which what was thought to be dead is raised back to life.

But keep in mind, like the Resurrection, when we return, it will be…different.

It will be familiar, yet new. It will be joyous, but also a bit sad.

When we are back together, we’ll hear and see one another, but it will be awhile before we can eat and sing and touch.

But even then, we trust that one day that will come to be.

For this time, allow ourselves the space to mourn what has been lost, to recognize that our body, soul, and mind are all being affected,

But let us also live in hope. Hope that one day soon we will be together.

One day we will worship Christ in the same space.

It’ll be glorious; it’ll be a homecoming.

It will be a time that will engage the senses.

It will be an experience that will connect the body, mind and soul.

Until then, let us live in hope; let us live in the promise of tomorrow.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Love; Sermon On 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Rev. George Miller
May 17, 2020
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Last week, before worship, Ari reminded us of a story from Exodus 17.

The Israelites, while wandering in the wilderness, fall under enemy attack.

They come up with a plan.

Joshua and the army go out into the field. Moses goes to the hilltop with the Staff of God in his hand.

When Moses raises his hands, Joshua and the people are empowered to defeat the enemy. When Moses lowers his hands, they lose their strength.

An ingenious idea inspires them- two members of the tribe stand beside Moses. When he weakens, they place rocks under his elbows and they hold up his arms.

With the three of them up on the hill, side by side by side, Joshua and his army defeat the enemy, bringing them one step closer to the Promised Land.

The Lord speaks and says to them “Write this down and always remember.”

Thanks to Ari, we also remember this story and its impact.

It’s not about one person taking on the entire battle or doing it for their own sake.

What they do is not for the glory of Joshua, or the glory of Moses, or even for the glory of the people.

It’s for the glory of God.

An outside enemy tried to destroy them, but the People of God come together, each doing their own part to protect everyone around them.

In a word- Love.

That’s what today’s reading is about.

I Corinthians is a letter Paul wrote to one of the first churches as it was going through a time of change.

The people are doing something entirely new- they’re worshipping outside the walls of the synagogue, constructing new traditions.

In this time of Holy Spirit-inspired creativity there’s some technical oops, mistakes, and some hurt feelings.

Since Paul can’t be there in person, he uses the technology of his day to communicate- he writes them a letter.

Paul reminds them of who they are and what they are about.

Paul is putting rocks under their elbows so they can keep their hands up and support one another.


That’s what Paul reminds them about.

Love- the reason why they are doing what they do.

They have been united as an expression of Christ’s love; to meet the people where they are.

To show that the Kingdom of God is indeed their Promised Land.


Paul places these stones of love under the people’s elbows to remind them of who they are and that what they do, they are doing for the Glory of God.

Out of this love they are to be patient, as hard as it may seem.

Out of love, they are to be kind to one another, as hard as it may feel.

Out of love, they are to work on their irritability, as difficult as it is-

even if it feels like everything is working their last nerve, and any moment they are about to snap.

Out of love, they are to have hope- hope that no matter what current events may look like, the Lord is active and right by their side.

When things are done for the Glory of God, love never dies…

Friends, it feels like Paul is writing to us this very day.

Though we are not fighting an enemy like what the Israelites faced, we are still facing an enemy nevertheless.

An enemy that takes lives, ravages communities, hurts economies, and is pitting citizen against citizen.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We can get through this together, working together, framing everything we do in the context of Love.

Right now, we in Florida are in a unique space- places are opening faster then the rest of the country.

People are resuming dining, shopping, and worship in walled-in spaces.

In this Corona wilderness, there are many views about what’s risky, what’s safe, and what’s taking things too far.

We at Emmanuel are continuing to explore all the options out there.

Our Preparation as Stewardship Team is doing great work, gathering info from all over. Council is taking this all in, discerning the right things to do.

Everything we are doing as we face this invisible enemy is to keep you safe, and to honor the Glory of God.

Therefor everything is out of love.

Patient, humble, hopeful love.

The UCC has always been on the forefront of issues, we were involved in 1st Amendment discussions, we’ve championed Civil Rights, and we have always valued science, health and wellness.

We share this because as churches and places of business reopen, we are taking everything in.

We are in the field and on the hilltop doing all we can to keep you safe, because we love you.

It means that when we reopen, things will be different. For example, limiting activity and the wearing of masks.

This is bound to upset some folk. Some may choose not to come to worship. There will be episodes of harsh words spoken and feelings hurt.

That’s normal; it’s to be expected.

It’s called being HUMAN.

But as we journey through this unique wilderness and brand-new time, we are reminded of why we do what we do-

For the glory of God and out of love.

Other places may welcome you in without a mask, but we will ask you to wear one- out of love.

Other places may allow you to sit side by side, directly and behind one another, but we will not…out of love.

Others may dismiss science and what medical professionals are saying, but we will not…out of love.

The enemy is out there- its name is COVID-19. We don’t have to give it any more power than it already has.

We are in this together. We will get through this together.

We all have a part to play, be it in the field or on the hilltop, holding up your own arm or helping to hold up another’s.

We all are figuring out how to do something that is so new that has never been done before, together.

If we remember that we are doing it for the Glory of God, we will make it through.

With faith, hope, and love, we will make it to the other side.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Words of Calm, Peace, Rest; Sermon on Acts 18:7-10

Rev. George Miller
May 10, 2020
Acts 18:7-10

Last week I journeyed to the Atlantic Ocean. The sky was a clear blue with white puffy clouds.

The road was lined with leaves so lush it looked as though someone had taken the green crayon out of the Crayola box and started coloring.

Entering into Ft. Pierce you smelled the curry, smoke and spice of the food.

Crossing over the Indian River you saw boats forming foamy circles of surf behind them.

Sitting at a secluded spot, the sea was the most tranquil of turquoise.

The ocean so clean, so fresh that it felt like you could turn it into a necklace to wear around your sun kissed neck.

The surf so free of debris that it was like something from a Bob Marley-How Stella Got Her Grove Back kind of fantasy.

Except it wasn’t a fantasy, it was real…

…How did you feel after hearing these words? How did your heart respond?

Did these words give you a sense of escape, a sense of calm and peace?

Words matter.

After all, it as with a word that God spoke the world into being.

It was with the word “Go!” that Sarah went on an adventure of a lifetime.

It was with the words “Moses, remove the sandals from your feet,” that a nation was set free.

It was with a word from Queen Esther- “Let an order be written”- that her people were saved from annihilation.

It was with words that Mary heard “He is not here; Christ Has Risen!”

Again and again the sacred stories of our ancestors remind us that words create, liberate, save, and renew.

Words matter.

As the Gospel of John states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Why are we saying this?

Because we love you, and we want you to have hope.

Have you noticed the words people have been using lately?

The words in which they seem to begin conversations and start news reports?

Lately, all our words begin by framing everything in the context of Corona and what’s been lost.

Even if it’s a feel-good story, it always starts in a sense of despair.

What do you think that does to your spirit?

What do you think that does for our collective souls?

It’s one thing to be informed, but it’s another to feel like you’re constantly being nailed to the floor with the weight of the world’s worries.

Words matter because they can uplift or they can deplete you.

Words can empower or they can restrict.

That’s what Paul is reminded of today- the power of speech.

After traveling hundreds of miles, he’s made his way into the city of Corinth, telling people about the Lord.

Paul’s Holy Spirit given-gifts are so good that he even got the guard of the synagogue worshipping Christ.

The Spirit moves through all the people in such a way that regardless if they are down by the riverside or in a jail, folks want to hear what Paul’s got to say.

But let’s not forgot- Paul is human; he is just a man. He’s got his own issues; he’s got his own thorns to tend to.

So, the Lord gives Paul a pep talk- “Don’t be afraid. Say what needs to be said. Keep on moving.”

It’s what Paul needs to hear.

It’s what we all need to hear.

It’s good for us to remember that words matter.

What we read and listen to affects us, for better and for worse.

Right now it seems to be worse.

It seems like folk have gone into information overload- too much news, too much reports, too much Facebook.

Folks are getting into too many debates, picking fights just to get a reaction.

It’s toxic, and it doesn’t help the mind, body or soul during this time.

Maybe we need a break from all these words.

We’re not suggesting you cover your ears or stop being informed, but maybe we don’t need to surround ourselves with so many words right now.

Maybe during this time you only need to read the paper 5 days a week.

Maybe you only need 30 minutes a day of CNN, CNBC or Fox.

Maybe you don’t need to squabble with every person on social media who’s got something to say.

Here’s a secret- social media outlets like Facebook create your daily feed according to what will get a reaction from you, good or bad.

So don’t give them any insight into what gets you upset; give them insight into what brings you life.

Over the next week, try this- only comment on things that feed your soul-

family photos, snapshots of smiling faces, posts from long forgotten friends.

Watch and see how this will literally transform your social media experience, and in doing so perhaps reshape your world.

We’re not asking you to silence your voice or hide your opinion.

We’re empowering you with a way to use your words so that we can get through this, together.

Do you want to have your spirit nailed to the floor of despair or are you craving for adventure and liberation?

Words have power.

So speak, share, reveal words that give life, liberate, save, and renew.

After all, we all have the Word of God inside us.

Be blessed.

And remember- we are Emmanuel. We will get through this. For when we hope, we are hoping with God.


Monday, May 4, 2020

Scriptures for a Time Like This; Exodus 16

Today we wander into the wilderness with Moses and our ancestors. A miracle takes place- God supplies them with bread from heaven and an abundance of quail. Now, there are different ways to read scripture- some folk take everything literally (as a fact), others take everything seriously but not literally (as a truth), others do a combination of the two (balancing mystery with reality).

How you decide to approach today's reading is up to you, but here is what I'd like to say- IT IS TRUE. My personal testimony is that somehow, some way God finds ways to care for us.

We can say that God does this through mystical magical acts, or that God does it through people, organizations, coincidence etc. Or maybe all theses ways combined, but I believe God does it.

A recent example is the generosity that poured in to fill The Shepherd's Pantry for the next 3 months. Here we are, in a Corona-filled Wilderness and somehow, some way, our Pantry became filled to the brim! It started with a challenge from community members Bolton Winpenny/James Booth and expanded into national participation and has increased to on-line gifts from people who've never stepped foot into Emmanuel.

Call it divine intervention, call it human action, call into community interaction, I call it GOD. How the pantry shelves got filled is not a fact I feel called to focus on, but it is a truth I wish to celebrate.

Just as our Israelite ancestors experienced bread from heaven in their time of need, so has The Shepherd's Pantry clients who depend on Emmanuel UCC.

For that, let us say "Amen!"

With love, Pastor George

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Beyond the Walls; Sermon on Acts 17:1-7

Rev. George Miller
May 3, 2020
Acts 17:1-7

Today’s reading resonates with our current situation. It ties in the traditional with the exceptional; the customary with the unusual.

It’s a look into the beginnings of the church and what a trailblazer Christianity was always meant to be.

Just like last week’s message, today’s story starts off with walking. Lots of walking. 100 miles of traveling.

The Apostle Paul is footloose for the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit.

He’s gone from here to there, from there to here, telling people just how good God is.

He’s been to Israel, he’s been to Greece, he’s on his way to Asia.

Now he’s in the hustling, bustling city of Thessalonica, where folk from all walks of life come to dine, shine, and worship whatever god they believe in.

Paul is in the synagogue as was his custom, and this is important as it reminds us that Paul is a faithful Jew who follows his faith’s traditions.

Paul is a man who is doing what his father and his father’s father had been doing for a 1,000 years-

Worshipping Yahweh, in community, on the Sabbath, inside the sanctuary.

He’s also doing something else- participating in the time-honored art of argument and sharing ideas-

The Jewish community valued conversations and discussions about God. That is how they experienced holiness and grew in understanding

So here we see Paul honoring the greatest customs of his faith, but Paul did not walk 100 miles to do something he could have done at home.

He is there to bring something new to the discussion. He is there to start a revolution, and to turn the world upside down.

Paul is there to introduce them to Jesus and to convince his brothers and sisters that Christ is the King of the World.

The way Paul does it is so wonderful to behold, as he combines the customary with the revolutionary, just as we are doing during this pandemic.

Paul is patient. He is there for 3 weeks preaching and explaining, sustaining a relationship with everyone.

He does not expect overnight success or immediate returns.

He’s a sower, planting seeds to see what grows.

Paul uses what he has- the scriptures, the stories they all share, the art of discussion and debate.

Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul steps it up, and he adds something new, doing what no one else can.

He adjusts to his current situation and finds a way to reach out to others beyond the 4 walls of the sanctuary.

Paul doesn’t just go to those who are like him. He’s out on the streets, he’s going to where the people are at.

Paul has no problem hanging out with the rich upper class who are on their way to worship Zeus or snakes.

He has no problem going down to the river to speak with women who are earning minimum wage working for the garment industry.

Paul hangs out with folks who are sitting outside the gates of the city. When he’s put in prison, he uses that opportunity to reach out to the inmates.

While the organized leaders of the synagogue are expecting people to come to them to hear about God,

Paul is doing whatever it takes to get the message out to the people, whoever and wherever they may be.

And for good reason- who wouldn’t want to hear the Good News about Jesus?

Who wouldn’t want to hear that compassion, justice, healing, and eternal life is available for all?

Paul travels the globe and uses whatever he can to reach out to people who are lost, lonely, and in pain.

Kind of like now.

Here we are in week-who-knows-what, dealing with a pandemic that is disrupting everyone’s existence.

Folks are trying to survive.

The custom of coming to church is not just yet safe enough to warrant the risk of return.

So like Paul, here we are, doing new things for the Lord.

We’re rediscovering the revolutionary role that church was always meant to be.

We’re reclaiming the ways in which the Good News crosses around the globe and speaks to people where they’re at.

There is something so exciting to see how we can now reach out to folks who are hundreds of miles away.

Through Facebook, YouTube, making masks, on-line donations to The Shepherd’s Pantry, we are connecting to the Good News in ways not seen 2 months ago.

It used to be the Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteens…

…but now the Holy Spirit is moving in such a way that so many churches, in so many places are reaching out and letting people know-

That Christ is King
God’s got this
And we are all in this together.

Like Paul, here we are doing something so customary- gathering together to worship God through scripture and stories and words.

Like Paul, we are also doing something that goes beyond the walls of who is here and who is not.

The Holy Spirit is moving in such a way that it doesn’t matter is you are

inside or outside,
rich or making minimum wage,
male or female,
a lifelong believer or someone who is curious about our faith-

Everyone can now be reached equally and in a way that best suits them.

We here at Emmanuel UCC know these are scary, unsure times.

We know the current reality seems so uncertain.

But we are thankful that we are able to reach out to you during this moment in history.

We are thankful that we can share the Good News that

Christ is real.
God’s got this.
You are not alone.

For that we say, amen.