Saturday, June 27, 2020

Ambassadors of Christ During Black Lives Matter; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

Rev. George Miller
June 28, 2020
2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

19 years ago, I started seminary. 9/11 had yet to happen, Facebook was not around, and landlines were still a thing.

Rev. Dr. Peggy Way was our professor of Pastoral Care- a trailblazer in the Christian community- the 1st woman in her field to publish articles, the 1st to teach full time in 3 divinity schools.

She was brilliant; so brilliant she came across as kooky and unorganized. She taught by stream of consciousness.

Her office a pile of papers and nearly empty coffee cups with whole universes of mold growing within them.

It was she who taught us that humans are “Biological, chemical creatures dealing with the chronicity of life.”

Rev. Dr. Way was also in a wheelchair. We didn’t know any different, because she just was…as if she and that chair were always one being.

I remember the day she asked me to push her across campus.

It was a journey I took all the time- down the stairs, out the side door, across the beautiful cobblestone path.

Well, 1st thing 1st- there was no going down the stairs; we took the elevator.

2nd, there was no going out the side door; that also involved stairs. So, we went out the front door with the handicap accessible pushbutton.

3rd, turns out cobblestone paths aren’t so beautiful when you’re navigating them with a wheelchair, and it’s starting to rain.

Here we were, Dr. Way and I, heading towards the same destination, but how we had to get there was so different from my own personal experiences.

For me, a strapping guy of 31 who’d been walking and running all my life, the path was filled with colorful cobblestones, green grass, and dandelions.

I could walk secure, moving straight ahead while taking in all around me.

But the day I was invited to push Dr. Way from point A to point B was so much more difficult and complex.

Turns out those colorful cobblestones are uneven and bumpy as they jut up and some of them sink down.

Turns out that grass and dandelions growing between the cracks aren’t so great when you’re trying to navigate a 74 years-old body in a chair.

It doesn’t matter how blue the sky is or that the trees are in bloom if you have to look down the entire time to make sure you don’t face plant on the floor.

The first droplets of rain may be fine if you can dance like Gene Kelly, but they’re not your friend if you’re in a chair rolling over unsteady ground.

It may have seemed that Dr. Way and I both had access to the same destination…

…but it did not mean our experience of the path getting there was the same…

We share this story because for the past 5 weeks we’ve heard so much about Black Lives Matter. There are folk who wonder what that means.

Why is it Black Lives? Why are folk saying they matter?

Aren’t we all supposed to be equal? Aren’t we supposed to say we’re all the same?

Isn’t church supposed to say “In Christ we are all one”? Why can’t we all agree that

-If you work hard, you’ll get to where you’re going?

-If you stay out of trouble no cop will come knocking on your door?

-If you follow instructions, no one will get hurt?

Trouble is, when folk did work hard in places like Tulsa, they had their shops burned down.

Trouble is, when Breonna Taylor, a nurse, was peacefully sleeping at home, cops came busting through her door and gunned her down.

Trouble is, when Rayshard Brooks complied, even asking if he could walk home, he was shot twice in the back.

Folks are saying Black Lives Matter because even though we think we’re past the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and separate water fountains, we’re not.

Our nation is still crippled by things we think we can’t see, but our black sisters and brothers see every day.

So it does not help for us to say “Yes, but…” Or to block someone’s story because we simply can’t believe it.

It does not help us as a nation to keep going around and around when we have people that we personally know-

Our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, our co-worshippers, who are trying to tell us again and again-

“You think the path we’re taking is the same as you. But it’s not.”

“We don’t always have access to the same doors or the smoothest stones. We often have to invest extra energy into seeing our surroundings so we don’t get knocked to the floor.”

I think of those who grew up here in the 50’s and 60’s who had to go to different schools and hospitals.

I think of my ex Carlitas who had a master’s degree in social work and applied for job after job and never got called in for an interview…until the day he signed his name “Carl.”

I think of someone who use to attend Emmanuel who was once pulled over late at night simply because he was riding his bicycle home after work.

I think of the mothers we personally know who worry every day about their sons, husbands, and nephews.

Why do we say “Black Lives Matter”? Because they do.

We’re not saying “Black lives matter more than yours” or “Black Lives Matter More Than Anyone Else.”

Simply “Black Lives Matter.” It’s sad that in 2020 we have to say this.

So how does this tie into today’s reading?

Simple- in today’s scripture Paul reminds us that in Christ we are transformed.

In Christ, we have a way to be reconciled with one another.

In Christ, we are entrusted to share that message of reconciliation with others.

In Christ, we are ambassadors for the Lord.

Did you hear that? So simple- Ambassadors of Christ.

Through Christ we are empowered to do things differently, to move on from mistakes we have collectively made, and to represent Christ to all we meet.

Ambassadors of Christ.

Doesn’t that sound beautiful?

We of Emmanuel are already doing that in so many ways- Shepherd’s Pantry, Hattie’s Hope, Back Bay.

But there’s another way we can be ambassadors during this tumulus time-

To listen.

To hear what others are saying. To believe that what they say is true.

To know that we don’t know what we think we know.

To understand that how we see the path before us is not how others experience it.

To understand that when folk talk about institutionalized racism and systematic oppression, they are speaking from what they personally know.

They are telling their own true stories about –

-The cracked and sunken cobblestones along the path.

-The weeds that grow between the jagged rocks.

-The stairs that have been blocked off.

-The doors that were inaccessible.

-The storms they could not escape.

Paul so eloquently states that we are ambassadors for Christ.

As ambassadors, one of the best things we can do, right now, is to simply listen, to genuinely believe.

To accept the fact that the paths we walk are not the same as everyone else’s.

We have a long way to go to heal the centuries of American hurt, but listening is a faithful, compassionate, first step.

Amen and amen.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Faithfully Aging with Paul; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Rev. George Miller
June 21, 2020
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Monday, in the midst of Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, something quietly revolutionary took place.

At The Shepherd’s Pantry, under the guidance of Steve Wills, our older community members were informed that NU-Hope Elder Care was providing a program just for them.

A program in which free lunches would be delivered to them 5 days a week.

Turns out that not many of those in the 60-and-up category knew about NU-Hope.

We also discovered that some folk were afraid that NU-Hope was trying turn them infirm and take away their freedom.

So, we had to adjust what we said and use our best words to explain that NU-Hope is empowering folk to stay as independent as long as possible.

These free meals are a way to keep folk as healthy and on their own as possible.

That explanation changed everything.

People went from thinking they were being treated as helpless to realizing they were being empowered to live their best life possible.

Words matters.

Why we do what we do matters.

The ability to offer and receive assistance matters.

The wisdom to say “I’m no longer 30, 40, or even 50 years old” matters.

The 1st time this awareness really hit me was during the last General Synod.

We spent a week discussing issues, voting on resolutions, but something felt…empty.

None of the topics dealt with aging or the elderly or what happens to bodies when they begin slowing down.

It became clear that our elderly community is a vulnerable community, an often under-served community when it comes to social justice discussions.

Growing older isn’t necessarily the hot topic. It’s not “sexy” or a means of escapism or a target of immediate rage like dolphins or Confederate flags.

Yet, if we live long enough, we all age.

I’m now 50, not the young 40 year-old I was when I first came here.

7 years ago when I saw “Menopause-The Musical,” I laughed at the ladies on stage who shared their readers and held the menu out to here so they could see.

Now I have readers everywhere- bathroom, car, gym bag.

Without them there’s no ordering off the menu or reading ingredients.

Now life is a constant act of putting sunscreen on parts of my body I never thought of before- like behind the ears.

I’m 50 ya’ll.

I don’t want you to feel bad for me… ‘cause if I was 40 when I 1st got here, that means you’re 10 years older too!

Don’t you find that as we get older, we question Jesus a little bit more, knowing he was this guy who was between 30 and 33 when he taught?

Think about it- Jesus was 33 years old when he died.

That means all his sermons, all his parables, were from the lens of someone barely out of their 20’s.

Think of who you were at 30. Would you take the advice from your 30 year-old self?

Not to mention, Jesus didn’t have a mortgage or medical bills.

Jesus didn’t work a regular 9-5. He didn’t have kids to feed, or know-it-all teenagers who rolled their eyes.

Jesus didn’t have to deal with the 7-year-itch or a drop in his testosterone.

We know what Jesus said and did when he was in the physical prime of his life.

But what would Jesus say or do if he lived to be 40 or 50?

What parables would he have taught? What lessons would he have shared?

Would he still have the same passion, compassion, and in-your-face-bravado he did at 32?

…Thank God we have Paul.

Paul is the author of today’s letter. It’s been Paul’s words that we’ve been studying for the past 5 weeks.

The Paul we encounter today is much older than the Paul we first met when he was called by the Lord.

He’s balanced earning an income while doing volunteer work for the church.

He’s had his share of bruises, cuts, and humiliation; he’s had more wear-n-tear.

People are taking notice.

Some are saying he’s lost his shine; some say he’s not bringing folk to church the way he used to.

What we have is the portrait of a person who is aging, and not as gracefully as he would hope.

And yet…Paul still holds onto his faith.

He still places his trust in God.

He still claims Christ crucified and his gift of amazing grace.

Though we never got to see how Jesus would have aged, with Paul we see someone who still manages to keep the faith, even as his eyes began to fade.

Paul shows us how to keep our faith even when our arthritis flares up.

Paul shows us how to keep our faith even when we become so freakin’ tired that all we want to do is take naps.

Unlike Jesus, Paul is not perfect, nor is he ever presented that way.

Paul is fully human; he’s not at all divine.

Paul has ego, acts emotional. Paul’s got issues.

Paul could easily be any of us. Paul could be Sam. He could be Norma. He could be me. He could be you.

Paul could easily be all of us, and thank God, because in Paul we witness what it’s like to live a full life, a not-so easy life…and to still have faith.

In today’s reading Paul is so honest. He talks about his body wasting away. He addresses the affliction that adulthood causes.

He’s aware that life is a constant march forward, bumps and bruises and all.

Yet, he gives testimony. He testifies to grace; he holds onto glory. He says-

“Even though I am aging out here, inside I continue to be reborn in Christ. In here my heart has knowledge of Jesus and his light still burns.”

Paul is not a fool; he is not Superman.

Paul admits that he can’t see or understand it all, but this does not stop him from searching or believing.

Paul reminds us that even as we age, our faith can continue to grow.

Even when discord rules the moment, even when the political climate seems too much to bear, when

it all feels like folly, and all you want to do is put on a wide-brimmed hat,

Paul shows us a way to keep the faith until the end of the race.

Even if we never cross the finish line.

Even if our running turns to jogging, turns to walking, turns to using a cane with a tennis ball on the end.

Paul is teaching us that in Jesus Christ we can be forever young; forever free.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith, but Paul shows us how to age with faith, even when our body begins to break.

Paul shows us that we can age with grace.

We can age with heart.

We can age with hope.

Because, after all, when we hope, we are hoping with God.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Sometimes Church is About HERE, NOW & US; Sermon on 2 Corinthians 2:5-10

Rev. George Miller
June 14, 2020
2 Corinthians 2:5-10

Friends- there have been a lot of events in our world: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the Pulse Anniversary.

Recent lynching in California. Jaywalking youth roughhoused in Oklahoma. Georgia man shot in the back for falling asleep at Wendy’s.

Corona. Recession. Election.

Now the government has taken away health insurance for members of the LGBTQ community.

Am I next? Is Cornelius? Are you?

We can’t even escape the world’s heaviness with today’s scripture-

Paul’s painful letter about dissent and disappointment in the church.

As if the weight of today’s world is not enough, now we have to hear about a person 2,000 years ago who hurt his Christian Sisters and Brothers.

Instead of enabling him or making excuses for him, they held this man accountable. They gave him a justifiable consequence.

Now, Paul writes to say “It is enough. Time to move on; time to forgive.”

But how do we move on and forgive when someone’s actions have already caused great hurt, perhaps even great harm?

How do we forgive if similar actions by the same person or a similar group of people repeat the same behavior again and again and again, such as in places like Tulsa and Atlanta?

It is too much. Too, too much.

Today, I think we need to take a break.

Today, we need to take a brief break because none of this, any of this, is going to be solved overnight, in a week, even in a year.

We know that everyone here is tired.

We know that you are scared.

We know some of you have had it up to here.

Some of you are ready to walk away if we have one more serious discussion.

So today, we are going to talk about church, talk about ministry, talk about CARE.

Yes, sometimes church is about social justice.

Sometimes church is about discord and disagreements.

Sometimes church is about accountability and forgiveness.

But sometimes, church is something else…

Something softer. Something sweeter.

But still as important.

Sometimes church is about being THERE.

Sometimes church is simply about being there-

-there to help someone set up a tv.

-there to point someone in the right medical direction.

-there to send a thinking-of-you card.

Sometimes the church is about-

-knitting blankets for babies

-making masks for someone you’ll never meet in Iowa

-going for a bike ride.

Sometimes church isn’t anything more than having a place to sit beside someone.

A place to hum “Amazing Grace”, or sing “Jesus Loves Me,” or recite the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes church is about the preacher taking off the robe, leaving behind the notes, looking you in the eye.

Sometimes, church is

-the calm in the storm

-the sun in the sky

-the song of a bird and

-the smile of friend.

We don’t know what will happen next, nor what tomorrow brings.

But we know that we have NOW.



We have Jesus.

We have the Holy Spirit.

We have HOPE.

For when we hope, we are hoping with God.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Bring It Back to Christ; Sermon on 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

Rev. George Miller
June 7, 2020
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Since 2018, we have followed the Narrative Lectionary, allowing us to experience scripture as holy stories that not only teach us about the faith of God’s people, but their historical setting too.

Many of our readings were deeply theological and seemingly objective.

But today’s reading feels different, because it is different.

Today we have a letter written by Paul that is personal, emotional, and grounded in deep, deep pain.

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church at a time in which the community is in turmoil and being torn apart.

Paul is writing to address very specific events that have transpired.

Paul wants the church to focus on Christ crucified while others are saying “We don’t want to hear about it.”

This segment of the church is upset with Paul. They don’t agree with his teachings. They call him names.

There are strong voices on both sides, passionately disagreeing with one another.

Paul is mindful of this discord; how it’s threatening to crack the church in half.

He writes this letter in hopes that he can glue them back together.

Paul does so by reminding them that no matter what goes on, no matter what anyone says, the grace and mercy of God is surrounding them all.

Basically, this letter is Paul saying-

“I am doing the best I can for the sake of us and for everyone, and God has blessed each of us with gifts.”

…For the past 10 years and 2 months I’ve been blessed to shepherd and serve alongside you.

We’ve experienced a lot.

The BP Oil Spill
Trayvon Martin
Pulse Massacre
Parkland Shooting
Suntrust Murders
and now, George Floyd.

No doubt even though I don’t always preach about it and try to keep the sermons inspiring, ya’ll know how I feel about-

Our President throwing paper towels to the people in Puerto Rico.

Our President calling places in Africa “cesspool” countries.

Our nation acting as if it’s Ok to place the bodies of brown children, babies, and families in cages.

I’ve done my best to be bipartisan.

To be active in the county. To support small businesses.

To cheer on the community.

Even in the midst of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, I have not said much via the pulpit.

But something happened last week that now I, as an ordained pastor, feel I must address.

On Monday, June 1 there were people peacefully protesting outside of the White House.

Without warning, pepper balls and smoke cannisters were deployed to create a path for President Trump to walk across Layfette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for a photo in front of the church with a Bible in his hand.

At no point was the church leadership aware that President Trump was going to come over to their campus, nor that pepper and smoke would be used upon their ministers, staff, or community.

Friends and family of Emmanuel UCC, we must now reckon with the fact that the President of America used chemical compounds upon people peacefully gathered,

so he could commandeer a religious space to take a photo, using the holy texts of our faith as a prop.

Meanwhile the priests, interns, and people who were there for justice, kindness, and humility,

were forced to deal with painful irritation to their eyes, throat, lungs, and skin.

My people, my people…if only there was a Balm in Gilead…

For months we’ve been waiting for the joyous day in which we can return to worship the Lord, and instead this is what we have to deal with…

The terribly sad thing is that this isn’t the only time a government tried to commandeer a religious space.

If you recall from the Gospel of Mark, we heard about how Rome had taken over the Holy City, how Rome had insinuated itself into the Temple, how Rome even got a cut of the offerings that were given to the Temple.

Rome’s infiltration of the Holy Temple is a huge part of what Jesus spoke out against, and one of the main reasons the Roman government crucified him.

Infiltrating a holy space is exactly what our President did on Monday.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

I try my best to see both sides and hear all the arguments, but this time there is no denying about what happened.

As a pastor I cannot be blind it.

As a church body we can’t justify it.

So, what do we do?

First, we turn to Paul; we look, listen, learn, hear what he’s got to say.

What Paul says in today’s reading is so simple yet so revolutionary-

Bring everything we do back to Christ.

Put Christ first in any equation, any action, any discussion.

Christ crucified; Christ resurrected.

Paul would say “Bring it back to Christ.”

And who is this Christ?

Why, he’s the one who said “Let the little children come to me.”

Christ is the one who called the persecuted blessed.

Christ is the one who healed the widow, freed a man from chains, raised a daughter from the dead.

Paul would say “Bring it back to Christ.”

And who is Christ?

He’s the one who used his hands to reach out to us

in justice, kindness, and peace….

…even when it meant that same hands would be nailed to a cross.

Friends and Family of Emmanuel UCC- God With Us-

It is here that WE proclaim to have passion and compassion-

Where we go from here as a church is up to us.

All of us.

Each and every person here.

The Holy Spirit is moving and acting, but we have to decide what it is we do.

What we do as a church is up to us.

All of us.

Each and every person here.

The Holy Spirit is moving and acting, but we have to decide what it is we do.

How we continue to be church is up to us.

All of us.

Each and every person here.

The Holy Spirit is moving and acting, but we have to decide what it is we do.

Family and Friends-

we have come too far to back down; we have come too far to be complacent.

In the prophetic words of our Mission Theme Song-

“We are Emmanuel
We love, we give, we share
We show God’s Holy Spirit through
The ways we care
Our challenge is at hand
In faith and strength we stand,
So that our witness to God’s light
Will shine across the land.”

Amen and amen.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Reshaping Our Cup; Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Rev. George Miller
May 31, 2020
1 Corinthians 12:4-7

A few months ago, one of our beloved members journeyed home to be back with her family.

Among Cindy’s gifts of prayer shawls and baby blankets that she left behind was a book by Rev. Becca Stevens called Love Heals.

Rev. Stevens is an abuse survivor who uses her history to bring healing to others who have experienced trauma.

Love Heals is the kind of book that’s easy to read but can’t be rushed.

It is the kind of book you savor, like a soothing cup of tea.

In Chapter 13, Rev. Stevens shares something so profound-

“If you stress because you feel like your glass is half empty…your cup may be too big.”

If you stress because you feel like your glass is half empty…your cup may be too big…

Let that wash over and anoint you.

…Plenty of us know what it’s like to carry around a glass that is way too big; impossibly big.

So big it constantly sets us up for failure.

Then again, we are living during a time in which if we don’t carry the glass, it can shatter and hurt a lot of people, including ourselves.

So what do we do during this moment of high stress and being in continued survival mode?

Do we enlarge the cup; shrink the cup?

Maybe it’s not about the size…but the shape…

Maybe to alleviate the stress, fear, and anger, it is time for us to reshape the cup we are holding.

Over the past week it has become pastorally clear that we are in the stage of grief known as denial.

The affects of COVID-19 have been harsh waves, but many of us want to believe they are just ripples.

That when this all goes away, life will return to as it was.

That we will have large gatherings, endlessly kiss and hug, sing loud long songs, sit elbow to elbow.

But it’s not going to be that way. Not in a week, or a month, perhaps not even in a season or a year.

We can deny it as much as we want to, or disagree, or try to find a loophole, but it ain’t gonna happen.

When we reopen for public worship, to expect the glass to be the same size and shape as before,

is just going to cause more stress and heartbreak.

It would be like putting new wine into old wineskins.

So we can either enlarge the cup, shrink the cup, or be willing to change the shape of the cup.

Think of Highlands Lakeside Theatre as they get ready to present their newest musical production, “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”

Instead of canceling it, or opening to a full auditorium, they’re offering the show live and streamed into the safety of our homes.


It’s not a bigger cup or a smaller cup, but a differently shaped cup to match a different time.

This is so reminiscent of Pentecost and what Pentecost means.

Pentecost is what we consider the birthday of the Christian Church.

As depicted in Acts 2, it is the moment that the Holy Spirit brazenly broke into the world making it possible for people from all backgrounds to become ONE.

If you read Acts 2 you discover how time and space meld and mix-

the inside becomes out, the outside comes in and a whole new level of communication takes place.

Pentecost is about the reshaping of faith and the new ways in which God can be experienced.

Pentecost is tied to the glory of the past, but it is also new and loud and confusing and exciting and welcoming and wall breaking.

Kind of like right now.

COVID-19 is our own kind of Pentecost in which the Message of Jesus Christ is being spoken and shared in new ways.

This is a time in which worship and ministry in on fire.

This is a time in which what’s going on inside and outside the walls are mixing and melding.

We are reaching out to other countries, other states, other time zones, other days, other languages in ways we were not doing just 3 months before.

The ministry of Emmanuel UCC is continuing to be reshaped.

For some this sounds glorious; for some it sounds scary, understandably so.

Do you think it was easy for those in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit poured down like wind and fire?

Do you think it was easy for the early Corinthian Church to adapt to the new shape and size?

Heck no…

Think of what it was like for those who were used to worshipping in the majesty of the Temple to now worship in the cramped space of someone’s home.

Think of what it was like for kosher observing Judeans to now sit beside foreigners who brought crab cakes and double bacon cheeseburgers to the table.

Imagine what it was like for those men who used to lay with the Priestesses of Aphrodite to now express their faith by remaining faithful to their wives.

Because of the Holy Spirit those who liked quiet were now sitting beside those who were loud.

Those who were stoic were beside those who were ecstatic.

Those who said women should be silent were now next to women who proudly spoke their mind.

Not a bigger glass, or a smaller glass, but a totally reshaped cup.

Friends, I know many of you are in deep grief and denial.

You’re missing the choir, the hand bells, the 150 chairs, the coffee…

But one way that our healing will take place is for all of us to start thinking about the new and exciting shapes our ministry will take on.

In today’s scripture Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit- wisdom, healing, prophecy.

Those were some of the gifts the Holy Spirit gave the earliest Christians during their time of change.

If Paul was writing today, what do you think he would say?

No doubt the gifts of knowledge and miracles would still apply.

But today he would most likely include a list of other gifts-

-Web designing and Videographers
-Mask Makers
-COVID Care Package Creators
-ZOOM Masters
-Glove Givers
-Communion Kit Fillers
-Peaceful Protestors

This is a difficult time.

For those in Highlands County we have yet to see the full effects of COVID, so it’s hard to believe.

For those in my hometown, the cases are in the thousands and they are ages away from moving freely.

Many of us are in denial.

Many of us are holding onto the glass thinking its going to stay the same.

It’s time for us to accept that the glass will never be the same again.

We can stress ourselves out by making the glass bigger than it is.

We can sadden ourselves by thinking it’s now way too small.

Or we can empower ourselves by accepting that the glass is a different shape, and always will be.

After we allow ourselves to accept that new shape, we can better deal with and live within that reality.

Perhaps, over time we will be able to look back and celebrate the different shape while also mourning what was lost.

Maybe the cup we create will be a little more elastic, a little more pliable than before.

No matter what, this is a cup we are creating, not on our own, but co-creating with God,

with Christ, with the Holy Spirit,

all for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Just as our Pentecostal ancestors in Jerusalem and Corinth so long ago,

WE now have the same chance to do, today. Amen and amen.