Monday, July 27, 2020

Mountains In Our Lives; Sermon on Micah 6:1-5

Rev. George Miller July 28, 2020 Micah 6:1-5 In the beginning when the earth was a dark and formless void, the ruah of God moved across the waters. Yahweh said “Let there be light” and there was light, and goats and sheep, bumblebees and wildflowers, rivers and hills. Throughout Scripture, the mountains have been there to see it all, witnesses to God’s love, grace, and salvation. Today we come to the end of our Micah series, but our walk with the prophet will continue to shape us. We learned the history, addressed the controversy, and heard from the prophet himself. Now we hear from God, the disappointed and the heart broken, who is taking us to court. God has a grievance against the people. God is ready to be the complainant, and to also be the judge. The mountains and hills are called to be the jury. Why the mountains? Why not the angels or ancestors? Because theologically the mountains were there for the most momentous moments. They were there in the beginning of creation. As Psalm 104 states, they are a refuge for animals, gathering rain, shaping rivers. It was upon a mountain that a middle-aged shepherd named Moses was called to liberate God’s people. At Mt. Sinai we were given the commandments. It was upon a high place that Balaam was to sent to curse the people, but instead God used him to bless them. It was atop a mountain that Moses told the people “Choose today; choose life!” It was on mountain that God moved past Elijah in a still speaking sound. Mountains were the place were relationships began, communities formed, and covenant took place. Theologically it makes sense for God to call upon mountains to act as jury. God’s charge against humanity? Their lack of ethics. Businesses overcharge. Wealthy resort to violence. Judges taking bribes. Officials using their office to do evil. Those who know better choosing to walk with other gods. Families turning against each other. Lies, deception. The people have strayed so far, they have forgotten that they forgot. In this courtroom made up of mountains, God reminds the people of all that God has done. When the people hear, truly and honestly hear all the hurt they have caused God, they respond- “What can we do? How can we make this right? What things can we give? Do you want thousands of animals, do you want tons of perfume?” To which God says “I don’t want things. I never did. I want you.” God says “All I want, all I ever wanted is for you to do what is just, to show mercy to others, and to walk with me in the coolness of the afternoon.” This message that God gives to Micah from Moreesheth, this message that Micah gives to the King is one that is so simple, so powerful, so clear… …Here is the Good News- even though people forget, mountains do not. Nor does God. As Isaiah 52:7 states “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, brings good news…announces salvation…” As Christians, who do we claim those feet belong to? Who do we experience upon the many hills in our lives? Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Good Shepherd, God With Us. It’s no accident that in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus climbs up a mountain and says to the crowd “Blessed are the merciful and pure in heart.” It is upon a mountain that Jesus feeds the multitude with bread from heaven. In Mark, Jesus goes up a mountain when he sees the disciples struggling during a storm, comes to them, says “Do not be afraid,” and the winds and waves subside. On a mountain Jesus is transfigured with Moses and Elijah beside him. In Matthew, the disciples meet the resurrected Christ upon a mountain, are called to show others how to walk in the ways of Jesus, and told “I will be with you until the end of time.” The mountains were there for it all. They were there in our bondage and in our freedom, in our exile and return. They were there when others tried to curse us, and when God blessed us. From a mountaintop Moses invited us to “Choose life”; upon a mountaintop we witnessed resurrection. In Micah, the mountains are a jury, but in Matthew the mountains are Christ’s invitation to be the Good News. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who announces peace.” There are many, many mountains in our lives. Some get in the way; some we get over. Some inspire, some scare. But no matter what, the mountains play their own part, reminding us of who God is, how God acts, and what God wants. What God wants, what God has always wanted is to be in relationship with the best of us. Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

From the Words of a Child; Micah 5:2-5a

Rev. George Miller
July 19, 2020
Micah 5:2-5a

(In the spirit of much needed fun and escape, today’s sermon is a character-based message portraying Micah as a wide-eyed kid. Micah comes out clapping and doing his own cheer.)

“My name is Micah!
I’m from the south
I love the Lord
I got a big mouth

I love Yahweh
What does God say?
To do justice, kindness
And humili-tay!” (repeat as needed)

Hi everyone! My name is Micah. I’m eight years old.

I live in Mora, Mora, Mora-sheth-eth-ethh.

I think that’s how you say it.

Anyway, it’s a small, small town. Like really really small. And it’s far away from the big city, like 20 whole miles!

Dad says it would take 5 hours to get there, so I’ve never gone. But I hope to one day.

Here in Mora-sheth-ethh we have lots of farms and grass and sheep and goats and bumblebees and flowers.

People are really friendly here too; we like to help one another out.

Dad says that because we’re so far away from the city that we are expected to take care of our own.

That means if someone is sick, we visit them. If someone’s hungry, we feed them.

If someone is sad, we try to cheer them up. If someone can’t walk so good, we help them with their chores.

If someone’s Ma or Pa dies, we take them in. If someone’s husband dies, the men make sure their home is still cared for and the women make casseroles.

That’s just what we do.

I asked Mom why that is. She told me it’s because of our history.

Mom said that a looong time ago our people came from another place in which bad, bad things happened.

Mom said God was watching out for us, so God led us to this land where we could live in peace and freedom.

I love the Lord. I like when Mom and Dad tell me stories about God.

Like the one about Gideon who was a farm boy, just like me. He was called by God to be a mighty warrior.

Or David who was a shepherd in another small town called Bethlehem. He became King of the country.

But my favorite story is from Deutero, Deutero, Deuteronomonomy.

It’s when the people have been wandering the dessert for a really long time, and before the go into the Promised Land, Moses gives them a big speech.

Moses tells the people that if they do all God asks and obey the commandments with all their hearts, the Lord will show great love and our animals, our soil, our bodies will all be happy.

Moses tells the people we don’t have to climb real high or swim so far, because happiness is right next to us.

All we have to do is love the Lord, walk in God’s ways, and choose life.

Mom says that God loves us so much that we are given a choice each and every day to choose God or not.

Even if we don’t have a good day, or if we do not-so-good things, we get another chance the next day to choose again.

That’s why every morning when Mom wakes us up for chores, she says “Wake up sleepy heads. Choose today!”

Dad says this story is why we do what we do. That’s why we are good neighbors and visit the sick, feed the hungry, and help out others.

It’s our way of choosing God and choosing life.

You know what?

I bet that if we are able to do all those things in our small town, they must do even gooder things in the big city.

I bet in the big city where they have priests and prophets and the Holy Temple that there is a lot of good things happening every day.

Daddy says the King and lots of successful people live in the city.

If that’s true they must be helping out a lot of people.

I bet you that in the big city there are no sick people, or hungry people, or lonely people, or sad people.

I bet you all the orphans and widows live in big houses with lots of food.

If we can do all we do in our small town, I can only imagine how many good things they’re doing up in Jerusalem.

I hope I get to go there one day. Maybe I can even meet the King and tell him what a good job he’s doing.

Momma says I got a big mouth and that I talk too much, so he’s sure to listen.

But for now, I’m here in Mora-sheth-eth-ethh.

I love my Ma, I love my Pa. I love my neighbors. I love my goats.

I love God.

I’m so glad that every day we are given a choice to do what is right.

I’m so glad that every day we can say “Yes” to God.

I’m so glad that God is not far away, but right here, in our heart.

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Monday, July 13, 2020

Micah's Mirror To Preachers & Priests; Micah 3:5-6

Rev. George Miller
July 12, 2020
Micah 3:5-6

Hear now these words from Psalm 23-

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff-
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, 4ever.

Such reassuring words, exactly what we all need to hear for a time like this. So reassuring it shaped today’s Call to Worship and our Confession.

This image of journey, of rest, of steadfastness and comfort even in times of darkness.

But what if we were to use Psalm 23 another way?

What if we used it to silence folk rather than have them speak?

What if Psalm 23 was used to shame, not support? To keep the status quo rather than to rock the boat?

That’s what Micah is making us think about- preachers who’d rather lie to their people than speak words of truth.

Micah is calling out religious leaders who’d rather watch their congregants suffer than be a shepherd.

Men of God who’d rather believe they ARE God then to actually do what the 1 True God requires.

Micah is writing to a nation that’s been split in two with a King who is buddy buddy with the enemy.

Real estate moguls are kicking women out of their homes, separating children from their families.

The land is being treated as a weapon rather than a gift from God.

Today’s reading hits hard as Micah holds a mirror to anyone so honored to preach the Good News.

Micah is a southern small-town boy who knows that pastors are not called to be bottomless bellies who only care about those who can pay their bills.

Micah may have been raised on biscuits and gravy, but he’s no fool.

He calls prophets out. Instead of speaking against injustice, they’re saying to the people-

“Don’t worry; it’s OK. Don’t fret; God will never forsake us. We don’t need to change our ways, cause God will never chastise us.”

“Don’t be bothered cause God is never going to take off the belt, grab the wooden spoon, or slip off the slipper.”

Micah is looking around at the unkind actions taking place around him, and he can’t believe that the priests are saying “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Even as the enemy is scorching the earth and polluting the water, the prophets are saying “The pastures are green, and the rivers are calm.”

Even as the land barons are kicking widows out of their homes, the preachers are saying –

“You’re just imagining things. If you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Get some rest; the valley is not as dark as it seems.”

Even as Judah’s powerful are overtaking the poor, the pastors are smacking their lips, rubbing their bellies, saying to Miss Johnson “Ain’t God good?” while demanding another slice of her award-winning pecan pie.

Micah is not against positivity; what he’s upset about is that those who know better are saying “Peace” when there is absolutely no peace at all.

It’s like back in the day when political leaders would go to the black church and tell their pastors to preach about the rewards of heaven rather than focus on the current reality on earth.

Church was used as a way to keep people complacent. To tell their folk-

Don’t raise a fuss; don’t act out of line.

No matter how bad you’re treated, just think of the rewards you’ll receive in heaven.

Rewards in Heaven may be nice, but Micah cares about justice on Earth, in the right here and right now.

It’s one thing to comfort Citizens of Heaven with words of assurance, it’s a whole other thing to tell Citizens of Earth that they must-

-do what they are told, endure all the abuse inflicted upon you, and don’t you dare say a word.

Micah challenges us today, just as he did 2,800 years ago.

He is asking all of us, everywhere-

How do we stay true to God?

How do we stay true to the powerless?

How do we address injustice even if our own members are not experiencing it, or could possibly be the cause of it?

Can we worship God by shedding light on unkindness even as we celebrate Christ’s Light, giving thanks for all we got?

More personally, Micah speaks directly to us today-

Who are we, as Emmanuel UCC, being called to be?

Who is God calling me to be?

At this time of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, Hurricane Season, and November Elections?

Who does YHWH want you, me, us, and we to be?

As our Confession says, the Lord is with us every step of the way.

Jesus heals, forgives, walks beside us, surrounds us with grace.

When do we use a rod and staff to proclaim Christ’s comfort?

When do we the same rod and staff to point out where there is no peace?

As Ambassadors of Christ, when do we say “We are full”?

When do we say “It’s time to offer peace?”

When do we say “Green pastures and still waters are a right to everyone NOW, and not when they die”?

What kind of hope do we have that Micah’s vision of justice, kindness, and humility will come ever to be?

Amen and amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Micah's Timeless Message; Micah 2:7-10

Rev. George Miller
July 5, 2020
Micah 2:7-10

Let us come together to hear the story of a nation; a country established on the best of ideals.

A place perfect for cows, soil rich enough for wildflowers, and waters filled with delicious seafood.

This is the story about a land of plenty, where its citizens had traveled from a far-away place to get there.

A nation designed around the principals of freedom, where folk understood that the earth belonged to God, and each family was granted a parcel of land to till and to keep.

A society structured around basic principles- honor your elders, don’t covet, steal, or lie about your neighbor, work hard but always take a day to rest.

A government in which YHWH was the center; where God, and not money, things, or power was to be worshipped.

In this Promised Land, widows and orphans were to be cared for, and immigrants always welcomed.

But then something happened- the North and the South could not agree on basic issues; they began to fight.

Eventually the North split from the South, leaving the North vulnerable.

A foreign enemy came along and threatened the North. The North called upon their Southern kin for help.

But instead of helping, the South entered into an alliance with the enemy, and the Northern part of the nation fell.

10 miles across the border, the enemy sets up camp. Political refugees pour into the South seeking asylum.

The South thought they had done a wise thing, failing to realize that by scheming with the enemy, they’d become the next target.

To intimidate the South, the enemy sets up false idols everywhere.

Now, in order for the South to be safe, they must pay a tribute to the enemy.

The wealthy businessmen don’t want to pay the tribute, so they pass the cost on to the impoverished and working-class.

The real estate moguls think of ways to kick women out of their homes, take away their children, and gather more land so they can build upon it.

Add to this mix a bunch of religious leaders who are telling the masses “Don’t you worry, don’t you complain. Everything is fine. God is not upset.”

If another religious leader dares to say anything different, they are challenged, and told they are being unpatriotic.

This is the world of 8th Century BCE Judah, where Jerusalem is the capital city. This is the political environment that the prophet Micah is living in.

Micah is a spiritual, emotional soul who grew up 20 miles southeast of Jerusalem, which means he is a Good Ol’ Boy in every sense of the word.

He was raised to love his Momma, love the Lord, and always say “Yes ma’am”, “No ma’am.”

He comes from a community of old-time religion, with unlocked doors and stores in which you talk to everyone.

Micah moves to the big city and he is blown away by what he sees.

No one minds their manners. No one respects their elders or their neighbors.

Perhaps worse of all, people have lost their connection with God.

Sure, there are big flashy preachers in big flashy robes, but what they’re saying is more the Gospel of Self rather than the Gospel of God.

They tell the people “God will never desert you, so do anything you want ‘cause God will never go away.”

So, the people do anything they want, be it steal, covet, lie.

Micah sees the injustice.

The evicted widows; the children separated from their parents ; the moguls who want more more more.

Micah may not have the slickest of educations, but he knows enough to know that the ruler of the nation should not be buddy buddy with the enemy.

So Micah does something.

He uses his words. He channel’s God’s spirit. He does a difficult balancing act.

He reminds the people that God is a God of justice, kindness, and humility. He reminds people that God is one of grace who gathers the people.

But Micah lets them know that right now God is not happy with them. God is heartbroken; God is disappointed.

Micah dares to go against the popular preachers and he tells the people this- “You’ve taken advantage of God’s goodness and generosity for far too long, and now there are going to be natural consequences for your actions.”

Micah is a prophetic book with a timely message and a complex theology.

Micah presents a 3-dimensional God who is angry yet overflowing with pity.

God is both judge and savior, one who can issue a sentence yet also point to a hopeful future.

Micah speaks for God who has an special relationship with Israel yet also cares for the whole world.

Micah speaks for God who cares about compassion but also understands about consequences.

In parental terms, Micah is presenting God as the parent who has had it up to here and is about ready to
-use the belt
-take out the wooden spoon
-slip off the chancleta.

This is God the parent who will, for your own sake-

-Send you to your room
-Suspend your allowance
-Kick you out of the house if need be.

Not out of spite, or enjoyment.

But out of love; heartbroken love.

These are the issues in Micah we’ll be exploring all this month; the irony it balances.

The questions Micah raises about

-Who is God?
-Who are we?
-What does God really, really want from us?

As we wrap up today’s message, knowing it is more an intro that a stand-alone sermon, there is Good News-

When Micah shared his message with the King of Judah…the King listened.

The King heard Micah’s words. The King heard God’s hurt.

The King not only heard, but he responded, he changed his ways, and the king empowered the nation to reclaim some of what had been lost.

Micah spoke, the King listened, and both lives and the land were saved. A victory that lasted about a 100 years...

On this holiday weekend, amidst a pandemic and a civil rights movement, let us recall the work of Micah.

Let us recall the words of the Lord.

Let us remember that we are Ambassadors of the Good News.

As Citizens of Heaven we are called to speak words of grace, freedom, and hope.

As we have been saying for months, “When we hope, we are hoping with God.”