Monday, August 31, 2020

Revolutions & Reclaiming Women's Voice; Sermon On Luke 24:13-35


Rev. George Miller

August 30, 2020

Luke 24:13-16, 28-35




We may not like them.  They may make us uncomfortable.  They can undo the very fabric of our lives.


Like it or not, revolutions happen. 


In fact, we’re going through one right now.  The signs are all around us. 


Change is happening.  How this change will be remembered, only time can tell.


Part of the current revolution is the way history is being revisited.


Some say history is being erased, but that is not the case.  The history that’s been taught has often been told from the dominant view. 


There are large swaths of that which has gone silenced, unreported, yet known by those who were there, and passed their stories on.


Now the internet and the inclusion of diversity has made way for those missing pieces of historic tales to find their way back into the narrative quilt of our country.


We’re beginning to remember those things we didn’t know we forgot.


Revolutions become even more revolutionary when we rediscover the missing voices.


For example, the Gay Rights Movement is often pictured with white men.  Truthfully, it was begun when a black trans woman named Martha P. Johnson was at Stonewall and said “no” to injustice.


The Women’s Rights Movement may make us think of Gloria Steinem but we often miss the lesbian presence of trailblazers like Del Martin.


The Civil Rights Movement lifts up MLK, but ignored his right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, because he was gay.


Then we have the Women’s Suffragette Movement.  The women who fought for justice while being told they had to be mindful of their men’s sensitivities.


They were dismissed as a “petticoat government,” compared to sirens, ignored like the Canaanite woman.


Not to be dismissed, the women boldly marched, showing off their petticoats.  Instead of being silenced, they loudly raised their voices even more.


Refusing to be ignored, one mom told her son how to vote.  “A mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” said the son, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” 


Unfortunately, the presence of black women in the suffragette movement was left out in the storytelling.  Women like Frances Harper and Juno Pierce.


Revolutions are revolutionary when we reclaim the missing voices.


Thanks to the inclusion of voices that are female, black, brown, gay, trans, interfaith, differently abled, indigenous, we’re hearing history from the many, instead of just one.


Filling in the gaps we didn’t even know were there, making sure we’re seeing the full quilt stitched with the names of Marsha P. Johnson, Ivy Bottini, Bayard Rustin, and Ida B. Wells.


Revolutions are revolutionary when we resurrect the missing voices.   Christianity is no different.


With its believers calling one another Sister and Brother, seeing themselves as Citizens of Heaven, followers of Christ were revolutionary.  So revolutionary they were lied about, chased out of town, called threatening.


You know you’re doing something right when the powers-that-be try to silence your presence.


But, as with every revolution, to gain traction, there were the stories and figures that were hidden.  Women almost became invisible.


There’s Thecla, a missionary force of the early church who was right up there with Paul, sharing the Gospel and overcoming the tyranny of her day.


The editors of the Bible left her out, making her only known to those who do the research or say to their Pastor “Why aren’t we learning about her.”


Mary Magdalene who was right there at the empty tomb.  At one point folk followed her as the head of the church, until Peter’s side prevailed, silenced her presence, and shamed her with a made-up back-story.


Then, we have today’s story.  It’s Easter evening. 2 folks are somberly walking into the sunset. 


A stranger appears, asking why so glum. They tell of Jesus’ death and the news that his tomb is now empty. 


The stranger talks with the two about scripture and prophecy.  When they arrive at their home, they invite him in for supper.  As he takes the bread, breaks it, they realize it’s Jesus, and the news about his resurrection is true.


Filled with joy they run back to Jerusalem and share their testimony. 


Well, what does this have to do with women and Women’s Equality?  There are 3 things to discuss.


1st- when the women at the tomb had told their story, it was dismissed as an idle tale, so they were not believed.


2nd- back then a woman’s testimony was not welcome in a court of law nor seen as valid.  Testimony only mattered if it came from a man.


3rd- when Luke was written, it was common practice to not refer to the name of a spouse.  When a story about two people appeared, and only one male name is given, it was assumed the other person was his wife.


Read Luke 24, you’ll see that there are two people walking on the road to Emmaus.  One is named Cleopas; it appears they live in the same home.


Once the man’s name is mentioned, we never hear it again.  Everything these travelers do is referred to as “they”, “we”, “us”, and “our.”


Meaning that although we can’t be 100% sure, it is safe to ascertain that according to the literally custom of the day, this story of the Resurrected Christ happens to both a man and a woman.


They speak as one, are perceived as equals, and share in their testimony.


Think of how radical this is; what happens if we take this bit of material and put it into the quilt of our faith.


Women didn’t just find the tomb empty, there’s a probability that a woman was among the first to experience and testify to the news of Christ’s resurrection, at a time when female voices were not to be believed.


Who knows- perhaps it really was SHE who did all the talking; Cleopas was only there to ensure she was believed, making him the prop of the story!


Is it possible this scripture has been viewed wrong for all these years and just now we’re finally hearing the truth because we have welcomed in all the other voices that were once ignored?


You may be thinking “What does any of this matter if we’ll never know for sure because she’s not given a name?”  


Maybe there’s another approach. 


What if Luke intentionally didn’t tell us the name of Cleopas’ companion, because YOU are that companion.


What if in a meta-physical way, Luke is telling us that WE are ALL on the Road to Emmaus and therefore WE are ALL witnesses to the resurrection?


Aren’t we all travelers of some sort? 


Don’t we all know what it is like to walk in darkness?  Don’t we all know what it’s like to be scared and unsure?


Don’t we all know how hard it is to believe something good right after something devastating has transpired?


Maybe YOU are Cleopas’ companion.


Maybe Luke is telling us that YOU are there to witness the Resurrected Christ.  That whenever you reflect, whenever you remember, YOU are part of the revolution.


When you welcome the stranger.  When you feed someone.  When you break bread.


YOU are welcoming the resurrected Christ even if you don’t realize it, even if our eyes don’t see.


By not telling us the name of the 2nd person, we can become that person.


Which means that on the road to Emmaus, Millie, you are there.  Evelyn, you are there.  Fae, you are there.


Nancy, you are there. Diane, you are there. Ruthie, you are there.  Marg, you are there.  Kathryn, up in Ohio, you are there.  Carnide, you are there.


Every woman, every man, every child, every adult is there, each with their own testimony to share.


Though we may feel sad, surrounded by darkness, when we remember, when we welcome, when we share, we are there, and so is Christ.


THAT is so revolutionary and beautiful to believe.


We began our month exploring how women have had to reclaim their inheritance, been mistreated, abused, called names, ignored.


But now we end by placing all women, upon that road to Emmaus, beside the risen Christ, equals and partners, witnesses, and way-makers.


And our world is the better because of it.


In Christ, the Resurrection Revolution continues.



Sunday, August 23, 2020

Confronting Jesus' Misogynistic Prejudice; Matthew 15:21-28


Rev. George Miller

August 23, 2020

Matthew 15:21-28


Once upon a time there was a beautiful coastal town called Capernaum, located on the northern shore. 


It was the spot for delicious seafood, sparkling sunsets, and good, God-fearing folk- a perfect place to retire or raise a family.


In this town lived a Roman soldier of great prestige.  A member of the military, he had at his disposal a big, comfortable home, and many servants.   


As a Roman, he was one of the enemy invaders who had taken over the land and was there to make sure the citizens didn’t get out of line.


As a gentile, he worshipped many gods, like Jupiter and Mars.


One day a man visited this peaceful fishing town.  A man known for the gift of gab and the ability to heal; a Jew named Jesus.


The soldier went up to him and said “Lord, my servant is in pain and terrible distress.”


Jesus responded “OK, dude. I’ll come to your home and cure him.”


To which the soldier says “Bro, I’m really not worthy, and I don’t want to bother you. If you just say the word, I’m sure my butler will be healed.”


When Jesus hears this, he’s amazed. “Whoa dude! I’ve been to many places and seen so many faces, but I’ve never met anyone with faith like yours!”


“Even though you’re not a Jew you’re welcome to come drink beer and eat hot wings with me in Heaven’s Kingdom.”


“Go! Your faith has made your manservant well.”


As told in Matthew 8, this story is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, as it features the healing of a Gentile.





Jesus mainly saw his ministry as to the children of Israel.  Until this point, the people Jesus heals, feeds, and sits with are people from his own faith group.


This stunning interaction seems to mark a new day, a new way. Now that the 1st Gentile has been voted in by Jesus, all the Gentiles are welcome and there is no more prejudice…right?


Wrong…because just 7 chapters later we have another story featuring another gentile, with a much different response.


Jesus has had a hard day at work.  The town’s faith leaders haven’t been nice to Jesus, nitpicking how he does things.


So Jesus does what any messianic son-of-God would do- he runs away.


He leaves town and travels to the boondocks of no man’s land, a place that makes Zolfo Springs seem trendy.


While there, a non-Jewish native approaches him.  She’s shouting-  “Have mercy on me, Lord.  My daughter is sick; we need your help.”


Jesus ignores her; pretends he doesn’t hear her screaming like she’s giving birth.  He keeps on walking as if she’s not even there.


But she’s an ambitious, nasty woman, so she keeps shouting for help.


The disciples can’t handle how shrill and abrasive she sounds.  They go up to Jesus.  “Dude, make her go away.  Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard.”


Jesus says “I don’t have time for this.  I told you before, I was only sent here for the children of Israel.”


But this woman?  She’s resilient.  Just like the magi, just like the disciples, she kneels before him.


“Lord, help me.  Help my daughter.”


Jesus finally stops.  Acknowledges her.


Says “But you and your daughter are dogs.  It’s not good to take the children’s breadsticks and throw them to mutts like you.”


To which the woman says “Call us mutts if you must, but even dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.”


Blindsided, Jesus says “Woman, great is your faith. What you desire is done!”


Like that!, another daughter is made well by the ministry of Emmanuel.


Before getting too happy, we have a lot to contend with.  This is a challenging text, confronting how we see Jesus.


An indigenous, rural woman of Gentile descent comes to Jesus for help, and he refuses.  She screams for help, and he ignores her.  She begs on behalf of her daughter, but he states she’s not good enough because she is different.


And yet, just a few chapters before Jesus had no problem being bros with a Roman soldier, gladly healing his minimum-wage earning servant.


Why two similar stories, yet two different responses?  A man appeals to Jesus and he is quick to respond.  But a woman must yell just to be ignored.


The centurion is invited to dine at the Lord’s table, but the mother is told there’s not enough food to go around.


This Roman brags that he can send men scurrying left and right, but this woman’s child is referred to as a dog.


He gets to stand while speaking, but she must bow before she is heard.


There’s so much in this scripture to parse out.  So much to discuss, to debate, to hold Jesus accountable for.


People will try to give Jesus an easy excuse; to give him an out.


“Oh, he’s just a man, after all.” 


“He’s not being racist; he’s just reflecting the attitude of the day.”


“He doesn’t really mean her daughter is a dog, more like a cute puppy.”


Ask any woman what it means when a man calls you a dog, and they know.


We all know.


So once again, we are left asking “What the heck is the Good News?” 


What do we do if Jesus is knocked off the pedestal and his more human, culturally-based self is on display?


The Good News comes from understanding and celebrating who the true hero of this story is.


The hero is not Jesus; it’s not the disciples.  It’s the woman who refused to be insulted and refused to take no for an answer.


Besides Jesus and Peter, the mother in today’s reading is perhaps the most fully realized person in the Gospel.


With just a few descriptive phrases we know so much about her. 


Her words and actions that tell who she is, what she’s about.  What extent she’ll go to get what she wants, what she will do for the sake of her daughter.


She is a woman who refuses to be ignored.  She is a person who refuses to let injustice go unchecked. 


She is someone who knows how to play the game and use society’s biased views to her advantage.


She may be rural, but she is city smart.


She may be a Gentile, but she understands better than anyone else who the Messiah is and what being called “Lord” is really about.


She knows that for the Son of David, having mercy is part of the job description. 


She may not go to the Synagogue on Saturday, but she knows that the True Messiah will do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.


So when she sees Jesus not being humble, not being kind, not being just, she calls him out. 


“Call us dogs if you must, but offer my daughter a crumb of the healing you are called to give your own children.” (adapted from O. Wesley Allen Jr.)


This woman is amazing. 


She joins the likes of Rachel, Shiprah, Puah, Deborah and Jael as Citizens of Heaven who fought for what they deserved and for what was right.


Here is one more thing- this ambitious, amazing woman goes down in history as the 1st and only person in all of the Gospels to teach Jesus something he did not know.


Instead of Jesus changing her, she changes him. 


She recognizes his authority and what responsibility that entails.


She refuses to be ignored.


She lobs his insult right back.


She gets her daughter healed.


She makes Jesus a better person than he was before.


THAT is spiritual lineage we come from.  THESE are the theological bones that build our body.


She is a woman who refuses to be ignored, refuses to be silenced, and by doing so brings change and healing into our world. 


May we all be so brave, so bold, and so ambitious.


For that we can say “Amen.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Letter to the Editor Re: Mask Mandate

 With sincere concern, I write this letter.  Months ago, when local leaders feared our 2nd Amendment rights were being attacked, they moved with urgency to establish us as a Sanctuary County. Now, with COVID-19, we have a threat to our economy and the health of our children, elders, and residents. Yet our elected County Commissioners and tax-paid police force say they do not want to create a mask mandate, nor can they enforce it. This sounds like impotent incompetence.  County Commissioners should do what they can to keep us safe. Police are called to protect and serve. If our Commissioners can vote to ensure our right to bear arms, and cops can ticket folk for running red lights, surely both entities are virile enough to create and mandate the wearing of masks to help save and protect lives.  Respectfully, Rev. George Miller

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sharing the Concubine's Story; Speaking Her Truth; Sermon on Judges 19:27-28


Rev. George Miller

August 16, 2020

Judges 19:27-28


Today’s message starts with audience participation.  What famous character said “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy


Next- who said “As God is my witness, I’ll never he hungry again?” Scarlett


3rd- what actress said “Mollie, you in danger girl!”  Whoopi Goldberg.


Finally, what infamous female proclaimed “He has brought down the powerful from their throne, and lifted up the lowly.”


These are not the words of Joan of Arc, Mulan, or Xena: Warrior Princess. 


They are the words of Mary, soon to be the mother of Jesus.


The above statements are from a girl on a journey, a southern belle taking control, a trickster caught up in a conspiracy, and a maiden who’s about to be the biggest motha of them all.


Each of these women a force to be reckoned with.


The Bible is full of brave, bold women who embark on journeys, fight for their life, and STICK IT to the patriarchy.


The Book of Judges starts with 3 such women.


In chapter 1, we meet Achash who rides in on a donkey.  As she steps down, Achash demands that her husband and dad give her the southern part of Judah as a present.


In ch. 4 there’s Deborah, the head judge of Israel.  Leaders from all over the country come to her for council. 


Deborah sends and receives visits from military heads, gives instruction to a general, and walks beside him as 10,000 soldiers march behind.


Then there is Jael, a stunning Trickster who single handily wins a war by inviting the enemy into her tent and driving a stake through tyrant’s head.


Judges stars strong women who are the equals of, and sometimes superior to, the men…but then something happens.


Judges, often called “The Book of Weeping”, details the coming apart of Israel, and how quickly the people of God forget that they have chosen God and that they have chosen Life.


Judges shows what happens when a group of beloved children fail to do justice, love kindness, or to walk humbly with the Lord-


They become a dysfunctional family in which no one is safe from abuse and women and children are victimized.


In Judges, we meet the enemy and “the enemy is us.” (Pogo)


Let’s take a look at perhaps the most traumatizing story in the Bible.


It starts with a concubine who runs away from her husband, back to where her father lives, in Bethlehem.


The man goes after her, using the sweetest of words to woe her back. 


Days later, they leave, but’s it’s getting dark. The man refuses to spend the night in Jerusalem because it’s full of foreigners, so he assumes he isn’t safe.


So they go onto to Gibeah, where the tribe of Benjamin live.  They sit in the town square hoping someone will take them in.  But no one does, until an old man, after working a long day in the field, comes by and offers them shelter.


That night, men from the town come to the old man’s door.  They demand he hand over the stranger so they can rape him. The old man refuses, offering his daughter and the concubine instead.


The husband grabs the concubine, shoves her outside and goes to sleep while she is brutally attacked all night long.


In the morning, barely alive, she crawls to the front door, falls upon the stoop.


Her husband steps outside, says “Get up, we’re going”, puts her on the donkey like an object, a thing.


He takes her body, carves her into 12 pieces, sends a part to each tribe.  With that, he starts a Civil War in which the nation fights against the Benjaminites, killing and raping their women also.


How did we get to here?


How do we get from Achsah boldly stepping off a donkey, demanding land, to a violated wife being barked at and placed on a donkey’s back like a sack of barley?


How did we go from Jael who takes down one of the most powerful men in the world, to a woman who runs away for her own goodwill, yet ends up being victimized by both her husband and father?


How did we get from Deborah leading an army of 10,000 men to the concubine being raped by an entire town?


It makes no sense.

We are not in Kansas.

God does not seem to be a witness.

Molly, and all women, are in danger.


This story is not meant to soothe, it is meant to shock.


Its actions are not to be emulated, but to be avoided at all costs.


This story is not a testimony to what God wants, but what happens when the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly is violated by the very folk who are supposed to know better.


A woman flees to Bethlehem and her body ends up being destroyed and an entire nation torn apart…


…So where is the Good News?


The Good News begins by us sharing her story, because as difficult as it is to hear, it needs to be told; it needs to be known.


One way to offer healing and recovery to this unnamed woman is to name the harm that’s been done.


She needs to be remembered and honored, as do all the other women who have experienced sexual violence.

The other part of the Good News comes from this-


Though today’s story features the breaking apart of a female body through shameful acts, in which her reproductive system is violated for sinful human purposes,


there is another biblical story that tells a different narrative, with a different outcome.


For in the Gospel of Luke, we hear “He has brought down the powerful from their throne, and lifted up the lowly.”


These words sound like the words of a mighty warrior, one who understands what God is really about.


These are the words of Mary that she boldly speaks when visiting her cousin with a belly blossoming with birth.


Like the concubine, Mary had an experience via her body, but unlike the concubine, her body is not broken, but treated as sacred and holy. 


Her womb is honored to become the means through which the shame of sin is defeated. 


The concubine’s body is dishonored to tear apart the nation of Israel.


But Mary’s body is used to bring the nation of Israel back together; and not just Israel, but the entire world.


Once again we witness how radical our faith is and what a life lived in Christ is about.


God so loved us that God would enter into our humanity the exact same way we do, and that God would do so through the sacredness and the life-giving force of the female body.


Jesus could have come to us fully grown; he could have arisen from the sea, or appeared from a pod.


But that’s not what happened.


Emmanuel, God With Us, came to us via the vessel of the Sacred Feminine, forever honoring the role of the MOTHER and all women in our lives.


The fact that Christianity has strayed from this reality is one of our greatest sins. 


The fact that we have not always honored and respected the lives of women is cause for great weeping.


Today, let us leave this sacred time and space aware that although one woman ran away to Bethlehem and had her life destroyed, another woman made her way to Bethlehem and made ALL of our lives enriched.


As followers of Jesus, the child born from her body, may we each do our part to soothe the weeping of the world.


To show compassion and passion.  To stop sleeping through the pain and suffering of the innocents.


In Christ, no one should feel far from home, go hungry, and live in danger.


Our daughters, our wives, our sisters, and our friends all deserve to be safe.


Amen and amen.