Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Letter to the Editor; Sept 21, 2020 (not published)

 Note- this letter was sent to Highlands News-Sun on Sept 21, 2020, but was not run by the paper

This letter is written with concern regarding Lake Placid Chief of Police, James Fansler. Over the years he has posted troublesome comments on Facebook. For example, he once posted a cartoon that referred to Mexicans as "Spic and Span." Another time he made light of BLM with a column titled "All Laughs Matter."  Recently, on June 1 he shared a video regarding rumored riots.  At the 5:32 mark he stated "...if there is something that I believe that you need to be aware of for the concern of this community, you know full well that I'll make you fully aware of it immediately so that you can be well prepared to help me, and I know there are several of you who are well prepared to jump in your vehicles at the beck and call and will be here immediately."  This sounds as if Chief Fansler is advocating vigilantism. On a July 3 thread regarding rioters, he told someone "Run them SOB's over and get somewhere safe."  September 1 he commended a man who hit Canadian Gay Pride celebrators with a skillet, posting "The distinct sound of cast iron pwang on 2 knuckleheads skull housing...sounds darn near the same as a plunk on the Freedom Bell." September 8 he posted "Support for Kyle Rittenhouse...There's a little (devil emoji) in me I guess."  The next day he posted a Kyle Rittenhouse emoji brandishing a weapon.  When questioned about this by a concerned mother of the community, Chief Fansler shamed her and justified the teen's illegal violent actions.  On September 15 he posted a transphobic comment about a woman running for sheriff.  These public posts are worrisome, giving the impression that it may not be safe for certain individuals to travel through Lake Placid.  Perhaps the city should look into this matter before anything happens to one of our citizens or visitors. If Chief Fansler's online behavior is not evaluated, and something hurtful happens, there is more than enough evidence via his Facebook page for someone to sue the city, and win a large, hefty sum.  In respect, Rev. George Miller

Sunday, September 27, 2020

God's Beautiful Nahalah; Sermon On Genesis 37:3-8


Rev. George Miller

Sept 27, 2020

Genesis 37:3-8


Here now these words from the prophet Jeremiah-


“How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?

For the wickedness of those who

live in it, the animals and birds

are swept away…” (12:4)


Last week we began a new journey through the Narrative Lectionary by beginning with the creation.


We discussed the claim in Genesis 1 that we are made in the image of God.  We discussed our call to have dominion over the land, sea, and sky.


Dominion, from a UCC perspective, means that we are called to care for creation, mindful of how we treat our natural resources and interact with the environment.


The Old Testament writers make it clear that both God and we have an intimate connection with the land.


The Hebrew word for soil is adamah, and it is out of the adamah that God dips God’s hand to lovingly create us.


From adamah comes Adam.


From a biblical perspective we are not only created from the earth, but the land is God’s nahalah, 


Nahalah is the word for inheritance.  It means allotted portion.


Nahalah indicates closeness, intimacy, ownership.  Nahalah means belonging to in the most beautiful of ways.


For example, after the Hebrews are freed from slavery and led across the Red Sea, Miriam sings to the Lord-


“You…planted them on the mountains of your own nahalah, the place, oh God, that you made your home.” (Exodus 15:17)


The land is the Lord’s, but God is more than happy to share it with us, to say “Look at what I made for you.”


Sadly though, humans polluted God’s beautiful nahalah in many ways.


According to Jeremiah there are 3 ways in which we pollute God’s nahalah.


There is the religious way.  The shrines constructed that worship false gods; the idols we put up that we give more care to then we are willing to show God.


Another form of pollution is injustice.  The landowners who over charge rent, the widows and orphans who are evicted.  Businesses who make it so farmers who cannot afford supplies.


A 3rd biblical form of pollution is political- when leaders partner with foreign powers who seek to enslave, dominate, and pull us away from basic principles.


There is another form of pollution that God’s nahalah experiences- relational sin; the harmful ways we treat each other.


We first witness this in Genesis 4 when Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy.


As scripture tells us, Abel’s blood pours out upon the soil, forcing the earth to swallow it.  Abel’s blood cries out from the ground, and as a result Cain is driven away from the land and the soil becomes difficult to till.


Another form of relational pollution is in today’s story, the continuing saga of Rachel and Jacob’s family.


Remember Rachel and Jacob? 


How Jacob tricked his brother?  How Jacob’s uncle tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter?  How Rachel tricked her dad by sitting on his belongings?


Well, the family trickery continues.


Jacob is living in the land of Canaan.  He has 12 sons from 4 different women.  Joseph, who he had with Rachel, is his favorite. 


Jacob doesn’t even try to hide it. 


He gives Joseph a fancy robe with long sleeves, allowing Joseph to relax while everyone else labors.  He uses Joseph as a spy, having him check on his brothers to make sure they’re working in the field.


As you can imagine, this angers his siblings, so much so, they come up with a plan- let’s kill the dreamer and tell dad that a wild animal ate him.


They strip him of his robe, throw him into a well, sell him into slavery, kill a goat, smear it’s blood upon his coat, and lie to their father about their Joseph’s fate.


God’s nahalah is abused and polluted due this family’s sins.


By placing Joseph’s body into a well designed for drinking, they make it so the well is unclean, and no longer a source of pure, clean water.


By selling him into slavery, they rip him away from the beautiful nahalah he was used to and was a part of.


Third, an innocent animal is killed, not for food, shelter, or clothes, but for no other reason than to present a lie.


The water, the land, the animal are all affected by this family’s dysfunction.  It’s no surprise when a famine hits the land and the family is forced to fight for their survival.


God’s nahalah.  God’s heritage.  Such an important part of our faith.


So much so that in Roman’s 8 Paul writes to the early church-


“Creation waits with eager longing, for creation has been subjected to futility…


Creation has been waiting with hope that it will be set free from its bondage and will be given the freedom of glory…” (8:18-21)


Let that soak in and surround you.


God’s creation, God’s inheritance, God’s nahalah has been waiting.


Waiting with anticipation.  Waiting with expectation.  Waiting with hope.


Waiting for us to be mindful of our politics.  How we interact with other nations, who we pledge allegiance too.


Waiting for us to embrace justice.  Letting farmers have a fair fight.  Allowing orphans and widows to have a place to call home.


Waiting for us to drop the false idols of the world and turn back to God.


Waiting for us to restore relationships, mindful of how we treat one another.


In Genesis God creates the earth and forms us from the adamah.


God grants us dominion over the nahalah asking that we care for the earth, the sky, the sea.


Yet Cain kills Abel, Joseph’s brothers bring him harm and not just the family suffers, but so does the land.


Human sin hurts the land just as much as it hurts us, just as it hurts God.


But because of Jesus, and the lessons he teaches us, the lessons we continue to learn, we are following a different road map, a different way.


Abel and Joseph suffered at the hands of their siblings, but in Christ we are learning a new path.


In Christ we are discovering that we are truly all brothers, even if we come from different mothers.


In Christ we discover that we are all truly sisters, even if we come from different misters.


As we continue to follow the ways of Christ, the ways of prophets, the more we do justice, the more we do kindness, the more we walk humbly, the less the earth suffers.


The more we embrace our proper dominion, the less the earth cries out.


The more we become care takers of Creation, the more God’s beautiful nahalah rejoices and grows in hope.


For that we can say “Amen.”


Note: today’s message would have been impossible without Norman C. Habel’s The Land Is Mine- Six Biblical Land Ideologies (1995), especially chapter 5 “Land as YHWH’s Personal nahalah: A Prophetic Prophecy”

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dominion As A Place to Care, Not to Slash and Burn; Sermon on Genesis 1:28-28, 15:1-6


Rev. George Miller

Sept 20, 2020

Genesis 1:26-28, 15:1-6


How many people do this- you check into a hotel. It’s absolutely beautiful outside.  You’re on vacation.


But…you can’t really relax until you unpack everything and put them in their “proper” place.


No matter how blue the water looks, no matter how much the sun shines, no matter how much you want crab legs,


you just can’t fully relax until your shoes are here, your suitcase is there, the bathroom counter has all your products neatly in a row.


Underwear, t-shirts, pajamas in their proper location.  A place for your keys, a place for your change, a place for the paper that sits at your door, and your most intimate items placed in the drawer that holds the Gideon Bible.


How many will tidy up their room before the cleaning person comes in?


Or, upon check out, you place your used towels in the tub, give everything a quick wipe, and proceed to leave the housekeeper a nice tip.


If you do any of these things while staying in a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn, know that you are not alone.


If you don’t do these things…well I guess you’re not an A-Type Personality with a hint of OCD and ADHD.


But for my sisters and brothers who travel this way, I say “Bravo!”  because you are doing something that is no natural, and so elementary- you are claiming your dominion.


You are saying “This spot has been granted to me for as long as I am here, so I will do my best to care for it and make it feel like home.”


This is such a natural part of being alive. Dogs do it when they go around and around before they lay down; cats when they sit in your lap; fish in tanks who hide in the crooks and crevices.


Scripture is well aware of this.  Psalm 104 celebrates how the birds make their home in trees, goats have the high mountains, and rocks are a refuge for the tiny critters.


The idea of having a home, a place to be, a piece of earth to take care of is so elemental in the Bible, so crucial in the Old Testament.  It is one of the first themes we find in the first chapter of the first book.


He we are, beginning a new cycle of the Narrative Lectionary and we have come across this creation story.


In this account, God creates humankind in God’s image.  God creates us with a task to do- to have dominion over creation- the creatures of the sea, air, and land.  To subdue the earth.


Of course, these instructions have caused some confusion.  What does it mean to have dominion?  What does it mean to subdue?


Does dominion mean you are a tyrant who gets to chop, crush, burn and consume everything until it is gone?


Or does dominion mean to be a leader and protector who is compassionate, doing your part to keep things in check, collaborate, and be a part of the whole?


When taking this scripture out of context, it is easy for people to use it to justify destruction and consumption.


But if we look at the entire biblical narrative, the teaching of the prophets, Jesus, Paul, it’s clear that dominion is about being called to care, share and be part of something bigger than you.


Dominion- a place to be. 


From Genesis 1 to Genesis 15 we jump to the Sarah and Abraham narrative. 


They are the ancestors of our faith, chosen by God to leave the past and move into the future in which they’re promised a child, and land.


It’s a story surrounded by difficulty, hinging on trust, always a step away from coming undone.


It lays the groundwork for what dominion means and how it matters. 


The idea that God wants us to have our own spot in which we play a part and make a difference.


This is a fraction of what is making COVID so difficult for people.  This trauma has made us more aware of the places and spaces that matter to us.


Sure, there is the place we live, that we have been quarantining away in. 


Then there’s those places we didn’t know that were such a part of us.


The ones that are easy to take for granted when you get to go there all the time, but when access becomes limited, you realize what those spaces mean.


For those who didn’t realize you had a favorite restaurant with your own favorite booth, until you could no longer go and sit and eat there.


For those who never gave a second thought about their workspace until they could no longer go to their cubicle.


You don’t realize how your office chair or desk is a place of dominion until you get to it at it after a long time away.


Think of the church building.  Some of us did not really realize how much this physical place means until we could no longer enter in; could no longer sit in our preferred chair in our preferred row, by our preferred co-worshippers.


Have we ever thought of the council room, the chapel, the narthex, the fellowship hall, this sanctuary, as a place in which we have dominion, in which God has entrusted us to care for and protect?


That when the Willing Workers cut the grass, trim the trees, plant in the Peace Garden, they are caring for the ground God has allotted us.




It can be a way to dominate or a way to live in which you are in sync and you celebrate life.


And there is a beauty about this- God’s call for us to have dominion and care for creation can happen anywhere.


If we are in a jail cell, like the Apostle Paul, we can still have dominion, deciding how to act and what to do.


In a nursing home, I witnessed a parishioner who could no longer speak or move, who created her own dominion by keeping a candy dish by her bed that she could offer her guests.


When you say goodbye to one home and move into a new dwelling, we find new ways to care.


You can downsize into a one-bedroom apartment and still have dominion, even if all you have is a flower in a pot, a cat in your lap, and a fish in a bowl to care for.


Even if your house is under contract, floors ripped up, appliances out of whack, you can still have a sense of dominion wherever you stay.


We are created in God’s image.  We are endowed with the duty to have dominion.  How that looks and what we do is up to us.


We can hold on, we can horde, we can destroy, and we can dominate.


Or we can use our dominion to share, to shape, to do what the prophet Micah calls us to do.


In closing, let us go to the image we have in Genesis 15.


Sarah and Abraham have done what God asked.  They have traveled.  They have been patient.  They have been waiting for Gods promise of child and land to come true.


When hope seems to be low, after they have fought battle after battle, we have this scene in which God appears to our ancestor.


God says “Do not be afraid; I am your shield.


Abraham, feeling incredibly old and very forlorn, says “Oh God, I continue in what seems to be nothing but utter hopelessness and I am really beginning to doubt you.”


In which God, as a compassionate, protective leader, takes Abraham outside, into God’s dominion, and says “Look to the heavens, count the stars.”


At a time when Abraham felt at his lowest, when it seemed like everything was foolishness and for naught, the King of the World took him out into the Kingdom and said “Look at what I have made and believe in what I am doing.”


And with that, Abraham, our ancestor believed, and with that his and Sarah’s journey continued.


This week, when we feel down, when we feel out, when we wonder if this will ever end, let us take a moment, be aware of the dominion we have been given, no matter how big, no matter how small, and look for the ways in which God can be made known.


Let us look for the ways in which Heaven is revealed.