Saturday, December 26, 2020

We Are Anna, Members of the Tribe of Happiness; Sermon on Luke 2:21-22 and 36-40


Rev. George Miller

Dec 27, 2020

Luke 2:21-22 and 36-40


When you read the 4 Gospels, you are experiencing Jesus from 4 vastly different people living through 4 vastly different times.


Mark is writing during a time of national crises.  He writes quick, to the point. He doesn’t have the time to focus on things like wise men and angels.


Matthew is writing during the church’s formation, so he’s focused on what Jesus means to those who minister and worship together.


John is like a university professor, using poetic, big words that no one understands, with no interest in mundane things like childbirth.


But Luke?  Luke writes with the luxury.  Luke is fascinated with meals, miracles, the prayer life of Jesus and how he interacts with women.


Luke takes time telling us about many events surrounding the birth of Jesus.


Whereas Mark is unsure if his community will live to see another day, Luke is writing with the confidence of someone who believes in tomorrow.


Because of this, Luke is able to make references to the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith, such as today’s story of the baby Jesus being presented in the Temple.


Mary has birthed to her son.  Like a faithful Jew, she has him circumcised 8 days later, then six weeks later she presents him in the Temple.


Because Mary is poor, she is only able to afford the 2 pigeons as an offering instead of the customary lamb the rich and well-off can give.


But her lack of wealth does not make Mary or her son any less worthy.


While in the Temple, 2 Elders of Distinction come up to acknowledge that her newborn is the Messiah.


There is Simeon who waited his whole life for such a day.


Then there is Anna, an elderly mother of the Temple who has devoted her whole life to worship and praise.


She not only celebrates God, but she tells all those she meets that redemption has come to the people.  At 84 Anna becomes one of the first evangelists.


Who is this Anna?


Interestingly, the “Johns” of today’s theological world don’t spend much time talking about her.  After all, she’s just a woman and not a Shakespearean sonnet to be dissected.


But Luke gives us rich information, empowering us to realize just how awesome Anna is.


Anna is the daughter of Phanuel, a member of the tribe of Asher.


Big deal, you may say.  I don’t know them.  But the author of Luke did, as did the audience of his day.


Phanuel means “The Face Of God.”


In Jewish tradition, Phanuel is also the name of one of the 4 angels said to stand before God.


Phanuel is the angel over repentance; Phanuel is the hope for those who inherit salvation.


So…Anna is the daughter of a man who’s named after the angel of repentance, hope and salvation, who’s name means “Face of God.”


No wonder Anna had the privilege of seeing Jesus and recognizing that who she’s seeing is the One who will bring redemption to the people.


Now, Anna was part of the tribe of Asher.  Who’s he?


Asher was the son of Jacob, born to Zilpah, the maidservant of Leah.  When Asher was born, Leah said “Happy am I, for daughters will call me happy.”


Asher literally means “Happy.”


Anna is therefore a member of the Tribe of Happy.


Imagine how happy Anna must have been when she saw the baby Jesus with her own eyes.


But there’s more.


Asher was blessed by his father that his bread shall be fat and he shall have delicious treats.


The tribe of Asher was given land on the west coast of Israel, where the nahalah was the most fertile of soil.


Asher’s land had high rain, rich pastures, prosperous orchards.


The Tribe of Asher was known for their olive oil and became suppliers of  the oil used in Temple ceremonies.


In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses says “Most blessed be Asher, may he be the favorite of brothers and may he dip his foot in oil.” (33:24)


Which means that not only is Anna the daughter of The Face of God, and the descendant of Happiness, she belongs to the most blessed tribe responsible for the Temple oil.


Now…. can you see just awesome Anna really is?


That Anna, the descendant of happiness, blessedness, and anointing would set her eyes upon Jesus, praise God and tell all she knew about Jesus!


But there’s more.  Because Asher’s mother was a servant, there’s a chance she was not an Israelite; she was a different ethnicity.


Which means Asher and his family were mixed, with biological lineage tied to someone who was once a slave.


Second, the tribe of Asher was one of the 10 northern tribes that fell victim to the Assyrian invasion, splitting them off from the southern tribes in Judah.


Asher was considered one of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”


So now, we have a better understanding of who Anna is, which means we have a better understanding of how special her encounter with the baby Jesus is.


She is a descendant of Sarah, who was once barren.  She is the descendant of Zilpah, who was a slave.


She is descended from “Happiness”, a child of mixed heritage who was called most blessed of all.


She comes from people who lived on the most fertile of nahalah, providing oil for the worship of God.


She is a member of a tribe that was once considered lost, the victims of enemy attack.


She is the daughter of a man named “The Face of God.”


This isn’t just the story of an old widow who sees Jesus and praises his name.


This is the story of a survivor.


This is the story of someone who shouldn’t have been born, of someone who was different from others.


This is the story of someone who’s ancestors experienced both great blessings and great tragedies.


This is the story of a woman born out of the hope of repentance and salvation.


Anna is basically the entire Biblical narrative condensed into one person.


Therefor, Anna is all us of us.


Anna may have a lot of space in today’s story; that’s because Anna IS the story.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to have loved and to lost.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to be alone, but not feel lonely.


Anna is anyone who is different.


Anna is anyone who has come across hard, unexpected times.


Anna is anyone who dares to bare the promise that there is still hope, there is still happiness.


Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to wait…and wait…and wait some more.


Anna is YOU; Anna is I; Anna is US.


So today, though we are not in this sanctuary together in person, we are together in Spirit.


Standing beside, standing with the amazing Anna, looking upon the newborn King, praising God that Jesus is born and that Jesus is in our life.


Like Anna, we are the children of Blessedness, we are the Children of Happiness, we are the children of fertile ground.


Which means we are all Children of Possibility.


As such, we know that in Jesus, we have seen The Face of God.


For that, we can say “Amen.”

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The God Of Birth; Sermon on Luke 1:26-38


Rev. George Miller

Dec 20, 2020

Luke 1:26-38


Today we have so much chaos,


-COVID 19 taking the life of 18 county citizens.


-Christians vandalizing Historic Black Churches in DC.


-Stimulus checks- are we getting them?


So it’s nice to come to this beloved story, setting the stage for the birth of Christ.


We all know the story-

An angel,

A girl,

A proclamation,

A promised child.


And this bold, brave woman saying “Here I am- let it be.”


“Let it be.” 


Theologian Thomas Moore considers these to be the 3 most important words in the Gospels- Let It Be.


As Thomas Moore states- As we enter our destiny, Mary is our example.


Here I am!

Let it be!


One is a declaration of existence.

One is a statement of acceptance.


Both are statements of birth, beginnings and boldly welcoming the new.


Isn’t it beautiful that as the community mourns of what can’t be, we believe in a God who continually points us to what can be?


In re-reading today’s text, we notice a few things.


Look- how many names are mentioned-

Mary, Elizabeth, Gabriel, Joseph, David, Jesus, Jacob.


Look closer- who is mentioned the most after God?  It’s Mary.


At a time when women’s names were rarely mentioned, Mary is named again and again, the focus of God’s attention.


Look even closer- for a story about new beginnings, there is so much emphasis on the ancestors and elders- David, Jacob and Elizabeth.


Why does this matter?


One- it reminds us of how the story we celebrate today is a story rooted wayyy back in the beginning.


There’s something else, a common thread woven through- birth and becoming. 


Elizabeth- the empty womb that becomes full of life.


Jacob, the grandchild of Sarah who was said to be barren.


David, who becomes the greatest of all the Kings.


Looking at it this way, we begin to see a thread continue through it all- that our Lord is a God of Birth, not mainly war, wine, money or sex.


It makes sense: the first story in the Bible is about Creation- which is a birth story.


Sarah, Rachel, Hannah- all birth stories.


Exodus- the birth of God’s people.


Moses receiving the commandments- a birth of ethics and way to be.


Jonah, expelled from the belly of the fish; Daniel emerging from a lion den- a different kind of birth story.


Why birth?  Why not war or wine or money or sex?


Perhaps it is because there is so much power in birth.


Birth represents life, but more than life, it represents hope, glory, love, grace.


While death may seem to have the final word, death cannot exist until there is first a birth. 


There must first be life in order for there to be death.


Which means that in today’s story, in this Christmas tale that refers to patriarchs and kings, it is Mary who is most powerful of all.


To Mary the words of birth are uttered to her ear, and the promise of life hovers over her womb.


The God of Mercy is ready to birth, again. 

-A birth to redeem creation.

-A birth to make the captives free.

-A birth to make the ancestors sing.


A birth that brings justice, kindness, and ethics together.  A birth that will bless all the world.


So while we struggle through COVID, Christians desecrating Christian Churches, and unsure about stimulus checks we can be sure about this-


God is ready to do a brand-new thing.  God is ready to bring forth life.


God is ready to hear each and every one of us say “Here I am- let it be.”


For that we can say “Amen.”

Sunday, December 13, 2020

From Coffee Grounds to Honeybees; Sermon on Isaiah 61:1-11


Rev. George Miller

Dec 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-11


Eggshells, coffee grounds, and orange peels- put them together and you get butterflies and honeybees.


Since September we’ve explored our faith through various lenses- the female perspective, the mercy perspective, and the land.


As mentioned before, scripture refers to the land as God’s nahalah- a beautiful inheritance that the Lord bestows upon the people.


We’ve witnessed that when the people of God do right by the Lord, the nahalah flourishes.  When the people forget and choose not to honor their covenant with God, the nahalah suffers.


Millenia before talks of climate change, the disappearance of honeybees and Michigan’s water crisis,


our spiritual ancestors showed us how God, humans, animals, and soil are all interconnected.


It makes sense.  The people of the Bible were intrinsically tied to the land as farmers, herders, nomads, travelers.


So much of scriptures refers to the land; so much of Jesus’ teachings use the land to teach us about God’s kingdom- mustard seeds that turn into mighty shrubs, sowers who toss seeds extravagantly, precious jewels found in fields of green.


So it makes sense that Isaiah would take his turn in talking about the land. 


He talks about oaks of righteousness, tilling soil, dressing vines, shoots, and gardens.


Isaiah was attached to the land.  The Israelites were attached to the land.  Jesus was attached to the land.


Even today, the Creator has blessed us with nahalah of every kind.


For some it is the property we live on.  For some it’s the flowers, vegetables and fruits we grow in flowerpots.


For some it’s the kitty cats, the dogs, the fish in tanks we care for.


Each of us have some kind of nahalah we have been entrusted with.


Yet, we are not as attached to the land the way our grandparents were.


We’re more often purchasing carrots than pulling them from the ground.


We’re more often buying orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin C then going into our backyard and squeezing the juice ourselves.


I’m guilty of this.  When living on Dinner Lake there was every kind of citrus tree, but because the lemons, oranges, grapefruits did not look like the ones in the store, I did not eat them.


Now, I’ve been a homeowner for the past five years, and if there’s one thing COVID did was get me out of the house and into the soil.


It’s hypocritical to preach about God’s nahalah while not tending to your own.


Over the months I noticed that with less traffic there’s more butterflies and bees.


One day I answered the call to do my part and create for them a place to fly.


The west side of my house had been a sorry state of scraggly weeds.  Setting vanity aside, I got down in the dirt and tore up what was barely there.


I laid down a mixture of cow manure, topsoil, and compost made from eggshells, coffee grounds, and orange rinds. 


Sprinkled a bag of wildflower seeds; watered each day.


Within just a few days, seedlings.  Some grew into stalks. Some stalks sprouted blooms.


Soon the pollinators came- butterflies, bees.


Not much longer after a spider set up shop, followed by 2, 3, 4, 5 spiders all weaving webs.


Where there had been nothing but straw-like weeds that pricked the bottom of the feet, were flowers the color of orange, maroon, pink, and purple.


Where once there were only lizards and frogs were now flitting wings, intricate webs, and life on all levels from soil to sky.


What’s amazed me is the science of it all.  In school they taught us how things grow, how waste creates life.


But to this day I still can’t wrap my head around how manure, coffee grounds, eggshells, dirt, water, and sun can create such vibrant life.


But it does, especially if we do our part, especially if we reuse, recycle, if we know when to step aside, when to tend, when to pluck, when to plant, when to weed, when to sow.


Isaiah so beautifully talks about all of this, and places it into the story of faith.


Faith that involves things that come to end; faith that involves things coming to a new beginning. 


Faith that binds so that faith can release.


Faith that can take what’s been ruined and use it to restore.


So often we in America worry about things that end, or that which has been destroyed.


So we need to be reminded again and again that our faith is often, and nearly always, about how God can take what seems chaotic and broken and turn it into extravagance and healthy healing.


Think about it- God takes the dark nothing of an empty void and brings forth sun, moon, stars, woman, man.


God hears the cries of a broken people and leads them across Red Sea waters into honey flowing land.


God takes the empty wombs of our mothers and brings forth dynasties, priests, and prophets.


God takes fathers from bellies of fish and dens of lions and uses them to preach the Good News and bring salvation.


God takes an unmarried woman in a compromising position and gives her a child that will bless the world.


God takes a cross and a body full of nail wounds and turns it into resurrection and healing hands.


Just as the land requires breaking down to be built up, just as from compost and coffee grounds comes butterflies and spider webs,


The Lord takes whatever we are going through, whatever we are facing,


And bring forth purpose, bring forth life, and bring forth light…


Hold on, oh people of Emmanuel.


Though we mourn now, though are lives seem to be nothing but ash,


Once again the Lod will raise us up.  Once more the ruins will be repaired.


Once more we will become mighty oaks of righteousness grown in the soil of our tribulations, watered by our tears.


Tended to by the Living Hands of Christ and refreshed by the Holy Spirit.


Of this we have faith. In this we have hope.  In this we find peace and love.


Amen and amen.