Sunday, February 28, 2021

Doing the Best We Can With What We Know; Luke 13:1-5

 

Rev. George Miller

Feb 28, 2021

Luke 13:1-5

 

So Wednesday was my birthday, and I had the most unexpected experience- I woke up feeling…younger.

 

Not like a na├»ve or midlife-crisis younger, but more like “I got this and I’m where I want to be” younger.

 

For me, that’s an unusual experience.  So much of life has been about running away from reality, not accepting reality, wishing for a different reality, and feeling a rootless reality.

 

But Wednesday, it was a “I know who I am and I’m going to wear purple and a red hat if I want to” kind of reality.

 

What a great feeling.  Had no idea turning 51 can be so liberating.

 

Then, a random thought popped into my head.  I thought of my 20-something self, trying so hard to live right, living in a simple studio, going to the clubs all the time, hanging out with drag queens, actors, opera singers…

…and I said, out loud, “Go on, George. Enjoy yourself. Have fun.  That’s what your 20’s are for.”

 

It was so healing, because by saying that I came a step closer to accepting who I am, all I’ve done, and further releasing all those shoulda-coulda-woulda regrets that bog us down.

 

By speaking to my younger self, I felt my current self…refreshed.

 

It was an opportunity to realize my20-something self was simply, truthfully doing the best he could with what he knew, and the skill sets he had.

 

Can anyone else here relate?  Can you look back at your teens, 20s, 30s, even your 40s and say “Bless my heart, I had no idea what I was doing back then?”

 

What if that’s the main point of today’s scripture?

 

Today’s reading tends to give heartburn to many progressive preachers because Jesus comes across a bit cold and callous.

 

Us “We Are the World” type of pastors aren’t comfortable around words like “repent” and “perish”.

 

That’s because we don’t really understand what repent and perish mean.  We have sadly been shaped by the church of the middle-ages which used the concepts of sin, hell, and satan in ways that were not necessarily true to what Jesus may have meant.

 

Today we have mega-church entertainment centers that use repent as a means of fearmongering to create an us vs. them mentality that puts butts in the seats and cash in the plate.

 

What if, when Jesus talked about repent and perish, he meant it more akin to “You can always grow and change to experience a better quality of life”?

 

What if today’s scripture is not about avoiding hell, but embracing the ways of Heaven in the here and now?

 

1st let’s do some seminary-level work.

 

Although the word “sin” is not said here, it is hard for our modern ears not to subconsciously apply the “S” word to this story.

 

But what is sin?  What was the concept of sin back in Jesus’ day?

 

“Sin” is actually a sport term.  Sin was used in archery to refer to being “off the mark” and missing the bullseye.

 

In Golf Hammock terms, sin means not to get a hole-in-one.  That’s it.

 

In Katy Perry-Super Bowl 49 terms, sin is just a way of saying “Left Shark.”

 

Sin is a mistake. As theologian Thomas Moore states, sin is a “tragic mistake”.

 

We all make tragic mistakes, don’t we? 

 

We forget to fully close the fridge, we accidently turn left into traffic, we say something we mean as a compliment, but it’s taken as a criticism.

 

The issue is not that we have these tragic mistakes, but when we do them over and over again, never learning, choosing to never learn, or simply not caring about our consequences.

 

That’s where “perish” comes in.

 

Our modern ears hear “perish” and we think “hell.”  But most likely Jesus was being poetic and over-the-top dramatic (if you can imagine).

 

In Jesus’ day, life was all about relationships- being a part of, belonging, being “inside.”

 

No one is Jesus’ day wanted to be an outcast, no one wanted to be uninvited to the BBQ, no one wanted to be on the outside, looking in.

 

It was all about living together, dining together, worshipping together.

 

To be excluded, unwelcomed…that, that was perishing.

 

What Jesus is most likely saying is that life happens- buildings fall, corrupt leaders exist.

 

But much worse than that is when we get in our own way and our actions cause us to be excluded from being part of something bigger than ourselves.

 

To put this in happy, progressive words- Jesus is saying “Life is a gift, so do what you can to embrace it.”

 

How do we embrace God’s gift of life?

 

Repentance.

 

To repent means to turn back, to be open to change.  To grow; evolve.

 

That’s it.

 

No blood sacrifices needed.  No magic words.  No additional tax to pay.

 

To repent is to realize the path your taking may not be the best, so you are willing to be redirected.

 

To repent is like saying “OK God, I tried it my way, now I’m willing to listen to the wisdom of others and the wisdom of Jesus.”

 

Jesus does not want us excluded.  Jesus does not want anyone excluded.

 

Nor does Jesus find joy in seeing people cast out or not given an invite.

 

Jesus wants all of us to come in from the outside, to sit at the table, and to enjoy the banquet.

 

Jesus isn’t saying “In order to come in you need to completely change who you are.”

 

What Jesus is saying is “Come! Join us!  Be the best version of you that you can be!”

 

Isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t that great?

 

Doesn’t that make you feel young?

 

Sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters, we are home.

 

We are all doing the best we can with what we know.

 

We are the summation of our past, our family history and the times we are living in.

 

We don’t always hit the bullseye, we don’t always get a hole-in-one, and we don’t always get to be Right Shark.

 

But we do our best.

 

We get back up when we fall.

 

We put another arrow on the bow.  We put another golf-ball on the tee. 

 

Walking with Jesus empowers us to do over.  The Holy Spirit gives us the wind and fire to strive ahead.

 

God watches, listens, pleased each time we learn from our human mistakes and take another step towards Heaven’s Kingdom.

 

Amen and amen.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Welcoming Jesus Into Our Home; Luke 10:38-42

 

Rev. George Miller

Feb 21, 2021

Luke 10:38-42

 

Home.

 

In the words of Dorothy from The Wiz “When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing.”

 

Home.

 

Today’s story is a personal favorite, full of flavorful notes like a slowly cooked pot of soup, rich with spices, aromatics, and vegetables.

 

Playfully, I like to refer to this as “The M&M Story” in which Jesus is welcomed into the home of adult siblings, and we get to see their individual personalities and family dynamic at work.

 

There is a key phrase in the story that is so subtle, but oh so strong.

 

Verse 38 states Jesus “entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”

 

Did you hear that? If not, let us repeat it again- “a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”

 

Did you catch it this time?  Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. 

 

She invited him.  Freely beckoned him in.  Provided space for Jesus to be in her place, to experience his holiness.

 

“Big deal!” you may say.  But it is big deal.  This is the 1st time in Luke in which we are told of Jesus being welcomed into a home by a woman.

 

In chapter 4 Jesus enters Pete’s house, but we’re not told of an invitation.  Jesus enjoys a feast at Levi’s, but there’s no mention of an RVSP.

 

A Pharisee invites Jesus over, but judges him soon after.  Jairus invites Jesus in, but that’s to heal his daughter.

 

This is the first time we hear of Jesus being welcomed into the home of a woman, and as far as we know, she had no objective- no need of healing, not looking to be recruited.  She welcomed Jesus in.

 

That is so beautiful.  So revolutionary.

 

The M&M Sisters didn’t have to leave their cozy abode to experience Jesus.  They didn’t need to be at the shore, on a boat, atop a mountain, or in a large crowd pressing in on him.

 

The M & M Sisters simply experienced Jesus by extending an invitation into their home.

 

Wow.

 

Sisters, it is so good to have you back in the Holy Space.

 

Brothers, it is so pleasant to have you here in this Holy Time.

 

YOU have been missed.  These walls, this carpet, these windows, this altar have all missed you. 

 

It has not been the same worshipping without you.  As Psalm 132 says “How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony.”

 

It has been far too long since we’ve been together, and we pray to never, ever be apart again.

 

Before moving forward with worshipping God within these walls, it is good and proper for us to give thanks for how we have been worshipping these past 2 to 10 months.

 

Your home.

 

It’s been hard not having you here, but we invite you to take a moment to appreciate and give thanks for your home and how you were able to experience Jesus there.

 

Think about- just as Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, COVID has given us an opportunity to welcome Jesus into our home in a brand-new way.

 

Technology.

 

Through Facebook, YouTube, the website Ruthie so carefully curates, you have welcomed Jesus into your home anytime, in multiple ways- cell phone, laptop, PC.

 

And yes, many of you have always found ways to welcome Jesus in through prayer, self-study, morning reflection, etc.

 

But how many until COVID welcomed Jesus in via internet and social media?

 

And yes- the experience ain’t the same.  The sound quality isn’t always the best; worshipping alone is not like being side by side by side by side.

 

Yet, we got to worship, hear, experience and share Jesus even when we couldn’t be in the Temple, on the shore, or atop a mountain.

 

So today, we have a special moment- to give thanks for your home. 

 

We want you to take a moment, no matter if you are “here” or “there”, to genuinely think about and give thanks for the place in which you experienced Jesus even as the world is asunder.

 

Today, in the Spirit of the M&M Sisters, we give thanks, and we honor our home.

 

We give thanks to our homes for the walls that kept us safe and the ceiling that kept us dry.

 

We give thanks for the chair that provided support as we sat and are sitting upon to watch worship.

 

We give thanks for the faucets that have provided cool, refreshing water to drink anytime we were thirsty.

 

We give thanks for the internet that allowed us to still partake in the world.

 

We give thanks for the telephone that allowed us to call upon and stay in contact with dear, dear friends and family even when we could not see or touch them.

 

We give thanks for the plants that kept our inside spaces beautiful and the air clean.

 

We give thanks for the oven, stove, microwave, toaster over, refrigerator and freezer that kept us fed and nourished.

 

We give thanks for home delivery and take-out options for those times we just didn’t want to cook.

 

We are mindful that to have these things is a blessing.  We are aware that not everyone has the luxury of a home. 

 

We pray for those who are currently homeless and those living in places that don’t have immediate access to food, water, refrigeration, and electricity.

 

Perhaps most of all, we give thanks for our pets- the cats and dogs who took care of us, offering their loving presence, staying by our side when they sensed we were in need of comfort.

 

Sisters and Brothers, Brothers and Sister- is so very good and pleasant to be here in this sacred space right here, right now.

 

But let us not forget that Jesus has been with us the whole time in our homes.

 

Jesus is still with us in our homes.

 

For those who are be feeling untethered or without a foundation, Jesus is ready to be welcomed into your home at any moment, any time.

 

All we need to do is ask, invite, and open the doors…

 

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.

 

Jesus has been and is in our home too.

 

For that, we can say “Amen.”

Friday, February 26, 2021

Letter To The Editor, Feb 26 2021

In response to a recent letter, it was never because of policies or taxes that many of us did not vote for former-President Trump. It's because of his shameless use of hatred, fear, racism, misogyny, and homophobia to divide and attempt to conquer America.  Those who voted for Trump see themselves as heroic, patriotic Christians.

But in movie terms, this is how you were really seen- you would've been the ones who turned in the Von Trapp family in "The Sound Of Music," you would have been the ones cheering for Lex Luthor in "Superman," and you would have been the ones who surrounded Sophia in "The Color Purple."  And now we are left feeling that those who voted for Trump can't be trusted and are no longer safe to be around. We grieve for how one man was allowed to tear our nation apart. Sincerely, Rev. George Miller

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sleeping In The Safety of Jesus; Luke 9:28-36

 

Rev. George Miller

Feb 14, 2021

Luke 9:28-36

 

Shhh….the kids are asleep.

 

Isn’t that one of the most wonderful sentences in the English language?

 

Isn’t that one of the most beautiful sounds in the world?

 

Right up there with the sound of snowfall and coffee percolating in the morning.

 

The gentle, calming sounds of children breathing in, breathing out, gentle snores.

 

Still.  Soothing.

 

Like after a long day at the beach as they sleep in the back of the car.

 

The sound of Christmas morning while Mr. and Mrs. Clause put the finishing touches on gifts under the tree and stockings hung up with care.

 

Shhh….the kids are asleep.

 

Don’t disturb them.  Let them get their rest a little while longer…

 

Over the past few months, we’ve discussed the Hebrew word for mercy, which translates to “womb love.”

 

Womb love- an expression that’s maternal, parental, applying to anyone with a child in their life, that when they look upon them, it’s love.

 

A love that comes not just from the heart but from deep within, a connection that transcends space, time, highs, and valleys.

 

Womb Love is one way our ancestors described God’s love for us.

 

An eternal love that comes from birthing, creating.

 

The willingness to give everything you got for your children, even if it means your own life.

 

When a child sleeps in your presence it can mean many things.

 

Their body is growing so they need their rest.

 

They’re sad, so they’re sleeping as a means of escape.

 

Or it can mean that within your presence they feel safe.

 

For anyone who’s been with abused or traumatized children, you know that the biggest compliment they can give you is to fall asleep while in your presence.

 

For children who always have to be on, always alert, always have one eye open and one foot on the floor, ready to go, if they can fall asleep in your presence-you have earned their trust.

 

Trust is so beautiful.

 

Shhh….the kids are asleep.

 

In today’s scripture those kids are the very adult Peter, James, and John.

 

They are the children of God who are just 5 chapters into the Jesus experience.

 

Already they have seen a

-sermon from the shore

-a widow’s son raised.

 

They’ve witnessed

-a storm calmed at sea

-thousands upon thousands fed.

 

They’ve been here; they’ve been there.

 

Been to banquets and beachside resorts.

 

Encounters with evil; toe to toe in theological discussions.

 

Walked through fields ripe with life.

 

How invigorating.  How exciting.

How exhausting!

 

If a day at Disney can render the most rambunctious child kaput, image what a few days with Jesus will do.

 

So Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus, and as he prays, they fall asleep.

 

Their eyes flutter, their breathing slows, their bodies weighed down like a blanket.

 

In historic times like today, that sounds so nice.

 

To nap.

To rest.

To sleep perchance to dream.

 

Shhh….the kids are asleep.

 

Friends, after far too many months away, we are ready to welcome you back into this sanctuary of rest and worship.

 

Back to this place that God created, and you have maintained.

 

We have missed you.  We sense you miss us too.

 

We miss being all together in the presence of the Holy; miss being in this sacred time and space.

 

Yes- we know that God is everywhere and every time.

 

But we also know there’s something about being here, being now.

 

We can’t wait to welcome you back.

 

When you return, we hope you feel safe.  We hope you feel comfortable. 

 

We hope that you feel calm, you feel security, you can let go and to let God.

 

We cannot wait to share the glory of Jesus with you face to face.

 

We can’t wait to share the teaching and the preaching of the prophets like Moses and Elijah.

 

We can’t wait for you to find rest for the journey and recharge of your soul.

 

We can’t wait for all to share Jesus Christ, alpha and omega, once again.

 

Shhh….the kids are asleep.

 

But God is not.

 

Amen and amen.