Texts:  Luke 23:13-25, Acts 5:29-30

Speaker: Joel Miller

In 1999 Time Magazine named its top choices for different categories of the 20th century.  The person of the century, according to Time was…Albert Einstein.  The most prominent scientist in a century where science was prominent.

In a slightly less consequential category: The best TV show of the century went to The Simpsons.  Best film: Citizen Kane.  Children’s book: Charlotte’s Web, by EB White.  Best comedy routine: “Who’s on first?” by Abbot and Costello.

Best poem of the 20th century: The Wasteland by TS Elliot.  Best Album: Bob Marley’s Exodus.

Time Magazine also selected what it considered to be the song of the century.  It was first recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday – A song the BBC suggested might be the most shocking song of all time.  “Strange Fruit,” that’s the song.  These are the lyrics:

Southern trees bearing strange fruit 
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, clean...

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-20; 2:1-5

Speaker: Joel Miller



The image behind me and on your bulletins is a stained glass window in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  That’s the church that was bombed in 1963.  It was a Sunday morning in September, and there were about 200 people in the building when the bomb exploded.  Four black girls were killed.  Addie Mae Collins, age 14. Cynthia Wesley, age 14. Carole Robertson, age 14.  Denise McNair, age 11.

The stained glass window was a gift from a Welsh artist.  He was so moved by the tragedy that he raised money throughout Wales – especially inviting children to donate – in order to create this window as a permanent installation in the church.  It was one of the first public depictions of a black Christ in the deep South.

One of its messages is told in the positioning of the hands.  The left hand is held open, a sign of openness, of welcome, of surrender to the will of God.  The right hand is held up as if holding off the very forces of evil themselves.  A...

Texts: Matthew 17:1-13, 2 Peter 1:16-19

Speaker: Joel Miller

Soon after his 27th birthday, a minister in Alabama faced the most fearful day of his young life.  He received a phone call around midnight.  The person on the other line threatened to bomb his house if he didn’t leave town in the next three days.  Also in the house were the minister’s wife and their baby daughter.

Less than two months prior he had been selected to lead the first ever large-scale demonstration against racial segregation in the US.  A fellow leader later reflected that the advantage of choosing him as leader was that he was so new to the city and this kind of struggle that he “hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies.”

But now he had made enemies, and he knew that the threat against him and his family was real.

After hanging up the phone he was overcome with fear.  He couldn’t sleep.  He got up from his bed and went to the kitchen.   He prayed out loud: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right…But Lord I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faulting, I’m...

Text: Isaiah 58:1-12; Mathew 5:13-20

Speaker: Joel Miller

In Isaiah chapter 58, the prophet is in full prophet mode, dialed up to 10.  It begins as if the Lord is giving Isaiah a bit of a pep talk, a locker room huddle of sorts before the prophet steps out and does his prophetic thing.  “Shout out loud, do not hold back!  Lift your voice life a shofar!  Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

And this is what Isaiah does.

As the prophets before and after him did, Isaiah directs his outcry not against those outside the community – enemy armies, foreigners, immigrants, but on the moral and spiritual condition of those inside the community – his own people.

Walter Brueggemann has taught that the role of the prophet is to criticize the status quo, and then energize toward a new, life affirming future.  Criticize and energize.  We can imagine those as the final words of every pep talk every prophet ever got from the Lord.

Isaiah focuses his shout-like-a-shofar message on the practice of fasting.  How the people were abusing this religious practice – abusing each other while engaging in this practice.  How...

Text: Genesis 11:1-9

Speaker: Joel Miller

We humans have a long history of migration and settlement.  If you want to go way back, there’s evidence human species have been wandering across continents and over waters for at least two million years.  More recently, a mere 70,000 years ago or thereabouts, migration out of Africa eventually led to a dispersal of modern humans just about everywhere we can survive.  As groups migrated, settled, and migrated again, they formed unique cultures and languages, sometimes developing in isolation, sometimes intermingling with near and even far away peoples.  Then, about 500 years ago, as anthropologist Adam Kuper writes, “the history of human population began to come together again into a single process, for the first time since the origin of modern humans.” (1) We have called this “globalization.”

That’s a rough outline of how we currently tell the story of how the world got to be the way it is today.  It’s now an interconnected world where you can eat McDonalds in Egypt, where Japanese cars are made in central Ohio, where you can click a button and have an item made by Chinese workers delivered to your doorstep the next day.  A world...