Sermon: Not Alone (Pentecost)

…We are not alone, [and] we are called to live that reality out in meaningful ways. We are to bring the Good News to all. No one is alone: no matter who they are, what God they worship, what color their skin is, their politics, the size of their bank account, what language the speak, where they were born, how able their bodies or minds may be, what gender they identify with, and no matter whom they love. God loves us all unconditionally: no prerequisites, no expectations, no limits, and no end.

So, how do we live out the reality of this infinite Love of God when we can’t gather together in the ways that have been essential to the life of our church for so long?

Let us pray…  …   Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill us this morning.  Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive.  May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

As I read this morning’s scripture (Acts 2:1-19), I imagine the disciples huddled in that Upper Room.  They are no longer afraid, but Jesus’ last command is to remain there, to “shelter in place,” until they receive the promise of the Creator.  So they wait, separate from those who resumed their normal lives after the turmoil and death of that first Easter week.

I’m sure they mourned.  I’m sure they prayed and planned.  They must have wondered about Jesus’ promise and his commission to be witnesses there in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of all the earth.  How would this Great Commission be fulfilled?  They waited.

And there our church sits.  All of us are gone.  We’re waiting.  Only Pastor Tom is there this morning, all alone.  We have quarantined ourselves from our neighbors and friends.  But like the disciples, we know we must soon move on to something new.  

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I Slept Well Last Night: Reflections on My White Privilege

I slept well last night after having a peaceful, productive, day:

  • I puttered about in my vegetable and flower gardens.
  • I recorded a sermon for this coming Sunday’s Pentecost service, and conferred with our Church’s Senior Minister on some aspects of the process.
  • I did some research into what needs to be done for our church to re-open, and when that should happen.
  • I visited with my Mother, who lives nearby.
  • I went grocery shopping (a little frustrated because I can’t find my favorite Organic Fair Trade Instant Coffee anywhere).
  • Paid some bills.
  • I took delivery on a new lawn mower (to replace an ancient one that recently died).
  • I played with my son.
  • I made plans with my wife for tasks that need to be done in the next few days.
  • I did a fair amount of Facebooking.
  • And, at the end of the day, I spent some time watching Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” on streaming video.

In other words, I did nothing really unusual – at least not unusual for me in this time of the COVID-19 Shutdown.

Life continues – albeit at a slightly slower pace.

But consider the way the days and nights have gone recently for many of my friends, particularly Ministers, who are both Male and Black…

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Re-Opening the Economy: Loving Thy Neighbor

If the government dictates that we must close down the economy, then it is incumbent upon that same government to ensure that the people – ALL the people – can survive that shutdown, and have a reasonable hope of returning to fruitful and stable lives afterwards.

When I hear and read of these protests to end the COVID-19 Lockdown and re-open the Economy, what I mostly hear is fear: particularly the (well-founded) fear of losing one’s home and livelihood in the current economic shutdown.

I hear a desperate cry to return things back to the way they were, even though that is not possible. I hear the fear of people who do not have the resources they need to survive this plague for an indefinite period of time. I hear the fear of people who are grasping for hope. These protestors are yelling for “Freedom.” To me, it is clear what they mean is “Freedom From Fear”. But, they can only imagine that Freedom on their own terms: not within the context of being a member-of, and dependent upon, the society around them. They believe that Freedom from responsibility to their neighbor is the only way to survive.

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An Easter Pastoral Prayer

As Mary stood weeping in the dawning light, she looked into that dark and empty tomb one last time. And there she found new hope for herself – and for us – that no matter how hopeless the world may seem, that tomb is God’s promise that in each ending there is a new beginning, and new life.

Please join me in prayer.

O God on this Easter morning we are grieving our darkness and our losses before the Tomb of Jesus, as Mary did long ago.  Like her, all we see before us is emptiness.  We have run out of places where hope can be found for ourselves and for those whom we love.  We feel vulnerable and afraid in the darkness.

As Mary stood weeping in the dawning light, she looked into that dark and empty tomb one last time.  And there she found new hope for herself – and for us – that no matter how hopeless the world may seem, that tomb is God’s promise that in each ending there is a new beginning, and new life.  A promise that God will never forget us.  A promise that God’s hope is, and always will be, living within us, and will never die.

O God, you are with us in the midst of every one of the fears and tribulations we face in the present: job loss, illness, isolation, hunger, abuse, uncertainty, and the loss of loved ones.  You are The Answer.  Help us O God to live as you desire us to live, with hope, and proclaiming this knowledge, this certainty that you are here: working in and through us, and that not even death can stop your Word, or prevent us from finding new life, joy and peace through your Grace.  

Lord, we lift up the many challenges that we, those close to us, and all of our fellow human beings face right now: pandemic and disease, recession, wars of many types and in many places; bigotry; injustice; natural and manmade disasters; poverty; the corruptive effects of concentrated wealth and power; and our own failure to care for this world and our neighbors as you intend us to do. 

We lift up our congregation.  Together may we, united in Christ, prayerfully and faithfully meet the needs that you have shown to us.  May we clearly hear and respond to your Word and your call for us as a whole, and for each of us individually.  Help us to always minister to others, to live, and to walk, in your love and grace.

Let us take a moment to lift up those who need our support through prayer this morning, and to lift up those needs that we ourselves have not shared, have left unspoken; or perhaps of which we cannot yet speak…

And now Lord, we join together to recite the prayer you taught us so long ago, saying…  (trespasses)

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 


Delivered at Memorial Congregational Church UCC in Sudbury MA, April 12, 2020 (Easter Sunday).

Source scripture, John 20:1-18.

Copyright (c) 2020, Allen Vander Meulen III.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Gaudete Sunday: A Prayer of Hope

The coming week ends with the shortest and darkest day of the year.  It is a time of darkness, doubt, and fear.  And yet, this is also Gaudete Sunday.  

Gaudete is a Latin word meaning “Rejoice.” But, it’s actually worse than that: the Latin is in the Imperative, so it means “You shall Rejoice!”  

This Sunday is not just about rejoicing for what is good in our lives.  We are commanded to rejoice, no matter what.  

With that in mind, please join with me in a spirit of prayer… 

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Might Makes Right (Or, What Are We Teaching Them?)

Some of my friends and family who are only slightly older than me well-remember the “Duck and Cover” drills that schools conducted in the 1950’s and early 60’s, at the height of the Cold War. What they mostly remember when they talk of those drills is the fear, the feeling of helplessness, the terror that some bogeyman (in that case named “The USSR” or “The Communists” was going to use to press a button or turn a key that would cause a terrible and evil weapon (Nuclear Bombs) to take everything away: their homes, their school, their friends, their lives. Nuclear Bombs. The ultimate weapon of terror.

And so, what were we kids being taught in these drills so long ago?

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About the Billy Graham Rule

The Gospel is very clear and very explicit on this: It is we who must change to include others. They are not called to conform themselves to our standards.

There’s been quite a furor in the news recently (as noted in this link to a column on CNN) about two lawmakers in Mississippi who are invoking what they call “The Billy Graham Rule.” They are using it to shut women out of the political process in ways that are what I’d term antediluvian: resorting to tropes and portrayals of women that we know to have never been respectful, let alone accurate, and which have the effect of oppressing and excluding women from public life; keeping them under the control of men; and treating them more as property than as persons worthy of respect in their own right.

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What is a Demon?

There is a reason why we say that those who are unfairly labelled are “Demonized…”

Let us pray…  …  Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill this place.  Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive. May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

This morning’s reading about the tormented Gerasene, a Gentile, is the second in an arc of three stories in Luke.  In the first story Jesus calms the waters: showing he is Master over Storms and Nature.  In the last story, Luke tells us of the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter, showing that Jesus is Master over Sickness and Death.

In this, the second story, Jesus is Master of Demons.  But, what are these demons?  Are they real? Or, are they a metaphor for something else?

In this story, the man is seen with no clothes, no home, not even his own will.  He is unclean by every measure of judging “uncleanness” the audience knows of. He doesn’t have any community or friends.  He’s alone, in a sort of living death, as outcast as any outcast can be.

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There But For The Grace of God Go I

Florida Governor Ralph Northam in Blackface,  1984There’s been quite an outcry against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), just as there was a couple of weeks ago against Florida’s Secretary of State to be, Michael Ertel (R). In both cases, both men – and both quite a few years ago – did some things that were at best ill-advised and insensitive at the time, and which are now seen (rightly) as very racist.
Both are examples of judgment being levied before the facts are known, just as we recently saw happen in the encounter of Covington Catholic High School Students with Native American activist Nathan Philips in Washington DC.
In looking closely at the careers of Governor Northam and Mr. Ertel, we see men who are very focused on a just and fair political system for everyone. We see men who have been taking principled stands against those who would undermine our political systems in the name of power and advantage.

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An Epiphany Prayer

 

A Prayer of Invocation that begins with a poem by written by Madeleine L’Engle in 1973, entitled “The Risk of Birth.”

Lord God,

“The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

O God, you have invited shepherds and kings – and us – to encounter the infant Jesus here, this morning: an Epiphany we are free to embrace, or deny.

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Healthcare Crisis Renewed

The recent court decision in Texas that invalidates the entire ACA (a decision that will be subject, no doubt, to numerous appeals and a future SCOTUS decision) exposes the fatal flaw at the heart of the ACA.  That is is that the ACA in effect requires that universal medical care be funded mainly by employers.  But, is that fair or reasonable to do?
 
The ACA relies on the largely ad hoc mechanisms for provision of healthcare that have sprung up in the USA over the last few decades as a result of our lack of political will and ability to address the issue in a comprehensive fashion.  And, when you think about it, what we have is not a workable or fair approach. Our sky high healthcare costs and byzantine insurance and medical system are the result of all this. — Which is why  employer based healthcare insurance is an approach not used in most other countries; and why government funded universal healthcare is the norm – and very successful.
 
While the Texas decision breaks the partial and beneficial mechanisms that ACA provided. But, it was never a complete or totally viable solution; nor was it ever envisioned as such.  Ultimately, we cannot rely on employer-based insurance to fix all of the problems in our healthcare system; and Congress knew that when the ACA was passed.

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GM is not the problem

Regarding the just-announced GM Factory shutdowns. It’s economic reality: the market is changing, the company is pivoting to be a leader rather than a follower in responding to those changes.
 
Companies that do not adjust as the market changes will die – as Sears recently did.
 
The world is always changing, nothing is ever certain. Much of the “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible: Job, Lamentations, Proverbs, reflects and even dwells on this. The nature of a change can sometimes be influenced or tempered, but change itself cannot be stopped.
 
So, I’m not impressed with all of the furor condemning GM for it’s announcement. It’s all political posturing, and won’t last long – as GM well knows.
 
What I want to know is whether the change is being done in as compassionate and careful way as possible: is the company (and, even more importantly, State and Federal governments) doing enough to help those who will be losing their jobs? Will they be doing enough to help the affected communities and local businesses transition to life without GM?

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