Sermon: Repent

Would God’s love for us have any meaning or value if God did not expect something of us in return? The death of Christ on the Cross is proof that Love does not come cheap. So, while the Love of God is freely given to all, there is a price to accepting it. And, that price is Repentance.

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There are lots of wonderful old traditions we celebrate this time year: the annual church rummage sale. The men’s pancake breakfast. The live nativity scenes. Going Caroling. Maybe in some churches the youth group sets up a tree in the sanctuary; and the younger children make ornaments to hang on them. Perhaps we have an “Angel Tree” or a box to donate gifts for those who would not otherwise have a Christmas at all. And then there’s my personal favorite: all those Christmas cookies!

These are all beautiful and very worthwhile traditions; they express who we are and what is important to us. And, many if not most of them are centered on Christ’s call to take of each other and take care of those in need. This is a good thing. But, such traditions, as wonderful and good and appropriate to Christmas as they are, are not what Advent is about.

Advent is about who we are about to become, not about who we are now. Advent is about preparing for the gift of God: the Christ Child who is not yet here. It is a call to prepare for what is about to happen.

So, what is Repentance? And, why is it a theme of this, our Second Sunday of Advent? I’d like to begin by exploring what Repentance isn’t.

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Sermon: Hope Amidst the Darkness

Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.

I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.

These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.

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Traditional Marriage

marriageWhen I think about the definition many use for the term “Traditional Marriage”, I wonder whether it is right or fair to define all that marriage is based upon what we do with our genitals, and/or who we do it with.

There are many kinds of traditions out there.  But when the term “Traditional Marriage” is used, it is referring to what the speaker sees as a faith tradition.  Yet, as I spoke about in a recent sermon, “Tradition” is not synonymous with “Faith.”  One must be dependent upon the other, but which one is primary: Faith or Tradition?

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Abolish the Electoral College?

In the last week we’ve all been seeing numerous petitions, blogs, and posts calling to eliminate the Electoral College because it has made it possible for candidates like Donald Trump and George W. Bush to be elected President without a majority of the nationwide vote.
 
Now, it is obvious that the GOP has been waging a war to restrict the ability of minority voters (in particular) to have a voice in elections; and this does affect the Electoral College. But, eliminating the Electoral College is fixing a symptom: it does not address the root causes of gerrymandering (which both major parties are guilty of) and voter suppression.
 
Hillary Clinton appealed to the majority of the country in a numeric sense; but she failed to appeal to the majority of the country in a geographic sense, which is the function of the Electoral College.  Without it, states with small populations like Wyoming and Vermont (both of which I lived in for several years) would have no meaningful role in Presidential elections or the national political dialog.  And without the Electoral College, politicians from smaller states – like Bernie Sanders and Dick Cheney(!) – are less likely to be seen as viable Presidential (or Vice-Presidential) candidates.
 
So, do we really want to the major parties to focus on the largest states, ignoring the needs and concerns of rest of the country?  As Christian, it seems to me the answer is “No.”  As I see it, my faith calls me to work to ensure that everyone has a meaningful voice in determining our nation’s direction, not just those who think and believe like I do.
The Electoral College is not perfect, but it is an important tool we have to ensure that living in certain States does not preclude having a voice in the national political dialog.  We cannot eliminate it without first creating some other mechanism that achieves the same end.

Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Tradition

I am confident that no matter how this election turns out, God’s plan will not die. The world was created by God as an act of Love. That love is still here, in everything, in us, in our neighbor. All we are called to do is to let God’s Love work as it should, though us. Because, that is what is at the core of who we really are, deeper than any Tradition.

fiddler-on-the-roof1520NB: The sermon was preceded by this video clip of the opening song “Tradition” from the film “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Last week we observed All Saints Day – a day to remember and honor all those who came before us, particularly those whom we have loved, and who loved us, during their journey here on earth. I know that Sharon also mentioned it was Reformation Sunday: the anniversary of that day 499 years ago, when Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

And this morning, we heard the theme song from the Fiddler on the Roof, a musical that portrays the challenges of maintaining one’s faith, traditions and identity in the face of change and loss.

So you ask – how do all these tie-in with our scripture reading(s) this morning?

To begin with, our traditions are central to how we express who we are. They are an essential part of our identities as individuals and as a people. As Tevye said in the film clip: Tradition helps us know who we are and what God wants for us.

But, what he learns over the course of his story is that Tradition and Faith are not synonymous. Tradition expresses the truths of our Faith, but those expressions must change as the world changes, and as our understanding of God’s teachings and plans for us deepen and grow.

Tradition. A symbolic act that defines what it means to be us, or express what is an essential part of who we are, or what is important to us. Like: singing the Star Spangled Banner at a ballgame; or helping run the annual church fair; making cookies at Christmas, or celebrating the Holidays each year with our extended family. The rituals of Communion, Baptism, and Weddings are filled with all sorts of traditions – something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new.

Changing our traditions means changing our perceptions of who we really are, and what is important to us. This is a problem we constantly face as we change and grow. We are constantly having to ask ourselves how to remain true to who we are and what is important to us as the world around us changes.

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The Lord’s Prayer, Counterpoint

A short meditation written yesterday morning as I pondered all that is going on around us: in our homes, in our nation, and in the world…

Can we pray “Our God” if our faith has no room for others and their needs?

Can we pray “in Heaven” if our interests and pursuits are in earthly things?

Can we truly honor your name if we do not strive to be holy ourselves?

Can we pray “Your Kingdom come” if we are unwilling to accept it into our own lives?

Can we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” if we do not diligently work to make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now?

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How To Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective

The events and important issues being surfaced at Standing Rock affect us all. But, the author of this piece makes a very important point: we must begin by recognizing that this is, first and foremost, a struggle for survival and justice for the indigenous peoples of this land.

It is their struggle, not ours.

So, while we may bring other concerns to the table (global warming and environmental destruction, in particular) we cannot allow our own agendas to supplant or overshadow theirs. If we are to be allies of the Native Americans at Standing Rock, then we must do so on their terms, and with great respect and care for all that is theirs.

Transformative Spaces

14247963_10154406248820309_1976289082_o Water Protectors gather after a day of prayer and direct action. (Photo: Desiree Kane)

This piece is very personal because, as an Indigenous woman, my analysis is very personal, as is the analysis that my friends on the frontlines have shared with me. We obviously can’t speak for everyone involved, as Native beliefs and perspectives are as diverse as the convictions of any people. But as my friends hold strong on the frontlines of Standing Rock, and I watch, transfixed with both pride and worry, we feel the need to say a few things.

I’ve been in and out of communication with my friends at Standing Rock all day. As you might imagine, as much as they don’t want me to worry, it’s pretty hard for them to stay in touch. I asked if there was anything they wanted me to convey on social media, as most of them are maintaining a…

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Sermon: A Clean Heart

zuy2tlnte6b8b0pscugedir3fvtoti5t-largeIt’s at just about this point in every election cycle, especially this one, that I realize the entire world is mad and doomed to certain destruction and that there’s nothing I can do about it: Frustration, Anger! How can supporters of that other candidate be so stupid?!? Can’t everyone see that it will be Armageddon if the other party wins on November 8th???

And I don’t think I’m alone on this; no matter whether our favorite color is Red, or Blue; or even Yellow or Green.

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For or Against?

14724498_10157594211435113_4623695507832864461_nI like this meme by John Pavlovitz: It gets to the heart of something that always troubles me when I’m labelled as an ally of one group or another…

It is true that we are called by our faith to make a special effort to support those who are not empowered, no matter who they are. And, this is a central concept within my own ministry and in my day to day existence.

But the problem has always been that people tend to view someone who is “for” some group or cause as being against something else. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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The Narrative of Anger and Pain

…Those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference than we are led to believe.

It’s distressing: the current narrative by many supporters of Trump (and haters of Hillary) seems to be “She’s as bad as he is.”
 
The problem with this is that it is a deflection – attempting to excuse the really vile behavior of one candidate by equating it with the behavior of the other. The problem is Donald Trump’s behavior. What Hillary did (or didn’t do) has absolutely nothing to do with DT’s narcissism, bullying, misogyny and hate speech. Her behavior, regardless of whether you buy into the claims made about her or not, does not excuse what he’s said and done.
 
What many supporters of DT miss in their eagerness to defend him is that the concerns with him are threefold.
 
First, aside from a handful of mantras about immigration, job loss, taxes, gun rights and the evils of Hillary; he has no discernible plan or stance on anything. His opinions on things change with the wind, and his proposed solutions – when voiced at all – tend to be in the realm of “whack it with a big stick and it’ll go away, trust me.”
 
Trust is essential to the office of President: trust built upon diligence, a legacy of results, transparency, and a willingness to take criticism seriously (or at least tolerate it well). No President is perfect at any of these things, but none yet has been as completely devoid of these traits as DT.
 
And yet, in most of these cases, those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference there than we are led to believe.

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Innocence Lost

Quick verbal assurances of healing and redemption and glory in the afterlife – “they’re in a better place” – are bull. Offering cheap grace doesn’t fix the problem, it only deepens the grief of the very people we need to help.

forgiven_frontTen years ago today, a troubled man barricaded himself inside a small schoolhouse in West Nickel Mines, PA. He killed five children and severely injured five others, then killed himself. Afterwards, the grieving Amish community responded to their horrific losses in a surprising way. This morning we’ll reflect on their response, in light of today’s Lectionary reading. We’ll begin by listening to an interview of the killer’s mother, Terri Roberts, as heard on NPR’s “Morning Edition” this past week.

“I will never forget the devastation caused by my son” she said. The devastation inflicted upon the Amish, upon the Roberts family and their entire community. It wasn’t just the loss of loved and innocent lives, but the loss of innocence, the loss of the identity they thought they had. Their rural existence, isolated from the tumult and pains of the outside world, was replaced with the isolation of their grief.

On that day, Terri Roberts, the ordinary mother of an ordinary man, living an ordinary life, in an ordinary little town, became the mother of a mass murderer. She later wrote “I was – always will be – his mother. Surely if anyone could spot signs of trouble it would be the woman who gave birth to him.” But she didn’t, no one did.

We see these same emotions: guilt, grief, unresolved and unresolvable questions, in this morning’s reading. The surviving Jews in Psalm 137 are exiles in Babylon: strangers in a strange land. Their homes and their stable and prosperous lives are gone forever.

Why were they spared when so many of their friends and family died? Their city and nation are destroyed. Their identity is gone. Even their God is gone. The Temple that connected them to their Creator and Protector is in ruins.

Evil is sneaky. It rarely announces itself at the door. It sneaks into our lives through the pain and the loss we all encounter every day. Grief is not to be minimized or ignored. It is a valid emotion. Essential, in fact: because all things have an opposite. For light, there is dark. For wealth there is poverty. For evil there is good. For loneliness there is companionship. We cannot really know one until we know the other.

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Sermon: Something Has Changed

Our world is always changing, and yet we hang on to our old traditions and ways of seeing and doing things. We just sort of muddle along: usually (but not always) aware of these changes happening all around us. It often takes a crisis for us to fully appreciate how things have changed: that the old ways no longer work; that we must adapt.

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The restored 4th Century Synagogue at Capernaum, built on the foundations of the Centurion’s Synagogue

As you may know, my father was a Minister, too.  And, it’s both humbling and surprising to find myself standing here nearly 60 years after he entered Seminary, a Minister myself. It was not a career I had any wish or plan to pursue – ever!

But, things change…

Some of my earliest memories are of my Father leading a worship service. I particularly remember his voice booming out over the congregation as we sang hymns. But, I have no memory of this from when I was older!

When I asked him about this a few years ago, he told me the following story. You see, he was called to the church (that I first remember him in) when I was about 3. On Sundays, he’d sing from the pulpit as he’d always done in his other churches.  But, in this new church something was different, something that he did not realize mattered.

His previous churches had no audio system. So, singing from the pulpit had never been an issue, he’d never thought about it. And, he didn’t think about it in the new Church either, because the speakers pointed towards the congregation, not towards him. He didn’t hear what everyone else heard.

As a three year old, I had no idea that hearing the preacher sing so LOUDLY was not normal. To me, that was just the way things were, and should be.  My perspective was never challenged until that moment in my late 40’s when my Father told me how “Pony” Felch, the church moderator, took him aside one day. Then, in his wonderful old Vermont twang he said, “You know Reverend, we really appreciate your singing.  But, the next time you sing a hymn from the pulpit, take a step or two back!”

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