Changing Perspective

The last Chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the First Chapter of Acts are readings that describe the same event, Christ’s Ascension. Both passages are written by the same author (Luke) and both are addressed to the same person (Theophilus). Yet, there are significant differences between the two narratives, to the point where reconciling them (if both are viewed as absolute fact) is difficult to do. The reasons for these differences lie in an existential crisis that Christians were struggling with at that time. In these two readings we see Luke’s thinking on the crisis evolve as he struggles to reconcile his faith with the facts and then portray The Ascension in a way that helps his audience to see their faith and relationship with God in a new light, and so find new hope for their Salvation.

Salvador Dali's "The Ascension"
Salvador Dali’s “The Ascension”

Sermon: “Changing Perspective”
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA
Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season: June 1, 2014.

Scripture readings:
Luke 24:44-53 (from “The Message”)
Acts 1:1-11 (from “The Message”)

Our readings this morning both cover the same event, Christ’s Ascension; both are also written by the same author, Luke; and both are addressed to the same person, Theophilus. Yet, there are some significant differences between the two narratives, to the point where reconciling them (if both are viewed as absolute fact) is difficult to do.

Why is this, what are those differences, and why do they matter?

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Communion

CentreChurch-Brattleboro-RevCarra-croppedSermon: “Communion”
Presented at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA
October 6, 2013

Scripture readings:
2 Timothy 1:1-14 (from “The Message”),
Luke 17:5-10  
(from “The Message”)

Additional Scripture:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NRSV)

This morning is World Communion Sunday, a day where we join with our fellow Christians throughout the world in proclaiming the unity and diversity of our faith through the symbolic sharing of Christ’s Body and Blood: gathering together as one to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, which in turn frees us to partake of the bounty of the Lord’s Table, filled with Grace and Love for each and every one of us.

But, what is Communion?  It has to be more than just a bit of bread and juice.  Why does it matter?  What good is it?  For that matter, why is it a Sacrament?

Please join me in prayer…

Lord, open our eyes that we may see the truth you have for us here today; place in our hands and hearts the key that shall unite us, bridging the differences that isolate us from each other and from you. Open my mouth, Lord, that I may be a faithful witness to your Gospel, that the eyes of our hearts might be opened, and that your love for all of us, your children, is made manifest, and that our hearts are prepared for sharing your gospel with all we whom encounter today, and in the days ahead.  Amen.

This past January, I was in China, and had the opportunity to attend a Mandarin language worship service at St. John’s Cathedral, the Anglican Congregation in Central Hong Kong.

It was a communion service, delivered by intinction, as we will be doing here today; all who were there joining together as one to share the Lord’s Supper.  After I returned to my second row seat, I watched and prayed as the rest of the numerous members of the congregation filed past me.

The last to receive communion were a small family – mother, father, and their two little girls; ages perhaps 5 and 3.  The littlest, in her lacy white dress and shiny black shoes, was the last.  The priest had to bend down for her to dip her bread in the cup.  It seemed that this was the first time she’d had communion, and she was very excited, though not quite sure how it all worked.  She took her bit of bread, and promptly dropped it in the cup.  …Oh dear!

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Jesus’ Last Command

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture. It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

Sermon presented 4/28/2013, Sudbury Memorial Church, UCC
Scripture: Excerpts from John 13:4-35

This week in Boston, we’ve seen so many people in our community coming together to minister in many ways to those who have been wounded, whether visibly or not, by this tragedy. This reflects how Jesus called upon his disciples to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture.  It is a story we know all too well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet.

What the disciples knew was that Jesus had just washed all of their feet, and told them that if they truly love him they must follow his example by ministering to one another, as he had.  He then foretold his imminent betrayal by one of their own.  Finally, Judas accepted an offering of bread and vanished into the night on some unknown errand.  It was the evening of the “Last Supper.”  The disciples had taken shelter from the darkness outside in the cherished, annual celebration of their love and connection with each other, and with the people of God.

We remember and celebrate this even today, in the sacrament of communion.  The sharing of the bread is seen as the sharing of the Body of Christ that has been broken for us.  By eating of it, we are sharing in his life, in his death, and in the resurrection.  By eating of it together as a community, we are acknowledging that we are all part of the Body of Christ here on earth, working together to continue His ministry and to make manifest the Kingdom of God that is already all around us, even though we may not yet see it in all of its glory and perfection.

Judas took his piece of that bread as he left the light and warmth of his companions, and his Lord, as he retreated into the night.

Why did John think it so important to preserve the memory of this strange offering to the Betrayer?  Judas is someone to be shunned, damned and forgotten for all time – why remember anything about him at all?  Was that gift just for Judas?  I doubt it.  No passage in the scriptures has just one lesson for us – or I’d be out of a job!

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Christmas Treats!

Cookies! Breads! Treats of every kind! As a member of the Pastoral Staff, my inbox and desk were flooded with all sorts of goodies this Holiday Season. The oh so steady but slow gains in my battle against the beltline all went out the window in just a few hours as I chomped down on all of the treats thoughtfully baked and prepared by our parishioners.

We often groan at the thought of being flooded with toothsome goodies every Holiday Season, but I have learned that everyone has a story to go with such gifts.

One man I’ll call Ed had received his recipe for a sweetbread from a friend of his family, who had in turn received it from Ed’s father years earlier. When Ed’s father died, this friend felt moved to give Ed the recipe that Christmas, saying that he knew Ed’s father would have wanted him to have it. So, every Christmas since then, Ed has baked that recipe, always cooking from the same tired, stained, ripped old piece of paper that his friend gave him all those years ago, with the recipe on it in his Father’s handwriting.

Another women I’ll call Nina gave me a loaf of bread, and on her note she wrote, simply, “This is my Grandmother’s Sweet Nut Bread.” I can just imagine the wonderful memories the aroma of this bread must have created for Nina, smelling it now must bring her back to those times as a child when her grandmother was baking it for the Holidays.

Miriam gave me a plate of cookies, and told me how grateful she was to have had so many good years since a life-threatening bout of illness. For her, life is to be enjoyed, every day is relished, because for her, every day is a gift. These cookies are a way for her to share that goodness of life with others.

All of these people were expanding my waistline, it is true, but more importantly they were sharing the good times, poignant memories, wonderful smells and wonderful meals that meant so much to them. They were sharing a part of themselves with me, taking the time to give me – literally – a portion of the fruit of their labors. They were inviting me into their lives, giving me a glimpse of what is important to them, what is deeply meaningful to them. I am being asked to become a part of their family, in a way, I am being invited into the story of their lives.

And this is the way it is with Jesus. God shared Jesus with us. In so doing, God has invited us to be a part of his life, to be part of his family, to become part of His story.

Sharing food is a very intimate, precious thing – sharing one’s time, sustenance and story with another. Gifts like this also have such strong echoes with the Breaking of Bread at Communion, potluck suppers on Sundays after church, and even the sharing of the temple sacrifices with the priests in Ancient Israel. All of these are statements of togetherness, of being a family, of being one with each other.

So, as I sit down and sample these wonderful gifts, I will share them with my own family and be thankful for these wonderful people who have given of themselves to make this happen. And, I will be thankful that I am part of The Story.

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).