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.


A Message for All Ages: Let There be Light!

In order for God’s light to shine everywhere, as God intends, and as we are called to make happen, we need to actively look for where the darkness is, and then labor to bring light into those places.

dsc_0007A few months ago I noticed that the light bulb in the recessed fixture above my office door was burned out.

No big deal, I thought: I removed the old bulb (it was VERY dirty, must have been there for years) to make sure I knew exactly what kind of bulb I needed.  Fortunately, I had an identical spare.

I put the new bulb in: it didn’t work.  Hmm, that’s odd.

I tested the new bulb in another fixture: it worked.  Even more odd.

I then took a standard light bulb and tested the fixture above my door: it worked.

I then tested the old bulb in a desk lamp: it worked.

Everything worked.  Nothing was burned out.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: Let There be Light!”

A Benediction: The Word Became Flesh

This Benediction is based on the well known “The Word Became Flesh” passage at the start of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14).  I wrote it for use on Christmas Day in year “A” of the Revised Common Lectionary. 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   This Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory, full of grace and truth. And, all who receive the Word are children of God, born of God.

The Word is the light of all people. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And, so that all might believe, we are called to testify to this light.

So, go forth!  Rejoice in the Love of God made manifest through the Child of God. Go forth, testify to that Love and share it with all of God’s Creation, just as God shares it with each and every one of us.

Amen.


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!)

Suicide: A Personal Point of View

I have many friends and parishioners who have tried to take their own lives; and/or who have had someone close to them try (and sometimes – sadly – succeed).  And, I’ve officiated at the funeral of a young man who took his own life.   (A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post that reflects on what I learned from that experience.)

A friend and former co-worker (and fellow student in Seminary) Karen Leslie Hernandez, recently felt led to write of her own personal suicide attempt at age 19.  I reblog it here without further comment: I am a Suicide Attempt Survivor by Karen Leslie Hernandez.

Karen and I both want you to hear and believe this message: you are not alone, even though it feels like that is the truth.  There are many, many, people out there who have gone through what you are going through, and want to help.  All you need to do is ask – ask friends, ask clergy, ask school counsellors.  If you don’t find the help you need at first, keep on asking, and you will find a way back from the abyss.  There can be hope again, and you do have choices that will not afflict those you love with that deeply hidden and never-ending pain and sense of loss and guilt that you would be leaving behind.

If you don’t know where to begin in helping yourself or one whom you love, start with the suicide prevention hotline’s website (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org), or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  Trained counsellors in your local area are available (through this phone number) 24 hours a day.

Choose life – most especially for you, but also for those you love.

– Pastor Allen

A Light in the Darkest of Times

We all go through dark times in our lives, times when our own prayers; and even the assurances, encouragements and prayers of others; seem futile and useless. If anything, such attempts are painful and bitter proof that human effort is always futile in the end. And yet, the darkness we see all around us is not really the issue. It is the darkness within us that we are really battling…

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsThese short and gloomy days and long dark nights of winter are a hard time, often made harder and darker by the challenges we face.

We all go through dark times in our lives, times when our own prayers; and even the assurances, encouragements and prayers of others; seem futile and useless. If anything, such attempts are painful and bitter proof that human effort is always futile in the end.

In such times all we see is darkness ahead of us, behind us, and all around us. We are convinced the end is near and inescapable. We know that all we are, all we do, and all we aspire to be, is nothing in the face of the insurmountable challenges confronting us. We have no hope. No one can change the darkness that is inexorably consuming us.

And yet, the darkness we see all around us is not really the issue. It is the darkness within us that we are really battling: it feeds on the loss of hope within our spirits; and on our endless self-castigation for missed opportunities, for past sins, and for our separation from those whom we love.

One of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday is from Psalm 62, which repeats the following sentence twice: “[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” It is a Psalm written by someone just like us. All they had left was God, and their faith. And yet in such times of darkness, even our faith seems insufficient to dispel the darkness we see all around us.

Darkness blinds us to our God who, in the first chapter of Genesis, CREATED the light – a point emphasized in the first few verses of the Gospel of John as well: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We cannot overcome the darkness on our own; but no matter how dark it is around us, God is there. No matter how dark it is within us, God is there. The Holy Spirit is the “light of all people” – a light within us. It shines no matter how dark things may seem, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So, in these darkest of times, be certain that God is there, because God is Lord of Darkness, not just the Lord of Light; and God is the Creator of Light. God is the source of all light, light that is there even in the midst of the greatest darkness of all.

God is always with us, a light that shines no matter how hopeless, empty, and futile our personal darkness may seem. God’s Hope for us lies within God, it is not something that we can lose or forsake on our own; because it is under God’s control, and scripture assures us that God will never forget us or forsake us.

We can trust in God at all times, because God is with us for ALL time. God is our Rock and our Salvation: a refuge that will never fail.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2015, 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!)

Sermon: The Lonely Light

…the landscape is not as dark or cold or empty as we thought, because The Light is already here. We carry it with us wherever we go, and so it continues to beckon to all those who are wandering in the darkness – a beacon guiding the nations to a place of light and warmth, and the promise of an Epiphany of their own.

“The Magi” by Chinese Artist He Qi

When I was 12, my family moved from Vermont to Wyoming.   As you might guess, it was quite a transition. Here I was: a New England boy used to rolling hills, abundant trees, air that was humid, and lots of little towns sharing borders with other little towns; but we were relocating to a sparsely inhabited desert plateau a mile and a half above sea level and surrounded by mountains – real mountains – not the green bumps we have here in New England.

I remember as we drove out, constantly quizzing my Father:

So Dad, we’re moving to Laramie, right?

   Yes, son.

So, what other towns are around it?

   There aren’t any. Rawlins is the next town up on the highway, on the other side of the Snowy Range, about 100 miles away.

Huh, but … what’s in between? There must be towns in between!

   Nope, none.

Really? Well, but what’s in-between Rawlins and Laramie, then?  There’s got to be something!

…The fact that every acre of land in the country wasn’t within some town’s boundaries, as is true here in New England, just did not compute for me. There was no such thing in my experience as a town that bordered on … nothing!

Continue reading “Sermon: The Lonely Light”

An Advent Prayer

534100_445597948860210_865607878_nLord, Advent and Christmas are a dark time for many, a time when the pain of past and present injuries and losses become almost unbearable.  A time we’d rather not face all over again.

And yet, the purpose of Advent is to remind us of our brokenness and sin, of our need for the grace and healing touch of a God who loves us fiercely and compassionately. Further, Christmas teaches us that God knows our pain because God has lived it: walking among us as one of us, as a human being.  Jesus experienced birth, the love of a devoted mother, the pain of losing those dear to him.  He knew rejection, hunger, despair and fear.  He was betrayed by those he loved, and he experienced a painful and humiliating death.  God knows what it means to be human.  God knows our deepest, greatest, most deeply hidden fears, failures and weaknesses.

And so, our faith tells us, Jesus is Emmanuel – the God who walks with us.  God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, and for every moment of our lives, including now.

Continue reading “An Advent Prayer”

Suicide

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

I’ve long promised that I would eventually post here on the issue of suicide, and this seems to be the moment, as much as I dread doing so: it is a difficult challenge, one that must be approached with great care and compassion.

What impelled me to do so at this time is the death of Robin Williams, and my feelings with regards to a post about Williams’ suicide by Matt Walsh – another screed of his that I once again (almost) agree with.

Walsh emphasizes in his recent post – “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice” – that suicide is a choice, and there is always an alternative, you can choose life.  I [almost] agree – he is right, to some extent.

In his post, Walsh discusses at length how painful suicide is, in so many ways, for those we leave behind: whether we realize it or not.  As he and I both know all too well, there are always those who love you dearly, and who will always be haunted and who will always carry a deep, hidden hurt from the suicide of someone they love.  He calls suicide a “selfish choice” and again – he is right, to some extent.

Frankly, there are far more survivors than you can possibly suspect of their own suicide attempt(s) or the suicide of someone close to them.  I am certain that there are many people you know who carry this hidden pain, and who will move heaven and earth to keep another from experiencing what they’ve gone through – which means they will do everything they can to help you, once they know that you see your own death as the only way out of the deep pain and darkness that you feel you cannot escape.

But, Walsh is also wrong – suicide seems like a choice to those looking on from outside, but for those mired in making that choice, it is not a choice: it is an escape when one becomes convinced there are no other choices.  It is a disease that deludes one into thinking that the only way out is to choose oblivion.  It leads you to believe that no one else cares, or that no one else can help you.

Continue reading “Suicide”

Jesus Wept

Sermon: “Jesus Wept”
Presented at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA
April 6, 2014 (Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Scripture readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (from “The Message”),
John 11:1-45 (from “The Message”)

This morning’s reading from Ezekiel 37, and our Gospel reading from John 11, are parallel stories. They both deal with the same issues, are presented in similar ways, and both demonstrate how utterly powerless we are in the face of death and darkness: readings we do well to consider on this, the last Sunday in Lent before Palm Sunday.

Let us pray…

Lord God, we ask that your Holy Spirit fill each and every one of us here this morning.  Open the scriptures before us, and enable me to clearly communicate what you intend for us to receive here today.  Make your gospel come alive within each and every one of us, driving all darkness from our hearts.

We rejoice in this opportunity to encounter new revelations and a deeper understanding of your unconditional, living, infinite love; and we ask that we be amazed and transformed by that love.  Help us to embody your gospel, and to live it, in all that we do, think, speak, and are; both individually and jointly, as members of this congregation which stands before you as a portion of the Body of Believers who share your Gospel with their neighbors in this community. 

In Jesus Name, Amen.

Both of our readings this morning deal with dark times, placing us within the narrative of those who have lost all hope, those who have nothing whatsoever left, and see nothing in their future.

We all have such valleys of darkness in our lives, times when the walls close in, times when the way forward is not just unclear, but entirely nonexistent. Times when we cannot see beyond that dark horizon that we cannot penetrate; times when all hope dies and death itself seems all too near at hand, or perhaps not near enough.

Continue reading “Jesus Wept”

A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness”

Finger Lights
Finger Lights

Preparation:

You’ll need small and inexpensive LED lights to give to the children. I recommend “finger lights” like those shown in the image associated with this posting.  Clicking on the image will bring you to a product page for them on Amazon.com.  Be aware that there are several vendors who make these lights: some are good quality, many are not.  The ones shown here are good and reliable (and cheap, when bought in quantity).

The Presentation:

Tell me what do you think of when you hear the word “darkness”?

(Solicit responses from the children, looking for ways in which they connect to darkness, prompt if necessary.)

Why would we want to talk about darkness here, in Church?

(Solicit thoughts, looking for the idea of salvation and Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter as God’s way of redeeming us from darkness.)

Continue reading “A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness””

Where All Hope Fails

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsThe last couple of weeks have been an interesting mix of highs and lows for me.

The certainty of our own mortality has intruded itself forcefully into the lives of many in this part of the country recently, with the tragic deaths of two firemen in Boston the other day (and you can be sure, fire fighters are just as much ministers of God as those of us who wear clerical robes).   Also, the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing is coming soon, during Holy Week in fact.

On a more personal note, old friends have recently made known their own brushes with mortality and how the afflictions of age are becoming more and more difficult to ignore, as has also proven to be too true for myself as well.

Finally, two friends of mine have died this week, one an old and dear friend from childhood, stricken down much too early in life following a very brief and devastating illness, much to the shock and dismay of her young students and the community where she lived.  The second was a co-worker whom I’d known as a young man: she was always with a ready laugh and smile, dying after a long battle with a serious illness.  Both great people, and both very much loved by the many whom their lives touched over the years.

Mortality does not play favorites, and (as my father has often said) “there is no get out of jail free card” – no exceptions. We will all someday confront the same dark horizon that these wonderful people (and so many others) have already passed beyond: never to return from the darkness that will eventually devour all lives, all nations and all human hope.

Continue reading “Where All Hope Fails”

The Great Escape

Presented at Sudbury (MA) Memorial Church, UCC on October 14, 2012.
Scriptures: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31

A youtube video of the sermon…

The most painful day of my life was Friday, May 4th, 1991.  In the week leading up to that dark day, everything in my life had exploded – marriage, job, finances – a perfect storm.  I felt the only way out was to escape from it all, I needed peace, I needed help.

So, I bundled myself and my then two year old daughter into my car, to escape for a time to safety in Chicago and figure out what to do. As I drove along, the darkness and turmoil within me was echoed by the magnificent, terrible thunderhead I saw ahead of us as we descended down Minnesota’s bluffs to cross the Mississippi River. It was huge: threatening, dark, turbulent; yet before it was the most beautiful, intense, double rainbow I’d ever seen: brilliant against the angry blackness ahead as the late afternoon sun sank behind us.

We caught up with that storm just after the sun set, and it was the worst storm I’ve ever experienced. Rain was coming down so hard that my windshield wipers were bending under the force of the water. I crept along the highway, my headlights struggling to pierce the stormy darkness, hoping to find refuge, somewhere.  But we were alone: no one else was challenging the storm that night.

Continue reading “The Great Escape”