Fuzzball’s Run

This is a true story from my own life that I’ve used a couple of times for Sermon illustrations.  Here it is presented as a longish “Message for All Ages”, but would also be suitable for a  youth group session, or a Bible Study.  The scripture reading is 1 Kings 19:1-15a, which is about Elijah’s fleeing Jezebel’s wrath and then being confronted by God while hiding in the cave on Mt. Horeb.

A helpful prop for this story would be a 6 foot tall aluminum stepladder, or perhaps a good sized photo of one.


I once had a home with a huge backyard.  Since I didn’t want to spend all my time mowing the fenced back yard (and couldn’t afford a bigger mower), I bought some sheep to eat the grass.  The male of the three was named Fuzzball by my daughter.

One Sunday, I decided to trim the some dead branches on trees near the house; but quickly realized that my ladder [just like this one] was far too short for the job. It was getting late, so I left the ladder leaning against a tree and went in for the night.

The next morning I opened my bedroom window a bit as I got ready for work, I liked hearing the sheep bleating to each other as they grazed on the grass.

Suddenly, a rather surprised bleat sounded through the window.  No big deal – I figured one of them had gotten themselves in trouble again, which they always seemed to be doing. I figured I’d check into it when I fed them before leaving for work, and so kept tying my tie.

Then came a tremendous clatter.  Running to the window, I looked out just in time to see Fuzzball running at top speed from the near corner of the yard, where the trees were, to the far corner, where his shed was.

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A Little Faith

Presented at Memorial Congregational Church, Sudbury, Massachusetts, August 7, 2011.

Scriptures: I Kings 19:9-18 and Matthew 14:22-33

The other day, while running errands in my car, I encountered a timid driver.  You know the type: hesitating at intersections, driving slow or speeding up unexpectedly.  These drivers start to do one thing, and then without warning change their mind.  If they’re at a stop sign, you don’t know whether to go, or wait for them.  If they’re trying to make a turn, you don’t know whether to go around them, or not, because you know they might suddenly turn right in front of you.

It would be far better for everyone, including themselves, if these people would just make a choice and go with it, rather than second guessing themselves and changing their minds.  They don’t project confidence, don’t clearly indicate their intentions and leave us guessing as to how to respond.

These drivers seem to have no faith in the choices they are making.  Maybe they’re unsure of where they’re going, or perhaps they’re afraid of the consequences of making a wrong choice.  When they do choose, they change their minds the second there is any reason to doubt the decision they’ve made.

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The Fabulous Flying Fuzzball

A sermon I presented in 2008 at Payson Park Church in Belmont, MA…

Back in the mid 90’s I bought a home in rural Virginia.  The house had a huge backyard.  I had to keep the grass there under control, but could not afford a rider mower, so I bought three lambs instead.  (I figured I’d eventually get a meal or two out of the deal, but did not tell this to the lambs.)

The Bible often compares us to sheep.  Frankly, now that I’ve owned a few, that’s a scary thought.

I am not sure that sheep are as dumb as many have said they are, but they sure have a talent for getting themselves into trouble (mostly – I think – out of curiosity).  When sheep are frightened, they run.  However, if it is their curiosity that gets them into trouble, they often just sit there until someone comes and rescues them, rather then figuring out how to rescue themselves.  I think of this behavior as a sort of silent whining.

Sheep love to climb.  I remember more than one occasion where they tried to climb onto the two swings hanging from my daughter’s playset in the near corner of the backyard, in the opposite corner from where the sheep’s shed was: I’d come out in the morning and see them standing there, front hooves on the ground, back ends up in the air hanging from the slings, patiently waiting to be rescued.  Every so often they’d somehow climb up on the slide – never did figure out how they did that, but I’d find them standing up there in the morning: surveying the back yard, waiting for me to show up and make it all better.

The two ewes, Heidi and Sally were fairly docile, but we were wary of the ram, Fuzzball, because he became more and more aggressive as he approached his first birthday.

One morning, Fuzzball’s curiosity collided with my own carelessness, and so earned his place in history…

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Is God Involved?

One of the biggest questions any faith must address in their theology is to what extent God is involved in human affairs.  The answer can range from seeing God as distant and totally uninvolved (if not unapproachable); to heavily involved in every last detail of our lives.  None of the world’s major faiths have a single viewpoint on this issue.  Instead, we see a range communities within each of these great faiths with a broad range of views on the continuum between these two extremes.

The “distant” conception sees God as a distant, uninvolved deity.  In this view, humanity is often seen as an accidental or deliberate byproduct of creation, as rejected or cut off from God, or perhaps even forgotten by Her (or Him).  Adherents of this view usually believe it is up to humanity to somehow bridge the gap between us and God to achieve salvation.  For myself, I have difficulty with this view, since I believe God can (and does) have a personal relationship with us.  A distant and uninvolved God wouldn’t care about us one way or another, and our very existence would therefore be meaningless and futile.

A “Highly Involved God” is one where all pain, suffering and bad choices in this life are “fixed” because of God’s love for us.  While I believe God loves us, I have concerns with this point of view because it requires God to interfere in human affairs on an ongoing basis.  If God miraculously heals or favors me in some way, the cost is probably that someone else must suffer or be denied access to the benefits I am being given.  As a Rabbi once said: if I take a walk one day and see a fire engine racing by me towards smoke rising in the distance from where my house is, and I pray for God to let it not be my house that is burning, then am I, in effect, asking that someone else’s house be burned?  A God who interferes in human existence in such a way would not be respecting the gift of freedom of choice, which I believe lies at the heart of what makes us human, and is what makes us capable of having a true relationship with God.  If God does not permit us to suffer the consequences of our own choices, then we are no more than pets, or perhaps robots: playthings without a meaningful existence of our own.

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible makes this same argument: as a human, I am finite and limited in my understanding.  Therefore, I cannot know all the consequences of what I ask of God.   So, when God does not grace me with what I see as a favorable answer to what I am requesting, is that a bad thing?  I think not.  To me, it merely means that I do not know the full story, and that I am asking for something that is not in line with God’s perfect will for me and for all of Creation.  It is not a matter of “not having enough faith” or not being perfectly obedient to God’s will.  (In fact, I would argue, as did Paul, that no one can ever be perfectly obedient, and therefore none of us ever “deserves” God’s grace.)  But, let’s get back to the question of “Is God Involved?”

Is God involved?  Does God actually care for us as individuals?  Does God even notice that we exist?  For me, the answer is “Yes”

I believe that the primary reason for the historical existence of Christ is to demonstrate that God shared with us and walked with us, both fully human and fully divine.  God knows what it means to be happy, to be sad, to be hungry, to be satisfied, to love, and to grieve.  Through Christ, God has experienced all of these things, and so knows exactly what it means to be human.  Through doing this, God demonstrated that he (or she) cares for us as individuals: that each and every one of us matters to God.

Further, as Christ said in John 14:26, the “Comforter”, the Holy Spirit, is still with us.  I believe this is the same spirit that manifested itself as the “voice” that came to Elijah in the cave (I Kings 19:13).  I believe that the Holy Spirit is but one of the many avenues God uses to communicate with us, to help us learn for ourselves what God already knows is best for us.  Yet, God will never seek to shield us from the consequences of our choices.  If we make a bad choice, bad consequences will follow.  For me, the doctrine of “original sin” teaches us that we cannot help but make imperfect choices.  In other words, any choice we make will ultimately lead to negative consequences for someone, if not for ourselves.

So, the answer is Yes, God is involved: God is constantly talking to us, feeling what we feel, walking our walk.  But, it is up to us to choose to listen and to walk the path that God knows is best for us.  Yet, if we fail to do so, God remains with us, experiencing with us the pain and loss we’re experiencing.

I believe that God never gives up on us, and so I will never give up on the God I see as a very personal and very loving God.

 

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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).