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.

Continue reading “Sermon: A Clean Heart”

Sermon: Lost

You can’t rescue someone who doesn’t think they’re lost. We try to rescue them from their ignorance, but they keep on prancing along as they always have, oblivious to our good intentions. They see us as a bunch of obstructive, dense “know it alls” who really know nothing. They’re right, because we’re ignoring the anger, despair and hopelessness that drives their anger and frustration; and don’t forget, we’re just as lost as they are.

champaigne_shepherdThe world is a dismal, frightening place: Droughts, Hurricanes, Floods, Fires, Earthquakes, Wars, Riots, Terrorism, Pollution, Global Warming, Shootings, Plagues, Cancer, Death, … Politics.

We’re tired: one crisis after another; never ending. We learn that another old friend died – months ago – and we never knew.  Yet another ridiculous posting from that clueless idiot on Facebook.  And, that politician or radio pundit said something outrageous – again!

And, we just got sick again, or the kid got sent to the Emergency Room, or maybe we were “downsized.” No job, no income, huge bills; and so we ask ourselves, “What now? Become a greeter at Walmart?”

Maybe … maybe we should just get angry. Lash out at the people that are the source of our problems. Maybe post a really nasty to the point Facebook meme.  (That’ll show ‘em!)  Or, smash a few store windows. Throw a Molotov cocktail or two. Vote for Trump, or Bernie, or Jill Stein, – but certainly not the establishment candidate!

But to ignite anger requires fuel that burns well and with intensity. It requires someone or something to blame. It requires a simple solution to fire the imagination, to focus our energies, to be the target of our anger, and our hate, and our fear.

We don’t want to be lost, anymore. We don’t want to be alone, anymore. We don’t want to live in this world of uncertainty and hopelessness and despair any more. It’s been too damn long. Doing the right thing hasn’t worked. We paid our dues, and now more than we can bear, or afford, is being demanded of us, again. Time to lash out.

Continue reading “Sermon: Lost”

Sermon: Evil

It is easy to find people and groups to blame for what happened in Orlando, but is that what our faith calls us to do?

220px-Baal_thunderbolt_Louvre_AO15775
A 14 century BCE stele showing the Sidonian God Baal (with Thunderbolt)

NB: This video by Amaryllis Fox was shown before the start of the sermon, and is referred-to during the course of it.

You know – with regards to the recent events in Orlando, we have once again resorted to the same old game of accusation and counter-accusation: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?  ISIS?  Gays?  The NRA? (Well …)  Maybe Mr. Trump?

Blaming assumes we can have winners and losers; but nobody ever wins. How long will we continue this mindless charade?

Look: 50 people died, and another 53 were hospitalized.  Uncounted others lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their lives with the physical and emotional trauma they experienced that night, or caring for others forever scarred by that attack.

We see pain erupting from within the LGBTQ community because of this. You can understand why: places like Pulse are a refuge from the painful judgmental world they deal with every other moment of every day.  Such refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when we finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.

For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their own individual and communal existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many of our kindred within the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people died.  Thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

Continue reading “Sermon: Evil”

Sermon: The Magic Messiah

Lent teaches us that the Kingdom of God is not a magical solution to all of the bad things we’ve had to endure. It will not take away our pains or erase our scars. The Kingdom of God is about Love, not hate. It is about healing, not magic; it is about conquering fear, not eliminating what spawned that fear within us. The Kingdom of God comes about after the death of all of our hope, and all of our fear. The Kingdom of God is realized only through our openness, brokenness, and repentance.

Entry Into Jerusalem by Pedro Orrente c. 1620

On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem: The Crowds celebrate his arrival, believing it heralds a new era for the people of Israel.   The Messiah has come, and will set everything right: the occupiers and their Empire will vanish; the evils and oppression they brought with them will be cleansed from the land. The incompetence and greed of Israel’s own leaders will be made as if it had never been, once David’s descendant, anointed by God himself, takes his rightful place on the throne.

Israel will regain its long lost greatness, and will indeed become greater than ever: a new Empire of God, with the Son of God himself as their King. The glory of the Temple and God’s renewed presence within it will shine forth to every nation and people in all the world, forevermore.  It’s all so beautiful, so wonderful, so magical: what a great thing to witness. What a great time to be alive.

But then it all comes crashing down. Now, just a few days later, Jesus and his disciples are hunted by the authorities: they know it is only a matter of time before Jesus, and maybe all of them, are arrested and maybe even executed.

The crowds are turning against this latest in a long string of disappointing Messiahs. They now see that the magic they’d seen in him has no substance or reality at all.   In the eyes of the people and their leaders, he is a fraud.

The magic is gone. The people feel that Jesus has betrayed them; and the disciples feel that God has betrayed them, and it seems like everyone has betrayed Jesus.

Continue reading “Sermon: The Magic Messiah”

Sermon: The Right Thing To Do

The Crowd, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, and Peter: They all try to do the right thing, and we can see ourselves in them; because they are us in this story.

One central lesson of Palm Sunday is that that no matter how powerful we may be, no matter how well intentioned we are, no matter how wise, or how foolish, or how rich, or how poor, we all constantly make choices that widen the chasm that lies between us and God. We can’t help it, we can’t change it: … it’s part of being human. That is what Sin is: Sin with a Capital “S”; the Sin that has been passed down to us as our share in the brokenness of all existence, the Sin that began with Adam.

…But, God knew this all along…

"The Last Supper" (1494-98); Leonardo Da Vinci
“The Last Supper” (1494-98); Leonardo Da Vinci

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be one of those shouting “Crucify Him!” during our dramatic reading of the Passion from the Gospel of Mark this morning?

How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death?  To turn on him in his hour of need?

How does it feel?

Let us pray…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message.  May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls.  We believe your word and your love will rescue us from the depths of our doubt, unbelief, and Sin.  Speak to us now, Lord.  Help us to know you in the way you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.

Peter really tried to do the right thing.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he really tried to stay awake while Jesus prayed, but failed. We’ve all been there: like many of you, I have a hard time staying awake for my son after a long day of work, let alone during a sermon. Peter was no different!

But then, when Jesus was arrested, Peter ran away, just like everyone else.  He tried again, tried to be there for his friend, the man he knew to be God’s anointed: stumbling along in the dark behind that mob, following their torches to the house of Caiaphas. He then sat in the courtyard, wondering what to do, listening to the voices coming through the window above him, hoping to hear his master speak, hoping that – somehow – Jesus would escape the fate they’d all feared for him.  But, Peter also feared for his own safety, fearing he would be recognized as he warmed himself beside that fire.

He did his best, but it was too much for him.  When the test came, when that servant girl called him out, he did the only thing he could do: he lied.

And then, when he heard the cock crow the second time, he wept.  His failure was complete, his weakness contributed to the death of the man he loved. But Jesus had known this all along, and out of an abundance of compassion and love, had warned Peter this would happen.

We all know how this feels.  We’ve all been confronted by situations we could not overcome.  How many of us are Peters?

Continue reading “Sermon: The Right Thing To Do”

The God Who Trusts

Madonna and Child by Pompeo Batoni, ca 1742.
Madonna and Child by Pompeo Batoni, ca 1742.

This Christmas Eve, I thought it would be useful to share a simple thought: that God trusts us.

Orthodox Christianity is very explicit about this – God became incarnate and accessible to us through the birth of an infant human child.

Newborns can do nothing for themselves: they are vulnerable and rely totally upon those who love them for protection, for sustenance, and for life itself.

Jesus and the entire plan and hope represented by the Virgin Birth would never have come to fruition if his parents had not cared for him, fed him, educated him and loved him.  If they had failed to do so, nothing else would have saved him, or us.

So, God became vulnerable to us through the birth of Christ.  God trusted us to take care of the babe and so ensure the fulfillment of God’s plan.

In other words, God trusts humanity – for all its flaws and failings – to do the right thing, and to accomplish the mission.  Even more importantly, God believes that you are ultimately good – because a creature that is inherently evil would never be entrusted with God’s child.

Therefore, God knows you are lovable.  God values you.  God believes in you, and is willing to risk everything based on that belief.

God trusts you…

Have a Blessed Christmas.

… And as my fellow North Central College Alum, Bruce Nesmith, said in response to these thoughts: “Maybe in 2015 we can trust our best selves more.

Copyright (c) 2014, 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!)

Just the Facts

Advent encourages us to choose God BECAUSE of the facts, not in spite of them; and to remember that it is God who writes our story, a story that always ends in the embrace of God’s eternal, fierce, and unrelenting love for us.

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsSermon: “Just the Facts”

Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, December 7, 2014; (Second Sunday in Advent).

Scripture Readings:
Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)

The year is about 540 BC. The place is Babylon, capitol of the Babylonian Empire.

Only a generation ago, in the year 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed the Nation of Judah, the City of Jerusalem, and Solomon’s Temple. Much of the surviving population, including most of the upper classes of Judah – priests, nobility, scholars and their families – are imprisoned and then exiled here, in an alien land totally unlike the isolated mountaintop fortress of Jerusalem. Their new home is perhaps the greatest city on earth, containing people of many cultures, languages and faiths. Strange people, strange ideas, and strange gods are all around them, challenging the Jews and their faith in ways they never imagined.

They are strangers in that strange land. The fact is, they have lost everything – friends, family, home, possessions, status, and even – or so they think – their God. And even if God is not lost, what good is God, since the strange gods of this strange land are clearly more powerful? And besides, how can they hear from God, even if God still lives? God’s home among them was destroyed, too.

The news from back home is just as troubling: the prophet Obadiah tells us that marauders and armies from nearby lands, such as Edom, are sweeping through the ruined land, murdering those left behind, and plundering what little of value remains.

The People of God see themselves as the walking dead, soon to forever vanish and be forgotten. All is darkness. All is lost. They are lost: whether they are scrabbling to survive among the ruins of Judah, or living in exile in the all too alluring and exciting materialism and corruption of cosmopolitan Babylon.

The facts are indisputable: the future holds no hope at all for them, nor for their faith.

Continue reading “Just the Facts”

Do It Again, Daddy!

Even though the Universe is huge and complex, and we ourselves are such a small and insignificant part of it, the Bible is filled with lessons and examples of how God is committed to us and cares for us. God emphasized this to me one night through a simple question asked by my young daughter.

Sermon delivered at Payson Park Church, UCC, Belmont MA; August 23, 2009

It was the evening of Friday, May 4th, 1991. My life was at a crossroads. Worries that had been looming over my family on every side for months, getting ever darker and more worrisome, hit as full blown crises – all at the same time.

At home, my marriage appeared to be on the rocks: divorce seemed to be unavoidable. Compounding this was a financial situation that was dire, due in large part to our buying a house that had far more problems than we’d been led to believe, or could have imagined.

My career was also up in the air: I had been managing a very successful two year-long project, but the economic recession of 1991 (sparked by the first Gulf War) hit just as we completed the effort. This resulted in a hiring freeze at my company: I was given a temporary assignment, but was also told I would be laid off if things didn’t improve soon.

I felt very alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I have not been in a more challenging situation either before or since that time.

Continue reading “Do It Again, Daddy!”