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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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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Hell

A meditation written upon hearing of the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida on the morning of June 12, 2016.

O God.

When we demonize others, when we condemn others for simply being who they are: seeing them as less then human, we create Hell here on earth; welcoming the demons of darkness and eternal fire into our own souls.

Hell is not some netherous place in the afterlife. Hell is right here, right now.

In Sandy Hook.

In Boulder.

In Oak Creek.

In Charleston.

In San Diego.

In Chicago.

Paris. Tel Aviv. Deir El Zour.

And now, in Orlando.

Hell takes root when we believe the threat of deadly force is our first defense against the transgressions, or faults, of those around us.

Hell thrives when we encourage violence or injustice against another for simply being “Other” than we.

Hell cannot die if we do not accept that the presence of evil in this world depends upon our own sin, not upon the sins of others.

Hell is in every city and town. Hell is in every one of us.

And yet, our unconditionally loving God forgives the evil we create.

My prayer is that we learn to forgive in return: rejecting and healing ourselves from the Hell we’re creating for ourselves and others here on God’s Earth.

We free ourselves from Hell through embracing love, not hate.

– Pastor Allen

 

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!)

Sermon: Bede’s Sparrow

Let us be clear: there is no magic wand that will make everything in this life better. God is not going to come down and make it as if we – meaning all of us – never made all of the mistakes (and good decisions) we’ve made that have gotten us to this point. We cannot escape responsibility for what we’ve done to each other, or to God’s Creation.

The command to “Love our Neighbor” means acknowledging this, and so embracing compassion for ourselves and others as a way of life. It means conscientiously making room for “The Other” – for those who are different from us. We can begin by opening our minds and our hearts to what they have to say.

“Bede’s Sparrow” by Carrie Wild

This past Friday evening, George Takei was preparing for a performance of his musical which opened on Broadway a few days ago, a very personal story of the terrible price George and his family paid for being of Japanese ancestry and living in America during World War II.

On hearing of the attacks in Paris, Mr. Takei wrote: “…I’m writing this backstage at Allegiance, my heart heavy with the news from Paris, aching for the victims and their families and friends.

Aziz Abu Sarah
Aziz Abu Sarah, Peace Activist

My friend Aziz Abu Sarah, who, like George, spends his life urging peace and building bridges to span the gaps separating people around the world, and whose family has also paid a very heavy price through years of terror and oppression, had this to say: “Two days of ongoing terrible news… From Beirut to Paris, bombs, murder and dozens of victims. Its another heartbreaking day.”

My lifelong “older brother” in spirit, Ahmed, said this in his email to my parents yesterday morning: “We are all distressed as Paris has become our home .… I am flying there on Friday unless the borders are closed. France has been openly at war with Islamists for a number of years and terrorist attacks were expected. But they can never be predicted or controlled. I expect life in France will change following the latest carnage.”

Ahmed’s wife, Lena, who is in Paris at the moment, posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Tears this morning. With a very heavy heart I start the day.”

All of these people have labored their whole lives to bring peace and justice into this world. They’ve all worked diligently against poverty, oppression, despair and injustice. They have all taken firm and often costly stands against the dehumanization of “The Other” that lies at the heart of these attacks. Some of them are hurt and despairing, as you heard. But I think I can give voice to what lies in all of their hearts by quoting this from Mr. Takei’s message:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

Now. let’s skip back 1400 years, to a time when England was a collection of little Kingdoms, almost 300 years before they would be united under King Alfred the Great and his heirs.

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An Easter Sermon: The Missing Link

Good Friday is the day when we hear the first half of this story, where we mourn the death of Christ – and claim him as one of our own. And now, on Easter, we hear the rest of the story, the Divine did not relinquish its claim on Jesus either, but instead raised him from the dead. He is the missing link: we and God both claim him for our own. God has saved us through Christ, just as Jesus told Nicodemus so long ago. Jesus binds us together as members of the Body of Christ, and as children of God. The resurrection is a living reality. But, unless we come to know Christ in the depths of our hearts, unless we take the risk of claiming Christ for our own, the resurrection will never be a living reality for us.

La Descente de Croix - Rubens (1617)
La Descente de Croix – Rubens (1617)

On Easter, we celebrate the heart of our faith, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is it so important? How does this narrative bridge the gulf between Human Sin and Divine Grace? And, why does this Act of God from two Millennia ago matter to us today?

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 know that your Word and your love have bridged the huge chasm that separates us from you, and affirmed that all of us are your beloved children. Speak to us now, Lord.  Help us to know you in the ways you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.

Three years ago, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the place at the heart of the events of Easter. As you enter that Church, to your right and up a flight of stairs, is the shrine of the Crucifixion. To the left, what would be behind me and deeper into the church, is the Shrine of the Tomb. So, on one side is the place where our Sin brought about the death of our Savior; and on the other is the spot where he was resurrected by the Grace of God.

Man’s Sin sent Jesus to his death, and God’s Grace brought him back, but what ties the two together?

The answer is in front of you, unavoidable as you enter the Church: the Stone of Unction.

It is a simple stone, unadorned, surrounded by a few lamps, and just long and wide enough for a body. On the wall behind it is a modern mural that depicts the event that took place at this spot, where Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee named Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross.

“Unction” means “anointing,” and it is here on this stone that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.

Why is this important? Why did the designers of this Church orient it such that this spot is right in front of you as you enter the church? And, why is the building laid out such that you must pass by it a second time as you go from Calvary to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?

Let’s start by imagining what would have happened if Joseph and Nicodemus had not taken Jesus ‘ body down from the Cross.

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Like the Bible Says… | The Congregational Church of Westborough

Like the Bible Says… | The Congregational Church of Westborough

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy friend (and fellow Andover Newton graduate) Pedro S. Silva is right on target with this meditation on the lack of knowledge that most of us have nowadays (including ministers!) of what’s really in the Bible; and the net of mis-appellation and misinterpretation we build around it as a result of that illiteracy.

An Advent Prayer of Hope

Slightly modified version of a prayer presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC in Brattleboro, VT, December 15, 2013

11207_13320_5The Advent Season 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 when we’d rather run than have to face it all once again.

God knows this because God has walked 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, God walks with us.  God knows our pain, God feels it, God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, just like every other moment of our lives, including now.

Know that you are loved.  Know that God has, and will, do anything and everything to free us from the troubles and trials of life in this world.  And, in fact, has already freed us, for the certainty of that freedom and healing is what is in our future.  We cannot escape healing, for God is with us on every step of our journey; and, no matter how dark our valley may be, we are pursued by our Creator’s fierce, relentless love until we are finally embraced in God’s strong, loving arms and so come to dwell in the House of the Lord, forever.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2013, 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 gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site). 

An Ash Wednesday Meditation: Why Bother?

Sermon presented at First Congregational Church, UCC, of West Boylston, February 22, 2012

Scriptures:
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In our reading from Joel, we are told “Blow the Trumpet … for the day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!”

Sounds depressing. Scary.  … And, it is.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we remember how ephemeral life is; that all good things in our lives, including our own existence, will eventually come to an end. Matthew warns us that all of our treasures will eventually be consumed by moths and rust, stolen from us, nothing will remain.

Thick darkness.  Moths and rust.  Nothing will remain.

As if that isn’t enough, David lays it on even more heavily in Psalm 51, saying “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

So, not only will everything end, but sin and corruption are in our lives from the very beginning.  We’re in a game that was fixed from the start.  We can’t win.  We cannot escape the trap of life.

It seems so hopeless.

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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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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.

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