The Most Pernicious Idol of All

Discovery-Kids-Eco-Friendly-Cardboard-Building-Blocks-Assorted-Colors-0Sermon presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC (Brattleboro, VT)
September 28, 2014

Scriptures:
Exodus 32:7-14  (NRSV): The Golden Calf

   Acts 16:11-15 (NRSV): Paul Establishes the Philippian Church
   Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV): Paul Advises the Philippian Church

One thing I’ve noticed about my son, like most young children, is that when he plays, it’s about the process – or journey, if you will – not the goal.  For instance, when he’s building a tower with his blocks and it gets too high, he knocks them down and starts over again.

His play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor the tallest, nor any other human measure of success.  It’s about playing – about stacking blocks.  That’s where his fun is, that’s what makes it meaningful and valuable to him.  What’s more, his parents’ judgment of the value of his work is not important. …Well, at least not yet!  – But our participation in his play is important.

A couple of years ago we had a dinner for some of our friends and their toddlers at our home. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing, and … guess what …  … … The Dads saw the kids playing with AJ’s big cardboard blocks!

Well, as good fathers, we had to participate, didn’t we?

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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.

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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.

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Be Holy (Redux)

sistine-chapel-ceiling-creation-of-adam-1510I’ve had a few thoughts since my recent post on Leviticus 19 and “Being Holy” on the nature of Holiness…

First, as I discussed in that post, “Being Holy” is a process.  A process implies that changes are happening as a result of that process.  So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy.”  … God is changed by the practice of being Holy, just as we will be changed.

This makes sense from a second point of view, which is that Holiness, based on the commands in Leviticus 19, is about having healthy relationships.  In other words, being Holy requires relationship.  This makes perfect sense to Christians, since the whole point of Christ walking here on earth as one of us was to bring each and every one of us into closer relationship with God.  Christ, after all, was prophesied as being “Emmanuel” – “God with Us” (Matthew 1:23).

Third, relationship is not a one way street.  Relationships change both parties.  If not, it would be a one way interaction, such as a child might have with a doll – such a relationship might change us, but it sure doesn’t change the doll!  Such is not a full relationship, but only a partial or truncated one.

So, when God says “You shall be Holy for I am Holy” in Leviticus 19:2.  It means Holiness is a two way thing.  We are Holy because we are in relationship with God – You shall be Holy for I am Holy” – and that Holy relationship changes the both of us for the better.

Holiness and relationship both require that God is vulnerable to us, just as we are vulnerable to God – and what could be a greater demonstration of this than Jesus’ death on the cross?  Or Jesus as a babe, completely dependent upon his parents for sustenance and support?  It would seem, then, that being vulnerable isn’t such a bad thing, it leaves our hearts open for change, and deeper and more meaningful relationships with others.

The Bible asks us to be open to God and God’s movement within our spirits.  That movement is a two way street, and that is what is at the heart of being Holy.

Be Holy!

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and 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).