“Approve of Him”?

I’ve recently seen a spate of Facebook posts, political emails and opinion columns saying the writer can’t (and we shouldn’t) “approve of the President.”  I would suggest this is a fundamentally flawed approach…

Saying this suggests we should hate or dismiss the man for what and who he is.

Really?

And yet, as a minister, I and many of my peers constantly preach and demonstrate we love all of our neighbors no matter who they are or what they believe.  No matter what their race, income, nationality, immigration status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Jesus taught that we are to love each other without judgment, without preconditions.

That includes the President, too.

So, I cannot approve of him, nor disapprove of him.

Continue reading ““Approve of Him”?”

Lost But Not Forgotten

This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995.  I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.

Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be.   She was only six years old at the time.  She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own.  And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.

She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance.  The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers.  She did great.  I was a very, very proud father that day.

But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness.  A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since.  I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.

Continue reading “Lost But Not Forgotten”

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!)

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.

Continue reading “Fuzzball’s Run”

Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very 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 in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

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: Scattered and Gathered

The story of the Tower of Babel and of Peter’s Sermon on the First Day of Pentecost are two sides of the same coin: Both stories demonstrate that God values us and speaks to us as individuals. Acts 2 also shows that our relationships with God and each other are both communal and individual in their nature; and that God intends both aspects to be present in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited
“The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1453.

This week we celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, Pentecost.  Among other things, Pentecost is a declaration that Christ’s relationship with his disciples, including us, is a new thing: one that transforms us and our relationship with the Divine in fundamental and lasting ways.

Pentecost reflects a new level of openness, of sharing, of vulnerability. A deeper bond has been created: binding us together and with God through the Holy Spirit that indwells each and every one of us. It is an affirmation of who we are and who we are to become.

Continue reading “Sermon: Scattered and Gathered”

On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

I’ve met Rev. Heath only briefly, but her spouse was a classmate of mine in Seminary.  She is far from the only trans or gender non-conforming person I know; and they all relate the same narrative that Emily gives voice to here: “I’m telling you that no trans or gender non-conforming person wants to use the bathroom for any other reason than you do. I’m telling you that this has never been about sexual predators (who don’t need bathrooms to hurt people, and who won’t be discouraged by an anti-trans bathroom law), but about harming trans people. I’m telling you that I’d like to spend a whole lot less time thinking about bathrooms than I do.”

If we are serious about our Christian faith, then we need to ask – FIRST – how our attitudes to others express the love that Christ mandates – MANDATES (via the Second Great Commandment) – that we show in all our dealings them, and that we do so without condition or exception.

And, will they see that love in how we are acting and speaking towards them?  If they don’t, then we are failing to love them as we are required to do by the most basic tenets of our faith.

The anti-LGBTQ laws recently passed in NC and elsewhere do not pass this test.  And so, we must seriously and deeply re-examine our own motivations and faith principles if we believe this was the Christian thing to do.

Source: On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

Our Many Judases

Christ gave us a new command: “Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways.” …In so doing we shall find that we are helping others to be healed as well, for that love is in them too; and even in our many Judases.

JesusWashingDisciplesFeet-EthiopianIcon
Ethiopian Icon of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (artist & date unknown)

Monday (April 18th) was the 120th running of the Boston Marathon. And again we remember that moment during that race, three years ago, when the hate and anger that had been fanned to life within two young men exploded; forever altering or destroying the lives of many innocent and wonderful human beings.

We’ve seen people coming together in many ways to minister to those wounded, whether visibly or not, by this and so many other acts of inhumanity, both before and since that day. And, we’ve all seen those who were victims of such violence coming forward with their own stories, sharing them in many different ways, so that others who have suffered similar losses might find healing.

These outpourings of love, compassion and care reflect how Jesus calls upon us to love one another and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis, as we see in this morning’s scripture.  But, here in John 13, the disciples have not yet endured the tragedy that we know so well.

Continue reading “Our Many Judases”

Compassion and Leadership

It is clear from his interactions with these students that this is not simply a show for the cameras. The President is involved: asking these young scientists questions, encouraging them, and engaging in extended dialog with them; not allowing other (more “adult”) priorities to distract him.
Whether we agree with his policies and political stances or not; we must admire how, in so many ways, the President is constantly and concretely demonstrating how much he cares for people, all people.
Which of our current crop of Presidential candidates show that they care?
Do we really want our next President to be someone determined to destroy people’s lives through deportations, carpet bombing, or draconian social and economic policies?  If a candidate demonstrates a complete lack of compassion for so many whom we see as “other,” can we reasonably expect them to concern themselves at all for how their leadership will impact us?
Our faith – and in fact every Faith – begins with compassion and love. If these things are not present in the words and deeds of a prospective leader, then they have no business being in the business of caring for this nation.
– 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!)

An Easter Sermon: A Sissified Jesus?

No, we (who are seen by some as “Liberal” Christians) do not believe in a sissified Jesus. We follow a Jesus who died for us. A Jesus who will never let us go, and a Jesus who loves us no matter what. That kind of love, that walks through any fire, endures any cross, is an uncompromising and fierce love. This is a Jesus who’s Gospel – in whatever form it may take – is for all, not just for some.

Kneeling at The CrossYou know, loving others is hard.

Loving those lost in grief or pain, loving those who have turned away from the world out of their illness or fear or abuse, is hard.

Loving those who are different from us; who’s ways are alien to us; who’s politics or faith, or piercings and tattoos, are offensive to us; is hard.

Loving people when they shout at you, when they refuse to hear what you have to say, when they call you ugly names, when they slander you and despise you and shut you down, is hard.

Loving those who abuse or oppress you, loving those who cannot or will not love you in return, loving others when you are in such pain yourself, loving those who are nailing you to a cross, is hard.

Continue reading “An Easter Sermon: A Sissified Jesus?”

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”