Sermon: Something Has Changed

Our world is always changing, and yet we hang on to our old traditions and ways of seeing and doing things. We just sort of muddle along: usually (but not always) aware of these changes happening all around us. It often takes a crisis for us to fully appreciate how things have changed: that the old ways no longer work; that we must adapt.

capernaumsynagogue
The restored 4th Century Synagogue at Capernaum, built on the foundations of the Centurion’s Synagogue

As you may know, my father was a Minister, too.  And, it’s both humbling and surprising to find myself standing here nearly 60 years after he entered Seminary, a Minister myself. It was not a career I had any wish or plan to pursue – ever!

But, things change…

Some of my earliest memories are of my Father leading a worship service. I particularly remember his voice booming out over the congregation as we sang hymns. But, I have no memory of this from when I was older!

When I asked him about this a few years ago, he told me the following story. You see, he was called to the church (that I first remember him in) when I was about 3. On Sundays, he’d sing from the pulpit as he’d always done in his other churches.  But, in this new church something was different, something that he did not realize mattered.

His previous churches had no audio system. So, singing from the pulpit had never been an issue, he’d never thought about it. And, he didn’t think about it in the new Church either, because the speakers pointed towards the congregation, not towards him. He didn’t hear what everyone else heard.

As a three year old, I had no idea that hearing the preacher sing so LOUDLY was not normal. To me, that was just the way things were, and should be.  My perspective was never challenged until that moment in my late 40’s when my Father told me how “Pony” Felch, the church moderator, took him aside one day. Then, in his wonderful old Vermont twang he said, “You know Reverend, we really appreciate your singing.  But, the next time you sing a hymn from the pulpit, take a step or two back!”

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Bridging the Gap

AN31491615epa03937969-Pope-Sermon: “Bridging the Gap”
Presented at Payson Park Church, UCC in Belmont, MA
September 8, 2013
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10

It is good to be back among friends, to once again worship with the Christian Community that embraced me as one of their own when I first moved back to New England in 2006. Your love of me brought healing, hope and eventually new love and new life into my life, and I am glad that I have been able to bring my wife and son, the fruits of the love you cultivated in me, here with me today, and I am blessed that you continue to support me in my call to the ministry through your invitation to have me speak here today – and so I extend a deeply felt “Thank You” to Lael, and all of you, for this opportunity.

And it is about embracing the stranger that I wish to speak of today. In today’s world, we see increasingly extreme cases of violence and brutality afflicted by those with power upon those who have little or none. And, our public discourse has degenerated from a dialog for finding common ground for action into a strident battle over whose demagoguery is the most pure and right. The quarrels and injustices grow ever more daunting; and the gaps that separate us seem wider, every time we turn around. All of these are examples of how rejecting those who are different, placing those who are foreign or strange – those not of our “family” – on the other side of a gap that has been opened between us and them.

And once it’s there, no matter whether we created it or others, it seems like there is nothing we can do to bridge that gap; to rebuild relationship and trust once they have been extinguished. We can’t fix it. Change for the better has never seemed so out of reach as it does now. These strife-laden gaps make it all too easy, and reasonable, to retreat into protecting our own turf: responding to differences with others’ by hardening our positions, and demonizing them in return.

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Things Have Changed

Our world is always changing, and yet we hang on to our old traditions and ways of seeing things. This doesn’t always work well, and we often don’t realize it. We just muddle along, often somewhat aware of the changes going on around us, but perhaps not having thought through their full impact. It often takes a challenge to our views and memories for us to fully appreciate what has happened, and how those changes affect us and what we are called to do.

Sermon presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC (Brattleboro, VT)
June 2, 2013
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10

The Synagogue in Ancient Capernaum
The Synagogue in Ancient Capernaum

As most of you know, my father, Allen Vander Meulen Jr., was once a Minister here.  It’s humbling and a bit surreal to stand here nearly 50 years after his first Sunday here; and I am happy to report that both he and my mother are here today!  Thank you, Rev. McFadden, and all of you, for inviting me to speak here this morning: it is a blessing and an honor.  I am deeply grateful.

My earliest memories are connected with this church.  One of the first, I think, is hearing my Dad’s voice boom out over the congregation during hymns.

You see, he’d stand here and sing as he’d always done in his previous churches.  But, in coming here something was different, something that he did not realize mattered.  Those previous churches had not had one of these [TAP ON MIKE].  So, singing in full volume with his powerful voice had never been an issue before, he’d never had to think about it – and didn’t think about it because the speakers pointed towards the congregation, not towards him – he didn’t hear what we heard.

And I was three years old – I didn’t know any different.  I had no idea that hearing the preacher sing so LOUDLY was not normal, not even at those times when I recalled it decades later.  It had been cemented in my mind as the way things were, life as normal.  My perspective on it was never challenged until a moment of revelation – in my forties, I think – when I finally heard the story of how “Pony” Felch, the church moderator at the time, took my Dad aside one day and said in that wonderful old Vermont accent of his “You know Allen, next time you sing a hymn from the pulpit, take a step back!”

Our world is always changing, and yet we hang on to our old traditions and ways of seeing things.  This doesn’t always work well, and we often don’t realize it.  We just muddle along, often somewhat aware of the changes going on around us, but perhaps not having thought through their full impact.  It often takes a challenge to our views and memories for us to fully appreciate what has happened, and how those changes affect us and what we are called to do.

Continue reading “Things Have Changed”