The Lord’s Prayer, Counterpoint

A short meditation written yesterday morning as I pondered all that is going on around us: in our homes, in our nation, and in the world…

Can we pray “Our God” if our faith has no room for others and their needs?

Can we pray “in Heaven” if our interests and pursuits are in earthly things?

Can we truly honor your name if we do not strive to be holy ourselves?

Can we pray “Your Kingdom come” if we are unwilling to accept it into our own lives?

Can we pray “on earth as it is in heaven” if we do not diligently work to make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now?

Continue reading “The Lord’s Prayer, Counterpoint”

A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

Lord God, like our predecessors who sought out John the Baptist so long ago, we are seeking you because we are in a wilderness of loneliness, pain and desperation.  We see only walls and closed doors when we look for your presence.  We feel cut off, isolated and forgotten: unseen in a dark and uncaring world.

Yet, You are our God: the One who calls us out of that darkness, the One who sees and heals our pain, the One who never forgets us, and never looses faith in us.  Paul prays that You will sanctify us entirely, keeping our spirit, soul and body sound and blameless for the return of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

And so, we are assured, and are certain – through the witness of the Holy Spirit within us – that this is true. You are faithful, and You are calling to us, even now, calling us out of your love for us, a love that overcomes all the pain, imperfection and injustice in this world, a love that transcends and conquers even death.  We are awed and restored through this love that you have so freely given us through the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.

Lord, we bring our prayers to You in faith, certain that nothing is impossible for You, not even the impossibly deep love you have for each of us and for all of humanity.

Hear now our prayers: for those of your Body who are suffering illness, job loss or other challenges, and for those who are grieving any loss, many of whom are known only to you.  Grant them healing, comfort and peace.  We pray for those who wrestle with addictions, for those caught in the trap of domestic violence, and for those who love and suffer alongside them.

Lord, in this Winter Season, we pray that all who seek warmth and shelter find it.  That all who need healing and peace are granted it.  That all who hunger for sustenance and companionship are satisfied.  May all of us be touched by your grace and power.  May all who serve our community and country be kept safe from harm, especially those in the military, and may and their families enjoy Holiday Seasons that are safe, warm and happy.

Finally Lord, we ask that we be granted the courage and grace we need to follow you faithfully, and with integrity.  Let our actions bear witness to the words we speak, and our worship and love for you overflow into every corner of our being, bringing light and hope into the lives of all we meet through our love for you and your son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Transformative Moment of Faith

A little girl was born in (if I remember right) October of 1992.  She was extremely premature, suffering from numerous life threatening medical problems.  In December, after numerous surgeries, she was sent home.  Yet, her microcephalic brain was not so easily repaired: it was 1/3rd the volume it should have been.  Her parents were told she would be a “vegetable for the rest of her life.”

That Sunday, her family brought her to church.  The Pastor called for members of the congregation to come forward and pray for the family and for the child’s healing.  I was one of those who did so.

She was such a frail little thing.  Her head was proportioned to her body as an adult’s would be, not the oversized head you expect to see in an infant.  She lay quietly as about a dozen of us crowded around, laid our hands on her and her family, and prayed for several minutes.

All of a sudden I felt a huge rush of energy pouring into and through me, and then found myself “speaking in tongues.”  I’d always dismissed this “gift of the spirit” as more likely a sign of self-delusion than a true miraculous event.  So, I was shocked, to say the least, to find it happening to me!  I returned to my pew, sweating and shaking; and had to completely rethink what had been a thoroughly intellectual and theologically liberal Protestant faith. I realized that relationships, especially my relationship with God, were much more than just logic.  Relationships require emotion, passion, and love.

Even though to this day I am still a [very] liberal Protestant Christian, this episode in my life was transformative, and made me realize that when it comes to faith, no one has all the answers, nor will we ever have all the answers: God can, and will, surprise us with something new and powerful when we least expect it.  I developed a profound and deep respect for the faith of others, as I now know that no matter where someone is “coming from,” their faith is of value not just for them, but also for others: if we are open to it, their faith can teach all of us something valuable about our own faith, and about the nature of God.

What happened to that little girl?  We left the church soon after, when we moved out of state.  We visited that town again several years later and made a point of stopping by one afternoon to see this family. The little girl with a disproportionately small head was walking, talking, and in school.  She came up to me when asked by her parents to say hello to this red headed stranger that she did not remember, then laughed and ran back to play with her sisters.

I still get tears in my eyes thinking of that moment.

 

Copyright (c) 2011, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Prayer Inspired by Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Pastoral Prayer Delivered at First Parish, Lincoln, MA on January 16, 2011.

From his jail cell in Birmingham in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” and that we all have to repent not merely for the hateful words and actions of some, but for our own silence.

He said that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; but comes through the tireless efforts of those of us willing to be co-workers with God, and that without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of stagnation.

So, we dedicate ourselves to walking with those who find themselves in the abyss of despair, our brothers and sisters who have found that the trials of this world and the sorrows created by the choices of others can no longer be endured, alone.  In particular this morning, we remember:

  • The vast numbers of people in many lands who have recently lost homes and loved ones due to natural and manmade disasters;
  • Those experiencing the effects of illness, injury or disease in themselves or in those they love;
  • Those who have lost jobs and homes; and perhaps their own sense of hope and self-respect, in these difficult times;
  • Those mourning the loss of loved ones or are themselves recovering from the violence of those who have forgotten their humanity;
  • Those suffering from oppression and injustice, and are unable to speak for themselves.

Today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead help us rekindle the light of faith and hope in those we meet and minister-to.  By helping them to walk, they are helping us to run.  By helping us to run, they themselves are becoming agents of change and hope.

God, we honor your presence here today, and rejoice in the many ways you walk with us, and are a constant companion in our journey through life.  We ask for your grace, inspiration and strength as we seek to do the same for our fellow human beings, and so enable them to see you working through us.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2011, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

A Memorial Day Prayer

Given at the regular Sunday Worship Service at First Parish, Lincoln on Sunday, May 30, 2010…

Before giving this morning’s pastoral prayer, I’d like to read you a poem that inspired my prayer and, I think, fits well with this Memorial Sunday.  It was written by Sgt. James Lenihan, a veteran who passed away in 2007.  He is known to have written only one poem in his life, describing his feelings after killing an enemy soldier in 1944.  Here it is:

A Warrior’s Poem: “Murder–So Foul”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise,
The strangest thing happened to me
I began to cry.

He was so young, so very young
And Fear was in his eyes,
He had left his home in Germany
And came to Holland to die.

And what about his Family
were they not praying for him?
Thank God they couldn’t see their son
And the man that had murdered him.

I knelt beside him
And held his hand–
I begged his forgiveness
Did he understand?

It was the War
And he was the enemy
If I hadn’t shot him
He would have shot me.

I saw he was dying
And I called him “Brother”
But he gasped out one word
And that word was “Mother.”

I shot a man yesterday
And much to my surprise
A part of me died with Him
When Death came to close
His eyes.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember all those who fought and died for this, our Nation, but we also remember that those who died fighting against us had mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, spouses, sons and daughters – just like us – who are grieving their loss, as we grieve ours.  We remember that in War there is loss and pain for all involved, affecting a community that extends far beyond the battlefield in time and in space.

Holy Spirit, we come before you this morning, remembering the losses we and those we love experience as a result of War.  We remember the pain and anguish that many, soldiers and loved ones alike, have endured for years after those battlefield experiences.  In doing so, we honor the sacrifices that so many have made in the name of freedom and in defense of this country.  We ask, Holy Spirit, that you work in us, and in those we confront as enemies, to bring peace, healing and understanding, so that armed conflict and hate no longer come between us.  Instead, let Your Love and understanding embrace and fill all of us.

We also lift up those who are battling in other ways at this time: justice or job loss, illness, and other crises in their personal lives: battling the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; and those who are still seeking to recover and rebuild from the effects of the earthquake in Haiti and other natural disasters.  We ask that your spirit, love and healing fill and strengthen them, and enable us, individually and as a community, to support them in their times of spiritual and material need.

Thank You, Holy Spirit, for Your presence, Your guidance, Your Love, and Your healing power working in and through us.

Amen.

 

Copyright (c) 2010, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Oh, THAT Prayer!

A Classmate gave a sermon in “Preaching Class” that made me realize how my current experience parallels that of Zachariah (the father of John the Baptist, in the Gospel of Luke) in some ways, and how thankful I am for the grace of God in my life.

In “preaching” class recently, a fellow student gave a message that was deeply moving and poignant.  The text was Luke 1, the story of Zachariah, father of John the Baptist.  She talked about how Zachariah had been chosen to burn incense on the altar in the Temple and pray.  Then, an angel appeared and said “your prayers are answered.”

Then she asked “which prayers were being answered?”  At the time, Zachariah was praying as part of a public ritual, he was not praying solely for himself.  He must have done a double-take, thinking “Oh, THAT prayer!” when the Angel said “Elizabeth will have a son” instead of saying something like “the Messiah is coming and Israel will be restored.”

Zachariah was old, as was his wife.  Would they have bothered talking about wanting a child to anyone, any more?  Was that long-unanswered prayer one that they only thought-about in the dark hours of the night, when sleep could not find them, when (as my classmate said) they stared at the empty spot in the corner where they had once hoped a cradle, someday, would be?

These are the types of prayers that we hide and bury down deep because we can no longer bear saying them out loud.  Was God answering a prayer that Zachariah had given up-on himself?

His response to Gabriel seems to indicate this was the case: “How will I know this for certain?”  At this point in the sermon, a whole train of thought hit me: All those unanswered prayers of my own broke upon me, and I completely lost track of the rest of her message.

All of us can identify with Zachariah’s “hidden prayers” all too well.  We have all spent many lonely nights, remembering those earnest prayers that never seem to have been answered.  And yet here, those hopes were answered in an unexpected way, at an unexpected time: Zachariah was completely unprepared for it.  What can his story teach us?

First, God’s timing is not ours.  Zachariah had given up on his hidden prayers being fulfilled.  There was no longer any reasonable expectation that they could be:  Zachariah certainly didn’t expect it, nor did I when my own such prayers were answered.

Second, that God’s means of fulfilling those hidden and buried prayers is not ours.  If someone, on July 9, 2005, had told me that my life would be anything like where I am today, I’d have (bitterly) laughed in their face: at the time I felt that all of my life’s prayers were beyond reach, any hope of attaining them gone forever.  Yet, a day later, my feet were firmly on the path to the life I have now.  Like Zachariah, the change was sudden, startling, and irrevocable.  For me, the path forward was not clear, nor was there any certainity to it, but I knew that the path forward could only be far better than where I had been.

Third, that attaining the fulfillment of those hidden prayers is not easy – even once the door opens.  There was a high cost, at least for me and Zachariah.  Yet, I don’t think either of us would think about paying it all over again if we had to.  For us, every step of that journey has been worth it.  In Zachariah’s case, it was the birth of a son.  For me, it has been a whole multitude of things, not the least of which is my wife, my new (and restored) family, and the opportunity to pursue the career that itself had been a hidden prayer for many years.

Finally, the journey is not done.  The need for God’s grace and presence didn’t end with Zachariah’s naming his son “John”.  Although we are not told the rest the story, I am certain that John’s walk towards becoming a Prophet was marked by unnumbered examples of God’s grace and guidance, and that his parents were on their knees frequently: thanking God and praying for their son.  In my own case, a similar journey is one of several that are just beginning for me.

Other “hidden prayers” remain in my own life, as in all of our lives.  For me, one unanswered prayer that I think about every day, if not several times a day,  is seeing the relationship with my daughter healed and restored: a hidden hurt that has become all the more poignant for me, now that her brother’s birth is imminent.  I pray that the gulf between us is somehow bridged, so that I can at least know that my constant prayers for her safety and happiness are being answered.

But, maybe those prayers aren’t as hidden and forgotten as we think: from Zachariah’s example, we know that those prayers are not hidden from God, and so that hope of their fulfillment never needs to die.  But, we can also be sure that God will fulfill them in a way and time of His own choosing, not ours.  So, I will also remember what Romans 8:6 teaches us: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”  If we focus on worldly means of achieving our prayers, as Zachariah and I did, those hopes will die.  But, by staying focused on the inner witness of God’s Love for us, we will have peace even when all worldly hope is gone.

 

Copyright (c) 2009, 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 mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

Amen!