A Message for All Ages: Let There be Light!

In order for God’s light to shine everywhere, as God intends, and as we are called to make happen, we need to actively look for where the darkness is, and then labor to bring light into those places.

dsc_0007A few months ago I noticed that the light bulb in the recessed fixture above my office door was burned out.

No big deal, I thought: I removed the old bulb (it was VERY dirty, must have been there for years) to make sure I knew exactly what kind of bulb I needed.  Fortunately, I had an identical spare.

I put the new bulb in: it didn’t work.  Hmm, that’s odd.

I tested the new bulb in another fixture: it worked.  Even more odd.

I then took a standard light bulb and tested the fixture above my door: it worked.

I then tested the old bulb in a desk lamp: it worked.

Everything worked.  Nothing was burned out.

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Sermon: Seeds

Many have used such stories when claiming to know God’s will, and so bull their way ahead towards some predetermined goal. They are full of hubris, not listening – or looking – for any further guidance from anyone, let alone God; confident that they are not mistaken in of their understanding of God’s will. More often than not, they fail, or else their road to success brings such great sacrifices and pain upon others that one rightfully wonders where God is in all of this.

The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645
The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645

I love reading from the histories in the Old Testament, such as this morning’s text in First Samuel about the anointing of David to replace Saul as King of Israel.

One thread in this story – as with all of our readings today – is about seeing. About what we see vs. what God sees.

This is made very plain at the heart of this passage, where the Lord says to Samuel about Jesse’s son Eliab: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” To say this another way, God sees that which we cannot see: the Lord sees the Unseen.

And yet, even after God says this, Samuel keeps on looking at six more of Jesse’s sons, and each time fails to discover what he has been sent to find. Finally, Samuel says “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all of your sons here?”

Well, it turns out that one of Jesse’s sons was not seen because he could not be seen, he was not there at all. The eighth and youngest son was up in the hills, tending his father’s sheep. David was the least of Jesse’s sons, and no one even bothered sending for him until Samuel explicitly asked that this last son of Jesse be brought before him. We see that David was unseen in many ways, but the Lord saw him!

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Lord of the Unseen

Sermon presented at First Congregational Church of West Boyleston, MA; November 20, 2011…

Readings:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

I’ve found that the best place to work on my Christian witness is while I’m driving in my car, alone.  Like, when someone cuts me off, I’ll spontaneously give them the fist of fellowship; and I’ve been known to utter a few very warm and heartfelt words when someone steals my parking spot. I also find that when I drive during rush hour, or when going to the mall during the Christmas season, that I pray every chance I get.

It’s so easy to let go, just a little bit, when we are wrapped in a steel and glass cocoon, when no one sees what we’re doing, or saying.  We are safe from interference, from having to judge whether the inconsiderate actions of others are due to their merely having a bad day, or if their IQ really is less than the speed they’re driving.  Since we’re invisible to those around us, why not let fly with a little emotion?  Why not blow off a bit of steam?

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The Unseen

When I lived in Belmont, MA I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion. He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there. His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn. Yet, no one saw him. Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist. His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

A few Sundays ago, at the beginning of Advent, I was asked to give the “Childrens’ Message” at my church – appropriate (or ironic, depending on how you look at it) since at the time, my son was due to be born any day.  I warned my fellow worship leaders that this might interfere with my being there — making it difficult for me to give the Childrens’ Message!  I said that if it happened, I would be invisible (even though everyone would know why), but that I would be “present in spirit”.

Yet, there is another kind of invisibility: the invisibility of those who are unseen.

When I lived in Belmont I would shop at the supermarket at Belmont Ave and Mt Auburn Road, not far from “Mt Auburn Cemetery” where so many notable Americans have been buried.  While shopping there, I would often see an old man – big beard, thick graying hair (though going a little thin on the top) with a Mediterranean-looking complexion.  He usually stood near the exit of the store: not saying anything, just standing there.  His clothes were neat, but obviously old and worn.  Yet, no one saw him: he was ignored as if he didn’t exist.   His face, stoic as it was, always seemed to me to be filled with a hurt pride: doing what he had to do to survive, yet once having lived a life far better than the one he has now.

Not many people think about it, but there is an abandoned railroad spur that runs behind that store: it starts as a branch off of the “Red Line” near Alewife, runs behind Fresh Pond Mall, through Fresh Pond Park, past many industrial buildings and Mt. Auburn Cemetery, before it dead ends at the Lexus dealership near the Arsenal in Watertown.  It is heavily overgrown, with at least four bridges where it passes under major roads.

Such an overgrown area in the middle of suburbia is a perfect hideaway for the homeless: trees, old buildings and overpasses provide excellent shelter.  Recycle and trash bins provide excellent foraging for cans and bottles to redeem at the supermarket.  (I often see the homeless in the area: pushing grocery carts piled-high with cans, bottles, and their worldly possessions, searching in our garbage cans anything that they can use or redeem.)

These are the real “invisible” people: living right alongside us, sometimes sleeping just a few yards from our bedroom windows, but we never see them, we never acknowledge them, we never engage with them.  — Just like that old man I saw so many times at the Shaws in Belmont.

In this Holiday season, we often talk about how Jesus, the babe is a gift from God to the world.  (…John 3:16!)  Yet, we often forget that this gift is to the world, not just us.  That world includes the homeless, the hungry, the poor.  Also, the gift wasn’t “stuff” rather, God gave of himself.

I’m reminded of another poor man I once knew – “Old George” – who had just enough money from his Social Security Check to pay his rent, and that was all.  He survived as so many of the poor in this area survive – scrounging tin cans and bottles so that he could buy food.  He was renowned for being verbally abusive and mean to people, but he changed.  The change came not because he got more money or was given more “stuff” but because someone I knew invited him to lunch.  She befriended him, and saw him as a person.  She gave of herself, her own time: showing him that he mattered, that he wasn’t just a forgotten and poor old man.

As the friendship with him continued, he began to take the love and friendship he was receiving and “spread it around” to others.  The thing that changed him as a person is that he learned that someone cared.  So, in this Christmas season I ask myself: how am I showing that “I care” to those around me?  How will that old man at the Shaws Market in Belmont know that he matters to God, unless I show him – as Jesus taught us to do?

Next time I’m in that neighborhood, I’ll seek him out and say “Hi, my name’s Allen: what’s your name?”

I wonder if he’ll be hungry.

 

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).