Saturday, February 15, 2020

Living in the Way of God - Matthew 5:21-37

Living in the Way of God
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Reflection based upon Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Psalm 119, and Matthew 5:21-37.

Psalm 19

Matthew 5 has been my favorite chapter in the Scriptures with the Sermon on the Mount.  This portion of the text follows the beatitudes. Unlike the blessings we get in the beatitudes, this text can make people feel uncomfortable because where before we were given a life through Christ full off blessing, Jesus is reaching into our hearts and reminding us that how we act in the world is how we live into God’s commandments, as given to us in Deuteronomy. I submit to you today that these readings are ways in which we can be living in the way of God. 

Like I said, the lectionary lines up Deuteronomy 30 and Psalm 119 with Matthew 5 given similar themes of law, mountains, gardens (as an aspiring gardener I love this) which are life-giving. Deuteronomy starts with, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” God gave us abundance and challenges. Deuteronomy goes further and life is given for “loving the LORD your God and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live.” This is a commandment: “to love God” and “hold fast to God” means to live into our covenant with God. So how do we live into our commandment?

So often I hear people talk about great ideas like “living into our commandment” and then forget to tell us how those ideas might look.  It starts with above all “loving the LORD.”

That brings us to this portion of the sermon on the mount, “…that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council…

Jesus is talking about anger and judgment. These are personal emotions that we have, and these are how people react to life and to that adversity – didn’t we just read Moses say God-given adversity.  Peoples’ two favorite subjects adversity and anger.  Anger is a response but does it need to be the response to adversity?

One theologian remarked that this is about what is in our hearts. I like this. Thus, I ask, what is in our hearts because saying and doing ought to follow what is in our heart. Otherwise, we are just hypocrites.  If our hearts are full of anger, judgment and resentment then our spirits are held back by negative emotion. Really, can you be honest about love?  We are not “loving the LORD our God” because we are not letting God into our hearts. 

Further, We are not letting God guide our interaction with our neighbors.  We should remember that neighbors are not defined by distance and that may be difficult to imagine with a room full of people right here that live together as neighbors. When we talk about neighbors, as Iowans, as Americans, as people of God - our neighborhood envelopes the whole world.  Genesis tells us that God created us all in the image of God in this garden of Earth.  This is why we are to love our neighbors because they were created in God’s image. You might see God in your neighbor.

Then, we let God be with us in our interaction with our neighbors, and we do not let anger rule our responses.

Passing judgment upon people whether in traffic or just because they upset you is not giving space for God to work.  Maybe, you saw someone protesting on television or crying over the systemic injustices and it moved you to anger.  When our response is anger and judging, then we are not giving space for people to be where they are - we are not giving space for God.

Instead, we produce negative stereotypes rather than letting the wholeness of people teach us more about God. Casting stereotypes reveals our privilege.  Then, we hide behind our privilege and call migrant neighbors illegals.  We hide behind our privilege and tell black people to stop protesting. We hide behind privilege and tell people that you have to live life with shame for being queer. We hide behind privilege that tells women they have no right over their own bodies.

Deuteronomy reminds us that adversity has been set before us so that we might learn.  In Matthew, Jesus calls out wide injustices in society that is rooted in judgment, patriarchy, and false privilege because God tells us to reconcile and to love – to love with our whole hearts. 

The beatitudes tells us that Jesus sees you wherever you are, and Jesus sees those who cause injustice. We are reminded how victimizers today can create the next victimizers of tomorrow.  I see you and I see your heart beyond your words and through your revealed faith.  Therefore, live with your heart open to your neighbor (whether here in this room, across town, those heading to the polls, those seeking new life in America and those whom may irritate us once in a while). Yes, open your heart to God and your neighbor rather than closed with anger.

The law reveals a portion of God’s heart.  Thus, what defines us and our actions?  Warren Buffet is quoted as saying that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation but only 5 minutes to ruin it.” We can and ought to live the promise with our neighbors rather than against them.

It is not always easy to see God and not always easy to live the way of God, but when we do, we find the many gifts surrounding us and lifting us. You may see God in them as I see in you.  We don’t have to be afraid adversity because we learn to trust God’s love will work for you.

God gives growth and allows us to be mature in that grace rather than dwell in the hurt that divides us. We might be hurting inside, spiritually, physically, and socially, God is there to heal and warm your heart into new life when you let yourself live into that love. Let God guide you and be with you.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trump is a failure

Trump is a failure!
His signature piece of legislation,
 cutting taxes, has cost Americans trillions of dollars in debt!
No economy for the future.
Zero effort on climate change.
Destruction of National Treasures (our national parks).
No health care reform.
No immigration reform.
Tearing apart families.
No healing of racial divides – not even an attempt.
No halting the stealing of intellectual property – companies still offshore.
Not making our streets safer – crime went up!
Weakened our credibility in the world and is laughing stock.
Taunted and weakened our alliances while emboldening those who threaten us (Russia, N. Korea).
Acts of war.
No Veteran administration reform and using our military as pawns.
Ignorance of the Constitution.
Crippled our education system.
Destructive moral leadership with all of the lies and adolescent behavior.
Complete disregard for women.
Government policies for sale.
Proposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Disability…
The list goes on…
Trump is running this country like his businesses... right into the ground.
A complete utter and total failure!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Baptism and Affirmations Matthew 3

Baptism and Affirmations
Tony E Dillon Hansen
12 Jan 2020

Reflection upon Matthew 3:13-17, Psalm 29, Isaiah 42

Let us pray from Psalm 19…

Beloved of God, today is the festival of the baptism of Jesus!! In some parts of the world, this day is bigger than Christmas!

People come to church from a variety of directions and beliefs. We come to baptism this way as well. In this lesson, Matthew’s Gospel introduces Jesus to public ministry through baptism in the Jordan, through God’s revelation and Spirit speaking. 

We don’t have to be at the Jordan River to experience the Spirit. We can (and I hope we do) experience the Spirit here and now. So, let the Spirit reveal to us.

In our Church, baptism is community witness of the holy Spirit coming into the lives of people -- as we read, all who present at the Jordan saw the revelation of God. I am reminded of the youth groups that go through Confirmation, and how I asked them to affirm their community of faith.  The youth of St Jon UCC said the Spirit is with us “all day and every day.” Therefore, all we need is to listen.

The World Council of Churches lists multiple things that happen when we are baptized, but the one that resonates the most with me is how we get to witness the Spirit working in community during these experiences.  I submit that we can witness that Spirit working when we, as a community, affirm our baptisms, and when we listen to the Spirit and be with the Spirit in the moment.

Whether baptized as a child or later in life, the Spirit was working. We are reminded of this every time we attend a baptism.  Never fails to amaze me when a light from the sun suddenly shines upon them as the waters pour over them. A child suddenly looks up and smiles, fellow is moved to tears of joy, or a young woman opens her eyes with new sight of Christ. You can’t help but be moved by this.

We can witness that Spirit working again around us and within us.  Like in our Matthew Gospel, all who were present witnessed the Spirit of God revealed.
So Beloved, through baptism and our affirmation, we are witness to the Messianic mission of Jesus and invited to Christian community. We can experience the Spirit when we let God be with us and reveal to us.

We have many amazing examples to see God and Spirit working in our midst. A hospital worker reads to sick children. A man organizes with teams to distribute food and supplies among area homeless. A neighborhood gets together to plant a garden. People sharing stories, hugs, smiles and genuine hearts are ways we can witness the Spirit working.  You can enjoy that right now right here in your heart.

Yes, water is an important symbol of baptism because of the beautiful, cleansing and life-sustaining properties, but the real sign is how the Spirit mutually connects us together in our witness and connecting with the Spirit of God.

This is how we begin new life and renew in Christ and Spirit.  A good thing is that we don’t lose this because God is there for you to renew today. You may find, as Gunnemann writes, “liberation from the bonds of self-serving religion” (or judgement and desires).  Let the Spirit lift you, free you and give you comfort – a holy and powerful transformation from our brokenness!

When we, as people, witness this transformation, we get to affirm and connect to our understanding of that Spirit. Ultimately, baptism is a powerful and meaningful experience because our baptism, our affirmation, and our witness is about how Jesus is revealed within us. That Epiphany is the Holy Spirit with us and in our hearts and minds through this covenant of faith.

In this light, when St John UCC had Confirmation, there were parts not only for the youth individually, but the youth as a group and then for the congregation as whole.

The spirit moved the entire congregation as we all witnessed the Spirit working.

These happened because there is something happening, perhaps a “conversion of the heart” or just warm smiles of acceptance when we let the Spirit move us. When we let God connect with us, when we set aside judgment and when we set aside expectations, we might hear God speaking and asking to do good today and maybe, be compelled to joyful tears or a simple smile.

That Spirit brings us into one community with God. Then, with prayer -- answering the Spirit, you can let God’s love fill you, and maybe, you can witness that light upon you too!

Listen to the Spirit working and witness God speaking to you, and follow the light upon you – oh Beloved Child of God – for whom God is well pleased!

Hear God speaking and connecting with you.  Connect with your beautiful smile and tears. Share with the people in this very room. Thus, just as Jesus revealed the presence of God in the Jordan, these are moments you can connect to the holy and embrace your life with Christ and be comforted with the Spirit.

Thanks be to God!