Saturday, January 23, 2021

Time to Repent - Mark 1

Time to Repent

Tony E Dillon-Hansen


A sermon based upon Jonah 3: 1-5,10; Psalm 62 and Mark 1:14-20


Opening prayer…


We read Mark’s account of Jesus calling upon the first disciples and is similar to what we read in John’s Gospel last week.  Yet let us focus upon verses 14 and 15.  


“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” 


There are some juicy bits in these verses. First, this talks about how John was arrested, this is a point in the life of Jesus. A time that cannot be undone and perhaps a defining moment. This is the time for Jesus. 


I can think of times in my life when something happened that made me change the way I was thinking and doing.  When we go through life knowing things aren’t the way we would like, things seem stale, or people get away with too many things.  Then there is that moment when something happens when we can no longer ignore or kick the can down the road.  It is a moment when we have to stop, recognize and really consider our next step.  


To give you an example, I was always getting involved with organizations around Eastern Iowa as a volunteer worker and board member.  Then there was a call for help with the Pride Festival in Iowa City.  People showed up to the meeting at a coffeehouse, and there was plenty of debate of what to do and how to do it. Arguments were rising. Then, there was this question of who wants to lead this.  There seemed like a collective step backwards, and I must not have got the cue in my sip of coffee. I looked around, saw the mountain of work and said ok let’s do this. 


Suddenly, I was the coordinator with only a few months to put this together.  


We gathered into common effort and divided tasks among us. With plenty of leg work with colleagues and friends, we successfully pulled it together.  There were snafus as always, but it was an experience going from relative obscure backbench to full visible leader – (that year and the next).  


It is times like these that define us. Times where we can go back, remain stale or remain relatively obscure; or we can recognize, change direction, and take the step forward. 


Addicts might relate to this as “moments of clarity” because in moments of test and darkness, we see a light - a truth where we see what has been and can no longer be. Time to change, time to turn, time to repent. 


I think that is measure of what happens in these lines because Jesus’s good friend and cousin, John has just been arrested for speaking truth to power (against Herod). Jesus knows this is the time - the time to fulfill. Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is near, to “repent and believe in the good news.” 


This is a reckoning – “enough is enough” moment (as Prof Skinner says) – but it is more than just enough of what has been – but recognizing what can be and my part in it.  This is the time - the time to repent – to change. 


Repent is often used negatively with connotations of personal punishment, confessions of sin, admittance of guilt, but also in that is a recognition – a recognition of our sin that separates us from the divine and from our sacred duty to neighbors. There is a recognition that we have let materials and complacency distract us. This is a recognition of a better way and to turn towards the light, turn towards the promise of God.


We have been preparing for this time all for a long time - for this time all of our lives. This is the time to repent. This is the time to fish for something greater than ourselves. 


This is the time we recognize God is calling us to get busy, to turn away from complacency, to turn away from material weights, to turn way from the accustomed distractions, and to say “enough.” (Time we cannot sit on the backbench.)


This is time to turn towards God, to turn towards Truth, and to turn towards God’s way and justice. We don’t have to wait for another time because we have right now- right here- when God’s kingdom is near.  


Thus we are called not only personally but as a community into loving, prayerful and courageous action. For the world needs us; our community needs us; and our church needs us! We need us, in this moment, with no more ignoring or neglect.  This is our time!


So repent isn’t just about my personal failings and building anew but also revelation - what we can do together recognizing were we have collectively failed; were we ought to improve; and what we do.


The time is fulfilled when we take that personal step and that collective step because we recognize that kingdom we seek is among us.  We ought to change our hearts and lives so that we might truly hear the good news.


Turn around, step forward, take hold of something better in your life, in our lives. Let’s do this.  The moment is here, that is part of the power of Epiphany and revelation. The moment is here whether you grieve and hurt or success and joy.  There is something for you in this moment.


Through repentance our perspective changes from being frail, broken or tired into seeing the possible, the opportunity, and the promise of God. It is our time to roll up sleeves; it is time to get to work. Lean into the good news today and let it open your hearts into the possible – into the presence of God. 


We know people that don't see and wont change destructive words or ways.  We can do our best to influence them. Ultimately, that is not up to us - but them and their relationship with God. For ourselves, we won’t ever get it perfectly, but be not discouraged, for God is here among us. God’s peace is accessible right here. When we recognize God is among us, we have taken the first steps away from obscurity, hard times, dark places, and misery. When we recognize God is among us, when you open your mind to this possibility, your mind will be blown with God’s reality and God’s peace is available to you. 


So believe in the good news, let your mind be blown and let the kingdom break forth into our midst to overcome hate, grief and injustice. Let the good news set you free.  


Then in our community, we collectively reveal that presence so evident there is no mistake that God’s promise is here – the peace, the liberation, and love is here – even in the midst of chaos.


So turn today towards God’s presence together, see your neighbors, see God’s Beloved, see all God’s children.  See the truth and possibility in each of us.  


We have been in this past year of continuous waiting for something: vaccine, justice, and calmer living.  We can have that calm today. “Trust in God, trust all times, O people. Pour out your heart” for God is our refuge. “That Power belongs to God” and God’s steadfast love is for you.


Maybe that is why Amanda Gorman’s poem is so powerful,


“When day come, we step out of the shade,

Aflame and afraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light

If only we’ re brave enough to see it

If only we’ re brave enough to be it.”


The time is fulfilled, the time to change is now, the good news is here.

Are you brave enough to see it, 

Are you brave enough to be it?


Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Come and See John 1

Come and See

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

17 Jan 2021


Sermon based upon John 1:35-51, Psalm 139 and 1 Samuel 3:1-10


Friends, Neighbors, Beloved,


This week in Epiphany picks up right after the baptism where the Spirit descending upon Jesus in full splendor. We talked a bit last week about how baptism gives us birth into the new life with Christ. Let our hearts be guided by the Spirit. 


When I was young, our family didn’t have a lot of money. If I wanted something, I had to earn it, or had to find ways to make a few bucks (mowing lawns, shoveling snow, walking beans, bailing hay). Yet, there is always this temptation to ask for more than what we could afford. 


People like to look around - compare ourselves to each other. We like shiny things, and that can get us into trouble. Why do we do this and who are we trying to impress? What do we trade for all of those shiny things, and are these shiny things really all that exciting? When we let this attitude guide us, we let society define our wealth, our worth, and what is good without recognizing the honest and good person inside. What does that say about us?


Yes we want to improve ourselves, but we also need to recognize the true beauty in uniqueness. There is real value and worth in that.


Starting in John 1: 35 where John tells his son Andrew about Jesus. Andrew then asks Jesus “where are you going?” which Jesus replies, “Come and See.” Jesus didn’t ask for credit application, creeds, or political leanings; Jesus takes Andrew “as-is.”  Andrew gets this encounter with Jesus. After this, Andrew wants to introduce Jesus to Simon Peter.  Then, Jesus continues and finds Philip “as-is.” Philip in turn tells Nathanael, “Come and See.”  Just like that, Jesus has followers.  


What just happened here?  In this season of Epiphany, it is about the revelation and manifestation of Christ and the Spirit working. Thus, Jesus finds Andrew and Andrew calls upon Simon (whose name changes to Peter). Jesus finds Philip to “follow me” who in turn calls upon Nathanael. 


Nathanael even questions the possibility that anything coming out of Nazareth being good. We have heard people say that before all around us. Yet, Nathanael takes the call from Philip to “come and see.” They decided to come and see. Why did Andrew and Philip do this?  


Jesus sees people “as-is” – beautiful and broken. Again, Jesus didn’t stop these at the door and ask for creeds, qualifications or skills. Jesus said “come and see.”  That is an invitation, but it is a multi-way invitation. When we invite Jesus in turn, we get that welcoming encounter.


In the Season of Epiphany, we are invited into the presence of the One and invited to share that presence with the wider community. We are reminded of our own encounter with Jesus through our baptismal call. Through that baptism, we are tasked to call upon others to “Come and see” – to have their own encounter.


I doubt many people would honestly drop everything when a random person comes up to us and says “follow me,” but there is something unique and captivating about Jesus. We know people like this that do not judge us but invite us “as-is.” We want others to meet them. That is true value.


We know well that following Jesus is not simple because this tasks us to be honest about our expectations. When we do, we let Jesus encounter us and work us.


Again… Following Jesus is not just a simple one way transaction. It is more than just saying “Here I am” as Samuel said. Samuel embraced, and let the Spirit become him. Though our baptism, we are called to be fishers of people, and like Andrew and Philip, we are to invite others into the encounter so that they might experience that presence too. 


Thing is that when you let that encounter happen, you don’t have to put up your guard or force Jesus into some expectation because as we said last week, the Truth is the Truth, and Truth will set you free. Part of the revelation is that Jesus does not always fit into our expectations but rather gives us so much more than we can imagine. 


That Spirit helps us to seek beyond divides and into the hearts of our neighbors. There is no hiding or mischief here.  There is no deception but there is that invitation – not just for you and me but for us to share.  


Just think of those times when you prayed and when you felt the hope, you felt your heart being tickled by the Spirit.  Those times when you look at the world and realize just how beautiful our world is whether glistening snow, calm flowing creek, colorful flowers, happy puppy, or embracing love of family and friends. 


Not having a lot of money was difficult, but we learned to appreciate the truly valuable – like family, Church and humility. I believe that Jesus was there for us.


With the new year, you might be thinking about resolutions (or what’s left of them), but it is never too late to start again – to renew. You can look in the mirror, say “here I am” and know that you are wonderfully made – as-is!


When that happens, when you really want it, when you let the Spirit happen to you, you cannot help it - then you want to share that feeling - that joy.  You get excited about what happened to you and how Jesus makes you feel. That is why Andrew finds Peter and Philip tells Nathanael “come and see.” Because they experienced the full presence and they want to share that great feeling.


There is no trickery and no peer pressure, just the pure grace that invited you into the Church, the community with the Spirit among and within each of us. Take that cue from Jesus!


So leave your worry, your struggle, your expectations, let us experience the possibility, the grace. Remember that you may feel broken at times and yes there are many shiny things around us to distract us, but you are “wonderfully made,” the Lord knows you and the Lord is there for you!


So together, let us come and see. 


Thanks Be to God

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Time to Renew - Mark 1

It is Time to Renew

Tony E Dillon Hansen

A sermon based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Mark 1:4-11, and Psalm 51.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds, O Lord you are our Rock and our Redeemer.

Friends, neighbors, Beloved,

Where to begin today after the week we have had? I had a different idea for today's worship.  This time, I feel compelled to speak about the anxiety and emotions of Wednesday’s unprecedented violence.

I wrote about it earlier this week and shared it with you, my friends and many colleagues as we attempt to cope with the aftermath of Jan6th.  It is hard to imagine what many of you had going through your mind.

People have been asking questions like, “How did we get here?” “why is this happening now?” “where do we go from here?”

People are just trying to make sense of it all. People are grieving (anger, sadness, anxious, worried) because we loss something - a loss of American identity, the loss of American trust, & breakdown of the sacred American community (brotherhood). 

Grief has a way of giving us perspectives long ignored. 

Grief has a way of reminding us not to ignore the evil in the corner.

Grief has a way of building a path forward to reconciliation – with ourselves and our neighbors. 

This quote from Lincoln might help to set the mood, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

To be honest, we had clues something like this was brewing because holiday dinners have become increasingly toxic. So many have decided to ignore truth and believe something else.  This is more than just finger pointing. It is bent up frustrations and lost faith in the American experiment – a unique and diverse community experiment.  This frustration morphs into willful ignorance of the truth and unwillingness to compromise. Why? - for convenience, ego or was it peer pressure? Some are so frustrated that they are willing to “burn down the house.”

What happened on Jan 6th is also direct consequence of being consumers of wrong information or outright lies.  This continues today. This demonstrates how evil distorts truth and manipulates good people into denying truth’s existence – denying community - denying trust – denying any cooperation.  It is a refusal to see opposing views as learning opportunities but rather as vermin to be exterminated. Cooperation stands no chance when people don't want to have dialog - don't want to trust. I dont need unity, but we do need honest (non-threatening) dialog - and Truth! We need trust in each other and that is founded in Love.

When you dont have dialog, you get mobs. On a day when Christians want to celebrate the revelation of Christ, we were reminded that mobs do not listen to reason or truth, like that day on Calvary when a mob murdered Jesus, or when mobs lynched innocent Black people or Jews and "degenerates" were marched to death camps. Afterwards, they wipe hands, turn to each other and call that “justice.”

The truth and reconciliation are not visible because people have drawn curtains to hide God’s Truth and Love for us all. Yet, Jesus - once before - tore open curtains to reveal the truth (Mark 15:28).  Why? because He Loved us! Sometimes what is revealed is not easy to see, but recognizing will give us a chance to reclaim our mutual covenant - to reclaim hope, reconciliation, life, and love in the community. 

Jesus tear open these curtains - so that we can see each other again!

We, as Christians, don’t need to keep spinning truth into narratives so they conveniently fit our claims because the truth is the Truth - and not always convenient. And Love is powerful!

Beloved, Tear open your curtains! Tear them open with the love of your hearts!

Ecclesiastes teaches us,

There is a “time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”


Thus, there is a time to live even in our need and grief because love will win.

There is a time to be real and to let truth and powerful be our guide. That time is now.

I, along with many of you, experienced many different stages of grief over the past week. In these moments, when the questions swirl, the emotions are high and hurt is real, it is a reminder to focus upon something, meditate and pray.  Mindful meditation would have us start with the breath. Jesus would have us lean into true Love.

Yes, it is time for us to step back a moment and collectively take a breath with hands on our hearts and know that we are not alone - despite a week of chaos and pain.  We have our Creator and Jesus, through baptism, restores us to the joy of salvation and sustains us. 

When we renew our baptismal vows and feel the water upon our brow, we are cleansed for just a moment of all of our brokenness and worry. We are reborn into the life that has been gifted to us through Christ.  We get the chance to renew and start again. We need that now more than ever. This is how we begin to reconcile - through rebirth into Christ. There we will find powerful love!

That is the promise of baptism – that with God, the cleansing Spirit, our sins are washed so that we might have new life and salvation. We restore with the Love of the One who brought us. We are reminded that we do not walk alone as the Spirit shines upon us.  We do this together with honest resolve and witness of truth and love of neighbor through Christ. 

I was reminded by one of my colleagues that even after a wildfire in a meadow, the field shows blooms of new life. The grief is real, loss is felt and hopefully lessons learned. 

Tear open those curtains, look at what we have done and be honest. Then realize what happens when we accomplish together, when love works - so that we reconcile our differences and then, we might be the blooms that God meant for us to be. Be vulnerable, find compassion, and let others know they too can be vulnerable.  We are all in this together, and we have Providence to guide us – the promise of our Baptism. 

So look up, look around you and meet the Spirit falling upon you, surrounding you, within you and a part of you.  

In difficult times of pure darkness, we have a chance to see the true light that helps us heal.  The true light guiding us to better days and a horizon full of hope. Light that cannot be hidden.

In these tenuous times and grief, we find the Spirit giving us strength and courage to face our trial and tribulation – so that we might earn the thanks of generations to come because we persevered, and we learned Love again. We leaned into our hope and grace rather than despair and division. 

In these times of pain and grief, we can become the salt of the Earth that provides the blessed spice of life and joy of God around us and through us. We take that next step with assurance and grace – knowing we don’t walk alone and that love is all around us!

In these anxious times, find peace embracing us and calling to us with calm breath. So let’s take that collective breath and let peace begin with you and me. 

Use your ears and your eyes to see the mystery unfold before you and greet you into the world without pain and suffering that is accessible here today and now - In breath and God's love.

Let worry and anxiety be washed away with the water of baptism. Be delivered, be restored, be renewed and let’s get to work - together! Our American experiment is not lost but needs our help! In you Beloved, God is well pleased.

Thanks Be to God!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Its time to heal - Epiphany 2021

Its time to heal
06 Jan 2020
Tony E Dillon Hansen

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time for us.

Today’s events of violence and unprecedented anxiety tells how fragile our democracy is and how fractured our society we have become – when people were storming the citadel of liberty- our Capitol.  I can imagine many of you had many different thoughts as this unfolded. Personally, I went through several stages of grief in just a few moments including: anger, shock, grief and sadness. 

Yet I thought about what Jesus would do. 

We have seen this before in our own scriptures, (and our own lives here and today) where life was challenged by exile, defeat, and death. Yet, good people chose to reclaim our covenant with the Creator that has given us liberty, forgiveness, reconciliation and life. That reclamation has and continues to give us opportunities because we reconcile and forgive.  Times like these are when we need to lean into our hope, lean into our God-given gifts, and ride the path of tribulation into grace and reconciliation rather than despair and revulsion.  Yes, we must search our collective hearts for reconciliation as that is needed at this moment in time.  We must work together to heal.

When talking with youth from confirmation, I hoped to be able to put a pause on the anxious news for all of us, but this is a teaching moment for all of us so we spent time discussing this. 

It is time to teach and be taught.

It is time to reach out. It is time to remember we are not alone. 

Coincidentally, we were reminded that Jesus taught reconciliation for not only others but for our own selves - even when that feels difficult.  Without this, we perpetuate anger, hatred and a divided society. Then, people resort to violence without forgiveness and reconciliation.  Lean into your gifts and lean away from despair. 

Jesus taught us to be with each other in compassion and raise justice wherever we are on life’s journey -- and regardless of being “an enemy” or a neighbor. Jesus taught us to forgive and to reconcile - “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Today is called Epiphany – the revelation of Christ, and thus, I ask us to find that revelation in the nooks and crannies of our lives, our hearts and our hopes. 

This is hard to call today a great day in our context, but let us choose to reclaim the covenant of love, reconciliation, justice and compassion. Thus, even in the scary shadows of darkness from today’s chaos, let us find revelations of Christ in ourselves, and witness these in those officers who fought bravely to contain the mob and protect our democracy.  

May our Creator bring warm comforting arms to us all as we rise from these shocking moments of darkness. Yes we will rise and with God teaching us and helping us.  May our leaders walk in way of Christ to lead us to peace, justice, and healing. 

May God’s peace be with you. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Lessons and Carols 2020

Lessons and Carols with Reflections

December 2020

Tony E Dillon Hansen

 

Opening Prayer

O Holy Creator of Day and Night, We meet you here today on Christmas eve; we come anticipating of time ahead; and we reflect upon the difficult year of trials and tribulations.  We lift up those who have died and those who are suffering (mind or body). We rejoice in knowing Your promise and inspiration of Your Spirit is with us. In this season, we know we can be better stewards of your creation and your justice. We confess that we give into expectation and distractions. Forgive us, help us to renew and to prepare our hearts in the words you gave us

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our debts

As we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory

Forever and ever. Amen.

 

Assurance

We come to you confessing what is on our hearts and minds.

We do so trusting that you want to hear our petitions

and that you have already forgiven what needs to be forgiven.

We believe that our prayers will be answered in your time

and in your almighty wisdom.   Amen.

 

Lighting the Christ candle.

In times of injustice and pandemic

Let us hear the good news from the prophet

 

That people walked in darkness Have seen a great light…

For a child has been born to us

Wide will be the dominion

And boundless the peace with justice and righteousness from now and evermore.

 

We light the Christ candle,

Thankful that God has come to us, not as a conquering hero

But as a child full of God’s love.

 

Living God, come to our world,

May the love of the One shine brightly,

At the center of our lives, spreading warmth and light,

in us, in this congregation and everywhere.

 

Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High (verse 1).

 

First Lesson: Creation - Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

Reflection for Genesis 1:1-5 Creation.

Creation, change, a new beginning. Where do we start and what do we do? These stories from Genesis remind us that all were created by our Creator and that we have bountiful gifts with this life and this Earth.  Thus, we are stewards of that creation as charged by God. So what do you do with your gifts?  Jesus challenges us with the parable of talents to do something with your gifts. (Matthew 25: 14-29) Thus, show your gifts - your heart - because your heart is where your treasure is (Luke 12:34).  Our creation lesson reminds us that you are a child of our Creator and been given so much. Perhaps you could find your true gifts closer to your heart.

 

Hymn 114: O Come O Come Emmanuel (verse 1).

 

Second Lesson: Covenant - Genesis 22:15-18

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

 

Reflection for Genesis 22:15-18 Covenant

As one of our gifts, we have a covenant with the one who brought us.  Covenants are relationships. Covenants, especially with our Creator, help us to understand our purpose, that we are meant to be here in this place and in this time.  What is your purpose as a child of God and what blessings has God bestowed upon you? We can serve God so that we honor those gifts and that covenant through sharing. How do we share our gifts and covenant?

 

Hymn: O Come O Come Emmanuel (refrain).

 

Third Lesson: Compassionate and Forgiving – Psalm 103: 1-8

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

Reflection for Psalm 103: 1-8

Compassion and Forgiveness are gifts from our Creator given to us so that we might grow to be what we are meant to be. Thus, when we ask God to forgive our debts let us also be willing to forgive our debtors. Else we are weighed down by our misery and angers. Find compassion in your hearts. Turn today into your hearts and let go of what troubles you and find forgiveness for you and with you to others around you. Forgiveness, a holy gift from God.

 

Fourth Lesson: Growing - Isaiah 11:1-4

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

 

Reflection for Isaiah 11:1-4 Growing

Advent is growing, anticipation and expectation: a winter spring with hope, joy, peace, love, renewal and new growth. Christmas gives us that gift of life full of joyful wonder. This passage invokes the divine promise to grow.  The question for this is what does growth mean for you?  Growth is not just for youth but all God’s children. Our bodies may be broken, but our spirit gives us strength to soar and help those around us. Growth is a chance for us to be better than we were, even in our brokenness – even in a pandemic. How can we use this gift better in our own lives?

 

Hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem (verse 1).

 

Fifth Lesson: Perseverance - Isaiah 42: 1-4

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

 

Reflection for Isaiah 42: 1-4 Perseverance

A pandemic has taught us a measure of perseverance as we have had to adjust and find strength.  Remember that God is with you always and ready to lift you. Through perseverance, we find holy justice! Persevere through the tough times and let God guide you - another holy gift from God.

 

Hymn: It Came upon the Midnight Clear (verse 1).

 

Sixth Lesson: Birth - Matthew 1:18-23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

 

Reflection for Matthew 1:18-23 Birth

Birth is beautiful and messy. Whether an animal or human being, there is a tired mother, offspring, family - possibilities and worries. This is a beginning for some, and for some, this is renewal.  Think of the journey across the Red Sea in Exodus, they left everything behind and witness the wreckage of pursuing pasts on the shore now as survivors. As survivors, we begin something new, and we learn that we cannot go back to the past.  That story happens in our lives as we consider where we are, where we have been and where we go from here.  That is anxious, scary, breathtaking and exhilarating joyfulness.  How can we renew and embrace the joy of birth?

 

Hymn: The First Noel (verse 1-2).

 

Seventh Lesson: Shepherds Visit – Luke 2:8-16

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

 

Reflection for Luke 2:8-16 Angels around Us.

We like to challenge angels as Jacob did in Genesis, but sometimes, angels bring us great news even when we don’t yet understand just how great as Gabriel did with Mary.  So why do shepherds hear the angels. A shepherd tends a flock to protect, to nurture and to sustain them. A shepherd knows that a flock needs steward. Our Shepherd, Jesus, was born this day to teach us and lead us, and God invites us with angels. Question for you is, “would you have heard them?” Angels are here with us as gifts from God; are you willing to see them?  Are you ready to hear the angels this day?

 

Hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (verse 1-2).

 

Eighth Lesson: Wise Visit – Matthew 2:1-11

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise ones from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise ones  and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

Hymn: Silent Night (verse 1-2).

 

Ninth Lesson: New Beginnings - John 1:1-5 (Inclusive)

In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. The Word was present to God from the beginning. Through the Word, all things came into being, and apart from the Word, nothing came into being that has come into being. In the Word was life, and the life was our light-- Light that shines in the darkness, Light that the darkness did not overcome.

 

Reflection for John 1:1-5 New Beginnings

This Gospel passage opens us to a beginning just like we started with Genesis. Yet, John opens with the mystic notion of God being present everywhere and in everything. This is a profound statement of God being encompassing while also being intimate to each of us as being within us. That with the breath and love of God, we are brought into being into this world and as a part of the world. Therefore, all creatures and things reveal the work of God: from the trees, the creatures, the rocks, the waters, the vast cosmos and all humanity.

 

These are the gifts we have been given, and we have been handed the task of stewardship over these gifts. We can marvel and awe at this wonderful sight, even when a pandemic makes us weary and skeptical. We can look into the future with hope because God has given a place to start, again and again. So what do we do with these gifts?

 

Remember that we are formed in darkness to meet the new day. We might worry because we may fail, but we live in this moment- even during a pandemic.

 

Tomorrow is a new morning. Open your ears, hear the wisdom of God speaking. Open your eyes to let angels help guide you. Then, we can embrace all that we have been given: covenant that sustains, growth to learn, perseverance in our challenges, forgiveness to let go, the birth into new life with Christ and the wisdom to serve. Then, we transcend division and be one with the Spirit!

 

That is the Christmas promise: that we can be one with the Spirit. Let go and renew in this season. Find your hope and promise right there for you in the light of Christ.

 

Hymn 132: O Come All Ye Faithful (verse 1-2).

 

Benediction:

From 2 Thessalonians.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father and Mother, who loves us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Go with love and light of Christ in your hearts this Christmas season and into the New Year!


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Love - Luke 1

Love

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 1: 26-38, 46-55; Psalm 89

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord – Our Rock, Our Love, and Our Redeemer!


“To be loved and to be love.” That is before us today.

Gabriel arrives before Mary and reveals to her that she is “favored.”  Mary is a young poor woman in Palestine and understandably perplexed by this.

To be favored and to learn of great plans for us... how would you hear this?  What do you do? Are you sure you got the right person? What makes you feel favored?  

I had to think about this for a moment.  For me, those times in life when someone looks you in the eye and says you matter and I am glad you are here. Growing up, I did well in school and continued into my college years. Yet, growing up different and queer was a challenge. Why me why now?  Why can I not be like those people ? Why do I have to defy convention and tradition?  Why did my body have to be different like this?

This did not feel like being favored with all of the taunts, rejections and the questions that came along with it. Yet, I learned a lot about society, people and tradition from being the one looking in from the outside.  

Yes, it was hard to hear “You are loved, and you are love!”

Mary gets a visit from an angel who promptly tells her about God’s plans for her.  

God has this knack for upending lives; we in this pandemic can attest to that.  Still isn’t it a marvel how the struggles of a poor young woman can tell us about our own struggles in our lives here. 

Rather than immediately accepting these plans from the angel, Mary talks back to him.  Why me? Why now? Wouldn’t someone else better fit this plan?  How did I get to be favored?

She is scared, perplexed and wondering.  Yet she comes to conclusion that “I am the servant of the Lord… let it be…” 

In these upending moments, we don’t have put on a fa├žade of ignorance or try to be someone or something that feels right.  It is those moments when we realize we are who we are meant to be. 

Mary, engaged with Joseph, is told that she is to bear a child, and she has to be nervous about explaining this to Joseph.  Regardless, Mary bears this witness with her body as pregnancy takes hold.  She still has to work, preparing fish in a fishing community, carrying water from the well, getting grain and making it for meals.  She still has to be on her feet and sweating in the Palestine sun, even during the last months of her pregnancy. She has to endure the whispers of people around her and the questions. It is little wonder why she goes to visit Elizabeth for a few months. 

We have seen this before in our lives when we have experienced being upended. How did we get to be so favored when it does not really feel like a favor? 

In these moments, let an angel remind you that You are favored and you are favor.

If we pivot this a moment, perhaps what the angel is doing is reminding us that God has plans for Mary -- and for us.  Through this angel, as angels do, Gabriel tells not only Mary that she is favored, but that we, as people believing -have favor because of the gift we receive through Jesus.  That favor really is love-- the ultimate love.  God incarnate -- who knows us, feels us, pains with us, cries with us and walks with us. 

We could be ignorant and turn away from this reminder (and we do quite often).  

The angel and Mary remind us, and why I like this passage is that we must start with ourselves. We must be willing to love ourselves with all of our own brokenness. It is here that we find those God moments in our own lives. 

During these upending moments, we could turn into ourselves and forget our community. We could devolve and become divisive. Or we could do like what my cousin did and use this moment to take a 5 year debt reduction plan into a 5 month plan. We could use this to reorganize closets and clean our spaces. We could remember how to paint pastels again.  We could remember our common humanity marching for justice or give sandwiches to the homeless! We could see a cute puppy and smile!

In these upending moments, we could reject the tasks at hand, ignore people around us or reject God working for us. We could reject God’s command to love, show compassion or promote social justice; that is ultimately rejecting God’s love. 

Instead in moments like these, God is giving us opportunities to find what makes us beautiful inside. 

We have seen this time and time again. From Mary’s example to saints in our lives to our own defining moments, our own God moments, we reach into that love, and when we do, when we let “thy will be done,” we let God love us and work in us.  That when times are difficult and challenging -whether as a person, as a church or as a community, these are times when God shows us why we are here at this time – because as St. Paul writes “now is the time.” 

In these upending moments, God is reminding us that we have work to do.  We could let those jeers and threats, isolation, criticisms keep us from who and what we are meant to be. Then we would be denying the God-given potential and the God-given love that is there for us. That is what Mary saw here and why she changes from perplexed and fear to praise and thanks. That is why she embraces that “you have done great things for me” because as we read last week, God has done great things for us and God can do great things for you! Now! today! 

That is the real love of the mothering God that does not deny us but lifts us. That is the real favor - the love of God that does not ignore us. Mary reminds us that God has “raised the lowly” and “deposed the mighty” that “for you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant” therefore “my spirit rejoices” in your love.

Because “nothing is impossible with God!”


God is with Mary! God is with us!

God loves Mary! God loves us!


You are beautiful!  You are exactly who God meant for you to be! 

There is an angel of God for you 

that gives you space to say “here I am” and to 

Remember, You are loved! You are love !


Thanks Be to God


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Joy - Isaiah 61

Joy

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; John 1: 25-27

Friends and Neighbors,

Happy Hannukah and 3rd Sunday of Advent!!

Online Churching

I know that we have a measure of fatigue with the pandemic and wish we could be back in our friendly sanctuary with the peace of Christ among us.  Yet, there is glimmer of light that has been revealed in our virtual worships.  As one commentator described, our church has become “more public” because people are able to simply drop into a worship service at any point.  

In the past, it would be difficult to attend different services without driving all over town and further be identified as those people that are new or somehow different from the rest.  People are showing up – longing, seeking and questioning. Welcome to you neighbors, you from far away and you longing. We are glad you are here!


Opening Prayer

May the words of my mouth and meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord - our Hope, our Rock and our Redeemer. 


Images

When we read this Psalm along with the Isaiah passage, we see the beautiful imageries, poetry and emotion on display that walks us through struggle, ruin, devastations, and fear into comfort, anointing, transformation and liberty. 

Isaiah describes the woes of desolation and frustration with exile in a time of great uncertainty (sounds kind of familiar). Even so, the spirit of God brings us good news and gives us opportunities to transform because there is hope, purpose and peace. There is joy to be had. 

When people come to the word joy, I sense that most think of that great feeling we get when we hear great news, that win or the big achievement.  It is something you feel in your bones, causes you to dance a little or even have that giant smile! You know it when it happens from Beethoven’s exhilarating grand finale to the simple joys that happen around us all the time!

Those simple joys are glimmers of light. We are in the middle of Advent and my friend Dave has been sharing the progress he has been making with a chocolate Advent calendar (full of simple joys) his wife gave him.  I am sure others may have probably looked into the future days for more simple joys! 


Joyful Witness 

John’s Gospel identifies an important element of discipleship is witness. That joyful witness of John is more than just some random observation.  John reminds us to behold the One that transforms - the One that brings hope, peace and joy to our lives.  As Prof. Joy J Moore says, “something happened and is on the ground today” - not just some fantasy projection.  There is truth in our witness of the divine at work in and among us.

Thus, our presence and witness are even more important this year as people come seeking and asking questions – you as our neighbor, you from far away and you that long for home.  Let us witness together!


Out of Devastation

There is joyful transformation to our witness. 

It is rising from the struggle and ruin to tap what is possible. There is rich sensory of smells and sights:  “oil of gladness…oaks of righteousness”. We can wrap ourselves and wear the “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” like a warm blanket in winter. There is youthful excitement like a bride and bridegroom. This is a transformation from the funeral and ashes to wedding and promise – mouths full of laughter (not the hardy-har-har, but the kind that starts small and grows every time someone speaks where you can hardly contain yourself. Laughter that becomes infectious). 

This is an overt reminder of the promise to us.

Advent is anticipation and an opportunity to grow, even when we feel exiled or isolated.  There is growth with “the planting of the Lord” that rises from below us and around us to greet us and guide us.  

I mentioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony 4th movement (some call it the “symphony within a symphony”). Before the grand finale, we are introduced to variations on the theme “Ode to Joy” from a quiet low that grows and grows along with a quartet preview of the coming choral set. Then, the whole orchestra is set upon this intense race culminating with a couple horns giving us a small pause to announce with great anticipation – you know something big is going to happen - the exhilarating finale. 

Likewise in this season of growth, we can be lifted from the lowly depths we have felt.  This is the divine intercession in our world and our lives; something we desperately need during isolation, grieving and anxiety that this pandemic has wrought upon us.  

Further, this text reminds us that we are not alone in feeling desolation. From dry waterbeds, devastations, “ruined cities”, and dreary mourning, God has saved us before and continues to transform us. It is this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, that we not only find joy in life, but like the symphony, we can anticipate holy joy, and we race to embrace it with full hugs and kisses.  

This is the joy of our God and the promise - that despite darkness, despite a foot of snow or even pandemics, that divine, holy promise is there to lift us and cradle us with comfort and liberate us from our misery.  There is hope! There is soulful peace. There is liberating joy in that promise because no one can take that away and no one can deny us that grace.  

 May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.

 Those who go out weeping,

…shall come home with shouts of joy,

We know that we, as people, have uncanny abilities to foul things up all the time.  We lose focus upon what is important or lose focus upon the grace that is there – that can save us.  


Our Invitation

Listen for those brass horns in the distance and let joy touch you again. Let joy fill your hearts. Through Jesus, we are invited to participate in joy, despite darkness, because Jesus reaches into our hearts to transform us. Yes Feel it in your bones! 

That is God’s promise, and we know this promise because God has done this before. God has lifted people who were in misery and lifts us today. In the middle of our long discontent and pandemic, we find the joyful hope of John baptizing, knowing there is One to liberate and save us.  

Thus, witness the spirit of God in your chest and your mind. Be transformed and your spirit shall be lifted. 

Yes that is the promise shared to all who seek and to all who mourn. There is someone who leads us to the light, especially when that light is difficult to see. 

We will return from our exile and isolation; 

we will be one in Christ both spiritually and physically.

From ashes to garland and jewels, we rise from oppression and brokenness to find salvation and liberation!  Yes, the Lord has done great things for us! Let God do great things for you!

During Advent, we can dream big dreams again. For maybe just a moment, let go of your struggle and rejoice. Listen for the laughter and let yours heard. Be transformed! Fill your mouths with laughter again. Shout with joy! Witness holy hope in your life and your spirit.  

Advent is the path to Christmas - the exciting renewal of everything promised. Step forward and be confident that God transforms you with joyful hands. So shout with holy Joy - your holy Amen!


Thanks Be to God