Sunday, September 9, 2018

Faith Equals Action

Faith Equals Action
Tony E Dillon Hansen
9 September 2018

A reflection based upon Proverbs 22: 2,9 • Psalm 125 • James 2:1-17  • Mark 7: 24-37
Link to Scriptures

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.

Our Gospel features some interesting people. We have a mother, daughter, and a deaf person specifically. I want us to consider the mother in this story because I believe she can help us understand how we talk to God and how we show our faith.

There is text from another lesson in our lectionary that can augment this lesson too. From James: “What good is it, … if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If [someone] is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

The Mother of Tyre

So lets talk about the conversation between Jesus and the woman of Tyre. The woman begs and even argues with Jesus to help her daughter.  You may ask why would anyone want to argue with Jesus?

I would ask you, When your prayers go unanswered or when they don’t go the way you thought they should, what do you do?

Do you argue with God (or maybe be angry) about not getting what you want?  I have done this plenty of times!

Yet, the woman’s faith in this story led her to ask for help. Her experience as a mother has increased her faith to the ultimate and led her willingness to pour out her heart. Ask any parent  if they worry about their child.

Some think that pointing out that Jesus was on retreat (you know vacation) and that this mother is daring cultural norms by talking to Jesus. She is daring and willing to pour out her heart.

Really this boils down to a question of what do you do when you have pain or need help?  Is it better to hold onto pain or to ask for help? I cannot solve all of your pains. Yet if you need help, do you stay silent?

Do you have what it takes to talk to a stranger? Do you have faith to ask for help; that you will be helped? Are you willing to pour out your heart? What does your faith look like?

Goals and RYE

For years, I have worked and studied and worked and worked to reach goals. It is good have goals and targets, but we can take them to extremes. (In fact, I am not entirely sure what that original goal was.) Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to have fun because I was so concentrated upon the goals.

Then, I spent some time with some youth from Urbandale UCC outside of church, outside of class, and just being there at the local RYE event this summer. For my own, I remember in my youth, my family didn’t have money for bible camps and trips like this. I prayed that someday I would get to go to one of these camps.  I didn’t realize that God would wait a couple decades to answer that prayer.

So this was kind of a whole new experience for me as much as it was for some of the youth. I did not know what to expect.

I saw how the youth would have fun with a ball made from saran wrap they named Dr Phil. I was amazed that a ball of plastic wrap could inspire so much “fun.” Then, it dawned on me that I had forgotten something so simple as God’s work doesn’t have to be just serious work. We will come back to this.

As I said we were attending the local RYE event. The theme of the event was based upon James 2:17 “17faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” or in other words “faith equals action.” That sounds like some slogan that one might put on the back of shirt or a bumper sticker ( I guess there are worse things that I read on people’s mobile car libraries.) What does this mean, “faith equals action?”

What does your faith look like

Think about our Gospel story again. Jesus is on retreat in this area, perhaps a vacation. The mother’s love for her child and her faith led her to cross cultures and to ask for help. She had no guarantees, but she just hoped this would work. She pours out her heart and lets herself be humble.

What does your faith look like?

Proverbs reminds us the generous are blessed and we are called to share our bread. Why should I share anything?

Ah that is a good question because why do you ask God to share blessings with you?
If your faith is selfish and withholding, do you think God should share with you?

Are you generous with your presence and welcome?
Do your actions exhibit good faith?
Are you willing to pour out your heart?
Do you reach out and to be a little fun?
What does your faith look like?

If you don’t get what you want, do you pout about and get angry with God?
Do you barter with God?
If you grant me this prayer, I will …

That is not how this works.
Besides, Is God really just a personal, spiritual vending machine?

Our lessons ask us to dig deeper to express your faith in action.

While grace may be freely given, as Paul tells us,
James asks us to demonstrate our faith.
Mark tells us to go all in and pour out your heart.

Yes come to worship, sing good hymns, and do good.
Do the work that we have been asked, and be like children.
Even take a lesson from the youth.
Have a little fun with it.

Something simple and easy.
Tell your friends “I am glad you are here.”
When was the last time you said that to your neighbor?
Just imagine how goofy that could be:
A room full of people with Jesus in their hearts.
How goofy is that?

Think about this a bit and let it soak in:
a room full of people talking to each other.

Let me tell you:
I am glad you are here.
Let that warm you up a little.

So that when you go before Jesus,
you can say that you made someone’s day a little warmer.
Be willing to pour out your hearts.
Express your faith.
Be like the youth.

Let us take a lesson from the youth.
Find some fun where you are.
Find the goofy things of our lives.
Be with your friends in this moment.
Be God’s wonderful expression of faith through your heart:
Faith that equals action.
and let’s see that beautiful heart of yours in action!

Thanks Be to God.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Parallels of Persecution and Community Growth

Parallels of Persecution and Community Growth
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
27 Mar 2017

When reading the descriptions of persecution and martyrdom, I am struck by the parallel with struggle for rights in today’s LGBT and another group of people on the fringes. 

There are several parallels between struggles of LGBT and the early church. The type of persecution holds interesting parallel.  When Gonzalez talks about the persecution by the Romans being declared but not outright delivered (a kind of uneasy d├ętente at times), I am reminded of the persecution experienced against LGBT.  In the LGBT community, I see evidence of this type of persecution where sometimes invoked as a state policy, but its invocation has been nonetheless convenient for some people as an excuse to deliver a perverse sense of righteous violence upon people.

Of these, a parallel is the level of commitment and the ability of members of the group to hide or to declare their involvement. It is to be noted how people could hide their real-self and faith while playing lip-service to live another day. LGBT could/can hide their respective orientations or give lip-service to those that espouse to terminate these ideas. This is not dissimilar to the early Christians that would yield against Jews or the Roman “pagan” authorities.

For my own, I remember not wanting to disclose orientation and attempted to hide via following the expected norms.  I admit that I was scared for my own safety-- from more bullying, HIV, and a prevailing idea encompassing religion about sexual orientation.  During high school, I did not really understand why I felt so different, and I was not willing to be a confessor or a martyr. The only information I had about the LGBT community was viewing the awful film “the Gay Agenda”, and I also observed how people would easily ridicule the slightest prospect of being gay.

I was kind of alone in high school until I went to college. I saw and met people while observing the reality of persecution, along with art, education, and music that became part and distinct of the community. We had a shared bond of not only our orientations but that we were consistently under threat of exposure, violence or worse.  We did not have “communion”, but often, our groups would meet over meals, potlucks or some safe-home get-together. We organized to provide services to each other when no one else would, such as for youth, HIV-related illness or a family outcast someone.

Even then, I remember and continue to see the scourge that would ensue from people that would hide their sexuality and then use their relationship to the community apparently to either in vain attempt to rid themselves of their feelings or to exact revenge upon those that continued to carry the torch of being LGBT. Pride festivals and being out in public offended these because we disregarded the social punishment for a brief moment. On the other hand, these hypocrites-in-hiding, by helping to torture and to hurt people of the LGBT community, these people could somehow feel better about themselves using labels of ex-gay, born-again or some other loose label through the violence and threatening towards the LGBT community. 

An interesting outcome, I remember discussions using different vocabulary about how “pure” a person’s sacrifice was (physical injury, loss of job, property damage, loss of family, or police that just looked away).  Was a person’s inexperience with these sacrifices enough to justify whether they truly could carry the banner for equality or LGBT recognition. Given the issue of confessors in the early Church, the similarity is absolutely remarkable. Especially as LGBT gained more mainstream recognition, the threats kind of subsided and the ability to “come out” was less dangerous.  Yet, those that chose to “convert” as straight looked even more hollow to people in the community.

The experience of being in and growing with the community in the 90s shaped me and pushed me into a position of fighting for rights. Early into the 2000s, I would visit the Iowa legislature and find legislators who would not even look at me without trying to look elsewhere.  They would blame us for things like AIDS, Hurricane Andrew and 9/11, and they would use logic (Logos) that had difficulty standing up to scrutiny.  What is evident mostly is that Despite all the success of the recent decade, there is still much work to be done, and the current political winds have shifted to resume some of those old fears and persecutions.

There is another part of this early church that I find compelling as in the “underground” aspect of the Church and the subsequent changes as it became mainstream. This underground reminds me of the earlier days of heavy metal music. Well into the 1980s, bands were playing and recording a style of music labeled as “heavy metal” music, and the faithful fans of these bands (early Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath) made up a genre with a distinct style of clothing, hair and art.  The style would invoke strong “thrashing” power chords, rapid rhythms along with Gothic and its own black arts, torn clothing (ripped jeans) and darker themes of isolation, broken homes, satirical, anti-establishment—including anti-religion—rhetoric.  Fans of the genre were often the butt of jokes and the fringes of the crowd.  I remember that for a bunch of us – it became kind of rite of passage to finally see one of these bands in live concert and then brandish their concert shirt to our friends the following day at school. (Some shirts were too offensive for school authorities). Yet together we had kinship and community.

That dark music genre found itself thrust into popularity as part of the 90s progresses while the once niche and anti-establishment bands became more mainstream—they were becoming the establishment.  The dark styles evolved and incorporated less “thrash” and the genre themes seemed to mellow as more people with “less-dark” less anti-anything embraced this heavy metal style of music. For the community that embraced the original style watched their music and bands turn into corporate playhouses and inviting people in so many words, who were not pure “metalheads.”  (It is interesting how purity finds its way into describing people).  The shining example of this was Metallica’s court case against Napster and how scores of fans would not listen to Metallica thereafter, despite growing up with their music.  Napster itself representing a rebellion of sorts against the larger music industry as well as a way for people to discover music without having to fork over the cost of albums.

The Church was “underground” in the early times shows the parallel of this with early Christian churches growing from obscurity and hiding in dark places and Christian family homes as well as somewhat anti-Roman, anti-established religion into an “Imperial Church.”

To me, the early church experience showcases the evolution of a community from obscurity into more acceptance and how people both within and around the community impact that growth. There is the additional lesson of how social groups evolve over time, developed niche communities, especially the fringe, and then maybe find more popular acceptance when given a chance. Yet these developed organically both for the Church, LGBT, and music fanatics.  These also show that people both in and out of the fringe want badly to be part of a community to share experiences, tales and relationships.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours - Luke 1

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours
Tony E Dillon Hansen
20 December 2017

A Sermon based upon Isaiah 61: 1-4,8-11; Psalm 126; John 13: 34-35, Luke 1:46-55

Will you pray with me?  Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lessons given to us.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

And All God’s Children Say:
Amen!

I can remember growing up thinking the last week of Advent was kind of like the last leg of the race.
We are almost there and you can almost taste the Christmas ham and an oyster stew
And presents!!
As life moves, the perspective changes a little bit
The hustle and bustle begins to wear on us and may even cause unnecessary anxieties.
For some, as we draw closer to the holiday, memories of loss, loneliness 
or even shame may creep into our senses.

From Hope, we let go of Anxiety by being hope.
From Peace, we let go of violence by letting peace be in our hearts.

Today, we have an illustration of love and joy wrapped …
in a person named Mary.

You see, from before the birth of Jesus, 
our Gospel in Luke likes to give us an approach to God that is different from Scriptures past.  The Gospel of Luke likes to remind us that “transformation takes precedence over tradition.” (Wright, 2011). 

We have distinct ways here, 
1) in a historically male-dominated society, Luke lets Mary reveal her praise (aka Magnificat), 
2) She invokes a praise similar to one from our good lady, Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-11), and 
3) Mary is not royalty or a prophet.  

She can probably barely afford the clothes on her back. 
She is a lowly peasant woman that likely lives in midst of disgrace from family and friends for a pregnancy out of wedlock. 
Her mind is probably bouncing between thoughts of 
the gift of having little footsteps 
while questioning how can she possibly raise the Child in these conditions.  

You see her story everywhere today. 
Like Mary, 
families face parenthood (whether as a single or couple)
with strong and mixed emotions.

She does not know the future of her Child, 
but she knows greatness comes with a cost.
Thus, a child of prodigy, 
(and Gospel of Matthew likes to list lineage) … 

This Child, is guaranteed to face immense challenges. 
She may even foresee joys that will happen to Jesus 
with a rise to fame, only to be rejected, shamed and executed. 

Still, Mary is hopeful because, in her heart, 
she knows that the baby is destined for greatness. 

In this canticle, 
she embodies optimism, 
turns to hope and to peace. 
She gives room for God. 

Then She pours out her love and immense joy 
that she is blessed with a Child of God.

She renews her faith and reminds us that
God’s love and compassion is not just for the rich and royalty, as in Scripture past, 
but God surely is the one for the lowly and the hungry.

She calls upon the covenant with powerful praise. 

Her role in the part of this Holy story 
beyond the glorious birth of her Child.  
is scarcely written.

Yet, we see the evidence of her work-- 
That her love and joy impact the coming ministry.

Decades later, 
When Jesus calls out injustices by leaders 
And call us to love one another - genuinely
(and not just for those with money or goofy rhetorical phrases.)

When Jesus speaks of God’s commandment that “you love one another”, 
(no exceptions)
 – we may witness an echo of Mary’s words to a youthful Jesus
and a response to experiences with injustice during that youth. 

You see, Mary and her family had some difficult experiences.
Remember, no one wanted to give them quarters in Bethlehem. 

That family experienced discrimination,
being a hunted refugee to Egypt, 
and being on society’s fringes.

Yet, Mary’s pouring out love shines through
because there were people 
willing to help them (on society’s fringes)
when tradition and government failed them. 

Thus, you can see that experience in youth play out
As part of Jesus’s ministry where, 
“transcendence takes precedence over tradition”
because while “tradition may exclude, Jesus teaches to include.”
You belong in community with love and joy. 

Perhaps, we witness echoes of Mary’s same love and joy 
here today in this house of worship.
We have a saying in the UCC that 
“No matter who you are
or where you are on life’s journey,
You are always welcome here!”
Every person is to be treated with dignity and authentic love. 
When you love one another,
You matter.
That is the community where Mary and Jesus lived 
and is here today.

God is present here and working in our midst --just as with Mary.
For us here, our love and joys are founded in those poured out to a Child,
From her Love, we learn how to love one another genuine
From her Joy, we learn that hope, peace, and love are possible.

So when you are snuggling up next to friends and family 
with your meals of great tastes and smells, 
and despite worries and fear,
take a lesson from Mary,
Be hope and peace
remember to make room for love and joy.

When we meet the Great Spirit in our hearts, 
we can welcome the Christmas season 
full of hope, immense peace, and hearts of love. 
Let your mouths be filled with laughter and … shout with joy!

Thanks Be to God!
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Put on a Hat? - 1Thessalonians 5

Put on a Hat?
Tony E Dillon Hansen
18 Dec 2017

A Sermon based upon 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

And All God’s Children say “Amen.”

I recall our good minister, Lindsey Braun, talking about this passage.
For my own, I love putting on hats and suddenly transforming into some character.

It can be liberating and fun to take on a character full of courage and wisdom.
With hats, we can also use them to hide away intentions and feelings.
Because we can draw the hat lower to hide our eyes from the world,
especially when the world looks like chaos and fear.

From racial profiling, systemic sexual violence, routine shootings, and challenges to water rights as well as to equal rights.

The world is full of negative energy gripping people.

When everything seems to be chaotic and anxious,
Thessalonians tells us to
put on a “breastplate of faith and love” and a “helmet the hope.”

Now, how does one do that, you ask?

I am glad you asked…
Our lesson also tells us that days of tension and negativity are reminders
to come together to “encourage …and build up each other.”

When you listen to each other, share your talents,
or share a meal with each other,
When you genuinely value all God’s Children,
When you share our authentic compassion
When you are demonstrations of Christ in life and community,
That is when we walk and put on a “breastplate of faith and love”
and a “helmet the hope”.

Further, Thessalonians tells us to go out -- teach the community this love!
When you take another’s hand,
And remind them we are in this together
-- that we are going to make it,
we not only teach but witness how to be a community again.

When we witness all Beloved children of God (1 John 3).
Yes, Black Lives Do Matter.
Blue Lives Do Matter.
Indians protecting their water Do matter.
Immigrant lives Do matter.
Queer lives Do matter.
Persons facing divorce, job loss, serious health diagnosis, or even loss of faith do matter.

All Beloved need and deserve authentic love
-- not just as token phrases,
but from our revealed compassion.
Remember that you are a Beloved Child of God.
That is how you wear the “armor” of faith, love and hope.
When you “encourage …and build up each other” and
when you welcome all to the table of communion,
then you remind each other that you too 
are a Beloved child, 
you matter,
and we are going to make it!

Even in the darkest hour (or longest night),
even during pain or betrayal,
And even when fear and injustice seem to reign
You do not have to hide behind makeshift hats.

Walk with your “breastplate of faith and love” and wear the “helmet of hope
And go forward with the assurance of God.

And you Child of God say with me, “Amen.”

Thanks Be to God. 
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Saturday, August 11, 2018

I Am - John 6



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I Am
Tony E Dillon Hansen
12 August 2018

A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 18:5-33 • Psalm 34 • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 • John 6:35,41-51

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.

I remember growing up every year there was a broadcast of a movie called Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is constantly dreaming of a wonderful place “over the rainbow” only to find herself there and realize there is a complicated world there too that ha characters looking suspiciously like people from Kansas. I was always scared of the tornado that propels Dorothy into Oz. I remember watching with intensity as the band grew together on the journey to the Emerald City along the yellow brick road. Actually I was a bit disappointed when the Wizard reveals his true self.

For today, I would like for us to consider a reason why Jesus uses the words “I am”, a predicate nominative. When Jesus reveals who he is, we won’t be disappointed.

With that let’s recap…

It is near Passover. Jesus has performed a couple signs like feeding five thousand and walking on water. Now, there is something like a paparazzi of a crowd that is following Jesus everywhere.  Jesus has become something of a rock star. Still, people are not satisfied; they want more. 

The people see striking parallels to the stories of Moses in the wilderness.  Yet, people have missed the point of the manna and the signs Jesus performs.

That is easy to do because people do this all of the time. We love signs, symbols and traditions, but we misread them.  (Consider How many of you consider a stop sign on a deserted road to be a suggestion?)  The people even get rude with Jesus. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach an important lesson.

The Sign of Manna.

Jesus wants us to look beyond the symbols and rhetoric.  This is difficult for people because we as humanity love our symbols and rhetoric. With those bits, we use those things unfortunately to divide.  We like to determine between who has versus has not; who knows and those who do not. (Clearly, if you know our traditions then you are one of us.)

Traditions have put obstacles to access to God.  What is your sacrifice? Do you offer the correct animal?  Did you honor the symbols correctly? Did you purify yourself? Do you even know what that means? 

Jesus flips the symbols.
Jesus flips tradition.

Instead of telling parables about someone else, Jesus uses a stronger example: himself. 

Without the sharing of himself, God remains behind curtains in the temple or lurking over mountaintops.  God in the wilderness with Moses is hard to see, hard to access.  God’s image is even scary (like the “scary” Wizard of Oz that doesn’t want to be bothered.) That is quite different from what God really does because God loves each of us as a parent loves their children.

Jesus embraces and embodies the symbols and says the bread of God, the bread of life is right here. Specifically, “I am the bread of life” or “I am the living bread…”

So instead of being aloof in the sky and the mountains, Jesus tells us that God is right here, right now – inside. The purpose of the manna was to demonstrate that God is here and listening. God uses the bread to help us grow in love of God and neighbor.

The manna is how God shared fulfilling love. Love fulfills every day. Sharing involves community. This is the power of communion because God shares and wants people to share that love together. We are more than ourselves and lonely thoughts because we learn and grow together. Even more so, that shared love and community sustains us.

I am…

Further, it is no longer about privilege to access because when you say “I am” a child of God, you have access to that wisdom and community.

Think about it, “I am” is taking power from afar to right here in Jesus, in me and in you. We not only share that love, but we embrace and embody that love and community.

(The revelation of the Wizard of Oz was the lion had courage, the tin man had a heart and scarecrow had brain all along. The Wizard just provides symbols of that which they already had.) In our lesson,

Jesus is giving us permission. Jesus invites us to community and to embody God’s work in ourselves.  Jesus gave us power to learn God personally.

Eating of the bread or manna is learning the love of God.  One who trusts can be fulfilled in the community of love, of God.  (Trust is faith -- that you will understand and be satisfied.)

Do you trust God to fill you with hope and inspiration? 
Try it, just stop and breathe in and let God be!

Even more, how do you as a child of God, share with others?
How do you provide hope and inspiration to those around you?

You have been invited to the table to say “I am a child of God”. (How awesome is that?) When you have a seat at the table, you have power -- With power comes great responsibility.

This means that we do not just settle with only our own knowledge and experience to guide us.  Our own is incomplete and does not give absolute answers or foolproof plans.  God wants us to question the experience and share in community.  Wisdom will be revealed to ones that trust (e.g. give oneself over to the Way of God.) 

This Way and path is ready for us, and with faith, great will guide us on this journey of life. With Jesus, we are invited to participate in that community of wisdom-- with whole heart and “bread of life.” We can become that which God calls of us.

Expression.

You and I are children of God, but how do we express that? how can I be the best that God has to offer?

Ephesians reminds us of a few ways we can express that life in community of God in this world.  “…be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…”

Yes, “I am” one who knows pain – so did Jesus.
“I am” broken and sorry for my wrongs.
“I am” looking for answers, for hope.
“I am” one who fails.

And Yes, I am sharing my gifts
“I am” one who learns.
“I am” one who teaches, who creates,
“I am” one who laughs and cries.
“I am” one who gardens.
“I am” one who cooks.
“I am” a listener.
“I am” an expression of God’s love right here on Earth
I am a child of God.

Are you?

Oh child, I believe you are!
(We don’t need to travel down yellow brick roads to find out who we are.)
Share what you are and be joyful.

Be God’s wonderful expression
and always remember that you are a worthy, beautiful child of God!

Thanks Be to God.