Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hope - Mark 13

Hope

Tony E Dillon Hansen

A Sermon based upon Mark 13:24-37, Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64:1-9

Gracious friends and neighbors of St John United Church of Christ,

Let us first be in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight."

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy First Sunday of Advent!!!

Being Thankful

Ah! The time of year has arrived when we take time to be thankful, enjoy fruits of harvest, enjoy the many traditions – and snow. This year is different; with surging spread of the pandemic, we have to be honest and have to be safe.  Yes, we can be thankful. 

Why are we thankful amidst a pandemic that has all of us stressed and fatigued?  As we explored in worship for times like these, there are opportunities yet for us to explore, and we can embrace the gifts that we have, the food on the table, the drink we share, the symbols that mean something, and staying in touch with our community. Let your fears rest and find comfort in where you are - in the Truth and in grace of Emmanuel!

I know many of us have cherished traditions that are being interrupted, but I submit to you to be creative in your traditions this year so that you can safely experience what we all seek – to see each other in church as soon as possible.

New Church Year 

Today, we begin the lectionary Year B and read from Psalm 80 and Mark 13. Let us witness “Hope” as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Holy One as the first of the four traditional themes of Advent.  Isn’t hope something we truly need in these fatiguing times? 

Opportunity for beginnings, renewals, and reflections.

We light the first candle for Advent with prayerful hope for the miracle. Radio stations are playing favorite holiday songs (since the beginning of November actually). Lights have gone up all around our neighborhood.  Some traditions remain even though some have been impacted.

Mark 13 paints the picture of revelations and tells us to be alert and watching for the arrival. We see the hope that rides from out of darkness bringing the power and glory of the One. That is where we find mighty hope in this text.  

Kind of like the hope in Patrick Mahomes with 1:43 left to go in the game.

Hope Is Optimistic

Hope is a powerful antidote for what we are experiencing today with pandemics, changed traditions, and political stress. It is the necessary element that enables us to walk into the future with some level of confidence. Hope is optimistic.

Yet, hope needs some things to flourish, as Loreena McKinnett said, so that we might live in our life today and make the most of our present moments. 

Hope Needs Work

Hope needs action; otherwise, as therapist Ginger Sullivan says, it is “passivity.” This speaks directly to our lesson from last week. We talked last week about how we see Jesus and God, and that we have opportunities to grow and do God’s work. As Prof. Joy J. Moore says, “We do God’s work until God comes.” Hope needs attention, practice and action.  We are called as practicing Christians to do God’s work. 

This speaks to Isaiah 64:8 that we are the clay and the work of our potter, even though today feels more like no one is calling upon our God. It might seem like that with quiet church sanctuary and hall, but people are praying, attending this worship, and that is hopeful. When we call upon God to help us and guide through these times, we will get an answer. 

But if you don’t lift a finger, don’t pray, don’t attend worship, hope has zero chance. Thomas Merton writes about the idea that “contemplative life …cannot be a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions, and its errors.” That means we have to be present with God and God in us. We pray and do. 

With the heaviness of this past year, we can do our part to be the grace in people’s lives by simply letting them know we care and are here.  We bring that Christmas promise into our communities when we clothe the needy, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick or imprisoned. 

Hope without practice changes and decays into denial. A spirit becomes ruled by cynical views of our world. It can lead us to think there is nothing we can do to make things better when there is, in fact, something we can do. 

Hope Needs Faith and Trust

Thus, hope also needs trust and faith that things will work out.  Hope without trust and faith is despair and misery.  We don’t have to wallow in misery and suffering because with hope, with God, we will do better, and it starts with a prayer. For that, we must be willing to look beyond our own suffering (as immense as that may feel) and trust in the One. With hope, we have faith that today will be a good day and tomorrow has even more promise. 

Hope involves understanding our limitations; that we fall short and need the grace and perfection of our Creator.  As Isaiah 64 reminds us, we are unclean with sickness; we may feel we have lost the way; but God is there and will forgive and guide us from our fall.  That is honest evaluation of what we have, have done and can do. 

Otherwise, we are living in folly and fiction. Simply, I cannot control what I cannot control, but I can be present.  That is the essence of the serenity prayer and also a measure of trust and faith that McKennitt says hope needs.  It is ok to realize my limits while also letting go of things that I do not control.  Perhaps then, we let God work in us and do some amazing things.

Fig Tree Will Blossom

Still, we might ask “when Lord when?” As a gardener, the lesson of the fig tree reminds us that the fruit of the fig tree blossoms on its own time, not ours. It will blossom. 

It is up to us to be watchful. We are present. We pray to be restored, to be healed, and to be freed from suffering. We fulfill our hope with some action, some trust and faith. 

Holiday Stress

Remember, as we get closer to the holidays, stress will rise. Be present, take time for yourself, breathe and take one step at a time. Know that our Creator, I and all of your fellow congregants are with you. Reach out as needed.

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is also available for people.

Find hope in your prayers, your devotion, and your treasured traditions that you keep. Find possibility and opportunity to grow in your hope - and be renewed, restored.  

Let hope be with you as we celebrate the arrival and presence of Our Lord.

Thanks be to God!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Missed Opportunities - Matthew 25

Missed Opportunities

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Matthew 25:31-46, Ezekiel 34:12, Psalm 100

Pie Sunday

As we wrap up another church year and get ready for Thanksgiving and Advent, we get this wonderful message from Christ that speaks to the mission of the Church but also where we are in this. I was reminded of a growing tradition at Plymouth that the Reign of Christ ought to be celebrated (and celebrated with pie.) One of the many ways we can be with Christ is through our dinner and dessert when we invite Jesus to dine with us. Where do we see, feel, and be with Jesus? We talked about some of this in Confirmation class this week, and they had some ideas on this question. I invite you to ask them. So let us invite Jesus this morning. 

“May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to in Your sight, O Lord; You are our Rock and our Redeemer!”

Verse 40 and Judging

Christ invites us to look for God in all of the places and people around us from verse 40 – just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”  Jesus invites us to live with compassion and grace and to share that with “the least of these who are members of Christ’s family…”

Some read this passage and sense an air of judgment, but if we listen to Jesus little deeper, we are asked about our missed opportunities. Where are our missed opportunities?  

It is easy for us to get blinded by our own feelings, busy thoughts, long pandemic, ugly politics, and hard struggles, but we are in this together. And only together will we survive and live in the community that is there for us. We could sit there and try to tally up the things we have done and pronounce that we have done enough. What however do we miss because we all fail and we all miss opportunities?

Reckoning and Paper Routes

This Gospel is a reckoning - a “come to Jesus” moment for us.  This reminded me also of when I was young and ran paper routes.

Each month, I would have to go around and collect the bill payments. When I did well, customers might give an extra tip. In those days as a paperboy, I routinely would get invited into homes to settle the bill, and thinking back on this today, I wonder how many precarious situations I could have been in. I recall one particular involved an older woman who said she didn’t have much cash, but she just made this German marble cake that she would share. I started nibbling on this German marble cake that was just the most luscious and tasty awesomeness I have ever had – I think God was there in that experience.  

Paper route was more than throwing newspapers. In addition to distribution, the job involved billing as I said, but also quality control and handling complaints.  When there were complaints, people usually didn’t wait until the bill collection, but assuredly if there were, they might be remembered during collection.

That forces one to reconcile and be sure to offer better service. That made me look for opportunities to bring something more than just rolled newspapers, and yes I missed opportunities. 

In each moment, we get the chance to reconcile, learn, grow and find Jesus in our hearts because we don’t need to spend time judging or tallying up our blessings - for that belongs to God. 

Be Thankful for Gifts

Be thankful for your blessings, and Jesus reminds us that there are more opportunities because we miss some. Even though we fail, we get new opportunities, new tastes (like German marble cake or pie); we get forgiveness and grace!  

For all of the struggle we have had in 2020, I believe that God might be reminding us not to get complacent. Don’t forget the gifts we have and how valuable those are. We are reminded that heroes don’t need to wear tights and capes. Heroes are ones that care for our neighbors. That is what Jesus says in this challenge.  Look beyond our suffering, find Christ in the community, and share your gifts.

Carpe Diem

We can even think in terms of the sentiment from Robert Herrick – carpe diem. 

Given his youth and work mobility, my son decided to explore the western areas of our vast country and “work from anywhere” (Zion National Park, Sedona, otherwise.) This is truly the spirit of carpe diem and seizing the moments we have.  I hope he takes advantage of all the opportunities he can during his journey. He will see God in some of the most beautiful places our creation reveals to us because mountains have a way of demonstrating how vast God is.  I hope he continues to find that beauty and love of God right there with him (and in the communities around him) – I hear it in his voice when he is talking about it. 

I wish that excitement also for us and our families. That despite the heaviness of COVID, emotional elections and the many stressors in our lives - that we don’t have to wait to see God around us because we might meet each moment with open eyes, heart and ears. We may find the adventure of God there in those moments.  We can witness God everywhere whether mountains, wide prairies, gorgeous sunrises, at the stoplight, in a baby’s eyes, the healthcare worker, the protester, or us - finally finding time for those avoided projects around the house. 

Finding Confidence Amid Struggle

We are in our own adventures, our own challenges, bills to pay, and to seize opportunities to find God. Christ challenges us to see grace in all the nooks and crannies of life, in people (young and old, rich or poor, black, brown or white, neighbor and prisoner), in the tasty pie we eat, the beverage we drink – and even in our struggles. 

Especially there, we find what is important - hope and comfort in the One who brought us. 

We have our adventure; we have our duties - even though fear and risk remain.  However, we meet these with confidence; that we are not alone in this. We don’t do this alone, and we can explore where Christ is - in us and throughout our community.  

We find Christ through prayer, thoughts and our actions – clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, or visiting the sick or imprisoned. We have many opportunities around us to reveal our love of God and neighbor. 

Are we willing to witness these opportunities - to see God where God is – and to be calmed through the wonderful tastes and presence of our Creator? I submit to you that through all of these challenges of the tough year, Christ has been and is right there comforting us and reminding us of our blessings – how valuable they are. 

The bill is coming due, but our Collector has forgiveness, grace and more opportunities ready for you. Doing Christ’s work does not have to be an ongoing, drudging chore, but it is the opportunity we don’t want to miss. 

On your journey, as a Christian, find opportunities to do for the least of these.  Maybe you have marble cake to share, maybe just a sandwich. Enjoy our beautiful creation and care for your community. When you do, watch your spirit lift! 

Thus, keep asking where do you see God today; where do you see Jesus? Open your heart and you will see. You will find those comforting arms and warm voice - waiting to mother you and guide you to more opportunities.   

Thanks Be to God


Sunday, October 25, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 25 Oct 2020

St John United Church of Christ             

Melbourne, IA             

Welcome to worship with us!      

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“No Matter Who You are or Where You are on Life’s Journey, You are Always Welcome Here!”

October 25, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare: Happy Reformation Sunday!

Helen Keller wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.”

 

Matthew 22:36-39

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

 

Call to Worship: (Psalm 1)          

Together:  

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

Hymn 386 (NCH): The Church’s One Foundation

Gathering Prayer

Happy are we, O God, when our hearts are full,
our ways are yours, our spirits enlivened by your call. 
Happy are we, O God, when our lives are guided by delight.
We gather here today for just that, holy God. 
We gather to draw on all you would give us
to be more fully yours.  In Jesus’ name.

 

Scripture Reading:      Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18 (NRSV)                                   

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer  among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Sermon:  How Do You Love?

Posted online at:

https://tonyswebstudios.blogspot.com/2020/10/how-do-you-love-leviticus-19.html

 

Moment of Silence & Reflection:

Invitation to Offering:

Anyone who has ever loved knows that to love is to give –
to give from the place we feel it most. 
This giving may be sacrificial,
but the sacrifice is compromised if it cannot be done joyfully. 
May we join together in the delight of giving? 

 

Let us remember the gifts you have been given.

Remember to share them with the community, your church.

(They can be sent to the church office.)

Sharing your gifts, the fruits of your labor, is great

because

God is good!                All the time!

All the time!*              God is good!*

Let us share in the goodness of our God!!

 

Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;                               

 Praise God all creatures here below;

 Praise God for all that love has done;

 Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One. Amen

 

Prayer of Dedication:

We give thanks, O God, for all that you have given us.  With what you see before us, God, we demonstrate our deepest love. Receive our gifts as sweet offering before you. May they be the blessing to others that they have been for us. We offer this prayer in the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Pastoral Meditation & Prayer:   

The Lord is with you 

Let us be in quiet meditations of our own hearts and minds.

Lord's Prayer: (ALL)

 

Hymn 4 (NCH): Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.

 

Closing Announcements:

Benediction:

Remember, as you go forth, the words our commandment to love,

Walk well in the way of love with speech, thoughts and action.

Let the warmth of God’s love be with you and guide you.

 

May the LORD bless you and keep you,

May holiness shine upon you, with you and be gracious to you,

May the Creator turn to you and give you peace, now and always.

 

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Portions of Gathering and Offertory Copyright 2020 Local Church Ministries, Faith INFO Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How Do You Love - Leviticus 19

How Do You Love
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Matthew 22:34-46, Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1

Opening Prayer

A post on our Facebook page has this wonderful quote from Paul Tillich “The first duty of love is to listen.” And is that not accurate?  Because if we don’t listen we don’t hear, we don’t care.  If we don’t listen with open heart and open mind as well as open ears, then are we really listening? Let us today ask “how do you love” and let us listen for love today.

As we have been walking through Matthew, we have heard Jesus sharing parables to describe the kingdom of God as a place of grace and love for all but also how people receive blessings (or perhaps how some do not, like the wicked tenants).  Jesus, in Matthew 22, is asked a question about the law.  There is no parable here - “just the facts ma'am.” Jesus reaches into the Torah, Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. 

Law can be a tough read, and as Kathryn Schifferdecker remarked, if you were ever needing a way to fall asleep, reading the law or Leviticus can help. As someone who has taken a couple law classes, reading law can be good sleep inducer, but law can challenge the best of us to find needles in haystacks because we look at not just the law but interpretations (e.g. Supreme Court decisions.) 

Among the most intense and difficult classes I have taken, my undergrad Constitutional Law class ranks near the top. I enjoyed the class because we studied and learned how constitutional laws have been interpreted and gradually expanded to grant rights to more Americans over time. Yet, Prof Hagel gave us only 4 grades, and he wrote exams like the mid-term with 30 possible points but because the questions were THAT HARD - immediately gift the class 10 points. I understand why because with law, one has to study nuances and many court decisions – including dissenting. This was a difficult class. 

Here, Jesus does a simple but thorough exegesis of the Holiness Code, that of all of the laws (not just 10), these two define us and our relationship with God.   

We read from Genesis that God created the world as “very good” and makes holy. We are created in the divine image. We are gifted creation and commanded to take care of this garden along with those in it.  God wants us to flourish. 

Leviticus, as great sleep medicine it can be, gives more detail to how we can flourish with God. As part of the Holiness Code, there are more than 10 commands but how one might live those. 

There is simplicity in this text but challenges too.  Let us walk through some.
"You shall not render unjust judgment..." When you see people on the news protesting, what have you said?  When people are in pain, do you say "you did this to yourself," or do you sit a moment and listen, as Tillich says?  

"You shall not go around as a slanderer..." Think of how more friendly our political seasons would be if we didn’t slander – what would politicians do?  Yet when you talk about people, do you point out their deficiencies, their disabilities, or their errors, or do you try to lift up and cheer on to keep going? 

"You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor..." The systemic failures and injustices of jealousy and fraud could be solved simply by being fair. 

"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin..." Ask yourself who is your kin; your neighbor? Isn’t hate a bit expensive? Let go of hate or consume you it will.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against any..."  for vengeance and judgment belong to God. Remember Jesus’s words about removing the log from our eye before removing the speck in others. Sometimes, we need to forgive ourselves too since we know that we fail. 

Go even a little further into Leviticus 25 to the laws of Jubilee where all debts are to be forgiven regularly.  Can you imagine how this would mess with our current financial system?  Think of how much freedom is buried in debt.  Think of why Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There is freedom smothered by debt.

The cornerstone of these commands, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we go a little further into Leviticus 19: 33-34 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…”

So How do you love? How do you love your neighbor (or the alien)?  This isn’t just empty words or questions.  This is as Kathryn suggests “a profound theological statement about life with God.” Holiness is a gift from our Creator - something we don’t get on our own.  While we sin and fall short, Holiness is “the work of God in us.”

This is showing love and compassion.  This is lifting up and revealing grace among us.  This is letting God be with us and in us.

You, made in the image of our Creator, you - made with love to be God's servant here on Earth, you share that love.

We can put a lot in trying to be perfect, holy and acing that class.  That can be exhausting. These may be worthy ventures, but we don’t do this alone. Yet, each of these needs honest effort, action, and reflection that is rooted in the holy promise, the holy command.  

When we are true, when we lift and not degrade, 
when we do good business and not fraud, 
when we welcome neighbors (and aliens) as our kin, 
when we love, 
then we do God’s work! 

When we let love find us, bind us and warm us,
 we make room for grace abundant. 

Avoid being the “wicked tenant” of God’s creation. Don’t cheat or be unjust. There is little nuance to interpret. 

We can walk and talk with compassion and love that God desires. Thus, taking care of our neighbors, our community, our church, and letting room for people is inviting not only people but inviting God into our lives. When we live into the moment, live into love, live freedom from debt - because you forgive, you live and dwell with God. That is how you love.

It is not only about ourselves but those that ask to represent us. In this election season, we know that politicians are like us  - fallible and flawed. When we look at the list of people on the ballot (or even for our church) we should ask which one lifts up and makes room for God to work or perhaps who does more slander.  We should ask which one invites us as good people to lift up and share.

“You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.”  That to love God with all your heart and mind because God is inside you and made you holy. In all of our brokenness and darkness, God made you holy; God made all of us - full of love.  It is for this reason then we must love those around us because they too are made of this holy love. 

Let life flourish; let God show you and dwell in you! 

That is God’s promise and gift. Let love be you!

Like the great power ballad “Love Song” by Tesla,
“So look around, open your eyes. 
Love is gonna find a way, 
find its way back to you. 
Love will find a way.”

…And Vote like your love depends upon it.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Coming Out Day Reflection

It was 1995. I was a student at the University of Iowa and ran into someone who told me something about “National Coming Out Day” rally on campus. I don’t think I was excited or defiant of any sort, but I was curious and wondering. I was wondering about myself and who I was for some time and not sure what to make of it.  At this point, a horrible movie called the “Homosexual Agenda” as well as how some people were defining faith as incompatible with being queer. Was I everything that I read?  When I think back, I question myself of why was I letting these define who I was because my agenda was getting to class on time and studying. Also, how would they know about being queer? 


Yet it is hard to feel good about oneself (or even society) when people demoralize and degrade you for being you.


So I went to see this event to later realize that it was me literally “coming out” that day. There was uncertainty about even being there and what my presence would mean. Yet instead of the gross montages of that horrible movie or the evil finger pointing from church elders, I saw people like me and people that were – well just people. The distorted perceptions given to me about degrading lifestyles and people were not here at all, and still I questioned. In fact, I met friends, smiles and good people – but I questioned. 


It would eventually take me years to come to terms with myself as queer, but I can mark this as a step in my life. Lao Tzu says, ”A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” Life lead me into challenges but also into liberation. Over time, I became honest with myself as being queer. I would become an organizer to fight queer injustice and support equality efforts. I became a proponent of more coming out demonstrations and Pride because what it did for me. 


Still, over the years I would come out over and over to people, and each time would be a challenge – especially with my parents. There were moments where I questioned just being, but I found strength in people and I was not alone. Each time was a moment of truth and sincerity. 


Spiritually, I believe that God was speaking but not by finger pointing. I found myself back in church with people that did less finger pointing, more welcoming, and more questioning. I eventually found myself with a theology and ministry that was grounded in the Gospel of Matthew with inspiration from Lao Tzu and Zen scholars. I have developed a theology – that does not deny queerness or degrade people for being the beautiful people that God created. God made me as a broken and imperfect person and loves me just the way I am. (I had to write that a few times to let it really sink.)


Sometimes, on days like this, I just have to remind myself to take the next step.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 27 Sep 2020

 St John United Church of Christ

Melbourne, IA

Welcome to worship with us!     

******************************************************

“No Matter Who You are or Where You are on Life’s Journey, You are Always Welcome Here!”

September 27, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare:

Gandhi said, “Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold on to it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort.”


Philippians 2:4-5

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,


Call to Worship: (from Psalm 25)

Together:  

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in you I trust;

    do not let me be put to shame;

    do not let my enemies exult over me.

3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

    let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;

    teach me your paths.

5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,

    for you are the God of my salvation;

    for you I wait all day long.

6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,

    for they have been from of old.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

    according to your steadfast love remember me,

    for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD;

    therefore you instruct us in the Way.

9 You lead the humble in what is right,

    and teach the humble holy Way.


Hymn 449 (NCH): Softly and Tenderly

Prayer of Confession

Called to follow Christ, we are called to a life of humility. 

But what does that even mean? 

Do we seek to exalt ourselves – to be lifted above others?

Does our sense of success depend on someone else’s failure?

Does our love of God entirely guide our relationships?

Do we twist service into convenience and leisure,

ignoring the idea that to serve is to be a servant?

Silence

Let God Disturb the habits of our sin. 

Rouse us from the sleep that cradles sin’s embrace. 

 

In the name of Jesus, we pray –

Show us your ways

Highlight what we can change

And change what we cannot.


Words of Assurance

Good friends:

God is at work in you! 

God is alive in us!

              

God lives – but sin is dead. 

And our sins are forgiven,

through Christ, our Savior. 

Alleluia!  Amen.


Scripture Reading:      Matthew 21: 23-32 (NRSV)                                    

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.


Sermon:  What Authority

Posted online as well at: 

https://tonyswebstudios.blogspot.com/2020/09/what-authority-matthew-21.html


Moment of Silence & Reflection:

Invitation to Offering:

(Upcoming “Neighbors in Need” Special Offering Oct 4, 2020

https://www.ucc.org/nin_resources?utm_campaign=nin_2020_2nd_msg_to_givers&utm_medium=email&utm_source=unitedchurchofchrist)


God of infinite patience, just as Moses was worn down by the complaining of the Israelites, so you must tire as we pray for things we want and not the things we need – forgetting your grace and au-thority. As we give our gifts to empower your church, help us to see the things that really matter, places where we can provide for others in need, and deepen our trust in you to take care of us. 


Let us remember the gifts you have been given. 

Remember to share them with the community, your church.

(They can be sent to the church office.)

Sharing your gifts, the fruits of your labor, is great 

because

God is good! All the time! 

All the time!* God is good!*

Let us share in the goodness of our God!! 


Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

 Praise God all creatures here below;

 Praise God for all that love has done;

 Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One. Amen


Prayer of Dedication:

We give thanks, O God, for all that you have given us.  O God, you have called your laborers to give their gifts. Bless these offerings so that they reflect the work of your kingdom of heaven here on Earth. We offer this prayer in the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 


Pastoral Meditation & Prayer:  

The Lord is with you  

Let us be in quiet meditations of our own hearts and minds.

Lord's Prayer: (ALL) 


Hymn 43 (NCH): Love Divine, All Loves Excelling 


Closing Announcements:

Benediction:

Remember as you go forth the words from letter to Philippi,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit

Live in humility

Let each of you look not to your own interests but to those of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. 

Remember from where your authority rests.

Remember that it is up to you live into the holy promise.


May the LORD bless you and keep you,

May holiness shine upon you, with you and be gracious to you,

May the Creator turn to you and give you peace, now and always.


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Saturday, September 26, 2020

What Authority - Matthew 21

What Authority

Tony E Dillon Hansen

27 Sep 2020

Online at: https://tonyswebstudios.blogspot.com/2020/09/what-authority-matthew-21.html


Sermon based upon Matthew 21:23-32, Psalm 25, Exodus 17:1-7 and Philippians 2:1-13


Opening Prayer:


With election season upon us, this parable feels wholly appropriate because there are plenty of presumptions about power and authority or even misleading claims.


For today, I would like for us to consider the question, 

What authority is in your life?


To start, I would like to share a little bit of a conversation I had with a friend about growing up and how we viewed family and authority in our lives.


For myself, when I was young, I saw things quite differently than I do today. My parents might quip what happened to that young one, and that would be a good question. There are stories but for another time. 


For the most part in my youth, I was expected to do what my parents would say – yet when I didn’t want to eat liver and onions or BBQ chips, I would challenge. So there might be a moment or two when I didn’t.  


This also applied to church and God as well. Here, I came to cherish the vision in the Gospel of Matthew of God’s enduring love and justice for all.


As I grew, that attitude evolved as I became more independent. I would see aspects of the world of the many contrasting “proposed” social conventions that seem to govern our lives and studied them.  Now, that I have grown a few pounds, I still don’t like BBQ chips or sweet relish, but I have gained affinity for cottage cheese and sauerkraut. 


Along the way, I have observed how people would do things that felt inconsistent with what they say they believe.  I saw my own inconsistent ways. Jokes that used to be funny instead today reveal how careless someone’s attitude towards race, queerness, or women might be. I observed contrasts in places of authority where we have this Bill of Rights that enshrines justice, privacy and press, but there are laws that prevent people from gaining access to justice, making private choices or officials vilifying press as “fake news.” 


I would see folks who appear to pray solemn prayers, think they have it all figured out, done the right things, and checked all the boxes. They still walk out the door and support laws that degrade and hurt people - laws that refuse compassion towards neighbors and deny equality and justice.  Somewhere in people’s lives, the message of the Gospel seems to get clouded. 


It happens. Many claim to follow the Gospel and fall short – I can be accused of this myself. Some claim to follow the Gospel and just do not.


The contrast does not, however, have to form a dividing line or competition of scars. It is instead a teaching moment. The challenge then is to understand what obstacles do we place in front of the true authority, the Truth, these Gospel teachings. This Gospel is one that invites blessings for those hurting, the poor, the “salt” and those who light up and lift up. Think of why Jesus lists prostitutes and poor as blessed because when you have nothing left to lose, you have everything to gain. 


This is part of why I got into ministry because I want to help people feel they too can live into the promise of this Gospel. That is because the experience of the Gospel message (both graceful and difficult) and what it can do is a true gift of freedom not a privilege or weapon to wield. 


Therefore, what religion, what government, what person gives authority to demean, lie, hate and hurt when the authority of the Gospels tells us differently?


One might ask, Where are the good people? Where are those that believe and live this Gospel we read? 


Unfortunately, there are many false and deceiving “authority” around us. You see them in advertising and social media memes, so you don’t have to think. These tells us of our deserved rewards or status, entitlements to annoy people, what’s mine is mine, an eye for an eye, I need shiny things, one more beverage or hit. Some say there is no time to help neighbors in need. Some contort the Gospel into an ugly weapon.


I question these “proposed” conventions as “that’s how the world works” arguments because they feel misguided. Contrastingly, there is truth and honesty in Matthew’s Gospel that tells us of God’s unfailing love and justice that I fell in love with as a youth, and the Gospel is hard to follow. We fall short.


There are many negative things out there and bad authority that seem easy, but we can become lonely in hunts for wealth, job, social media, substances or status. Yet, we don’t have to accept these or to let them define us and our paths forward. In fact, when derecho hit, neighbors showed up everywhere to help. Truth is right here waiting, never leaving.


There are good people – those that believe the Gospel and live its teachings best they can– right here. That can be you!


The good thing is that God’s authority grounded in steadfast love and freeing justice – ready to transform and change you – if you are ready.  The question is – are you?


Know that our Creator is with you. Even when we walk in deserts and wildernesses (or pandemic) of our lives looking for food, water, hope, healing and transformation, as in Exodus, there is someone there to help us. 


If you let God work, you may feel that tickle in your heart, the warmth and the tug. You might just tear up a little. God is working if you are willing to open to the real authority and let all others fall away.


We learn and listen to God speaking. This Truth invites us and welcomes us into freely given grace – as broken, humble people we are -whether we like BBQ chips or not. 


We ought to remember the holy promise, 

the holy authority that makes space for you and me just the same.  

Why? because you are worth it.

This holy authority does not reduce your worth, does not demean and even willing to listen to your questioning. 

This authority loves a good laugh and comforts when times are tough.  

This authority does not ignore science, people or their true lived experiences.

This authority can transform you, heal you, and open your path.


This authority is not aspiration only but truly a guide into love of neighbor with humility and pure heart. This has always been here - probing us, tickling us, lifting us, and guiding us.  

This authority frees us before all, 

frees our hearts so that we can heal 

and frees us to help others heal. 


This authority is the Truth of Jesus and no earthly convention can contest it.  


Thanks be to God.