Saturday, July 23, 2016

Being The Change (with Some Candy)

Being The Change - with Candy
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A sermon based upon 
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Have you ever thought you had done everything for a project that was asked, and even perhaps went above and beyond the requests to deliver exceptional quality for a customer? Did you get to the customer looking for payment and your customer points out that a task was missed.  The customer won’t show praise for missing an apparently important element.  

Let me give a couple examples of this. 

My parents would catch me on this a bunch when I was younger. (You can tell can’t you?) When we thought we had chores done, there were a couple times when Mom or Dad would review and realize the work was half done or something important not done (say folding the clothes) - Oh, the grief that would ensue.  Dad would remind us of this error in very elegant ways thereafter even when would do great things by saying something like “half-‘done’ work is not done work…” You are going to have to do the work at some point. 

Ever wrote a great paper for a class, but the grammar for the paper made it difficult to read? No matter how good your work was before that, papers from that point would be more seriously scrutinized.  

The bowl of M&M’s

Rock legends, Van Halen had a way of writing contracts for their shows.  A rider in the contracts would spell out that catering by the promoter would remove brown M&Ms from the candy bowls or forfeit the cost of the show. Instead of thinking about this like a punk-rocker request, there was a serious reason for the rider. Van Halen promoters would be getting serious money for setting up these large, heavy rock and roll concert stages and large lighting displays. The idea was that if you had the foresight to seriously read the requirements and deliver the quality of stage for Van Halen, the payout and prestige for this operation would be enormous. Otherwise, the damage could be substantial, as was the case for a couple promoters. 

How does God do this? He gave us commandments and a covenant. 

The story in Hosea is a condemnation and warning.

Jehu has caused a lot of blood, partially at God’s command (2 Kings), but the Lord means to teach a lesson for some things (the brown M&Ms of the Old Testament). Jehu may have thought he did everything God asked. Perhaps Jehu’s bloodthirstiness is a reason, but Jehu’s continued break of covenant has God concerned. Perhaps Jehu didn't ask for or want God’s forgiveness.

Turn to Hosea, the prophet is instructed to marry a prostitute and to bear children. The first with a name for a very fertile valley in Israel, Jezreel (meaning something along the lines of “God sows”). Lo-ruhamah (meaning “not pitied” - not happy), and then Lo-ammi, (meaning “not my people” - abandonment.) With each “child”, God becomes less patient with the continued break of covenant and is warning that forgiveness has limits - then walks. 

Showing Our Work.

When I was in algebra class, I was instructed to show my work not just the answer. The answer was far less important than how you achieved it. 

When we read Paul’s remarks, Paul again is talking about marks of faith (i.e. circumcision) but he is talking about being the faith instead of showing faith.  Whatever we do to show our religion is not the same as actually living the faith. To truly have love for God and for neighbor, we must be the love. Also we must be respectful of the sacrifices that have come before us that got us to where we are today. All the good work you can do today is because someone provided the opportunity. In this case, Jesus, through mission and crucifixion, liberated us from the hallow hypocrisy of one dimensional religion and politic that devalues and excludes people from community.

Further, if we are to be true of faith and to be followers of Jesus, we have to be mindful of the gifts given, and to be willing to be love. We have to remember from where the gifts have been provided; that God has forgiven us so many times; and that we must also forgive. 

This is what we are reminded in the Lord’s prayer.  

Then, we hear the Gospel lesson about asking for “help” with a persistent nature.  Jesus tells us that when we search, we will find if we are willing to persevere - knock and a door will open eventually.  Jesus doesn't tell us what we will find; what we will see or hear on the other side of the door.  Jesus reminds us that searching does not guarantee instantaneous returns but returns that require more diligence. Again, faith is not about flesh marks, poetic sayings and grand churches, but about how we do things - everyday .  

Patience, persistence and neighborly gifts are important to our faith and life.  How is that possible in today’s world of instantaneous action, 140-character, off-cuff remarks, and empty prayers or gifts? 

If we do not take the time to consider what we do and how that impacts people, our love of neighbor is mere shallow words. If we only read the easy, how are we to understand the elements that are required for us to build a real foundation? Diligent effort and respect will get you results. 

We will miss the brown M&M rider from God when we do not truly consider what we do. This is part of what God is saying to Hosea (and Amos) in the scriptures: that pain and suffering will happen for things like: 
wanton forgetfulness, 
stubborn ignorance,
a slight-of-hand remark about Muslims or immigrants, 
a racist joke, 
trespassing on a neighbors property, 
that one lie you told to…, 
a greedy deal you sold, 
or disrespecting someone else’s need to be heard. 

Whether you realize the fault, of all of the things you do with good heart, those events when you do something disrespectful will be how you are viewed now, especially if you keep doing them. If you are not attentive of what you do and how it impacts the people and world around you, that disfavor will catch up with you. (Karma) 

Again, Even God has limits.  God gave Israel three strikes (according to Hosea represented by the children and diminishing names) before proverbially throwing hands up and saying you are on your own until you are ready. Yet, the pain of punishment may yield good favors if we persevere to make our path good. Yet, Jesus reminds us that God forgives if we are willing to ask for it. 

How to receive requests

Jesus does however suggest that if people are asking from us, that we should be honorable in our gifts.  If you want things in your life, you must be prepared to give in kind. Any Child of God deserves to be treated with the respect of another. If you deceive a Child of God, how could God trust you?  Again, according to the lesson from the prophets, if you are deceitful and disrespectful, that is how you will be remembered.

What is the snake and scorpion that Jesus refers? Think of the last couple readings we had from Amos.  Deceit, mistreatment of the poor, greed, gluttony, and idolatry are causes for punishment. There are a few politicians that could better realize this.

Jesus reminds us that every deed we do comes with this inherent requirement of fairness and scrutiny from God.  We are to treat our neighbors as good dutiful friends regardless of how they look (e.g. black/Hispanic, LGBTQ, feminine/masculine, rich/poor), what they believe or how they speak.  Jesus and Paul tell us that our actions on a day-to-day basis are more important in representing our faith than empty gestures of marking, boasting or yelling. When your actions are full of compassion and grace, then God will continue to bless you with forgiveness. 

In this world of turmoil and pain, a fellow Stephen minister reminded us of the wise Gandhi who said to be the change you wish to see in the world. 

If you wish to see compassion, be compassionate. 
If you wish to see help in the community, be the help.
If you wish to see generosity, be generous with your heart and hugs.
To see love, be the love.
To see laughter, be real laughter.
To see Peace, be the peace.
To see good health, be healthy. 
To see thankfulness, be thankful.
To see forgiveness, be forgiving.

Forgive our debtors and our debts will be forgiven.

Thanks Be to God. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Preparing the Way

Preparing the Way 
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A sermon based upon Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

There are a couple things that come to mind when we look at the text for Luke 10.  I would like to consider Luke’s text in terms of how we start a mission by picking a place.  I would then like to consider how one conducts themselves in this mission. 

In Mark 6, as I am sure many of you will recall, Jesus instructs the disciples to go out in pairs into towns ahead of them.  In Mark, we witness similar notes of how to conduct themselves with respect to people on the road and in the houses. 

Luke goes further with many more involved in the mission and talks about harvest needs in the towns. Are we talking about the old agrarian needs like my farmer grandfather wanting help on the farm or is there something else being suggested here?  Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work!  The harvest, however, that is implied here is of the people themselves rather than of a grain harvest. 

Great!! —If you know farmers like my grandpa, they could have always used more people for arms full of hay bails, acres of bean walking, long nights of grain harvests, and dusty corn shelling. That is, of course, how I envision my preaching mission.

How to Pick a Place?

When our family goes to look for a place to live, we may be willing to consider some features that appeal to us like location, friendly neighbors, kids in the area, crime potentials, accessibility, or … does this house or neighborhood look Democrat or Republican - Does it look like us?

There is a bit of carpe diem and faith in these passages, given the notion of going into these unknown areas and homes then staying there. Nothing more is provided about how to determine which place to pick.  We are not told to choose based upon whether it is nice and well built, whether it is able to hold people, whether it is tired and small, whether it has guns or looks friendly, or whether it could be a community shelter with roaming collective of immigrants, unemployed, disabled or angry people. You have to pick a place and the first one that accepts is your objective.  Jesus is saying in so many words here, “Have Faith. It will work out.”

How Do We Learn and Grow?

There is where you will learn about those people because they have already decided to welcome you into their midsts (step one of ready for harvest.) These missions are told to bring the message and to embrace the customs of those that welcome them (learn about them and enjoy their hospitality as proper “guests” should.)    

This beckons a story of two Zen Masters: a visitor and a welcoming Master. Upon arrival, the visiting Master begins to talk about the great things his students were doing, and to talk, and to talk, and to talk.  Every time the welcoming Master suggests some idea, the visiting Master is dismissive and keeps talking (oh we have that, we do that and we have something better…) The welcoming Master then invites the visiting Master to tea and begins to pour tea into the cup and continues to pour over the cup’s limit into his lap.  The visiting Master complains that “the cup is full” and asks why the welcoming Master has clearly let this tea run over.  The welcoming Master explains, “like this cup of tea, your mind is full of ideas and opinions where you will not learn anything more until you empty your mind.”  

When the missions present themselves and their message, they are told to learn and to adapt to the new cultures rather than forcing opinions upon others. We know that eating habits are core to cultures and cooperation. Jesus calls the missions to bring the message into communion with their culture and with openness to learn from them what they are willing to share.  Then, we can grow together. We have to prepare our minds to grow with what we encounter. Otherwise, we miss the opportunity to learn valuable lessons, cultures and ideas that may prove useful to us today or in the future.

So, when we return to the choices we have (places or otherwise), that choice will influence what we learn and how we learn.  If we always pick from those with similar appearance, political stripe or culture, how are we to learn and grow with our neighbors that we have, let alone those we have yet to meet?  If we pick the same thing over and over, how do we improve or change? We do not have to agree nor do we need to shed our beliefs. Yet, alongside the missions sent by Jesus, we are tasked to learn the different ways people come to life, to the Way, and to God because each of us has something to share. 

Just trying something different provides us with discovery of tastes, smells, art, challenges and joys that are in lives all around us.  With this, Jesus is telling us how we grow in love of neighbor and God. 

Yet, if these towns do not welcome, the Arabic custom of wiping dust off shoes is how the missions are to behave - Nothing more and nothing less (and not shoe tossing for insults).  For instance, a problem with tossing shoes is you might have to retrieve the shoe, or you walk barefoot until you get new ones!  Maybe, these people have recent grief or simply do not want visitors today, but Jesus says to wipe away and walk away today. Perhaps, there is a more appropriate time for these people, but we cannot make it difficult for future success by providing buyers remorse today.

An interesting concept is that as other towns (and people) become welcoming, so too will the not-so-welcoming towns by witnessing the good results that happen in the welcoming communities: natural alignment. It is the nature of life and society where people want the good things- to experience the good: aka God. Yet, they will experience at their own pace and willingness. That sounds a lot like the United Church of Christ??!!  

A Retrospective

Once we find success, we need not gloat or become boastful.
Once we find success, we must carry on to the next.
Once we find failure, we must carry on to the next.
Learn from your work, be thankful, we must carry on to the next.
That is the essential of the second part of the scripture.  

Even the missions could not believe their own faith had worked for them when they brought back stories of wonderful successes. Jesus gives them a retrospective of the graces given to them while also reminding them to focus upon the enduring work ahead of them.  

Power, faith and a good harvest that get used to force others into submission is a destructive mission to the greater mission.  Wealth, social status, religious ostracism (like against LGBT), terrorism (like Boston or Turkey), burning a Quran or systemic violence (like racism) are ugly versions of this where someone (or some people) used good fortunes via the Word of God to justify prodding anger, sheltering hate or inflicting pain.  

Nothing good becomes of “good” words and works when that is then used to harm any of God’s children (believer, non-believer or different believer).  

Thus, this lesson is not just for ministers, preachers and missionaries (or even good table manners.) This lesson applies to everyday people facing daily challenges and choices on how to take the good and the not-so-good. Do your work well, be open, respect, learn, reflect and prepare for the next.    

For us today, we are called into mission by Jesus to go forth, to share the message and to learn.  This is a mission that was started in Genesis where God commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”  where we have to look at what has been given to us and be willing to make the most of it. 

Jesus tells us to start somewhere and let that be your path. 
Jesus tells us to respect people that we do not know 
Jesus tells us to respect those that need to hear the Truth.  
Jesus tells us to respect those that do not want to hear the Truth today.  
Jesus tells us to empty our cups.
Jesus tells us to open our hearts and minds.
Jesus tells us to enjoy the meal in communion.
Jesus tells us to savor the moments we get. 
Jesus tells us to let the Word and the Way build.
Jesus tells us to be thankful!

This is how Jesus tells us to prepare the Way.

Thanks Be to God.