Sunday, March 26, 2017

On the Nature of God and evil (revised)

On the Nature of God and evil
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

I want to try to tackle the question of how to reconcile God that is of both love and evil.

This is perplexing and a paradox of Judeo-Christian religion to explain the good with the bad especially when we consider God to be omnipotent or One. If we are to pray to this being that is the overseer of great wonders and also the great tragedies (e.g. atomic bombs, Hitler, slavery, earthquakes, etc..), which one is hearing us and which one is getting the praises. When I pray to God I want the one that is compassion; that wants and does love.  How do we get love from such tragedies like genocide, cancer, and perpetual incarceration?

I am going to suggest that God is growing throughout the Scriptures, and through Jesus, God's calling message is fully revealed to us. Yet we have many examples in the scriptures of God-directed pain: God, through the prophet Jeremiah, was calling quits on the people (of Israel), God called Joshua to vanquish the land of Canaan for Jewish settlement, God calls upon Abraham to kill his child. Where is the sanity in believing this God is good and why should I pray to this God if only to be tormented on a regular basis? Were these erroneous understandings of God through the eyes of the Israelites? Were these tests of faith?

What is clear that through the millennia, God has been blamed for death and destruction almost as much as for the graces of nature.  When I am feeling left out or hurt, what did God do to me ? I would say that God likely, just as in Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah or Isaiah warned me, even though I did not listen. I would like to stick up for myself on these, but I know that I can be pretty stubborn to suggestion to things I don't agree — only to find myself with consequences of the actions later to be less than bearable. Was the situation the same in the Scriptures? How about today?  When did the kings get the better suggestion from God but instead decided to rape and pillage entire communities off the planet — and then out of ego blame God for it?  I can see God getting blamed for things not caused by divine intervention. Jesus proclaimed this when he specifically called people out for erroneous use of God to cover their ill-intentions.

If God is truly compassionate as described by the most enlightened and perfect ones (Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha), then the fallibility of humanity is revealed in how we want to perceive God on our side rather than God on the side of compassion.  Even when things happen as terrible as financial hardship, personal loss of child, Dad’s cancer, holocaust or slavery, there were lessons to be learned and taught to future generations about the meaning and grace of God. Truly even during the worst, there were fine examples of compassions that were revealed (whether recorded or not) by some members of the human race that understood something about love of God and neighbor.  Even when tradition told us to look around the calamity of generations of slaves, there were people that exemplified love of neighbor, even at the cost of their own. Even when we learned of Dad’s cancer, there was an opportunity of time to understand what our family is and what is our faith.

These lessons don't absolve the horrendous behaviors of the people committing heinous crimes, but they remind us of what is possible and that we can be that good person in the midst that says something or does something to right an injustice. Even if we weren't as diligent as the ant in preparing for a bad winter, in God’s kingdom, some of the ants will help surviving grasshoppers to understand what is needed for the next winter.

This comes to the core of deliberative and progressive theology where God is not continuously directing the whole affairs of everyone but maybe nudges us from time to time (if we quiet our minds, anxieties, desires or fears..and simply listen to the still speaking God.) It may not be answer we want, the answer we think we need or the time that we want it, but there is an answer waiting for us if we have patience to hear it. Yet, we can ignore what is right instead of what is right now. We can choose to be evil, and we can hold onto the conviction that God inspired us to do it. We also know that God is ready to teach the world what that ignorance of the “right” means and how empty that inspiration really is.

God may not have planned to teach us lessons and there is the possibility that we may in fact bring on some of these by not tuning into God as suggested by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

With respect to the reality of catastrophic natural disasters in relation to God’s sovereignty, I would point to the interpretation of the story of Lot leaving the city of Sodom due to the impending doom forcing him to leave his beloved home. Sometimes We are warned of pending disasters and told that it is time to pick up and leave. I do not think God uses diseases like HIV or Cancer or events like hurricane Katrina, as examples, to exact punishment upon people nor do I think God is purposefully putting these obstacles in our way. We have a choice of how we respond to these (with dignity and honor or with negativity). For Lot, Abraham gave him a choice of lands perceived as great and prudent, but Lot chose to make home near a volcano.

There was a chose by Lot that put him a collision course with the impending volcano eruptions. Similarly we can ask where I to develop cancer like my dad, how do I know if could prevent that or is that even possible for me to influence?  Were there choices about Hurricane Katrina that people made? The answer is, like Lot, very likely yes on both sides (needing to leave and the actions thereafter). Although, unlike many people in New Orleans, Lot had the resources to leave before the destruction. Were the people of the Lower 9th Ward condemned because of sins? I would argue they were not condemned.

Many choices, events in our lives, or chain of events are simply out of our control, but we can impact how we respond to these.  Our response to suffering can either lessen the suffering or make that worse. We can be mindful how we bring and share God’s love and compassion in this world. 

I do not know nor pretend to know why bad things happen to good people but they happen. The only we can do is be prepared for the hour as in the parable of the virgins (Matthew 25) and considering the necessity of watchfulness (Matthew 24:36).

If we are to leave a good legacy, then we should be prepared to showcase our good life when we are no more.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Oh No You Didn’t.

Oh No You Didn’t.
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
12 Mar 2017

Sermon based upon Luke 13:1-9, 31-35

Will you pray with me?  Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lesson 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.

I

I understand why some people are skeptical of the word “change”.  
This word is hoisted quite prominently every election cycle.  
Then, the election closes and well,
the change that we want is not what we get or sometimes does not seem to happen at all.
Sometimes, we even hear about how others should change.

In this Lenten season, however, we are invited
to reflect,
to renew
and to change--you know the real kind!
Thus, for today, I would like for us to consider what does “change” in your life look like.

I hear news talk about recent suffering, violence or disaster.
Then, there is a peanut gallery critiquing these events using familiar phrases like
“sucks to be them”,
“it is good thing I don’t live there…”; 
you know next to “those people.”  

This looks suspicious; like covert attitudes about our neighbors. 
Could this attitude come from jealousy for stuff they have,
or are they doing stuff that we wanted to do but never did?
Could this be a disdain for “allowing terrorists” in our neighborhoods, or that country?
Did we notice how they dress,
the holy names they use,
the condition of their neighborhoods,
or the people they love?

Too often, I miss the opportunity to challenge this.  
Yet, when Jesus is asked something like this,
however, there is no shyness and the response is not tempered

You see, our lesson opens with our people asking the Lord
about people involved with some bad news that have recently hit Galilee.   
Our people in the story are almost reveling at the suffering and misfortune of those people involved-- well it is a good thing we are not them, right Jesus?? 

You can almost see Jesus turn and wave a finger to the crowd
—“Oh no you didn’t just ask me that!”
Our people were trying to test Jesus,
but Jesus will have none of it. 
Jesus chastises us for the brazen attempt to goad Him into justifying discrimination.
“Oh no you didn’t” just try to get God to justify your prejudices against God’s own children!  
That is arrogant and presumptuous. 

This is a tried and worn path for far too many people.
People want to invoke God and Jesus to justify prejudice
From this lesson, I doubt God would approve.

Everyone suffers and everyone faces challenges.
Our response to that suffering determines our humanity.
You may not have experienced flood, cancer, addiction, bigotry or neighborhood violence.
This does not make you better than our neighbors;
These should remind you that we are not in control because God is.
Instead, these challenges are reminders to share our love and compassion with them. (Luke 6:27-31) 

Further, there is no need to denounce others,
when our own life needs tending.
Just because you personally may not have felt injustice in this world,
does not mean it is an illusion to others that have.
To say otherwise is arrogant presumption about our neighbors, good people in our community.
I doubt God approves since we are commanded “to love God and neighbor” (Matthew 22).
Not to mention too easily, we could be on the cutting side of the prejudice.

We are all God’s children and beloved.  
To cast a net of prejudices is to cast doubt upon God and deny God’s children.
Did the Romans give that authority? The Governor? The President? Or Church?
No person can give that authority and God certainly has not either
because we are commanded “to love God and neighbor.”
Why would God command us to have compassion and also tell us to ignore it?

Thus, Jesus challenges people to change your attitudes
unless you want to fall victim to the personal crime of arrogance and prejudice.
If you think such arrogance of God’s people will be rewarded,
Jesus reminds us of a rude awakening waiting.

There is so much more in today’s lesson. So, we pivot. 

II

Ever have a doctor say something like
“you could stand to lose some weight…”
or “it might be time to look at your diet…”?

Ever then “decide” maybe I should eat better,
go to the gym,  
or just be a better person
--starting tomorrow.
Then of course,
tomorrow turns into “well maybe the next day”
or the next
and that tomorrow
does not really seem to arrive.

What then? Nothing. 
What was the excuse?

When looking at life’s challenges,
Jesus offers the parable of the fig tree.  
Don’t just look at life and complain
because maybe “No, you didn’t” do anything. 

This parable tells us that when life is challenging;
do not just “ho-hum” and complain.
We are told to make the time
and put some effort into it.
From the story, sometimes
we need to deal with manure first
to get good things in life.

Yet, we are challenged not to give up,
because doing nothing solves nothing.  
Not putting in real effort,
we get nothing more in return.
The gardener in me suggests that
a garden does not plant itself.

What if we fail? Jesus, in so many words says, “So what!”  
You first need to put effort into change to get some change
and yes, sometimes manure is involved.

If you fail, realize that God will still be with you and still help you.
Jesus understands what it is like to experience wildernesses.

Speaking of wilderness experiences,
during this season of Lent,
we are called to reflect and to see
what we can do to make our lives better.  
Can we do some things to improve our spirit, health and attitude?
Even though it is the second Sunday of Lent,
there is no better time to start than right now.

Also in Luke 13
A woman suffering for years took a chance
to reach beyond her suffering,
to reach with faith
and come to Jesus.
She reminds us that we need
to take chances
to renew our faith
to come to Jesus.
Are you ready to come to Jesus?  

III

In the third part, 
Jesus provokes the oppression of Herod and the Roman “fox.”
This is dangerous to publicly criticize violent and hotheaded leaders.   
Do we say, “Sucks to be Jesus” for doing this,
Or that “He deserves what is coming to Him”
because Jesus spoke truth to power?  
That sounds odd or almost insulting ??
Yet, that is what people are saying
when we say that people are “getting what they deserve.”  
Remember another lesson from Jesus,
“whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.”

We also have a chance “one more time.”
If you follow the prescription laid out by Jesus
and you try one more time,
maybe you can raise up praises to God.

What do you need to have success? 

Again, in this season of Lent, we are given chances
to reflect,
to change,
to be whole,
or to remember how to live
or to how to have faith.  

We are reminded of our mortality;
that from dust we came and unto dust we will return.  
We only have this time between our birthday and our own funeral.
What and How do you make the most of your gift of life?

I believe Jesus would agree that the road is not easy,
sometimes painful.
Yet, if you do the work,
have faith,
and just be true,
you just might find some glory to come out of suffering.  
You just might be that person that says, “By the grace of God, we did it!”
If you fail, let it go and know that God is still there to lift you back up.

We have an awesome potential,
and yes, we often fail. (I know from my personal experience.)
God gives us chances to succeed
because God wants to see us succeed.
If you start down a bad path,
no need to stay there.
You, like the woman healed, can come to Jesus
now or anytime
to renew and to find hope.
You are invited this Lent to choose a great path for yourself.

With these lessons, 
we are talking about change-- the real kind.
We are asked to look at our attitudes,
to build a plan of change,
to execute and
to have faith that success will come.

Again, set aside prejudices in your life
and just be part of God’s children.  
Remember God’s call to compassion.
Let us open our hearts to the words of Jesus
and find a path to success.

God gives us many opportunities to change,
but in the words of one president, “the work here on Earth is truly our own.” 
If we do these, we will raise up praises to God,
and there won’t be Jesus waving a finger saying, “Oh no you didn’t.”

You can say “By the grace of God, we did it!”

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Thanks Be to God!