Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pastoral Prayer - 25 Jun 2017

Pastoral Prayer  - 25 Jun 2017
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Holy and Gracious God, let us first come to in you the quiet prayers and meditations of our hearts and minds.

God of Mercy, we are humbled to be in your presence with our friends and neighbors. We come to be with You in this time and place and to remember our neighbors that need our compassion and love. We are reminded to trust and have faith in Your wisdom.

God of Mercy and Compassion, we are grateful that you have given us this day, our friends, our families, and our lives.  We are truly sorry for not always being faithful to You.  We ask for Your humble guidance and mercy always.

God of Mercy remind us to be truly grateful of these gifts that You bestow upon us. 
Let us feel you comfort and guide us.
Be with us in the darkest valleys and we will fear no evil.
We believe you are our rock, your rod and our staff for you comfort us and we are grateful.

We ask for You to continue to help our friends, neighbors and leaders. We thank you for the many neighbors you have given to us and the many ideas we share about your grace. We value all of your people, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, Muslim, Jew, atheist and the many ways we call ourselves as children of God. Thank you for allowing us to be children of You.

Restore our sight, our minds and our path and ways to You our God, our Jesus – your Spirit among us. Let us see you at the gate in all of Your splendor, that we may be saved.

Reach out with Your arms of comfort and guidance to the people of caught in the middle of domestic violence and wars that have destroyed their homes, families, and lives.

Help our neighbors in struggling to make ends-meet with the hope of Your glowing presence.  Help them renew faith in You.

Comfort and help those struggling with mental illness, memory, addiction and the many stress of life.  Let us turn to You and Your wisdom.  

Yes, we are in need of You and Your guidance. Let us let go of noise, wild attention, strangers, bandits and material world to see your grace that you have bestowed to us every day and every hour.

We thank you for Your wisdom in our lives.
Thank You for allowing us to wonder and to doubt.
Thank you for helping us to grow with You.
Thank you that you are here to protect and to guide us in uncertain times.

Thank you for the many people that came before us, to show us, and to walk with us to be Your examples of love and Heaven on Earth.
Show us Your peace to our divided communities that we may heal and to be Your community.

Through Christ we Pray, Amen

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thieves of Sheep - John 10, Psalm 23

Thieves of Sheep
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A Sermon based upon John 10: 1-10 and Psalm 23

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

Our scriptures enjoy shepherds,
we see them in the nativity to signify the call of Jesus to the people.
In my dear departed father’s favorite Psalm 23,
we have the image of God as the shepherd.
We are given a familiar story of Jesus describing his mission as a shepherd.  
For our reflection,
I would like for us to consider the word Jesus uses to describe the others: “Thieves of Sheep.”

Given the lesson involves sheep, let us consider what sheep are like.
Farmers will tell you that sheep recognize the tending farmers and shepherds calling them.

Sheep, like people, are also social animals and safety conscious.  
If one does not recognize you, or feels fear,
that one will try to get away from you,
the herd will react as one bunch
and they will move away from the direction of the perceived threat.
If there are noises,
they will also try to flee in fear.  
Yet, if the sheep recognize your voice over the noises,
they will come to you and follow you
--when they feel safe.

Therefore, the image of Jesus, like a shepherd calling the sheep,
is a reminder of the agrarian society of Roman Palestine
and is a rich, descriptive metaphor for the whole of society and life.  
This is because Jesus announces in direct terms
that when you follow me and my way,
I will lead you to pastures of safety and calm.
Otherwise, you will deal with deceptive “thieves.”

By invoking the 23rd Psalm,
the question is essentially turned to the people that if you were called,
would you recognize and feel secure,
or would you be scared and flee into potential thieves.
This is a great allegory for how we live life
and how we handle the many distractions or noises in our life. 
Would we hear Jesus calling the herd over the noises?
What are the potential thieves that Jesus refers?

II

Let us think about how we manage the distractions or noises in life.  
There are many noises all around us in our society calling for our attention
via alerts, emails, ringing phones, sirens, horns, hollering and the like.
Further, we have an endless barrage of breaking news,
the next person’s fifteen minutes of fame,
or the most exciting gadget yet. 
There are people that demand our attention,
regardless if it is necessary or convenient. 
It easy to understand how it can be difficult to determine when something deserves our attention.
This constant noisy attention may be one of the thieves, of which Jesus spoke.

This is because we have from one moment to the next:
an opportunity
to be updated, pacified, assured, excited or even annoyed.  
How precious one moment could be is easily lost in the next.
Then, we may get confused and thus, may become accustomed to apathy.
The apathy builds to the point at which
we might ignore that which should not be ignored,
like the oil light in our car,
the oven timer,
or the critical phone call.

So yes, there are stuff we should pay attention.

Yet, we make a lot of noise for ourselves.
We even try to set up the right way to be communicated to sift through the noise.
We give ourselves an illusion
that we recognize what is necessary.
We create invisible or real walls.
Yet, when the good voice has spoken,
one should wonder whether
we will think it is just another noise or recognize Jesus calling.

For sure, more times than not,
I have created personal illusions
where I was building something, somewhere for tomorrow
(e.g. wealth, a goal to achieve, or a bigger garden to enjoy),
when all I had to do was to slow down and enjoy the garden where I was.

We make ourselves busy in pursuit of many materials and goals
(some even that make our noises).
Unfortunately, the materialism yields busyness that deceives us into paths of self-gratification.
There is a perpetual illusion of dissatisfaction
because there is always another scheme out there
waiting to bait your next desire or health concern.  
Materialism at its best keeps you wanting.
Thus, you may render a constant state of boredom with the experience or goal that you just “quenched” while simultaneously looking for the next big thing.
Ultimately, that way we are never satisfied.  
That is why materialism is a great thief of time, money and family.
It undermines the calling of life,
And why Jesus warns us of this bandit.

How many times have you uttered to yourself or someone else,
“I’d be happier if…”?  
That is a perfect illustration of the deceptions that materialism has conjured for us.

Yet, Jesus tells us there is a way and path to “green pastures” and “beside still waters.”

To give you an example of what Jesus is suggesting:
when I am tending the garden,
if I am listening to music
or busy in thought about something that has happened,
something that is going to happen
or perhaps on the phone,
a couple things happen.
First, I may not do the planting correctly,
and secondly,
I lose an opportunity to be present in the moment of the garden.
That is a moment to just listen to the breeze,
the birds, or
the water flowing in the fountain.
Maybe, I miss the experience of the Spirit speaking to me.
That moment is a great opportunity to just listen and to be lifted,
when I am present here and now.

When we pause,
listen,
stop complaining,
stop expecting something specific,
and when we let life be,
we just might be able to break through the noise
to hear the Spirit speaking.
We just might be able to experience the Spirit
and then, to recognize what we can contribute
to life,
our community,
our country,
our globe,
and our Church.
We have to be willing
to redirect our focus of life
to experience that which God
has already blessed to us.

III

This leads into the question about goals,
working to achieve,
or the destination – all noble aspirations.
From which, you may have heard the phrase
“that life is about the journey,
not the destination”
in one form or another
or even in reverse.

The Poet Longfellow writes,

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
     And the grave is not its goal; 
     Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
     Was not spoken of the soul. 

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
    Is our destined end or way; 
    But to act, that each to-morrow 
    Find us farther than to-day. 

To give you a personal example,
when I went on a road trip with some friends when I was younger,
the experience of driving through several states
(like almost running out of gas in the Grand Canyon,
trying exotic flavors we tried,
and the many jokes we conjured over the journey)
was as much if not more joyful
for us as the experience of the convention we attended.

The point is that, we often forget life is not really about the destination
but what we do along the Way
and the “gardens” where we are.
When we are so consumed with the destination or fleeting satisfaction,
we may miss the opportunity to tend to our community,
to help someone in need,
or to hear the familiar voice of the Spirit—of Jesus—of God.
We might miss the people along the way
that we inspire as much as they inspire us.
We might miss the presence and grace
that is right here and now –
that which we can use to better our journey.

After all,
if you think only in terms of life as
“getting to the destination”,
then no matter what your definition of afterlife is,
you may miss the moment of today
--to experience today.
You, sheep, may miss the experience of the shepherd calling you from the gate.
You, sheep, may run into the thieves.
You, sheep, may not hear God’s Holy Spirit speaking to you.

From our recent celebration of Pentecost,
remember the Spirit is all around us.
Tai Chi practitioners often characterize the Spirit
as “surrounds us and binds us”!
We know physics tells us that energy is all around us in one form or another. 

Yes, with science,
we can understand one of the ways that the Spirit
is truly working within and around us;
and through Jesus in meditation and prayer,
we can be one with God.  
The Spirit of God is a compass,
a soft blanket,
and “our rod and staff.”
When you quiet your mind in prayer and meditation
(that is, when you quiet your own busyness)
you may be able to hear Jesus calling you to the gate of great pastures,
you may be able to witness that Spirit within you,
around you,
guiding you,
comforting you
and protecting you on this journey.
You may experience a bit of Heaven on Earth
where there is no need for fear or want.

Emily Dickenson writes,
And so, upon this wise I prayed, —
Great Spirit, give to me
A heaven not so large as yours,
But large enough for me.

So, let go of the noisy, dissatisfactions
and listen for the Spirit of God speaking to you.
Just listen.


What do you hear?


Maybe now, you can find what you were missing.
Maybe now, you can understand the purpose
of your journey in this life.
Maybe now, you can let go of what you fear,
for you have “your rod and your staff”.
Maybe now, you can break through the noise,
and hear that familiar voice.

You do not have to worry about the thieves of sheep
Let go of the noises in life,
lift up your hearts,
open your ears,
hear the voice of Jesus calling you
and go forth with faith.

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Thanks Be to God.