Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Receive the Spirit of Peace

Receive the Spirit of Peace
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
8 April 2018

A sermon based upon Psalm 133; John 20:19-31; 1 John 1-2

Will you pray with me?  Holy and gracious God, open our hearts and minds to receive the lesson given to us today. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer. Amen!

First a question for you: do you realize that we are celebrating Easter?
We easily forget that Easter is a season rather than one day.
I can understand this too as we see the bags of candy now dwindling in the dollar bins (believe me I know).
There is also more room in the pews than last Sunday.

There are a several themes in the lesson for today.

For one, we have the familiar story of the doubting apostle.
I have heard many sermons about how this story should make one feel guilty for being skeptical of the Easter story. 
Yet, I wonder if Thomas was really doubting but instead,
sad that he missed a great opportunity.
Instead of talking about doubt and guilt,
I would like to focus upon the theme that begins our rich lesson.
What does the appearance and the Spirit mean to them in the room and to us here?

The scripture indicates to us that the followers were scared
and perhaps still mourning the loss of their master.
There is nervous tension in this story 
And a serious question lurking of what to do now.
They are lost and worried.
To their credit, The Apostles
have had a bit of their world turned upside down watching the torture of the Master
—wondering if they were next.
Still, they have been taught many things with instructions from the Master.
Yet, they still don’t seem to know what to do?

In my youth, when my parents would ask me to do something
and discovered me doing something else in my room. 
There might be a knock at the door and maybe some toes tapping.
Maybe, there might be some talking back and forth
-- why the dishes weren’t done or something. 
Maybe, there is some strong suggestions,
if you don’t come out of that room right now…
or even hands in the air.
Do you know this experience ?

Then suddenly we experience the Master again!
Does Jesus barge in and ask “what are you doing?”,  demanding if you don’t come out of the room…or anything of the like.

Instead, the first expression cited is “Peace be with you.” 
Think about it,
Jesus comes into a room locked in anxiety and directs, “Peace.”
That is a Master at work.

I have known a few people who could walk into a room and command attention,
but this is truly phenomenal.
Jesus comes to teach again, to clear the air and to breathe new life into the followers.
Jesus reminds them of the earlier lessons, and passes the Spirit into them.
That despite fear and anxiety, the Spirit says the time has come. 
It is time to transform and recognize your community, to be peace and to be forgiveness.

Just like with Jesus, through the Apostles, the past will not define our future.
That is the true power of forgiveness.
Through the Spirit, we are the community that forgives and transforms 
and we have the power to transform every day and in every breath.
That comes from peace and that is one reason this is first.

We do not need to be worried about what happens
because the power of the Spirit lives on, here today and inside you.
Question is: What do you do with this gift of peace?

Again, This is a reminder to recognize the strength of community
and perhaps one reason why Thomas is upset to miss this opportunity.
Wouldn’t you be upset too if you missed the opportunity to meet the Master? 
Just like Thomas, the Master did not forget you —
Because together, we have the opportunity right here and now to meet the Master
in this fellowship.

Through this fellowship, we are not alone
and our Psalm tells us how great it is to live in this community.
Further, community is defined by love, by compassion, by prayer, and by peace.
Do you recognize your community?

We get to encounter life and peace through the presence of Spirit.  
We live the Spirit in our relationships: crying together, laughing together and working together. With whole heart and fellowship, we bring peace of the Spirit into the room.

We do not need to be afraid of doing the Lord’s work. 
In fact, we are commanded to love and to forgive.
We start with ourselves because each of us here needs to heal.
Our bodies may be getting old and broken,
but our Spirit can be strong in love, forgiveness and yes Peace.
Then, our community can heal and thrive.

Thus, we can serve and heal our community through true forgiveness: transformation.
Our community calls upon us to live in peace and love!

This is not just a few lines in pages of a book.
This is how the good of Christ lives here and now.
This is how we cure violence in our streets and bring justice to the afflicted.
This is how we bring love into our laws.
This is how we reject hate-spewing divisions or corrupt judgements.
This is how Christ lived and taught and we, the followers,  are reminded today. 
God wants this! God commands it!
Are you one of the followers?
Do you remember this lesson in your own words and deeds?

When each of us do this, we are examples of love and forgiveness embodied. We help our community and country heal.  We rise up to meet the challenge commanded of us by the LORD. We are not perfect and maybe a bit broken, but we have heart, blessing of peace, and call to build our community.

Therefore, you can observe Jesus is still teaching us today.  That is how we witness and live Christ’s peace in our life and our community.

Peace Be with You.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Courage to Go Forth

Courage to Go Forth
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
25 March 2018

A sermon based upon Psalm 118; John 12:12-16
Will you pray with me?  Holy and gracious God, open our hearts and minds to receive the lesson given to us today. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer. Amen!

So we have been walking in the wilderness of Lent
And we are on the last leg with only a week left.
Perhaps this is one reason why we celebrate Palm Sunday.

For another reason, our scripture this week focuses upon the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem.

The Importance of This Story

Each of the Gospels has a rendition of this arrival and that tells us this is important. For the purposes of this discussion, I want you to consider how courageous this was for Jesus.

Let’s consider the context. People have been lifting mighty big perceptions of Jesus all over countryside. 

People have heard and witnessed many things.
Many are starving for food and justice.
Many are starving for hope and what Jesus is saying.
The revolutionary sermons about the poor, equality, fairness and real justice while challenging the stewards of power have made Jesus “famous.”

The countryside is now full of whispers about Jesus.
Let me remind you that, “A whisper in the ear can be heard for miles.”
We know how that “whispered” story will change over time.
Jesus unapologetically proclaims that which the people have been starving to hear.
For this, Jesus has been called the Messiah.
In their minds, Messiah is a great king, or general, that has come “on a colt”
to save the people from oppression.

Yes, Jesus is not only preaching the Truth
that all people are deserving of God’s grace, love and healing,
Jesus calls out corruption and traditions that deform God’s love for all people.
It is necessary to note that the people outside of the city are marginalized, and simply discarded for being sick or different. They literally are the fringe of society.

The high priests have comfort with Jesus away in the country,
The corrupt elites don’t want to care about the people (or Jesus) outside those walls,
but not this day.

Speaking Truth to Power

Today is the day the Lord has made for those whispers to come to the city.
We know that Jesus has made many scribes uncomfortable,
and Jesus means to bring that discomfort to Jerusalem.

Jesus is taking this mission into the center of the aristocracy that has profited from the corruption by the Pharisees and the Empire -- The Lions’ Den.
It is time to call out these people.
It is time to face the music for their spiritual and emotional neglects.
Jesus dares them “I am the face of the Truth” I am the body of the oppressed.
Jesus dares those that have tried to arrest and to kill him.

Perhaps Jesus could have lived longer and preached more had he stayed out of Jerusalem
because those leaders heard Jesus criticizing them, and they believe the Truth is a threat to their leadership.
They want to silence Jesus, even like they did to John the Baptist.
Jesus also knows this. Yet our people cannot afford obliviousness anymore.

Today is the day the Truth cannot be quiet or hidden anymore.
Today, Jesus brings the Truth to power because they are clearly not taking hints.
Today, the corrupt can no longer conveniently ignore the community or the Truth.
Today is the day to set things right.

So what is the plan?
Instead of armed soldiers and trumpet fanfare, Jesus comes into the city on a borrowed donkey with a rag-tag set of followers - No guns, no weapons and no shields. A non-violent demonstration is a stark contrast to Roman military, and thus, the Romans have little reason to consider Jesus a threat.

Even with this, do you really think Jesus is without fear or danger?

With each step forward, Jesus can feel the burden getting heavier and heavier as more and more people pray their hopes onto Jesus.
Each step is closer to another sword, and we have to wonder who is hiding in the crowd.

The effort to step forward is borne by the donkey, and you have to wonder if the donkey was also feeling the increasing weight. The courage to keeping going forward rises with each step.  The unknown, the potential of sabotage, assassination and more fear rise as we get closer to the gate.

I can hear someone in the back asking, Tony that is powerful stuff about Jesus, but what does that have to do with me?

I am glad you asked.
If you were a follower of Jesus witnessing all the threats against Jesus,
would you have followed Jesus into this gate or would you have sat back and waited?

Would you hold onto your fear of what could happen?
Would you have courage to follow regardless of your own fears and discomfort?

Courage Arises from Discomfort

It is interesting to note that The word courage comes from the Latin and French “Coeur.”
-- meaning the heart or in terms of courage “coming from the heart.”
Thus, to be courageous is to be whole-hearted.
We cannot be whole hearted while leaving parts of us behind

Another perspective, Philosopher Alan Watts calls “fake courage” a form of armor.
This is to say that armor is used to hide both what is outside and also what is inside our hearts. Therefore, real courage is possible through discerning our suffering and our fears.
Real courage is understanding that our vulnerabilities are not weaknesses.
Then, what is possible happens when we let our hearts be real and authentic
-- by letting go of all that isn’t. 

It took me a long time to come to terms with who I was as a person.
I kept my own armor to hide who I did not think I should be.
Even when the “secret” was out, I still kept hiding myself from myself.
Even more, I let others define what I was and what I could be.
The delusion caused inner turmoil, mutilated my vulnerability, and denied my authentic self.
I even questioned my own being.

You know what God said to me?
God said, I don’t want an illusion or a shell.
I want  you - authentic you.

Through miracle hands and voice of good people,
God reached towards me and reminded me that I too was a Child of God.
That God loved me and made me just the broken way I am.
God says I too am worthy of love and dignity

So, God says let go of that armor.
God says, Be bold and be who you are meant to be.
Letting go was not easy and came with its own discomfort.
God says to connect and share your story
and now here I am.

I am still learning, as we all are, but I learned also what
Susan David says that “discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. 
You and I may want real justice and opportunity,
but no matter how you spin it, discomfort is part of feeling our heart’s passion (aka courage).

We are all faced with our own mortality, our own discomfort. Steve Jobs said that when we live our lives realizing that death is going to happen, we make no more excuses for things left undone.

Embrace your discomfort and embrace failure and fears – This is part of authentic you.
Those qualities make you uniquely beautiful.
There are no guarantees in this life so you might as well make your discomfort meaningful.

Today is the day the Lord has made for you to have a meaningful life.

If we go living our life never taking the next step, we never move from the spot we are.
If we don’t get up from our comfortable bed, we never discover the value of courage.

Today is the day the Lord has made to wake up our heart’s passion, our courage.

Waking up requires that we shed armor, take a chance and boldly be who we are.

Susan David goes further, “courage is not an absence of fear; courage is fear walking.” In other words, courage does not mean less fear. I am sure that Jesus had some fear about the many threats. Courage means that despite our fears, we keep going, one step at a time while revealing ourselves, our messiness, our hopes, our heart’s passion and our courage.

Just like the crowd on the steps of the Capitol.
The courage to do right and to do justice is powerful.
There is a underlying theme in this story.
Courage is contagious.
Like Jesus, courage starts with one soul.
Courage then connects a community because we can’t do this alone.
In fact, like whole-hearted courage cannot leave part of us behind,
Jesus, by being among the marginalized and fringes of society,
shows us that we all are worthy of courage.
Courage of community invites all – no matter who you are, what age you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey.

Let me remind you, Jesus and the followers have no weapons.
The crowd notices this too
– Jesus is someone like us and walks proud without weapons.
But wait, there’s more,
As more and more people join in,
the power of community is revealed: weapons or violence not necessary.
Maybe, they too were tired of violence and corruption like we are.
Maybe, they too were tired of being treated like social trash.
Maybe, the Spirit of God lifted hopes
And fed courage to be us – no weapons, no armies and no violence.

To be honest, Jesus probably drew encouragement from the crowd.
We can draw upon the love, hope, kindness and exuberance of the community.
Our community and children calls us to act
With their branches and blankets, people reveal their hopes in Jesus’s mission.
They give their solemn encouraging salute to keep going.
Today is the day that With courage, we stand and walk together.
We encourage each other.

(Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr made this pillars of their work.)

What to Do with Courage
Perhaps it is time time to exercise our hearts.
Can you feel the hearts in this room rise?
Can you feel the motion and hope wanting to burst forth?
with all of the energy and the Spirit around you!
I am almost surprised you are exercising while still seated
because today is the day the Lord has made for you!
This day, we remember how one can change.
This day, we remember how one can inspire by daring to do what is right.

I ask you do you follow Jesus example?
Do you connect your heart to your community?
The community needs you.
God wants you!

Today is the day
the right time is now.
There is no better time than right now to do the right thing.
So, be an agent of change, and
We start with ourselves.
I submit to you that what is in your heart is worthy of expressing.
Today, you can speak truth to power.
Today, you can speak truth to your family.
Today, you can speak truth to friends
When you are truthful to yourself.

Life is hard and did not come with instructions.  
Jesus as your example suggests
To go boldly into what’s right
Go boldly into the lion’s den, tell your story.
And people will listen and will follow.

That is one reason why this trip into Jerusalem is so important.
Each of you deserve to be valued as worthy
and through God, we have deserved grace.
We don’t want to be ignored or forgotten.
Through the community, we can share our story.

This is the day the Lord has made for Jesus to ride
To be an example of one soul with courage
That helped a community have courage.
Let that example help us find our voice and our courage.

We may not choose what falls into our lap, but
Let’s go fear walking and let our courage and the Spirit guide us into the light.

Be courageously authentic.
Embrace your discomfort.
Have the courage to speak the Truth.

When we open up and connect,
we open up to the power of love and community.
We can transform together.

Thus, Truly tell yourself that you are worthy of love.
That you are a Child of God.
Tell yourself to have courage to be yourself.

Because my hearing isn’t good…

Turn to the people next to you.
Tell them they are a Child of God.
Tell them to have courage to be who they are.

Are you ready to fear walk with God in this wilderness?
Are you ready to have courage to go forth?

This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us courageously rejoice!