Thursday, August 16, 2018

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours - Luke 1

Love and Joy of Mary is Ours
Tony E Dillon Hansen
20 December 2017

A Sermon based upon Isaiah 61: 1-4,8-11; Psalm 126; John 13: 34-35, Luke 1:46-55

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

And All God’s Children Say:
Amen!

I can remember growing up thinking the last week of Advent was kind of like the last leg of the race.
We are almost there and you can almost taste the Christmas ham and an oyster stew
And presents!!
As life moves, the perspective changes a little bit
The hustle and bustle begins to wear on us and may even cause unnecessary anxieties.
For some, as we draw closer to the holiday, memories of loss, loneliness 
or even shame may creep into our senses.

From Hope, we let go of Anxiety by being hope.
From Peace, we let go of violence by letting peace be in our hearts.

Today, we have an illustration of love and joy wrapped …
in a person named Mary.

You see, from before the birth of Jesus, 
our Gospel in Luke likes to give us an approach to God that is different from Scriptures past.  The Gospel of Luke likes to remind us that “transformation takes precedence over tradition.” (Wright, 2011). 

We have distinct ways here, 
1) in a historically male-dominated society, Luke lets Mary reveal her praise (aka Magnificat), 
2) She invokes a praise similar to one from our good lady, Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-11), and 
3) Mary is not royalty or a prophet.  

She can probably barely afford the clothes on her back. 
She is a lowly peasant woman that likely lives in midst of disgrace from family and friends for a pregnancy out of wedlock. 
Her mind is probably bouncing between thoughts of 
the gift of having little footsteps 
while questioning how can she possibly raise the Child in these conditions.  

You see her story everywhere today. 
Like Mary, 
families face parenthood (whether as a single or couple)
with strong and mixed emotions.

She does not know the future of her Child, 
but she knows greatness comes with a cost.
Thus, a child of prodigy, 
(and Gospel of Matthew likes to list lineage) … 

This Child, is guaranteed to face immense challenges. 
She may even foresee joys that will happen to Jesus 
with a rise to fame, only to be rejected, shamed and executed. 

Still, Mary is hopeful because, in her heart, 
she knows that the baby is destined for greatness. 

In this canticle, 
she embodies optimism, 
turns to hope and to peace. 
She gives room for God. 

Then She pours out her love and immense joy 
that she is blessed with a Child of God.

She renews her faith and reminds us that
God’s love and compassion is not just for the rich and royalty, as in Scripture past, 
but God surely is the one for the lowly and the hungry.

She calls upon the covenant with powerful praise. 

Her role in the part of this Holy story 
beyond the glorious birth of her Child.  
is scarcely written.

Yet, we see the evidence of her work-- 
That her love and joy impact the coming ministry.

Decades later, 
When Jesus calls out injustices by leaders 
And call us to love one another - genuinely
(and not just for those with money or goofy rhetorical phrases.)

When Jesus speaks of God’s commandment that “you love one another”, 
(no exceptions)
 – we may witness an echo of Mary’s words to a youthful Jesus
and a response to experiences with injustice during that youth. 

You see, Mary and her family had some difficult experiences.
Remember, no one wanted to give them quarters in Bethlehem. 

That family experienced discrimination,
being a hunted refugee to Egypt, 
and being on society’s fringes.

Yet, Mary’s pouring out love shines through
because there were people 
willing to help them (on society’s fringes)
when tradition and government failed them. 

Thus, you can see that experience in youth play out
As part of Jesus’s ministry where, 
“transcendence takes precedence over tradition”
because while “tradition may exclude, Jesus teaches to include.”
You belong in community with love and joy. 

Perhaps, we witness echoes of Mary’s same love and joy 
here today in this house of worship.
We have a saying in the UCC that 
“No matter who you are
or where you are on life’s journey,
You are always welcome here!”
Every person is to be treated with dignity and authentic love. 
When you love one another,
You matter.
That is the community where Mary and Jesus lived 
and is here today.

God is present here and working in our midst --just as with Mary.
For us here, our love and joys are founded in those poured out to a Child,
From her Love, we learn how to love one another genuine
From her Joy, we learn that hope, peace, and love are possible.

So when you are snuggling up next to friends and family 
with your meals of great tastes and smells, 
and despite worries and fear,
take a lesson from Mary,
Be hope and peace
remember to make room for love and joy.

When we meet the Great Spirit in our hearts, 
we can welcome the Christmas season 
full of hope, immense peace, and hearts of love. 
Let your mouths be filled with laughter and … shout with joy!

Thanks Be to God!
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Put on a Hat? - 1Thessalonians 5

Put on a Hat?
Tony E Dillon Hansen
18 Dec 2017

A Sermon based upon 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

And All God’s Children say “Amen.”

I recall our good minister, Lindsey Braun, talking about this passage.
For my own, I love putting on hats and suddenly transforming into some character.

It can be liberating and fun to take on a character full of courage and wisdom.
With hats, we can also use them to hide away intentions and feelings.
Because we can draw the hat lower to hide our eyes from the world,
especially when the world looks like chaos and fear.

From racial profiling, systemic sexual violence, routine shootings, and challenges to water rights as well as to equal rights.

The world is full of negative energy gripping people.

When everything seems to be chaotic and anxious,
Thessalonians tells us to
put on a “breastplate of faith and love” and a “helmet the hope.”

Now, how does one do that, you ask?

I am glad you asked…
Our lesson also tells us that days of tension and negativity are reminders
to come together to “encourage …and build up each other.”

When you listen to each other, share your talents,
or share a meal with each other,
When you genuinely value all God’s Children,
When you share our authentic compassion
When you are demonstrations of Christ in life and community,
That is when we walk and put on a “breastplate of faith and love”
and a “helmet the hope”.

Further, Thessalonians tells us to go out -- teach the community this love!
When you take another’s hand,
And remind them we are in this together
-- that we are going to make it,
we not only teach but witness how to be a community again.

When we witness all Beloved children of God (1 John 3).
Yes, Black Lives Do Matter.
Blue Lives Do Matter.
Indians protecting their water Do matter.
Immigrant lives Do matter.
Queer lives Do matter.
Persons facing divorce, job loss, serious health diagnosis, or even loss of faith do matter.

All Beloved need and deserve authentic love
-- not just as token phrases,
but from our revealed compassion.
Remember that you are a Beloved Child of God.
That is how you wear the “armor” of faith, love and hope.
When you “encourage …and build up each other” and
when you welcome all to the table of communion,
then you remind each other that you too 
are a Beloved child, 
you matter,
and we are going to make it!

Even in the darkest hour (or longest night),
even during pain or betrayal,
And even when fear and injustice seem to reign
You do not have to hide behind makeshift hats.

Walk with your “breastplate of faith and love” and wear the “helmet of hope
And go forward with the assurance of God.

And you Child of God say with me, “Amen.”

Thanks Be to God. 
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Saturday, August 11, 2018

I Am - John 6



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I Am
Tony E Dillon Hansen
12 August 2018

A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 18:5-33 • Psalm 34 • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 • John 6:35,41-51

Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.

I remember growing up every year there was a broadcast of a movie called Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is constantly dreaming of a wonderful place “over the rainbow” only to find herself there and realize there is a complicated world there too that ha characters looking suspiciously like people from Kansas. I was always scared of the tornado that propels Dorothy into Oz. I remember watching with intensity as the band grew together on the journey to the Emerald City along the yellow brick road. Actually I was a bit disappointed when the Wizard reveals his true self.

For today, I would like for us to consider a reason why Jesus uses the words “I am”, a predicate nominative. When Jesus reveals who he is, we won’t be disappointed.

With that let’s recap…

It is near Passover. Jesus has performed a couple signs like feeding five thousand and walking on water. Now, there is something like a paparazzi of a crowd that is following Jesus everywhere.  Jesus has become something of a rock star. Still, people are not satisfied; they want more. 

The people see striking parallels to the stories of Moses in the wilderness.  Yet, people have missed the point of the manna and the signs Jesus performs.

That is easy to do because people do this all of the time. We love signs, symbols and traditions, but we misread them.  (Consider How many of you consider a stop sign on a deserted road to be a suggestion?)  The people even get rude with Jesus. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach an important lesson.

The Sign of Manna.

Jesus wants us to look beyond the symbols and rhetoric.  This is difficult for people because we as humanity love our symbols and rhetoric. With those bits, we use those things unfortunately to divide.  We like to determine between who has versus has not; who knows and those who do not. (Clearly, if you know our traditions then you are one of us.)

Traditions have put obstacles to access to God.  What is your sacrifice? Do you offer the correct animal?  Did you honor the symbols correctly? Did you purify yourself? Do you even know what that means? 

Jesus flips the symbols.
Jesus flips tradition.

Instead of telling parables about someone else, Jesus uses a stronger example: himself. 

Without the sharing of himself, God remains behind curtains in the temple or lurking over mountaintops.  God in the wilderness with Moses is hard to see, hard to access.  God’s image is even scary (like the “scary” Wizard of Oz that doesn’t want to be bothered.) That is quite different from what God really does because God loves each of us as a parent loves their children.

Jesus embraces and embodies the symbols and says the bread of God, the bread of life is right here. Specifically, “I am the bread of life” or “I am the living bread…”

So instead of being aloof in the sky and the mountains, Jesus tells us that God is right here, right now – inside. The purpose of the manna was to demonstrate that God is here and listening. God uses the bread to help us grow in love of God and neighbor.

The manna is how God shared fulfilling love. Love fulfills every day. Sharing involves community. This is the power of communion because God shares and wants people to share that love together. We are more than ourselves and lonely thoughts because we learn and grow together. Even more so, that shared love and community sustains us.

I am…

Further, it is no longer about privilege to access because when you say “I am” a child of God, you have access to that wisdom and community.

Think about it, “I am” is taking power from afar to right here in Jesus, in me and in you. We not only share that love, but we embrace and embody that love and community.

(The revelation of the Wizard of Oz was the lion had courage, the tin man had a heart and scarecrow had brain all along. The Wizard just provides symbols of that which they already had.) In our lesson,

Jesus is giving us permission. Jesus invites us to community and to embody God’s work in ourselves.  Jesus gave us power to learn God personally.

Eating of the bread or manna is learning the love of God.  One who trusts can be fulfilled in the community of love, of God.  (Trust is faith -- that you will understand and be satisfied.)

Do you trust God to fill you with hope and inspiration? 
Try it, just stop and breathe in and let God be!

Even more, how do you as a child of God, share with others?
How do you provide hope and inspiration to those around you?

You have been invited to the table to say “I am a child of God”. (How awesome is that?) When you have a seat at the table, you have power -- With power comes great responsibility.

This means that we do not just settle with only our own knowledge and experience to guide us.  Our own is incomplete and does not give absolute answers or foolproof plans.  God wants us to question the experience and share in community.  Wisdom will be revealed to ones that trust (e.g. give oneself over to the Way of God.) 

This Way and path is ready for us, and with faith, great will guide us on this journey of life. With Jesus, we are invited to participate in that community of wisdom-- with whole heart and “bread of life.” We can become that which God calls of us.

Expression.

You and I are children of God, but how do we express that? how can I be the best that God has to offer?

Ephesians reminds us of a few ways we can express that life in community of God in this world.  “…be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…”

Yes, “I am” one who knows pain – so did Jesus.
“I am” broken and sorry for my wrongs.
“I am” looking for answers, for hope.
“I am” one who fails.

And Yes, I am sharing my gifts
“I am” one who learns.
“I am” one who teaches, who creates,
“I am” one who laughs and cries.
“I am” one who gardens.
“I am” one who cooks.
“I am” a listener.
“I am” an expression of God’s love right here on Earth
I am a child of God.

Are you?

Oh child, I believe you are!
(We don’t need to travel down yellow brick roads to find out who we are.)
Share what you are and be joyful.

Be God’s wonderful expression
and always remember that you are a worthy, beautiful child of God!

Thanks Be to God.