Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Lessons and Carols 2020

Lessons and Carols with Reflections

December 2020

Tony E Dillon Hansen

 

Opening Prayer

O Holy Creator of Day and Night, We meet you here today on Christmas eve; we come anticipating of time ahead; and we reflect upon the difficult year of trials and tribulations.  We lift up those who have died and those who are suffering (mind or body). We rejoice in knowing Your promise and inspiration of Your Spirit is with us. In this season, we know we can be better stewards of your creation and your justice. We confess that we give into expectation and distractions. Forgive us, help us to renew and to prepare our hearts in the words you gave us

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our debts

As we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory

Forever and ever. Amen.

 

Assurance

We come to you confessing what is on our hearts and minds.

We do so trusting that you want to hear our petitions

and that you have already forgiven what needs to be forgiven.

We believe that our prayers will be answered in your time

and in your almighty wisdom.   Amen.

 

Lighting the Christ candle.

In times of injustice and pandemic

Let us hear the good news from the prophet

 

That people walked in darkness Have seen a great light…

For a child has been born to us

Wide will be the dominion

And boundless the peace with justice and righteousness from now and evermore.

 

We light the Christ candle,

Thankful that God has come to us, not as a conquering hero

But as a child full of God’s love.

 

Living God, come to our world,

May the love of the One shine brightly,

At the center of our lives, spreading warmth and light,

in us, in this congregation and everywhere.

 

Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High (verse 1).

 

First Lesson: Creation - Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

Reflection for Genesis 1:1-5 Creation.

Creation, change, a new beginning. Where do we start and what do we do? These stories from Genesis remind us that all were created by our Creator and that we have bountiful gifts with this life and this Earth.  Thus, we are stewards of that creation as charged by God. So what do you do with your gifts?  Jesus challenges us with the parable of talents to do something with your gifts. (Matthew 25: 14-29) Thus, show your gifts - your heart - because your heart is where your treasure is (Luke 12:34).  Our creation lesson reminds us that you are a child of our Creator and been given so much. Perhaps you could find your true gifts closer to your heart.

 

Hymn 114: O Come O Come Emmanuel (verse 1).

 

Second Lesson: Covenant - Genesis 22:15-18

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

 

Reflection for Genesis 22:15-18 Covenant

As one of our gifts, we have a covenant with the one who brought us.  Covenants are relationships. Covenants, especially with our Creator, help us to understand our purpose, that we are meant to be here in this place and in this time.  What is your purpose as a child of God and what blessings has God bestowed upon you? We can serve God so that we honor those gifts and that covenant through sharing. How do we share our gifts and covenant?

 

Hymn: O Come O Come Emmanuel (refrain).

 

Third Lesson: Compassionate and Forgiving – Psalm 103: 1-8

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

Reflection for Psalm 103: 1-8

Compassion and Forgiveness are gifts from our Creator given to us so that we might grow to be what we are meant to be. Thus, when we ask God to forgive our debts let us also be willing to forgive our debtors. Else we are weighed down by our misery and angers. Find compassion in your hearts. Turn today into your hearts and let go of what troubles you and find forgiveness for you and with you to others around you. Forgiveness, a holy gift from God.

 

Fourth Lesson: Growing - Isaiah 11:1-4

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

 

Reflection for Isaiah 11:1-4 Growing

Advent is growing, anticipation and expectation: a winter spring with hope, joy, peace, love, renewal and new growth. Christmas gives us that gift of life full of joyful wonder. This passage invokes the divine promise to grow.  The question for this is what does growth mean for you?  Growth is not just for youth but all God’s children. Our bodies may be broken, but our spirit gives us strength to soar and help those around us. Growth is a chance for us to be better than we were, even in our brokenness – even in a pandemic. How can we use this gift better in our own lives?

 

Hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem (verse 1).

 

Fifth Lesson: Perseverance - Isaiah 42: 1-4

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

 

Reflection for Isaiah 42: 1-4 Perseverance

A pandemic has taught us a measure of perseverance as we have had to adjust and find strength.  Remember that God is with you always and ready to lift you. Through perseverance, we find holy justice! Persevere through the tough times and let God guide you - another holy gift from God.

 

Hymn: It Came upon the Midnight Clear (verse 1).

 

Sixth Lesson: Birth - Matthew 1:18-23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

 

Reflection for Matthew 1:18-23 Birth

Birth is beautiful and messy. Whether an animal or human being, there is a tired mother, offspring, family - possibilities and worries. This is a beginning for some, and for some, this is renewal.  Think of the journey across the Red Sea in Exodus, they left everything behind and witness the wreckage of pursuing pasts on the shore now as survivors. As survivors, we begin something new, and we learn that we cannot go back to the past.  That story happens in our lives as we consider where we are, where we have been and where we go from here.  That is anxious, scary, breathtaking and exhilarating joyfulness.  How can we renew and embrace the joy of birth?

 

Hymn: The First Noel (verse 1-2).

 

Seventh Lesson: Shepherds Visit – Luke 2:8-16

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

 

Reflection for Luke 2:8-16 Angels around Us.

We like to challenge angels as Jacob did in Genesis, but sometimes, angels bring us great news even when we don’t yet understand just how great as Gabriel did with Mary.  So why do shepherds hear the angels. A shepherd tends a flock to protect, to nurture and to sustain them. A shepherd knows that a flock needs steward. Our Shepherd, Jesus, was born this day to teach us and lead us, and God invites us with angels. Question for you is, “would you have heard them?” Angels are here with us as gifts from God; are you willing to see them?  Are you ready to hear the angels this day?

 

Hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (verse 1-2).

 

Eighth Lesson: Wise Visit – Matthew 2:1-11

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise ones from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise ones  and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

Hymn: Silent Night (verse 1-2).

 

Ninth Lesson: New Beginnings - John 1:1-5 (Inclusive)

In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. The Word was present to God from the beginning. Through the Word, all things came into being, and apart from the Word, nothing came into being that has come into being. In the Word was life, and the life was our light-- Light that shines in the darkness, Light that the darkness did not overcome.

 

Reflection for John 1:1-5 New Beginnings

This Gospel passage opens us to a beginning just like we started with Genesis. Yet, John opens with the mystic notion of God being present everywhere and in everything. This is a profound statement of God being encompassing while also being intimate to each of us as being within us. That with the breath and love of God, we are brought into being into this world and as a part of the world. Therefore, all creatures and things reveal the work of God: from the trees, the creatures, the rocks, the waters, the vast cosmos and all humanity.

 

These are the gifts we have been given, and we have been handed the task of stewardship over these gifts. We can marvel and awe at this wonderful sight, even when a pandemic makes us weary and skeptical. We can look into the future with hope because God has given a place to start, again and again. So what do we do with these gifts?

 

Remember that we are formed in darkness to meet the new day. We might worry because we may fail, but we live in this moment- even during a pandemic.

 

Tomorrow is a new morning. Open your ears, hear the wisdom of God speaking. Open your eyes to let angels help guide you. Then, we can embrace all that we have been given: covenant that sustains, growth to learn, perseverance in our challenges, forgiveness to let go, the birth into new life with Christ and the wisdom to serve. Then, we transcend division and be one with the Spirit!

 

That is the Christmas promise: that we can be one with the Spirit. Let go and renew in this season. Find your hope and promise right there for you in the light of Christ.

 

Hymn 132: O Come All Ye Faithful (verse 1-2).

 

Benediction:

From 2 Thessalonians.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father and Mother, who loves us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Go with love and light of Christ in your hearts this Christmas season and into the New Year!


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Love - Luke 1

Love

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 1: 26-38, 46-55; Psalm 89

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord – Our Rock, Our Love, and Our Redeemer!


“To be loved and to be love.” That is before us today.

Gabriel arrives before Mary and reveals to her that she is “favored.”  Mary is a young poor woman in Palestine and understandably perplexed by this.

To be favored and to learn of great plans for us... how would you hear this?  What do you do? Are you sure you got the right person? What makes you feel favored?  

I had to think about this for a moment.  For me, those times in life when someone looks you in the eye and says you matter and I am glad you are here. Growing up, I did well in school and continued into my college years. Yet, growing up different and queer was a challenge. Why me why now?  Why can I not be like those people ? Why do I have to defy convention and tradition?  Why did my body have to be different like this?

This did not feel like being favored with all of the taunts, rejections and the questions that came along with it. Yet, I learned a lot about society, people and tradition from being the one looking in from the outside.  

Yes, it was hard to hear “You are loved, and you are love!”

Mary gets a visit from an angel who promptly tells her about God’s plans for her.  

God has this knack for upending lives; we in this pandemic can attest to that.  Still isn’t it a marvel how the struggles of a poor young woman can tell us about our own struggles in our lives here. 

Rather than immediately accepting these plans from the angel, Mary talks back to him.  Why me? Why now? Wouldn’t someone else better fit this plan?  How did I get to be favored?

She is scared, perplexed and wondering.  Yet she comes to conclusion that “I am the servant of the Lord… let it be…” 

In these upending moments, we don’t have put on a fa├žade of ignorance or try to be someone or something that feels right.  It is those moments when we realize we are who we are meant to be. 

Mary, engaged with Joseph, is told that she is to bear a child, and she has to be nervous about explaining this to Joseph.  Regardless, Mary bears this witness with her body as pregnancy takes hold.  She still has to work, preparing fish in a fishing community, carrying water from the well, getting grain and making it for meals.  She still has to be on her feet and sweating in the Palestine sun, even during the last months of her pregnancy. She has to endure the whispers of people around her and the questions. It is little wonder why she goes to visit Elizabeth for a few months. 

We have seen this before in our lives when we have experienced being upended. How did we get to be so favored when it does not really feel like a favor? 

In these moments, let an angel remind you that You are favored and you are favor.

If we pivot this a moment, perhaps what the angel is doing is reminding us that God has plans for Mary -- and for us.  Through this angel, as angels do, Gabriel tells not only Mary that she is favored, but that we, as people believing -have favor because of the gift we receive through Jesus.  That favor really is love-- the ultimate love.  God incarnate -- who knows us, feels us, pains with us, cries with us and walks with us. 

We could be ignorant and turn away from this reminder (and we do quite often).  

The angel and Mary remind us, and why I like this passage is that we must start with ourselves. We must be willing to love ourselves with all of our own brokenness. It is here that we find those God moments in our own lives. 

During these upending moments, we could turn into ourselves and forget our community. We could devolve and become divisive. Or we could do like what my cousin did and use this moment to take a 5 year debt reduction plan into a 5 month plan. We could use this to reorganize closets and clean our spaces. We could remember how to paint pastels again.  We could remember our common humanity marching for justice or give sandwiches to the homeless! We could see a cute puppy and smile!

In these upending moments, we could reject the tasks at hand, ignore people around us or reject God working for us. We could reject God’s command to love, show compassion or promote social justice; that is ultimately rejecting God’s love. 

Instead in moments like these, God is giving us opportunities to find what makes us beautiful inside. 

We have seen this time and time again. From Mary’s example to saints in our lives to our own defining moments, our own God moments, we reach into that love, and when we do, when we let “thy will be done,” we let God love us and work in us.  That when times are difficult and challenging -whether as a person, as a church or as a community, these are times when God shows us why we are here at this time – because as St. Paul writes “now is the time.” 

In these upending moments, God is reminding us that we have work to do.  We could let those jeers and threats, isolation, criticisms keep us from who and what we are meant to be. Then we would be denying the God-given potential and the God-given love that is there for us. That is what Mary saw here and why she changes from perplexed and fear to praise and thanks. That is why she embraces that “you have done great things for me” because as we read last week, God has done great things for us and God can do great things for you! Now! today! 

That is the real love of the mothering God that does not deny us but lifts us. That is the real favor - the love of God that does not ignore us. Mary reminds us that God has “raised the lowly” and “deposed the mighty” that “for you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant” therefore “my spirit rejoices” in your love.

Because “nothing is impossible with God!”


God is with Mary! God is with us!

God loves Mary! God loves us!


You are beautiful!  You are exactly who God meant for you to be! 

There is an angel of God for you 

that gives you space to say “here I am” and to 

Remember, You are loved! You are love !


Thanks Be to God


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Joy - Isaiah 61

Joy

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; John 1: 25-27

Friends and Neighbors,

Happy Hannukah and 3rd Sunday of Advent!!

Online Churching

I know that we have a measure of fatigue with the pandemic and wish we could be back in our friendly sanctuary with the peace of Christ among us.  Yet, there is glimmer of light that has been revealed in our virtual worships.  As one commentator described, our church has become “more public” because people are able to simply drop into a worship service at any point.  

In the past, it would be difficult to attend different services without driving all over town and further be identified as those people that are new or somehow different from the rest.  People are showing up – longing, seeking and questioning. Welcome to you neighbors, you from far away and you longing. We are glad you are here!


Opening Prayer

May the words of my mouth and meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord - our Hope, our Rock and our Redeemer. 


Images

When we read this Psalm along with the Isaiah passage, we see the beautiful imageries, poetry and emotion on display that walks us through struggle, ruin, devastations, and fear into comfort, anointing, transformation and liberty. 

Isaiah describes the woes of desolation and frustration with exile in a time of great uncertainty (sounds kind of familiar). Even so, the spirit of God brings us good news and gives us opportunities to transform because there is hope, purpose and peace. There is joy to be had. 

When people come to the word joy, I sense that most think of that great feeling we get when we hear great news, that win or the big achievement.  It is something you feel in your bones, causes you to dance a little or even have that giant smile! You know it when it happens from Beethoven’s exhilarating grand finale to the simple joys that happen around us all the time!

Those simple joys are glimmers of light. We are in the middle of Advent and my friend Dave has been sharing the progress he has been making with a chocolate Advent calendar (full of simple joys) his wife gave him.  I am sure others may have probably looked into the future days for more simple joys! 


Joyful Witness 

John’s Gospel identifies an important element of discipleship is witness. That joyful witness of John is more than just some random observation.  John reminds us to behold the One that transforms - the One that brings hope, peace and joy to our lives.  As Prof. Joy J Moore says, “something happened and is on the ground today” - not just some fantasy projection.  There is truth in our witness of the divine at work in and among us.

Thus, our presence and witness are even more important this year as people come seeking and asking questions – you as our neighbor, you from far away and you that long for home.  Let us witness together!


Out of Devastation

There is joyful transformation to our witness. 

It is rising from the struggle and ruin to tap what is possible. There is rich sensory of smells and sights:  “oil of gladness…oaks of righteousness”. We can wrap ourselves and wear the “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” like a warm blanket in winter. There is youthful excitement like a bride and bridegroom. This is a transformation from the funeral and ashes to wedding and promise – mouths full of laughter (not the hardy-har-har, but the kind that starts small and grows every time someone speaks where you can hardly contain yourself. Laughter that becomes infectious). 

This is an overt reminder of the promise to us.

Advent is anticipation and an opportunity to grow, even when we feel exiled or isolated.  There is growth with “the planting of the Lord” that rises from below us and around us to greet us and guide us.  

I mentioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony 4th movement (some call it the “symphony within a symphony”). Before the grand finale, we are introduced to variations on the theme “Ode to Joy” from a quiet low that grows and grows along with a quartet preview of the coming choral set. Then, the whole orchestra is set upon this intense race culminating with a couple horns giving us a small pause to announce with great anticipation – you know something big is going to happen - the exhilarating finale. 

Likewise in this season of growth, we can be lifted from the lowly depths we have felt.  This is the divine intercession in our world and our lives; something we desperately need during isolation, grieving and anxiety that this pandemic has wrought upon us.  

Further, this text reminds us that we are not alone in feeling desolation. From dry waterbeds, devastations, “ruined cities”, and dreary mourning, God has saved us before and continues to transform us. It is this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, that we not only find joy in life, but like the symphony, we can anticipate holy joy, and we race to embrace it with full hugs and kisses.  

This is the joy of our God and the promise - that despite darkness, despite a foot of snow or even pandemics, that divine, holy promise is there to lift us and cradle us with comfort and liberate us from our misery.  There is hope! There is soulful peace. There is liberating joy in that promise because no one can take that away and no one can deny us that grace.  

 May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.

 Those who go out weeping,

…shall come home with shouts of joy,

We know that we, as people, have uncanny abilities to foul things up all the time.  We lose focus upon what is important or lose focus upon the grace that is there – that can save us.  


Our Invitation

Listen for those brass horns in the distance and let joy touch you again. Let joy fill your hearts. Through Jesus, we are invited to participate in joy, despite darkness, because Jesus reaches into our hearts to transform us. Yes Feel it in your bones! 

That is God’s promise, and we know this promise because God has done this before. God has lifted people who were in misery and lifts us today. In the middle of our long discontent and pandemic, we find the joyful hope of John baptizing, knowing there is One to liberate and save us.  

Thus, witness the spirit of God in your chest and your mind. Be transformed and your spirit shall be lifted. 

Yes that is the promise shared to all who seek and to all who mourn. There is someone who leads us to the light, especially when that light is difficult to see. 

We will return from our exile and isolation; 

we will be one in Christ both spiritually and physically.

From ashes to garland and jewels, we rise from oppression and brokenness to find salvation and liberation!  Yes, the Lord has done great things for us! Let God do great things for you!

During Advent, we can dream big dreams again. For maybe just a moment, let go of your struggle and rejoice. Listen for the laughter and let yours heard. Be transformed! Fill your mouths with laughter again. Shout with joy! Witness holy hope in your life and your spirit.  

Advent is the path to Christmas - the exciting renewal of everything promised. Step forward and be confident that God transforms you with joyful hands. So shout with holy Joy - your holy Amen!


Thanks Be to God


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hope - Mark 13

Hope

Tony E Dillon Hansen

A Sermon based upon Mark 13:24-37, Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64:1-9

Gracious friends and neighbors of St John United Church of Christ,

Let us first be in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight."

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy First Sunday of Advent!!!

Being Thankful

Ah! The time of year has arrived when we take time to be thankful, enjoy fruits of harvest, enjoy the many traditions – and snow. This year is different; with surging spread of the pandemic, we have to be honest and have to be safe.  Yes, we can be thankful. 

Why are we thankful amidst a pandemic that has all of us stressed and fatigued?  As we explored in worship for times like these, there are opportunities yet for us to explore, and we can embrace the gifts that we have, the food on the table, the drink we share, the symbols that mean something, and staying in touch with our community. Let your fears rest and find comfort in where you are - in the Truth and in grace of Emmanuel!

I know many of us have cherished traditions that are being interrupted, but I submit to you to be creative in your traditions this year so that you can safely experience what we all seek – to see each other in church as soon as possible.

New Church Year 

Today, we begin the lectionary Year B and read from Psalm 80 and Mark 13. Let us witness “Hope” as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Holy One as the first of the four traditional themes of Advent.  Isn’t hope something we truly need in these fatiguing times? 

Opportunity for beginnings, renewals, and reflections.

We light the first candle for Advent with prayerful hope for the miracle. Radio stations are playing favorite holiday songs (since the beginning of November actually). Lights have gone up all around our neighborhood.  Some traditions remain even though some have been impacted.

Mark 13 paints the picture of revelations and tells us to be alert and watching for the arrival. We see the hope that rides from out of darkness bringing the power and glory of the One. That is where we find mighty hope in this text.  

Kind of like the hope in Patrick Mahomes with 1:43 left to go in the game.

Hope Is Optimistic

Hope is a powerful antidote for what we are experiencing today with pandemics, changed traditions, and political stress. It is the necessary element that enables us to walk into the future with some level of confidence. Hope is optimistic.

Yet, hope needs some things to flourish, as Loreena McKinnett said, so that we might live in our life today and make the most of our present moments. 

Hope Needs Work

Hope needs action; otherwise, as therapist Ginger Sullivan says, it is “passivity.” This speaks directly to our lesson from last week. We talked last week about how we see Jesus and God, and that we have opportunities to grow and do God’s work. As Prof. Joy J. Moore says, “We do God’s work until God comes.” Hope needs attention, practice and action.  We are called as practicing Christians to do God’s work. 

This speaks to Isaiah 64:8 that we are the clay and the work of our potter, even though today feels more like no one is calling upon our God. It might seem like that with quiet church sanctuary and hall, but people are praying, attending this worship, and that is hopeful. When we call upon God to help us and guide through these times, we will get an answer. 

But if you don’t lift a finger, don’t pray, don’t attend worship, hope has zero chance. Thomas Merton writes about the idea that “contemplative life …cannot be a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions, and its errors.” That means we have to be present with God and God in us. We pray and do. 

With the heaviness of this past year, we can do our part to be the grace in people’s lives by simply letting them know we care and are here.  We bring that Christmas promise into our communities when we clothe the needy, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick or imprisoned. 

Hope without practice changes and decays into denial. A spirit becomes ruled by cynical views of our world. It can lead us to think there is nothing we can do to make things better when there is, in fact, something we can do. 

Hope Needs Faith and Trust

Thus, hope also needs trust and faith that things will work out.  Hope without trust and faith is despair and misery.  We don’t have to wallow in misery and suffering because with hope, with God, we will do better, and it starts with a prayer. For that, we must be willing to look beyond our own suffering (as immense as that may feel) and trust in the One. With hope, we have faith that today will be a good day and tomorrow has even more promise. 

Hope involves understanding our limitations; that we fall short and need the grace and perfection of our Creator.  As Isaiah 64 reminds us, we are unclean with sickness; we may feel we have lost the way; but God is there and will forgive and guide us from our fall.  That is honest evaluation of what we have, have done and can do. 

Otherwise, we are living in folly and fiction. Simply, I cannot control what I cannot control, but I can be present.  That is the essence of the serenity prayer and also a measure of trust and faith that McKennitt says hope needs.  It is ok to realize my limits while also letting go of things that I do not control.  Perhaps then, we let God work in us and do some amazing things.

Fig Tree Will Blossom

Still, we might ask “when Lord when?” As a gardener, the lesson of the fig tree reminds us that the fruit of the fig tree blossoms on its own time, not ours. It will blossom. 

It is up to us to be watchful. We are present. We pray to be restored, to be healed, and to be freed from suffering. We fulfill our hope with some action, some trust and faith. 

Holiday Stress

Remember, as we get closer to the holidays, stress will rise. Be present, take time for yourself, breathe and take one step at a time. Know that our Creator, I and all of your fellow congregants are with you. Reach out as needed.

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is also available for people.

Find hope in your prayers, your devotion, and your treasured traditions that you keep. Find possibility and opportunity to grow in your hope - and be renewed, restored.  

Let hope be with you as we celebrate the arrival and presence of Our Lord.

Thanks be to God!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Missed Opportunities - Matthew 25

Missed Opportunities

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Matthew 25:31-46, Ezekiel 34:12, Psalm 100

Pie Sunday

As we wrap up another church year and get ready for Thanksgiving and Advent, we get this wonderful message from Christ that speaks to the mission of the Church but also where we are in this. I was reminded of a growing tradition at Plymouth that the Reign of Christ ought to be celebrated (and celebrated with pie.) One of the many ways we can be with Christ is through our dinner and dessert when we invite Jesus to dine with us. Where do we see, feel, and be with Jesus? We talked about some of this in Confirmation class this week, and they had some ideas on this question. I invite you to ask them. So let us invite Jesus this morning. 

“May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to in Your sight, O Lord; You are our Rock and our Redeemer!”

Verse 40 and Judging

Christ invites us to look for God in all of the places and people around us from verse 40 – just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”  Jesus invites us to live with compassion and grace and to share that with “the least of these who are members of Christ’s family…”

Some read this passage and sense an air of judgment, but if we listen to Jesus little deeper, we are asked about our missed opportunities. Where are our missed opportunities?  

It is easy for us to get blinded by our own feelings, busy thoughts, long pandemic, ugly politics, and hard struggles, but we are in this together. And only together will we survive and live in the community that is there for us. We could sit there and try to tally up the things we have done and pronounce that we have done enough. What however do we miss because we all fail and we all miss opportunities?

Reckoning and Paper Routes

This Gospel is a reckoning - a “come to Jesus” moment for us.  This reminded me also of when I was young and ran paper routes.

Each month, I would have to go around and collect the bill payments. When I did well, customers might give an extra tip. In those days as a paperboy, I routinely would get invited into homes to settle the bill, and thinking back on this today, I wonder how many precarious situations I could have been in. I recall one particular involved an older woman who said she didn’t have much cash, but she just made this German marble cake that she would share. I started nibbling on this German marble cake that was just the most luscious and tasty awesomeness I have ever had – I think God was there in that experience.  

Paper route was more than throwing newspapers. In addition to distribution, the job involved billing as I said, but also quality control and handling complaints.  When there were complaints, people usually didn’t wait until the bill collection, but assuredly if there were, they might be remembered during collection.

That forces one to reconcile and be sure to offer better service. That made me look for opportunities to bring something more than just rolled newspapers, and yes I missed opportunities. 

In each moment, we get the chance to reconcile, learn, grow and find Jesus in our hearts because we don’t need to spend time judging or tallying up our blessings - for that belongs to God. 

Be Thankful for Gifts

Be thankful for your blessings, and Jesus reminds us that there are more opportunities because we miss some. Even though we fail, we get new opportunities, new tastes (like German marble cake or pie); we get forgiveness and grace!  

For all of the struggle we have had in 2020, I believe that God might be reminding us not to get complacent. Don’t forget the gifts we have and how valuable those are. We are reminded that heroes don’t need to wear tights and capes. Heroes are ones that care for our neighbors. That is what Jesus says in this challenge.  Look beyond our suffering, find Christ in the community, and share your gifts.

Carpe Diem

We can even think in terms of the sentiment from Robert Herrick – carpe diem. 

Given his youth and work mobility, my son decided to explore the western areas of our vast country and “work from anywhere” (Zion National Park, Sedona, otherwise.) This is truly the spirit of carpe diem and seizing the moments we have.  I hope he takes advantage of all the opportunities he can during his journey. He will see God in some of the most beautiful places our creation reveals to us because mountains have a way of demonstrating how vast God is.  I hope he continues to find that beauty and love of God right there with him (and in the communities around him) – I hear it in his voice when he is talking about it. 

I wish that excitement also for us and our families. That despite the heaviness of COVID, emotional elections and the many stressors in our lives - that we don’t have to wait to see God around us because we might meet each moment with open eyes, heart and ears. We may find the adventure of God there in those moments.  We can witness God everywhere whether mountains, wide prairies, gorgeous sunrises, at the stoplight, in a baby’s eyes, the healthcare worker, the protester, or us - finally finding time for those avoided projects around the house. 

Finding Confidence Amid Struggle

We are in our own adventures, our own challenges, bills to pay, and to seize opportunities to find God. Christ challenges us to see grace in all the nooks and crannies of life, in people (young and old, rich or poor, black, brown or white, neighbor and prisoner), in the tasty pie we eat, the beverage we drink – and even in our struggles. 

Especially there, we find what is important - hope and comfort in the One who brought us. 

We have our adventure; we have our duties - even though fear and risk remain.  However, we meet these with confidence; that we are not alone in this. We don’t do this alone, and we can explore where Christ is - in us and throughout our community.  

We find Christ through prayer, thoughts and our actions – clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, or visiting the sick or imprisoned. We have many opportunities around us to reveal our love of God and neighbor. 

Are we willing to witness these opportunities - to see God where God is – and to be calmed through the wonderful tastes and presence of our Creator? I submit to you that through all of these challenges of the tough year, Christ has been and is right there comforting us and reminding us of our blessings – how valuable they are. 

The bill is coming due, but our Collector has forgiveness, grace and more opportunities ready for you. Doing Christ’s work does not have to be an ongoing, drudging chore, but it is the opportunity we don’t want to miss. 

On your journey, as a Christian, find opportunities to do for the least of these.  Maybe you have marble cake to share, maybe just a sandwich. Enjoy our beautiful creation and care for your community. When you do, watch your spirit lift! 

Thus, keep asking where do you see God today; where do you see Jesus? Open your heart and you will see. You will find those comforting arms and warm voice - waiting to mother you and guide you to more opportunities.   

Thanks Be to God


Sunday, October 25, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 25 Oct 2020

St John United Church of Christ             

Melbourne, IA             

Welcome to worship with us!      

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“No Matter Who You are or Where You are on Life’s Journey, You are Always Welcome Here!”

October 25, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare: Happy Reformation Sunday!

Helen Keller wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.”

 

Matthew 22:36-39

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

 

Call to Worship: (Psalm 1)          

Together:  

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

Hymn 386 (NCH): The Church’s One Foundation

Gathering Prayer

Happy are we, O God, when our hearts are full,
our ways are yours, our spirits enlivened by your call. 
Happy are we, O God, when our lives are guided by delight.
We gather here today for just that, holy God. 
We gather to draw on all you would give us
to be more fully yours.  In Jesus’ name.

 

Scripture Reading:      Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18 (NRSV)                                   

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer  among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Sermon:  How Do You Love?

Posted online at:

https://tonyswebstudios.blogspot.com/2020/10/how-do-you-love-leviticus-19.html

 

Moment of Silence & Reflection:

Invitation to Offering:

Anyone who has ever loved knows that to love is to give –
to give from the place we feel it most. 
This giving may be sacrificial,
but the sacrifice is compromised if it cannot be done joyfully. 
May we join together in the delight of giving? 

 

Let us remember the gifts you have been given.

Remember to share them with the community, your church.

(They can be sent to the church office.)

Sharing your gifts, the fruits of your labor, is great

because

God is good!                All the time!

All the time!*              God is good!*

Let us share in the goodness of our God!!

 

Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;                               

 Praise God all creatures here below;

 Praise God for all that love has done;

 Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One. Amen

 

Prayer of Dedication:

We give thanks, O God, for all that you have given us.  With what you see before us, God, we demonstrate our deepest love. Receive our gifts as sweet offering before you. May they be the blessing to others that they have been for us. We offer this prayer in the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Pastoral Meditation & Prayer:   

The Lord is with you 

Let us be in quiet meditations of our own hearts and minds.

Lord's Prayer: (ALL)

 

Hymn 4 (NCH): Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.

 

Closing Announcements:

Benediction:

Remember, as you go forth, the words our commandment to love,

Walk well in the way of love with speech, thoughts and action.

Let the warmth of God’s love be with you and guide you.

 

May the LORD bless you and keep you,

May holiness shine upon you, with you and be gracious to you,

May the Creator turn to you and give you peace, now and always.

 

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Portions of Gathering and Offertory Copyright 2020 Local Church Ministries, Faith INFO Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How Do You Love - Leviticus 19

How Do You Love
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Matthew 22:34-46, Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1

Opening Prayer

A post on our Facebook page has this wonderful quote from Paul Tillich “The first duty of love is to listen.” And is that not accurate?  Because if we don’t listen we don’t hear, we don’t care.  If we don’t listen with open heart and open mind as well as open ears, then are we really listening? Let us today ask “how do you love” and let us listen for love today.

As we have been walking through Matthew, we have heard Jesus sharing parables to describe the kingdom of God as a place of grace and love for all but also how people receive blessings (or perhaps how some do not, like the wicked tenants).  Jesus, in Matthew 22, is asked a question about the law.  There is no parable here - “just the facts ma'am.” Jesus reaches into the Torah, Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. 

Law can be a tough read, and as Kathryn Schifferdecker remarked, if you were ever needing a way to fall asleep, reading the law or Leviticus can help. As someone who has taken a couple law classes, reading law can be good sleep inducer, but law can challenge the best of us to find needles in haystacks because we look at not just the law but interpretations (e.g. Supreme Court decisions.) 

Among the most intense and difficult classes I have taken, my undergrad Constitutional Law class ranks near the top. I enjoyed the class because we studied and learned how constitutional laws have been interpreted and gradually expanded to grant rights to more Americans over time. Yet, Prof Hagel gave us only 4 grades, and he wrote exams like the mid-term with 30 possible points but because the questions were THAT HARD - immediately gift the class 10 points. I understand why because with law, one has to study nuances and many court decisions – including dissenting. This was a difficult class. 

Here, Jesus does a simple but thorough exegesis of the Holiness Code, that of all of the laws (not just 10), these two define us and our relationship with God.   

We read from Genesis that God created the world as “very good” and makes holy. We are created in the divine image. We are gifted creation and commanded to take care of this garden along with those in it.  God wants us to flourish. 

Leviticus, as great sleep medicine it can be, gives more detail to how we can flourish with God. As part of the Holiness Code, there are more than 10 commands but how one might live those. 

There is simplicity in this text but challenges too.  Let us walk through some.
"You shall not render unjust judgment..." When you see people on the news protesting, what have you said?  When people are in pain, do you say "you did this to yourself," or do you sit a moment and listen, as Tillich says?  

"You shall not go around as a slanderer..." Think of how more friendly our political seasons would be if we didn’t slander – what would politicians do?  Yet when you talk about people, do you point out their deficiencies, their disabilities, or their errors, or do you try to lift up and cheer on to keep going? 

"You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor..." The systemic failures and injustices of jealousy and fraud could be solved simply by being fair. 

"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin..." Ask yourself who is your kin; your neighbor? Isn’t hate a bit expensive? Let go of hate or consume you it will.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against any..."  for vengeance and judgment belong to God. Remember Jesus’s words about removing the log from our eye before removing the speck in others. Sometimes, we need to forgive ourselves too since we know that we fail. 

Go even a little further into Leviticus 25 to the laws of Jubilee where all debts are to be forgiven regularly.  Can you imagine how this would mess with our current financial system?  Think of how much freedom is buried in debt.  Think of why Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There is freedom smothered by debt.

The cornerstone of these commands, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we go a little further into Leviticus 19: 33-34 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…”

So How do you love? How do you love your neighbor (or the alien)?  This isn’t just empty words or questions.  This is as Kathryn suggests “a profound theological statement about life with God.” Holiness is a gift from our Creator - something we don’t get on our own.  While we sin and fall short, Holiness is “the work of God in us.”

This is showing love and compassion.  This is lifting up and revealing grace among us.  This is letting God be with us and in us.

You, made in the image of our Creator, you - made with love to be God's servant here on Earth, you share that love.

We can put a lot in trying to be perfect, holy and acing that class.  That can be exhausting. These may be worthy ventures, but we don’t do this alone. Yet, each of these needs honest effort, action, and reflection that is rooted in the holy promise, the holy command.  

When we are true, when we lift and not degrade, 
when we do good business and not fraud, 
when we welcome neighbors (and aliens) as our kin, 
when we love, 
then we do God’s work! 

When we let love find us, bind us and warm us,
 we make room for grace abundant. 

Avoid being the “wicked tenant” of God’s creation. Don’t cheat or be unjust. There is little nuance to interpret. 

We can walk and talk with compassion and love that God desires. Thus, taking care of our neighbors, our community, our church, and letting room for people is inviting not only people but inviting God into our lives. When we live into the moment, live into love, live freedom from debt - because you forgive, you live and dwell with God. That is how you love.

It is not only about ourselves but those that ask to represent us. In this election season, we know that politicians are like us  - fallible and flawed. When we look at the list of people on the ballot (or even for our church) we should ask which one lifts up and makes room for God to work or perhaps who does more slander.  We should ask which one invites us as good people to lift up and share.

“You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.”  That to love God with all your heart and mind because God is inside you and made you holy. In all of our brokenness and darkness, God made you holy; God made all of us - full of love.  It is for this reason then we must love those around us because they too are made of this holy love. 

Let life flourish; let God show you and dwell in you! 

That is God’s promise and gift. Let love be you!

Like the great power ballad “Love Song” by Tesla,
“So look around, open your eyes. 
Love is gonna find a way, 
find its way back to you. 
Love will find a way.”

…And Vote like your love depends upon it.

Thanks be to God!