Saturday, March 14, 2020

I am the gate

“I am the gate…”;
Tony E Dillon Hansen

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
 (John 10: 7 NRSV)

The next two “I am” verses come from John 10, and they each give us different perspectives about Jesus, as a gate and as a shepherd.

I remember walking through a gate into my grandparents’ farmhouse yard only to face a massive, menacing turkey following us to the door. We see gates through literature and movies: gates before Helm’s Deep, the arch into Jurassic Park, or energy portals between dimensions. For my Grandmother’s house, there was no question what was on the other side. Yet, upon finding such gates that do not have much visibility, one might begin questioning. Do we enter, and what happens on the other side?  As well, we remember that a gate is an entry: place to start but also place to leave. Thus, what do we leave?

Each day of our lives we face decisions and proverbial gates.  Do I take step forward or do I just stay where I am? The gate represents change, uncertainty, innovation, chance as well as hope. When we come to gates in our lives that are critical decisions, we might need a dose of courage and inspiration to proceed to move forward beyond today. Steve Jobs once said that upon daily looking into a mirror, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something” Yet, with all of our brokenness, too often we revert to contentment and resign to staying within ourselves - letting the turkey decide for us. What are we clinging that we fear to change or to enter the gate? We might hear Jesus and that good voice, but perhaps think “my heart just cannot take another surprise”, for yet another day in a row.

Understandably, we are skeptical of people making broad claims because we know marketing with false “guarantees” to solve what is missing in our lives. Yet, there is a real truth because we know and recognize authenticity, and Jesus offers genuine and authentic truth. That is part of the conversation that Jesus invites us where we can be authentic in ourselves and find the One listening to us. We are invited to hear and to listen to the voice that welcomes and speaks truth. When you hear the truth, maybe the gate won’t seem so daunting. Take a step forward, have faith, and live into the welcome you have been given.

For those that have found the strength to step, do we have patience and grace in turn to welcome others wherever they are on life’s journey?  Jesus reminds as well that we must be gates for others to find hope and justice, without judgment - just like the example Jesus set for us.

May the One, who welcomes us at the gate, be with us this season as we seek to hear your truth and take steps. Be with us and guide us through the COVID-19 trials. Let us witness your comfort within our spirit to take those steps. Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Born of the Spirit - John 3

Born of the Spirit
Tony E Dillon Hansen

Reflection for John 3:1-17, Psalm 121

Psalm 19,

Whenever we get to this text, I am reminded to of the myriad ways in which John 3:16 appears throughout our society.  Whether a player tattoos 3:16 under eyes or we see people with sandwich boards proclaiming 3:16, there is a uniqueness to this passage still that calls to us.  Pastor Matt remarked on Thursday that evangelist like to emphasize words in this phrase. “For God SOOO loved the world…” and in case you missed it, we can definitely feel joy in the idea that God loves the world.
There is strength and power in God giving to us “only begotten” Jesus because our Creator is willing to give that much to us because of the “SOOO” much love. How could we as just people compete with that kind of love.
Yet this verse comes in context of the conversation between the priest Nicodemus and Jesus. In this frank conversation, each are talking about aspects of theology; aspects of God; aspects of finding God in the here and now. The lines that jumped out to me in this reading were 3:8 “The wind blows and you hear it but you do not know from where it comes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” and because you and I are talking today, Nicodemus question in 3:4, “how can anyone be born again having grown old?”
First to be born of the Spirit means what?
In this Gospel lesson and next week’s, we observe dialogs and relationship. Jesus engages these questions of faith, of identity and wholeness. In each of these dialogs, as well, Jesus listens and does not condemn.  In fact, the robust conversation invites even more conversation today.  Nicodemus and Jesus invoke the Spirit working.
Incidentally, what kind of conversations do you have with Jesus?  We often hear people talk about being spiritual without being religious, but Jesus invites us to relationship with the Spirit. Jesus invites us to go deep into ourselves. Jesus guides us to witness and to recognize the Spirit, that is not just token rhetoric for sandwich boards or tattoos, but one that breathes full dimensions into our being: a spirit that transcends my concerns, my thoughts and my fears into joy, achievement and grace. I don’t have to be religious to witness the Spirit because I can meditate and pray; I can listen and be aware of the Spirit working around me, with me, through me, through you, and through our community.
To be born/re-born of the Spirit then is not a reentering of mother’s womb (my mother probably wouldn’t appreciate that now) but allowing the Spirit to open our eyes in new ways and new awareness. When we allow the Spirit to do this, we allow and acknowledge a conversation (a relationship) with the divine. Then, we might understand what “SOOO” much love is.
Yet if we step back and say “you know I am mature in my faith and I have grown old with these ideas and I am growing older.” “Maybe, that feeling is just for young folks and hippie people that want to get in touch with their feelings.” Cynics might use the word “hogwash.”
I hear that “I am still getting old. My body is getting slower and more broken. The world seems to be spinning out of control and no one cares. Governments are corrupt and society going down the tubes.”  In that view, I guess that is it folks. There is nothing more we can do and misery is all around us with nothing we can do about it. 
That cynicism is defeating and destructive spiritual darkness. Instead looking to find connection and renewal, this attitude denies even the chance.  This attitudes denies that divine invitation to spiritual light because one stops at spiritual darkness where the experience of spiritual rebirth is fantasy or foreign.
That, my friends, is precisely when we need to find our birth in spirit. When we have lost all sense of self; lost all faith; and even lost hope. Even in our maturity, we must be willing to dig deeper, beyond the spiritual mud, to find the light of the Spirit burning for us and with us. That is when Jesus can be most meaningful to us because we let Jesus and Spirit find us and meet us where we are; to lift us to where we can be.
So, Have a conversation with Jesus in your heart where you are on life’s journey, like Nicodemus. We don’t have to dwell in the doldrums of spiritual quicksand because we can reach with our hearts at this chance to find grace again and again. We can breathe in and out with that possibility of Spirit fully inside us and with us.
When you feel that, you can free yourself from the broken, slowing body and smile with the grace of God clearing that spiritual mud; clearing the obstacles that prevent us from loving neighbor; clearing the barriers from our own tender heart and spirit.
That is how we can be born again while growing old – everyday – all day – any minute – no matter where you are on life’s journey. You can let Jesus reach down into your heart, and you let Jesus move your attitudes from cynicism to possible. You can find comfort in spiritual prayer, and you might find that SOOO LOVE can set you free.
Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 6, 2020

I am the light

“I am the light…”;
Tony E Dillon Hansen

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NRSV)

Walking around in the night can be trouble but why do we?  I will fumble through things and stub my toe while walking in dark rooms, and only then, I might turn on the light. Still, it is not like we have to remain in the dark, but yet, maybe darkness offers a weird sense of comfort. Does it? During Lent, we are reminded of how in our lives that we walk in darkness and how we simply do not attempt to find the light switch.

John 8 begins with a crowd bringing a woman (guilty of adultery) to test Jesus. They expect Jesus to judge her and cast judgment. Instead, Jesus challenges us and asks us whom among us has not sinned is whom can be the first to throw stones. The woman is set free. Then, Jesus tells us the divine light is not just for the so-called righteous and privileged but also the oppressed and all sinners. We are called to follow the light and to be free in the light.

When we look at people with judging eyes and mind, what light do we share? What light do we ignore?  The lesson then reminds us that this light “judge[s] no one”. So why do we?

Are we so twisted in our own spiritual darkness, righteousness, privilege and judgment that we need to cast our darkness upon others instead of light? We act, react, and want answers to wrongs, injustice and pains - even feel deserved in that. Perhaps, that is valid, but are letting darkness guide us into communal misery versus allowing the light to free us? Is that darkness truly what we ought to have? Dwelling in this darkness, we are, instead, not allowing the Spirit to guide us, to lift us or to stir us. Maybe light and forgiveness seem scary, but these are God’s gifts to us. Maybe in the darkness and silence, we relinquish God-given freedom.

Thus, if we consider what Jesus is fundamentally saying, we might see Jesus permitting us to be love and light to people in the world. Most importantly, we are permitted to love ourselves rather than be in dark discontent. This loving light can then be powerful and transcending.

Turn on the light, walk away from dark discontent and judgment. Then you can let the loving light of wisdom, love and faith be your guide instead of wandering aimlessly within the ego-self. Thus, our hearts will grow because we seek beyond fears, stones of judgments, and internal darkness. We may find the Spirit settling into our hearts so that we might witness the light already shining within us. When we do, we might let that comforting light be us and stir us.

May the One, who shines light upon us, be with us this season as we seek to let go of spiritual darkness. Remind us to not throw stones of judgment, but let us instead find space for our neighbors and their struggles in our hearts. Let us witness Your light in our thoughts, actions and lives. May we find comfort in Your stirring Spirit. Amen.