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