Saturday, September 11, 2021

Taking Up Your Cross - Mark 8

Take Up Your Cross

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 8:27-38, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12 and Proverbs 1:20-33


Opening Prayer.


This week’s passage from Mark comes to us in two parts 1) Peter’s declaration of Jesus and 2) Jesus challenging us to take up our cross.


These are core to understanding Mark’s Christology. 


Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say I am” but more importantly “who do you say I am?” We ask this of confirmation students.  Who do you say Jesus is? What did Jesus do and why is that important to us today?


Let us shift a bit and think this a different way.


Last time we met, we talked about how different hats and clothing we wear can change the way people see us.  Peter’s debate with Jesus is a challenge for us to ask what do our actions and words say about us.  


If we say we are a follower of Jesus, what does that mean?

Who is Jesus to us - to you? Mark leaves no wiggle room in this idea. 


Is Jesus some person walking around Palestine with a circle friends making exorbitant claims or is Jesus part of the divine? I submit to you “yes”. Jesus gives us path to salvation - to God. 


So is it the teaching or who Jesus was? Some follow Jesus for who he was and some for what he taught. I submit to you “yes.” (a revolutionary rabbi with God inside him - the Messiah teaching simple empowering ways for all to live, grow and connect to God and to each other.)


Jesus goes further and explains the path of God is not one paved with full acceptance and lavish fortunes, but in fact, rejection and suffering.  


Some look for a savior to rid all our problems, slavery, oppression and tyrants of the world, but Jesus answers this as one who endures suffering, betrayal and violent murder.  


Further, Jesus turns to his people - Jesus turns to us and declares “those who want to save their life for my sake and for the gospel will have it” 


For what is wealth and earthly status but measures of a broken and troubled world. If you want to “profit” from the world, go ahead, but you measure against brokenness. 


Thus, the true measure of discipleship is living Jesus in our lives.  

That is to say “take up your cross.”


Not as a status symbol but how we pray behind closed doors and how we take care of our community - God’s world here. 


Can you feel the weight of the cross?


1) We have many obstacles and burdens in our lives.  Some people like to think their burdens are so immense they cling to them as a status, but that is not what Jesus is saying here either.  


Jesus isn’t saying to wear your suffering like badges or medals. That is actually a form of idolatry. Indeed, suffering happens, but if we focus only upon our suffering, then we become negative, resentful, spiteful and hateful. 


Why because we don’t let the love of God enter our hearts - there is no room unless you empty your hearts of suffering.


Rather, what if when obstacles get in our way, or even, if good things in our lives get taken away, maybe our response isn’t to focus upon the suffering but find opportunities.


In moments of crisis, with Jesus, we will find possibilities and conversation. So invite conversation with God and invite others into that conversation so that together we lift each other. 


2) Crosses aren’t meant just for church either.  Showing up is great, but what about the rest of our week? As I mentioned from Ephesians 6, why would you ever take off the clothing of God? Wear the good we learn in church about Jesus. When you go into the world, don’t leave God at the church; bring God home and into your lives.


Think of the ways, especially in the midst of this pandemic, have we found ways to experience God and share that experience with others. What other ways are there? 


3) Taking up your cross also does not mean that our efforts are the only good ones.  People like to be fixers and helpers. There are places for that. Yet, it is not my way or the highway. People will come to God in their own ways as a child of God in their own right.


We could almost think about this like our efforts around the world to bring democracy. While noble intention, we cannot force people to like us (or be like us), especially at the end of a rifle. Violence begets violence and has great cost to everyone.


Maybe instead of “fixing”, we walk with people on their journeys and encourage with our love and let God work. Maybe then you can say who Jesus is because you let Jesus be Jesus.


Recognize the kingdom of God here in all people. That is part of our role in the cross.  It is the way you live and not just how big your wallet or what your status is. 


Further by doing this, we recognize that we don’t do this alone.  We have each other (and God) to challenge and to teach each other - through our own suffering about the love and compassion of God that is revealed through us. That is church and that is God working in us.


So if you feel the weight of the cross, pray a moment and realize that God is one who helps us.

 

Jesus is helping you carry your cross. Let God be with you.


Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Dressing Up - Ephesians 6

Dressing Up

Tony E Dillon-Hansen


Sermon based upon Ephesians 6: 10-20, Psalm 84 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8


Opening Prayer


This text from Ephesians 6 tells us about putting on the “armor of God.” In a world full of struggles and worries, we are told that we can put on divine protection like a holy suit.  This scripture encourages us to use our imaginations to wear the protection of God around us like the “armor of God…fasten the belt of truth” and put on a breastplate of righteousness…” “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit.”  


We read something similar to this in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 “put on a breastplate of faith and love; ..helmet of salvation”.


I am reminded of times in my youth when we would dress in costumes. There is some fun in this text. So let God guide us. 


October 31 does not need to be the only time we can have fun with costumes and hats. As mentioned last Sunday, this feels like an opportunity to feel God in our unique ways. As someone who loves to wear different hats, let me show you some of them! 


Still we have to wonder if this text is just for us to have fun or are they reminding us of something else.  


There are a few points to raise here. 1) Dress with God! 


We know that what we wear is a part of out identity - revealing to people some measure of who we are. You might see a sports fan, cowboy, rivalry, colorfulness and yes even goofy. So yes there is also that perception of us - whether fair or not. When others wear something that expresses themselves - do we look upon it with welcome or with judgment? 


The question then for us - if we put on an outfit of God, what does that look like, what does it feel like? How would it change us? For me, I imagine that I feel comfort of a nice blanket on a cold night or flow of cooling fabric in heat - especially on a bike. If we put on clothes of love and faith, I bet that would that lift and fill our spirits too.


2) This really is saying instead - feel God around you. It’s not just outfits.


We know there are many things in this world that are just not right, chaotic, and feel broken. With hats, you could draw the hat lower to hide your eyes from the world, but when we do that, we lose perspective. God is right there for us to keep perspective.


We know that God is love. Thus, if God is love, wearing God’s armor is not necessarily metal plates of armor but “breastplate [made] of faith and love.”  We are asked to wear God’s love. Remember from earlier in Ephesians to put away malice and bitterness and “live in love.”  Put away those stressing things, make the most of time (aka “carpe diem”) and turn towards the love of God. Be kind to people and wear that love as your favorite outfit.


3) The next point to raise with this image of us putting on God like clothing also begs the question is why would we ever take it off - that we are reminded to feel God around us or we leave God somewhere instead of letting God be with us.    


Paul is reassuring churches (then and now) that we are not just people who meet once a week, but that we meet to feel God’s presence in Church and to take the presence with us into our whole lives. 


When we go home after worship, do we just leave God at the church - all packed up neatly and waiting for next Sunday… or do we bring God home with us? Wear this holy clothing with you into life and community.  


I have seen this so many times when people pray good prayers and sing good hymns in church and then as soon as they step out the door, its like instant forgetfulness.  


That isn’t to say be boastful and prideful. (Matthew 6 tells us, those that do, they will have their reward.)  


4) God wants us to share this gift and for us to recognize that others also have this gift. Wearing that love of God and feeling the love around us like a blanket can do so much for us - but so much for others.  


Loving God and loving neighbor takes practice and effort.  It is why Jesus says this is a struggle, but a struggle with so much reward.


We want to show up for church. Be filled with the Spirit and wear that love into our community. When you do, when you fill yourself with that love and let love embrace you, then the world is a much different place, less scary, less toxic, less arguing because we have made room for grace and the love of God. We transform into something bigger than us because we allow ourselves to feel God.  


Let God be in us and with us. See the blessed in and around messy, broken me and you see the blessed in and around messy, broken you. Amazingly with God’s help, we together achieve so many things with the different ways we feel and wear God’s love. 


Feel the amazing in you and around you.


So how do you dress up with God? how do you feel the love of God?


Thanks Be to God.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

What is Wisdom - Ephesians 5

What is Wisdom

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Proverbs 9, Psalm 34, and Ephesians 5:15-20


Opening Prayer:


Bret and I enjoy watching some Netflix and 80s/90s TV because we get to see a lot of stuff from growing up. From those shows in the past, I have a few favorite characters like Mr Miyagi, Yoda, Col. Sherman Potter from Mash, and the Golden Girls quartet. 


Miyagi would teach lessons by revealing the power of simplicity by turning the washing a car into lesson and having respect for all living things. Yoda would reveal ways that we share great energy and spirit. Col. Potter would share nuggets with fellow service people. The Golden Girls would expand horizons to teach us how each of us have our strengths and weaknesses; That when times are tough, through friends and family, we can achieve and grow on our own journey - especially with cheesecake. 


Each of these teach the power of listening and power of compassion for people and life. Each of these share wisdom that invites connection and listening to stories because that is how we grow and how we as community thrive. 


Wisdom is not just rhetorical words, but how we dive into messy issues and learn to get up. Wisdom is learning to use the gifts we have right in front of us and then sharing that insight through teaching, guiding, and patient listening. As a master myself, I gained more from my students than my own training.


Proverbs presents a banquet hosted by divine wisdom, and Ephesians opens the treasure chest of God’s gifts for us to see (not just for me-me-me but) for you and me and everyone in our community.  Wisdom is the gift of sharing. 


Even stories like some Rose Nylon stories - imperfect as they might be - are nuggets of sharing grace. That is why I like fellowship time, and thank you for sharing your insights. May I be reminded to sit calmly and have the patience to listen because we all know that listening takes patience. Not so I can respond to whatever is said but to take in and understand perspectives, acknowledge the gifts of each other, and grow in our mutual sharing.


Proverbs gives us wisdom as a host of a banquet; come eat the bread and drink of God’s wine. God as host prepares a table for us to live life and experience life through Christ - the bread of life. God prepares a banquet so that we might share these gifts.


“Lay aside immaturity and live with insight of God.”


How do we do that?  I am so glad you asked because Ephesians gives us several suggestions for this.  


Ephesians narrates a cosmic picture of God’s plans - with Christ as head of our great Church and us the body - a community of prayer - a community blessed with redemption, forgiveness, the honor of encountering God.  Ephesians opens up for us the treasure chest that God gives us because 1) we are “no longer strangers and aliens but citizens … members in the household of God.” (2:19)


If you were looking for how to live wisely, you can look in Ephesians 4:25-32


“Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another… work honestly with our own hands. Let no evil talk come out of our mouths. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice…. Be kind to one another forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children. And live in love.”  


We can read that feel-good wisdom all day long.


I can regurgitate facts and read verses but knowing and reading is only half the battle. 


Those are the tools, but what we do with those blessings and knowledge is where we see wisdom born in the world and through us - Shared through us and patient listening through us. 


If you leave the lessons in the book, then the knowledge given to you does nothing more.


If you however let the verses guide your heart, you will find ways to Christ through our thoughts, our words and our actions.  


Do you welcome like God welcomes?  Do you speak the truth? Do you forgive like how God forgives? Or do you let bitterness, anger and slander rule your day? Do you let others define that for you or do you let God define that grace - that good in you? 


Yes we fail at times, but there is never a better time than now for God’s grace!


The debate around COVID vaccines and masking is perfect example. We could choose to ignore the actual facts and believe disinformation instead. OR, we could do the correct thing - the sensible thing- and be examples of how not to spread COVID.


Wisdom is understanding there are paths of disinformation and illusions that hide and look “easier” - paths that separate us from the way of God. God’s way is not always easy - maybe even tough at times - but needful. So put away the angers and bitterness as they distract us.


Col Potter told one that if you gonna love someone, it isn’t easy. When things are difficult, you learn to love them a whole lot more. Miyagi would say “no matter what, always breathe.”


Wisdom is witnessing God’s cosmic plans for us in us - in our breath. It is living in the truth and sharing that truth to those around us in our compassion and empathy. 


Yes the fierce lions will have hunger, but those who seek God’s way will have all we need (Ps 34).


To our original point, wisdom is understanding that we are not the only ones harboring wisdom.  All God’s children have these gifts, and thus, we must make space for God and for our neighbors so that we can learn the many ways people come to God.


Loving God and loving neighbor are not always easy, but these are divine ways to have a better life and better community.  Loving and imitating God as children of God may not be easy, and Jesus tells us this. Yet, if we choose Jesus, we choose to walk a path with so much potential - a path that leads to rewards for us. 


That is wisdom. Open your heart to life, the bread of life, connect with people. The compassion of God is poured out for you and for you to share. Speak with truth and from your heart! Pour out your forgiveness and blessings. Then watch the whole community flourish and grow together because we connect to something much bigger than ourselves. 


We are part of the beloved children of God with all those gifts shared with us. So sit down with some cheesecake and friends. We don’t have to worry about our brokenness because God forgives our sins with an “ocean of forgiveness” every morning. We don’t have to wonder if there is enough because God replenishes our souls every morning with grace. That is not our doing but wisdom from God. Find that wisdom in your heart and see all you need in God. 


That, my friends, is real wisdom.


Thanks Be to God

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Bread of Life - John 6

Bread of Life

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

1 Aug 2021


Reflection based upon John 6:24-35, John 4, Psalm 78, and  Ephesians 4:1-16


Opening prayer


Beloved, I have told somethings about my grandmother, and today, I will share one more with you  My grandmother used to make an awesome bread that had to eat the crust and all- was great with her homemade jam and butter .. oh it could be described as “bread to die for.” 


I remember the flour drawer, how quickly she could take water and yeast and within a few minutes have span in the oven.  The whole house would fill with aroma of baking - even on a hot day, you knew something good was coming.


It was so good you ate the crust, especially paired with her awesome jams. It’s not like whole crowds would come to share in the bread (although with our family size, you might describe that as a crowd).  


I never learned Grandma’s recipe, and as much as I rave about her cooking, she would not compare her bread to that which Jesus gives.


Her bread is brief sustenance or may go bad (e.g. perish), but maybe the focus is upon the wrong things. Her awesome cooking lasted us couple hours; Jesus gives us bread of life. Jesus gives life.


First Jesus challenges the crowd “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  Grandma or I can bake wonderful, but I don’t have a crowd running after me for them.  That is what Jesus observes here. There are misunderstandings that Jesus means to clear up.


To help us understand this misunderstanding, let’s look at another text.  Today, I invite you to see the parallels from John 4 with the woman at the well.


I love this dialog between Jesus and the woman that comes out to draw water from the well.  Jesus is just sitting there, he tells her to “give me a drink,” and they have curious conversation about faith.  She challenges how can you ask me to draw water for you. Jesus says if you knew God, you would ask for living water instead. She inquires about this “living water” - where do you get it?


Jesus tells the woman, that everyone who drinks of the water from the well will be thirsty again, but the water I give will bring “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:13-14).  


The woman beckons “…give me this water so that I may never be thirsty …” (4:15)  


After this conversation, she questions how we find God, and Jesus tells her “God is spirit and those who worship [God] must worship in spirit and truth.”  There it is.


She lets Jesus fill her heart and proceeds to tell everyone to come witness Jesus for themselves.  “You gotta see this.”


Similarly, Jesus answers in this in the Bread of Life discourse “Do not work for the food that perishes.” (6:27) The crowd asks Jesus to give this bread always. (6:34)


Jesus reminds us that the bread we eat is perishable, but the bread from Heaven is much more than just grain meld.  Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and … will never be thirsty.”  Jesus answers the people in the crowd and the woman at the well with reflexive - “I am.” 


The uniqueness of Jesus is the presence of God embodied. Jesus’s whole life in John institutes the Eucharist.


Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to use our senses to help find the spirit working - in tasting the great wines at the wedding (2:10), quenching our thirsts from living waters (4:10), blind gaining sight (9:11), the fragrant perfumes used by Mary to anoint Jesus’s feet (12:3), and hearing difficult teachings about the truth and life “..for I came not to judge the world but to save [it]” (12:47). Jesus reminds us that feeling is ok - just like a woman giving birth, the hour comes when the child is born, anguish turns into joy. (16:21)


Jesus helps us to use our senses to find God’s spirit in many ways. We may not always get God, but God gets us.


God answered Moses’s question by saying “YHWH” or “I am.” Jesus directly references this, but moreso, Jesus helps us to find God inside of us. Jesus reminds us that great presence is intimately inside us. Let God tickle your heart.


We all look for explanations.  In everything there is a season, you can witness God right there all along - teaching and guiding us. In some things, it is difficult to witness something so great, but when we give time and space, we can witness God when we let God flourish in us. We can search and find there is so much revealed for us.


Let that majesty be what you feel -right here. When you sip beverage, taste the presence that is there.  When you share a meal (or bread) with people, witness the spirit moving among you. When you smell aromas, let your nose help you find God in the space between the spaces.  When you see grace, don’t avert your eyes. Let God reveal to you how beautiful this world is. When you hug your spouse and children, witness God’s presence in the touch of compassion, love and grace.


When the crowd and the woman asks, give us this bread always (or this water). Jesus responds God already has. We may feel flawed, broken and messy but you see beloved, God has perfect recipes and made you!


God has given you life, all the joys to answer your struggles, and all that you need to quench your thirsts. 


Yes God made us in her image as her children. And together we make God’s community. “God in me recognizes God in you.”


Every day you wake, God is there. God is life, the bread of life - our daily bread - Not just words we say in prayer but life. The question for you is do you believe it, and will you let God’s bread be yours?


These are the necessary ingredients that you have been looking for, and Grandma doesn’t need to slave over hot ovens for it. This does not have a shelf life. You dont have to be in hurry or worry to get your share because God gives the bread of life for all of us. That is all you need. You, made from the perfect recipe!


Let your soul be nourished and fulfilled. 

Let God be your living waters and bread of life!

Let God be with you and sustain you.


Thanks Be to God. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Empower and Speak up - 2 Samuel 11

Empower MeToo

Tony E Dillon Hansen

25 July 2021 

 

A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 11:1-15 • Psalm 14 • Ephesians 3:16-17

 

Opening Prayer

 

There is delicate balance that must come with bringing God into the center of government (e.g. politics) – to be wary of letting religious power go to one’s head to abuse political power.  David, like any human, is a flawed person, and here, David reveals some of those flaws. David manipulates power in several ways and the Bible is highly critical of these errors.  “It highly unusual for ancient literature to criticize powerful and successful kings” (JSB, p622), and so here we are. 

 

This week’s lesson reminds us how manipulative power can do some serious damage to people. This is a lesson for us to learn from them - hopefully to prevent future occurrences - Teaches us to empower people.

 

Traditional  View

 

I grew up reading this and hearing about this story in a traditional way from a perspective of adultery by Bathsheba and David (both married to different people), David already has 6 wives (a 7th, Micah is locked away).  Yet, this implies some “agency” on the part of Bathsheba. Worse, some read this as her asking for it.


Midrash Interpretation


When we studied this text in seminary with midrash from Dr. Wilda Gafney who positions a deeper perspective of Bathsheba, we almost universally agreed this looks more like manipulation of power and violence against Bathsheba. In fact, this feels very much like a MeToo moment in the Hebrew scripture because it mirrors countless cases today. 


Curiously, the story starts by noting David is not where he is supposed to be (aka fighting with his armies). Some might suggest that “she came to him” (as it is written) but was that really voluntary?  Consent you ask? I submit to you that she did not have the option. “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent.” (Gafney, p214) She could not deny the request. David is king; this king wants what he sees; the king thinks he can have whatever and whomever he wants; and the king just sent people to get her. 


It is fair to say the scripture does not suggest David using force against Bathsheba. Why she doesn’t make a scene on the way out forcing to dragged out? Gafney suggests this is her holding a “shred of dignity” by not being dragged out or worse. David holds all the power.  Bathsheba is in no place to deny the king. 


Bathsheba contrasts David by performing Torah-rituals of cleansing for 1) herself and then 2) due to the sexual encounter (whether consensual or not).

 

David uses power to get her; she cannot deny him.  There is no mention of how she went home (whether under guard) or how difficult it may have been to learn that she now carries his child. But she finds strength to deliver these words, “Im pregnant.” Then, David follows bad behavior with more… murdering her husband along with his troops. This is destructive not just for her life but for many. Nathan and God scorn David for this.  

 

Bible does not ignore

 

Should we ignore these uglier stories for the good ones?  Well if we did, we live in a fantasyland where everything is rosy. That might be nice for a while.  Personally, I cannot ignore these ugly truths, the church should not ignore them, and neither should we as a society. No matter how despicable or painful this is to consider, we need to address these stories.

 

They serve as lessons for all of us.  The Bible is not just a feel-good book for us, but a look at all aspects of humanity and our relationship to God.  The Bible challenges us to be more than who we are and challenges us to be the best our humanity can be.  Thus, there should be no real surprise that the Bible admonishes this. 

 

Even though we read how David was blessed to bring God into the center of the people. I wonder if he forgot what that power means.  David allows power to cloud his brain into thinking he can do whatever to whomever (like property) he wants and commits serious wrongs. Yes, there is no victimless sin or crime. 


For Us Today

 

We know this happens today, and thanks in part to #MeToo, there is serious dialog about this. Manipulation of power and assault does real damage. 

 

I have seen the horror this can do and the emptiness it causes upon a person.

 

If this has happened to you, know that it is not your fault. You are not alone. Know that God is with you.

 

The destruction and soul-shaking cannot be understated. To make matters worse, victims are shamed into “she/he wanted it” glossing over what happened - like that one song. That is patriarchy working.

 

That disregards people as property - might explain some of David’s attitude here.


As Survivors

 

We are not just property, and we are survivors. We are children of God.


No matter how much we try, we, as survivors, cannot simply numb or drown out our pain because it doesn’t just go away. There is immeasurable guilt and shame attached to these. The questions of “why me” and “how did I let this happen” festers with that shaming. As survivors, this will be carried for life, and our stories must be heard. 

 

We help survivors by walking with them and listening to their stories - not ignoring them. I cannot solve the personal pains, but I can walk with people and be mindful of my own failings and my words. We all can. Then we can heal.


Further, we must empower people, especially young women, to speak up and speak out.  To prevent things like this from occurring, we must be willing to teach that is ok to say no and for all people to accommodate that “no.” 

 

Does Bathsheba let this define her? We don’t know much about her emotions or words said, but she does move on. No one can change the past - undo painful history. We can only learn to live in today. I want to hear her “confront David and demand respect she deserves.” 

 

With scriptures, with what Jesus teaches, and with this story, we are called to listen even when the message is difficult.  We cannot and should not accept being property to anyone. We remind people of their responsibility to our neighbors - beloved of God.


More importantly, find comfort in knowing we are not alone, and that there is someone for us where we can be safe, without manipulation and without judging. There is God.

 

We are reminded through this story to empower and to teach our children and community the good way: the God way — rather than destructive disregard for people, especially from those in power. God made you more than just someone’s property, and blessed with personal dignity. 

 

We are all God’s children: broken, messy and beautiful. We deserve life that values us as worthy. We have choices, and remember too, God will forgive those willing to make amends.


God forgives and calls us to forgive - Forgive ourselves and those who trespass against us. God invites sinners to healing by acknowledgment and repentance. Nathan beckons David to contrition. Perhaps that is why David does not “abandon her to starvation or to survival” - read trafficked or worse. We cannot force Bathsheba to forgive and we don’t know if she ever did. That is between her, God and David. We don’t know how hard it was for Bathsheba to live in that house, but there is always God’s forgiveness from contrite hearts. 


Our stories will be heard when you speak them. Our lessons will be learned when you teach them, and our community will be strengthened when we empower voices.  

 

From Ephesians, I pray that God strengthens and empowers our inner beings through the Spirit and that Christ may dwell in all our hearts. Find your power grounded in love. 

 

Remember that God is with you and that you are worthy of God! Be empowered to walk with others and listen to their stories.  Be empowered to see the truth and see that God is there for you! Be empowered to speak up and speak out!

 

Thanks Be to God