Sunday, May 22, 2022

Ubuntu - Acts 16


Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Acts 16:11-15, Psalm 67, John 14:27

Opening prayer

Ubuntu is the name of a Linux OS. One of the reasons I enjoy this OS is because of its name. Ubuntu. “I am because we are.” Say it with me: Ubuntu.

Why do I bring this up today? 

We meet Paul and Silas on the way to Philippi in Macedonia. There they meet these women spending a wonderful afternoon by the river. They were praying and talking. 

We have seen this before. Missionaries saying, “have you heard the good news?” Who invited them?

Yet there is something else here. Imagine meeting these folks and trading these stories about spiritual wonders, Jesus, lives changing and beauty of all people.  They heard visions of love, grace, and community. They heard personal stories of challenge and triumph all because of this God.

Prayer has a way of doing things and getting people to listen who don’t want to listen. Prayer can help people come together as community. Oh what a blessing we have in that ! A good, welcoming community versus our divided world that would rather show a pistol than shake a hand, a world that demeans differences, a world that defines itself on money, likes, guided by distrusted governments or religions that push mantras of success based upon power, wealth and exclusions. Our broken world around us gives us heartburn, headaches and endless worry.

So yes they heard Paul’s group talking about this other world, this world of Jesus, one created by God for us all, one that has a place for each us to use our gifts, one that has its challenges but it has true community. Utopia! This is the community of God and you are invited! I am sure with questions.

When you pray, invite to share your thoughts, concerns and questions with those around you.  You may not agree everything, but people will witness personal, honest concerns (education, health, family and friends). Witness hearts full of love and welcome having similar concerns and questions as themselves. Let God be with you - Meeting in that commonplace: perhaps some utopia.

Lydia may have been skeptic of these ideas, but she listened. She may have even questioned the messenger, Paul. She may have heard how they were cynics and skeptics with the sins they have committed - because we all fail.

Yet, she heard them talking about community and religion in a different way than the corrupt world around them. She heard Paul say (and we have read Paul write) “I am because we are.” Ubuntu. + “We are because God is working through us and with us.” 

Lydia witnessed, saw something Christ-like in Paul and friends thinking “I want part of that.” 

Suddenly, God opens Lydia’s heart. The idea, the spirit, of good people doing good things with each other moves her.  I can imagine how she may have had tears of joy and not sure why.  Her heart becomes light and free.

Maybe it was like a Peter Parker moment.

She leans into Paul saying, “alright mister fancy pants, Christ-in-your-heart” do it. I am right here. We are right here next to this river. You and your friends, baptize US.”  She was so moved - she says let US be baptized. 

The woman of the house has spoken. The spirit moved.

She says, “if you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” Ubuntu. She invites: people she barely knew. She may not have seen eye to eye on everything, but her witness is real and her invitation is clear - “come and stay my home.” She became church. They became church. 

She heard about Jesus invitation and welcome. She in turn welcomed because she witnessed “I am because we are.” Ubuntu. She witnessed the faith and Christ-like in Paul’s friends. She wanted people to witness that in her and her house. 

I am because we are. Ubuntu. We are because You, God, are so good to us. 

We meet people every day who are skeptics and cynics. We meet folks who barely let us get word in edgewise, some so bent on misery, people corrupted by lies of social media infatuations and materialism. 

They just need someone to show another way - to witness a way of peace and love. We meet people all around us that want a personal invitation to feel the love of God.  

Be like Lydia! Be the church and be the welcome you seek. Let them witness Christ in you - the good way. They will want a part of that. Invite them to pray with you - with us - with God - with eager hearts - and come they will. God’s mission of love is ours too.

Open your hearts to the spirit of baptism today! God is working among us and with us. Come and stay at home with us at St John.

I am because we are. Ubuntu. We are because You, God, are so good to us.

Thanks Be to God

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Hearing Hope - Acts 9

Hearing Hope 

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, John 10:22-30

Opening prayer

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, and Mothers Day! So we read from Psalm 23, a text often used in funerals. Consider how different it sounds in the spirit of Easter, resurrection, and springtime.

In John 10, Jesus, our good shepherd, tells us the sheep hear his voice and follow. Confirmation students tell me that sheep in their flock know them. Further, Jesus gives life. 

Want more life, read some scripture and read comics. I hear people tend to live longer and people could use a good laugh these days. So daily, I try to read Garfield and I read devotionals - hope. 

Acts 9, meet Tabitha/Dorcas a disciple from the Greek city of Joppa. Disciple meaning a student that witnesses and devoted to good work.

That is what we see here. Tabitha is described as devoted to good works and acts of charity. She made clothes and she was known by many.

Tabitha dies. Peter is summoned, comes immediately and performs this deed. (As opposed to Peter an apostle, is one who is sent.) Peter then calls all the saints and widows to witness what has happened. Tabitha heard Peter, the sheep hear the shepherd.  All in the community heard and witnessed.

God is doing something here; bringing people together to witness the work of God. There is inclusion here - all genders. There are support groups, students, and teachers. The whole community comes together. 

Note: People going to church to live longer as well. Maybe it’s the good news, maybe it’s the community and fellowship. Maybe it’s the support we have.

God is showing and revealing to the whole community. God is helping us understand the role of disciple is to hear God, to serve, and to support each other - to care for my neighbor. No one is left out.

That is so much different than the world around us; seeking to divide and exclude. This world around us measures folks based upon account balances, where you live and the clothes you wear.  This world around us promotes that we can only live and be with certain kinds of people - our measure of self is based upon those around us that have worldly materials and connections. 

That may be all well and good, but what do we do with those materials?  Better question, How can we make our world a better place? Probably not with more division and more measures.

Instead, God brings us together in service to support each other wherever we are on life’s journey.  That is God’s kingdom among us. Hear Jesus calling you to service, community, and yes some laughter and good news. 

That goes beyond church too. UBFM often works with another organization called  Joppa. Their mission comes from this Acts 9 passage. The least of us need the best from us. We all need each other.

People want to hear their name and to be treated with dignity and respect. People come to God from different ways of thinking. Great, let us learn together those ways and  many voices. Let God bring us together.

We all have challenges and we all fail. Thus, we need community - church, to support us along the way, to find God working with us. 

Read again Ps23. Who has helped to restore your soul? Who has led you by still waters and walked with you through the valleys of evil? The paradox of our faith in shepherds as sometimes they are sheep in need of shepherds. As community of faithful people, sheep and shepherds walk together and know your name.

We need Tabithas and Peters doing good works and acts of charity, but mostly, all witnessing together the work of God among us, supporting each other in times of need. 

When you look around the room, notice who is here and who is not.  This is your church, your community. There are more beyond these walls.  Who needs to be welcomed and to hear their name? Who needs support? Look to the left and right at the people and the spaces. 

Our church is not so rigid as to exclude - so we need to reach out into our community. Growing this church is duty of all. To do good works, to hear others around us that need community. We invite them to witness with us, to welcome together, to hear together and to grow together. 

Its Sunday morning. Wake up to good news and fellowship. Get started right for another week. That is why we do church - to hear some hope, to gain life - even laugh with a comic strip.

So in the morning next to a devotional, maybe look at a comic, laugh a little, share them. In fact, come to church and share your laughter.

When we do that, when we truly open our doors, hearts and minds to God speaking and working, then we will truly see God’s kingdom working among us.

Beloved, witness God speaking to you, supporting us, and laughing with this day.

Thanks Be to God.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Road to Damascus - Acts 9

The Road to Damascus

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Revelations 5:11-14, Psalm 30 and Acts 9: 1-20

Opening prayer

This is a conversion story for two people encountering Jesus in different ways.

We know the feeling of working on something and then something just strikes us odd or different.  We can’t explain it or quite picture it, but what we have been doing is somehow needing to change. We have been a path that has worked for us, but something changes. No reason why. Its a phone call, there’s been an accident, the layoff after 15 years, a visit to the doctor, the season-ending injury or parents trying to teach children. 

You see and feel the difficult; we must meet the moment. 

Good thing is that we will and we are not alone. With a team, you work through the fog. You hear, learn, and grow together. Then finally it happens, the promised land - something you never anticipated arrives. With some help, we find understanding; we find gifts.

From wherever you are on life’s journey, encountering God converts hearts into new ways and new life: seeing with grace, love and extravagant welcome.

Sometimes, people refuse to see, but God continues, tickles us and speaks to us. In fact, Jesus has supper with the doubting and deniers.

There will always be someone that threatens because they have not experienced this life. They only know broken and confronting culture. They deny because they have not experienced how Jesus challenges that brokenness with new life. Thus, the encounter of Jesus is counter-cultural. It’s personal and communal. 

As Christians, give that life that experience to your neighbors through listening and welcoming love. Why?

“If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread offered is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. . . . You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive.” We do Christian so that when people see us they have no doubt that Jesus is here in us - revealed in what we say and do.

Thus, Saul encounters Jesus with Ananias - real people with very different viewpoints. The Lord speaks to Ananias and lays out plans for Saul. Ananias has heard a lot about this one. You can almost hear the “no way - not this one.”  Yet, Ananias listens and does what is asked. Saul gains sight.

Ananias revealed Jesus to Saul. Where would Saul be without Ananias? Where would you be without that someone who helped you?  Where would you be without community? 

Better yet, how can we be that encounter in our community ? 

Help turned someone’s “mourning into dancing” through listening and welcoming. Have faith that the holy spirit will take the worst and change that to good. That is the power here. Paul, where he is on life’s journey, is welcomed with the power of the holy spirit (with the help of Ananias.)

Life is full of challenges and grief, but we evolve. Hope is tangible and a gift to be discovered and encountered with the spirit. Sunshine in the bread.

You who question, you who doubt and you who put up curtains to keep out the light of God, find God peaking into your heart to reveal to you through each other.

God is pouring love over you! 

Beloved, open your eyes to see all that is so beautiful in creation. Beloved, you who are hurting, be healed. You, who are wondering, see that you too are beautiful; you are a child of God.

Be that child for those around you and let God surround you and be you. Close your eyes and hear Jesus calling you.

Even when everything is lost, find Jesus! Believe there is someone to help - by the grace of God, yes by the grace of God - Experience the dramatic change from refusal to full embracing love.

Don’t take it from me; take it from God! Experience the risen Jesus in your heart and open your eyes Beloved!

Thanks Be to God

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter Miracles - Luke 24

Easter Miracles

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 24: 1-12, Psalm 118

Opening prayer

Let's wind the clock a short bit. Thursday brought us windy winds, then relative calm paralleled the story of the anguish and tumult that Jesus endured before fateful silence. Yet in the darkness, we saw light - light shining upon the cross and before us today to remind us that God’s power (God’s love) prevails over violence and anguish. God’s showed us a path to victory. 

Why? Because you and I are worthy. 

Now today is Easter - Hallelujah! Today is marked with miracle because this day itself is miracle. Discovery at the tomb leads to confusion gives way to recognition.

Why do miracles happen? Why do people try to explain them away as some farce that ought to be forgotten? 

We could do that and lose a moment of teaching reduced to happenstance.

We could sit and argue over why miracles happen. Doing so, we would forget that miracles do happen. These women remember what Jesus said with what they see.

A colleague of mine once said to me, everyday he wakes is a miracle. Yes this day is itself a miracle.

As a martial arts instructor, I have witnessed a few miracles as well like when a young girl who discovered she can break a board with her bare feet. Or how a parent and child grew a bond together as they rose in ranks.

For years an acquaintance and I did not see eye to eye. Then one day, we sat down and started talking; we learned about each other.  We remembered history and we still had doubts, but it was perhaps a miracle that we spoke after so much between us. 

Miracles contain blessings and discoveries not anticipated - some good news. If we explain them away, we lose what is truly there.

Still some contain our contributions. That means you don’t experience it alone. We contribute with effort and prayer, and then let faith and hope guide the next step because all things are possible with the help of God.

How do we explain the runner crossing the marathon finish line that years before doctors said she wasn’t going to walk, how a martial artist became master instructor after blowing both knees. How do we explain cancer that goes into remission? 

Our Gospels says Jesus does the ultimate - victory over death. The discovery at the tomb wasn’t some circus show, but recognition of victory over the gruesome and brutal torture (a Remembrance of what Jesus said).This miracle contains blessing - the freedom from bondage from sin.

This miracle was not just for one to escape death but for us to find life through Christ. 

Through this miracle, we have the blessing of freedom and the gift of life through this spirit. All of this is possible through God.

Yes there are miracles that contain our agency through training, discipline and skill, but maybe, a miracle is that we didn’t give up hope and faith; didn’t give up on the possible. Why because all things…  

Maybe, we have help along the way. You don’t have to walk alone. You are part of something bigger. Let God help us learn what is possible.

Miracles are lessons that with hope and faith, we persevere. They’re lessons that reveal God’s love and work in our lives - that we don’t do this alone - because we cannot. We need each other and we need God. That is why we come to church.

People like to say otherwise (e.g. No one helps me; I can do it all myself). A little idolatrous don’t you think? To think you have all that you need and all the answers, please write a book because people want to learn from you. 

Whether healing from injury, repairing friendships, surviving and recovering from a tornado, building a church, or simply raising a family, they don’t happen/grow on their own. They require care, effort and faith. Will there be mistakes? Probably. Perfection? Perfectly yours. Thank God, because all things are possible… 

In the darkest days and nights, when things are not going the way we feel they should, that is when we need strength to persevere. That is when we can reach deep and find that miracle of Jesus, the life in Christ, helping to build that strength - setting purpose and path before us. 

We may not understand the wisdom or see the end game, but wisdom of the divine is there. We go forward with God’s blessing and assurance that there is possible. 

Miracles are blessings because we believed the possible and prayed. We have hope; all is not lost. We believe there is a mystery that lifts us in greater purpose than we can imagine. That, my friends, is for you and for me today. We are set free through Christ’s victory to free us from the chains of sin. Why? Because all things

Finally, our task then is to share what we learn and what is possible with others. Like Mary witnessing so long ago shared the good news with the others. 

Our neighbors around us need that just as much as you do.

We are called to grow in miracle love of God and of neighbor - called to witness and to be a blessing for those around us. To show others that through God all things…

So share your smile, prosperity, helping hand, comforting arms and listening ears. Let the light shine upon you and be gracious to you. Let that light flow - be a miracle (a blessing) to others that God has been for you.

Through the Easter victory, we are set free to live in freedom together with our neighbors in Christ’s life of love. 

This Easter Christ is risen indeed hallelujah!

Let all things be possible for you too.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

What would the stones say - Luke 19

 What Would the Stones Say

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 19:28-40; Psalm 118

Opening Prayer

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We Shout hosanna! 

Shout hosanna - Why? - a good question

The symbolism of this marks a stark difference between the kingdom of God versus the Rome  on full display. 

Rome is full of pomp and circumstance, soldiers, swords, people wearing rich cloaks, horses - all on display to demonstrate the greatness of Rome with no doubt who is charge.

Jesus walks in from another gate into the city with multitude of ragtag folks, welcomed by people on the fringe, pulling branches from trees. There is a borrowed donkey, cloak used for sitting instead of wearing, even throwing some on the ground to be trampled by donkey and people alike, and Jesus - full of hopes, expectations and mystery.

Why is all of this happening? What have people heard? Who is this coming into their midsts? 

Roman Triumphs were for Romans and the leaders celebrating victory.

People ride on horses, in carriages for people to raise their heads to look up at them, upon the glory of these from a distance. They demonstrate public dominance - of the conquered “don’t even think it” - a reminder who is in control - For even elites and all to understand who the master is - it aint you.

Jesus “triumph” is all about the people and God. This entrance is all about life, hope, and upending traditions that take away life. For regular folks (you and me). You are worthy of celebration. God is throwing a party, you and I are invited. 

People bring their hopes and dreams “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We Shout hosanna! 

Who do they think this one, Jesus, is? What do they expect Jesus to do? Some throw around these-titles of Messiah or king. What does that mean & What did they hope to find and see? 

That raises the deeper question of us here, Who do you want this Jesus to be? What do you want Jesus to do?

Take a look at Luke 19:40, these stones.  We have seen stones periodically these past few weeks. 

How did we make ordinary stones into something extraordinary? We passed a blessing onto them. Do you still have your stone? Your blessing? What does it say to you and why? Incidentally, it might say something different to you today then before.

The stones have been here before us, seen generations pass and will see more. What do they tell us today? We need saved and the good news has arrived!

Jesus is coming into Jerusalem to bring good news not just the countryside but for all people. 

People need hope, need reconciliation, need love and they need God. Maybe, that is what the stones say. The elites can dance all day on their parades, but we need our savior in Jesus - who brings hope, forgiveness and love. For this we shout hosanna!

Why? Because we are a child of God.We shout hosanna!

Jesus isn’t for just a few but for all. Glory is not just for those well-to-do, in horse-drawn carriages, with rich cloaks and military parades. God’s glory is for all.

Jesus is for the people who are forgotten, left out and pushed out. For this, We shout hosanna! 

For you and me who are doing the best we can, we who fail here and there - For this, we shout hosanna!

For those who work for a living, who navigate this world to raise families - to be good people. For this, We shout hosanna! 

Jesus teaches us to be with each other because we need each other instead finding ways to divide each other. For this, We shout hosanna!

Jesus walks among the crowd -  accessible and real not just a sight from afar or via social media, but in real conversation, real listening, real comfort, and real love.

This contrasts the world power; one that makes some afraid of worldly wrath. Fearful that those with all the so-called world power, in all its brokenness, will come down harsh upon this celebration. 

Quiet the people Jesus. Jesus says “even the stones would shout.”

Why - for they too come alive in this moment. For the young, old, the poor and the questioning. Those looking for victory, for hope, for strength, Jesus comes. For this, we shout hosanna!

Today in Christ, Beloved, behold all that we are and all that we can be - together.  

What would the stones say? Maybe, they are blessing us with hope, faith and love of generations. 

Listen carefully. God is speaking through them, God is coming, God is blessing.

Jesus brings celebration despite clouds of threat and violence- Jesus brings certain blessings of liberation and forgiveness to you.

It is time to shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Shout hosanna! 

The Lord has come for you! Shout out your frustrations and worries. Now Let God’s blessing be yours. Receive it, feel it - live your blessing!

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We Shout hosanna! 

Beloved, let your heart sing!

Thanks Be to God

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Homecoming Party - Luke 15

 Homecoming party

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Luke 15:11-32, Psalm 126, Psalm 32

Opening prayer

This familiar parable about two siblings may be Jesus is retelling the story of Israel via the fight between Esau and Jacob over birthright. Who will win? Who will be angry? 

This is ultimately a homecoming party because God celebrates finding those who are lost.

It concludes Luke 15 that focusing upon finding the lost: sheep, a coin or family. This story is not just about the prodigal one.

In this parable, we can see examples of the people in our own lives today (which is why the Bible is a living text).

You have two different people: one who works and toils and one who is lavish and reckless; the person who save versus those who squander (those who do all the right things vs do not.) The Ant vs the grasshopper.

Remember in Luke 13 when Jesus was asked about the people suffering in Siloam. People thought, “Ah poor them; they must have done something to deserve misfortune.”

Luckily, there is the third person, the parent figure.

Still, the question that gets raised. Who is more deserving of God’s love? That question begs transactions for God’s love. This for that - give my work, obedience to get God’s love. Simple easy and very deceptive. Because it pits us v them.

Do what God says to get God’s love. Nice. How many of you are perfect? Those who have never sinned can throw the first stone.

Maybe there is a fear of losing or we get less of what we are entitled by sharing and welcoming? That reduces God’s love into something we give, which is in of itself disposable and small because it limits God to our terms - to stinking thinking.

God’s economics don’t work like that. God’s love is so much bigger, more forgiving than we can imagine, which is what we need and in the moment - forgiveness and reassurance. When we feel so unworthy and broken, God is running to cover us and kiss us. God is there to deliver us and wash us free from our sins. 

There is a lesson here for us parents too. Let’s teach to bless the stones instead of casting them.

For You who have done the things that God asks, be grateful that God blesses you. (Ps 32) “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God. Be glad and rejoice, o righteous and upright in heart, shout for joy.” God’s love surrounds those who trust -whereever we are on life’s journey. 

God’s love is not constrained by frail human brokenness. God’s love is there for us in abundance (a harvest of joy and celebration) for who have been fortunate , for who hope is restored, and for who are lost. God has done great things for us and we rejoice. 

For we who are lost, God restores you so that you too may shout for joy. (Ps 126)

Maybe the question is: Do you have faith to believe that God’s love is truly big enough for all? Or Is God’s love, blessings and even this church are just for only those who have done the necessary? Think of the words we say to start worship every Sunday. God is equally welcoming to all. Let go of all your toils, and all you think you are entitled. Let go of your misery and be found. Run to God’s extravagant welcome, God’s love - for all God’s children

Fortunately like our last lesson about the farmer and man talking about the fig tree, God gives us - the tree - more chances even though broken people may not.

Make room for God to flourish and to welcome. Let yourself grow in that welcome. 

When the prodigal brother comes home, the parent throws a party. God is throwing a homecoming party and invites all to attend, especially you. You the sinner and unworthy, You, the person away toiling in the fields, it is time for you to come home too. It is time to celebrate the homecoming of God’s family. The question for you is, would you attend?

Thanks Be to God!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Psalm 143 adapted

Psalm 143 (adapted)

A Psalm of David.

1 Hear our prayer, O Lord;
    give ear to our supplications in your faithfulness;
    answer us in your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgment with your beloved and humble servants,
    for no one living is righteous before you.

3 For the hostile enemy has pursued us,
    crushing lives to the ground,
    making us sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore, our spirits faint within us;
    our hearts within us are appalled.

5 We remember the days of old, we look forward to Your promise,
    We meditate on the works of your hands.
6 We stretch out our hands to you;
    our souls thirst for you like a parched land. Selah

7 Answer us quickly, O Lord;
    our spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from us,
    or we shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
8 Let us hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
    for in you we put our trust.
Teach us your way of peace and love we should go,
    for to you, we lift up our souls.

Inspire our eyes see in your path

    And touch our hearts that we may heal with your grace.

Inspire Your enemies to lay down their weapons

    And to seek evil no more in your sight. 

Guide us to be your love 

    To quiet senseless violence against your beloved.

9 Save us, O Lord, from our enemies;
    we have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach us to do your will,
    for you are our God.
Let your good spirit lead us
    on a level path.

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve our lives.
    In your righteousness bring us out of trouble.
12 In your steadfast love, cut off our enemies,
    and destroy the wicked leaders of our adversaries,
    for we are your servants in faith and humility.