Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Exegesis of Scripture

Exegesis of Scripture
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
26 Dec 2016

How one reads the Bible parallels to how one reads philosophy where points being made may be interpreted by people in different ways based upon a number of factors (e.g. historical context of writers, cultural context of readers, originalism or experiences).  There is, however, a distinct difference between items from Plato or Hobbes versus the Gospels or the verses of Isaiah.  Canonization, levels of faith, Scripture as a living text, and emotions may also influence how we come to the Scripture. As well, we have to consider the congregation perspective.  With the many influences upon the text, we can find more ways the Word can teach us.
Through my work as a Deacon and Stephen Minister, I have learned how people come to worship with different expectations and also how they come to faith and life challenges in diverse ways.  This extends into Scripture hermeneutics.  A minister may interpret the scripture with many things in mind, including doubt, which challenges prevailing interpretations of traditions and the Bible.  Yet, we have to be able to relate that interpretation or challenge to the diverse experiences currently in and around the congregation.  Then, we may question the congregation about aspects of the story that may have not been considered yet.
Therefore, we have to consider what the conditions of the congregation are, in addition to our own. For example, when the recent shooting took place in Orlando, we might need to see how a praising scripture lesson in the lectionary relates to people’s sorrow and bitterness. Whatever is closest in mind of people can have a dramatic impact to how that relates to the Word. Thus, nuances in the text in the Word might give comfort and be transformational to people in serious need.  
By bringing the Word into current contexts, people can recognize the living Scripture and how God is still speaking rather than the Word being stuck in ancient times.  We can see the canon reveal to us stories and ideas that transcend time, generations and culture. Transcendence becomes useful to relating the Word to the people.
My experience of attending two different Good Friday services shows this idea. One sermon interpretation was focused upon rhetorical symbolism of dying for sins, but the emotional and relevant impact was somewhat lost in the rhetoric. I did not feel what befell Jesus or understand the connection to today.  The second helped to bring the torture and pain of Jesus into the room with us in attendance. In this interpretation, one could feel the horror and pain of Jesus on the cross and how that state execution story transcends to today. This presented the execution in terms of modern uses of torture as social devices to quiet revolutionary speech. With that day on the cross, we were taught a lesson (one often forgotten) about great missions that have powerful legacies. We were taught an ugly truth about humanity that wants to quiet (at all costs) great ideas that can free people from suffering.
Also, using story scenarios to vary the characteristics of the text helped to change the literal into something more culturally relevant.  By using a scenario of a news reporter on a passage, I found a way to tell the story of the text in a way that I had not previously considered. This provided literal dialogues with the Scripture by asking characters in the story what they felt, heard or saw. There are potential reflections in the stories that may change over time and become more relevant to cultural contexts of today.  Again, with the Good Friday lesson, what if we asked the people in the crowd witnessing the execution of their emotional impact?
These ideas help me to pay attention to aspects of the story described in the text.  These characters, plot points and settings are specific symbols that people may also interpret differently.  In addition, scholarly commentaries and dictionary references can help to find more paths from the text in order to expand views and contexts.
In writing a sermon looking at Isaiah 6, I found myself writing and talking about service, and I realized that I was describing aspects of my dad. It was challenging since this sermon was foreboding of the reality of my dad’s situation because I delivered a version of the sermon at his funeral vigil. With that, I had to tailor to the congregation in attendance (one, an interfaith group at a retirement home and two, a prominently Catholic group at the funeral).  These groups understood and heard things in different ways, but the theme of service, Isaiah’s feelings of unworthiness, and calling by God were universal.  The challenge was  to maximize the themes for the greater benefit of all.
When reviewing the Scripture in Matthew 4, some of my knowledge of Asian traditions that have distinct parallels became relevant to the plight of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  There is a remarkable similarity in the path of awakening started by times of fasting by the Buddha, fasting by Moses, and fasting by Jesus. This is an important time in the mission of Jesus while he was praying and fasting to begin ministry where many lofty things were in reach, thanks in part to his relationship to God. Even more, this story of Jesus is similar to people facing ugly questions of life and temptations that make us consider the worthiness and reality of an easier, shinier path versus the right thing to do.

The Bible brings to us many stories, experiences and ideas about humanity that we are challenged to find the message of God that is speaking to us.  The Scriptures may have been written centuries ago, but the message and the ideas live in us today. The question for us is how to make that inspire us and lift us while remembering the sacrifices of Jesus, the prophets and the Disciples as well as the importance of that message they sought to bring to us.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Experience with Cancer Part 1

A few months ago, my parents informed our family that my father had a rare, incurable form of leukemia that affects people by increasing the white blood cell production from  the bone marrow.

It was a shock but we were blessed with a notion of time in years before the disorder would run its course.

A few months pass after that and we recognize that despite the new powerful medicines, Dad was taking on a lot of fluid, and his belly was ballooning.  After a few discussions, we convinced him to visit with the doctor.  They went to visit with the specialist at the VA and the doctor decided to pull some of the fluid out of his body for tests and admit him for more tests throughout the following weekend.

To be honest, this put my mother at bit of ease because she did not have to watch him at home with no idea of what to do.  Whatever it was, we hoped to get an answer and he was in the care of the VA hospital. They gave Dad several treatments to help get better Xrays, MRI and CAT scans; some that made him essentially be chained to the toilet for hours to do this "cleansing." On Tuesday afternoon following that weekend, we were summoned to a meeting with the doctors to get a prospective or diagnosis of what they learned over the past few days.

The news trickled over our ears as we patiently tried to understand the terminology and diagnosis they were giving.  The prognosis changed from years to months. I could feel the anxiety in the room just flow as the doctors took turns describing what they were finding.  (His tests were not done yet either.) They finished their analysis and a Catholic priest from the local parish happened to walk into Dad's room. Dad and Father start talking.  I and mother found a reason to excuse ourselves from the room. We were both in a bit of shock as the gravity of the news started weighing. Stage 4 carcinoma and months and it is spreading- they want to do more tests - do not know the source - radiation was not an option and chemotherapy may not be as well. What do you with a death certificate that is pre-dated and nothing to do or say about it??.

After making a couple calls to some family members, we found ourselves in a bit of disbelief. mother and I went to the chapel area while Dad spoke with Father.  We couldn't hold it and both cried together as we were trying reckon what information was just given to us.

The doctors proceeded to keep him for a couple more days and found even more cancer and tuned the prognosis from months down to "weeks."  So within a short time, we had a bucket list to be accomplished within 5 years narrowed to a small window of a few weeks. Perhaps the doctors were wrong again about the time.  As far as Dad was concerned, he looked at Oct 20 at his and mother's anniversary date for a target.

In memoriam - Ernest Hansen

Today (Nov 26) we gave full military honors, tribute and tears to our best servant, my dad Ernie Hansen. He heard the call and answered (Isaiah 6:8) He served his wife, his country, his family, his patriots, his friends and God. He passed the torch to us. May I, and his family, be always worthy of his example and follow his service. With faith, honor, duty and love, we commend him to You, our Redeemer. 

May God shine light upon him with grace always and bless and keep his wife, my mother, Rose, now and always. May peace be with him and mother on this journey and know that we do not need to be afraid, thanks to your work Dad (Hebrews 13:1-6:18-19) We ask our Lord to make way for him with the light and the path to Your arms. (We will play a couple rounds of euchre next time see each other.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

When the Phone Rings

When the Phone Rings
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
21 Nov 2016

Ever get that awkward anticipation,
That feeling of sudden wonder,
something’s amiss here.
Suddenly, the phone rings.
It’s an odd ring, weird, scary even 
with bell tower chimes in the distance.

A familiar voice is on the other end.
Don’t get alarmed but the prospects are not good.
how does one reconcile that?
For whatever that prospect is, 
the alarm was long wasted. 

Now, the pondering of the things left to say, 
the words forgotten, 
forgiveness yet to give,
a next project on the list, 
wild vision of worlds yet to live.

With this call, someone tossed a rock through the bedroom window
Shattering the peaceful pane into a gruesome mess of cutting shards
And now who gets to deal with this and why me.

As the call completes, the task is to collect oneself
Sweep up the shards knowing
A real task is on the horizon.
Trying to understand what is happening
Trying to determine where to be and when to be there
Are supplies needed? 
a backpack, a pillow, a toothbrush, faded picture, 
What to do with the broken glass?
Don’t forget the pot on the stove.

Do I call someone else and invite them to the prospect?

When the phone rings,
Another familiar voice arrives;
With a quiver, we invite them into the prospect.
There are pauses as words are framed.
The question is beckoned, “Are you ok?”

With hesitation to counter, 
Niagara Falls does not have enough water to describe the number of tears that flow. 
Through the flood of emotions and floating courage, 
the prospect is shared.
This voice was reassuring and consoling.
T’was Time to pick up the pieces.
After the heart-felt conversation, a return to life considering.

Time to plan moves and needs.
the plan is flexible and aided by thoughts of goodwill from many
A thought arises, “we can make it,”
even beyond the horizon.

When the phone rings,
Another voice, similar to the first, is heard. 
The conversation is concerning and intense again.
A big shudder as a layer of hope is ripped away.

Despite setbacks, 
and with plans in motion, 
space for developments is found
shaping them in the corner of the room
sculpting with a great mound of clay.

When the phone rings, 
Another friendly voice to help with the molding.
There were laughs from many days gone past.
A mutual encounter is booked and 
The shape form is continued
Not really knowing what the outcome is going to be,
moving the clay around with curves and edges.

A leathered book was placed next to the clay
one full of wisdom and sayings for people walking and wondering.
Curious what purpose brought this here.
Open to a page, read of gardens and boats. 

When the phone rings,
Palpitating, sweating and dreary to answer.
It rings louder, yelling to be understood.
Unsteady and decidedly, another voice is played.
Another layer of hope is torn. 
The results came back and they found more.

Nothing tastes good.
not much to soothe the hurt.
They will try this and that, 
but success is not an option.
The prospect is nearer.

Damn it, why did I answer?

Back to the plan and the clay is forming.
There is room here for some plants. 
Potted chrysanthemum should do fine 
For texture, color, and ease,
to complement the changing mold.

Our mold has got smaller somehow.
The edges look familiar;
the shape is beginning to show.
Inscriptions on the form appear.
Toned, eerie whispers surround.

The phone rings,
Trembling and shaking, 
the friendly voice returns to relieve.
The prospect is not today, not yet,
And so let’s propose another social 
To regale of those memories and plays
With sips of love, dance and bonding of joyful tables.

The mold is recognizable and forming before the eyes;
can almost hear the circles and piece come into harmony;
can almost pick up the sculpture.
Yet, the potted bloom is tired.
Page of book turned to exile and return. 

When the phone rings,
Questioning, timing, fearing, exhausting.
It summons and trumpets loudly- almost screaming. 
The solemn voice, the prospect is near.
Weight is down, pain is up.
The smell of the body wasting.
Tend to your affairs.
Hope is but a dash. 
Nothing more will be done.

The mold is cast and real.
I can pick it up, cradle it, hold it close
Splendid plan in display
Flower in slow decay.
Book is pulled to remaining verses 
Many stars, a dragon, horsemen, scores of people.
Holding it and looking

Then it rings.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What a Dream!

Wow What a Dream!
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Sermon based upon Isaiah 6:1-8

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

Picture This…

You see the LORD— crowned and covered with a velvet coat on BIG throne floating over us on clouds with many angels around having a BALL singing praises

The LORD leaned over to you, yes to you, and closed your eyes and said your sins are forgiven. Are you humbled?

The LORD then prompted your chin to look and asked, “Whom Shall I send?”

For me, like Dory from Finding Nemo, I excitedly raise my hand and say “Pick me!!” — Did you feel like Dory?

Did you envision God, what did you see? Were you asked anything else? What did you say?

This image was among the first that I had of God from my youth.  Of the 66 chapters of Isaiah, we get to read about this BIG image of God. This becomes a well-worn image that has been used to describe God through to this day.  

It is also note-worthy that in the tradition and time of Isaiah, the temple was normally closed to people, and there is much speculation of what happened behind closed curtains.  Yet in this exciting image, the curtains were suddenly “thrown open” into full view of an amazing spectacle, quite similar to what happens when Jesus dies.  

The tribute and adoration of this dream bring strength and calm to Isaiah. In this point of the book of Isaiah, we see Israel in a time of great prosperity, the prophet relays awe, a confession, thanks, and wonder through this dream.  Isaiah is called to serve.

When have you been called to service? This seems typical of my life that I get pulled into doing things whether I meant to raise my hand or not.  Has this happened to you?  An auction maybe?  

Many moons ago, I met with friends and colleagues about putting together a festival of celebration for the community. We talked about what we wanted and how we wanted it.  There were some grand ideas and good conversation until someone asked, “who is going to lead this?” 
The silence was penetrating, but I mentioned something about experience working on festivals before (Not leading them, but working on them).  Guess what?  Like a goofy gloat, I did not see the rest of the people step back from the line.  I became that person.  Incidentally, I learned a bunch during the time leading that effort, but it was a work in progress.  We pulled it off, we were not sure if we were going to, but we did.

When have you been called to service?  For all of the veterans, military and civilian protection, let us give praise and thanks for the service and respect for those whom gave their costliest sacrifice.

In this text, Isaiah is being called to service in a time of political turmoil. Isaiah says he is unworthy. We see God forgiving and purifying the prophet after the heartfelt confession.

Now, how are we called to service you may ask? According to Jesus, we are called to service many times in our lives.  Are you ready to serve and are you ready to answer?

When you support your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your country, somehow, you get to help with something you never imagined. You learn from it, you grow from it, and sometimes you create some fond moments! What do you say to these requests? Were these not moments when the Lord asked for you to say, “Here I am!” ?

A friend needs help, your dad finds out he has cancer, your child is hurt in an accident, or a tornado goes through town. What do you say to these? I may not be worthy of You, but “Here I am! and Lord, how can I help?”  Were you afraid?

When the Lord called upon me, I was awakened but afraid.  What are you asking of me and why me? Yet, the call is real and it is time to answer, “O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

When you were called by the Lord, what did you say? Did you recognize the face, the voice, or the ideas?  What did you do? 

O Lord, we may not be worthy to receive you, but only say the word so that we can be healed.

Lets come back to this dreaming, There was a Great Dream…

That one day, our lives would be peaceful, without war and un-tempted to shed more blood.

This was a great vision that we would not be suspicious of each other and instead live in harmony.

This was a Great dream that we would raise the flags together and commemorate the grace of our country and community— in blue states and red states alike with hands connected together as the community of this great country;

In this dream, we would not yield to divisive politics, not yield to racists gestures, nor be blind to inequality but instead in this dream, understand our common humanity and work together— to walk the path together;

In this dream, we would provide shelter and call on Isaiah for fair justice of all of our brothers and sisters no matter where their ancestors called home;

In this dream, we would be able to share our many scriptures as equals and not condemn others for reading something else;

In this dream, our differences would be our greatest strengths for today and inspire our futures to carry the torch that was passed to us.

Have you see this vision too? Have you believed this too?

Yes, there is a great dream that God gave us everything we needed, and we gave thanks every time.

There is a great dream that God smiled upon us and blessed us with life and liberty that no one could take away— Not today, not tomorrow, not ever! No one can take away our God-given liberty.

There is a great dream that the Spirit saved us from insolent pettiness and wildernesses of despair to give us hope and a path to success.

That Great Spirit helped us let go of the chains that held down our community and gave us wings to soar beyond repression. We will not be held down when we have been granted so much by our Creator. 

In that Great dream, we were saved from almost certain doom. And, we were given the light and assurance to go forth and to believe in what we can be.

Again have you seen this vision too?  Have you felt it? If you have, that Spirit is working in you too.

That Great Spirit has called us to serve and to provide for our community. We do not have look with dreariness anymore because we can have hope and know that the guiding Spirit is with us always. 

Thanks Be to God.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Prayer to Overcome Divisions

Should I be scared or should I walk among the proud who play by the books and respect each and have love for family and foe alike? Should I walk among those who give disrespect? Should I be scared to worry about life that has taken a turn?  Should I cry the victory was not mine and cry fowl? Should I be unfaithful? Should I be with no hope and lost?

No I say!  The Spirit that guides is always here and by every side, not just the winners versus losers. The Spirit knows all struggles and is prodding us to find our way wherever we are on life's journey as a person or as a country. We may not understand why, but we are granted access to this infinite Wisdom that can carry us both friend and foe. Maybe, this is time to reach across and to hug someone from another culture, like Jesus did. Maybe, this is time to embrace our loved ones when security feels so frail. Maybe, this time we learn from assuming we are always right. Maybe, we comfort each other as people of faith, of love and of our country. Let us be at rest and find faith in our community and our Redeemer to help us through anguish, division and pain. Let us also work to find that faith and strength to struggle on for equality, fairness, and safety for all, with compassion and our Loving Creator's love being with and around us.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Why Did You Do it - Exodus 32

Why Did You Do it Aaron?
Tony E Dillon Hansen

A sermon based upon 
Exodus 32:1-14
Luke 23:34

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search= Exodus+32&version=NRSV

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

In the wake of storms and floods let us remember those that are struggling with what nature has brought to them. May they, their families and colleagues find grace and hope in these times. 

In the spirit of our scripture reading, the Chicago Cubs and legendary sportscaster, Harry Cary, “Holy cow!?”

For us here today, I would like to consider the question of How easily we forget the lessons of yesterday for the temptation of today.  Let us consider, How easily we get bored or get roped into doing something we know we should not do? Consider how do you make up for our own mischief and big mistakes?

So lets do a summary what has transpired so far.

Many trials, locusts, bloody rivers, and lots of deaths occurred while we are in Egypt to free the slaves to make this journey to Israel.  Moses develops a speech impediment to prove to Pharaoh his obedience.  Moses is now considered leadership with his brother Aaron to take the Jewish slaves to this “promised land.”  By “some” miracle, they cross a large sea and did not have to face the wrath of the Egyptian army.

We get to Mt Sinai, and Moses decides to go for a long talk and walk (a sabbatical) with God in the mountain where he is to receive the Torah from God. Unlike a sabbatical today, Moses does not tell anyone how long he was going to be. The people are quick to forget why they are there, what happened to get them there, or where Moses is. They begin to cry for something to relieve the boredom and questions — they start some mischief.  

‘When the cat is away, the mice will play’, as the saying goes.  

This sounds like some mischievous times in my youth as I can recall some times when my mother would go to the store and rather than taking us with her into the store… (I don’t know why she wouldn’t think that would be great fun.) …Mother would say something like “I will just be five minutes.”  Mmm-hmm. 

She would wisk away and soon enough, we kids start picking on each other in our boredom and eventually turns into some nasty spells.  When Mom returns, there would be some tempers flaring as she tries to put bags away, get in the car, heavy scoldings and kids screaming. You may think Mom may want to leave us right there in the parking lot.

Yet, this is not going to settle well with God or Moses. 

I guess Moses thought leaving the people with Aaron would be a responsible idea, but Aaron gets roped into building this calf.  Guess he was bored too or could it be a little sibling rivalry?? After all, Moses was getting all of this attention from this mysterious God in the mountains. 

It might be worthy to remember that Aaron, Moses’s older brother and once-upon-a-time head priest, may feel a bit used, abandoned and stiffed by his brother Moses.  Perhaps, Aaron wants to restore the feeling of being the leader instead of being a perpetual sideshow. Therefore, it might not be too difficult to be the center of attention again.  Maybe or maybe not. 

This “un-holy cow” was going to test people, and I am sure that Moses uses different words to describe this “bull” to Aaron, which also describes the excuses Aaron provides for this.  

We know that later passages suggest that Aaron tries to shed blame for the misdeed, and we know that Moses casts deadly punishment on the camp — which God had not done. We have to ask, will God forgive us this time?

Through all of this, We end on a note of compassion and mercy from God when Moses reminds God of the covenant.  Through this intercession, we avoid a serious catastrophe, and further, the LORD continues to walk with the people into the Promised Land and beyond — Even though so many participate in the bull project.

Even though God does so much for us, we continue to fail. What do you when you fail: learn and correct, or forget and dodge? We have to remember that when we fail it is up to us to correct our behavior because God remains there for us, to walk with us, and incidentally, is still speaking to us.

Through Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and more, God spells out the mission of love, mercy, social justice and compassion that we are to uphold. 
Even though we fail so many times, that Someone still loves us.  But Why? 

As revealed in Genesis, we were made in God’s image and then provided the tools and creativity to take care of the world that was made for us.  God has a lot invested in us, and to just toss us away, that would be throwing away that tremendous investment. 

Plus, God still believes in us —thanks in part to Moses and later Jesus. Maybe, it is for this reason that God continues the work with us— hopefully, we understand how lucky we are.

Even during my mother’s angriest tirades at our wonton mischiefs, she was hurt too; 
we, children, would plea for mercy, 
and she would end up finding some way to remind us of her undying love for us.

Maybe we might share a little gratitude to God for all of the times that we have tested the divine patience —to be grateful that we are not alone despite all of those times.
Perhaps that is how lucky I am to have my parents and how lucky we all are that God loves us.

Thanks Be to God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Taking a Step on a Journey

Member in Discernment Begins
27 Sep 2016
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

May the word my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to thy sight our Rock and Our Redeemer.

I first have to thank the Discernment Committee, my husband (Bret-Wayne), the Deacons, the Chancel Choir, Stephen Ministers, the Church Council, and Plymouth Congregation as a whole for helping me to start, to reflect, and to contemplate this journey.  There is so much you have given to me already that it pales in comparison to what I can give back.

I believe this recognition and recommendation to be a powerful and solemn reminder of the privilege of being a representative (a minister) of the good people in our world.  

I strive to be the best that I can be and to be always worthy of this recognition that the people of Plymouth bestow upon me. 

When I do my work, and perhaps when the day comes that I am called to ordination, I will remember and keep your trust in me and my work because Plymouth has become a home. 

I am humbled to be your servant always. 

I remember being called in my youth—but not finding the right reasons to answer that. I had to learn and walk through a few wildernesses (and I imagine more to come.)  I have only a vague idea of where this is going and so, I am putting faith and trust into God’s call.

I do know, I have had to endure a lot of events in life. With the help of training, education, mindfulness and God, this journey has already given more peace and patience to me.  

I know that many more challenges await me as I progress in this process and beyond, AND 
I know that I have found a home in the UCC and Plymouth. 

I first met with cynicism the words from this Church about being welcoming as that is how I came to think of organized religion. Plymouth, however, answered some of my questions and caused even more. 

I enjoy the phrase from our Church that says to ”grow” in love. That word “grow” is important to because it recognizes that change is a universal constant. That love will grow over time if, like a gardener, you tend to the work of planting i.e. love.

My theology has transformed considerably from my youth into what I understand today and will continue to evolve.  I went from rigid doctrine-defined embedded theology to progressive and deliberative theology. While I have reverence for many traditions, I went from confusing doctrines to a cohesive understanding about the complex-but-simple Way, enlightenment, inclusion, compassion, the Buddha, God, Church and Jesus. 

I have much to learn, and I am more willing to walk and to learn with you more than ever before. 

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but they happen. As I said in a recent course discussion (some wonderful people there with thought provoking ideas), we have to be prepared for the hour as in the parable of virgins from Matthew 25. If we are to leave a lasting and good legacy, then we have to be prepared to showcase our good life when we are no more. I believe that this is how I will “showcase" my good life. 

If I may suggest, I might understand why Pope Francis would use the bus instead of chauffeur transportation as a bishop and priest. I ride the bus to work (one to help my finances) but because, 2, I get to be reminded to grow with all parts of God’s kingdom that Jesus tells us to do (John 4: 7-15). 

Do what Jesus did and go to the watering hole so you can grow with the community. My what mass transit systems can show us a lot about the community we are living and about the faith we have. 

Some may call me a master in martial arts, but more importantly, I am ALWAYS a student. Like being a martial arts instructor, I know that whatever I bring to the community and the Church, the Church and the community will teach me more. I know I will evolve, and I hope to help Plymouth to continue to be a beacon of hope, trust and faith. 

My brief ministry experience, so far, has taught me about the peace and honor that comes with this work and I am seeing opportunities to “grow” this experience..  

I pray that I, my family and my work continue to be worthy of your recommendations here and to be a force for positive energy and faith in our community. 

Again, I am humbled and thankful to be God's Servant and Your Servant.

Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Thanks Be To God.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pastoral Prayer 11 Sep 2016

Pastoral Prayer 11 Sep 2016

God Our Redeemer, Hear Us O Lord!
We may hide our shames and troubles from you,
But you give us a chance to redeem, to have hope and to take new steps.
We may not fully appreciate what you give to us (forgive us),
But you still allow us to learn and to grow.
On this September 11th and anniversary of horrible tragedy,
Let us be mindful of your good works and your good love.
Let us walk in service to your Truth and guidance.
Comfort those who were hurt and who lost people to the violent acts.
Bless the First Responders that perished and those that serve today to make Your world a bit safer.
Guide Us in our healing and learning from these senseless acts.
Forgive those who bring such evil upon the world—then proclaim Your will be done.
Forgive us for anger, vengefulness and our own unfaithful deeds.
Let us instead realize and share your love and forgiveness—
So that there is more peace and less anger in our world.
Let Us not hide from you but guide us to seek you.

From 1st Timothy,

1 Timothy 1:12-17 (NRSV) - Gratitude for Mercy

12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Does God Cry? - Luke 14

Does God Cry?
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A sermon based upon 
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (UMH 803)
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14


“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

I would like for you to consider the question, “Does God Cry?” 

Have you had someone in your life that you loved so much and did so much for them (say a friend, a child, a sibling or parent even) that would always seem to find way to “test” your devotion to them?  I am sure that my parents may have felt that about me from time to time, if you want examples. Interestingly, this situation has even happened to me as well. 

When we love someone one like that and continuously get disheartened for our effort, some things happen inside of us. At some point, we start to question why we have to be constantly “tested”, disobeyed, used, abandoned or simply ignored by those people that we have given so much love. We begin to wonder about the nature of the relationship and what inside it does to us. Did we let ourselves get “duped,” or what part of our love earned a willingness to be disgraced?

These are just some of the emotions evoked and shared by God in the passage of Jeremiah. We can see how God is reminding us of the great and wonderful things that has been given to us.  Yet, we continuously want to ignore those good things for something cheaper, less reliable and less God. 

I can think of people going to a store to buy a cheap appliance over and over and wondering why it keeps breaking.  We keep relying upon our money, ways, desires or attachments (much like those cheap appliances) for an illusion of happiness today without remembering or asking for the true grace that requires us to do some things that honor God. We don't have to ask why the illusions break so easily — we can simply come to God.

God is calling to us to share in those good, reliable works that is God, like a fountain of living water instead of tired, unreliable or broken vessels of emptiness (money, idols, etc). God is calling us to do good work.  What is good work — you might ask?

Paul in Hebrews reminds us of a few ways of “good work” by honoring God through: love, hospitality, taking care of outcasts and prisoners, keeping marriage vows, avoiding greed, and be willing to come to Jesus. These are great ways to build a good faithful life.

Instead of expecting instant or empty rewards, we can share in the fulfilling grace of God. 

By giving, we truly receive.
By forgiving, we may be pardoned.
By humbling ourselves, we may be exalted (according to Luke in Chapter 14)
By inviting to all, we may be welcomed by Jesus.

If we want to live our faith fully, we must acknowledge that we are blessed to be a part of God’s kingdom, and that God is the source of true fortunes and grace. Again from Luke 14, We are asked to share the gifts and grace that have been given to us with all people in our community— including the outcasts, the poor, the weak, and the different because God’s kingdom is not exclusive to the wealthy fortunate.

So, we must be willing to forgive. We must be willing to remember where true grace happens. Remember how you felt when you felt when you were ignored, but be willing to forgive because God will.

Again, Does God Cry? Where is the Lord?

While we may decide we have had enough of someone’s dishonor to us and maybe even end a relationship over it, we can know that God is longing for us to come home.  God is crying for us to return to the fountain of life.  God wants to share love with us and give us gifts— when we are willing to do our part of the covenant.

We have to do our part, to live our faith, and to give thanks for what we have (even if it feels small). Let us not be careless with what has been given to us.

God is waiting,
God is hopeful.
God is love.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Being The Change (with Some Candy)

Being The Change - with Candy
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A sermon based upon 
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13


“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Have you ever thought you had done everything for a project that was asked, and even perhaps went above and beyond the requests to deliver exceptional quality for a customer? Did you get to the customer looking for payment and your customer points out that a task was missed.  The customer won’t show praise for missing an apparently important element.  

Let me give a couple examples of this. 

My parents would catch me on this a bunch when I was younger. (You can tell can’t you?) When we thought we had chores done, there were a couple times when Mom or Dad would review and realize the work was half done or something important not done (say folding the clothes) - Oh, the grief that would ensue.  Dad would remind us of this error in very elegant ways thereafter even when would do great things by saying something like “half-‘done’ work is not done work…” You are going to have to do the work at some point. 

Ever wrote a great paper for a class, but the grammar for the paper made it difficult to read? No matter how good your work was before that, papers from that point would be more seriously scrutinized.  

The bowl of M&M’s

Rock legends, Van Halen had a way of writing contracts for their shows.  A rider in the contracts would spell out that catering by the promoter would remove brown M&Ms from the candy bowls or forfeit the cost of the show. Instead of thinking about this like a punk-rocker request, there was a serious reason for the rider. Van Halen promoters would be getting serious money for setting up these large, heavy rock and roll concert stages and large lighting displays. The idea was that if you had the foresight to seriously read the requirements and deliver the quality of stage for Van Halen, the payout and prestige for this operation would be enormous. Otherwise, the damage could be substantial, as was the case for a couple promoters. 

How does God do this? He gave us commandments and a covenant. 

The story in Hosea is a condemnation and warning.

Jehu has caused a lot of blood, partially at God’s command (2 Kings), but the Lord means to teach a lesson for some things (the brown M&Ms of the Old Testament). Jehu may have thought he did everything God asked. Perhaps Jehu’s bloodthirstiness is a reason, but Jehu’s continued break of covenant has God concerned. Perhaps Jehu didn't ask for or want God’s forgiveness.

Turn to Hosea, the prophet is instructed to marry a prostitute and to bear children. The first with a name for a very fertile valley in Israel, Jezreel (meaning something along the lines of “God sows”). Lo-ruhamah (meaning “not pitied” - not happy), and then Lo-ammi, (meaning “not my people” - abandonment.) With each “child”, God becomes less patient with the continued break of covenant and is warning that forgiveness has limits - then walks. 

Showing Our Work.

When I was in algebra class, I was instructed to show my work not just the answer. The answer was far less important than how you achieved it. 

When we read Paul’s remarks, Paul again is talking about marks of faith (i.e. circumcision) but he is talking about being the faith instead of showing faith.  Whatever we do to show our religion is not the same as actually living the faith. To truly have love for God and for neighbor, we must be the love. Also we must be respectful of the sacrifices that have come before us that got us to where we are today. All the good work you can do today is because someone provided the opportunity. In this case, Jesus, through mission and crucifixion, liberated us from the hallow hypocrisy of one dimensional religion and politic that devalues and excludes people from community.

Further, if we are to be true of faith and to be followers of Jesus, we have to be mindful of the gifts given, and to be willing to be love. We have to remember from where the gifts have been provided; that God has forgiven us so many times; and that we must also forgive. 

This is what we are reminded in the Lord’s prayer.  

Then, we hear the Gospel lesson about asking for “help” with a persistent nature.  Jesus tells us that when we search, we will find if we are willing to persevere - knock and a door will open eventually.  Jesus doesn't tell us what we will find; what we will see or hear on the other side of the door.  Jesus reminds us that searching does not guarantee instantaneous returns but returns that require more diligence. Again, faith is not about flesh marks, poetic sayings and grand churches, but about how we do things - everyday .  

Patience, persistence and neighborly gifts are important to our faith and life.  How is that possible in today’s world of instantaneous action, 140-character, off-cuff remarks, and empty prayers or gifts? 

If we do not take the time to consider what we do and how that impacts people, our love of neighbor is mere shallow words. If we only read the easy, how are we to understand the elements that are required for us to build a real foundation? Diligent effort and respect will get you results. 

We will miss the brown M&M rider from God when we do not truly consider what we do. This is part of what God is saying to Hosea (and Amos) in the scriptures: that pain and suffering will happen for things like: 
wanton forgetfulness, 
stubborn ignorance,
a slight-of-hand remark about Muslims or immigrants, 
a racist joke, 
trespassing on a neighbors property, 
that one lie you told to…, 
a greedy deal you sold, 
or disrespecting someone else’s need to be heard. 

Whether you realize the fault, of all of the things you do with good heart, those events when you do something disrespectful will be how you are viewed now, especially if you keep doing them. If you are not attentive of what you do and how it impacts the people and world around you, that disfavor will catch up with you. (Karma) 

Again, Even God has limits.  God gave Israel three strikes (according to Hosea represented by the children and diminishing names) before proverbially throwing hands up and saying you are on your own until you are ready. Yet, the pain of punishment may yield good favors if we persevere to make our path good. Yet, Jesus reminds us that God forgives if we are willing to ask for it. 

How to receive requests

Jesus does however suggest that if people are asking from us, that we should be honorable in our gifts.  If you want things in your life, you must be prepared to give in kind. Any Child of God deserves to be treated with the respect of another. If you deceive a Child of God, how could God trust you?  Again, according to the lesson from the prophets, if you are deceitful and disrespectful, that is how you will be remembered.

What is the snake and scorpion that Jesus refers? Think of the last couple readings we had from Amos.  Deceit, mistreatment of the poor, greed, gluttony, and idolatry are causes for punishment. There are a few politicians that could better realize this.

Jesus reminds us that every deed we do comes with this inherent requirement of fairness and scrutiny from God.  We are to treat our neighbors as good dutiful friends regardless of how they look (e.g. black/Hispanic, LGBTQ, feminine/masculine, rich/poor), what they believe or how they speak.  Jesus and Paul tell us that our actions on a day-to-day basis are more important in representing our faith than empty gestures of marking, boasting or yelling. When your actions are full of compassion and grace, then God will continue to bless you with forgiveness. 

In this world of turmoil and pain, a fellow Stephen minister reminded us of the wise Gandhi who said to be the change you wish to see in the world. 

If you wish to see compassion, be compassionate. 
If you wish to see help in the community, be the help.
If you wish to see generosity, be generous with your heart and hugs.
To see love, be the love.
To see laughter, be real laughter.
To see Peace, be the peace.
To see good health, be healthy. 
To see thankfulness, be thankful.
To see forgiveness, be forgiving.

Forgive our debtors and our debts will be forgiven.

Thanks Be to God. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Preparing the Way - Luke 10

Preparing the Way 
Tony E Dillon Hansen

A sermon based upon Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

There are a couple things that come to mind when we look at the text for Luke 10.  I would like to consider Luke’s text in terms of how we start a mission by picking a place.  I would then like to consider how one conducts themselves in this mission. 

In Mark 6, as I am sure many of you will recall, Jesus instructs the disciples to go out in pairs into towns ahead of them.  In Mark, we witness similar notes of how to conduct themselves with respect to people on the road and in the houses. 

Luke goes further with many more involved in the mission and talks about harvest needs in the towns. Are we talking about the old agrarian needs like my farmer grandfather wanting help on the farm or is there something else being suggested here?  Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work!  The harvest, however, that is implied here is of the people themselves rather than of a grain harvest. 

Great!! —If you know farmers like my grandpa, they could have always used more people for arms full of hay bails, acres of bean walking, long nights of grain harvests, and dusty corn shelling. That is, of course, how I envision my preaching mission.

How to Pick a Place?

When our family goes to look for a place to live, we may be willing to consider some features that appeal to us like location, friendly neighbors, kids in the area, crime potentials, accessibility, or … does this house or neighborhood look Democrat or Republican - Does it look like us?

There is a bit of carpe diem and faith in these passages, given the notion of going into these unknown areas and homes then staying there. Nothing more is provided about how to determine which place to pick.  We are not told to choose based upon whether it is nice and well built, whether it is able to hold people, whether it is tired and small, whether it has guns or looks friendly, or whether it could be a community shelter with roaming collective of immigrants, unemployed, disabled or angry people. You have to pick a place and the first one that accepts is your objective.  Jesus is saying in so many words here, “Have Faith. It will work out.”

How Do We Learn and Grow?

There is where you will learn about those people because they have already decided to welcome you into their midsts (step one of ready for harvest.) These missions are told to bring the message and to embrace the customs of those that welcome them (learn about them and enjoy their hospitality as proper “guests” should.)    

This beckons a story of two Zen Masters: a visitor and a welcoming Master. Upon arrival, the visiting Master begins to talk about the great things his students were doing, and to talk, and to talk, and to talk.  Every time the welcoming Master suggests some idea, the visiting Master is dismissive and keeps talking (oh we have that, we do that and we have something better…) The welcoming Master then invites the visiting Master to tea and begins to pour tea into the cup and continues to pour over the cup’s limit into his lap.  The visiting Master complains that “the cup is full” and asks why the welcoming Master has clearly let this tea run over.  The welcoming Master explains, “like this cup of tea, your mind is full of ideas and opinions where you will not learn anything more until you empty your mind.”  

When the missions present themselves and their message, they are told to learn and to adapt to the new cultures rather than forcing opinions upon others. We know that eating habits are core to cultures and cooperation. Jesus calls the missions to bring the message into communion with their culture and with openness to learn from them what they are willing to share.  Then, we can grow together. We have to prepare our minds to grow with what we encounter. Otherwise, we miss the opportunity to learn valuable lessons, cultures and ideas that may prove useful to us today or in the future.

So, when we return to the choices we have (places or otherwise), that choice will influence what we learn and how we learn.  If we always pick from those with similar appearance, political stripe or culture, how are we to learn and grow with our neighbors that we have, let alone those we have yet to meet?  If we pick the same thing over and over, how do we improve or change? We do not have to agree nor do we need to shed our beliefs. Yet, alongside the missions sent by Jesus, we are tasked to learn the different ways people come to life, to the Way, and to God because each of us has something to share. 

Just trying something different provides us with discovery of tastes, smells, art, challenges and joys that are in lives all around us.  With this, Jesus is telling us how we grow in love of neighbor and God. 

Yet, if these towns do not welcome, the Arabic custom of wiping dust off shoes is how the missions are to behave - Nothing more and nothing less (and not shoe tossing for insults).  For instance, a problem with tossing shoes is you might have to retrieve the shoe, or you walk barefoot until you get new ones!  Maybe, these people have recent grief or simply do not want visitors today, but Jesus says to wipe away and walk away today. Perhaps, there is a more appropriate time for these people, but we cannot make it difficult for future success by providing buyers remorse today.

An interesting concept is that as other towns (and people) become welcoming, so too will the not-so-welcoming towns by witnessing the good results that happen in the welcoming communities: natural alignment. It is the nature of life and society where people want the good things- to experience the good: aka God. Yet, they will experience at their own pace and willingness. That sounds a lot like the United Church of Christ??!!  

A Retrospective

Once we find success, we need not gloat or become boastful.
Once we find success, we must carry on to the next.
Once we find failure, we must carry on to the next.
Learn from your work, be thankful, we must carry on to the next.
That is the essential of the second part of the scripture.  

Even the missions could not believe their own faith had worked for them when they brought back stories of wonderful successes. Jesus gives them a retrospective of the graces given to them while also reminding them to focus upon the enduring work ahead of them.  

Power, faith and a good harvest that get used to force others into submission is a destructive mission to the greater mission.  Wealth, social status, religious ostracism (like against LGBT), terrorism (like Boston or Turkey), burning a Quran or systemic violence (like racism) are ugly versions of this where someone (or some people) used good fortunes via the Word of God to justify prodding anger, sheltering hate or inflicting pain.  

Nothing good becomes of “good” words and works when that is then used to harm any of God’s children (believer, non-believer or different believer).  

Thus, this lesson is not just for ministers, preachers and missionaries (or even good table manners.) This lesson applies to everyday people facing daily challenges and choices on how to take the good and the not-so-good. Do your work well, be open, respect, learn, reflect and prepare for the next.    

For us today, we are called into mission by Jesus to go forth, to share the message and to learn.  This is a mission that was started in Genesis where God commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”  where we have to look at what has been given to us and be willing to make the most of it. 

Jesus tells us to start somewhere and let that be your path. 
Jesus tells us to respect people that we do not know 
Jesus tells us to respect those that need to hear the Truth.  
Jesus tells us to respect those that do not want to hear the Truth today.  
Jesus tells us to empty our cups.
Jesus tells us to open our hearts and minds.
Jesus tells us to enjoy the meal in communion.
Jesus tells us to savor the moments we get. 
Jesus tells us to let the Word and the Way build.
Jesus tells us to be thankful!

This is how Jesus tells us to prepare the Way.

Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Not this day

Go ask Alice
is it obvious
downloading and waiting to load
historical hysterical
wary and awkward with none more
wheres the line
the horizon hidden by clouds and darkness
wild resistance but unknown why
a catalyst or a realization of reduction, less options
to walk alone, to walk no where and to sit without purpose
to be used  and to use 
to cry behind an empty smile
to fain excitement for pathetic
disabled, loss of worth, loss of courage

a fiction and hallow words echo in chamber
click, look and amazed

to expose and to be exposed
tired and worn, a crisis
consequence of horror and memory of pain
Bridges burned and smoldering ashes in the field
tight and constricting with no more facades
resignation and resolve

I am the cause and I am the reason and I don't know why
Go ask the rabbit running down the hole again

exposed my fear and my desire 
response of uncertainty and unsure, ambiguous signs
what is the purpose what is the reason what was the cause
life and gods
imagine and perspective traps

thought I could share but not today
thought I could live but not today
thought I could sing but not today
thought I could feel but not today

a path to no where with no one and of no grace
alone, empty cup of coffee and hurtful chest
pills for what
to be involved but the scaffold is falling
logic flow and portion low

I have done what I could and built more with hope
the hope is false and then taken
why wait 

a decision considered, a decision made, a decision a guess really

no more distraction, no more expectation, no more interruption
no more need, no more obstacle, no more worry, no more care
no more

walk away and feel free 
learn and be peace
cry no more and wait no more for you have been released …
be comforted in that yours have found a way gone
an end, a restart for you
a sleep and rest for your work, 

feed your head

I will take your pain with me