Friday, September 15, 2017

That Was Not Heston - Exodus 14

Tony E Dillon Hansen
Last updated: 9/17/17 3:57 PM

Sermon based upon scripture: Exodus 14:19-31

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight. You are our Rock and Our Redeemer.

When many people think of the great story of Moses
and Israel crossing the Red Sea, they likely see the face of the actor,
 Heston, playing Moses from that age-old movie, Ten Commandments
 (or maybe the movie, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" from 2014 with Christian Bale playing the lead role.)

This story is rich with symbolism --enough to film it like a Tolkien epic with giant waves splitting apart leaving a valley for people to cross.
Then, we observe those giant waves crashing and destroying the Egyptian army.
There is a strong implication given the contrasts of natural forces versus the mechanisms of war.

This story is about being chased by a powerful army
that represents a past struggle that hopes to re-enslave or wipe out our people.  
Suddenly, there is God providing waves of change.

There is a point after the waves have settled that a realization takes place.  
At this point in the story,
we are at a new point in life.
– some call this a crossroads, a transition, or an awakening.
We must consider what happens when you have reached a point in life,
when things have changed,
especially after a long struggle (like our people in the story).

Yet, this is not just an epic of escaping cataclysmic disaster.  
We face these crossroad-type assessments and transitions today.
Something has ended and something begins:
You just got a promotion or considering job change, survive cancer, veteran or refugee from war, face retirement, or graduate school. 
One theologian likens Exodus to birth.
The types of transition we have are endless.
What do you when faced with decisions? 

Are we content with what we have achieved and just stop, 
or is there more to do on our journey?
Do you look for God?

It could have been easy for Israel at this point to say,
“well we have achieved freedom,”
and try to settle right there on the shore.  
Some people are tired by just walking across a room,
but Israel made a mad dash across the Red Sea to escape the terror behind them.
They likely are exhausted.  

God keeps going and instantly reminds us in many ways,
that there is something more to be done.
This is just a transition point,
and thus, it may seem like another daunting challenge
when that someone says,
 “there's still work left...”
even though you are so tired of trying.

You are on the other side of a change, trauma, storm or loss.
Maybe, like the people in the lesson,
 the tumult that was your path to this point has dramatically changed.
People in storm-ravaged areas might be asking these same questions.  
You find yourself staring at the next chapter of life,
questioning “now what?”

People don’t like change.
We know, sometimes,
those waves of change that God sends look like more struggles on the horizon.
 Yet, in the words of a favorite band of mine, Dream Theater,
“This is the life we belong to; our gift divine.”

To this point in life,
maybe you have been worrying about some darkness in your past (perhaps wondering if they might win the day.)
When you think about it, you may recall how God helped you to find a way to make necessary change in your life.
The direct result is looking at the wreckage and carnage of the past struggle.
Addicts might understand this as a moment of clarity.
Even in the moment, the transition,
the “what comes next” seems foreign and scary.

Further, the connection to waves and waters is not lost to our baptism here;
that God guides us and renews our faith
 through the waters of baptism and baptismal renewals.
Thus, we have transitioned through baptismal covenant,
and we have been better for it.

Still, in this point, the options are clear.
You simply cannot go back;
you cannot be someone that you once were.
You can look at your options,
and then use your intuition, your experiences,
or your gut to do what feels right.
A Promised Land is somewhere over there still,
and we can walk with faith
– one step at a time to get there.
Whatever way you choose,
you only go forward from this spot and this time.

Our Scripture tells us that we do not need to walk alone.
With faith, we can walk knowing that God’s steadfast love is right there working and nudging us to keep following that good path.
God provides us with those guideposts of love and hope
to get to the Promised Land that awaits.

A curious thing about these moments of clarity is
that despite negativity from the struggle,
we might have managed to establish a reliable illusion by holding onto that pain.
The struggle gave us a sense of consistency and reliability,
 like you could set your clock to it.  
You may not have liked it,
but you knew the pattern and you adapted -- not always healthy ways.
Now, that has changed; now what?

Buddhists refer to this idea as part of the Four Noble Truths. That when we end our attachment to suffering, we can learn to mindfully walk the Path (with prayer and meditation) to a “Promised Land” or what Buddhist would say enlightenment. The realization of the suffering (and our attachment to it) is a powerful first step. This is a continuing effort. When we follow the path, learn to adjust life and let go of what we are afraid to lose, we may be able to find the Promised Land.

In Christian terms, we might hear God speaking.
We also realize that we don’t have to walk alone. 

That struggle may have seemed easier to keep than taking these next steps.
I am not immune to this as I have decisions today that feel like this.
When I have been holding onto fear and anxiety,
I have observed God magically changing that (washing it away).

We are left standing there looking at the path to a Promised Land with altered vision because old threats may be gone,
but new challenges await. 

We also know the transition, victory, and realization ultimately raise new questions.
In this moment when you recognize that change has happened,
you examine what happened,
assess your goals, decide what to do next,
and then take the next step.

Take stock in the gifts God has already given you.
You woke up today and you are breathing.
you have food, a roof over your head,
Transportation and beautiful community around you.
It can be good to be thankful for these gifts.
They will be your foundation for going forward.

Do you just stop? Do you continue un-healthy ways?
How long will the next part of the path take?
Will there be more struggle and how well will I adjust?
The answer is yes; you keep moving and you will struggle.

With this awakening, we have the freedom to choose.
Yes, there will be new pains and new loves, but the past does not need to dictate today or tomorrow. You can be free.
We may have to learn a new way to live or do something we have not had to do.

That is part of the mystery of God where the path is presented with the potential of grace, promise and of course, more messiness towards your Promised Land.

We have realized something happened,
and it is up to us to decide to take the next steps.
 Then, we may find love within ourselves, with our neighbors and with God.
We can work together against the machines of war, slavery and injustice.
We may truly see the Promised Land laid out for us.
We can take that next step --and then another.

You don’t need Heston, acting like Moses, to help you because you have someone much bigger and much more forgiving. You have God; you have Jesus.

We can walk with faith and God’s love instead of holding onto the struggles of the past.  
We can remind each other how we are all shining examples of God’s love
and how we are all called as God’s children.

We know there will be more challenges.
Yet, with God still speaking and guiding us, that Promised Land is waiting for us. 

Take the next step you always envisioned you could, and look for God’s hand.

Thanks Be to God. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Let Love Be Genuine - Romans 12

Let Love Be Genuine
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
Last updated: 9/3/17 8:18 AM

A sermon based upon Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8 • Romans 12:9-21 • Matthew 16:21-28

Will you pray with me?  Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lesson given to us.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.  Amen.

Our scripture starts with a beautiful line that I would like for us to focus our attention today, ”Let love be genuine.”

I think the key word in this line, however, is “genuine” -- as in authentic and real.

Most good people have an idea of what is and what is not “love.” One religious leader (Pope Francis) recently equated love with tenderness, respect and devotion.

These are the “what’, and definitions and standards can be nice. Yet, standards need the “how.” Let me give a you a couple examples of what I am saying here.

As a chef, a recipe tells you what the ingredients and the oven temperature are needed to make the dish, but what makes the dish sparkle is the “how” (as in how it is prepared, how the dish is presented, and ultimately, how the dish tastes.)  The good cook and chef will pay more attention to how something is made.

As a martial arts instructor, I am less interested in that you have done something but more how you executed the technique.

Pet owners might understand a bit of the next one.

Whenever we leave the house and no matter how short of time we have been gone, when we come home, we have a welcoming committee waiting for us.  I don’t even have to open the door, and there is a wagging tail spectacle attached to 100 pounds of pure enthusiasm and bouncing coonhound.  No matter how our day has been, Reno unapologetically shows us and lets us know that he is excited to see us.

Romans may not have been written with dogs in mind, but Reno provides near perfect illustration of genuine, heart-full expression.

I am sure you have experiences in your life when you have felt genuine expression of love. The question is how do you share your genuine love.

How do you let people know they are loved? How do you receive being loved? How do you let love be you?  The “what” of words about love without action is just cynical words.

In fact, words without action or heart-full love is dipping emotions into a sauce of evil and expecting good things to happen.  That is how we get cynicism, injustice, and racism because we have left out the real heart-full love when interacting with our brothers and sisters.

An example of that happens in plain sight.  I have observed many friends and families spending time “together” while busying themselves with their phones, tablets or televisions (all while not having any conversations.) What is genuine here? Where is the tenderness when we are busying ourselves with screens of virtual worlds while ignoring those sitting right next to us.

Is that the kind of love we need? Remember “want” is different than “need”.

If our version of love is unkind remarks or prayers without heart, we might be missing something in our own lives.

Genuine love is revealing your heart and compassion. Thus, nasty remarks and heart-less prayers may reveal that we are missing love in our lives.

To further this, we have to be willing to share genuine love to receive genuine love, and thus, love is trusting. Trusting that love works is the way Jesus teaches us. Jesus did not say pray for just your friends. We should pray for those we disagree or from whom we have felt hurt (and not just the pretentious “Please-make-them-better” prayer.)

What can you do to improve your genuine love?  Think of the times where you have showed not-so-genuine love –when you have left love aside and lashed out instead.

When someone wrongs you and if your first inclination is fire bitterness or swallow the offense, what have you solved? Instead, more anger and tension is the result.

If we hold harsh judgments inside our hearts and keep finding faults against our brothers and sisters, we may never heal open wounds or find forgiveness. That festers and takes us away from what brings us to God – to loving.

When we hold people, especially our enemies, in our hearts, it becomes difficult to hate them.  

Perhaps, we could use hapkido techniques. The best defense to a punch or grabbing is to not be there. Instead, get out of the way and let it go. Don't be the aggression. Thus, instead of holding onto aggression or anger, we could simply let go of the negative forces and meet people with genuine peace and good heart.

Why? When we meet wrongs with love and compassion, we begin the process of achieving peace and community.  How do you meet injustice?

Maybe, it is deeper yet.

When you are so focused upon what you don’t get and what you think you deserve, you might simply forget to love you --the self. You are not letting yourself accept and love the self – the beautifully messy you.

If we are empty inside, or have pain, we do not need to hold on to that, but we can let go. Then, you might be able to let love fill your heart -- the self.

When there is love inside, we might be like Reno. You might be more willing to let others know how great they are, and suddenly, no matter our differences or our rough spots, we (you and I) become Us.

You know that love is sincere. Love is not money or material. Love is not a number. You are not just numbers or statistics. You are love.

Love is action and work. Our Christian faith tells us that God revealed us love by giving us Jesus. Through Jesus, we were taught how to be love genuinely.

When you are authentic love, you do that which God has asked of us.

Each of us are beautifully messy souls with dysfunctions, creativity and love working. You can share your love with a touch, a hug, our ears, and just being. When you are authentic in your love to the self, to our brother and to our sister, you just might reveal the gifts we share. Then, the gates of heaven await you.

Remember, it is not what we do, but how.

How is your welcome greeting?
How do you work love?
How can you share your love?
How can you remind your neighbor that they are loved?
How can you teach love to your family?

How can you let love be genuinely you?

Thanks Be to God!