Thursday, January 17, 2019

Baptism Luke 3

Baptism of the Lord
Tony E Dillon Hansen
13 Jan 2019

I am not going to try to project to you that you should believe as I do. I make no expectation of how one should receive these words, but I ask you to open your hearts and minds.

Let us pray from Psalm 19, “let the words of my mouth and the meditations of [all of our] hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, [our] Rock and [our] Redeemer.”

Today is a festival of the baptism of Jesus!! Hopefully, you have some cake today to celebrate.

We all come to church and to baptism from a variety of directions and beliefs of what baptism is and does. Often, we pull from 2 Corinthians what Paul says about baptism. In this lesson, Luke’s Gospel also provides an idea of what baptism means, its role in our faith, and how this is a cornerstone to Jesus’s ministry. 

Yet, we have to ask, what does it mean to me? What does baptism tell us to do?

We heard part of this story a couple weeks ago in Advent, and John is preaching and baptizing people in water.  People are wondering about John and asking him what we must do.  John preaches to let go of our worldly desires because true happiness is not found there. 

 “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah …” (Luke 3)

Now, my dog, Reno, is ecstatic when we come home, but despite what Reno how wonderful he thinks I am, especially when I prepare his favorite dinner, I want to temper that enthusiasm when I think of how messy I am.  In a similar way, John reminds us that he is not the one they came to see.  John does not believe himself worthy, and John is kind of an outcast.

Then, the Gospel skips to the moment Jesus meets John to be baptized.  Here, John’s expectation of Jesus may have been challenged too.  He expected fire and a pitchfork. This expectation is of Jesus as judging and dividing people into who has reward versus punishment. Yet, Jesus does not project a vindictive God. 

Jesus, by true example, comes out to meet John in the wilderness to be baptized by water.  Jesus comes to be with the fringe of society, the outcasts and us, as sinners, to pass through the waters of baptism rather than burn with judgement.

Why go out to the fringe of society?

This is part of why Louis Gunnemann calls baptism a “Sacrament of Christian Vocation”
because through baptism, we are called into the Church, to the mission of Jesus and thus, to service with our community. Christians are a called people because we are called in baptism. Jesus answers the call in baptism and sets aside judgement.

Water is an important symbol of baptism because of the beautiful and life-sustaining properties, but the real sign is how the Spirit mutually connects to us in baptism.  The Gospel tells us the real power of baptism when Jesus connects with the Spirit of God. Baptism is not just about someone getting wet with water but how we come into covenant with the Spirit so that new life begins.  In baptism, one may find that relationship with God, and one may find, as Gunnemann writes, “liberation from the bonds of self-serving religion” (or judgement and desires).  That is how we are given new life through this sacrament.

(For myself, I would like to consider baptism as part of ordination because one truly takes on a new life in Christ’s mission.)

When we, as people, witness this transformation, we can also affirm and connect to our understanding of that Spirit. Ultimately, baptism is a powerful and meaningful experience because baptism is about how Jesus is revealed within us. That is a revelation of Epiphany because the holy spirit calls our hearts through this covenant of faith.

To illustrate this, let me describe a couple baptisms that I witnessed and served at Plymouth.
(I should note that we do public baptisms in front of the whole congregation during worship, and the congregation is invited to renew their baptismal covenant as well). 

This one gentleman decided to join Plymouth after many great experiences and to be baptized. He proceeds to the front of the church for the baptism. As he received baptismal waters, he just opened up like a flower, and it felt like ray of sunlight suddenly shown upon him.  He was glowing with tears of absolute joy, and that joy flowed from him. There was a scarce dry eye that day in the whole congregation. This was truly a memorable experience and may illustrate what one might describe as a “conversion of the heart.”

In another experience, I participated in a baptism of an infant child that was obviously not sure what was happening. When Pastor started blessing with water, the young boy was startled by the water, suddenly looked up, and had giant smile. Of all us, our hearts just melted.  Yes, baptism can be moving, and our smiles can be powerful and moving as well. 

These happened because in baptism, there is something happening, perhaps a “conversion of the heart” or just warm smile of acceptance. When we let God connect, when we set aside judgment and when we set aside expectations, we might hear our call to do good today and be compelled to tears or a simple smile.

Further, Acts (8:14-17) reminds us that the Spirit is an active agent in baptism. That Spirit bridges the many divides around us to call us into one community with God. Then, with prayer -- answering the call, you can let God’s love fill you, and maybe, you can witness that light upon you too!

What does baptism mean to you?
I would suggest to affirm your baptismal call, listen for God speaking to you, and follow the light upon you – a child of God – for whom God is well pleased!

Hear God calling you to service in your community.  That service can be your beautiful smile and tears that you share with the people in this very room. Thus, just as Jesus was called by God in baptism, we continue that call through our own baptism and affirm that call with our faithful service, charity, grace and love.

These are moments we can connect to the holy and live into your call to Christian vocation from your baptism.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, January 11, 2019

What Do Our Dreams Tell Us - Matthew 2

What Do Our Dreams Tell Us?
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Jan 6, 2019 – Epiphany

Reflection based upon Matthew 2:1- 12, Isaiah 60: 1-6, Palm 72.

I make no expectation of how one should receive these words,
but I ask you to open your hearts and minds.
Let us pray from Psalm 19, “let the words of my mouth and the meditations of [all of our] hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, [our] Rock and [our] Redeemer”.

Today, is Epiphany, The Magi, as the wise ones are referenced, or Three Kings Day (a decent poker hand if you play).
Matthew tells us these wise ones bring gifts to Jesus. 
Some speculate this is the origin of gift giving we celebrate in current Christmas traditions. 
I would speculate the gift we received from God on Christmas Day is perhaps an origin as well. 
What a gift we have in Jesus. 

One particular aspect for us to consider is “dreaming.”
(I know while you are sitting here listening to me, some of you may find your own dreams even.)
Yet I would like to consider why dreams are important and what they may tell us.

We all dream and about many things. 
These become the elements of great remembrances, great legends, fantasies (Lord of the Rings even), and also warnings. 
They can help us understand more about us and also maybe confuse us as well. 
There are a plethora of books, magazines and websites that may offer insights into your dreams and what they could mean – that is if you remember what happened.

How many of you woke up from a dream in the morning and you felt just a rush of good joy? Maybe, you saw a loved one that reminded you of why you love them.
Maybe, you woke up in a terrible fright, shaking and wondering. 
When I was young, people started talking about the terrible things called tornados.
Later that night, I thought I was being chased down by these vicious creatures. 
(Thank you to ones who thought it would be fun to tease me like that!)

Why are we talking about dreams?
The Bible offers us plenty of accounts when people have received information or visions from God via dreams like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah to name a few.
Today, dreams inform the wise ones of Jesus and warnings.

We have heard some people declare that God spoke to them in a dream.
Now, when you hear a person say something like that, what do you say?
That the person is missing a few straws in that haybale?
Wait a minute though.
 I would like to say I haven’t lost all of my straws or marbles.
(After all, I thought a tornado was something trying to slice me up and eat me – and why me?!)

I believe, in my heart of hearts, that dreams are how God lighted a path for me into ministry. 
For a long time, I did not listen – ignored it even. 
One day, I woke up and realized I might want to listen to the call.
Thus, here I am doing ministry.
I may have a few loose screws, but I still listened.

The questions for you to consider then …
What if God was talking to you in your dreams?
Does God talk to you in your dreams (like I believe happened to me?)
What path is God lighting up for you that you maybe have ignored?

What do you do? 
Would you tell God, “that sounds crazy”, “the time is not right” or would you completely ignore what God says?
I did for a long time,
but when I finally listened,
the light given to me fully enriched my life.
That is not by material wealth, but by immeasurable interactions and the experiences of working in the community in new and revealing ways.

(Don’t worry, if you listen to God, religious vocation does not have to be your path, but …)

Think about these questions then.
What do our dreams tell us?
Does God speak to us in our dreams?
Are we willing to listen to that speaking?  Ask those of yourself.

I mentioned this “light” given to me,
and I wonder if this is the light that Isaiah refers.
With dreams, we have people in this story deserving some light.

From the Gospel account, Herod deceives to find this potential rival king.
Herod then orders the murder of babies – and for what?
This is distinctly a reaction of the powerful, or privilege, against perceived threats or “outsiders.”
Martin Luther King Jr. famously wrote that privileged people do not willingly given up said privilege or power.
Herod wants to preserve his – at all costs.

The Magi followed the light of a star from darkness that we read from Isaiah’s “dreams”.
The Magi represent the revelation of hope and wisdom to the world by God,
but ultimately, they also represent the revelation of Jesus -- from foreigners –
because they follow the light of the star (their dreams).
These outsiders tell Herod their dreams and hopes in Jesus. (Herod listens too!)
Thus, this Gospel gives us ample reason why we should listen to God, to our dreams, and to outsiders. 

For us today, wisdom (and dreams) of outsiders can speak to, and even challenge, our traditions, our privilege, and of our Church. 
I know that your church will be filling the pulpit with voices of outsiders during this time of transition.
Maybe, a lesson from the Magi is to ask what can your church learn from those voices.

The Magi express their hope and dreams to the world of this light in Bethlehem.
They travelled a long path and faced a tyrant to express this hope.
In our life journey and against great odds, how do we express our hopes and dreams? 
God lights a path for the Magi, along with us people, and through dreams so that we all might realize that hope and dream in our world too.  
Despite difficulty of life’s journey,
God is lighting a path for you and wants you to feel that hope of the Magi.
When you feel intense hope and love - that awesome feeling,
you have no choice but to share that.
God wants you to share that with the whole world.

That adds another question to our list earlier:
What do our dreams tell us?
Does God speak to us in our dreams?
Are we willing to listen to that speaking? 
How are we making known this wisdom, this hope, this compassion of God?

We know that Jesus embodies the power, the hope and the love of God.
Jesus is the example of God to us and a light upon our hearts. 
Remember, that you too are a child of God,
 and you embody all that is good of God
 – when you let God be you.
Thus, we can be that hope, compassion, that love and that wisdom to others.

So when God speaks to you, whether in dreams or otherwise, will you listen?
When God brings wisdom to you, to the Church and to the community,
what do you do with that and how do you share that?

Matthew tells us to let the light of Epiphany be upon you.
Make room for wisdom and outsiders -- find your light.
Especially as we look into the new year,
listen for God lighting your path,
and there is a gift of hope and love - despite any confusion.
Jesus is right there. 

If anything, remember that wisdom can be found in dreams.  Mary, Elizabeth and Joseph received their calls by dreams, and the Magi were guided by their dreams.

Yes Christ is revealed to us in Epiphany. 
Jesus reveals to us the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love, along with outsiders,
as gifts from God.  

Precious Child of God, what are you going to do with your gifts?

Thanks Be to God!