Sunday, August 18, 2019

For What It’s Worth - Hebrews 11:29-12:2

For What It’s Worth
Tony E Dillon Hansen
18 August 2019

A Sermon based upon Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56, Jeremiah 23:23-29

Let us begin with prayer. May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be accepted in Your sight, Our Rock and Our Redeemer!

For our lesson today, I would like for us to consider the phrase, “for what it’s worth.” Today, we will put Hebrews in the “for what it’s worth” department. We talked last week and were given the example of Abraham and Sarah as foundational examples of faith. This chapter that we have been reading is chronology of faith journeys that appear throughout the Hebrew Bible.

So why are given this history, and for what it’s worth, I enjoy reading about history, and I know how many in my high school consider it a snoozefest or the coach’s job. Yet what happened, who are the characters and the stories of why things may have happened the way they did is fascinating.

So why do these people get lifted from the scrolls of time and trials as markers of faith? If you are sitting in a prison like Paul was, you might find interesting connections to your story as well.  Broadly, the lesson from Hebrews reminds us of trials of many that came before us.

Yet, this poses an interesting question for us today as to why do we study history? 

I would say that history can teach us about where we have come so long as we don’t sanitize it. The Bible is full of stories (some powerful stories of perseverance, faith and some as tremendous failures). Depending upon which prophet and even books of chronicles, the Bible likes to tell different perspectives of the same stories: e.g. exodus, law, exile, good and bad kings and return from exile – reminding us there is more than one way to describe events.

Each of these are lessons about our humanity, our community and our connection to the Creator (or rejection of). The thing about these stories is they are, in fact, lessons, and lessons typically have some journey that involves a “teaching moment.” Saturday and weeknight cartoons used to have section that were dedicated to these whether He-Man’s “moral of the story”, Gi-Joe’s “knowing is have the battle…” or entire shows like Sesame Street.  These days, for what its worth, I am a fan of Law and Order type drama because they also share a moral dilemma, a tale with a teaching moment.

How do we heed lessons?
Still, we could go further with that question about lessons: what does history teach us if we do not heed those lessons of our past?” For what it’s worth, remember the old adage, “those, who do not study history, are condemned to repeat it” but tweaked to “those, who study history and ignore its lessons, also are condemned.” So what does the Bible, Hebrews and God teach us in these moments that are important for us today? (Great question!)

The clue may be a little further into the text that includes one of my favorite verses. 

Hebrews 12: 7-8,10-12.
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are [lost].  10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share divine holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make good paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
This can described in one word: “grit.” In order for us to really understand the Gospels, Bible stories and our relationship with our Creator, these lessons of faith tell us how people had the “grit” to proceed and to do right.  Even those that failed, failed “daring greatly” and discipline to keep going.  They had “discipline” to find strength to use their gifts of faith.

Dimensions of Discipline
What is discipline? Some immediately conjure the image of strict, inflexible parent model that commands and we obey, but that is over-simplification. For one, this model can lead to significant abuses. Essentially, discipline is adherence to something, to the good, to perseverance, to finance, to spirit, to health, to diet, - or even pain and abuse.  To what do you adhere?

Yes, discipline is a tool, but discipline is more than command and obedience. Discipline is finding strength (grit) and finding relationships. It is an opportunity for each of us to reflect, to live and to shine.

Discipline is better?
Does discipline make us better than others? Some like to wear this like a scout badge to be admired. As a wrestler and taekwondo competitor, discipline is what helps athletes achieve and some become champions because they do the necessary.  Discipline opens opportunities for relationships and growing strength to meet goals because the truth is that journey-to-the-goal is full of even more opportunities -- ways that we, in our own little ways, might dare greatly – even when it feels like for what it’s worth is difficult. You would think sports like these invoke a personal discipline, however even the most talented person needs and wants help – a sparring partner, a coach, a parent, a spouse, a team, a spirit. 

Even when we don’t feel like it is worth, discipline helps us find strength because we are not alone.

If we look at verse 12:10, God is rewarding us for “good in order that we may share” our gifts with our community and our Earth.  So, Hebrews is not saying we need to keep silent about our faith or our struggle because it is real – precisely because, it is our stories and your story. Your story is one that needs to be told. Telling that story is not always easy, but it is your story and your faith that needs shared. 

This is the history of faith stories that we study in church. We are more than ourselves through our connections to our community, our mutual stories and to our God.  What is our community without our diligence to share it, help it and nurture it? What is our community if we do not learn the lessons from our past so that we might have discipline for today?

For what it is worth, faith is precious because it is part of our story. Discipline is precious when we nurture our relationship (our covenant) rather than command and obey.  Discipline and faith are precious when use our gifts to do the good work and share those gifts.

We might trip and fall once in a while or face overwhelming obstacles, but you are not alone.  We have this whole church and our Creator ready to help.  Yes, faith and discipline are more than single dimensions, but opportunities to see light in darkness;  Opportunities to persevere when times are tough; Opportunities to see flowers or find vegetables in our garden of weeds.

Through faith and discipline, we are reminded that your stories and your treasured hearts are precious. 
Through faith and discipline, your story connects us together in community and church.
Through faith and discipline, you are not alone.
Let that reassure you.

Thanks Be to God.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Where is Your Treasure - Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16, Luke 12:32-34


Where is Your Treasure
Tony E Dillon Hansen
11 August 2019

A Sermon based upon Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16, Luke 12:32-40, Isaiah 1:16-17

Let us begin with prayer. May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be accepted in Your sight, Our Rock and Our Redeemer!

These past weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions and work for me. 

I travelled with a group from UUCC on a mission trip to CRST. Statistical data of the Midwest shows the reservation as persistent rural poverty.  The Lakota people are proud of their heritage but mistrusting of white man due to decades of neglect, hurt and manipulation. In this environment, Brian, the founder of Simply Smiles, has managed to set up a summer camp and community center in La Plant. His group is planning and building a children’s foster care village adjacent to the camp.

Our mission for this trip was 1) to plan and run (with Simply Smiles staff and interns) a summer camp for reservation youth and 2) to begin building this foster-care village.

There were some great times and experiences with piggyback rides, hikes, and otherwise, but 40 kids full of energy can be exhausting after a few hours!

Of the construction, due to the high winds of South Dakota, Brian opted to base the structure upon concrete reinforced steel. Each slab weighs over 400 pounds and took no less than 8 people to move or place each one. By the end of the week, we were all tired.

Still, the experiences with the youth as well as great conversations with local activists and elders revealed even more depth to today’s scripture lessons. The mission helped to put perspective about faith and treasures - not only on the reservation but I believe in our lives here.  

What is Faith?
Hebrews defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for and things not seen. Further, faith is a gift given to us by God – someone we cannot see. Then again, our eyes can deceive us because we might use the lenses of our ego to see rather than let God unfold it before us. (We have talked a bit about this.)  We want to deserve rather than giving space for grace.  

Faith, by itself, is not certainty.  If you are absolutely certain, then you leave no room for faith to work; you leave no room to grow. When you leave no room for God to work, we are truly alone. 

Faith when we fail.
This is especially important when we find ourselves certain about doom and shame. When we fail is when faith becomes important because we need someone to encourage us. (I wonder who.) We need reassurance telling us there is more than failure.

Faith when we succeed.
As well, when things are going well (seeming to go our direction) is when we should review our faith. We might give thanks for the good fortune we enjoy, and we can observe those around us struggling. We can offer support (instead of patronizing). It is a form of that “loving neighbor” thing that Jesus talks about. 

In fact, we know how easily good fortune can change into something else… like that doctor’s report: one minute you are healthy and the next you have cancer; Or one minute your pregnant and next your learn the child wont survive childbirth; Or a person with years of service finds out the layoff list includes them; Or when government promises to stay off your land but arrives to take children out of your tribe; (or when a company wants to build a leaky pipeline under the river that is water source for 6 states plus those connected the Mississippi.)

So faith gives us hope and encouragement to live in the moment; strength when we need.

Is Faith Our Treasure?
This speaks to what Jesus tells us in Luke. First, Jesus reassures us with “do not be afraid” but follows with “sell our possessions and give alms.” (What??!) I am not sure about you, but if someone told me this, I might be little perplexed… because I like my stuff.

Yet, that might be the key here, it is just stuff.  I was reminded of this during the last week because my stuff embodies my materialism – my unnecessary. 

For example, I share this picture of Gandhi’s last possessions and ask what is here. What is so important in the picture that these were the last of Gandhi’s possessions.  What about clothes, jewelry, houses and other things?  Why were they not in this picture? Let me point out the incense and prayer bowl – perhaps Gandhi treasured faith.  Do you?

Where is Your Treasure
Jesus says “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  What exactly is your treasure and what would be in your last ten things?  Could you condense down to ten? 

Of that last one, our privilege allows us to amass “treasures” for ourselves, and we like to keep stuff for ourselves.  Yet, I remind you that you are talking about stuff; stuff that can and does often collect dust – and will not follow you into the afterlife. 

Maybe, we fear scarcity - not having enough or running out.  I feel like this especially when we have guests where I want to make sure there is enough for everyone and not run out.  Yet, if you look at our houses and rooms.  What’s on our walls and around us that we need to collect more? Inversely, What do we leave behind in the store or on Amazon if we do not buy it? 

Is this really how we measure our personal worth?  Is that where our heart is?

I did this exercise with Stephen ministers, and we asked ourselves if we could whittle to just ten things. When all said and done, some held pictures of loved ones, childhood storybooks or mementos of achievements. You can imagine your special keepsake.

Of those ten things, to put this in perspective of those in poverty or homeless, what if that was all you had? Even more, what if someone took those things from you? 

You may feel violated, angry, defeated or cheated.  You may cry and wonder “why me?”

I think this is where Hebrews lesson is important.

Again, the epistle encourages us to keep the faith even when the world feels foreign and hostile.

When the world has us down, faith is where we can turn. Even when the world gives us yet another shooting, faith is there for us – not just to believe but as a gift – because in those trying moments, we need real treasure when empty promises and material just don’t cut it. Faith is real, tangible and not empty. Faith is there for us, to comfort us, to give us hope, and to help us believe in something bigger than just us.

Yet, faith does not tell us where we are going to go or what is going to happen, but faith is letting God reveal those gifts to us - not relying upon earthly materials.

Children Can Teach Us about Hope.
It is amazing how well laughter of a child can open hearts and smiles.  It is amazing how giggly kid on my shoulders can bring a smile even when hiking up a large hill.

On the reservation, I saw some of my own childhood reflected in the youth.  I recognized familiar language, clothes and habits.  Youth have uncanny ability to reveal what happens or what is said at home. The phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” fits.

As well, youth are amazing in resilience with ability to turn bad situations into opportunities – or just fun. They have not etched their lives in the concrete of adulthood. All I have to remember is how many people have been in lower class struggle and made it out – of this I can speak of my own experience. We did not have much, but I believed there was something more than where I was. That hope is real treasure beyond the material or lack of. 

It however is a question of what we value as treasure and what we do with the gifts we have. We have seen people that take their gifts, horde them, and become greedy for more (like taking treaty land from the tribes) – because someone thinks they deserve these.  The question is what are we going to do with the gifts and treasures we have – not just the material ones?

Faith breeds hope; Faith fulfills the promise.
When I think about the youth on reservation, (yes I saw memories, and) I also saw the hope and possibilities. This gave me more hope for our wider global youth (not just those on the reservation) – that we can trust them – we can have faith in them.

In fact, when I think about it; even when people seem resigned to depression or oppression, they can and do find hope through faith. How? If we reach into our childhood for a glimpse of hope and promise, faith is right alongside.

My physical youth may be gone, but there is still a child inside.
Maybe, that is the child in us (perhaps healing) but with hope, with promise and with dreams. Maybe, that is the child in us that Jesus calls upon to grow our faith as our real treasure.
Maybe, it was the child inside the elders and activists that showed a determined faith in what they did as well as showed the people they are.  They want something more for the younger generations than what they had.  They were not concentrated on what they could see, but upon the promise – that which cannot be seen.

That might sound similar to Abraham since he put faith in the promise: the God that he could not see. God prepared a way for him and Sarah because they just wanted a child. They had faith in God to give them that hope, that child. God gave them (and you) the promise.

Maybe, that is what we need today. Look for your treasure in your faith. Your faith breeds hope. That child inside you lives in hope and promise. Let the promise be fulfilled; then you won’t have to whittle possessions because that treasure is all you need.

So is your treasure where your heart is?

Thanks Be to God.