Sunday, September 27, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 27 Sep 2020

 St John United Church of Christ

Melbourne, IA

Welcome to worship with us!     


“No Matter Who You are or Where You are on Life’s Journey, You are Always Welcome Here!”

September 27, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare:

Gandhi said, “Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold on to it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort.”

Philippians 2:4-5

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Call to Worship: (from Psalm 25)


To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in you I trust;

    do not let me be put to shame;

    do not let my enemies exult over me.

3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

    let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;

    teach me your paths.

5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,

    for you are the God of my salvation;

    for you I wait all day long.

6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,

    for they have been from of old.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

    according to your steadfast love remember me,

    for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD;

    therefore you instruct us in the Way.

9 You lead the humble in what is right,

    and teach the humble holy Way.

Hymn 449 (NCH): Softly and Tenderly

Prayer of Confession

Called to follow Christ, we are called to a life of humility. 

But what does that even mean? 

Do we seek to exalt ourselves – to be lifted above others?

Does our sense of success depend on someone else’s failure?

Does our love of God entirely guide our relationships?

Do we twist service into convenience and leisure,

ignoring the idea that to serve is to be a servant?


Let God Disturb the habits of our sin. 

Rouse us from the sleep that cradles sin’s embrace. 


In the name of Jesus, we pray –

Show us your ways

Highlight what we can change

And change what we cannot.

Words of Assurance

Good friends:

God is at work in you! 

God is alive in us!


God lives – but sin is dead. 

And our sins are forgiven,

through Christ, our Savior. 

Alleluia!  Amen.

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 21: 23-32 (NRSV)                                    

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Sermon:  What Authority

Posted online as well at:

Moment of Silence & Reflection:

Invitation to Offering:

(Upcoming “Neighbors in Need” Special Offering Oct 4, 2020

God of infinite patience, just as Moses was worn down by the complaining of the Israelites, so you must tire as we pray for things we want and not the things we need – forgetting your grace and au-thority. As we give our gifts to empower your church, help us to see the things that really matter, places where we can provide for others in need, and deepen our trust in you to take care of us. 

Let us remember the gifts you have been given. 

Remember to share them with the community, your church.

(They can be sent to the church office.)

Sharing your gifts, the fruits of your labor, is great 


God is good! All the time! 

All the time!* God is good!*

Let us share in the goodness of our God!! 


Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

 Praise God all creatures here below;

 Praise God for all that love has done;

 Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One. Amen

Prayer of Dedication:

We give thanks, O God, for all that you have given us.  O God, you have called your laborers to give their gifts. Bless these offerings so that they reflect the work of your kingdom of heaven here on Earth. We offer this prayer in the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Pastoral Meditation & Prayer:  

The Lord is with you  

Let us be in quiet meditations of our own hearts and minds.

Lord's Prayer: (ALL) 

Hymn 43 (NCH): Love Divine, All Loves Excelling 

Closing Announcements:


Remember as you go forth the words from letter to Philippi,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit

Live in humility

Let each of you look not to your own interests but to those of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. 

Remember from where your authority rests.

Remember that it is up to you live into the holy promise.

May the LORD bless you and keep you,

May holiness shine upon you, with you and be gracious to you,

May the Creator turn to you and give you peace, now and always.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

What Authority - Matthew 21

What Authority

Tony E Dillon Hansen

27 Sep 2020

Online at:

Sermon based upon Matthew 21:23-32, Psalm 25, Exodus 17:1-7 and Philippians 2:1-13

Opening Prayer:

With election season upon us, this parable feels wholly appropriate because there are plenty of presumptions about power and authority or even misleading claims.

For today, I would like for us to consider the question, 

What authority is in your life?

To start, I would like to share a little bit of a conversation I had with a friend about growing up and how we viewed family and authority in our lives.

For myself, when I was young, I saw things quite differently than I do today. My parents might quip what happened to that young one, and that would be a good question. There are stories but for another time. 

For the most part in my youth, I was expected to do what my parents would say – yet when I didn’t want to eat liver and onions or BBQ chips, I would challenge. So there might be a moment or two when I didn’t.  

This also applied to church and God as well. Here, I came to cherish the vision in the Gospel of Matthew of God’s enduring love and justice for all.

As I grew, that attitude evolved as I became more independent. I would see aspects of the world of the many contrasting “proposed” social conventions that seem to govern our lives and studied them.  Now, that I have grown a few pounds, I still don’t like BBQ chips or sweet relish, but I have gained affinity for cottage cheese and sauerkraut. 

Along the way, I have observed how people would do things that felt inconsistent with what they say they believe.  I saw my own inconsistent ways. Jokes that used to be funny instead today reveal how careless someone’s attitude towards race, queerness, or women might be. I observed contrasts in places of authority where we have this Bill of Rights that enshrines justice, privacy and press, but there are laws that prevent people from gaining access to justice, making private choices or officials vilifying press as “fake news.” 

I would see folks who appear to pray solemn prayers, think they have it all figured out, done the right things, and checked all the boxes. They still walk out the door and support laws that degrade and hurt people - laws that refuse compassion towards neighbors and deny equality and justice.  Somewhere in people’s lives, the message of the Gospel seems to get clouded. 

It happens. Many claim to follow the Gospel and fall short – I can be accused of this myself. Some claim to follow the Gospel and just do not.

The contrast does not, however, have to form a dividing line or competition of scars. It is instead a teaching moment. The challenge then is to understand what obstacles do we place in front of the true authority, the Truth, these Gospel teachings. This Gospel is one that invites blessings for those hurting, the poor, the “salt” and those who light up and lift up. Think of why Jesus lists prostitutes and poor as blessed because when you have nothing left to lose, you have everything to gain. 

This is part of why I got into ministry because I want to help people feel they too can live into the promise of this Gospel. That is because the experience of the Gospel message (both graceful and difficult) and what it can do is a true gift of freedom not a privilege or weapon to wield. 

Therefore, what religion, what government, what person gives authority to demean, lie, hate and hurt when the authority of the Gospels tells us differently?

One might ask, Where are the good people? Where are those that believe and live this Gospel we read? 

Unfortunately, there are many false and deceiving “authority” around us. You see them in advertising and social media memes, so you don’t have to think. These tells us of our deserved rewards or status, entitlements to annoy people, what’s mine is mine, an eye for an eye, I need shiny things, one more beverage or hit. Some say there is no time to help neighbors in need. Some contort the Gospel into an ugly weapon.

I question these “proposed” conventions as “that’s how the world works” arguments because they feel misguided. Contrastingly, there is truth and honesty in Matthew’s Gospel that tells us of God’s unfailing love and justice that I fell in love with as a youth, and the Gospel is hard to follow. We fall short.

There are many negative things out there and bad authority that seem easy, but we can become lonely in hunts for wealth, job, social media, substances or status. Yet, we don’t have to accept these or to let them define us and our paths forward. In fact, when derecho hit, neighbors showed up everywhere to help. Truth is right here waiting, never leaving.

There are good people – those that believe the Gospel and live its teachings best they can– right here. That can be you!

The good thing is that God’s authority grounded in steadfast love and freeing justice – ready to transform and change you – if you are ready.  The question is – are you?

Know that our Creator is with you. Even when we walk in deserts and wildernesses (or pandemic) of our lives looking for food, water, hope, healing and transformation, as in Exodus, there is someone there to help us. 

If you let God work, you may feel that tickle in your heart, the warmth and the tug. You might just tear up a little. God is working if you are willing to open to the real authority and let all others fall away.

We learn and listen to God speaking. This Truth invites us and welcomes us into freely given grace – as broken, humble people we are -whether we like BBQ chips or not. 

We ought to remember the holy promise, 

the holy authority that makes space for you and me just the same.  

Why? because you are worth it.

This holy authority does not reduce your worth, does not demean and even willing to listen to your questioning. 

This authority loves a good laugh and comforts when times are tough.  

This authority does not ignore science, people or their true lived experiences.

This authority can transform you, heal you, and open your path.

This authority is not aspiration only but truly a guide into love of neighbor with humility and pure heart. This has always been here - probing us, tickling us, lifting us, and guiding us.  

This authority frees us before all, 

frees our hearts so that we can heal 

and frees us to help others heal. 

This authority is the Truth of Jesus and no earthly convention can contest it.  

Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 20 Sep 2020

St John United Church of Christ
 Melbourne, IA
 Welcome to worship with us! 
“No Matter Who You are or Where You are on Life’s Journey, 
You are Always Welcome Here!” 

September 20, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare: 

Pip (from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations) says about wealth, “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition.” 

Call to Worship: (from Psalm 145)
I will extol you, my God and Holy One, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; Your greatness is unsearchable. 4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. 5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

Hymn 277 (NCH): Holy Holy Holy 

Prayer of Confession: 
Paul asks churches: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,…” Let us spend a quiet minute reflecting on where we have failed to “strive side by side”...for the Gospel. 


Words of Assurance: 

Beloved in Christ rejoice! 
 In grace and mercy, God abounds in steadfast love Forgives us, and sets us free to grow in grace. Bless God's name forever! 

 Scripture Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16 (NRSV) 

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vine-yard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you stand-ing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the la-borers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  

Sermon: Getting What’s Deserved. 

Moment of Silence & Reflection: 

Invitation to Offering: 

When our eyes are heavy, we dream of another world. When our spirits are low, we turn to each other. When our anger flares, we need each other's gifts most. We give our gifts and offerings to create your kingdom of heaven here. Remember the gifts you have been given. Remember to share them with the community, your church. (They can be sent to the church office.) Sharing your gifts, the fruits of your labor, is great because 

God is good! All the time! 
 All the time!* God is good!* 

Let us share in the goodness of our God!! 


Praise God from whom all blessings flow; 
Praise God all creatures here below; 
 Praise God for all that love has done; 
 Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One. Amen 

Prayer of Dedication: 

We give thanks, O God, for all that you have given us. O God, you have called your laborers to give their gifts. Bless these offerings so that they reflect the work of your kingdom of heaven here on Earth. We offer this prayer in the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Pastoral Meditation & Prayer:

 The Lord is with you. 
 Let us be in quiet meditations of our own hearts and minds. … 

Lord's Prayer: (ALL) 

Hymn 451 (NCH): Be Now My Vision 

Closing Announcements: 


From the words of Philippians, Let us continue in our work. Let us live in manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Let us be in one spirit, striving side by side, Let us find Christ in our struggles, Let us be surprised by the joy in our faith, Let us find you, O God, in all our work. 

May the LORD bless you and keep you, 
May holiness shine upon you, with you and be gracious to you, 
May the Creator turn to you and give you peace, now and always. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Whats Fair - Matthew 20

 Getting What’s Deserved/ What’s Fair

Tony E Dillon Hansen

20 Sep 2020

Sermon based upon Matthew 20:1-16, Jonah 4, Psalm 145, and Philippians 1:21-30

Opening Prayer:

There is something peculiar and difficult about this parable because there is so much to unpack beginning with how people construct arguments over what is fair and what is not.  Jesus, with this parable, upends order and social norms, and that can make people jittery, nervous and even angry. This parable speaks to our expectations and getting what we think we deserve.  Underlying, the parable reveals a glimpse into the kingdom of God. 

Our opening quote from Charles Dickens reminds us via the character, Pip, that having social status and money or “expectations” of those do not make us great people.  

This idea of “fair” inevitably has me thinking about our Covid-19 situation that cancelled the Iowa State Fair and county fairs.  I agree with many that it was a sad day when they announced the decision, and it did not feel “fair.”

Yet, if we look at this story, we might ask ourselves “where do you find yourself in the story?” Are you the ones toiling long hours, or those who had to wait even though you are capable and willing to do good work?  Are you the ones who just found a job?

Are you the landowner trying to find help? Would you have done something different? Why?

Those who are troubled and see themselves as those toiling, looking onward at the line of payments, and wondering something along the lines of “I should get more” because obviously, I deserve more. 

Yet, the landowner promised “whatever is right,” and each group agreed to this. Now the same is being given to each group. If you are among those longer workers, why would you expect more like they did? From where do you base that expectation?

In fact, what is so important that one receive more than the other?

Then we must consider what was the “whatever is right”?  As I said in the outset, this is a glimpse into the kingdom of God because we see this gift of grace freely given.  

That this falls in Matthew reminds us of the Beatitudes again where the blessings are given not to those with seniority, status or wealth, but those poor in spirit, those pure in heart, and those thirsting for spirit and righteousness. Those willing to seek the Truth in humility. Those willing to share light for all and to lift up others.

What is really important then is a question of what value do we place upon time, work, or people. When I say valuing people, that is not how many “likes” you get on Facebook  or talking to hear yourself talk, but truly listening with compassionate and open heart. 

When we look at the later groups in the parable we see many examples in our lives. Should youth be treated differently than people who lived a few decades? (Reminds me of the Pink Floyd lyric, “Remember when you were young… Shine on you crazy diamonds.”) Should immigrants be treated less because our immigrant fore-bearers came here first? Should homeless be treated differently because they fell onto hard times? Why does any person deserve less than anyone else?

This is why recent protests for equality and fairness confuse those who already have privilege.  Think, from where does righteousness and justice come? It is not governments and corporations. It is the presence of divine grace lived out and shared with all. 

Yes this is why some react to this parable with some jealousy and mistrust because it may feel like someone is getting more than they deserve. Who decided that? Government, commercials,  you, or God? Even churches get comfortable; comfortable enjoying gifts while foregoing a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” or mercy instead because what’s familiar. However, are we leaving others out that deserve God’s grace? 

We go to church to experience God and to share that experience.

So, Jesus pushes us to go beyond social and political constructs and look into our hearts. That is not always easy, but Jesus works hearts better than exercise. We can see around us how this shows up in many areas of life where we have built expectations, privilege and prejudice. The underlying lesson is that God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. 

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel comfortable. Yet, it does not have to be difficult when we see true value of others, even when they are new, different or even our enemy. We welcome these voices, and when we do, we welcome God’s Truth, God’s grace, into our lives, our churches, our society, and our heart – all because we deserve the gift instead of exclude.

R. Jacobsen, commentator from Working Preacher, says truly understanding our “incredible gift of grace” becomes even more powerful when we recognize that others also have this. Still, there may be those that challenge this because this belief “that’s not the way the world works,” and you might be correct.  

Fortunately, that is not how God works and in that kingdom,  all are entitled and gifted with grace, love and justice. In fact, God’s grace is given to anyone who comes, who prays. 

It is kind of like the state fair. Whether you go for the whole 10 days or the last day, like I do, and whether you have turkey leg, corn dog, or deep-fried something, you get the experience.  Unlike the state fair though, God’s grace and welcome does not close, does not get cancelled, and does not exclude. 

All are welcome to this gift, the holy promise – no matter where you are or when you arrived.  All, the immigrants, the forgotten, the humble, the mourning, seeking mercy.. all are given sanctuary and freedom to live in that grace. You and I can enjoy and be free in our gifts. We can witness that gifts in others.  Justice, righteousness, and love are God’s gifts to be shared not simply taken. Lift others, free each other and make way for real grace.  That, my friends, is “whatever is right.” 

Thanks be to God.