Sunday, October 25, 2020

St John United Church of Christ - Worship 25 Oct 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!”

October 25, 2020 | 9:30 AM | Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Invitation to Prepare: Happy Reformation Sunday!

Helen Keller wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.”


Matthew 22:36-39

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 


Call to Worship: (Psalm 1)          


Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


Hymn 386 (NCH): The Church’s One Foundation

Gathering Prayer

Happy are we, O God, when our hearts are full,
our ways are yours, our spirits enlivened by your call. 
Happy are we, O God, when our lives are guided by delight.
We gather here today for just that, holy God. 
We gather to draw on all you would give us
to be more fully yours.  In Jesus’ name.


Scripture Reading:      Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18 (NRSV)                                   

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer  among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Sermon:  How Do You Love?

Posted online at:


Moment of Silence & Reflection:

Invitation to Offering:

Anyone who has ever loved knows that to love is to give –
to give from the place we feel it most. 
This giving may be sacrificial,
but the sacrifice is compromised if it cannot be done joyfully. 
May we join together in the delight of giving? 


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.  With what you see before us, God, we demonstrate our deepest love. Receive our gifts as sweet offering before you. May they be the blessing to others that they have been for us. 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 4 (NCH): Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.


Closing Announcements:


Remember, as you go forth, the words our commandment to love,

Walk well in the way of love with speech, thoughts and action.

Let the warmth of God’s love be with you and guide you.


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.




New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Portions of Gathering and Offertory Copyright 2020 Local Church Ministries, Faith INFO Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How Do You Love - Leviticus 19

How Do You Love
Tony E Dillon Hansen
Sermon based upon Matthew 22:34-46, Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1

Opening Prayer

A post on our Facebook page has this wonderful quote from Paul Tillich “The first duty of love is to listen.” And is that not accurate?  Because if we don’t listen we don’t hear, we don’t care.  If we don’t listen with open heart and open mind as well as open ears, then are we really listening? Let us today ask “how do you love” and let us listen for love today.

As we have been walking through Matthew, we have heard Jesus sharing parables to describe the kingdom of God as a place of grace and love for all but also how people receive blessings (or perhaps how some do not, like the wicked tenants).  Jesus, in Matthew 22, is asked a question about the law.  There is no parable here - “just the facts ma'am.” Jesus reaches into the Torah, Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. 

Law can be a tough read, and as Kathryn Schifferdecker remarked, if you were ever needing a way to fall asleep, reading the law or Leviticus can help. As someone who has taken a couple law classes, reading law can be good sleep inducer, but law can challenge the best of us to find needles in haystacks because we look at not just the law but interpretations (e.g. Supreme Court decisions.) 

Among the most intense and difficult classes I have taken, my undergrad Constitutional Law class ranks near the top. I enjoyed the class because we studied and learned how constitutional laws have been interpreted and gradually expanded to grant rights to more Americans over time. Yet, Prof Hagel gave us only 4 grades, and he wrote exams like the mid-term with 30 possible points but because the questions were THAT HARD - immediately gift the class 10 points. I understand why because with law, one has to study nuances and many court decisions – including dissenting. This was a difficult class. 

Here, Jesus does a simple but thorough exegesis of the Holiness Code, that of all of the laws (not just 10), these two define us and our relationship with God.   

We read from Genesis that God created the world as “very good” and makes holy. We are created in the divine image. We are gifted creation and commanded to take care of this garden along with those in it.  God wants us to flourish. 

Leviticus, as great sleep medicine it can be, gives more detail to how we can flourish with God. As part of the Holiness Code, there are more than 10 commands but how one might live those. 

There is simplicity in this text but challenges too.  Let us walk through some.
"You shall not render unjust judgment..." When you see people on the news protesting, what have you said?  When people are in pain, do you say "you did this to yourself," or do you sit a moment and listen, as Tillich says?  

"You shall not go around as a slanderer..." Think of how more friendly our political seasons would be if we didn’t slander – what would politicians do?  Yet when you talk about people, do you point out their deficiencies, their disabilities, or their errors, or do you try to lift up and cheer on to keep going? 

"You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor..." The systemic failures and injustices of jealousy and fraud could be solved simply by being fair. 

"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin..." Ask yourself who is your kin; your neighbor? Isn’t hate a bit expensive? Let go of hate or consume you it will.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against any..."  for vengeance and judgment belong to God. Remember Jesus’s words about removing the log from our eye before removing the speck in others. Sometimes, we need to forgive ourselves too since we know that we fail. 

Go even a little further into Leviticus 25 to the laws of Jubilee where all debts are to be forgiven regularly.  Can you imagine how this would mess with our current financial system?  Think of how much freedom is buried in debt.  Think of why Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There is freedom smothered by debt.

The cornerstone of these commands, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we go a little further into Leviticus 19: 33-34 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…”

So How do you love? How do you love your neighbor (or the alien)?  This isn’t just empty words or questions.  This is as Kathryn suggests “a profound theological statement about life with God.” Holiness is a gift from our Creator - something we don’t get on our own.  While we sin and fall short, Holiness is “the work of God in us.”

This is showing love and compassion.  This is lifting up and revealing grace among us.  This is letting God be with us and in us.

You, made in the image of our Creator, you - made with love to be God's servant here on Earth, you share that love.

We can put a lot in trying to be perfect, holy and acing that class.  That can be exhausting. These may be worthy ventures, but we don’t do this alone. Yet, each of these needs honest effort, action, and reflection that is rooted in the holy promise, the holy command.  

When we are true, when we lift and not degrade, 
when we do good business and not fraud, 
when we welcome neighbors (and aliens) as our kin, 
when we love, 
then we do God’s work! 

When we let love find us, bind us and warm us,
 we make room for grace abundant. 

Avoid being the “wicked tenant” of God’s creation. Don’t cheat or be unjust. There is little nuance to interpret. 

We can walk and talk with compassion and love that God desires. Thus, taking care of our neighbors, our community, our church, and letting room for people is inviting not only people but inviting God into our lives. When we live into the moment, live into love, live freedom from debt - because you forgive, you live and dwell with God. That is how you love.

It is not only about ourselves but those that ask to represent us. In this election season, we know that politicians are like us  - fallible and flawed. When we look at the list of people on the ballot (or even for our church) we should ask which one lifts up and makes room for God to work or perhaps who does more slander.  We should ask which one invites us as good people to lift up and share.

“You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.”  That to love God with all your heart and mind because God is inside you and made you holy. In all of our brokenness and darkness, God made you holy; God made all of us - full of love.  It is for this reason then we must love those around us because they too are made of this holy love. 

Let life flourish; let God show you and dwell in you! 

That is God’s promise and gift. Let love be you!

Like the great power ballad “Love Song” by Tesla,
“So look around, open your eyes. 
Love is gonna find a way, 
find its way back to you. 
Love will find a way.”

…And Vote like your love depends upon it.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Coming Out Day Reflection

It was 1995. I was a student at the University of Iowa and ran into someone who told me something about “National Coming Out Day” rally on campus. I don’t think I was excited or defiant of any sort, but I was curious and wondering. I was wondering about myself and who I was for some time and not sure what to make of it.  At this point, a horrible movie called the “Homosexual Agenda” as well as how some people were defining faith as incompatible with being queer. Was I everything that I read?  When I think back, I question myself of why was I letting these define who I was because my agenda was getting to class on time and studying. Also, how would they know about being queer? 

Yet it is hard to feel good about oneself (or even society) when people demoralize and degrade you for being you.

So I went to see this event to later realize that it was me literally “coming out” that day. There was uncertainty about even being there and what my presence would mean. Yet instead of the gross montages of that horrible movie or the evil finger pointing from church elders, I saw people like me and people that were – well just people. The distorted perceptions given to me about degrading lifestyles and people were not here at all, and still I questioned. In fact, I met friends, smiles and good people – but I questioned. 

It would eventually take me years to come to terms with myself as queer, but I can mark this as a step in my life. Lao Tzu says, ”A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” Life lead me into challenges but also into liberation. Over time, I became honest with myself as being queer. I would become an organizer to fight queer injustice and support equality efforts. I became a proponent of more coming out demonstrations and Pride because what it did for me. 

Still, over the years I would come out over and over to people, and each time would be a challenge – especially with my parents. There were moments where I questioned just being, but I found strength in people and I was not alone. Each time was a moment of truth and sincerity. 

Spiritually, I believe that God was speaking but not by finger pointing. I found myself back in church with people that did less finger pointing, more welcoming, and more questioning. I eventually found myself with a theology and ministry that was grounded in the Gospel of Matthew with inspiration from Lao Tzu and Zen scholars. I have developed a theology – that does not deny queerness or degrade people for being the beautiful people that God created. God made me as a broken and imperfect person and loves me just the way I am. (I had to write that a few times to let it really sink.)

Sometimes, on days like this, I just have to remind myself to take the next step.