Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hope - Mark 13


Tony E Dillon Hansen

A Sermon based upon Mark 13:24-37, Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64:1-9

Gracious friends and neighbors of St John United Church of Christ,

Let us first be in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight."

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy First Sunday of Advent!!!

Being Thankful

Ah! The time of year has arrived when we take time to be thankful, enjoy fruits of harvest, enjoy the many traditions – and snow. This year is different; with surging spread of the pandemic, we have to be honest and have to be safe.  Yes, we can be thankful. 

Why are we thankful amidst a pandemic that has all of us stressed and fatigued?  As we explored in worship for times like these, there are opportunities yet for us to explore, and we can embrace the gifts that we have, the food on the table, the drink we share, the symbols that mean something, and staying in touch with our community. Let your fears rest and find comfort in where you are - in the Truth and in grace of Emmanuel!

I know many of us have cherished traditions that are being interrupted, but I submit to you to be creative in your traditions this year so that you can safely experience what we all seek – to see each other in church as soon as possible.

New Church Year 

Today, we begin the lectionary Year B and read from Psalm 80 and Mark 13. Let us witness “Hope” as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Holy One as the first of the four traditional themes of Advent.  Isn’t hope something we truly need in these fatiguing times? 

Opportunity for beginnings, renewals, and reflections.

We light the first candle for Advent with prayerful hope for the miracle. Radio stations are playing favorite holiday songs (since the beginning of November actually). Lights have gone up all around our neighborhood.  Some traditions remain even though some have been impacted.

Mark 13 paints the picture of revelations and tells us to be alert and watching for the arrival. We see the hope that rides from out of darkness bringing the power and glory of the One. That is where we find mighty hope in this text.  

Kind of like the hope in Patrick Mahomes with 1:43 left to go in the game.

Hope Is Optimistic

Hope is a powerful antidote for what we are experiencing today with pandemics, changed traditions, and political stress. It is the necessary element that enables us to walk into the future with some level of confidence. Hope is optimistic.

Yet, hope needs some things to flourish, as Loreena McKinnett said, so that we might live in our life today and make the most of our present moments. 

Hope Needs Work

Hope needs action; otherwise, as therapist Ginger Sullivan says, it is “passivity.” This speaks directly to our lesson from last week. We talked last week about how we see Jesus and God, and that we have opportunities to grow and do God’s work. As Prof. Joy J. Moore says, “We do God’s work until God comes.” Hope needs attention, practice and action.  We are called as practicing Christians to do God’s work. 

This speaks to Isaiah 64:8 that we are the clay and the work of our potter, even though today feels more like no one is calling upon our God. It might seem like that with quiet church sanctuary and hall, but people are praying, attending this worship, and that is hopeful. When we call upon God to help us and guide through these times, we will get an answer. 

But if you don’t lift a finger, don’t pray, don’t attend worship, hope has zero chance. Thomas Merton writes about the idea that “contemplative life …cannot be a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions, and its errors.” That means we have to be present with God and God in us. We pray and do. 

With the heaviness of this past year, we can do our part to be the grace in people’s lives by simply letting them know we care and are here.  We bring that Christmas promise into our communities when we clothe the needy, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick or imprisoned. 

Hope without practice changes and decays into denial. A spirit becomes ruled by cynical views of our world. It can lead us to think there is nothing we can do to make things better when there is, in fact, something we can do. 

Hope Needs Faith and Trust

Thus, hope also needs trust and faith that things will work out.  Hope without trust and faith is despair and misery.  We don’t have to wallow in misery and suffering because with hope, with God, we will do better, and it starts with a prayer. For that, we must be willing to look beyond our own suffering (as immense as that may feel) and trust in the One. With hope, we have faith that today will be a good day and tomorrow has even more promise. 

Hope involves understanding our limitations; that we fall short and need the grace and perfection of our Creator.  As Isaiah 64 reminds us, we are unclean with sickness; we may feel we have lost the way; but God is there and will forgive and guide us from our fall.  That is honest evaluation of what we have, have done and can do. 

Otherwise, we are living in folly and fiction. Simply, I cannot control what I cannot control, but I can be present.  That is the essence of the serenity prayer and also a measure of trust and faith that McKennitt says hope needs.  It is ok to realize my limits while also letting go of things that I do not control.  Perhaps then, we let God work in us and do some amazing things.

Fig Tree Will Blossom

Still, we might ask “when Lord when?” As a gardener, the lesson of the fig tree reminds us that the fruit of the fig tree blossoms on its own time, not ours. It will blossom. 

It is up to us to be watchful. We are present. We pray to be restored, to be healed, and to be freed from suffering. We fulfill our hope with some action, some trust and faith. 

Holiday Stress

Remember, as we get closer to the holidays, stress will rise. Be present, take time for yourself, breathe and take one step at a time. Know that our Creator, I and all of your fellow congregants are with you. Reach out as needed.

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is also available for people.

Find hope in your prayers, your devotion, and your treasured traditions that you keep. Find possibility and opportunity to grow in your hope - and be renewed, restored.  

Let hope be with you as we celebrate the arrival and presence of Our Lord.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Missed Opportunities - Matthew 25

Missed Opportunities

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Matthew 25:31-46, Ezekiel 34:12, Psalm 100

Pie Sunday

As we wrap up another church year and get ready for Thanksgiving and Advent, we get this wonderful message from Christ that speaks to the mission of the Church but also where we are in this. I was reminded of a growing tradition at Plymouth that the Reign of Christ ought to be celebrated (and celebrated with pie.) One of the many ways we can be with Christ is through our dinner and dessert when we invite Jesus to dine with us. Where do we see, feel, and be with Jesus? We talked about some of this in Confirmation class this week, and they had some ideas on this question. I invite you to ask them. So let us invite Jesus this morning. 

“May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to in Your sight, O Lord; You are our Rock and our Redeemer!”

Verse 40 and Judging

Christ invites us to look for God in all of the places and people around us from verse 40 – just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”  Jesus invites us to live with compassion and grace and to share that with “the least of these who are members of Christ’s family…”

Some read this passage and sense an air of judgment, but if we listen to Jesus little deeper, we are asked about our missed opportunities. Where are our missed opportunities?  

It is easy for us to get blinded by our own feelings, busy thoughts, long pandemic, ugly politics, and hard struggles, but we are in this together. And only together will we survive and live in the community that is there for us. We could sit there and try to tally up the things we have done and pronounce that we have done enough. What however do we miss because we all fail and we all miss opportunities?

Reckoning and Paper Routes

This Gospel is a reckoning - a “come to Jesus” moment for us.  This reminded me also of when I was young and ran paper routes.

Each month, I would have to go around and collect the bill payments. When I did well, customers might give an extra tip. In those days as a paperboy, I routinely would get invited into homes to settle the bill, and thinking back on this today, I wonder how many precarious situations I could have been in. I recall one particular involved an older woman who said she didn’t have much cash, but she just made this German marble cake that she would share. I started nibbling on this German marble cake that was just the most luscious and tasty awesomeness I have ever had – I think God was there in that experience.  

Paper route was more than throwing newspapers. In addition to distribution, the job involved billing as I said, but also quality control and handling complaints.  When there were complaints, people usually didn’t wait until the bill collection, but assuredly if there were, they might be remembered during collection.

That forces one to reconcile and be sure to offer better service. That made me look for opportunities to bring something more than just rolled newspapers, and yes I missed opportunities. 

In each moment, we get the chance to reconcile, learn, grow and find Jesus in our hearts because we don’t need to spend time judging or tallying up our blessings - for that belongs to God. 

Be Thankful for Gifts

Be thankful for your blessings, and Jesus reminds us that there are more opportunities because we miss some. Even though we fail, we get new opportunities, new tastes (like German marble cake or pie); we get forgiveness and grace!  

For all of the struggle we have had in 2020, I believe that God might be reminding us not to get complacent. Don’t forget the gifts we have and how valuable those are. We are reminded that heroes don’t need to wear tights and capes. Heroes are ones that care for our neighbors. That is what Jesus says in this challenge.  Look beyond our suffering, find Christ in the community, and share your gifts.

Carpe Diem

We can even think in terms of the sentiment from Robert Herrick – carpe diem. 

Given his youth and work mobility, my son decided to explore the western areas of our vast country and “work from anywhere” (Zion National Park, Sedona, otherwise.) This is truly the spirit of carpe diem and seizing the moments we have.  I hope he takes advantage of all the opportunities he can during his journey. He will see God in some of the most beautiful places our creation reveals to us because mountains have a way of demonstrating how vast God is.  I hope he continues to find that beauty and love of God right there with him (and in the communities around him) – I hear it in his voice when he is talking about it. 

I wish that excitement also for us and our families. That despite the heaviness of COVID, emotional elections and the many stressors in our lives - that we don’t have to wait to see God around us because we might meet each moment with open eyes, heart and ears. We may find the adventure of God there in those moments.  We can witness God everywhere whether mountains, wide prairies, gorgeous sunrises, at the stoplight, in a baby’s eyes, the healthcare worker, the protester, or us - finally finding time for those avoided projects around the house. 

Finding Confidence Amid Struggle

We are in our own adventures, our own challenges, bills to pay, and to seize opportunities to find God. Christ challenges us to see grace in all the nooks and crannies of life, in people (young and old, rich or poor, black, brown or white, neighbor and prisoner), in the tasty pie we eat, the beverage we drink – and even in our struggles. 

Especially there, we find what is important - hope and comfort in the One who brought us. 

We have our adventure; we have our duties - even though fear and risk remain.  However, we meet these with confidence; that we are not alone in this. We don’t do this alone, and we can explore where Christ is - in us and throughout our community.  

We find Christ through prayer, thoughts and our actions – clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, or visiting the sick or imprisoned. We have many opportunities around us to reveal our love of God and neighbor. 

Are we willing to witness these opportunities - to see God where God is – and to be calmed through the wonderful tastes and presence of our Creator? I submit to you that through all of these challenges of the tough year, Christ has been and is right there comforting us and reminding us of our blessings – how valuable they are. 

The bill is coming due, but our Collector has forgiveness, grace and more opportunities ready for you. Doing Christ’s work does not have to be an ongoing, drudging chore, but it is the opportunity we don’t want to miss. 

On your journey, as a Christian, find opportunities to do for the least of these.  Maybe you have marble cake to share, maybe just a sandwich. Enjoy our beautiful creation and care for your community. When you do, watch your spirit lift! 

Thus, keep asking where do you see God today; where do you see Jesus? Open your heart and you will see. You will find those comforting arms and warm voice - waiting to mother you and guide you to more opportunities.   

Thanks Be to God