Saturday, January 30, 2021

Recognizing - Mark 1


Tony E Dillon-Hansen

Sermon based upon Mark 1:21-28; Psalm 111, and Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Opening prayer from Psalm 19.

There are several themes that we can work out in this week’s lectionary as I noted in the midweek message.  Let us start with Deuteronomy 18.

19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 

20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.” 

If we reword Deuteronomy 18:20, we read that words of a “false” prophet will be rewarded with death. Ouch!  Further, Deuteronomy tells us we will recognize this when the words are untrue and not of God.  Passages like this make people like me take considerable care with the words we use to ensure the message that we lift up from the scripture as the Word of God.

St John, on your quest for pastoral leadership, this ought to be part of your test. Do those people who fill the pulpit (including me) faithfully and prayerfully lift the Word of God and the sacrifice of Jesus as expressions of God’s love?  Do those help us realize this in our community?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 reminds us that this is not just for preachers, but all people because “we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’ …but love builds up.” Paul reminds us as Christians to be wary of leading people astray and that our actions and words are examples to others. That is not to say we have censor ourselves, but rather that we have to be considerate in what we do, say and what we offer. We do this so that others have no mistake in recognizing the wonderful love of God is in us.  

Do we build up people with our love or just fancy them? Do we recognize and share the love of God that is truly in each other or something else? Do we acknowledge the legitimate need for justice for all?

If we pivot then and look at our journey through Mark, Jesus is at a worship service where a person with an “unclean spirit” is present.  Jesus commands “with authority” and the unclean spirit leaves.  Let us examine this.

There is a bit of irony in this because through baptism, we believe that the spirit of God falls upon us and is invited to be in us. Jesus was baptized. Then, Jesus recognizes and calls out an unclean spirit. Jesus performs an exorcism.

There are some among us that won’t believe this story. Yet, there is something that we can see in every one of us and around us all.  We have talked about this before and the question is begged here. 

What possesses us or what distracts us from doing God’s loving work? The person was possessed by something. When we think of possession, it is not just unclean spirits, but those things in our lives that control us or have power over us -- things we don’t have control or can’t do anything about it.  It is the also false prophets in our lives. 

Addicts will tell you exactly what this feels like, and it does not have to be substances or beverage that holds us.  We can be possessed by what we think others think or what they think about us. It can be honest grief of loved ones or loss of something in our lives. It is falsehoods like racism, sexism, homophobia, social status, materialism or other idols that distract us away from love and justice for our neighbors. 

We see another kind of possession in Mark as well that is all over our society today.  Even before we entered this pandemic, cleanliness is a social obsession.  There are aisles and aisles of soaps, perfumes and cleaners to help us clean every part of our lives and our bodies. What is it that makes us so unclean, and does cleanliness divert us from doing God’s work?

Ultimately, each of these are letting others (or things) define our happiness and our love rather than God. Yes we want to be clean, but do we let this distract us from say helping a homeless person get food or be with the hurting veteran? 

We can’t buy love. We can’t buy happiness. We cannot control what others think or do. We may not be able to control what others think, but we can control what we think, what we say and how we react. This is in line with what Paul writes to Corinth. Even more, we don’t do this alone, as our Sioux quote suggests as well. 

Our great “undertaking” is done with God when we lean into this liberating love of Jesus- when we let the Holy Spirit be in us. I submit to you, beloved, that what we have in Jesus – is a different kind of clean! I submit to you Jesus is the liberation, love and justice we need! -- from those earthly things! Through God, we have true happiness, true love, and then our actions and words will be unmistakable. Let this love possess you and be you!

As we say over and over, it is never too late for God. Turn towards God’s love, and let God reveal to you. Witness love and justice in your hearts. Let the kingdom break forth into your life. We do that through love of God and love of neighbor - lifting us, especially when people are down.  When we do that, people will see the unmistakable Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love in our actions and words.

Thanks Be to God

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Time to Repent - Mark 1

Time to Repent

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

A sermon based upon Jonah 3: 1-5,10; Psalm 62 and Mark 1:14-20

Opening prayer…

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. You are our Rock and our Redeemer.

We read Mark’s account of Jesus calling upon the first disciples and is similar to what we read in John’s Gospel last week.  Yet let us focus upon verses 14 and 15.  

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” 

There are some juicy bits in these verses. First, this talks about how John was arrested, this is a point in the life of Jesus. A time that cannot be undone and perhaps a defining moment. This is the time for Jesus. 

I can think of times in my life when something happened that made me change the way I was thinking and doing.  When we go through life knowing things aren’t the way we would like, or things just aren’t right.  Then there is that moment when something happens when we can no longer ignore or kick the can down the road.  It is a moment when we have to stop, recognize and really consider our next step.  

I thought I would tell you about how I became coordinator for Pride in Iowa City when everyone else seemed to take a collective step backwards (going from relative obscure backbench to visible leadership), but then I felt that 

I should tell you about the time when I read about a Wyoming young man beaten to death for being queer, maybe that was the time.

Or, I should tell you about meeting homeless veterans underneath an overpass and in the park, of how they struggled to find jobs or to find help.

Maybe, I should tell you about how Dakota people would describe how the government would conveniently forget treaties and use school to wash the “tribe” culture out of the children. 

Maybe, I should tell you about friend getting fired because she did not submit to advances or provide favors. 

Or I should tell you how about seeing offices that proclaimed zero tolerance for racism but did nothing to dissuade hurting language or bigoted practices.

These might be those moments - like seeing your cousin, John, being hauled away for doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

It is times like these that define us. Times where we can go back, remain stale or remain relatively obscure; or we can recognize, change direction, and take the step forward. 

Addicts might relate to this as “moments of clarity” because in moments of test and darkness, we see a light, a revelation, - a truth where we see what has been and can no longer be. Time to change, time to turn, time to repent. 

I think that is measure of what happens in these lines because Jesus’s cousin, John has just been arrested for speaking truth to power (against Herod). Jesus knows this is the time - the time to fulfill. Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is near, to “repent and believe in the good news.” 

This is a reckoning – “enough is enough” moment (as Prof Skinner says) – but it is more than just enough of what has been – but recognizing what can be and my part in it.  This is the time - the time to repent – to change. 

Repent is often used negatively with connotations of personal punishment, confessions of sin, admittance of guilt, but also in that is a recognition – a recognition of our sin that separates us from the divine and from our sacred duty to neighbors. There is a recognition that we have let materials and complacency distract us. This is a recognition of a better way and to turn towards the light, turn towards the promise of God.

We have been preparing for this time for a long time - for this time all of our lives. This is the time. This is the time to fish for something greater than ourselves. 

This is the time we recognize God is calling us to get busy, to turn away from complacency, to turn away from material weights, to turn way from the accustomed distractions, and to say “enough.” Time we don’t sit on the backbench.

This is time to turn towards God, to turn towards Truth, and to turn towards God’s way and justice. We don’t have to wait for another time because we have right now- right here- when God’s kingdom is among us.  

Thus we are called not only personally but also as a community into loving, prayerful and courageous action. For the world needs us; our community needs us; and our church needs us! We need us, in this moment, with no more ignoring or neglect.  This is our time!

So repent isn’t just about my personal failings and building anew but also revelation - what we can do together recognizing were we have collectively failed; were we ought to improve; and what we do.

The next question is begged: what do we do next or how do we start? You start by taking a step and you will figure this out. Great thing is that you don't have to do this alone.

The time is fulfilled when we take that personal step and that collective step because we recognize that kingdom we seek is among us.  We ought to change our hearts and lives so that we might truly hear the good news.

Turn around, step forward, take hold of something better in your life, in our lives. Let’s do this.  The moment is here, that is part of the power of Epiphany and revelation. The moment is here whether you grieve and hurt or success and joy.  There is something for you in this moment.

Through repentance, our perspective changes from being frail, broken or tired into seeing the possible, the opportunity, and the promise of God. It is our time to roll up sleeves; it is time to get to work. Lean into the good news today and let it open your hearts into the possible – into the presence of God. 

We know people that don’t see and won’t change destructive words or ways. We can do our best to influence them and (honestly) pray for them.  Ultimately, that is not up to us, but them and their relationship with God. For ourselves, we won’t ever get it perfectly, but be not discouraged, for God is here among us. God’s peace is accessible right here. When we recognize God is among us, we have taken the first steps away from obscurity, hard times, dark places, and misery. When we recognize God is among us , when you open your mind to this possibility, your mind will be blown with God’s reality and God’s peace is available to you. 

So believe in the good news, let your mind be blown and let the kingdom break forth into our midst to overcome hate, grief and injustice. Let the good news set you free.  

Then in our community, we collectively reveal that presence so apparent there is no mistake that God’s promise is here – the peace, the liberation, and love is here – even in the midst of chaos. Bigotry and prejudice don't stand a chance here.

So turn today towards God’s presence together! See your neighbors, see God’s Beloved, see all God’s children!  See the truth and possibility in each of us!  

We have been in this past year of continuous waiting for something: vaccine, justice, and calmer living.  We can have that calm today. “Trust in God, trust all times, O people. Pour out your heart” for God is our refuge. “That Power belongs to God” and God’s steadfast love is for you.

Maybe that is why Amanda Gorman’s poem is so powerful,

“When day come, we step out of the shade,

Aflame and afraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

The time is fulfilled, the time to change is now, the good news is here.

Are you brave enough to see it, 

Are you brave enough to be it?

Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Come and See John 1

Come and See

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

17 Jan 2021

Sermon based upon John 1:35-51, Psalm 139 and 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Friends, Neighbors, Beloved,

This week in Epiphany picks up right after the baptism where the Spirit descending upon Jesus in full splendor. We talked a bit last week about how baptism gives us birth into the new life with Christ. Let our hearts be guided by the Spirit. 

When I was young, our family didn’t have a lot of money. If I wanted something, I had to earn it, or had to find ways to make a few bucks (mowing lawns, shoveling snow, walking beans, bailing hay). Yet, there is always this temptation to ask for more than what we could afford. 

People like to look around - compare ourselves to each other. We like shiny things, and that can get us into trouble. Why do we do this and who are we trying to impress? What do we trade for all of those shiny things, and are these shiny things really all that exciting? When we let this attitude guide us, we let society define our wealth, our worth, and what is good without recognizing the honest and good person inside. What does that say about us?

Yes we want to improve ourselves, but we also need to recognize the true beauty in uniqueness. There is real value and worth in that.

Starting in John 1: 35 where John tells his son Andrew about Jesus. Andrew then asks Jesus “where are you going?” which Jesus replies, “Come and See.” Jesus didn’t ask for credit application, creeds, or political leanings; Jesus takes Andrew “as-is.”  Andrew gets this encounter with Jesus. After this, Andrew wants to introduce Jesus to Simon Peter.  Then, Jesus continues and finds Philip “as-is.” Philip in turn tells Nathanael, “Come and See.”  Just like that, Jesus has followers.  

What just happened here?  In this season of Epiphany, it is about the revelation and manifestation of Christ and the Spirit working. Thus, Jesus finds Andrew and Andrew calls upon Simon (whose name changes to Peter). Jesus finds Philip to “follow me” who in turn calls upon Nathanael. 

Nathanael even questions the possibility that anything coming out of Nazareth being good. We have heard people say that before all around us. Yet, Nathanael takes the call from Philip to “come and see.” They decided to come and see. Why did Andrew and Philip do this?  

Jesus sees people “as-is” – beautiful and broken. Again, Jesus didn’t stop these at the door and ask for creeds, qualifications or skills. Jesus said “come and see.”  That is an invitation, but it is a multi-way invitation. When we invite Jesus in turn, we get that welcoming encounter.

In the Season of Epiphany, we are invited into the presence of the One and invited to share that presence with the wider community. We are reminded of our own encounter with Jesus through our baptismal call. Through that baptism, we are tasked to call upon others to “Come and see” – to have their own encounter.

I doubt many people would honestly drop everything when a random person comes up to us and says “follow me,” but there is something unique and captivating about Jesus. We know people like this that do not judge us but invite us “as-is.” We want others to meet them. That is true value.

We know well that following Jesus is not simple because this tasks us to be honest about our expectations. When we do, we let Jesus encounter us and work us.

Again… Following Jesus is not just a simple one way transaction. It is more than just saying “Here I am” as Samuel said. Samuel embraced, and let the Spirit become him. Though our baptism, we are called to be fishers of people, and like Andrew and Philip, we are to invite others into the encounter so that they might experience that presence too. 

Thing is that when you let that encounter happen, you don’t have to put up your guard or force Jesus into some expectation because as we said last week, the Truth is the Truth, and Truth will set you free. Part of the revelation is that Jesus does not always fit into our expectations but rather gives us so much more than we can imagine. 

That Spirit helps us to seek beyond divides and into the hearts of our neighbors. There is no hiding or mischief here.  There is no deception but there is that invitation – not just for you and me but for us to share.  

Just think of those times when you prayed and when you felt the hope, you felt your heart being tickled by the Spirit.  Those times when you look at the world and realize just how beautiful our world is whether glistening snow, calm flowing creek, colorful flowers, happy puppy, or embracing love of family and friends. 

Not having a lot of money was difficult, but we learned to appreciate the truly valuable – like family, Church and humility. I believe that Jesus was there for us.

With the new year, you might be thinking about resolutions (or what’s left of them), but it is never too late to start again – to renew. You can look in the mirror, say “here I am” and know that you are wonderfully made – as-is!

When that happens, when you really want it, when you let the Spirit happen to you, you cannot help it - then you want to share that feeling - that joy.  You get excited about what happened to you and how Jesus makes you feel. That is why Andrew finds Peter and Philip tells Nathanael “come and see.” Because they experienced the full presence and they want to share that great feeling.

There is no trickery and no peer pressure, just the pure grace that invited you into the Church, the community with the Spirit among and within each of us. Take that cue from Jesus!

So leave your worry, your struggle, your expectations, let us experience the possibility, the grace. Remember that you may feel broken at times and yes there are many shiny things around us to distract us, but you are “wonderfully made,” the Lord knows you and the Lord is there for you!

So together, let us come and see. 

Thanks Be to God

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Time to Renew - Mark 1

It is Time to Renew

Tony E Dillon Hansen

A sermon based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Mark 1:4-11, and Psalm 51.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds, O Lord you are our Rock and our Redeemer.

Friends, neighbors, Beloved,

Where to begin today after the week we have had? I had a different idea for today's worship.  This time, I feel compelled to speak about the anxiety and emotions of Wednesday’s unprecedented violence.

I wrote about it earlier this week and shared it with you, my friends and many colleagues as we attempt to cope with the aftermath of Jan6th.  It is hard to imagine what many of you had going through your mind.

People have been asking questions like, “How did we get here?” “why is this happening now?” “where do we go from here?”

People are just trying to make sense of it all. People are grieving (anger, sadness, anxious, worried) because we loss something - a loss of American identity, the loss of American trust, & breakdown of the sacred American community (brotherhood). 

Grief has a way of giving us perspectives long ignored. 

Grief has a way of reminding us not to ignore the evil in the corner.

Grief has a way of building a path forward to reconciliation – with ourselves and our neighbors. 

This quote from Lincoln might help to set the mood, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

To be honest, we had clues something like this was brewing because holiday dinners have become increasingly toxic. So many have decided to ignore truth and believe something else.  This is more than just finger pointing. It is bent up frustrations and lost faith in the American experiment – a unique and diverse community experiment.  This frustration morphs into willful ignorance of the truth and unwillingness to compromise. Why? - for convenience, ego or was it peer pressure? Some are so frustrated that they are willing to “burn down the house.”

What happened on Jan 6th is also direct consequence of being consumers of wrong information or outright lies.  This continues today. This demonstrates how evil distorts truth and manipulates good people into denying truth’s existence – denying community - denying trust – denying any cooperation.  It is a refusal to see opposing views as learning opportunities but rather as vermin to be exterminated. Cooperation stands no chance when people don't want to have dialog - don't want to trust. I dont need unity, but we do need honest (non-threatening) dialog - and Truth! We need trust in each other and that is founded in Love.

When you dont have dialog, you get mobs. On a day when Christians want to celebrate the revelation of Christ, we were reminded that mobs do not listen to reason or truth, like that day on Calvary when a mob murdered Jesus, or when mobs lynched innocent Black people or Jews and "degenerates" were marched to death camps. Afterwards, they wipe hands, turn to each other and call that “justice.”

The truth and reconciliation are not visible because people have drawn curtains to hide God’s Truth and Love for us all. Yet, Jesus - once before - tore open curtains to reveal the truth (Mark 15:28).  Why? because He Loved us! Sometimes what is revealed is not easy to see, but recognizing will give us a chance to reclaim our mutual covenant - to reclaim hope, reconciliation, life, and love in the community. 

Jesus tear open these curtains - so that we can see each other again!

We, as Christians, don’t need to keep spinning truth into narratives so they conveniently fit our claims because the truth is the Truth - and not always convenient. And Love is powerful!

Beloved, Tear open your curtains! Tear them open with the love of your hearts!

Ecclesiastes teaches us,

There is a “time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

Thus, there is a time to live even in our need and grief because love will win.

There is a time to be real and to let truth and powerful be our guide. That time is now.

I, along with many of you, experienced many different stages of grief over the past week. In these moments, when the questions swirl, the emotions are high and hurt is real, it is a reminder to focus upon something, meditate and pray.  Mindful meditation would have us start with the breath. Jesus would have us lean into true Love.

Yes, it is time for us to step back a moment and collectively take a breath with hands on our hearts and know that we are not alone - despite a week of chaos and pain.  We have our Creator and Jesus, through baptism, restores us to the joy of salvation and sustains us. 

When we renew our baptismal vows and feel the water upon our brow, we are cleansed for just a moment of all of our brokenness and worry. We are reborn into the life that has been gifted to us through Christ.  We get the chance to renew and start again. We need that now more than ever. This is how we begin to reconcile - through rebirth into Christ. There we will find powerful love!

That is the promise of baptism – that with God, the cleansing Spirit, our sins are washed so that we might have new life and salvation. We restore with the Love of the One who brought us. We are reminded that we do not walk alone as the Spirit shines upon us.  We do this together with honest resolve and witness of truth and love of neighbor through Christ. 

I was reminded by one of my colleagues that even after a wildfire in a meadow, the field shows blooms of new life. The grief is real, loss is felt and hopefully lessons learned. 

Tear open those curtains, look at what we have done and be honest. Then realize what happens when we accomplish together, when love works - so that we reconcile our differences and then, we might be the blooms that God meant for us to be. Be vulnerable, find compassion, and let others know they too can be vulnerable.  We are all in this together, and we have Providence to guide us – the promise of our Baptism. 

So look up, look around you and meet the Spirit falling upon you, surrounding you, within you and a part of you.  

In difficult times of pure darkness, we have a chance to see the true light that helps us heal.  The true light guiding us to better days and a horizon full of hope. Light that cannot be hidden.

In these tenuous times and grief, we find the Spirit giving us strength and courage to face our trial and tribulation – so that we might earn the thanks of generations to come because we persevered, and we learned Love again. We leaned into our hope and grace rather than despair and division. 

In these times of pain and grief, we can become the salt of the Earth that provides the blessed spice of life and joy of God around us and through us. We take that next step with assurance and grace – knowing we don’t walk alone and that love is all around us!

In these anxious times, find peace embracing us and calling to us with calm breath. So let’s take that collective breath and let peace begin with you and me. 

Use your ears and your eyes to see the mystery unfold before you and greet you into the world without pain and suffering that is accessible here today and now - In breath and God's love.

Let worry and anxiety be washed away with the water of baptism. Be delivered, be restored, be renewed and let’s get to work - together! Our American experiment is not lost but needs our help! In you Beloved, God is well pleased.

Thanks Be to God!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Its time to heal - Epiphany 2021

Its time to heal
06 Jan 2020
Tony E Dillon Hansen

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time for us.

Today’s events of violence and unprecedented anxiety tells how fragile our democracy is and how fractured our society we have become – when people were storming the citadel of liberty- our Capitol.  I can imagine many of you had many different thoughts as this unfolded. Personally, I went through several stages of grief in just a few moments including: anger, shock, grief and sadness. 

Yet I thought about what Jesus would do. 

We have seen this before in our own scriptures, (and our own lives here and today) where life was challenged by exile, defeat, and death. Yet, good people chose to reclaim our covenant with the Creator that has given us liberty, forgiveness, reconciliation and life. That reclamation has and continues to give us opportunities because we reconcile and forgive.  Times like these are when we need to lean into our hope, lean into our God-given gifts, and ride the path of tribulation into grace and reconciliation rather than despair and revulsion.  Yes, we must search our collective hearts for reconciliation as that is needed at this moment in time.  We must work together to heal.

When talking with youth from confirmation, I hoped to be able to put a pause on the anxious news for all of us, but this is a teaching moment for all of us so we spent time discussing this. 

It is time to teach and be taught.

It is time to reach out. It is time to remember we are not alone. 

Coincidentally, we were reminded that Jesus taught reconciliation for not only others but for our own selves - even when that feels difficult.  Without this, we perpetuate anger, hatred and a divided society. Then, people resort to violence without forgiveness and reconciliation.  Lean into your gifts and lean away from despair. 

Jesus taught us to be with each other in compassion and raise justice wherever we are on life’s journey -- and regardless of being “an enemy” or a neighbor. Jesus taught us to forgive and to reconcile - “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Today is called Epiphany – the revelation of Christ, and thus, I ask us to find that revelation in the nooks and crannies of our lives, our hearts and our hopes. 

This is hard to call today a great day in our context, but let us choose to reclaim the covenant of love, reconciliation, justice and compassion. Thus, even in the scary shadows of darkness from today’s chaos, let us find revelations of Christ in ourselves, and witness these in those officers who fought bravely to contain the mob and protect our democracy.  

May our Creator bring warm comforting arms to us all as we rise from these shocking moments of darkness. Yes we will rise and with God teaching us and helping us.  May our leaders walk in way of Christ to lead us to peace, justice, and healing. 

May God’s peace be with you. Amen.