Saturday, February 27, 2021

Witness to the Cross - Mark 8

Witness to the Cross

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Mark 8: 31-38, Psalm 22, Romans 4: 13-25

Good morning and Happy Winter! We might as well enjoy it while we have it because before long, we will look back and wonder where the time went!

I do pray and hope that you have been using this season of Lent to the fullest. Lent is truly an opportunity to reflect and bring yourself closer to God in our lifelong journeys. If you have taken a task for Lent, I pray for success in your effort and that effort brings you get closer to God.

This is the second Sunday of Lent (only a few more left), and today, our Gospel turns our attention to Mark 8 with Jesus explaining this grueling task ahead.  Many want to call this a prediction but really what Jesus is doing in this is teaching. As you might suspect, that is among my favorite types of sermon because I like to teach and to dive into the text.  In this teaching, Jesus challenges us because the task is not just for the Promised One but reminder to all of us that follow the Way of Jesus and how we witness God’s wonders.

Look at this again with me. Jesus tells potential followers to “deny themselves and take up the cross… For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Think about this, deny yourself and “take up the cross.” “Deny yourself” means to let go of your ego and your expectation. Drop the pretense and draw open the curtains so that you see. See what is real and true. Allow yourself to really witness God’s beautiful wonders whether a beautiful starry sky in northern Minnesota, seeing gardens begin to bloom, learning something new, or homeless people around us. See all people that you agree and disagree, and the tricky part, see God in all of them.  

Then Jesus says “take up the cross.” I have to ask, when we see a cross, what comes to mind?  Why are these perpendicular angled pieces meaningful to us?   Are they just cute ornaments on a wall, or something else?  

When we look at the cross, we might consider everything that happened, what it cost and what that cost means for us.  A colleague professed that she weeps at the sight of the cross, and then those tears change to joyous smiles when she thinks of what Jesus did.  I confess that I have come to understand this and just how emotional this cross really is - from intense grief to liberating joy. 

I submit when you think about these aspects, the cross is full of emotion. I submit to you to witness that cross press upon your heart. I submit when you think of that with prayer and loving heart, you will witness God in your heart. 

Through Christ, we are justified by our faith, and here, Jesus is telling us to match language with deeds.  It is more than just saying I have “God in my heart” but considering what we do to express God’s love and compassion in our world.  We, as a Church should ask as well, what do we do to express that love so that anyone peering into this church - or virtual service - see the full expression of God working in us and through us. Do they see God so evident here, they are drawn into our community?

In order to make that connection, we must realize that discipleship is costly and be willing to “walk the walk.”

People might twist these a bit to think that suffering of all sorts is permissible, however injustice, abuse or taking things on the chin, so to say, these are not acceptable. Seriously, no one ever invites pain and misery, and we don’t go around saying “hey will you hit me”, “will you make fun of me” and “make me feel like crap for being me.” 

The cross does not give credence to violence but is instead bare reminder that violence is not an end or a proper means. In fact, Jesus calls us to task. Especially if you witness (or you are suffering) abuse today, that is not the what the cross represents.  Have courage and speak up. Speak up when things are wrong, and profess God’s justice and love for all.  Speak truth of this love and justice to manipulators, and then, see God’s presence overcome obstacles. That may not happen by a snap of fingers, overnight or for years, but faith in the cross, what it means and what Jesus did will help us get there. 

Further, through our faithful actions, we pick up our cross. The confirmation group read James 2:17 “faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead” meaning that our faith is powerful, but faith wants help from what we do. Thus, we must reveal God’s presence in what we do as well as what we profess.  

You reveal that by helping your sick neighbors get food and medicine. You reveal that when helping homeless people get food and blankets, or listen to veterans tell their story of trauma. You reveal that by sharing the parent’s cry for her child’s justice and remembering those that walk the tension of protecting us on the front lines. You reveal that presence in your prayerful calls to friends, family, and beloved to let them know you care. Then, you might feel God’s presence transform your heart and giving you immeasurable joy. 

I submit to you that when you reveal God’s justice through you, then your faith really flourishes and grows (not just for yourselves but in others around you - including our Church).

That is why the cross is powerful because Jesus did all of that suffering for us to have salvation - for you and for me. Thus, How humble is your witness? How thankful? How joyful? 

Lent is a time to remember the sacrifice and the victory while recognize we have drifted away from God’s promise and gifts.  Turn back, see the cross, fill your heart with witness of the wonders- witness of our God. Let your mind be blown with possibilities. Let your life be saved in the warmth and comfort of God’s Truth and be lifted!

My role as a preacher is to invite you into the stories, the passion and wisdom of Christ.  I want to let that that message of hope and empowerment manifest in you here, this Sunday morning, but also to take that into our world. 

Witness it in daily life, not just Sunday morning in a sanctuary. Witness beyond the four walls of the church or our homes and beyond social media. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “there is an altar in the world,” which means many places are great for expressing the emotions of the cross and witnessing God among us.  

Thus, I ask, “How do we witness the cross outside these walls? How do we witness God’s love and justice? Even more importantly, Why?” 

We don’t do pick up the cross because it is fun, easy or to get accolades from peers or anyone? Remember our Ash Wednesday lesson that those who do have already received their rewards.  If you are doing this for praises from those around you, we might want to reconsider why because many time praises don’t come - rather taunts and jeers because you have to take sometimes unpopular stances. We do this because they are right things to do. We do this in remembrance, because Jesus called us to this mission, and because we love Jesus. 

When I think about this and the cross, there is powerful motivation to get up and speak up, not just when it’s convenient and easy because life happens at remarkable times and discipleship isn’t meant to be easy.  

Thus, I join friends at Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, march for equal justice or simply listen to those who are hurting.  Then, you too might experience an aura of joy overcome you with God’s presence surrounding us. 

The cross is even more emotional to me as I think more and more about it and maybe for you too. When you think about the cross, when you let the cross (and what Jesus did) press upon your heart, you may be moved to tears. You may, like me, be moved to sorrowful tears when you think of what Jesus endured and how countless followers have met this fate as well. Yet people died, willing to be martyred, with the promise and strength of Jesus in their hearts. You may be moved to confess your unworthiness of that sacrifice, but dear and sir, that sacrifice was meant especially for you!

Let sorrowful tears change to tears of joy because we can acknowledge the anguish and sacrifice that happened to give way to salvation for you and me – in all of our brokenness and yes you are worthy! The cross brought us salvation as liberation from earthly chains through witness of the kingdom among all of us. Witness these wonderful gifts, turn your heart towards God, and pick up the “alluring cross” full of hope. Then, you cannot help but be moved to courage and joy. Let that carry you and free you.

Let our lives, our journey through Lent, be filled with prayer, love and God’s justice as remembrance of this sacrifice so that we truly witness the power of the cross, the victory in our lives and the awesome freeing gifts given to us. 

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Wilderness in Our Lives - Mark 1

Wilderness in Our Lives

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Mark 1:12-13, Psalm 25, 1 Peter 3:18-22

Today, we are reminded that even Jesus experienced wilderness – with wild beasts and temptations/tests. Mark’s short description of this experience, this wilderness, seems to indicate a hostile environment full of threats. 

For us here in this day, I think we can relate with our experience in this pandemic as something of a wilderness as well.  Since early last year, we have had to change the way we do things, how we do things, and even how we meet each other with threat of virus.  That has been even more challenging because some did not make it through this.  

Our wilderness continues, and I sense fatigue rising. I hear it in the stories.  For years, we will be telling them.  

For one particular story, Bret and I, with another couple (that we knew were following good health practices), decided to get away where we could be socially distant (and hopefully do something fun).  So, we went north into Minnesota to yet another wilderness to observe the northern lights. 

I really had no idea what to expect. So when we got to about the Twin Cities, we started seeing weather reports about incoming snow – oh great. Let’s keep going! We kept going to our ultimate destination of a rural, remote cabin near Lutsen, MN. As we drove and got closer, we came upon the giant Lake Superior, low mountains and tall birch trees. I thought in my head, “I have seen movies that started like this.”  These wood spires were guarding each side of the two lane road with the occasional cabin and path dotting the area.  I was sure we should see a sasquatch, bears, mountain lions, or even something creepy soon!

We finally arrive at the cabin and were getting settled. I had to go around and just look at all of the area around us. There was Lake Superior in front of us and mountain and forest all around us with this bubbling creek rolling along the backside of the property. (You have seen some pictures from that space in the slides.)  We got settled and eventually evening arrived.  

We decided that despite the cool weather we would try to sit out by the firepit out back.  So we sat, talked and fussed about how to build a camp fire   At some point, some light snow started, and we looked up to see the sky splitting with shrinking clouds revealing a beautiful and dazzling array of stars set against a beautiful black sky. The kind of stars you could almost reach out and grab – more beautiful and sparkling than precious diamonds. 

For myself, I resisted the desire to take pictures but instead to just be in the moment – and prayed a moment of thanks for this beautiful display. We all just sat in utter awe for few more hours and relished the moment in front of us – regardless of snow and cold. 

Whether we experience wilderness at a cabin, a tent, a desert, a pandemic, an exam, a test or wrestle with the many challenges that we face in our lives, we simply cannot avoid them as much as we might like. 

Sometimes, things happen for which we have no control, and they may come to us, like pandemics. 

In fact, when we think of wilderness and the point of the story, we should not immediately jump to conclusion this is always a hostile place or even a physical place. These are moments when we are tested, when we struggle, and when we discover.  The question is what do we do in these moments - do we shy away or meet the struggle? Do we accept that God made us perfectly the way we are? 

Just like Jesus being tested in the wilderness, for us, they can be tests to help us focus or opportunities to learn about ourselves and how beautiful the world can be. Wilderness gives us a place to focus and discover who we are and our relationships – find our roots in our Creator. 

First, remember we are not alone. Angels waited for Jesus, and they wait for us. 

In the midst of pandemic and cold wilderness, I remembered meditation and prayer and maybe an angel pulled the clouds aside so we could see the gorgeous sky. I think that together, our little group discovered new beauty, peace and possibilities in that moment. What about you and your wilderness?

One might say, our whole life is a wilderness because our world has all kinds of threats and destruction around us. From the moment we are waken to the moment we are taken, we are tested and we struggle. 

Where are the possibilities and how do we get closer to God? Remember the rainbow covenant that God gave to Noah - that God’s love is bigger and more than anything.  We read in 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ also suffered for sins for all, the righteous and the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. Jesus was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”  

Jesus did this for us. Do we have faith in Jesus in this offering? Do we invite God into our wilderness with us or do we think we can do this alone?  Consider, Jesus went into the wilderness where there were hostile threats – “wild beasts” and evils. I love one observation noted here as the Lamb being with the Lion and angels came. 

Despite threats and destruction, Jesus is still there – remaking creation for you and I individually, but also for us communally and as a Church. We are reminded that the Scriptures (especially the Psalms) offers us mutual experiences (whether praise, joy, sadness, regret to grief in loss). Jesus gives a path in the midst of hostile, cold wildernesses or daily struggle. Jesus shows us beautiful stars at night, helps one find composure on the golf course, gives us calm when fishing on the lake, strength to finish a school exam, and gives us peace to persevere

In these moments, we discover who we are and who we are meant to be – we discover where our heart is - where our treasure is. In these moments, we learn how much God is helping us when we listen to the still speaking Spirit.  In these moments, we acknowledge where we have been and build our potential by leaning into the One. 

For our traveling cadre, we never got to see the aurora borealis, but we did get the experience of seeing quiet majesty and feeling warmth of peace in that moment. Consider also that we have been tested and struggled together – together (as I not alone) - in this pandemic wilderness and we will rise from its wake, hopefully taking with us the lessons we have learned working God's justice in this world. For each of us here at St John this Lent, let us experience the majesty of Jesus in your wilderness as we get closer to God. In your wilderness wherever you are on life’s journey, be not afraid, pray from your heart, look up and find Jesus, the Lamb, sitting with you - quieting the “beasts.”

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Where Is Your Heart - Matthew 6

Where Is Your Heart

Tony E Dillon Hansen

A sermon based upon Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 and Psalm 51.

Let us today consider verse 21. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

As a whole, this passage from Matthew 6 asks us how we practice piety and challenges us to ensure our devotion to God in our worship and prayer rather than our own attitudes. In Lent, thus, we pause to turn our attention to God. In this season, we ponder questions of our faith and prayer. Then, we remember the sacrifice and death of Jesus before finally, we celebrate the great victory of Jesus for us. 

In this sermon (Sermon on the Mount continued from Matthew 5), Jesus challenges us that prayer, alms giving, or fasting ought to be from our hearts rather than worrying about the perfect words, what we wear, who we impress, or even who we tear down. The only one on display is you and Jesus! So have honest conversations with Jesus, especially in this pandemic. When asking for forgiveness, atonement should be of own issues and broken hearts rather than others (e.g. remember the log in your own eyes.)  

That isn’t to say you cannot express your faith or have concern for others, but be sure faith & prayer are rooted in heart and love.  For the different ways we pray (whether in thanks, adoration, reconciliation, or petition, or supplication) - all of these must be rooted in humble hearts. You can be joyful, contrite, or hopeful, but remember these roots.

That is why I love verse 21. That when we pray with a loving and true heart, or when we read Psalm 51 that way, God will know. There, we find true riches of pure love and compassion. That is treasure we need. That is warmth for our souls.

As we journey the season of Lent, take time to pause, self-reflect and give God a chance to work you.  If you want, augment personal reflections in the next 40 days (+ Sundays).  

People often give up something or do some fasting – chocolate, alcohol, or reducing social media and Internet.  This is noble and humble path many take, and I would ask those who do, how much subtraction brings us closer to God?  

People, like me, may find new ways to connect to God because we find neglected spaces. (I am hoping that I find space by reducing some extra pounds!) Hopefully, you find extra time and space to bring more of God - more love of God and more love of neighbor. As Matthew suggests, remember that your goal is not one of blowing horns but finding and growing our hearts. 

Of course instead of subtracting, we might add something to our lives. We might add prayerful love to our daily lives for the next few weeks.  After a few weeks of this, you may have new and happy hobbies! 

One of my colleagues describes Lent as her favorite season of the church year for this reason, and I can understand her reasoning. Advent, we are waiting in hopeful anticipation. Christmas we celebrate the gift of Jesus. Epiphany, we see the revelation of Christ, and Lent, we re-orient, refocus from what has been missing, and explore our relationship with God.

Lent offers opportunities in our reflections because we can try things that help us increase our love and prayerful expressions of God. Perhaps, reading books, engaging scripture passages, creating art, trying new recipes or learning a music instrument.

So why not try?  Why not use this time to pause those unnecessary things and add something simple, good and positive. So go ahead, say daily joyful prayers in thanks for our many gifts. Perhaps, write letters to people stationed abroad. Stay in contact with our neighbors like "Love Sunday." The possibilities are around us and waiting for you and me. 

Above all, Be present, listen and let the good Spirit work. That has true value far more than money. People will notice your heart and they will come back for more. 

Let us discover together and walk together in our mutual journey through Lent.  For us at St John, I submit to you that our journey through Lent will study these aspects: 

pondering wildernesses in our lives, 

reflecting how we witness God’s wonders, 

examining our faithfulness, 

acknowledging our bountiful gifts, 

living our discipleship,

and walking with Jesus.  

Let us prayerfully and lovingly walk with Jesus this season. Let us pray and do the work that is truly from our hearts. Let us reconcile our fears and guilts so that we might let God be in those spaces that we have neglected and warm us.  Let us be with all God’s Beloved people - so that we witness, together, hearts full of God’s treasure.  

Lent is a time for us and can be a great experience when we let go of unnecessary and let God.

Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Gathering - Mark 1


Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Mark 1:29-39, Psalm 147, and Isaiah 40:21-31

Opening Prayer.

“Have you not heard? Have you not known?” from Isaiah is a great expression that helps to set the tone for what we see in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus cures and raises Simon's mother-in-law. The town gathers and why?

An observation of Mark’s gospel is that the descriptions are simpler than in the other Gospels.  That isn’t to say this is less, but it gives the opportunity for us to dress the text with how we respond to it.  

As we mentioned last week about the “unclean spirit,” we have to consider our own ideas of cleanliness and how we might use that to keep us from doing God’s work.  In this moment, Jesus goes to the woman with a fever to be with her, and Jesus lifts her. Think of all the health workers today.

Jesus restores her and raises her. Jesus restores her vision of discipleship.  Incidentally, we talked about that in confirmation.  Discipleship has three principal elements: joy, commitment and cost. For the woman, she exhibits the forms of discipleship in that she serves – joyful thanks, commitment to Jesus and cost to serve.  Jesus, later in Mark, will say I “did not come not to be served but to serve.”  She serves not just because people were hungry but because it is what Jesus did. Jesus served, and thus, she serves. Jesus shows us that proper ministry is about service that gives life from misery and death!  

Ah! And you wonder why crowds appeared?

As Professor Joy J Moore says, ministry and church is “not about what I get but my response because I have received.” This Christian restoration to life and service calls to us as followers to call to others because we don’t need to hoard that love – just for ourselves. Share it and let God reveal to us – through us. This is perhaps a reason why the scriptures specifies to us not to make images of God because God wants to reveal in God’s own terms, own image and own ways – in us. 

Thus if we respond by revealing the dramatic blessing that has been received in us, people will know and may even question why our hearts are glowing so much because we let God reveal.  When they question, you will be able to tell them “Have you not heard? Have you not known” the good news and the wonderful work that God has done.

Then the word gets out, and people want to be a part of that. Then the whole town gathers and brings people to Jesus.  This speaks to the magnetism of Jesus; that not only what he says but what he does.  The question for us how do we speak in a way that draws people in and makes them feel a part of this community.  How do we lift people so that they feel whole, free and valued?  

We mentioned before of the need to be a church that expresses God’s love and God’s will so evidentially that others cannot mistake God is here. When we express that revelation in ourselves and then together as a Church community, amazing things happen. People want to come and be a part of it.

That is part of gathering and receiving the sacrament in that we share and lift each other in the presence of the One with us.  When we do that, great things happen to us and for us.  There is something deeper than us and bigger than us. There is One who lifts us and is ready to offer a hand.  

Finally, Jesus reminds us to take time for oneself in “deserted places” because we need time collect and to re-energize. I don’t have to do all the things and be everywhere.  I can be in peace and rest.  That is one of the greatest lessons we can hear in a world that moves at break-neck speed and busies our minds with all sorts of things. Time for ourselves (away from all the hustle and bustle, away from busy minds) - Time is needed so that we collect ourselves and restore ourselves. 

So the next time you take time off, unplug and quiet your mind. Make it a practice for the whole family. We make a point in our home that Sundays are empty of things to do (or places to be) so that we can recharge and reset. 

Jesus restored the woman and the divine within her.  Jesus gave her peace and purpose. Jesus gave her peace; she gave back. Jesus took time for himself. In the same way, Jesus calls followers -  calling upon us. Calling us to task and calling us to recharge.

Are we listening? Are we ready to take the hand of Jesus and be lifted?

When you do, you might be asking those around you, “Have you not heard? Have you not known?”

“Praise the Lord!”