Saturday, March 27, 2021

Walking with Jesus - Mark 11

Walking with Jesus

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118


The lectionary gives us the option of celebrating the Psalms or the Passion on this Sunday.  For me, I have always regarded Psalm Sunday as a nice gasp of air in the long season or reflection with Jesus being celebrated upon entry in Jerusalem. 


For us today as we conclude our Lenten journey through Holy Week, let us consider how we walk with Jesus. Do we celebrate our witness or let people alter our impressions? Do we let our potential be all the God means for us, and do we walk with the hope of Jesus in our hearts?


We know this same crowd that celebrates and shouts “hosanna” today; these same people will turn and shout “crucify him.”  


This says something about our human nature that even when we get good and amazing things, we want to analyze it (pun intended) to death. We love the majesty and strength of our faith, but somehow we easily allow society, material - people to twist it into something unrecognizable. 


We can witness Jesus walking  and preaching with a crowd in amazement of the scene. We witness the truth of Jesus, and then same crowd will tell him he is not worthy of our mercy – all because we allowed someone to distort our witness. How do we go from amazing to death?


So today let that be a lesson to us to instead of easily moving to cold-hearts and unmerciful, that we might see in each of us (especially ourselves) this God-given capacity to love and to nurture – to have compassion and to seek justice and truth rather than allow ourselves to be manipulated away from truth – to have courage and to speak up. When we see violence and racism, we call them out, and we advocate for peace, community and love in our world with whole hearts. 


You see, when we let people change the story for us, we allow seeds of apathy and discontent. Then, we give up our voice; we give up our witness and violence persists. 


We cannot let them do this anymore because God calls us to Christian service, to justice for all and for love of God and neighbor.  We cannot stay silent against the violence and hate burning our community. We must hold leaders accountable. 


That is why people marched with Jesus then, why neighbors march today and why we ought to support them and lift up their voice with ours. 


A child asked why we study things like the Civil War.  Maybe because we study history (and these scriptures) to prevent the mistakes of old rather than trying to find ways around the truth.  


How we can start that is to look at the curious colt in the story.  Jesus instructs the disciples to go find the colt, and they find this one tied to a door. The response is not just a simple question of “why are you untying this colt?”  They are taking away someone (some family’s) livelihood and future.  The words “the Lord has need of it” tells us that not only did the disciples understand, but the family giving up the colt understands.  Why and why is that important to us?  (I am so glad you asked. )


Jesus asks this person/family, like any disciple, to hand over all we have to God.  Just like we talked about last week with us as the grain of wheat (the seed) becoming all that God makes of us. So what are we waiting for and why do we hesitate?  


They didn’t know the ending and the colt doesn’t know the ending. Yet if we untie the colt, untie ourselves from what holds us and walk with Jesus, perhaps we can let God do the rest.  Then really the questions is “what is possible?”


Actually, the question really is what holds us.  Is it the crowd pleasing (that really doesn’t take care of us), is it the manipulation of our witness of truth - to be something we are not, is it fear of social isolation for standing up for justice and God’s love, or is it ourselves not living into the treasures we have (not recognizing the gifts God has given to us?  


Untie what is holding you and walk with Jesus. 


There are people that will stop and question, “but but but  the details? I don’t know all of the detail.” I submit to you that God will answer what you need – in fact, you have all you need to get started. 


As a software engineer that is crucial to getting projects off the ground.  While it is good to examine and consider the aspects, some minor details can keep us (and our ego, our expectation ) from doing what is truly possible. When we try to analyze everything, we can get into analysis paralysis. Or, We can use what we know and let the possible happen, then things can happen. If we hold up progress, justice or God’s work, what are we ultimately left with - nothing more than we started. 


So untie yourself from your fear. Untie yourself from Facebook and truth manipulators and live into what is possible.  Find your voice and speak! Untie yourselves, walk with Jesus, and carry that cross for Jesus because Jesus has your back!


Open up your “moral imagination” to the possible, and let God work magical mysteries within you.  Learn from Jesus, trust Jesus and live with Jesus in your heart.  When you understand untie your colt because God needs it, untie your colt because God needs you and your potential. Untie the colt so that you unleash your potential and God’s potential in our community.  Let your witness be heard when you see injustice. Then, reveal your witness of Christ in your heart and see the arc of justice bend towards God. 


Then you walk with Jesus.


Thanks be to God.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Grain of Wheat - John 12

Grain of Wheat

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon John 12:20-33, Psalm119, and Jeremiah 31:31-34


As a gardener, when I read the scriptures that talk about seeds or grains of wheat, I immediately relate.  I also think that is one of the reasons that the Bible makes sense to people in farming communities because the Bible originates from similar experiences and methods in that ancient agriculture society.  


My how some things change and some things stay the same. I still have to prep the garden beds, prep seeds for sowing, and do spring cleaning - Discipleship.


When Jesus talks about grains of wheat, Jesus is really talking about us as people, even for gluten-free folks.  Look at the rich metaphor from John “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ”


Jesus is describing how we can grow and flourish with God or be trampled by whims of society. 


This passage falls in the context of the farewell discourse in John.  Jesus gives us this grain of wheat metaphor as one more lesson before the ultimate sacrifice – full of pain, agony and death. Remember, Jesus gives all of himself and does this for our salvation. 


Thus, Jesus wants us to be the stewards of God’s garden to take care of the community and creation.  So this image of a seed of wheat is even more powerful when we consider that a seed (a grain of wheat) gives all of itself into being what God makes of it. (Just like Jesus did.) The seed could exist among other seeds in a pile. That is alluring to people to just sit with the pile like many others, but God calls to us to be so much more than just a seed.  


God, the gardener, has plans (if you choose to accept the mission) – We could queue the Mission Impossible music.  


Ironically with God, our mission is possible because we focus and turn to the One who gives us so much light and purpose.  When we do this, we don’t have to worry about withering on the roadside of social materials and distractions being trampled and forgotten.  God cares for us and gives us gifts of life and freedom to grow.  Like all gardeners, God talks to us the growing plants so that fears can be rested and joys lifted.  Are you listening?


God is speaking (calling) to us to do good works. Thus, hear your call to discipleship (to follow Jesus) - another great reason why we celebrate this Lenten season.  Sometimes we forget to open our ears, eyes or hearts - I know. So open them up!


We know that following Jesus is tough but well worth the effort.  We know that following Jesus means speaking up for social justice while calling out hateful and bigoted rhetoric. We must live out and bring forth God’s truths. We are called to do God’s work of caring for others even when it is not convenient.


That is discipleship, and additionally, we cannot forget ourselves. That means living and caring for our own selves so that we can share God’s grace through our refreshed, re-focused souls.  


As I said, these past few weeks have seen a measure of spring cleaning.


Discipleship means it’s spring cleaning time - not only our gardens and homes, but our lives and our souls.  We have to make room for some Jesus and God to bring forth life into us and with us.  If we walk around with closed hearts and minds, we leave no room for God to work in us. If we let society weigh us down with baggage and distractions, we may lose sight of truth and our real relationship with God. So empty the clutter of your soul.  Clear it!


Yes We will fail, and we fall victim to the easy, accessible and convenient rather than the more challenging tasks of walking and following Jesus. That happens and the good thing is that God is willing to show us the way.  So empty the ugly clutter.


That is perhaps why people come to Jesus from all over, the east, the west, the north and the south – and regardless of beliefs or their affiliations. People came to see Jesus because hope is important versus the mundane and distractions of society. 


They cleared distractions /clutter. They, those ancient grains of wheat wanted to grow, just like you. They found time to see Jesus – so can you! 


Clear the distractions by periodically (like Lent) do some cleaning of our lives, our homes and our souls. So too, we must tend to this personally, as a church and for all God’s creation. What can you do in your life to clear clutter, to clear distractions and to find the holy in your life so that you and your love can grow.  What can you do to help your love blossom like spring tulips,  or summer Iris?


That is why Lent can be such a celebration because we can learn to celebrate removing clutter and finding refreshed spaces to flourish and grow – just like a well-kept gardens with blossoms and produce!  


Every year, I take old papers and spend a moment burning the ones I don’t need to keep. We don’t have to hold a bonfire nor require beverage, but we can have personal celebrations that take in a moment of success with God.  We can take in that moment and look for how we create space for the sacred to happen in our lives.  


Then, as we read last week, we remember that God so loves the world, that we were gifted with so much! We can revel and be thankful to God for opening our eyes, our ears, our hearts as well as space in our homes to make way for the Holy in our lives.  


When we do this, we will experience gardens of possible because we become true caretaker’s of God’s kingdom right here among us.  When we offer the hand and walk with our struggling neighbors, we do God’s work and remember what Jesus taught us.  


So take care of yourselves, of your Church, of your community, and of God’s creation because we have the possible from God. In the garden of God, we have the freedom to grow and to become more than we ever were! In this garden of God, let us bear fruit of love and fully blossom before God and all the world to witness.


If nothing else, let this guide you. You are a grain of wheat means you are the possible because you are a child of God.


Thanks Be to God!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Gifts - John 3

For God So Love the World

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107, Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 3:14-21


“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent…” invokes the passage from Numbers 21 where people have become “impatient on the way” to the Promised Lands.  People complain and ask “why have you brought us here?” “Why did we come here?  Things are so miserable here? Can we go back?”  (like the sounds from the backseat on car trips or a Simpsons episode. )


We say things like this because we are want to complain.  Why do we complain and so easily even? 


Serpents came into the desert, bit people, and people died. Moses then prays and fashions a serpent pole of bronze from which people would become healed. 


(We should spend a moment and thank all that have put themselves on the line for our sakes in the face of serpents we call viruses.  Thank you, medical community, for your work this past year and going forward yet.)


The question for us is to consider why do we have this tendency to want what has been and perhaps gone? We get to the other side of the Red Sea just making our escape from the violence and wreckage of the past washed upon the shores only to turn around with nostalgia. 


Maybe you walked in here needing something today, got something on the mind or have something to do- and just not quite sure what to do yet.  Oh the questions and how we want easy answers and we want familiar. You could walk out of here back into familiar and nothing changes.  But what if.. what if… (hold on to that for a moment.)


We like being around things that feel normal because we become complacent in them. Yet, we cannot go back in time; (we probably don’t really want to do that anyway.) If you only look at the past, you limit your future and your present. We look at now to what we have and look towards our future. 


What people experienced those many years ago in the desert on the way to the Promised Lands feels somewhat relatable to us here today going through the pandemic.  We want things to go back to “normal” - whatever that is.  I want to be in stadiums to watch baseball - enjoying expensive beverages and overpriced hotdogs. I want, I want… In our wants, maybe we are easily forgetting the lessons and our gifts too quickly. Think of how many wont see another ballgame.


To be honest, there was some good this past year. Some corrected finances (less overpriced hotdogs can help) or fixed things around the house. 


We dwell in darkness, and we love it. Just look at the what the news reports and how that captivates our attention. John’s Gospel calls us to task asking why we love the darkness when there is so much in the light for us today. 


Are we longing in our nostalgia for what has been that we lose sight of what is here and before us? I submit we do. When our focus is just upon past and misery, we not only limit our present; we might be losing sight of God.  


Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, perhaps, we (and as a church) return our focus upon God in our hearts and through us now.  What does our church want to be and where does it go from here? Do we wallow about misery and snakes (I would) or do we remember that God so loves the world that amazing things come to us? 


What if ..perhaps what if -- Let God do amazing in your heart now because then, things can change. We can embrace the light of Jesus, but you cant do it with your hands full.  You have to drop the baggage.  Oh that can be frightening but very amazing! We learn from our past, and we can let go of all the baggage we carried in here with us when we trust God.


Do we trust and have faith in God or just echo some words we read or heard in song? We are tasked to turn, not to nostalgia or misery but to the gifts that have always been there and to the promise our God gives. 


Drop the baggage, Turn to the love of Jesus and share that love. Turn to the light, the powerful light, & turn to love. Then, use your gifts in the way that God asks us.  The Gospel reminds us, “but those who do what is true come to the light so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:21)


We know there are things wrong in this world, but despair does not need to rule nor nostalgia because Jesus redefines - Jesus redefines our love and our world. Jesus needed to come in to this world to show us the way to the light. Jesus redefines and let Jesus show you! 


We all were created in this relationship with God – a great relationship, but we – we - choose to walk away. We pick many excuses (whether pandemic, or otherwise) to walk away and then wonder why things are the way they are. We find ways to complain and grumble perhaps thinking we deserve something else. 


I ask, what do you deserve that God hasn’t already given? Lean into God; find your heart & treasure there and through your deeds.  Consider what if? What if we acknowledge that God so loves the world (and so loves us), that wonderful is possible. Let Jesus show you!


We don’t need to go back to old, tired ways because we have the gift of today and new chances in this moment and a future. We won’t be miserable or afraid when we walk with faith in our Creator.  


Restore your faith and trust! Acknowledge, realize your true gifts! Don’t leave them and your faith in the desert. Give them real life and purpose by helping those around you and making it evident through you that God is with you. 


St John, find purpose, leadership and your Church in God, then you will see how God gathers all people with intention “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” When we cry to the Lord in our trouble and darkness, God answers and saves us from distress.  


So then drop the baggage, turn to the light, Be saved and be healed! Let God shine upon you here for “God is rich in mercy.” With great love, we are made alive together with Christ. “For God so loved the world,” we have life - these wonderful gifts.


“For by grace you have been saved… That is a gift from God… which God prepared to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2) Embrace the light, your gifts, your life and find what you need is right here.  


Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Cancel Culture

“Cancel culture” is a curious trend that’s grown attention lately. For some reason, people are suddenly concerned about some rather obscure things: handful of books no one reads (that are still available), something about a toy having multiple parts that has always had multiple parts or some advisory for a puppet show featuring a pig with hots for a frog. I personally love Dr Seuss books. I have had a plate of scrambled eggs with green food coloring and ham and wondered oh the places I will go. I always love the Muppets. The curious thing about these examples is that each of them are still quite available.


So, I wonder why the concern about being cancelled is raised with these when our society has plenty of other examples of “cancel culture.”  For centuries, entire groups of people were denied and cancelled from voting, fair pay, any sort of rights, or even basic humanity through the chains of slavery and segregation. Why? This cancelling was done all in order to preserve traditions over sharing liberties or done to reinforce a sanitized notion of the “American way of life” that freely enjoyed cancelling entire groups of people. Yes this happened and still happens.


How convenient it must be to forget the images and words (and not to mention lynching, maiming and other cruel weapons) have been used with full and intentional callousness to rob and degrade entire groups of God’s children of respect and dignity for skin color, gender, heritage, queerness or religious beliefs. When jobs are cancelled because people didn’t “play ball” and submit to inappropriate advances, I suppose they should just keep their mouths shut. When sports players make a public display against centuries of social injustice, it feels easy to cancel their concerns because they challenged the system that enables poor behavior. When indigenous tribes remind us how much our government lied and stole from them while belittling their heritage with ease, I suppose they too ought to just cancel their concerns and keep their mouths shut. When a person won’t get hired because who they love or they express religious beliefs with their attire, they should cancel religious expressions while keeping their mouths shut too. 


This reveals an underlying motivation to suppress legitimate historical grievances as unworthy. Perhaps instead of cancelling people, listen to their stories, and march with people today to call for long-overdue justice against centuries of violence and intimidation that preserves the cancelling of basic dignity.


When we are truly concerned about cancelling of culture, we no longer cancel peoples’ legit cry for equitable justice, legit indigenous heritage or their claim to promised lands, or even legit celebration of one’s basic humanity. Then, we no longer cancel authentic concerns due to some irritated convenience or tradition - like “that is the way it always has been” when that way has always perpetuated the wrong.  Instead, find time to listen to peoples’ concerns with honesty and humility, learn about your neighbors and acknowledge their rights (as well as yours) to be heard. Further, get out of echo chambers and work toward the justice the One gifts to all of us. Perhaps, this ought to remind us Christians of what Christ would do because that is what Christ did.


When you do that, you might understand and feel the frustration of generations, and then, the concern for cancelled culture might feel more genuine. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Faithfulness to the Covenant - Exodus 20

Faithfulness in the Covenant

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

 

Sermon based upon Exodus 20: 1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and John 2: 13-22

 

Growing up, people would always ask what do you want to be when you grow up, and I would tell them something exciting like firefighter. (My how things evolve.) Today, I build software and I get the honor of preaching the Word.  Oh but what they don’t tell you as that in each of these pursuits, we have a commonality: people.

 

From early in life to school, work and outside of work, people are everywhere!  What do we do? How do we do we deal with all these people?? 


That is a great question because that is exactly what today’s scripture offers – a set of rules. God gave us a set of rules because God knows humanity, and God certainly knows how we foul things up.  


These commandments are more than just a few suggestions, principles for success or good context for an hour on Sunday, but the commandments are a way of life.  God gives us not just text in tablets, books or a reason for a sermon, but our Creator gave us a 24/7 way of life.


You, who have walked in pain, torment, and oppression as slaves; You, who have been persecuted and tired; and you, who have sinned and fallen - these are for you! These are not just for an hour every Sunday, but throughout our living and breathing days. 


These are simple points that God deems for us (e.g. don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, don’t lie, and honor your parents.) Yet, we (people) want to put conditions on these. 


When God says, “you shall no other gods before me” how many times do we find more time for money than God? How many times do we say it is just a little “white lie” and then realize how much damage one white lie can cause.  How many times do we covet when we put our hunger and desires ahead of what is right and just? 


Should be noted that Of these, there is no punishment listed because judgment and punishment is reserved for God. I know people like to twist that because our laws are so fallible, so political, and so human. 


These rules, commandments are not just for me (and you) to find convenient in my day but for all to enjoy.  God’s rules don’t distinguish because all God’s creation get the same rights to freedom, heritage, belief, property, and love as everyone else. Why? Because God deems it. 


In fact, God says don’t make idols of me. God doesn’t want us to pray to images, but to God!  God doesn’t need (or want) to be on a billboard selling the latest insurance policy because God is the insurance policy and the caretaker. God is for you and me, Beloved – just the way God wants!


In these commands, God gives us freedoms - freedom to love our God-given heritage.  You are free to see God in the way that God comes to us. God says that you are free to bear my image inside you and as part of you.  That is why God created you - so that God might be revealed through you, Beloved Child! You reveal the freedom of God through you and in your faith in God. Rest in the faith; rest in the covenant.


God gave us freedom to enjoy a day off because God knows the need for rest.  You are not only free to rest but deserve to rest. We ought to recognize those that work when wages don’t support days off. We ought to acknowledge people at the restaurant or store working (when we enjoy our sabbath). They also deserve a day off with wages that allow it. 


These freedoms are part of God’s covenant - not for us to hoard.  How do we live and share this great covenant from God? Do we abide or are these moving sets of goal posts in our lives? 


Psalm 19 applies here, 

“Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”


Sheer poetic magic !  God watches from many different angles, watching us, listening to us, and speaking with wisdom throughout all the earth.  Do we listen - even when God writes it down?


God is here! Our faithfulness reveals the wisdom of God in us and through us because there are no words to truly express that wisdom.  We follow the commandments because they are God’s reason not necessarily our convenience. So why “excuse ourselves” from these commandments when these are part of the gift of God’s covenant. When you do, you miss out. You might miss God’s gifts just waiting for you: grace, forgiveness, justice, peace and eternal life. 


Again, these are not just for ourselves personally but for us as a community to build our community in the image of God because we have life and freedom through God. Let us reveal together this covenant. We don’t have to take more than what we have. We can live in peace with each other because we share these bountiful gifts from God.


For these reasons, (again Psalm 19) “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.. rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes... enduring forever.” 


John2 reminds us that Jesus is the temple - not our money, not our markets and not our wants. When we abide in Jesus and God’s covenant, we witness wisdom in our hearts and share that in our community. 


So, Revive your soul, rejoice in your heart and enlighten your eyes! When we put our faith in the covenant, then we see others through God’s eyes, and “their beauty will take our breath away.”


Thanks be to God!