Saturday, May 22, 2021

Spirit of the Living God - John 15

Spirit of the Living God

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

 

Reflection based upon John 15, Psalm 104, and Acts 2.

 

Opening prayer.

 

Recent conversations and in preparing services for my cousin this weekend, I found myself ruminating over the Spirit of God, Advocate or Holy Spirit. 

 

That leads me to tell you a story about a fellow from a many years ago…

 

It is a story that is shared by many including those from my patron saint of Anthony of Padua, also Francis of Assisi, Augustine of Hippo, interestingly many other writers across faiths echo some sentiments of this. It is one of the reasons I enjoy reading from the Gospel of John because Jesus invites us to feel (or witness) the presence and mystery of God in so many ways.

 

What is this mystery?

The power and mystery of God can readily be expressed and experienced (fully and without fear) through that of the Holy Spirit.  Again, Jesus in the Gospels invites us to consider God in our hearts and the Spirit all around us. 

 

I can tell you all day long how to get there, to feel it (it takes practice), but to describe, I do no justice.

 

When you do feel it, you can feel it and you know it. We witness the presence of God best when are hearts are free and our minds let go.  Just like our story, when you just sit and let God, you will find the spirit working for us and with us – that when we don’t try to force it or dominate it – but instead just let the Spirit reveal to us. 

 

That is part of the grace people feel in the arts, in martial arts or any activity when you fully immerse yourself into what you do.  In those moments you let go of every other thing and focused upon now. This is one way people who do mindful mediation – focus upon the breath. Yes the Spirit of God transcends cultures and activities (not just prayer/meditation – although great place to start).  In those moments, you may experience the Spirit even if you don’t necessarily recognize in that moment.  The spirit is working with you and you with it. 


In the moments when you feel stress and difficulty, that is when we really need to take a moment and we can find a little smile by connecting to the Spirit. 

 

You see, when you fully embrace and embody all that is there around you – you can transform and reach.  You can see things, hear things and walk with the Spirit in that experience – and beyond.

 

St Paul echoes in Romans “hope that is seen is not true hope” similar notions found in Tao Te Ching, the true Tao/the true spirit cannot be described. I find that to be true. For me to describe the experience of the Spirit in words is really to distract from the justice, the grace, the promise, the love and the joy the spirit provides.  And… You can get there.  That is one of the reasons you will often hear me talk about “letting go and letting God.” 

 

It is fair to say this is a mystical experience (to say the least) but one that helps us begin to understand the mystery of God and to flourish in that mystery. To flourish and commune with the Spirit that surrounds us, binds us and makes us.  This is part of what Master Yoda in Star Wars means when challenging young Luke on who we are (not just flesh and bone “crude matter”) but we “are luminous beings” full of spirit that helps us connect with the greater wisdom of God. There we can find great strength, courage and peace.

 

You may even think, Tony has flipped his mind – and you may be correct.  But there is something to this I guarantee. I can tell you when you experience, then you too might sound like someone flipped their mind. 

 

Even in phone call across vast miles, we can commune in pray not only with the grieving widow but also listen for the Spirit working through us together.  We can experience this - amazing - individually and together like this.  Through breathing, sitting, seeing, walking and seeing even more. We don’t have to have all of the answers. We don’t have to force it or pretend even, but we can let God work. 

 

Maybe if we all just sit a moment, and let God’s Spirit be with us, there would be no need for violence, there would be no poverty, there would be no struggle. That is God’s kingdom for us – the holy city on the hills. 


Yet we live in this world, and we know there is so much that challenges us like the violence, arguments over political divides, struggles for mental health (it is Mental Health awareness month) or helping the homeless. 


There are stresses all over, and many things out of our control.  


Help where you can, like giving food to the homeless – or helping those that do. Let God take care of what we cannot control, and most importantly, let God take care of you. There is the Spirit of God ready to guide you and you – to help realize God’s kingdom right here and now. 

 

I may not be able to cure the world’s ills or physical pain, but through the Spirit we can journey together and we can find healing.  Maybe that is the point. Sit and Walk with the spirit.  Let it work with you. Feel it tickle your heart. Let it guide you and your actions.  


Then, you too may experience the grace, comfort and amazement of wiser people than I and all of us who learned from them.


Thanks Be to God

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Discipleship - Acts 1

Discipleship

Tony E Dillon-Hansen

16 May 2021


A reflection based upon Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 • Psalm 1 • 1 John 5:9-13 • John 17:6-19

Opening prayer.


On this seventh Sunday of Easter, our scripture raises heritage, eternal life, and discipleship.


The Story of 12 (Roots and Foundation):


In Act, there is this invitation to Matthias to preserve the number 12. The question can be raised of why the number 12.


There is a relationship of the 12 Apostles with the 12 tribes of Israel. With that, we are also reminded of the importance of heritage because our Church has roots in Jewish traditions and culture. 


Fundamentally, the reminder is not just of our roots. We are reminded not to forget the lessons and the celebrations of our heritage. All people have heritage, and we are commanded in Deuteronomy to pay homage to our parents, our heritage.  Heritage is part of our discipleship in this way. So we ought to give space for all people to honor their heritage in the ways their traditions teach them. 


That is one reason we read the Hebrew Bible. That is not just a story about God but lessons and human fallibility. We read about obstacles, threats, destruction and pathways to liberation. We are reminded not to forget these lessons. I wonder if that might be part of what is happening in Gaza. People, too easily, forget our roots and common bonds with each other in God that we all love and cherish. We still make mistakes. 


Yet, Jesus reminds us to work and pray for peace.


Our Scriptures also celebrate many achievements. Like Confirmation and graduations, success and accomplishment are gifts reminding us the Creator has been helping us to learn. Yes our heritage, our scriptures, and our community come together with struggles, and we come together with celebrations.


Story of Eternal Life (Future and Legacy):


Our epistle reading reminds us what Easter means, specifically this “Eternal Life”. What is that? Some may think it refers to the afterlife. I honestly don’t know what happens on the other side of death --  I have not been there, and I prefer to take my time getting there.


What really does “eternal life” mean for us today? The question we should ask, what life do we make here and what do we share? What does that mean for discipleship?


Consider that epistle means “testimony.” Part of Discipleship is testimony. Testimony is our witness and telling our story. Through our stories, we have life and we reveal our connections, our community, and our families. Through these, we find eternal life.


The youth have shared their stories and their faith with each other - and with you. We reveal our faith through our testimony, our discipleship. 


If we are to be true in our testimony, then we must not be afraid of the struggles and questions in our lives – not just the easy parts.  Those hard times are just as important because those reveal our humanity and lessons – our heritage – our journey of discipleship. (Psalm1)


Doing Stephen ministry or pastoral care, when people tell me their story, even the hard parts,

That’s when we have a chance to heal because we are honest in our witness and love. Then people can find the path and learn from each other.


Then we build community and experience the Spirit together. We build life together with all God’s children. We do so through our deeds and actions because discipleship is more than just fancy words & prayers.


Discipleship (Working and Praying the Present):


Through our discipleship, we are examples of that life and what Easter means to us even during dire times. We work to feed the homeless. We reach out to the crying widow. We march with our neighbors for justice and peace. We support those who protect and serve. 


What are you doing today to live your heritage, to give witness of God’s justice – to reveal your discipleship in your life and your family?


Perhaps, the world seems to be full of people that don’t share your values. In rough times, you may feel hurt, lonely or repressed. When you do, take pause, lean into your witness. Remember God is there.


The path is before us - even when we feel alone or lost.  It is ok to ask your questions. God gives space for learning and growth. Look up and see the light before you. 


Heed your lessons! Witness the possible before you! Lift up the many experiences around you. As a Church, we rise and support each other (just as our youth stated). Work with faithful heart and be the light for others to witness.


Witness and testify to the grace of God and serve Christ’s mission to all. Discipleship may not always be easy, and the world may not always understand. 


That’s ok, but we do! We live it – the best we know how! Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to be the same – or live in the same place (whether Melbourne, Des Moines, Gaza, Israel or otherwise), but together, we live our heritage, our faithful discipleship, because we know it gives life.


Our discipleship means acknowledging heritage, and witnessing the possible ahead of us and working with others around us in friendship and love to get there. Share with grace in your heart! That is the essential of discipleship. 


Share your testimony and witness precisely because the community needs it. (I learn from you and you learn from me.) Extend that faithful discipleship into our community. 


Together, we realize that community is belonging to each other - violence simply goes away. 

When we pray together, fail together, eat together, work together, sing together, then we heal together. We fill our community with our discipleship in our unique ways —we give life to our community and to ourselves.


Embody the presence that heals and shares love.

That is how we honor heritage – how we have eternal life.

That is how we live our discipleship!


Thanks Be to God.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Commandments Are not Burdensome - 1 John 5

Commandments Are Not Burdensome

Tony E Dillon Hansen

 

Sermon based upon 1 John 5:1-6, Psalm 98, and John 15: 9-17

 

Opening prayer


Last week, we talked a little bit about the choices we have in our lives and today’s texts emphasize this.  Not just that we have a choice, but rather a command to love one another from Jesus.  This is a command many faith traditions share. It is so prominent because it is a universal truth that love is powerful, and our faith helps us to live out that love – not just on Sundays like a good pair of shoes we take for a walk and then neatly pack away for the rest of the week. 


Jesus commands to love everyday of our lives.  Love God and Love your neighbor!


That is not too difficult – even fits on a bumper sticker. Yet, it is more than just token words, it is how we live that, how we get there.


Leadership seminars will often speak about the essential truth that it is not about the destination but the journey.  Again that is why we sing a song, meditate or pray. Not to get to the end, but to discover along the way little bits.  Every time we read the scripture, it will speak to you differently depending upon the day and what is happening all around you. That is why we say God is still speaking and that the Bible is a living document rather than old, stale collection of stories. 


Even when we get lost, we have a path to restore ourselves with God and with all creation. It is these commandments and our faith in them that gets us there. That is God’s promise.


Let’s look at these a moment from Deuteronomy 5.


God is our God for which we have grace, life and all creation.  We are given gifts so that we share those gifts with others.  There is no higher power.  When we lose sight or turn away, we lose sight of true grace, true possibility. If we place other things as higher importance, materials, money, or for some, they place themselves.  When you place yourself more important than others, we become self-centered and divisions arise. What pillar do we need to come down from to help us experience God where God is? 


Don’t have idols.  God does not need images. God has the face of you and me. Your experience of God may be similar to mine and may not be, but don’t confuse your experience, your feelings, or your expectations to be the only way that God reveals to us. That is to idolize your expectations of God rather than to let God reveal.  


Do not just pray to God when you get that touchdown or the win, but also when you lose. Do not invoke God’s name for things that God never claimed. If people want to be mean to someone, that is on them, not God. It is up to us to call them out for injustice. If you do blame God for something, think about it a moment. God is big enough to take it and is listening.  Maybe you and God need to have a conversation anyway.


Keep the Sabbath – and remember that others ought to be able to keep the Sabbath too – we are fortunate to be able to take a day off now and then. Think of the single parent who has to work two jobs to keep family with a roof over their heads and food on the table. Think of how many are living paycheck to paycheck, and then the boss, says we got to close. 


Honor your heritage, your parents – they are doing the best they can and so should we. Allow others to honor their heritage whether esteemed or as broken as we are.  We have all grown up with challenges in our unique ways, we have made it this far. Bless those who came before us, that made tough decisions. For decisions that need to be right, honor them by correcting the wrong. 


Don’t kill – how many wars would be avoided if we followed this one, but letting people live even when they irritate you or upset you is allowing God space between you to learn.  Remember what I said last time about the Will Rodgers lesson.  If you find something good about someone first, you may not have to worry about getting upset because you find it harder to judge them.


Don’t commit adultery – This is perhaps another too often ignored, but how many relationships have ended because fidelity was lost.  Before you consider go down that path, consider maybe talking it out.  Because once, you go down that path, forever will it dominate your destiny and your relationship. 


If you are in a toxic or abusive relationship that feels like a trap, there are resources around to help. You are not alone and you are not trapped.


Don’t steal – simple but how often do we say its ok to make it harder for others to have what we have? This begs the questions: Why cant we all have the same rights, same justice, same chance to succeed as any other? What do we hoard in our lives that is so exclusive that God wasn’t a part and that God does not command for us to share?


Don’t lie! Fiction can be fun and comedic but that is not what we say here.  Be reliable in true word and works.  When you say love, express your love through your actions.  When your mouth bears no truth, people don’t trust you – and when you don’t have trust, you don’t communicate – things breakdown.


Don’t covet property or people otherwise you lean into dangers of greed, mischief and the manipulation of people and the other commandments.  When we covet, we find desire for things and ways to get them in whatever ways we desire. That isn’t to say you cannot complement someone for success or being able to get something or maybe use that as example of how I might improve to get things I want, but do it in ways that express love, grace and forgiveness rather than mischief or greed. 


Yes, we celebrate the greatest commandment given to us that Jesus reminds us is loving God and loving each other precisely because God so loves us.  The epistle reminds us to have faith in that love, have faith in the path given to us through these commandments because that is how faith conquers all. 


In each of these commandments, including the greatest of these, is a choice for us to walk a good path toward wholesomeness and life. It is a path to enlightenment. Or, we choose a path that leads to trouble and hurt and pain.  Then we perpetuate that trouble in cycles. When we start down the ugly path, even when we feel lost, we don’t need to stay there. We only need step into the good path and God is waiting there.


Walking along the good path requires our faith and our diligence to make sure we do all that we can in our power to express this faith and love as real to us - liberating us from the worldly negatives.  When people see that in you, they will want it for themselves too.


Our faith in God, our love for each other is faith in these commandments and through our faith we commit to each other - to lift each other and to support each other as a family, as a Church and as a community. 


Thus, I say to you, God’s “commandments are not burdensome.”  They are invitations to a path to freedom. 


Thanks Be to God

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Love One Another - 1 John 4

Love One Another

Tony E Dillon Hansen

 

Sermon based upon 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8 and Psalm 22.

 

Opening prayer.

 

Today we read one of “I am” proclamations from Jesus in John as “I am the true vine you are the branches ”. There are seven. We read about a couple of them last week with “I am the gate” and “I am the shepherd.”  


In the Gospel (John 15), Jesus is beginning what is known as the farewell discourse. Jesus preaches to the disciples knowing that Jesus won’t be physically there. Jesus preps them for the journey ahead of them.  Jesus preaches this knowing that the world won’t always receive the disciples (or their message) with welcome hospitality. 


So the image of Jesus as the true vine is reminds us that Jesus is the true head of the Church and we are the branches - similar to what we read in 1 Corinthians 12 as the church is body of Christ made up of many members of many different skills. 

 

As a gardener, I can tell you my experience with vines.  I had no idea what to expect with cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloup vines.  Wow these things grow but oh do they need space! When they are well taken care, they bear lots of fruit.  Even the vine or the rosebush needs pruning now and then to help the health of the plant. It needs nourishment and water.  I, as the gardener, cannot tell the plant to start growing, it does so on its own so long as I do my part. 


We as the branches of the vine have God as our gardener. We want to stay connected. We go to church!

 

The epistle from John arises from a community trying to define itself, and it reminds us that Christian ideals have been difficult in a world that maintains a variety of beliefs, kind of like today. The epistle tells us how to stay connected to the vine and centers upon the love of God and love of one another. 


Why because Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to give all of self for us – bearing branches and fruit. 


That is the core of Jesus, and the core of our Church.  Jesus did not come to just to die but to give life. “By this, you know God is love” and life giving grace - Life giving fruit.  We, as branches, want to stay connected to the vine and be willing - to bear fruit - that is to give all of ourselves in God’s love, grace and peace for all the world.  


How does one do that?  1 John tells us, “by this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God… Little children, you are from God… The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” That is to say the spirit of God is in you, children of God, and with that spirit you have strength and peace. 


Without it, you have hate, anger and fear clouding your hearts -holding us. Rather, we hold onto them. 


Push hate and fear out for they cloud your mind and heart with judgment and destructive thoughts. Hate and fear reject the truth and reject it because they reject the possible. Hate and fear demand, dehumanize, and desensitize because they are at core selfish and greedy distortions away from what is true and what is surely possible.  They establish bias and judgment instead of openness and understanding.  


Unshackle yourself from these and you will find the fruit, the treasure of God in your heart. Push out hate, bias, anger and fear and open your heart to possible. 


Loving God and neighbor are not just words and require concentration. 


I can say this about my own because we want to turn to these when someone says something hurtful or even in moments of crisis. Why? As Yoda says, fear and anger are “easier and more seductive.” But are they. We think they might shield us but do they shield us from potential hurt, potential feeling?


Sometimes, people find these “shields” in substances, but are they.  


This is why people in recovery will tell you about the moments of clarity, the a-ha moments. In those moments, we realize the shields have been illusions and blinding - from seeing what truly is.  In that “a-ha” or “I get it” moment, people can begin the process of liberating themselves from destructive, negative forces and lean into what is possible. That is the process and it is a process: the daily practice of recovery - liberating from harmful and into the love inside you.  


It is not just addictions, but every day struggles. It is these struggles and crisis moments – are precisely when Christ’s teachings matter the most.


We have choices. We could ignore truths- maybe cower away in denial. But we might miss the roses. We might miss the wind flowing in the trees or the morning sunshine pouring into windows of life. Push beyond your comfort zones.  


One of my earliest instructors once gave me a kind of Will Rogers chunk of wisdom,  “whenever you meet someone first find out something about them beyond their name. Then you will find it harder to judge them later” – for even the homeless person on the street has something beautiful to share.


See God’s nature at work all around you, and most importantly, see God’s work in beautiful, broken you. Liberate yourself from anger, hate or fears and lean into possible – lean into God’s love.  


Be freed, be saved! Discover flowing abundance of grace and peace poured out for you right here.


Yes, Jesus did not come to die but to give life – give wholeness. God is life giving grace - Life giving fruit.  So should we. Us, as the branches of vine - as God’s children, bear fruit through our love, grace and peace that has been poured out for us to each other.  Love one another.


Bear these fruits of love, grace and peace - for all God’s children.  God loves you.  The world may not always understand, but you do. So live it.


Share that love, grace and peace with those around you, and you will discover so many beautiful things in this world, more sunshine, more days full of opportunities. 

 

Love one another! 

In God’s kingdom, the poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek wholeness will have it.  

Praise the Lord! 

The vine lives on in you and me.  

Let us together bear God’s fruits to all our neighbors.


Thanks Be to God.