Saturday, June 19, 2021

Legends Covenants Fear - 1 Samuel 17

Legends, Covenants, Fear

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Reflection based upon 1 Samuel 17-18:5, Mark 4:35-41, Psalm 9


Opening Prayer


The story of David’s battle with Goliath is a familiar story that is invoked to encourage underdog victories.  As a Royals fan, I know this feeling of being an underdog well.  Yet David is not viewing this situation as he being the underdog - but someone with a surprise.  David is not the usual suspect, not military bred, but a shepherd, the runt of the family, and the go-getter. David does what his father instructs, Saul accepts the offer and David wins.  A series of events that raises David’s status not only in the scripture but with those who watch things unfold.  David gains armies’ allegiance for his cunning display.


The curious thing of David invoking God before this “fight” which had a whole lot more dressing than actual sparring.


How many of us have done that? Before a competition, a game, we pray for protection and victory.  David does not – instead, David says the Lord is with him.  That is serious confidence in the midst of a whole lot of fear by those around David.  Speaking of which, who wins these games?  The ones who pray more or with more solemn intention? Those who expect to win? Those who put faith that things will work out – like what we talked last week.


In fact, we have a habit of making out more of the task ahead of us instead of working with what we have vs working with true faith. Yes, we may miss our mark. We may have great chance at failure, but that fear can lead us to not even try.

 

Saul invites David into the house. Then, there is this meeting of Jonathan with David.  The son of the king binding himself with David in most dramatic fashion.  There is clearly love between these two. Later in 2 Samuel, David’s eulogy for Jonathan just takes one’s heart.  Clearly, Jonathan is more than just a friend to David, perhaps a first love.  In fact, we will observe that after Jonathan’s death, things get really wonky for David with bad decision making, cover ups and more. 


What is in a covenant? Why bind ourselves to others?  Over the next events in David’s life, Jonathan along with David’s wives (Michal) save him a number of times.  Why?


Yet this passage also marks the rapid deterioration of Saul as David’s abilities are revealed. Initially, Saul enjoys having David, but that honeymoon is abrupt. Saul changes from hospitable to adversary. David is a political foe getting a lot of accolades. It could be that Saul disapproves of this covenant between his son, Jonathan, and David. Saul wants to end this and his fear consumes him.


Fear is a natural instinct and can be life saving for the right reasons.  (I don’t like heights or deep water.) Fear can be healthy and help us to realize not to jump from the cliff or tall building.


When fear consumes us, it turns into obsessions. Then our decisions become erratic, irresponsible, and can actually disregard our safety.  Saul’s fear turns into an obsession to kill David. As Yoda says in Star Wars, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side.” Fear takes us down paths away from reason, away from reality, away from love, away from faith, away from God.  


What are we trying to protect in our fear?  Our ego? Our traditions - even when we know things need to change?  What do we hide from ourselves that we allow fear to consume us - to separate us from reality, from God? My own fears might be protecting me in some ways, but I cannot let them prevent me from doing the right thing.


If Saul’s outrage is over Jonathan’s and David’s covenant – (who both do quite a bit of subterfuge over the next few chapters to avoid Saul’s wrath and anger), it begins to feel quite familiar to situations I have witnessed where people come out to families only to be kicked out. There are so many stories about families torn apart because of irrational, fearful, and distorted views about queer relationships. This fear, anger and hate destroys – not David as the target but - Saul and Saul’s family. 


Saul’s fear is unhealthy for himself and serves to undermine his own authority. It begins his decline.


For us, the lesson is… Why not direct our efforts towards fostering love, faith and grace rather than focusing or obsessing over irrational fears, angers, and hatreds. We have enough conflicts and battles in our lives that we don’t need to introduce more tensions.  


Ultimately, love wins because the love between David and Jonathan is real and strong. That love will overcome hate and fear. Love will find a way and teach us the value of people around us. Their story also serves to remind us not to let death teach us the value of that love.


Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Growing up - Mark 4

Growing up

Tony E Dillon-Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 4:26-32, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, Psalm 92


Opening Prayer


How does the parable of the seeds describe the kingdom of God?  That is good question, and in fact, I read and heard many people talk about how challenging Mark 4 can be. I agree there is some apocalyptic language here, but in these particular verses, there is something that might help to give us some hope. 


You know I enjoy gardening, and we have talked about seeds: being branches – connected to God, and bearing fruit from John’s Gospel. The mustard seed parables has some similarities, but Mark’s usage is different. 


If we read again, I would have us kind of focus upon the verses 

“and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

There are a couple things that jump out – I might be scared of the sickle, Yet, 1) there are stages of growth or steps to discern, 2) and the earth produces of itself. 


We don’t know why or how, and this means the mystery of God is something deeper than something we can see or hear.  As written in 2 Corinthians 5, “So we are always confident; … we walk by faith, not by sight.”


Yes we walk by faith and we grow by faith.  We grow in stages, and by faith, we adapt. We don’t know how or why our bodies grow, but we do.  Indeed, hearing the good news, some will “indeed look and not perceive or indeed listen, but not understand.” (Mark 4:12)


This is different than being an engineer or landscaper, in that we don’t engineer our growth or how we ultimately turn out. When we read other parables, like of the sower of where the seed lands, we are left with questions and maybe desire to do engineering of some sort. 


These parables challenge that because growth does not depend upon ourselves and is ultimately requires faith in our greater being. Alan Watts has talked about faith like this. That faith is not an expectation of what happens, but faith that things will work out – letting God.


On this notion, John Calvin agrees that we cannot control our destiny, and why we don’t do this alone- that we cannot. That is why God’s grace is so “irresistible” and why our faith is so important.  Our faith in God’s nourishment is what allows us to grow, even in darkness, amidst calamities, droughts or division. The seed knows nothing of what will happen, but with faith, the seed transforms from something small (maybe somewhat insignificant) but something in darkness, in the ground, this something transforms into something else that is life giving.  We grow from God’s creation to give life forward. 


There is something deep, personal and intimate about this feeling. There is something powerful about the strength of our faith to go beyond what we think we see or don’t see.  We learn, we adapt, we grow into what we are meant to be.  Because, Faith allows us to seek justice in the midst of misfortune. Faith to encourage love over violence, pointing fingers or false accusation because the truth is much more than us. Faith says to be the love.


When we are deeply self-giving, deeply trusting in the faithfulness of God – for a people trying to figure what to do, there is something powerful here.  Yet, there is patience and observation of steps to take  – to grow - to be transformed – to continue.


The mustard seed parable continues with this image with the idea that we do well when we are connected to God, so we want to stay connected to the greater stalk and grow as strong branches of the one. 


Think about it, the old tree has many tales to tell, but it got there over decades of practice in faith. It still produces sap and fruit because it is connected to the soil – connected to God. A good person, a good church, does not necessarily know the why (or how) it works, it just knows because we grow and we are connected to God.


Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Who Are Family - Mark 3

Who Are Family

 – How do we recognize Jesus?

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 3:20-41, Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1


Opening prayer


We know that people can be cynical and scornful - if not outright hateful.  When people see someone like Jesus preaching and having these massive crowds, there is some jealousy growing in the local scribes.  How does Jesus get all of this attention ??


They start mocking his work and miracles as some trickery and demonic magic – the work of Beelzebul. So the first part of the Gospel text for this week is a critical response to these attacks.  How can you call Jesus Satan when Jesus is working to cast out Satan?


That Abraham Lincoln refers to this text in speeches in his run for Senate in Illinois tells how important this text is.   “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Then candidate Lincoln was referring to the persistent division of the country based upon slavery, which he predicted was going to tear apart the country - how correct he still is. 


We know that some people like to swear and curse more than a fair share. (I have lived in neighborhoods where you could tell what time of day it was by the volume of curses.) People might look at the middle verses and have some pause:

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

When we witness Jesus or God working but completely deny it, then we might run afoul of this. Thus, it is important for us here to be conscious of when we witness Jesus working.  


It is great to see Jesus working in people doing wonderful things (e.g. that wonderful meal, graduations, a child scores the run, the success at the office, or a person pulled from a fire). 


We can recognize Jesus when people celebrate heritage (Black, Asian, Native tribes, or even Pride). Our Bible tells us to celebrate these.


Yet, we are challenged to witness Jesus also when people march for justice, equality and fairness in our laws. That’s what Jesus did. Additionally, we ought to witness Jesus when people atone for mistakes – Jesus forgives and so should we. We ought to recognize when we have screwed up, be willing to atone and forgive ourselves because we know no one is perfect - we all fall short. 


This is a central theme of Mark’s Gospel and Jesus’s teaching. Remember from Mark 1, Jesus proclaiming “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom is near, repent and believe…”


That is why Jesus in the last part of the lesson talks about where family is.  Not just family by blood (who in Mark’s Gospel also were trying to “restrain” Jesus saying “has gone out of his mind.”) 


You may have thought that about me, and I know I haven’t been perfect – but I preach what Jesus says and did. It is not always an easy path.  That is not to say I have the only perspective either. 


People like to twist this into an argument against diverse perspectives and experiences. Jesus offers grace and teaching beyond his own community.  Sorry, Jesus did not offer extraordinary powers or wealth- that would be false teaching. Instead, the focus is upon ways to connect with God, ways in which we can see and witness God in our lives and those around us. 


These are ways we can witness family all around us - not by casting negativity about others.   That only serves to sow division and hate, which our human society has plenty of ways. That is how we devolve into fighting and wars because we are too busy trying to find what is wrong with others, demean people or relegate their work as meaningless rather than finding what we can learn from each other - perhaps growing with each other.


This is one of the reasons I have grown to dislike social media. That for all of the promise it holds to reconnect friends, it has become mired in echo chambers where people shout at each other in careless, one-way, baseless claims and accusations rather than honest dialog.


So instead, Jesus teaches inclusion with forgiveness and redemption available for all. That means having conversations rather than demeaning people.  That is the core of the good news!  They who recognize this, (if you recognize this), you recognize Jesus, and recognize God.  Those who practice this, practice Jesus and find Jesus filling hearts and minds with love, justice and grace.  


By our faith, we too can witness the possible of Jesus. That is the family Jesus refers here. Those who recognize forgiveness and the kingdom is available to all God’s children. Thus, sit with Jesus to learn rather than pointing fingers and false accusation.


Yes, I am not perfect. I recognize that I am broken and I fall way short. That is why we have God – to build us up. Through faith, the power and restoring grace of Jesus’s spirit guides us to be more than our brokenness and our mistakes.  We are, after all, children of God, and with that, we have so much given to us and so much possible – and we have church -our family. 


If we open our eyes, our ears before we open our mouths, we might be willing to open our minds and our hearts to the possible - the grace of Jesus near us and with us.


Let your faith connect you to all God’s children! Let your hearts grow beyond accusations, the difficult and brokenness. Watch your heart flourish nearer to Jesus.


Thanks be to God.