Saturday, September 18, 2021

Who is first - Mark 9

Who is First

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 9:30-37, Psalm 54 and James 3:13-4:8


Opening Prayer


I read in a devotional , “Sometimes it seems we are all competing for the same spaces. Parking lots are crowded with people rushing for an open spot.” People will drive around a parking lot waiting for people to get out of spots near the front. Why not park more safely and enjoy a nice walk?


Highways are full of people trying to get ahead of others. When someone gets in the fast lane (and is in fact not being fast), we get annoyed and frustrated that someone is making us slow down.  From schools, housing, jobs - we’re often trying to beat others to get a spot.” We hurry ourselves from one moment to the next and never stop and to think why.  


That is not to say competition is bad for us, but what is in the competition that gains our attention so much?  What and perhaps who are we forgetting? Or when does that competition becomes dangerous - like an unhealthy Iowa-Iowa State rivalry? Some people express an extreme position - wishing complete ill and harm to their opponents rather than realizing we are all Iowans - we are neighbors.


The disciples do what they and what people always do. They want to make sure they have a spot not just at the table but at the top.  Is that really where we ought to be? Jesus is in their presence; yet, some want to be even closer than others.  You can imagine what family dinner looks like with everyone playing musical chairs around Jesus.


We spend inordinate amount of time and energy and putting claims upon position, power and wealth, but we all die and we all get to face judgment. Is all that energy spent on those things really going to help me when I meet God in the afterlife? (For None of that follows you into the afterlife.)


Jesus calls out the disciples arguing over status and “the greatest.” Jesus calls us out for focusing importance upon the wrong things. Jesus calls them and us out for putting themselves first.  


It might be because the more Jesus talks about imminent death, the more people get confused.  Do they wonder if this is odd, morbid fascination with death or recognizing that even Jesus will not escape the pain of death? Despite that, through faith in God, Jesus will fulfill the plan. 


Human authority is going to get what it wants, but Christ submits to God and challenges us as followers.


Jesus challenges us. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus wants them and us to pursue a different way through life because Jesus isn’t concerned with status of a broken world - Neither should we. 


Jesus picks up a child (one who has no position or power) and says “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” 


Jesus wants us to purse a different way: through serving others by humbly making room in our lives and in the community for others to have a place too.  Much in the way parents welcome a child into the world, we are asked to be extravagantly welcoming. Jesus challenges us to welcome not just one child but all God’s children. 


This does not mean we don’t have place in the kingdom; it means that our place is found making room for others. Some of us are used to having spaces that include us. Some have organized clubs and events that are meant only for certain kinds of people. For what purpose, do we exclude? That is not what God wants.


Then, of course, there are many that rarely have a place left for them or even allowed. Sins of segregation and slavery are all about exclusion and happen still. Why are people so afraid to share their abundance?  This is a reminder that, when we exclude, we exclude children of God.  Instead, we are to welcome. 


Our society shows us values and power structures, but what do we embody of those? James 3, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. [God’s wisdom.] …Harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”


Thus, the mission of UBFM is to provide, yes meals, but it is a way for us to demonstrate and more importantly practice “radical hospitality one burrito at a time.” We welcome without judgment. If you have time, you are welcome to join us Thursday evenings. We don’t have to wait until Thursdays. The question is how can you make room in your life for someone else’s need. How can you practice welcoming?


Yes we all need practice. Question who hasn’t been included in our spaces that should be.  Practice welcoming people - practice welcoming God.


Instead of wrestling for position and pushing people out of the way, make room for people. When you do, you make room for God to work in your life. 


Sit and have conversations - even with people you disagree. That is not to say for arguments or to boast our egos, but have conversations so that we can learn from each other. Invite God to be with you and watch something spectacular happen. When we give up pushing people out of our way, we can discover that God’s grace makes room for us all.


Finally, we ought to thank God for making room for us through Jesus Christ because we find we have so much more than broken status. With God as our partner, we have wholeness, grace and love. 


So pray and ask God, help us make room for all God's children. Find that you are where you are supposed to be. 


Thanks Be to God.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Taking Up Your Cross - Mark 8

Take Up Your Cross

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Mark 8:27-38, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12 and Proverbs 1:20-33


Opening Prayer.


This week’s passage from Mark comes to us in two parts 1) Peter’s declaration of Jesus and 2) Jesus challenging us to take up our cross.


These are core to understanding Mark’s Christology. 


Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say I am” but more importantly “who do you say I am?” We ask this of confirmation students.  Who do you say Jesus is? What did Jesus do and why is that important to us today?


Let us shift a bit and think this a different way.


Last time we met, we talked about how different hats and clothing we wear can change the way people see us.  Peter’s debate with Jesus is a challenge for us to ask what do our actions and words say about us.  


If we say we are a follower of Jesus, what does that mean?

Who is Jesus to us - to you? Mark leaves no wiggle room in this idea. 


Is Jesus some person walking around Palestine with a circle friends making exorbitant claims or is Jesus part of the divine? I submit to you “yes”. Jesus gives us path to salvation - to God. 


So is it the teaching or who Jesus was? Some follow Jesus for who he was and some for what he taught. I submit to you “yes.” (a revolutionary rabbi with God inside him - the Messiah teaching simple empowering ways for all to live, grow and connect to God and to each other.)


Jesus goes further and explains the path of God is not one paved with full acceptance and lavish fortunes, but in fact, rejection and suffering.  


Some look for a savior to rid all our problems, slavery, oppression and tyrants of the world, but Jesus answers this as one who endures suffering, betrayal and violent murder.  


Further, Jesus turns to his people - Jesus turns to us and declares “those who want to save their life for my sake and for the gospel will have it” 


For what is wealth and earthly status but measures of a broken and troubled world. If you want to “profit” from the world, go ahead, but you measure against brokenness. 


Thus, the true measure of discipleship is living Jesus in our lives.  

That is to say “take up your cross.”


Not as a status symbol but how we pray behind closed doors and how we take care of our community - God’s world here. 


Can you feel the weight of the cross?


1) We have many obstacles and burdens in our lives.  Some people like to think their burdens are so immense they cling to them as a status, but that is not what Jesus is saying here either.  


Jesus isn’t saying to wear your suffering like badges or medals. That is actually a form of idolatry. Indeed, suffering happens, but if we focus only upon our suffering, then we become negative, resentful, spiteful and hateful. 


Why because we don’t let the love of God enter our hearts - there is no room unless you empty your hearts of suffering.


Rather, what if when obstacles get in our way, or even, if good things in our lives get taken away, maybe our response isn’t to focus upon the suffering but find opportunities.


In moments of crisis, with Jesus, we will find possibilities and conversation. So invite conversation with God and invite others into that conversation so that together we lift each other. 


2) Crosses aren’t meant just for church either.  Showing up is great, but what about the rest of our week? As I mentioned from Ephesians 6, why would you ever take off the clothing of God? Wear the good we learn in church about Jesus. When you go into the world, don’t leave God at the church; bring God home and into your lives.


Think of the ways, especially in the midst of this pandemic, have we found ways to experience God and share that experience with others. What other ways are there? 


3) Taking up your cross also does not mean that our efforts are the only good ones.  People like to be fixers and helpers. There are places for that. Yet, it is not my way or the highway. People will come to God in their own ways as a child of God in their own right.


We could almost think about this like our efforts around the world to bring democracy. While noble intention, we cannot force people to like us (or be like us), especially at the end of a rifle. Violence begets violence and has great cost to everyone.


Maybe instead of “fixing”, we walk with people on their journeys and encourage with our love and let God work. Maybe then you can say who Jesus is because you let Jesus be Jesus.


Recognize the kingdom of God here in all people. That is part of our role in the cross.  It is the way you live and not just how big your wallet or what your status is. 


Further by doing this, we recognize that we don’t do this alone.  We have each other (and God) to challenge and to teach each other - through our own suffering about the love and compassion of God that is revealed through us. That is church and that is God working in us.


So if you feel the weight of the cross, pray a moment and realize that God is one who helps us.

 

Jesus is helping you carry your cross. Let God be with you.


Thanks Be to God.