Sunday, January 30, 2022

This thing called love - 1 Corinthians 13

 This Things Called Love

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon 1 Corinthians 13, Psalm 71 and Luke 4:21-30 (4th Sunday after Epiphany Year C)

Opening prayer.

This passage from 1 Corinthians is perhaps one of the most recognizable pieces from the Gospels and Epistles.  Several stores like Hobby Lobby, you can find plaques and various gifts inscribed with verses from this text.  As I said in the midweek message, it is often one that is used for weddings (including our own wedding.) 

St Paul is writing to the church in Corinth because there are some issues.  There is division. People are being excluded and other things. Paul sends these to guide the church. 

Last week, Paul likens the church as parts of the body where the “eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you” and so on. The church is made of many members in the one body of Christ and we are to “strive for the greater gifts.” 

Then, this gem.  As curious children of God, let us lean into and listen to what Paul says here.  

Any gifts we have in life are temporary and incomplete - knowledge, speaking, prophecy - valentine cards.  These are nice and great but they are incomplete. We, ourselves, are broken and fall short. So what now?

These gifts (and us), we require this thing called Love.  All of who we are and what we do requires this. 

In fact, Paul raises not just love but spiritual gifts of faith and hope.  Paul singles out love as the greatest of these.  Think about that because God’s first commandment is what: “to love God and to love neighbor.” Love is the root of our sacred covenant.

Of many things in life, we can be guaranteed there are limits. Love, however is different.  “Love never ends.” Love does not fall down or stumble or flop.  This is not Hallmark sentimentalism or a box of chocolates (although I won’t turn those down.) 

This is something much deeper than candy and poetic words.  This is a way and action. At its core, this is how we connect to God and to each other. 

While hate and fear cause folks to recoil into the self, love invites us to be open, brave and to connect to people - to God. Paul even notes his own personal limitations, and I can join him because I have them too. I am flawed. I always have to work (to practice) this thing called love as well because even the best messages will fall short if I don’t first seek love.  

A commentator wrote that another awful truth about gifts: they cause great harm when not rooted in love. There are gifted folks around us the leave trails of destruction because they scorn love and its challenges. Charismatic people who can’t or won’t love, are more than annoyances. They can be dangerous. Thus, God directs us to love reminding us that love is the point of the gifts.

The love of God is pure, perfect and does not yield to mischief.  It does not look for excuses or hide away. Love does not boast nor is rude or arrogant.

Instead, love rejoices. Love bears all, believes and endures.  Those are not just cute words for greeting cards, but God’s love is a gift for us. Love is the root of our covenant. God’s covenant of love is not just for you and me but defines how we express that to others in our world - beyond the walls of church.

Love is expression and thus intentional action (a verb).  Love waits patiently, acts kindly, does not judge and seeks out the homeless to ask if they have had supper.  Love is not just a passive emotion but intention between each other that dignifies each other. 

For without love, we are just empty words on a page or noise in the crowd. Without love, we are nothing but a bag of ego wrapped in skin.  

In a world that belittles compassion and empathy for people around us and where many people seem to have given up on any sense of community, love might actually seem like a sign of weakness or seem like opportunities to exploit a sucker. To cynics, love might feel like a public liability in a society that cultivates selfishness, arrogance, self-centeredness, impatience, resentments and cynicism. 

Those are marks of a broken world and not God’s kingdom - bound in love. The agency and power of love exemplified through Jesus transcends that brokenness to connect us and to believe in each other. We use gifts rooted in love to navigate a dim world.

This is the case even amid stark differences. For love does not cover our eyes from the differences. Instead, love invites us to embrace those differences - as the authentic and uniqueness of all God’s children.  Thus to pursue love is to pursue authenticity instead of covering behind ego. Put away the facades of ego and materials - those marks of a broken world.  Open your hearts to see God’s beautiful children all around you and most importantly -> in you. 

Thus Paul invites us to embrace love more than cuteness but to be love.  Then you too will see irritations fall away, rudeness vanishes, possessions are just things. Love is so much when we let it be  - when we let it be us. Then yes love goes from being an abstract concept to guiding our actions when we let love be us. 

Love is not weakness but soulful strength and integrity. When we let love guide us, our actions and our words, then people will see not a greeting card but the true and authentic you.

Then you might understand how love waiting patiently, acting kindly and not judging because you are love. You can feel it. 

Then you will want to share that awesome feeling, that gift.

So make space for love. Let God’s gift move you and be you today.  

Thanks Be to God.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Baptism of the Lord - Luke 3

Baptism of the Lord

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Isaiah 43: 1-7, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-7, 21-22

Opening Prayer.

Today is a festival for the baptism of Jesus!! I brought some cake to celebrate.

We all come to church and to baptism from a variety of directions and beliefs of what baptism is and does. In this lesson, Luke’s Gospel provides an idea of what baptism means, its role in our faith, and how this is a cornerstone to Jesus’s ministry. 

Yet, we have to ask, what does it mean to me? What does baptism tell us?

We heard part of this story a couple weeks ago in Advent, and John is preaching and baptizing people in water.  People are wondering about John and asking him what we must do.  John preaches to let go of our worldly desires because true happiness is not found in them. John proclaims “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. 

Repentance is turning. They were baptized in this repentance and see John .

 “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah …” (Luke 3)

John tempers that expectation saying he is not the one they came to see - that the one to come, John is not worthy to untie sandals. 

Then, the Gospel skips to the moment Jesus and all the people are baptized.  Jesus baptizes by water and the Spirit, not by fire.  

That all people were baptized reminds us that the Spirit is not judging and dividing people into who has reward versus punishment. 

Jesus embodies the Spirit of God, one of forgiveness of sins.

Jesus goes out into the wilderness, with the fringe of society, with us, as sinners, to pass through the waters of baptism rather than burn with judgement.

This is part of why Louis Gunnemann calls baptism a “Sacrament of Christian Vocation”

because through baptism, we are called into the Church, to the mission of Jesus and thus, to service with our community. Christians are a called people because we are called in baptism. Jesus answers the call in baptism and sets aside judgement.

Water is an important symbol of baptism because of the beautiful, healing and life-sustaining properties, but the real sign is how the Spirit mutually connects to us in baptism.  The Gospel tells us the real power of baptism when Jesus connects with the Spirit of God. 

Baptism is not just about someone getting wet with water but how we come into covenant with the Spirit so that new life begins.  In baptism, one may find that relationship with God, and one may find, as Gunnemann writes, “liberation from the bonds of self-serving religion” (or judgement and desires).  That is how we are given new life through this sacrament.

When we, as people, witness this transformation, we can also affirm and connect to our understanding of that Spirit. Ultimately, this is a powerful and meaningful experience (transformational) because baptism is about how Jesus is revealed within us. 

That is a revelation of Epiphany; the holy spirit calls our hearts . You can feel it when you let it.

Baptismal moments like a tender moment when an infant suddenly booms a giant smile as water touches her forehead and she sends the whole chancel into awes.

Or grown man with a ray of sunshine on his face becomes emotional as he receives the baptismal waters and is moved to tears and brings the entire congregation to tears of pure joy.  

In Acts 8, Peter and John go to Samaria. They pray and lay hands upon the people as they receive the Holy Spirit. 

This reminds us that the Spirit is an active agent in baptism. That Spirit bridges the many divides around us to call us into one community with God. Then, with prayer -- listening to God, you can let God’s love fill you, and maybe, you can witness that light upon you too!

Some call this a “Conversion of heart” when those waters touch us.

Now I am not a fan of deep water, but as Isaiah 43 reminds us, we will pass through the water but it will not overwhelm us

These happened because in baptism, there is something happening, perhaps a “conversion of the heart” or just a warm smile of acceptance - a response to God’s welcome. When we let God connect, when we set aside judgment and when we set aside expectations, we might hear speaking to us today, and we might be compelled to tears or a simple smile.

What does baptism mean to you? Think about it.

Affirm your baptismal promise, listen for God speaking to you, and follow the light upon you – a child of God – for whom God is well pleased!

Hear God speaking and calling you.  Feel that welcome and accept it with your beautiful smile and tears. Thus, just as Jesus was called by God in baptism, we continue that call through our own baptism.

Let us Connect to the holy and affirm those baptism promises.

Thanks be to God!