Sunday, February 27, 2022

Mountaintop Perspectives - Luke 9

Mountaintop Perspectives

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Luke 9: 28-36


Opening Prayer


Happy Transfiguration


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When I was young, one of my uncles invited to join him on a trip across to the Pacific. We were to start in Ames and make our way out to Seattle and Portland. We made a stop in an area called Detroit Lakes in Minnesota just on this side of the state border. The lakes seemed to sprawl all over the area before us. It was really a site.  Then we travel into North Dakota on the Interstate and wow it was flat. Much like Western Kansas or Nebraska. There wasn’t a hill (or tree or civilization) in sight for miles on the open flat plain.  We got to Bismarck, and I remembered thinking how small the place seemed for being the state capital (in comparison to Des Moines). Yet the city was nestled comfortably at the footsteps of some decent hills.


We kept going west and the landscape remain relatively flat but we could tell we were rising as we got closer to Montana.


Then all at once, I looked over the side and saw a great expanse that I later learned was called the Painted Canyon (and part of the Badlands). We stopped for a moment to take some pictures. I was beginning to understand the words mountains majesty that day. 


Montana was even more impressive. We came upon an opening in the highway between two big hills remnant of Highway to Heaven, pass through to realize we are suddenly on the side on giant mountain facing walls of mountain all around us. In this moment, I was realizing a perspective of height and distance as the side of the interstate was the side of the mountain and straight down and trees on the far walls looked like we could pinch them and they were the same size as the ones towering over us.


Mountains offer completely different perspectives for us, the disciples and offer opportunities that you just don’t get on the plains. As Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society said to the students when teaching about perspectives. In one lesson he climbs on his desk and asks why is he doing this?


It is not just to put footprints on the desk but to remind us that we must constantly look at things in different ways. Just when you think you know something, chances are you are missing something. Look at it from different perspectives to make sure 1) we haven’t introduced bias, and 2) that we have better ideas of reality. 


This is essential to something called systems thinking. Don’t let tiredness cloud your vision.


If I think about it, I might understand the perspective of Peter, James and John on this journey.  They have been trekking up the mountain and Jesus ahead to pray. Folks when we hike and climb, what happens? You get tired and so they were beginning to fall asleep when all of the sudden something amazing happens. 


They are able to see Jesus in ways they cannot see in the plains. They get to witness Jesus in full glory and splendor. Surely, they had many questions but could tell that Jesus was not just someone with catchy rhetoric. They saw Jesus in different perspective.


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A point here is to remember that Jesus is praying when this happens. When we pray, amazing things can happen. 


When you pray will you necessarily see your clothes change? Good seamstresses can make wonderful garments, but what if in making them, we added our prayer to them. Last time, we added our blessings and prayers to stones and cards, what happens when we add our prayer to what we do? Make the ordinary - extraordinary.


Maybe the question is what happens when we don’t? - Probably nothing better than what we already have. 


Yet when you pray, something can happen if we give space for the experience rather than your expectation. 


Richard Rohr says that prayer is not just saying words or thinking thoughts. Rather , it is a way of living in the Presence and the awareness of that Presence and even enjoying it. That is why mediation and contemplative prayer works so well but they focus upon the experience more than the right words. 


Be still and open yourself to Christ’s spirit working inside you - tickling your hearts. In that moment no one can manipulate you, use you, or judge you. It is the place of freedom - liberation. 


What experience do you have, what can you have and what is revealed? Perhaps, what can be revealed can move mountains because we connect. For Jesus in Luke, we see connections to God through prayer and the presence of the holy spirit. God is the oxygen for our souls; Breathe in.


The power of the holy spirit is revealed.


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This prayer, this transfiguration, is more than dazzling, there is an invitation to sight and seeing. Not only are the disciples coming to grips with who Jesus is, Jesus is lighting a path for those who are searching, searching for a guide or path. Even though we have so many challenges in our lives and destruction. That is our broken world and all the trappings here, but there is path through that mess and into something fulfilling and wonderful. 


These disciples may be tired, but they awaken in time to see Jesus’ glory. This is an awesome experience much like seeing mountain majesty for the first time or dramatic naturally painted rocks. Maybe we can let ourselves go in our tiredness and let Jesus reveal to us all that is possible in our prayers.


That is perhaps why Peter wants to stay on the mountain - to build places right there on the mountain. They witness the promise of God not just through Jesus but through the generations before them. They witness the strength of generations before us: what we have learned, liberation from tyrants, endurance through hardships and the gifts we have because of them.


They may not have been perfect (neither are we), but we have a path. We have perspective and light - not confined to a building but for us to witness. 


See things from different perspectives. See the light. See the gifts you have. Witness the work done and experience the fullness of God.


You don’t need to go to mountains. Experience the moment and the presence rather than trying to explain what happened. Let generations teach you. Experience and see God here today in your prayer. 


In the fog of exhaustion, we will see the light. Out of the darkness, there appears a light and so that light appears for you, for us in our exhaustion. Thus we have been given great light. 


What do you do with that experience?


Thanks Be to God.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Psalm 54 adapted

 From Psalm 54

Prayer for Vindication

Save Ukraine, O God, by your name,
    and vindicate our neighbors by your might and peace.

Hear our prayers, O God;
    give ear to the words of our mouths.

For the insolent have risen against the peaceful,
    the ruthless seek their lives;
    they do not set God before them. Selah

But surely, God is our divine helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of peaceful life.

Holiness will repay your enemies for their evil.
    In your faithfulness, put an end to their aggression.

With a freewill offering we call and sacrifice to you;
    We will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.

For God will deliver us and our neighbors from every trouble,
    and our eyes will witness in triumph over the belligerent.


May peace and grace be with Ukraine

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Blessings Bestowed - Luke 6

 Blessings Bestowed

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon Luke 6: 17-26, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20


Opening Prayer.


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Growing up, our family didn’t have much. My folks did the best they could with the money they could get. When we lived in Carroll, we were cozy and then one day, they shut down the whole line at the plant. We moved to Kansas because there were no job openings in Iowa.  My dad would work the second or overnight shift just to get the extra quarter an hour. My mother would do in-home child care or even joined Dad on the line for a moment. She was a master of finding things at garage sales for pennies on the dollar. 


We had food on the table, clothes on our backs, a dog, and public school in walking distance. It wasn’t easy, but we made it and eventually moved back to Iowa. When I would hear this lesson, I heard Jesus speaking directly to us and today, it speaks to me for different reasons (and why it is among one of my favorites.)


For people who like direct speeches, this is for you. It even has a kind of balanced rhythm form in the beatitudes and the woes.


If we think about it though, we know at any moment, I am poor, hungry, weeping, rejected or ridiculed. In any moment, I am rich, content with myself, laughing or I am admired. In the bad times, I identify with poverty, hunger, grief and rejection and when life is good I identify with the latter. At some points, I identify as both. 


Yet let look at this a moment more, what is blessing? This is something different from hearing – Bless your heart.  Depending upon where you are in the country that is either a true gift or passive aggressive dig. I would like to think of it in terms of happy for our concerns here. Blessing is hopeful, healing, thankful, and assuring. Blessings are gifts of love - not the “gift that I didn’t saying harsher" variety.


There is something amazing about getting an honest-to-goodness blessing.  As our youth mentioned before, even if the person is random, gifts are nice to get.  You may wonder, but they are nice. You are grateful and may suddenly feel happy.


Blessings are more powerful when authentic. They are awesome when they come from you, from me, from God.  So when we are thinking about someone or even oneself, consider to bestow a blessing as your love: some hope that tomorrow will be a better day, healing of suffering, thanks for your presence in my life, or assurance that you always have me.


Sounds like great greeting cards, but there’s more. When you offer a blessing, let it drip from your lips like wild honey from honeycomb. Let it flow out from your heart like massive balloon drop meant just for this moment. Let it come from all of you.


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What is woe? A distress maybe but here perhaps more like warnings. After offering the happiness, Jesus calls us to attention - giving us signs. 


This expands upon what we heard in Mark - the first will be last and the last will be first.  Realize the path you are on and to be careful on that path, else we get complacent - being content with where we are.  Jesus turns things on their heads - continuously calling us to something new. 


With these woes, Jesus sets a path for us. If you call yourself a disciple or follower of Jesus, we are to do God’s work rather than feeding our own wants.  


This is a gracious Gospel because we see good news for poor folks, but this might feel difficult for those of us who don’t necessarily identify as poor. Even for folks whose livelihood is one-bill-away-from-disaster, we see blessings bestowed and wonder “what about me?” 


That isn’t to say one shouldn’t be out there trying to make a good living, but that worldly wealth should not blind us. For we who are well-fed, rich, laughing and admired, this is a wake-up call for three reasons 1) to not overlook folks around us, 2) not let good fortune blind us from the truths in our world and 3) remember anytime, fortunes can reverse. 


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What Jesus says here isn’t that identifying as poor is the only good, but that riches or contentment can led us away from God and the life with God here and the hereafter. Contentment can cause one to think we have all the answers and all we need. 


Trouble is always just around the corner. “Your self will not satisfy you for long.” Just like my youth , recessions hit, pandemics or otherwise life happens and turns.  


Even worse for some, we find excuses or path thinking we have no need for the poor people - like it is their fault or something. Or “I had to earn my own keep and work to keep it. Why do these people need my help?” 


There, Listen to that closely. This is the attitude that Jesus cautions us because we turn away with intention. Did you really have no help? Were you just entitled (where did that come from?) or were blessings bestowed to you? 


Tony, “I don’t have time for that. I have to get to the doctor, then wrestling practice, supper needs cooked, have to pay bills and the list goes on and on. Those people will be here tomorrow, next week and more. Maybe, I can help them tomorrow.”


Do you really have no time to extend compassion and empathy? What happens if your child gets hurt, are you going to wait?  Folks, it's not too late, and the time for empathy and compassion is now.


I assure when people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, bills get tossed into hats to decide who gets paid first with little left over. Yet, there is a point about debt here that robs people of that potential to save.


I am reminded when I serve homeless, how close I have come to being on the other side of the burrito delivery. There was a time when I wasn’t the person with a cozy house, loving spouse, and good paying job. As a college kid, I scraped by working multiple jobs to just put food in the fridge, and I was scared when Tyler was born, wondering how was this going to work. 


In those moments, you recognize what is truly important versus what is luxury - I had good people around me and God.


You might say, “I don’t want to be poor and stressed like that either.” God does not love us just when we are miserable. These are promises that even when we feel left out of this world or are suffering that God sees you and loves you too. 


Further, being poor is not a badge to wear or reason to stop living. Paul to Corinth writes that God wants you to use your gifts; God wants us to thrive not just survive. We were given distinct gifts. We should strive to use our gifts for each other because we need each other.


God is not just for Olympians or folks with education, wealth, health, or more. All of these have limits and will not pass with you into the afterlife. God nudges us to live with attention and generosity to those around us.


At any point in time, we could be blessed and cozying too close to these woes. At points in my youth, we did not have much, and no, it wasn’t easy. We did have each other, we learned the value of honest work, and that God was there with us.  


Today, I heed that lesson to know I am and have been blessed. What should I do?? I pass on that lesson. Live in that blessing and be willing to bless others. I extend a hand because God loves us and so I will extend that to others - so should you.


Beloved, God bestowed blessings upon you and loves you. Its your turn.


Thanks Be to God.


Today let us offer blessings, for ourselves and for those around us. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

I Am Lost - Isaiah 6

 I Am Lost

Tony E Dillon Hansen


Sermon based upon Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 138 and Luke 5:1-11 (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)


Opening Prayer.


I 


A Story… 


Years ago, I was driving back home from the grocery, and a hawk just ahead in a yard and then start taking off. It looked little odd and I couldn’t quite figure it out until I realized it was carrying a snake that it just caught. To make things worse, I had my car moonroof open and just about to drive under this combo. No matter what anyone says to you, I am not particularly fond of snakes, and I was not excited to have one drop into the car (wings or no wings, alive or not). That realization had all kinds of visions going in my head.  


I share that since our lesson references seraphs; these angelic beings are flying snakes. 


Not only are there snakes in the HB but they fly too. These however are not the sneaky and frightful but the angelic and praising God.


The king has died which means political change.


The prophet has a vision with these angelic beings. This vision reveals something about the nature of God and worship (holy holy proclamation, confession, absolution and invitation). 


That visions tells us why worship can be consoling and empowering. This shows that despite earthly changes or questions, a powerful God is present.


There is a lot here. For today, I am drawn to the verse “I am lost, for I have unclean lips…” For myself, this is one of my well worn confessional prayers. 


When change happens or when I have screwed up, our prayers may yield utter desperation or resignation because emotions are so tied up with questions.


Clearly, the prophet is humbled before God and feels unworthy. We don’t know the where or whys, but you can understand the dilemma because we have lived this experience.


How many times have we went to bed (or walked away from an experience) with a mess on our mind? How we get through anxiety or trauma is not clear to us because there is conflict, emotions or setback maybe clouding the way. Then you see something that is so awesome, you are not sure what to make of it.


Dreams and visions tell us that what we see around us does not always contain the whole truth.  That is because our physical senses don’t always communicate to us God’s continuing presence in any one specific moment. You can reflect in retrospective to see God’s presence, but in the heat of moments, our focus is somewhere else.


Dreams tell us things we want, love, cherish also things we should not do. They remind us of fears, angers, terrors and guilts. (Or what could happen if the bird drops its dinner.) Yet when I feel lost or have questions, dreams may be helpful.


The prophet has a vision of God on throne in the temple with angels praising. Sound familiar?


II


This is also a call story because the prophet is invited or “called” in this dream.


A bit of my call story.


I grew up in devout religious family and in my youth felt “called” to ministry because I loved the Gospel (especially Matthew 5 and Luke 6, coming next week). Yet as I grew older, I felt a disconnect from the Gospel teachings and an apparent lack of inclusion. The walk did not align the talk. I walked away not sure I would come back. 


Then as it were, I was involved with groups that regularly met at Plymouth. So I decided to see their idea of worship with skepticism. Turns out, it was the first time in a long time where I felt I could question God and see a place that demonstrated the Gospel’s inclusion. Then, someone came and asked if I wanted to be a deacon, then later Stephen ministry. One thing lead to another and I realized that feeling from my youth had returned. I heard God calling me. The boss is on a roll.


We Christians are often referred to as “called people” – called out like when Jesus calls Peter, James and John (and they leave everything). 


Christian joins Christ and “-ian” meaning “belonging to the party of…” Ever since I was a kid, when someone referred to “party” in this manner, I had a little inside giggle. (Just think how that could change our political “parties”) Yet. we as Christians are called together to worship together. 


That begs the question, what are we “called” to do?


A few years ago, a friend challenged “being called” because he did not feel particularly “called.” That, in his mind, refers to people set apart as leadership rather than all Christians. I wonder this point.


The term Christian came from outsiders referring to the group. The broken world likes to pit differences against each other. Yet, Christians would gather together to practice forgiveness and love for all - to embrace the Gospel that preaches to include. Thus, Christian is a community of the Gospel that transcends differences through that Gospel “calling” to serve/lead as instigators of inclusive justice rather than division.


III


That brings us to next part of this prophet’s vision- absolution via hot coal to the lips. We are reminded that whatever separates us from God, there is forgiveness - a path forward (even for you who feel unworthy / unclean). 


That is the Gospel of liberation via powerful forgiveness and of inclusion! Thus, when God asks “whom shall I send,” humble yourself before God’s love to receive forgiveness. There is no question, “…send me!”


This is a call to Gospel not just specific roles. We are, as Paul says, “many members of one body of Christ…” We have gifts distinct from each other who need each other. This “call” may be the gift of music, gift of reading, the gift of caretaking, the gift of forgiveness and yes - the gift of inclusive love.


Ultimately, despite our unworthy-ness, God calls us to forgive and to love. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Especially in our troubled world, we are “called” to be expressions of God’s love, peace, and forgiveness to all. Why? because God forgives and loves us. 


This is not just a call to full ministry but to people like my dad, who just shows up to serve in whatever way possible, like presenting military honors for veterans at funerals, even when suffering stage 4 cancer himself.


Isn’t that really what is asked here, to show up - to dignify those around us? Don’t worry about the flying snakes. You might be lost and unclean, but let God be with you and speak to you. 


Witness your divine vision, be forgiven and be called to love. Beloved, what is your answer?


Thanks Be to God

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Throw'm off the cliff - Luke 4

 Tony E Dillon Hansen

Message from Luke 4: 21-30 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

What a welcome from a home town.  These people see that Jesus has evolved and grown.  Yet, there is distaste and distrust - like they cannot possibly look beyond themselves and their ideas of what is right and wrong and what is meant by the scriptures.  That is the real tragedy here.  

Why did they feel compelled to throw Jesus off a cliff?

False sense of safety?  arrogance? lack of understanding? closing eyes at the potential?

All of these.

This is the problem we face today in our society where people have turned on each other simply because we disagree.  Why is our viewpoint so crucial that we cannot make space for others?

If I mention my politics then automatically, some people will shut their ears as if there is no more reason to keep listening.  Viewpoints are windows to people and are for us to learn rather than shun. If I think I have all the answers, then I most assuredly do not. 

Open your heart to what the scripture means today not just what you think you heard. Scripture is not just old text from a couple thousand years ago. 

That is why we say God is still speaking because the scriptures are more than verses printed on a page but God speaking to us in our world and in our time.  If we close our hearts and minds to that, then we risk leaving God as a stale text to be forgotten.  

You can almost hear the queen scream "off with their heads" and being unreasonable.  Yet that is what we do when we close our hearts and minds from the truth and flexibility of God.

Do not be part of the crowd that marches God off a cliff over a disagreement.  We can be angry with God because God has big shoulders but we ought to understand first why we are angry and what maybe we might do about that instead directing our anger at someone else.  

Thanks Be to God.