Sunday, May 22, 2022

Ubuntu - Acts 16


Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Acts 16:11-15, Psalm 67, John 14:27

Opening prayer

Ubuntu is the name of a Linux OS. One of the reasons I enjoy this OS is because of its name. Ubuntu. “I am because we are.” Say it with me: Ubuntu.

Why do I bring this up today? 

We meet Paul and Silas on the way to Philippi in Macedonia. There they meet these women spending a wonderful afternoon by the river. They were praying and talking. 

We have seen this before. Missionaries saying, “have you heard the good news?” Who invited them?

Yet there is something else here. Imagine meeting these folks and trading these stories about spiritual wonders, Jesus, lives changing and beauty of all people.  They heard visions of love, grace, and community. They heard personal stories of challenge and triumph all because of this God.

Prayer has a way of doing things and getting people to listen who don’t want to listen. Prayer can help people come together as community. Oh what a blessing we have in that ! A good, welcoming community versus our divided world that would rather show a pistol than shake a hand, a world that demeans differences, a world that defines itself on money, likes, guided by distrusted governments or religions that push mantras of success based upon power, wealth and exclusions. Our broken world around us gives us heartburn, headaches and endless worry.

So yes they heard Paul’s group talking about this other world, this world of Jesus, one created by God for us all, one that has a place for each us to use our gifts, one that has its challenges but it has true community. Utopia! This is the community of God and you are invited! I am sure with questions.

When you pray, invite to share your thoughts, concerns and questions with those around you.  You may not agree everything, but people will witness personal, honest concerns (education, health, family and friends). Witness hearts full of love and welcome having similar concerns and questions as themselves. Let God be with you - Meeting in that commonplace: perhaps some utopia.

Lydia may have been skeptic of these ideas, but she listened. She may have even questioned the messenger, Paul. She may have heard how they were cynics and skeptics with the sins they have committed - because we all fail.

Yet, she heard them talking about community and religion in a different way than the corrupt world around them. She heard Paul say (and we have read Paul write) “I am because we are.” Ubuntu. + “We are because God is working through us and with us.” 

Lydia witnessed, saw something Christ-like in Paul and friends thinking “I want part of that.” 

Suddenly, God opens Lydia’s heart. The idea, the spirit, of good people doing good things with each other moves her.  I can imagine how she may have had tears of joy and not sure why.  Her heart becomes light and free.

Maybe it was like a Peter Parker moment.

She leans into Paul saying, “alright mister fancy pants, Christ-in-your-heart” do it. I am right here. We are right here next to this river. You and your friends, baptize US.”  She was so moved - she says let US be baptized. 

The woman of the house has spoken. The spirit moved.

She says, “if you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” Ubuntu. She invites: people she barely knew. She may not have seen eye to eye on everything, but her witness is real and her invitation is clear - “come and stay my home.” She became church. They became church. 

She heard about Jesus invitation and welcome. She in turn welcomed because she witnessed “I am because we are.” Ubuntu. She witnessed the faith and Christ-like in Paul’s friends. She wanted people to witness that in her and her house. 

I am because we are. Ubuntu. We are because You, God, are so good to us. 

We meet people every day who are skeptics and cynics. We meet folks who barely let us get word in edgewise, some so bent on misery, people corrupted by lies of social media infatuations and materialism. 

They just need someone to show another way - to witness a way of peace and love. We meet people all around us that want a personal invitation to feel the love of God.  

Be like Lydia! Be the church and be the welcome you seek. Let them witness Christ in you - the good way. They will want a part of that. Invite them to pray with you - with us - with God - with eager hearts - and come they will. God’s mission of love is ours too.

Open your hearts to the spirit of baptism today! God is working among us and with us. Come and stay at home with us at St John.

I am because we are. Ubuntu. We are because You, God, are so good to us.

Thanks Be to God

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Hearing Hope - Acts 9

Hearing Hope 

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, John 10:22-30

Opening prayer

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, and Mothers Day! So we read from Psalm 23, a text often used in funerals. Consider how different it sounds in the spirit of Easter, resurrection, and springtime.

In John 10, Jesus, our good shepherd, tells us the sheep hear his voice and follow. Confirmation students tell me that sheep in their flock know them. Further, Jesus gives life. 

Want more life, read some scripture and read comics. I hear people tend to live longer and people could use a good laugh these days. So daily, I try to read Garfield and I read devotionals - hope. 

Acts 9, meet Tabitha/Dorcas a disciple from the Greek city of Joppa. Disciple meaning a student that witnesses and devoted to good work.

That is what we see here. Tabitha is described as devoted to good works and acts of charity. She made clothes and she was known by many.

Tabitha dies. Peter is summoned, comes immediately and performs this deed. (As opposed to Peter an apostle, is one who is sent.) Peter then calls all the saints and widows to witness what has happened. Tabitha heard Peter, the sheep hear the shepherd.  All in the community heard and witnessed.

God is doing something here; bringing people together to witness the work of God. There is inclusion here - all genders. There are support groups, students, and teachers. The whole community comes together. 

Note: People going to church to live longer as well. Maybe it’s the good news, maybe it’s the community and fellowship. Maybe it’s the support we have.

God is showing and revealing to the whole community. God is helping us understand the role of disciple is to hear God, to serve, and to support each other - to care for my neighbor. No one is left out.

That is so much different than the world around us; seeking to divide and exclude. This world around us measures folks based upon account balances, where you live and the clothes you wear.  This world around us promotes that we can only live and be with certain kinds of people - our measure of self is based upon those around us that have worldly materials and connections. 

That may be all well and good, but what do we do with those materials?  Better question, How can we make our world a better place? Probably not with more division and more measures.

Instead, God brings us together in service to support each other wherever we are on life’s journey.  That is God’s kingdom among us. Hear Jesus calling you to service, community, and yes some laughter and good news. 

That goes beyond church too. UBFM often works with another organization called  Joppa. Their mission comes from this Acts 9 passage. The least of us need the best from us. We all need each other.

People want to hear their name and to be treated with dignity and respect. People come to God from different ways of thinking. Great, let us learn together those ways and  many voices. Let God bring us together.

We all have challenges and we all fail. Thus, we need community - church, to support us along the way, to find God working with us. 

Read again Ps23. Who has helped to restore your soul? Who has led you by still waters and walked with you through the valleys of evil? The paradox of our faith in shepherds as sometimes they are sheep in need of shepherds. As community of faithful people, sheep and shepherds walk together and know your name.

We need Tabithas and Peters doing good works and acts of charity, but mostly, all witnessing together the work of God among us, supporting each other in times of need. 

When you look around the room, notice who is here and who is not.  This is your church, your community. There are more beyond these walls.  Who needs to be welcomed and to hear their name? Who needs support? Look to the left and right at the people and the spaces. 

Our church is not so rigid as to exclude - so we need to reach out into our community. Growing this church is duty of all. To do good works, to hear others around us that need community. We invite them to witness with us, to welcome together, to hear together and to grow together. 

Its Sunday morning. Wake up to good news and fellowship. Get started right for another week. That is why we do church - to hear some hope, to gain life - even laugh with a comic strip.

So in the morning next to a devotional, maybe look at a comic, laugh a little, share them. In fact, come to church and share your laughter.

When we do that, when we truly open our doors, hearts and minds to God speaking and working, then we will truly see God’s kingdom working among us.

Beloved, witness God speaking to you, supporting us, and laughing with this day.

Thanks Be to God.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Road to Damascus - Acts 9

The Road to Damascus

Tony E Dillon Hansen

Sermon based upon Revelations 5:11-14, Psalm 30 and Acts 9: 1-20

Opening prayer

This is a conversion story for two people encountering Jesus in different ways.

We know the feeling of working on something and then something just strikes us odd or different.  We can’t explain it or quite picture it, but what we have been doing is somehow needing to change. We have been a path that has worked for us, but something changes. No reason why. Its a phone call, there’s been an accident, the layoff after 15 years, a visit to the doctor, the season-ending injury or parents trying to teach children. 

You see and feel the difficult; we must meet the moment. 

Good thing is that we will and we are not alone. With a team, you work through the fog. You hear, learn, and grow together. Then finally it happens, the promised land - something you never anticipated arrives. With some help, we find understanding; we find gifts.

From wherever you are on life’s journey, encountering God converts hearts into new ways and new life: seeing with grace, love and extravagant welcome.

Sometimes, people refuse to see, but God continues, tickles us and speaks to us. In fact, Jesus has supper with the doubting and deniers.

There will always be someone that threatens because they have not experienced this life. They only know broken and confronting culture. They deny because they have not experienced how Jesus challenges that brokenness with new life. Thus, the encounter of Jesus is counter-cultural. It’s personal and communal. 

As Christians, give that life that experience to your neighbors through listening and welcoming love. Why?

“If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread offered is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. . . . You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive.” We do Christian so that when people see us they have no doubt that Jesus is here in us - revealed in what we say and do.

Thus, Saul encounters Jesus with Ananias - real people with very different viewpoints. The Lord speaks to Ananias and lays out plans for Saul. Ananias has heard a lot about this one. You can almost hear the “no way - not this one.”  Yet, Ananias listens and does what is asked. Saul gains sight.

Ananias revealed Jesus to Saul. Where would Saul be without Ananias? Where would you be without that someone who helped you?  Where would you be without community? 

Better yet, how can we be that encounter in our community ? 

Help turned someone’s “mourning into dancing” through listening and welcoming. Have faith that the holy spirit will take the worst and change that to good. That is the power here. Paul, where he is on life’s journey, is welcomed with the power of the holy spirit (with the help of Ananias.)

Life is full of challenges and grief, but we evolve. Hope is tangible and a gift to be discovered and encountered with the spirit. Sunshine in the bread.

You who question, you who doubt and you who put up curtains to keep out the light of God, find God peaking into your heart to reveal to you through each other.

God is pouring love over you! 

Beloved, open your eyes to see all that is so beautiful in creation. Beloved, you who are hurting, be healed. You, who are wondering, see that you too are beautiful; you are a child of God.

Be that child for those around you and let God surround you and be you. Close your eyes and hear Jesus calling you.

Even when everything is lost, find Jesus! Believe there is someone to help - by the grace of God, yes by the grace of God - Experience the dramatic change from refusal to full embracing love.

Don’t take it from me; take it from God! Experience the risen Jesus in your heart and open your eyes Beloved!

Thanks Be to God