Baptism of Expectations?

Baptism of Expectations!
Tony E Dillon-Hansen (8 January 2017)

Sermon based upon Luke 3:1-22

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer.

I – Expectation

I ask you to take a moment with me, and reflect on the particular verse “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah …”

Now, despite what my mother would say about me and if you might have high expectations of me, let me lower them for you some—maybe quite a bit. Despite what some people might say about all the great things you might expect from me, you just might be here for someone else.

In John the Baptist’s case, they don’t know Jesus (Yet). However, people have heard this mystery prophecy about a messiah coming, and John seems to personify what they envisioned of this “messiah.”

John is getting people motivated by preaching against political hypocrisy, deliverance and liberation. People start envisioning extravagant thoughts and spreading the news about this John-fellow baptizing people in the Jordan while calling for repentance and rejection of hypocrisy. Even though, they have heard similar from Isaiah and Ezekiel, John sounds refreshing, albeit revolutionary, to these oppressed people. He is saying some revolutionary stuff like 1) to share, 2) to do fair business, and 3) to not extort.— very revolutionary!

Also, some people get afraid, very afraid. King Herod also heard this messiah story who is to be the “deliverer of the Jewish nation” (e.g. perhaps challenge Herod’s authority like Moses did in Egypt), and Herod doesn’t like power challenges— especially from some guy in the wilderness.

II – Reflection on Baptism.

A large part of this text tells how John would baptize people using the water of the river Jordan. This is where we, as Christians, base the Sacrament of Baptism not just thanks to John, but because Jesus proceeds to be baptized by John — beginning his ministry in the lands of Roman-occupied Israel, and then later instructing his Disciples to go out and baptize.

What is baptism so important? Believe me, when people get baptized, there are some expectations. Namely, that you recognize the mystery of Jesus and God in your life, and through the waters of baptism, we are born into the body of the Church. What possibly could go wrong here?

Why did Jesus find it necessary to be baptized prior to His mission? Perhaps Jesus saw John bringing powerless people to God via baptism. Perhaps, Jesus was showing a sign of solidarity with sinners. Yet, like the Church says, Baptism is the mark of our acceptance (the sign and seal) of one’s participation in God’s forgiveness, a beginning and new growth into Christian faith and life. We are told that Jesus is beginning to fulfill His mission & growth with God as well.

So when you recognize God, you can always find forgiveness, compassion, and fulfillment.

I am reminded that Baptism is not just about the lives of individuals being baptized, but also a celebration and renewal by the whole church. As people growing in the church, we also have the opportunities to “re-affirm” that which may have been done for us in baptism as a child and to confirm our covenant with & faithful recognition of the Church and God.

III – Cleansing Transformations

Like John, I feel compelled to remind us that there is one greater than any minister for which we are “not worthy to untie the …sandals.”

Water is used to symbolize cleansing, if not actually, because water comes from God and only through God might we be truly cleansed. The water helps wash away and just let go. The power of water in baptism becomes no less dramatic to us as to open the heavens to Jesus.

I am compelled to tell the story of a young man who was baptized at Plymouth. (I should note that this is a public baptism in front of the whole congregation during worship, and the congregation is invited to renew their baptismal covenant as well). This gentleman decided to join Plymouth after many great experiences and be baptized. He proceeds to the front of the Church for the baptism. As he received baptismal waters, he just opened up like a sunflower glistening towards the sun. He was glowing with tears of absolute joy, and total elation flowed from him. (Those tears flowed through the congregation that day.) This was truly a memorable experience—a “conversion of the heart.” I was glad to witness it.

This happened because in baptism, there is a “conversion of the heart” happening (as John tells us) only by letting go of what we thought we knew (i.e. expectations). Then, you can let God’s love fill you and maybe you witness the light upon you too! That is transformational power.

Now, Should Herod be so scared of this power?

Can we expect to have that kind of baptismal conversion throughout our lives, instead of that one moment? Can we understand how suffering can completely transform into grace? When we ask God to be in our lives, there are many things possible.

Perhaps it is better that people know the real deal is coming and it is not me! You do not have to worry about having low expectations of me because there is someone far better than I waiting for you. Your baptism covenant is evident of this.

Perhaps, it is better that people recognize how God and Christ can make true differences in our lives when we let go and open ourselves to the possibility.

Let Go of your Expectations! Open your hearts to your baptism, to God and to the possible— rejuvenate your faith. You just might find your expectations filled.

Thanks Be to God.

Taking the Next Step in the Journey

Member in Discernment Begins
27 Sep 2016
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

May the word my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to thy sight our Rock and Our Redeemer.

I first have to thank the Discernment Committee, my husband (Bret-Wayne), the Deacons, the Chancel Choir, Stephen Ministers, the Church Council, and Plymouth Congregation as a whole for helping me to start, to reflect, and to contemplate this journey. There is so much you have given to me already that it pales in comparison to what I can give back.

I believe this recognition and recommendation to be a powerful and solemn reminder of the privilege of being a representative (a minister) of the good people in our world.

I strive to be the best that I can be and to be always worthy of this recognition that the people of Plymouth bestow upon me.

When I do my work, and perhaps when the day comes that I am called to ordination, I will remember and keep your trust in me and my work because Plymouth has become a home.

I am humbled to be your servant always.

I remember being called in my youth—but not finding the right reasons to answer that. I had to learn and walk through a few wildernesses (and I imagine more to come.) I have only a vague idea of where this is going and so, I am putting faith and trust into God’s call.

I do know, I have had to endure a lot of events in life. With the help of training, education, mindfulness and God, this journey has already given more peace and patience to me.

I know that many more challenges await me as I progress in this process and beyond, AND
I know that I have found a home in the UCC and Plymouth.

I first met with cynicism the words from this Church about being welcoming as that is how I came to think of organized religion. Plymouth, however, answered some of my questions and caused even more.

I enjoy the phrase from our Church that says to ”grow” in love. That word “grow” is important to because it recognizes that change is a universal constant. That love will grow over time if, like a gardener, you tend to the work of planting i.e. love.

My theology has transformed considerably from my youth into what I understand today and will continue to evolve. I went from rigid doctrine-defined embedded theology to progressive and deliberative theology. While I have reverence for many traditions, I went from confusing doctrines to a cohesive understanding about the complex-but-simple Way, enlightenment, inclusion, compassion, the Buddha, God, Church and Jesus.

I have much to learn, and I am more willing to walk and to learn with you more than ever before.

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but they happen. As I said in a recent course discussion (some wonderful people there with thought provoking ideas), we have to be prepared for the hour as in the parable of virgins from Matthew 25. If we are to leave a lasting and good legacy, then we have to be prepared to showcase our good life when we are no more. I believe that this is how I will “showcase” my good life.

If I may suggest, I might understand why Pope Francis would use the bus instead of chauffeur transportation as a bishop and priest. I ride the bus to work (one to help my finances) but because, 2, I get to be reminded to grow with all parts of God’s kingdom that Jesus tells us to do (John 4: 7-15).

Do what Jesus did and go to the watering hole so you can grow with the community. My what mass transit systems can show us a lot about the community we are living and about the faith we have.

Some may call me a master in martial arts, but more importantly, I am ALWAYS a student. Like being a martial arts instructor, I know that whatever I bring to the community and the Church, the Church and the community will teach me more. I know I will evolve, and I hope to help Plymouth to continue to be a beacon of hope, trust and faith.

My brief ministry experience, so far, has taught me about the peace and honor that comes with this work and I am seeing opportunities to “grow” this experience..

I pray that I, my family and my work continue to be worthy of your recommendations here and to be a force for positive energy and faith in our community.

Again, I am humbled and thankful to be God’s Servant and Your Servant.

Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” and so I step.

Thanks Be To God.

The UCC and my “Call”

Reflection on the Call and How the UCC via Plymouth is a Part

My call comes from a long time of wondering, a period of serious doubt of organized religion, returning to Church (via the UCC) and finally hearing again and now contemplating the Call.

The calling to ministry has been part of me since my youth (I just ignored or put that answer on hold). I believe there is a reason for everything and God has made that clear to me including the time away from church as much as the return to church.  I have felt a spiritual connection early in my youth and now rekindled that connection in these years with Plymouth and the UCC.

I participated in the sacraments of baptism, confession, communion and confirmation into the Catholic Church via a family that was devout Catholic and a dad that grew up devout Missouri Synod Lutheran. Going to Mass on Sunday was not optional in my family. Further, as a youth, I was heavily involved with Mass and the Church via serving as a altar boy while a young boy and eventually as a cantor and lecturer at Mass during my high school years. I can recount how I felt in awe of priests and the Church with how people respected them and what they brought to people. Yet as I grew into adolescence, there were serious contradictions within myself with what people were saying I ought to feel.  I grew disconnected from the Church as I could no longer ignore my own feelings.  Since then, I have struggled with organized religion for several reasons —bullying, sexual orientation and how the Church leaders are willing to characterize Truths, but God was still there somewhere.

I grew in education, martial arts, study of Asian religions/philosophy, and work with equality issues along with my career as a software engineer. I found Jesus’s messages throughout many of the texts I was reading for Tao or Buddha even though they were not from Jesus or the Gospels. This leads me to believe that what Jesus was preaching is a universal truth that spans cultures, history and generations. I find a connection to Jesus preaching in my work in social justice for equality and find some of the arguments against social justice have not really changed since Jesus time.  Yet the Truth of Jesus is waiting for us to realize, has always been there, and always will be.

Thus, I still feel that it is fitting that I took the name of Matthew (from the Apostle) for my confirmation name because I had to realize the worth of the cause and be willing to invite Jesus into my being.  My invitation was fulfilled when I realized the mission of Jesus was to grow in the love of God and of neighbor as the primary commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40). Matthew became an evangelist as he realized the grace of Jesus’s teaching included all of society including the outcasts and society’s fringes. I doubt that I can even attempt to put myself in the same breath as Matthew, Saul/Paul, or any Evangelist before, but they provide examples to me of how conversion happens to some.

Again for me, I came from turmoil and rejection of religion given how it played a major part in serous bouts with depression episodes in my life.  That rejection from my members of my family, friends, and loss of child caused serious doubt of self worth, as well as a serious contradiction of what I heard (or taught) about Jesus teachings versus people “of God” were willing to do.  When I was willing to let go of those hooks, I found some confidence, but I was always wondering about God and looking to reconnect in some way. 

Perhaps the Calling yields to helping others find their spiritual connection to God and to the universe through discipleship because I had to walk through a wilderness or two in my life. (Gula, 1996).  My community at Plymouth helped me to think that it was ok to have doubt and to have conflict.  I feel that I can relate to people who have trouble finding God in their lives, and I can help others because I understand the disconnect (similar to Evans (2015) experiences) as much I understand the connection that is there.  I understand how God always will be there in various forms and ways, and I can show the diverse ways one can come to experience and know God.

I found the UCC by Plymouth through several other groups that were already meeting here. When I heard the words “no matter who you are or where you are life’s journeys…”, I first met that with serious skepticism yet it certainly didn’t sound like anything that I had heard at a church. I heard more sermons and decided to join with my spouse and that meant I was drawn to also be active again in church just like I was as youth. I became a Deacon, got involved with Chancel choir, and stepped up to be a Stephen minister. The combination of these I also was hearing again the call and decided that this time should answer.

While I still have a place in my heart for Catholic traditions, I have grown to love and admire the work the UCC is doing with the message of Jesus as being a real truth and a real place of refuge for some.  Plymouth has become a home to me where I can express myself, learn from others and just be. To me, the UCC finally seemed to put into practice the words of Jesus that I was reading and hearing rather than confusing with personal bigotries and traditions.

The UCC has made it clear there is more than one way to worship God with its focus upon decentralized autonomous congregations. Also, the UCC General Synod speaks not only to member Churches but also to the world at large about issues where religion has often played significant roles in hurting people. This vocal recognition by the UCC helps me to realize that perfection is nice but not available to us as people. That reflection also helps me and others to realize we are not the only ones that have strayed from the good path, and that there is a path to forgiveness if we are first willing to recognize our part in life’s choices.

God has called me here for some reason for this time, and I have yet to learn where this will take me. Further the training from Stephen ministry will aid in my future pastoral work as it has already taught the value of listening and being truly present.  Being a Deacon has helped me understand the worth of some traditions and to respect the differences in how people worship.  Being a minister, I will pray that my words and the meditations of hearts will be worthy in God’s sight always.

References

Evans, R. (2015). Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Gula, R. M. (1996). Ethics in Pastoral Ministry. New York, NY: Paulist Press.

Bible in 90 Days

As part of a church group exercise, I participated in “Plymouth Reads the Bible in 90 Days” which spanned January into April 2015.

There is much to lift up from this experience, as I was in the midst of my own discernment for ministry.  Thorough reading of the text has reminded me of long lost lessons as well as a greater understanding of the power of scripture to motivate people to something greater than oneself. It is clear that people of faith will endure much “trial and tribulation” and that faith has many rewards.

I believe that I will be able to write about the teachings of the scripture with a more understanding heart of why Jesus, Abraham, and Moses were so important to revealing and to inspiring the hope that is within each of us. The Bible is as much a reflection of humanity as it is a proclamation of God and the covenant, or as Paul calls it “the promise” in his many letters. Love, endurance, discipline, pain, anger, and humility are all revealed here.

I encourage people to take time to read, not just your favorite passages but to incorporate all parts into your reading regiments.  I have included a copy of Devotions that I wrote May 2014.