Sermons

Sermons

Sermon 04/08/2018

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Sermon, Easter 2B and Baptism                                                   Jeffrey B. MacKnight
8 April 2018                                                                               St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

The other night, Leslie and I were watching an episode of “The Crown,” the hit Netflix series on the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  (A disclaimer: I don’t know how true to fact the series is – parts must be fiction.)  We’re in the second series, when Elizabeth and Philip have been married over 10 years.  Their relationship has been a struggle. They have drifted apart. Both of them have contributed to the troubles in a variety of ways, although Philip’s implied infidelity seems more glaring than Elizabeth’s stubbornness and use of the power of “the crown” to control things.

There is a scene where Elizabeth has retreated to her Scottish estate, Balmoral, for peace while Philip is traveling around Europe.  He returns to England, and then ventures to Scotland to be with her.  She is frosty upon his arrival – she feels bereft.  She says she needs to know if he is “in” or “out” – if he wants to continue in his role as prince-consort or not.  Philip rises to the occasion.  He does not defend his past behavior, and Elizabeth does not accuse him.  Philip declares that he loves Elizabeth, that he is there for her no matter what, that he is “in,” not “out.” They end the scene holding each other tenderly, with the Scottish hills in view out the window. 

Why do I recount this in a sermon – an Eastertide sermon, with a baptism?  The emphasis of the Gospel is on belief – belief in Jesus’ resurrection, which Thomas struggled with.  Many sermons on this passage urge Christians to believe in the resurrection of Christ, like it’s a project where you just have to try harder.  But trying to believe is difficult, if not impossible.  It might even be counterproductive.  It’s a bit like trying to fall in love with someone.  It won’t work.  Falling in love is not something we attempt or work at, it’s something we experience – it happens to us.  And when it does, we don’t worry about believing it.  What matters is that we recognize it. 

Thomas, always burdened with the adjective “doubting,” was simply an honest man.  (Maybe we should be calling him “honest Thomas.”) He heard the stories about Jesus, but he didn’t experience it, so he couldn’t be sure.  Then, when he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, he did experience it for himself.  The friend Thomas thought he had lost had returned, and Jesus’ love and care for Thomas was clear.  Thomas didn’t have to try to believe, he just knew.  He declared “My Lord and my God!”  Even more than belief in a miracle, this was an exclamation of love, the recognition that relationship thought lost which was now restored.   

So, the reason I thought of Elizabeth and Philip in “The Crown,” is that moment of recognition, for both of them,  that their relationship, though imperfect, was enduring; their marriage had a strong core, a firm foundation.  They were both committed to it; they were “in,” not “out.”  It wasn’t about trying to believe certain things, or not believe certain things.  It was about love. 

So it is, I think, with our relationship with God, with the Jesus we know through the Gospels.  It’s less about believing certain things, and more about experiencing love, recognizing that God loves us and we long to love God and return.  Rather than achieving belief, it’s about recognizing what we’ve experienced.  That’s what made the scene with Elizabeth and Philip so powerful. 

Today we baptize an infant into Christ’s Body, the Church.  Connelly

Not belief to work for, but Recognition of what is real, what we’ve experienced

Not a miracle of good fortune or protection from harm, but one of love

 


 

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Trail Notes: 04/22/2018

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Who’s your shepherd? 

These days, we talk about mentors in business, spiritual guides in religion, and buddies in grammar school.  But the Bible talks about shepherds…a lot.  Moses was a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro’s flocks, before he became a shepherd of the Hebrew people.  David was the boy-shepherd in his father Jesse’s family, until he became the shepherd of a new Hebrew nation. 

We know well from many Christmas pageants that the lowly shepherd were the first to recognize the infant Jesus as Messiah – the one who would become “the Good Shepherd of his people.” 

Many sermons on this Sunday affectionately known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” have been preached about sheep and lambs: their docility, the vulnerability, and yes, their stupidity.  But I’d rather focus on humans this year.  Who’s your shepherd?  Who has led you, supported you at crucial times in your life?  Who has warned you from dangers, and perhaps challenged your youthful arrogance?  Who has been a friend when the world didn’t seem very friendly? 

I think of certain teachers I was blessed to have, and one or two priests too.  My music teachers and choral conductors saw potential in me, and encouraged me without trying to make me in their own image.  My parents shepherded me wisely when I was young, and my older brothers did when I was older.  Today, I have a few close friends who listen when I am confused, support when I am down, and steer me in the right direction when I am confused.  When I think about it, I’ve been blessed with shepherds throughout my life.  I believe God has worked through each of them. 

I hope you have, too.  I encourage you this week to think about the good shepherds in your own life.  Who are they?  Remember the times they guided and supported you.  Give thanks to God for them.  In them, Christ our Good Shepherd has touched your life.  JBM 


 

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Proper 10: 07/16/2017

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Sermon, Proper 10A                                                                     Jeffrey B. MacKnight
16 July 2017                                                                              St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

Last week I went to get blood drawn for routine tests for a physical exam.  It had to be fasting since the night before, and my appointment wasn’t until 1:30 p.m.  I was famished!  I went to the lab at the doctor’s office and had 3 tubes of blood drawn.  My daughter Maggie went with me. 

Next thing – Maggie heard an announcement on the P.A. system: “Code blue in the lab!”  I woke up flat on my back in the hallway while 6 staff people looked down at me, took my blood pressure, and raised my feet.  My doctor was there, smiling when I asked him, “Who are you?” 

This mildly embarrassing, but rather hilarious, incident points to a simple truth:  we all need sustenance, nourishment, to survive and thrive….  While a few people fast voluntarily for spiritual reasons, in general, hunger is not a helpful state to be in: when we are really hungry, we can’t learn, we can’t grow, we can’t communicate or function very well.  In extreme cases, we pass out.  I have a new respect for people who suffer from hunger.  We need to do all we can to stop it – especially in East Africa where famine looms yet again. 

Jesus tells a parable about seed sown, by God presumably.  Lots of seed is sown, but it needs nourishment, water or it won’t grow.  Jesus tells us it can fall:

  • On the Path – birds come and ate them up
  • On the Rocks – no depth, scorched by the sun
  • Among Thorns – it is choked
  • On Good soil – it takes root, grows, and bears fruit – a hundredfold!

We as God’s people need to be fed, or we’ll “pass out” before we can do God’s work in this world, before we can help someone who is struggling, feed someone who’s hungry, or speak out when somebody is getting a raw deal….  So, how do we get fed spiritually in this crazy world?  What keeps us going?  What inspires us and gives us strength? 

Spiritual food doesn’t come from the grocery store…it comes in other ways. Traditionally, we think of studying scripture, meditation, communion with nature, inspiring sermons (like this one!), and of course bread and wine, humbly received at the altar, through which Christ himself feeds us.  These are solid, time-honored sources of nourishment for our souls. 

But there are other sources of nourishment that are more active and outward-looking….we can be fed spiritually not just saying our prayers, but out in the world, in action, seeing and doing God’s work in a variety of ways. 

This last week at St. Dunstan’s, I’ve been fed as I have tried to feed others at special moments in life: a burial, and a wedding.  As the church we have much to say, much to offer at these moments of inflection in life.  At weddings and funerals, the church is filled with people who may not know God very much, and we have an opportunity to share what we know and believe. 

I’m also thrilled to report the success of our community-wide meeting on refugee policy and prospects last Thursday night.  Kelly Gauger of the State Department Refugee office gave a riveting account of the fast-changing administration policies and court decisions, as her office tries to help as many people as possible.   All 44 of us in the room on a hot July night were energized to find ways to support refugees desperate to find a safe place to live and work.  Two-thirds of the group were from outside St. Dunstan’s: churches, synagogues, and civic groups.  This shows that St. Dunstan’s can make a real impact in our neighborhood, in Bethesda, and in Washington.  I felt fed, renewed, and energized at the end of the evening. 

Back to Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds: it’s humbling, but in this parable, we are the dirt…the soil in which God plants.  We need to be the best soil we can be for God to plant God’s word…

We need to bring our best selves to church to hear and receive that word…our most open, expectant selves, our most hopeful selves, ready to be fed, enlightened, inspired, and challenged by that word.  Then we also need to be alert to see God at work in the world, and hear God’s call to us to take action when things aren’t right.  That might mean calling a Senator to advocate for poor people, working at a soup kitchen, raising money for transitional housing, standing with a disabled person or a transgender person, or finding a refugee a home.  We need to be the fertile soil in which God can sow the seeds of life. 

We don’t control God’s planting….  The good news is that God scatters seed widely, profligately, prodigiously, lavishly, even wastefully.  There is plenty!  We just need to be open, receptive, fertile, and ready…and we need to get the food we need, spiritual food as well as physical food, so that we are strong and ready to be God’s hands and feet and voice in the world.  We need to get fed ourselves, so that nobody will have to announce, “Code blue in the lab!” for us.  AMEN.  


 

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Trail Notes: 04/16/2017

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God is Green!

Most of the Easter sermons I’ve heard (and preached!) focus on individual salvation: in Christ God redeems us from the powers that keep us from fullness of life with God.  Sin and death are usually named first and foremost among these powers.  There’s nothing wrong with that message – it’s still true. 

But this year, as Earth Day is near, I am thinking about a broader, more universal salvation that God offers to us – the salvation of the whole creation itself.  It’s not just human beings that are in a mess and need God’s grace and love to get out.  It’s the earth, the cosmos, the skies, the rivers, the seas…and all creatures who on earth do dwell, as the hymn puts it. 

Modern science has taught us just how interconnected life is on our planet.  Humans have great power to use creation – for good ends, and for ill.  The earth is pretty good at renewing itself: the cycle of nature includes life, death, and rebirth. In the last 150 years, however, the industrial revolution has put huge pressures on the ability of the earth to cleanse and renew itself.  We need God’s help – now more than ever – to change and guide humanity, so that the earth itself can find redemption and new life. 

When we read the scriptures with eyes for creation, we see it everywhere.  “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” writes St. Paul, “and not only the creation, but we ourselves….”  Human destiny, and human salvation, are tied up with that of creation, the earth, our fellow creatures.  In other words, God is green!  Think of that this Easter, as we tend the earth in the beauty of springtime.  God is speaking to us.  Listen.  JBM  


 

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Hard Knocks: Sermon 3

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Sermon, Epiphany 3A                                                                   Jeffrey B. MacKnight
22 January 2017                                                                         St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

Chopping cabbage, carrots, celery, and potatoes…. That’s what I spent a few hours doing on Monday morning, MLK day.  It was a day of service organized by Washington Hebrew Congregation, our neighbors down Mass. Ave.  Hundreds of youth and adults from all over the city did numerous kinds of work to help poor people.  My group was prepping veggies for a number of soup kitchens.  It was good, honest work to be doing.  I enjoy working with food.  And I emerged without cutting myself – just one callous! 

Doing something active, and doing something for somebody else, are two good ways to combat the symptoms of mental illness, which often include profound lethargy, a sense of paralysis and futility.  Mental illness is our “hard knocks” topic today.

I hasten to add that these activities can help with symptoms, but they do not lessen, much less cure, mental illness.  Illnesses of the mind have many causes, including proven chemical causes in the brain.  These are medical conditions. They have no simple or easy solutions. 

I’ll bet everybody here has direct experience with mental illness – either you’ve suffered from it yourself, or you know somebody well who has.  Maybe you know what it’s like to be Eeyeore – feeling listless and sad for no apparent reason.  Or you know what it’s like to be Winnie the Pooh – trying to be a good friend to Eeyeore, even when that’s hard to do.  I’ve been on both sides myself. 

The Mayo Clinic defines Mental illness as a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

To that, I would add dementia, which is such a huge part of our lives now, as human beings live longer.  These illnesses seriously affect the quality of life for sufferers and companions alike.  The stress of living with someone whose mental capacities are diminishing daily is unbelievable.  If you’ve lived with an addict, or if you are one yourself, you know how destructive that is.  And we know that mental illness is one driver of heinous acts of violence such as shooting…although there are other factors that need addressing as well. 

Now, to the Gospel passage today.  In Matthew, Jesus does not begin his public ministry until John the Baptist is imprisoned, indicating that Jesus was a disciple of John’s.  When Jesus does announce his own mission, he quotes Isaiah: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  This is the nature of Jesus’ message: God is bringing light where there was only darkness. 

Was Jesus referring to mental illness here?  No, at least not particularly.  Jesus was announcing liberation from many oppressors – many sources of darkness.  These included oppressive poverty, the oppression of Roman occupation, oppressive class structures in society, and yes, the oppression of mental and physical diseases.  Jesus’ healing stories fill the Gospels!  Many of them are mental healings – freeing persons from demons and unclean spirits.  That’s the way they understood mental illness in Jesus’ day.  Jesus wanted people to be healthy and whole.  Jesus wants us to be healthy and whole!  We should never forget that – especially when we are feeling anything but whole. 

But the world is an imperfect world – beautiful, but imperfect: full of risks, hurts, disease, and misfortune.  People suffer – we all suffer in various ways.  And that gives us opportunity to help, to minister to people who really need it.  It’s like chopping vegetables for the soup kitchen – it feels good to help someone feel a little better, or at least a little less alone. 

And here, religion and science come together.  Scientists have developed tools to reduce human suffering.  For mental illness, many of these tools are drugs.  I am indebted to several of these drugs which have helped me since I first had trouble in college with overwhelming depression.  I am grateful these drugs exist.  Other treatments are crucial, too – talk therapy, cognitive therapies, and even electroshock therapy for some people. 

I asked my psychiatrist on Friday what one thing she’d want you to know about mental illness.  She said mainly that she wanted people to understand these are diseases of the brain, causing great suffering – just as physical diseases can. 

For addictive personalities, the 12-step movement has saved millions of lives, through hard, constant work – a lifetime of recovery.  Twelve step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are spiritual communities, often functioning like churches.  Our church has much to learn about the mutual support given in such groups, much of it one-on-one. 

Coping with dementia is perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation, because the number of sufferers is growing as the elderly population is growing.  Interestingly, some studies show that the actual prevalence has decreased – that could be very good news indeed.  Still, how do we support people as they enter dementia, and how do we support their caregivers?  Can we sit and talk with someone who has dementia?  Are we willing to offer a few hours respite care?

Finally, I want to touch on stigma, which still exists in American society, and other societies (Maggie has told me it’s worse in Scotland).  We should never, ever tell people to “buck up” or “get over it,” because they can’t – just as a diabetic can’t just “get over” his need for insulin.  We must fight this.  We must talk openly about mental illness as one of many medical problems we face, and advocate for help and treatments just as we do for cancer or heart disease.  Jesus actually destigmatized mental illness in the language of his own day: by addressing demons and unclean spirits who “possessed” people, he removed the fault from the human being himself or herself.  These persons were invaded by malevolent forces – diseases – that needed to be eradicated. 

This is why, every so often, I speak of my own struggles with depression in sermons and articles.  I’ve been treated with medication for many years.  I’ve done talk therapy on and off.  I am so grateful for these treatments, and the people who have helped me obtain them.  For good insurance coverage and family members who understand.  For friends who have stuck by me through my dark hours.  I see all these things – from drugs to friends – as healing gifts from God who loves me and wants the best for me.  That’s the same God who loves you and wants the best for you. 

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  This is the nature of Jesus’ message: God is bringing light where there was only darkness.  He wants us to walk in that light.  AMEN. 

 

 


 

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Hard Knocks: Sermon 1

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Sermon, Epiphany I  Baptism of Jesus                                        Jeffrey B. MacKnight
Jan 8, 2017  “Hard Knocks” series                                            St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

I don’t like tunnels. 

We must first go down, down, down into the darkness, not knowing what we’ll find, what we’ll have to experience.  We have faith that we’ll emerge again into the light and air. My own phobia is getting stuck in a tunnel, in the dark depths.  I don’t like to think about that. 

Sometimes, when times are really tough, it feels like that old joke about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and then realizing it’s a roaring train headed right for us. 

Baptism of Jesus – Jesus is baptized into a fully human life: it starts with human birth, ends in a fully human death.  No way around that.  The liturgy even tells us that we are being baptized into Christ’s death – not a pleasant thought.  But we know it’s true: none of us is exempt from death.  It’s part of being fully human. 

This is the beginning of a new sermon series:  Hard Knocks.  It starts with baptism into human condition: the greatest joys, satisfactions, triumphs, and glories…and the deepest, darkest times that come with loss, hurt.  If we love deeply, we shall suffer deeply…they go together. 

Isaiah: “Here is my servant, my chosen – I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  This servant, whom Christians understand to be Jesus, is tender, gentle with us, because we are vulnerable human beings: “A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.”  He is to be a “light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, bring prisoners from the dungeon.”  We are the ones this savior comes to help; we are the ones who are blind, who are locked in prisons of all sorts. 

We leap ahead 600 years to Matthew’s gospel – Jesus must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness – because he was fully human.  The Spirit comes upon him, yes, but not to protect or exclude him from human pain, loss, and final death.  He is vulnerable, he is like us.  He’s going to endure a lot of loss, hurt, and dejection in his life, hard knocks, like us.  He’s going to die, like us.  And yet, he’ll come back, he’ll live and love again, he’ll be restored to life…like us. That’s the journey, and that’s the promise.  Our own baptismal liturgy is clear about this – we are baptized into the death of Jesus. 

Like all of you, I know something of death – both the literal and the figurative kind.  The early deaths of two of my brothers have been hard; struggles with depression have been part of my own life, and have affected me deeply.  There are no quick fixes.  And each of us has our own stories. 

This is the stuff of real life.  Our human bodies and minds are far from perfect; they fail us.  The world can be unkind, even cruel.  Relationships are hard, and they often break down.  Loving people does mean we’ll get hurt.  And yet not to love…that would be the most impoverished way to live – empty, sterile, without much meaning. 

That’s when we find ourselves in the tunnel, in a dark place, searching for a point of light, a sign of hope, some signal that joy might be possible again in the future.  That’s when Christians look at the cross, and the suffering of Jesus upon it, and remind ourselves that God has more to say than death. 

Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.   (ps. 30)

So I want to explore some of life’s hard knocks in the next several weeks of sermons.  I’ll try to keep a sense of humor, even as we discuss difficult things.  I could list many of these, but I’d rather know: What are the events and experiences in your own life that come to mind?  Please, shout them out!   

Whatever you have faced, I believe two things can help:

1.     The love of God can comfort us when we are hurting.
2.     The Christian community can be a great support, when we know that a member is suffering.

Although I’m the priest, and you may think I’m the one that gives comfort, I have also received amazing gifts of support, prayer, and empathy from this community.  I know how powerful that is…I believe that is part of the power of resurrection, the power that brings us back up out of the depths, out of the darkness, into the light. 

It can begin with the prayers for healing we offer each Sunday after communion.  It could be a visit in the hospital, or a meal brought by your home.  Reading the psalms is a time-tested source of comfort for Christians.  Counseling can help immensely.  Singing hymns can be powerful.  Receiving the bread and wine of Eucharist strengthens us. We have many tools to help us get through the hard knocks. 

But I think the path of healing starts with our admission that we are baptized into the vulnerability of being human, and there is no escape for that.  How we deal with the hard knocks in life can make all the difference.  We’re much better off seeking help – from God, and from other people.  That’s what Christian community is for.  Thank God we are not in this life alone.  We have a God who loves us and wants the best for us, and we have a church community who care for us.  We don’t have to go through the dark tunnel – the shadow of death – by ourselves.  Thanks be to God.  


 

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Creation Season is Coming!

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As is our custom, we celebrate God as Creator of all each Fall in our liturgies through special texts, music, and sermons. We want to bring visual interest to the church with works of art related to creation, nature, and God's creatures, including human beings. Artists in the church are invited to hang your art on the church walls (beneath the windows) to enhance our worship.  Contact Jeff or Rosi Sweeney for details.  
 
A tableau will also be created in the rear of the church, based on themes in the liturgies. Take a look!  


 

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Practicing Love Sermon Series: This Fall at St. Dunstan's

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Join us for the 10:45 a.m. Sunday service to hear sermons on many situations in which we need to practice love - even when it's difficult! If you can't make the service, look on our website for these sermons. 
 
 
Sept 11 - Practicing Love when we are Lost (Luke 15:1-10)
Sept 18 - Practicing Love with our Money (Luke 16:1-13)
Sept 25 - Practicing Love with our Money, redux! (Luke 16:19-31)
Oct 2 -  Practicing Love with by remaining Faithful (Luke 17:5-10)
Oct 9 -  Practicing Love with Thanksgiving (Luke 17:11-19)
Oct 16 -  Practicing Love by doing Justice (Luke 18:1-18)
Oct 23 -  Practicing Love in Humility (Luke 18:9-14)
Oct 30 -  Practicing Love through Repentance (Luke 19:1-10)
 
The New York Times (Nicholas Kristoff, Sunday, September 4 edition) ran an article on the kind of religion Jesus would practice.  The author Brian McLaren asked, "Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as aloving way of life?"
 
St. Dunstan's is well on our way to doing just that:  Love Practiced Here.  


 

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Trail Notes: 09/04/2016

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Practicing Love…in tough situations

Sun Tzu famously wrote a book called The Art of War in the fifth century B.C.E. – during the time the empire of Persia dominated the biblical world. Su Tzu’s writings have influenced the strategies of warfare ever since. 

Jesus came along 500 years later and lived a life of profound and generous love.  The Gospels and traditions of Jesus could be called The Art of Love. The Jesus tradition has taught the practice of love ever since. Some have learned well; most of us still have a lot of learning to do. 

That’s why we at St. Dunstan’s are exploring the practice of love this Fall. In sermons, writings, and study groups, we are getting very specific about challenges and strategies of practicing love in very common human situations. Last Sunday, congregants suggested many such situations where practicing love is difficult:

  • With my adult children
  • When listening, without jumping to problem-solving mode
  • With people who engage in bad behavior
  • With people I don’t know – on the street, in a shop, in traffic
  • With people begging by the roadside.
  • In my prayer life, with God
  • With difficult colleagues at work
  • With people at church who think differently
  • When I’ve been hurt by somebody
  • In online situations (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • With my money, my checkbook

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll try to address these situations in sermons, using Jesus’ teaching as a guide. This Sunday, September 4, I’ll start the list, and talk about practicing love with our family members – some of whom may not be very lovable. We’ll talk about dealing with children (all ages!), elderly parents, interfering in-laws, and manipulative kin. I hope you’ll join in worship at 10:45 a.m.  Please email me if you have specific comments/questions to explore.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 08/28/2016

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Practicing Love

Cuddling a baby. Sitting up with a family member who’s going through hard times.  Making that last phone call of the evening, to check on a friend. Sending a check to Doctors without Borders. Stopping to talk with that homeless guy who’s always begging near the Metro. Helping a coworker who’s heading down a destructive path. Standing up for someone whose rights are getting trampled.

All these are acts of love. Our new parish theme, introduced in car magnets and banners, is “Love Practiced Here.” When I think of the Gospel of Jesus – both what it promises us, and what it demands of us – it all comes down to love. The practice of love is our calling and our mission, day in and day out, in all kinds of circumstances. 

Talking about love of God is easy; practicing Christian love is not. Why? Because Christ asks a lot of us. We are not to look after only our own interests, but invest in the wellbeing of others, in the common good. We are not to return evil for evil, but to stop the cycle of violence and seek ways to forgive. 

This fall at St. Dunstan’s, we’ll explore this call of our Lord Jesus, this call to practice love. In sermons, adult formation, and articles like this one, we’ll try to get very specific and practical about the practice of love. Love can be hard. But if love were not possible, Jesus would not exhort us to practice it. 

One trap I regularly fall into is this: I start thinking about the huge mess the world is in, and I begin to believe that nothing I can do will make a difference. I might as well keep my head down, and protect my own little world as best I can. But Jesus doesn’t ask us to love the whole world. Only God can love the whole world. Jesus asks us simply to love our neighbor…the one next to us in line, the person we work with or play with, the people in our families, the cashier at the grocery store.  Sometimes we have a change to expand our circle of neighbors…for instance, we are exploring a parish effort to resettle refugees in our area this fall. Someone far away and strange to us can become our neighbor this way.

I hope you’ll join this conversation about practicing love. What have you learned?  What do you find difficult? What rewards – and costs -  of love have you experienced in your life?   JBM


 

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How do we learn truth?

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Not facts, not information, but truth: truth about ourselves, about humanity, about God? 

I am a reader and thinker by nature – I love sopping up information and ideas just as a sponge sops up spilled milk. But, as much as I love this, I have come to realize that truth comes in other packages. Books and lectures may point us toward the truth (or not). But real, deep truth comes through experience, relationship, and our humanity.

In the religious life, we can learn about God from books and sermons. Reading the Bible can teach us how our forebears understood God. We can study the history of ideas about God.  Jesus’ life and teaching give us a wonderful glimpse of God and God’s ways. But to know the truth of God, we must have experience – an encounter with God. Likewise, to know the truth about another human being, we must meet and know that human being. And even more than that, we must come to love that human being…as we love ourselves. 

I say all this because we celebrate LGBT Pride this Sunday – God’s inclusion of all of God’s people in the beloved family of God. One expression of that family is the Church. The Christian Church has often not lived up to Jesus’ radical call to love our neighbor. We have divided humanity into groups; we have excluded many. We have called some “sinners,” when every one of us falls short of God’s perfect will. We have failed to answer God’s call to love – and hence to know the truth that others bring. Until we meet and know and love each other, we cannot understand each other. 

As I have come to meet and know others who span the broad spectrum of sexual identity, I have realized that we all share the same deep longing: to love and to be loved. We are all imperfect in the practice of love, yet Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us. And when we do, he promises us joy:

“Abide in my love….that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”                                                                                         (John 15:10-12)

Jesus does not promise us a life of ease, a life free of conflict and hard decisions, or a life without sadness and loss. But Jesus does promise us joy: the deep gladness that comes from walking in love with God and our neighbors…even when our love is imperfect. That, in the end, is what we are on this good earth to do. It is in the loving that we learn the truth of things.  JBM


 

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Formation 5.3

Posted 5:26 PM by

 

Resurrection Stories
There are two more weeks of our focus on Resurrections Stories in sermons and formation offerings.  Through stories of the resurrection people came to know that things would be forever different.  Christ was alive! It took the disciples a long time to get it - some hid, some didn't believe without seeing and touching, others were afraid. Where are your experiences of the resurrection in your life? Have you or will you tell these to someone else? Have you heard stories of resurrection from others? One promise of our baptismal covenant is to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ!" A way to do this is to share our stories of resurrection with others. For if we do not - if we are fearful and do not tell - how will others come to believe?  
 

Children's Formation ... Sharing our Faith

The children will be in their classrooms this Sunday, May 3 and continue hearing the stories of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection.  The story this week will be the Breakfast on the Beach which is told in the Gospel of John.  Parents please take your children down to the classrooms before you head to adult formation. 

Please keep our Children's Choir in your plans for next fall! Beginning in September our Children's Choir will be meeting on Thursday evenings (probably between 5:30-6:30 p.m.). We hope that you will make a commitment to this program as it will help to form the faith of your children and be great fun! There is no better way to learn and integrate the stories of faith then through the music we sing as children. 

Youth Formation ... Growing our Faith

Youth will join the adults for formation again this Sunday, May 3 as we continue to explore resurrection stories. This week Trisha Lyons will be our guest speaker again and we will hear her understanding of Harry Potter as a Resurrection Story

Camp EDOW

The best way to help your young person grow in faith is through a camp community. Please talk with Sue if you have any questions, but set aside the week now.  The Diocese has put together a great program with wonderful leaders in a superb facility. The cost for the week is $575 per camper.  You can register online here.  

Junior Camp (Rising 4th -6th graders) - July 26-31, 2015.  
Middler Camp (Rising 7th- 9th graders) - August 2-7, 2015

Adult Formation ... Living our Faith

Stories of the Resurrection continue this Sunday, May 3 as we welcome back Dr. Patricia Lyons for more on Harry Potter as a Resurrection Story. Trisha will also preach at the 10:45 service. There will be clips from various scenes of the movie and lively discussion.  It promises to be an enlightening and energetic morning!

On Sunday, May 10 The Rev. Susan Flanders will be our guest speaker.  She has recently authored the book - Going to Church: It's Not What You Think! She will share some stories from her book that speak to our topic of Resurrection Stories. Her book is considered to be a modern Pilgrim's Progress which interweaves family drama, theological insight, and a critique on conventional "churchiness."
Sue von Rautenkranz
      Christian Formation Director
 





 

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Formation 4.26

Posted 2:18 PM by
Resurrection Stories
This Eastertide the focus of our sermons and all Sunday formation offerings will be on hearing the Gospel stories of Jesus' resurrection and hearing and sharing our own stories of resurrection.  After all, it is through these stories that our life in Christ as Christian people is centered and finds meaning. For while we are told that the disciples and the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection were fearful; and we are even told that they "didn't tell anyone" - clearly they did! After all we are present, so someone must have shared their faith of the resurrection with us.  Our task is to learn our own stories of resurrection and to learn how to share them with others. For if we do not - if we are fearful and do not tell - how will others come to believe?  

 

Children's Formation ... Sharing our Faith
The children will be in their classrooms again this Sunday, April 26 and continue hearing the stories of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection.  The story this week will be the Road to Emmaus which is told in the Gospel of Luke.  Parents please take your children down to the classrooms before you head to adult formation. Please keep our Children's Choir in your plans for next fall! Beginning in September our Children's Choir will begin meeting on Thursday evenings (probably between 5:30-6:30 p.m.). We hope that you will make a commitment to this program as it will help to form the faith of your children and be great fun! There is no better way to learn and integrate the stories of faith then through the music we sing as children. 

 

Youth Formation ... Growing our Faith
Youth will join the adults for formation again this Sunday, April 26 as we continue to explore resurrection stories. This week will hear and discover stories within ourselves. 
Next youth event is scheduled for Saturday, June 6 at Guppy Gulch in Delta, PA. So save the date and watch for more details.

 

Camp EDOW
The best way to help your young person grow in faith is through a camp community. Please talk with Sue if you have any questions, but set aside the week now.  The Diocese has put together a great program with wonderful leaders in a superb facility. The cost for the week is $575 per camper.  You can register online here.  

 

Junior Camp (Rising 4th -6th graders) - July 26-31, 2015.  
Middler Camp (Rising 7th- 9th graders) - August 2-7, 2015

 

Adult Formation ... Living our Faith
We continue our focus on Stories of Resurrection on Sunday, April 26. Our session this week will be led by Jeff and Sue which will open with questions and responses to our time last week with Trisha Lyons. Various members of the community will share stories that express resurrection from their own lives. Each of us will also have the opportunity to explore our own stories of resurrection through our responses to art and pictures. Those who feel called to do so will have a opportunity to share their story.
On Sunday, May 3 Trisha will join us again for our formation time to share more Stories of Resurrection through the lens of Harry Potter. You really do not want to miss these sessions!  
 
Sue von Rautenkranz
      Christian Formation Director
 

 

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Formation: Resurrection Stories

Posted 5:44 PM by
 
Resurrection Stories
This Eastertide the focus of our sermons and adult formation will be on hearing the Gospel stories of Jesus’ resurrection and hearing and sharing our own stories of resurrection.  After all, it is through these stories that our life in Christ as Christian people is centered and finds meaning. For while we are told that the disciples and the women who were first witnesses to the resurrection were at first fearful; and we are even told that they “didn’t tell anyone” - clearly they did! And clearly, we must learn to tell our stories of resurrection so that others might come to believe. This Sunday, April 19 we welcome Dr. Patricia Lyons as our guest speaker and preacher at both liturgies.
 
Adult Formation
Patricia Lyons will be with us on Sunday, April 19 and May 3 for our formation time and as our preacher at both liturgies. Trisha has titled her time with us as Harry Potter as a Resurrection Story. She brings a compelling energy and passion to her love of life, the Gospel, and all things Potter! So hold on to your seat because we are all in for quite a ride. She also brings a profound depth to her understanding of the Christian faith and years of hands on experience in teaching faith to others.

Dr. Patricia Lyons is currently the JK-12 Director of Service Learning at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes Episcopal School in Alexandria, VA and is in her 15th year of teaching ethics and religion at the Upper School. She is also an adjunct at the Virginia Theological Seminary, where she teaches evening and summer courses to masters and doctoral students. Patricia has taught courses in Systematic Theology, C.S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud, Theology and Fiction, and most recently, Christian Themes in Harry Potter and the author of The Soul of Adolescence: In Their Own Words.

Patricia is an honors graduate from Harvard College in the Comparative Study of Religion. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Harvard Divinity School, with a focus on Biblical languages and systematic theology. She received her doctorate from the VTS. Her doctoral thesis was a study of the stages of moral and spiritual development of adolescents.

Children’s Formation
Music with Michael! Children will be singing with Michael on Sunday, April 19.  Parents should bring children to the church for formation time this week.
 
Youth Formation
Youth will join the adults for formation on Sunday, April 19 as we will have a special guest speaker, Patricia Lyons. She will be offering Harry Potter as a Resurrection Story and it will be a fun and enjoyable experience. This will take place in the parish hall.





 

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Resurrection Stories

Posted 5:26 PM by

This Eastertide the focus of our sermons and adult formation will be on hearing the Gospel stories of Jesus’ resurrection and hearing and sharing our own stories of resurrection.  After all, it is through these stories that our life in Christ as Christian people is centered and finds meaning. For while we are told that the disciples and the women who were first witnesses to the resurrection were at first fearful; and we are even told that they “didn’t tell anyone” - clearly they did! And clearly, we must learn to tell our stories of resurrection so that others might come to believe. Join us this Sunday, April 12, for our first stories of resurrection, as Jeff and Sue open the conversation to telling our stories and read more below about our guest speakers and preachers during the Great Fifty Days.  Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Patricia Lyons will be with us on Sunday, April 19 and May 3 for     our formation time and as our preacher at the late liturgy.  She brings a compelling energy and passion to her love of live and a profound depth to her understanding of the Christian faith. Dr. Patricia Lyons is currently the JK-12 Director of Service Learning at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes Episcopal School in Alexandria, VA and is in her 15th year of teaching ethics and religion at the Upper School. She is also an adjunct at the Virginia Theological Seminary, where she teaches evening and summer courses to masters and doctoral students. Patricia has taught courses in Systematic Theology, C.S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud, Theology and Fiction, and most recently, Christian Themes in Harry Potter and the author of The Soul of Adolescence: In Their Own Words.

Susan Flanders will join us on Sunday, May 10 to share from her experience various stories of resurrection in her life and in the life of the communities she has served. The Rev. Susan Flanders is a retired Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Washington and the author of Going to Church: It’s Not What You Think!  She will share some stories from her book that speak to our topic of Resurrection Stories on Sunday, May 10.  Her book is considered to be a modern Pilgrim’s Progress which interweaves family drama, theological insight, and a critique on conventional “churchiness.” 

Children’s Formation
The children will be back in the classrooms on the lower level on Sunday, April 12 to learn more about the Easter story.  Next week children will sing with Michael during formation time.

 

Youth Formation
The Coffee House will be open on, Sunday, April 12, and those present will talk about stories of resurrection from our gospel writers. Austin Fodrie will be leading the conversation this week.




 

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Resurrection Stories

Posted by

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  John 20:31

Each year since my ordination, I have had the privilege of singing an ancient text called the Exsultet and proclaiming the Easter gospels.  No matter the location or setting - an ornate cathedral, a camp chapel, a small country church - I experience similar things.  First, while the words are well-known after 20 plus years, each time there is something fresh and new that comes out of these words and stories.  It never ceases to amaze me that God brings new thoughts, ideas and images to the forefront of the familiar stories and ancient lines of music. The second experience is a physical one - and it is difficult to explain - but sometime during the proclamation of one of the gospel resurrection stories I feel the presence of something else - I have always believed it is the Holy Spirit.  It isn’t always on Easter day, though it did happen this year.

I believe there are many things that keep us “locked behind” doors that are closed and hidden from others.  Sometimes it is the regular grind of daily living or maybe the reality of events or life circumstances - illness, death of a loved one, family dysfunction, and the constant news cycle of horrific news from around the world.  All of the disciples, not just Thomas, were no different.  But what was it that moved them out of that locked room and out proclaiming the unbelievable story of Jesus being raised from the dead? What moves you to tell the stories of resurrection in your life?

Over the next weeks of Easter we will explore stories of resurrection. In our liturgies we will hear the stories from the gospel writers and through sermons.  In formation time we will hear from each other and special speakers. Through the sharing of these stories, I hope that you will be encouraged to tell your stories of resurrection. Come hear, and then share - for it is in the hearing and sharing that we come to believe.

Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” John 20:20b

Sue von




 

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Sermon Series Now Available Online

Posted 8:00 PM by

The sermons from our series on relationships is being recorded and posted online. You can stream or download sermons from this series to your own computer, smartphone, or other personal listening device by visiting this link:

https://soundcloud.com/stdunstansbethesda/sets/relationship-sermon-series


Please email Michael Austin or leave a message for him in the church office if you do not have regular access to a computer and would like a CD of the entire series.

 

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