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Sermon 8/13/2017

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Sermon, Proper 14A                                                                      Jeffrey B. MacKnight
13 August 2017                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

A lady went to the doctor and said, “Doctor! Doctor! Help me — I'm shrinking! I'm shrinking!” The doctor replied, “Madam, you'll just have to be a little patient.” 

Well, that’s not far off our story of Jesus, Peter, and walking on water – only it’s Peter crying, “Lord! Lord!  – I’m sinking!  I’m sinking!”  

Be a little patient, Peter!  Peter is so eager to show off in front of Jesus and everybody.  None of the other disciples thought it was their place to try to imitate Jesus’ water-walking abilities.  But Peter was proud, and probably insecure in his relationship with Jesus.  Maybe he wanted to show that he was the #1 disciple – the best, compared to all the others.  

My wise mother-in-law Nan often says, “Comparisons are odious.”  She’s so right.  When it comes to comparing people, or comparing ourselves to others, it usually leads to unhappiness, disappointment (as in Peter’s case)…and sometimes even violence and destruction.  

In the continuing saga of Jacob and his family, we meet his children this Sunday – 12 sons and one daughter (Dinah).  Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel.  Now, Leah was fertile and bore children.  Rachel was not, so she gave her handmaid to Jacob as a surrogate to bear children who would be Rachel’s to raise.   (This is the story that is the basis for the current dystopic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.  The U.S. is suffering from depopulation, so men dub themselves “Sons of Jacob” and enslave and rape women as “handmaids” to bear their children. Lovely.)

Jacob’s family story is filled with comparisons, jealousies, and rivalries. Rachel envies her sister’s fecundity, and seeks a child through her handmaid.  (You may recall that the same thing happened with Abraham and Sarah, Jacob’s grandparents.  After Sarah’s handmaid gave birth to Ishmael, Sarah treated her abominably.)  

Later, jealousy, rivalry, and hatred arise among Jacob’s twelve sons. Finally, Rachel gave birth! She had a son Joseph, whom Jacob loved above all his other sons, and the others knew it.  Their jealousy of Joseph (and his arrogant remarks to them) filled them with such rage that they decided to kill Joseph.  In the end, they relented and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt instead.  (Is this really what we mean by “biblical family values”?)  

Comparison and competition don’t serve these folks very well – they bring untold anger, heartache, and breakdown of relationships.  Joseph is nearly killed; his brothers are shamed by their behavior; Jacob is deprived of his beloved son.  Still, this is the great saga of the Hebrew partriarchs, so all is made to serve the grand plot of the story, that is, to move the Hebrew people to Egypt, where they would eventually become enslaved, and finally liberated under Moses.  

So, why do we devote so much energy in life to comparisons?  Why talk ourselves up and run other people down?  What does this say about us?  I believe it’s all rooted in our insecurity about who we are, our value, and our place in the world.  And that’s a spiritual problem.  If we really believe we are made in God’s image, and loved unconditionally, we don’t have to prop ourselves up with worldly accolades.  We don’t have to run others down to look good.  We can rest peacefully in the love of God, as a baby rests peacefully in the arms of an adoring mother or father, never doubting that she is loved more than anything.  

At this point in the sermon, I had a low-key, soft illustration of how we compare ourselves to each other.  But instead, I must say something about the horrible events in Charlottesville yesterday.  What a scene: vile signs, police in riot gear, yet uncontrolled violence as opposing groups beat each other. Armed militia groups in full camo were in the middle of the crowds.  White supremacists, including KKK members, were marching supposedly in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a proponent of slavery.  Fourteen people were injured in the fighting, with one woman killed and 19 hurt by a murderous driver in a car.  One man marching was quoted, “They are pulling up southern culture, white culture, Christian culture by the roots….” As a Christian, I must stand up and say this is not Christian culture – this is not Christian culture! - this is its opposite. God doesn’t have favorite races, or skin colors, or nationalities. God doesn’t romanticize the enslavement of millions in the Old South. In addition to pure hatred and bigotry, this is a deep case of the odiousness of comparison, of envy, of jealousy.  Whenever men and women attack and tear down others in order to build up their own group, they are straying far away from the teachings of Jesus.  As a white person, I must raise my voice against this, lest anyone think that, by my silence, I agree.  

Whenever we tolerate bigotry by our silence – in a neighbor’s trash-talk across the fence, a politician’s rhetoric, or even that cranky old uncle at the family dinner table – we are part of the problem.  America is now on notice that racism and prejudice are alive and well and living among us.  The LGBTQ community is now under attack in the military.  Immigrants have been vilified, as if we are not all immigrants!  Only our clear, vocal proclamation that God loves every human being, that the dignity and equality of every human being must be upheld and protected, can bring our country back toward its highest self, its highest calling as a nation that welcomes diversity.  If that’s not what the church stands for, then we stand for nothing.  We have a long way to go.  

The disciple Peter was insecure in his identity as God’s beloved, so he tried to prove himself and act like Jesus.  Jacob’s sons were insecure in their father’s love, and tried to eliminate their competition from little brother Joseph.  Many Americans seem to feel so insecure in their identity and their worth that they lash out against the nearest target.  But if we can find our rest in God, in God’s declaration that we are created good, we are loved beyond measure, even with our faults and our failures, then we won’t need to compare and compete.  We won’t need to run others down to try to build ourselves up. Why can’t we be content with who we are, as finite, imperfect, but treasured human beings, made lovingly in the image of God?  Why can’t we look for God in each other – in black and brown faces, in gay and trans faces, in young and old faces?  Why can’t we walk in love, as Christ loves us?  


 

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Sermon: 08/06/2017

Posted 4:49 PM by
Sermon, Proper 13A                                                                      Jeffrey B. MacKnight
6 August 2017                                                                            St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

“When it was evening…”  That’s a little detail often overlooked in the story of the feeding of the five thousand.  The day was over; Jesus had been preaching.  The people were captivated! Now, night was falling. Where would they all find something for supper?  Strange things can happen in the nighttime.  All the people sat down on the green grass, and something unexpected happened – a little became a lot, with the blessing of Jesus.  Hungry people were satisfied.  Weak people were strengthened.  Hmm.  

Almost two millennia earlier, we see Jacob.  He is beside himself with fear of his brother Esau, whom Jacob cheated out of his father’s blessing – his birthright - as a young man.  Haven’t we all cheated somebody out of something?  In a sense, Jacob has been running from that ever since.  Now Esau has caught up with him, and Jacob is terrified.  

Jacob tries to protect his household from Esau’s approaching army of men.  Jacob has two wives (we heard about Leah and Rachel last week), two maids, eleven children, plus flocks and herds and possessions.  He is not a poor man.  He sends them all across the Jabbok River hoping they’ll be safe – not a lot of protection, but then, what else can he do?  Then, “Jacob was left alone,” the scripture says.  Alone.  Jacob is finally stripped bare, without defenses, to face his life: his past transgressions, his present danger, his uncertain future.  

Nighttime is when we often feel the most alone – with our thoughts, our anxieties, our old well-worn worries ….  Sometime sleep won’t come, so we take pills to help.  When we get to sleep, we may be afflicted by what I call “tumultuous dreams” – not exactly nightmares, but unsettling dreams nonetheless.  When we wake from these, we may feel more exhausted than rested, like we’ve been working – or wrestling – all night.  

Jacob was alone: it was night; he fell asleep…or did he?  Was it all a dream?  We don’t know….  The story only tells us he wrestled a man until daybreak.  Who was this man?  It doesn’t say, but it seems pretty clear this man was from God – and that makes him an angel.  (Most angels don’t have gauzy gowns and fluffy wings. This one must have been pretty strong.)  

Jacob is persistent; he won’t stop wrestling.  Finally, the angel has had enough.  “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”  Jacob responds with impressive strength: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  

“What is your name?” asks the man/angel.

“Jacob.”  

“You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  

Fast-forward again to Jesus and his disciples – 

It is evening after a long day.  The disciples struggle with the problem of a very hungry crowd of people; they want to escape, avoid the situation.  They are still learning about this man Jesus.  “Send the crowds away, Lord….”    Jesus forces them to face their fears and anxieties: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  But they wrestle with him: “But Jesus, we don’t have what it takes…there are only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish!”  

There are times – often nighttimes – when we have to face the situation: our anxieties about our own capacities, our fears of external forces.   God does not allow us to turn and run any longer.  And so we wrestle.  And it’s in the wrestling that we can experience God’s presence in a new way.  It may be a mixed experience – God is not a granter of wishes and dispenser of chocolate kisses!  Life is often hard, challenging, difficult.  God is not a rescuer, but a sustainer, a companion.  

We may end up with a limp, a scar….but also a blessing….  Maybe even the abundance of a great feast, enough to share with a hungry world around us.  

I just read a little book by Kent HarufOur Souls at Night.

A sweet novella about an old woman, a widow, who makes a strange proposition to an old man, a widower, who lives around the corner: that he come and spend nights in her bed – just to talk.  (Really.)  She was lonely.  She was tired of sleeping alone.  So he comes over, every evening.  

Soon, wonderful conversations are happening in the nighttime, and both people are happier….  Much happier.  There is no pretense.  They talk about their lives, their spouses, their children, their jobs, all the things that weren’t right, the disappointments as well as the happy times.  And together, acknowledging the scars and limps they carried, they find a blessing.  They find a new happiness in the moment, in the day that is given.  

I wonder if we might be able to find more joy in our lives if we took a few chances -  took some chances to get closer to people, to be honest with people, to share our lives more deeply…maybe even talk far into the night…wrestle a bit, even.  Who knows what might happen.  Maybe if we could acknowledge how hunger we are for connection, for honesty, we might find the food that satisfies.  We might find that others – our friends, our spouses -  are hungry for that real connection too.  We might find, in retrospect,  that we’ve encountered a bit of God during the dark hours.  We might find that our scars are acknowledged, that our limp is not so bad. That in fact others are limping too – we all are.  We might find a certain blessing to be had.  

So this evening, when darkness falls, and it is eventide, acknowledge your deep hunger, and ask God to feed you, to fill you.  Open up, and see what might happen to your soul at night.  Be ready to wrestle with a God who will not let you go.  Be prepared to come away with a bit of a limp, but also a blessing on your life – your one, real, imperfect, human life.  AMEN.  


 

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Proper 10: 07/16/2017

Posted 1:52 PM by
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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Proper 7: 06/25/2017

Posted 2:54 PM by
Sermon, Proper 7A                                                                       Jeffrey B. MacKnight
25 June 2017                                                                              St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword. 

When was the last time you hesitated to raise a subject because you knew it could cause conflict?  The other night I was out in the yard, chatting with neighbors, when a young mom expressed her negative views about having her young son vaccinated.  I don’t agree, but I didn’t speak up, because I didn’t think it was my business, and I’m not that well informed.  My kids are way past that! 

But on other issues, I feel I must speak up and speak out.  One of these is health care for all people.  I like to point out that Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan is the first recorded instance of health insurance.  The Samaritan agreed to pay what was needed, for a perfect stranger.  Why?  Because human dignity requires it. 

I know that not everybody agrees with me on this, but at this critical moment in our nation’s political battles over healthcare, I feel compelled to speak.  I believe this is a Gospel imperative, and the U.S. is cruel in the way we allocate healthcare.  For years, St. Dunstan’s has paid copays for medicine people need to live – insulin and syringes, HIV medications. I’m tired of this.  It is beneath dignity for human beings to have to beg for these necessities.  Ours is the only wealthy nation I know that requires human beings to grovel for basic care, for medicine.  Children’s care is on the line in Congress right now too.  How is it that some children – like our well-insured kids – should get great care, and others get little or none?  Where is the justice in that?  This is not a partisan political issue for me.  It is an issue of humanity, of compassion, of justice.  It’s very much a religious issue, because Jesus said so. 

Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword.

Now, I don’t speak lightly of what Jesus said we must do, and I don’t like it when others take liberties in that way.  Jesus preached a unified vision of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. So, we should ask:  what exactly are these Kingdom values that Jesus would not compromise?  Notably, although many religious folks focus on it almost exclusively, sexual morality was not high on Jesus’ list of moral issues.  He spoke little about that, only to affirm that we should keep our marriage vows.  And I’m all for that. 

Jesus was a compassionate person – he reached out when people were suffering.  And he knew that compassion translated into common life, into the Kingdom, is justice.  The more I study the Gospel texts, the more I see that Jesus’ primary concern was justice, particularly for the weakest in society.  Everybody deserved a decent life, a decent share of the earth’s resources.  If sick people didn’t get care, there was no justice.  If the poor were in misery, there was no justice.  If children and orphans and widows were destitute, there was no justice.  If peasants were buried in debt and defrauded of their land through foreclosure (which they were), there was no justice.  If the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer, there was no justice.  Economic justice is a religious issue…very much so. 

In Jesus’ time, the Roman occupiers took a huge portion of the production of the land and people through taxation – to support the Roman elite, infrastructure, and military.  Maybe Jesus didn’t expect any better from them.  But the Jewish leaders in occupied Palestine were answerable to Yahweh, the God of Israel.  These priests of the Temple claimed devotion to a God who cared for poor people, sick people, weak people – their own people – Jewish people!  Yet they collaborated with the Roman government to ensure their own comfortable lives. 

I’m reading a history of the USSR from Krushchev in the 1950’s up to Putin’s new Russian dictatorship.  One theme that comes through is how the middle and upper management – the “elite” – were rewarded by the system.  There were perks such as cars and chauffeurs, deluxe apartments, dachas in the country, which were provided by the Kremlin – as long as these bureaucrats toed the party line and didn’t question the exploitation of masses.  From first century Palestine to twentieth century Moscow – it seems there is nothing new under the sun. 

No wonder Jesus symbolically upset the Temple courtyard, where a brisk business of buying and selling sacrificial animals was taking place.  (We’ll look at that sacrificial system in more detail next week – watch for Trail Notes in Thursday’s Trailblazer.)  The Temple had become a machine to extract money from the poor and create a very comfortable lifestyle for the priests and bureaucrats.  Surely this was not what God wanted. 

A few weeks ago, I visited England to spend time with a friend Ray. I had a cut on my finger that became infected, so Ray took me to the local NHS walk-in clinic.  I signed in – a foreigner! – and waited about 30 minutes until I was called.  The nurse quickly dealt with my need and sent me on my way, without charging a cent.  Ray is receiving excellent care for his cancer as well, all without worrying about catastrophic medical expenses and possible bankruptcy, on top of the stress of having a serious illness.  How I wish the U.S. had a system like that.  I know it’s not perfect…nothing is.  But it is fair and generous.  It is compassionate.  It is just. 

Jesus said, I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword.  Sometimes, when it’s important, we have to speak up for what we believe is right.  AMEN.  


 

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Easter 7A- 05/28/2017

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Sermon, Easter 7A, Sunday after Ascension                               Jeffrey B. MacKnight
28 May 2017                                                                             St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

One day in the Garden of Eden, God comes to Adam and Eve and tells them God has two gifts — one for each of them. The first, God says, is, well, the ability to pee standing up. Adam starts jumping up and down excitedly and loudly declares that he wants it. Eve, listening to him jabbering on and on about it, rolls her eyes and asks God what God has in mind for her. "Brains," says God.

That’s the kind of story that would put a smile on our daughter Maggie’s face – she’s a strong young woman with views.  Just what we hoped she’d be. 

I still remember like it was yesterday the day my wife Leslie and I took Maggie to Dulles airport to fly to Edinburgh, Scotland to begin veterinary school there.  That was 4 years ago now.  I knew it was the right thing for Maggie – a wonderful opportunity for her to pursue her life-long dream.  That made it the right thing for Leslie and me, too.  But I still was overwhelmed by the sadness of so much separation in the coming years.  Standing in that soaring, iconic airport terminal, outside the security barrier, my eyes brimmed with tears – I was far from the strong, stoic father image that’s common in our culture.  I just didn’t want to let her go. 

Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt about Jesus when he set out for a different kind of ascension, when he had to end his time walking the earth with him.  Maybe they had some understanding of why this had to happen, why this was the best thing for the spread of Jesus’ good news; maybe not.  But I don’t doubt it was a sad, painful parting.

Jesus’ ascension from earth into heaven is a way of describing the end of Jesus’ appearances on earth, and his return to his Father God.  Jesus had prepared his disciples, his followers, as well as he could.  He had trained them to go out and preach, teach, and heal in his name.   They knew his vision for the Gospel to spread beyond Palestine into Asia Minor, Rome – to the ends of the earth.  But were they ready?  I’m sure they would have loved to stay with Jesus, listen to him teach, and enjoy the warm bonds of fellowship they had formed.  But that was not to be.  The times, they were a-changing. 

St. Dunstan’s congregation is in a similar place, I think.  Like the disciples – we are a scrappy band of folks, with lots of opinions, but a common bond of devotion to Christ and his ministry in this place.  We cherish the traditions we’ve enjoyed here, the good times of the past – and rightly so.  We have much to cherish and be thankful for. 

In particular, I sorely miss the band of founding members of our church, who worked and sacrificed for decades here.  When I arrived, they were elders, and they amazed me because their support was unwavering, but they did not try to control the parish.  They wanted it to change and flourish, not be shackled to some image of the past.  That was a remarkable combination: steadfast support and good humor, along with a willing “letting go” of the reins.  I think of them often, and give thanks for their faithfulness and friendship.  On this Memorial Day, I remember them. 

But – and there’s always a “but” – I’m not sure Jesus will let us stay the way we once were.  It’s a new world, and people are not flocking into the churches as they once did.  They still need to hear about the love and forgiveness of Jesus – that hasn’t changed.  But fewer folks are coming through these doors.  So Jesus is leading us out – out onto the sidewalks, the streets, the shops, the schools, the offices and workplaces – to be Christians in the world. 

Our “inner circle” as a congregation is smaller than it once was, but our impact in our neighborhood, in the city, and even in other parts of the world is as strong as ever!  Thousands of people encounter St. Dunstan’s through children’s programs, musical events here, and outreach projects, in addition to those in worship and fellowship and formation.  Many of those will never come to worship with us, but still we are offering a Gospel of hospitality, of open discussion and inquiry, of beauty and art.  Many of us are involved in refugee ministry now – I’m amazed how many are going to the Orthodox church this Saturday to support refugees in the camps.  Today we make sandwiches for hungry Washingtonians, as we do every month.  We are working more with neighboring congregations.  St. Dunstan’s is a small but mighty church!   

It’s hard to let go of the way things used to be…just as it was hard for the disciples to let go of Jesus’ physical presence with them.  But they had no choice…and frankly, we have no choice.  As a parish priest, I was much more comfortable when thoughtful worship, creative programs, and pastoral care was enough to build up a congregation.  I would love to go back to those days.  But we can’t.  The world moves on; the church moves on, into new forms that we probably can’t even imagine.  God will sustain God’s Church the way God chooses.  We cannot control what that Church will be like, no matter how hard we try to hold on. 

Over the last four years, Leslie and I have learned to let go. We’ve had to trust. Maggie has grown and changed, and she will become the young woman and dedicated vet that she needs to become.  The strain and stress of letting go, of change, will be worthwhile. 

And so it is with the Church.  After 33 years of ordained ministry, I understand Jesus more and more, and I can predict the future of the Church less and less.  But a future there will be.  We need to be like the wonderful founders of St. Dunstan’s, who supported this lovely community at every turn, yet set it free to become what God would make of it.  Each of us is a member of this body, the Body of Christ, which comes into being as Jesus’ human body ascends into the heavens.  Each of us has a call, a ministry to do.  Maybe you know what God is calling you to do, and you are firmly engaged.  If you are unsure, I’d be glad to talk with you about your call. 

What I know is this: together we can be the hands and feet of Christ.  Together, we are stronger than we are alone.  Together, we can navigate the uncertain road that lies ahead of us, certain only that God is with us and that God is love. 

 


 

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Easter 3A- 04/29/2017

Posted 2:48 PM by
Sermon, Easter 3A                                                                     Jeffrey B. MacKnight
29 April 2017                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 A seven-year-old asks his father, "Dad can you do my homework for me so I can play more video games?" Dad replies, "No son, it wouldn't be right." The son says, "That's probably true, but just do the best you can."

What’s that got to do with the Emmaus story?  Well, one thing is that nobody else can do for us what we must do for ourselves.  Some experiences in life we just have to go through, we have to see for ourselves, learn for ourselves – whether it’s homework from school, or how to live and love in a relationship, or coming to faith in a turbulent world of evil and doubt. 

Today, Cleopas and another disciple – I’ve always assumed it was his wife, whom I think of as “Anna” – are walking home on Easter afternoon, dejected after the cross, the death of their beloved teacher.  They had heard that Jesus was seen again – alive – but they just couldn’t believe it.  Maybe you feel that way too – at least sometimes.  (It’s funny that we talk about “doubting Thomas” but not “doubting Cleopas.”) 

Nobody goes looking for a leader who gets killed.  Think of how our country felt when Jack Kennedy was murdered, or Martin Luther King. 

We were bereft, numb, wondering how we could go on.  Cleopas and Anna felt that in an intimate way – they had known and loved Jesus dearly.

So they put one foot in front of the other, and trudged the few miles back to their home village of Emmaus, thinking their great adventure with this wonderful man was just a brief flash of joy.  Back now to the plodding drudgery of peasant life in Judea. 

But you heard the story: a stranger approached and began to walk with them on that dusty road.  He asked about their experience in Jerusalem.  Then he began to talk about the Hebrew scriptures, how the messiah, the Christ, of God would be a suffering servant, one who would go through the pain of life with us, and die as we die, and be raised to new life. 

Spiritual writer Richard Rohr says:

To understand Jesus in a whole new way, you must first know that Christ is not his last name, but his eternal identity both before and after the Resurrection. The raising up of Jesus is not a one-time miracle that we must believebut a revelation of the constant and only pattern.

Life – death – new life.  That is the pattern laid out by Jesus.  On Easter I spoke of that pattern laid out so clearly in nature – the yearly changing of the seasons, the deadness of winter followed by the explosion of spring – something we enjoy so vividly here in Washington.  It’s easy to see this pattern in nature.

I also see that pattern in the generations of human beings.  Leslie’s and my kids are in their mid-twenties now, pursuing their educations to prepare them for their chosen vocations.  And I see in them, and other young people, an energy, drive, and creativity that bodes well for the world.  They are so full of life, and dreams, and ideas!  They are passionate about life, about making a contribution to the community, about saving the planet.  And I believe they’ll find solutions to problems that my own generation has failed to find.  It will require our generation to let go, to release the reins of power in various ways, to die, even, in order to allow new life to spring forth.  It’s all part of the pattern.

And as I get older, this seems very right…in fact, necessary.  Again, Richard Rohr says:

I think this is Jesus’ major message: there is something essential that you only know by dying. You really don’t know what life is until you know what death is. Death, which seems like our ultimate enemy, is actually the doorway. This is how Jesus “overcame” and even “destroyed” death.

Now this is not to romanticize death, whether it’s physical death, or a death experience that we live through - the loss, conflict, or despair that can mark our lives.  Death is rarely easy; it’s usually painful.  But seeing our experiences as part of a larger pattern set forth by Jesus can help us make sense of our suffering.  We do learn through our death experiences, and we can face them with equanimity – and even joy – when we know that they make way for new life. 

So, what is it that God wants to show you – to teach you – through this pattern of life and death and new life?  What is the “road to Emmaus” you are called to walk?  Will you meet a stranger along the way?  Cleopas and Anna expected nothing that weary day, and yet the stranger walked the trail with them, talked with them, made their hearts burn within them.  But still they did not recognize him.  That didn’t come until they sat down to eat, and he took bread, and blessed it, and broke the bread.  Finally!  They knew it was the Lord!  And everything was changed.  Death was swallowed up by life.  The pattern was clear.  May it be so for us, too. 

“Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.”  AMEN. 

 


 

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Easter 2A- 04/26/2017

Posted 2:46 PM by
Sermon, Easter 2A                                                                    Jeffrey B. MacKnight
26 April 2017                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda
 

 

Two guys were jawboning about their wives.
Stan:  My wife treats me like I’m a god.
Steve: So she worships the ground you walk on?
Stan:  No – she ignores me until she wants something!

There are at least two types of doubt abroad in the world today.  First, doubt about God may be a rather casual thing: treating the idea of God as insignificant or irrelevant to real life…that is, until we’re in a pinch, or we want something, like Stan’s wife.  Then things might change…  you know what they say about everybody being a believer in foxholes.

Many in the world today seem quite indifferent to organized religion, doubting its validity.  Surveys tell us that religious participation is low, while interest in spirituality is high.  Our modern era has been called post-Christian, because church membership is no longer a societal norm.  People today don’t come to church because “everybody does it;” they simply don’t come, unless they decide it’s important to them to make time.  Through most of the last millennium, the Christian religion, represented by a powerful church, was automatically a part of the lives of the majority of Western people.  What a change in the last 50 years! 

 [Interestingly, St. Dunstan’s pews have been less full this year during Lent, but more full at Easter this year.  Maybe the mystical power of Easter – life rising out of death – resonates more than the Sunday by Sunday observance of a penitential season.  I don’t know.  What do you think?  I’m grateful for the Easter crowds, in any case!]

The second kind of doubt involves a very intentional, thoughtful consideration of the existence of God, the veracity of miracles, and the credibility of specific doctrines such as the virgin birth of Jesus or his bodily resurrection.  Many practicing Christians express trouble with at least some of these assertions of our faith.  Our Episcopal approach allows for this kind of doubt, or wondering.  Not all Christian teachings are central to our faith.  For instance, we might doubt the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but still believe that Jesus was and is alive again in a spiritual way.  For many, that constitutes a powerful belief in the resurrection.

So, doubt can come either out of not really caring much at all…or out of caring very much indeed – enough to wrestle with our faith quite seriously, sometimes in great anguish. 

Speaking of anguish, I believe Jesus acknowledged, and indeed authorized, doubt by sharing his own struggles with God in his life.  On at least two occasions, Jesus expressed doubt.  The first, of course, was in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus foresaw his own death and asked if this cup might pass him by.  Here Jesus seems to doubt God’s goodness.  We can all identify so well with that plaintive cry.  In our own lives, it’s probably not about facing crucifixion.  But we might very well pray ourselves, “O Lord, please don’t ask me to face this cancer, this dementia, the loss of my spouse, my child’s mental illness….”

The second time was on the cross itself.  As we heard on Palm Sunday, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  As a human being, Jesus felt abandoned by God.  He doubted God’s love and care at that moment.  Who wouldn’t? 

Some would minimize Jesus’ doubt, pointing out that Jesus was speaking to God, and in that sense affirming God’s existence at least.  Maybe they have a point.  But the anguish and despair are still there.  And it may be in those very moments of pain that we feel closest to Jesus, that he is most real to us, not just in our heads, but in our hearts and our guts. 

So Thomas has been dubbed “Doubting Thomas” all these years, when really, he just wanted to see Jesus in person, as all the other disciples had done.  Jesus didn’t dismiss Thomas’s need at all; in fact, Jesus seems to come back for Sunday dinner a week later, just to meet Thomas and resolve Thomas’s uncertainties.  Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for his doubts. 

Now, I can’t erase anyone’s doubts about God or Jesus or Christian faith – not yours, and not my own.  And I certainly wouldn’t either diminish their importance or demean anyone who expresses doubt.  As one who doubts myself, I’d be hypocrite to do that, and if there’s one thing that really grates on Jesus’ nerves, it’s hypocrites! 

If God wanted us to be sure and certain about all these religious matters, God could have made everything abundantly clear.  But God doesn’t.  God works through nuance, story, metaphor, and paradox.  Faith is an ongoing project.  If it were just facts, how thin a soup religious would be…how boring and empty.  And humans would no longer have our freedom to accept or reject, to buy in or decline.  We would be puppets. 

So all I can do is invite you to keep coming back, coming back for “Sunday dinner” here, because that’s where the disciples met Jesus, and that’s where Thomas resolved his doubts about the risen Lord.  There are a thousand other things you could be doing right now, but this is the best place to meet God. 

And God seems quite happy to meet us in whatever we state we find ourselves: full of faith, asking questions, or doubting the whole enterprise!  Maybe we come out of habit or determination.  For the friendly community in a hostile world.  Maybe we only come when we’ve got something we want: we’re in need of a prayer answered, some guidance or clarity. 

Whatever brings us here, there’s a welcome from God, and from this congregation.  Together, we acknowledge doubts and questions, find faith together, and walk in hope, because God meets us and feeds us here.  “Ours is not a caravan of despair.”  That image comes from a poem by Rumi, shared with me by Ellie Tupper.  Rumi was Muslim, but he captures a spirit of God’s welcome that works for all of us: 

Come, come whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come. 
                                                                                                Jalal al-Din Rumi

[Another great Rumi quote:

Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved!
In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one. ]

 


 

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May 14, 2017: In My Name

Posted 2:47 PM by

 

Acts 7:55-60

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.  Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he died.

John 14:1-14

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Ray and I were down in South Carolina a few weeks ago

                    one of the grandsons was in a soccer tournament.

I had the first shift of driving

                    the morning we headed back north

          As I was trying to find my way through unfamiliar city roads and traffic

                    Ray decided to make conversation.

          “What is the scripture you'll be preaching about at St. Dunstan's?” he asked.

Well, I had read these texts

          and found them a little overwhelming

                    I was afraid that if I tried to discuss them at that moment

                              I'd either get us totally lost

                                        or crash the car.

So I said,

          “I'm sorry, honey,

                    I can't talk about scriptures right now

                              That would be texting while driving.”

I hope you can forgive me the bad pun.

Now that we're here

          we're in a perfectly appropriate place to study the texts

                    so let's go!

What struck me first in today's gospel is that last line

          “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Really?

          I've known so many prayers to go unanswered

                    prayers by good people, for good causes.

          On its face, that line of the text has not seemed to be true.

So, what on earth could this mean?

          I read it again.

Anything you ask for in my name.

If we are asking for something in his name,

                    it means

          we are asking for something as if we were Jesus.

What have we seen in Jesus?

          Compassion for everyone he encounters

                    Speaking truth to power

                              Inclusion, reaching out to known sinners,

                                        to the “unclean,” to children, to non-Jews

          Miracles like healing, walking on water

                              and forgiveness.

                                        Over and over again,

                                                  he forgives

                                                            and he talks about the importance of

                                                  forgiveness.

          But never forces anyone to behave a certain way.

                    No coercion,

                    No mind tricks

                              No Obi-Wan Kenobi, “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

          And we know from his 40 days of temptation in the desert

                              that Jesus did not use his power for his own glory

So when we ask for something in Jesus name

          we are asking for something that he would ask for,

                    it is probably not appropriate to ask for a parking space.

In the text from Acts

          Stephen is being stoned by the crowds

                    What he asks for is not “Make them stop!”

          He asks they they be forgiven.

          Hmm, just as Jesus asked that those who crucified him be forgiven

Apparently, forgiveness is important.

          In “the prayer that Jesus taught us”

                    “Forgive us” is in the middle of a very short list of things prayed for

So, okay, Forgiveness.

          These  texts

                    taken together

          Maybe they are pointing toward forgiveness.

And forgiveness

          not necessarily in the sense of saying that “What you did is okay”

                    Stephen was not saying that

                              those who were stoning him were right to do so

          and also, not requiring that the one behaving wrongly

                    ask for forgiveness. 

                              The ones stoning Stephen did not ask to be forgiven

                              The ones crucifying Jesus did not ask to be forgiven

Mayo Clinic says that forgiveness is important

                    for your own mental and physical health,

          that holding on to grudges, resentment, anger is

                              bad for your blood pressure and your immune system

I think, beyond the personal benefits

                    forgiveness is essential in God's kingdom

                              because it is essential to relationship and community.

          Without forgiveness, ongoing relationship is hobbled

          Without forgiveness, life together

                    in community

                                        is blocked.

Some forgiveness is easy.

          You forgave me my bad pun

                    (or at least I didn't see anyone walk out)

          On Mother's Day, let's give a moment to think about

                    all the things that mothers forgive.

          Jesus told Peter that we should forgive someone “Seventy Times Seven”

                    How many good mothers have you known who forgive their children

                              seventy times seven times a day.

          How many of you have known a Mom

                    holding a precious little bouncing bundle of joy in her lap

                              when the baby bounced right up &

                                        with the back of its precious little head

                              bashed mom in the face

                    leaving her with a black eye or a fat lip?   

                    Did they hold a grudge agains the little one who hurt them? 

                              No.

          How many of you have known a Mom whose heart was bruised

                    when a sullen adolescent wouldn't engage

                              with anything beyond monosyllabic grunts

                                        even on Mother's Day

         The good mom might give a good, corrective conversation with the little ingrate

                              but she moves past it

                    because the important thing here is

                              beyond the moments of hurt;

                    The important thing is ongoing, loving, nurturing relationship.

Forgiveness can be hard.

One of my  favorite theologians, Anne Lamott, says:

          life is forgiveness school – it is the hardest thing we have to learn,

                    and we have to do it over and over again

                              and, she points out, it starts with forgiving ourselves.

One of my other favorite theologians, Rosi Sweeney

                    says that forgiveness is a decision

                              to never use someone's wrong behavior against them

          AND

                    to move on, to let it go.

It is possible to accept the reality that someone has done something wrong

                                        something that causes harm

                    but, with forgiveness,

                              being able to go forward

                                        in relationship with that person.

Nelson Mandela understood the vital importance of forgiveness

                    for himself and for his whole nation.

          After being unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he wrote this:

          “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,

                    I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind,

                              I’d still be in prison.”

So, for his own peace of mind, his own well-being,

                    he knew

          he'd have to forgive.

And also

          for the well-being of his country.

                    He could not bring such a broken nation together

                              if he did not set a public example of moving on in forgiveness.

          It has been noted that

                     it was the example of his forgiveness

                              that allowed his country to move on without a bloodbath.

Sometimes, forgiveness feels nigh on to impossible.

          For instance, what if someone is freely causing harm

                              right and left

                    and “moving on in relationship” with them

                                        would be seriously dangerous

                              physically or emotionally?

I do not believe that forgiveness means that you have to trust someone again

                    If you know that someone is

                              prone to a certain kind of bad behavior

                              if they have caused you harm, and you have every reason

                                        to think that they would do it again

                              You do not have to put yourself in harms way

                                        In order to forgive.

                    You can move on

                              … at arms length.

But, what if the harm that was done to you

                    still hurts so keenly

                              that you cannot even think of forgiving?

In the hymn we just sang, “A Place at the Table”

                    there is a line that made me gasp

          it says “Abuser, abused, a place at the table.”

          “Really?”  I thought

                              the first time I heard it.

                    “How could that possibly be right

                              How could I possibly be asked to sit at the table

                                        with my abuser?”

          But the answer was right in front of me.

                              it is in front of us...

                    The table is God's table

                              and in God's kingdom

                    everyone is welcome

                              everyone is forgiven

                                        everyone is loved

                    and it will be all right.

So maybe that is the time to fall back on Jesus' promise

          Jesus, I cannot forgive this person.

                    But I trust that you can.

          We can ask

                    “In the name of Jesus, dear God, please forgive this person.”

          And then

                    keep yourself safe

                              but let it go

                    and move on.

Let's watch a video together.

          It's about wolves.

                    Early in the 1900s, wolves were considered predators

                                        and they were – they killed cattle, and sheep

                                       This was considered a bad thing

                              especially if it was your cattle & sheep that were getting killed

          You might say that the wolves were considered “unforgivable.”

          So, throughout Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

                    killing wolves was encouraged.

                   Eventually, by 1926, the last wolves in Yellowstone Park were killed.

So, In 1995, fourteen wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park

When the 14 wolves were placed in the park,

          they of course started hunting and killing deer.

                    The population of deer began to decrease, rapidly.

          The remaining deer began to avoid the areas where they were an easy prey.

The deer's absence from those areas meant that

          the plants the deer had been over-eating

                    could grow again.

Aspen and willow trees began to flourish.

          With those trees, and other bushes, came more berries and bugs.

                    Thanks to that, various bird species returned to the park.

          And the beaver, which had been extinct in the region, came back.

                    The beaver dams attracted otters, muskrats, and reptiles.

          The wolves also killed coyotes,

                    so the mice and rabbit populations grew.

This in turn attracted red foxes, weasels, badgers and hawks to the park.

          Even the population of bald eagles rose.

                    But it gets even more interesting.

          The reintroduction of the wolves even changed the rivers.

                    With the better balance of predators and prey

                              other species could thrive.

Increased vegetation growth made erosion decrease...

                    and river banks were stabilized.

          Channels narrowed.

          More pools formed.

                    And the rivers stayed more fixed in their courses.

So, the wolves did not only give Yellowstone's ecosystem new balance,

          they changed the park's physical geography.

 * * *

What it comes down to, I think,

                    is that God's world is for all God's creation.

          We may not understand it

                    but there is

                              there needs to be

                    a place at the table, like the hymn we sang

                              a place at the table for everyone.

This means recognizing that we are all flawed.

                    Not one of us is perfect, far from it.

          But we are also

                    all

                              necessary.

God's creation is apparently constructed in such a way

                    that we need all of it

                              and all of us

                    to make it work.

          And if we are to live with ourselves and others

                              in any sort of peace

                                                  in relationship

                                                  in community

                                        with shared resources

                                                  common goals

                              with any hope of productive effort to make this world better

                    we have to be able to forgive ourselves and others

                                        our sometimes MASSIVE flaws

                              and move on.

          If we fail to forgive

                    if we decide to hold on to our hurts and our grudges and our judgements

                                        what path is open to us?

                              How can the conversation continue?

                              How can the community figure out how to cooperate

                                        and do the work we are called to do...

                                                  Which I believe is no less

                                                            than the healing of the world?

                    So

                    In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

                              May we all be forgiven

                              May we all forgive

                    And may we all get on with the work that He began.

          Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Sermon: Easter -4/16/2017

Posted 6:27 PM by
Sermon – Easter 2017                                                                  Jeffrey B. MacKnight
16 April 2017                                                                            St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

God is Green

Happy Easter, everybody! 

A week ago we had a little surprise at our house: no hot water. When I checked out the water heater, it was leaking slightly, so I knew it had to be replaced, which fortunately we got done the next day.  But even a brief time without hot water reminded us of what a lovely luxury it is – hot showers loosen the tension in my back and help me wake up in the morning!  Clean, fresh water is a great gift of Creation that it’s easy to take for granted.

Many of us grew up saying grace before meals, reminding us of the goodness of God’s creation:

“God is great and God is good….” 

Even as children, this prayer helped us remember that God’s Creation is good – very good – and gives us both life itself, and much joy.  Everybody loves food; it is a natural channel for our gratitude. Water and food – two blessings we might take for granted, but in the rest of the world they are still precious privileges.

This Easter, coming so close to Earth Day, I propose a new prayer for us – a prayer not just for food, but for the whole Creation:

“God is great and God is green,
Your great glory we have seen
in Creation.  Bless the earth;
Bring us all to second birth.”

Every Easter we hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, showing that God wants to bring new life out of death.  God demonstrated that in Jesus; God wants to redeem and save each of us.  No past sin, failure, or mistake can change God's love for us, God’s desire for us to be alive, and joyful, and whole.  Whatever you think cannot be forgiven or overcome, God can transcend.  If God can raise the dead to life, God can vanquish our human sins and offenses. 

But this year, I want to focus on a broader picture: the redemption, the salvation of the whole Creation.  Christianity teaches that God not only loves each and every human being, but God loves the world, the earth, the cosmos.  “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son….”  Jesus comes not just to save individual humans from our brokenness; Jesus is the Christ of Creation who brings renewal to the whole world and all its creatures.

St. Paul writes in Romans 8 about his “hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves.”  Our salvation is tied up with the salvation of the whole earth.

Springtime in Washington helps us see how overwhelmingly beautiful this gift is – all Creation springing forth into life: a riot of colors, textures, fragrances, and a green everywhere: such an intense, vivid green.  We are really blessed to live where each season (with the possible exception of winter) is such a display of God’s handiwork!

Back when the world was new, Adam and Eve were set up in a beautiful Garden – a symbol of all that is good in Creation.  But they rebelled against God’s rule. (Human beings don’t seem to like to be told what to do.)   God sent them away from the beautiful garden of Eden: they were alienated from the earth.  Genesis tells us that God cursed the earth itself because of human sin.  Since then, we have become alienated from the very world we live in.  We have used the earth, not as a cherished home, but as a cash-cow we could exploit.  We all know that the earth is sick now – staggering under the weight of human exploitation and abuse, just as surely as Jesus staggered under the weight of his heavy cross. 

In the resurrection story, you noticed that Mary is mistaken when she first sees Jesus.  She doesn’t recognize Jesus.  She thinks he is the gardener.  Well, I’ve come to believe that he is!  He is God’s gardener, bringing forth life from the earth.

I’m not much of a gardener, (I have a very brown thumb), though I really wish I were, especially as I get older.  I’m working on it.  Connecting with the earth, and participating in God’s giving growth, moves me more and more.  I enjoy the simple things, like a few flowers by the front door, and around the back patio.  I love the sound of a swiftly flowing stream of fresh, cool water, kicking up a spray that catches the sunlight.  A brisk walk with the dogs (dogs are another sign that God loves us). 

Maybe this Easter, we could think of our lives as a garden, and ourselves as junior gardeners – God’s apprentices, so to speak.  How can we bring beauty into our own lives, and into the lives of those around us?  How can we better tend our earthly home – from picking up litter, to reducing our energy use?  What garden tools might we need?  Well, a rake to clean out what is old and dead.  A shovel to dig holes to plant God’s new tree of life.  And most of all, we need the fellowship of other gardeners, to encourage and teach one another – I have a lot to learn!  We can think of the church as a garden club – where all are welcome to join in celebrating and tending God’s creation. 

I am quite sure that a clean, green earth is God’s vision, God’s preferred future for our world.  God has immense power to bring new life out of death, but humanity must cooperate; we must partner with God in tending the Garden we have been given.  We may not live in Eden, but that doesn’t mean our earthly home cannot be beautiful, fragrant, and supportive of all kinds of life. 

This Easter, God is bringing new life, both to us as individuals, and to the whole earth.  And God wants us as partners – to be God’s junior gardeners to help till, plant, nourish, and enjoy the fruits of the earth – fresh water, wonderful foods, beautiful flowers and foliage. This is both a gift, and a challenge to us.  Together, we can work with God for the salvation, the rebirth of the earth. 

God is great, and God is green. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!   


 

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Lent 3: 03/19/2017

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Sermon, Lent 3A                                                                          Jeffrey B. MacKnight
19 March 2017                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

Thirsty?  In honor of St. Paddy’s day…

An Irish man walked into a bar, asked for three shots of whiskey, and quickly downed them all. The barkeep asked, "Why three?" to which the man said, "That's one each for me, my dad, and my brother back in Ireland." From that day forward, he came in every week and ordered three shots. One day, however, he ordered only two shots. The barkeep asked, with concern, "Why only two? Are your brother and father well?" “Oh yes, they are both quite well!  I, however, have quit drinking for Lent."

 
Today we’re here to talk not about whiskey, but about water…a far more important subject.  The image of water runs deep in scripture, from the waters of Creation, to crossing the Red Sea, to Moses striking the rock in the wilderness, to the baptism of John, to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus said he came to give us “living water.” 

This week I’m attending a conference on Water Justice at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, a wonderful place surrounded by water…water that’s rising each year and flooding more regularly than ever before. 

Worldwide, water is both a gift and a problem.  Some water is dirty and kills people through disease.  Some is polluted with metals that destroy young brains.  In the American West, access to water is a battle between cities and ranchers.  There’s not enough for green lawns and swimming pools in the desert, as well as agriculture and human needs.

The conference begins with this thesis:

Water is a gift. Water is life. As water crises increase, access to safe and clean drinking water decreases.

From Flint to Standing Rock, many of today’s most pressing social issues revolve around water. Faith communities worldwide can help.

Here in Washington, the many crises around water may seem far away – we get a good amount of rain, our rivers run full (mostly), we are surrounded by green foliage and trees.  We are quite blest. 

The intriguing Samaritan woman at the well was doing what most women had to do: fetch water daily.  But she came for water at high noon, the hottest time of day.  Why?  Scholars suggest she may have been ashamed to come when the other women did, in the cool of the morning.  She was a woman of high energy, but compromised morals….5 husbands plus another guy at the moment!

She was thirsty.  She knew she needed water to live.  But she probably couldn’t even dream of the kind of water that Jesus offered – the living water of salvation, freedom, cleansing renewal.  Water that would wash away all her shame and sorrow, and let her feel the love of her Creator shower over her.  No, she probably couldn’t even imagine that….

We’re thirsty too. Even with our running water taps and ubiquitous water bottles, we are thirsty. I wonder if we can imagine the kind of water Jesus offers? 

It strikes me that many of the “waters” with which we keep trying to slake our spiritual thirst don’t quench it at all, and they may make it worse.  A lot of what we do in life is like drinking salt water…instead of satisfying our real thirst, it makes us more thirsty, to the point that it can kill us!  When we try to satisfy ourselves with more money and material stuff, or more prestige, or more power over others, we may feel a rush of satisfaction for a moment, but then we just want more.  More and more. 

So what is it we ought to be seeking…what kind of water is truly living water, water of life?  What is this water that Jesus offers? 

Love – knowing we are beloved, knowing that God loves others as God loves us.  Learning to love others.  Wrapped in that package is forgiveness – feeling forgiven ourselves, and learning to forgive those who have hurt us.  Without this living water, we grow parched and brittle.  Our lives cannot bloom as they are meant to do. 

This Lent at St. Dunstan’s, we are learning more about a particularly unloved group in our society: persons who are incarcerated, “serving time.”  Regardless of their crimes, they remain human beings, beloved of God, and in need of love from other human beings.  Jesus specifically commended those who visit prisoners. Yet most of us keep our distance – out of fear, probably.  I understand the fear.  But we have a chance to learn more about these persons, their lives, their families, their hopes and dreams.  Around you are stations of the cross, which juxtapose the sufferings of Jesus with the sufferings of incarcerated persons.  Take a look. 

So…if your life is full of warm love and laughter, if you feel the loved and accepted by God, rejoice and be glad!  Or maybe your life seems a bit empty, and you wish it were more filled with friends and relationships of meaning.  Either way, you have love to offer. Find someone who needs to be loved, cared for, cherished…and love that person: a child, an elder person, maybe even a prisoner.  Spend some time.  You can change a life!  You can pour out the water of your love, and as you do, it will become the living water of Jesus: the fount of blessing, the spring of salvation, the cleansing water of forgiveness.  The more love you give, the more love you’ll have.  Amazing, isn’t it?  The more we give of the waters of Christ’s love, the less thirsty we are. 

 

 


 

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