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Bishops Visit 11/20/2016

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Click here to read the Sermon delivered by Bishop Mariann Budde during her visit to St. Dunstan's on November 20, 2016.

 

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Consecration Sunday Sermon 11/13/2016

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Sermon: Consecration Sunday, Veterans Day                               Jeffrey B. MacKnight
13 November 2016                                                                        St. Dunstan’s

 

 

Two hunters from Minnesota get a pilot to fly them to Canada to hunt moose. They bag six. As they start loading the plane for the return trip, the pilot tells them the plane can take only four of the moose. The two lads object strongly. "Last year we shot six, and the pilot let us put them all on board; he had the same plane as yours." Reluctantly, the pilot gives in and lets them load all six. However, even with full power, the little plane can't handle the load and goes down a few moments after takeoff. Climbing out of the wreckage, one Minnesotan asks the other, "Any idea where we are?" The second replies, "Yah, I tink we's pretty close to where we crashed last year." J

Sometimes life feels like that! 

Today our heads are crowded with competing thoughts, concerns, hopes, and worries.  It’s been quite a week: a big upset in the presidential election – some of us are happy and some are not.  Most of us are surprised, I’d say, and wondering what the Trump presidency will look like for the next four years.  The Church is not here to render judgment on politicians, favoring some over others.  In fact, followers of Jesus do not put their trust in the goodness of any political leader.  But the Church is very much here to critique all politicians, all national decisions and legislation, in the light of the values of Jesus our Lord.  Here at St. Dunstan’s, we’ll continue to look at our national life through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings, as we always have.  We have a different, and higher, set of standards by which to judge our society, our world. 

The odd Gospel you heard today is from Palm Sunday, when Jesus finally rode into Jerusalem to face the Temple officials, the Romans, and finally the cross itself.  He rode in, not on the tall white horse of a conquering warrior, but on a little donkey-colt.  He was making a political statement – or, I should say, a critique of all human politics.  He was setting himself in contrast to the “powers that be” in his world: the Roman occupation of Palestine.  Just as the Roman legions rode into Jerusalem from the west, with chariots and armaments and great horses, to “keep peace” during Passover, Jesus rode in from the east on his little donkey.  He knew that every political leader would need to be countered by a people devoted to God, God’s radical and equal love for every human being.  The powers of this world will always need this check, this critique, this counter-force.  And we need it now. 

I want to focus on one little sentence in this Gospel: not the Hosannas of the crowds, but the 6 words used to secure that little donkey-colt from a sympathetic owner.  Those 6 words are:  “The Lord has need of it.”

How Jesus arranged for the little colt, we don’t know, but the words he used are clear enough: “Please give this, because the Lord needs it.”  What other need could supersede that?  All our plans, our personal desires, our hesitations fall away when we really hear the call of God saying, “The Lord needs it: the Lord needs you, your time, your money, your devotion and prayer.  Never mind your own plan, right now, the Lord needs you.”  Have you ever heard that voice in your life?  Had that overwhelming sense of call, of conviction, of action?  I hope you have.  That call changes us. 

“The Lord has need of it.”

This week we also observe Veterans’ Day, a time to stop and give thanks for the sacrifices of all who have served this country in the armed forces.  I think of my dad, who joined millions of Americans in the forties to fight in World War II.  In that war, the enemy was clear, vicious, and well-defined.  But I still stand in awe of those people who dropped everything and risked – or gave – their lives.  I believe most of them understood that call to be from God and country: “The Lord has need of me.” 

The wonderful Christian priest and writer Barbara Crafton wrote yesterday, reflecting on the American Civil War (after just finishing Shelby Foote’s huge history of that horrific conflict).  She notes the unfathomable cost in human life – well over 600,000 lives lost as both sides slaughtered our own brothers and sisters who saw this country differently.  We face such a split in the U.S. today, and it is a dangerous time for us.  Crafton writes:

 This must never happen again.

War never brings peace. It always sows the seeds of the next war. Violence on a smaller scale is the same: it may triumph in the moment, but it never persuades. The most violence can win is compliance based on fear, and a grim resolve to even the score next time, a resolve that can last for years.

We cannot designate our fellow Americans as enemies. We can be opponents, but we must not be enemies. We can be passionate, but we must not hate.

We can contend for what we think best. In order to do that, we must stay in contention. If we foreclose on relationship, we are no longer in the civic conversation.

“The Lord has need of it.”

Finally, we come together today at St. Dunstan’s to offer our financial pledges for the year ahead – another kind of sacrificial giving for God’s work right here in our own neighborhood.  Our church stands as a testimony to our values here: God’s love for every person, hospitality and acceptance of all, a safe and happy place for children every day, service and advocacy for people in need.  People see our banners on Mass. Avenue and know that this is a safe and welcoming place.  We don’t judge by race or social status or wealth or other characteristics; because Jesus doesn’t judge by those things. We look for Christ in every person. 

So today – in the midst of all that swirls around us – I ask you to vote for these values, with your pledge of support.  The Lord has need of it.  And I ask you to make it a bit more generous than you are comfortable doing, so that our church can thrive.  If you’ve already submitted a pledge, consider increasing it a bit.  Our budget challenges are great this year, because some revenues we used last year are not recurring.  Your leaders will work with what you, collectively, give, and we’ll devise the best possible budget to use those funds.  We shall live together by the decisions you make today. 

I conclude with the words of our own bishop, Mariann Edgar Budde.  Reflecting on the shock of the election, she calls for us to know our neighbors, especially the ones we disagree with, whose lives are painful and difficult in ways we do not know: 

Speaking on behalf of the Diocese of Washington, I pledge that I will take an active part in the healing of America. In faithfulness to God, we will seek the welfare of the cities, towns and communities in which we live. As Americans, we give thanks for the peaceful transfer of political power and we respect it.

“The Lord has need of it.”  The Lord has need of us – each and every one of us – today, in this country, in this city.  The Lord is asking for our hearts, our hands, our voices, and our dollars, to make peace with justice.  Will you answer?   


 

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Sermon: 11/06/2016

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Sermon, Proper 26C                                                                    Jeffrey B. MacKnight
30 October 2016                                                                       St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

Today’s story is about repentance: Zacchaeus, the tax collector who repents of his evil ways. 

I have a confession to make: I strayed into temptation and sin on Friday. I was out to take in the brisk fall air and changing leaves, when I was caught up in a long procession of cars leading inexorably into perdition. 

When I arrived, the people were like lemmings, drawn like moths to a flame. My chest tightened; the crowds made me nervous. I knew I had no business being there, but I joined them in their blind obedience. I succumbed, as Zacchaeus succumbed 2000 years ago, to the power of temptation, avarice, like a sheep led to the slaughter. But I was fortunate; I managed to escape before the worst had happened, and I am able to stand before you today. 

Of course, by now you know where I was – at the grand opening of the new outlet mall in Clarksburg! It is a colossus beyond my wildest imaginings, like a small island city marooned in ocean of asphalt. A temple where only money, greed, acquisition, and the latest fashions are worshipped. 

The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. Not money itself, but the love of it. That’s where Zacchaeus comes in. As a tax collector for the Romans, he loved money: he built his own wealth on the backs of others, by collecting as much as he could extract from lowly Judaeans. He no doubt used fear and threats…

But something changed in Zacchaeus. He must have heard Jesus preach and teach, maybe at first by accident. But he was smitten, captivated. He began to believe that a new life was possible, one not built on greed and intimidation. 

One day, he heard that Jesus would be coming by. He climbed a tree, we’re told, so he could see, because he was of small stature, that is, short. But in truth his stature was small in every way: he was not much of a human being. Anyway, he climbed that sycamore tree. 

I think maybe he climbed into that tree for another reason too – that he did not want to be seen. He was still unsure; he was not ready to look Jesus in the eye.  What would that involve? What would be required of him? 

[Our son Colin: when he had been naughty, we would give him time out. At the beach house where we went for many years, there was a low, scrubby tree outside the kitchen door. Colin would climb up into that tree when he was given time out.  At times, he’d just go up there on his own. He had some distance, but he could keep an eye on what was happening too. Maybe that sycamore tree was Zacchaeus’s time out tree….]

Back to the story: Jesus spotted Zacchaeus and called to him to come down out of his hiding place. Jesus acted as if Zacchaeus had already decided to change his life, to repent. Jesus invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house (we don’t know how Mrs. Zacchaeus felt about that!). And then it happened:  Zacchaeus did change, he did repent, right there in front of God and everybody.  “Look!  I’m going to give half my wealth to help poor people.  And if I’ve defrauded people, I’ll pay it back fourfold!” Zacchaeus, wealthy chief tax collector 10 minutes ago, is now Zacchaeus, generous man of God. Talk about repentance. 

Now I have long suspected that this is not the first time we have met Zacchaeus.  Last week, we heard the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple praying. The Pharisee was a self-righteous prig, but the tax collector was feeling the weight of his sinful life, the ways he had hurt people and exploited his position.  He simply asked for mercy. I believe that was Zacchaeus. That was the moment he was convicted of his sinfulness. Later, when he comes down out of that sycamore tree, into the arms of Jesus – this is the moment of his repentance, his transformation into a new man, a new human being, redeemed and made new by God!

Because that’s what repentance does for us – we are transformed into new human beings, freed from the terrible weight of our past lives, the weight of competition, self-doubt, regret, climbing the ladder, keeping up with the Joneses, and wondering if we can ever be good enough. When we repent, we turn our lives over to God, and God does an amazing thing – God embraces us just as we are, and loves us. 

This is the end of my sermon series on practicing love. It’s also our last Sunday of Creation Season. I hope you’ve enjoyed the music, readings, and visual displays of Creation in the church. I thank the parish artists who lent their beautiful works to line our walls! And I ask your prayers and your efforts to protect and care for God’s good earth, our atmosphere, and our waters, so that future generations can enjoy what we have enjoyed. 

It’s meet and right to end on repentance. We all have tracts in our lives where we don’t want God to go, because we’re not proud of what we are or what we’ve done.  But repentance can set us free – free to be the men, women, and children God made us to be – free to be lavish in love, magnificent in generosity; free to give freely, because we are so grateful for all that we have received. The most joyful people I know are the most giving, the most loving, the most generous.  They have found God’s secret to a great life. I want to be like them! 

In case you are still wondering, my day got better after my misadventure at the outlet mall. I escaped that web of seduction with my life and my wallet intact. I ended up at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain – a place of inordinate natural beauty and peace. God was merciful to me, a sinner. 

 


 

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