Entries by Kimberly Matthews

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Sermon: 12/18/2016

Posted 4:50 PM by
Sermon, Advent 4A                                        Jeffrey B. MacKnight
18 December 2016                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

A kindergarten teacher announces to her class, "Tomorrow, we will have show and tell. I would like everyone to bring in a symbol of his or her religious faith." The next day, a little boy steps forward. "Hi, my name is David. I'm Jewish, and this is a star of David." Another little boy comes forward. "Hi, my name is Kevin. I'm a Catholic, and this is a crucifix." Finally, a little girl steps to the front. "Hi, my name is Susie. I'm a Baptist, and this is a casserole." 

We might well ask ourselves what an Episcopal kid would bring to show and tell!

Signs are important. 

Signs.  Isaiah – a child would be born as a sign – that war and conflict would soon cease.  This happened in Isaiah’s time – 8 centuries before Jesus. 

Yet we see Jesus as a similar sign from God – a sign of how life is, and what our destiny is.  A sign of hope, even when things are clearly not as they should be.  A sign of God being a part of our human journey.  The crucifix – the cross with a suffering Jesus upon it – is a fitting sign of this life, although it does not tell the whole story…the story of final resurrection, vindication, redemption of all that we hold dear.            

Although there is much beautiful Advent music, I do listen to Christmas carols in December.  The ones that tug at my heartstrings most are the ones that include the whole sweep of human experience – from birth and fresh new life and possibilities, through the real struggles of human life, the pain, the losses, and finally confronting death itself.  One of these has stayed in my mind this season.  It’s a beautiful old Basque carol.

1. Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
Over the place where he is lying.
Sing lullaby!


2. Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
Soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
Sing lullaby!


3. Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing,
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the Infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
Then in the grave at last reposing:
Sing lullaby!


4. Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe a-waking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the Infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning,
Conquering Death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!
 

The sign that is Jesus  points to that whole sweep of human experience: life, death, and new life again.  We say it in the liturgy:

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again. 

We remember his death.  We proclaim his resurrection.  We await his coming again. 

We Anglicans love Christmas, perhaps even more than Easter.  The story of a wondrous birth, with a bright star overhead – that is a great sign indeed.  We should love it, celebrate it, sing about it, treasure it.  And so we do. 

And that sign is all the deeper because we know what will come – the human life, full of moments of laughter and elation, times of worry and darkness, and yes, dark valleys of almost unbearable sadness, pain, and loss.  It’s all part of the package.  Every child is born into this uncertain world.  Jesus is the sign that God is with us through it all, and that redemption comes in the end:

Hush, do not stir the Infant King.

Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning,
Conquering Death, its bondage breaking:
Sing lullaby!

So if I were asked about the symbol of our Anglican/Episcopal faith, I’d be hard-pressed to choose just one, because our faith is a journey.  We are on the trail together, starting with our Hebrew Scriptures and heritage, leading to the revelation of Jesus’ life and death on the cross, and on into resurrection and whatever new thing God has for us.  And I’m sure our journey includes lots of casseroles too.  As we turn now to the joys of Christmas, find a quiet moment and thank God for the journey of your life, what was, what is, and what is to come…dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning, conquering death, its bondage breaking.  


 

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Bishops Visit 11/20/2016

Posted 5:26 PM by
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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Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Posted 7:08 PM by
Palm Sunday 2016                                        Jeffrey B. MacKnight
20 March 2016                                              St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

Shakespeare said,

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances….”

There are two dramas in Jesus’ life that are often portrayed as plays:   The nativity story, of course; and the Passion of Jesus, his crucifixion and burial.   

Today, after Communion, we hear the Passion presented in parts; all the men and women merely players.  We know the story well.  At least we think we do. Yet like all great stories, it is always new, ready to gut-punch us in some new spot where we don’t expect it. 

Our reading of the Passion Narrative on Palm Sunday rotates among Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Each one has a distinctive feel, and they vary in many details if you compare them.  Luke has a particular lens: we see and hear the story through the eyes and ears of individuals in need of healing, we feel their fear and sorrow, their shame in betrayal, their utter sense of powerlessness and vulnerability.  We hear this especially in Jesus: his gentleness, his refusal to resort to violence.  The most profound “last words” of Jesus come from Luke

             “Father, forgiven them; for they know not what they do.” 
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 
“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”

Each year, we take the scripture and make a script for reading it in parts, with a narrator tying it all together.  The congregation is usually invited to participate by being the voice of the crowd at Jesus’ trials…the crowd who turn on him and shout, “Crucify him!”  It is jarring, and it’s meant to be.  None of us has clean hands.

But in Luke, there is no crowd, only the chief priests and elders.  So I have assigned to you, the congregation, several parts.  You will take your place in the drama: you will be Peter, denying ever having known Jesus.  You will be the elders, urging Pilate to kill Jesus, based on trumped up charges.  You will be the thief who hangs next to Jesus, who recognizes Jesus as a righteous man, whom Jesus grants a place in paradise.  And you will be the Roman centurion who gazes on the macabre spectacle of a vulnerable, innocent man hanging on a cross; and who praises God saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 

Which part in this drama has your name on it this year?  I can easily identify with cowardly Peter, trying to save his own skin.  I understand the priests and temple officials, trying to protect the status quo, their small claim on power and prestige in the hostile Roman environment.  I get Pilate, whose job it was to keep the peace in occupied Jerusalem, never easy among the Jews, and especially not at Passover.  I like to keep the peace, sometimes too much, sometimes at the expense of truth.   

But I’ve never identified much with Judas, the traitor.  Since I have lived a fairly respectable life, Judas’ wanton betrayal seems foreign to me.  And yet I do betray Jesus and his law of love.  My deeds are not as obvious, but I, like Judas, want Jesus to be someone he is not…I want him to rise up and vanquish my enemies.  I’d like Jesus to stop talking about the centrality of the poor people among us, and the need for sacrifice.  I compromise Jesus in his refusal to use violence to attain his goals.  I stop short of following Jesus into the risky, vulnerable places he goes.  When push comes to shove, like Peter I cry, “I do not know the man!”

I don’t know with whom you might identify on this Palm Sunday; only you and God know.  But I hope you let this great drama wash over you once more today, and keep your hearts open to God’s challenging and cleansing Spirit.  We men and women are the players on God’s stage.  That is why we are here. 

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican priest of Irish descent in the early 1900s, who went to war as a chaplain and embedded himself with the troops in the trenches of World War I.  Studdert Kennedy went to where the pain and horror were, and there he ministered…pretty much what Jesus did.  There he met Christ in the face of the least and the lost.  He was also a gifted poet, and expressed his faith in his verse.  Finding God in the most unlikely places, he wrote these lines which have always spoken to me:

In a manger, in a cottage, in an honest workman’s shed,
In the homes of humble peasants and the simple lives they lead;
In the life of One, an outcast and a vagabond on earth,
In the common things He valued and proclaimed of countless worth;
 
And above all, in the horror of the cruel death He died,
Thou hast bid us seek Thy glory in the criminal crucified;
And we find it – for Thy glory is the glory of love’s loss,
And Thou has no other splendour than the splendour of the Cross. 

 


 

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