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Practicing Love Sermon 6: Practicing Love Series 10/09/2016

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Sermon: Practicing Love through Thanksgiving                         Jeffrey B. MacKnight
9 October 2016                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to ask for help. I remember the first time my back went out several years ago. I bent over slightly, and felt that sickening pop, and I couldn’t stand up straight again. Later, after several scans, I was told I have a herniated disk in my lower back – a common condition, and there’s not much they can do about it without cutting you open….

So I asked for help (I had to). I tried the chiropractor, but that didn’t do much. I did physical therapy. And finally, I had a course of steroids, and it was like a miracle. I could stand and straighten my back again! What a blessing. I was so thankful to be healed.

Today Jesus tells the story of ten lepers. Those lepers, they kept their distance from Jesus. In fact, lepers were required to keep their distance from society, and shout a warning when they approached, lest anybody “catch” their disease. What an isolating, lonely way to live. 

But they found the courage to cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” After all the humiliation they had endured, they had the guts, and the hope, to cry to Jesus whom they had heard was a healer. They asked for help.

Jesus responded: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The priests were the ones who authenticated healings, and would allow the lepers back into society. They would be set free!  Off they went, gazing down at the fresh pink skin on their hands and arms, rejoicing in their new, healthy bodies.

We are the lepers – if not physically in need of healing, then certainly emotionally, spiritually in need. We’ve all hurt people, and been hurt. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve been selfish. We have our weaknesses, our foibles our herniated disks. We carry the scars of life on our own skins – visibly or invisibly, they are there. 

And then…one of them – just one out of ten – turned back, praising God, and fell down at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him….and he was a Samaritan, a foreigner. Why not the others? Did they forget so quickly the awful state they’d been in? Did they think at all about this man Jesus who set them free? What would I do? Or you? Jesus seems very human in his sadness at this.

Then there is Naaman – a proud man, a military officer, used to deference. But he too was a leper.  A slave girl in his house told him about the God of Israel, who could heal him. Naaman came, with all his horses and chariots, to see the prophet Elisha. Elisha told him how to be healed, but Naaman thought it was ridiculous. He was proud. O my goodness, doesn’t that sound like us?  Would we stoop to wash ourselves in the sorry little Jordan River?  Or would we say, “Naw, this is silly.  I don’t believe in this stuff.  I’m an important man – too important to be doing this!” 

We are prideful, it seems, by nature. Look at the world – the posturing and preening of our leaders, celebrities, movie stars. We all want to be important, more so than the next guy. We don’t want to appear weak, or needy.  

Christian life is really all about coming back to give thanks. It’s about swallowing our pride, asking for help when we need it, and rejoicing when God grants us some healing, some new hope, clear new pink skin, a back that can stand up straight. Christian life is living in an “attitude of gratitude,” as they say. Knowing we need to depend on God, and responding with thanks for every gift. 

Giving thanks – that’s how we finally are free of our pride, our need to be self-sufficient, our desire to be stronger or better or richer than others. With gratitude, all of that falls away. What a freeing thing!

And what’s more, thankfulness heightens our pleasure and delight in the simplest of things – good hot coffee, a great meal, a walk in this gorgeous fall weather, the first red leaf spotted in a tree, the laughter of a toddler at the grocery store (and that’s just from my day yesterday). Oh and of course, the nuzzle of one’s favorite dog!

These are simple gifts – the best kind. We launch our Annual Giving Campaign today with this theme: Simple Gifts – for the Church and for the World.  I hope you’ll think about the simple gifts in your life, and take special joy in thanking God for each and every one of them. Just try it – starting with gratitude. It will bring you joy. 

One way to give thanks is to pass on the blessings to others around you. Your pledge to this church is one good way to do that. We all know that without your consistent, committed giving, St. Dunstan’s can’t survive. And yet, faithful people have helped this community survive and thrive for 58 years now. So much ministry has flowed through these walls, and out into the world around us for all these years; so many people have been touched and helped; so many baptisms and marriages have been celebrated here; so many saints have been commended to God here, after their deaths. So many children have learned about Jesus; so many youths have learned the joy of serving people in need. So many people visited in hospital or nursing home; so much joy in Easter and Christmas services, so much music offered to God and enjoyed by all of us. 

And overarching it all is one thing: Giving Thanks to God. That is the essence of the Eucharist.  It is the Christian life. Thankfulness frees us from our fears, our selfishness, our need to get ahead and outshine others.  Fear, self-centeredness, pride – those are the diseases of our day, the leprosy of this age. And the cure is ready at hand: gratitude; thankfulness to God. Jesus offers us the cure, the key to a new life. It is a simple gift, but a profound one. Let us take it! And let us be the one who, in his joy, returns to give thanks for the mighty work of God in our lives.  AMEN.   


 

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Practicing Love Sermon 5: Practicing Love Series 10/02/2016

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Sermon, Practicing Love through Faith                                      Jeffrey B. MacKnight
2 October 2016  Creation Season                                               St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

One day, a snail was mugged by a couple of tortoises. When the police arrived on the scene they asked, "Can you tell us what you remember about the suspects?" The snail replied, "Oh, I don't know, it all happened so fast!" 

I’ve never been accused of being a patient man.  When I am in action mode, I like to get things done, preferably now.  “There’s no time like the present,” is one of my inner proverbs.  But not everything moves quickly in life.  That’s where faith becomes absolutely necessary.  I struggle with that.  When I don’t see change and movement, I get discouraged.  I need faith more than I need anything. 

To persevere in hope, we must be able to envision a future, work, pray, and stay the course until it can come about.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen,” says the Bible.  All of my complaining to God over the years about the slowness of life has not changed anything.  But God has been changing me – ever so slowly.  Like it or not, I realize I am now the tortoise…if not the snail! 

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:5

When have you longed for something to come to pass, and persevered until your vision was rewarded?  Was it getting a college degree, buying a house, changing a neighborhood, recovering from an illness, fighting an injustice?  It takes faith to do these things.  Even the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains, over time. 

Last week I sponsored an event in Alexandria for Five Talents – the Anglican organization I’m involved in that works in eight of the poorest countries to help people, mainly, women, learn to save, start a business, and support themselves and their children.  As an international development NGO, we are small, but mighty.  We struggle to raise our small budget of under a million dollars.  But still, we have changed the lives of over 360,000 people with our programs since 1999.  Families earn money, eat more than one meal a day, and can pay the fees to send children to school.  Lives change, with the faith of a mustard seed.  It’s exciting to see.  The other night at our event, we heard from Peter and Harun who work in South Sudan – a new country, very unstable.  As you’ve heard and read, there is violence in certain parts of South Sudan.  But Peter and Harun are joyful, energetic, hopeful people – excited about their work, and grateful for the support of us Americans who contribute.  South Sudan has been at war a long time – a generation has gone uneducated.    So we start with literacy training, and numeracy training (numbers) – the 3 R’s – and then move to business training, savings groups, and small loans for starting businesses.  The local churches are among the few intact, respected institutions.  We work through them. Over 21,000 persons are participants in Five Talents programs there right now, transforming lives. The faith of a mustard seed.

_____________________

St. Dunstan’s grants to Five Talents the last few years have supported the program in Indonesia.  It’s tricky to work there, because it is a Muslim country, and not very open to other religions. But the church is there, so Five Talents has a base. A front page story on Five Talents website features Nuriah:

Nuriah is a mom who cares for her two biological children and four adopted orphans. Her catering business serves low-wage factory workers in an industrial area of Jakarta. 

Previously, her business relied on funding from loan sharks who charged exorbitant interest for quick cash. Her profits disappeared each month in repayment and she struggled to provide food and clothing for her children. Now, with access to secure savings and loans through Five Talents and GERHATI, Nuriah has been able to expand her business without incurring debt.

Nuriah-catering3

"Economically, we are getting better and I make better relationships with the people around me. I can buy the children the clothes they like and now I can give them pocket money. . . It is not difficult anymore for me to care for my family. It is easier now. I have savings for the days to come."

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The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:5

Our own Bp. Budde wrote this week about faith:

I was among the millions who watched the first presidential debate on Monday evening…. As bishop, I don’t take public positions in support of any political party or candidate. But I share the view that this is a pivotal election, and that as Christians living in a democratic society, we have a responsibility to participate in civic life for the good of all.

How Christians are called by God to exercise our citizenship is not always clear and we are not of one mind.  How can we use our faith to help us navigate and grow during these stormy and chaotic times?

[Here is Bp. Budde’s answer]:  

Faith is for times like these, precisely to help us navigate through storms and trials. This is our time to live by whatever faith we have, those bits of goodness, grace and love given to us, knowing all the while that not everything is up to us.  We may never feel as if we have enough, or that we can do enough. It doesn’t matter. We’re here now and we all have an offering to make. Jesus himself assured us that we don’t need very much to move mountains, that a little bit of faith, a little bit of love, a little bit of righteous anger goes a long way.  

The decisions we make, as a nation, on November 8, are very important. And on the morning of November 9, some of us will wake up tremendously relieved and others deeply disappointed. But no matter the outcome, we will rise that day, as every day, as followers of Jesus and citizens of this land. We are here for a time such as this.

As I said, I like things to move, to make progress, to get on with it.  But the Kingdom of God works on different time than we do – it may seem like a tortoise…it often does, to me!  The pace of my own progress in life may seem on the order of a snail.  Still, God is at work in us, in creation, in the rings of a treetrunk, in the growth of a child, in the rising of the sun, in the slow, excruciatingly slow arc of history, as it bends…bends toward justice. 

All it takes is the faith of a mustard seed. 

 


 

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Practicing Love Sermon 4: Practicing Love Series 9/25/2016

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Sermon, Proper 21C                                                                Jeffrey B. MacKnight    
25 September 2016 Lazarus and Dives                                   St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda                                                                                                                  

One of the oldest sermon stories in the book involves a Baptist, an Episcopalian, and a Methodist meeting in hell.  They begin to compare how each of them ended up in that fiery pit. “I once danced a jig at my daughter’s wedding,” said the Methodist. “I once drank a pint with my buddies,” admitted the Baptist.

The Episcopalian paused, and then confessed, “I once ate an entire meal with my salad fork.”

We Episcopalians do like our formalities and rituals! But Jesus’ parable today leaves no doubt what is truly important. Poor Lazarus and the rich man known as Dives – such a graphic story, so easy to picture in our mind’s eye: the purple robe of the rich man; the sumptuous food and drink arrayed on the dining table; the sores covering the skin of Lazarus, skinny and malnourished, lying at the back door. Not surprisingly, this parable is often depicted in art. In our sermon series on Practicing Love, I see this story as a teaching moment about practicing love with our wealth.

First, a question: Is the parable – and Jesus - saying that wealth is evil? No, in fact wealth can be very good, although it clearly presents us with challenges. God does not wish people to be poor! What this story is about is compassion – something the rich man sorely lacked. 

This weekend, as a great new museum opens on the National Mall, I can well imagine Dives as a white man, dressed in the finest clothes, sitting in his grand house, feasting. I picture great white columns, like the plantation house at Twelve Oaks in Gone with the Wind.  In my mind, Lazarus is a poor old black man, enslaved, dying, no longer useful to his master. As a slave, he was not permitted to share in the wealth of the land on which he toiled….

We know how the story goes. Both men died, death being an equalizing factor. Lazarus goes to heaven and rests, finally, in comfort in the bosom of Abraham … (hence the spiritual song, Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham).

Dives goes to torment in hell…. burning up, tormented with thirst, in absolute agony. The whole scene is dreamlike, bizarre. Dives can look up and somehow see Lazarus with Abraham in heaven. Dives calls out to Abraham to send Lazarus down with a drop of water to cool his tongue. But Abraham says no: Dives and Lazarus are both receiving the just deserts of their lives on earth.  Again, you may know the negro spiritual: 

Old Father Abraham, pray let Lazarus come:
Dip his finger in the water, come and cool my tongue,
Cause I'm tormented in the flames!  (by Brother Claude Ely)


Then something happens in the story. Dives prays for mercy for his brothers, that they will not share his fate. Presumably, they are living the life of wealth and ease that Dives lived, without any compassion for others. This is a positive sign for Dives: for the first time, he is thinking of others, not himself (even if they are just his brothers). Perhaps there is a germ of mercy and compassion in him after all. 

Dives prays that someone be sent from the dead to warn them. Still, Abraham says no. If they didn’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who rises from the dead. 

We should note the way this parable pulls together the entire biblical history: the patriarch Abraham, the great liberator Moses, who led the Hebrew slaves to freedom, and finally Jesus, the one who did rise from the dead. Wow! All these figures are central to the Christian faith of enslaved persons in our own American history. By telling these stories  and singing their songs, slaves found hope :

When Israel was in Egypt's land, let my people go;
oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt's land;
tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

I began speaking about wealth, and lest you think I’ve taken a strange turn to the history of slavery in America, slavery was all about wealth.

French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that the monetary value of enslaved human beings in the U.S. was greater than all its industrial capital in that era combined. Slavery was all about wealth: creating wealth, accumulating wealth, and concentrating wealth among a few white people. We’ve come a long way from those benighted times, but we have a long way to go. 

One of the bright lights in our own day is the new Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened yesterday on the Mall. I’m told that the museum tells this story chronologically. Visitors begin on the lower concourses, experiencing forced African emigration to America, and the descent into enslavement. Later, the era of Jim Crow segregation and rampant economic oppression. One older black gentleman seeing the museum for the first time, was viewing black sharecroppers toiling in a field. He was heard to comment, “This is depressing…. revisiting those days….” 

A museum leader responded: “Yes, it is very depressing. But imagine being able to tell that man, in that condition, that in 2016 a handsome museum in Washington D.C. was just opened by an African American president…that would bring him joy.”

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.  At his gate lay a poor man, Lazarus…” The inequity between rich and poor has dogged human civilization throughout history. The problem is not wealth; the problem is how we use wealth, and misuse wealth, and hoard wealth when God wants it to be shared. Nobody need be hungry or homeless in our land. Nobody need be enslaved and forced to labor solely for the enrichment of a master. Finally, thanks be to God, we are learning these lessons. And for us here today, who live comfortable lives, who may even dress in purple and fine linen sometimes! There are no better words to leave with than these from the first letter to Timothy:

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty…they are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share….” Amen to that.  


 

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Practicing Love Sermon 3- Practicing Love Sermon Series 9/18/2016

Posted 1:09 PM by
Sermon, Proper 20c                                                                    Jeffrey B. MacKnight
18 Sept 2016                                                                           St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

My part time job in high school was working in a grocery store as a checker, or cashier. No bar codes then; every price was entered by hand. There was a great chance for error. I was a steward, responsible to both the customer, and the grocery store. We handled a lot of cash, and I remember the dressing-down I got a few times when my cash drawer was short at the end of my shift. 

Since then, now and then I notice a store cashier has made a mistake in my favor, or given me too much change, and I know his cash drawer will be short as a result. He’ll get in trouble, as I did. So I point out the error. People suffer when we are not honest. 

That’s kind of what today’s parable is about: a steward, or property manager, has to give an account of his management, his stewardship, to the owner.  We’re told he had “squandered” his master’s goods. He was at best sloppy, and at worst, a thief.   

So he makes a plan – not to amend his ways, but to cover his derriere.  Remember Andrew Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People?  This property manager must have taken the course!  He was a pro…but not in a good way. He decided to swindle his master even as he curried favor with the master’s debtors, writing off their debts so they’d be kind to him in the future.  Not a very admirable guy.

But strangely, Jesus finds one thing to admire: the steward’s cleverness, shrewdness, resourcefulness. He told his disciples they would need to be every bit as shrewd and resourceful, if they wanted to make any progress for the Kingdom of God in this world. Preaching God’s Word is countercultural; it requires care and street smarts to be effective. 

Our sermon series is on “Practicing Love,” and today we’re looking at how to practice love with our money. Both Jesus’ parable, and our reading from Amos, lead the way here. Throughout the Bible, wealth and money are part of our relationship with God, part of our spiritual and religious life. There's no separation between what we earn and own, and how we practice love in the world. 

There are several levels of interpretation here in this story. 

  1. The literal – doesn’t take us very far: how can Jesus commend a dishonest man?  That’s certainly not the meaning here. 
  2. The underlying point – shrewd, smart, effective actions are required to reach a goal.  We can’t be lazy or naïve and expect to make progress.
  3. The deepest truth – God wants God’s stewards to be faithful and careful, whether we are given a little or a great amount of wealth.  Wealth is a seductive force in our lives; it’s easy to end up worshipping our possessions instead of our God. 

We are stewards in the same way as this manager: what we have is not really our own, it is God’s – it is what God gives us to do good in the world. And in some way, God will make an accounting of us in the end. This is a call to all of us to take care of what we have been given, and to use it as God intends. Your leaders here at St. Dunstan’s work very hard not to squander what God gives us through you – your pledges and offerings…. We are thankful for your gifts, because they allow God’s work to be done here. 

Here at St. Dunstan’s, we are also frugal – a good word, in my book.  “Economical in use or expenditure…not wasteful.” Frugality is not about denying ourselves all pleasures or even extravagances. It is a thoughtful approach to what acquisitions will bring us true joy over time, rather than a short burst of pleasure that fades quickly. This usually means buying less, but buying carefully, buying quality that will last.

The prophet Amos cries out against people who build their own fortunes as they exploit poor people, who “trample on the needy…” He rails against the selfish and greedy behaviors in his own day. The old words may be confusing. But Amos is denouncing the rich who are rushing through the sabbath so they can get back to selling their goods, who are shortchanging the measures they sell (“make the ephah small”) and overcharging their helpless customers (“and the shekel great”); making slaves of poor people because they owe small amounts (“buying the poor for silver…[or] a pair of sandals”). Yes, this kind of debt slavery really did exist.  Not the kind of management that the Lord God wants!  Amos is one of the greatest prophets against greed and exploitation of poor and weak people. He hated it when people kept up religious practices, but exploited the poor around them. You may recognize Amos’s most famous words: “I hate, I despise your feasts… [and] your solemn assemblies! But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5)

When it comes to our relationship to money, there are two areas for Christians to watch out for. One is practical: how we handle the money that we steward in this life? Are we careful, honest, not wasteful, frugal even? Do we exploit other people’s weakness or ignorance in financial dealings? 

This leads to the spiritual side of things. Do we love money and what it can give us, more than we love our neighbors, or more than we love our God? Do we see our wealth as gift from God, to be used for God’s will? Do we use our money to practice love, or do we gather and hoard our money, building ever bigger barns to house our wealth?

If you survey all of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, I believe you will find that Jesus hated two things most of all: greed, and hypocrisy. (I think he got this from his spiritual grandfather, Amos!) Greed, and hypocrisy – these are the two greatest spiritual diseases that afflict us. Why? Greed, because it offend against God’s generous creation, which is meant to be share by all creatures.  Hypocrisy, because it prevents us from spiritual honesty – seeing ourselves as we really are – as God sees us – which must be the first step towards becoming what God calls us to be: generous, honest, humble people, who seek to practice love every way we can. 

Breaking free of our love of money allows us to worry less, and share more.  Becoming spiritually honest about ourselves allows God to work in us, to bring more grace, more serenity, and more integrity to our lives. God doesn’t seek to guilt us, or punish us, but to transform us into new people. Are we ready to let God work his miracles in us?

 

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Practicing Love Sermon 2- Practicing Love Sermon Series 9/11/2016

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Sermon, Proper 19C                                                                     Jeffrey B. MacKnight

11 September 2016

Homecoming Sunday St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

Practicing love, by Seeking the Lost

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi were very competitive. Lost in the woods, they decide that each will find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together to compare the results. The priest begins, "When I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his First Communion." "I found a bear by the stream," says the minister, "and preached God's holy word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him." They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. "Looking back," he says, "Maybe I shouldn't have started with the circumcision."

As we start a new church year, I’ll try not to start with circumcision! I’d rather go with preaching God’s holy word. The Gospel of Jesus is the strongest medicine we’ve got for this old world, so we’ll start with that. So welcome back, on this Homecoming Sunday. Welcome home.

Now please think back to a time you were lost….

Perhaps as a child, in a huge store, or in the woods – you may remember feelings of fear, anxiety, even terror or panic. 

Another kind of lost – as a teenager who doesn’t fit in, as a young adult who hasn’t found her niche - her path in life, as an older person who has lost a significant other through death or separation and feels bereft - lost without the anchor of another human being. Feelings of sadness, even despair can well up in us at these times. Last week, the New York Times ran a big article on how feeling lost and lonely can actually damage our physical health. 

Think of the lostness of the survivors of 9/11 deaths…one 9/11 widow we know bought Leslie’s parents’ big old family home in Summit, NJ… maybe to try to recover some sense of love and connectedness in a place that had teemed with children and life and love. Our nation still aches from that horrible act of wickedness 15 years ago. 

In today’s Jesus story, tax collectors and sinners gather to listen to Jesus. Why? Jesus didn’t condone their bad behavior, but he made them feel included, welcome, despite their past lives.  Less lonely, perhaps. Less lost. 

The self-righteous Pharisees appear, and grumble as usual, about Jesus befriending sinners.  They seem to resent the fact that Jesus welcomes them. But the Pharisees still come and listen to Jesus. I always wonder why they come….

Jesus responds with a parable: a shepherd and his flock of sheep – 100 sheep, a nice round number. One of them gets lost in the wilderness. What does the shepherd do? Does he give up on the lost one, and protect the ninety-nine? No. He leaves the many, and seeks out the one who is lost. He brings her home, and gathers friends to celebrate. This is a recurring theme in scripture. 

Jesus talks a lot about the lost – parables of the lost sheep, the lost coins, and most of all, the lost son…the parable we know as “The Prodigal Son.” That son, a rash young man, chooses to leave home and family, ask for his inheritance, and go live a wild life. What did he hope to find?  We don’t know, but we do know that he was soon a very lost young man….

The choices that father made have always fascinated me. In this case, his son was an adult.  The father granted him the freedom to travel, and even gave him his legacy in advance.  The father did not chase him down. But the father did lament his son’s absence, and watched every day for his boy to return. How long, we don’t know. But eventually, he came home: weary, destitute, and regretful.  His father was overjoyed!  He gathered his friends to celebrate, just as the shepherd did for his lost sheep.  “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” 

Our cat Chandler was feral when Maggie rescued him in a snowstorm.  Once he got out the door and ran for it.  We looked everywhere. 

I gave up on finding him, but Leslie put food out every night.

She sat on the stoop some nights, waiting with treats…. After 30 days, hesitantly, fearfully, Chandler came home.  He was caked in dirt, thin as a rail: a sad bedraggled kitty. But he was home.  And we celebrated!

So how do we get found? 

The solution to the lostness and loneliness we all feel at times is community, and ministry – actual service to another.  I learned long ago that for me the best antidote to a general sense of ennui, listlessness, or discontent is to get up and go do something for somebody – make a visit, make a phone call, feed somebody, write a note (remember when we did that?), volunteer for a good cause, shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk, you name it.  Guaranteed, I’ll feel better. 

If one lonely person reaches out to another, the result is two people who are now connected, less lonely than before. When we visit someone who is sick or lonely, we don’t just benefit him or her, we find community, and purpose, and love ourselves. The world becomes a little warmer, a more loving place. Everybody wins!

For us, people of faith, the deepest way to be “found” is to be found by God – to realize that God has loved us since our birth, rejoiced with us in good times, and suffered with us in bad times. Even when we wander far away from God, like the prodigal’s father God is waiting, watching for us to come back.  It’s hokey, (and this certainly dates me!), but I think of Glenn Campbell’s old song: “It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk…that keeps you ever gentle on my mind.”  God’s door is always open; God’s path is free to walk. That’s great news. 

Our door at St. Dunstan’s is open, in the name of the God of Love, to all who come. And we need to go out into the “highways and byways” to invite people in.  In the modern world, that’s our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, the gym, the club – everywhere we meet people.  Many of those people are lonely, feeling lost. We have a lot to offer to them.  Of course we are Episcopalians; we are allergic to being pushy! We don’t start with circumcision! We start with invitation, with listening, with sharing ourselves, and welcoming the lost sheep home.  That’s what “Homecoming” is all about. Let’s renew our commitment to practice love in this world.  AMEN.  


 

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Practicing Love Sermon 1- Practicing Love Series 9/4/2016

Posted 4:00 PM by
Sermon, Proper 18C                                                   Jeffrey B. MacKnight
4 September 2016                                                       St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

 

Practicing Love…in your family

An Amish boy and his father went to a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again. The boy asked, "What is this, Father?" The father responded, "Son, I don’t know; I have never seen anything like this in my life!” While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a grumpy-looking lady moved up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened, and she walked into a small room. The walls closed, and the boy and his father watched the small numbers above the walls light up, rising one to eight.  Then the numbers came back to one.  Finally the walls opened up again and a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out. The father, not taking his eyes off the young woman, said quietly to his son ... "Go get your mother." J

Families are easy to poke fun at…there’s so much material!  We live in close quarters…we’ve got history together…we know how to push each other’s buttons….

How is it that families, where love seems such a natural thing, can be so difficult, so unloving, so destructive sometimes? 

Jesus had hard words to say about family.  His own family situation is a bit vague, but the Bible tells us about his mother Mary, his father Joseph (at least his earthly father), and some brothers and sisters.  But Jesus was often at odds with his family.  They tried to shut him up when he started preaching, and he rebuffed them.  He said the words we heard in the Gospel today: “Whoever …does not hate father and mother, wife and children…cannot be my disciple.”  What did he mean by that? 

Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, of course.  We aren’t meant to “hate” anybody – not even our enemies.  But clearly Jesus was saying that his Gospel values outweigh even our devotion to our families.  If our families prevent us from following Jesus, we must choose Jesus.  Following Jesus was (and is) countercultural, and in his day, the choice to be his disciple was a radical one.  Families would not approve! 

Families can bring us such joy and laughter and just good fun!  But sometimes our families ask too much…. They can try to control us, shame us, and place unfair burdens on us.  Boundaries are so important in families…  For instance:

  • One relative of mine was so disruptive that I finally had to limit visits to a couple of hours, and not allow overnight stays at our house.
  • My cousins have rampant substance in their family, and they had to watch as their brother destroyed his body with substance abuse and finally died at an early age – not because they didn’t try to help, but because their brother would not, or could not, accept it.  We’ve all heard of “tough love,” knowing when to step back and detach.  It’s the hardest kind of love to practice, in my experience. 

But not everybody has a family, and that can feel like a big void.  My mom and dad were good at welcoming individuals into our family circle, when they had none of their own.  Leslie and I try to practice love that way too….  And of course our church congregation is a natural place to create family – not by blood but by adoption into Jesus Christ.  People who have no family, or who have been ostracized by their families, or who are far away from family…all can find a home here at St. Dunstan’s.  That’s who we are – a core value here.  All are welcome.  No exceptions. 

Last week someone here asked about practicing love with our adult children.  I tell you, I’m learning about that as I speak!  We want the best for our children…and we hate to see them make choices that seem unhelpful, or even destructive.  And yet, the emphasis has to shift from “children” to “adult.”  Adults have freedom to choose, to find their own path.

Jesus didn’t have any adult children (I don’t think), but he did show us his responses to adult persons who were making life choices.  I think of the story of the rich young man – a young man who, I believe, Jesus already knew.  This young man had a lot going for him; he had many choices and opportunities.  He asked Jesus what was the most important choice for him to make: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

He had the right question.  Jesus looked at him answered him.  “Follow all the commandments.”  “Done.” And then Jesus looked at him in love and said, “Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.” 

Jesus set a clear choice before the man, but he didn’t want to make it.  Jesus knew what that young man needed to do to have a full, beautiful life, and Jesus practiced love by telling him. 

Unfortunately, the man loved his possessions too much, so he went away sad.  (I’ve always imagined that that young man came back to Jesus later, when he was a little older and wiser, and found his true calling as a disciple.  But we’ll never know.)

In this story, Jesus is fathering the young man; he treats him as a beloved son.  But Jesus does not force his will on him.  Jesus does not force his will on anybody, really.  He leads, he offers, he suggests, he persuades, sometimes he entreats us.  But he does not force us.  That’s how he practices love.  (The father of the prodigal son acts in a similar way.  He lets his son go and seek his fortune; when the young man comes home, destitute and weary, his father welcomes him home.)

So families provide us with some of our greatest blessings, and also some of our greatest challenges in practicing love.  It’s complicated.  One of my best teachers on human nature and human relationships was a rabbi named Edwin Friedman.  He studied family systems and made some remarkable discoveries about how families work.  If you are interested, we could talk more about all of this. 

But for now, this family of St. Dunstan needs to gather with our founder Jesus, around his supper table, and renew our familial bonds with each other, and with others in our lives.  Next week, we’ll focus again on practicing love…with those who are lost, like the lost sheep that Jesus went after.  It’s Homecoming Sunday, and a time to pause and remember the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, too.  Brunch at 10 a.m. Please come.  AMEN.  


 

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Father's Day 06/19/2016

Posted 3:52 PM by

Two women met walking down the street. One had a brown paper bag under her arm. The other asked, "What do you have in the bag?" "A bottle of scotch. I got it for my husband."  "Good trade!"

It’s Fathers’ Day, so I hope all you folks will treat your fathers and husbands with extra care and love.  Fathering these days is not an easy role to play.

We don’t know if the men in our scriptures are dads – they could be.  (Some might say that the fact that both of them are at their wits’ end would be a good sign….)  In Luke, Jesus pulls his boat up on shore and encounters a very disturbed man.  He came from the city, but now he is completely alienated from society – the story tells us that all the usual signs of living in community are absent from this poor man’s life: he doesn’t wear clothes, he lives in a graveyard, he thrashes about and scares people, he breaks loose from any attempts to shackle him.  He is a wild man, and he is possessed by evil spirits – demons, and lots of them. 

Some of us men today may feel a secret kinship with this fellow – we are trying to live up to expectations in a highly ordered, demanding world, and we’re not sure we are up to it.  Our sense of alienation – of not fitting in – may be on the inside rather than the outside….  We may feel shackled in less obvious ways than this guy, but shackled nonetheless – by jobs and mortgages and lawns and commutes and inlaws and tuition and quotas to meet and soccer to coach….

So how does Jesus relate to this man?  First, Jesus has to deal with the evil spirits.  In fact, they recognize Jesus as a danger and they address him.  Jesus demands to know their name (an assertion of his authority over them).  They confess their name is “Legion,” for they are many.  The demons know they are beaten; they ask to be released into a nearby herd of pigs, and Jesus permits this.  The pigs indicate this is not Jewish territory.  Jesus is freeing people from outside his own religious tradition – and the demons are responding!

Somehow, knowing the presence of God in Jesus sets this man aright. After his liberation, the man is restored to his humanity, his dignity – he is clothed, sitting quietly, in his right mind.  Jesus has given him a second chance, a new life, a fresh start.  What a gift!  How will he use this gift?  What will his new life look like?  Jesus asks only, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” 

Aha!  So he has a home to return to – maybe a spouse, and maybe some children who need their dad, who missed him in his craziness.  Jesus only asks that God be praised for this transformation…because the source of all our transformations from death to life is from God. 

Elijah is the other troubled man in our lessons today.  We know him as a tough, gruff prophet of Yahweh, who battles the drift in his society, in Israel, away from Yahweh toward worshipping other Gods – Baal in particular.  Elijah has just had a big success defeating all the prophets of Baal – there was lots of drama, fire, and then victory.   And yet, he has sunk into despair.  Queen Jezebel promises to kill Elijah within 24 hours.  Elijah runs scared.  Then, stepping out of time, Elijah has a “Moses moment” with God.  All the Moses signs are there: forty days in the wilderness, a journey up a mountain, and finally, meeting God. 

And how does he meet God?  Not in a dramatic, showy moment…emphatically not.  We’re told there was a great wind, but no God.  There was an earthquake, but no God.  There was a fire, but no God.  Finally, there was “a sound of sheer silence,” or in a better-known translation, “a still, small voice.”  And when Elijah heard that, when he settled down and listened, there was God. God was present.  Elijah’s fears were swallowed up in God’s greatness.  His despair was overshadowed by God’s faithfulness.  His anger was overcome by God’s love and peace.  God gave Elijah a second chance, a new life, a fresh start.  What a gift! 

Elijah continued his life faithful to God, but more grounded in God’s love and peace.  He would, in the end, have the special honor of being swept up into heaven on a chariot of fire!  Not a bad way to go! 

What can we take away from these stories

Being a man has never been easy, and it isn’t easy today.  No matter what our situation may be, in terms of family, work, lifestyle, we face many demons that can pull us off course – especially if we are trying to follow the path of Jesus.  Elijah was attracted to the way of violence; in the end that path proved to be a dead end.  Only the whisper of God could restore him.  The man with demons may have sought his salvation by running away from home and community; he found nothing but frustration and alienation.  He was freed by the healing touch, the loving embrace of Jesus.  Knowing that God was with them; that made all the difference.

So let us pray for all our dads and father-figures, trying to do their best in a changing world, sometimes overwhelmed and crazed by its demands.  May they still hold fast to that which is good: our God-given values of reverence for God, and love of neighbor, of peace.  I’ve come to accept and honor my own dad more and more, not because he was perfect or was a hero in some way, but because he kept trying, kept loving, kept engaging – even when at times he suffered from some pretty destructive demons.

For myself, I try to be a dad who’s loving and dependable, who celebrates what my children are and what they seek to do in life, and who holds up values of love, mercy, and compassion.  I try not to endorse the world’s values – money, prestige, winning at all costs – with Maggie and Colin.  At times I fail miserably in this. 

Friday at lunch, Leslie and I had a waiter whom Leslie has gotten to know.  Kenny proudly announced that he and his girlfriend had their baby two weeks ago.  Many photos were shared of the tiny blonde, Laura Mae.  Kenny said he thought it was time to get married, and I inwardly rejoiced that a stable new family would be formed for that little blonde girl.  Here’s a new dad, working as a waiter, suffering from lack of sleep, and yet overjoyed to have the opportunity to share in God’s creative work as a dad.

May God bless Kenny in his new vocation as a dad, and all of us who are fathers, and all our dads, who have loved and struggled with their demons as we do with ours.  May we know the presence of God in our lives, and find our rest in Jesus, in that still, small voice of calm.  AMEN.  


 

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Pride Sunday 06/12/2016

Posted 5:59 PM by

We gathered on June 12 to celebrate the inclusive love of God for all of us, marking Pride Sunday in the LGBTQ community. Our observance became poignant with the tragic news that morning of 50 people being killed in a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Our hearts go out to all who suffer violence and hatred, simply based on who they are and whom they love. JBM

A little story:

A tourist arrives at a restaurant and is told there are no tables available. "What if the President arrived. Would you have a table for him?" he asks. "Of course!" replies the hotel staff. The tourist responds, "Well, the President isn't coming. I'll take his table."

“For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

Since I first heard this wonderful song, these words have haunted me…in a good way!  In 8 words, they capture the essence of the Kingdom of God, the Way of Jesus.  And in such gentle terms.

It’s often said that our Jewish forbears are people of the book, and that is true.  Christians are too; but even moreso, we are people of the table.  Not just any table, but the welcome table, the banquet table where everybody’s invited.  Where hungry people are fed.  Where lonely people find company.  Where hurting people find comfort and support.  Where those who thirst are satisfied.  Where we find Jesus. 

I have a lot of images for this table in my head:

  • My mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving Day table – extended to include anybody who showed up, needed a great meal and an extra helping of love.
  • Hogwarts, where Harry Potter went to train as a wizard, where he first felt at home and loved, where the banquet tables in the Great Hall were magically filled with delicious things to eat, where the food never ran out. 
  • Our own parish hall, where hundreds are fed with sandwiches each month, where parishioners young and old gather for meals, simple to fancy. 
  • And of course, this altar table, where we meet Christ in bread and wine. 

“For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

Let’s take a look at today’s Gospel – it’s all about the table.  Look in your Bibles for Luke 14:12-23.  It should be on page _______in the pew Bibles.  In verse 12, Jesus advises his hearers to invite all kinds of people when they have a dinner – poor people, disabled people, marginalized people.  Then Jesus tells a well-known parable about a man who held a great banquet.  When all was ready, the invited guests decided not to come.  They gave a lot of excuses.

The banquet host then throws open his banquet to all in the town – whoever wants to come in.  They do, but there is still room.  So the host sends word to all in the countryside, far and wide…until the banquet hall is full of people.  In verse 23, the host even says to “compel” people to come in, that my house may be filled…a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure, but we get the point!

The trigger for this parable is revealing.  Back in verse 15, one of the dinner guests sitting with Jesus made a strange exclamation:  “Blessed is the one who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  That remark tells us that this parable is about God’s Kingdom…about how God welcomes all people and longs for his banquet table to be full.  “For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

So, I haven’t even mentioned Pride Sunday, and our sisters and brothers (and ourselves) who are Lesbian or Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, our just questioning their identity in some way.  Why?  Because the issues of inclusion, of hospitality and welcome, of equality -  these are all Kingdom values for all of us.  It’s not just about LGBTQ folks; it’s a core value for all of us who follow Jesus.  The banquet is for everybody. 

In Jesus’ day, it was lepers who were set apart and shunned from society.  Jesus marched up to them, named the real disease, which was prejudice, and healed it with the grace of inclusion.  In 19th century America, the issue was the enslavement of fellow human beings.  The followers of Jesus, finally, named that sin of inequality and cruelty – a sin which ran utterly contrary to our founding values! -  and banished it – at great cost - from our nation.  In order to move away from these sins, we must name them, acknowledge them. 

In our own lifetimes, we have overturned more stereotypes and prejudices – those against other races, against equality for women, against disabled people, and now, against gay people.  In order to move away from these sins, we must name them, acknowledge them, and set out to undo – to repent from – the attitudes and structures which have kept them alive in our society.

At the end of the day, Jesus calls us to a new ethic, a Kingdom ethic.  You can describe it in several ways:

  • Love your neighbor as yourself.  (And love of self means we can take pride in who we are: beloved creatures of God!)
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 
  • For everyone born, a place at the table

Or, if you prefer, the stunning, powerful words of St. Paul from the book of Romans (and this is the same Paul who said a couple of nasty things about gay people!):

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor thins present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

I’d say that about covers it.  AMEN.  


 

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Ascension Day 2016 05/07/2016

Posted 1:47 PM by

Home.  I want to think with you about what home means. I’m thinking that’s what Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is all about:  Going home. 

I grew up in Nebraska, for the most part, and I came to love the spare emptiness of the landscape, and the unaffected warmth of people there. I was always fascinated by the pioneer folk who left relative comfort and stability in the East to venture west and start a new life – homesteading, they called it – the making of a new home. 

Nebraska was my home, but in some sense I didn’t feel at home.  Something else called me, though I wasn’t clear what that was.  Eventually I came east to seminary, and then after a few more years back in Lincoln, I decided to leave again.  A voice inside me was saying, “Go east, young man!” Of course I was full of doubts.  I am at times painfully risk-averse.  I seek security where I can get it.  Why would I strike out to make a new home in a place I’d never been?

Somehow, this connects to today, the feast of our Lord’ Jesus’ final ascension into heaven.

What if home is not where we came from, but where we are going…where we are headed, our destiny with God?  What if we really, truly believed in a God who loves us and won’t let us go?  And we lived that way?

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated by Jesus: his laser focus on God, his trust in God.  His ability to be honest in relationships, to love deeply without trying to own or control other people.  His fearlessness when he risked loss. 

Today we are contemplating Jesus’ ascension – his final departure from his earthly life among us, and his return to his home with God.  Somehow, he always seemed to know this was his destiny.  He was able to sit lightly with the seductions of this world, because his roots were already planted in God’s world, the kingdom.  How did he do it?

I don’t know how he managed it.  (That’s one of many reasons I am not Jesus!)  He had a lot more trust in God than I do.  My ability to rest in that trust is terribly uneven.  It wasn’t as if Jesus had a charmed life, either.  He had a hard life: he was always poor, and often without a home, a fixed address, without visible means of support.  But somehow he seemed to be able to create a home wherever he was at the time.  He did not need to build a protective shield around himself.  He was not defensive, even though he often disagreed with people.  He was not always worried about his future, the way I am…the way we Americans are taught to be, with our constant striving for self-improvement, our career plans and our 401k’s, our real estate and investment portfolios, and anxieties that eat us up.  In all of this, I think we are trying to create a safe, secure home…and yet we still live in fear of losing it. 

Jesus had some freedoms that many of us do not have, in that he did not have an immediate family of people he was responsible for. That’s a serious concern for most of us.  On the other hand, at some level he knew he was living for the whole human family...he was God’s messiah – he came to save us all! 

But what amazes me is Jesus’ apparent sense of personal freedom, his freedom from fear.  And the only place I can figure that Jesus could get that freedom is from knowing his destiny, knowing that no matter what happened, he would go home with God in the end.  That’s what the ascension means.  Back home with God in the end. 

(It’s easy to get caught up in questions about what “actually happened” – the vision of a literal ascension into the clouds his pretty hard to believe!  But the real meaning of this event is the reunion of Jesus with his Father God.) 

So what would it mean for us if we could really believe that we can trust in God’s love, that our destiny is with God in the end?  How does that free us up to live more boldly, more exuberantly, more generously?  Can we lessen our fears of the unknown, if we really believe we’re going home in the end?

We are still living in the world as we know it, with all its joys and all its struggles.  Jobs are tenuous these days.  Children have troubles growing up.  Health problems rear their ugly heads. We see the anxieties in our political debates and campaigns. It can get to be a bit much; it can get us down.  But the pattern for our lives is set out in Jesus’ life.  The journey does not stop at the foot of the cross; it moves right through that, on to a place of fulfillment, joy, celebration. We came forth from God, and we are going home to God.  That’s our true destiny. We’re going home. 

T.S. Eliot said,

We shall not cease from exploration.  And the end of all our exploring will be tso arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  


 

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Easter Sermon April 10, 2016

Posted 1:44 PM by

[We get a lot of joy and insight from our animals.  Recently our cat was heard to opine, “I think sleeping dogs should have to tell the truth, just like everyone else!”]

Jesus said to Simon Peter,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

The other night I had a bad dream – an anxious, fearful dream…

My big black dog Paddington – Paddy – could not get up.    He’d lost use of his legs and hind end.  We’ve been through this with other dogs, it’s horrible, and leads to a painful and difficult death.  I was in tears to see my boy suffering. 

Now, Paddy and I are very close.  He’s way too young to be failing physically…  Paddy is only three, although he’s about to have his fourth anniversary of being three…  (He and I agreed early on that Paddy would never age beyond the three year mark.  J  Too much risk in growing old….)

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

The next morning, I got up, stumbled downstairs in my early-morning stupor, and let the dogs out as usual.  Paddy took off at a gallop, his black locks flying, and ran a few loops around the yard, his domain.  What a beautiful sight that was!  Paddy was not dying, he was alive and well and beautiful!  It was resurrection.  

That experience tells me a lot about love, what it means to love someone completely….My love for Paddy (and the pain of imagining him suffering), and Paddy’s love for me – as unconditional and joyful as I can imagine.

Jesus wanted to restore his relationship with Simon Peter, who had messed up pretty badly, denying knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  That relationship needed a resurrection.  I have no doubt that Jesus has already forgiven Peter; but now he creates a channel for reconciliation so that Peter can truly receive that forgiveness, and their love for each other can be restored.  And so it is with each of us….

It can be hard to tell the truth, especially about ourselves.  If we’re honest, we know that we betray Jesus all the time.  We don’t stand up for Jesus’ values; we don’t always respect the dignity of every human being we meet.  We can be short-tempered and insist on getting our own way.  When situations get difficult, when relationships are strained, we may feel like running away.  I have felt that at times. 

But Jesus doesn’t run away.  Jesus comes back, showing all his scars, limping no doubt…but he comes back.  And therein lies all the difference. 

Reconciliation means not giving up; not walking away.  God’s love has reached across every barrier to embrace us.  Our love for each other must do the same.  Reconciliation is a close cousin of resurrection.

Jesus asked,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Jesus asks us today,

Good people of St. Dunstan’s, do you love me?

  • Do we love Jesus? 
  • Do we love Jesus and his new law of love more than we love our own views and opinions? 
  • Do we love Jesus more than we love the sacred cows and golden calves and other livestock we have set up in our lives to worship? 
  • Will we truly walk in love – together – as Christ loved us? 

What does that love of Jesus look like in a congregation?  In my experience this love is both strong, and fragile.  It doesn’t mean we’ll never disagree or fight; but it does mean we will go the extra mile to seek reconciliation, as Jesus did with Simon Peter.  It means we’ll work together for the common good, in spite of disagreements.  It means we’ll tackle our problems together, without insisting on our own preconceived solution. 

St. Dunstan’s is hugely blessed as a Christian community with many resources – we have beautiful facilities, a loyal congregation, and a desire to serve in our neighborhoods.  We also have our challenges, as all churches do these days.  As society changes at warp speed, we and other churches are trying to adapt, to envision what a local church needs to be and do in this age of speed and technology and hectic lives.  This is hard work.  It requires some new thinking, and lots of experimenting.  There will be some successes and some failures. 

Here’s some of what we are learning about loving Jesus and each other in the church in 2016:

·       It’s all about relationships.  Without building one-to-one relationships and small groups, people aren’t fed – even by a glorious liturgy.  We won’t all agree on priorities, social justice issues, or even which hymns to sing.  We just need to agree to love Jesus and seek his kingdom.   

·       It’s all about food – sharing food is the oldest form of human community.  We do a lot with food, and we probably need to do even more! Today’s “Spring Social” is a great example of how food brings us together.  We’re thinking of doing more with breakfast on Sundays next year….

·       It’s all about welcoming and invitation: INVITE, INVITE, INVITE is some good advice we’ve received.  Have you invited anybody to the Cabaret on April 23? 

·       Above all, it’s all about God – the God we meet in Jesus, the God who loves lavishly, forgives easily, challenges us wisely, and always seeks to reconcile broken relationships.  This isn’t easy in a human community; I have often failed to love as Christ loves us; many of us have.  Sometimes it may seem easier to “let sleeping dogs lie.”  But it’s never too late to try, and try again.  We’re on the trail, on a journey together.  That’s what God’s people have done since Abraham left his home, since Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, since Jesus set out with his disciples to change the world…one precious person at a time. 

One of our newer parishioners in the last few years said to me, “I have attended Episcopal churches all my long life, and I have never felt the warmth of friendship that I feel at St. Dunstan’s.  I am so grateful to be here….” 

Simon, son of John, do you love me? 

We have something precious here – the capacity to love God, and love each other, and share that love openly when new people cross our threshold.  Jesus has shown us the trail of forgiveness and reconciliation, just as he did with Peter. We are people of many nations, with many needs and many gifts to share.  We are people of various social and political views.  But when we come together here, we focus on one thing: Love…the love of God we see and know in Jesus.  If we always strive to do that, God will bless this congregation.  AMEN.  

 

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