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Easter Sermon 2016 "Stones" 03/27/2016

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“Jesus is not in there!  Oh, wait…he’s just changed his Facebook status to ‘risen.’”

So how about you?  What’s your status today?  Buried? Trapped?  Sleepy? Happy?  Fearful?  Worried? Distracted?  Stoned?  Weighed down by some heavy stone that keeps us from the light?  How many of us today claim the status, risen[JM1]  to new life?

This Easter my thoughts have turned to stones: the stone that sealed Jesus tomb, the stone wall I sometimes feel that I have hit in life, the stone that can harden my heart against vulnerability and hurt….  (Sometimes I feel like the characters in fairy tales who have been turned to stone by the wicked witch….)   Stones can be stumbling blocks.  Stones can be barriers that trap us and divide us…from each other, and from God. 

What’s the stone that blocks your way right now?  That you need to ask God to roll back, to move aside? 

·       The smooth, hard stone of not enough, not enough: not being good enough, smart enough, successful enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, dazzling enough

·       The heavy stone of guilt over past words and deeds, that sits in the pit of the stomach

·       The corrosive stone of bitterness, of being unable to forgive, of holding a grudge

·       The deadly, sharp-pointed stone of irritability and anger

·       And then there is the dark stone of sorrow, of sadness over losses we cannot control and cannot reverse.  That sadness can become an abyss….

I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried for years – decades – to cure myself of these afflictions, to fix myself into the person I think I ought to be (or others think I ought to be).  The other day, I was thinking I really had a handle on this thing called living; then, I said the wrong thing to someone I love, and realized I had caused hurt and damage.  Ugh.   It’s sort of like lugging heavy rocks up a hillside, only to have the rain come and bring them back down in a rockslide…and I’m back where I started.  I just can’t fix this on my own. 

So what’s the solution to this human condition of being trapped under the stone of “not enough”?  It’s a human problem, but there is no human solution.  We cannot heal ourselves.  But Easter tells us there is a divine solution; that God has declared that we are enough, we are sufficient, we are acceptable in God’s eyes,  even in our fickle affections, our gross imperfection, our sin.  How can God do this?  Through forgiveness, through love.  God’s love makes us enough, acceptable…delightful, even!  We are a joy to God, and maybe even a joy to ourselves.  That stone that God moved from Jesus’ tomb frees not just Jesus from his bondage, but frees us all from our bondage – whatever that may be in this moment.  Let yourself enter into the story

After Jesus took his final breath, around three on that Friday afternoon, the scene begins to change…there is transformation, from the horror of torture and death, the worst that we humans could do, to a quiet, gentle wind of love and caring.  A kind Jewish man named Joseph of Arimathea went and asked if he could care for Jesus’ body.  He gently wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, a cave carved out of the soft rock outside Jerusalem.  He rolled a large, disk-like stone across the entrance to seal it. 

The women who traveled with Jesus and supported him – Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and another Mary the mother of James – saw his hasty burial before the Sabbath began, and they went to gather the spices and ointments required to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper burial on Sunday morning, the first day. 

Then, interestingly, the action stops.  There is a long pause.  A “grand pause,” it is called in music.  “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”  It’s as if all creation needed a moment to rest, to absorb what just happened, to regroup. 

Then, on the first day of the week – of course it is the first day: a new beginning of a new creation! – these brave women went to the tomb, carrying the heavy spices for burial.  And you know what they found.  The stone was rolled back, and the tomb was empty.  There was no body to anoint and prepare for burial.  This morning marks a new creation, where death no longer rules; where fear no longer holds us hostage.  God has acted. 

The Good News is that God has transformed us in Christ, forgiven us, and declared that we are beloved – it’s done, complete!  We don’t have to try to fix ourselves.  We have only to live into our God-given identity as children of the one loving God who made us.  It’s as if God is saying to us:

“You are a new creation in Christ.  You are mystery.  Let the mystery unfold.  Let the secret be told.  Be bold, be daring!  Be reconciled.  Be glad. Be thankful.  Be compassionate.  Be forgiving.  Be who you are.  Be that new creation in Christ!”

Without being transformed by God, I have no chance of rising above our lower, baser natures – our selfishness, irritability, narrow-mindedness, rigidity.  I’m stuck in an endless loop-tape of screwing up, of not-enough.

It is because God has first loved us, and called us, and transformed us…raised us to the new life of Christ…that it is even possible to live a new way.    We are able to love – truly, deeply love and forgive – because God first loved us.  The huge stone that stands in our way has been rolled back.  We were not meant to live in dark caves.  We are meant for the light, the air.  Jesus created the path; he blazed the trail from the dark land of sin and selfishness, to the sunny warm land where love, joy, mercy, and forgiveness prevail.  We have only to take a step into the light, to walk in love as Christ loves us. 

So what is your status today? Peaceful?  Energized?  Or weary and regretful?  If it’s not what you’d like, are you willing to let God reset it for you?  Can you accept the free gift of Jesus’ love, and let God reset your status as “forgiven, loved, and free”?

Step aside and let God work in your life.  Stop clinging to the stone that traps you, and let God roll it away.  Let the light of God’s love – unconditional love – shine into the darkness, shine upon you on this Easter morning.  In the words of a song by our own Bob Tupper:

(Give Eb chord)

   Eb                  Ab              Eb             Bb

Roll back the stone in my heart, dear Lord Jesus.

Eb                  Ab                      Eb                   Bb

Roll back the stone that keeps love trapped inside.

Eb                  Ab                  Eb                 Bb

Roll back the stone. Let me walk as your servant

          Cm                     Fm                  Bb7sus4     Eb

In the world, knowing always you’re here by my side.


(Refrain of song by Bob Tupper, 2003)




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Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

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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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Annual Meeting Address 02.21.2016

Posted 4:43 PM by

Today we are talking about growth – growing our parish in ministry, in people, and in resources.  The life and health and future of St. Dunstan’s Parish depends on how we can grow as God’s people here.

We heard how Jesus called his disciples together, not to hang around the clubhouse of the Jesus Movement, but to go out into the world on a mission.  He preps them: he gives them his own power and authority to proclaim the kingdom and to heal.  But he tells them to carry no extra earthly provisions.  He makes a clear point about this mission: go and offer my message, my healing.  If people receive it, great!  If people refuse it, then move on to the next village. 

This is how the church grows – not by staying in our building, but by circulating in the world….  As fishermen know, the ones who bite, bite.  The ones who don’t, don’t. 

Speaking of fishing….

The Packers and the Vikings had an ice fishing tournament. The first day the Packers caught 100 fish and the Vikings didn't catch any. The second day the Packers caught 200 fish and the Vikings didn't catch any. The third day the Vikings were getting worried so they dressed their quarterback up like a Packer and sent him over to see why the Packers were catching so many fish. When he returned to the Vikings, they asked, "What's the deal, are they cheating?" The quarterback said "You bet they are. They are drilling holes in the ice!" 

When Jesus called his disciples, he said, “I will make you fishers of people!”  Our beloved church is at a real pivotal juncture right now.  We can no longer chill out like the Vikings, waiting for the fish to jump magically into our bucket.  We’re going to have to go out, drill through some ice, and go after the fish ourselves.  We’ll have to experiment with different kinds of bait, to see what people are hungry for here in Bethesda. 

We heard good news at our Annual Meeting, where Fred Bentley and Praveen Jeyarajah presented our plans to strengthen our membership and work for growth.  We’re blessed to have great leaders.  But leaders can’t do it alone….

We’ve stood up two new teams – one for membership and one for growth.  If you are on membership, please stand.  And growth… 

Will you actively support these good people in our mission?  Will you say yes when they ask for your help? 

We have much to celebrate here at St. Dunstan’s; much to be proud of:

Huge service in our community…SOME and MoW for decades

$140,000 in outreach from our capital campaign - $50K to Bishop Walker School, $25K to Samaritan Ministry for their building

Our building is more and more a community center here – many children every day, school events, concerts, neighborhood meetings, kids using our playground and our Trail entrance

Why do we do this?  Why is this so important?  Because these are ways to spread the love of Christ…build up God’s people…welcome the stranger…teach compassion.  St. Francis said, Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.  That’s what we’re doing…

We’ve built a fellowship where all people are welcome and respected.  We accept people as children of God.  We honor Christ in all people  That’s not nothing in a world where presidential candidates freely demonize Muslims, Mexicans, and gay people.  What we have here is precious – so precious we need to share it. 

One of our guest teachers asks us to think about how we recommend a great new restaurant we have found.  Can we do the same with our church?  Can we say, “You should try our church…why don’t you come with me this Sunday, or to the cabaret, or to the picnic, or a concert….”?

Years ago, my mother invited many people to church with us.  One woman was a coworker of my mom’s at the county welfare department.  They were both caseworkers. Her name was Linda.  She came and stayed at our church…and ended up marrying the priest!  (Don’t expect that to happen here….) 

One last thought.  I’ve always liked the joke: How many California psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?  Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. 

Nobody can change us if we don’t want to.  I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.  Our growth teams can’t change this parish on their own.  We as a congregation have to want to change.  We have to be brave enough to change, to speak up, to reach out to people we know.  We have so much to offer – such a great message that God loves every person and wants us to live lives of love and service.  People need to hear this!  People are hurting out there.  People are lonely out there.  People are hungry for a message that endures, that affirms, that calls us to be our best selves. 

But if we don’t want to change, it won’t happen.  I’ve been with you 16 years and I hope to journey with you to St. Dunstan’s next peak, our next heyday.  Please walk with me to proclaim the kingdom of God and bring healing in this broken world.  AMEN. JBM



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Sermon 02.14.2016 Lent 1

Posted 4:38 PM by
Video: P.B. Michael Curry – Lent message, the Jesus Movement
    It’s not a settlement, it’s a movement – in motion, changing, growing  

It’s Valentine’s Day!  Did you hear the one about the husband who approached his wife and asked "If I died tomorrow, would you remarry?" The wife thought for a minute and said "Yes, yes, I think I would." He went off for a while and then returned.  "Would you let him use my golf clubs?" "Oh no, no, no," said his wife. "He's left handed."

All of us are subject to temptation, I guess.  We’re in good company: Jesus had to struggle himself with the devil in the desert. 

How can we make ourselves stronger as we are tempted by so many things in this life?  How can we make our congregation stronger, so that our community will shine with the love of Christ on Mass. Avenue? 

Many temptations can lead to little lapses – fudging taxes, lapses of integrity at work, irritability at home, envy and jealousy of our neighbors who seem to be doing better than we are.  Sometimes there are big lapses: infidelity to a partner, dishonesty in business, vengeful reprisals against someone who crosses us.  There’s no shortage of temptation in our lives! 

But on Valentine’s Day, we remember how much we love each other, and might feel a twinge of regret that we don’t always act like it. 

This Lent, we are focusing on a Rule of Life….a pattern of living that helps us live in love and in faith.  Now you may think of a monastic rule, where monks and nuns rise at 4 a.m. to pray each day, wear hair shirts and sackcloth,  give away everything they have, and read through all 150 psalms every week in church. 

It doesn’t have to be like that.  A Rule of Life for the rest of us can be very simple, to help us live more sanely, more generously, more lovingly, more joyfully than we would without it…

Nine of us spent the weekend on retreat exploring what a rule of life might mean for each of us.  We all know some of the traditional elements – daily prayer, moderation in our appetites, acts of compassion.  We discovered that this can be much more about being intentional about practices that feed us and bring us joy and peace…and not about punishing ourselves with demands that we can hardly meet.  It may mean less about adding hard things to our to-do list, and more about committing ourselves to a do-not-do list.  What could a do-not-do list look like? 

· I will not beat up on myself, or on other people, when we make an honest mistake. 

·When I am tired, I will not feel guilty about stopping to rest when I can. 

· I will not say yes to things when I need to say no.

· I will not claim all the credit, or take all the blame, when it doesn’t all belong to me. 

· I will not neglect the ones I love the most.   

Does that sound like a rule of life that might help you live better?  I know it would be good for me. 

Congregations can have a rule of life too – common norms that we all support, to make our community as healthy and Godly as we can be.  Our vestry consultant Ed Kelaher mentioned some of these rules of healthy congregations:

· I will pray that God will send the Holy Spirit into our church, and I will pray for our leaders who have hard jobs, and for our ministries.

· I will always work for the greatest good of the church, even when I don’t get my own way. 

· I will express thanks to God and to all the people who make our church a beautiful community of faith. 

· I will not engage in negative talk to my friends about some else in church; I’ll speak directly to the person.

Before Jesus really got started preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God, he was led by God’s own Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Why did God do this?  For one reason, it was so that Jesus would know the many temptations that all of us face in life – to be selfish, to indulge our appetites too much, to show off, or to try to manipulate other people, or manipulate God.  For another reason, this time of hunger and temptation was meant, I believe, to harden Jesus, to toughen him up, to make him strong to face what he would have to face.  This was Jesus’ “boot camp,” his basic training for life. 

Maybe we can look at our temptations in life in the same way, and derive some benefit from the struggle – renewed strength, renewed trust in God.  Lent is a good time to take another honest look at your life as an individual child of God, and see if some changes need to be made.  It’s a good time to examine our life as a Christian congregation – the Body of Christ – and ask not what our church can do for us, but what we can do for our church.  Temptations will never go away in life; it’s up to us to face them openly and honestly, and ask God’s help to overcome them.  And God is so happy to be asked!  So happy to be invited into our lives, even our messy lives, to walk with us.  That’s what Jesus learned, and what Jesus is trying to teach us today.  AMEN.  


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Diocesan Convention address: Economic and Wealth Inequality

Posted 4:04 PM by
30 January 2016

It happened in 1971.  That was the tipping point, when power began to shift, when the U.S. began to move away from being the greatest engine of widely-shared wealth and prosperity the world has ever known, to a steadily more divided, economically unequal society of haves and have-nots. 

In 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell – later to become Justice Powell on the Supreme Court, wrote a memorandum to Corporate America insisting that business needed to lobby our government for deregulation and favorable tax policies. They did. 

The rest is history. Congresses and presidents of both political parties have acceded to the corporations: curbed unions, reduced tax rates on corporations and wealthy individuals, and changed regulations to favor the rich. Marginal tax rates in the U.S. were 90% in the Republican Eisenhower administration – a time of huge growth. By the early 2000’s, they were down to 36% under President Bush. Inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes have also plunged, favoring the wealthy.

St. Dunstan’s began studying this issue 15 months ago, with small group meetings every couple of weeks. We have learned a lot about the economics and politics of our country. But our main impetus is our commitment to follow Jesus. Jesus railed against the gross brutalization of the poor people in his world. The system was stacked against them.  Jesus took his mission statement from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring good news to the poor….” As many have said, to a poor person, the Gospel - the good news -  is bread…not rhetoric. Jesus launched the first mass feeding program in recorded history – and 5,000 were fed! Our primary image of heaven is a banquet, where all are at table together, and all have enough. 

Many say that economic inequality – even as extreme as we are seeing it today – is simply a function of free-market capitalism, furthered by forces of globalization and new technologies displacing human workers.  This is a dodge, an excuse. First of all, there is no “free market” – all markets are governed by laws and regulations – and these are influenced by who has political power and clout. Since 1971, that clout has shifted to business and extremely wealthy Americans. 

Secondly, we see that advanced nations in Europe and Japan are much more equal than we are, and their people live longer, healthier lives with fewer socials ills such as obesity, teenage pregnancy, and homicide. The U.S. inequalities are more extreme than for 100 years, more unequal than any other advanced country. If we choose to change the rules of our system to give more power to workers, we could have a more equitable and compassionate economic system. 

Our church’s General Convention has taken stands in support of greater equality, and of a $15 minimum living wage to help the poorest Americans. Our diocese has almost 300,000 people living below the national poverty level, and our high housing costs make real poverty even worse. D.C. is the hungriest city in the country, with almost 22% of people receiving food stamps in December 2014. D.C. incomes are more unequal than any state. The Diocese of Washington has a special call, a duty, to rise against this state of affairs and declare it unacceptable in the eyes of God, and shameful in a nation as rich as we are. 

I ask you to vote for this resolution as a first step in mobilizing our Diocese for change. Passing this resolution will not fix the problem, but we must begin somewhere – we must begin by putting our own house in order: our own churches, our own employees, and our own participation in an unjust economic system. Do all our church employees make a living wage? Do they have long commutes to work?  It’s been 45 years since the tipping point in 1971. Let us make this beginning today.  


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Sermon 6.28

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Sermon: 6.21

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Sermon: 6.14

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Sermon: Pride Sunday 6.7

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Sermon: Trinity Sunday 5.31

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