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Trailnotes 6.28.15: The Bleeding Hasn't Stopped Yet.

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We have two gospel healing stories this week, and it’s a good thing, because our world needs a lot of healing. One story, wrapped inside the other, grabs my attention right now. It’s the story of the woman who has a hemorrhage which has gone on for 12 years – and it was getting worse. In those days, such a condition would make a woman perpetually unclean under Jewish law, not to mention the practical challenge of dealing with a flow of blood all the time. She was condemned twice – physically and religiously. She must have wondered why.

It’s impossible not to make the connection to our own day, when the bleeding caused by the caustic combination of racism and guns in America only gets worse and worse. As a citizen of this country, I feel sullied – unclean – by this lethal scourge. I feel ashamed that we cannot, or will not, take real action to stop it. 

The woman somehow knew that she had to touch Jesus – connect with him – in order for her long illness to end. She stopped at nothing to reach him. She didn’t ask permission; she just went ahead and grabbed his cloak. And her faith in Jesus became her healing. 

I can’t believe this country is arguing over a confederate flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol. Of course it must come down!  It was the flag of a treasonous rebellion against our union of states. No government entity should endorse it! It was raised over the S.C. capitol not to mark the “heritage” of the state, but as a protest against civil rights for black people in 1962. Are we still arguing over this in 2015? That flag has to come down, but that’s not nearly enough. 

We must reach out and connect with Jesus. We have to be converted, changed,  healed, all of us. As individuals we may or may not be racists. We must all judge ourselves. But that’s not the point. We live in a country where our structures are still racist. Our police can be racist. Our electoral gerrymandering is clearly racist.  Our voter restrictions are racist.  Our media coverage is often racist. Our shamefully lax gun laws and so-called “Stand your ground” laws are racist. Paul Krugman points out that, of the 22 states which have refused to expand Medicaid for their poor people at federal expense, all but one were members of the slaveholding Confederacy.  Is this a coincidence? This country is still generating white supremacists like Dylann Roof. Why? 

It’s been not 12 years of bleeding, but 300 years in America.  By 1620 the number of enslaved African persons in these colonies was 20,000 and growing. Race, violence, and economic exploitation were joined in a horrible practice condoned by American society and law. 

Slavery may have been officially outlawed in the 1860’s, but the bleeding hasn’t stopped yet. Nine Christians in Charleston are only the latest in a long line.  As followers of Jesus, we must ask ourselves why.  JBM



Trail Notes 6.21.2015

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This Sunday during the sermon, we’ll look together at the long narrative of the rise of David as the greatest king of Israel. We’ll cover much of the story starting in I Samuel over the summer. We’ll open our Bibles and examine the pivotal place of this epic story in the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament.) 

We also have an account of Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee – one of many instances of this miracle throughout the Gospels. What can it tell us about the Christian life – walking with Jesus as our companion?  Jesus and some of his disciples set out on a boat to cross the sea (a big lake really), and a squall comes up suddenly. Oddly, Jesus is sleeping through it – we are even told that he was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion! The utter calmness of Jesus is contrasted with the churning of the storm, and the churning in the hearts of the disciples.  They are scared to death!  hey wake Jesus up; if they are afraid, then Jesus should suffer with them (misery loves company). Once awake, Jesus stills the storm in an instant. 

Of course this parable is not just about a bunch of fisherman in a boat with their rabbi 2,000 years ago.  It is about us. As followers of Jesus, we are in the boat with Jesus – we have cast our lot with him. And yes, the world is quite stormy. We are filled with anxiety, even though we are with Jesus. Why? Doubt, distrust, bad prior experiences all play a part. Our faith is so small and fragile that it is easily upstaged by thunder and lightning and waves crashing into the boat.  Yet Jesus is with us, and Jesus is not troubled. 

It seems to me that the spiritual challenge here is not to get the storm to stop (even though Jesus does this to relieve the immediate terror of his friends). The real challenge is to learn to ride out the storm in the boat with Jesus. We can learn a lot about life during the storm. And if we focus on Jesus’ presence and calm, we can begin to make his calm our own. That’s what faith in him does.  JBM



Trail Notes 6.14.2015

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Today we begin a cycle of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, from First Samuel to Second Samuel and finally into First Kings in August.  This way, the Sunday lectionary provides a semi-continuous narrative from an important time in Hebrew history: the rise of a king in Israel – first David, then Solomon.  These were great – but flawed – men.  Unlike much other ancient literature, the Bible does not wallpaper over the faults of hits heroes.  They are presented to us “warts and all,” with all their virtues, vices, and contradictions.  And somehow, God uses them to move forward the story of God’s people. 

I’ve always liked the story of the prophet Samuel going to pick out a new king from among the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite.  Each of Jesse’s sons is brought out, like models on a runway.  But starting from the eldest, the Lord rejects each one in turn – seven of them.  “Are all your sons here?” asks Samuel.  Jesse replies, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  So David is sent for, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

As the youngest of four boys in my own family, I like the idea that good things can come in smaller packages, that it’s not always the eldest or the most important whom God chooses to use.  David was a little shepherd boy (although we are told that he was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes…that never hurts!).  He would grow into the role of leader, sometimes excelling, sometimes faltering badly.  And yet God is always with him… encouraging, strengthening…sometimes chiding, confronting…but always loving David: sometimes with gentle love that renews and inspires, sometimes with tough love that demands repentance. 

In these stories, we see what God can do, starting with small, seemingly insignificant people, and leading to great acts of leadership, compassion, and justice.  The little mustard seed scattered on the ground grows up to be a great shrub, such that the birds can nest in its branches. 

When you feel small and powerless, God can do great things with you, too, if you are willing to say yes when God calls.  JBM



How do we learn truth?

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Not facts, not information, but truth: truth about ourselves, about humanity, about God? 

I am a reader and thinker by nature – I love sopping up information and ideas just as a sponge sops up spilled milk. But, as much as I love this, I have come to realize that truth comes in other packages. Books and lectures may point us toward the truth (or not). But real, deep truth comes through experience, relationship, and our humanity.

In the religious life, we can learn about God from books and sermons. Reading the Bible can teach us how our forebears understood God. We can study the history of ideas about God.  Jesus’ life and teaching give us a wonderful glimpse of God and God’s ways. But to know the truth of God, we must have experience – an encounter with God. Likewise, to know the truth about another human being, we must meet and know that human being. And even more than that, we must come to love that human being…as we love ourselves. 

I say all this because we celebrate LGBT Pride this Sunday – God’s inclusion of all of God’s people in the beloved family of God. One expression of that family is the Church. The Christian Church has often not lived up to Jesus’ radical call to love our neighbor. We have divided humanity into groups; we have excluded many. We have called some “sinners,” when every one of us falls short of God’s perfect will. We have failed to answer God’s call to love – and hence to know the truth that others bring. Until we meet and know and love each other, we cannot understand each other. 

As I have come to meet and know others who span the broad spectrum of sexual identity, I have realized that we all share the same deep longing: to love and to be loved. We are all imperfect in the practice of love, yet Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us. And when we do, he promises us joy:

“Abide in my love….that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”                                                                                         (John 15:10-12)

Jesus does not promise us a life of ease, a life free of conflict and hard decisions, or a life without sadness and loss. But Jesus does promise us joy: the deep gladness that comes from walking in love with God and our neighbors…even when our love is imperfect. That, in the end, is what we are on this good earth to do. It is in the loving that we learn the truth of things.  JBM


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