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Trail Notes: 8/30/2015

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What do we do with religious law? 

That’s a tricky question for Christians. Jewish devotion to the Law (Torah) is much more straightforward. Jesus was a Jew all his life, and treasured his heritage. But Jesus also questioned – sometimes quite pointedly – a slavish adherence to the letter of the law, especially if the spirit of the law was not being followed. By “spirit of the law” I think of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbors. 

Jesus regularly chastised the Pharisees for worrying about small details in the law, yet neglecting the main thrust of the law: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me….” The issue this Sunday is whether Jesus’ disciples washed their hands before eating. Of course, hand-washing is an excellent practice to maintain; we know now that it prevents the spread of disease. But the Pharisees seemed to be more concerned about ritual cleanness than, say, about the many people who were going hungry while the Pharisees washed up and ate their abundant meals!

Jesus does not dispense with the Jewish Law, but he always puts it in the context of God’s deeper purpose: to foster love and respect among all people, to lift up the lowly so that all have a share in God’s abundance. Jesus himself – his example and his teaching – becomes the bar by which to measure the many lesser laws in Scripture. 

Thus the Epistle of James emphasizes doing God’s word (God’s will), and not just hearing it. How we live with each other is the main thing. True religion is not so much about how we wash our hands, but is this: “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)  JBM



Trail Notes 8/23/2015

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King Solomon built the first great Hebrew temple in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE, importing lavish materials of gold and cedar. The ark of the covenant – the holiest object in Hebrew religion – was then placed in the inner sanctum of the new temple. Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the new temple is what we hear in today’s reading from I Kings. 

While the temple completed King David’s vision for Jerusalem to become a unifying capital city for the Hebrew tribes, it also introduced new dangers for Hebrew religion. Ironically, what is erected for God’s glory easily becomes an end in itself.  Solomon actually conscripted forced labor from 30,000 Hebrews in order to build the great building – the first time Hebrews had been enslaved since Egypt. The tax burden to support construction, as well as Solomon’s extravagant court, was very heavy. While Solomon proudly hoped that this would be an eternal monument to God, many would say that the seeds of the temple’s subsequent fall (4 centuries later) were planted at the beginning. 

That’s all very interesting, but most of us do not identify with Solomon’s grandiose building projects. Enter Jesus with his simple, pithy teaching about the house built on the rock versus the house built on sand.  Jesus emphasizes the foundation – the basis – upon which we build any edifice, whether it’s a building, an organization, or our own spiritual health. If the foundation is not firm, the rest will crumble. If the church’s one foundation is not Jesus Christ himself, then all that we try to build will be for naught. 

St. Dunstan’s Church is not so much a fancy impressive temple as it is a school of love, a place of hospitality, a haven for children every day. Jesus was concerned about people – that hungry people should be fed, sick people should be cared for, that our spiritual foundations be firmly built on the rock. This fall, we’ll be feeding hungry folks in our city, teaching faith to our children, and serving our neighborhood. We’ll be exploring our faith through scripture and worship and song. We dedicate this place, and ourselves, to Christ’s service in the world, praying, as Solomon did, that God’s “eyes may be open night and day toward this house.”  JBM



Trail Notes 8/16/2015

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When was the last time you really enjoyed yourself - put your cares aside and had a blast?  Was it a party, or a reunion with an old friend, or a paddle down the river? Each of us finds joy and gladness in different ways, but one thing is clear: Joy is God's wish for us. Jesus said, "I have come that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full!" 
We get a glimpse of this in the wonderful tale of Jesus' first sign (or miracle), done at a wedding feast in the Galilean town of Cana. We know the story well - Jesus turns water into fabulous wine, over 100 gallons of it.
Jesus' first sign is meant to bring joy! The joy of a party was important enough for Jesus to intervene. These folks were very poor; in some ways they had little to celebrate in their lives.  But a wedding was special. Wedding festivities in those days went on for days; at some point the wine ran out. Jesus' mother told him the problem. Jesus gave us a sign - a potent prediction of his whole ministry. He turned what was still and lifeless - water - into something lively and refreshing and joyful - wonderful wine. The old becomes new. Jesus is still doing this miracle in our lives today, and in our world. 
[While wine was an integral part of life in biblical times, and three of our scriptures today mention wine, it's important to note that alcohol is a powerful substance that can make us both glad and sad. Ephesians reminds us not to drink to excess, but to depend on God's Spirit to find deep joy in life. Getting together to sing and give thanks (Eucharist) is the best way to find deep joy and satisfaction in life: wine tasting every Sunday!]  JBM



Trail Notes 8/9/2015

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I am reading the book “All the Light We Cannot See” – a bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner.  It is about two human stories during World War II: The first one about a little blind French girl, Marie-Laure, trying to survive German occupation. Her father loves and protects her with all his might. The other story is that of a young German orphan boy, Werner, who is selected for an elite Nazi school, and trained to hate: hate weakness, hate Jews, hate any who do not bow to Hitler’s Reich.  Eventually, their stories come together…I haven’t gotten there yet. 

This book makes me wonder:

What prompts lavish acts of love?

Why do we sometimes give free reign to our resentments and bitterness and lash out fiercely? Why do we often follow the crowd, even against our own moral compass? And other times find the mercy and forgiveness and courage to take a stand, to respond in generous love? 

Scripture is full of examples – good and bad.  King David has shown his best and worst selves: the wanton killing of Bathsheba’s husband is certainly David at his worst; but today’s account of his love and mercy for his treasonous son Absalom is David’s best self. His grief at Absalom’s death is the most heart-wrenching in all of scripture: “Absalom, Absalom!  Would that I had died instead of you….” 

Christians believe that the power to overcome evil with love comes from God. We can’t gin it up on our own; at our best, we are conduits through whom God’s love and forgiveness flows in the world. At our worst, we are plugged-up drains which allow none of the water of life to flow, only collecting the fetid water of resentment and forgiveness. At our best, we follow the example of Jesus…we become little Christs. At our worst, we follow the crowd, and become little Hitlers.  JBM


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