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Trail Notes: 10/04/2015

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Creation Season begins this Sunday for the 4 Sundays in October. Come for the pet blessing at the 9 a.m. service – in the tradition of St. Francis. 

This year, we are focusing on God’s abundant provision for us in the harvest. This first Sunday’s theme is planting. Jesus uses this image of planting, nurturing, and harvesting in many of his teachings. I can imagine him teaching a group in the countryside, pointing to a mustard tree on one side of the road, and beginning:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field…it is the smallest of seeds, but grows into the greatest of shrubs!” 
(Matthew 13:31, 32)

All of life, all of creation, is part of the natural cycle of new birth, growth, fruition, decay, and death…only to begin again with birth. We explore that cycle this fall, and seek to find God’s hand at work in each one of these parts of the cycle. 

Chief Seattle reminds us of our connection with this cycle of the earth, and our responsibility toward the earth and our children:

Teach your children what we have taught our children: that the earth is our true mother. Whatever happens to the earth, happens to the children of the earth.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus invites little children to gather around him and teaches the crowd: Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Our children are our primary “crop” as human beings! There is a childlike openness to the world that we must recapture if we are to preserve the earth and nurture what God plants. 

I’ve not got a green thumb, but I still know I have to work with God to plant and cultivate good things in this life. What part of your relationship with this earthly home seems strained or out-of-balance? What changes might God be calling you to make? How might God want you to “welcome the little child” into your life?  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 9/27/2015

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The Nazis were not the first to try to annihilate the Jews

Twenty-four centuries earlier, in the fifth century BCE in Persia, an earlier attempt at such genocide was made, and thwarted.  This is recounted in the book of Esther.  It is a dramatic tale of palace intrigue: a powerful King (Ahasuerus), a beautiful queen (Ether), and a diabolical prime minister (Haman). 

Haman despises the Jews, because they will not bow down to him as ruler.  So he plots a genocide.  In the end, it is up to Queen Esther (a Jew) to appeal to the King to stop Haman’s wicked plan.  At great risk to herself, she cleverly arranges to obtain the King’s favor, and asks him to spare her life, and the lives of her people.  Haman is thwarted, and hoisted by his own petard…that is, hanged on his own gallows.  The Jewish festival of Purim continues annually today to celebrate this rescue from evil Haman. 

This colorful tale from long ago points to the age-old human tendency to divide humans into groups by ethnicity or creed, and then demonize certain groups.  The Jews have suffered more than their share of this kind of persecution.  Esther’s story echoes into our present day, in that Persia is modern-day Iran.  Maybe it’s no wonder the state of Israel does not trust the Iranians.

Jesus seemed to fall victim to this same tendency to denigrate other groups, as when he called the gentile Syrophoenician woman a “dog” – quite an insult.  But Jesus moved beyond that way of thinking, and became the greatest champion of equality among all people – the preciousness of each human being in the eyes of God. 

Polls this week say that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in America. We have a long way to go before we can really say we love our neighbors.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 9/20/2015

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the fairest of them all? 

Humans compare ourselves to each other by nature. I love the old sit-com MASH.  In one episode, the wise Col. Potter counsels the brilliant, brash young surgeon Hawkeye who is bent out of shape. Why? Because another, “very average” doctor from his hometown is getting awards and lucrative research grants while Hawkeye slaves away in obscurity, patching up wounded soldiers in the Korean War. (In fact, Hawkeye is quite literally “bent out of shape” – his back has gone out – a stress reaction.)

Col. Potter sits down with Hawkeye and says, “Son, the only person you need to compete with, the only one you need to get better than, is yourself…and that would be a hard enough standard for anybody to meet.”

The disciples in today’s gospel are caught by Jesus arguing over which among them is the greatest. They are sheepish, because they know they shouldn’t be competing!

Why do we continually compare ourselves to others? I don’t know, but I do it all the time. I compare our parish with others around us; I compare my yard with my neighbors’ (mine doesn’t compare very favorably); I compare my “success” in life with other people’s, even though I know I should just be thankful for the blessings God has given me. 

Jesus turns all of this comparison upside down. He preaches humility…a willingness to sacrifice for others. We are not meant to try to be the greatest; we are meant to become servants. It’s a hard teaching for us competitive humans, but this is in fact the way to true joy and peace in life. 

The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Let’s try a little exercise: each time you receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, resolve to focus more on thanksgiving and less on competition. Let’s focus on how we can serve God’s creation, rather than how we can win over others. Let the bread and wine be food for thanksgiving, and drink for self-giving.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 9/13/2015

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Open mouth; insert foot. 

We all know what it’s like to say the wrong thing, and immediately regret it. 

Last week, it was Jesus who said, “ It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

This week, it’s Peter who wades in too deep when he rebukes Jesus for telling about the suffering and death that was coming… Peter started off so well…. You are the Messiah...,”but he went downhill from there.   

The strange Epistle of James doesn’t mince words about the dangers of our tongues, and the damage we can do with what we say (and what we fail to say): 

“The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” 

The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is an outright lie. Words are powerful; they can hurt and they can heal.  Words can curse, and they can bless. One advantage of getting older is that I don’t put my foot in my mouth quite as often as I used to…and that’s a mercy. 

But what we can also do so much good with our words, when they are well chosen and well timed. We can comfort, reassure, encourage. We can lift others up, inspire positive actions, strengthen, and yes…bless. After all, God sent Jesus to be the Messiah:  the Word of God in human flesh. And that Word is love…unconditional love for us and all creation. So this week, think about how you can use your words to bless someone.  JBM





 

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Trail Notes: 9/06/2015

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Was Jesus a bigot?

That question is presented by Sunday’s difficult story of Jesus who, when he was accosted for help by a Syrophoenician woman, likened her to a dog. This  undermines our image of Jesus as someone who “respects the dignity of every human being” (to use our baptismal formula in the BCP). 

Coincidentally, I just read Harper Lee’s newly published novel, Go Set a Watchman. It takes place years after the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, but was written much earlier and unnoticed until recently. For all of us who loved the younger Atticus Finch for his human decency and lack of racism in the old south, this book is tough. The old man Atticus Finch is involved in local efforts to resist the Federal imposition of black voting rights on southern states. His outspoken daughter, Jean Louise (“Scout”), now living in New York, is aghast to come home to Maycomb, Alabama and find her father implicated in these efforts to maintain racial segregation and white dominance of the political system. 

The book is too complex to summarize here, but the challenge it presents is similar to the Gospel story of Jesus denigrating a foreign woman as unworthy of his good offices because she was not a Jew. How do we reckon with that? 

Scout’s first instinct is to leave her hometown and never come back.  But her wise uncle Jack urges her to consider coming back to Maycomb to live. “The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right…”

Somehow, in order to help humanity change and grow, we must acknowledge our complicity in prejudice and sin, and work for change from within. We cannot stand apart, at a safe, clean distance, and lob denunciations at our neighbors. 

Jesus learned this lesson. As he grew towards God, he realized his humanity was tied up in his neighbors, his society, his world.  He could not stand apart. As St. Paul wrote about Jesus, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew so sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (II Cor 5:21)

These are not simple thoughts. I would love to have further conversation with you all about the scriptures and Harper Lee’s surprising book. If any are interested in gathering for a discussion of Harper Lee’s astounding novels, please let me know.    JBM





 

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