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Trail Notes: We don't like Kings!

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Americans have always had trouble with the idea of kings, ever since we revolted against one (King George III) in 1776. We picture kings as greedy, selfish despots, concerned only for their own power and glory, with little regard for the subjects over whom they rule. Our U.S. government was set us to guard against that kind of unchecked power. 

Even the Episcopal Church in the U.S. was designed to avoid the perception of bishops as “princes” with the trappings of royalty. Consequently, our American bishops have very little actual power to act or change our church, but carry tremendous responsibility. It’s an impossible position to hold, in my view. 

When we come to the last Sunday of our church year, however, we still celebrate Jesus Christ as a kind of king. We love to sing the coronation hymns: “Crown him with many crowns,” “All hail the power of Jesus’ name.” But I’m not at all sure we really want a king to reign in our lives. We Americans covet our independence and self-determination, so the image of a king sitting on high rankles. Let the Brits have their monarch and palaces and royal falderal. We’ll stick with leaders we can elect, and throw out when we get tired of them. 

And yet, we’re not doing that well by ourselves down here on earth. We fight over power and turf, even while our neighbors go hungry, or wander homeless like “a man without a country.” We kill each other with our bombs and guns.  

Yet we pray regularly, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  I believe we’ll have to reconcile this dichotomy if we are ever truly to accept God’s right to rule and direct our lives. We have a hard time with kingship, because it’s difficult to surrender to a power greater than our own.(Ask someone in A.A. or another 12-step program how hard it is!) But that’s what the Christian journey is all about.  JBM  


Trail Notes: The Godly Optimist

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“Celebrating God’s Abundance” – that’s our theme this Fall for our Annual Giving Campaign. I’ve realized I’m not very good at that! Contrary to my deepest beliefs about God’s desire for us have all we need, to enjoy this life, I tend to gravitate toward bad news in the newspaper. I seem more interested in news of scarcity than news of abundance; more interested in sorrow and tragedy than in joy. 

A while ago, I got an offer for a regular email from the Washington Post called “The Optimist.” It’s a short digest of good-news stories. I signed up to receive “The Optimist,” because I thought it would be good for me. But I confess I have rarely opened and read it…I’m always hurrying on to something else that seems more urgent, more important. What a mistake.  I need to see and hear good news much more than bad. 

For instance: CEO promises to pay for college tuition not just for employees, but for their kids. Why? He says it’s the best way to make a lasting change in the futures of these families. He wants to invest in the people who are investing their lives in his company. Wow. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the huge stones which were built into the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus said this huge monument to human greatness – to the religious establishment - would all be thrown down in the end. The world would be turned on its head…upside-down.  Conventional thinking would be revolutionized in Jesus’ economy: instead of hoarding wealth, instead of  hungering for power over others, God’s abundance would be shared and all would have enough.

What a concept. 

We need to hear and treasure the good news of this world (I’m preaching to myself here). If we are Gospel people – people of Good News – we need to share it, hear it, immerse ourselves in it, wherever good news can be found. We know that the world has many troubles, of course. We don’t deny that.  But our joy in Christ is meant to shine even in the presence of the world’s darkness. We need to celebrate God’s abundance…until we reach God’s dream of abundance for everybody. The Eucharist, our main act of worship, is a thanksgiving service at its heart. We start with gratitude, and that leads to generosity, and that leads to joy and love. JBM

Daily doth the almighty Giver bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth, pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand at his hand; joy doth wait on his command.
(From “All my hope on God is founded,” Hymn 665, text: Bridges/Neander)



Trail Notes: 11/08/2015

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Widows take the lead in today’s scriptures.  One is Naomi, the bereft mother-in-law of Ruth, who is herself a new widow.  The widow Naomi may have lost her husband and both her sons, but she is far from powerless: she is clever – even shrewd – beyond belief!  She engineers a new life for her daughter-in-law, and for herself.  And in doing so, she gives Israel her greatest king and leader, David.

Another widow is seen by Jesus in the Temple, offering her gift – her “mite” – of two copper coins to God.  Jesus admires this poor woman for giving all she had.  Jesus drives home his point: “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  (Matt 12) 

[Just for good measure, yet another story from I Kings about the Widow of Zarephath is also an appointed reading for this day.  Elijah comes to this poor widow who, with her son, is about to starve.  At Elijah’s request, she shares her last morsel with Elijah, and discovers that her jar of meal never emptied, and her jug of oil never ran dry! In giving, she received much in return.]

These widows have almost nothing.  How can they give?  How can they trust God to walk with them into their future?  My first impulse when I’m “running short” is to save, to hoard, to conserve what I have and try to make it last.  There is some wisdom in that.  But that is human wisdom, wisdom without God, without claiming the promises of God.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of earthbound thinking, where life is a zero-sum game, it’s everybody for himself or herself, and I’d better look out for number one.  I get that!  And I struggle with that every day.  But I do not want to live that way.  I want to live according to God’s economy of abundance and sharing. 

It comes down to trust in the end. Can we trust God that we can give today, and God will fill us full again tomorrow?  That is the question when we consider our pledge, our annual giving to our church here at St. Dunstan’s.  Can we trust God that we can give generously today, and God will walk with us tomorrow…and the days after that? 

I can only speak from my own experience.  Giving a tithe (10% of income)  to God has never brought our family material want, or caused financial distress to us.  Other financial decisions I’ve made have sometimes caused me grief, but not my pledge to the church.  I’ve made bad investments and lost money.  But our investment in the church has always returned many blessings to us, to our children, and, I believe, to the world.  Our jar of meal has never emptied, and our jug of oil has never run dry. 

I can only ask you to talk to God about your giving.  Ask God what a bold level of generosity would be for you…what step you can take this year in your trustful giving for the church and for the world.  You might be surprised at what becomes possible!  JBM


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