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Trail Notes: 12/25/2016

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Why do we come to church on Christmas?
Some of us are regular church-goers, but many are here only occasionally. Or this may be your first church experience. So why do we come, to do what so many human beings have done for so many centuries - to worship God? Why do so many of our paths and trails lead us to this place of prayer and celebration? 
 
Looking for Spirituality
Of course, we have many reasons. Some of us may be here to please our parents, spouses, or others.  All of us, I think, are seeking something - a connection with God.  This is at the root of the tremendous resurgence of interest in spirituality. We are looking for spiritual roots, a spiritual home where we can experience a deeper dimension of life, a deeper sense of meaning - whether we call that "God" or not. 
 
The Christmas event is so compelling because Jesus' birth marks God's entrance into human life - bridging the divide between human and divine. God comes very close to us - as close as a baby's cheek to his mother's.  In Jesus, God enters into human life, so that we might enter into God's life.
 
Looking for Community
We also come to church looking for community - a family.  We may (or may not) have a satisfying family life at home.  But in any case, we need a family of friends, of souls with shared values and purpose in life.  We want to walk the trail with others, to stretch and grow into full humanity, to live a life of meaning. 
 
Looking for Tradition and Ritual, Hope and Peace
We also come to church - as humans have done from time immemorial - looking for ways to speak and enact the deepest truths of life.  The beautiful atmosphere, beloved music, and ancient rituals of Christmas take us beyond what mere words can say.  Through the sacramental elements of water, bread, and wine, we express our need for cleansing, nourishing, and spiritual renewal.  When we light our candles, we profess our belief that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. 
 
Whatever reasons have brought you to St. Dunstan's this Christmas, you are welcome here.  Christ welcomes all who come to his table to partake of the bread and wine of Holy Communion. God bless you on your spiritual journey.  We hope that St. Dunstan's will continue to be a part of your journey in 2017. 
 
Many thanks to all who have made our Christmas celebrations so joyous -
the Flower Guild, Altar Guild, and all who helped decorate the church; our many dedicated musicians & their director, Dr. Michael Austin, Sue Von, Christian Formation Coordinator; Kimberly Matthews, Parish Administrator; and Solutions Services, our janitorial service.
 
We thank the many who contributed to the success of the new Children's Christmas Musical. 
 
We are grateful also for the ministry of lectors and chalice bearers, acolytes, trail guides, greeters, and hospitality coordinators. Your tithes and offerings at year's-end are much appreciated, and we thank you for your pledge of support to St. Dunstan's for the year 2017.
 
JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 12/18/2016

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“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way….” 

Matthew’s Gospel gives us the stripped down version of a nativity story – “Just the facts, m’am.” In Matthew, we hear none of the glory and pageantry of Luke’s story, full of angels, shepherds, lovely songs, a stable, animals, and a manger. Luke’s story belongs to the women – Mary is central, but her cousin Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist) also plays a part. 

Matthew’s story is more masculine, and more muscular. Joseph leads the way, guided by dreams from God.  Jesus is born in Joseph’s house in Bethlehem. It is Joseph who names the child “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” In Matthew’s account, it’s the Wise Men who visit the babe, not the scruffy shepherds.

But the core of the story remains: a most unlikely birth takes place in Bethlehem, an insignificant town in a backward province of the Roman Empire…and God is behind it all. This child will be the means, the instrument, of God’s saving grace in a trouble world. It was true then, and it is still true now. 

And Matthew tells us that Jesus will be sought after, for good and for ill. The Wise Men (or Magi) will come from foreign lands to worship him. King Herod will seek Jesus to exterminate him, a potential rival for Jewish allegiance. That also remains true today. Some seek Jesus to learn of his grace and forgiveness. Others despise him because he does not conform to the world’s view of “greatness” or “power.” As the Feast of the Nativity approaches, we are asked to choose how we ourselves will receive this child of God.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 12/11/2016

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MARKERS

In recent cancer treatment, genetic markers guide doctors in designing a custom treatment for each patient. When we travel, we look for signs and markers to lead us to our destination. In business, we look at markers to see how we are progressing toward our goals. If we “miss the mark,” we re-evaluate and adjust course in hopes of a better outcome. 

As God’s people, we look for the markers of the Kingdom of God, breaking in to this world in this present moment. Reading and watching the news, we may feel there are precious few signs of God’s Kingdom today. (I struggle with that, so I’m limiting my news intake rather drastically.) But we are Christians, following Jesus, seeking the light piercing the world’s darkness. So we must look for the markers of the Kingdom, and celebrate them…shout them from the housetops. 

Jesus’ time wasn’t any more peaceful or hopeful than our own. First century Palestine was under military occupation, onerous taxation was bankrupting the peasant class, and violence was the norm, not the exception. (Sound familiar?) Yet John the Baptist came announcing, “The Kingdom of God has come near!”  How could he know that?  Somehow, he knew that God was doing something new, and that new thing was Jesus, God’s Messiah. In today’s Gospel, John is in prison, and he sends word to Jesus asking for some encouragement. Jesus responds by listing the markers of the Kingdom:

 
The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
 the dead are raised, and the poor get good news. 

Those are markers of the Kingdom – God’s will breaking in and overcoming human greed, sickness, blindness, and even death itself. Much as we bemoan the state of the world today, we are seeing these markers if we look: dramatic cures to disease, a huge reduction in world poverty, exploding knowledge and insight, extending healthy lifespans. We have a long way to go, but God’s Kingdom is clearly breaking in and transforming our world. We need to shout that from the housetops.  JBM



 

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Trail Notes: 12/4/2016

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The voice of one crying out …

Each year during Advent we hear again the story of John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness. John is an eccentric preacher who eats wild honey and locusts and wears a skin of camel hair. He preaches a gospel of repentance and the need for being baptized with water. John is a heralder of the kingdom of God, and of the coming of the one who would baptize with fire.

This man was the child who leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when the pregnant Mary greeted her. Mary had just been visited by the angel and stayed for three months with her cousin Elizabeth. I have often wondered about their conversations; of joy, of mystery, and full of questions about what all of this means. And how did those two infants in the womb experience those conversations and emotions?

What else do we know of this preacher, other than his strange diet and yet expensive taste in jackets? Okay, that may be a bit much. Some say that John was a member of the Essene community, a religious sect of Judaism that had strict practices and an ascetic lifestyle. Clearly, he lived a different existence out in the desert and was preaching loud and long enough to be noticed. Scripture says that many were coming out to see and hear him. The scribes and Pharisees who went out to see him surely thought he was not quite right in the head. Especially when he called them out in front of everyone.

We have all probably had our fill of loud voices this fall. The election campaign seemed to be a constant baiting session, with nothing but accusations and angry voices, each one claiming to have the truth and know the answers. No matter our candidate, we probably all felt that this was never helpful or clear. Many would like all the angry and unhappy voices to just go away. We would like the world to quietly go back to the good old days when politics were polite and life was better. But was it?

Some would prefer that Jesus only come in the quiet of Christmas morning - the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. The Advent season heralds both the coming of Jesus as the humble Christ child and Jesus whose kingdom will come. Sometimes it takes a little volume to get our attention. I know that sometimes I need to listen more intently and turn up the volume.

How do we discern THE voice among all the other voices – sometimes quiet and sometimes loud – that calls us into that kingdom? When have you heard the voice calling you to … prepare the way of the Lord?

 

Sue von Rautenkranz



 

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Trail Notes: 11/27/2016

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Advent

“You know what time it is,
now it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”  Romans 13:11

“I love to sleep.”  There, I’ve admitted it.  I’m not a morning person; I can’t get by on just a few hours of rest a night.  Getting a good night’s sleep is not a bad thing; it’s healthier for us.  But St. Paul in Romans is telling us that we when we are awake, we need to be really awake – not just sleep-walking through the day. 

Advent comes in the nick of time this year.  It’s been a tumultuous fall, with painful rhetoric, violent outbursts, and an election upset.  In the midst of all this, the Church in its wisdom, says: 

“Let us begin again, with a new year, a new Advent.  Let us pause and reflect on the darkness in the world, in our lives…and turn once more toward the light, the light of Christ coming into the world even now.” 

How can we live more mindfully, more intentionally, so as to reflect Christ’s light into the world?  How can we be fully awake, and act in the world for greater justice, greater mercy? 

And finally, if death were to take us now, would we be prepared?  Would we be satisfied with our lives, our stands for justice, our works of mercy?  I don’t know about you, but I still have work to do.  I’d better get awake and focus my life on God’s work, God’s values.  JBM

“For salvation is nearer to us now that when we became believers;
The night is far gone, the day is near.”  Romans 13:11-12



 

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Trail Notes: 11/20/2016

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A King, Anyone? 

Addressing Americans displeased by our election results, the British-Russian writer Nikolai Tolstoy suggested in the New York Times that maybe it is time for America to consider a (constitutional) monarchy – a very stable form of government, perhaps more so than a republic. Americans “have only to direct their gaze toward their northern neighbor to find…contented Canada…,” he opined. 

A King, Anyone? 

But alas, these United States have a sour history with kings, going back to George III of “Tea Party” days. So severe was the early-American allergy to kings, that our fledgling Episcopal Church (the Church of England in the U.S.) removed all trappings of royalty from its own bishops, and left them with relatively little power in the church hierarchy. (Much of the power was devolved to the people in congregations, who were given the vote to elect their own clergy leaders.) 

Our own bishop, Mariann Edgar Budde, presides ceremonially over the great Washington National Cathedral and a diocese of 88 congregations.  She chairs the Cathedral Foundation, which governs the Cathedral and its several schools and institutions. She has great responsibility. Yet her authority flows not downward from an archbishop (much less a pope), but upward from the churchmembers in our diocese.  It is an unwieldy system, as, I suppose, most democracies are. Bp. Budde uses her authority as a teacher and prophet with great care and skill. I hope you all receive and read her communications through the diocesan newsletter and website www.EDOW.org. If you are not already subscribed, you may do so here.

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday – the last in the church year. We all love singing the great coronation hymns: ‘Crown him Lord of all!’ But Jesus is the most unlikely king you’ll find.  He has no use for trappings, he covets no political power.  And yet he seeks to rule in the hearts of all of us follow him. Some might say, judging from his followers, that Jesus is a poor – or at least ineffective – king.  We Christians are a motley bunch, lacking in many virtues, subject to grievous faults. Like an Episcopal bishop, Jesus is a king who rules through persuasion, gentle leading, and sacrificial love. In this, Jesus is a master. We, as his subjects, are the ones lacking in devotion, in courage, and in compassion, to follow him. 

But I think it’s good to sing those glorious coronation choruses to remind ourselves that, whatever happens here on earth, one thing never changes: Jesus is the true king, ruling through the greatest power there is, the power of love. Never forget that. It’s a lifetime project for us, his people, to become his worthy subjects. 

JBM 



 

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Trail Notes: Consecration Sunday, 11/13/2016

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“The Lord has need of it.” 

That’s what Jesus told his disciples to say, when they went to “borrow” the young donkey Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem that fateful day – Palm Sunday. “The Lord has need of it.” That was enough. No more explanation was necessary. 

There are times in our lives when we hear the call from the Lord to give what we are able to give, for the furtherance of the Kingdom, that God’s Kingdom should come, God’s will be done. It may be spending time with a person in great need, in hospital, or just lonely. It may be helping with a refugee resettlement project, or assembling a Thanksgiving basket for a family who will delight in it. Sometimes it means traveling to a distant land to help relieve suffering and bring some hope. 

“The Lord has need of it.”

In today’s world, money is at the center: it is how we value things, time, other people, even ourselves. We vote our values by the way we use the money God gives us. There is no truer measure of our life’s priorities than our checkbook register…or the electronic equivalent of it! 

And yes, the Lord has need of our money: Not to build fancier temples for worship, but to work in our neighborhood to share Christ’s love and bring people to worship. Not simply to hire more staff and run more programs, but to create space where our deepest spiritual needs can be shared, explored, and filled. Not just to serve ourselves, but to reach into God’s world and change it for Jesus’ sake, to reduce the misery of God’s people, to bring cause for hope and renewed joy. 

It takes our money to do God’s work.  I ask you, as members of St. Dunstan’s community – as people of God – to dig deep and give generously, more generously than you feel comfortable. I can tell you from experience, your faith will grow and blossom if you do this. And God’s Kingdom will come to more and more people.  “The Lord has need of it.”    JBM


 

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Trail Notes: All Saints November 6, 2016

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All Saints

Saints are, simply put, holy people. St. Paul referred to all the Christians in the churches as saints. Why? Were they all perfectly righteous, moral exemplars, tireless workers for good? No…they were probably a mixed bunch, much like ourselves. But they were saints, they were holy, because they were connected to God. Their identities, their holiness, came from being children of God, loved by God. 

You may not feel particularly holy, but your relationship with God makes you holy, makes you a saint.  Brother Curtis Almquist, a monk at the Episcopal monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, relates holiness to compassion:

“Compassion, not purity, is the essence of holiness,” he says. 

Can you imagine yourself as a saint, not because you are pure, but because you show compassion? Your care for people in need or trouble, your monetary gifts, your prayers, your compassion for suffering souls…these are the markers of holiness. These are actions we can take on a day-to-day basis – the caring phone call or email to a friend, filling a Thanksgiving basket for a family in need, stuffing turkey-and-cheese sandwiches into baggies for people on the streets – these are the small acts of compassion and kindness that lead us to God. 

Our Annual Giving Campaign ends with Consecration Sunday, November 13.  Every dollar you pledge to St. Dunstan’s is an act of compassion. Your gifts are used carefully, frugally, to do God’s work of compassion in this corner of God’s Kingdom. Please make your pledge, and be as generous as you can, so that this work can continue. St. Dunstan’s is a small church, but we are mighty in good works! Please join your fellow parishioners in giving Simple Gifts – for the Church and for the World.   JBM

 


 

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Trail Notes: 10/23/2016

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Pride goeth before a fall. 

 That’s good solid biblical wisdom. The complete quotation is:

Pride goes before destruction,
   and a haughty spirit before a fall. 
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
   than to divide the spoil with the proud.
  Proverbs 16:18-19

This was written long before Jesus, but Jesus exemplifies this spirit of humility better than anybody. 

We don’t see much humility in the world today. As we endure the end of the election campaigns, humility is sorely lacking on all sides. We hear lots of promises, brags, and boasts, with easy solutions to complex problems in the world. How refreshing it would be to hear a national leader or candidate say, “This is a hard problem, not easily solved. It will take time. It will require sacrifice from all of us.” How good it would be if someone were talking about the misery of the poorest people in our rich country, not to mention the world. 

As we consider Jesus’ parable about the proud Pharisee, and the humble tax collector, we can all (I assume) think of times when we ourselves gloated like the Pharisee. We can also remember times when we’ve been brought low by life, and cried out for mercy from God to save us and lift us up. Usually we live our lives somewhere between these two extremes. 

Jesus was critical of this bragging Pharisee because he was so proud. Yet many of the Pharisee’s practices were actually very good. He gave away a tenth of his income…surely that is admirable! Think what the church and other charities could do if everybody tithed! This man fasted twice a week, which can be a meaningful spiritual practice. No, it was not his outer behaviors that were wrong; it was his prideful attitude about them…and his need to compare himself with others. What can we learn from the Pharisee as we make our own journey of faith?  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 10/16/2016

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“Are you getting what you deserve?”

Our theme this Sunday is Practicing Love by doing JusticeJustice is what the widow in Jesus’ parable is seeking from a judge in court.  Her case is not described at all – apparently, the case is not the point.  What is central is her perseverance – her determination to be heard, to get a response.  Finally the judge, who admits that he respects neither God nor persons, responds to her – just to get her off his back, and his nerves. 

But what is justice?  Is it bringing wrongdoers to account?  Does it require punishment?  Retribution?  Compensation?  Does justice preclude compassion and mercy? 

Is justice getting what we deserve?  In our day and age, this concept is prevalent.  We all have rights we want to defend.  We want what we’ve earned.  We also want what we feel we are entitled to (earned or not).  Advertisements appeal to what we feel we deserve: “Buy this new car – you deserve it!”  “You deserve a vacation after you’ve worked so hard!”  “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away…”  Who decides, however, what we truly deserve? 

God’s justice.  Biblical justice is much deeper than advertising, of course.  It has its roots in God’s justice, putting things right.  Part of justice is an affirmation of what is true – the truth of the situation.  Part of justice is action – the righting of wrongs.  In societal situations, things start to get very messy at this point.  Who is responsible?  Who must pay? 

The parable ends with God – when God is judge, justice will be neither delayed nor denied. “Will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”  Considering our sinful natures, should we pray to God to get what we deserve, or should we pray not to get what we deserve?  JBM

 

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