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Trail Notes: 01/31/2016

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Out of control

I hope you’ve all stayed safe and warm through the storm.  After “the blizzard of the ages,” we’ve all been thoroughly reminded that life is out of our control, no matter how much we love to plan and program and prepare.  Maybe this is a good lesson for us to relearn periodically…so that we stay nimble and flexible in this life…able to regroup, retool, and re-invent ourselves.   

After Jesus announced his mission statement (quoting from the prophet Isaiah):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the poor…
release to the captives…and sight to the blind…,” 

Jesus’ hometown crowd in Nazareth responded predictably: “Wow – amazing – but this is Joseph’s son, a local boy!”  I’m sure they thought they could make good use of this neighborhood guy as a wonderworker around town.

But Jesus responds very clearly, I have come on God’s mission, not yours.  I will not fix all your problems for you.  I will not be your tool.

Jesus would not be controlled by his Nazarene neighbors, or by anybody, for that matter.  And the people responded with rage.  They tried to throw Jesus over a cliff!

So, Jesus does not conform himself to our wishes or our convenience.  In fact, Jesus’ actions in the world may make us very uncomfortable.  Jesus can require changes that we really don’t want to make. (That’s what the word repent means.) 

I believe this is happening in the church today.  The ways of doing church that we (of a certain age) grew up with don’t work very well anymore.  That doesn’t mean God has abandoned us – far from it!  It does mean that God is doing new things, and we must change, adjust, even re-invent ourselves to align with God’s mission for us.  It’s not ours to control.  (Actually, it’s never been ours to control, but we – I – have often forgotten that.) 

So let the blizzard be a lesson to us: God is doing new things in the world, and in the church.  These are demanding times.  As we did in our snow shoveling these last few days, we need to use muscles we haven’t used in a while to grow our congregation around God’s mission of compassion and justice and freedom.  Parish leaders will be asking your help.  I hope you will say yes.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes 01/24/2016

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Mission statements have been popular in recent decades, to help organizations clarify their reasons for existence and their goals. Organizations can spend a lot of time defining and wordsmithing their mission statements! 

Today, Jesus gives us his own mission statement. It’s not original to him; he gets it from the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah. 

It’s not a safe mission. It’s often hard to quantify. But it’s clear enough, if we want to hear it:

To bring good news to the poor. (What is good news to the poor? Probably a job that pays a living wage.) 

To proclaim release to the captives. (I think of many American students who graduate with a mountain of debt before they ever get a first paycheck)

Sight to the blind. (Do we help people see all God’s people with dignity, and not demean groups… whether Muslims, refugees, gay people, black people, or brown people?)

To let the oppressed, go free. (think of families with little children, risking their lives to escape persecution in Syria) 

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Jubilee year – erasing all debts, restoring economic equality to all the people)

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” proclaims Jesus.

When we think of our mission at St. Dunstan’s, how well to we match up with the mission of Jesus, the one we serve? Are we truly finding ways to bring good news to the poor? Are we helping to release captives and people who are oppressed by the system? Are we bringing new sight, and insight, to ourselves and our neighbors? 

Well yes, we do make efforts to do some of these things. We make sandwiches, tuna casseroles to feed people. That’s good. We explore scriptures and the events of the world around us, seeking insight and wisdom.  Some of us have studied economic inequality and proposed actions the church can take to lessen the huge gap between rich and poor. 

But we tend to play it safe. We are risk-averse. That may have worked for the church in the past, but it doesn’t work in today’s environment. Jesus’ mission is a bold, audacious one…turning the established order on its ear. If we want to be faithful to Jesus, we as his church can be no less bold.  JBM

 

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Trail Notes: 1/17/2016

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Gifts, Known and Unknown

Some years ago, the Bishop asked me to serve on the diocesan committee on Constitution and Canons, which is concerned with church laws and statutes and their revision as needed. I was puzzled, since I have no legal background. Still, I wanted to help, so I said “yes.” Well, I found it fascinating, and I served quite happily for over 10 years, and even became chair of the committee for a while! I would never have known I had any gifts for such things if I had not said “yes” when I was asked to serve. 

St. Paul speaks in I Corinthians 12 about the variety of gifts given by the Holy Spirit – gifts to build up the church, and gifts to serve people in need or trouble.  The Body of Christ – the Church – has need of all these gifts, and the Spirit gives them for the common good. You might have some gifts you’ve never used! (I’d like the gift of working miracles myself….) If you don’t explore your spiritual gifts, how will you ever know? 

As St. Dunstan’s begins a new year, we need your gifts for ministry:  the gifts of every person in our congregation. When one person isn’t offering the gifts God has given, then both that person, and the community, are impoverished. We have been recruiting for Vestry and other offices, and – thank God! – most people are saying yes! We are forming a new team under the leadership of Praveen Jeyarajah to bring growth to our parish. Growing is our primary task and focus in 2016 and beyond, with a goal of a net gain of 10 new households a year for the next several years.  I’m grateful for all who have said “yes” to serve on this crucial project. To grow our church, we’ll need everybody to be on the growth effort – talking about St. Dunstan’s, bringing friends to church, doing visible ministries in the local area, and reaching out to welcome new members in your neighborhood. I hope you’ll offer your God-given gifts to help our parish. Please offer your gifts and skills! And if you are asked to serve, say “yes.” You might be happily surprised.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 01/10/2016

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"Baptism by Fire" and Atticus Finch

Have you ever experienced an arduous, harrowing event which required extraordinary effort to reach the other side and conquer the challenge?  It could be a sudden assignment at work, with a quick turnaround time, or learning a whole new skill on the fly. Or maybe a relationship changes dramatically and you have to regroup. Or it could be a spiritual experience where the givens and assurances of your faith seem to fall to pieces, and you must rebuild something new to depend on. In any case, this event leaves you changed, different, transformed in some way.
 
Luke's Gospel says that we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That means that God is dwelling in us in a new, powerful way (the Holy Spirit), and that God is also refining and purifying us, stripping away all that is not strong enough to withstand God's fire. There is some discomfort implied here!
 
I had this experience when I read Harper Lee's newly issued novel Go Set a Watchman. There has been much debate about the genesis of this novel and its literary quality. But what was not debatable for me was the change that it wrought in me.
 
This book showed me that Atticus Finch, the enlightened Alabama lawyer who defended a black man in To Kill a Mockingbird, wasn't who we thought he was. He wasn't an unqualified hero, seeing past the racial divisions of the American South. As an older man, he was clinging to the ways he understood society, that is, with white people in charge and people of color subservient. Racism was the very water he was swimming in; racism was part of him. He could not change that fact.
 
And I was convicted. All my liberal and inclusive perceptions of myself fell away like chaff, and I had to face the fact that I do not always see people of every race equally, though I try. I am not colorblind. I make distinctions and assumptions based on my upbringing and the American society I live in. I am not proud of that. In fact, I'm ashamed. But it's the water I swim in, a baptism in the truth of my racism and America's racism, which is clearly America's original sin.
 
This Sunday, January 10, we welcome the Rev. Paula Clark to preach and teach. Paula is a delightful, vivacious woman who works on our Bishop's staff in the area of multicultural ministry. She will lead the adult class at 9:50 a.m. and preach at 10:45 a.m. I hope you will be present to hear her. I believe we shall all be blessed by her presence at St. Dunstan's. JBM


 

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