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Trail Notes: 09/04/2016

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Practicing Love…in tough situations

Sun Tzu famously wrote a book called The Art of War in the fifth century B.C.E. – during the time the empire of Persia dominated the biblical world. Su Tzu’s writings have influenced the strategies of warfare ever since. 

Jesus came along 500 years later and lived a life of profound and generous love.  The Gospels and traditions of Jesus could be called The Art of Love. The Jesus tradition has taught the practice of love ever since. Some have learned well; most of us still have a lot of learning to do. 

That’s why we at St. Dunstan’s are exploring the practice of love this Fall. In sermons, writings, and study groups, we are getting very specific about challenges and strategies of practicing love in very common human situations. Last Sunday, congregants suggested many such situations where practicing love is difficult:

  • With my adult children
  • When listening, without jumping to problem-solving mode
  • With people who engage in bad behavior
  • With people I don’t know – on the street, in a shop, in traffic
  • With people begging by the roadside.
  • In my prayer life, with God
  • With difficult colleagues at work
  • With people at church who think differently
  • When I’ve been hurt by somebody
  • In online situations (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • With my money, my checkbook

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll try to address these situations in sermons, using Jesus’ teaching as a guide. This Sunday, September 4, I’ll start the list, and talk about practicing love with our family members – some of whom may not be very lovable. We’ll talk about dealing with children (all ages!), elderly parents, interfering in-laws, and manipulative kin. I hope you’ll join in worship at 10:45 a.m.  Please email me if you have specific comments/questions to explore.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 08/28/2016

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Practicing Love

Cuddling a baby. Sitting up with a family member who’s going through hard times.  Making that last phone call of the evening, to check on a friend. Sending a check to Doctors without Borders. Stopping to talk with that homeless guy who’s always begging near the Metro. Helping a coworker who’s heading down a destructive path. Standing up for someone whose rights are getting trampled.

All these are acts of love. Our new parish theme, introduced in car magnets and banners, is “Love Practiced Here.” When I think of the Gospel of Jesus – both what it promises us, and what it demands of us – it all comes down to love. The practice of love is our calling and our mission, day in and day out, in all kinds of circumstances. 

Talking about love of God is easy; practicing Christian love is not. Why? Because Christ asks a lot of us. We are not to look after only our own interests, but invest in the wellbeing of others, in the common good. We are not to return evil for evil, but to stop the cycle of violence and seek ways to forgive. 

This fall at St. Dunstan’s, we’ll explore this call of our Lord Jesus, this call to practice love. In sermons, adult formation, and articles like this one, we’ll try to get very specific and practical about the practice of love. Love can be hard. But if love were not possible, Jesus would not exhort us to practice it. 

One trap I regularly fall into is this: I start thinking about the huge mess the world is in, and I begin to believe that nothing I can do will make a difference. I might as well keep my head down, and protect my own little world as best I can. But Jesus doesn’t ask us to love the whole world. Only God can love the whole world. Jesus asks us simply to love our neighbor…the one next to us in line, the person we work with or play with, the people in our families, the cashier at the grocery store.  Sometimes we have a change to expand our circle of neighbors…for instance, we are exploring a parish effort to resettle refugees in our area this fall. Someone far away and strange to us can become our neighbor this way.

I hope you’ll join this conversation about practicing love. What have you learned?  What do you find difficult? What rewards – and costs -  of love have you experienced in your life?   JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 8/21/2016

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And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.                                      Luke 13:11-13

Can you remember a time when someone showed up for you in a way that made a difference? I can think of friends that helped me move from apartment to apartment in my twenties – now those were friends that made a difference! I can also remember a difficult time in my early years of ministry. I had been invited to preach at the wedding of two dear friends. However, the community had recently undergone an extremely painful and polarizing conflict. The conflict had come to a head the day before the wedding and there was a sense that it would overpower the wedding since people from both sides would be present. How were we going to get through the wedding and have it still be about celebrating the marriage of the bride and groom? And… Who was I, in a room filled with experienced preachers and church folk, to stand up and say anything worthwhile? I prayed a lot that day after hearing the news. And then the phone rang. It was my priest. She had been thinking about me and wondered how I was doing.

I thought I was doing okay, and then I heard her voice, and realized that I wasn’t. She knew something about me that I had not yet fully articulated, which was that I was really upset by the conflict and afraid to preach the next day. She knew me and spoke to me in a way that touched me profoundly. I showed up at the wedding the next day still feeling trepidation, but with a knowledge that, at the very least, I could make it through the words of my sermon I had written on the page. What came in the moment, though, was a surprise. It was a much stronger sense that I belonged and that I could claim the space of the preacher. What an incredible gift. The phone call helped to prepare me in a way that I could not have done for myself. The phone call came seventeen years ago, and on that day and this, I shed tears of gratitude for having been known and seen by another during a time of need.

…When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.             

Can you remember a time when you were truly seen by another? Or perhaps you responded to a need that you saw in someone else?

I believe that God can come to us through the hands and hearts of those around us, and in turn, that God can work through us to care for others, touching them in ways that we cannot fully know or understand. Whether we’re on the receiving or giving end of this equation, our response, like the woman who was healed, may be to give thanks and praise God for the work of the Spirit among us.

Your sister in Christ,
Eva Cavaleri


 

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Trail Notes: 8/14/2016

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Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

One of the many things that I admire about Jesus is that he rarely minces words. He was clear about his mission and ministry. Today’s Gospel reading brings a harsh tone to bear. The words that follow bring a prediction about further division within households.

Well, Jesus, sometimes your messages are not easy to bear! What could this possibly mean? And where are the messages about loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, forgiving others seven times seventy times? This image of an angry and fiery Jesus is not consistent with the way that I often think of Jesus. If, like me, you find this portrayal surprising, then perhaps it is a call for us to examine Jesus’ life more closely.

Jesus appears to be at a breaking point. I wonder if this feeling stems from having been the leader of a group of people who had been acting in faith, following God’s mission with all of their life’s energy only to find that doing these things made them unwelcomed by many of their own community members, religious leaders and Roman officials. This passage is close to the time when he will enter Jerusalem, be arrested, tried and killed. His life and ministry is nearing a literal breaking point or baptism by fire. And yet, we know that his death will lead to the ultimate transformation by God into new life through his resurrection.

As followers of Jesus, we share in his commitment to lead a Gospel based life. Could this be an invitation to reflect on our own mission and ways that our life’s actions align with these Gospel values? Or perhaps you might identify with him facing a breaking point. While, in this country, we are not facing crucifixion, many of us face struggles in our lives that can overwhelm us. This story can serve as a reminder that God became human and knows our human condition. Through his suffering and death, he brought us the hope of resurrection, a cornerstone of our faith.

Eva Cavaleri


 

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Trail Notes: 08/07/2016

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Not being afraid, and living by faith

Jesus seems to always be reminding us to not be afraid – whether that message comes directly from him or from a messenger. In our gospel lesson again this week we hear, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

When I look around at our world and everything that is happening, it is hard not to be afraid. Everyday there is another shooting, nasty words are exchanged by leaders or those who want to be leaders, more and more people are displaced, homeless and hungry, and many seem to be not just on opposite sides of issues but at the extreme poles of those issues. It is hard to feel any stability or comfort or firm foundation as we walk our journey.

Yet, we hear from the writer of the letters to the Hebrews to be people who live by faith. The writer goes on to explain that our ancestors, and in this portion of chapter 11, Abraham, left all he knew, journeyed to a foreign land, lived in tents, and came to believe, beyond all knowledge, that his descendants would be more that the stars of the heavens or grains of sand on the shore.

But what is faith?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

What are the things we hope for? What in our hearts are we persuaded to believe and yet not see? For me, it is when I don’t know or see that I discover my faith; that I can feel and know God’s presence in me and in the world around me.

Sue von Rautenkranz


 

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