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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



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



Trail Notes: 10/9/2016

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We all were taught as children to say “thank you” whenever somebody did something for us.  That’s certainly a good and courteous habit.  But real thankfulness is a deeper thing – a manner of living, rather than a conversational habit. 

Thankfulness, or gratitude, is in fact the bedrock of Christian living – from which all other joys and virtues spring forth.  Our weekly worship is itself an act of thanksgiving: the word Eucharist is from the Greek for “thanksgiving.”

When we gather to give thanks to God, we put ourselves in the right relationship with God: we are creatures, God is creator; we are receivers, God is the great giver; we are fallible and weak, God is righteous and strong.  An “attitude of gratitude” helps us accept our humility and live joyfully and generously.  We realize we don’t have to try to control everything.  We do what we can, and then let God be God.  

Of course life brings difficulties as well as joys.  We don’t pretend to be thankful for disease or misfortune or loss, nor do we try to ascribe them to some incomprehensible plan God has laid out for us.  No, we endure them, and give thanks as we are able for the people who help us through them, for God’s unfailing presence and love when all else seems to fail us. 

This week, we begin St. Dunstan’s Annual Giving Campaign – for your financial pledge to support our church in 2017.  We build this campaign around thanksgiving.  We do not try to guilt anybody into giving; rather we remind ourselves of all that God has given us, and of the joy we receive when we give generously, for our church, and for the world.  I hope you will approach the campaign from a place of gratitude in your heart. It really is joyful and satisfying to give money to help others and build a better world.  In fact, there is no greater joy to be had from our material wealth than to give.  JBM  


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