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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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Trail Notes: 10/02/2016

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What do you love most about God’s creation? When the weather first turns cool, and leaves begin to float to the ground, I get intoxicated by the scent of wood fires.  There is something in the cool breezes and woodsmoke that excites me, that gives me a sense of expectation, of great things to come. I feel that way now!

Whatever you love most – about the earth, the animals, the skies, the seas, and ourselves as God’s human creatures – celebrate that with us this month at St. Dunstan’s. 

You’ll notice new sights and sounds in the church during this season – images by many artists of God’s creation, hanging along the side walls of the church; a changing display as you enter the worship space; and hymns and anthems focused on the blessings of God’s creation. Thanks to our Liturgy Group for planning and implementing these enhancements to our worship. 

Our sermon series continues on the theme of “Practicing Love” – this Sunday, exploring our faithfulness to God as creatures, and our call to nurture other creatures and the earth itself. As Jesus said, if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains! As the earth heats up and climate changes, the call to be good stewards of our environment - and all its residents – has never been more urgent.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 09/25/2016

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Practicing Love with our Wealth

What would you do if you were really rich? 

Jesus tells a story of extremes: an extravagantly rich man (known as Dives) and an extremely poor man, Lazarus. The wealthy man Dives luxuriates at his table of delectables, while Lazarus lies hungry and dying right outside.  hey both die, and Lazarus goes to a good life in heaven, while Dives burns in hell. 

So is this parable a critique and condemnation of all wealth?  Is it better to be poor in this life, so that we can be comfortable in heaven after death?  I believe the answer to both questions is no. What this story is really about is compassion, loving our neighbor – whoever stand in front of us, whoever is in need. Dives goes to hell not because he is rich, but because he is unfeeling, unloving. He lacks compassion. 

It’s easy to talk about the extremely wealthy in the third person. But here at St. Dunstan’s, most of us are very comfortable indeed. So our question is: 

What will we do, since we are quite rich? 

How do we practice love with what God has given us? How do we share what we have – food, time, money, expertise? Can we cut down on restaurants, and support a soup kitchen instead? Can we help at a health clinic or legal clinic for poor people? Can we volunteer as a counselor to people trying to get a job? All of these are ways to practice love, or in the Greek, agape. 

Brother Curtis Almquist, Episcopal monk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, speaks of the delight we can experience when we practice love, or agape. 

To love, in the sense of agape, is to participate in God’s generosity of love, to treat another person not with any preference for our own good but as an equal. Practice taking delight in the happiness of others, rather than feeling threatened or diminished, as if someone else’s happiness could take something away from us.


 

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Trail Notes: 09/18/2016

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How could Jesus commend a dishonest manager?

Today’s parable from Jesus is a tough one, and not easy to make sense of. The story of the dishonest manager (or steward in older translations) seems contradictory. Surely Jesus wants us to be honest in our dealings with money – in our business and our personal lives. Yet Jesus seems to commend this shady character. Why? Not for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. The key, I believe, is here: “For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” As Christians we are the children of light. But how shrewd (and effective) are we in the world we live in? We live in a world of “the children of this age,” but we are meant to shine a light of change. I think Jesus wanted to make this point in a startling way. 

The set of aphorisms attached to the end of this parable really don’t match it very well; perhaps the writer of Luke added them because they speak to the general topics of money, honesty, of faithfulness. Without a doubt, our relationship with money is complicated, and can easily slip into idolatry if we’re not careful. The dishonest steward certainly had a problem with money! Jesus’ final declaration is worth pondering by all of us: 

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one or love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

In Sunday’s sermon at 10:45 a.m., we’ll look at the issues of money raised by this strange parable, and also explore the different levels of interpretation this story requires of us. Taking it literally will not do!  Practicing love with our money is both simple, and difficult. Together we can grow in this essential Christian practice. JBM

 


 

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Trail Notes: 09/11/2016

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Seeking the Lost

When have you felt most lost in your life?

…As a child, in a strange new school?

…As a teen, feeling left out of the cliques in school?  Angry at parents who didn’t seem to understand?

…As a young adult, trying to find your way as friends seem to move with confidence into careers and relationships? 

…As an older person, who has lost a great love in your life, and feeling like a ship without a rudder? Or lost a job that defined who you are? 

When we feel lost, we look around with awe at all the others who seem to have it all together, who move forward without doubt, who seem to be so “found.” 

In our series on “Practicing Love,” we reflect together this week on being lost, and on finding new love, new purpose, new belonging in life. Jesus put it in terms his hearers would understand well:  a shepherd has a large flock of sheep, and one gets lost. What will the shepherd do? Mind the 99 in the herd, or seek out the lost? 

You know Jesus’ answer. He seeks out the lost and brings her home. That is the loving thing to do. And then he celebrates that the lost one is found! He didn’t try to analyze the causes of the lostness, or berate the little sheep who wandered off.  He went and found her, brought her back, and celebrated.

This is good news for us. The “sinners” whom the Pharisees despise are the chief target of Jesus’ love. When a sinner comes home, that is the greatest joy in heaven!  That means none of us is so lost that we are beyond the reach of God, beyond the arms of Jesus to reach us. 

Of course, there is a second part of this cycle of love: we need to reach out in love to other people who are lost, just as Jesus reaches out to us. That’s how we practice love for the lost. What does it look like…at St. Dunstan’s?  One parishioner volunteered at a crisis hotline. Another uses therapy animals to reach children with special needs. Another makes phone calls to people who live alone, and visits with flowers now and then.  Another counsels teens in traumatic situations.  Another teaches students with difficult home lives, using art to help them express themselves. 

How do you practice love, with people who are lost? How have others loved you when you have felt lost? We’ll explore this further in the sermon at the late service.  These will be posted on our website as well, if you are interested.  JBM


 

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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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