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Trail Notes: 04/30/2017

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Getting There.

I am a person focused on destinations.  When I set out do to a task, or go on a trip, or achieve a goal, I am focused on getting there.  I’m one of these people who likes to make to-do lists just so I can check things off! 

The risk of this kind of disposition is that I can easily miss what’s going on right now, at the moment.  I can be so eager to reach the destination that I don’t enjoy, or even notice, the journey.  That’s a shame.  Because a lot of good stuff happens on the way, on the road.  John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” 

Two disciples, Cleopas and his wife, are walking home on the first Easter Day, confused and dejected after their friend and rabbi Jesus had been executed.  There had been reports that he had been seen alive again, but that didn’t seem credible.  So they were focused on getting home, back to Emmaus, back to their old lives, to try to rebuild a life. 

As they walked down from Jerusalem on the dusty, hilly road, a stranger appeared and walked with them.  They began to talk.  The stranger asked about what had gone on in Jerusalem – he didn’t seem to know.  But he shared how the scriptures spoke of a suffering messiah. 

When they reached home, Cleopas and his wife asked this interesting stranger to stay and eat with them.  When he broke the bread, all became clear….

For Cleopas and his wife, what happened on the road was far more important than reaching their destination.  In fact, the journey was the destination – their moment of destiny. 

Pay attention to what happens along the way, en route, on the road.  It’s there that a stranger may appear, and change your life.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 04/23/2017

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“I doubt it.”

The Church can be ironic.  One week after we have we proclaimed the resurrection of the dead through Jesus at Easter, we confront the inevitable reaction: doubt that such an amazing, miraculous thing could occur.  St. Thomas has carried the heavy burden of “doubter in chief” for us for two thousand years, but most of us would acknowledge our own doubts about many Christian beliefs.  They may come and go. 

Some doubts stick with us and complicate our life in the church.  For some, it is hard to say the ancient creeds with integrity, with their arcane Fourth Century formulations of Christian doctrine.  How is Jesus “only-begotten of the Father”?  Can we in all honesty call ourselves Christians if we don’t – or can’t – see our way to believe all these things? 

The evils of the world are in constant tension with our belief in a good and loving God who is active in the world. We rightly celebrate signs of life, love, and hope.  But we also wonder why the bad guys seem to be winning much of the time!

I submit that doubt is not the enemy of faith (nor is doubt the enemy of the faithful).  It is in fact the flip-side of faith.  Honest doubt is what makes faith real, and challenging.  Just as darkness allows us to see and define light, so doubt provides the contours of thoughtful faith.  The 10:45 a.m. sermon will explore Jesus’ reaction to doubt, which may surprise us when we examine it.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 04/16/2017

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God is Green!

Most of the Easter sermons I’ve heard (and preached!) focus on individual salvation: in Christ God redeems us from the powers that keep us from fullness of life with God.  Sin and death are usually named first and foremost among these powers.  There’s nothing wrong with that message – it’s still true. 

But this year, as Earth Day is near, I am thinking about a broader, more universal salvation that God offers to us – the salvation of the whole creation itself.  It’s not just human beings that are in a mess and need God’s grace and love to get out.  It’s the earth, the cosmos, the skies, the rivers, the seas…and all creatures who on earth do dwell, as the hymn puts it. 

Modern science has taught us just how interconnected life is on our planet.  Humans have great power to use creation – for good ends, and for ill.  The earth is pretty good at renewing itself: the cycle of nature includes life, death, and rebirth. In the last 150 years, however, the industrial revolution has put huge pressures on the ability of the earth to cleanse and renew itself.  We need God’s help – now more than ever – to change and guide humanity, so that the earth itself can find redemption and new life. 

When we read the scriptures with eyes for creation, we see it everywhere.  “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” writes St. Paul, “and not only the creation, but we ourselves….”  Human destiny, and human salvation, are tied up with that of creation, the earth, our fellow creatures.  In other words, God is green!  Think of that this Easter, as we tend the earth in the beauty of springtime.  God is speaking to us.  Listen.  JBM  


 

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Trail Notes: 4/9/2017

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Resistance

Resistance movements seem to on the rise recently, in the face of our political polarization in the U.S.  But there is a long history of these movements that we should recall.  Human beings have banded together to resist many forms of oppression, slavery, taxation without representation, infringement upon human rights, and alcoholic drinks during Prohibition! 

But on Palm Sunday, the resistance movement I want to focus on is the Jesus Movement.  Christian resistance should be aligned with the things that Jesus himself condemned and resisted in his life – even to the point of dying.  What did Jesus resist?

  • Jesus resisted the economic degradation brought down on the large peasant class of his day, caused by double taxation (by Rome and by the Temple), indebtedness, and foreclosure of land. 
  • Jesus resisted hypocrisy (this is one of Jesus’ most detested sins).  When people didn’t act in accordance with their own professed beliefs, Jesus responded harshly.  The Scribes and the Pharisees saw a lot of this. 
  • Jesus resisted greed and stinginess.  Sharing God’s abundance was Jesus’ agenda.  When some people got rich and hoarded, others went hungry.  Jesus saw this as idolatry – setting up money as a god to worship. 

On this Palm Sunday, we remember those things Jesus resisted.  And we also focus on how he resisted.  We see here an example of nonviolent resistance, which the world has rarely emulated.  Jesus’ nonviolence was hard for even his own disciples to understand.  When Jesus was taken prisoner in Luke 22, a disciple struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear.  Jesus not only condemned the attack, he healed the slave’s ear.  This is where we get the phrase, “The one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” 

This Holy Week, ponder what you are resisting in life. Are you resisting what Jesus would resist?  What behaviors are acceptable in resistance? What are you prepared to give for Jesus’ Resistance Movement?  JBM


 

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