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Trail Notes: 10/01/2017

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An Honest Yes

Jesus gives us a parable this Sunday with a pretty simple meaning: Do what you say you’ll do – let your words and your deeds be one.  I’ve always said that, according to the Gospels, Jesus detested two human failings most of all:  greed and hypocrisy.  Concerning greed, a lack of generosity and sense of justice caused terrible poverty and untold misery among Jesus’ neighbors.  Jesus’ ethic of love simply does not permit us to hoard our wealth when others go hungry.  What’s more, we find our own lives enriched and expanded when we learn to live simply and give boldly in life. 

Hypocrisy was rampant around Jesus, as religious leaders often said one thing but did another.  Actions speak louder than words, Jesus says, loud and clear. 

As we contemplate God’s creation, we must confront our own hypocrisy.  Do we claim we want to protect the environment, but then live wastefully?  Do we go the extra mile to recycle as much as we can?  Do we drive inefficient, gas-guzzling vehicles?  Do we support public policies that honor the sacredness of the earth, the waters, and the skies?  As all signs point to humanity changing the very climate of the earth – warming seas, rising sea levels, huger and wilder storms -  are we willing to say so, and take action to mitigate this change for the good of all humanity and the whole earth? 

Americans have always been huge consumers of resources, compared to the rest of the world.  We are also huge polluters.  We can do better.  Jesus calls us to live more simply, so that others may simply live.  JBM  


Trail Notes: 09/24/2017

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Why is it so hard to forgive? 

A colleague sabotages your project at work.  A friend breaks a confidence and embarrasses you.  Your father berated you mercilessly as a child.  Your spouse has been cheating on you for the last six months with a mutual friend.  Your child squanders her opportunities and resorts to drugs and risky behaviors.  You cannot accept your own failures to accomplish your most cherished goal. 

Once again, Peter asks a question on all our minds:  How much do I have to forgive my neighbor?  And myself?  Multiple times?  And Jesus responds with his usual radicality:  Not multiple times; unlimited times.

Both our Christian tradition, and now popular psychology, tell us that we must forgive to free ourselves – of bitterness, corrosive anger, and captivity to the past.  I believe that; perhaps most of us do.  But we still find it so difficult to let go of past offenses, whether others who have hurt us, or our own failures and lapses that gnaw at our sense of self.  To let go feels like losing part of ourselves, a loss of dignity.    

Forgiveness is a virtue that must be practiced intentionally.  The forgiveness muscle is one that must be exercised, built up, if it is to meet the challenges of our imperfect lives.  At root, forgiveness is an act of the will, not just an emotion that we cannot control.  Jesus is calling us to do regular workouts with our forgiveness muscle, so that it grows strong and steady.  This does not mean we do nothing to change abusive relationships.  It means that we make our life choices free of the corrosive power of vengeance.  JBM



Trail Notes:9/17/2017

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(How) Does God Answer Prayer? 

Today’s Gospel invites a frank discussion of prayer, and what we expect from our prayers.  “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,” Jesus says in Matthew 18. 

What do we really thing happens when we pray?  What is our part?  What is God’s part?  I’m sure many thousands have asked these questions as they’ve endured the hurricanes and earthquakes recently.  How may prayed to be spared damage and death, and were not spared?  How many believed their prayers were “answered”?  Is Jesus really saying that, when my wife and I agree to pray for a new car, God will have to provide it?  What about when we pray for the cure and healing of a sick child? 

Prayer seems simple when we teach children:  “God bless mummy and daddy and sister and even crotchety old Aunt Matilda….”  But prayer is not simple.  We’ll try to talk honestly about it in Sunday’s sermon.  JBM  



Trail Notes: 09/10/2017

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“All who labor and are heavy-laden….”

I hope we all enjoyed a good Labor Day.  Those of us fortunate to have salaried jobs generally get the day off – always welcome.  But more and more folks in our economy are hourly workers, or occasional (‘gig’) workers, without benefits such as paid holidays.  They are not so fortunate to be able to relax for a day. 

Jesus was always very concerned about the basic human struggles people faced.  He came from peasant stock, and he knew the struggle of putting food on the table.  He spoke more about poor people, and the right use of money, than anything else except the Kingdom of God itself.  In Jesus’ day, laborers were getting squeezed: their land was being foreclosed upon by loan sharks, and the tax burden from Rome was crippling. 

This Sunday we’ll think about Jesus’ parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.  This story confounds many folks, because the owner pays all the laborers the same daily wage, even though they worked very different hours.  Is this fair?  Why would Jesus condone this?  I think it was because Jesus’ first concern was “food on the table” – if those workers didn’t get paid that day, their families probably didn’t eat that night. 

On Monday night, St. Dunstan’s follows up on this issue with our community forum on the question before the Montgomery County Council: “Should we have a $15 minimum wage?”  Councilmembers Roger Berliner (District 1) and Marc Elrich (at-large) will debate the issue here at 7 p.m. Monday.  Please come and bring your neighbors. 

Of course Jesus doesn’t tell us what the minimum wage should be in 2017.  But Jesus did want everybody to have enough of God’s gifts to live a decent life with dignity.  In today’s economy, many people work long hours and still don’t have enough to live.  The is particularly acute in high-cost areas such as ours.  Economic justice, like charity, should begin at home.  JBM  


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