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Trail Notes: 2/19/2017

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Financial Hard Knocks

“He began to feel the pinch.” 

That’s the way one Bible translation describes the distress of the Prodigal Son when, after quickly spending through his handsome inheritance, he realized he was out of money in a foreign land, with no means of support. 

Most – perhaps all – of us know that feeling to some degree at least – a point in our lives where we just don’t have enough money to cover all the things we need.  We feel the pinch.  We look for ways to earn a bit more money.  We try to economize, reduce expenses, defer expenses, or borrow. 

Now, almost all of us at St. Dunstan’s are affluent, by any meaningful standard.  Maybe we haven’t felt the pinch for a long time.  Nationwide statistics tell us how high our incomes are. 

But we are also caught up in a crazy culture of expectations – we expect to be able to live well, to travel, to go to the best schools, to keep up with the neighbor’s new Beamer…whatever it is.  It’s not easy to sustain all that.  And perhaps at some level, we realize that our lives could change dramatically if something bad happened – we lost our job, we had a medical disaster.  They say that most of us aren’t many paychecks away from real financial crisis. 

But God’s view of the world – God’s economy - is very different from ours.  God doesn’t care about extravagant lifestyles. God loves all of us the same, regardless of wealth.  In scripture God asks us to live modestly, to make sure the poor have enough to eat, a roof over their heads, medical care.  Jesus tells us to give when people beg for help.  God is concerned about the welfare of the community, not the wealth of the individual. 

Sunday we’ll look at our honest, real anxieties about money these days, and see what God’s economy would look like if God’s Kingdom did come “on earth as it is in heaven.”  JBM  



Trail Notes: 2/5/2017

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The Hard Knocks of Injustice

A lot of people are suffering hard knocks right now.  The misery and despair of refugee families turned away from U.S. borders, after years of vetting, is beyond description.  Foreign nationals in our own congregation are afraid to leave the U.S., for fear they cannot return. 

Those of us who are still “safe” face a different kind of challenge: how will we stand up for justice actively, persistently, in our own country?  What risks are we willing to take?  What price would we pay?  What does the Lord require…? 

A bedrock truth of Christianity is that we are all one body – when one suffers, we all suffer.  Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Our country depends for its integrity on us to cry out against injustice, not just against ourselves, but against any and all who suffer.  Now is such a time. 

Dr. King also left us with these words:  "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."  Many times, Americans have stood silent in the face of injustice: our enslavement of African-Americans, our internment of Japanese citizens, our blindness to Nazi genocide.  Now, we have a religious test on persons allowed into our country, and a ban on many refugees.  How shall we respond? 

The U.S. Holocaust Museum stands in our city as a somber reminder of what happens when we stand by as injustice reigns.  This poem at the Museum, by Niemoller, reminds us: 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Celebrating Black History Month –

This month, St. Dunstan’s will sing the “We shall overcome” tune as the Memorial Acclamation in the Eucharistic Prayer at 10:45 a.m.  This reminds us that Jesus died to overcome the power of sin and death, and his resurrection is to bring to life a new Kingdom of God. He is here, now, at work today in the world, and in us.  This is radical, revolutionary proclamation! 

We’ll also sing other spirituals and gospel music from the rich African-American tradition of Christian music.  These were often used to comfort the afflicted and claim hope of redemption and a new life out of slavery, violence, and Jim Crow segregation, just as Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt.  JBM



Trial Notes: 2/12/2017

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The Church – One Body and One Spirit.

Everybody loves a picnic (and kids love a moonbounce!).  This Sunday we combine into one service at 10 a.m., with a Winter Picnic following – it should be a joyful and fun day!  The Vestry is experimenting with ways to bring our entire congregation together to worship and enjoy each other.  When we do this, we combine aspects of both our regular Sunday services, so some elements will be familiar to you, and others may seem new.  Try to be open to how God’s Spirit can work through traditional and contemporary songs and prayers alike.  You might be surprised what speaks to you! 

Our theme is: The Church – One Body and One Spirit.  It’s so easy to forget that the Church is the Body of Christ (God!) – not just another human association.  We are animated and led by God’s Spirit, not just human effort.  Our calling to be here is from God, not just our own inclinations.  And our mission is God’s too – to spread hope and help in the world through the Good News of Jesus.  We are not here to get, we are here to give!  The people around us need to hear our message of the forgiveness, acceptance, and love of God.  So we need to Practice Love in all sorts of ways. 

God loves us enough to join us on this roller-coaster ride we call human life.  God is like the most loving parent we can imagine, or a spouse who gives and gives…and then some.  In God’s love we can dare to dream and act in ways we would not dare to on our own power.  The Church is an amazing community when we truly know ourselves to be Christ’s Body on earth.  When was the last time you listened- really listened for God’s call in your life?  JBM  



Trail Notes: 01/29/2017

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are the merciful….”

If these declarations sound contrary to the culture we’re living in, it’s because they are.  These “Beatitudes,” or blessings, are Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom of God – not up in heaven somewhere, but right here on earth.  And that Kingdom doesn’t work the way we are used to.  Lately, we’ve seen precious little modesty, meekness, mercy, or poverty of spirit in our country.  Instead we’ve had a steady diet of bullying, insulting, accusing, name-calling, and lying.  Jesus would be indignant. 

But even at the best of times, we don’t know what to do with these teachings – they turn our normal world-view upside down.  The world teaches an economy of power.  Jesus teaches an economy of grace.  It is our life’s project – if we are serious about following Jesus – to conform ourselves more and more to Jesus’ vision: an economy of grace, where the poor are fed, the meek are respected, the merciful are encouraged. 

This Sunday Julie Petersmeyer is our preacher at both services.  Julie is in the diocesan deacon’s training program, and is with us at St. Dunstan’s for 6 months.  We welcome her and hope to learn more about her life and ministry, particularly at the D.C. Jail, working with prisoners – a ministry Jesus asked us all to do. 

At the 10:45 a.m. service this Sunday, our Adult Choir will sing the Gospel – a setting of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew.  Our choir has grown in number and in skill with chanting the psalms, as well as offering anthems at worship.  Please let them know you appreciate their ministry.  JBM


Trail Notes: 1/22/2017

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Hard Knocks, Week 3: Depression and Mental Distress

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”


It’s a powerful, evocative image, or it can be, for some of us. For many folks, it’s just part of the cycle of the day, of nature, and it’s fine.  But others struggle mightily with the darkness in this life.  We’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, where short winter days cause real depression in many people.

We also know that times of loss, grief, sadness, or conflict can make us feel down.  That makes sense, and usually these feelings lift after a while.  Darkness fades; light returns. 

Then there is mental illness, which takes the form of depression in so many people today.  In a given year, 6.7% of the U.S. population will suffer from a major depressive episode, with the highest incidence among 18-25 year olds: 10.3%.  And there are many other mental illnesses as well - anxiety disorders and personality disorders - which also cause huge suffering.  This is darkness out of control, like a cancer. 

One person’s mental illness affects the whole family and circle of friends.  How do we respond to this?  What does our faith in Christ have to say about it?  What are the tools our faith community gives us as we walk with someone in their darkness?  What does our faith say to those of us who suffer from this malady ourselves? 

A few things call out to be said.  First, God doesn’t send these illnesses upon us to punish us, or teach us a lesson, or test our strength.  Jesus shows us that God despises illness and always seeks to heal us.  The irony is that, when we need God most, these conditions can make us feel far from God.  This is a time when the Christian community can make a huge difference by reaching out, being present, and helping people get the medical care they need.  We can educate ourselves about signs of mental illness.  We can learn the value of steady, long-term compassion for our companions who are walking in darkness.  Surely that’s what Jesus would have done.  JBM  


Trail Notes: 1/15/2017

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Hard Knocks Sermon Series, #2:
Sin and Forgiveness

John the Baptist sees Jesus, and instead of saying “Yo!” he rather strangely announces: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Anyone who heard him must have thought, “What’s that strange guy talking about?” 

Bible scholars would tell us that John’s saying is more theological than literal – it’s meant to convey one of the meanings of Jesus as Savior.  But how does anyone – even Jesus – take away the sins of someone else?  Much less the whole world? 

Last week I asked the congregation about hard knocks you have experienced in your life.  There were many responses, one of which was “losing a friend.”  We all know what that’s like.  Loss can come through death or geographical separation, or it can come through conflict, betrayal, and hurt.  This latter cause brings us back to sin.  What if someone does something that hurts us, that we can’t let go of? 

Sin and bad actions have lasting effects, on the hurt party, the offender, and sometimes the world – sometimes irreversible consequences.  The relationship certainly suffers, and can trap us in a prison of resentment and bitterness.  The only solution to this comes through forgiveness.  When we’ve been hurt, forgiveness can seem to be asking too much – letting the offender off the hook!  Why shouldn’t he suffer as I am suffering? 

Yet forgiveness is a central message of Jesus, in his life and teaching, and even when he was dying an agonizing death on the cross: “Father, forgive them….”  Jesus did not want us to get stuck in the grudge trap, and forgiveness is the only way out.  Think about times you’ve had to forgive, or needed to be forgiven.  We’ll talk about it on Sunday.  JBM



Trail Notes: 01/08/2017

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With the new year, we begin a new sermon series at 10:45 a.m. services:

Hard Knocks: Weathering the losses, troubles, and conflicts life brings, without losing our humor, compassion, and inner peace.

We all face tough times in life: illness, relationship troubles, aging, rejection, and failure. As we get older, we face more and more losses – of friends and family members, of physical health and capabilities, of dreams and possibilities for the future.  This is all part of being human, but that doesn’t make it easy. 

Our faith in God doesn’t eliminate these challenges, but our faith can help us immensely to navigate stormy seas and maintain our bearings, our inner peace.  Strong roots in Christian faith help us find compassion for ourselves and for others, and hope for new life – resurrection – to emerge out of the heartache of painful experiences.  Isn’t that what we all need, and long for? 

In planning this series, I’ve thought of many “hard knocks” that come to us:

  • Relationship breakup or divorce
  • Failure – all kinds
  • Job loss, firing, and rejection
  • Death or loss of a child, friend, partner, or relative
  • Dealing with a troubled child
  • Crisis of faith
  • Debilitating illness or accident
  • Mental health issues, depression
  • Financial crisis, poverty
  • Aging, infirmity, dementia
  • Betrayal, hurt, humiliation
  • Disillusionment/despair

I’ll be talking about many of these.  Of course, there are many others.  Is there something you’d like to see addressed in this series?  If so, please let me know and I’ll do my best. 

This is not a kind of self-help course, nor will it be a “don’t worry be happy” version of Christianity, as if bad things don’t happen to faithful people.  They do.  Rather, my goal is to bring to bear Christian resources from scripture, the life of Jesus, and the practices of the Church to help us cope with very real problems in life, and come through them.  The paradigm of Christian life, simply put, is:

Arrow: Right:    Arrow: Right:    Life       Death      New Life. 

Come participate in this new sermon series on “Hard Knocks” at the 10:45 a.m. service, starting January 8, 2017.    JBM


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