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Trail Notes: 08/26/2018

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“Do you also wish to go away?”

I can hear the sad questioning in Jesus’ query to his followers.  Jesus knew his way was hard, going against the grain of the known world.  Many could not accept his teaching about finding new life through the experience of death.  The way to true life is not through earthly power or treasure, but through sharing the bread of life with our neighbors. 

Jesus’ predecessor Joshua posed a similar challenge some 1200 years before Jesus (Joshua’s namesake): “Choose this day whom you will serve: other gods or the Lord Yahweh.”  Even after 40 years in the wilderness sustained by Yahweh, the Hebrew people still revered the tribal gods in the land.  But they would have to make a choice. 

Choose this day whom you will serve.  By choosing Christ, by becoming part of Christ’s body the Church, we have taken the road less traveled, the harder road of justice and truth when the world lives largely by lies and exploitation.  It’s natural to become weary, but it helps us to gather and be fed, again and again, with the bread of life and the cup of salvation.  We are not alone; we walk together with God. 

Choose this day, and every day, whom you will serve.  As disciples, we always have a choice.  Jesus does not coerce.  Other gods will call out to us; the way of self-interest can be enticing.  But there is no true life there; it is a chimera, an empty promise.  We have seen glimpses of the true God; we have recognized God in the man Jesus.  Jesus finally asked his own disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?”  With Peter, we respond, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”   JBM 



Trail Notes: 08/19/2018

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On a Journey

Today we have two journey stories – and not easy ones at that.  The first takes us to Elijah who is dejected and fearful after being threatened with death by the lovely Queen Jezebel.   The second story is well known: the disciples are in a boat when a squall comes up and threatens them.  Jesus appears on the water, steps into the boat, and the storm is calmed. 

The Christian story is a journey story.  Jesus didn’t say, “I am the place,” or “I am the destination;” he said, “I am the way.”  We are always on the move, things are always changing, and somehow we have to find our peace on the journey. 

I relish a good trip – seeing new places, seeing old friends, returning to beloved spots I’ve visited in the past.  But I’m really a bit of a homebody: I love the comfort and security of home, the rhythm of routine.  But life never stands still.  One of the spiritual challenges of my life has been to find peace in the midst of flux; serenity while on the journey.  Some of you may share my challenge; others of you are probably much better at embracing the journey, finding quiet joy while on the move. 

In any case, we have no choice.  Jesus is the way; St. Dunstan’s is the church on the trail.  We are moving into a time of transition and change.  In light of my announcement to retire in May 2019, the congregation will soon begin a self-examination to prepare for a search process to find a new priest and pastor.  Change is in the offing.  Let us all work and pray for peace and joy on this journey, knowing that, while the boat may rock at times, Jesus stands with us and will bring us safely through to a new place.  JBM



Trail Notes: 08/12/2018

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This Sunday’s theme is the Church: its roots in Jesus, its nature as a community of love and inclusion, and its future in today’s world. 

It’s not an easy time to be the Church in today’s society.  The 1960’s brought a distrust of institutions which has only been exacerbated by subsequent events.  Wars have been fought based on faulty premises in Viet Nam and in Iraq.  Churches have been exposed for shameful sexual abuse and hypocritical treatment of victims.  Some loud voices claiming the name of Christian have espoused hatred, bigotry, violence, and tribalism that fly in the face of Jesus’ actual teaching and way of life. 

No, it’s not an easy time to be the church.  But that’s been true at many points in history, not just our own.  The call to follow Christ, to be a part of “the Jesus Movement,” has never been for the faint-hearted.  It’s demanding, it can be difficult, even painful to stand up for the values of Jesus. 

St. Paul described the church not in institutional terms, but in organic terms: as a Body, a living organism.  We are all members of this body, individual cells who find our purpose and lifeblood in the whole.  And this body has a mighty purpose, to be the Body of Christ on earth… here in our corner of Bethesda, Maryland.  Like human bodies, this Body can love and comfort, feed and clothe, listen, rejoice, and speak out against injustice. 

The institutional trappings of the Church have changed through the ages, but this organic community has always been the core and substance of Christ’s Church.  JBM



Trail Notes: 08/05/2018

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“Power tends to corrupt.” 

Lord Acton is rightly famous for his saying:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men….”

Apparently, the British baron and historian wrote this in a letter to an Anglican bishop! 

Power can be dangerous.  It seems to be intoxicating, causing serious lapses in moral judgment and self-control.  We see it everywhere: from Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops who fail to follow their own teachings on sexual behavior, to politicians who seek personal wealth and prestige at the expense of the law and the interests of their own constituencies. 

King David fell into this trap in a terrible way.  He coveted another man’s wife (Bathsheba), slept with her, and had her husband – a loyal soldier – killed.  It doesn’t get much worse than this.  (The amazing thing is that our Bible records this horror about one of the great heroes of Hebrew history.  Scripture’s honesty is refreshing…the Bible doesn’t shy away from the truth.) 

  • One of the symptoms of the abuse of power is the sacrifice of truth.  This is one of the things that scares me so much about the present political climate: lies are being told shamelessly, without regard to objective facts.  This runs contrary to Christian teaching.  As Presiding Bishop Curry wrote, “We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.”  The Decalogue includes the commandment: “You shall not bear false witness.” 

Jesus comes to us as truth incarnate: embodied truth – put into practice in Jesus’ life and teaching.  Our job is to embody truth ourselves: to resist falsehoods and prevarications, to challenge those who shamelessly lie, and to live according to the creed we profess.  JBM



Trail Notes: 06/24/2018

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A Storm is Raging

A great windstorm arises and Jesus’ disciples are scared to death on their little boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.  What will happen? 

We know the end of the story: Jesus stills the storm and all are saved.  But before that could happen, Jesus had to wake up.  I picture the disciples shaking Jesus’ shoulders, shouting at him over the din of the wind and waves:  “Wake up!” 

Last Sunday, I had a wonderful day with my family, relaxing on Fathers’ Day.  I hope you did, too.  As a dad on Fathers’ Day, I think of the storms that have threatened my children over the years: illness, disappointment, rejection.  I feel supremely fortunate that Leslie and I have been able to manage these storms for the most part, and see our two kids safely and happily to adulthood.  We’ve had the resources to keep them safe and healthy, and give them an education. What a gift! 

But I also realize that many dads have no way of taking care of their children, and our own government is causing excruciating, heartbreaking damage to hundreds of families by separating children from their parents on our borders.  This report is from the grassroots organization People’s Action:

Imagine how horrific it would be to have your children torn from your arms and driven off in a car by agents. Then you’re taken to jail for asking for asylum at the border. Multiply this heartbreak times 1,800. This is how many families have been separated since February. Here are a couple of their stories.

Marco Antonio Muñoz, a father from Honduras, was separated from his son and wife by the policies of the Trump administration. Muñoz was so distraught he took his own life in detention.

Manuel Cano-Pacheco, a 19-year-old DACA recipient, was sent back to Mexico only to be murdered weeks later. Manuel leaves behind a one-year old son who’ll never know him.

This week Attorney General Sessions announced that people who seek asylum and claim that their husbands beat them, or that they are fleeing gang violence, will turned away and sent back to face domestic abuse and death.  

Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have called these policies “immoral,” which they are (from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).  Our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has decried inhumane, immoral acts by any political or social group, through the joint statement “Reclaiming Jesus.”   As a father, a human being, and a follower of Jesus, I would object to such policies by any nation, and by any political party.  We cannot suspend our moral values when it comes to politics.  Somehow, we must fight these policies which destroy the dignity of human beings.  It’s part of our baptismal covenant. 

We need to “wake up” before we can help still the storm of family separation which would break any parent’s heart, and destroy the lives of little children.  JBM 



Trail Notes: 06/17/2018

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As Jesus walked through Galilean fields, he often used what was at hand to teach and illustrate his message.  So it’s no surprise he spoke of seeds and grain, the growing cycle, the seasons, and the harvest.  Today we hear two short parables of the Kingdom, both based on small seeds growing into something great.  Jesus is saying God’s kingdom is like that. 

Living in metro D.C., we are rather divorced from these basic forces of life on earth.  I was back in my home state of Nebraska recently, and reminded of the huge fecundity of the land – how it is the source of life itself, food for all of us.  For the people around Jesus, it was a livelihood for many, and its produce was precious.  Pain and want were frequent visitors. 

In that world, Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God was a cause for hope: enough food for everybody, release from social and political oppression and violence, and the knowledge that we are loved by God – not just the wealthy righteous Pharisees, but also the poor, imperfect prostitutes, tax collectors, and other struggling souls – sinners all, like us. 

We think of fathers today – our own fathers, living or dead, and those of us who father others.  As a father, I feel a strong need to provide for my children, to give them all they need to grow, to be healthy and happy.  I imagine God feels this way about all of us, God’s own children. 

Whenever we can bring love and hope to a neighbor, we participate in that Kingdom of God.  When we share our wealth so others have enough, we are building that Kingdom.  When we stand up against the bigotry and indifference that are rampant in our society today, we are standing up for Jesus.  JBM



Trail Notes: 6/10/2018

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Humanity Matures

The recent Walter Isaacson biography of Leonardo da Vinci depicts a brilliant, erratic, lovable man – a giant of both art and industry  - a true Renaissance man.  Leonardo was also a gay man, something that he didn’t hide.  He had long relationships with male lovers, even while he lived at court.  What happened between then and now? 

In our day, we have had to fight for that kind of acceptance of ways of living and loving that don’t conform to a traditional standard of heterosexual love or no love at all.  Both science and the experience of countless human beings have confirmed that humans live and love in many ways, naturally.  The joy and goodness I see in my many LGBTQ friends give me cause for hope that our human race can continue to become more loving, more compassionate, more accepting of difference. 

My friends have taught me much, through both honest discussion and gentle confrontation.  They have helped me grow in my understanding.  They have helped me move beyond “tolerance” and “acceptance” to real celebration of the rich variety of human life and experience – and that’s where PRIDE comes in.  PRIDE is affirmation, celebration, solidarity, and compassion, all wrapped up in one.  

As we study Jesus’ behavior with people who had been pushed to the margins of his society – poor people, lepers, disabled people, and notorious sinners – we see that Jesus did not distance himself.  Instead, he chose to become their allies: to walk with them and respect them in front of everybody.  If we wish to emulate our Lord Jesus today, we must become allies of marginalized people in our world.  An ally doesn’t stand by and listen to a hurtful remark or “joke,” but responds firmly.  It’s all part of our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human being.”  JBM



Trail Notes: 6/3/2018

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Sabbath, anyone? 

The fourth commandment invites us to “Keep holy the Sabbath day.”  For Jews, this means Saturday, of course – a day set aside from work, which can include worship, rest, play, study of Scripture, gathering with friends and family, and time alone.  Sabbath is understood as a gift, a break from the workaday world.

Christians shifted focus to the Lord’s Day on Sunday – the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  Unfortunately, Christians such as the Puritans developed lots of rules about what you can’t do on the Christian Sabbath – basically, fun was not allowed!  

Nowadays, a minority of Americans attend worship on any given Sabbath, and the day goes by much like any other day – full of errands, athletic practices and matches, homework, emails, and housework.  Sabbath is no longer distinctive time, no longer set apart. 

Nobody wants to return to the straightjacket of the Puritan Sabbath rules, but it’s worth asking what we have lost as we have given up all notions of the Sabbath day being different from the rest.  Why did God work for six days in Creation, but rest on the seventh?  Does it really matter?  As creatures, how can we keep God’s pattern of life, and keep holy the Sabbath day?  JBM



Trail Notes: 5/20/2018

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It’s Showtime.

The church focuses, rightly, on the story of Jesus.  I, for one, am fascinated by the man.  But we cannot stop with Jesus: in a real way, Jesus is a prelude to our real work. 

Pentecost marks the beginning of the work of the Spirit: the founding of the church as community, the beginnings of ministry in the world by an army of God’s people.  Disciples (followers) become apostles (those sent on a mission).  The first apostles discovered on Pentecost just how powerful God’s Holy Spirit really is: miracles of language took place, so that everbody could hear and understand the Good News of God’s love.  Three thousand people heard and received the Gospel, and were baptized. 

Walter Brueggeman, a wonderful Old Testament Scholar, wrote that God’s will is accomplished through human agency.  God’s Spirit in us makes us God’s agents.  When we work together, hungry people are fed, and systems are changed so that all people have enough.  , as people join together to fight for justice and the dignity of every Nations are changed human being.  Even the earth itself can be healed, if we join together to insist on environmental measures to preserve our precious planet. 

For Christians, the message of Pentecost is: It’s Showtime.     JBM  



Trail Notes: 5/27/2018

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God Talk

Today is one great metaphor – or really, a whole feast of metaphors.  The Church celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity today – perhaps the granddaddy of all Christian metaphors!  Through this talk of God being three-in-one, the Church has attempted to point to the greatness of God, the unfathomability of God, the mystery of God.  Because we have no adequate language to describe God, we use metaphors.  In fact, the attempt to take God language literally is futile, no fun, and a big mistake. 

The word metaphor comes from two Greet roots, meaning to carry alongside of.  As a term for language, metaphor uses an image we know to illuminate another reality.  We do this all the time: “Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea….”  (Hymn 362, v. 2)

We don’t really expect to see saints casting golden crowns around a sea of glass – this is exuberant, fantastical language pointing to the humble devotion of God’s people.  (The hymnwriter, Reginald Heber, drew this image from the book of Revelation 15:2.)

In Sunday’s sermon, we’ll explore God Talk, metaphor, and the experiences of two of God’s people – the prophet Isaiah and the disciple Nicodemus – which illustrate the use of metaphor in biblical literature.  JBM


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