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Trail Notes: 04/01/2018

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Why Come to Church at Easter? 

The church proclaims its greatest message – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead – on Easter.  It’s also the hardest to believe for many people.  The ancient scriptures and creeds seem far from the modern world. To some, the church can seem like an artifact from an earlier time.  Many folks have objected to various church teachings, and of course the institutional church has sometimes not lived up to its own values. 

Still, I think people long for something greater than themselves, a source of deeper meaning and purpose than the world provides.  When I feel the coming of spring – the springing up of crocus and daffodils – the idea of resurrection doesn’t seem so far-fetched.  In fact, it appears to be part of the fabric of nature. 

The church is our human attempt to be this resurrected Christ in today’s world.  God knows, it is flawed, as every community is.  We are always forming and reforming, seeking to be closer to God, better at loving our neighbors.  This community, the “Body of Christ,” invites us back, no matter how many times we stray, or how long we stay away.  Margaret Renkl, for the New York Times, writes this in an article called “Easter is Calling Me Back to the Church”:

The year away from church hasn’t made me miss the place itself. I don’t miss the stained glass. I don’t miss the gleaming chalice or the glowing candles or the sweeping vestments. But I do miss being part of a congregation. I miss standing side by side with other people, our eyes gazing in the same direction, our voices murmuring the same prayers in a fallen world. I miss the wiggling babies grinning at me over their parents’ shoulders. I miss reaching for a stranger to offer the handshake of peace. I miss the singing.

So, in the name of the church, I invite you to join with those wiggling babies and people praying for our fallen world: come to church.  Sing the hymns that proclaim the best of all possible news: Jesus Christ is risen today!  If that is so, then all things are possible.  JBM 

 


 

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Trail Notes: 03/18/2018

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“I will write it on their hearts”

After centuries of tumultuous political and religious life in Israel, the prophet Jeremiah describes a new covenant with God, a covenant that will not be an outward contract between God and people – a contract often broken by humans – but an inward, built-in relationship that cannot be severed by our failings and waywardness.  I picture this new covenant as more like a familial relationship: like a parent who simply cannot and will not give up on her child, no matter what. 

I believe this new covenant which Jeremiah described six centuries before Jesus became embodied in God’s Messiah, or Christ, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth.  The covenant shifts from a conditional, breakable, external agreement, to an internal, unconditional, unbreakable relationship of love.  Jesus described this kind of love in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (sometimes known as “the Gospel in miniature.”) 

This new covenant shifts focus from getting to giving.  God is not in it to get our adulation, devotion, or obedience (although these are not bad things!).  God’s intention is to give Godself to us, and hopefully inspire us to give ourselves away too – for each other, and for the life of the world.  The grain of wheat gives up its life, in order to bring growth and fruit.  We do not seek to preserve our lives and hoard our goods, but rather give ourselves away and find abundant life. 

The Prodigal Son lost it all, and found that in fact he still had what mattered: his father’s love.  His father gave up control over his son and his inheritance, and found that he was rewarded with the freely-given love of the son he adored.  This is the great paradox of Christian living.  Jesus demonstrates this new covenant by giving his own life on the cross, and finding new life in God – for himself and for all of us.  Go figure.  JBM 


 

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Trail Notes: 03/11/2018

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“We detest this miserable food!”

Complaining about the food is a time-honored pastime – whether it’s the school cafeteria, the mess tent, or the company lunchroom.  Food is something almost all of us care about – it’s basic to our happiness.  When we don’t like, it, we say so. 

Sometime during the Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, we have this story from Numbers chapter 21 about the people moaning and complaining against God and Moses about the poor food.  God apparently gets fed up with them, and sends poisonous snakes which bite the Israelites so that many died.  This seems a bit extreme, although it’s true that the Hebrews had been complaining about the food for a good 10 chapters.  When the people realized what God had done, they admitted their sin and asked Moses to intercede for them.  God, strangely, tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. When those who were bitten by the snakes look at the bronze serpent, they are allowed to live. 

John’s Gospel, again strangely, compares this bronze serpent to Jesus lifted up on the cross, who also brings life to those who believe in him.  This comparison doesn’t work very well for me.  I get stuck on the fact that God sent the venomous snakes to kill in the first place.  What do you think? 

We don’t hear from the Book of Numbers that often on Sundays.  It is one of the first five books of the Bible, known as the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch.  Its name comes from the many lists and enumerations that fill the book, starting with a census of all the people and tribes of Israel.  Numbers tells much of the same history of the time in the wilderness that we also hear about in Exodus.  Numbers does give us a number colorful vignettes: Balaam’s talking donkey, the manna and the quails, the spies sent into Canaan, a man executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and of course today’s bronze serpent. 

Numbers also gives us this beautiful benediction which is still often used, known as the Aaronic Blessing: 

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”                                         

                                                                                                                                    JBM


 

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