Entries by Jeff MacKnight

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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



Trail Notes: 05/13/2018

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Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.  That’s when Jesus’ bodily appearances after the resurrection come to an end, and he is taken up into heaven.  This year, we are observing the day on Sunday, which gives us a chance to focus on its meaning in the great drama of Jesus Christ:

Birth – Childhood –  Adulthood/Baptism/Public Ministry –
Death – Resurrection – Ascension

The Ascension of Christ – whether you understand it literally or figuratively – moves the action forward, so that the next great drama can begin:

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit – The Birth and Growth of the Church

We are part of this continuing drama today.  God’s Spirit fills us and inspires us to act in love, to seek justice, to respect the dignity of every person. 

The disciples had mixed feelings about Jesus’ departure, just as all of us feel pangs of loss when someone important to us goes away.  But when the Spirit filled them they became capable of great things!  And so do we.  JBM




Trail Notes: 05/06/2018

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LOVE: Easier Said than Done

When I first starting working with kids, I realized that we needed to do some interpretation when we used the world “love” in the Christian context.  Kids think of love through what they know: the affection of family members for each other, or the “yucky” love of attraction and romance.  (Yucky especially when they think of their parents!  Of course, during the teens, romantic and sexual interest begins to quicken and not seem so yucky anymore.) 

To speak meaningfully of love to kids requires interpretation.  So we translated Christian love as “care and respect” – something you could offer even to somebody you didn’t really like…something you could decide to give, independent of feelings. 

(C.S. Lewis wrote a classic examination of the kinds of love, The Four Loves, (1960) which is still worth reading and considering.  But it’s a bit much for children.) 

We speak of love often, as we should.  But we need to be clear about what we mean.  Recently, at St. Dunstan’s we’ve used the phrase “Love Practiced Here,” which suggests that we have to put love into practice, into action.  Christian love is not just a philosophy, or a feeling.  It is a way of life, an orientation toward others.  Acts of love include forgiveness, care and compassion, generosity, respect for others.  Love can mean staying in touch, staying connected – even when it’s inconvenient or stressful.  These actions are things we can teach our children, and apply in our own lives.  No, it’s not easy.  Yes, it gets tiring.  But John’s Gospel reminds us that this is the path to true joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”  I have to say that the people I know who practice love most are the most joyful.  I say this even though love makes us vulnerable to hurt. 

  • What is one way you are practicing love in your life? 
  • What is an area where you want to work on loving: offering care and respect, even when it’s not convenient? 




Trail Notes 04/29/2018

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Lessons from the Vineyards

Friends of ours have vineyards and a winery in the Loire Valley of France.  It’s a heavenly place to visit – it is so peaceful to look out over the rolling hills covered with neat vines, while sipping (of course) on some wonderful cabernet. 

What we don’t see, when we visit, is the long hours of pruning to keep those vines in peak condition for bearing fruit.  We don’t see the worry about pests and drought which could destroy the crop.  We don’t see the “all hands on deck” effort to harvest the grapes at just the right moment. 

Jesus says to us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  We bear fruit when we are well-connected to the vine of God.  God also prunes the branches (that’s us) when we are not bearing good fruit.  Even when we are fruitful, God prunes us to bear even more fruit.  The emphasis is on outcomes.  What is the fruit of our labors? 

The First letter of John tells us what that fruit is.  It is simply love.  Love for our neighbors, love for our selves, love for God.  When we love like this, God actually lives in us – God comes to dwell in us.  We don’t have to work at getting close to God, because God is there when we are loving. 

We are meant to grow and bear fruit for God.  That fruit is love.  Maybe this business of Christianity is not so complicated after all.  JBM 




Trail Notes: 04/22/2018

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Who’s your shepherd? 

These days, we talk about mentors in business, spiritual guides in religion, and buddies in grammar school.  But the Bible talks about shepherds…a lot.  Moses was a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro’s flocks, before he became a shepherd of the Hebrew people.  David was the boy-shepherd in his father Jesse’s family, until he became the shepherd of a new Hebrew nation. 

We know well from many Christmas pageants that the lowly shepherd were the first to recognize the infant Jesus as Messiah – the one who would become “the Good Shepherd of his people.” 

Many sermons on this Sunday affectionately known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” have been preached about sheep and lambs: their docility, the vulnerability, and yes, their stupidity.  But I’d rather focus on humans this year.  Who’s your shepherd?  Who has led you, supported you at crucial times in your life?  Who has warned you from dangers, and perhaps challenged your youthful arrogance?  Who has been a friend when the world didn’t seem very friendly? 

I think of certain teachers I was blessed to have, and one or two priests too.  My music teachers and choral conductors saw potential in me, and encouraged me without trying to make me in their own image.  My parents shepherded me wisely when I was young, and my older brothers did when I was older.  Today, I have a few close friends who listen when I am confused, support when I am down, and steer me in the right direction when I am confused.  When I think about it, I’ve been blessed with shepherds throughout my life.  I believe God has worked through each of them. 

I hope you have, too.  I encourage you this week to think about the good shepherds in your own life.  Who are they?  Remember the times they guided and supported you.  Give thanks to God for them.  In them, Christ our Good Shepherd has touched your life.  JBM 


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