Entries by Jeffrey MacKnight

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Trailnotes 6.28.15: The Bleeding Hasn't Stopped Yet.

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We have two gospel healing stories this week, and it’s a good thing, because our world needs a lot of healing. One story, wrapped inside the other, grabs my attention right now. It’s the story of the woman who has a hemorrhage which has gone on for 12 years – and it was getting worse. In those days, such a condition would make a woman perpetually unclean under Jewish law, not to mention the practical challenge of dealing with a flow of blood all the time. She was condemned twice – physically and religiously. She must have wondered why.

It’s impossible not to make the connection to our own day, when the bleeding caused by the caustic combination of racism and guns in America only gets worse and worse. As a citizen of this country, I feel sullied – unclean – by this lethal scourge. I feel ashamed that we cannot, or will not, take real action to stop it. 

The woman somehow knew that she had to touch Jesus – connect with him – in order for her long illness to end. She stopped at nothing to reach him. She didn’t ask permission; she just went ahead and grabbed his cloak. And her faith in Jesus became her healing. 

I can’t believe this country is arguing over a confederate flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol. Of course it must come down!  It was the flag of a treasonous rebellion against our union of states. No government entity should endorse it! It was raised over the S.C. capitol not to mark the “heritage” of the state, but as a protest against civil rights for black people in 1962. Are we still arguing over this in 2015? That flag has to come down, but that’s not nearly enough. 

We must reach out and connect with Jesus. We have to be converted, changed,  healed, all of us. As individuals we may or may not be racists. We must all judge ourselves. But that’s not the point. We live in a country where our structures are still racist. Our police can be racist. Our electoral gerrymandering is clearly racist.  Our voter restrictions are racist.  Our media coverage is often racist. Our shamefully lax gun laws and so-called “Stand your ground” laws are racist. Paul Krugman points out that, of the 22 states which have refused to expand Medicaid for their poor people at federal expense, all but one were members of the slaveholding Confederacy.  Is this a coincidence? This country is still generating white supremacists like Dylann Roof. Why? 

It’s been not 12 years of bleeding, but 300 years in America.  By 1620 the number of enslaved African persons in these colonies was 20,000 and growing. Race, violence, and economic exploitation were joined in a horrible practice condoned by American society and law. 

Slavery may have been officially outlawed in the 1860’s, but the bleeding hasn’t stopped yet. Nine Christians in Charleston are only the latest in a long line.  As followers of Jesus, we must ask ourselves why.  JBM



Palm Sunday

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Jesus is indeed on the trail now…in fact, on Palm Sunday, the trail itself is the important thing. Jesus is on the move, heading to Jerusalem. He rode a donkey colt, because the prophet Zechariah had prophesied:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

We love this joyful parade – the last exuberant moment in Jesus’ earthly life. He has arrived at the center of it all – Jerusalem! Here is a time when the people rallied around Jesus and celebrated his strange and wonderful kingship – a slap in the face of the Roman overlords who oppressed the people of Israel. How did these poor people have the nerve to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem? They were risking their lives to be with him. Why? 

So let us gather this Sunday and join them in their love and devotion for King Jesus – a humble king such as the world had never known. A king of love. A king of mercy and forgiveness. A king willing to give up his life for his people. Are we brave enough to come bear witness to this king in our lives? 

Christians everywhere will gather on Sunday with branches of palms, singing “All glory, laud, and honor,” professing our faith in this most unusual king Jesus. Will you join in this witness to the world?    JBM                                                                                       




"Sir, we wish to see Jesus!"

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“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

I’ve always found these words to be arresting.  In John’s Gospel, they are the words of “some Greeks [who] came to Philip,” a disciple of Jesus.  Why did these Greeks want to see Jesus?  Did they want an appointment with him?  A miracle?  A good word? 

When I encounter this passage I am always reminded that these words – “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” – were often carved into the wood of church pulpits, not for the congregation to see but for the preacher to see.  These words remind the preacher of the primary task of all Christian preaching: to speak of Jesus so that he may be seen… encountered by all who hear.  In essence, the preaching task is to bring Jesus to life! The gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness must be brought to life anew every week.  It’s a tall order. 

Yes, preachers have a special responsibility to do this.  But don’t think you are off the hook if you aren’t a preacher yourself, because all of us – all Christian people – are called by God to make Jesus known in the way we live.  When others see you respond to human need, do they see Jesus?  When you speak of people who are different from you – by creed or race or nation – do they see Jesus in you?  When you are called to serve, do people see Jesus?  When you are hurt or offended, do people see how you love and forgive, and think of Jesus? 

I know this is a daunting standard of behavior.  Few (or maybe none) of us measure up all the time.  But spiritual growth means that we are growing into Christlike living…we are on the trail of greater and greater love and compassion.  If we are not moving along that path, we need to pause and rethink.  The world needs to see Jesus, now more than ever, and it’s our job to show him forth.  JBM


What kind of wondrous love is this?

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Any love that’s easy falls down like rain.
Any love that’s easy goes out with a bad name
Any love that you find on Easy Street can only be a dream…

So goes an old Eva Cassidy song. She’s talking about human love, romantic love, Hallmark-cards-on-Valentine’s-Day kind of love. It’s nice, for a moment. But like snow melting in sunshine, it doesn’t last. It doesn’t hold up. 

But today we are talking about divine love, love that redeems us, love that saves.  And it’s not a love that’s easy. It’s not a gauzy dream, either. It’s real. It’s costly.  And it’s wondrous. And God is offering it to us for free!

But I still look for – hope for – some kind of love that’s easy, that doesn’t cost much, that will satisfy my insatiable needs for affirmation without troubling me to face my own demons honestly, without bothering to change my ways. Maybe some of you look for that same kind of love that’s easy. But we won’t find it. 

Any love that you find on Easy Street can only be a dream…

The love God offers to us is the love of one who cares about us too much to leave us in the shallow waters of delusion. God’s love asks us to be honest with ourselves, and when we are, this love cleanses us, restores us, and forgives us.  Isn’t that what Lent is all about?  JBM



Sabbath Rest? You got to be kidding ...

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Lately, I’ve been need a lot of sleep – even more than usual. I’ve had trouble waking up in the morning and facing the day. I’ve longed for the day’s end when I can return home and regroup. They say that this is a common reaction to grief and loss…and I believe that. I was blessed with a 24-hour silent retreat a few weeks ago, and realized how starved I’ve been for quiet, for Sabbath rest. 

This week we hear the Ten Commandments – one of the most often cited, and lease observed, parts of the Bible. In our church they’ve been called “The Ten Episcopal Suggestions.” Americans generally don’t like to be told what to do, or not to do, yet that’s what these commands do. Specifically, they tell us how to order our relationships – the first 4 are about our relationship with God and the holy; the last 6 are about our relationships with other human beings. 

We can’t think about all of them at once, so I’d like to focus on one, the fourth: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. The commandment goes on for several lines…we might think it’s pretty important! 

But frankly, this commandment is generally ignored by most Christians in our time: we neither remember the Sabbath day, nor keep it holy. We have lost the art of rest, of stillness, of any sort of contemplation. We have forgotten how to stop. 

I’ve been enjoying the daily videos from the monks at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, www.SSJE.org/time , this Lent. They make me squirm. They gently challenge my way of life, and my rationalizations. It’s good for me. The series is about our relationship with Time – a relationship that for many of us is disordered. The first step the brothers suggest is to stop: we must simply stop. They give us a few ideas and questions to try:

Stop 1: Sit in total stillness for five minutes today. How does it feel?

Stop 2: Where is your invitation to stop during the day?

Stop 3: What taskmasters do you need to be liberated from to reclaim your dignity?

Stop 4: How do you picture a day spent “being” – as opposed to “doing”?

Stop 5: Where are you drawn when you follow your heart?

Stop 6: Are you content right now?

Stop 7: Schedule a day of complete rest: What does it help you realize about your life and heart?

Well now, do you feel completely overwhelmed? Inadequate? Join the club. We are not good at this. Stopping is foreign to our American DNA. Do we dare try it?        JBM



The Cross We Bear

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As Christians we see all of life as shaped by the cross – the archetypal pattern of life, death, and new life which Jesus lived out for us. Sometimes the cross we bear can be very heavy indeed – disappointments, terrible losses, bitter conflict, and ongoing anxiety about our future. When we are in the depths, it’s hard to believe there can be any new life for us. 

When we feel weighed down, we often turn inward…I know I do. But that’s the very time we need to take our burden to Christ and lay it down. We need not face our challenges and tragedies alone. How Christ helps us bear our heavy load, I don’t know…but he does.  And in the Body of Christ, we help each other through our prayers, our caring, our visits, our casseroles, and all the small ways we reach out and touch each other. I have felt that love and care myself, in my recent times of loss.  It’s a great blessing. That’s why we’re here, together, at St. Dunstan’s.                   JBM




Trail Notes: Self- Giving Love: The Way of Jesus

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Think of the most self-giving person you know. Is she a joyful person? Is he someone you like to be with? Someone you would like to emulate in your life? 

For myself, I know that having children taught me about being a self-giving person…being willing to put my own needs aside – gladly – for the sake of another human being (or, these days, for our dogs!). Because children’s needs are so clear and unvarnished, they help us step out of our self-absorbed selves and respond to them with care and generosity. It’s not that our own needs or desires are gone – we still struggle with the tension between what we want and what others need. But children are good teachers in this journey. 

I’m not just talking about parents, either. I think of my nursery school teacher, Mrs. Bennett, who instilled in me a love of music (accordion!) and of French…all at the age of 4. Or my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Reinehr, who was so full of life and love that she gave me a zeal for learning that stays with me today. And Maggie and Colin’s godmother, DeeDee Allen, who has shown them a consistent and generous love of a non-parent adult in their lives.There are many in our own community who work in public service, forgoing financial remuneration in order to serve the common good. 

Then there are the many people who risk their very lives in service to others – fire and police officers, the soldiers we pray for every Sunday, the medical people who responded to the ebola crisis. What drives these people? As Christians, we see the life of Jesus as an example, a motivator to give of ourselves, without counting the cost, for the life of other people and the life of the world. 

On this last Sunday in our series on human relationships, we reflect on the self-giving life that Jesus demonstrates for us. This is fitting as we turn our spirits toward the season of Lent. The Gospel is paradoxical at its root, and therefore it often makes little sense to the world’s wisdom. But we who know Jesus understand that it is through self-giving – giving ourselves away – that we in fact gain real fullness of life and joy. This is why we can say that the way of the Cross is the way of life.  JBM

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