Entries by Kimberly Matthews

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Trail Notes: 6/18/2017

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“Let us go forth…”

When I was in seminary, we used to talk about the gathered church and the scattered church.  The gathered church – everybody together in a church building doing “churchy” things – is much easier to visualize and understand.  We know what that looks like; we know how to do it. 

The scattered church, on the other hand, is harder to grasp.  This is the people of God going forth into the world – into daily life – and living out our Christian values at work, at school, in the neighborhood.  It’s every kind word and deed of mercy we offer; every contribution of money; every ethical decision we make; every time we speak out against injustice and prejudice when we see it.  Many would say that the scattered church is the most important aspect of our Christian lives. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is training his disciples to become the scattered church.  I’m sure they were much more comfortable just hanging out with Jesus, listening to his wise words and watching him teach and heal people.  But Jesus pushed them out of the nest to go do ministry themselves.  He sent them without any money or other supports, so they would have to relate to the people they met.  Imagine going on a trip without a credit card in your pocket! 

When they came home from their “mission experience,” they were pretty excited about what had happened – they taught and healed in Jesus’ name, and many people welcomed their message!  Some even wanted to become part of the Jesus Movement – part of the gathered church.

This is the challenge for us who live after Pentecost: to go forth into the world in the power of the Spirit, to speak and act in the name of Jesus, to be the scattered church in a world that desperately needs God’s voice of love and justice.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 12/11/2016

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MARKERS

In recent cancer treatment, genetic markers guide doctors in designing a custom treatment for each patient. When we travel, we look for signs and markers to lead us to our destination. In business, we look at markers to see how we are progressing toward our goals. If we “miss the mark,” we re-evaluate and adjust course in hopes of a better outcome. 

As God’s people, we look for the markers of the Kingdom of God, breaking in to this world in this present moment. Reading and watching the news, we may feel there are precious few signs of God’s Kingdom today. (I struggle with that, so I’m limiting my news intake rather drastically.) But we are Christians, following Jesus, seeking the light piercing the world’s darkness. So we must look for the markers of the Kingdom, and celebrate them…shout them from the housetops. 

Jesus’ time wasn’t any more peaceful or hopeful than our own. First century Palestine was under military occupation, onerous taxation was bankrupting the peasant class, and violence was the norm, not the exception. (Sound familiar?) Yet John the Baptist came announcing, “The Kingdom of God has come near!”  How could he know that?  Somehow, he knew that God was doing something new, and that new thing was Jesus, God’s Messiah. In today’s Gospel, John is in prison, and he sends word to Jesus asking for some encouragement. Jesus responds by listing the markers of the Kingdom:

 
The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
 the dead are raised, and the poor get good news. 

Those are markers of the Kingdom – God’s will breaking in and overcoming human greed, sickness, blindness, and even death itself. Much as we bemoan the state of the world today, we are seeing these markers if we look: dramatic cures to disease, a huge reduction in world poverty, exploding knowledge and insight, extending healthy lifespans. We have a long way to go, but God’s Kingdom is clearly breaking in and transforming our world. We need to shout that from the housetops.  JBM



 

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Trail Notes: 11/27/2016

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Advent

“You know what time it is,
now it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”  Romans 13:11

“I love to sleep.”  There, I’ve admitted it.  I’m not a morning person; I can’t get by on just a few hours of rest a night.  Getting a good night’s sleep is not a bad thing; it’s healthier for us.  But St. Paul in Romans is telling us that we when we are awake, we need to be really awake – not just sleep-walking through the day. 

Advent comes in the nick of time this year.  It’s been a tumultuous fall, with painful rhetoric, violent outbursts, and an election upset.  In the midst of all this, the Church in its wisdom, says: 

“Let us begin again, with a new year, a new Advent.  Let us pause and reflect on the darkness in the world, in our lives…and turn once more toward the light, the light of Christ coming into the world even now.” 

How can we live more mindfully, more intentionally, so as to reflect Christ’s light into the world?  How can we be fully awake, and act in the world for greater justice, greater mercy? 

And finally, if death were to take us now, would we be prepared?  Would we be satisfied with our lives, our stands for justice, our works of mercy?  I don’t know about you, but I still have work to do.  I’d better get awake and focus my life on God’s work, God’s values.  JBM

“For salvation is nearer to us now that when we became believers;
The night is far gone, the day is near.”  Romans 13:11-12



 

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Trail Notes: 8/14/2016

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Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

One of the many things that I admire about Jesus is that he rarely minces words. He was clear about his mission and ministry. Today’s Gospel reading brings a harsh tone to bear. The words that follow bring a prediction about further division within households.

Well, Jesus, sometimes your messages are not easy to bear! What could this possibly mean? And where are the messages about loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, forgiving others seven times seventy times? This image of an angry and fiery Jesus is not consistent with the way that I often think of Jesus. If, like me, you find this portrayal surprising, then perhaps it is a call for us to examine Jesus’ life more closely.

Jesus appears to be at a breaking point. I wonder if this feeling stems from having been the leader of a group of people who had been acting in faith, following God’s mission with all of their life’s energy only to find that doing these things made them unwelcomed by many of their own community members, religious leaders and Roman officials. This passage is close to the time when he will enter Jerusalem, be arrested, tried and killed. His life and ministry is nearing a literal breaking point or baptism by fire. And yet, we know that his death will lead to the ultimate transformation by God into new life through his resurrection.

As followers of Jesus, we share in his commitment to lead a Gospel based life. Could this be an invitation to reflect on our own mission and ways that our life’s actions align with these Gospel values? Or perhaps you might identify with him facing a breaking point. While, in this country, we are not facing crucifixion, many of us face struggles in our lives that can overwhelm us. This story can serve as a reminder that God became human and knows our human condition. Through his suffering and death, he brought us the hope of resurrection, a cornerstone of our faith.

Eva Cavaleri


 

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Trail Notes 06/19/2016

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A Note of Sadness and Hope:

We gathered on June 12 to celebrate the inclusive love of God for all of us, marking Pride Sunday in the LGBTQ community. Our observance became poignant with the tragic news that morning of 50 people being killed in a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando – news I received at the Peace during our service. Many more were injured. Our hearts go out to all who suffer violence and hatred, simply based on who they are and whom they love. We find hope in our faith in a God who loves us all, made us in all our human diversity, and calls us good. May the power of love conquer such hatred as this.  JBM

Trail Notes for Sunday, June 19, 2016:

Today’s scriptures present us with two troubled men who encounter God.

Elijah is the first.  He was a great and powerful prophet of God, and consequently deeply hated by the Baal-worshipping king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel.  Elijah becomes tortured by his despair of ever bringing his people back to faithfulness to Yahweh.    

The second man is unnamed: he is the wild, disturbed man in Gerasa, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (called the “Syrian sea” in our communion hymn).  The man “had demons,” - he was tortured by unknown evil forces which alienated him from other people, and even caused him to harm himself.   

In Sunday’s sermon, we’ll look at these two figures who encounter God in very different forms (one hears God’s “still, small voice;” the other meets Jesus.)  Both men are transformed by the encounter.  Their lives are forever changed.  They are freed of their bonds and able to live anew, boldly, trusting God.

Sunday is Fathers’ Day, and I believe fathers face some similar challenges, stumbling blocks, “demons” in our own lives. We must find a way to confront them if we are to live in greater freedom and joy. 

I don’t know if Elijah was a father, or if the “Gerasene demoniac” (as he is unfortunately known) had children either. But their confrontation with evil and despair is a model for modern fathers, I believe. We, as fathers, face both great responsibility, and ultimate powerlessness to control our lives. We can’t always protect our families from heartache. At some point, we’ll be broken by this.  I was touched by a reflection on our brokenness – one that seems particularly apt for fathers today. See what you think: 

Remember

Your insight, care, or sensitivity, or compassion, or generosity, or humility, which may be so evident to other people, has come out of your broken past. If they only knew what you know. God knows. Jesus has promised to seek and save the lost, which may apply to some part of your own past, where you were lost and are now found.

-Br. Curtis Almquist, the Society of St. John the Evangelist (Episcopal Monastery) 


 

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Trail Notes: 04/10/2016

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Easter, Continued. 

Easter day was two weeks ago. We did our church celebrations with care; we enjoyed the flowers and music immensely; we welcomed many guests to worship, and proclaimed that the world is forever changed, renewed, because God raised Jesus from death. (Thanks to every one of you who participated in Holy Week and Easter at St. Dunstan’s, and helped make them exquisite and evocative.) 

So in these two weeks, we’ve talked about what the women saw and experienced when they went to the tomb and it was empty. We’ve thought the disciples, who found all of this very difficult to believe; about Thomas who needed to see and touch Jesus in order to believe. We identify with those disciples!

Sometimes I wonder what it was like for Jesus. How did he wake up from his “three days’ sleep in death?” Was it the light shining in his eyes after the stone had been rolled away?

How did Jesus feel then? He must have been sore after the beating he took….his mouth parched and sticky, his muscles strained from hanging so long. 

What would Jesus have wanted to do? If it had been I, I would have thought I well deserved a good long break, maybe at one of those all-inclusive beach resorts in the Caribbean. 

But instead, God called him out of that tomb, not to rest, but to go back to work, back to his disciples in the upper room, on the beach in Galilee. The job of making disciples wasn’t finished, just as our job making disciples isn’t finished after baptism, or confirmation, or any other rite of passage.

After the great power and beauty of Easter is past, how do we stay fresh and eager and ready to serve in God’s name? Maybe our muscles are sore and we could really use a break, like Jesus!  And yet, life goes on. And God is in every moment, every conversation, every ray of sunlight shining in our window.  Go and find your own place in the sun.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes: 12/13/2015

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THE NATIONAL GUN VIOLENCE SABBATH
Wanted: Anger, and Courage

 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
—Saint Augustine    

In seminary at VTS years ago, we had a course called, “The Bible and the New York Times.”  Each week, the class worked through the scriptures appointed that week, and the articles published in the New York Times, looking for connections.  It was a great class. 

And there are always connections.  The Gospel message of Jesus has everything to do with today’s news: the moments of victory and joy, and the pain and misery that are reported every day. 

Last Saturday, the NY Times did something it has not done for 70 years: it published an editorial on the front page, down the left hand side, above the fold.  It’s entitled: “The Gun Epidemic.”  Its point is clear:  American gun policy and gun laws, and rates of death are a “moral outrage and a national disgrace.” 

The U.S. is an outlier in this way – unlike any other industrialized nation.  We allow easy access to weapons whose only purpose is to slaughter human beings, and we pay a terrible price.  For instance, in the U.S. I am 62 times more likely to be a victim of gun death than our daughter Maggie is in Scotland.  

This is not the kind of “American Exceptionalism” we can be proud of.   We have allowed a noisy minority in our nation to cry “Second Amendment” whenever gun regulations are even mentioned (even though we haven’t seen a militia in these parts for a long, long time).  No right is absolute and unlimited.  We reasonably regulate all behavior that can be harmful to oneself or others, from seat belts to smoking to prescription drugs.  

St. Augustine tells us that hope is not a passive emotion.  Hope has two beautiful daughters and they are anger and courage. 

Jesus wouldn’t even let his disciple defend him with a sword; how Jesus must weep to see our gun-riddled society.  It’s time to change our response to the latest shooting, from lament to anger, from paralysis to courageous action.  To overcome the gun lobby will require millions of us to start voting for candidates who promise to act on common-sense gun regulation.  We must be noisier than they are – we can no longer be a silent majority.  We need to show the world that we object to the violence of easy guns – we should be wearing buttons and ribbons.  We should write our legislators. Churches and other institutions need to announce and post a “no-guns-here” policy.  We need to get angry.  We need courage.  Let’s start praying for anger and courage to act.  And then can begin to hope for a safer, saner, better future.  JBM  

 

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Who is your John and Baptist?

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As I get older, my relationship with the scriptures has changed. These texts become less an object to study, and more a life-companion to point the way on this strange journey with Jesus. In other words, the biblical writings – especially the gospels – get under my skin. How about you? 

This Sunday’s Gospel introduces, or re-introduces, a figure well known to us: John the Baptist. We know him as the feisty, unvarnished character who confronted the people who came to him with the truth of their lives: their need to repent, to turn around. For those who accepted John’s challenge to see themselves as they really were, John used a symbolic act: ritual washing in the River Jordan.  We call it Baptism. 

My thoughts run to those few brutally honest, candid, blunt people in my life who have told me the truth about myself – confronted my self-deceptions, and challenged my way of seeing and acting. I’m grateful I’ve had a few such people in my life. I hope you have, too. 

A true friend, a colleague, an honest mentor, or a good psychotherapist - they can all be a “John the Baptist” to us.  They will challenge us to see your life more clearly – both the bad and the good.  They knock down our delusions of grandeur, and also challenge our irrational self-criticism. In spiritual terms, they reflect back to us what God sees in us: flawed, but cherished, human beings: 

  •  “Do you think you are so capable that you can get along without any          help?”
  • “Are you really aware of the amazing gifts you offer…at home, at work, at church?”
  • “How come you are so ready to forgive others, but you are so hard on yourself?” 
  • “Why do you pay attention to other people’s feelings, but discount your own?” 

We need this honest self-examination – a stark wilderness time – to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus fully at Christmas – a time in the verdant garden of God’s love and light poured out upon us. That’s what Advent is about.  I hope there is someone in your life who will honestly reflect back to you your whole human self: the dark hidden places that need to come to light, and also the glorious, God-filled person that you are. If you have a “John the Baptist” in your life, you are blessed indeed.  JBM 


 

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Trail Notes: The Godly Optimist

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“Celebrating God’s Abundance” – that’s our theme this Fall for our Annual Giving Campaign. I’ve realized I’m not very good at that! Contrary to my deepest beliefs about God’s desire for us have all we need, to enjoy this life, I tend to gravitate toward bad news in the newspaper. I seem more interested in news of scarcity than news of abundance; more interested in sorrow and tragedy than in joy. 

A while ago, I got an offer for a regular email from the Washington Post called “The Optimist.” It’s a short digest of good-news stories. I signed up to receive “The Optimist,” because I thought it would be good for me. But I confess I have rarely opened and read it…I’m always hurrying on to something else that seems more urgent, more important. What a mistake.  I need to see and hear good news much more than bad. 

For instance: CEO promises to pay for college tuition not just for employees, but for their kids. Why? He says it’s the best way to make a lasting change in the futures of these families. He wants to invest in the people who are investing their lives in his company. Wow. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the huge stones which were built into the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus said this huge monument to human greatness – to the religious establishment - would all be thrown down in the end. The world would be turned on its head…upside-down.  Conventional thinking would be revolutionized in Jesus’ economy: instead of hoarding wealth, instead of  hungering for power over others, God’s abundance would be shared and all would have enough.

What a concept. 

We need to hear and treasure the good news of this world (I’m preaching to myself here). If we are Gospel people – people of Good News – we need to share it, hear it, immerse ourselves in it, wherever good news can be found. We know that the world has many troubles, of course. We don’t deny that.  But our joy in Christ is meant to shine even in the presence of the world’s darkness. We need to celebrate God’s abundance…until we reach God’s dream of abundance for everybody. The Eucharist, our main act of worship, is a thanksgiving service at its heart. We start with gratitude, and that leads to generosity, and that leads to joy and love. JBM

Daily doth the almighty Giver bounteous gifts on us bestow;
his desire our soul delighteth, pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand at his hand; joy doth wait on his command.
 
(From “All my hope on God is founded,” Hymn 665, text: Bridges/Neander)


 

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