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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





 

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Trail Notes 6.21.2015

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This Sunday during the sermon, we’ll look together at the long narrative of the rise of David as the greatest king of Israel. We’ll cover much of the story starting in I Samuel over the summer. We’ll open our Bibles and examine the pivotal place of this epic story in the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament.) 

We also have an account of Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee – one of many instances of this miracle throughout the Gospels. What can it tell us about the Christian life – walking with Jesus as our companion?  Jesus and some of his disciples set out on a boat to cross the sea (a big lake really), and a squall comes up suddenly. Oddly, Jesus is sleeping through it – we are even told that he was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion! The utter calmness of Jesus is contrasted with the churning of the storm, and the churning in the hearts of the disciples.  They are scared to death!  hey wake Jesus up; if they are afraid, then Jesus should suffer with them (misery loves company). Once awake, Jesus stills the storm in an instant. 

Of course this parable is not just about a bunch of fisherman in a boat with their rabbi 2,000 years ago.  It is about us. As followers of Jesus, we are in the boat with Jesus – we have cast our lot with him. And yes, the world is quite stormy. We are filled with anxiety, even though we are with Jesus. Why? Doubt, distrust, bad prior experiences all play a part. Our faith is so small and fragile that it is easily upstaged by thunder and lightning and waves crashing into the boat.  Yet Jesus is with us, and Jesus is not troubled. 

It seems to me that the spiritual challenge here is not to get the storm to stop (even though Jesus does this to relieve the immediate terror of his friends). The real challenge is to learn to ride out the storm in the boat with Jesus. We can learn a lot about life during the storm. And if we focus on Jesus’ presence and calm, we can begin to make his calm our own. That’s what faith in him does.  JBM


 

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Trail Notes 6.14.2015

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Today we begin a cycle of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, from First Samuel to Second Samuel and finally into First Kings in August.  This way, the Sunday lectionary provides a semi-continuous narrative from an important time in Hebrew history: the rise of a king in Israel – first David, then Solomon.  These were great – but flawed – men.  Unlike much other ancient literature, the Bible does not wallpaper over the faults of hits heroes.  They are presented to us “warts and all,” with all their virtues, vices, and contradictions.  And somehow, God uses them to move forward the story of God’s people. 

I’ve always liked the story of the prophet Samuel going to pick out a new king from among the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite.  Each of Jesse’s sons is brought out, like models on a runway.  But starting from the eldest, the Lord rejects each one in turn – seven of them.  “Are all your sons here?” asks Samuel.  Jesse replies, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  So David is sent for, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

As the youngest of four boys in my own family, I like the idea that good things can come in smaller packages, that it’s not always the eldest or the most important whom God chooses to use.  David was a little shepherd boy (although we are told that he was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes…that never hurts!).  He would grow into the role of leader, sometimes excelling, sometimes faltering badly.  And yet God is always with him… encouraging, strengthening…sometimes chiding, confronting…but always loving David: sometimes with gentle love that renews and inspires, sometimes with tough love that demands repentance. 

In these stories, we see what God can do, starting with small, seemingly insignificant people, and leading to great acts of leadership, compassion, and justice.  The little mustard seed scattered on the ground grows up to be a great shrub, such that the birds can nest in its branches. 

When you feel small and powerless, God can do great things with you, too, if you are willing to say yes when God calls.  JBM


 

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How do we learn truth?

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Not facts, not information, but truth: truth about ourselves, about humanity, about God? 

I am a reader and thinker by nature – I love sopping up information and ideas just as a sponge sops up spilled milk. But, as much as I love this, I have come to realize that truth comes in other packages. Books and lectures may point us toward the truth (or not). But real, deep truth comes through experience, relationship, and our humanity.

In the religious life, we can learn about God from books and sermons. Reading the Bible can teach us how our forebears understood God. We can study the history of ideas about God.  Jesus’ life and teaching give us a wonderful glimpse of God and God’s ways. But to know the truth of God, we must have experience – an encounter with God. Likewise, to know the truth about another human being, we must meet and know that human being. And even more than that, we must come to love that human being…as we love ourselves. 

I say all this because we celebrate LGBT Pride this Sunday – God’s inclusion of all of God’s people in the beloved family of God. One expression of that family is the Church. The Christian Church has often not lived up to Jesus’ radical call to love our neighbor. We have divided humanity into groups; we have excluded many. We have called some “sinners,” when every one of us falls short of God’s perfect will. We have failed to answer God’s call to love – and hence to know the truth that others bring. Until we meet and know and love each other, we cannot understand each other. 

As I have come to meet and know others who span the broad spectrum of sexual identity, I have realized that we all share the same deep longing: to love and to be loved. We are all imperfect in the practice of love, yet Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us. And when we do, he promises us joy:

“Abide in my love….that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”                                                                                         (John 15:10-12)

Jesus does not promise us a life of ease, a life free of conflict and hard decisions, or a life without sadness and loss. But Jesus does promise us joy: the deep gladness that comes from walking in love with God and our neighbors…even when our love is imperfect. That, in the end, is what we are on this good earth to do. It is in the loving that we learn the truth of things.  JBM


 

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'The wind blows where it chooses.’ John 3:8

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One of my favorite things about being at summer camp was listening to the wind blowing through the pines. Sometimes it was gentle and soothing; while at other times it would howl as a storm would come through the camp. Strangely, the wind itself wasn’t making the noise. This past week I was on vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina near an area called Pea Island. There it seems that the wind never stops, and the effects on the landscape are quite breathtaking. Some other images that you see every day in the OBX are kites and the sails of the wind surfers.

This week we move from the celebration of Pentecost to Trinity Sunday. From an event that was difficult to describe and understand; to a doctrine of the church that is usually described in ways that are simplistic and heretical, and never really capture what it is. It is probably the most difficult doctrine to describe and understand. My favorite of these inaccurate descriptions of the Trinity is through the concept of the element of water - solid (ice), liquid (water), gas (steam) - different yet the same… And yes, that will be as far as I go in trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. 

Today our gospel lesson is the story of Nicodemus going to Jesus at night and asking him questions - questions about things he didn’t understand. It is pretty clear from this story that Nicodemus didn’t want others to know that he was speaking to Jesus; and I’ll guess that as a leader he didn’t want others to know that he also didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings.

I too have many questions - some I’m sure I’d prefer to ask under the cover of darkness. We never know what Nicodemus understands, if he has more questions, and even if he believes what Jesus is telling him. Maybe this is the most important thing - that there is always mystery, that there is another question, and that we keep seeking to understand.

‘You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.’ John 3:9


 

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Pentecost

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Pentecost is the third great feast of the Christian year – right up there with Easter and Christmas. It is a feast of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out upon “all flesh” – all humanity who will receive the Spirit. 

Sue Carroll will be our guest preacher – it’s always a treat to hear her thoughtful and humorous message! She has selected the story of the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel as the Hebrew scripture – a much-loved tale of dead bones being animated and brought to life again by God’s Spirit, or breath, and reconnected into living bodies. 

In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is at work again, this time carrying the redemptive work of Jesus far beyond the bounds of Jesus’ earthly life. After Jesus ascends, the Spirit comes to spread the Good News of God’s love to the ends of the earth. How? Through the birth of the Church as Christ’s new spiritual body on earth. 

Of the three persons of the Trinitarian God, the Holy Spirit is probably the least celebrated and least understood in our Anglican tradition. All of us have an image of God the Creator, and Anglicans celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ in great depth.  But the Holy Spirit is more ephemeral: harder to describe and name. One useful approach is to think of the Holy Spirit as God’s indwelling of human hearts and minds – the inner compass that inspires us and guides us towards God’s will.  How do you think of the Holy Spirit at work in your life? In the church community? In the world? JBM

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" Come and have breakfast"

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When I was a kid (before eggs and bacon were condemned as horrible for human health), I remember my mother making breakfast for my dad and my brothers and me before school. The smell of sizzling bacon and toasting bread would waft through the house, and then my mother would call us: “Come and have breakfast.”

These four simple words convey so much:  welcome, graciousness, hospitality, care, love. These are warm memories! In today’s resurrection story, Jesus appears to his disciples, standing on a beach over a charcoal fire, toasting bread. He calls to the disciples in a fishing boat, “Come and have breakfast.”

One of our parish small groups focuses on Economic Justice, which may not seem related to the “bagels and lox” Jesus offered his disciples. But eating breakfast is intimately related to economic justice and wellbeing. 

Churches have always found ways to feed the hungry, and that’s a good thing. As a society, most of us agree that people should not go hungry in a nation as rich as ours. Collectively, we use government policy to promote our values that all human beings should have enough to eat and to live. (Breakfast at school is one such policy that prepares children to learn with full stomachs.” Much in the news these days is the issue of economic inequality: especially the decline in the incomes of Middle Americans, while the incomes of the richest skyrockets. Jesus did not condemn wealth per se, but he always spoke up for the poor to get enough. We who follow him can do no less. 

In Adult Formation at 9:50 a.m. this Sunday, the Economic Justice group will share its work so far on this huge, perplexing issue. I hope you’ll come and explore how we can do God’s will and care for the poor in our society.  JBM





 

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Trail Notes 5.10.15

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Our world is full of boundaries. Zip codes denote one area from another. A sidewalk signifies where the school district ends. Cones direct your driving. The path on a board game shows the direction you are to take. Signs tell you where you can, and where you can’t, venture to. Then we encounter streams, mountains, lines of trees that direct our movement. These boundaries help us to reinforce our identities.

Earlier in Acts, we witness as Cornelius has a vision. In this vision he sees an angel who instructs him to send for Peter (10:4-5). Cornelius was not a full convert to Judaism; he was a God fearing man and definitely a Gentile. This made him different from Peter; Peter was a Jewish Christian.

When Peter was sent for, he too saw a vision. This message in the vision told him to go and to follow them without hesitation (10:20). Peter would have had some hesitation due to the distinction between these two groups of people. What astounds Peter is that when he speaks to the Gentiles and the Jews, the Holy Spirit is poured out over all the people.

We witness in the reading for this week that Peter sets aside his preconceived notions of how these people were divided. In this, Peter is a witness and understands now “that God show no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (10:34-35). This opens Peter’s eye to observe as the Holy Spirit is moves over all who listen to him. 

And like Peter, we must be willing to look past things which we thought were barriers, in order to more fully serve God.

It is very easy for us, as a church community, to get caught up in how we are doing. We create categories for who is a member and who is not; who comes to the 9:00am service and who comes to the 10:45am service; who is new and who is old. What would St. Dunstan's look like if we chose to break down these barriers? How will we, like Peter, reject traditional boundaries and borders so that we might welcome all to God's family?

Our new Neighborhood Engagement group at St. Dunstan's seeks to help break down these barriers. The purpose of this group is to build relationships with those organizations and groups that surround us and are already part of the community we serve. This enables us, as a community at St. Dunstan's, to be more effective in our ministry and serving of our community.

One group that we have connected with already is Little Falls Village. Little Falls Village seeks to help neighbors in our community of the 20816 zip code to “Age-in-Place”. These sorts of relationships are mutually beneficial and life-giving. As we encounter members of our community who might need help aging in place, we can look towards this relationship we are building with Little Falls Village. Additionally, for them, the community of folks that they serve have the benefit of learning about and possibly taking part in our events, like the Parish Picnic on May 31st.

This Neighborhood Engagement group will seek to build relationships with those around us. In doing this, we will build up our community and our network so that we can more effectively do the good work that God is calling us to do.



 

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"You are a witness of these things"

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After the Emmaus story, the disciples are gathered again in Jerusalem, telling one another about what they have seen and heard: Jesus is alive and active! Then Jesus appears yet again among them. He invites them to touch him – to verify that he is real. He eats some broiled fish for the same reason. And, as he did on the Emmaus road, Jesus explains how the Jewish scriptures point to Jesus as Messiah – one who must suffer, die, and rise again.  “You are witnesses of these things.” 

Once the disciples have seen the risen Jesus, the question is: What will they do about it?  How will they witness to these things? What difference will it make? And that is the question for us, in our own day, who claim to follow this Jesus. 

Sadly, I think we have lost the art of witnessing to the presence and action of Jesus in our lives. I wonder what it would take to re-enliven that aspect of our faith? In last Sunday’s Post, the popular author Ann Patchett tells about her experience as the owner of a new indy bookstore in Nashville. She talks about her lifelong compulsion to tell people about books that they simply must read.  I often have the same drive to tell people when I read a book I really love. Why not share one of the great joys in life – discovery of a life-changing story or message? 

Most of us know how enthusiastic we get about a new restaurant we love, or a recipe we’ve just tried, or a movie we’ve seen.Readers can be over the moon about a great new author or story we’ve discovered. I wonder what it would take for us to enthuse about our experience with God in the same way? After all, isn’t the risen Jesus a life-changing story…a compelling message to share? 

Of course I understand that we are conditioned in polite society not to foist our religious views onto others. But that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate how meaningful our faith is to us, and invite others who might be interested. I wonder what St. Dunstan’s would need to be/do in order for us to recommend it to our friends as we would a great new restaurant?  Do we need to improve our wine list? (Perhaps you are getting tired of port!)  Update the décor? Tell the story in different ways? 

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I’d sure love to talk about these things.  Dr. Tricia Lyons will be with us again this Sunday. We all enjoyed her energy and passion 2 weeks ago. I hope she can help us know the risen Christ, and be faithful “witnesses of these things.”  JBM





 

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Looking and Seeing

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We continue our Easter season with a new resurrection story each week, and todays just might be my favorite: The Road to Emmaus. What a fabulous tale – filled to the brim with symbolism: the journey, the conversation, and finally the broken bread. This is yet another resurrection story centered on seeing – and it helps us connect the dots in many ways. As Tricia Lyons, our preacher last Sunday, mentioned, it’s also all about recognizing Jesus…and how difficult that is for us. 

Most of us can identify with Cleopas and his wife (whom I call Anna), trudging home after a tragic and demoralizing experience, the death of Jesus. They had heard the rumors during that Easter Sunday that Jesus had been raised…but they could not believe it. There was no resurrection for them…yet. We’ve been there too, in that place of disappointment, dejection, even hopelessness. 

Then a stranger appears and walks with them along the road…and things start to happen. They still aren’t seeing clearly (they can’t recognize that this is Jesus himself!). But gradually, this stranger “opens for them the scriptures” and they do begin to see the grand arc of God’s saving acts through history. Could God act again – in their own day, in their own lives? Can we see it?

The answer for Cleopas and Anna, and the answer for us and all Christians, must be yes: yes God still acts in our lives, yes we can see God’s resurrection power all around us, and yes the risen Christ in fact takes up residence in us – we become his instruments of hope and help in this world. 

I thank God I am seeing resurrection everywhere I look: in the late-blooming cherry trees in our yard; in the utter joy and delight of the Cabaret at Paddy’s Pub; in the loving care of this congregation when folks are experience illness, death of a loved one, or other crises; in the life of many small groups and the spiritual sharing and growth that is happening; in increased attendance and interest at Holy Week services this year; in the faithful, generous giving of our congregation for our own needs and for outreach; in the laughter and fun of Tricia Lyons, who enthralled us with her exploration of Harry Potter as a resurrection story par excellence.    

Dwelling on resurrection stories does not mean we ignore the bad stuff in life – the hurts and illness and poverty and war.  Resurrection in itself acknowledges that death has occurred…but declares a higher power – the power of Life, the power of God.  This is hard stuff to get, and to hold onto – that’s why we need all the gatherings, the reminders, the conversations, all the meals and celebrations we can muster.  Come and meet Jesus for yourself…in the breaking of the bread.  JBM





 

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