Announcements, November 25

SUNDAY…

All-Ages Advent Worship, 10am: We will begin the season of Advent with All-Ages Worship, exploring the symbols, stories and songs of this new season together. Before and after the service, craft stations will be available for kids (and non-kids) to make small gifts for their loved ones. In addition, Advent materials, including candles and prayers for at-home use, are available in the Gathering Area.

Kids for Kids: The children of St. Dunstan’s would like to raise enough money to buy a pair of goats for people in need around the world – a total of $160. Put your donation in the bank in the Gathering Area to support their endeavor! Read more about Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life program here: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/what-you-can-do/gifts-for-life.

 Advent Virtual Book Group: Daring Greatly.  You’re invited to join a virtual book group. We will read Brene Brown’s bestselling book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and share reactions and reflections in a Facebook group. We may also plan one or more face-to-face discussions if there is interest in doing so.  Sign up in the Gathering Area and/or join the Facebook group “Advent Reading Group: Daring Greatly.”

 Altar Flowers: December dates are available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35 (write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash).

 THE WEEKS AHEAD…

ECW Women’s Day Away, Tuesday, Dec 1: Come have some fun and share a day in Baraboo with friends, good shopping and lunch. There are a great many shops to choose from within a 2-3 block walk on 3rd and 4th St. including Yarn Arts Cafe and Ardyth’s Sew and Vac (quilting/sewing). the others are Berkah Kate’s cookware and gadgets, Just Imagine Toys (for all ages), Lillian Verrall Accessories and Gifts, Cornerstone Gallery, Countryside refined, Tuff Dog Leather, Amber Moon and Green Vine (a possible lunch location) – sign up on Sunday (on bulletin board). We’ll be leaving from the St. D’s parking lot at 8:30am. Come enjoy a great day!

The Poetry of Advent, Sunday, December 6, 9am: Bring a favorite Advent poem to share, or simply come to listen and reflect together.

Sunday School, Sunday, December 6, 10am: Next week, our 3 – 6 year old class will be learning about the story of Advent, while our 7 – 10 year old class will explore the story of the birth of John the Baptist.

Backpack Snack Pack Prep, Sunday, December 6, 12noon: The kids and families of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join our Foundry 414 Church neighbors in preparing “Backpack Snack Packs, to help local school children from low-income households to have nutritious snacks available over the weekend. We’ll work in the Chapel Meeting Room following the 10am service.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, December 6: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated check will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministries’ food pantry. Groceries are a welcome gift too. Here are the top 10 most needed items at this time: macaroni and cheese; pasta; canned meat (tuna/turkey/chicken); meals in a box; canned soup (no tomato, healthier varieties); mandarin oranges; canned pineapple; sugar; flour; diapers, sizes 4, 5 and 6. The pantry is always in need of quality bedding items such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels. Thanks for all your generous support!

Healing Prayer, Sunday, December 6: Next Sunday, one of our ministers will offer Healing prayers for those who wish to receive prayers for themselves or on behalf of others.

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be honored next Sunday, December 6. Come forward after the Announcements to receive a blessing and the community’s prayers.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, December 6, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, December 9, 7:15-9pm: All are welcome to join in contemplative prayer and to learn more about St. Julian of Norwich. For more information, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN at slfiore@mac.cm or (608) 845-2413.

Advent Quiet Day, Saturday, December 12, 1 – 4:30pm: Come spend some time in intentional silence. You may color, read, participate in Advent prayer stations, walk the grounds, sit in silence, or converse quietly in a designated area. We’ll begin and end in prayer. You’re welcome to invite a friend. Talk to Sharon Henes if you’d like to help out with snacks, art, music, or other elements of the day.

The Art of Advent, Sunday, December 13, 9am: Bring a favorite Advent image, or simply come to look, reflect, and share.

Service of Lessons and Music, Sunday, December 13, 10am: Our special Lessons & Music service this Advent will focus on the life and preaching of John the Baptist. A signup sheet for our festive Coffee Hour will be available soon.

 Caroling Ministry: Would you like to join a small group of singers, prepare a set of songs and readings, and visit some of our homebound elders to sing for them, one evening near Christmas? Talk with Rev. Miranda or sign up in the Gathering Area to get involved in this new ministry, intended to share the spirit of the holy season and the love of this parish with those who are rarely able to worship with us.

Share your Christmas with our neighbors! St Dunstan’s will sponsor 20 people through MOM’s Sharing Christmas program this year.  Please take one or more gift tags from the display in the Gathering Area and purchase a gift. Wrapped gifts will need to be back at St Dunstan’s on December 13.

The Longest Night: A Liturgy of Light in the Midst of Darkness, Sunday, Dec. 20, 6pm. On December 20th, we will gather together out of the darkness of the season for a quiet, meditative worship service. Feel free to invite friends who might appreciate this time set apart to name the darkness in the world and in our lives, and prepare our hearts for the coming of the light of Christ. Contact Rev. Miranda at 238-2781 or rector@stdunstans.com with any questions.

Sermon, Nov. 22

Welcome to Christ the King Sunday! This is the last Sunday of the church’s year – the first Sunday in Advent, next week, is also our New Year. And as a year draws to an end, and the cycle begins again, our readings and our liturgy remind us of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Our worship today is full of images of power, authority, glory… kingship.

Some churches have moved away from the vocabulary of king and kingdom, in talking about Jesus. Maybe in part for reasons of gender equity – “king” is a masculine term and we increasingly feel the need to envision God’s power and authority in less-gendered ways. Also in part because, well, some nations still have kings, or had kings in the recent past; and they want to clearly differentiate Jesus’ rule from their real-world political system. The alternative I’ve seen most is “commonwealth” – the commonwealth of God, the commonwealth of Christ.

I am basically on board with the reasons for making that change. But I haven’t made it myself, not even in my private prayer. It just feels a little clunky to me. And, I confess, I like the language and imagery of kingship. It has a kind of fairytale, storybook resonance for me – and, I suspect, for most of us. It’s over 200 years since our country had a king; kings are primarily the stuff of story and symbol for us anyway. The images and associations with kingship that this Sunday stirs up for me probably owe much more to Grimm, Andrew Lang, and Disney than to any actual political system.

As I thought about it this week, I realized that there’s probably a fair amount of J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Aragorn, Strider, in my image of Jesus the King – which is only fair since there’s certainly a fair amount of Jesus in Tolkien’s construction of Aragorn. Aragorn the undercover king, the scruffy, wise, courageous wanderer – All that is gold does not glitter, and all that. Aragorn who only claims his crown and shows forth his inner authority when the story is almost over, when he’s earned his position through struggle and loss.

So in one way or another, I’m comfortable with the image of Christ the King because of the associations I bring to it. Jesus the King is noble, brave, kind, wise, powerful, possibly disguised, possibly glorious. Well and good.  But. But there’s a problem with my storybook image of kingship. The problem is – it misses the point. It misses the deep, intentional, holy irony of naming Jesus as a King.

Look again at this Gospel. Look closely this time – notice the details.  Look at Pilate, Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor of Judea. His hair is neatly cut and combed. He’s clean-shaven. His clothing is simple but sumptuous – finely-woven cloth bleached bright white, edged with gold. The room in which they stand, a meeting room at the Roman headquarters, is probably simply furnished, not lavish – a desk and chair of finely-carved exotic woods – materials for writing letters and decrees – guards in the doorway, clad in the fierce beauty of Roman armor, shield on one arm, short sword at hip, spear in hand. Somewhere, perhaps on a pole beside the door, a gold standard bearing the letters that served as shorthand for the dominion of Rome: SPQR. Simple physical signs that stand for overwhelming military and political power.

Pilate is not a king. He’s a provincial governor in a rather backward and underdeveloped province of a sprawling and fractious empire. Rome was supposed to be a republic – a democracy, founded on the Greek principles of democratic rule, as is our own nation. But as Rome’s power had grown and spread, so too had the power of her rulers.  Who remembers reading Julius Caesar, in high school English Lit? Julius was a statesman and general who was assassinated in 44 BC by a group of Roman senators who feared the way he was gathering power to himself and turning Rome’s democracy into tyranny. But killing Julius didn’t save Roman democracy. Augustus Caesar, Julius’ heir, avenged his killers and restored the appearance of the Roman republic, while slowly establishing total lifelong rule for himself, turning Rome into a de facto monarchy. Augustus was the first Roman emperor to be worshiped as a god throughout the Empire.  That cult of the Emperor – the idea that the Roman ruler was a god who must be honored by all subjects of Rome – was one of the reasons early Christians were persecuted: they wouldn’t make sacrifices at temples of the emperor.

Pilate was born during Augustus’ reign, and at the time of this scene, he’s serving under the Emperor Tiberius. His parents, perhaps, had witnessed the decline of the Roman republic, and the rise of the Roman imperium. Pilate was a perceptive man; I’m sure he saw the risks of concentrating so much power, authority, and devotion in one person. Pilate was a smart and pragmatic man; I’m sure he honored his emperor and kept his head down.

That’s the image of kingship Pilate brings into the room: the King as god, emperor, untouchable tyrant. Kingship that grows and spreads like a cancer, distorting and devouring what it grows upon.

And what about Jesus? Look at him: he’s not clean-shaven or tidy. He’s a mess, dirty and bloody from being roughed up by the guards. His clothes weren’t that nice to begin with, dusty and smelly from being worn week in and week out, and they’re torn and filthy now. His hands are bound. He’s not a king, either – at least, not in any of the ways Pilate means.

What image of kingship does Jesus carry? Remember the prophet Samuel’s warning to the people Israel, when they were asking God for a king: Kings take. They take your sons as guards and warriors. They take your daughters as servants and cooks and concubines. They take your wealth to arm their troops, decorate their palaces. They take the best of your crops and your flock and your land. You will become no better than slaves to the power, ambition, and greed of the King you want so badly. But the people want a King. So Samuel anoints the general Saul as the first King of Israel. But Saul displeases God and God sends Samuel to call David, the shepherd boy, as the next King.

Our Old Testament lesson today brings us some of David’s last words, his hopeful confidence that his house, his kingship, will endure forever: “Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.” David, raised up by God as a faithful king under God’s authority, falls into the mindset of human power. It’s about stability, prosperity, fame, posterity, and God is the power that secures all that, guaranteeing favor and victory to the chosen ruler.

In fact… all has not gone well during David’s kingship, and all does not go well after his death. His son Solomon is mostly a faithful king, though his weakness for foreign women leads him astray. After Solomon, the Israelite kingship begins a rapid decline into kings who look more and more like Samuel’s brutally frank description. King Ahab, for example, has a man falsely accused and executed because he fancies his vineyard as a vegetable garden. Israel is conquered, several times over. Puppet kings are put in place, then fall, several times over. For a brief sweet century, as the Greek empire was declining, Israel was an independent kingdom again. But then Rome stormed onto the scene, conquering Judea in 63 BC, and the criminally insane tyrant Herod the Great became the king in Judea, under Roman control. Both Herod the Great, still king when Jesus was born, and Herod Antipas, king when Jesus was killed, were vassal kings – holding power only because Rome gave it to them, and expected to serve the interests of their Roman patrons.

That’s the image of kingship Jesus brings into the room, as a Jew, a member of God’s people Israel.  The story of Israel’s kingship was a story of hubris, war, greed, and loss. Kingship failed for Israel, in many ways. Over and over.

Pilate asks Jesus, Are you a king? I’ve been told that you’re the King of the Jews. And Jesus answers, with bitter irony,  If I were a king, don’t you think I’d have some followers fighting for me, instead of standing before you, bound and utterly alone?  All those associations, all those meanings of kingship – power, greed, violence, hubris, authority, glory – they’re thick in the air between these two men. I think Pilate fully intends the irony of his question. I think Jesus fully hears it, and responds accordingly. Yeah. Nice kingdom I’ve got here. Aren’t you impressed with my army? Oops, where did they go? They were right here…

To get a different lens on this conversation, try it out this way: So, I hear that you’re “president.” Yeah? Who told you that? Well, are you? Yeah, I’m definitely president. See all my secret service personnel around me? They look pretty tough, huh?…

Of course there’s another concept of kingship in the room, but it’s so different that it almost can’t be given the same name. It’s the image of kingship that lives in the part of Jesus that is God and not man. It’s the idea of kingship that carries him to this bitter hour, and beyond, to his death under that sign Pilate had made – the sign that says, Jesus Christ, King of the Jews. It’s the image of a king without army, palace, or crown. The image of a king who invites instead of subjecting. Who rules through persuasion, love, grace, instead of rule of law or rule of force. Who frees instead of binding. Who gives instead of taking. It is nonsensical, by the terms of human power. And it is the kingship of Jesus.

The idea of a king who lays down his life for the sake of his subjects is just as nonsensical as a shepherd willing to die for his sheep. They’re just sheep. Yet that’s the kingship of Jesus.

I’d forgotten, before taking up work on this week’s sermon, how recent this feast day is. The observance of Christ the King Sunday, on the last Sunday before Advent, was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The Pope was responding to rampant nationalism in Europe – which had both contributed to, and flowed out of, World War I. He was calling Christians to deeper and wider loyalties.  In our mother church, the Church of England, priest and scholar Percy Dearmer – known to us as the source of several of our hymns – wrote an essay on patriotism in 1915 that expressed concerns similar to the Pope’s: “A Christian cannot turn to the State for his ethics, or take diplomats as his spiritual directors; the only patriotism which he can respect is that which bows before the God of truth and righteousness….Loyalty to the kingdoms of the world may indeed become treason to the Kingdom of God.”

So the feast of Christ the King was born from Christian leaders’ keen sense of the difference between the kingship of Christ and the kings of this world – be they kings, presidents, or prime ministers. Those leaders saw Christians falling into nationalistic ideologies that too readily identified human power with divine, and too easily connected our nation’s prosperity with God’s favor, our nation’s interests with God’s righteousness. They wanted to remind us that God’s rule is very different from human rule – and that our first loyalty is to a kingdom not of this earth.

And yet over the decades and centuries, in the prayers and hymns we use this day, in the images of Christ the King in stained glass and mosaic ceilings, we’ve depicted Jesus like an earthly king. We tend to muddle up the things this feast was intended to distinguish. We talk about Christ’s glory and power and authority as if he were the kind of king he never was and never wanted to be – the kind of king with a throne, and a crown, and an army. And a lot of the time, in American public life, in American churches, Jesus is described as if he were that kind of king, that kind of God. A forceful, authoritative, my-way-or-the-highway type. When that vision of Jesus has been appropriated to serve the interests of human power, the results have been devastating.

In looking at the Jesus I’ve come to know though the Gospels, through study, through my own walk, the Jesus I hope to keep knowing more deeply… I see a Jesus who sought to change human systems, not by decree or force, but through radical nonviolence. I see a Jesus who sought to change human minds, not through argumentation or pontification, but through asking questions that break open old habits of thought and let the light shine in. I see a Jesus who sought to change human hearts, not with manipulation or fear, but by living a life of radiant generosity and grace.

All of those things are hard. But none of them are impossible. Even for us ordinary Christians.

I still like my storybook image of kingship. But its limitations are becoming clearer to me. There are probably people here today who are put off by the image of Jesus on the throne, in all his power and glory. There are probably people here today who would be put off by it, if they really thought it through. The good news is, that image is just an image – an attempt to use the symbols and language of human power as a way to represent and honor divine power.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and there’s a lot of beauty in those images, poetic or visual.  But we need to remember that that’s not actually the kind of power Jesus had, nor, I believe, the kind of power he wanted.

The God we know in Christ doesn’t want us as dolls or puppets or subjects. The God we know in Christ wants us as friends. As family.  So, in honoring the Feast of Christ the King, we can appreciate all those images of Christ enthroned, crowned with many crowns, resplendent in glory, majesty and power. But maybe it will do our hearts good to hold those images alongside some others, just as true if not more so: Christ the street preacher. Christ the drifter. Christ the freeloader. Christ the refugee. Christ the condemned criminal. And maybe it will do our hearts some good to ponder what it means to think, pray, and live as the friends and family of a king like that.

Announcements, November 20

SUNDAY and THE WEEK AHEAD…

Piece Be with You! Please join us between services at 9:00am for a festive, all-parish brunch celebrating the ingathering of our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches and other offerings.

 Anticipating Advent: Advent materials, including candles and prayers for at-home use, will be available starting on Sunday, November 22. Advent is the season of expectation that precedes Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation; and it is also the beginning of a new church year!

 Advent Virtual Book Group: Daring Greatly.  Starting on November 22, you’re invited to join a virtual book group. We will read Brene Brown’s bestselling book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and share reactions and reflections in a Facebook group. We may also plan one or more face-to-face discussions if there is interest in doing so.  Sign up in the Gathering Area and/or join the Facebook group “Advent Reading Group: Daring Greatly.” Please let Rev. Miranda know if you need help getting a copy of the book. It is readily available at your local library or online, in new, used, Kindle and audio editions.

Grace Shelter Dinner, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the Gathering Area to help out.

Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 25, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Black Friday Craft-In, Friday, November 27, 1 – 4pm, St. Dunstan’s Church: Tired of the mall? Make stuff. Give it away. This year we’ll host our second annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. If you’ll be in town and would like to volunteer to help out, please sign up in the Gathering Area or email Rev. Miranda. We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!” setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates.

 Last Call – Donations, Names & Addresses for Military and College Student Care Packages: The Youth Group will be creating and sending out care packages early in December. If you have a college student or service member in your network who would like a care package, please provide name and address to Sharon Henes at shenes@myfrontiermail.com.  Thank you for your support!

Altar Flowers: December dates are available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35 (write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash).

ADVENT OFFERINGS…

All-Ages Advent Worship, Sunday, November 29, 10am: We will begin the season of Advent with All-Ages Worship, exploring the symbols, stories and songs of this new season together. Before and after the service, craft stations will be available for kids (and non-kids) to make small gifts for their loved ones.

ECW Women’s Day Away, Tuesday, Dec 1: Take the opportunity to share a day in a small near-by community with good shopping and lunch. This year we will be going to Baraboo, leaving the St. D’s parking lot at 8:30am. We will stop in Sauk City for coffee and sweets at Leistra, a long time restaurant with fantastic cinnamon rolls. Then on to Baraboo with maps, store listings and the highlighted lunch location in hand. After lunch, we’ll head home or do a bit more shopping. Please see sign-up on bulletin board. There will be Baraboo information in weeks to come.

The Poetry of Advent, Sunday, December 6, 9am: Bring a favorite Advent poem to share, or simply come to listen and reflect together.

Advent Quiet Day, Saturday, December 12, 1 – 4:30pm: Come spend some time in intentional silence. You may color, read, participate in Advent prayer stations, walk the grounds, sit in silence, or converse quietly in a designated area. We’ll begin and end in prayer. You’re welcome to invite a friend. Talk to Sharon Henes if you’d like to help out with snacks, art, music, or other elements of the day.

Service of Lessons and Music, Sunday, December 13, 10am: Our special Lessons & Music service this Advent will focus on the life and preaching of John the Baptist. A signup sheet for our festive Coffee Hour will be available soon.

 Caroling Ministry: Would you like to join a small group of singers, prepare a set of songs and readings, and visit some of our homebound elders to sing for them, one evening near Christmas? Talk with Rev. Miranda or sign up in the Gathering Area to get involved in this new ministry, intended to share the spirit of the holy season and the love of this parish with those who are rarely able to worship with us.

Share your Christmas with our neighbors! St Dunstan’s will sponsor 20 people through MOM’s Sharing Christmas program this year. The tree with gift tags will be up by Sunday, Nov. 22nd. Please take one or more tags and purchase a gift. Wrapped gifts will need to be back at St Dunstan’s on December 13.

IN THE WIDER CHURCH & COMMUNITY…

Camp Webb 2016 (June 19 – 25) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 2 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $375 if you register before January 15, with a deposit of $75 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible. Visit http://www.diomil.org/ministries/christian-formation/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

 

Sermon, November 15

This Sunday finds us deep in our fall Giving Campaign. St. Dunstan’s, like most Episcopal churches, gets the overwhelming majority of its financial support from its own members – from our giving, week by week, year by year. Every fall we take a few weeks to ask people to make a statement, a pledge, of how much you intend to give to the church in the coming calendar year – 2016. Those pledges allow your Finance Committee and Vestry to plan for the next year’s programs and expenditures with some realistic sense of our income. Response has been great so far – I’m pleased and excited. We’re hoping to have most or, ideally, all! our pledges gathered in no later than next Sunday, our Giving Campaign Victory Celebration. If you’ve pledged in the past and you haven’t turned one in yet this year, you may be getting a gentle nudge this week, to see if you have any questions, if you need a new card mailed to you, that sort of thing…

In conjunction with our Giving Campaign, I’ve worked closely with the Finance Committee to make sure that anyone who’s interested in our church finances can find answers to their questions. We’ve explained our income and expenses, where our money comes from and where it goes, by displaying it in tables and pie charts and glass cylinders full of marbles… Anyone with more detailed questions – how much does Miranda’s health insurance cost? How much do we pay for snow plowing? – you just have to ask. Our finances are open to our members.

Anyway – if you’ve taken a moment to peruse those pie charts and tables, you might have noticed that our Buildings and Grounds are a pretty big expense.  Tied for second largest area of expense with our diocesan assessment, the funds we give to our church jurisdiction to help support the Bishop’s office, diocesan programs like Camp Webb, aid to other parishes, and more. Our buildings and grounds expenses have totaled around $42,000 in recent years – around 16% of our budgeted expenses. Now, a lot of different budget lines are included there – snow plowing, grass mowing, cleaning, maintenance and repair, utility bills, our property and liability insurance, city assessments. But all taken together, that $42,000 is what it costs us to have a place. To have a physical location that we own, and to keep it safe, clean, functional and accessible. (And believe me, that number could be even higher if some of you didn’t pitch in as volunteers to help out with some of that work!)

You don’t have to have a place, to be a church. The mission parish Phil and I helped start in North Carolina rented worship space from a Jewish community. It worked fine. But we, St. Dunstan’s – we have a place. And we spend over $40,000 a year taking care of it.

When I first looked at this Sunday’s Scripture lessons – look, I am going to talk about Scripture! This really is a sermon! – I thought, Well, that’s a mess, what will I do with that? Then I began to notice that all of these texts say something about having holy places. The pros and cons of having a particular place that is the focus of a people’s relationship with God.

We know that God is everywhere. A prayer here is no more valid than a prayer from a back alley, or a speeding vehicle, or a hospital room, or a bathtub. And yet: we like having places… places to come where we feel close to the Divine, places to bring our gifts, offer our prayers, receive blessing. Google “Gobekli Tepi” sometime – it’s one of most interesting archeological discoveries of our time. It’s a carved stone complex on a hilltop in Turkey, about twelve thousand years old – which means it predates pottery, metal-working, writing, the wheel, and agriculture – and yet those people, Paleolithic nomads, built this amazing site, consisting of circular enclosures of finely-carved stones decorated with realistic stone animals. It’s amazing – and it’s a testimony to the fact that, as soon as humans developed the skills and organization to build stuff, we started building holy stuff. Churches, temples, henges. It’s a deep-seated and ancient impulse.

One reason we like having holy places is that they give us a place to go. Sure, we know that God is everywhere, but only young children and saints actually seem to remember that. Most of us need the cue, the intention, the routine, of going to a particular place, to help us focus and open our minds and hearts and spirits to approach and receive the Divine.  We see that in our Old Testament lesson for today, a portion of the story of Elkanah and Hannah, who become the parents of Samuel, the prophet and kingmaker, who anoints first Saul, then David, kings over Israel. In the time of this story, Jerusalem is not yet the capital city of God’s people, and it will be David’s son Solomon who builds the great Temple there. But there is a temple to the God of Israel at Shiloh, tended by a priest, Eli, and his sons.

Elkanah expresses his faith in God and his gratitude for God’s blessings by going to that temple every year, and offering animal sacrifices there. It’s not our thing but in early Old Testament Judaism, sacrificing animals was one of the central ways for people to honor God and express their devotion. Now, Elkahah and his family have done this for years, but this particular year, Hannah finally breaks. She is barren, childless, and that grief and grievance overwhelms her. And it drives her away from the family party and to the temple, where she feels herself to be in the presence of God; and there she pours out her distress, her bitterness, her heartfelt longings, to God in prayer. She is so moved, so worked up, that Eli the priest thinks she’s drunk. But they get that misunderstanding straightened out, and Eli blesses her and sends her away. And she leaves the temple with a new sense of peace and hope – “her countenance was sad no longer.” A few months later Hannah finally gets pregnant – but note, please, that she finds relief from her anguish long before her prayer is answered. Coming before God and releasing the passionate prayers of her heart in that holy place helped her. Eased her mind and heart.

That holy place – church, temple, sacred grove – can be especially important when we’re walking the road of grief, anger, anxiety or struggle. People tell me regularly, “I’m holding it together OK most of the time, but when I come to church, the tears just come out.” And I say, That’s OK. That’s good. It’s safe here. This is a place where you can unlock your heart. Weep and rage before the altar, like Hannah, if you need to. I’ll try to be like Eli, honoring your pain and joining you in prayer.

So that’s one thing about our holy places. They give us a place to practice our piety and pour out our prayers. We could do those things anywhere, and some of us do – I do a lot of praying in my car. But it seems to help us to have a defined place.  And it helps us to have a place to gather with other people of faith. This was assumed, in Old Testament Judaism – that people will gather, learn, and pass on faith to their children. In the New Testament, and especially the Epistles, our Scriptures begin to call us clearly and consistently to gather regularly as a community of faith. Christians were a minority, often despised, sometimes persecuted. Their ways of faith and life were very different from those of the surrounding society. They needed to come together, for solidarity and strength, for mutual support and sharing of prayers and resources.

Listen again to these verses from the letter to the Hebrews (10:24-25): “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another.” The author goes on to remind the Christian community of the struggles they’ve already been through, and how well they endured, caring for one another even through imprisonment and loss, holding confidently and courageously to their faith. They’ve stuck it out because they stuck together, holding each other up, encouraging each other, reminding each other of God’s steadfast love in the best possible way: by showing steadfast love for each other, even in the worst of times. Holy places are places for God’s people to gather, to meet together, encourage one another, learn and live more deeply into the teachings of our faith, and provoke – I love that verb! – provoke one another to love and good deeds.

So. Our holy places – churches, temples, henges and groves – they provide a place for us to practice our piety. A place to bring our deep yearnings, struggles, and joys, in prayer. A place to gather with others, to be made and re-made as God’s people.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The people to whom the letter to the Hebrews is speaking – they didn’t have a church. They were meeting in somebody’s house. Maybe, when times were especially bad, they were meeting in underground tunnels or other hidden locations. When this author talks about entering the sanctuary, passing through the curtain into the holy of holies, he is using imagery from the Great Temple, from the practices of Old Testament Judaism, to describe a new way of worship, of approaching God, in heart and soul, without a temple or any other special holy place to visit. Because the Temple was gone.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples marvel at the great stones, the majesty and beauty, of the Temple in Jerusalem – the heart of Jewish faith and identity, the Second Temple, rebuilt even greater and grander than the first, Solomon’s temple, destroyed by the Babylonians. And Jesus says, Soon, not one stone will be left upon another. All of them will be thrown down.  Jesus is absolutely right in predicting the destruction of the Temple, but with all due respect, it’s not his most visionary moment. Probably lots of people could have seen that coming. Imperial occupation is an inherently unstable political situation. The Romans were unpopular and the Jews were restless. There was going to be a revolt, eventually. And it would probably be a religious revolt. And the Romans would win, because they were the greatest military power of the age by a long shot. And the Temple would be torn apart, to make it very plain to the Jewish people that they should not let their funny little God encourage them to revolt against Rome any more. It happened maybe forty years after the conversation in our Gospel, in the year 70.

So early Christianity – and our sister faith, rabbinic Judaism – took shape in circumstances that were not favorable for big fancy religious edifices. Eventually those first house-churches started to get a little fancier – altars, baptismal pools, religious mosaics. But the first churches, per se, don’t appear till the fourth century.  I think that’s why the image of Christians as stones in a spiritual temple is so dominant in early Christian literature – early Christians didn’t have special buildings in which to practice their faith, so they developed the idea that they, the community, were the building, the temple, the holy home for God’s spirit.

But. The fourth century rolls around. The Emperor Constantine smiles upon Christianity. No longer persecuted, Christians start to build churches. And then they start to build really big churches. The great churches and cathedrals start to be concrete manifestations of the power, wealth, and glory of religion, just as the Jerusalem Temple was before them. Christians had holy places, to gather, and honor God, practice their faith, and offer up their struggles and their thanksgivings. And that was good in many ways. But it wasn’t all good. Like the Temple, the great cathedrals could carry the message that God lived here and not elsewhere – and that the religious functionaries of that place controlled access to God’s attention and favors. Like the Temple, the great cathedrals demanded resources for their construction and upkeep. They shone with wealth, while most of God’s people lived in grinding poverty.

In last week’s Gospel, the passage just before today’s text, Jesus praises a poor widow for her gift to the Temple. But I just didn’t have the heart to turn that into a stewardship sermon. I believe that Jesus honors the widow’s generosity and, more, her radical trust that if she does what is right and honors God, then it doesn’t matter what happens to her. But the context for that little vignette is Jesus’ teaching about the hypocrisy and greed of the Temple elites. He doesn’t believe that what the widow is giving to, is worthy of her. Two chapters earlier, he was in the Temple court, knocking over the tables of the moneychangers, outraged at profit-seeking in his Father’s house.

Our holy places can become drains and distractions. They can suck up more than their fair share of resources and energy. Every time I visit a fine old church and admire its beautiful stained glass or historic stone walls, I remind myself that stained glass windows can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain, that historic stone walls crumble and let in moisture and have to be repaired or replaced. There are things I don’t love about this building. But I would choose it over most of the other church buildings I know. It’s in pretty good shape, and it serves us pretty well.

But of course that $42,000 isn’t just this building. It’s the grounds and gardens. It’s the parking lot. It’s the 19th-century farmhouse that used to serve as the rectory. It’s that boxy but functional edifice we call the Parish Center, currently home to our neighbor church Foundry414. And it’s the woods – how many of you have ever been in the woods? Ask one of the older kids to take you sometime. They all know their way around down there. Taking care of all of that responsibly, keeping it safe, clean, functional and accessible, that’s what costs us $42,000 a year.

Could we do church, could we be church, the way Foundry414 does, or that mission parish in North Carolina, or like the little gathering that became St. Dunstan’s, in the early years when they met in a soda bottling plant? Making the best of borrowed space, with expenses for our holy place at 5 or 10 or 15 thousand dollars, instead of 40-plus? Sure. If we were starting fresh, or if we had to start over, we could do that.

But we won’t, because we have this place. Built with love and purpose, bequeathed to us by the founders of this church, most of whom are now long gone. We have it, so we take care of it. To honor the past, to maintain and improve for the future – and because we love it.  I won’t claim that we have a clear sense of purpose in how we’re using every part of our property. With the woods, with the rectory, there’s an element of just muddling along in how we’re using them right now. Maybe we’ll do that work, in the next few years – developing a clear sense of how to integrate those assets into our life, our mission as a parish. Make them part of what we are, instead of just part of what we have.

There are pros and cons to having a place. Scripture, history, and our own experiences tell us that. There are risks and downsides, to be sure.  The risk of usual wear and tear or some sudden catastrophe costing more than we can readily afford. The risk that we’ll let some failure of our physical plant – shabby carpet, torn chairs – either matter less, or more, than it really should. The risk that choices made fifty or twenty years ago, about the steps around an altar or the shape of a kitchen, will constrain what we’re able to do today. The risk that, in making this a safe and comfortable place for those of us already here, we’ll create stumbling blocks at the threshold for those who aren’t here yet. The risk of thinking that the building is what makes us a church. The risk of letting this place and what we do here be the fulness of our faith, forgetting that we are sent into the world as witnesses of God’s love – sent to Galilee, as our new Presiding Bishop likes to say.

But I think we’re reasonably mindful of those risks, here. And there are blessings, too. This is a holy place – our holy place. This space made holy – hallowed, in the beautiful old word – by the intentions and hopes of its founders, by artists and architects, by the pure beauty of wood and glass, by the presence and prayers and songs of fifty years of our predecessors here. This ground made holy – hallowed – by the shaping and tending of humans and by the urgent and beautiful grace of the life of the planet, manifest in trees and flowers and birds and squirrels and stones and sand. I met up for lunch with a friend who was then on staff at Asbury Methodist, right next door, a couple of years ago. She walked over to wait for me in our parking lot – and she remarked on how different it feels here from their property, all of a hundred yards away. There’s a kind of peace on our grounds that’s hard to explain without resorting to the supernatural.

This is our holy place. We love it, and we take it for granted. We use it, and care for it, and sometimes neglect it a little. We draw on the walls and spill things on the floor and leave messes for other people to clean up, just like home, because it is home, a kind of home. And we come here like Elkanah to give thanks and honor God, and to find comfort and hope in the familiar practices of our faith. We come here like Hannah, a woman deeply troubled, to pour out the desires and fears and bitter griefs of our hearts. We come here like the first Christians, to learn and teach, encourage and exhort and, yes, provoke.  That sixteen percent of our budget that it asks from us isn’t so much, really, when we look at all the ways it blesses us. With shelter and comfort, space to use and space to share, flowers in the spring, berries in the summer and the beauty of snow-laden pines in the winter, and most of all, simply being a holy home for our fellowship of faith.

Anticipating Advent

Advent is the season of expectation that precedes Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation; and it is also the beginning of a new church year! Advent materials, including candles and prayers for at-home use, will be available starting on Sunday, November 22.

Advent Virtual Book Group: Daring Greatly.  Starting on November 22, you’re invited to join a virtual book group. We will read Brene Brown’s bestselling book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and share reactions and reflections in a Facebook group. We may also plan one or more face-to-face discussions if there is interest in doing so.  Sign up in the Gathering Area and/or join the Facebook group “Advent Reading Group: Daring Greatly.” Please let Rev. Miranda know if you need help getting a copy of the book. It is readily available at your local library or online, in new, used, Kindle and audio editions.

All-Ages Advent Worship, Sunday, November 29, 10am: We will begin the season of Advent with All-Ages Worship, exploring the symbols, stories and songs of this new season together. After the service, craft stations will be available for kids (and non-kids) to make small gifts for their loved ones.

The Poetry of Advent, Sunday, December 6, 9am: Bring a favorite Advent poem to share, or simply come to listen and reflect together.

Advent Mini-Retreat, Saturday, December 12: Watch this space for more information regarding a half-day quiet retreat, to help us enter into the season more fully. Talk to Rev. Miranda or Evy Gildrie-Voyles to learn more or get involved in planning.

Caroling Ministry: Would you like to join a small group of singers, prepare a set of songs and readings, and visit some of our homebound elders to sing for them, one evening near Christmas? Talk with Rev. Miranda or sign up in the Gathering Area to get involved in this new ministry, intended to share the spirit of the holy season and the love of this parish with those who are rarely able to worship with us.

Share your Christmas with our neighbors! St Dunstan’s will sponsor 20 people through MOM’s Sharing Christmas program this year. The tree with gift tags will be up by Sunday, Nov. 22nd. Please take one or more tags and purchase a gift. Wrapped gifts will need to be back at St Dunstan’s on December 13.

Announcements, November 12

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15….

A Spirituality of Gratitude: Anne Lamott’s “Thanks”, 9am: All are welcome to a conversation about how to cultivate a spirit of gratitude even in hard times.

 Sunday School, Sunday, 10am: This week, our 3-5 year old class will learn about the people of Israel’s journey of Exile and Return, while the 6-10 year old class hears about Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund today and on every third Sunday. This fund is a way to quietly help people with direct financial needs, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Christian Formation Meeting, 12pm: We will firm up our Advent Christian Formation plans and begin planning for our special Lent programs. All interested folk are welcome!

 Evening Eucharist, Sunday, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All welcome.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Kids’ Ornament Sale: Christmas ornaments are available in the Gathering Area, for a suggested donation of $1 each. Buy a couple to hang on your tree or tuck into Christmas boxes!

Remembrance Station: Our Remembrance Station hangs in our nave for the month of November. Consider bringing in a copy of a photo, note, or other token of one of those whom you remember with love, as an extension of our All Saints commemorations. On Sunday, November 22, we will commend these faithful departed to Christ our King.

Episcopal Church Year Guide 2016 Calendars: 2016 Church calendars are available in the Gathering Area. If you wish, a $3.00 donation would be appreciated.

THE WEEKS AHEAD….

Needed – Ushers for 5th Sunday in November: If you are able to help out with ushering on November 29, please let Pamela in the office know at (608) 238-2781. We are also looking for help on the 2nd Sundays from December through May (Dec. 13, Jan. 10, Feb. 14, Mar. 13, Apr 10 and May 8). If you can usher one or more of those Sundays, let us know. Thanks!

Vestry Meeting, Wednesday, November 18, 6:45pm: The Vestry is the elected leadership body of our parish. Any members are welcome to attend our meetings, to observe or raise questions or ideas.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, November 20, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at La Mestiza, 6644 Odana Road, Madison, for Mexican food.

Military and College Student Care Packages: The Youth Group is collecting donations during November to be included in care packages for military personnel and college students. There is a list of suggested items by the donation box. If you have a college student or service member who you would a care package sent to, please provide name and address to the office, email to office@stdunstans.com. The youth will be assembling and mailing the care packages the first week of December. Thank you for your support!

 Piece Be with You! Please join us between services at 9:00am on November 22nd for a festive, all-parish brunch celebrating the ingathering of our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches and other offerings. Please sign up to bring your favorite pie or quiche. Pre-cut pies with labeled pie servers would be much appreciated. For questions or to help out, contact the office at 238-2781. Thank you!

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, November 22, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the Gathering Area to help out.

Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 25, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Black Friday Craft-In, Friday, November 27, 1 – 4pm, St. Dunstan’s Church: Tired of the mall? Make stuff. Give it away. This year we’ll host our second annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. If you’ll be in town and would like to volunteer to help out, please sign up in the Gathering Area or email the office at office@stdunstans.com . We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!” setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates.

ECW Women’s Day Away, Tuesday, Dec 1: Take the opportunity to share a day in a small near-by community with good shopping and lunch. This year we will be going to Baraboo, leaving the St. D’s parking lot at 8:30am. We will stop in Sauk City for coffee and sweets at Leistra, a long time restaurant with fantastic cinnamon rolls. Then on to Baraboo with maps, store listings and the highlighted lunch location in hand. After lunch, we’ll head home or do a bit more shopping. Please see sign-up on bulletin board. There will be Baraboo information in weeks to come.

Sermon, Nov. 8

Naomi and her Daughters exhibited 1804 by George Dawe 1781-1829
George Dawe, “Naomi and her Daughters”

Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.  

That is the sixteenth verse of the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, the source of today’s Old Testament lesson. It’s the most familiar – the most famous – verse of the whole book. Most notably, it’s become a favorite text at weddings. If you go on Pinterest, the notorious craft idea sharing site, you’ll see Ruth 1:16 featured in many an artful wedding decor shot, painted on barnwood, letterpressed on a poster, written in cursive on a vintage globe.

But the thing is, this is not a marriage text. Its message of love and loyalty, of forging new and lasting ties, fits easily in with the language of our sacramental bonds. But these words are spoken by a young woman, a widow, to her mother-in-law. Let me tell you the story – you know I love to tell these stories – and then I’ll circle back round to Ruth 1:16 and Pinterest weddings and all that.

This is how the Book of Ruth begins. In the days when the judges ruled – before the time of the Kings, Saul, David, Solomon – there was a famine in the land of God’s people.  And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the neighboring country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife was Naomi, and their two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. Don’t bother to remember those names, though. Elimelech died soon after the family moved to Moab, but they remained there; the young men took wives from among the Moabites, named Orpah and Ruth. But within a few years Mahlon and Chilion, Naomi’s sons, died too, and left Naomi a widow without sons – a woman without a man to protect and provide for her, one of the worst possible fates in a patriarchal society.

Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem; there is nothing for her here in this foreign land. She encourages her Moabite daughters-in-law to return home to their families, as well; after all, nothing now binds them to her. The daughters-in-law weep and insist on staying—which is when we start to get a sense that Naomi was someone special. We all know that daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationships can be tense, and these daughters-in-law weren’t even Jews – Naomi might well have been disappointed by her sons’ choices. But apparently Naomi was such an affectionate mother-in-law that Orpah and Ruth were quite devoted to her. Naomi harangues the girls, reminding them that she has no more sons in her womb for them to marry, and Orpah at last consents to return home.

But Ruth is more stubborn. She insists on coming back to Bethlehem with Naomi. And this is when Ruth speaks those famous words, making a vow to bind herself to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God.” She makes herself Naomi’s daughter, she joins Naomi’s family – and more: Christian writer Lauren Winner writes, “With that pledge, [Ruth] makes herself a Jew.”

So Naomi and Ruth return together to Bethlehem, poverty-stricken. It is harvest time, and in order to get food for herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth goes out to glean in the fields. Gleaning was a duty of the rich towards the poor, established in the Book of Deuteronomy: when landowners harvested their grain, the poor could come and collect the ears of grain which were missed.

Quite by chance, Ruth goes to the fields of Boaz, a distant cousin of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband. Boaz is in the fields, overseeing the harvest, and notices Ruth, a young woman, a stranger, and alone. Learning who she is, he extends kindness to her, offering her free access to the workers’ water, giving her some food at lunchtime, and warning the men working the fields not to bother her.   Ruth asks Boaz, “Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?” Boaz’s reply shows that he is impressed with Ruth’s character: “I have had a complete account of what you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband’s death; you have left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know previously.”

Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields for the rest of the harvest season, at his invitation, but Naomi wants more for her daughter-in-law than a life of scavenging. And the harvest is ending soon – gleaning won’t sustain them much longer. Naomi knows that Boaz is a kind man, and that he is also a kinsman of her late husband, and that this means he is one of a number of people who has some obligation to marry Ruth. Here’s where you need a little anthropology to understand this story: the ancient Jews followed a set of marriage practices called the levirate. This meant that when a man died childless, his brother had an obligation to marry his widow and produce children on behalf of the dead brother; if there was no brother, that obligation passed on to other near male kinsmen. Now, in practice, men were often unwilling to take on these duties towards a widow and a dead brother or cousin. After all, the children you produced weren’t yours, they belonged to the dead man; but you were the one who had to support the widow and her family.

Perhaps anticipating that Boaz might be reluctant to take on a widow, Naomi decides to try to push the issue a little. She has Ruth bathe and anoint herself, and dress up in her nicest clothes; then she tells Ruth to sneak up to Boaz as he is sleeping at night, out in the fields where the workers are processing the grain. It’s the end of the harvest season so Boaz and the workers are feasting and drinking in the evenings; Naomi assumes Boaz will have had a few. She tells Ruth, When he lies down, go to him; uncover his “feet”, and do whatever he tells you to do. Ruth says, Okay, I’ll do as you say.

If all this sounds a little sketchy to you, it should. The implication seems to be that Naomi and Ruth hoped to lure Boaz into a sexual relationship before he had a chance to consider all the implications of marrying a widow, and perhaps decide against it. Maybe Naomi assumes that Boaz’ basic decency means that, having gotten some milk for free, he will nonetheless go on to buy the cow and marry Ruth. It’s not Naomi’s best moment, for sure; but we have to remember just how completely without power or resources these two women were. Ruth’s youth and attractiveness may have felt like their only asset.

But Boaz—as we’ve already seen—was a good man, and it didn’t happen quite that way, as today’s portion of the Book of Ruth tells us.  Ruth went down to the threshing-floor in the evening, all gussied up. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and was in a contented mood, he went to lie down and sleep near the pile of grain. Ruth came quietly and uncovered his feet and lay down. Suddenly he woke up startled, and found a woman lying beside him. He said, “Who are you?!” She answered, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over me, sir, for you are my husband’s next-of-kin.” Boaz said, “Bless you, my child, for your loyalty in this is even greater than your loyalty to Naomi. You have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. Do not be afraid; I will do what you ask and take you as my wife, for everyone knows that you are a worthy woman.” The text hints that Boaz is older, and perhaps on the homely side. There’s no hint that he’s been married before. He seems genuinely touched that this young woman is willing to be his bride – not only to do the right thing for her mother-in-law, but to bring some happiness and fulfillment into his life, too.

So Boaz tells Ruth that he will take her as his wife. but not right away, not until he can do it properly. He will not take advantage of her desperation and vulnerability. First, as he explains, he has to check with another man who is a nearer kinsman to Elimelech, and thus has a greater right to Ruth.  Boaz tells Ruth, Go to sleep. We’ll sort this out tomorrow. In the morning he wakes Ruth early, gives her some extra food, and protects her honor by sending her home “before people could recognize one another” in the morning light. And as soon as the sun is up, he goes to seek out the man— the book doesn’t name him; let’s call him Joe— who has greater right to Ruth and to the rest of Elimelech’s estate, including some land.

Now it’s Boaz’s turn to be a little crafty. He tells Joe that Naomi is selling off Elimelech’s land, and that Joe has the right to buy it, if he wants it. Joe thinks sure, he could use some more land. Then Boaz adds, Oh, by the way, if you take the land, you also have to take Elimelech’s son’s widow Ruth, and “raise up a family for the dead man on [Elimelech’s land].” That scares Joe; he’s afraid that might be a drain on his own resources. So Joe refuses his rights of redemption over the land and the woman, passing them on to Boaz. Without wasting any time, Boaz announces that he will take Ruth the Moabitess as his wife, and will raise up a family in the name of her dead husband.

And everyone lives happily ever after, more or less. Ruth and Boaz are married. Ruth bears a son, and names him Obed. Naomi, of course, is delighted; she is so close to her daughter-in-law and grandson that she even helps to nurse him. The women of Bethlehem praise God for his restoration of the family, and remind Naomi of Ruth’s faithful love: “[She is] the daughter-in-law who loves you [and] is worth more to you than seven sons!”— strong words in a culture which generally valued sons over daughters!

So ends Ruth’s story— but attentive readers will notice her name again, in the genealogies at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Little Obed becomes Jesse’s father, and the grandfather of King David, and the great-great-great-some grandfather of Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. So Ruth the Moabitess becomes part of that holy lineage.

An interesting thing about the Book of Ruth is that God is just barely a character in it. God is mentioned often; it’s a story about people of faith who turn to God for guidance and protection, and honor God as the source of blessings.  But God works in this story the way I believe God works in our world, our lives, a lot of the time.

God acts in this story through coincidences that advance God’s plot – Ruth just happens to go gleaning in Boaz’ field; Boaz just happens to spot Joe first thing that morning.

And God acts in this story through human hearts and human relationships at their best – Naomi’s affection and determination;  Ruth’s loyalty; Boaz’ kindness and decency; the open-heartedness of the people of Bethlehem, who accept and celebrate Ruth even though she is an outsider.

Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. It’s a beautiful text, and if you used it at your wedding, that’s cool! However, I believe that the trend to appropriate this text into the realm of romance reveals something important about our impoverished imagination for human relationships. We look at these words about intimacy, trust, and commitment, and we think, Oh, this is about romantic love, because that’s where we expect to find intimacy, trust, and commitment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on marriage. I am married to an extraordinary human being, for whom I am grateful on a daily basis. But alongside my spouse, there’s a whole circle of people who sustain and ground and support and challenge me, and I hope that’s true for most of you, too.

My friend Jonathan, the chaplain of the UW Episcopal Campus Ministry – for whom a few Dunstanites are making dinner tonight – talks often about holy friendship.  It’s an idea he’s exploring with the chaplaincy community – how are the friendships formed there different from everyday friendships? More intentional – less conditional – deeper – more fruitful? He wrote about it a few months ago on his blog: 

“The first step toward loving one another is to let yourselves be friends: friends who care for each other, reach out to each other, inside and outside of the hours we share in this place; friends who remember and show interest in one another’s lives; friends who eat together, pray together, laugh together, sometimes cry together…. To be friends is to see one another as gifts of God.

“The second step toward loving one another is to let Christ live in your friendships. Realizing that this second step runs the risk of sounding pious, I think what I mean is that I hope you share with one another the parts of your lives that matter most: the true parts, the God-at-work-in-you parts. I hope you will talk about … what you are seeing of God’s movement in this world and in your life. I hope you will ask questions of your friends here that let others tell you what they see.

“I hope, at some point, you will experience the great gift of being prayed for by a friend, and praying for a friend who needs a prayer especially from you. I hope you will become friends who struggle through the hard parts of Scripture together, and the best parts of Scripture together. I hope you will never forget the gift it is when you show up for each other, and that you also remember how, at times, you have teamed up together, to reach goals you could not have accomplished alone….”

I believe that holy friendship, as Jonathan describes it, is a pretty good description of the bond between Ruth and Naomi. Romance is a very particular kind of relationship that some people spend a lifetime seeking. But holy friendship can unfold all over our lives, in many forms and seasons. Think about the holy friendships you already have, and the blessings they have borne in your life. Think about the friendships or even acquaintanceships that have that potential, with some care and cultivation.

I try not to preach on my children; it’s hard enough to be the pastor’s kid without also being a sermon illustration. But they are some of my best teachers, so now and then, I have to share something. One night this week I asked my kids whether they had done anything lately that they were especially proud of. My daughter said, “Not especially.” So I said, “Well, I’m really impressed with the way you’re getting along with your classmate B. Just a week ago, you guys were fighting a lot.” And my daughter looked at me sternly, paused for a moment, and said, “God is in all of us.”

God is in all of us. And one of the most important, life-giving, fruitful ways God is in us is in our capacity for relationship. Our capacity to reconcile. To connect. To listen, share, support, encourage, collaborate. To establish and live into holy friendships. That’s how God shows up in the story of Ruth. That’s how God shows up for us, much of the time. And that’s a hopes I have for this Christian fellowship: That the bonds of holy friendship will become the strongest threads of the fabric of our common life here.

Jonathan’s blog entry in full: http://thepatienceoftrees.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-flock-of-holy-friendships-our-good.html

Announcements, November 5

SUNDAY….

Budget & Finances Listening Session, 9am: Do you have questions or ideas about our parish’s finances or our Draft 2016 Budget? Come meet with the Rector, Treasurer, and other church leaders between services. All are welcome.

 Sunday School, 10am: Today, our 3-5 year old class will learn about the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem, while the 6-10 year old class will explore the story of the generous widow.

Annual Meeting of the St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church Women, after the 10am Liturgy: St. Dunstan’s has a very loosely organized Episcopal Church Women group (“ECW”) which has an official 20 minute meeting once a year to plan a couple events. The agenda is quite simple: 1. Decide where to go for the annual “Day Away” for the women of the parish, involving lunch and a little shopping at a destination not far from the church. 2. Decide where to have the Epiphany Lunch – usually on a Saturday close to January 6th. 3. Decide whether and how to use the ECW’s funds.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, 11:45am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

Kids’ Ornament Sale: Christmas ornaments made by the children of St. Dunstan’s are available in the Gathering Area, for a suggested donation of $1 each, as the kids’ contribution to our fundraising this fall. Buy a couple to hang on your tree or tuck into Christmas boxes!

Remembrance Station: Our Remembrance Station hangs in our nave for the month of November. Consider bringing in a copy of a photo, note, or other token of one of those whom you remember with love, as an extension of our All Saints commemorations. On Sunday, November 22, we will commend these faithful departed to Christ our King.

THE WEEKS AHEAD….

Needed – Ushers for the 2nd Sunday and 5th Sunday in November: If you are able to help out with ushering on this Sunday or on November 29, please call the office at (608) 238-2781. We are also looking for help on the 2nd Sundays from December through May (Dec. 13, Jan. 10, Feb. 14, Mar. 13, Apr 10 and May 8). If you can usher one or more of those Sundays, let us know. Thanks!

Military and College Student Care Packages: The Youth Group is collecting donations during November to be included in care packages for military personnel and college students. There is a list of suggested items by the donation box. If you have a college student or service member who you would a care package sent to, please provide name and address to the church office at office@stdunstans.com. The youth will be assembling and mailing the care packages the first week of December. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday morning women’s book group, every Wednesday, 9:30 – 11am: This group always welcomes new members! Starting this Wednesday, October 28, the group is starting a new book, recommended by Father David Couper, called “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Come and read along, enjoy snacks and lively conversation, that is sometimes even about the book!

 Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, November 11, 7:15-9pm: You are welcome to attend our November Julian Gathering to learn why Julian is the ‘hottest’ saint of our time. We are living in a crisis-driven era, and it’s not so easy to believe that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as Julian wrote. How could she have been so positive? Come and find out.

Liturgy and Music Meeting, Thursday, November 12, 7pm: At this meeting we’ll check in with our core liturgical ministries, discuss our Advent and Christmas liturgies, and reflect together on how to deepen our shared life of prayer as a parish. All interested people are welcome.

 A Spirituality of Gratitude: Anne Lamott’s “Thanks”, Sunday, November 15, 9am: All are welcome to a conversation about how to cultivate a spirit of gratitude even in hard times.

 Sunday School, Sunday, November 15, 10am: Next week, our 3-5 year old class will learn about the people of Israel’s journey of Exile and Return, while the 6-10 year old class hears about Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Christian Formation Meeting, Sunday, November 15, 12pm: We will firm up our Advent Christian Formation plans and begin planning for our special Lent programs. All interested folk are welcome!

 Evening Eucharist, Sunday, November 15, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, November 15, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Piece Be with You! Please join us between services at 9:00am on November 22nd for a festive, all-parish brunch celebrating the ingathering of our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches and other offerings. Please sign up to bring your favorite pie or quiche. Pre-cut pies with labeled pie servers would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 25, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Black Friday Craft-In, Friday, November 27, 1 – 4pm, St. Dunstan’s Church: Tired of the mall? Make stuff. Give it away. This year we’ll host our second annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. If you’ll be in town and would like to volunteer to help out, please sign up in the Gathering Area or email the office at office@stdunstans.com . We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!” setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates.