Announcements, January 28

SUNDAY,  January 31

Taste and See, An Introduction to the Eucharist for Young Children, 9am: This simple little class is geared for kids ages 3 – 7, and your child is welcome, whatever their level of participation or understanding! Parents welcome too. :-)

Candlemas Last Sunday Worship, 10am: We will celebrate Candlemas with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed!

Poetry at St. Dunstan’s: After the 10am service this Sunday, some members will share poems with themes of Epiphany and winter. If you would like to participate, bring a poem to read aloud – one of your own, or a favorite by somebody else. There is an optional rehearsal on Saturday morning at 10:30am at St. Dunstan’s.

Recovery Eucharist, 6pm: The Recovery Eucharist, celebrated in many churches, is designed for those recovering from any addiction and for those who support them in their recovery. Elements of the service are drawn from the Book of Common Prayer and the 12 Step readings. Our first Recovery Eucharist falls on the feast day of Samuel Shoemaker (1893-1963), who contributed to the growth of the Twelve Step movement. The Eucharist will be celebrated with grape juice instead of wine. All are welcome; feel free to invite a friend.

Survival Kits for Homeless Teens: We are stocking three backpacks with essentials for teenagers who are living on the streets. Thanks to all who have already helped out; please return all items by Sunday, February 7. Financial contributions are also welcome.

Do you love getting books into the hands of readers? Our St. Dunstan’s Little Free Library is seeking a new co-Librarian or two. The Library sits on the southeast corner of our property, and can be reached by car or on foot through our woods. The Library needs to be checked and restocked (every few weeks in winter, perhaps weekly in nice weather), and this task can easily be shared by a small team of helpers. Members and friends of St. Dunstan’s donate used books to put in our Library. Please talk to Rev. Miranda or email at office@stdunstans.com to get involved!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Game Night, Friday, February 5, 5:30 – 8:30pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be honored Sunday, February 7, as is our custom on the first Sunday of every month. Come forward after the Announcements to receive a blessing and the community’s prayers.

Healing Prayers, Sunday, February 7: Next Sunday, one of our ministers will offer healing prayers for those who wish to receive prayers for themselves or on behalf of others.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, February 7: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Here are the top ten items needed at this time: cooking oil, canned soup (no tomato), meals in a can, canned meats (tuna/chicken/turkey/salmon), meals in a box (helpers, etc.), laundry detergent, sugar, toothbrushes/toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, and Kleenex/facial tissue. Quality bedding items, such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels are always needed too. Thank you for all your support!

Backpack Snack Pack Prep, Sunday, February 7, 12noon: The kids and families of St. Dunstan’s are invited to prepare Backpack Snack Packs, to help local school children from low-income households to have nutritious snacks for the weekend. Come to the Meeting Room at St. Dunstan’s following the 10am service.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, February 7, 6pm: A simple service before the week begins.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Tuesday, February 9, 5-6:30pm: Great food and fellowship! Join us and bring a friend for a tasty meal. Suggested donation of $5 per adult, $10 per household, kids eat free. If you’d like to help or contribute, see the signup sheets in the Gathering Area.

LOOKING TOWARDS LENT…

Have you been baptized? The Prayer Book tells us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” From the earliest years of Christianity, the season of Lent (which begins February 10) was when new Christians studied the faith and prepared for baptism at Easter. If you have never been baptized, or aren’t sure, and would like to learn more about this rite, please contact Rev. Miranda at 238-2781.

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 10. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families.

Ashes To Go, Wednesday, February 10, 8 – 9am and 2 – 3pm: Our drop-in “Ashes To Go” station will be at Old Middleton Road & St Dunstan Drive, besides our signboard and Little Free Library. Pull over on St. Dunstan Drive or park across the street on Stonefield Rd. Imposition of ashes, prayer, and warm beverages will be available.

Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, Friday, February 19, or Saturday, February 20. This two-hour event is both a crafting session and retreat for theological reflection on the themes of Lent. We will make crosses out of found objects. All skill levels are heartily welcomed. The event will be offered twice: Friday, February 19, 1 – 3pm, for adults only; and Saturday, February 20, 9 – 11am, all ages welcome. (Children 7 and up may participate. Younger kids will have their own program in another room.)

Seeking Found Objects! Do you have some interesting bits and bobs that have no practical use, and yet you’re somehow reluctant to simply throw them away? Check your junk drawer, your workshop shelf, the dusty corner of your crafting area, and see what’s hiding there. Whether you plan to participate in “Making Crosses” or not, you’re invited to gather and contribute a few items to the found-object crosses that we will create. All items should be clean, safe to handle, and no bigger than a standard desktop stapler; other than that, it’s wide open. Please bring items to the labeled box in the Gathering Area by Friday, February 19.

Lenten 9am Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life: In this series, offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal monks, we focus on God as the Chief Gardener of our souls, and we seek out ways to grow into the fullness he desires. This series uses a tool from monastic spirituality called a ‘Rule of Life’ to explore and cultivate our relationships with God, Self, Others, and Creation. To participate, sign up at ssje.org/ssje/growrule/ to receive the daily email prompts, and come to the Meeting Room on Sundays at 9am, starting February 14, for group discussion about our individual work. You’re also free to participate in this series as an individual, without attending the group gatherings.

Lenten Virtual Book Group: Unapologetic, by Francis Spufford. Rev. Miranda invites members and friends to a “virtual book group” this Lent, beginning the third week in February. We’ll read along together during Lent and share reactions and reflections on a Facebook group. We may also plan one or more in-person book discussion sessions as well, if there is interest. If you’d like to participate, please sign up in the Gathering Area, so we can get an idea of how many books to order. Books will be ordered the week following Sunday, February 7. A $10 donation to defray the cost of the books is welcome, but not required. You can also check the libraries for the book or buy it for your e-reader.

 

Sermon, Jan. 24

Today is Annual Meeting Sunday, the Sunday in January when we pause to take stock of what we’ve accomplished in the previous year, and where we’re feeling led to growth in the year ahead. It’s my custom, as it is for many Episcopal clergy, to have my sermon also be my Annual Meeting address – my reflection on where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s always a bit of an awkward hybrid, this thing that is both sermon and State of the Parish address; but I do really value the way the exercise keeps me grounded in Scripture. This year, the struggle was, WHICH Scripture? The lectionary hands us a bunch of powerful and relevant texts, today. They each have a word or two for us, I think, at this moment in the life of St. Dunstan’s.

The first word is… Time. The year of the Lord’s favor. Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. In our Gospel today, Jesus is talking about time – about a particular kind of time. The Greek used in the New Testament has two different words for time. The first is Chronos, which is clock time, calendar time, linear, predictable, orderly, ordinary. It’s the kind of time that tells you when to leave for work, or when your car will be paid off.

The second kind of time is Kairos. The word points to a special kind of time – often translated as “the opportune time.” It means the right moment, the moment that fizzes with potential, when everything falls into place or when new possibilities emerge. The time when things are brought to crisis; the decisive moment we’ve all been waiting for. In today’s text from the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about kairos-time as he quotes chapter 61 of the book of the prophet Isaiah, and then says, This is the moment; and I am the man. Jesus doesn’t use the word “kairos” here, but he uses it elsewhere, all over the Gospels. It’s one of themes of his teaching, really: recognizing, discerning the right time. Reading the moment and knowing, This is it. The moment to act, to step up, to respond, to make a change. It’s almost as if this were one of the gifts, one of the challenges he offers to those who follow him… reading the signs, recognizing the moment, carpe-ing the diem.

I started to get the feeling that maybe a particular kind of kairos moment had arrived at St. Dunstan’s sometime last summer. Let me back up and offer just a little bit of history. When I came to St. Dunstan’s, we were running some pretty substantial budget deficits – between $40 and $70,000. It made my stomach knot up just to look back at it all, preparing these remarks. In 2013 we used $52k of our reserves to meet our expenses. That was what we needed to do – and we had the funds to do it.

But that year we also decided it was time to make a change. Our reserve funds were getting low and it just didn’t make sense to go on like that.  We called a Budget Repair Task Force to make sure we were using our financial resources as wisely and effectively as possible. We did some hard, hard work, and were able to present, adopt, and, though your pledges, achieve a balanced budget for 2014, and again in 2015.

I’ve been rector of St. Dunstan’s for five years – five years and 21 days, to be exact – and for basically all of that time, I’ve been caught in the tension of wanting to keep expenses tight and live within our means, and wanting to build, add, develop, enhance – which often requires some investment. We’ve done pretty well – we’ve been creative, resourceful, and patient; and diocesan grants and special funds within the parish have allowed us to invest in Christian formation, youth and young adult ministry, a new worship service, and more.

And then, this past summer, I started to get this feeling. This feeling that maybe we were entering a new chapter. That maybe it was time to ask the parish to commit to a budget that would sustain and expand all the good things that have been developing here.

I am – you are – so blessed in our parish leadership. Your wardens and treasurers and vestry are, without exception, open-hearted, thoughtful, committed, both wise and smart, both compassionate and playful. I asked the Wardens and Treasurers: What if we presented a budget for 2016 that asks for more – not just because we think we could do more, but because we’re already doing more, and need the parish’s support to keep it up? And the Wardens and Treasurer said, Yeah. It’s time.

So we took it to the Finance Committee – I’m so grateful for our Finance Committee, for those smart, skilled people who oversee the financial life of our parish. And the Finance Committee said, Yeah, it’s time. And we took it to the Vestry, and the Vestry said, Yeah, it’s time.

And so, friends, we took it to you, in the fall Giving Campaign. We asked you to raise our pledged giving by almost 10%. It felt audacious and terrifying. And you said, Yeah, it’s time. You did it. Our pledged income in our 2016 budget is fifty thousand dollars more than it was in our 2011 budget.  A 25% increase. I don’t even have words for that. I’m just staggeringly grateful – and humbled, and hopeful.

We’re not going to run out and buy a Porsche. We’re going to be just as watchful and mindful in a season of growth as we were in the seasons of scarcity. We’ll keep a close eye on our budget this year, make sure we haven’t overcommitted ourselves, and strive to plan wisely for the future. But I think it’s OK to take a moment here to just … exhale, and smile.

That kairos moment of Jesus, that moment in the synagogue, was of cosmic importance; but he teaches us that we should expect kairos moments in our lives and our institutions and communities, too. Moments when God’s will is fulfilled in our hearing, before our eyes. Moments when God’s purposes take hold, when human impossibilities give way to God’s possibilities.

I want to be clear that, while I’m talking about money, I’m absolutely not just talking about money. Money stands for something. You absolutely wouldn’t have stepped up the way you did if your parish leadership had just said, Hey, guys, we’d like some more money, please. You give, and many of you have increased your giving, because you believe in our common life, in what we’re doing and building here together. And I want to be clear, too, that while I’m talking about money, I’m absolutely not just talking about money, because there is no way we would be where we are without your contributions of time, energy, skill, food and art supplies, and so, so much more. We couldn’t be St. Dunstan’s if all we had was the money.

So, I keep talking about doing more; what more? Our 2016 budget doesn’t include big dramatic changes. It’s a budget that invests in the body. That’s the second word for today, from our second reading, Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: Body.  Paul uses this wonderful metaphor of the body to explain to the church in Corinth, the way you might explain it to a four-year-old, that their church is a body, that all the parts matter for the body’s healthy functioning, and that they really need to work together to get anything done.

The increases in our 2016 budget are investments in areas of our common life that will bind the body more closely together, and serve some of its assorted parts. We’ve increased the hours – not a lot, but some – for our Organist & Choir Director, an investment in developing our life together as a people of song, one of the deep and formative ways we experience ourselves as a body. We’ve increased the hours for our Office Coordinator – not a lot, but some – an investment in developing our parish communication systems, the ways we know what’s going on in the body, and hear about ways to participate, contribute, and be nurtured; and ways that that those who are not yet part of the body may find, and be found by, St. Dunstan’s.

We’ve taken several ministries that had been launched with the support of grants or designated funds, and made them part of our budget, because they’re not experiments anymore – they’re part of who we are. Our Sandbox Thursday evening service, our monthly young adult nights at the Vintage, our Middle High youth program – all serve different parts of this body, and help to sustain and connect those who participate.

We’ve boosted our budget lines for a couple of key areas that help hold the whole body together. Think about what it feels like to be hungry: low-energy, headachy, cranky. We don’t want to be Hangry Church. We want this body well-fed. Sharing meals is powerful; we learn that from Jesus himself. Eating together isn’t just pleasant and practical – it’s a sacrament of sorts. It builds community, helps people gather and focus, and makes it easier to integrate church into daily life. Many of our best and deepest conversations take place over shared meals. And while the occasional “potluck” is wonderful, often people just need to come get fed – in every sense. Our Fellowship budget line provides the funds to make sure we can keep table fellowship central to our common life.

Also this year, we’ve funded a budget line for Welcome and Integration ministry. The people who’ve become part of St. Dunstan’s over the past few years are really amazing, interesting, gifted folks. We’ve got two of them standing for election to vestry right now. It is a tremendous sign of health to have people actively involved in the life of this parish whose time at St. Dunstan’s ranges from fifty years to less than one. And to be a body that is able to incorporate – that word literally means, to make part of the body! – the needs and interests and gifts of newer members. Funding that Welcome & Integration line in our budget ensures that we have resources to do that work well, but it’s also a statement to ourselves that this work matters.

Finally, this year’s budget inches up our investment in Outreach, the ways we support service and advocacy work in our city, our state, and the world. This year we raised the percentage of your giving that we pass on to others to 6%. Of course, monetary gifts are only one way we contribute; we’re seeing broader hands-on participation in some of our Outreach ministries, too. Watch this space! It’s my conviction and hope that, the stronger and better-connected the Body grows, the more we’re able to act together to serve our neighbors and join in God’s work of healing and transforming a broken world.

One last word on the church as Body: It’s important to keep asking, Are any of the parts neglected? Is there an ear or a pinky toe that’s not feeling connected, or getting what it needs? Let’s keep striving to be a Body in which all the parts respect and care for one another, and work together.

One more Scripture passage, with two words for us, church. The passage is this scene from the Old Testament book Nehemiah. And the words are, Celebrate and share.

This story needs a little context. A century and a half earlier, Babylonian armies had conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the great Temple, and taken most of the people away from their homeland, into exile. Fifty years later, the Persian empire conquered Babylon, and the Persion emperor, Cyrus, gave the Jews permission to go home. But being allowed to go home is not the same as having a home to go to. Jerusalem was in ruins, and other tribes and peoples had taken over the surrounding territory. Many Jews stayed in exile, where they had built lives for themselves, waiting to see whether they would someday have a homeland again.

Now, Nehemiah was one of the Jewish people living in Persia. He served in the court of King Artaxerxes, who was king after Cyrus. He was grieved by word from Jerusalem about how bad things were, and he asked the King for permission to go and help rebuild.  So Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to be its governor, with wood and other resources to support the project. The Bible tells us that Nehemiah and his people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 56 days.

The scene in our reading today is a moment of rebirth, a true kairos moment. Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest have called together all the people of Israel who have returned to begin life again in their homeland – men and women and even children old enough to understand. Ezra reads aloud from the books of the Law, the Torah, that tells them how to live as the holy people of a holy God, the customs and practices of their faith that had been largely forgotten during their time of exile. And the priests and Levites walk among the people, helping them understand, explaining, interpreting. And the people are weeping and mourning, because they have been so far from God, so far from the ways of their people and their faith.

But their leaders tell them, It’s okay. Don’t weep, don’t grieve. You’ve lost many years, and suffered much, but we’re home now, and we’re beginning again. This is a holy day, a kairos time, and God is with us. Celebrate! Go on your way rejoicing, eat rich foods and drink wine, and share from your bounty with those who have nothing.

Our thin years here hardly compare with the great exile. But this Body has been through some hard and anxious times, and we’ve arrived with hope and humility at the threshhold of a new chapter, a koinos time. Let’s take this day, and this season, to celebrate – and to share from our blessedness, in every way we can.

Announcements, January 21

SUNDAY,  JANUARY 24

Annual Parish Meeting, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2016 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Youth Lunch & Learn starts Sunday, 12 noon! Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, 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.

Coffee Hosts Needed in February: Please consider being a coffee host. Sign-up sheets for upcoming months can be found in the Gathering Area. Thanks for lending a hand!

Survival Kits for Homeless Teens: We are stocking three backpacks with essentials for teenagers who are living on the streets, to be distributed through the Transition Education Program, a program of the Madison school district to support homeless kids and youth. Check out the display in the Gathering Area and take a tag or two for items you’d like to provide. In addition to the individual items, we are looking for a team to assemble three first-aid kits. We would like to gather all items by Sunday, February 7.

Do you love getting books into the hands of readers? Our St. Dunstan’s Little Free Library is seeking a new co-Librarian, or two. The Library sits on the southeast corner of our property, at Old Middleton Road and St. Dunstan Drive, and can be reached by car or on foot through our woods. The Library needs to be checked and restocked (every few weeks in winter, perhaps weekly in nice weather), and this task can easily be shared by a small team of helpers. Members and friends of St. Dunstan’s donate used books to put in our Library. Please talk to Rev. Miranda or email office@stdunstans.com to get involved!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Listening Group Gathering, Wednesday, January 27:  Are you seeking more clarity, direction, or sense of purpose in your daily life? Would you like a trusted group of spiritual companions to talk and pray with? We are gathering people interested in being part of a regularly-meeting Listening Group. If you’d like to be involved, please attend this meeting, or let Rev. Miranda know about your interest at 608-238-2781.

Taste and See, An Introduction to the Eucharist for Young Children, Sunday, Jan. 31, 9am: This simple little class is geared for kids ages 3 – 7, and your child is welcome, whatever their level of participation or understanding! Parents welcome too. :-)

Candlemas Last Sunday Worship, Sunday, January 31, 10am: We will celebrate Candlemas with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed!

Recovery Eucharist, Sunday, January 31, 6pm: The Recovery Eucharist, celebrated in many churches, is designed for those recovering from any addiction and for those who support them in their recovery. Elements of the service are drawn from the Book of Common Prayer and the 12 Step readings. Our first Recovery Eucharist falls on the feast day of Samuel Shoemaker (1893-1963), who contributed to the growth of the Twelve Step movement. The Eucharist will be celebrated with grape juice instead of wine. All are welcome; feel free to invite a friend.

Game Night, Friday, February 5, 5:30 – 8:30pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Tuesday, February 9, 5-6:30pm: Great food and fellowship! Join us and bring a friend for a tasty meal. Suggested donation of $5 per adult, $10 per household, kids eat free. If you’d like to help or contribute, see the signup sheets in the Gathering Area.

LOOKING TOWARDS LENT…

Have you been baptized? The Prayer Book tells us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” From the earliest years of Christianity, the season of Lent (which begins February 10) was when new Christians studied the faith and prepared for baptism at Easter. If you have never been baptized, or aren’t sure, and would like to learn more about this rite, please contact Rev. Miranda.

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 10. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families.

Ashes To Go, Wednesday, February 10, 8 – 9am and 2 – 3pm: Our drop-in “Ashes To Go” station will be at Old Middleton Road & St Dunstan Drive, besides our signboard and Little Free Library. Pull over on St. Dunstan Drive or park across the street on Stonefield Rd. Imposition of ashes, prayer, and warm beverages will be available.

Lenten 9am Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life: In this series, offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal monks, we focus on God as the Chief Gardener of our souls, and we seek out ways to grow into the fullness he desires. This series uses a tool from monastic spirituality called a ‘Rule of Life’ to explore and cultivate our relationships with God, Self, Others, and Creation. To participate, sign up at ssje.org/ssje/growrule/ to receive the daily email prompts, and come to the Meeting Room on Sundays at 9am, starting February 14, for group discussion about our individual work. You’re also free to participate in this series as an individual, without attending the group gatherings.

Lenten Virtual Book Group: Unapologetic, by Francis Spufford. Rev. Miranda invites members and friends to a “virtual book group” this Lent, beginning the third week in February. We’ll read along together during Lent and share reactions and reflections on a Facebook group. We may also plan one or more in-person book discussion sessions as well, if there is interest. If you’d like to participate, please sign up in the Gathering Area, so we can get an idea of how many books to order. Books will be ordered the week following Sunday, February 7. A $10 donation to defray the cost of the books is welcome, but not required. You can also check the libraries for the book or buy it for your e-reader.

Announcements, January 14

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17…

Guest Preacher, 10am: Percy Brown is the Director of Equity and Student Achievement for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, and serves with Rev. Miranda on a local task force focused on addressing racial disparities in Middleton. We are glad to welcome Percy as our guest speaker this Sunday!

Sunday School, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning about Holy Baptism, while our 7-11 year old class digs into the story of the Wedding at Cana.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day on 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. Thank you for your generosity.

Christian Formation Meeting, 12 noon: If you would like to help plan our ministries and programs that help people learn, reflect, and grow in faith, come along!

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

Younger Adults Meetup 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 for Kids Success! Through your generous gifts this past Advent, we raised enough to buy four goats through Episcopal Relief and Development’s Gifts for Life program! Thanks so much to all who contributed, and to the kids for their commitment.

Survival Kits for Homeless Teens: We are stocking three backpacks with essentials for teenagers who are living on the streets, to be distributed through the Transition Education Program, a program of the Madison school district to support homeless kids and youth. Check out the display in the Gathering Area and take a tag or two for items you’d like to provide. In addition to the individual items, we are looking for a team to assemble three first-aid kits. We would like to gather all items by Sunday, February 7.

Do you love getting books into the hands of readers? Our St. Dunstan’s Little Free Library is seeking a new co-Librarian, or two. The Library sits on the southeast corner of our property, at Old Middleton Road and St. Dunstan Drive, and can be reached by car or on foot through our woods. The Library needs to be checked and restocked (every few weeks in winter, perhaps weekly in nice weather), and this task can easily be shared by a small team of helpers. Members and friends of St. Dunstan’s donate used books to put in our Library. Please talk to Rev. Miranda To get involved!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, January 22, 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 Sa-Bai Thong at 6802 Odana Road in Madison.

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 24, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2016 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Youth Lunch & Learn starts Sunday, January 24! Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides if that helps.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, January 24, 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.

Recovery Eucharist, Sunday, January 31, 6pm: The Recovery Eucharist, celebrated in many churches, is designed for those recovering from any addiction and for those who support them in their recovery. Elements of the service are drawn from the Book of Common Prayer and the 12 Step readings. Our first Recovery Eucharist falls on the feast day of Samuel Shoemaker (1893-1963), who contributed to the growth of the Twelve Step movement. The Eucharist will be celebrated with grape juice instead of wine. All are welcome; feel free to invite a friend.

Understanding Racial Disparities in Dane County, Thursday, Feb. 25, 11am, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Middleton: Ken Taylor of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, which produced the Race to Equity report, and Percy Brown, who works with equity issues in the Middleton school district, will offer a presentation for all those interested in learning more about the barriers to racial equity in our local communities. A $5 donation is requested. Please RSVP to Rev. Miranda at office@stdunstans.com or 238-2781 so that we can let St. Luke’s know how many we are bringing and make provisions for lunch!

Sermon, Jan. 10

Today we honor the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus. Just two weeks ago, he was a tiny baby lying in a manger; last week he was a sassy independent twelve-year-old; and today he’s a grown man, ready to step into the public eye and begin his life’s work.

And he begins by being baptized. By John the Baptist, who was preaching repentance and transformation, and dunking people in the River Jordan as a symbol of their desire to be cleansed and live a new life. Later, Jesus tells his followers to baptize new believers, making baptism by water and the Holy Spirit the rite by which one becomes a Christian.

There are libraries of theology about baptism, what it is, does, and means – as there are about the Eucharist – but ultimately it just is what it is, simple and mysterious, as is the Eucharist. Water, bread, wine, human hands, God’s grace; something happens – we do, we wonder, we trust.

The Gospel of Mark, the first, the shortest, the most to the point of our Gospels, begins and ends with the baptisms of Jesus.In the first chapter, Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan, very much as Luke describes it in our Gospel today. And In the next-to-last chapter, Jesus’ death on the cross at the hands of the Roman government, which is what Jesus means in the Gospels when he talks about his baptism. This baptism, the baptism the Church celebrates today, was only the beginning. As our baptisms are only a beginning.

Who here was raised in a church that doesn’t baptize babies? That teaches “believer’s baptism”? In those churches – and there are many of them – what is normal for us, to baptize babies within their first year of life, is seen as a deeply mistaken practice. Christians in those churches understand faith as contingent on individual belief, on a person’s confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, so infant baptism seems nonsensical, even superstitious.

Those ideas go back to the time of the Reformation,the great time of religious change, creativity, and violencethat swept across Europe in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. One of the great themes of the Reformation, was that ordinary people should be able to understand the Church’s Scriptures and rites, and participate as believers in the Church’s sacraments and services. Many of the Reformed churches that developed in those decades moved away from the Roman Catholic practice of infant baptism. It didn’t fit their emphasis on conversion and belief. How could a baby be converted to faith in Jesus? How could a baby participate in baptism as a believer?

The great minds who shaped our way of faith, the Church of England, the Anglican way, had to deal with all that. They shared many of those Reformation convictions, but instead of crafting new ways of worship, they adapted the ancient sacramental patterns that we still share with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.Those practices included infant baptism.

Thomas Cranmer, the early 16th century Archbishop and architect of our prayer book, and Richard Hooker, the late 16th century scholar who laid the foundations of Anglican theology, both dealt with Reformed objections to infant baptism by stressing that baptism is just a beginning, a first step in the life of faith rather than a completion – a life of faith that will be lived within the Church, the body of Christ, the family of faith, that will nurture and form that child into a mature Christian. They saw baptism as a moment of receiving God’s grace which is then grown into over a lifetime.  Hooker uses the image of baptism as planting a seed: “For that which we there professed without any understanding, when we come to fuller understanding later, we are simply bringing to ripeness the seed that was sown before.” (V.64.2, my paraphrase).

That theme of gradual development is key; elsewhere he writes, “Christ imparts himself [to us] by degrees… we are confident that we will eventually receive all of him.” (V.56) Both Hooker and Cranmer stressed that that ongoing, gradual growth in faith happens in the church, in and through its rites, teachings, and fellowship.  Hooker describes baptism as a birth, the Church as the mother that cares for and raises the child, and the Eucharist as the meals that feed and sustain. And Thomas Cranmer constructed a baptismal rite that intentionally reminds adults of the promises made at their own baptisms – as the rite in our prayer book does – to remind and call us to continue living into, and up to, our baptism.

So the wisdom of Cranmer and Hooker and the others who shaped our way of faith made us into a church that sees baptism as birth into a new life that, like physical birth, assumes there’s a lot of growth ahead. Baptism, in our church’s understanding, is both complete in itself – as our Prayer Book says, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body the Church” (298) – and it’s also a beginning, a birth, a threshold. Look at what the congregation says, after the baptism: “We receive you into the household of God.” There’s that image of joining a family, an oikos! The newly-baptized – regardless of her age – is welcomed as a newborn baby into the waiting arms of a family of faith that commits to care, feed, and teach.

Baptism, as a beginning, a birth, an initiation, leads us straight to discipleship. Discipleship isn’t a very Episcopalian word – it’s the kind of thing Evangelical Christians talk about – but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s an important word, with which to name the lifelong process of learning and growing, of receiving and becoming Christ. We use the word “disciples” to describe Jesus’ posse. Although I admit that I often refer to Jesus’ friends, instead – because disciples is a clunky awkward word, and we don’t really know what it means. But we should know what it means. And Jesus’ friends weren’t just his friends.They were his followers. His students. His padawans. He was their rabbi, their master, their teacher, their Jedi master, their sensei.

Disciple means learner, or student. It’s related to discipline – but please don’t think of spankings; instead, think of the discipline of an athlete or artist or a monk, anyone highly-skilled, highly-focused, highly-committed. Their discipline is the set of practices that make them able to do what they do. Discipline in this sense is close kin to training: improving our skills, extending our capacity, meeting and rising to new challenges. Being dissatisfied. Struggling. Improving. Failing. Keeping at it.

We are disciples.Try that on. I’m a disciple. Someone learning and growing, seeking and striving, to live as a follower of Jesus. We are disciples together, trying to discern and name and live out the ways Jesus calls us to follow him, in this time, this place. Because the first question of discipleship is, Well, what do I do? I want to be like you. I take you as my Teacher. I trust your Way. How do I begin? How do I act? How do I think?

Our baptismal rite maps out a path of Christian maturity, a way of living and being that flows out of baptism. It’s on page 304, if you want to take a look. Those five questions – our Baptismal Covenant – identify five hallmarks of living as followers of Jesus: faithfulness in worship; resisting evil and repenting when we mess up; proclaiming the good news of God’s love; serving our neighbors; and striving for justice and peace.

Those are some important guideposts to point us in the right direction on the road of discipleship. But I think we could get more fine-grained than that – both in terms of getting a little closer to the ground,talking about what baptismal living and discipleship look like in daily life; and in terms of getting more particular to this community, this oikos. Churches aren’t interchangeable; if you’ve ever been church-shopping, you know that. St. Dunstan’s is a particular church with a particular culture and call, just like every other church. The people who come here, and stay here, are connecting with something distinctive about this household of faith. We’ve made our homes here, some for decades, some for months, because of some sense of fit or belonging or finding what we’re looking for or finding a group that’s at least asking the right questions together. And once you’re here, once you’ve chosen this as your oikos, your household of faith, we interact. We shape each other. We become St. Dunstanites. So it stands to reason that the way we understand the path of discipleship, the work of living our faith, might be distinctive, different in some matters of substance or emphasis from the way it’s understood across the parking lot at Foundry, or up the road at St. Bernard’s or Advent Lutheran or Blackhawk, or even across town at our sister Episcopal parishes.

Up in St. Paul, Minnesota, an Episcopal parish, St. Matthew’s, went through a process together of mapping out their common understanding of the Way of Jesus.The path of discipleship that they share, as a household of faith. A small group led the congregation through conversations and other kinds of group reflection, over the course of several months, circling around questions of discipleship, following Jesus and living our faith, in daily life. Out of those data, they distilled a number of hallmarks that define how they understand and practice discipleship together. St Matthew’s list boils down to six words. I’ll give you just one example: Hospitality. That’s a core value that we can easily ground in Scripture, and that operates at multiple levels – individual, household, parish.You can see how this theme of hospitality would call forth people’s memories, stories and reflections; you can see how, having once identified hospitality as a central element of discipleship, that value would help guide choices and practices in the future.

In the next couple of months, we’ll go through a similar process here at St. Dunstan’s. We’re calling it the “Towards Discipleship” project. PLEASE don’t go Google St Matthew’s and look at their list – I’ve carefully not looked very hard at it myself! I really want our core values, our hallmarks of baptismal living, to rise organically out of our conversations and experiences, not to plagiarize another community’s list. We’ve started this already, through our Church, Faith, Life survey and conversations last summer. Some themes that have already started to emerge, and we will use those data, but we’ll also invite the congregation into some new conversations, over the next couple of months. The questions this time around will be similar, but not the same. I expect the conversations to be just as powerful and lovely as the ones we had last summer. I hope that even more us of will participate, this time around.

The goal, the endpoint we’ll be working towards is a simple, profound, powerful list of five or six or seven words – core values, hallmarks, touchstones of discipleship, as we know and follow that path here at St. Dunstan’s. Something to post on our walls, on our website. Not the same as a parish mission statement, but not entirely different, either – something we can refer to, to orient ourselves, to remind ourselves of what we’ve discerned together about what it looks like to follow Jesus in the world.

One way to visualize that endpoint is to picture yourself having that conversation. You know, the one where somebody says, “Christians are so creepy, I really don’t trust them,” or, “Your church seems like it’s really wishy-washy, are you real Christians?”, or, “Why do you go to church anyway? I just practice my spirituality on my own,” or even, “I wasn’t raised in a church, or the church I was raised in really hurt me, but church seems really important to you; can you tell me why?” And you can say,“Well, I’m part of a transformative and welcoming community that follows Jesus by practicing hospitality, and ….”

We are going to finish that sentence together, find those words, and get familiar with them, and internalize them. I’m excited and hopeful about this work.  I kind of can’t wait to see this list. To see the map we create, together, of the path of discipleship as God has shown it to us here. I think that map, that list, will help us both to identify ways to develop our daily discipleship,to live more fully as followers of Jesus; and I also think it will help us to name and affirm the ways we’re already living out our baptisms. I am 40 years old, a priest of the church for nearly seven years, with a seminary degree, and I am still learning how to name my spirituality, to name the moments and activities in my lifewhen I’m most in tune with the Divine and with God’s intentions and desires for me. I have a hunch that all of us have both areas where we’re called to growth, and areas where we’re already living out discipleship,and we’ll be deeply blessed by the holy voice of God speaking through our community to say, Well done, good and faithful servant; keep it up.

Jesus’ baptism was a beginning, a first step down a long and challenging road.Likewise, our baptisms were – or for some of us, will be – a beginning. A turning point. Crossing the threshold of the household of God. Baptism leads to discipleship, to a lifetime of learning and growing, being nurtured and challenged. May the God who has called us together here and formed us into a fellowship of faith, bless our work as we come to know ourselves as disciplesand seek to understand more fullythe walk of faith to which we are called. Amen.

Announcements, January 7

SUNDAY…

Thorny Theology – Eucharist 101, Sunday, January 10, 9am: This is the first in a series of occasional 9am gatherings to bounce around some of the big difficult ideas and questions of church and faith. This week we’ll focus on the Eucharist. What is it, where does it come from, and what do Episcopalians believe about it? All are welcome!

Sunday School, Sunday, January 10, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning about the story of the Epiphany, while our 7-11 year old class will hear about the baptism of Jesus.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, January 10, 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.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Sunday School, Sunday, January 17, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning about Holy Baptism, while our 7-11 year old class digs into the story of the Wedding at Cana.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, January 17: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day on 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. Thank you for your generosity.

Christian Formation Meeting, Sunday, January 17, 12 noon: If you would like to help plan our ministries and programs that help people learn, reflect, and grow in faith, come along!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, January 17, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Younger Adults Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, January 17, 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.

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 24, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2016 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Youth Lunch & Learn starts Sunday, January 24! Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Epiphany House Blessings: In the season of Epiphany, which this year lasts from January 6 to February 9, there is a long tradition of blessing the homes in which God’s people live, work, and play. In honor of the journey of the Magi to find the Christ Child, we bless each home in the name of those wise and holy men. Would you like your home blessed this Epiphany? Call the church office at 238-2781, and we will work together to schedule times when we can visit to share this lovely traditional rite, honoring the holiness of your homes and inviting God’s continuing presence there.

Honoring the Holy Innocents

IMG_9425The Feast of the Holy Innocents has largely been dropped from observance in the Episcopal Church. It’s a sad and grisly story, and rubs up uncomfortably against the obligatory joyfulness of Christmas and the impulse to take it easy for a while, in every possible sense, right after Christmas. I don’t know quite what led me to take a second look at this story, this year, and to decide to tell it after all – and to the children of the parish, no less. For one thing, I have a contrarian aversion to the practice of just ignoring the parts of Scripture that we find difficult or unpleasant. So while I feel the tension in holding up this story of murdered children as the coda to the Nativity, I also think there’s a deep truth and wisdom in its placement there that we may be missing. I’ve vaguely felt that way for several years. Then sometime before Christmas this year, I ran across the custom of blessing the children of the church (and, more, commending the practice of asking God’s blessing for our children and loved ones, to all our members) on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I found that a beautiful and worthwhile custom, and it needs the story as explanation. So I drafted this. And then on Sunday morning between services, I pulled together some items to construct a simple prayer station to go with the story. After the Post-Communion  Prayer, I invited the kids – about eight of them, ages 3 to 10 – to meet me at the chancel steps and talk about this story. 

It all went fine. Nobody burst into tears. I talked with a few parents afterwards and they voiced some of the same convictions I hold, as both a parent and a person charged with the faith formation of other people’s kids: If we act like all the stories of faith are happy stories where good things happen to good people, then the faith we teach has little to do with the actual world in which we live. Kids, even quite young kids, know that bad things happen, that children get hurt or killed, that sometimes kings are evil. Let’s be brave enough to let Scripture speak in our churches with at least as much drama and danger as a Disney movie. 

I have a story for you guys.  The bad news is that it’s a scary, sad story; the good news is that it’s just a story.  To understand it we have to go ALL the way back to Moses.  Remember Moses? Remember baby Moses in the basket in the river?… Why was he in the basket?…  [We talked over that story a little bit.]

Matthew, who wrote one of our Gospels,  knew that story about Moses. And Matthew wanted the people who read his Gospel to see that Jesus is like another Moses – a great leader who calls his people into a new way of living with God.  So there are lots of little things that Matthew put into his Gospel, his story of the life of Jesus,  to make you think about Moses, and how Jesus is like Moses. And one of those things is a story about a bad, cruel king, King Herod, and how he was just like Pharaoh.  Matthew tells us that King Herod heard  that a baby had been born in Bethlehem who would become a king.  He didn’t know that Jesus was going to be a different kind of king; he thought Jesus might try to take his throne, someday. So he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem  to kill all the baby boys there.  But Joseph was warned in a dream,  so he took Mary and baby Jesus  and they ran away into Egypt to hide, and were safe.

It’s a scary story, isn’t it? But like I said: it’s probably just a story. King Herod was a bad, cruel king, and he did some pretty bad things, that ancient historians wrote about. But only Matthew tells this story, the story of the Holy Innocents, and people who study the Bible think that Matthew probably made up this story to make us think of Moses and of how he was saved, in Egypt, when all the other baby boys were being killed.  So baby Jesus escaping with his family is like baby Moses in his basket on the river Nile.

But stories are powerful even when they aren’t history. And of course there really are bad, cruel leaders in the world, and there really are children who live with danger, every day. So let’s create an altar to pray for those children. First, a red cloth – this is actually a chasuble. We use this color in church when we are remembering somebody who died for God. Next, a crown for King Herod and Pharaoh and all the kings of the earth. Next, a sword, for all the violence in our world. (NB: I asked a three-year-old girl to place the sword on the altar, guessing – rightly – that she would resist the temptation to start swinging it around.) Now, some of the sheep from our Nativity set. Lambs are a sign of children and innocence. Next, a cross, as a sign of life coming out of death. And finally, a candle in a dove-shaped holder, as a sign of hope and peace.

Now let’s pray for all those children in danger in the world.

Loving God, we remember before you the children whom Herod slew in his jealous rage, and all children of the world who face fear and danger. We ask that your love will enfold, protect, and comfort them, and we call on you to strengthen the hands of those who work for to ensure that all God’s children have safety, kindness, and hope. Amen.

One of the ways Christians have handled this hard story, over the centuries, is to use it as a time to bless their children.  Not just to have them blessed in church by the priest – that’s me –  but to learn the habit of blessing them at home –  at bedtime, before school, whatever. And remember kids need blessing not just by moms and dads, but by grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, godparents and teachers and close grownup friends.  I’m going to teach you a simple blessing now.  You can use it for any of your loved ones. May God bless you,  and be the guardian of your body, mind, and heart.  Turn to your friend and trace a cross on his forehead and say,  May God bless you,  and be the guardian of your body, mind, and heart.

And I say it now to all of you: May God bless you and be the guardian of your body, mind, and heart! Amen.

Sermon, January 3

Who would you want to eat frozen pizza and watch cheesy movies with?

My son offered to help me with my sermon this week, to lighten my workload during our family vacation. And I accepted, because I’d already decided on a topic where I could use his input. It was his suggestion that I start my sermon with that question. And, you know, it’s not a bad place to start. Because eating frozen pizza (warmed up in our Presto Pizzazz Pizza Cooker) and watching cheesy movies is what our middle school youth group does together every Friday evening. And what we have in today’s Gospel is Jesus as a middle-schooler, seeking a context and a community with space for his developing faith.

In this story, found only in the Gospel of Luke, we meet twelve-year-old Jesus – presumably on Passover break from seventh grade at Nazareth Junior High.   This is the only story of Jesus’ childhood that appears in any of the Gospels.  There are tales about Jesus as a child in some later texts, like the non-canonical Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written probably a hundred years later than the Gospels found in the Bible. In one story, Jesus is five years old, playing on the riverbank.  He forms twelve sparrows out of clay, and is playing with them.  But then some pious grownup sees him and says, ‘Today is the Sabbath, when observant Jews are not supposed to do any work. Making those clay sparrows was work, and you have profaned the sabbath!’   And Joseph comes over and says, ‘You bad boy, what are you doing, breaking the sabbath?’ Then Jesus claps his hands, and tells the sparrows, ‘Fly away!’ And they come to life and fly away, singing.

Other stories don’t go so well. Once a kid was running past Jesus and brushed by his shoulder, and Jesus got mad and said, You will go no further! And the kid fell down dead.  And everyone in the street said, ‘Who is this kid, that everything he says comes true?’ And the parents of the dead kid came to Joseph and said, ‘You are not fit to live in this city, with a boy like that! Either teach him to bless instead of cursing, or move away!’…

I don’t see these stories as real accounts of Jesus’ life. I think that Jesus’ life as a child and young man were mostly unremarkable and/or unknown, and that’s why those years are almost invisible in our Scriptures. Later stories like these are a product of the human impulse to fill in the blanks and create an interesting backstory.

But I think there is some insight in their portrait of Jesus – not as a perfect, holy child –  “Mild, obedient, good,” as it says in the verse of “Once in royal David’s city” that we don’t sing – but instead as a very human kid with some remarkable powers.

The Church – the big-C church, that encompasses all our churches – has taught for two thousand years  that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Both completely a human being and completely God.  A paradox and a wonder. What it means for us in looking at this Gospel story is that while Jesus was most assuredly not a typical 12-year-old, he also was a typical 12-year-old.

A scholar named James Fowler lays out a map of the Stages of Faith Development, based loosely on Piaget’s work on child development.  It’s not a perfect framework, but it’s helpful. It points out why we study Scripture and explore faith in different ways with younger children, older children, teens, and adults. And it helps explain why youth group is so important for kids in that Jesus-in-the-Temple age group.

So what’s going on with middle school age kids? The ten-to-thirteen-ish age group? These kids are beginning to move out of  what Fowler calls the Mythic-Literalist phase, the phase of our older elementary kids. The Mythic-Literal stage of faith development is the stage in which a child begins to take on for herself the stories, beliefs, and practices of her community. The playful imagination of younger children gives way to more linear and cohesive thinking. Rules, beliefs, and stories are all very important,  and are held firmly and literally. The stories and explanations of faith orient the child in the world, telling him who he is and why things happen. Deeper symbolism isn’t consciously understood, though it is at work, most assuredly.

As kids move into their middle school years – especially bright, inquisitive kids, and especially in a faith community that encourages thoughtfulness and questioning – they start to notice and wonder about some of these stories and teachings. Contradictions within the texts, and between the texts and daily life,  start to motivate deeper reflection and engagement.

Pre-teen and teenage youth begin to move into  what Fowler calls the Synthetic/Conventional phase of faith. Here’s what Fowler says about it: “In Synthetic-Conventional faith,  a person’s experience of the world now extends beyond the family  [to include school, peers, … work, and more]. Faith must provide a coherent orientation in the midst of that more complex range of involvements.  Faith must synthesize values, [information and lived experience]; it must provide a basis for identity and outlook…” In this stage, “trust is shifted from stories and explanations and is now placed in the need to belong to a group…. One finds one’s identity by aligning oneself with a certain perspective [or community] ….  Authority [may be] located in … traditional authority roles [and] in the consensus of a valued, face-to-face group…. One of the hallmarks of this stage is [imagining] God as extensions of interpersonal relationships. God is often experienced as Parent, Friend, Companion, Beloved, and Personal Reality. The true religious hunger of adolescence is to have a God who knows me and values me deeply.”

So: In this phase, our worldview and experiences broaden, so faith is exploratory and inquiring, working to put the pieces together. And our social worlds broaden,  so faith is social and interpersonal, grounded in connection and belonging.

Let’s come back to our Gospel story,  and look at Jesus as an extraordinary, but also and ordinary,  twelve-year-old kid. We see a Jesus whose experience of the world now extends beyond his family… a Jesus who needs independence and freedom  to follow his own interests and questions. I can’t even begin to imagine  how terrified and furious his parents would have been,  after losing him for FOUR DAYS.  But there’s something abidingly true about this scene – “WHAT were you THINKING? Don’t you know how worried we were?” “Look, I just needed some time, OK?”

That’s why I treasure having a church community in which my middle-school kid, and all our middle-school kids,  can connect with other faithful adults, people who respect them and love them, who’ll be there for them  when they need a break from their parents, but still need somebody to trust.

We see a Jesus who has questions – and answers – of his own.  A Jesus who is actively working on putting the pieces together.  Digging into the holes and the contradictions, working on making sense of it all, weaving what he’s learned  into a way of understanding self, God, and world that can guide him into adulthood.

That’s why I treasure having a church community in which my middle-school kid, and all our middle-school kids,  can ask their questions, and share their provisional answers. Where there are open-minded, thoughtful folks around willing to share their viewpoints and stories, and also willing to listen, respond, encourage. Sharon and JM, our Middle High Youth leaders, are stepping up to be the designated hitters  for the curve balls and spit balls our youth may toss their way; but it’s not just them. Many of you know our kids,  not just their names, but what they like, what they care about, what they struggle with. I’m so grateful for that, as both a pastor and a mother.

And we see a Jesus seeking community.  Seeking relationship with a group that will give him affirmation, connection, and direction.  Maybe the other twelve-year-old kids in Nazareth weren’t interested in the same kinds of things as Jesus. Maybe his local synagogue didn’t have a youth group. So the best peer group he could find  was the teachers in the Jerusalem temple.  As we talked about this story, my son remarked,  “Jesus was probably kind of a quirky kid, and having a youth group where it was safe to be quirky  might have been really important to him.”

That’s why I treasure having a church community that has chosen to invest in creating and sustaining  that space for our youth. That’s committing funds and space  and a LOT of volunteer time to developing a community for our youth,  a group where it’s safe to be their quirky selves, to laugh and struggle and wonder and share, and grow into kind, thoughtful young adults  with hearts turned towards God and the world.

Independence and questioning  within the safety of a trustworthy community.  That’s what Jesus found in the temple, when he was twelve. That’s what our kids –  as many as six of them, when they all show up and bring friends! – that what our kids are finding here,  what they’re building here. This is holy and important work. Please keep it, and them, in your prayers.

This Gospel was just asking for me  to tell you about our youth group – a new and growing ministry at St. Dunstan’s – and talk a little about the who and what and why. But I hope there’s more here too. My favorite thing about this particular Gospel story from Luke is that it gives us this vivid moment of Jesus’ humanity.  Maybe it was the God in Jesus that drew him to the Temple and kept him there, but there is so much of the human Jesus here too – failing to mention to his parents that he had this plan to just, you know, stay in Jerusalem when they left; and sassing them – let’s call it what it is – when they finally, frantically track him down.

I asked my son, How does it feel to think about Jesus as a twelve year old? And he said, ‘It feels like I’m more like Jesus.  It feels like, we will all be twelve, or we’ve all been twelve, and so was Jesus. Knowing that Jesus went through his teenage years too is reassuring.‘

Our prayers and hymns, our rites and Scriptures place so much emphasis on the divinity, the God-ness, of Jesus. And rightly so;  that is what makes us Christians.  But I welcome and treasure the moments in the Gospels that remind me of Jesus’ person-ness.  That invite us to imagine him  sprawled over a chair in the youth room, eating frozen pizza and watching cheesy movies  with the rest of the gang, and probably fitting right in.