All-Ages Sermon, Feb. 28

Jesus told this parable:  “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none.  Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ The gardener answered, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good;  but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Have a seat, and let’s talk about the story.

First, I have a question for our younger kids who were in Sunday school last week…. [show Mustard Seed image] What is this?…. What does the mustard seed do? …  This is one of the parables of Jesus. Parables are like little stories that you can just keep thinking about, aren’t they? Well, in Luke’s Gospel, in the story of Jesus the way Luke tells it,  the mustard-seed parable – AND the Yeast parable –  are close to another parable:  the parable of the Fig Tree. (They’re also very close to the time when Jesus calls King Herod a fox and himself a mother hen!…)

What we learn in the parables of the mustard seed & yeast is that things GROW! The seed grows into a big tree that is home for many birds; the yeast grows and makes bread big and fluffy and delicious. But sometimes things DON’T grow when you want them to… That’s the deal with this fig tree. It’s not giving fruit.

Giving fruit, in the Bible, is a metaphor.  A metaphor means we’re talking about one thing, as a way to talk about another thing. There are lots of places in the Bible where God’s people are described as plants – trees or vines… And when we’re bearing fruit, that means we are doing the things God wants us to do. Being kind and fair and loving. Caring for our neighbors and for the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting straight A’s or getting promoted at our job; but it means we’re making the most of what God has given us, whatever that means for us.

So the question Jesus is raising, with this story, is, What do we do about people who aren’t bearing fruit? Do we say, Too bad! They’re failures! They’re no good!Chop them down!  Or do we ask … why? Why aren’t they bearing fruit? Are they just lazy or selfish? Or is there a real reason?…

[Show them the kumquat tree]

We got this tree three years ago. I thought it would be neat to have a tree that lives inside that gives fruit. But it’s given exactly one kumquat in the time we’ve had it.  Have you ever had a kumquat?… Here, try one…

So why isn’t our kumquat tree giving us kumquats? See here, Tree! We want fruit! What’s the problem?!? Well… I know what the problem is. Or what the problems are.

This kumquat doesn’t have what it needs to bear fruit. Trees have to be happy and healthy to give fruit; otherwise they put their resources into just staying alive. Our kumquat is doing OK,  but it’s not flourishing. And that’s not the tree’s fault. It’s my fault.

What do plants need? You know this…

Water – yes. Okay, I think this is the one thing we do pretty well; we are pretty faithful about watering our tree regularly.

Sunlight. Yes. This tree gets OK light but not great light. It would be happier with more. It’s a warm-climate tree, so it needs to be inside for the fall and winter and spring. And while our building has a lot of windows, we don’t have windows where the sun really shines in. The architect probably did that on purpose, because human beings don’t like the sun shining right on us. But trees DO. And last summer – I am embarrassed to say this – last summer, when it could have lived outside for a few months, getting sun and air and warmth, I never got around to taking it outside. I owe this tree an apology. I’m sorry, tree! …

And another thing it needs – there’s a hint in the story: what does the gardener say she’s going to do? … Right – she’s going to dig up the soil around the tree and add some manure. What’s manure?… Why is the gardener going to put manure around the tree?… Do your parents talk to you about eating healthy food? Food with the right nutrients and vitamins in it? Well, trees and plants need particular nutrients too. To be healthy enough to give fruit, this tree needs fertilizer. When I got the tree, I got some fertilizer. But it’s not exactly the right kind, and I haven’t been careful about giving it the fertilizer regularly. So the tree hasn’t been getting the right kind of food for it grow well and give fruit. Just like us, if we’re not eating well, and getting our basic needs met, it’s hard for us to bear fruit and be the people we want to be.

You know what else this tree needs, to bear fruit? It needs a community. It needs other trees like it, and it needs pollinators – insects that will come to its blossoms and carry pollen from flower to flower, to fertilize the female blossoms so a fruit can start to form. And there, this tree is just out of luck. It doesn’t have tree friends here, and there aren’t the right kind of insects around to pollinate it. Two summers ago, when I did take it outside, it was happy and healthy enough to have some flowers! And I took a paintbrush and moved pollen from flower to flower, trying to do what a pollinating insect would do. And it sort of worked – it grew a few fruits, though only one of them managed to stay till it got ripe. But if it had friends, if it had the community it needed of other trees and insects, it would be a lot easier for it to bear fruit. Instead, it’s alone.

So this kumquat is like that fig tree in the story: it’s not bearing fruit. Do you think I should chop it down?

Do you think we should try to take better care of it, so that it will be a happier, healthier tree, and will give us fruit?

But remember, when Jesus and the Bible talk about trees, they’re not just talking about trees, they’re talking about people. So when we feel mad at somebody because they’re not being good or doing right things or helping other people as much as we think they should, maybe we should wonder Why. Is there something they need that they’re not getting, that’s making it hard for them to bear fruit? And is there any way we could help?

And when we feel mad at ourselves, for not bearing fruit the way we think we should, maybe we should ask Why too? Do we need more sunlight or more community or better food or something, to help us be the person we feel called by God to be?

Do you remember back in January, I taught you to bless each other, marking a cross on the forehead and saying, May God bless you and be the guardian of your body, mind, and spirit? Well, my daughter taught me another version of that, and I think it’s a good way to end today:  May God bless you and be gardening your body, mind, and spirit!

Bless each other while I put our tree friend away!…

Announcements, February 25

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28

Lenten Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life, 9am, & every Sunday in Lent:  Sign up at ssje.org/ssje/growrule/ to receive the daily email prompts, and meet at 9am on Sundays for discussion.

All-Ages Worship, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Poetry in Season, 11:30ish: Bring a poem that fits the season – in the church or the wider world – to share. Participants of all ages are welcome. We will share our poems in the Nave, after grabbing some Coffee Hour treats.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, 12-1pm: 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 needed.

Help feed the students! St Francis House Dinner, Sunday, February 28: We still need a non-vegetarian dish, and a side dish or two, to fulfill our commitment to provide dinner for the St. Francis House community this weekend. We are asked to provide food for up to 15 people, and we are invited to attend worship with the students at 5pm. If you can help, please contact Rev. Miranda.

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

Easter Flower Sign-Up: If you would like to sign-up to sponsor and dedicate flowers for the Easter services, please see the yellow sheet in the Gathering Area. The deadline for dedications is Sunday, March 20. Thanks for your dedications and gifts!

Stations of the Cross in Lent, every Thursday at 7:15pm and every Friday at noon: We will walk the Stations of the Cross together in our nave. You may also walk and pray the Stations on your own at any time the church is open; call 238-2781 before you come. Our Stations booklet is based on Scripture and readings from Christian tradition.

Coffee Hosts needed for Special Easter Coffee, March 27! Please see the sign-up sheet in the Gathering Area if you would like to bring something for the Easter coffee after the 10am service.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Lenten Retreat for Women, “Recognizing God’s Voice,” Saturday, March 5, 9:30am – 3:30pm, at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 670 East Monroe Avenue, Hartford, WI , Hartford, WI US 53027: The Rev. Paula Harris, rector at St. Luke’s, Madison and an active Spiritual Director, will lead this retreat for women. To register send $25 payable to Dio. Milwaukee ECW, along with your name, phone #, address, and parish affiliation to: Micki Hoffmann c/o 53 E. Rogers Street, Hartford, WI 53027. Deadline is March 1st. There will be a van leaving from St. Dunstan’s.

Backpack Snack Pack Prep, Sunday, March 6, 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 available over the weekend. We’ll work in the Meeting Room at St. Dunstan’s following the 10am service. A meeting of the BPSP team will follow.

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

Towards Discipleship Conversations, February/March: How do we, the people of St. Dunstan’s, understand and live out discipleship, following Jesus in daily life? We’ll approach this big question through conversation about some smaller and simpler questions. Please participate and share your thoughts and experiences! The Towards Discipleship will be sharing our questions with many existing groups in the congregation over the next few weeks. There will also be two open sessions for anyone to attend:

Tuesday, March 8, 5:30 – 6:30pm (light dinner provided)

       Sunday, March 13, 7 – 8pm (dessert provided)

       Saturday, March 19, 12 – 1pm (light lunch provided)

If you’d like to hear more about this project and Rev. Miranda’s work with the Missional Leadership Cohort program, ask her at 238-2781. Thanks!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, March 9, 7:15 – 9:00 PM at St. Dunstan’s: Open to all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer. Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book.

Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, Thursday, March 10 – Kids & Families, 4 – 5:30pm; Adults, 6 – 8pm. We will share a simple dinner in between sessions, for participants in both groups. This 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. Thanks to those who have already contributed “found objects” for the project; more are welcome!

Spring Cleaning – on the inside of the Church, Sunday, March 13, 12-2pm, Hearty Coffee Hour 11:45am: Come and help get the Church ready for Easter and spring. We’ll have a hearty coffee hour at 11:45 am and then use a little elbow grease. To sign-up, see the task sheets in the Gathering Area.

“Palm Saturday”, Saturday, March 19, 10:30am – 12pm: Kids, parents, grandparents and friends are invited to make Easter crafts and communion bread, and to take part in a gentle, age-appropriate and participatory telling of the whole Easter story, presented by the youth and adults of our church. This event is best suited for kids ages 3 to 10; our Middle Schoolers are invited to help present the Easter pageant. All are welcome!

Vacation Bible School Dates Set! Vacation Bible School will take place from Sunday, July 31st – Thursday, August 4, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Kids ages 3 – 10 are welcome to participate; kids 11 and up may participate as actors and helpers. We hope these dates are helpful to families making summer plans.

 

Sermon, Feb. 21

Cast your mind back over the other churches that you have attended or visited. Think about the art, the holy images, that adorned their space. Stained glass, icons, painted reredos, images on or above the altar.  Did any of those holy images happen to include… a chicken?

At St. David’s Episcopal Church, in Bean Blossom, Indiana, their altar area includes an image of the Holy Chicken. More specifically, a mother hen, with a halo, and her wings spread over her chicks. The presence of the Holy Chicken image at St. David’s goes back to 2007, when one of their associate clergy, Tim Fleck, preached a sermon on this very Gospel text that comes to us today.

Here’s the image – I know it’s hard to see from a distance; come take a closer look later, it’ll be with our other holy images around the font. Tim took this photo himself, in Palestine, in a little church on the side of the Mount of Olives. The church is called “Domine Flevit,” or “The Lord Wept,” and it commemorates the spot where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem – its stubborn cruelty, its hopelessness, its inevitable doom.

The chicken image is a mosaic on the front of the altar. It depicts Jesus as a protective mother hen, a visual interpretation of his words in our text today: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Tim recounts having this image up on his computer screen, as he reflected on the sermon at his day job, and having his co-workers find it HILARIOUS. There’s just something funny about chickens, and this chicken in her heroic and noble pose was definitely LOL-worthy.  Others were a little bothered by the depiction of Jesus as something as humble, ordinary, and stupid as a hen.

Tim says, “The lowly hen doesn’t have much of a biblical pedigree… God and the prophets are compared to eagles, to leopards, to lions: to tough, macho animals. But this scripture and its parallel in the Gospel of Matthew are the only places in the canonical scriptures that even mention the chicken.”

Chickens are not strong, or fierce, or beautiful. They’re close to the bottom of the food chain. They can’t even fly. Jesus calls King Herod a fox, in this passage, just before he likens himself to a chicken. When a fox and a chicken enter the ring, we know who’s going to come out at the end of the match – with feathers on his snout. The smart money is always on the fox. But Jesus sides with the chicken.

All the chicken has going for her is what you see, right here: her protective love. A love so strong that she will put her own body between her chicks and the teeth or claws of a predator. If someone wants to get to her children, they’re going to have to go through her, literally. That won’t deter most predators much;  her beak and claws are no match for a fox, hawk, or raccoon; but given the choice between abandoning her chicks as tasty snacks for whatever’s after her, and making a getaway herself; or sacrificing herself in the hope of saving them – she chooses the latter. The foolish, the loving, the holy choice.

In an essay on this text, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”

I should say, here, that I know very little about the nobility and self-sacrificial tendencies of actual chickens. Jesus is alluding to what chickens are said to do -just as the images of pelicans, found in many churches, show a mother pelican feeding her young with her own blood, nourishing them at the cost of her own life- a beautiful and rich image that probably has nothing to do with any actual pelican behaviors. (By the way, if you don’t know where St. Dunstan’s pelican is,

you should go on a little hunt later…!)

Jesus identifies with that allegorical chicken. He sees the danger that surrounds Jerusalem, that stalks God’s children, hovering low overhead, or creeping through the tall grass nearby. What danger? All kinds – wretched poverty, the oppression of greedy and merciless rulers, disease, political and religious instability,  the kind of kill-or-be-killed mentality that develops in desperate and marginal circumstances. Remember: forty years after Jesus’ trial and execution, Jerusalem will lie in smoking ruins, the great Temple torn down, not one stone left upon another.

Jesus sees this future; he sees the suffering and struggle of the present; and his heart aches, aches, for the people of Jerusalem, God’s people Israel, who have lost so much, and have yet more to lose. But like the hen, all he has to offer is his stubborn love.  Tim writes,  “All the hen has to offer is her refusal to abandon her children and her willingness to die for them, even as they ignore her and wriggle out from under her wings. All the hen has to offer is her faithfulness.”

Let’s turn from one strange image in today’s Scriptures, to another: the smoking fire-pot and flaming torch floating around between chopped-up animal parts, in today’s text from Genesis.

This text comes from the portion of Genesis that tells the long story of God’s covenant with Abram, later re-named Abraham – stretching from God’s first call to Abram to leave his father’s house, in chapter 12, and follow God to a new land and a new destiny; through the difficult story of the binding of Isaac and the sacrifice of the ram, in chapter 22. In chapter 15, where we find ourselves today, God reiterates the promises that God has already made to Abram, in chapter 12 and chapter 13: you will have many descendants, and they will live in a homeland that I, God, will give you.

But Abram is having a little trouble with these promises. He’s an old man, and he and his wife Sarah have no children. He’s got some real doubts about this whole descendants thing, and what’s more, the land God has promised him seems to have people living in it already.  A lot of people. God’s promises seem unlikely and remote. So Abram asks, How can I know these things will happen? How can I trust you?

That’s the context for this strange symbolic scene. The thing is, it wouldn’t have been strange to Abram – at least not in its general form. This was how people formalized covenants, in the Ancient Near East. We know this from other ancient texts and images, that help us understand the symbolic assurance God offers to Abram here. When two people, or representatives of two groups, wanted to establish a covenant – perhaps about a territorial boundary, or a mutual defense agreement, or an important marriage, or some such – they would cut animals in half, and walk together between the halves of the carcasses. Maybe part of the meaning and power of the rite came from the spilled blood – blood is a potent symbol of both life and death in Near Eastern thought and religion. Maybe the cut-up animals implied what would happen to the covenant partners if one of them violated the terms of the agreement – a grisly form of “Cross my heart and hope to die.” In Biblical Hebrew, the verb that’s used for forming a covenant is “cut” – you “cut” a covenant, grammar reflecting the ritual practices of the times, invoking those animal parts on the ground.

So God is using symbols that Abram could understand and trust, to say, as emphatically as possible, LOOK, I am GOING to do this thing for you. God strives to answer, once and for all, Abram’s plaintive question: How am I to know that I will have these blessings? That the good things you promise me will come to pass?

But while in this scene God uses the common cultural ritual of covenant-formation, there’s a really important difference: this covenant is one-sided.  Normally, both partners pass between the animal parts. But here, only the symbols of God’s presence, the fire-pot and torch, do so.  Abram simply looks on, a witness, a recipient.

Nahum Sarna, author of a classic study of the book of Genesis, concludes his analysis of this covenant scene, saying, “The astonishing fact [is] that [this] covenant completely lacks… mutuality. It is a unilateral obligation assumed by God without any reciprocal responsibilities being imposed upon Abraham. The use of established legal forms of treaty-making to express such a situation is a dramatic way of conveying the immutable nature of the divine promise.” (Sarna, Understanding Genesis, 127)

A one-sided covenant – a paradox, and very nearly nonsense, in the common understandings of Abram’s time and place. There will be – of course – a human side to the covenant. We get around to that in Exodus, and more so in Leviticus. Those who live as God’s chosen people will be called to live in distinctive and sometimes demanding ways, as a people set apart, the holy people of a holy God. But here, at the very beginning, the root, the heart of it all, the covenant, the relationship between God and humanity, is fundamentally one-sided. God always loves us more than we love back. God always gives us more than we give back. God always begins the conversation.

The thread that runs through these two strange images, the holy chicken and the torch floating between animal parts, is the thread of God’s tender and boundless love. Our prayers and liturgies name God again and again as Almighty, and surely God is mighty; but these images, and so many others in Scripture, tell us, too, that God is vulnerable. We can hurt God’s feelings. We can push God away. God is vulnerable to us because God loves us so damn much. Because God wants to be with us much, much more than we want to be with God.

I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to hold that in your heart as part of your understanding, your inner image of God. Every time the Holy Chicken catches your eye, think of God like that: of God’s heart revealed in the anguished love of Jesus Christ, longing to hold close a people who were just not that into him. Of God’s heart revealed in the ancient absurdity of a covenant in which one party promises everything to the other, asking nothing in return.

Of God – if you will – as that awkward boyfriend or girlfriend who forgives you too easily when you’re mean or careless, who says “I love you” first and then says it again just a little too often, or at the wrong moment; who stands in your driveway holding a boom box, playing a love song at top volume, to tell you how he feels about you, how he will always, unshakably, feel about you. No matter how many times we question. No matter how many times we turn away. No matter what the danger, what the pain, what the loss.

As Tim writes in his Holy Chicken sermon, “God will be there, putting herself between us and the foxes and predators of this world. God will be there with her wings outspread and her breast exposed, saving us at the cost of her own life.

God will be there, stretched out on the hard wood of the cross, vulnerable, but refusing to abandon her children. God will be there.”

Thanks be to God.

 

Thanks to Tim Fleck for his wonderful 2007 sermon “Chicken.” 

Barbara Brown Taylor, “As a Hen Gathers Her Brood,” (March 11, 2001), accessed at www.textweek.com March 3, 2007; quoted in Tim’s sermon. 

Announcements, February 18

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21…

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 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.

Lenten Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life, 9am, & every Sunday in Lent:  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 for group discussion about our individual work.

Sunday School, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning about some of Jesus’ parables of growth, while our 7-11 year old class explores the covenant between God and Abraham.

Christian Formation meeting, 12noon: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, especially for Easter and beyond. All interested folks are welcome to attend and participate.

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

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.

Lenten Virtual Book Group Begins Feb. 21: 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. Questions? Talk with Rev. Miranda.

Stations of the Cross in Lent, every Thursday at 7:15pm and every Friday at noon: We will walk the Stations of the Cross together in our nave. You may also walk and pray the Stations on your own at any time the church is open; call 238-2781 before you come. Our Stations booklet is based on Scripture and readings from Christian tradition.

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 office@stdunstans.com to get involved!

Coffee Hosts needed for Special Easter Coffee, March 27! Please see the sign-up sheet in the Gathering Area if you would like to bring something for the Easter coffee after the 10am service.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Men’s Book Club, POSTPONED to Saturday, February 27, 10am: The book is “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, February 26, 6:30pm: 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 Cocina Real at 2518 Allen Blvd. in Middleton.

Our kid-inclusive All-Ages Worship this month will be Sunday, February 28, at the 10am service. Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Poetry Reading, Sunday, February 28, 11:30ish: Bring a poem that fits the season – in the church or the wider world – to share. Participants of all ages are welcome. We will share our poems in the Nave, after grabbing some Coffee Hour treats.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, February 28, 12-1pm: 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.

Help feed the students! St Francis House Dinner, Sunday, February 28: St. Dunstan’s will provide dinner for the St. Francis House community in a few weeks. We are asked to provide food for up to 15 people, and we are invited to attend worship with the students at 5pm.  Vegan and gluten-free options are welcome (that’s easier than you think: a veggie stew over rice, bean chili …). Please sign up in the Gathering Area if you can help with the meal, or contact Rev. Miranda.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, February 28, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for resident at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the gathering area.

Lenten Retreat for Women, “Recognizing God’s Voice,” Saturday, March 5, 9:30am – 3:30pm, at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 670 East Monroe Avenue, Hartford, WI , Hartford, WI US 53027: The Rev. Paula Harris, rector at St. Luke’s, Madison and an active Spiritual Director, will lead this retreat for women. To register send $25 payable to Dio. Milwaukee ECW, along with your name, phone #, address, and parish affiliation to: Micki Hoffmann c/o 53 E. Rogers Street, Hartford, WI 53027. Deadline is March 1st. There will be a van leaving from St. Dunstan’s.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, March 9, 7:15 – 9:00 PM at St. Dunstan’s: These meetings are open to all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer. Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book.

Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, Thursday, March 10 – Kids & Families, 4 – 5:30pm; Adults, 6 – 8pm. We will share a simple dinner in between sessions, for participants in both groups. This 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. Thanks to those who have already contributed “found objects” for the project; more are welcome!

Spring Cleaning – on the inside of the Church, Sunday, March 13, 12-2pm, Hearty Coffee Hour 11:45am: Come and help get the Church ready for Easter and spring. We’ll have a hearty coffee hour at 11:45 am and then use a little elbow grease. To sign-up, see the task sheets in the Gathering Area.

“Palm Saturday”, Saturday, March 19, 10:30am – 12pm: Kids, parents, grandparents and friends are invited to make Easter crafts and communion bread, and to take part in a gentle, age-appropriate and participatory telling of the whole Easter story, presented by the youth and adults of our church. This event is best suited for kids ages 3 to 10; our Middle Schoolers are invited to help present the Easter pageant. All are welcome!

Sermon, Feb. 14

Jesus has just been baptized in the river Jordan, at the hands of his cousin John; he has just received these gracious words from Heaven:“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” He’s about thirty years old – Luke tells us that – and Luke tells us, too, that this is the moment when Jesus begins his work. Begins to preach, and teach, and heal, and stir things up. But first, there’s a time of retreat, of solitude and prayer and reflection, to get clear on who he is and what he’s doing. The Spirit alights upon him like a dove, at the moment of his baptism; then She leads him out into the wilderness, to struggle with hunger, and loneliness, and temptation. To become ready, truly ready, for the work ahead.

Someone asked me recently if I believed in Satan, and what our church teaches about the Devil,and I was embarrassed by how unready I was for the question. Let me take a moment here to talk about that, since this passage presents us withthe idea of evil personified in the character of Satan. The Devil isn’t covered in the Catechism in the back of the BCP, nor in my seminary classes.  The official Episcopal Church website has a Glossary of significant terms and names; neither Satan nor the Devil are in it… I have a hunch that if you asked a roomful of Episcopal clergywhat they believe about the Devil, you’d get a long, embarrassed, awkward silence. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to. So you’re stuck with my vague and jumbled thoughts, rather than official church teaching.

I don’t believe in the Devil as an excuse for bad human behavior. I have zero patience with “The Devil made me do it” as a rationale for naughtiness. I know my own heart, I have been a student of human nature, and I believe we are quite capable of all sorts and degrees of poor and flat-out evil behavior without any intervention or encouragement from supernatural beings. At the same time, I have enough epistemological humility to say, I don’t know. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our universities. Is evil simply the absence of good, or is evil a thing, a force in itself?

There are definitely times when, looking at the world, evil seems to be an active, living, intelligent thing. If calling that the Devil gives us the courage to name and rebuke those forces, then maybe there’s power in doing so.

And there are definitely times when I hear a clear voice of temptation in my own head and heart, feeding my worst impulses, undermining my weakest virtues. If calling that the Devil gives me the courage to name and rebuke that voice, then maybe there’s power in doing so.

That’s the situation here, in the scene that Luke describes. If you’re distracted by mental images of a guy in red, with horns and a pitchfork, then imagine this whole dialogue as taking place inside of Jesus, his human desires and impulses at war with his sense of call and mission. It works just as well that way.

There’s so much that can be unpacked from this scene, rich with details and beautifully told. What I want to point out, this year,is how well Satan knows Jesus. Consider the things he could have tempted Jesus with,but didn’t: A beautiful woman. A jug of fine wine. Wealth and luxury. Given what we know of Jesus from the rest of the Gospels, if the Devil had waved those things in front of his nose, Jesus would’ve just shrugged. Not that he couldn’t appreciate any of the above…but the Devil knew those weren’t the way to trip him up.

The ways the Devil does tempt Jesus are pretty on point. Jesus is famished, Luke tells us. He hasn’t eaten for forty days. We believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. *I* struggle with my mind making allowances for my body, sometimes; I can well imagine that one of great ongoing struggles for Jesus might have been how much his God-self had to make allowances for his human-self. And the Devil goes right to that – so cleverly. He doesn’t offer Jesus bread; no, that’s too easy. He doesn’t actually offer Jesus anything, here; he just encourages some thoughts Jesus probably has anyway. He says, Use your power to make things easier for yourself. Use your power to get what you want. Just a loaf of bread, when you’re hungry; what’s wrong with that? But that could be one hell of a slippery slope. Jesus knows it. And Jesus says No.

The second temptation is the temptation of earthly authority. Glory, power, rule, not the divine kind but the human kind. This is the one time the Devil actually offers Jesus something, since he claims that human political power falls under his jurisdiction!… The paradox and mystery of Jesus’ authority is a theme in his life and ministry. For just one example, there’s the scene from John’s Gospelfrom Christ the King Sunday back in November. Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, Are you a king? And Jesus says, If I were a king in the way you mean, don’t you think I’d have followers fighting to save me? My kingdom is not of this world… In this moment, back at the beginning of his work, the Devil temps Jesus to break down that wall between divine and human power. To use human glory and authority to advance God’s agenda. With the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, I think we can say that, in general, the times when Christianity has ruled through human politics have not been Christianity’s best chapters. Politics driven by Christian ethics, yes, please, by all means. A Christian political system, no; that has not worked out well. And how could it, when ours is a faith of persuasion, of heart, of conversion, which simply can’t be imposed from outside? Jesus sees the risks of entangling the ways of human power with divine. Jesus says No.

Finally, the Devil lays before Jesus the temptation to know that everything will be OK. The temptation to equate being loved by God with always being safe. Note that the Devil is quoting the Bible, here – Psalm 91, which we read today. The Psalms actually make this equation a lot – if I am righteous and favored by God, then things will always go my way, I’ll be rich, healthy, and popular, and my enemies will always be defeated. Now, there’s a lot more going on in the Psalms than that; that’s a sermon for another day. But those bits of the Psalms – well, they’re pretty easy for the Devil to quote out of context. And, well, that’s just not the deal. It never has been. The overwhelming witness of Scriptureis that living as God’s people, with love, justice, and mercy, is hard, and sometimes dangerous, and most certainly does not guarantee prosperity or even safety. That’s not why we do it. We do it because the world is better with people in it who live like that; and we do it because we believe.

But it sure would be nice if that were the deal – if only good things happened to good people. We fall to this temptation, friends, every time we tell someone who is suffering, Everything happens for a reason, or,God won’t give you more than you can handle. Those words are kindly meant, but they can be heard to imply that tragedy and pain are blessings in disguise. And I just don’t believe that’s always true. Though I do heartily believe that God is with us in suffering, and that God is always at work in our world, lives, and hearts, working to bring good out of evil and meaning out of tragedy.

Satan knows that the work before Jesus will be hard, and dangerous, and ultimately fatal. The temptation he lays before Jesus is the temptation to opt out of the pain and danger. Throw yourself off the Temple! God won’t let anything bad happen to you! Angels will catch you! It’ll be fine! But Jesus says No. I won’t test God – and I won’t make God’s goodness conditional on my personal safety. God is good whether I prosper or suffer. If Jesus hadn’t known that, deeply, truly, there’s no way he could have started down his path. We need to know it too.

In his season of temptation, Jesus’ determination, his trust in God’s love, his certainty of his own purpose and direction, holds him up as he faces his weaknesses and struggles. Jesus refuses temptation three times – but I think we should assume that those refusals were hard. As hard and harder than the hardest such moments in our lives, when we’ve turned reluctantly away from something that we wanted badly, but knew wasn’t right for us.

The church’s season of Lent, which began this week, can be framed as a season of acknowledging – with Jesus in the wilderness – our weakness, limitations, struggles and fears; while – again, with Jesus – holding fast to our desire and intention to live lives that, in ways great or small, add to the world’s measure of hope, wholeness, and delight. We stand in that space of struggle and hope as we pray the Great Litany, that big strange sprawling beast of a prayer with which we began our worship this morning.

Just as Lent always begins with one of the Gospels of Jesus’ temptation, so it also begins with the Great Litany. I’d like to say a few words about the Great Litany, because it is, frankly, one of the more peculiar and medieval things we do. I grew up with it more or less as we do it here, praying it together once a year on the first Sunday in Lent,although at St. John’s, Lafayette, the choir marched right along behind the clergy, for the long and convoluted procession that we called the “Holy Pretzel.” And despite its length, I’ve always kind of loved it. I like that it’s peculiar and medieval. I like that it marks the beginning of Lent so emphatically. I like how encompassing, how thorough it is – whatever your innermost fears or struggles, they are in there somewhere, I guarantee it.

The earliest form of the Great Litany was composed in the fifth century, after a volcanic eruption disrupted Easter worship. Archbishop Mamertius of Gaul introduced the practice of a litany chanted while processing around the city,and asking God’s protection against disasters of all kinds. The forerunners of the Great Litany were developed further in medieval Europe, as a way to respond in communal prayer to political instability and the ravages of the plagues. Martin Luther, the founder of the German Reformation, loved the spirituality and practice of the Litany. He added prayers for the wider world and for faithful ministry and witness in the Church. Luther’s Litany was the most important source when, in 1544, Thomas Cranmer composed a Great Litany in English – before going on to develop the first English Book of Common Prayer.

For 300 years the Great Litany was part of Sunday worship – many churches had a special Litany Book with its own book stand, called a Litany Desk, marking the centrality and importance of this exhaustive prayer. But in the 19th century the Litany began to fall out of favor; people found it perhaps exhausting as well as exhaustive. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer includes it only in archaic language – perhaps because of love for those rhythms of speech, or perhaps because the framers of that book assumed that only the most old-fashioned congregations would keep using the thing.

But the Great Litany continues to stand the test of time. There is nothing quite like it, in the way it weaves all our smaller prayers into its dense fabric of confession and intercession. An article summarizing the history of the Great Litany, my source for this overview, begins with the image of seminarians at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, on September 11, 2001. The seminary community was grief-stricken and terrified. They had no idea what was coming next, or what it all meant. They gathered in the chapel for prayer. And they prayed the Great Litany.

Mark Michael, the author of the article, says that the Litany “describes the fragility and peril of human life with particular emphasis,”evoking its origin among the droughts, famines, plagues, poverty and instability of medieval Europe. Michael writes, “This is what those at General Seminary on 9/11 surely understood anew as they took up these prayers on that dark day. Our [modern] ingenuity, reasonableness, and pluck are not enough in the face of natural disaster, bloodshed, and the sudden approach of death. We face great threats from environmental catastrophe, a fraying social fabric, and international terrorism, and the grand promises of science and technology seem to be wearing thin. In the face of evil that baffles, frightens, and overwhelms us, we [like our forebears] must beg for deliverance…. [The Great Litany] is a text that speaks to pastoral need, the Church’s gift for times of crisis. When you do not know how else to pray, there is always the Litany.”

And so, as in our Gospel Jesus takes up the work of his earthly ministry, we take up the work of Lent – in the words of the Litany, we do the work which God gives us to do,with singleness of heart, and for the common good. And we inaugurate the season by joining our voices with Christians across many continents and centuries, mingling our hopes and longings for ourselves and for the world, our repentance and determination, our fears and our hopes, into one great flavorful stew of prayer in which we marinate ourselves, once a year, need it or not. Welcome to Lent.

I am greatly indebted to Mark Michael’s great article summarizing the history of the Great Litany, which may be read here: http://www.livingchurch.org/good-lord-deliver-us

What is a Rule of Life?

Laura Norby, an Episcopal deacon who is part of our congregation, shared these words as part of the invitation to Lent on Sunday, February 7. 

I have a dear friend who has shared the spiritual journey with me for several decades. At some early point in our friendship, she said, “If Laura and I were presented with 2 doors, one which said ‘God’ and one which said ‘Reading About God’ we would choose the second door!  There was truth in her humor. We spent hours reading and talking about God. That’s a lot of time in the head.

These days I prefer the door which says ‘God’, because I want to BE in the presence of God.  Experiencing God happens in the heart. I believe that a Rule of Life can be a door which opens into God.  A Rule is a chosen spiritual practice or practices done regularly, ANY of which may be a means to help us open our hearts and become vulnerable to Love.

At the invitation to a Holy Lent, which will be spoken by Miranda to us on Ash Wednesday, we are halted in our tracks by words like self-examination, repentance, self-denial.  We have an unconscious negative reaction to words like rule and discipline.  We prefer words like freedom, liberation, and joy.  Part of my journey has been, and continues to be the surprising discovery that freedom and joy are the real fruits of those very practices of self-examination, repentance, rule and discipline. These words deserve some rethinking.

So here is a bit of my discovery of hidden treasure within these very old words from our Lenten tradition.  It is my experience of where the desire for a Rule begins.

I wake each morning and remember that God is God, Uncreated, a Mystery, and that each unique Created life is lived in God, including yours and mine.

I remember that I am one entity, one unity of body, mind, and spirit. No artificial divisions or priorities of body vs spirit or meditation vs activity. Changing the baby or the oil in the car is as important a place to be with God as sitting in prayer.  ALL life is lived in the here and now of God’s presence.

I try to remember that God lives through me to others, and through others to me. We are all connected in God’s Divine Web. When I am aware of this in both my heart and bones, I am moved, even compelled, to pray:  God, what does Your life look like in me?  Help me learn how to shape my life in thanksgiving for your revelation that we are all one in You. Teach me how to reorient my body, mind and spirit toward You!

In the Church we call these gift moments of awareness ‘conversion experiences’ and  this desire to reorient ourselves toward God ‘metanoia’. In actual experience, I call it WOW-I don’t know big enough words to call it by name! I can only say thank you, God, for planting the desire for You within me.

A longing for a pure heart, for communion with God, and for compassion for others is the birthplace of the call to a Rule of Life, a path to keep us headed toward the door which says God on it.  Any practice that we are drawn to may help us to live more open-heartedly and deeply present with God.  Practices of prayer and study can help us grow our trust in God’s love and forgiveness.  Repentance for our shortcomings, things done and left undone, and practices of self-denial become, not burdens, but gifts, invitations to accept forgiveness and recognize our complete dependence on God.

This isn’t about Lent. It’s about waking to God’s presence and action in us as created beings and followers of Jesus, who reveals God to us. It’s about finding the new life God offers in this moment.

But, it is also about Lent, the big ‘C’ Church’s season to meditate on Jesus’ journey and Jesus’ truth that a life completely given over to God is as close as we get to understanding Heaven while we’re here.  We pause in our busy lives to look at how our current path aligns with Jesus’ path. We intentionally look at particular behaviors where we know we can do better. We might intentionally take on an untried practice, like fasting, tithing, or study to see if they shine new light on our path.  The Church calls these practices ‘disciplines’ and ‘vows.’  I call them signs and lights and boundaries on the path from which I have no desire to stray, but often do.

Lent is bound to have somber moments if we choose to examine our own growth in Christ. Nobody’s perfect. Those moments should not overwhelm us. Recognizing that we don’t always live up to our own or others’ expectations as Jesus’ followers is the very process that shapes and molds us for good.  Our Rule of Life encourages us to see this working of God in us, as well as to see that love and forgiveness are always the low hanging fruit on the path. Taste them.  See that the Lord is good.

So I encourage you to build and grow your Rule of Life for Lent and beyond. Engage with any practice that seems to you to spring from joy and love, and then set to work on it with faith and obedience.  When you fall short, return to it. Wherever your Rule takes you, God is already there.  Most importantly, remember that whatever shape your Rule takes is good and meaningful and holy.

Have a Blessed Lent.

 

Announcements, February 11

SUNDAY, FEB 14…

Stations of the Cross in Lent, every Thursday at 7:15pm and every Friday at noon: We will walk the Stations of the Cross together in our nave. You may also walk and pray the Stations on your own at any time the church is open; call 238-2781 to check before you come. Our Stations of the Cross booklet is based on Scripture and readings from Christian tradition.

Lenten Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life, 9am, & every Sunday in Lent: 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 for group discussion about our individual work. You’re also free to participate in this series as an individual, without attending the group gatherings.

Sunday School, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning the Parable of the Great Pearl, while our 7-11 year old class explores our lesson from Deuteronomy, and how God’s people hold our holy history in memory.

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 & a simple meal provided.

Coffee Hosts needed March 27! Please consider being a coffee host to help us celebrate Easter on March 27th.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

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.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 20, 10am: The book is “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson, the visionary founder and executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, surely has done as much as any other living American to vindicate the innocent and temper justice with mercy for the guilty. With honorary degrees from Yale, Penn and Georgetown, Stevenson, now 54, has made his latest contribution to criminal justice in the form of this inspiring memoir.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, February 21: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day 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.

Sunday School, Sunday, February 21, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning about some of Jesus’ parables of growth. Our 7-11 year olds explore the covenant between God and Abraham.

Christian Formation meeting, Sunday, February 21, 12noon: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, especially for Easter and beyond. All interested folks are welcome to attend and participate.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, February 21, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins.

Younger Adults’ Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, February 21, 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.

Lenten Virtual Book Group Begins Feb. 21: 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.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, February 26, 6:30pm: 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 Cocina Real at 2518 Allen Blvd. in Middleton.

Our kid-inclusive All-Ages Worship this month will be Sunday, February 28, at the 10am service. Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Help feed the students! St Francis House Dinner, Sunday, February 28: St. Dunstan’s will provide dinner for the St. Francis House community in a few weeks. We are asked to provide food for up to 15 people, and we are invited to attend worship with the students at 5pm.  Vegan and gluten-free options are welcome (that’s easier than you think: a veggie stew over rice, bean chili …). Please sign up in the Gathering Area if you can help with the meal, or contact Rev. Miranda at office@stdunstans.com.

Sermon, Feb. 7

What do you see when you look in the mirror? I tried it while I was writing my sermon. I saw that I haven’t been taking good care of my skin,that the purple streak in my hair is overdue for re-dyeing. I saw that I need new glasses, and that my sweater had shrunk in the wash. I saw that I looked tired. Do you know what I didn’t see? The glory of God.

Do you see it when you look in the mirror? The glory of God, shining out of your very pores? The apostle Paul says we should – we could. It’s not just the Big Holy People, Moses and Jesus,whose faces glow with the reflected brilliance of God’s presence. It’s us too.

Listen to the end of today’s passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth: “All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

And a few verses later Paul continues the thought: “God said that light should shine out of the darkness. The same God shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” Do those words sound familiar? They’re in our Eucharistic Preface for Epiphany,and they’re the reason it’s my favorite preface.

Paul says, Jesus Christ is the image of God, shining with God’s glory; and knowing, recognizing that, lights us up too, within and without. We are being transformed, bit by bit, by the power of God, into the shining likeness of Jesus, who is himself the likeness of God. With this metaphorical mirror, Paul says, Look at God’s glory, in Christ, and see yourself. Look at yourself and see God’s glory.

This isn’t an easy text, this chunk of 2 Corinthians. It’s a somewhat arbitrary chunk of a longer arc of rhetoric. And it smacks of anti-Semitism, as Paul describes the people of Israel as having minds hardened, veiled, closed to the truth and light of God in Christ. It’s important to read this in the context of what we know from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles,in which we read that Paul and his companions,in their missionary travels,met resistance and hostility from many Jewish leaders.

But it’s even more important to point out that Paul’s intention here is to contrast two mindsets, and the mindset that concerns him is by no means found only in the synagogues. The reason he’s writing this passage is that he sees that mindset among Christians, as well.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul is on the defensive. He has a complicated relationship with the church in Corinth. It sounds like some leaders in the church have been questioning Paul’s qualifications, and quality, as an apostle and teacher of the faith. There were lots of preachers and teachers circulating among the young churches in those days,and apparently some of them made Paul look a little second-rate. Maybe their preaching was more compelling,or their personal story was more powerful, or their teaching was clearer and bolder than Paul’s ambiguous and cantankerous poetry of grace.

So in this letter, Paul is restating who he is and the core of the Gospel as he knows it – presumably over against what he’s hearingabout the teachings of some of the other guys.  And he’s focusing, in this passage, on the contrast between two mindsets. The noun here is hard – the one I’m glossing as “mindset.” In Greek it’s diakonia, from which we get “deacon,” and it’s usually translated as “service” or “ministry.” “Ministry of Death” makes a great band name,but it’s not that helpful as a translation, and Paul seems to use word in a somewhat different sense here. Various versions of the Bible translate it as “way,” “dispensation,” “agreement.” The Message renders it as Government – the Government of Death versus the Government of Living Spirit. I think that Paul means something, a way of being and thinking, that is both external to us, that we live under, like a government, and internal to us, living inside our heads and spirits, like a mindset.

In the verses that come just before today’s lectionary text, Paul says, God has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant. This new covenant is not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. That mindset of death, chiselled in letter on stone tablets, came in glory – such glory that the people of Israel couldn’t even look at Moses’ face. So how much more will the mindset of Spirit come in glory? If there was glory in the mindset of condemnation, then the mindset of justice and righteousness will truly abound in glory!

That’s the hope Paul means, in verse 12, as our text begins: the hope of this new mindset, this new way, a way that frees us from the limitations of the Law. A new dispensation in which divine glory isn’t restricted to a few who dare to approach God, but in which the brilliance of God’s presence is planted and growing in each of us, shining out, transforming us from within.

Elsewhere in his letters, Paul says more about the limitations of the Law. He means the ritual laws of Judaism, but he also means more than that, a whole way of thinking and being that is based on meeting standards and fulfilling requirements. With the Jewish prophets who went before him, Paul says, The Law is righteous but in human hands it goes wrong. We take a tool and make it a weapon, subjugating others, shaming ourselves. We turn God’s map of holiness into a check-the-box approach to righteousness which is crazymaking, destructive, and faithless. Remember, Paul says: I was righteous under the Law. Before Jesus’ glory blinded me, I was a good Jew. I followed all the rules. I met the standards. And… it didn’t save me from my deep brokenness.

In our Advent virtual book group, several of us read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. As I dug into 2 Corinthians, I saw a lot of overlap between that letter, and this book. I think Paul and Brown are talking about the same two mindsets, though Paul uses a theological language he is inventing as he goes, a messy hybrid of Jewish and Greek thought, while Brown uses the therapeutic idiom of early 21st century self-help literature.

Instead of a “Ministry of Death,”Brown points to a pervasive culture of scarcity that holds us all captive.  She writes,  “Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal, we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats… It’s not just the larger culture that’s suffering; I found the same dynamics playing out in family culture, work culture, school culture, and community culture.” (27)

That culture of scarcity, as Brown tells it – and I recognize it; do you?  – that culture fills us with the persistent haunting fear that we’re not enough. More specifically, that we’re not something enough.You’ll have a few words of your own that fill in that blank. Not disciplined enough. Not patient enough. Not organized enough. Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. Not creative enough. Not thin enough. Not spiritual enough. Have you thought of yours yet? …

That inner yardstick, that imagined ideal, against with we measure ourselves, consciously or not, and find ourselves wanting – that’s the Ministry of Death of our time, the Law that binds us instead of freeing us. Brown says that the upshot of this culture of scarcity is an epidemic of shame….which sounds a lot like the “mindset of condemnation” Paul names. Brown defines shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and … unworthy of love and belonging.” (69) And our shame drives a whole set of behaviors that we use to defer, deflect, or hide from shame – disengagement, fear of connecting or investing; criticizing and ridiculing self and others; cynicism and pessimism, scapegoating, perfectionism, numbing behaviors like our various addictions… She says, the things we do to try and avoid or manage shametend to make us into the people we least want to be.

The other mindset, the new dispensation, the Government of Living Spirit – it’s harder to put words to that. Paul says – again, in chorus with many prophets of Israel – that true holiness is a matter of spirit, not of law. It’s a way of freedom and of trust. He’s not under the illusion this Way is easier than the alternative. If anything, it’s probably harder. The guidelines are few and, frankly, poorly-defined: Love. Generosity. Justice. The rules are those we discern and take on for ourselves. The standards are perplexing; we seem to be welcomed and loved just as we are, while also called to literally impossible feats of mercy. But this is the Way we were made for. It’s how God wants us -not as subjects, slaves, or employees, following orders, but as children, formed by the heart and spirit of our loving Parent.

Brown says the opposite – the antidote – to our culture of scarcity and shame is, simply, the idea of enough. Trusting that we are enough, that we’re fundamentally OK and still worthy of love, even when we mess up or aren’t good at something.  Knowing ourselves to be enough allows us to lay down the armor and weapons that we stockpiled to protect ourselves from shame and scarcity,and instead to be present and real. To take the holy human risks of connecting, engaging, and growing.

Brown – a practicing Episcopalian – doesn’t say, but could: You are enough, because God don’t make no junk. But Paul says that, more or less. Paul talks about enough, too. In verses 5 and 6 of this chapter, he writes, “We are not enough, of ourselves, to claim anything as coming from us; our enough-ness is from God, who has made us enough to be ministers of this new covenant.” You’re enough because God makes you enough. And more than enough: God makes you shine.

But. That’s not what most of us see, when we look in the mirror. That’s why Paul wrote these letters, urging the early Christians to turn away from the mindset of death that made them think they weren’t good enough for God. That’s why Brown wrote this book, helping us identify the role of shame and scarcity in our lives, and offering tools for turning the corner into a new mindset.

Which brings us… to Lent. The season of the church’s year which begins this week. A season honored with repentance, turning from and turning towards; with self-examination and reflection; with practices of personal discipline such as fasting. It all sounds a little like we’re right back at the Ministry of Death. But I don’t think so.

So much of the worst of human behavior springs from fear, scarcity, shame. I think the call of Lent is to work on quitting all the stuff we do to convince ourselves that we can be … something enough, if we just keep trying; and instead to think and pray and live as people who know that we are enough, enough in God, enough for God.

For example. I marked up this book a lot, as I read – notes for the book group, for my church, for myself. In chapter four, Brown talks about perfectionism, as one of the forms of armor we use to protect ourselvesin the dispensation of condemnation. She says, “Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly…, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame…. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance… Somewhere along the way they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish.’ … Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame.” (129 – 130)

I was sure as heck not going to mark up the Perfectionism page. I’ve told myself for decades that I’m not a perfectionist – and I’m genuinely not the stereotypical, cartoon perfectionist. I’m not judging your punctuation, folks. I let things be Done instead of Perfect every day. I cut myself slack. I’m OK with my limitations and my growing edges. In fact, I even took an online quiz, designed to assess how much you practice compassion towards yourself – one measure of perfectionism. And I scored REALLY WELL.  So there.

But… Still. I recognize myself in some of Brown’s words about perfectionism.It’s not a demon I can vanquish with ONE MORE good test score. My parents did their best – in first grade, when I got a pink slip for bad behavior, my mom took me out for ice cream to celebrate. But I became, somehow,  a person who’s deeply invested in my own competence. Who believes, at a deep level, that I am what I accomplish. Turning from the mindset of condemnation, the culture of scarcity, for me, means teaching myself to trust that I am enough, that I’m worthy, regardless of whether I’m currently being showered with kudos, gold stars, and pats on the head.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Can you see the glory of God, shining there? A flicker? A glimmer? Maybe the purpose of the disciplines of Lent is to rub away at the tarnish and grime, or – to use the image Paul plays with – to strip away the layers of veiling – that obscure God’s light, God’s glory from shining forth in and from us. So that that mirror – metaphorical or actual – will show us ourselves as we truly are. Enough, through God’s grace, and ablaze with Christ’s light.

Announcements, February 4

THIS WEEKEND…

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!

February begins the Season of Stewardship of Spirit and Space: The word “stewardship” reminds us that all we have is entrusted to us by God, to be a blessing to us, our communities, and the world. In 2011, our parish developed a framework for reflecting on stewardship throughout the year. February through May is the Season of Stewardship of Spirit and Space – a time to turn inward, in the cold of winter and the solemnity of Lent, to tend to our spirits and draw closer to God. And though spring seems distant, it’s also time to think about plans and plantings. We begin worship this Sunday with the Collect for this season.

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 available over the weekend. We’ll work in the Meeting Room at St. Dunstan’s following the 10am service.

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

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 to get involved!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

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.

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 Study Group – Growing a Rule of Life, Sunday, February 14, 9am: 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.

Sunday School, Sunday, February 14, 10am: This week, our 3-6 year old class will be learning the Parable of the Great Pearl, while our 7-11 year old class explores our lesson from Deuteronomy, and how God’s people hold our holy history in memory.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 14, 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.

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.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 20, 10am: The book is “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson, the visionary founder and executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, surely has done as much as any other living American to vindicate the innocent and temper justice with mercy for the guilty. With honorary degrees from Yale, Penn and Georgetown, Stevenson, now 54, has made his latest contribution to criminal justice in the form of this inspiring memoir.

Lenten Virtual Book Group Begins Feb. 22: 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.