Announcements, March 31

THIS WEEKEND…

Outreach Committee Open Meeting Invitation, Saturday, April 2, 8:00am: The Outreach Committee at St. Dunstan’s oversees and coordinates all the many ways that the people of St. Dunstan’s serve those in need beyond our parish, by sharing our time and skills as volunteers and by giving funds and other resources. Outreach Committee meetings are always open to interested folk, but we especially invite those who would like to learn more or get involved to attend our upcoming meeting. We’ll offer an overview of our core ministries, and we’d love to hear about your ideas or passions! We gather with a simple potluck breakfast at 8am, then move into the meeting proper at 8:30am.

Little Free Library Planning Meeting, Sunday, April 3, at 9:15am: We will have a brief meeting to familiarize interested folk with our Little Free Library and discuss how to organize a team to maintain it in the months ahead. All are welcome! 

Retirement Celebration for Deacon Sybil, Sunday, April 3, after the 10am service: The Rev. Sybil Robinson is a much-beloved elder of our parish, an Episcopal deacon, and a retired professor of theater and drama. Sybil has proclaimed the Gospel faithfully for us for many years, even at the age of ninety-one. Sybil will soon retire from serving in this capacity, though she will continue to worship with us as she is able. Come join us for a celebration of Sybil’s ministry. Please thank Sybil for the blessing of her beautiful and well-trained voice, all these years!

Backpack Snack Pack, Sunday, April 3, 11:45am: Every month St. Dunstanites of all ages help pack Backpack Snack Packs for local school children from low-income households, so that they have nutritious snacks available over the weekend. We’ll work in the Meeting Room following the 10am service.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, April 3, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Birthday and Anniversaries will be honored this Sunday, April 3, 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 Prayer, Sunday, April 3: This 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 April 3: This Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Groceries are welcome gifts too. Here are the top ten items most needed currently: pouch/canned meat, sugar, size 6 diapers, meals in a can, ketchup/mayonnaise, canned potatoes, laundry detergent, non-perishable lactose free milk, plastic grocery bags, paper grocery bags. Quality bedding items such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels are always in need too. Thank you for all your support!

Easter Season Reflection Booklets: The young adults of the Episcopal churches of Madison (including two of our own) have written reflections for each day of Easter season. Pick up a booklet to enjoy in the weeks ahead!

Greeters Needed for the 10am service: If you enjoy making people feel at home, please consider signing up to be a greeter on Sunday mornings. Greeters serve once a month. Here’s a basic job description: arrive 15 minutes before worship starts, greet people as they arrive, help any newcomers or guests find what they need to participate and be comfortable. If you are interested or would like to learn more, sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Bernice Mason or Rev. Miranda.

Coffee Hosts Needed! Please consider being a coffee host. We have several openings in April and May. Sign-up sheets for upcoming Sundays can be found in the Gathering Area. For more information, Contact Janet Bybee. Thanks for lending a hand.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Guest Preacher, Sunday, April 10: Vivienne Anderson will preach at both services. Vivienne is a storyteller, realtor, community leader and former pastor, who can fly, forgive sins, and sell a large house in a single day. We welcome Vivienne to our pulpit and look forward to hearing her reflect on our Scriptures!

Trans Issues 101, Sunday, April 10, 9am: The idea of transgender people is still new (and perplexing) to many of us. Vivienne Anderson, our guest preacher, is a community educator and would like to share her story and answer your questions. We’ll gather in the Meeting Room at 9am.

Sunday School, Sunday, April 10, 10am: Our 3-5 year old class will explore the many styles and meanings of crosses, while our 6 – 10 year old class will reflect on the conversion of the apostle Paul. Our Sunday school classes usually meet on the second and third Sundays of every month. All kids are welcome!

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, April 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.

Easter Season 2016: Healing Democracy, One Heart at a Time – On Sundays at 9am in Easter Season, starting on April 17 (** please note date change **), we will explore techniques for creating safe spaces in which to talk honestly, strive to transcend partisanship and reconnect as human beings across the political gulfs that divide us. We’ll experiment with five habits that author Parker Palmer believes will help heal our hearts and the collective heart of our nation:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
  2. An appreciation of the value of otherness.
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. A sense of personal voice or agency.
  5. A capacity to create community.

In a year of contentious politics, let’s claim this opportunity to engage in deep conversation and strengthen the ties connecting our faith, our hearts, our convictions and our communities. Watch this space for more details, but please consider participating in the weeks ahead!

Sing Out Loud! Sunday, April 24, 3pm: St. Dunstan’s Choir is hosting a choir festival on April 24th at 3 p.m., to benefit Middleton Outreach Ministries (MOM). Choirs from MOM congregations will be joining our singers to present an afternoon concert. Please bring personal care or household cleaning items for the MOM pantry. Al Ripp, the Executive Director of MOM will speak to us about MOM’s work in our area. Help spread the word!

St. Francis House 100th Anniversary Dinner, Saturday, April 23, 4-8pm at St. Dunstan’s: On April 23, St. Francis House celebrates the ministry’s 100th anniversary, a celebration that belongs to all of the Episcopal churches in our diocese and to everyone who has been a part of SFH. The celebration begins at SFH with Evening Prayer at 5:15 pm, led by Bishop Miller, and the blessing of a large icon, gifted to SFH by the alumni family. Drazen Dupor, the iconographer, will be on hand to speak about the icon. There will be displays from different eras at SFH, a short program, and lots of new and old friends. The celebration continues at St. Dunstan’s, with dinner at 6:30pm. Ample parking will be available at St. Dunstan’s with a shuttle to and from campus for evening prayer. Tickets are $35. Seating will be limited to 100 people. You can reserve your tickets for the evening at www.stfancisuw.org.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, April 13, 7:15 – 9:00pm: The Madison-Area Julian Gathering has been meeting for six years, reading and discussing the hopeful theology of St. Julian of Norwich, and practicing contemplative prayer together. Upon having worked our way carefully through Julian’s 14th Century masterpiece of trust and joy in the goodness of God, we’ve decided to start at the beginning and do it all over again! If you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor, please join us!

Men’s Book Group, Saturday, April 30, 10am: The book is English Creek by Ivan Doig. Jack McCaskill accompanies his father on a horseback journey to count sheep onto mountain rangeland allotted by the national forest—a routine yearly duty that leads to the revelation of a long-kept family secret. Events develop over the course of the summer and end in a forest fire that brings the book, as well as the Catskill family’s struggle within itself, to a stunning climax.

An Introduction to Charitable Giving, Sunday, May 1, 11:30am: Come for lunch with several of the folk of St. Dunstan’s who have expertise in the areas of financial management, charitable giving, and taxes. They’ll outline the logistics of different ways of giving to your favorite organizations or causes, different kinds of gifts, and tax implications of giving. Questions welcome too! Folks of all ages and incomes are encouraged to come; child care will be provided.

Vacation Bible School Dates Set! Our summer Vacation Bible School will take place from Sunday, July 31, through Thursday, August 4, 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 St. Dunstan’s families making summer plans.

40th Annual Women’s Mini Week – Surprised by Joy! – August 11 – 14, 2016, Camp Lakotah, Wautoma, Wisconsin: This is your time to retreat from your everyday routines, to allow discoveries and friendships to refresh you, to find comfortable activity or blissful quiet. Registration forms are in the Gathering Area. For more information, see the website at www.womensminisweek.org.

 

Sermon, Easter Day

(With the children in the congregation) Let’s open our wooden tomb…  Where is Jesus?…. (Wait for them to find the resurrected Christ figure)  Where else is he? He’s in US. WE are the resurrected Christ. Jesus is alive in the world today because Jesus is in us, and WE are alive in the world today! It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?…Do you know who else thought it was amazing? Tiberius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. He was the ruler of the whole wide world,  back in Jesus’ time. And he heard the story about how Jesus rose from the dead from a woman named Mary – Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene had been a friend and follower of Jesus. She came from a wealthy and important family, so after Jesus was killed by his enemies and then rose from the dead, she went to Rome, to complain to the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, that the Roman governor in Judea, Pontius Pilate, had allowed himself to be tricked into executing Jesus,who was innocent and good. Now, because the Emperor was so important, everyone who came before him was supposed to bring a gift. Mary Magdalene brought – an egg. Not a very fancy gift, is it?

She told the Emperor all about Jesus, the amazing things he did and said, and that even death couldn’t stop him.The Emperor listened, but he listened with this kind of look on his face…and then he said, A dead person can’t come back to life! That’s impossible! Just like it’s impossible for that white egg in your hand to turn red!….

And then, do you know what happened? The egg in her hand TURNED RED. We use all different colored eggs at Easter, but Orthodox Christians use red eggs, to remember Mary speaking the Gospel to the Emperor, and the holy sign that was given to her. Here are some eggs for you to color! Use markers or crayons or colored pencils or stickers. (Send kids back to their places) 

What do we know about Mary Magdalene? Less than we think, perhaps. There’s been a long tradition in Christianity of glomming all the women in the Gospels together, so that Mary Magdalene is ALSO Mary the sister of Lazarus and ALSO the woman who was forgiven her sinful life, and so on. In fact, Jesus probably just had a lot of women followers and friends, just like he had a lot of men followers and friends. And Mary was a common name, so there were quite a few Marys, including his mother. That’s why the Gospels call this particular person Mary Magdalene – to set her apart, like your first grade class might have had Jason D. and Jason R. Magdalene was probably a place name, meaning that she was the Mary who came from the city of Magdala – though it’s also possible that the name means that she was a hairdresser by profession!

Here’s what we do know. She was part of a group of women who traveled with Jesus, just like the (male) disciples, though they are barely mentioned until the Crucifixion. Here’s the Gospel of Mark, chapter 15: “There were also women looking on from a distance [as Jesus was crucified]; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger…, and Salome. These [women] used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”

The fact that Mary and the other women are named as providing for Jesus may mean that she was wealthy, as the later story about her visit to Caesar assumes. Or she may have just been stubborn enough to leave home and family and follow Jesus, and resourceful enough to help make sure he and his group of friends always had somewhere to sleep and something to eat.

So, Magdalene is one of this group of faithful female followers of Jesus. But she stands out even among that group. ALL FOUR GOSPELS name Mary Magdalene as one of the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Now, our four Gospels – the four books of the Biblethat tell the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection – they agree in the general shape of the story, and they complement each other in many ways.They agree on the big stuff, the central truth they’re telling. But they differ on details a lot. So it’s actually really something that they all agree on this detail: that Mary Magdalene was one of the first to discover that Jesus had risen from the dead.

John’s Gospel, the Gospel we heard a few moments ago,tells of that discovery so beautifully. Jesus’ body was buried in a hurry, before the Sabbath,when it was not acceptable to touch dead bodies. So it hadn’t been washed and anointed and cared for in all the ways that those who love him would have wanted. So as soon as the Sabbath is over, early in the morning, Mary goes to the tomb where Jesus was buried. In the other Gospels she’s with several other women; in John’s account she’s alone.

She finds that the great stone that covered the opening to the tomb has been removed – and she immediately assumes that Jesus’ body has been taken by his enemies. She runs to find the Simon Peter and John, leaders among the disciples, and they all run back to the tomb together. They look inside and see that the linen cloths are still there,the ones that were used to wrap Jesus’ body, but Jesus himself is gone.They’re not sure what to think – verses 8 and 9 say that they believed, but did not yet understand. Then Peter and John go home. Nothing else to see here.

But Mary stays. She stands weeping outside the tomb. And she looks into the tomb once more, the way you do, the way you confirm terrible or amazing news one more time. And this time there are angels there, who ask why she is weeping. She tells them what she told Peter and John: “They have taken away my Lord,and I do not know where they have laid him.” Hear her longing and grief – she had wanted to embrace her friend and teacher once more, to clean and anoint and care for his body, to honor him in death as she did in life. She turns away from the tomb, blinded by tears, and there’s someone standing nearby, maybe a gardener, and she asks her desperate question, “Sir, please, if you have taken him somewhere, tell me where,” and he says her name – Mary! – and she recognizes the voice and cries out Rabboni! My teacher!

John doesn’t tell us what she does in that moment but I imagine a desperate, fierce embrace,the way you hug a loved one lost and found. And I think I must be right about that because the next thing Jesus says is, Don’t cling to me, Mary. I still have to leave you. I can’t stay. I must go to be with my Father in Heaven. But tell the others what you have seen and heard. And Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples, I have seen the Lord!

Listen. Christianity was born in a patriarchal culture, in which men made the decisions, owned the property, ran the world. Christianity has matured and diversified and spread around the world as a patriarchal culture among patriarchal cultures. Many Christian churches still don’t admit women to leadership. Many Christian churches that do admit women to leadership are still burdened and blinded by structural sexism that means that few women are actually invited onto the higher rungs of the ladder. Far too often, and for far too long, in institutional Christianity, we have followed the script of the Gospel of Mark: telling and living a story that centers on men, and then, four-fifths of the way along, suddenly remembering to mention, Oh, there are some women here too. They’ve actually been here all along.They’ve actually made the whole thing possible.

But. This story, of Mary Magdalene, whom Eastern Christians call the Apostle to the Apostles for her role as first witness to the Resurrection – This story of Mary Magdaleneis not feminist fan-fiction. It’s not something somebody wrote last year to correct the lack of women in the Gospels. It’s in the Gospels. All four of them. Which I think allows us to say two things: One, it’s true. She really was the first to receive the good news of Easterand tell it to others. That fact was so well-known among early Christians that all four Gospel writers acknowledge it. And two, these guys, these four men, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, formed as they were by the male-dominated cultures of Judaism and Rome, these four men were also formed by their faith in Jesus Christ in a way that led them to write Mary into the story where she belongs.

That’s the thing about Christianity. For all its flaws, its crimes, its failures. At its best, at its heart, what it’s all about is people gathering to help each other and ourselves to follow Jesus. Jesus who carried forward the vision of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets of God who went before him,in holding the social and political order accountable to God’s vision of justice and mercy.  Jesus whose words and actions taught his followers to look beyond the rules of respectable morality and social status and view each person as a beloved child of God. Jesus who called and sent forth a people to live and proclaim a Gospel of love that transcends the labels that divide us – We are no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

At its best, at its heart, our Christian faith equips and empowers us to reflect critically on our world, our culture, in the light of God’s vision of justice and mercy. Ours is a way of faith that always contains the seeds of its own renewal, and of the renewal of the society around us. Ours is a way of faith that casts a vision so radical that there is ALWAYS farther for us to go, in living into it. A Way that stands against our human tendency to stigmatize and exclude, and tells us we are not whole until we learn to welcome, hear, and love the stranger and outsider. A Way that stands against our human tendency to laud the rich and powerful, and calls us to honor the poor and the marginalized, and to strive for a more just and sustaining common life. A Way that stands against our human tendency to value each other differently on the basis of race, gender, age, and more, and gives us a Gospel in which – against the grain of their culture, and, still, against the grain of ours – women and children and foreigners and disabled people and criminals are treated with respect and compassion, as if they were fully worthy of understanding and love…!

No wonder Mary wept at his tomb, thinking him dead. To hear that voice silenced, to see that vision crushed. To believe that it was over. No wonder she wept. And no wonder she cried even harder when she heard his voice, saw his beloved face, and knew that not only was it not over, it was only just beginning.

That’s what matters about the Resurrection. About Jesus’ rising from the dead, the joyful mystery we celebrate today. What matters about the Resurrection is that it validates everything Jesus did and said to teach everyone who would listen about the heart of God and the worth of humanity. The meaning of Easter isn’t, Hey, some guy was dead and came back to life! He must be God! Let’s worship him and have a party! As our Presiding Bishop said in his Easter message, This is not a fairy tale.

The meaning of Easter is that the guy who said all THAT stuff, about justice and kindness and redemption and God’s fierce relentless love for each and all of us, THAT guy came back to life. THAT guy is God with us. His message, his inexhaustibly radical message of a world turned upside down by God’s love and God’s priorities, his message is ratified by the empty tomb.

Take heart, Mary. Take heart, children. Love wins. Alleluia!

Maundy Thursday Homily

Relations between blacks and whites are tense. Systemic racism and its deep patterns of inequality and injustice are driving protests among black folk and their white allies, demands for profound and substantive change, demands that many white Americans find terrifying. Relationships between the police and African-American communities are particularly fraught – police are seen not as allies in dealing with the crime that goes hand-in-hand with extreme poverty, but as part of the system of oppression. There is deep mistrust in both directions, and often violence, in both directions. In some places police force is used to subdue and discourage protesters, making the police seem less like servants of the people and more like guardians of an unjust status quo.

The year is 1968.

And in a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh, two men are making friends. One of them is a young black man with an extraordinary voice. He dreams of becoming a professional singer. But he grew up in the ghetto and has already overcome huge odds to get this far; he isn’t even sure he can make rent next month.

The other man is white. He’s forty – the age, I like to think, when our youthful idealism and our mature pragmatism begin to find a fruitful balance. He is, in fact, an ordained Presbyterian minister, but he’s just attending church, not serving as a pastor, because he has a full-time job as a TV star. His name is Fred Rogers.

Who here has never seen Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?… It was a children’s television show, with this man who talked to the TV as if he were talking to a child, and invited us into adventures with his puppet friends. Sing it with me, folks: “Let’s make the most of this beautiful day; since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be my, could you be my, won’t you be my neighbor?”

I watched some of it, as a child. In my teens and young adulthood, Mr. Rogers was punchline. We made a joke of his weird puppets, his gentle voice and careful words, his cardigans, his deliberateness, his overwhelming kindness.

But sometime along the road, we all started to get it. Maybe it was his death in 2003 that finally made us all re-assess. Maybe it’s the quotations that circulate on Facebook. Something made us all take a better look and realize that Fred Rogers was the real thing, an honest-to-God saint walking among us, preaching basic human decency on syndicated television, no less.

So. Back to 1968. Fred Rogers hears this young man, Francois Clemmons, sing at church. They become friends. And Mr. Rogers asks Clemmons to come on his show. He said, “I have this idea. You could be a police officer.” Clemmons was not enthusiastic. Where he came from, the cops were not friendly neighbors. In a recent StoryCorps interview, he said, “Policemen were siccing police dogs and water hoses on people [at that time]. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.”

Still – there was the rent to pay. Clemmons eventually said yes. He would serve as Officer Clemmons in occasional appearances on the show for 25 years – while living out his dream of being a professional singer.

Reminiscing about his years on the show, Clemmons recalled a particular scene early on, in an episode that aired in 1969. Rogers was sitting in his back yard resting his feet in a plastic wading pool, as relief on a hot summer day. Officer Clemmons stopped by, and Rogers invited him to come rest his feet in the water too, which he did. You can find a photo online, these two grown men sitting next to each other with their shoes and socks off and their pant legs rolled up and their feet in this wading pool. It’s the sweetest, dorkiest thing. And – it was kind of radical.

The first interracial kiss on television was in a Star Trek episode in 1968, just a year earlier. White flesh and black flesh sharing space was still a big deal. (It still is, sometimes, some places, in America; let’s not kid ourselves.) During the 1950s, groups of black and white folks together had worked to integrate Pittsburgh’s public pools, in a united effort supported by the NAACP, the Urban League of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Presbytery – the church jurisdiction that ordained Fred Rogers in 1962. Still, as late as 1962, a city pool in Pittsburgh, where Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed, had a sign outside saying “No dogs or niggers allowed.” 

So this kiddie pool in Mr. Rogers’ TV back yard, with black feet and white feet in the same water – that, even that, would have pushed some folks’ buttons.

And then it was time for Officer Clemmons to get on with his children’s television show police officer duties. So Fred Rogers got down on his knees with a towel and dried Clemmons’ feet. One a time. I haven’t found footage, but I’m sure he did it with his usual deliberateness and gentleness.

Recalling the scene, Clemmons used the word “icon.” An icon: a holy image that shows us something about the divine, in visual form. Clemmons says, “I think [Rogers] was making a very strong statement. That was his way.”

I don’t know how much I really need to connect the dots here. There’s that word, icon, that Clemmons uses – a holy image that reveals the Divine. There’s Fred Rogers, a disciple of Jesus, actively striving to bear witness to God’s love in simple humble ways that even a child can understand, casting a black man as a friendly policeman and then kneeling to wipe his feet dry, on national TV. There’s Jesus on his knees, towel in hand, telling his friends, You need to let me do this for you. And you need to do this for one another.

In the interview, Clemmons shared another memory – an ordinary day on the set of the long-running show. Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his famous cardigan sweater and saying, “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” Clemmons was standing around off-camera, and this time, Rogers looked right at him as he spoke. Once the cameras were off, Clemmons walked over and asked him, “Fred, were you talking to me?” Rogers answered, “Yes, I have been talking to you for years. But you heard me today.”

Easter Vigil Homily

This is the night. So says the Exsultet, the ancient hymn chanted at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, after we have kindled the New Fire. The Exsultet is at least 1200 years old; for a dozen centuries Christians have gathered to keep vigil the night of Jesus Christ’s passing over from death into new life, and marked it with these solemn holy joyful words.

This is the night! The Exsultet’s theological poetry builds upon the testimony of the Gospels, that Jesus’ last meal with his friends was a Passover meal, commemorating the last night of the people Israel as slaves in Egypt, before they set out for freedom as God’s people. The Exsultet says, If the Last Supper was Passover, then this night, the night of Resurrection, this is the same night, the very same night, when, millennia earlier, Moses led God’s people across the Red Sea on dry land. This is the night when bondage gives way to freedom, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. This is the night.  This is the night when we gather in the firelight to hear the ancient stories of God’s saving work, God’s fierce relentless love for humanity.

Through our stories, songs, and prayers, this becomes the night when God completes the work of Creation, gazing with joy and satisfaction upon our world. This becomes the night when Noah and his family sleep restlessly aboard the ark, waiting and wondering: will the dove return this time? This becomes one of the nights that Jonah spends in the belly of the great fish, reconsidering his decision to run away from God’s call to proclaim repentance and hope.

The Exsultet, at twelve hundred years old, is one of the younger parts of our Easter Vigil. Our liturgy tonight includes the Easter sermon of the fifth-century Saint Euthymius. We Western Christians tend to think that Jesus spent three days just being dead, lying quietly in the tomb. Eastern Christians believe that Jesus spent that same time tearing Hell apart, breaking doors and locks and chains, freeing all those who had been bound by death, starting with Adam and Eve, our first parents. Euthymius’ sermon invites us into that moment – the moment when Jesus breaks down the doors of Hell and calls the dead back into life. Arise, work of my hands! This is the night!

Our liturgy tonight includes, too, the words of the fourth-century saint John Chrysostom, who playfully and joyfully invites us into the great feast of God’s saving grace. You that have been faithful long, you that are new to God’s grace, you that have fasted faithfully, and you that have… not, celebrate this day! Join in this banquet of grace! For Death is conquered and Christ is arisen! This is the night!

And then our Eucharistic prayer does what it always does – it makes us God’s people, once and always. We are one with our ancestors in faith as the prayer recounts, again, God’s work in human history and human lives: “When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death… In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you… and in the fullness of time you sent us your only Son to be our Savior.”

This is the night. Time and space collapse to one moment, one place, one people. We are one with the communion of saints, all God’s people past, present, and yet to come; we are one with all those who celebrate this feast tonight, near and far. The light in your hand isn’t just a candle – it’s the light of Christ returning to the world. The affirmation of our baptismal vows becomes our opportunity to say YES. YES to the story, the light, the mystery, the hope.

We are God’s people, once and always. We will be God’s people, saved and saving, loved and loving.  This is the night, the fulcrum of history. The story – all the stories, the whole story – is about us. It’s ours. It’s true. It’s beautiful. And most of all, it’s now.

Announcements, March 24

Maundy Thursday, Tonight, 6pm: in our Maundy liturgy, we will walk through Jesus’ final evening with his friends before his arrest, including a simple shared meal, foot washing (optional), and the stripping of the altar.

  • Please bring 30 pieces of change (dimes, nickels, pennies) – or just a handful.
  • People of all ages are welcome in this liturgy.

Night watch Vigil Sign-Up: From 8:30pm till midnight on Thursday, March 24, following our Maundy Thursday service, and from 6am till noon on Good Friday, March 25, members of St. Dunstan’s will keep a vigil of prayer in the church, in pairs. Sign up in the Gathering Area for your desired shift. Come in silence, sit or kneel in silence, depart in silence. Reading material will be provided.

Good Friday Liturgies, Friday, March 25, 12 noon and 7pm: A solemn liturgy recalling Christ’s death on the cross. Our 7pm service is followed by the Good Friday Wake, a one-hour vigil in which we honor Jesus’ death and remember our own beloved dead. Reflect on the poetry, art, and Scripture of Jesus’ death and the grief of his friends. Hot cross buns and tea will be served.

Friday, March 25, 4pm, Children’s Good Friday Service: This service is best for kids ages 3 to 10. We will walk the Stations of the Cross together, exploring the story and what it means to us.

The Great Vigil of Easter, Saturday, March 26, 8pm: The Easter Vigil is one of Christianity’s most ancient and beautiful liturgies: fire and water, music and art, darkness and light, death and resurrection! Please bring bells and noisemakers. We will use INCENSE at this liturgy. The Great Vigil liturgy is appropriate for adults, youth, and older kids; it is about two hours long.

Easter Sunday, Sunday, March 27, 8am & 10am: Celebrate Easter with the St. Dunstan’s community! After each service, there will be an Easter egg hunt for children. Visitors and guests are very welcome!

Easter Season Reflection Booklets: The young adults of the Episcopal churches of Madison (including two of our own) have written reflections for each day of Easter season. Pick up a booklet to enjoy in the weeks ahead!

Holy Week Offerings:  As is our custom, offerings made during our Holy Week services will go to support particular agencies and ministries. Maundy Thursday offerings will go to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) here in Madison. Good Friday offerings will go to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Easter Vigil offerings will go to Episcopal Relief & Development. Thank you for your generosity.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Outreach Committee Open Meeting Invitation, Saturday, April 2, 8:00am: The Outreach Committee at St. Dunstan’s oversees and coordinates all the many ways that the people of St. Dunstan’s serve those in need beyond our parish, by sharing our time and skills as volunteers and by giving funds and other resources. Outreach Committee meetings are always open to interested folk, but we especially invite those who would like to learn more or get involved to attend our upcoming meeting. We’ll offer an overview of our core ministries, and we’d love to hear about your ideas or passions! We gather with a simple potluck breakfast at 8am, then move into the meeting proper at 8:30am.

Little Free Library Planning Meeting: On Sunday, April 3, at 9:15am we will have a brief meeting to familiarize interested folk with our Little Free Library and discuss how to organize a team to maintain it in the months ahead. All are welcome! 

Retirement Celebration for Deacon Sybil, Sunday, April 3rd after the 10am service: The Rev. Sybil Robinson is a much-beloved elder of our parish, an Episcopal deacon, and a retired professor of theater and drama. Sybil has proclaimed the Gospel faithfully for us for many years, even at the age of ninety-one. Sybil will soon retire from serving in this capacity, though she will continue to worship with us as she is able. Come join us for a celebration of Sybil’s ministry. Please thank Sybil for the blessing of her beautiful and well-trained voice, all these years!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, April 3, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Birthday and Anniversaries will be honored next Sunday, April 3, 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 Prayer, Sunday, April 3: 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 April 3: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Groceries are welcome gifts too. Here are the top ten items most needed currently: pouch/canned meat, sugar, size 6 diapers, meals in a can, ketchup/mayonnaise, canned potatoes, laundry detergent, non-perishable lactose free milk, plastic grocery bags, paper grocery bags. Quality bedding items such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels are always in need too. Thank you for all your support!

Easter Season 2016: Healing Democracy, One Heart at a Time – On Sundays at 9am in Easter Season, starting on April 10, we will explore techniques for creating safe spaces in which to talk honestly, strive to transcend partisanship and reconnect as human beings across the political gulfs that divide us. We’ll experiment with five habits that author Parker Palmer believes will help heal our hearts and the collective heart of our nation:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
  2. An appreciation of the value of otherness.
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. A sense of personal voice or agency.
  5. A capacity to create community.

In a year of contentious politics, let’s claim this opportunity to engage in deep conversation and strengthen the ties connecting our faith, our hearts, our convictions and our communities. Watch this space for more details, but please consider participating in the weeks ahead!

Sing Out Loud! Sunday, April 24, 3pm: St. Dunstan’s Choir is hosting a choir festival on April 24th at 3 p.m., to benefit Middleton Outreach Ministries (MOM). Choirs from MOM congregations will be joining our singers to present an afternoon concert. Please bring personal care or household cleaning items for the MOM pantry. Al Ripp, the Executive Director of MOM will speak to us about MOM’s work in our area. Help spread the word!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, April 13, 7:15 – 9:00pm: The Madison-Area Julian Gathering has been meeting for six years, reading and discussing the hopeful theology of St. Julian of Norwich, and practicing contemplative prayer together. Upon having worked our way carefully through Julian’s 14th Century masterpiece of trust and joy in the goodness of God, we’ve decided to start at the beginning and do it all over again! If you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor, please join us!

 

Sermon, March 20

Imagine the scene, as Luke tells it in his Gospel. Jesus is seated on a young donkey – maybe his feet nearly scrape the ground. A few cloaks tossed over its back offer a makeshift saddle. His friends and followers are crowded around him, a ragtag bunch,men and women and kids, people of all ages and all stations in life. They’re just outside one of the gates of Jerusalem, the city of David with its ancient walls of golden stone. A crowd has gathered to greet him – the poor, the desperate, the hopeful, the angry. They’ve heard so much about Jesus, this preacher and wonder-worker from Galilee.They hope he may be the promised Messiah, who will throw out the Romans and bring them the fulness of God’s saving power. In excitement and hope, they’re casting their cloaks down on the road. The other three Gospels say they cast down branches, too. Think of the red carpet for royalty or movie stars,the ancient symbolism of creating a special pathway for an honored person.

The donkey stumbles unwillingly forward, crushing leaves under its hooves, grinding cloaks into the dirt, while the gathered crowd cries out, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven! (That last bit is only in Luke’s account of this scene; he is intentionally inviting his readers to remember the words of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth, way back in chapter 2 – ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’)

So: is that scene in your mind? The dusty road strewn with clothes and branches?The chaotic eager shouting crowd? The solemn man seated awkwardly on the too-small donkey?…

Now, place that scene, that little cluster, on a stage. A big stage. Big enough to dwarf this little gathering. And behind our cluster of the humble and hopeful, there is a huge, brightly-colored backdrop,showing another scene happening that very day, elsewhere in Jerusalem, outside another city gate. The Roman governor of the province of Judea,the territory of the Jews, is arriving in Jerusalem. Leaving his luxurious seaside villa up north to put in an appearance at the capital. No donkeys here; big, fine horses for the Governor and his generals, while the soldiers march on foot – that disciplined, steady, united march that carries Roman troops and Roman rule inexorably into Israel, Egypt, Syria, France, Germany, Britain, and beyond.

Today the Great Empire arrives in Jerusalem – to make sure the presence of Rome is felt as the Jews celebrate their feast of Passover. Keep your little customs, says Rome, they do no harm; but as you celebrate this feast of freedom from bondage,as you remember thwarting Pharaoh and escaping Egypt, just remember who’s your master now. The God-Emperor on his throne in Rome recalls the God-King Pharaoh, and his hardness of heart; but Rome will not make Egypt’s mistakes. Rome is stronger than Egypt ever was.

Today the Great Empire arrives in Jerusalem – embodied in Pontius Pilate, the Governor, seated high on his horse,dressed in clean bright colors. Hard-eyed and unimpressed. Embodied in the golden letters SPQR on tall standards carried among the troops, the letters that proclaim Rome the capital of the world, the center of civilization and power. Embodied in the pounding rhythm of the soldier’s feet, the creak of leather armor, the clank of helmets and weapons, the blinding flash of bright impassive sunlight on shields and swords and spears.

There is a crowd here too, to witness the panoply, the power. I don’t think they’re shouting words of welcome or praise – or maybe only a few, those currying favor with the power that rules the world, those who believe their own people don’t deserve independence and appreciate the Romans’ strong law and order approach. Most stand silent, unwilling to praise this “heresy on horseback,”  the god of Roman imperial might, that dares to stand against the God of the Jews, who is the God of everything, all places, all peoples. Most stand silent, children held close lest they dart out in front of that remorseless force, and be trampled underfoot. The people watch the Governor arrive. Awed. Curious. Resentful. Afraid.

See how humble, how tawdry, Jesus’ parade and welcome seem, against that backdrop of color, power, and pomp. But see, too, with both Triumphal Entries on the stage – see the light that Pilate’s arrival casts on Jesus’s. See the irony of the plainly-dressed dusty man on the donkey. See the dark and risky joke that Jesus is telling.

Placing the backdrop of Pilate’s ceremonial arrival behind Jesus on his borrowed donkey is the work of New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. They remind us – as Palm Sunday and Good Friday should always remind us – that Jesus’ teaching, his actions, the witness of his life,was both spiritual and political. That Jesus, God among us, was deeply concerned with both the ordering of human hearts and the ordering of human societies.

Debie Thomas wrote about Borg and Crossan’s vision of the day in a 2015 essay called “The Clown King.” She writes that Jesus’ little parade was “an act of political theater, an anti-imperial demonstration designed to mock the obscene pomp and circumstance of Rome…a procession of the ridiculous, the powerless,[and] the explicitly vulnerable.”

Did word of Jesus’ little joke reach Pilate, once he’d settled in at the Governor’s palace in Jerusalem? Did spitting in the face of Rome help ensure that Rome would say Yes to Jesus’ execution, when the chief priests appealed to Pilate for help? Maybe.

I wonder, looking at the smaller scene, the dustier, livelier scene: Did the crowd get the joke? I’m sure many of them did – maybe all of them. You could hardly be unaware of the power of Rome and its symbolic enactment in events like the Governor’s arrival in the city. Everyone would have known Pilate was on his way. These are the people who chose to come meet Jesus, instead.

I find that changes how I imagine the mood, the faces of the crowd. It turns their enthusiasm from tent-revival innocence to a fierce bitter hopefulness not unlike what you hear and see and feel in the the crowds that gather in downtown Madison from time to time.These are people who understood that Jesus was holding up a mirror to the soulless and heartless power of Rome, the power of all human kingdoms. That with his toes dragging the ground on that poor little donkey, he was showing them the emptiness, the absurdity, of all that nonsense.

I think that crowd got the joke. Do we? Two processions, two crowds, welcoming two leaders, representing two very different kingdoms. Thomas writes, “Stallion or donkey? Armor or humor? Emperor or clown? Which will I choose?”

Remember how much Jesus’ choice cost him. Which will we choose?

You can read Debie Thomas’ essay in full here:  http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20150323JJ.shtml

Announcements, March 17

SUNDAY,  MARCH 20…

Palm and Passion Sunday, March 20, 8 and 10am: We begin our liturgy with a Palm Procession, recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then proceed to the reading of the Passion Gospel according to Mark. This is a solemn, powerful service, and our doorway into Holy Week. People of all ages are welcome in this liturgy.

Sunday School, 10am: This week, we invite kids, ages 3 to 6, to come down to our Godly Play classroom for the Faces of Easter lesson, an exploration of the Easter story for young children. Kids, ages 7 and up, are invited to remain in church for the reading of the Passion Gospel, then go out for a time of responding to the story in their classroom.

Easter Flower Sign-Up – Last Chance: Thanks for your dedications and gifts! The deadline for dedications is this Sunday, March 20. Flower donations may also now be made online at giving link, donate.stdunstans.com.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, March 20, 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. Rides home can be arranged for kids who need them.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, March 20, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins.  All are welcome.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, March 20, 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.

EASTER WEEK…

Maundy Thursday, Thursday, March 24, 6pm: In our Maundy liturgy, we will walk through Jesus’ final evening with his friends before his arrest, including a simple shared meal, foot washing (optional), and the stripping of the altar.

  • Sign up in the Gathering Area if you’d like to contribute to the meal or help with cleanup after the service.
  • Please bring 30 pieces of change (dimes, nickels, pennies) – or just a handful.
  • People of all ages are welcome in this liturgy.

Night watch Vigil Sign-Up: From 8:30pm till midnight on Thursday, March 24, following our Maundy Thursday service, and from 6am till noon on Good Friday, March 25, members of St. Dunstan’s will keep a vigil of prayer in the church, in pairs. Sign up in the Gathering Area for your desired shift. Come in silence, sit or kneel in silence, depart in silence. Reading material will be provided. Talk to Connie Ott with any questions.

Good Friday Liturgies, Friday, March 25, 12 noon and 7pm: A solemn liturgy recalling Christ’s death on the cross. Our 7pm service is followed by the Good Friday Wake, a one-hour vigil in which we honor Jesus’ death and remember our own beloved dead. Reflect on the poetry, art, and Scripture of Jesus’ death and the grief of his friends. Hot cross buns and tea will be served.

Friday, March 25, 4pm, Children’s Good Friday Service: This service is best for kids ages 3 to 10. We will walk the Stations of the Cross together, exploring the story and what it means to us.

The Great Vigil of Easter, Saturday, March 26, 8pm: The Easter Vigil is one of Christianity’s most ancient and beautiful liturgies: fire and water, music and art, darkness and light, death and resurrection! Please bring bells and noisemakers. We will use INCENSE at this liturgy. The Great Vigil liturgy is appropriate for adults, youth, and older kids; it is about two hours long.

Easter Sunday, Sunday, March 27, 8am & 10am: Celebrate Easter with the St. Dunstan’s community! After each service, there will be an Easter egg hunt for children. Visitors and guests are very welcome!

Holy Week Offerings:  As is our custom, offerings made during our Holy Week services will go to support particular agencies and ministries. Maundy Thursday offerings will go to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) here in Madison. Good Friday offerings will go to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Easter Vigil offerings will go to Episcopal Relief & Development. Thank you for your generosity.

The Great Three Days (Triduum)

Thursday, March 24 – Maundy Thursday – 6:00pm: Maundy Meal & Worship

Friday, March 25 – Good Friday – 12pm, 4pm & 7pm: Good Friday services.  Children are encouraged to attend the 4pm service

Saturday, March 26 – Holy Saturday –  8pm: Great Vigil of Easter

Sunday, March 27 – Easter Sunday – Egg hunt for children follows both 8am & 10am services

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Outreach Committee Open Meeting Invitation, Saturday, April 2, 8:00am: The Outreach Committee at St. Dunstan’s oversees and coordinates all the many ways that the people of St. Dunstan’s serve those in need beyond our parish, by sharing our time and skills as volunteers and by giving funds and other resources. Outreach Committee meetings are always open to interested folk, but we especially invite those who would like to learn more or get involved to attend our upcoming meeting. We’ll offer an overview of our core ministries, and we’d love to hear about your ideas or passions! We gather with a simple potluck breakfast at 8am, then move into the meeting proper at 8:30am.

Retirement Celebration for Deacon Sybil: The Rev. Sybil Robinson is a much-beloved elder of our parish, an Episcopal deacon, and a retired professor of theater and drama. Sybil has proclaimed the Gospel faithfully for us for many years, even at the age of ninety-one. Sybil will soon retire from serving in this capacity, though she will continue to worship with us as she is able. We will have a celebration of Sybil’s ministry on Sunday, April 3. Please thank Sybil for the blessing of her beautiful and well-trained voice, all these years!

Easter Season 2016: Healing Democracy, One Heart at a Time

On Sundays at 9am in Easter Season, starting on April 10, we will explore techniques for creating safe spaces in which to talk honestly, strive to transcend partisanship and reconnect as human beings across the political gulfs that divide us. We’ll experiment with five habits that author Parker Palmer believes will help heal our hearts and the collective heart of our nation:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
  2. An appreciation of the value of otherness.
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. A sense of personal voice or agency.
  5. A capacity to create community.

In a year of contentious politics, let’s claim this opportunity to engage in deep conversation and strengthen the ties connecting our faith, our hearts, our convictions and our communities. Watch this space for more details, but please consider participating in the weeks ahead!

 

Sermon, March 13

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

These are the words of the apostle Paul, preacher, theologian, traveler, church-starter, letter-writer, and martyr. He wrote the letter to the church in Philippi while he was in prison, though we’re not sure which time – he was imprisoned a number of times for disturbing the peace by preaching the Gospel of Christ. There are hints throughout this letter that he thought his current imprisonment might well be his last; he writes with tenderness and urgency of someone setting down his last words. Chapter 4, verse 1, summarizes the tone of the whole letter: “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved ones.”

In today’s passage, from chapter 3, Paul lays out how he thinks about his own dire circumstances, probably both to ease his friends’ minds about his suffering and to encourage them when they encounter persecution and struggle. He’s also touching on one of the hotbutton issues of the mid-1st century: did non-Jewish converts to Christianity have to become Jews first, and in particular, did they have to be circumcised? Paul’s answer is an emphatic No.

That’s where he starts here: I did everything right, as a Jew – I have the right lineage, I was circumcised as a baby, I was zealous and faithful in practicing my beliefs, I even persecuted Christians. But when I turned to Christ, I realized that none of that mattered. All those ways that I measured my righteousness before now look to me like what you wash down the sewer. (That word, “rubbish,” in our translation, is cleaner than the word Paul really uses.) Paul says, The righteousness I have now isn’t even mine. It’s Christ’s, living in me, through faith.

And then he says this bold, fierce thing: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Becoming like Christ in suffering, in death, in the hope of becoming like him, too, in life beyond death.

This in on Paul’s mind because he anticipates his own death, perhaps soon. But this idea of participating in Christ’s death is a bigger idea for him, too – it’s part of his ecclesiology, his understanding of what makes us the Church, the people of God. Christians are people who have died to self and been reborn, remade, resurrected, in Christ. In the second letter to the Corinthians, for example, Paul

writes, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” And in the portion of the letter to the Romans that is always read at the Easter Vigil, Paul says, “Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? By baptism, we have been buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Paul’s language and theology of participating in Christ’s death is woven into the language and theology of our sacraments. It’s in our baptismal rite, when we thank God for the water of Baptism, in which we are buried with Christ in his death, and by which we share in his resurrection. It’s in our Eucharistic rites too, as we offer the sacrifice of our lives to God, as we accept the bread and wine that are, in some mysterious way, the body and blood of Christ, and become one with Christ, in death and in life.

Why would you choose this? Why would you want to be part of a religion that talks so much about dying? Whose founder was brutally murdered by the civil authorities? And that invites us to join him in suffering and death?  A religion whose initiation ritual – according to our ritual language if not our actual practice – involves drowning babies?

What does Paul mean, what does the Church mean, by this idea, this image, of participating in the suffering and death of Jesus? In the immediate context of today’s passage, Paul is looking at the possibility of dying for his faith. He quite literally means that he hopes to have the courage to die like Jesus, and looks forward in hope to rising with Jesus. But he’s also saying something more universal about life and death, about suffering and faith, in the Christian way. I think one thing he’s saying, maybe even the central thing, is that our suffering and God’s suffering interpenetrate. We suffer with Christ because Christ suffered with us. We die with Christ because Christ died with us. In the artful words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “I am all at once what Christ is since he was what I am.”

Why would you want to be part of a religion that talks so much about dying? That invites us to join our God in suffering and death?  Because we suffer, and we die. And so we badly need a God who suffers like us, who suffers with us. Our psalm today, Psalm 126, keenly reminds us that both struggle and joy are part of the human story: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”  And our Gospel today – which I promise to preach about properly in June – gives us this moment of tenderness and poignancy, as Mary washes Jesus’ feet. It’s one of those moments we know in our own lives, when the sweetness of the present is flavored by our keen awareness that the moment won’t last. That things are always changing, and often ending. As the Dread Pirate Roberts puts it in The Princess Bride, Life IS pain; and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

And that’s the thing about Christianity, about our faith. Christianity isn’t selling something; it’s telling the truth about human life.  In the first chapter of Unapologetic, author Francis Spufford talks about an ad campaign run by the New Atheist movement on London buses. The buses say in big letters: “There’s probably no God. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Spufford says, the part of this that offends his faith isn’t “there’s probably no God” – fine, fair enough, God is not provable. The part of this that offends his faith is the word “enjoy.” As in, “Stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Spufford writes, “Enjoyment is lovely. Enjoyment is great. The more enjoyment the better. But enjoyment is one emotion… Only sometimes… will you stand in a relationship to what’s happening to you where you’ll gaze at it with warm, approving satisfaction. The rest of the time you’ll be busy feeling hope, boredom, curiosity, anxiety, irritation, fear, joy, bewilderment, hate, tenderness, despair, relief, exhaustion, and the rest.” (8) The slogan on the bus endorses an idea of human life centered on enjoyment, an idea borrowed wholesale from advertising. If all you knew about humanity came from commercials, you might indeed think that human life was all about enjoyment – and also that most people are attractive 18- to 30-year-olds.

Spufford invites us to imagine people watching that bus go by whose lives are mired deep in suffering. In pain or illness, in grief, in addiction and desperation. What does that bus with its message of enjoyment say to them? Nothing, and worse than nothing. It says that they are invisible. It says that they are alone. There’s no comfort, no consolation, in those peppy words.

In contrast, writes Spufford, “A consolation you could believe in would be one that didn’t have to be kept apart from awkward areas of reality. One that didn’t depend on some more or less tacky fantasy about ourselves, one that wasn’t in danger of popping like a soap bubble upon contact with the ordinary truths about us… A consolation you could trust would be one that acknowledged the difficult stuff rather than being in flight from it, and then found you grounds for hope in spite of it, or even because of it.” (p. 14)

Another of my favorite faith writers, Gretchen Wolf Pritchard, who creates the “Sunday Papers” we use for our kids, likewise writes about why we need the cross – and the suffering and death it stands for – in our story of faith, even in the story of faith we tell to our children. She writes, “The cross is a mystery and a terror; we feel we would gladly shield our children from it. … [But] children know that the world is full of terror, that no answers are easy, that no comfort comes without cost, pain, and mystery. It is not the cross that terrifies children, but the false gospel that bypasses the cross and leaves us forever alone with our pain and guilt.” (Offering the Gospel to Chilcen, p. 4)

Why would you want to be part of a religion that talks so much about dying? That invites us to join our God in suffering and death? Because we suffer, and we die. We struggle with pain, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, betrayal, grief. And our faith tells us, shows us, that we’re not alone, never alone, in any of that. It offers us a consolation we can trust, because it accommodates the truth about us, about our lives. We suffer with Christ and Christ suffers with us and nothing, really nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

That’s why we can’t, shouldn’t, skip to Easter, however tempting it is, the eggs and fluffy bunnies and pretty butterflies, the joyful Alleluias and the relief of the empty tomb. Don’t skip to Easter. The stuff in between is so very, very important.  This Sunday feels a little to me like that pause at the top of the roller coaster. When you catch your breath, and think, Here goes. Hold on tight. Hope I don’t lose my cookies.

This coming Friday we walk the Way of the Cross in downtown Madison, in a public even that’s become a gateway into Holy Week for me. Saturday morning we welcome the kids of the parish and beyond to receive the whole story of Jesus’ final week, his death and resurrection. Next Sunday we recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, greeted with palms and shouts of Hosanna! … and then his betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution. On Maundy Thursday, we’ll tell and enact his final meal.

On Good Friday, we will tell – once more – the holy solemn story of his death. We’ll bow before the cross, the instrument of shame and redemption. We’ll linger round an icon on Christ in the tomb, letting grief and loss be part of the story, letting ourselves weep and wonder. Then in the deep dark of Saturday night we’ll retell our ancient stories of salvation and liberation, and then SHOUT with joy as we mark the moment when Christ bursts forth from the tomb into new life. I know not everybody can handle the late night, but I gotta tell you, the Easter Vigil is about a hundred times cooler than Easter Sunday. But Easter Sunday is great too! – music and flowers and food and kids getting grass stains on their best clothes running around looking for plastic eggs.

We need it, all of it, the whole arc, all those moods and moments. If you’re away from your home church, as you may well be, I hope you’ll find another church with whom to walk this path, or spend your own time in prayer with each day, each chapter. We need the whole story because we need a God, a faith, that isn’t selling something. That tells the truth about our lives, and meets us there. That is the gift of God in Christ, and this is the time in the church’s year when that gift comes to us most fully and vividly, in all its messy prickly grace-filled complexity and completeness. Catch your breath, and hold on tight.

Announcements, March 10

SUNDAY,  MARCH 13…

Sunday School, 10am: Our 3-5 year old class will be learning about the Faces of Easter, while our 6 – 10 year old class will discuss the day’s Gospel lesson, Mary’s act of devotion in washing Jesus’ feet.

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

Spring Cleaning – on the inside of the Church, 12pm, 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. See the task sheets in the Gathering Area.

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:

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. Thanks!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The Stations of the Cross in Downtown Madison, Friday, March 18, 12pm & 5pm: Walk the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross on the streets of a modern city.  As we walk the fourteen traditional Stations of the Cross, we will reflect together on how we can trace those events in the geography of Madison today – our issues, stories and struggles. We will start on the sidewalk near the Federal Courthouse, across from the Overture Center, and end in the garden at Grace Church on the square. The total walk will be about 1.5 miles, and it takes about 1 hour. Come at noon or 5pm, as your schedule permits. All are welcome.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, March 18, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together to dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Max’s Farm Table, 2831 Parmenter Street, Middleton. 

“Palm Saturday”, Saturday, March 19, 10am – 11:30am: 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!

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, March 20: 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. Please give generously.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, March 20, 6pm: A simple service before the week begins. All welcome.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, March 20, 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.

Retirement Celebration for Deacon Sybil: The Rev. Sybil Robinson is a much-beloved elder of our parish, an Episcopal deacon, and a retired professor of theater and drama. Sybil has proclaimed the Gospel faithfully for us for many years, even at the age of ninety-one. Sybil will soon retire from serving in this capacity, though she will continue to worship with us as she is able. We will have a celebration of Sybil’s ministry on Sunday, April 3. Please thank Sybil for the blessing of her beautiful and well-trained voice, all these years!

HOLY WEEK…

Palm and Passion Sunday, March 20, 8 and 10am: We begin our liturgy with a Palm Procession, recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then proceed to the reading of the Passion Gospel according to Mark. This is a solemn and powerful service, and our doorway into Holy Week. People of all ages are welcome in this liturgy.

Easter Flower Sign-Up – Last Chance: Thanks for your dedications and gifts! The deadline for dedications is Sunday, March 20. Flower donations may also now be made by way of our online giving link, donate.stdunstans.com .

Maundy Thursday, Thursday, March 24, 6pm: We walk through Jesus’ final evening with his friends before his arrest, including a simple shared meal, foot washing (optional), and the stripping of the altar.

  • Sign up in the Gathering Area if you’d like to contribute to the meal or help with cleanup.
  • Please bring 30 pieces of change (dimes, nickels, pennies) – or just a handful.
  • People of all ages are welcome in this liturgy.

Night watch Vigil Sign-Up: From 8:30pm till midnight on Thursday, March 24, following our Maundy Thursday service, and from 6am till noon on Good Friday, March 25, members of St. Dunstan’s will keep a vigil of prayer in the church, in pairs. Sign up in the Gathering Area for your shift. Come in silence, sit or kneel in silence, depart in silence. Reading material provided. Talk to Connie Ott with any questions.

Good Friday Liturgies, Friday, March 25, 12 noon and 7pm: A solemn liturgy recalling Christ’s death on the cross. Our 7pm service is followed by the Good Friday Wake, a one-hour vigil in which we honor Jesus’ death and remember our own beloved dead. Reflect on the poetry, art, and Scripture of Jesus’ death and the grief of his friends. Hot cross buns and tea will be served.

Friday, March 25, 4pm, Children’s Good Friday Service: This service is best for kids ages 3 to 10. We will walk the Stations of the Cross together, exploring the story and what it means to us.

The Great Vigil of Easter, Saturday, March 26, 8pm: The Easter Vigil is one of Christianity’s most ancient and beautiful liturgies: fire and water, music and art, darkness and light, death and resurrection! Please bring bells and noisemakers. We will use INCENSE at this liturgy. The Great Vigil liturgy is appropriate for adults, youth, and older kids; it is about two hours long.

Easter Sunday, Sunday, March 27, 8am & 10am: Celebrate Easter with the St. Dunstan’s community! After each service, there is an Easter egg hunt for children. Visitors and guests welcome!

Sermon, March 6

It’s hard to preach on this Gospel, because this story of Jesus, the story we know as the parable of the Prodigal Son, is itself one of the best sermons ever preached. I’m going to start by just telling the story again, with a few details added or explained. I invite you to listen, notice, imagine, whether you’re hearing this for first time or the hundredth.

Jesus was making his way slowly towards Jerusalem, preaching and teaching and healing along the way. And among the people who gathered to hear him and be near him were the lowest of the low. The scum of the earth. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. People rendered unclean by illness or work or sin. Now, there were also religious people, even religious leaders, who were drawn to Jesus’ teaching. And they grumbled about having to share space with those other  folks. They said, “This Jesus fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them a parable. He told them three, actually; the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and this one.

There was a man who had two sons. He was a landowner and farmer, and reasonably prosperous. His two sons were grown, young adults, maybe in their 20s or 30s. In that place, as in the traditional American farm, adult children would stick around and help run the farm, eventually taking it over when the patriarch retires or dies. The oldest son would inherit most of the property, but the younger son had a share coming to him too.

However. The younger son didn’t want to help tend the farm. He wanted to see the world and taste its delights. He wanted that so much that he did something pretty unthinkable. He went to his father and said, I want my inheritance now. Imagine that happening in any family that you know well. Really imagine. It’s almost as if the son is saying, I can’t wait for you to die. He is definitely saying, I don’t want to be part of this way of life we share as a family anymore.

And here the father’s gracious nature first reveals itself. He doesn’t say, You are no longer my son, you selfish ungrateful twerp. He doesn’t even say, Nope, sorry, no can do, you’ll just have to wait. He finds a way to give his son what he asks, perhaps selling some land to turn it into cash. Breaking up the family estate, diminishing the land that supported the household. Our translation says he divided the property, but the Greek noun there is “bion” – the life, the livelihood of the family.

It probably didn’t surprise anybody when a few days later, the younger son packed up his newfound wealth and cut out.  He makes his way to a far-off country, someplace where his family can’t find him, where he can live his own life, make his own way. And he proceeds to blow his inheritance on dissolute living.

Dissolute – profligate – prodigal. That word – asotos in Greek – is where this parable gets its name. Prodigal is a wonderful old word, rarely used now beyond this parable. Its first meaning is: Wastefully extravagant. Reckless, spendthrift, imprudent. The text allows us to draw our own conclusions about the specific nature of this young man’s dissolution. I think we can assume that it involved wine, rich food, gambling, and the kinds of friends – male and female – that you make by throwing a lot of money around.

I’m sure it was fun while it lasted. But it didn’t last. It never does. He ran out of money. And about that time, a severe famine took place in that country. And he began to be in need. All those friends he’d made weren’t returning his calls. His favorite restaurants and wine bars wouldn’t let him in the door. So, desperate, he took a job working for a local farmer, feeding the pigs. He’d been raised a practicing Jew, believing pigs were unclean, impure; but now he has no choice but to spend his time in their company.

The situation is so bad that he’s actually jealous of the pigs. Even though he has work, the pay is so low and food is so expensive, due to the famine, that he’s starving. He watches the pigs scarfing down carob pods and plant husks and thinks, I wish I could eat that. And no one gave him anything. Because nobody cared whether he lived or died.

Imagine a morning, another morning of this grinding, awful life. His once-fine clothes are filthy and tattered, and they hang on him, he’s lost so much weight. His skin is grey with hunger and poor health, his hair is matted and dirty. He’s tossing out the pods for the pigs as the sun rises, beginning to soften the dawn chill. And he comes to himself. I love that phrase so much: He comes to himself. He remembers who he is, and who he once was. He sees that he can’t go on like this, and he sees – maybe, just maybe – a way out.  A way home.

He says – out loud – My father’s hired hands have plenty of bread, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will stand up and go to my father. He has no reason to welcome me home, after everything I’ve done. So I’ll apologize, and ask for mercy. I’ll say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ Then maybe he’ll have mercy and take me in as a worker, and at least I’ll have food and a place to sleep.

He set off at once, leaving the pigs to their pods, and walked the long journey home to his father. I like to imagine him practicing his little speech on the road: “Father, I have sinned against you,” etcetera.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him. Give that detail a moment’s thought. His son had been gone for months, at least – maybe longer. How many times, during his absence, had his father checked the road? Cast his eyes into the distance to see whether, by any merciful chance, his son was coming home yet?  This time – he sees a figure in the distance. And somehow he knows that it is his son, his lost son. And the father is filled with compassion. He runs to meet him. Listen, grown men don’t run; it’s undignified. But this father runs. And he throws his arms around his son’s neck, embraces him, filthy clothes and all, and kisses his dirty, beloved face.

The son begins his speech, the one he planned out among the pigs: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son….” But his father doesn’t let him finish.  A crowd has gathered, the slaves and servants of the house gathering round, and he tells them, Quickly, bring a robe, the best one, and put it on him, to cover his rags with dignity! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, so that he looks like a child of this house again. And kill the fatted calf, the one we keep ready for a special occasion. We will eat and celebrate! For this son of mine” – Notice, he refuses, refutes his son’s words, I am no longer worthy to be called your son – “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

So they began to celebrate. But somehow nobody thought to tell the older brother. Or maybe lots of people thought it, but nobody wanted to do it. So he knows nothing of the homecoming and the party until he’s headed in from the fields, where he’s been working, and he hears… music. He calls a slave and asks what’s going on, and is told, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” The older brother is furious. A party? For that loser? After all the trouble and grief he has caused? After his selfishness nearly killed their father? A party? He refuses to go inside. So his father comes out to plead with him.

The older son lays out his grievance: LISTEN. For all these years I have worked for you like a slave. I’ve always done what you wanted. But you’ve never even given me a young goat for a party with my friends. But this son of yours comes back, after wasting your property on prostitutes, and you kill the fatted calf as if he were an honored guest!  Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours – and he is still your brother – this brother of yours was dead, and has come to life. He was lost, and has been found.”

Jesus leaves the story hanging right there – it’s up to the religious leaders in the crowd to decide: does the older son, the good son who follows all the rules, does he find it in himself to celebrate the return and restoration of his reckless, thoughtless, sinful little brother?

The word “prodigal” has a second meaning, related to, but distinct from, the first. It can also mean giving lavishly, generously. Prodigal: abundant, unstinting, unsparing. Who’s prodigal in this story, the younger son or the father?

I don’t want to explain this story, so rich in meaning and beauty, so like and yet unlike our real lives and families. I don’t want to reduce it to any simple moral lesson. Instead I want to reach out and grab our Epistle for today, and bring it up alongside this Gospel parable.

Our Epistle comes from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Paul is talking here about what 20th century theologians call the missio Dei. The mission of God. This idea arose as an alternative to the older idea that the Church as God’s people was primarily responsible for carrying out God’s mission in the world. The theology of missio Dei says, Actually, God is already in the world, carrying out God’s mission, doing the things God does. In the words of one of my favorite prayers, working through our struggle and confusion to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.

Our job, as the Church, God’s people gathered and sent, is to notice where God is at work in our world, our city, our neighborhood or school or workplace or family, and join in. Help it along. Become allies, partners, co-conspirators with God. This theology invites us to seek God’s action in the world by looking for the kinds of things God does – known to us from Scripture, tradition, and our own walks of faith. God works in minds and hearts, in families and communities and institutions, to heal. Restore. Renew. Liberate. Transform. And to reconcile.

Paul says, in today’s text,  “All these gifts of grace and renewal are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal to the world through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

To reconcile means, simply, to bring back together. To restore relationship. The re- prefix assumes an original unity or connection that has been lost – whether particular to a situation, or the fragmentation that besets us all, as children of one God and one planet who forget those facts so easily.  To reconcile is to re-establish or mend a relationship, to create harmony or compatibility. I was interested to learn that in Greek as in English, reconcile has a monetary meaning too – I stumbled on this definition: “To reconcile is to make one account consistent with another, especially by allowing for transactions begun but not yet completed.” I like that: the idea that sometimes you have to get numbers or people to match up somehow, even knowing that everything isn’t settled yet, that there are still bills to be paid, balances to be resolved.

Turn your mind and heart back to the parable – to the father’s embrace, his reckless loving welcome, his refusal of his son’s effort to write himself out of the family. This parable gives us a bright, full-color, finely drawn image of God’s reconciling heart. Everything isn’t settled yet; there are debts to resolve; we don’t know whether the older son will be reconciled, soon or ever. But this parable, the prodigal hug on the road, shows us in story what Paul tells us in theory: that God longs to reconcile the world to Godself, to embrace and welcome home, regardless of sins, mistakes and failures.

Reconciliation is one of the core activities of God. A sign of God’s presence we can seek; a gift of God’s grace we can receive, and not just receive: encourage, help along, initiate. God is working to reconcile humans to God, to each other, to the cosmos. And God calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation, to carry the ministry and message of reconciliation. To join God’s movement to heal the many brokennesses that divide and separate us. In the words of somebody who was probably not St. Francis, we are instruments of God’s peace – God’s reconciliation – invited to participate in God’s quiet persistent loving work of sowing love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, trust where there is doubt or fear, hope where there is despair.

Now, just about every week when I’m working on my sermon, I ask myself, will people be able to connect this with their lives? Because if it’s all too abstract, if you can’t reach and touch what I’m talking about, then I have failed. And this is a thing we’re trying to learn to do, here – to talk about our daily lives and work and relationships through the lens of the Gospel, the lens of faith.

SO. Today you’re going to finish this sermon. First, take a moment to think of a time in the past week when you saw God’s reconciliation at work – perhaps when you were able to help it along; or perhaps a moment when you wish you’d taken that “ambassador for reconciliation” role, but you didn’t. Recognizing both successes and missed opportunities is really important! So, in silence, think back, find a moment…

NOW, Turn to a reasonably friendly-looking stranger sitting nearby. Let’s do this in threes. Kids too!… And I invite you to share about that moment you thought of, as you’re comfortable. There’s no pressure to share anything overly private. I’m going to give you two minutes, so keep it simple, and whoever goes first, please leave some time for others too! Start by sharing your names, then tell each other about what being an ambassador for reconciliation could look like in your daily life.