Sermon, May 29

Today’s lesson from 1 Kings is part of cycle of stories about the prophet Elijah and his relationship with King Ahab. Ahab was king of Israel about a hundred years after King David. Israel’s kings had gotten worse and worse since David’s time, and Ahab was the worst yet. He took as his queen Jezebel, a princess from another tribe, who worshipped a god named Baal. And Jezebel convinced Ahab to start worshipping Baal too, and abandon Yahweh, the God of Israel, even having all Israel’s prophets and priests killed.

So the word of God came to Elijah. God sent Elijah to King Ahab to tell him, THUS SAYS THE LORD: You may have killed off all my prophets, but I’M still alive, and I’m watching you, Ahab…. In a couple of weeks I’ll share more of the stories of Elijah and Ahab’s long and contentious relationship. Today we get this one episode, this epic throwdown between the priests of Baal – 450 of them – and Elijah, the sole representative of Yahweh, Israel’s god.

It’s a terrific story – read it again later and take in the details. My favorite part is when Elijah starts mocking the priests of Baal because despite all their dancing and chanting, nothing is happening. Elijah says, Chant louder! Maybe your god is meditating, or has gone on a trip, or is taking a nap, or he’s wandered away – a Biblical idiom that is equivalent to, “He had to see a man about a dog.”

And then of course Yahweh, Elijah’s God, comes through in a dramatic way, What happens after the end of this passage is that Elijah incites the crowd to murder all the priests of Baal on the spot. Elijah is not a cuddly prophet.

Today we are going to baptize little Nicholas as the newest member of Christ’s body, the Church. When I first looked at this lesson several weeks ago, I thought, Wow, I love this story; but I can’t make that into a baptismal sermon…! And then I started to think about who God is in this story, and in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, in general.

There is a distinct arc in Israelite history, in the story of the people Israel coming to know and understand Yahweh, the God who named and claimed and called them. At first they see and describe Yahweh as a tribal god among other tribal gods. Every tiny kingdom or cultural group had its own gods, usually including a head god who was supposed to protect them, provide for them, help them out in battle, and fight with other gods on their behalf.

There are many verses in the Old Testament that describe God very much that way. From the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy – “Yahweh your god you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, or any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because Yahweh your god, who is present with you, is a jealous god.” The gods might as well be presidential candidates or football teams. We like ours best, and hope ours will win, but they’re all basically on the same footing. By this logic, when things are going well for Israel, it’s because Yahweh is really kicking butt for them, beating the other gods, and when things don’t go so well for Israel, they tend to start worshipping other gods and losing faith in Yahweh. “What have you done for me lately?”…

So there’s that way of thinking of Yahweh, the God of Israel who becomes the God of Jesus and our God: as essentially a tribal god. Not the only god and not consistently the best or most powerful god, but OUR god. The God who belongs to and looks out for our little tribal group. But fairly early on in the history of Israel, there also begins to be an understanding that the God the Israelites have named and worship isn’t just another tribal god, but is, well, THE God.

It’s in the first chapter of Genesis, in which Israel’s God is described as creating heavens and earth. Today’s Psalm – from the time of King David – holds up God as a creator: For great is Yahweh, more to be honored than the gods of other peoples; for they are idols, but Yahweh created the heavens. It’s in the covenant with Abraham, who is called and chosen to be the father of God’s people – but with the stated intention that through Abraham’s covenant relationship with God, all the peoples of the Earth will be blessed. Likewise in the books of the words of the prophets, often, we see that God, Yahweh, has a particular relationship with Israel, but has that relationship for the sake of the whole world. The final chapters of Isaiah are perhaps the best-known example: Nations will stream to your light, kings to the brightness of your dawning! Through Israel, the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations!

The fact that Yahweh had an agenda for Israel and its rulers, that Yahweh wasn’t just an idol to be bossed around and to rubber-stamp the king’s decisions, was the source of a lot of tension between Israel’s kings and Israel’s prophets. In most ancient world cultures, the king either was a god, or was the child of a god, and whatever the king did was seen as divinely endorsed. Not so in Israel, where God argues with Israel’s kings over and over again, through the voice of the prophets – Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, and many more.

So there’s a back and forth movement, and sometimes a tension, in the Old Testament, between God as team mascot, always on our side, and God as… GOD, who calls us to be on God’s side.

This tension shows up in the New Testament too. Jesus is pretty clear that God is the God of everybody and everything, and that becomes the understanding of the early church. But there are hiccups along the way. Like when, after Jesus’ resurrection, some of the disciples ask him, NOW are you going to throw out the Romans and restore the kingship of Israel? They want their tribal god back. To fight for them and rule over them and let them be their own people in their own land. They are frustrated and confused that God’s purposes, manifest in Jesus Christ, encompass other peoples, other lands, even the hated Romans.

You can put a finger on the tension in today’s Gospel story. The Roman centurion is drawn to the God of Israel. He’s a friend of the local synagogue, even sent his soldiers to help with building it. He recognizes the power and authority of Jesus and of God in Jesus. And yet. He is and remains an outsider. God can, and may choose, to exercise God’s healing power across the lines of class, status, nationality, and religion; but God is still Israel’s God, the God of the Jews, and this act of mercy for a Roman slave is understood as a special favor. It’s not until much later in the life of the church – and after quite a bit of conflict and struggle – that non-Jews will be seen as belonging to God on an equal footing with Jewish Christians.

I think we still live in that tension, sometimes. The tension between seeing God as a tribal god, who watches out for us and our community; and seeing God as THE God, a God who is present in and has intentions for the whole world.

There is a real and lasting appeal in thinking of God as our tribal god, our pet god. A pet God feels safer. More controlled, more defined. The relationship, though demanding, is clear-cut: we do the stuff God wants us to do, and God stands by us and takes care of us. Also a pet God, a tribal God, is far more comfortable for us as people of faith in a pluralistic and largely secular society. If God is the god of our tribe, then God can stay our business, safely ensconced in our private lives. We get together at church with the other members of God’s tribe, we tell stories and sing songs about how great God is, we complete our ritual obligations to God as God’s people have done since the book of Exodus, and we go out into the world where God is largely absent. Where other tribes and other gods are dominant – wealth, power, beauty, success.

But if God is the God of everything. If God is THE God, who has intentions for the whole world, for all peoples, and who is in fact a little cranky about our persistent idolatry, our millennia-long love affair with these dead idols – wealth, power, beauty, success – If the God we meet here when we gather as God’s tribe is also the God of everybody and everything, then we are still God’s people when we walk out those doors. Then our relationship with God isn’t confined to what we do together when we gather as a family, a tribe, here at church. THE God, who has intentions for the whole world, sends us out into that world to meet and serve God there.

And that – finally – brings me around to baptism. Our baptismal rite uses both languages, both images. We baptize new believers into the household of God, into the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a rite of admission into God’s tribe, God’s family. And, probably because we most often baptize babies, that’s where our imagery and language tend to linger. We give Nicholas homely gifts, a blanket, a candle. We vie for the chance to cuddle him. We rejoice to welcome him into our oikos, our household of faith. Into the warmth and welcome and nurture of our tribe, which will, I fervently pray, be a safe and joyful and enriching place for him to grow as a child of God.

And. We baptize new believers not only into the household of God, but also into the mission of God. We are baptized as ambassadors of Jesus Christ and agents of God’s redeeming purposes on earth. We are baptized into God’s profound compassion for all peoples, and every person.  We are baptized into the church, and also into the world. As people who seek and serve Christ in all people. Who love our neighbors as ourselves. Who strive for justice, peace, and dignity for everybody.

It’s a tall order, especially for someone who is still getting to know his toes. The good news is that we don’t expect Nicholas to work it out yet. If I have the blessing to still be his pastor when he is ten, fifteen, twenty, I look forward to talking with him about who he is called to be in the world, as a member of this tribe that exists for the good of those who don’t belong. In the meantime, we welcome Nicholas into our tribe, and strive to be a people who will teach and form him, and all our children and new believers, to live as God’s people, in the world and for the world.

Announcements, May 26

THIS WEEKEND…

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, May 29, 10am: We rejoice to celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Nicholas. Nicholas and his parents, John and Christina, are new members of St. Dunstan’s and worship regularly at our 8am service.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, May 29, 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 kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Memorial Service for Jerry Bever, Sunday, May 29, 3pm:  We will gather to remember and celebrate the life of longtime member Jerry Bever, who died in February. Contributions to a light reception after the service are welcome.

Greeters for First Sundays Needed! If you enjoy making people feel welcome and at home, please consider becoming a Sunday greeter.

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

Seeking Open Minds and Warm Hearts to Help with our Sunday School! We seek teachers and helpers for our Sunday school classes for the 2016-17 program year, starting in September. Teachers and helpers generally serve once a month. Because of our growing group of kids, we would like to expand to THREE Sunday school classes for next year – for kids ages 3 – 5, 6 – 8, and 9 – 10. We use great curricula that give teachers good tools and information. If you’ve never done this before, there’s plenty of support, and if you’ve taught somewhere else, we’d love to benefit from your ideas and experience! Sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes to learn more and get involved.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Monday Morning Art Group: Each Monday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 an adult group meets in the chapel meeting room to share their creative arts and crafts projects, which might include drawing and painting to needlework. It’s become a wonderful time to share some of our personal history, or more recent experiences and/or challenges. Feel free to come along and join us! Because of improper ventilation for toxic materials, we ask that no paint solvents or smelly glues be required during this period.

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Absences: Rev. Miranda is traveling for some continuing education opportunities in late May and into early June. While she’ll be here on Sundays as usual, she’d like the parish to know that she will largely be away from her email and ongoing projects from May 23 through June 7. Thanks for your understanding and support!

Guest Preacher Jonathan Melton, Sunday, June 5: Father Jonathan, friend of St. Dunstan’s and chaplain at the St. Francis House campus ministry at UW-Madison, will preach and celebrate on Sunday, June 5. His presence is a gift to Rev. Miranda, who can take her time away more fully without having to prepare a sermon. We welcome Father Jonathan and his words!

Summer Choir on First Sundays, Beginning June 5: Come at 9am to learn some simple music to share as part of our 10am worship. Young singers and adult singers with no previous choir experience are especially invited! You should be able to read text, and ready to begin to learn to read music. Talk with our Organist & Choir Director Martin Ganschow to learn more. Dates are June 5, July 3, August 7 and September 4.

Healing Democracy, One Heart at a Time, Sunday, June 5, 9am: We will explore techniques for creating safe spaces in which to talk honestly and reconnect as human beings across our differences. All are welcome!

An Introduction to Charitable Giving, Sunday, June 5, 11:30am (Rescheduled): Come for lunch and an introduction to charitable giving and taxes, including an introduction to our church policies on major gifts. Folks of all ages and incomes are encouraged to come; child care will be provided.

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be honored next Sunday, June 5, 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: 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, June 5: 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 current top-ten, most needed items: rice or pasta, cake or brownie mixes, cooking oil, size 5 & 6 diapers, spices, honey or syrup, laundry detergent, canned ravioli/spaghettios, ketchup, oats or oatmeal. Thank you for all your support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, June 5, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Readers Needed for Dramatic Reading, Sunday, June 12: We will share a portion of “The Man Born to be King,” by Dorothy Sayers. This is a dramatic reading, without costume or staging, and we plan to do it at both the 8am and 10am services. A signup sheet will be circulated on Sunday the 29th. You can also contact Rev. Miranda.

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 12, 12:00pm: Come for good food and good conversation at our annual June parish picnic. We’ll have food and fun activities for all ages, including a balloon artist and photo booth! The picnic will happen rain or shine. Mark your calendar and watch for more details!

Musical Test Kitchen & BatWatch, Thursday evening, June 16, 7pm – 9pm: A Musical Test Kitchen is an opportunity to try out some paperless songs, either as a leader or a singer. If you’ve enjoyed some of our “paperless” songs at St. Dunstan’s or are curious to learn more about what we mean by “paperless” music, come along and join the singing!  As twilight falls we’ll move outside for our early summer BatWatch, to count the bats emerging from our local bat residence, a useful measure of the health of the colony. We’ll have a fire & S’mores. All ages welcome; feel free to come when you can & leave when you need to.

The Madison-Area Julian Gathering will not meet in June due to conflicting dates with JulianFest. Our next Gathering will be Wednesday, July 13, 7:15 – 9:00.

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES…

Find us on Facebook! St. Dunstan’s has two primary Facebook locations. Our “St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church” page is our official Facebook presence. Upcoming events, sermons, and such are posted there by church staff. “Like” that page to get those updates in your Facebook feed. Our “St. Dunstan’s MadCity” group is a more informal place where members can post all sorts of things, like “Can someone lector for me this Sunday?” or “Can somebody use this old stroller?” or “I have a spare concert ticket, would someone like to come with me?” or “Hey, read this article; think we could do something like this?” and so on. Both can be great ways to keep up with the life of the parish while you’re traveling over the summer. So if you’re a Facebook user, look us up!

The Thrilling Adventures of Tobias and Sarah! Vacation Bible & Arts School, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 30 – August 4. We are designing our own VBS this year, focusing on the book of Tobit, a rousing story of faith, adventure, risk, romance, and mystery, from a part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. Drama, art, and outreach will be integrated into our curriculum. Kids ages 3 to 10 are welcome to participate; need not be members of St. Dunstan’s. Registration forms will be available soon. We will also be inviting the adults of the parish into study and artistic engagement with the book of Tobit this summer; watch for more information!

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.

 

Homily, May 22

A pretty common question around here, from new members and sometimes not-so-new members, is: Who was Saint Dunstan? Dunstan was a 10th-century English monk and bishop, who was deeply involved in the religious, civic, and cultural rebirth of England after some dark and violent decades. He was born around 910 to an upper-class family in the western town of Glastonbury. Dunstan became a monk as a young man, and was named Abbot of the monastery at Glastonbury in 943 (that’s when we like to say he really started irking the Devil). During a year-long political exile, after one of many disagreements with one king or another, he encountered the revival of Benedictine monasticism that was underway on the Continent at that time. King Edgar called Dunstan back to England in 957, and eventually appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the English church. In that capacity he spent the rest of his long life striving to renew and develop monasticism in England, based on the Benedictine rule and including both monks and nuns. This work had an impact far beyond the church, which was Dunstan’s intention. He was an immensely important figure in the process of cultural and political stabilization and centralization in tenth-century England. He is said to have been an artist and craftsman, and known to have been a writer of manuscripts. The image of St. Dunstan that dwells with our crowd of saints around the baptismal font is from the Glastonbury Classbook, an Anglo-Saxon religious text that may well have been written (and drawn) in part by Dunstan himself. It is possible that the monk kneeling at the feet of Christ in that image is a self-portrait by Dunstan’s own hand.

For the past couple of years we’ve done a really delightful little poem-pantomime about Dunstan’s legendary encounter with the devil. It’s good fun, but it’s basically fiction. What I love about Jane Maher’s play, that we are doing this year, is that it actually gives you some history and a little sense of Dunstan’s significance.

I think Dunstan’s life and witness are especially instructive to us in the seasons when politics are on our minds. He lived his life and vocation at the intersection of faith and politics. That’s why I chose this Gospel for our celebration of his feast day. The recommended Gospel for Dunstan’s feast is a text from Matthew, about the faithful steward who keeps watch while the master is away, and that’s nice too. But in the “Render unto Caesar” story, Jesus calls our attention to the distinction between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s; between human political agendas and God’s agenda. And that is the core of Dunstan’s life. Let me offer two brief points for reflection, on this feast of St. Dunstan.

First and most fundamentally, the witness of Dunstan’s life points us towards faithful engagement with the public issues of our time and place. Dunstan’s commitment to monasticism wasn’t a retreat from the world; far from it. In Dunstan’s time the common people were uneducated, poor, harassed by bandits, cheated by merchants, oppressed by the landed aristocracy. Rule of law and civil society were almost nonexistent. Dunstan and the other great bishops of his time believed deeply that the flourishing of the English people would be best served by the cultivation of monastic centers, whose prayers, teaching, and care for the common folk would be a stabilizing and improving force.

Dunstan lived in a very different time than ours, but maybe it’s not as different as we think it is. And despite all the talk about the decline of religion in America, churches – and nonprofits and volunteer agencies full of church folks – play a huge role in support and advocacy for the most vulnerable folks of our era. Dunstan’s insight – that effective, well-ordered, engaged religious communities can be the foundation and watchdog of a just society – is just as true today as it was in the tenth century. Organized religion still has a huge role to play in American civic life, if we step up to it.

Second, the witness of Dunstan’s life calls us to reflect on just how much God’s agenda can be pursued through human politics – and how much God’s agenda has to be pursued by faithful people regardless of the ups and downs, the rights and lefts of our political processes and institutions. Dunstan was a consummate pragmatist. He pursued his vision and calling with the help of friendly kings, and against the opposition of unfriendly ones. He had to find ways to advance his agenda under all circumstances. He had to work with the system as it was as in order to inch it closer to the system he hoped it could be.

Civic engagement doesn’t mean we forget the difference between God and Caesar. We’re most likely to forget that difference when someone we really like is on the ballot. But no human election will ever usher in God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and peace. Human political agendas and God’s agenda can overlap, for sure; but those overlaps are always temporary and partial. If we can keep that in mind, and keep our eyes on God’s purposes for the world, then maybe our civic and political engagement can be as clear-sighted and stubborn as Dunstan’s was.

May the spirit of Dunstan, that wise and pugnacious bishop, guide and inspire us in this season and in all highly-charged political seasons. May his life remind us to be mindful of the difference between God and Caesar, and yet, to work and pray faithfully for the good of the city, the nation, and the world where we dwell. Amen.

Announcements, May 19

SUNDAY, MAY 22…

Healing Democracy, One Heart at a Time, 9am: We will explore techniques for creating safe spaces in which to talk honestly and reconnect as human beings across our differences. All are welcome!

St. Dunstan’s Day All-Ages Worship & Hat and Tie Sunday: Today, we are celebrating the feast day of our saint, Dunstan. You’re invited to mark the occasion by dressing up with a fancy hat and/or tie – wear your own or borrow one from the collection at church. We will formally welcome new members on this festive day. We will also take up a special collection for scholarships for the Diocese of Milwaukee’s camp program, Camp Webb. It’s our custom to take photos of the whole congregation after the 10am service that Sunday; we hope you’ll stay a few moments to participate.

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

Greeters for First Sundays Needed! If you enjoy making people feel welcome and at home, please consider becoming a Sunday greeter. For more information, contact Bernice Mason.

Coffee Hosts Needed! Please consider being a coffee host. Sign-up sheets for upcoming Sundays can be found in the Gathering Area. For more information, contact Janet Bybee.

Seeking Open Minds and Warm Hearts to Help with our Sunday School! We seek teachers and helpers for our Sunday school classes for the 2016-17 program year, starting in September. Teachers and helpers generally serve once a month. Because of our growing group of kids, we would like to expand to THREE Sunday school classes for next year – for kids ages 3 – 5, 6 – 8, and 9 – 10. We use great curricula that give teachers good tools and information. If you’ve never done this before, there’s plenty of support, and if you’ve taught somewhere else, we’d love to benefit from your ideas and experience! Sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes to learn more and get involved.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Monday Morning Art Group: Each Monday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 an adult group meets in the chapel meeting room to share their creative arts and crafts projects, which might include drawing and painting to needlework. It’s become a wonderful time to share some of our personal history, or more recent experiences and/or challenges. Feel free to come along and join us! Because of improper ventilation for toxic materials, we ask that no paint solvents or smelly glues be required during this period.

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Absences: Rev. Miranda is traveling for some continuing education opportunities in late May and into early June. While she’ll be here on Sundays as usual, she’d like the parish to know that she will largely be away from her email and ongoing projects from May 23 through June 7. Thanks for your understanding and support!

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, May 29, 10am: We rejoice to celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Nicholas. Nicholas and his parents, John and Christina, are new members of St. Dunstan’s and worship regularly at our 8am service.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, May 29, 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 kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Memorial Service for Jerry Bever, Sunday, May 29, 3pm:  We will gather to remember and celebrate the life of longtime member Jerry Bever, who died in February. Contributions to a light reception after the service are welcome.

Guest Preacher Jonathan Melton, Sunday, June 5: Father Jonathan, friend of St. Dunstan’s and chaplain at the St. Francis House campus ministry at UW-Madison, will preach and celebrate on Sunday, June 5. His presence is a gift to Rev. Miranda, who can take her time away more fully without having to prepare a sermon. We welcome Father Jonathan and his words!

Summer Choir on First Sundays, Beginning June 5: Come at 9am to learn some simple music to share as part of our 10am worship. Young singers and adult singers with no previous choir experience are especially invited! You should be able to read text, and ready to begin to learn to read music. Talk with our Organist & Choir Director Martin Ganschow to learn more. Dates are June 5, July 3, August 7 and September 4.

An Introduction to Charitable Giving, Sunday, June 5, 11:30am (Rescheduled): Come for lunch and an introduction to charitable giving and taxes, including an introduction to our church policies on major gifts. Folks of all ages and incomes are encouraged to come; child care will be provided.

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 12, 12:00pm: Come for good food and good conversation at our annual June parish picnic. We’ll have food and fun activities for all ages, including a balloon artist and photo booth! The picnic will happen rain or shine. Mark your calendar and watch for more details!

The Madison-Area Julian Gathering will not meet in June due to conflicting dates with JulianFest. Our next Gathering will be Wednesday, July 13, 7:15 – 9:00 at St. Dunstan’s.

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES…

Find us on Facebook! St. Dunstan’s has two primary Facebook locations. Our “St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church” page is our official Facebook presence. Upcoming events, sermons, and such are posted there by church staff. “Like” that page to get those updates in your Facebook feed. Our “St. Dunstan’s MadCity” group is a more informal place where members can post all sorts of things, like “Can someone lector for me this Sunday?” or “Can somebody use this old stroller?” or “I have a spare concert ticket, would someone like to come with me?” or “Hey, read this article; think we could do something like this?” and so on. Both can be great ways to keep up with the life of the parish while you’re traveling over the summer. So if you’re a Facebook user, look us up!

The Thrilling Adventures of Tobias and Sarah! Vacation Bible & Arts School, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 30 – August 4. We are designing our own VBS this year, focusing on the book of Tobit, a rousing story of faith, adventure, risk, romance, and mystery, from a part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. Drama, art, and outreach will be integrated into our curriculum. Kids ages 3 to 10 are welcome to participate; need not be members of St. Dunstan’s. Registration forms will be available soon. We will also be inviting the adults of the parish into study and artistic engagement with the book of Tobit this summer; watch for more information!

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, May 15

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. The lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, which we read together earlier, is the story of this holy feast: it’s the day when Jesus’ first disciples, his friends and followers, received the Holy Spirit of God in a new way, inspiring and empowering them to preach the good news of God in Christ. On Pentecost we share that Scripture and we reflect on the ways the Holy Spirit is at work in us, in our church, in the world around us.

Our church teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, the understanding that our God is one, yet also somehow three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; the One who Creates, the One who Befriends, the One who Inspires. That understanding took shape in the first decades of the Church’s life – but there are Scriptures in the Old Testament that talk about the Spirit of God as a sort of going-forth of God’s power, with its own nature and being. Starting in Genesis 1, when the Spirit of God moves over the face of the waters before Creation, right up to the Spirit’s appearance at Jesus’ baptism, immediately after which the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to fast for forty days. So it’s not that the Holy Spirit suddenly appears in the story of God’s people, in the second chapter of Acts. It’s more that the newborn Church is called to recognize, receive, and call on her, as a gift and tool for the work before them.

Our portion of John’s Gospel today names some of the ways the Spirit acts within and among the believers: teaching them; reminding them of what they’ve already been taught – I know I often need such reminders! – and bringing peace and calm, Christ’s peace blessing us through the power and presence of the Spirit.

The Greek word that John uses here is interesting: Parakletos, translated Advocate or sometimes Comforter, or sometimes left as the odd word Paraclete. It literally means one who is called to the side of another person. And in New Testament Greek it had legal overtones, as “advocate” can in English: one who stands with and speaks for a person accused or in trouble. There’s rich ground for theological reflection in that word, Paraclete. There’s also, of course, a fair share of parakeet jokes.

The parakeet, however, is not the bird we usually see used to represent the Holy Spirit. What bird do you usually see?…. The dove, right? It’s an image used by the first Gospel writer, Mark, who says that the Spirit “descended upon Jesus like a dove” as he rose from the water, having been baptized by John. Matthew and John follow Mark’s wording; Luke does too though he gets a little more concrete, saying that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus “in bodily form like a dove.” Not just a metaphor but a manifestation.

So the Church adopted the dove as one symbol of the Spirit, and has read that in various ways – as a sign of peace, gentleness, purity, innocence. But… wait a minute. Let’s turn for just one moment to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verse 24. Jesus’ parents are bringing an offering to Temple to celebrate the birth of their firstborn son. And they bring “a pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons.” Just about every translation says it that way, back to the King James Version. Only the word translated here as “pigeons” – peristeron – is the same word used at Jesus’ baptism. In fact, it’s the same word used EVERYWHERE it says “dove” in the New Testament. Why translate it as “pigeon” in one place and “dove” elsewhere? It’s almost like it’s totally arbitrary. It’s almost like there’s no difference between pigeons and doves. But of course there is! Doves are pretty and pure and sweet. Pigeons are gross and ugly and obnoxious. Right? ….

I heard something a couple of weeks ago that really tickled my imagination about that familiar image of the Holy Spirit as dove. And in honor of baby M’s mother, who is a wildlife biologist, I thought I’d go ahead and follow that thread today.  The thing I heard was an episode of a wonderful podcast called 99% Invisible. It’s a podcast about the interesting stories of things we rarely notice or think about. And this episode was an interview with Nathanael Johnson, author of a new book called Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness.

Johnson shares the history of the pigeon. Keeping and breeding pigeons used to be, not something your quirky uncle does in his free time, but a hobby of the aristocracy. The pigeon – or dove; they’re basically the same bird – was first domesticated in the Middle East, then spread around the ancient world by the Romans. Johnson points out that “a common element of a traditional Tuscan Villa was a… lookout tower and pigeon house.” Kings and nobles, governors and dignitaries would keep and breed pigeons in their fine homes, and exchange them as gifts and tokens of honor. In the 1600s pigeons were brought to North America, and their fall from grace came as they became feral and propagated themselves in this new environment, becoming, well, common, in every sense of the word.

Johnson says that for many centuries, in English, the words “pigeon” and “dove” were essentially synonyms and were used interchangeably. “But over time,” he says, “the two diverged – dove was increasingly associated with positive things and pigeon became associated with the negative.” Consider, Johnson suggests, Pigeon soap beauty bars. Silky smooth Pigeon Chocolate. Or… the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a pigeon.

Then Johnson goes on to share some fun pigeon facts. So, just as the Church has taken liberties with the dove image, and read in ideas about peace and purity, I’m going to offer some thoughts about what imagining the Holy Spirit as a pigeon might do for us.

First, pigeons are everywhere. Madison isn’t hugely overrun, but we’ve experienced or seen images of the hordes of pigeons that reside in our great cities. And that tends to gross us out. We see them as dirty, diseased vermin. We ignore or resent them. We call them flying rats. (I also have a lot respect for rats, but that’s another sermon…!) Buildings are equipped with spikes and nets to try and keep pigeons from calling them home. But pigeons, undeterred, just fly on to the next building. We disdain pigeons because they are so common, but maybe we should respect them for the same reason. Pigeons are a very successful species, and co-exist well with human beings, in the in-between spaces we leave, in our cities and our lives.

Reflecting on the Holy Spirit as pigeon, I ask: Where is the Holy Spirit lurking around the edge of your life, hanging out on a windowsill while you brush your teeth, perching on a statue you walk past every day, even dropping a little gift on you on your way to work? Ignored or even kicked away, when there’s something here that really deserves our attention?

Second, pigeons are nurturing. We know that most birds care for their young and bring them food, but everybody knows that only mammals give milk and actually feed their young from their own bodies. But everybody knows wrong. Pigeon parents – female and male alike – actually produce a milky substance to feed their young. It’s secreted in a pouch inside their throats, and baby pigeons get the milk by sticking their beaks down their parents’ throats. So pigeons, like ourselves, give of their own bodies to nurture their young.

Reflecting on the Holy Spirit as pigeon, I ask: Where might there be something unexpected that wants to feed and nurture you? That’s offering you what you need to grow and flourish, in a place you’ve never thought to look?

Third, pigeons are beautiful. Seriously. Try, try to wipe your mind clean of all the associations and assumptions you carry, and do a Google image search, or go to your favorite pigeon-y location and just look. They have the same graceful shape as the dove, their more popular cousin, with that lovely fanned tail in flight. Their colors range from soft grays to warm taupes to pinks, with that sheen of iridescent green on the breast, and striking bars of black and gray on their wings. They have finely-traced eyes and delicate beaks. They are beautiful birds, rendered ugly only by overfamiliarity and inattention.

Johnson, the author of Unseen City, shared the story of how he stumbled into this project. He would walk his infant daughter to daycare every day – and there were all those elements of the urban landscape that he had long ago learned to ignore, but that she was very interested in. What’s that? Tree. What’s that? Tree. In fact, the same tree. Faced with a choice between saying “tree” a hundred times, or refusing to answer and earning her frustrated screams, he decided to make a shared game of noticing. Tree; bark; twig; leaf; flower; petal; stamen; seed pod… And the noticing went on to lead Johnson to discover, and share with us, a whole amazing world of plants and animals that live alongside us, even in, especially in, our densest human environments.

Reflecting on the Holy Spirit as pigeon, I ask: Where are we missing the beauty that the Holy Spirit has for us, because we’re not even looking? Because our preconceptions and preoccupations have closed our eyes to the wonder, the complexity, and, yes, the beauty of the world around us, and the ways that beauty might bless us?

Let us turn now to the baptismal liturgy, as we invite the Holy Spirit, the divine Pigeon, to descend among us and bless baby M as the newest member of God’s worldwide family of faith.

Announcements, May 12

Find us on Facebook! St. Dunstan’s has two primary Facebook locations. Our “St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church” page is our official Facebook presence. Upcoming events, sermons, and such are posted there by church staff. “Like” that page to get those updates in your Facebook feed. Our “St. Dunstan’s MadCity” group is a more informal place where members can post all sorts of things, like “Can someone lector for me this Sunday?” or “Can somebody use this old stroller?” or “I have a spare concert ticket, would someone like to come with me?” or “Hey, read this article; think we could do something like this?” and so on. Both of these locations will be more effective, the more people are on them. So if you’re a Facebook user, look us up!

THIS WEEKEND…

Fellowship Group Gathering, Friday, May 13, 1pm: Would you like to be part of a smaller group that meets regularly for friendship, mutual support, and shared Bible study? We will have an exploratory gathering on Friday, May 13, at 1pm at VIP Asian Cuisine on Odana Road. Join us if you can,

Pre-Clean-Up Day, Saturday, May 14, from 9am to noon (drop-in):  B&G members & friends will gather to do some prep work for the parish work day and some of the more skilled work needed on our grounds. Volunteers welcome!

Men’s Book Group, Saturday, May 14, 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.

 Pentecost Sunday Worship with Holy Baptism, May 15: On this feast day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and celebrate the Spirit’s continued action among us. Red is the church’s color for this holy day; consider wearing something red for church! At 10am we will celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Mathias LaBonte. We welcome the LaBonte family as they celebrate this holy occasion among us!

Spring Clean-up Day, Sunday, May 15, 12-2pm: Join us after the 10 am service to put some “sweat equity” into tending our beautiful buildings and grounds. Wear or bring your scruffy clothes and work gloves. Lunch will be provided!

Sunday School, Sunday, May 15, 10am: This week both our 3-5 year old class and our 6 – 10 year old class will explore the story of Pentecost. We will also meet June 12 before taking a hiatus for the summer.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, May 15: 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.

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

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, May 15, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends & partners welcome too.

Updates on the Military Personnel whom we keep in prayer: We pray weekly for daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons, nieces, nephews, and friends of our members, who are serving our country in the armed services.  If you have updates about one of these people to share (including photos, which we love!), or new names for our list, please send them to prayers@stdunstans.com . Thanks!

Altar Flowers: May dates available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35. Write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash, or donate online at donate.stdunstans.com.

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

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Monday Morning Art Group: Each Monday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 an adult group meets in the chapel area to share their creative arts and crafts projects, which might include drawing and painting to needlework.  It’s become a wonderful time to share some of our personal history, or more recent experiences and/or challenges.  Feel free to come along and join us! Because of improper ventilation for toxic materials, we ask that no paint solvents or smelly glues be required during this period.

“Toxic Charity” Book Discussion, Wednesday, May 18, 6:30-8pm:  Veteran urban activist Robert Lupton reveals the shockingly toxic effects that modern charity has upon the very people meant to benefit from it. Toxic Charity provides proven new models for charitable groups who want to help—not sabotage—those whom they desire to serve.  Please join Diocese of Milwaukee Haiti Project Coordinator, Heidi Ropa, to reflect on how this book may inform the way our Diocese interacts with our partners in Haiti or in other settings where we serve to support those in need. Go to info@haitiproject.org. The book can be found online if you wish to order it.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, May 20 (due to Memorial Day holiday), 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Amber Indian Restaurant at 6913 University Avenue in Madison.

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Absences: Rev. Miranda is traveling for some continuing education opportunities in late May and into early June. While she’ll be here on Sundays as usual, she’d like the parish to know that she will largely be away from her email and ongoing projects from May 23 through June 7. Thanks for your understanding and support!

St. Dunstan’s Day All-Ages Worship & Hat and Tie Sunday, May 22: We will celebrate the feast day of our saint, Dunstan, on Sunday, May 22. You’re invited to mark the occasion by dressing up with a fancy hat and/or tie – wear your own or borrow one from the collection at church. We will formally welcome new members on this festive day. We will also take up a special collection for scholarships for the Diocese of Milwaukee’s camp program, Camp Webb. It’s our custom to take photos of the whole congregation after the 10am service that Sunday; we hope you’ll stay a few moments to participate.

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

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, May 29, 8am: We will celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Nicholas Outrakis.  We welcome the Outrakis family as they celebrate this holy occasion among us!

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, May 29, 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 gig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Memorial Service for Jerry Bever, Sunday, May 29, 3pm:  We will gather to remember and celebrate the life of longtime member Jerry Bever, who died in February. Contributions to a light reception after the service are welcome.

Summer Choir on First Sundays, Beginning June 5: Come at 9am to learn some simple music to share as part of our 10am worship. Young singers and adult singers with no previous choir experience are especially invited! You should be able to read text, and ready to begin to learn to read music. Talk with our Organist & Choir Director Martin Ganschow to learn more. Dates are June 5, July 3, and August 7.

An Introduction to Charitable Giving, Sunday, June 5, 11:30am (Rescheduled): Come for lunch and an introduction to charitable giving and taxes, including an introduction to our church policies on major gifts. Folks of all ages and incomes are encouraged to come; child care will be provided.

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 12, 12:00pm: Come for good food and good conversation at our annual June parish picnic. We’ll have good food and fun activities for all ages, including a balloon artist and photo booth! The picnic will happen rain or shine. Mark your calendar and watch for more details!

HELP WANTED…

Seeking Open Minds and Warm Hearts to Help with our Sunday School! We seek teachers and helpers for our Sunday school classes for the 2016-17 program year, starting in September. Teachers and helpers generally serve once a month. Because of our growing group of kids, we would like to expand to THREE Sunday school classes for next year – for kids ages 3 – 5, 6 – 8, and 9 – 10. We use great curricula that give teachers good tools and information. If you’ve never done this before, there’s plenty of support, and if you’ve taught somewhere else, we’d love to benefit from your ideas and experience! Sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes to learn more and get involved.

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES…

The Thrilling Adventures of Tobias and Sarah! Vacation Bible & Arts School, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 30 – August 4. We are designing our own VBS this year, focusing on the book of Tobit, a rousing story of faith, adventure, risk, romance, and mystery, from a part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. Drama, art, and outreach will be integrated into our curriculum. Kids ages 3 to 10 are welcome to participate; need not be members of St. Dunstan’s. Registration forms will be available soon. We will also be inviting the adults of the parish into study and artistic engagement with the book of Tobit this summer; watch for more information!

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, May 8

Preached by guest preacher and friend of St. Dunstan’s, Fred-Allen Self.

Gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-26: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

In our Gospel text from the Gospel of John this morning there are some fantastic statements there and a continual repetition and variation of one phrase “that they may all be one.” It also ends with the prayer of Jesus with the words, “…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Several weeks ago Miranda reached out to me and asked if I would like to preach here. I immediately agreed. She asked me to look at the upcoming scriptures in the lectionary and see if there was anything that jumped at me. I have to admit, this was one of the first that jumped out to me. You see: when I look at St. Dunstan’s, this is what I see. I see this love. An all-encompassing, welcoming, embracing love. That kind of love that has the potential to change the world.

Over the last several years, St. Dunstan’s Church has become a very important place for myself and my family. This community has come together and helped me through some of the darkest times of my life, and has helped me to heal in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. This happened through nothing other than that willingness to just love. To love, to embrace, to recognize the ugliness of life, and just keep loving and supporting through it all.

If I may, I would like to back up and share a bit of my personal history and how St. Dunstan’s came to be a part of my life:

I grew up in a radically different religious world. It was a Christian world, but it was one in which love, even God’s love, was incredibly conditional. You are loved if… you are loved when… you are loved because…

At no point was there just the simple statement of “you are loved, period.”

In this world there was a very narrow mold into which you had to fit in order to be worthy of real love. Until you fit that mold you were “loved into” the mold, which to be quite honest never felt very good. That form of love felt more like judgement and condemnation.

The biggest problem with all of this is that I had something in my life, something in the core of my being, that kept me from ever fitting into this mold that was worthy of love: I am gay.

For years I lived with this secret truth. I made decisions that wrecked my own life and the lives of others until finally, I came to a point where I was broken. I felt truly worthless. I honestly believed that God didn’t want me, God didn’t love me or even like me, so therefore, why should I love myself? Why should anyone else love me? At the age of 25 my marriage was over. I lived in Wisconsin and my entire family was a world away in Arkansas. I felt utterly alone, lost and helpless. It was at the point that I hit rock bottom that I reached out for help. I went online and I looked up “safe churches for LGBT people.” I saw several church names that I didn’t recognize, but one jumped out. Yes, it was St. Dunstans. I knew the Episcopal Church from high school. My high school choir director had been an Episcopalian and she was one of the great mentors of my life. So, I took a chance and sent an email. I didn’t know who I was reaching out to, the site I had found only had the email “rector@stdunstans.” In retrospect I guess I could have done a bit more digging to figure out to whom I was writing, but at the time it just didn’t seem that important. I sent the email explaining my life story and that I needed help. I honestly didn’t expect to get a response.

Nearly immediately I received a response from a Rev. Miranda Hassett inviting me to come to the church and talk. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. However, that fateful conversation would go on to change my life. In our brief conversation, the first of MANY, Miranda invited me to worship that coming Sunday, an invitation which I tentatively accepted.

It was a Sunday in September of 2011 that I first walked through the doors of St. Dunstan’s to attend worship here. Walking through the door that Sunday took a great deal of courage. You see, just about a month before then I had come out to my family and friends. Though my immediate family, my parents and my sister, were very supportive, the same couldn’t be said for much of the rest.  The ensuing weeks resulted in me being beaten nearly black and blue with the Bible and with the brand of “love” I had grown accustomed to from the church. That Sunday, though, so much changed.

I sat quietly in worship that day, no one really knew who I was, I didn’t know who anyone was, but there was a love in this place that was palpable, a welcome that was real. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as welcomed as I was that day. From that point I began to become more involved with the St. Dunstan’s community. As I became involved many people began to learn my story and my history. At first, this really scared me, you see, I had found a place I loved. The last thing I wanted was for my story and my history to become known and I have to leave yet another place that I loved… but a wondrous thing happened: the more people learned my story, the more love I felt given in return.

I’ll be entirely transparent: before I came to St. Dunstan’s and experienced this community my life was falling apart. I was lost, I was in a spiritual crisis, and I was in very real danger of harming myself. The love and nurturing that I found here truly saved my life in so many ways, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.

The Gospel lesson from this morning ends with the beautiful prayer from Jesus, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” This is what I found here, and this is why this scripture jumped at me so much.

That love, that radical love that doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t have conditions, that’s what it’s all about.

Through the help of the community at St. Dunstan’s I found a new form of faith. This form of faith wasn’t built on fitting the right mold. It wasn’t built on “loving” someone into a correct way of being. I was a form of faith built on loving everyone, not matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter how we may agree or disagree. It also taught me that sometimes love is a challenge. It’s a choice, something that we have to choose regularly. Yet, while it can be a challenge, it is a challenge that is always worth it. The most important lesson I think that I learned during that time was this: we are all beautifully and wonderfully created. At some point someone here told me, “God created and said, ‘it is good.’ Who are we to declare otherwise?” Who indeed?

In time I became a fairly fierce advocate for inclusion in the church for all people, regardless of orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other factor. It was this that lead me to answer a call to ministry. At the time I had no idea what that looked like. At first I thought I was going to be an Episcopal Priest, then a United Methodist Elder… yet neither of those were meant to be it seems. In the end I found an organization called the Progressive Christian Alliance. About three years ago I began a process of discernment and a year ago became a PCA Pastor. What drew me to them was that, much like the community of St. Dunstan’s, their focus was on love, radical love that looked nothing like the world had to offer. Their mission was to get the church outside of the walls and into the world. That definitely sounded like something I needed to do.

At this point I’ve talked a good deal about my story and how St. Dunstan’s community and love changed my world and my life. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to talk about this today is this: rarely in this life do we get to see what kind of impact our words or actions have on another person. Rarely do we get that chance to see how we have impacted, whether negatively or positively, the lives of others.

In my own story there were people that drove me to the point of wanting to end my life. Many of them never laid a hand on me, but their words left scars that are still there today. Their action, and in many more cases inaction, left indelible marks on my life. In that same way, there were many people who helped me to come to the place of self-acceptance and self-love and who have supported me in my ministries and who have continually built me up, through both words and actions, that have left just as indelible marks.

My point in all of this is that, whether we intend to or not, we leave marks everywhere we go. Each one of us, in our daily lives, have the chance to impact many people. In each human interaction we have a chance to leave a mark. Many times we leave a mark whether we have intended to or not. This is something I’ve started to become increasingly aware of in my own life. During my time of pain and hurt I lashed out. I lashed out a lot… I was angry, I was hurt, and in my anger and hurt I caused more anger and hurt. I left marks, some of which I’m still learning about. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn of some of the positive marks I’ve left as well. Sometimes through small things that were so insignificant to me that I didn’t even think of them, until someone pointed out to me how huge these things were to them.

In each human interaction we have a chance to show love, to show that type of love Jesus talks about. Each time we step out our door, no matter what we are going to do, we have a chance to share the Gospel, not through preaching, but through our lives. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.”

This community preached the Gospel to me. St. Dunstan’s made the Gospel come alive in a way that I had never witnessed before. Suddenly, for the very first time in my life the Gospel was Good News. It meant that I was loved, it meant that I was valued, it meant that I WAS good enough, it mean that God did value me, and it mean that I should value myself. St. Dunstan’s didn’t preach to me or lecture me or anything like that. The people, the community of St. Dunstan’s preached the Gospel through their actions, through their deeds, through their love.

This is a challenge, and this community has risen to this challenge time and time again. On my life, at least, you have left a lasting mark, one that has helped me to become a person I could never have been without this community.

When you leave these doors today I want to challenge you: what mark are you leaving on the people around you? Do you know? Remember that in each human interaction we have a chance to share the wonderful and radical Good News of the Gospel, without ever saying a word. We have a chance to show love. Sometimes that may be the only love a person sees in a day.

God is good. God is love. Praise be to God that this love can indeed move mountains and change the face of the earth.

Amen.

Announcements, May 5

TONIGHT…

Ascension Eucharist, Thursday, May 5, 5:30pm: Celebrate a festive service on the Feast of the Ascension, with our Thursday evening “Sandbox Worship” community. A simple meal will follow.

THIS WEEKEND…

Guest Preacher Fred-Allen Self, Sunday, May 8: Fred-Allen is a friend of St. Dunstan’s and a Progressive Christian Alliance Pastor. We welcome Fred-Allen and his words for us! Fred-Allen will preach at both services.

Sunday School, Sunday, May 8, 10am: This week, our 3-5 year old class will be learning about the Mystery of Pentecost, while our 6 -10 year old class will hear about the early church community in Acts.

Words in Season: Mothers – All Kinds, Sunday, May 8, 11am: Dear performance and poetry loving members of St. Dunstan’s, join us for a seasonal celebration of words and the spirit. Daniel Hanson and Evy Gildrie-Voyles invite you to bring a poem to share, loosely connected to our theme of Mothers – all kinds: good and bad, yours or somebody else’s, real or metaphorical. If your chosen poem is long, please consider reading a selected portion, to allow time for all to share. We will share our poems in the Nave after folks have had a chance to get a bite to eat at Coffee Hour. All ages are welcome to participate. No memorizing is necessary.

Spirituality and Parenting Lunch, Sunday, May 8, 11:45 – 1pm: Parents of every age and stage are welcome. We’ll read the Parable of the Sower together, then talk about voice and parenting. What are the voices ((both metaphorical and literal) that we use with our kids, as parents? What voices do we want to use? Food and child care are provided.

Kids in Song Gathering, Sunday, May 8, 11:45 – 12:15: Kids old enough to read are invited to come up to the choir loft to do some simple singing with our Choir Director Martin Ganschow. This is an opportunity to try out our voices together, and help Martin plan future musical work with the children of our parish. Grab some snacks at coffee hour, then come sing!

Lost & Found:  Please take a moment to look in the lost and found box and reclaim your items. There are many items including several hats and gloves, a knit scarf, a stuffed animal, a couple of umbrellas and a carry-all. Unclaimed items will be given away after May 8th.

Altar Flowers: April and May dates available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35. Write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash, or donate online at donate.stdunstans.com.

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

St. Dunstan’s Diaper Drive Ingathering: Today we will pray over the diapers and financial gifts presented as part of our Diaper Drive. While we don’t have totals ready yet, our response has been incredibly generous! The diapers are being donated to pantries around the area, including Allied Drive Food Pantry, Kennedy Heights, and MOM. Thanks for your support for this project and for families all over Dane County!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Julian Gathering, Wednesday, May 11, 7:15-9pm: What is a Julian Gathering?  A Julian Gathering is open to everyone and you are welcome at all times. We support each other in the practice of contemplative prayer and contemplative spirituality.  These gatherings are for all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer, for beginners as well as those already practicing. Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer and reading/discussion of Bl. Julian’s revelations.  Don’t worry if you’ve never practiced silent prayer before, we can set your mind at ease.

Fellowship Group Gathering, Friday, May 13, 1pm: Would you like to be part of a smaller group that meets regularly for friendship, mutual support, and shared Bible study? We will have an exploratory gathering on Friday, May 13, at 1pm at VIP Asian Cuisine on Odana Road. Join us if you can, or if you’re interested but can’t attend, talk to Rev. Miranda.

Men’s Book Group, Saturday, May 14, 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.

Pentecost Sunday, May 15:  We have the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and celebrate the Spirit’s continued action among us. Red is the church’s color for this holy day; consider wearing something red for church!

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, May 15, 10am:  We will celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Mathias LaBonte. Rev. Miranda had the joy of officiating at the wedding of Mathias’ parents several years ago. We welcome the LaBonte family as they celebrate this holy occasion among us!

Spring Clean-up Day, Sunday, May 15, 12-2pm: Join us after the 10 am service to put some “sweat equity” into tending our beautiful buildings and grounds. Wear or bring your scruffy clothes and work gloves. Lunch will be provided! A list of tasks will be posted in the Gathering Area by Sunday the 1st. We will also have a Pre-Clean-Up Day on Saturday, May 14, from 9am to noon, to do some prep work for the parish work day and some of the more skilled work needed on our grounds.

Sunday School, Sunday, May 15, 10am: Our Sunday school classes will meet next Sunday. We will also meet June 12 before taking a hiatus for the summer.

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

St. Dunstan’s Day All-Ages Worship & Hat and Tie Sunday, May 22: We will celebrate the feast day of our saint, Dunstan, on Sunday, May 22. You’re invited to mark the occasion by dressing up with a fancy hat and/or tie – wear your own or borrow one from the collection at church. We will formally welcome new members on this festive day. We will also take up a special collection for scholarships for the Diocese of Milwaukee’s camp program, Camp Webb. It’s our custom to take photos of the whole congregation after the 10am service that Sunday; we hope you’ll stay a few moments to participate.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, May 15: 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.

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Absences: Rev. Miranda is traveling for some continuing education opportunities in late May and into early June. While she’ll be here on Sundays as usual, she’d like the parish to know that she will largely be away from her email and ongoing projects from May 23 through June 7. Thanks for your understanding and support!

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 12, 12:00pm: Come for good food and good conversation at our annual June parish picnic. We’ll have good food and fun activities for all ages, including a balloon artist! The picnic will happen rain or shine. Mark your calendar and watch for more details!

HELP WANTED…

Seeking Open Minds and Warm Hearts to Help with our Sunday School! We seek teachers and helpers for our Sunday school classes for the 2016-17 program year, starting in September. Teachers and helpers generally serve once a month. Because of our growing group of kids, we would like to expand to THREE Sunday school classes for next year – for kids ages 3 – 5, 6 – 8, and 9 – 10. We use great curricula that give teachers good tools and information. If you’ve never done this before, there’s plenty of support, and if you’ve taught somewhere else, we’d love to benefit from your ideas and experience! Sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes to learn more and get involved.

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES…

The Thrilling Adventures of Tobias and Sarah! Vacation Bible & Arts School, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 30 – August 4. We are designing our own VBS this year, focusing on the book of Tobit, a rousing story of faith, adventure, risk, romance, and mystery, from a part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. Drama, art, and outreach will be integrated into our curriculum. Kids ages 3 to 10 are welcome to participate; need not be members of St. Dunstan’s. Registration forms will be available soon. We will also be inviting the adults of the parish into study and artistic engagement with the book of Tobit this summer; watch for more information!

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, May 1

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help! It’s the fifth question of our baptismal covenant, the set of questions we ask one another every time we baptize a new member into the church. These questions ask us, and remind us, how we intend to live as God’s people. And our answer to each one is, I will, with God’s help. Affirming both our commitment … and our need for divine assistance.

Today’s Gospel comes from John’s account of the life of Jesus. Unlike the other Gospels, in John’s version, Jesus visits Jerusalem several times. He’s walking near one of the great gates of the city, past a place where people go seeking healing. Scholars of the ancient world think this was probably a temple to the Greek god Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Asclepius was adopted by the Romans and honored all around the ancient world. His temples were, essentially, some of the world’s first hospitals. They often included a pool, for rituals of cleansing and healing. If this pool in the Gospel were part of a temple of healing, it explains why there were many sick and disabled people around, waiting, hoping, praying that Asclepius and his priests would favor them with restoration and health.

There were stories that this was an especially powerful pool – that from time to time, the waters of the pool would be mysteriously stirred up, perhaps by an unseen angel, and the first person to get into the pool after that magical stirring was practically guaranteed to be healed. Jesus is walking past this place, this pagan temple full of human agony and desperate hope. And his eye falls on one of the people lying there, a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years. Why this man? Who knows? Maybe Jesus just saw in him the potential for health, for faith.

So Jesus speaks to him. He asks, Do you want to be made well? The sick man’s response is interesting. He doesn’t say, Yes, of course I do! Please help me! Instead he explains why the approach he’s already trying hasn’t worked for him yet. “Sir, I don’t have anyone to help me into the pool when it is stirred up, and by the time I can get to it, somebody else has already jumped in and stolen the miracle.” Jesus brushes aside the explanations and excuses. He says, Stand up, take your mat and walk. And the man stands up, and walks.

This man’s illness is an individual situation. Something particular to his body and his life story. But this is also more than just an individual situation. Just like the homeless veteran whose PTSD leaves him muttering in a doorway downtown. Just like the single mom dependent on public assistance who calls to see if I can resolve her delinquent utility bill. Just like the former drug dealer who can’t find honest work because of his record. There are layers and layers of larger systems that have contributed to this individual’s need and misery.

Maybe this man’s illness or disability is just a fact of life. Even today, with all the tools of modern medicine, bodies break. Bodies fail. But there’s more to his situation than illness. He is alone. No one is tending or helping him. He is poor. If he weren’t poor, he wouldn’t be alone. And he is looking for help in the wrong place. This temple to an empty god, which has no power to help him or change his life. But it’s the only place he knows to go, so he goes there. Quite possibly he’s been going there for thirty-eight years.

Jesus, because he is Jesus, just stops by and heals him. Most of the time it’s not that simple for us. I can’t just command health back into somebody like this man. But I, or you, could address the fact that he’s alone. That he’s poor. That he doesn’t have a place to go that would welcome and care for him. It is within our reach, within our power, as citizens of goodwill in a democratic society, to address things like that.

And this brings us to the point where Baptismal Question #5 opens out from Baptismal Question #4. The fourth question, remember, is: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Our faithful response to that question calls us to reach out in kindness to the individual who is suffering, since we know that God can look a whole lot like a human in pain. But the fifth question, today’s question – it asks us, Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being? That is a big ask, folks. Justice and peace among ALL PEOPLES. Dignity for EVERY human being. Phew.

If the fourth question demands our response to suffering, the fifth question demands our curiosity about suffering. It asks us to look at the big picture. The world-system that Jesus came to transform and redeem. Where does it come from? How is it created and perpetuated? Why are things like this? Why can’t they be different? Could we shift our society and systems, in ways that would lower the quota of human suffering, and add to the world’s measure of hope, wholeness, and delight? Where would we start?

Some of you are thinking, right now, There she goes again, telling us to fix the world. Doesn’t she know I already try to help all I can? Doesn’t she know how overwhelming it is? Doesn’t she know that sometimes I just need to watch Seinfeld reruns and forget it all for a while? I do, actually. I really do. Because: me too.

Sometimes – when we’re overwhelmed, weary, ashamed, angry – we struggle with whether our neighbor’s wellbeing is really our responsibility. It would be so great if that person’s misfortune were really their own fault, full stop. No layers of shared social and economic and political systems to muddy the picture. Just one person’s successes or failures. Because then we could still help if we wanted to, but when we don’t, there’s no guilt. He brought it on himself. It’s not my problem.

But as Christians, and as thoughtful people, even though those thoughts and feelings touch us sometimes, we can’t really stay there. We know better. We are all in this together. There is no such thing as other people’s children. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” may be a quotation from the Bible, but the person who says it has just, in fact, murdered his brother, and is not a model for our moral behavior.

We would all very much like it if all the ills of the world were someone else’s fault and responsibility. The sick man’s response to Jesus, that little speech about why he can never get to the pool in time, sounds familiar to me because I hear something a lot like it from nearly everyone who calls the church looking for help. Everyone has their reasons why their life has fallen short of their hopes. I lost my job and my jerk landlord won’t cut me any slack. My daughter is in prison and I’m trying to care for my grandbaby. My food stamps cover one adult and one child, and my son eats like an adult now, so we’re hungry all the time. My mother died out of state and we used our grocery money to go see her, and next month’s rent money for funeral expenses. Our apartment complex has bedbugs and we had to throw away everything we own. The employers in this town are racist and won’t give me work. Everyone has a whole list of reasons and circumstances that explain why they just can’t catch a break. Why they haven’t yet managed to stand up and walk.

Here’s the thing: regardless of whether the details of those particular stories are entirely true, the big story they add up to IS true. It IS true. Like Jesus and his contemporaries, we live in a society of deep, entrenched inequality, that does the bare minimum to care for the poor and vulnerable. If you’re not convinced of that, I invite you to do some research comparing our public systems, our safety net for the poor and sick, and our incarceration rates with those of other developed countries. That’s why even when I’m tired and jaded and skeptical, my capacity to respond clouded by compassion fatigue, I try to help, at least a little. I try at least to offer prayers.

Our texts from the book of Revelation describe John’s vision of the redeemed City, at the end of history, when God has fully restored and renewed our world. That City is clean and bright, shining with the light of God, undimmed by human tears, unmarred by pain or grief. The river of Life flows through it, and the Tree of Life grows in its heart, the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

It is, truly, a beautiful vision – and sometimes the gulf between that holy someday City and the cities of this world feels… paralyzing. It’s enough to make us start to recite our own list of reasons why our lives have fallen short of our hopes. I have to work long hours to pay the mortgage and child care; I just don’t have time to volunteer. My family is going through a rough time and I’m the one holding things together; maybe later I’ll be able to do more for others. There’s so much money in politics, it’s impossible for ordinary people like me to make a difference. I help people all day at work; by the weekend I’m drained, with nothing more to give.

We would all very much like it if the brokenness of the world were someone else’s responsibility. Here’s my good word to you, my sisters and brothers in weariness and perplexity: It is. It is somebody else’s responsibility. The redeemed City is God’s city. We are not going to get there by human efforts. It’s not up to us. The image of that City is not supposed to be like a Pinterest Fail that shames our best endeavors. It’s a vision of God’s intentions for humanity, meant to give us hope and reassurance as we struggle and strive in this world.

It’s not up to us. It’s up to God, and God is already on it. Now, that doesn’t let us off the hook entirely. The Jewish tradition gives us the phrase Tikkun Olam, which means, mending the world – very much what we mean when we talk about reconciling as a core Christian practice. And a great rabbi, Rabbi Tarfon, said this about Tikkun Olam, about the work of mending the world: It is not your obligation to finish the task. But neither are you free to stop the work entirely.

It is not your obligation to finish the task. But neither are you free to stop the work entirely.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – That question can feel as overwhelming as the morning headlines. Like it’s asking us to finish the task. To fix the world. To bring about the redeemed City.

Here’s what I want for you, for us, when we hear that question – I want us to feel our feet on the ground, our community standing shoulder to shoulder, the landscape of our lives stretching out around us. I want this big question to stir up another question inside us: Yes, there’s a lot of brokenness, disorder, injustice and pain. Where can I reach out and touch it? Without even trying? Without leaving the path of my everyday life, without even stretching my arm out all the way? I guarantee you that every single one of us has someplace where we can easily lay hands to the world’s brokenness.

I want this baptismal question to invite us in to the practice of reconciling, to noticing where God is at work in our city, neighborhood, school, workplace, church, family, and joining in what God is doing, wherever the lost are being found, the oppressed are finding justice, the broken are being healed, those in need are finding mercy, those in bondage are finding freedom, and enemies are making peace.

I got about this far in writing my sermon, Thursday morning, and then I went to a forum over at Fountain of Life Church on steps towards greater racial equity in Dane County. The event was a collaboration between three big local anti-racism organizations, Justified Anger, the YWCA, and Race to Equity. And what was striking for me was that those leaders said something a lot like what I just said: Racial disparities and their impact on people of color, and on our community as a whole, are a huge, hard, messy problem. And there’s no master plan to fix it all. There’s no one organization or leader that’s going to give us the perfect 5-step plan to transform Madison into the Redeemed City. Instead, they said, look around your life, your landscape. Get together with your people – your friends, your coworkers, your church folks. Have your own conversations about where you can see and touch the patterns of poverty and inequality in our community. And figure out your role, your call, your work, in common purpose and hope with the work of others across our communities. With the work of God in our communities.

Systemic racism is just one of the shadows that mars Madison, that makes us look less like the redeemed City of John’s vision. It’s just one of the evil powers of this world that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, to borrow words from another part of our baptismal rite. The powers that sicken, impoverish, and isolate people, like that man on the ground in our Gospel story; and that demand our courageous and compassionate response.

I want this great big bold baptismal question to stir up in you the intention and hope that you, YOU, just as you are, can find a way to program or plant or knit or paint or counsel or heal or make music or care for children or report news or call politicians or visit friends or dance or learn or run a business or manage employees or teach or act or administrate or clean or sew or serve on a board or feed people or visit the sick or sell houses or keep cows healthy or solve crimes or go to rallies or write poetry or care for elders or comfort the grieving or catch babies or run a household or take care of animals or write grant proposals or do research or sell insurance or design products in the direction of justice, peace, and human dignity. AMEN.