Sermon, July 31

God loves you. You’ve heard it before. It’s the summary of every Sunday school lesson, the gist of every progressive Christian bumper sticker, and many of the conservative ones, too. God loves you. But… how does God love us, exactly? How can we understand the love of God? Is the love of an infinite, all-powerful, eternal divine being even recognizable to little squishy short-lived hormonal bags of water like us?

Enter the prophet Hosea.

Hosea lived a little later than the prophet Amos, whom we met a couple of weeks ago. Like Amos, Hosea preached to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. But in Hosea’s time, the late 8th century before Jesus, the temporary peace had crumbled. The Assyrian Empire, remembered for its voracious cruelty and military might, had become an immediate threat. Israel had gone through several short-lived kings, and the king when Hosea began to prophesy was a vassal king for Assyria, under their thumb, committed to sending them the wealth of Israel as tribute. Ultimately, after a decade of instability, Israel was fully conquered by Assyria, and many of its people were killed or taken into exile. More on that next week, when we introduce Tobit!

Hosea, more than any other prophet, gives us a glimpse of the inner life of God. He speaks for God in a way that reveals God’s heart, the nature of God’s love for God’s people. The God we know through Hosea is not a detached and judgmental Ruler, but a Partner, a Parent, full of anger, grief, and tender, fearful love.

The Lectionary offered us a reading from Hosea last Sunday. But that text was pretty difficult to turn into a children’s homily! God speaks to Hosea for the first time, and this is God’s command: Marry a promiscuous woman, and have children by her, for the land of Israel has become promiscuous, and forsaken God. So Hosea married a woman named Gomer, who, indeed, is unfaithful to him. The text turns almost immediately from Hosea’s marriage to God’s relationship with Israel. God describes Israel as a faithless, shameless wife, who has run after her lovers, heedless of her marriage covenant. God promises to punish her, taking back all the gifts of grain, wine, and oil, of wool and flax; threatening to lay waste to her fields and vineyards, and make her festival days into times of mourning. Abraham Heschel, the great commentator on the Prophets, writes that through his marriage with Gomer, “Hosea became aware of the fact … that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God… Only by living through in his own life what the divine [Husband] of Israel experienced, was the prophet able to attain sympathy for the divine situation.”

Gomer’s infidelity was presumably of the usual sort; the Book of Hosea doesn’t give us details. But it has a lot to say about the nature of Israel’s infidelity to God. The idea that Israel’s covenant relationship with God is like a marriage in its intimacy and seriousness is found throughout the Hebrew Bible. Adultery in that sense usually means worship of other gods. And that’s part of what’s going on in Hosea’s time – in chapter 4 God says through Hosea, “My people consult a piece of wood, and their divining-rod gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have played the whore, forsaking their God. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and make offerings upon the hills.” (4:12-13)

But Israel’s adultery in Hosea isn’t just religious; it’s also political. The Israelite kingship, established by God, has become purely a matter of human politics, and Israel looks for security not from her God, but from other nations, like Egypt and Assyria. Hosea says of Israel, which he calls Ephraim in this passage: “Ephraim has become like a dove, silly and without sense;    they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria… Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! … For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass wandering alone;    Ephraim has bargained for lovers.” (7:8-9, 11, 13; 8:9)

Israel, covenanted to God for many generations, has been unfaithful – shamelessly so – in both religion and politics. The marriage metaphor insists that faithfulness to God is as fundamental as marital fidelity, and that violating that faithfulness is just as disgusting and distressing to God as a wife’s adultery is to her husband.

Yes, this is sexist, and prudish, and old-fashioned. Yes, it rests on ideas of women’s sexuality as dirty and dangerous. But the purpose of this metaphor, which poor Hosea – and poor Gomer! – are called to embody in their marriage and household, is to help humans understand just how much our faithful love matters to God.

God loves God’s people like a man utterly in love with his wife. So in love that when she strays, it just guts him. So in love that he wants her back. Now, this is important. You don’t have to look far today to find stories of reconciliation after infidelity, in fiction or real life. But that was not how things worked in ancient Israel. In Jewish law and custom, a husband whose wife has been unfaithful CAN’T take her back. She is permanently defiled. But God as Israel’s husband, in Hosea, doesn’t care. God passionately wants Israel back. Those threats of punishment in Chapter 2 only last five verses! – before turning towards affection and yearning. God says, “I will persuade her, and speak tenderly to her; and she shall respond, as in the days of her youth… On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, My husband!… I will abolish… war from the land, and make you like down in safety; and I will take you as my wife forever, I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy; I will take you for my wife in faithfulness.” (Hosea 2:14-19, excerpts) And God likewise calls Hosea to take back Gomer, his wife, despite her infidelity – a fact which has scandalized and perplexed many commentators over the millennia. Heschel writes: “A husband publicly betrayed by his wife is prevented by law and emotion from renewing his marital life with her. But God’s love is greater than law and emotion.” (63)

God loves us – how? Like a spouse who, no matter how badly you treat them, wants another chance at love. Who still hopes to get back the sweetness of what you once had. The first chapters of Hosea invite us to see God as the singer in every sad “I still want you back” song on iTunes.

And then there’s this week’s portion of Hosea, which gives us another metaphor drawn from human families for how God loves us. Listen again: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. I taught Ephraim to walk, and took them up in my arms; I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them…. Now the sword rages in their cities, and devours them because of their schemes. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils within me at the thought; my womb grows warm and tender.”

Now, the text in your bulletin says, “My compassion grows warm and tender.” The oldest versions of the Hebrew text use a word there that can be translated as either “compassion” or “womb,” “uterus.” For Biblical Hebrew, compassion is womb-feeling – the deep anxious care of a mother for a child she has borne. Our translators chose to translate the word as “compassion” here, but frankly I think that’s nonsense. Here we have two parallel phrases, a common form in Hebrew poetry, and they’re both about body parts, describing the physical sensations of anguished love – My heart recoils within me, my womb grows warm and tender. And once you make that more plain-sense reading, it becomes obvious that this whole passage is describing God as a mother. Cuddling and feeding a young child, leading him toddler with what must have been the ancient equivalent of those leashes parents use in airports.

God says to Israel, You have messed up, badly, and the consequences are looming; but even though you have turned away from me, and rejected everything I taught you, I can’t stop caring about you. I can’t stop wanting better for you. I still love you, and long for you.

Let me cast just a passing glance at today’s Gospel – which I think shows us a glimpse of that same loving divine frustration with the things humans choose to worry ourselves about. This is the “You can’t take it with you” Gospel. One of the nicer memes that goes around Facebook shows a crowd sharing a meal at table, and says, “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” That’s this parable in a nutshell. What especially reminds me of God’s voice in Hosea is the moment when this young man comes to Jesus, the wise rabbi, so confident that Jesus will address this inheritance dispute he has with his brother. It’s a matter of justice, right? And Jesus is all about justice, right?

Except Jesus, God among us, really, really does not share our preoccupation with stuff. Instead of settling the dispute, Jesus addresses the crowd and says, You know, y’all, life is not about what you own. The fellow with the inheritance issue must have been mortified. But can’t you hear God the Parent in Jesus’ voice there? Saying, Honey. I know you’re upset, but it’s just not that big a deal. It really isn’t.

God loves us – how? Like a parent who, no matter what lousy choices her child makes, still and always loves and hopes and yearns. Who watches the road, and keeps the lamps lit, and prays every night for that reckless irresponsible good for nothing child whom she loves, with her whole heart, in the depths of her guts.

God loves you. You’ve heard it before. It’s the summary of every Sunday school lesson, the gist of every Christian bumper sticker. God loves you. But… how does God love us, exactly? How do we understand the love of God?

I have a hunch that for a lot of Christians, our sense of God’s love is either as something so warm and squishy and nonspecific that there’s really no there there; or else as something so conditional and judgmental that it feels like love in name only.

Hosea offers us some real, human, emotionally resonant metaphors for divine love. These metaphors are painful, for some of us. For those scarred by infidelity, their partner’s or their own. For those who carry the grief and regret of seeing a beloved child walk away from them – or of being that child. I hope you understand that neither Hosea nor I offer these images lightly. Hosea’s intention is precisely that, by evoking the very real pain of real human relationships, he might give us a glimpse into the heart of God.

Even those who haven’t borne those particular hurts know what it feels like to love someone so much, heart and mind and spirit and guts, and to come to a moment where you can’t help them. Can’t fix it for them. Maybe can’t even reach them. Francis Spufford describes the love of God as “thwarted tenderness.” I know what that feels like, thwarted tenderness. I think most of us do, one way or another.

In our 21st century wisdom, we might offer God some advice. We might tell God that God has to draw some boundaries and practice some tough love with that child who keeps taking advantage of God’s motherly love. We might tell God that God could be a healthier individual if God could let go of this relationship with a partner who can never give God the kind of faithful love God longs for. But that’s not the point. The point is to help us imagine and even feel, in a sympathetic resonance deep in our guts, God’s love and longing for us. For you. For me.

Hosea spoke these words to the people Israel to give them some sense of God’s abiding care for them in a time when their nation was literally crumbling around them. However brutal the 2016 election cycle, that is NOT actually our situation. Yet. It’s good to know we have the words and witness of the Prophets for the seasons when we need them, in our corporate life.

But in the meantime I believe Hosea’s insight into the heart of God can bless us as individuals. For Israel, belonging to God was primarily a matter of their collective chosenness and observance of God’s laws. For us, belonging to God is primarily a matter of our individual choices to become part of a community of faith and walk the path of discipleship. And our capacity for discipleship, which is living in response to the love of God, grows as we know and feel and trust the love of God. As the words “God loves me” become more than just words, but a thing we experience, and believe.

We need Hosea’s witness, Hosea’s window into the thwarted tenderness of the heart of God. We need images that help us understand, in our hearts and our guts, the love of God, beyond squishy meaningless warmth and beyond the harsh father figure who only loves you IF. We need to hear and imagine and know God as One who loves us – who loves YOU – with the hopeless devotion and adoration of a smitten spouse, with the fierce unshakable tenderness of a parent.

We need to know God as One who weeps when we weep, takes pride in our accomplishments, waits for us when we wander, misses us when we’re out of touch and treasures our time together, grieves when we hurt ourselves, hopes for our future, and always, always, always, welcomes us home.

Announcements, July 28

THIS WEEKEND…

Creating Sets: Illustrating the Book of Tobit Art Workshop with Artist James Bellucci, Friday, July 29, and Saturday, July 30, 2 – 4pm: James Bellucci is an artist and art educator who works by creating dioramas from two- and three-dimensional objects, then photographing them. Adults and older kids (10 and up) of St. Dunstan’s are invited to work with James to create a diorama based on the Biblical book of Tobit, the same book we are working with in our Evening Bible & Arts Camp for kids. Please sign up in the Gathering Area; we can only accommodate 15 people. Participants should be able to attend both sessions. Check out James’s work at http://www.jamesbellucci.com.

Between Church, Sunday, July 31, 9:15am: Come try out simple outdoor worship between our two regular services. We gather at the stone altar to sing one or two simple songs, listen to the day, and share some brief reflections on spiritual practice in daily life.

The Book of Tobit: A Boy Went on a Journey Evening Bible & Arts Camp, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 31 – 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 are in the Gathering Area and on our website! Help spread the word!

 Summer Thursday Evening Eucharist this week will be the closing session of our Evening Bible & Arts Camp. Non-Campers are welcome to come, eat, reflect on the story of Tobit together, and see a little of what the Campers have done all week.

School Supply Drive for MOM, Now through August 17: It’s time to start planning ahead for those going “back to school!” Once again, we will be collecting donations of school supplies to contribute to the goal of more than 1,000 backpacks this year! The MOM Back to School Program provides backpacks stuffed with grade level supplies for children in Pre-K through high school, and also supplies for college students. Cash donations are also accepted. More information and shopping lists are available in the Gathering Area. Please plan to bring your donations by August 17. While all school supplies are gratefully accepted, the greatest needs include:

• extra-large back packs for high school students

• three-ring binders (without logos) & dividers for binders

• pocket folders (solid colors, plastic)

• spiral notebooks – solid colors, wide & college ruled

• loose leaf paper – wide & college ruled

• scotch tape

Thank you for your generous support! MOM could not do it without you!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The Wednesday Book Group will NOT meet this coming Wednesday, August 3. We will resume gathering as usual on August 10 at 9:30am. We are currently reading “The Butterfly Mosque.”

Summer Choir on First Sundays, August 7: 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 be ready to begin to learn to read music. Talk with our Organist & Choir Director, Martin Ganschow, to learn more. The last summer choir is on September 4.

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

Healing prayers: Next Sunday one of our minsters will offer healing prayers for those who wish to receive prayers for themselves or on behalf others.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, August 7: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Here are the current top-ten, most needed items: cereal (preferably whole grain and low in sugar), instant oatmeal, whole grains, cooking oil, mayonnaise & ketchup, 64 oz. juice, tomato sauce, spices, rice, laundry detergent. Thank you for all your support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, August 7, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, August 10, 7:15-9pm: St. Julian of Norwich: 14th Century feminist? 14th Century heretic? No, although a reader might at first think so. 14th Century psychologist? Sort of . . . she understood the human heart and, through her sixteen revelations of Jesus, she understood the heart of God. Thomas Merton called her “the greatest theologian for our time.” Come to one of our monthly meetings and find out why — and learn about contemplative prayer. We meet the second Wednesday of each month. We’d love to see you.

Save the Date: Madison PRIDE Parade, August 21st from Noon to 4:00pm. Members are invited to help represent St. Dunstan’s in the 2016 OutReach LGBTQ PRIDE parade and rally. The parade will start at the 500 and 600 Block of State St. and move towards the Capitol Square. This year’s theme is Inclusion: Marching Towards Racial Diversity.  More specific announcements will follow. If you would like to be involve please stay tune.

Foundry414 Labor Day 3K for Backpack Snack Pack, Monday, September 5, 9:45am:  Our neighbors at Foundry414 invite us to participate in the Backpack Snack Pack 3K fund raiser. Donations from St. Dunstan’s folks can go to our Backpack Snack Pack program. Come at 9:45 am to sign-in. The 3K starts at 10am and will follow a route that can accommodate strollers and wagons. There’s no registration fee to participate but donations are encouraged. Come enjoy good neighbors, exercise and fun for a good cause!

 

Sermon, July 24

Jesus was praying in a certain place. (Luke 11:1)

We understand that, don’t we? Sometimes we just pray, we turn our thoughts towards God, wherever we are – in the car or at school or work or on Facebook or reading the news, whatever. But we also know about having certain places, special places, where we come to pray. We know that God is everywhere. But there are certain places where it’s easy for us to feel close to God. It’s easy to share our thoughts and feelings with God, and to listen for God’s voice in our hearts, and feel God’s love around us.

Some of those certain places are places like this – places made by people. Churches, temples, mosques.  But some of those certain places are natural places. Humans take care of them and protect them, but their beauty comes from God, and from Nature, which is God’s.

Often, when I ask people where they feel closest to God, they say, In Nature. And they seem to feel a little guilty about it! Like they think it’s a bad answer. It’s not a bad answer! Christians have known for a long long time that Nature shows us God’s glory and love and power. It’s in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and there are voices all through 2000 years of Christian tradition that tell us we can meet God in the natural world.

We heard one of those voices a little earlier – Thomas Traherne, who lived in the 17th century.  And he says, God made the world to be enjoyed, and God made you to enjoy the world; so it makes God very happy when you do what you were made for, by enjoying the natural world!

What’s your favorite thing in Nature?…

Have you noticed that in Nature, the more you notice, the more you find to enjoy and appreciate?  When you look harder, or you learn more, it just gets more amazing, doesn’t it?

My friend B, who is a nature educator, introduced our Creation Care Task Force to the work of naturalist John Muir Laws. Laws gives us a really good definition of love: Love is sustained compassionate attention. Sustained compassionate attention.

Let’s unpack that. Sustained means you do it for a while. You don’t just take a quick look and then move on.

Compassionate means caring. It means you look at something with a warm, open heart.

And you know what attention means,because your parents and teachers use that word, don’t they? When something has your attention, your eyes are on it, and not just your eyes, but your mind too. You’re focused on it. You’re really there.

So: Love as sustained compassionate attention. You could absolutely apply that to other human beings – but right now we’re talking about love of nature.  And the great thing about love is that, just like a child or a plant, if you feed it, it grows. Laws says, Every time somebody has an opportunity for sustained compassionate attention with a leaf, or a bug, or a tree, they fall in love a little bit more with the natural world.

And for us that means we also fall a little bit more in love with God, whom we know through the beauty and order and complexity of Nature.

Our Creation Care Task Force is still doing its work, but here’s one conclusion we’re reaching: We have a special gift and mission, here at St. Dunstan’s, to invite people deeper into love of nature, love of Creation. To offer ourselves and others opportunities to practice sustained compassionate attention. That’s where the gift of our grounds points us -and even our nave, where we are right now, where we can pray and sing and reflect while we look out at birds and trees and flowers and snow and rain. Where instead of stained glass, we have Nature’s beauty.

From here we went into this amazing exercise in sustained compassionate attention! 

Announcements, July 21

THIS WEEKEND…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, July 22, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Via Dolce at 1828 Parmenter in Middleton. 

Between Church, Sunday, July 24, 9:15am: Come try out simple outdoor worship between our two regular services. We gather at the stone altar to sing one or two simple songs, listen to the day, and share some brief reflections on spiritual practice in daily life. We will also meet July 31. Between Church can be an enrichment to one of our regular Sunday services at 8 and 10am, or you can just come for Between Church.

Last Sunday Worship Service, Sunday, July 24, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. This Sunday our theme is God-in-creation. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, July 24, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for resident at the Grace church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the Gathering Area to help out. 

Summer Thursday Evening Eucharist and Supper, 5:30-7pm: Got weekend plans? Come to church Thursday evening for an informal Eucharist (outdoors, if weather permits!) and simple meal. Starting June 16, our Thursday evening Sandbox Worship will include an informal Eucharist every week. We also plan to worship outdoors as much as possible. All ages very welcome; dinner provided.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Creating Sets: Illustrating the Book of Tobit Art Workshop with Artist James Bellucci, Friday, July 29, and Saturday, July 30, 2 – 4pm:  James Bellucci is an artist and art educator who works by creating dioramas from two- and three-dimensional objects, then photographing them. Adults and older kids (10 and up) of St. Dunstan’s are invited to work with James to create a diorama based on the Biblical book of Tobit, the same book we are working with in our Evening Bible & Arts Camp for kids. Please sign up in the Gathering Area. We can only accommodate 15 people. Participants should be able to attend both sessions. Check out James’s work at http://www.jamesbellucci.com .

The Book of Tobit: A Boy Went on a Journey Evening Bible & Arts Camp, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 31 – 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 are in the Gathering Area and on our website! Help spread the word!

Summer Choir on First Sundays, August 7: 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 be ready to begin to learn to read music. Talk with our Organist & Choir Director, Martin Ganschow, to learn more. The last summer choir is on September 4.

0th 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.

IN THE COMMUNITY…

Agrace to Offer Weekly Grief Support Group in August: Agrace HospiceCare will offer a grief support opportunity in August at its Madison campus, 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway. Bridges Weekly Support Group is held every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. This ongoing group is for adults who are grieving the death of a loved one. Pre-registration is not required.

Storytelling & Drama Workshop for Children 5-11 years, Saturday, August 13, 9am-1pm at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church: Do your children like stories? If so, they are invited to St Luke’s (4011 Major Avenue, Madison), summer Saturday Worship where they will write, rehearse, create props, and produce their own original plays on the topic of PEACE. Parents are welcome to drop off their kids or hangout. Performance for family and friends will be at 12:30pm. Lunch for participants and all guests is at 1pm. For more information or to register for the workshop and/or lunch, email Hollywalterkerby@gmail.com by August 9, 2016. Spaces are limited. Suggested donation is $5.00.

The Haiti Project meeting, Wednesday, August 17 at 6:00 pm at St. Andrew’s, 1833 Regent Street: The Haiti Project is preparing a travel group for time in the community of Jeannette, Haiti in November. The travel dates are November 11-20. We will be meeting at St. Andrew’s in Madison in August 17, and will have monthly meetings up to our travel date. The cost of the trip is $1000. Airfare is separate. Our time in Haiti will be spent listening, learning and growing in relationship with our partners. There will be hands-on tasks as well. The Haiti Project is a 30-year ministry of the Diocese of Milwaukee. Please consider joining us in becoming a thread in the tapestry of this long relationship. For more information contact Heidi Ropa at (608) 235-9393 or email at info@haitiproject.org.

 

Sermon, July 17

When I first read over these lessons, I felt torn. I wanted to give the prophet Amos his due. And this passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians is so beautiful.  But they’re very, very different.  It seemed impossible to address them in the same sermon.

Amos and Paul lived and taught in very different settings. Amos was a prophet who spoke God’s word in the Northern kingdom of Israel, sometime in the 8th century before Christ. He calls out the king, the wealthy elite, and the religious leaders for failing to order their society in a way that reflects God’s righteousness and concern for the poor and vulnerable.

While Amos calls a whole kingdom to account, Paul speaks to a tiny group of believers trying to care for each other and grow in faith in a context of religious diversity and colonial rule. Unlike the people Amos addresses, the members of the church in Colossae have control over very little beyond themselves. Paul’s call to them is first and foremost to live their lives more fully in Christ, supporting one another in growing towards Christian maturity.

And yet – as different as the settings and messages are, there is a deep similarity. These are both texts of turning. Turning is one of the spiritual practices we named here in our work this spring. It’s shorthand for our capacity to be open to repentance, transformation, and call. Our affirmation that while God loves us just the way we are, God isn’t going to leave us that way.

The turn Amos calls for is a nationwide turn, away from an epidemic of affluenza, with the symptoms being rampant greed, indifference to the wellbeing of the poor, and superficial, perfunctory religious practice.

Amos lived in a time when David’s kingdom has been split in two, into the southern kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria.Things were really good for the Northern Kingdom, under King Jeroboam: military success, wealth, peace, prosperity. For those at the top of the heap, things hadn’t been this good in generations. For ordinary folks, things were getting worse and worse, with increased inequality and exploitation of the poor.

Amos puts words to the greed of the times in today’s passage –

“We’ll use false balances and small measures when we sell wheat, and sell the trash of the threshing floor as grain, to maximize our profit, so that we can buy out the lives of the poor for the price of a pair of sandals.”

Amos himself came from a village in Judah, the southern kingdom. He worked as a shepherd and a tender of fruit trees. He wasn’t a member of one of the guilds of prophets; prophesy didn’t run in the family; he was just minding his own business when the word of God came to him and seized him: “GO, prophesy to my people Israel!”

Why might God have sent an outsider to Israel? We get a hint in Amos’ encounter with Amaziah, priest of Bethel, in last week’s lesson.  Bethel was a temple established by King Jeroboam, to make it more convenient for his subjects to fulfill their religious responsibilities without having to travel to Jerusalem.  Bethel was in theory a temple devoted to Yahweh, Israel’s God; but Amaziah’s words to Amos reveal whose power and authority are really honored there –  ‘Never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and.. a temple of the kingdom.’

I read this week that a gaffe is when someone in power accidentally says something true. Amaziah’s gaffe suggests that God’s word wasn’t being heard or preached in Bethel. And so God called Amos.

So what was Amos’ word, God’s grievance? … The book of Amos isn’t long; you could read all nine chapters in half an hour. But I think the image from last week’s reading is a powerful summary. God shows Amos the image of a plumb line. This is a plumb line. You can walk into the hardware store up the street and buy one. It’s an ancient, ancient tool of carpentry. It simply uses gravity to determine whether something is straight or not.

The plumb line: symbol of the rules that simply exist, always and everywhere. Gravity is gravity. You can build your house, or your society, all askew. You can balance a huge unwieldy class of wealthy people on the unstable base of the poor, hungry and angry.  But gravity will eventually do its thing. And so will the righteousness of God.

God says to, and through, Amos, See, I am setting a plumb-line in the midst of my people. They can’t escape the consequences of their actions any longer.  Their high places and sanctuaries will be made desolate, and I will send enemies against the house of Jeroboam. Like a shepherd trying to rescue a sheep from the mouth of a lion who only recovers perhaps a couple of legs, or a piece of an ear, so the people of Samaria will escape destruction only with the corner of a couch or part of a bed. (Amos 3)

There is a call here, if a desperate and pessimistic one. God says through Amos,  It is not yet too late! Turning is still possible! Seek the Lord, seek good and not evil, that you may live. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will yet have mercy – and save, at least, a remnant: that leg or ear rescued from the lion’s mouth.

When we come to the Prophets in our three-year cycle of readings, I eagerly pull one book off my shelf: Abraham Heschel, The Prophets. Heschel was a Jewish scholar who grew impatient with the intellectualism of academic study, and became convinced that the prophetic works needed to be studied with attention to heart, conscience, emotion – the prophet’s emotion, God’s emotion, our emotional response to these words that can touch and stir, agitate or comfort us across three thousand years.

Heschel talks about how one of the hallmarks of a prophet is a tendency to see everyday injustices not just as the unfortunate downside of an otherwise functional society, but as an indictment of the entire social order.

Heschel writes (pages 3 – 6),

“The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society to which Amos’ words would not apply…. Indeed, the sort of crimes… that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice – cheating in business, exploitation of the poor – is slight; to the prophets, a disaster….

[The prophets’] breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria. We ourselves witness continually acts of injustice, manifestations of hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage, misery, but we rarely grow indignant or overly excited. [Yet] to the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions…

[Yet] if such deep sensitivity to evil is to be called hysterical, what name should be given to the abysmal indifference to evil which the prophet bewails?…

Prophesy is the voice God has lent to the silent agony [of humanity].”

Elsewhere, Heschel writes:

The prophet’s words “wrench one’s conscience from the state of suspended animation…. The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility.” (p. 8)

As a text of turning, the book of Amos bears a call to responsibility. From indifference to concern and action. A call to take the injustices we witness not as inevitable occasional failures of a basically functional system, but as urgent calls to the hard work of improving our common life. A call to measure the gulf between the straightness of the plumb line and the alarming lean of our society.

In contrast with Amos’ call to a society-wide U-turn, the turning to which Paul calls the Colossians is perhaps more like your navigation software telling you, “Proceed to the route.”

The people of the church in Colossae weren’t wrong in any big dramatic ways. They were a little confused about whose teachings to follow and how to practice their new faith. And Paul gives them guidance on those fronts, gently and lovingly. Elsewhere in his letters to the early Christian communities, Paul can be sharp and angry; but the tone of this letter is best described as tender.

Most of all, Paul simply urges them to grow in grace. To continue living more fully in response to Christ’s divine humanity. In today’s passage he writes eloquently about who Jesus was and is, and what it means for us as his people: Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the one in whom all things hold together. The one in whom the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things to Godself. Jesus Christ has reconciled you to God, to present you holy and blameless, forgiven, loved, and free.

Paul speaks eloquently about his hopes for this young community, gathered by their faith in Christ: that they may be encouraged and united in love; that they may grow into maturity in Christ, rooted and built up in him, and abounding in thanksgiving. That they may seek the things that are above, not worrying about earthly matters.

And then there’s this passage, in chapter 3: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We could read that in church every week for a lifetime and still be encouraged and guided by it. Maybe we should.

As a text of turning, the letter to the Colossians bears a call to grow in grace. Paul passionately invites the people of that church to receive, with wonder and joy, the grace of Christ’s presence among them, and to live with one another as people formed by love, generosity of spirit, and gratitude.

Amos calls a kingdom to responsibility. Paul calls a church to grow in grace. Which are we? What do we hear?

I submit to you that maybe we’re a little of both. In many ways we are the little fellowship of faith in Colossae, surrounded by a pluralistic society that doesn’t share our values, uncertain about what our faith really requires of us, maybe nervous about being known as followers of Jesus. That passage from chapter 3 speaks my hope for how we will live with and care for one another in this church. We need to devote energy and time and resources and care to teaching and singing and loving and giving and forgiving. We need to cultivate our own and each other’s Christian maturity.  We are called to grow in grace.

And… in many ways we are the elites of the Northern Kingdom. We are people of voice and influence.I’m not making assumptions here about anybody’s wealth or connections. But I absolutely believe that if 50 St. Dunstanites decided that we were going to devote our energy and time and resources to changing something about the common life of our city, county, or even our state, we could move the needle.  We could contribute to meaningful change. Because we are citizens of a democracy, and showing up matters.  In the words of Margaret Mead, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.  And there are many forces in our world, sisters and brothers, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We are called to responsibility.

Let us pray. Loving God, you have given us your holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may hear their message to us, and give us grace to respond to the call to grow in grace, and the call to responsibility, as your children, gathered and sent. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the One in whom we are rooted and built up. Amen.

Announcements, July 17

SUNDAY, JULY 17…

Between Church, 9:15am: Come try out simple outdoor worship between our two regular services. We gather at the stone altar to sing one or two simple songs, listen to the day, and share some brief reflections on spiritual practice in daily life. We will also meet July 24, and 31. Between Church can be an enrichment to one of our regular Sunday services at 8am and 10am, or you can just come for Between Church.

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

Charles Rishel’s 90th Birthday Party, 1pm: Everyone is invited to get together for Charles Rishel’s 90th birthday party today at Badger Prairie Park in Verona. Invites and directions are in the Gathering Area. All are welcome as St Dunstan’s is part of his extended family.

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

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

Middle School Youth Group Trip Sponsorships: Our Middle School Youth are taking a trip together this summer! They’ll spend July 25-28 in service projects, fun activities, fellowship, and worship. Members of the parish are invited to contribute at any level to help cover the costs of the trip. Simply write “Youth Trip” on the memo line of your check, or as a note with your online donation at donate.stdunstans.com.

Summer Thursday Evening Eucharist and Supper, 5:30-7pm: Got weekend plans? Come to church Thursday evening for an informal Eucharist (outdoors, if weather permits!) and simple meal. Starting June 16, our Thursday evening Sandbox Worship will include an informal Eucharist every week. We also plan to worship outdoors as much as possible. All ages very welcome; dinner provided.

Last Sunday Worship Service, Sunday, July 24, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. This Sunday our theme is God-in-creation. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

SUMMER STUDY – TOBIT: A TALE OF TWO FAMILIES…

Creating Sets: Illustrating the Book of Tobit Art Workshop with Artist James Bellucci, Friday, July 29, and Saturday, July 30, 2 – 4pm:  James Bellucci is an artist and art educator who works by creating dioramas from two- and three-dimensional objects, then photographing them. Adults and older kids (10 and up) of St. Dunstan’s are invited to work with James to create a diorama based on the Biblical book of Tobit, the same book we are working with in our Evening Bible & Arts Camp for kids. Please sign up in the Gathering Area; we can only accommodate 15 people. Participants should be able to attend both sessions. Check out James’s work at http://www.jamesbellucci.com.

Bible Study – Tobit: A Tale of Two Families, Wednesday, July 20, 6:30 – 8pm: The book of Tobit is a little-known, but well worth knowing, book from the part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. It’s a rollicking adventure tale about God’s grace at work in ordinary lives, with some surprising depths in its themes. This gathering is an opportunity for the adults of our parish to study the same story that will be the focus of our kids’ Evening Bible & Arts Camp this summer. Thomas McAlpine, an Old Testament scholar, will guide our conversation. Light dessert will be served. All are welcome! Please read the Book of Tobit before coming – it takes less than an hour. You can find it in some Bibles, or online here (use the link at the bottom of the page to advance chapters): http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=334746665

The Book of Tobit: A Boy Went on a Journey Evening Bible & Arts Camp, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 31 – August 4. We are designing our own VBS this year, 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 are in the Gathering Area and on our website! Help spread the word!

IN THE COMMUNITY…

The Haiti Project, Sunday, July 17 at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield from 1:00-5:00 pm: The Haiti Project is celebrating 30 years of partnership with St. Marc’s School and Health Clinic in Jeannette, Haiti this year.  Please join us to welcome our Haitian guests:  Priest-in-Charge, Pere Jean Lenord Quatorze; School Administrator, Eloi Rodolph; Former St. Marc’s Teacher, Mireille Eloi; and their sons, Jacob and Ralph. We also welcome Norly Germain, a former St. Marc’s student who now lives in Rhode Island. Please join us in welcoming our guests so they are aware of the depth and breadth of support for St. Marc’s in Wisconsin. For more information, please contact Heidi Ropa at (608) 235-9393.

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.

Storytelling & Drama Workshop for Children 5-11 years, Saturday, August 13, 9am-1pm at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church: Do your children like stories? If so, they are invited to St Luke’s (4011 Major Avenue, Madison), summer Saturday Worship where they will write, rehearse, create props, and produce their own original plays on the topic of PEACE. Parents are welcome to drop off their kids or hangout. Performance for family and friends will be at 12:30pm. Lunch for participants and all guests is at 1pm. For more information or to register for the workshop and/or lunch, email Hollywalterkerby@gmail.com by August 9, 2016. Spaces are limited. Suggested donation is $5.00.

The Haiti Project meeting, Wednesday, August 17 at 6:00 pm at St. Andrew’s, 1833 Regent Street: The Haiti Project is preparing a travel group for time in the community of Jeannette, Haiti in November. The travel dates are November 11-20. We will be meeting at St. Andrew’s in Madison in August 17, and will have monthly meetings up to our travel date. The cost of the trip is $1000. Airfare is separate. Our time in Haiti will be spent listening, learning and growing in relationship with our partners. There will be hands-on tasks as well. The Haiti Project is a 30-year ministry of the Diocese of Milwaukee. Please consider joining us in becoming a thread in the tapestry of this long relationship. For more information contact Heidi Ropa at (608) 235-9393 or email at info@haitiproject.org.

 

Sermon, July 10

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ best-known stories. It’s only found in the Gospel of Luke, here in chapter 10. If you pull out one of our Gospel of Luke booklets and turn to chapter 10, you’ll see that kind of seems dropped in – it doesn’t fit the flow of the narrative very well. Scholars think that this probably really is a story Jesus told – it sure sounds like him! – and that it may have been circulating independently among the early churches, so that only Luke happened to have it to include in his account of Jesus’ life and teachings. But even if it reads like a slightly sloppy cut and paste job, stuck here between Jesus doing some disciple-training and visiting some friends, I’m very glad that Luke preserved this parable for us.

Let me take you through the story itself, briefly, because baby S, whom we are baptizing today, has never heard it before, and maybe he’s not the only one. The word “lawyer” here means a scholar of Jewish law, someone who interprets the Scriptures of the Old Testament to determine how the Jews are called to live out righteousness as God’s people. Different rabbis, teachers, like Jesus, had different interpretations, so this man is asking Jesus about his interpretation, what Jesus sees as the heart of righteousness and holiness. They discuss the standard summary of the Law: love of God, love of neighbor. Clear enough… and yet not so clear. This man has a question: Who is my neighbor? Who do I have to love, to be right with God? So Jesus does what he does when people ask questions. He tells a story.

A man was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho – a notoriously dangerous road, where robbers and bandits often lurked. And robbers attack him, take everything he has, even his clothes, beat him, and leave him for dead at the side of the road. Now, two people come down the road, one after another, and both of them pass by on the other side of the road. One is a priest, someone who serves in the great Temple; another is a Levite, a member of the Jewish tribe who were set aside to tend to the holy things and places of the God of Israel while they were still in the wilderness with Moses, so long ago. As religious functionaries, men of God, both of these men have reason to be particularly attentive to the purity laws of Judaism. There are lots of things you can do or touch that render you ritually unclean, impure, and you can’t enter the Temple or serve God in that state. You’d have to do various things, or wait a certain time, to be cleansed and able to resume your religious duties. Touching a dead body is pretty high on the list of things that can make you impure.

There are other reasons these men might have stayed away from the man who had been robbed and beaten. Maybe they were afraid the robbers were still around. Maybe they had somewhere urgent to be. Maybe they just didn’t want to get involved. But those are reasons anyone might have, and Jesus tells us that these men weren’t just anyone: they were a priest and a Levite. Men of God. Men of holiness and righteousness. And they walk by on the other side.

And then a third man comes along. He is a Samaritan. Now, the phrase “good Samaritan” has entered our language to mean, somebody who helps a stranger. So we really have to remind ourselves, every time we return to this story, that for the original audience, “Samaritan” didn’t mean a kind and generous person. “Samaritan” meant lowlife scum who think they worship the same God as us, but do it all wrong, and in the wrong places, which is of course much more offensive than worshipping some entirely different God, like the Greeks and Romans. The Jews hated and looked down upon the Samaritans, and the Samaritans resented the Jews. To really get the challenge of this story, you almost have to swap out “Samaritan” for the kind of people that you like and trust least, in the privacy of your own heart. I can’t do that for you; that’s between you and God. But try it, sometime, and think about it.

So the Samaritan, this heathen creep, finally responds to the man with mercy. He goes to him. Cleans and tends his wounds. I know the oil and wine sounds a little odd, but it was what passed for medicine back then – wine to disinfect, oil as a balm. He puts the man on his horse and takes him to an inn, continues to care for him there, and pays from his own pocket for the man to be tended there while he continues on his journey.

And Jesus asks, Which of these three men – the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan – was a neighbor to the man who was robbed? And the lawyer says, “The one who showed him mercy.” It’s possible to read that answer a couple of ways. One commentator says, the lawyer maybe just didn’t want to say, “The Samaritan.” Because, ugh. Samaritans. But the answer also names, accurately, the simple gracious thing that makes the Samaritan a neighbor: He showed mercy.

What makes a neighbor is the movement of mercy.

We all understand this story. We all, even the kids, maybe especially the kids, understand that the people who walked past without helping were wrong, and that the person who stopped and helped, without counting the risks or the costs, was right. We get it. The challenge is, the challenge has always been, living it. Applying it. Going thou and doing likewise.

We know better and yet we STILL ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Who do I have to love, to be right with God? Don’t you ask that, way deep down? I know I do, when I’m honest with myself. I keep hoping maybe there’s a line. That maybe there’s some group of people who are so wrongheaded and offensive and unlikeable that it’s OK for me not to love them.

But there’s this detail in the story Jesus tells – or rather, a lack of detail. Each of the characters gets a label that lets us imagine them: priest, Levite, Samaritan, even the innkeeper. Except the main character, the victim – the man on the road. Jesus doesn’t give us any description at all. He might have been a Jew, a Greek, a Roman, an Ethiopian or Egyptian. He might have been wealthy and well-dressed, a great haul for the bandits, or he might have been so poor that they beat him out of spite. We aren’t told if he was a good man or a bad one. A righteous follower of God or a disgusting idol-worshipper. An upstanding citizen or a thoroughgoing scoundrel. Maybe he had a criminal record as long as your arm. Maybe he was on the road because he was a bandit himself, who got crossways of another group of violent criminals. Maybe he really had this coming. There’s not a single hint, one way or the other. He’s just a man. (I’m indebted here to Alfred Nevin Sayers’ sermon “The Good Samaritan and Social Redemption.”)

Jesus doesn’t tell us who the man is, because it doesn’t matter. What makes a neighbor isn’t somebody’s identity or deeds or deserving. What makes a neighbor is the movement of mercy.

I write my sermons on Tuesday, usually. So I was working on this sermon the day after the Fourth of July. Our neighborhood, the Greentree neighborhood on Madison’s southwest side, has a little celebration every year, coordinated by some committed volunteers. And it’s lovely. It’s totally Norman Rockwell. The kids of the neighborhood all gather in front of the school with their bikes and scooters, decorated for the holiday. A fire truck comes by and leads them in two-block parade over to a nearby city park. Folks come out of their houses to watch and wave. Then at the park there are brats and ice cream sandwiches and kids’ games and conversation with neighbors. Everyone’s wearing red and white and blue. It’s wholesome and adorable and community-building.

We’ve participated, I think, every year we’ve lived here. Somehow this year for the first time something struck me. Falk School, our neighborhood school, the school my kids attend, and St. Dunstan’s Adopt-a-School partner school, is about 75% non-white. It’s a big multicolored and multicultural mix of white, African-American, Latino, and Asian immigrant kids.

But that crowd of kids and parents in front of Falk for the parade was overwhelmingly white. Because while the school district’s boundaries mix us up, the neighborhoods we name for ourselves tend to sort us back out, by income and by race. Those brown kids may live a block away. but that is a different neighborhood, and they and their families were not invited to our party.

There are a lot of layers to the formation of neighborhoods; residential segregation is a big messy challenge; there’s no tackling that issue two-thirds of the way into a summer sermon. All I know is that on Monday, with the cheerful neighborly chaos of the party in the park swirling around me, I just couldn’t shake the shadow on my heart. A sense of sadness and of cynicism at the way this happy good-spirited celebration nevertheless revealed the profound brokenness of our city.

I’m not angling for a gold star for noticing this. I don’t deserve one; it took me six years. And I still don’t know what to do about it now that I’ve noticed it. It’s nice and easy to spend time with people who are basically a lot like you. And it can be hard and demanding to spend time with people who are not a lot like you.  That’s why we have those words from Jesus in the Gospel from Matthew that we received last Sunday – when he tells his followers, Listen, it’s fine if you’re nice to the people who are nice to you, and if your love the people who love you back, and if you act brotherly and sisterly towards the people who are so much like you that they might as well be your as brothers and sisters. But let’s be clear: everybody does that. Kindness towards your own kind is not a manifestation of your call to holy love.

If the contrast between the kids who are actually in the classrooms at Falk School during the school year, and the kids on their bikes out front on the Fourth of July, tells us anything, it tells us this: Living a block apart does not make a neighbor. That’s not enough. If it were, we would all been at that party. Together.

Who is my neighbor? Who do I have to love to be right with God? Maybe the gist of the story, of Jesus’s powerful answer to our perpetual question, is that we’ve got to stop thinking of neighbor as a noun. As the name of a person, place, or thing. What if we try using ‘neighbor’ as a verb? Neighboring. Making the movement of mercy. Or receiving it – both directions matter. Neighboring as a verb has to do with curiosity, with connection, with care. Neighboring as a verb has to do with Abiding, one of our core discipleship practices we name here at St Dunstans, the one that has to do with being where you are, looking around, paying attention, belonging and becoming. Neighboring as a verb has to do with Reconciling, another of the core spiritual practices we name here at St Dunstans, the one that has to do with intentionally unmaking all the categories in our world and our heads that tell us we are different from each other. The categories that make some neighbors undesirable, and others simply invisible.

In a moment here were going to turn to the baptismal covenant, as we receive baby S into the household of God. Our Baptismal Covenant quotes the summary of the law that’s found in this passage from Luke 10: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

This little story is Jesus’s commentary on those words. And we really need it to play in our minds and our hearts, every time we see or say those words: love your neighbor. At least, I know I need it. Because however intentionally inclusive I am, in my ministry, in my citizenship, in my personal life, there are still neighbors who are invisible to me. There are still neighbors whom I don’t want to know better. As familiar and well-worn as the message of this parable may be, I still need to hold myself accountable to it.

A neighbor isn’t made by living next door. That’s not what Jesus means, or the Baptismal Covenant either. A neighbor is something to discover, something to become. A neighbor is made by abiding, and by reconciling. A neighbor is made by curiosity, connection, and care. A neighbor is made by love, which makes the big world little and the little world big. A neighbor is made by the movement of mercy. Go thou and do likewise.

Announcements, July 7

SUNDAY, JULY 10…

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, July 10, 10am: We rejoice to celebrate the baptism of a new member of Christ’s Kingdom, Schuylar. We join parents Rachel and Dave and big sister Kenley in celebrating this day!

Between Church, Sunday, July 10, 9:15am: Come try out simple outdoor worship between our two regular services. We gather at the stone altar to sing one or two simple songs, listen to the day, and share some brief reflections on spiritual practice in daily life. We will also meet July 17, 24, and 31. Between Church can be an enrichment to one of our regular Sunday services at 8 and 10am, or you can just come for Between Church.

Give it a Try July: Would you like to try doing a reading at church? Or serving as an acolyte, or maybe help clean up after the Eucharist? For the month of July, instead of a set schedule of helpers for our liturgy, we’ll put out a set of cards every Sunday with the name of a role – Acolyte, Reader, Usher, Altar Guild Helper – and a short explanation of what you need to know. The intention is both to allow our regular helpers to serve when they’re available, in a month that’s often hard to schedule due to summer travel, AND to allow curious folk to try out a new role and see what’s involved. If you’d like to try something out, try to arrive ten minutes early to grab a card and read over what’s involved.

Summer Thursday Evening Eucharist and Supper, 5:30-7pm: Got weekend plans? Come to church Thursday evening for an informal Eucharist (outdoors, if weather permits!) and simple meal. Starting June 16, our Thursday evening Sandbox Worship will include an informal Eucharist every week. We also plan to worship outdoors as much as possible. All ages very welcome; dinner provided. If you have special dietary needs, let Rev. Miranda know, and if you like to cook you can sign up to contribute to a meal sometime.

SUMMER STUDY – TOBIT: A TALE OF TWO FAMILIES…

Creating Sets: Illustrating the Book of Tobit Art Workshop with Artist James Bellucci, Friday, July 29, and Saturday, July 30, 2 – 4pm:  James Bellucci is an artist and art educator who works by creating dioramas from two- and three-dimensional objects, then photographing them. Adults and older kids (10 and up) of St. Dunstan’s are invited to work with James to create a diorama based on the Biblical book of Tobit, the same book we are working with in our Evening Bible & Arts Camp for kids. Please sign up in the Gathering Area or by contacting Rev. Miranda.  We can only accommodate 15 people. Participants should be able to attend both sessions. Check out James’s work at http://www.jamesbellucci.com .

Bible Study – Tobit: A Tale of Two Families, Wednesday, July 20, 6:30 – 8pm: The book of Tobit is a little-known, but well worth knowing, book from the part of the Bible known as the Apocrypha. It’s a rollicking adventure tale about God’s grace at work in ordinary lives, with some surprising depths in its themes. This gathering is an opportunity for the adults of our parish to study the same story that will be the focus of our kids’ Evening Bible & Arts Camp this summer. Thomas McAlpine, an Old Testament scholar, will guide our conversation. Light dessert will be served. All are welcome! Please read the Book of Tobit before coming – it takes less than an hour. You can find it in some Bibles, or online here (use the link at the bottom of the page to advance chapters): http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=334746665

The Book of Tobit: A Boy Went on a Journey Evening Bible & Arts Camp, 5:30 – 7:30pm, July 31 – 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 are in the Gathering Area and on our website! Help spread the word!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Neighborhood Exploration, July 12 – 17: Rev. Miranda plans to spend this week doing some intentional noticing of the neighborhoods around St. Dunstan’s. Would you like to join her? The goal of this Neighborhood Exploration is not to develop a program or recruit new members. We’re open to both of those possibilities, but that’s not our current focus. Think of this as the kind of exploration you might do when you’re staying in a new city for a few days. Posted in the Gathering Area there is a list of possible things you could do – particular streets to walk, parks to visit, etc. – and tips for noticing and reflecting. Jot down some notes, and send them to Rev. Miranda , and/or meet at 11:30 on Sunday, July 17, to discuss in person. Read more & sign up in the Gathering Area if you’d like to participate!

Gathering for the GLBTQ Folk of St. Dunstan’s, Wednesday, July 13, 6pm: Those identifying as GLBTQ in the St. Dunstan’s community are invited to a low-key dinner gathering at the church on Wednesday, July 13 at 6:00 pm. A light dinner of soup and bread will be provided (vegan-friendly with an omnivore option). Bring a dessert if you can, but please come regardless. Please feel free to bring partners and friends. While allies are always welcome at St. Dunstan’s, this particular gathering is intended for people who personally identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Rev. Miranda.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, July 13, 7:15 – 9:00pm: 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.  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.   We meet at St. Dunstan’s on the second Wednesday of each month from 7:15 to 9 PM.

Charles Rishel’s 90th Birthday Party, Sunday, July 17, 1pm: Everyone is invited to get together for Charles Rishel’s 90th birthday party on July 17th at Badger Prairie Park in Verona. Invites and directions are in the Gathering Area. All are welcome as St Dunstans is part of his extended family.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, July 17: 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, July 17, 6pm: Join us for simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Younger Adults Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, July 17, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Last Sunday Worship Service, Sunday, July 24, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. This Sunday our theme is God-in-creation. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Sermon, July 3

So this isn’t really a proper sermon, folks – I got back from vacation yesterday…! But as I planned this service I found I had a train of thought that seemed to want sharing.

We live in a cultural context in which religion and politics are understood as different things. That division is NOT intrinsic to the nature of things; in the vast majority of human history and cultures, there has been no clear distinction between religion and politics. But the cultural conditions to draw that distinction arose during the Enlightenment and it became a foundational principal of our nation.

There are really good things about the way religion and politics are legally separated in the United States. It makes it possible to be a pluralistic society, in which Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs and agnostics and atheists can all help vision and build the common good.

But I think that distinction can trip us up when it tricks us into thinking that religion is a private thing that only belongs in this 90 minutes on a Sunday morning. That it’s somehow inappropriate to have our faith convictions shape our civic and political engagement, and even more inappropriate to TALK about it – either out there or in here.

I believe that it’s not only appropriate to talk about faith in light of politics and vice versa; it’s necessary, in order for us to be truly faithful.

A couple of years ago I shared with you a sermon by one of the great early 20th century preachers, Harry Emerson Fosdick. It’s a powerful sermon; I re-read it about once a year. But there’s one point in particular that I think about often.

Fosdick, writing in the early years of the Great Depression, speaks to those who say that churches, and preachers, should stick to the spiritual needs of individual souls, and leave the social situation to the politicians and the public square. He is convinced that to talk about the Christian gospel as merely individual and not social is “dangerous nonsense” (his words).

But, he says, up to a point, those who criticize talk about political issues in church have a point. Fosdick writes, “If they mean that when people come to church on Sunday, having lived another week in the hurly-burly of the world, their ears tired with boistrous debate, they are seeking something other than a continuation of the secular dispute, then we had better agree with that. The church has lost its function which forgets how deeply people… need spiritual renewal. [Churches] do sometimes continue the secular debate which the newspapers conduct a great deal better through the week.”

Fosdick’s point is this: We as Christians, we as the Church, have to talk about the same issues being discussed in the public square. But we need to talk about them in a different way, not “continue the newspapers’ secular debate.”

The language we use to talk about any of the big issues affecting the common good and the welfare of our neighbors needs to be different from the language used in the newspapers, or in a flyer someone presses into your hand on a street corner, and, please God, it needs to be different from the way people talk about it in the nastier corners of social media.

In the past few months I’ve had conversations with two of our newer households, people who have come to St. Dunstan’s within the past year.

And they’ve both said that one of the things that’s really important about church for them is that it be a place where people who maybe vote differently, or who maybe vote the same way but for different reasons, people driven by different core concerns, people with different understandings of how best to get from where we are now to where we hope to be –

that all those people can be in genuine fellowship.

Nobody silenced. Nobody ashamed.

I’ve heard those conversations as a nudge from the Holy Spirit – a timely nudge in this election year. I hear a call to passionate nonpartisanship.  Not to avoiding the issues that are so much on our minds and hearts, but to talking about them here DIFFERENTLY than we talk about them at home, or among our circle of friends who all share our views, or on Facebook where you either FORGET that your racist uncle will read that post, or secretly hope he will and think it serves him right if he gets upset.

When other clergy ask me, So what’s the political leaning at St. Dustan’s?, I say, well, it’s probably about 90% progressive, left, liberal, whatever word you choose. And that means two things.

First, it means that that 10% of folks who see some issues in a different light are really really important, so that we don’t become an echo chamber. So that our political and religious views don’t completely collapse into each other. So that we remember to have a different kind of conversation here.

Second, it means that it can be hard to remember that that 10% is here. It can be hard to hold a space where people can ask questions, share experiences, talk about our deep-seated values and how they have been formed.

A call to passionate nonpartisanship. I’m trying to hold that in my mind and my heart, and now I’m passing it on to you, too.

What does that mean? What does it look like? I think that’s something to be discovered in the doing, to an extent.

It might look like gently encouraging ourselves and each other to talk less about what we’re against – which is far too easy – and more about what we’re for.

It might look like gently encouraging ourselves and each other to listen. To ask each other, Where do faith and life and politics intersect, for you?

I dare to hope that listening and reflection, on our own and others’ experiences and convictions, might actually help us feel less overwhelmed, less despairing. Might actually lead us towards more focused and energized action as God’s people in the world.

And above all, passionate nonpartisanship has to look like coming back to the Gospel, again and again and again. Coming back to what we share as disciples of Jesus Christ. As people called to be ambassadors of God’s reconciling love in the world around us.