Sermon, Sept. 25

Our readings this morning tell us that God calls us to HOPE and God calls us to HELP.  Today I am mostly going to talk about Helping… but I think the Hope is really important too. If we don’t have hope, then we can get too sad or tired or overwhelmed to feel able to help. That’s one of the things we do together as a church:  we help each other have hope, for our own lives and for the world.

But now I want to talk about helping. Let’s talk about that story about the rich man and Lazarus.What could the rich man have done differently, before he died?…

  • He could have shared food.
  • He could have gotten Lazarus a doctor, or even a place to live.
  • He could have tried to find out why Lazarus was there to begin with. He could have looked at Lazarus and thought, Why are there so many poor people, without food and without homes, lying on the streets of Jerusalem? Something is wrong. Why is it like this? What can I do to change it?

A friend told me a story recently about taking her granddaughters to Chicago. The girls live in a small town in Wisconsin and had never been to the big city before. They enjoyed all the sights of the big city, the fancy stores and museums and parks. But they were also sad to see all the homeless people there, even families with little kids, settling down to sleep in doorways as the evening approached. Finally one of the girls turned to her grandma and said,  “Nana, DO something!”

Grownups just laugh sadly at that story because we know what a big, messy, hard problem that is. It will take a lot of money to fix that situation, to help change all those people’s lives so they have homes and work and food to feed their children. But even more than all the money, what it will really take is this: A whole lot of people who want it to change. Who are determined that things have got to be better.

Maybe an ordinary family like mine, if we didn’t have too many extra bills that month, maybe we could take one of those families sleeping in a doorway, one of those Lazarus families in Chicago or Madison today, and we could buy them a good dinner, and pay for them to sleep in a hotel for a night. But we couldn’t change things for them. Tomorrow they would be right back sleeping in a doorway.

But if a whole lot of ordinary families get together, and tell our leaders in our city and our state and our nation that we don’t want anybody to be homeless or hungry anymore, if enough of us got together and really stayed focused on that, we might, eventually, make a difference.

God wants us to help. And there are lots and lots and lots of ways to help. But there are two big simple ways: Give, and Speak. Give means, buy somebody a meal. Pass on your old coat to MOM, so another child can wear it this winter. Help assemble Backpack Snack Packs for hungry kids. Cook a dish for the folks at the men’s shelter. Give to MOM or MUM or Briarpatch or Second Harvest or my discretionary fund and let us give to others in need. We do a lot of giving, at St. Dunstan’s. We can always do more – but we do this pretty well.

But giving isn’t the only way to help. We can also Speak. That can mean lots of things – talking with friends or family about the things we worry about and hope for;  talking with our leaders and officials; using our votes when there’s an election of any kind; showing up for meetings or when people are gathering to show support or concern about something.

Speaking and Giving are different, but they’re both important and you can do both. You can feed a hungry person,while also asking our leaders why they let so many people be hungry, and how we could work together to change things.

Today is Bread for the World Sunday. Bread for the World is an organization that asks Christians to speak to our leaders, and ask them to be faithful to one of God’s highest priorities: feeding the hungry. It could be a detailed two-page letter that outlines exactly what legislation we hope they’ll support. It could be just a postcard or a Tweet that says, Remember the hungry. Each year Bread for the World chooses a particular issue as a focus, so that we can press our leaders to take real steps. This year the issue is asking our government to give more to programs in poor countries around the world that help mamas and babies have enough to eat. We’ll hear more about Bread in a few minutes.

Kids can’t vote yet – not till you’re 18! But you can still speak to your elected leaders. There are some tables up here at the front, and we’re going to write note to four people – President Obama; our Senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin; and our Representative, Mark Pocan. You can write a note that says Remember the hungry! or if you feel like you can write more, you can use this text, and maybe add some of your own words about why you think this is important. You can draw a picture too if you want, of a happy mama and baby who have enough to eat! I hope each of you will do four letters. We’ll put them all together and mail them later.

OKAY, Grownups… time for YOUR Children’s Sermon. There will be visual aids and response activities and everything! Today is Social Media Sunday.  (And no, I didn’t invent this; observed widely for several years; this is our first time observing it.)

How many of you use some form of social media? That includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Raise your hand… How many are on social media at least once a week? Once a day? More than once a day?

So we hear a lot about the bad of social media – and that’s real; people can be addicted, people can get into unproductive fights with strangers, people can use these platforms to be creepy or abusive. But there’s a lot of potential for good, too.

Raise your hand if you’ve used social media to share information about an issue of concern… If you’ve ever learned something new or gotten a new perspective from something you read or saw on social media… If you think you’ve ever given somebody else a new perspective, by way of social media…  If you’ve used social media to be in touch with your public officials… Who’s used social media to get support, prayers, even help in a hard time?  Who has ever posted about their church or their faith on social media?…   All right, we’ll come back to that.

Now, a very quick tutorial. This is the At-sign, and it’s used at the beginning of someone’s handle (or username) on Twitter or Instagram. Individuals and organizations can have them. Mine is @revmirandah; the church’s is @StDunstansMSN.

This is the Hashtag – again, mostly used on Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags work two ways. One is, it’s a way you can search to find people talking about the same thing, even if you don’t know them and they don’t know each other. Another is, to be funny or comment on what else you just said. So you’ll see a lot of hashtags that aren’t really functional hashtags – usually the long ones.  People use them on Facebook some as well, even though Facebook doesn’t really work that way.

So if you were to Tweet or post to Instagram about Social Media Sunday, you might include the church’s handle -@StDunstansMSN – and you might include the hashtag #SMS16.

Now let’s talk briefly about some of the platforms out there.

Facebook – who uses Facebook? … I think Facebook is the most familiar and maybe the most intuitive. On Facebook, you’re connected with a set list of people – your Facebook “friends.” Some have 1000s, some have 50. You have to build that network, by asking people to be your friend, or by saying yes when they ask you. So you have a thought, or a funny thing happens, or you take a picture, or you read an article; and you post or share it on Facebook, and then all those friends can see it. The interesting thing – and sometimes the challenging thing – about Facebook is that ALL those friends see what you posted. Sometimes some of those friends from different corners of your life see things differently from you, or from each other.

Twitter – who uses Twitter? … Twitter is very different from Facebook. I’ve been using it fairly regularly for a little over a year. I mostly re-tweet things – sharing a tweet I read that I think is important or funny. I don’t create a lot of content on Twitter. Twitter has the famous 140-character limit (though they’re stretching that now…), so people express themselves very concisely on Twitter!

Instead of a friend network, on Twitter, you “follow” people to see their tweets, and people can “follow” you to see your tweets. Twitter is interesting because it’s totally public – unlike Facebook, anything you Tweet is visible to ANYONE – but it can also seem very private because if you don’t have a lot of followers, you can Tweet something and NOBODY will Like it. Or maybe just your mom.

What I like about Twitter: its immediacy – you can hear about what’s happening RIGHT NOW; its flatness – if you’ve got a favorite author or minor celebrity who’s on Twitter, you may have a chance to interact with them; and I’ve really used it to diversify my media, by, for example, following people who are commenting on current events from the standpoint of racial equity. So, I read on Twitter much more than I post.

Instagram – who uses it? … I don’t use Instagram much myself but I’m going to try to start.  It’s mostly for sharing photos. Like Twitter, you “follow” people to see what they share, and vice versa. And you can Like people’s photos, and use hashtags to index photos, or link your photos to a place or a project or event.  Some folks say that Instagram can actually be a good beginner platform – because it’s pretty easy and it’s mostly pretty nice.

Snapchat – who uses it?…  Snapchat & Instagram are maybe most popular with teens & twenty-somethings these days, though as soon as us old people move in, they’ll move on.  Snapchat is a way of sharing photos socially –  they come to your phone like a text or instant message. You can add funny captions and doodle on them. The photos disappear quickly, so there’s an element of, you have to be tuned in, if you miss it, you miss it. (But people can get themselves in trouble because the picture only disappears quickly if the person receiving the photo doesn’t screencap it and keep it!…)

There are other platforms too, but that’s a good start!

Okay, Miranda, but WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHURCH? Listen, a friend told me a few years ago that he’d read somewhere that the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 46 years.  I think that’s probably not quite fair… but it is funny.

The reason some folks came up with Social Media Sunday a few years ago is to help encourage church folks to share about their faith life on social media,  just like you share about other parts of your life. If you are a social media user, it can be a really easy, effective way to let people know about your faith and your church.

When you post to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram about a cool event at your church, or a bit of a sermon or song or Scripture that speaks to you, or about how God is present to you in daily life, YOU ARE EVANGELIZING. You are proclaiming. You’re letting people who know you, who aren’t church folks but might be curious or interested – you’re letting them know that you are a person of faith, and that you belong to a community of faith that you value. And you NEVER HAD TO HAVE AN AWKWARD CONVERSATION ABOUT IT. You just Shared about something you do anyway.

In your bulletin you got a sheet about “15 Ways to Share your Faith on Social Media” – some of these are great, some are a little corny. On the back, we’ve added a few of our own. Please take special note of #21, #SelfiewithaSaint a special challenge for today and this week!

If you are NOT a social media user, and don’t plan to become one, here’s your take-away from Social Media Sunday: When you see somebody with their smartphone out in church, don’t judge. DON’T ASSUME they’re tuning out. They might have heard something they really like, and be Tweeting it or posting on Facebook. Which is awesome! They might be donating to the church online, at donate.stdunstans.com . They might have heard about an upcoming event, and be putting it on their calendar. They might be texting a friend to say, Hey, I’m at church and wanted to let you know I’m praying for you and my community is too. They might be snapping a photo or taking a video of what we’re doing, because they think it’s worth recording!

Maybe they got curious about one of the Scripture readings and they’re looking it up in an online Bible. Maybe they’re Tweeting their elected officials to ask them to remember the needs of the hungry – Bread for the World uses Twitter a lot, and invites us to use it too. They even have a Social Media Kit – you can pick up a copy or look at it online. They say, “Digital-minded Christians should see social media platforms as an opportunity to “give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute” (Psalm 82:3). Engaging in digital conversations is engaging in democracy, which is part of good Christian stewardship.”

So, social media can be a powerful tool – for speaking, for evangelizing, for helping, and for sharing hope.

Announcements, September 22

THIS WEEKEND…

The funeral for Frances Ver Hoeve will be on Saturday, September 24, at 2pm. Members of the parish who would like to contribute to a light reception following the service should contact Connie Ott.

Last Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, September 25, 10am: Our last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Take Out Church: Punch Card Rewards! Did you practice discipleship this summer? Bring in your punch card with at least three holes punched (like Jesus, we set the discipleship bar low! :-) on Sunday, Sept. 25 or beyond, and receive a prize!

Parents’ Meeting for Children’s Choir, Sunday, September 25, 11:30am: Households interested in our plans for a new Children’s Choir are invited to meet and talk with Martin Ganschow, our Organist & Choir Director. This will be a brief meeting for planning and input. Talk with Martin or Rev. Miranda to learn more.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, September 25, 11:30am: Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, September 25, 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. To learn more, talk with Rose Mueller.

Coffee Hosts Needed! Consider being a coffee host. Sign-ups for October and November can be found in the Gathering Area by the big calendar. For more information, contact Janet Bybee. Thanks for lending a hand!

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 28, 9:30am-2:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with a small group of students and help direct them, please contact George Ott. Wheelbarrows and pitchforks are still needed too. Thanks!

Nursery Care: St. Dunstan’s does not have a regularly-attended nursery during worship, because we have found that that service is rarely used. Instead, we have two Child Care Helpers during the 10am service, who attend the Peace Corner in the back of the Nave. If you would like your child to have nursery care during the service, simply approach the Child Care Helpers in the Peace Corner (either at the beginning of worship, or when your child needs a break) and ask if one of them can take your child to the Nursery. This year we are using the Meeting Room, where we keep some toys, books, and art supplies, for our Nursery during worship. The downstairs room that used to serve as Nursery has become a Sunday school classroom.

This year’s Parish Talent Show will be Sunday, October 23! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a unique skill, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged. Sign up anytime, even if your act is still in the works!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 30, 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 Los Gemelos at 6713 Odana Road in Madison.

“What Am I Doing Here?” – An Introduction to the Episcopal Church, Sundays at 9am in October. Both new Episcopalians and long-time members are invited to join us for a friendly exploration of the parts and purpose of our pattern of worship and to the Episcopal church in general. This class will begin on Sunday, October 2.

Backpack Snack Prep, Sunday, October 2, 12noon:  We will be preparing weekend grocery bags for homeless families whose kids attend Falk Elementary School. All helpers welcome!

Blessing of the Animals Service, Sunday, October 2, 3pm: People and creatures are invited to a short service of song, story, and prayer. We will also share some ideas for connecting lovingly with God’s Creation. Spread the word!

Birthdays and anniversaries will be honored next Sunday, October 2, 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, October 2: 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: dried beans, whole grains, herbs and spices, low-sugar beverages, ethnic foods, spaghetti & pizza sauce, cooking oil, single-serve peanut butter, whole grain cereal, laundry detergent. Thank you for all your support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, October 2, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Quick Survey on New Gatherings: If you haven’t yet found your ideal way to participate in the life of this church community, follow this link to a short survey asking about some possibilities – different types of gatherings, at various times. If one or more of these possibilities attracts a lot of interest, we will try it out! Take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GWGBTG8

Dine out for DAIS, Thursday, October 6, 2016: Each year, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) invites area restaurants to donate 10% of their proceeds from a given day to support victims of domestic violence in Dane County. Check out a list of participating restaurants at http://abuseintervention.org/dine-out/ . You can also use that link to donate directly to DAIS’ good work helping families affected by domestic violence. The Sandbox Thursday evening worshipping community plans to eat at the Imperial Garden that evening at 6:30pm following our 5:30 worship; anyone is welcome to join us.

Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, October 9, 11:30 – 1:30pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 1:30pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

Mark your calendar! Crop Walk 2016, Sunday, October 16, 12:45pm: St. Dunstan’s will send a team of walkers; watch for a signup soon! Last year over $36,000 was raised to support the work of many local food pantries and international relief agencies. The goal for this year is $40,000. Come and make a difference.

Fall Giving Campaign Kids’ Market Begins Sunday, October 30: As the Kids’ portion of our fall Giving Campaign, the kids of St. Dunstan’s (and their parents) are invited to contribute to our Kids’ Market. Kids are invited to bring in a small bag of good-condition used toys from your bedroom or playroom, and to decorate some blank cards (available in the Gathering Area) with Christmas pictures. Other kid-made handmade holiday items are also welcome. The Market will be set up on Sunday the 30th & possibly beyond. All donations will go to support our 2017 parish budget, as our kids’ contribution to our church’s ongoing life. Thanks for your participation!

International Potluck, Saturday, November 5, 5pm: Diversity comes in many flavors, and our congregation has a wide range of ages, sexual orientations, and nationalities.  The Diversity Potluck is a get-together intended to showcase and celebrate our beautiful diversity, whatever that word means to you.  Bring a dish that you feel celebrates your own personal diversity.  You can bring artwork, music, or poems (original or not) that celebrates it as well!  Feel free to dress up to celebrate it!  Dinner will start at 5:00.  Please, bring a small card telling us about your dish/art, and note if the dish is gluten free/ vegetarian/ peanut free.  Please sign up with what dish you are bringing in the Gathering Area.

 

Announcements, September 15

THIS WEEKEND…

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Travel: Rev. Miranda is traveling for a family occasion this weekend. She will be out of the office from September 15 through 19th. The Rev. Jonathan Melton will celebrate and preach on Sunday morning, in her absence. The church office will be closed Friday, September 16.

Caregivers’ Support Group, Saturday, September 17, 9am: A caregivers’ support group will be starting in September. The sessions are planned for the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. This will be a safe space to share concerns with others who have similar situations and to offer support in return. For more information, contact John Rasmus, Bonnie Magnuson or Joseph Wermeling.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, September 17, 10am: Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ron Chernow, presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation. He was a revolutionary war hero whose talents and advice Washington relied on heavily during the war and a man who literally shaped this country’s financial and trading system. It is particularly amazing to see how dirty and bruising politics were in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A good read.

Sunday School, Sunday, September 18, 10am: This Sunday, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the story of Creation, while our Elementary classes will continue to look at the first letter to Timothy and its context and meaning.

Nursery Care: St. Dunstan’s does not have a regularly-attended nursery during worship, because we have found that that service is rarely used. Instead, we have two Child Care Helpers during the 10am service, who attend the Peace Corner in the back of the Nave. If you would like your child to have nursery care during the service,  simply approach the Child Care Helpers in the Peace Corner (either at the beginning of worship, or when your child needs a break) and ask if one of them can take your child to the Nursery. This year we are using the Meeting Room, where we keep some toys, books, and art supplies, for our Nursery during worship. The downstairs room that used to serve as Nursery has become a Sunday school classroom.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday September 18: 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.

Christian Formation Committee Meeting, Sunday, September 18, 11:30am: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, especially our Advent and Christmas plans. All interest folks are welcome to attend and participate.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, September 18, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Younger Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, September 18, 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.

This year’s Parish Talent Show will be Sunday, October 23! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a unique skill, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged. Sign up anytime, even if your act is still in the works!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The funeral for Frances Ver Hoeve will be on Saturday, September 24, at 2pm. Members of the parish who would like to contribute to a light reception following the service should contact Connie Ott.

Last Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, September 25, 10am: Our last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Take Out Church: Punch Card Rewards! Did you practice discipleship this summer? Bring in your punch card with at least three holes punched (like Jesus, we set the discipleship bar low! :-) on Sunday, Sept. 25 or beyond, and receive a prize! You still have time to try a few practices in the meantime.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, September 25, 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. To learn more, talk with Rose Mueller.

Parents’ Meeting for Children’s Choir, Sunday, September 25, 11:30am: Households interested in our plans for a new Children’s Choir are invited to meet and talk with Martin Ganschow, our Organist & Choir Director. This will be a brief meeting for planning and input. Talk with Martin or Rev. Miranda to learn more.

Middle School Lunch & Learn, Sunday, September 25, 11:30am: Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that helps the parents’ schedules.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 28, 9:30am-2:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with a small group of students and help direct them, please contact George Ott. Wheelbarrows and pitchforks are still needed too. Thanks!

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 30, 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 Los Gemelos at 6713 Odana Road in Madison.

“What Am I Doing Here?” – An Introduction to the Episcopal Church, Sundays at 9am in October. Both new Episcopalians and long-time members are invited to join us for a friendly exploration of the parts and purpose of our pattern of worship and to the Episcopal church in general. This class will begin on Sunday, October 2.

Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, October 9, 11:30 – 1:30pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 1:30pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

Mark your calendar! Crop Walk 2016, Sunday, October 16, 12:45pm: St. Dunstan’s will send a team of walkers; watch for a signup soon! Last year over $36,000 was raised to support the work of many local food pantries and international relief agencies. The goal for this year is $40,000. Come and make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon, Sept. 11

This week, as I spent time with these two parables of Jesus, the familiar stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin, I found that there were two different sermons tugging at me. So I decided to preach them both.

In the first sermon, these parables are about you. About us. About our lostness, and God’s determined love. We all have moments when we are the sheep, lost and tangled in the brambles, somewhere in the wilderness; when we are the coin, under the bed, between the floorboards, menaced by dust-bunnies. When we feel alone, and afraid, and useless, and forgotten, and… lost.

Scholar David Lose, writing about this passage, gestures to some of the many ways we might feel lost, even while seeming fine on the outside: “Might the career-minded person who has made moving up the professional ladder their only priority, be lost? Might the folks who work jobs they hate just to give their family things they never had, be lost? Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement, be lost? Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do anything to fit in, be lost? We have lots of people in our congregations who seem to have it all together and yet, deep down, are just plain lost.”

These parables of Jesus speak comfort for those situations, those people. They offer an image of God as a patient and determined seeker, who loves each and every one of us enough to strike out into the wilderness, light the lamp and grab the broom, and seek until we are found. These parables tell us that in God’s love, we are never truly alone, never useless, never forgotten. It’s a message that is consistent with other parts of the Gospel – Jesus meets all kinds of people, in all walks of life, and sees their inward hurts and needs. And Jesus wants wholeness and joy and purpose for each and all.

But while we might be like the coin and the sheep in our lostness, we are different from them in an important way: we have the capacity to turn back towards God. After each of these short parables, Jesus says, Just so, I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. The sheep and the coin don’t, can’t repent – they get found solely through the seeker’s efforts. But we humans, given intelligence, spirit, and free will, we can turn back towards God. The word “repent” here is the Greek word “metanoia,” a wonderful word for which I wish we had a better translation… As I understand it, it means something less like being sorry for one’s sins and something more like coming to a new understanding, changing one’s direction or path, turning, turning till you come round right.

These parables, the coin and the sheep, lead into the Prodigal Son parable – it’s not in the lectionary this season, but you can glance at it in the Luke booklets if you want – and that parable does have a metanoia moment: when the lost son, at his lowest point, degraded, alone, starving to death, “comes to himself” and thinks, I could go home. Repentance really isn’t a good word for what happens there. He remembers who he is, and whose he is, and that he is loved, in spite of everything, and he walks away from the mess he has made for himself, and back towards the Father who longs for him. Just so, I tell you, there is joy in heaven….!

I want to preach this sermon because some of you are in seasons of lostness. Some of you feel alone, and far from God. I want you to hear this message of God’s stubborn love, God’s ceaseless seeking for each and every lost sheep. I hope you’ll find here the comfort and courage to turn towards that loving Presence and take the first halting steps towards a sense of purpose, worthiness, and hope.

And then there’s the second sermon. In this sermon, these parables are NOT about us. This sermon begins with the context for these parables: Jesus’ pious frenemies the scribes and Pharisees are complaining that he hangs around with sinners. Now, they don’t mean casual sinners, who gossip or speak sharply to their children or don’t give away as much money as they could. They mean the obvious, bigtime sinners, the ones you can pick out in a crowd. “Tax collectors and sinners” – that phrase points to a wonderful mix of both high-ranking and low-ranking undesirables. Corrupt or scandal-ridden government officials, wealthy folks who made their millions by fraud and coercion, shoulder to shoulder with prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves.

Jesus offers these parables in response to criticism that he is hanging out with the wrong element. The unclean, immoral and undesirable. The worst and the lowest. And friends, whatever inner hurts or struggles we bear, that just isn’t us. We’re all well-off and well and healthy enough to make it to church on Sunday. We are the 99 sheep left in the wilderness, the nine coins safely tucked away in a pocket. We’re the ones who are more or less OK.

In these two simple parables the 99 and the 9 don’t have a voice, but in the Prodigal Son parable, we hear the brother’s voice – the brother who stayed home being a good son, and is angry that his father makes such a fuss over the return of his irresponsible, reckless sibling. And what the brother says is what the 99 sheep and the 9 coins might well say: “What about ME? I didn’t get lost. I haven’t made a mess of my life. Where’s MY party?”

Over the years I’ve found that a lot of Episcopalians tend to identify with the stay-at-home brother, and thus by extension with the 99 and the 9, sheep and coins. And we tend to struggle with these parables. Just as in our civic life, we sometimes feel resentful that so many resources and so much attention go to the poorest kids in our schools, or to the neediest neighborhoods in our cities, or to the demographic groups with the lowest rates of health, opportunity, and wellbeing. It can feel unfair and disproportionate to us. Why should the lowest and the worst get so much attention, care and concern? What about us more-or-less OK folks? Where’s our party?

I get it. I was raised to believe in the middle-class white American values of fairness and rationality. But God isn’t fair or rational. It isn’t fair or rational to leave 99 sheep alone in the wilderness while you go looking for one. It isn’t fair or rational to search for a lost quarter by burning a dollar’s worth of oil in your lamp.

But if we seek to have the heart of God, if we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to understand that a reckless love for the truly lost is fundamental to God’s character. God is disproportionately – unfairly! – concerned with the last, least, lowest and lost. And God asks us to share that concern. We learn this from the Gospels and indeed, from the witness of the Scriptures as whole. One of the Bible’s clearest themes is God’s care for those on the edges and on the very, very bottom of the economic and social structure.

In the Book of Jeremiah, our current Old Testament text, a couple of chapters on from today’s reading, Jeremiah says, “If you truly amend your ways and your doings,… if you do not oppress the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods…, then I will dwell with you in this place.” (7:5-7) That’s just one of many, many places in the Bible in which a society’s treatment of its neediest and most vulnerable members serves as a barometer of collective righteousness. How those folks are doing tells God everything God needs to know about whether the people as a whole are living as God has called them to live.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, in Matthew’s Gospel, the one yardstick used to measure people’s lives is, Did you care for the lost? Did you feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and the prisoner? Did you join in God’s disproportionate and unfair concern for those in greatest need, the lowest and the worst? It’s a question of urgency for both the world, and for our souls.

I want to preach this second sermon because this is a really important place where the rubber of our lives meets the road of discipleship. Where the orientation of heart and mind that Jesus asks of us is in tension with the way our hearts and minds have been formed by our culture and experiences. Jesus says: There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns back towards God, than over ninety-nine righteous people who never turned away to begin with. That is unfair. It probably really rubs some of us the wrong way. And it is a glimpse into the heart of God. God asks the 99 and the 9 to be OK with being taken for granted. And to join in the rejoicing when one of the lost is found.

Okay. Two sermons. And they’re in tension with each other. Either it’s all about us, or it really isn’t. If we focus on the hurt and lost places in our own souls and lives, we may be blind to – or even resentful of – the struggles of others. If we focus on the urgent needs of the profoundly lost, we may neglect our own legitimate needs, and spend ourselves until we are empty.

Instead of choosing whose needs matter most, might we find a way to live in the tension between the two readings of these parables? To say to ourselves, There are some ways in which I’m hurt, broken, or lost; and I can also have compassion for people in the world who are much more hurt, broken, and lost than I am?

At my seminary, the Episcopal Divinity School, we began our learning by reflecting together on how our backgrounds and biases shape how we see God and understand faith. And one of the tools we used was the concept of target and non-target identities. Bear with me; this is a new language for most of you but it’s not hard to understand. Non-target identities are what our society identifies as normal and good. It’s easy to inhabit these identities because our world is built for you, to a large extent. Some examples: White. Male. Able-bodied. Slender. Young. Straight. Cisgender. Middle-class.

Target identities are what our society identifies as other, or second-best, or even flat-out weird or bad. This is “target” in the sense of something that gets rocks thrown at it, not something that’s a goal people are aiming for! When you walk around these identities – or when you find yourself in a situation in which your target identity is in play – you may face biases and barriers. Some examples: African-American, Latino, Asian. Female. Disabled. Elderly. Fat. Gay or bi. Transgender. Working class or poor. Mentally ill. Obviously most people have a mix of target and non-target identities that intersect to make us who we are.

Here’s what my seminary does with that. The point is emphatically not to award a gold star to the most non-target member of the class, or to the person who can check the most “target” boxes and is thus gets the crown for Most Oppressed. The point is to use this simple approach as a tool for reflection and for empathy. To notice the moments when we inhabit those target identities, think about what that feels like, and use that as a window into what it might be like for those who are target in more ways, and in more profound ways.

While I was in seminary, I was also parenting a toddler. Phil was telecommuting, working full-time to help pay the bills, so I couldn’t just leave our son with him. I wanted to attend chapel worship every morning, to be part of the ongoing liturgical life of my seminary community. But it was hard with an 18-month-old, a 2-year-old. Hard to get out of the house, hard to have him with me in worship in a way that wasn’t a total distraction to myself and others. Our seminary chapel opened onto a lovely little green space, and in the spring when the weather turned nice, people liked to worship with the chapel doors wide open, breezes blowing in and trees and grass just outside.

Now, imagine trying to contain a bored two-year-old in a room with two wide open doors onto grass and trees and freedom. After trying it a couple of times, it got so that if I approached the chapel and the doors were propped open, we just wouldn’t go. There was nothing that felt like worship to me in spending forty minutes trying to keep my toddler from escaping.

Now, that was an experience of being target, as a parent encumbered by a young child. I was one of only a couple of people meeting that description, at my seminary at that time. The people planning chapel worship were unencumbered, and my and my son’s needs just didn’t cross their minds.

I am not for a moment claiming that this was a serious problem, or was hurtful in a lasting way. I do have some sense of proportion. But it did make me think about what it’s like for other parents. For single parents, or parents whose partners aren’t available or willing to share childcare, especially those who don’t have the resources to put their kids somewhere safe while they work or study. Having to drag your kid with you is inconvenient at best, and can really close doors and get you in trouble, at worst.

More broadly, those chapel experiences were a window into a common experience of folks who wear those target identities: being in a social and physical space that just wasn’t designed for you. That just doesn’t fit. My options were: complain, and be the person who complained, and made them stop doing something that everyone else enjoyed. Or – I could stop coming. Remove myself from the space, even though I wanted to be there. That was the choice I made. And it’s the kind of choice people face all the time, target folks living in a world designed for the non-target default.

As trivial as this experience was for me – so I couldn’t go to chapel all the time; so what? – as trivial as it was, it did hurt; and that hurt became for me a window into other lives, a bridge of empathy to the experiences of those who are excluded much more routinely, and with greater consequences.

I’m not recommending that, for example, you approach someone at a funeral and say, “I know what it’s like to lose your spouse, because my gerbil died once.” But, in a sheltered and lucky life, the experience of loss and sadness at a gerbil’s death might truly be a useful tool for trying to understand somebody else’s greater grief.

Earlier I said, Either it’s all about us, or it really isn’t. But maybe – it could start with us, and move towards the other. Maybe the ways in which I feel hurt, broken, or lost, instead of making me resentful of others’ needs, could help me care. We could focus on our own lostness, the moments and places in which we are in need of being found and tended and restored by God’s healing love. We could focus on the lostness of others, those who struggle daily at the margins of our status quo. Or: we could give real, prayerful, serious attention to our own moments of feeling alone, afraid, useless, forgotten – lost – and use those moments to deepen our understanding of those who bear greater burdens, our concern for their wellbeing, and our rejoicing when the lost become found.

The David Lose post referenced above is here: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2737

Announcements, September 8

THIS WEEKEND…

Game Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 9, 6pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids – all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Sunday School starts again, Sunday, September 11, 10am:  Our Sunday school classes meet on the second and third Sunday of every month, during the first part of the 10am service. This Sunday, our class for 3 year olds through kindergarten will learn about the Circle of the Church Year, while our elementary classes explore the context and meaning of the first letter to Timothy. All are welcome, and parents may come along to observe if that is helpful!

Lammastide Festival of Bread, Sunday, September 11: Lammastide is an ancient harvest festival that became a church festival in our mother church, the Church of England. It’s an opportunity to offer the fruits of the growing season thankfully to God. The word means “loaf mass” – it was originally held at the time of year when the first grain ripened enough to be made into fresh loaves of bread. We will celebrate the end of summer together with a Lammastide procession and blessing, and a festive bread-themed Coffee Hour after the 10am service. Bring a loaf of bread – any kind! – or something beautiful from your garden or the farmer’s market: vegetables, fruit, flowers. We will offer our harvest gifts during worship; you can reclaim your produce afterwards.

United Thank Offering Kickoff, Sunday, Sept. 11: This year we are beginning our United Thank Offering practice with the start of the school year in September. This practice is an opportunity to foster a sense of gratitude and nurture a sense of being blessed in yourself and others in your household. As you reflect on the special things that you are grateful for, place a penny, nickel, quarter in the box as you name them. For those of you short on change, we will have some rolls of pennies, nickels and dimes available; just put the equivalent amount in cash or check in the offering plate when you have a chance.

This year’s Parish Talent Show will be Sunday, October 23! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a unique skill, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged. Sign up anytime, even if your act is still in the works!

Online Giving Options: If you’d like to make a financial gift to St. Dunstan’s but don’t carry cash or checks, you can give online by visiting donate.stdunstans.com on your smartphone or computer.  You can make a donation in any amount, either as a general gift or an outreach gift (to be passed on to the wider community).  We use Square, a widely-used secure service, to process online donations.  If you’d like to put something in the offering plate to represent your gift, you can pick up an “I Gave Online” card on the way into church.  Regular givers may wish to set up a recurring payment through your bank, which avoids the modest transaction fees that Square charges us. Thanks to all those who contribute financially and in so many other ways to sustain and grow our ministry together here at St. Dunstan’s!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 14, 7:15 – 9:00 PM: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic. At a Julian Gathering we support each other in the practice of contemplative prayer and contemplative spirituality. Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book.  At the beginning of each meeting, brief instruction on the practice of contemplative prayer is offered.  We meet the second Wednesday of each month from 7:15 to 9 PM.  All welcome.

Rev. Miranda’s Upcoming Travel: Rev. Miranda is traveling for a family occasion next weekend. She will be out of the office from September 15 through 19th. The Rev. Jonathan Melton will celebrate and preach on Sunday morning, in her absence. The church office will be closed Friday, September 16.

Caregivers’ Support Group, Saturday, September 17, 9am: A caregivers’ support group will be starting in September. The sessions are planned for the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. This will be a safe space to share concerns with others who have similar situations and to offer support in return. For more information, email John Rasmus, Bonnie Magnuson or Joseph Wermeling.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, September 17, 10am: Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ron Chernow, presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation. He was a revolutionary war hero whose talents and advice Washington relied on heavily during the war and a man who literally shaped this country’s financial and trading system. It is particularly amazing to see how dirty and bruising politics were in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A good read.

Sunday School, Sunday, September 18, 10am: Next week, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the story of Creation, while our Elementary classes will continue to look at the first letter to Timothy and its context and meaning.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday September 18: 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.

Christian Formation Committee Meeting, Sunday, September 18, 11:30am: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, especially our Advent and Christmas plans. All interest folks are welcome to attend and participate.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, September 18, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Younger Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, September 18, 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.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 28, 9:30am-2:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with small group of students and help direct them, please contact George Ott.

Music that Makes Community Workshop, Des Moines, IA, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1: Join Rev. Miranda at a workshop to learn more about composing, singing, and leading “paperless” music – the kinds of simple but powerful songs we often use in worship at St. Dunstan’s. Registration is $100 and assistance may be available. Accommodation and carpooling are available. Talk to Rev. Miranda to learn more!

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 30, 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 Los Gemelos at 6713 Odana Road in Madison.

Mark your calendar! Crop Walk 2016, Sunday, October 16, 12:45pm: St. Dunstan’s will send a team of walkers; watch for a signup soon! Last year over $36,000 was raised to support the work of many local food pantries and international relief agencies. The goal for this year is $40,000. Come and make a difference.

IN THE COMMUNITY…

The Haiti Project is seeking a Civil Engineer and an IT specialist to take part in the November trip to Haiti. The dates for travel are November 11-20, 2016. Our second meeting will be on Saturday, September 17 at 10:00 am at St. Mary’s Dousman. Even if you have traveled to Haiti before with Haiti Project, these meetings are an integral part of preparation and learning. Please contact Heidi Ropa for more information (608) 235-9393.

 

 

 

The Lord’s Prayer: Unity, not uniformity

What a difference a word makes when it’s a word you’ve known your whole life long. There is something extra-confusing about saying something where *most* of the words are familiar… but just enough are different to trip you up. Like, for example, “sins” instead of “trespasses.” (Or even “debts”!) Yes, I’m talking about how we say the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer Jesus offered as an example, when one of his disciples asked him how they should pray (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).

At St. Dunstan’s, since I came to be your rector, we have used the contemporary Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father in Heaven…”). As liturgical leader, I have made that choice because the modern language makes the meaning of the prayer a little bit clearer for a child or someone brand-new to the church and its distinctive language. We don’t use “art” for “is” or “thy” for “your” in daily speech, so while that old-fashioned language is satisfying and beautiful in its own way, it can be disorienting and confusing.

Believe me: I don’t for a moment believe that the traditional-language Lord’s Prayer is dead – or wish it to be. It’s the one I learned as a child, immersed in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, and I appreciate the grace of its language. I happily use it at weddings, funerals, and in hospital rooms – because in a mixed crowd, it’s the most familiar, and because it’s the version most people my age and older learned as children, and so it’s the version deepest in our hearts and memories.

There are parishes where they switch versions with the season – for instance, they might use the traditional language in Lent, and the modern language in Easter. I have never thought that sounded like a helpful approach; instead it sounds to me like a recipe for confusion. Many of us carry both versions in our heads, but more or less manage to pick one and stick with it, once we’ve gotten as far as, “Our Father, who art…” or “Our Father in…” I fear that alternating which version we’re using would have the effect of muddling up the versions in our heads and making it even harder to start one and follow through!

But this fall we’re trying out a different kind of muddle. The inspiration came from a couple of different places. One was my experience last summer of the liturgies at General Convention, the Episcopal Church’s great gathering of the tribes in Salt Lake City. In the daily Eucharists there, we were invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer “in the language of our hearts.” That meant that people in that giant roomful of worshippers were praying in both English versions, and in many other languages and versions. Offered that freedom, I myself tend to pray the New Zealand version that begins, “Loving God, may your name be held holy and your kingdom come!…”  My experience of those moments was that instead of the familiar rhythm of many voices saying the same thing the same way, I was paradoxically both more tuned in to my own prayer – thinking the words, meaning them – and more aware of all those voices around me, praying the same thing in beautifully different ways.

The second source of inspiration is our middle school youth group. In their weekly practice of saying Compline (BCP p. 127) together at the end of a Friday night of movies, pizza, and games, they’ve developed a preference for the traditional-language Lord’s Prayer. Several of them have a habit of sitting together in the front row at church on Sundays – and when I’m celebrating at the altar, I can hear them praying with the traditional language, as everyone else uses the modern language version printed in the booklet.

So in planning our autumn worship, I thought, Why do we all need to use the same version at the same time? Everyone here either has a version of this prayer engraved on their heart already – or is ready to choose a version and do the work of memorizing it. It doesn’t matter to me, and it most certainly doesn’t matter to God, which version you pray. Some might pray it in a language other than English – the language of your first family, or of a country you love. Some might pray it in a version that translates the Gospel’s Greek rendering of Jesus’ Aramaic words into English in a different way, as does the New Zealand version. Some might pray in silence, the prayer of the heart. We don’t need uniformity in prayer to have unity in prayer.

So this fall I invite all of us to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the language of our hearts. It will sound and feel different. I invite you to try it out. We’re printing both the traditional and modern language Prayer Book versions in the booklet, but by all means, look farther afield if you are so moved. Find (or create) another version of this simple, ancient, encompassing, gracious prayer. And let’s pray in unity of spirit, and diversity of voice.

Sermon, Sept. 4

Months ago – around the time the Supreme Court unexpectedly dropped to eight members – somebody out there commented that it appears to be the final season of America. Not in the apocalyptic sense, but in the television sense. America in 2016 feels like a TV show in its final days, in which the producers are throwing in all kinds of unlikely and bizarre plot twists, that strain our suspension of disbelief and our capacity to care about what happens to the main characters, and have caused many folks to tune out entirely.

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that our current national roller-coaster ride is in fact being created or manipulated by some shadowy interest group. But unlike most of the swirling conspiracy theories, the fatigue, confusion, and frustration many of us feel are very real. This is a tough time. A lot of issues feel polarized and charged right now – not only, but especially, around this year’s presidential election. People on both the left and the right feel conflicted about their own votes, and struggle with the uncomfortable fact that even people who share our convictions and hopes are considering casting their votes differently, in ways that could have huge consequences for our republic and our common good.

What I’m trying to say is that 2016 has been a heck of a year for arguing with strangers on the Internet. Right? Because we’re all anxious, and conflicted, and scared, so we get shouty; but we don’t want to get shouty with people we know, with co-workers or friends or family. The Internet seems like a safe outlet – but then the rage and poisonous hate-speech online becomes its own toxic feedback loop and spills back over into real life.

Into the midst of that, on this Sunday 64 days out from Election Day, comes the Letter to Philemon. Philemon is one of the shortest books in the Bible. It’s a letter, written by the apostle Paul – there’s a broad consensus that this really is Paul’s voice. Paul is writing from prison, during one of his several incarcerations. He’s writing to a man named Philemon, who was a wealthy church leader in the church in Colossae. Philemon hosted a church community in his home. Paul is writing to Philemon about Onesimus. Onesimus used to be Philemon’s slave. Slavery was very common in the ancient world. Onesimus was likely a household slave of some sort. His name is Greek – it means “useful”. That sounds like a name he was given by a master, rather than a parent.

Onesimus might have been born into slavery, or sold into slavery because of poverty or debts. He might have a native of the region, or he or his parents might have come from the edges of the empire as spoils of conquest – Africa, Germany, Britain. You can picture Onesimus with almost any color skin or hair. But picture him as a young man, because of the way he becomes like a son to Paul. And picture him as unhappy or angry in his slavery, unhappy or angry enough to run away, despite the fact that the punishment for runaway slaves could include anything from a severe beating to execution. We don’t know how Onesimus connected with Paul. Maybe he had had met Paul in the past, and sought him out; maybe Onesimus was captured and imprisoned, and met Paul there.

The situation Paul is writing about is unfamiliar to us. But what Paul is doing here is actually quite familiar. He is talking with a friend or acquaintance about an area of disagreement, on which they both feel strongly. Some of us dive into conversations like that on Facebook or email or in person, on a daily basis. Some of us avoid them entirely, but write whole volumes in our heads of what we *would* say if we did speak up. But we’re all familiar with this kind of writing and speaking.  And Paul’s careful, wise work here might actually give us some encouragement for having those difficult but important conversations face to face, with people we know, instead of shouting at strangers on the Internet or holding our fearful and angry thoughts within, where they eat away at us until we disconnect or explode. So let’s look at what Paul does, step by step.

Step zero: He probably thought for a good long while about how to address this awkward situation. Consider how difficult and delicate this was for Paul: Onesimus has come to him, learned from him, become a Christian, and a dear friend, like a son to Paul, who never had biological children. BUT by right of law, Onesimus belongs to Philemon, a wealthy and influential church leader, who has every reason to punish Onesimus – and blame Paul. Onesimus probably really didn’t want to go back to Philemon. But for Paul to say to Onesimus, “Go on your way, forget your master, you are free in Christ now,” would burn bridges Paul can’t afford to burn – not only with Philemon but with any wealthy slave-owning person who might otherwise be sympathetic to the Christian faith. According to the ethics of his time and place, but also very much according to his pragmatic desire to build the Christian movement, Paul needs to make things right with Philemon somehow. But he also cares for Onesimus’ welfare and future.

Paul might have taken some counsel from today’s Gospel, in which Jesus says that following him fully may sometimes lead to strained or broken relationships. (As I said a couple of weeks ago: Niceness is a not a Christian virtue.) Jesus goes on to offer a couple of images: a person building a tower, a king going to war. In both cases, he says, it’s wise to go into the endeavor with a realistic idea of what it could actually cost you. Discipleship, living our lives as followers of Jesus, at certain moments can be a costly and demanding project. Paul, facing one such moment, undoubtedly took some time to calculate the risks and plan his approach.

When we’re facing conversation across differences, taking time to think and pray and plan, and reflect on the concerns and experiences we bring to the table, can be really helpful.

Step one: Paul engages with a friend – or at least an acquaintance whom he addresses as a friend. He undertakes this difficult conversation about the intersection of faith and life with someone to whom he’s already connected – not some stranger from the Internet, but a person who has some reason to listen and care what Paul thinks. And he begins – and ends – by affirming the relationship, alluding both to his friendship with Philemon and to the wider web of relationships that bind them together. Verses 1 through 3: “From Paul, who is a prisoner for the cause of Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy, to Philemon our dearly loved coworker,  Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church that meets in your house. May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” And at the very end, verses 23 to 25: “Epaphras, who is in prison with me for the cause of Christ Jesus, greets you, as well as my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

When we’re facing conversation across differences, reminding ourselves that we’re connected by the bonds of friendship and community, and care about each other, can be really important.

Step two. Paul addresses Philemon on the basis of what they share, as followers of Jesus. In what Martin Luther once called “holy flattery,” Paul affirms their common framework, their shared hopes and commitments, and reminds Philemon of what a good Christian he is, before, during, and after talking about their awkward area of difference: Paul sees Onesimus as a beloved son, Philemon sees him as a runaway slave. Listen to Paul’s words as he reminds a wealthy man with a grievance of their shared faith in Jesus (verses 4 – 7): “Philemon, I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers because I’ve heard of your love and faithfulness, which you have both for the Lord Jesus and for all God’s people. I pray that your partnership in the faith might become effective by an understanding of all that is good among us in Christ. I have great joy and encouragement because of your love, since the hearts of God’s people are refreshed by your actions, my brother…”

And then a few verses later, when Paul comes to the big ask – that Philemon welcome, forgive, and free Onesimus – he again talks about the kinship in Christ that he, Philemon, and Onesimus share: “Onesimus is a dearly loved brother to me. How much more can he become a brother to you, personally and spiritually in the Lord.”

When we’re facing conversation across differences, grounding our conversation in the values and hopes we hold in common can help us stay connected even when we’re disagreeing, and keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

Step three. Paul is dealing here with a specific, concrete issue. I think it’s really important that we have some clarity on the ethics of the Kingdom of God, in which we are called to citizenship – big complicated holy demanding words like liberation, justice, mercy. But conversations across differences tend to be most fruitful when we can talk about something real and immediate.  Elsewhere in his letters to the young churches, Paul gestures towards a position that slavery has no place among Christians – since we become a new community in Christ in which there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female (Gal 3:28). One imagines that that passage might really get Philemon’s hackles up.

Paul knows this isn’t the context for that kind of language. He doesn’t write to Philemon to say, “Listen, now that you’re a Christian, I think you should consider freeing all your slaves. It’s what Jesus would want.” Instead he writes to Philemon with a very specific request: Receive Onesimus back into your household as a brother in Christ. Listen to Paul’s appeal to Philemon. Notice how he plays up the fact that he’s old, and in prison; how he calls Onesimus “child,” “brother,” and “my own heart” – and the puns on Onesimus’ name (verses 11 – 16): “I, Paul—an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus— appeal to you for my child Onesimus. I became his father in the faith during my time in prison. He was useless to you before, but now he is useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, which is like sending you my own heart…. Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a dearly loved brother.”

Do I wish Paul had handled this differently? Sure! His tactful and deferential approach to the issue of slavery here helped Christians justify slavery for centuries. Both opponents and supporters of slavery appealed to this letter to support their positions during 18th and 19th century debates over slavery. I wish Paul had said more plainly what I believe he believed: that slavery was wrong, was a violation of the humanity of a child of God, a person for whom Christ died. Paul is compromising here, and it’s a compromise that we may, rightly, find unsatisfactory.

But Paul was trying to spread Christianity in a hostile world. He needed wealthy people to support the movement, for it to have chance to grow and spread. I’m sure he was anxious about alienating the wealthy, many of whom would have owned slaves. Having the elite classes decide that Christianity wasn’t for them, and was, in fact, rather troublesome, could have been terrible for the young churches.

You can look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon as letting temporal concerns constrain the truth of the Gospel. I think that’s a fair assessment. You can look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon as a strategic foot-in-the-door approach, based on a calculation that if Paul can get Philemon to follow the implications of his faith in this one instance, other ripple effects may follow. I think that’s a fair assessment too.

When we’re facing conversation across differences, it’s often helpful to focus on something specific and concrete, instead of hypotheticals or big abstract principals. Turns out the big abstract principals are embedded in the specific and the concrete, anyway.  Focusing on the particular – a situation, a policy – gives us the best chance to have our facts straight – and not only our facts but also our thoughts and feelings. And the best chance to be able to understand the other’s perspective and perhaps come to a common understanding, even if we still ultimately draw different conclusions.

Step four. Paul trusts Philemon with the outcome of this conversation. This is a hard one for me: if I’m going to try to change someone’s mind, I want to succeed. But Paul leaves this decision in Philemon’s hands.

Paul is pushy in this letter, no question. He is quite clear about what he thinks Philemon should do. But he doesn’t threaten him or order him – in fact, he makes a point of asking instead of commanding (vs. 8-9): “Though I have enough confidence in Christ to command you to do the right thing, I would rather appeal to you through love….” A few verses later he says that he considered just keeping Onesimus with him, but that he didn’t want to take the opportunity to make a righteous choice away from Philemon: “I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your act of kindness would occur willingly and not under pressure.”

Now, “not under pressure” is a bit rich – Paul does pressure Philemon. He tells him how much he could gain by having Onesimus as a brother in Christ instead of a slave; he promises to pay back any money Onesimus owes to Philemon, whether from theft or the price of a slave’s freedom (verses 18-19) – and offers this little gem: “Of course, I won’t mention that you owe me your life.” And he hints that Philemon should expect Paul to visit soon, and see with his own eyes whether Philemon has received Onesimus in accordance with Paul’s hopes: “Also, one more thing—prepare a guest room for me.”

Paul is unabashed in asking Philemon to change his heart, to forgive and forget his grievance against Onesimus – in verses 20 – 21 he writes, “Yes, brother, I want this favor from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. I’m writing to you, confident of your obedience and knowing that you will do more than what I ask.”

Paul is pushy, here. But he puts the outcome in Philemon’s hands in a very real way: He sends this letter with Onesimus. Or rather – he sends Onesimus with this letter. Consider the alternative: he could have corresponded with Philemon first, keeping Onesimus with him until he knew how this would go. Until he had a promise of safe return for this young man he has come to love so dearly.

But he doesn’t do that. He says his piece, and he puts the whole matter in Philemon’s hands, entrusts it to Philemon’s conscience. Again, we might question Paul’s choice here – if the gambit had failed, Onesimus would have borne the greatest cost. But sending Onesimus with the letter, instead of writing first, seems like a strategic demonstration of confidence in Philemon. Paul is saying with his actions, I know you’re going to do the right thing.

And it worked. We know it worked, because we have the letter. This was private correspondence, unlike Paul’s other letters, written to be read aloud in a community setting. If Philemon hadn’t responded to Paul’s appeal, surely this letter would have just been burned or thrown away. Instead it was preserved by Philemon’s family and church, passed down until it became part of the canon of Scripture. I believe that could only have happened if Philemon did was Paul asked: welcomed Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Philemon must have shared the letter. And if he shared the letter, surely he shared it as part of explaining why he was going to free Onesimus, rather than punishing him.

While the letter gives us a glimpse of the story, with no clear ending, I believe grace triumphed here. I believe liberation, justice, and mercy were lived out, in this particular situation.

When we’re facing conversation across differences, it helps a lot to respect the intellect and conscience of the other person. It’s so easy to forget this – especially on the Internet, but in person too – but very few of us are actually monsters. Very few of the people who live and vote and think differently from you actually wake up in the morning with the intention to hurt people and ruin the world. Coming to those difficult conversations with curiosity about how that person came to see things the way they do, will get us a lot farther than assuming they’re simply wrongheaded and evil.

Trusting the other person’s intellect and conscience also means these conversations take time. It means letting your conversation partner think about it, giving them time and space to change. Trusting the other person’s intellect and conscience also means being open the possibility that I might have some thinking to do, and maybe even some changing to do, as well.

It’s not really the final season of America. I have too much faith in God, and in us, to believe that. But it’s a complicated, charged season in the life of our country, to be sure. Hard conversations across differences are always possible, and right now they feel probable, or even inevitable. And not just around the election and the candidates, but around all kinds of things. On my Facebook wall, they’re usually public schools and/or systemic racism. In church, we sometimes run into moments when people’s hopes and priorities differ, and have to be reconciled. On this Labor Day weekend I note our lively national conversation about a just and livable economy for working people. There’s lots to disagree about. We are passionate people!

I’m grateful for Paul’s voice in Philemon, in this season. For the reminder to think before I speak. To have real conversations with real people. To affirm what we share, even in disagreement. To stay focused, and to respect my conversation partner. And – but – above all, to have those necessary hard conversations, with faithfulness, humility, and courage.

Announcements, September 1

THIS WEEKEND…

Camp-Out Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 2, 5:30pm: For those who have been meaning to camp out all summer – or want to give it a try in an easy setting (with flush toilets available!) – or who camp all the time and can share tips with the rest of us! We’ll share a simple potluck supper (hot dogs and marshmallows, etc., provided), fellowship around the fire pit, perhaps some outdoor games for the active, and Compline prayers at dusk. You can spend the night, or just come for the evening and then go home to your nice warm bed. Questions or ideas? Talk to Rev. Miranda or Kate Larson.

Summer Choir, Sunday, September 4, 9am: Come and 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.

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

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be honored this Sunday, September 4, 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.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, September 4: This 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: dried beans, whole grains, herbs and spices, low-sugar beverages, ethnic foods, spaghetti & pizza sauce, cooking oil, single-serve peanut butter, whole grain cereal, and laundry detergent. Thank you for all your support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, September 4, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Parish Office Closed, Monday, September 5 for Labor Day. The office will instead be open on Tuesday, September 6.

Foundry414 Labor Day 3K, 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 9:45am 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!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Game Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 9, 6pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids – all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Sunday School starts again, Sunday, September 11, 10am:  Our Sunday school classes meet on the second and third Sunday of every month, during the first part of the 10am service. We have three classes this year. Our class for 3 year olds through kindergarteners uses the ‘Godly Play’ approach, sharing and reflecting on the central stories of our faith.  Our classes for 1st through 3rd graders, and for 4th and 5th graders, use a curriculum based on the Sunday lectionary, the same Bible lessons we hear in the liturgy that day. They explore those lessons through discussion, art, drama, Lego, and other projects. All kids are welcome to participate!

Lammastide Festival of Bread, Sunday, September 11: Lammastide is an ancient harvest festival that became a church festival in our mother church, the Church of England. It’s an opportunity to offer the fruits of the growing season thankfully to God. The word means “loaf mass” – it was originally held at the time of year when the first grain ripened enough to be made into fresh loaves of bread. We will celebrate the end of summer together with a Lammastide procession and blessing, and a festive bread-themed Coffee Hour after the 10am service. Bring a loaf of bread – any kind! – or something beautiful from your garden or the farmer’s market: vegetables, fruit, flowers. We will offer our harvest gifts during worship; you can reclaim your produce afterwards.

United Thank Offering Kickoff, Sunday, Sept. 11: This year we are beginning our United Thank Offering practice with the start of the school year in September. This practice is an opportunity to foster a sense of gratitude and nurture a sense of being blessed in yourself and others in your household. You can create your own gratitude ritual – perhaps once a week, at dinner or before bed? – as you reflect on the special things that you are grateful for and place a penny, nickel, quarter in the box as you name them. A small amount is suggested so as to encourage more responses. Remember to include beautiful fall days, pets that cuddle and new friends! For those of you short on change, we will have some rolls of pennies, nickels and dimes available; just put the equivalent amount in cash or check in the offering plate when you have a chance.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 14, 7:15 – 9:00 PM: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic. Little is known about Julian’s life, but she wrote a book, as far as we know the first in English written by a woman, about a series of revelations which opened her to the depths of God’s unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ. Julian prayed often in silence, and at a Julian Gathering we support each other in the practice of contemplative prayer and contemplative spirituality. Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book.  At the beginning of each meeting, brief instruction on the practice of contemplative prayer is offered.  We meet the second Wednesday of each month from 7:15 to 9 PM.  All welcome.

Caregivers’ Support Group, Saturday, September 17, 9am: A caregivers’ support group will be starting in September. The sessions are planned for the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. This will be a safe space to share concerns with others who have similar situations and to offer support in return. For more information, talk with John Rasmus, Bonnie Magnuson or Joseph Wermeling.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, September 17, 10am: Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Ron Chernow, presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation. He was a revolutionary war hero whose talents and advice Washington relied on heavily during the war and a man who literally shaped this country’s financial and trading system. It is particularly amazing to see how dirty and bruising politics were in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A good read.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 28, 9:30am-2:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with small group of students and help direct them, please contact George Ott. We could use some extra pitchforks and wheelbarrows for the day’s work as well.

Mark your calendar! Crop Walk 2016, Sunday, October 16, 12:45pm: St. Dunstan’s will send a team of walkers; watch for a signup soon! Last year over $36,000 was raised to support the work of many local food pantries and international relief agencies. The goal for this year is $40,000. Come and make a difference.