Announcements, November 23

THIS WEEK…

Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 23, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Black Friday Craft-In, Friday, November 25, 1 – 4pm: All are welcome to this free public crafting event. Spread the word, and come make stuff!

First Sunday of Advent All-Ages Worship Sunday, November 27, 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.

Middle School Lunch and Learn, Sunday, November 27, 11:30am-1pm: Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that’s helpful.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, November 27, 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.

Caroling in 2016: Last year a group of singers from St. Dunstan’s had a wonderful time visiting a few of our members and singing Christmas carols. We’d like to do the same this year. All ages are welcome to participate. Possible dates include Saturday, December 17; Sunday afternoon, December 18; and Friday, December 23. Please sign up and indicate your availability in the Gathering Area.

Military and College Student Care Packages – Addresses Needed! The Youth Group is preparing care packages for military personnel and college students. If you have a college student or service member who you would a care package sent to, please provide name and address to Sharon Henes by Sunday, December 4. Donations of small gifts to include in the packages are also welcome. Thank you for your support!

Christmas Shopping at St. Dunstan’s: This Sunday and in the weeks ahead, pick up something for your Christmas list!

 – Haiti Chocolate Bars: Pick up a delicious chocolate bar – or several – made with fairly-traded cocoa from Haiti. The bars are $4 each, and are being sold by our Sunday school kids as part of their fundraising to support school fees for a child in Haiti next year.

– MOM Tribute Cards: For those people on your list who’d prefer a gift to charity. Make a donation of $10 or more, and take a card to give to someone you care about. All proceeds will go to MOM (Middleton Outreach Ministry) to support their work preventing homelessness and feeding the hungry. Make checks out to St. Dunstan’s, with “MOM Card” on the memo line.

Thank You Box – Last Chance! During the month of November, you’re invited to write a note about a person, thing, or event, in our church’s life or beyond, for which you feel grateful. Put your note in the Thank You Box. In December we’ll turn our notes into banners which will hang around the church as a celebration of all the gifts we’ve received from God and one another.

SHARING CHRISTMAS – Please return gifts by Wednesday, December 7! All the gift tags have been claimed, which is wonderful! If you took a gift tag, please purchase and wrap the requested gift, and return it to church with the gift tag firmly attached to the package. Thank you so much for your generous support of this wonderful Middleton Outreach project that makes Christmas brighter for so many!!

Christmas Cards for Jail Inmates: If you feel called to this ministry, please take a few cards and a sheet of guidelines, and write some messages of good cheer. These cards will go to the men and women who will be inmates of the Dane County Jail this Christmas. Reaching out to those in prison is one of Jesus’ clearest calls on his followers, and while this is a small gesture, it still matters. Our goal is to complete 100 cards by Friday, December 16.

NEXT WEEK & BEYOND…

Sandbox Worship, Thursday, Dec. 1, 5:30pm:  We will gather for Advent evening worship, and to create prayer gems, a simple project to help us be faithful in prayer for particular people, issues, or situations. All are welcome. Dinner to follow. (There is NO Sandbox worship on Thanksgiving Day.)

Men’s Book Club Meeting, Saturday, December 3, 10am: The book is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. “Essential. A compelling and damning exploration of the abuse of one of our basic human rights: shelter”. From abandoned slums to shelters, eviction courts to ghettoes, Matthew Desmond spent years living with and recording the stories of those struggling to survive – yet who won’t give up. A work of love, care and humanity, Evicted reminds us why, without a home, nothing else is possible. It is one of the most necessary books of our time. For more information, contact Jim Hindle.

Sunday school, Sunday, December 4, 10am: Next Sunday, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the prophet Jeremiah, while our Elementary classes will explore ideas about Jesus Christ from the letter to the Colossians.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, December 4: 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: quinoa, farro, barley; various rice (wild, white, black); salt, pepper, spices; cooking oil / butter; honey / maple syrup; holiday foods (cranberries, etc.); canned pumpkin; size 5 & 6 diapers; flour and sugar; low-sugar cereals. Thank you for all your support!

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be will be honored and Healing Prayers will be offered next Sunday, December 4, as is our custom on the first Sunday of every month.

Learning about our Diocesan Haiti Partnership, Sunday, December 4, 9am: Heidi Ropa, the chair of our diocesan partnership with the rural community of Jeannette, Haiti, will be with us on Sunday, Dec. 4, to tell us about Jeannette, and the history and future of that partnership. Our Sunday school classes would like to raise funds this Advent to support a student in Haiti, helping with his or her educational and everyday expenses.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, December 4, 6pm: A simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Bishop’s Visitation, Sunday, December 11: Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, will lead worship, preach, and be available between services (at 9am) for conversation about our diocese and about our call as Christians in the world today. It’s an honor to share Advent with our Bishop and we look forward to our time together!

 Help feed the students! St Francis House Dinner, Sunday, December 11: St. Dunstan’s will provide dinner for the St. Francis House community in a few weeks. We are asked to provide food for up to 15 people, and we are invited to attend worship with the students at 5pm.  Vegan and gluten-free options are welcome (that’s easier than you think: a veggie stew over rice, bean chili …). Please sign up in the Gathering Area if you can help with the meal, or contact Rev. Miranda.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, December 14, 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.

Christmas Day Services: On Sunday, December 25, there WILL be a service of Holy Eucharist at 10am. There will NOT be an 8am service. Christmas Eve services will be Saturday, December 24, at 3pm and 9pm.

IN THE COMMUNITY…

Creating for a Cause Holiday Art Fair, December 3-4, MOM Food Pantry, 3502 Parmenter St., Middleton: Over 60 local artists will have stands at this event, and all are donating 20% or more of their proceeds to MOM’s homelessness prevention and hunger fighting programs.  Also featured at the event will be MOM Gifts of Hope, an “alternative gift” program perfect for purchasing for the person who has everything.

 

Sermon, Nov. 20

Today we conclude our annual Giving Campaign, the weeks in which we invite members and friends of the parish to make a pledge of financial support for the coming year, so that we can develop a budget and move ahead on a sound footing. In a few moments we’ll bless the pledges we’ve received. And we’ve celebrated with pie, which is the best way to celebrate.

But I have to say: This has been a TERRIBLE year for preaching about financial stewardship. For hitting the usual themes of generosity and gratitude and laying up treasure in heaven… First, there was an election. As your pastor and preacher, I could hardly pretend that wasn’t on everyone’s minds, including my own. And now we end the Giving Campaign with the Crucifixion? Seriously?

The lectionary does this every three years. Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the church year – the first Sunday in Advent, next year, is our New Year’s Day. On Christ the King Sunday, our liturgy and scriptures invite us to reflect on the cosmic and paradoxical kingship of Jesus. In one year of our three-year cycle of readings, we have the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which reminds us that we serve our King by serving those most in need. In one year we have Jesus’ conversation about kingship with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. And this year – Year C, the year we end today – we have the scene from today’s Gospel: Jesus on the cross, alone, defeated, dying. Not much of a king.

It’s not an easy thing, but I think it’s a good thing, that the lectionary places the Crucifixion in front of us now and then when we aren’t expecting it, when it’s not Good Friday and we don’t have jelly beans and Alleluias stashed in the cupboard, all ready for Easter right around the corner. Of course at St. Dunstan’s, the Crucifixion is always in front of us. It’s unusual for an Episcopal church to have a crucifix – an image of Jesus on the cross – as its focal point. But that’s the choice our elders made, here, back in 1963 or so. So we worship with the Crucifixion, Jesus’ moment of greatest pain and weakness, right in front of us, all the time. Some of you are OK with it, and some of you really don’t care for it – I don’t know of anyone who claims to love it? Kids notice him, and guests, but for a lot of us the image has become so familiar that we don’t really see it, let alone think about it.

Let’s think about it today – about the Crucifixion, and more to the point, about the kingship of the Cross. I’ve got a few thoughts to share – roughly in order from Things I Understand Pretty Well, to Things I Find Deeply Mysterious But Still Believe.

Thought number one: Following this King – this one, the one hanging from a cross in shame – claiming to be subjects of this King should give a certain skepticism, a kind of critical distance, to our views of any human king – or president, principal, mayor, et cetera. Really, ANY leader – the ones we like as well as the ones we fear.

On Good Friday afternoon, every year, I invite kids here to walk the Stations of the Cross with me. And when we come to the eleventh Station, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, I tell the kids: Sometimes the people in charge are wrong. Maybe because of a mistake or a failure, maybe because their priorities or intentions are not good, but one way or another, sometimes, the people in authority, our leaders, teachers, principals, moms and dads, policemen, presidents, can be wrong. I always half-expect a parent to grab their child and march out in indignation at that part, but nobody has. We all know it’s true; it’s just hard to admit to our kids. But it should be easy for us to remember, with the Crucifix before us every week. Our God was executed as a criminal. Knowing that must help us remember to question our leaders, and the mechanisms of power and punishment in our time, holding them up to God’s standards of justice and mercy.

And let it be noted, please, that the leaders in Jesus’ day weren’t just wrong because they condemned and executed Jesus, the Son of God. They were wrong because they perpetuated a system that punished theft with brutal execution. It’s not clear from the text whether the criminals crucified with Jesus were simple burglars or violent bandits. But it is clear, from a survey of ancient sources, that crucifixion was routinely used as the punishment for theft, fraud, and other non-violent crimes, especially when committed by those of low status, the socially and economically vulnerable. The criminal justice system in Judea under Roman rule was wrong because it murdered people for minor crimes. The leaders of that time and place were unjust, because they created and reinforced a political and economic status quo that drove people into poverty and desperation, and then punished them harshly when they did the things that poor and desperate people sometimes do.

Following this King should give us a critical eye for earthly kings and leaders.

Thought number two: Jesus on the cross is God’s greatest argument against the mindset of self-preservation, of “I’ve got mine,” of looking out for Number One. Notice that three times, in Luke’s account, somebody suggests that Jesus should save himself. “Let him save himself is he is the Messiah of God.” “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

That word “save” – Sozo in Greek – it’s the same word as the root of Soterio, Salvation. Those two words are a core concept for the New Testament. Save: rescue, deliver, free, help, heal, sustain, restore – all of that wrapped up in one word. It’s the right word for this moment, for what Jesus is doing, on the cross. But the people taunting him are pointing it in the wrong direction. Jesus will not save himself. The people mocking him think he’s powerless. “Save yourself!” is a joke because how could he? Look at him.

With the Gospel writers, we know better. We know he has chosen this. Could he have used divine power to step down off the cross? To cast himself into the arms of angels, as Satan tempted him to do, way back at the beginning? Maybe; or maybe he had laid down divine power and protection, as he turned his face towards this moment. Regardless, it’s very clear from the Gospel accounts that Jesus chose not to resist this death. Chose, even, to walk towards it. Praying in the Garden, submitting his fears to God’s purposes. Rebuking his disciples for resisting his arrest. Silent when asked to speak in his own defense. As human, and as God, he gave himself over to this. Saving himself was never the point.

Following this King means never being satisfied with our own salvation. With being safe, free, healed ourselves – as long as another is in danger, in bondage, or in pain.

Thought number three… I warned you, didn’t I, that these thoughts moved from clarity towards paradox? Thought number three: The Crucifixion, this moment when everything seems as broken as possible, points us towards reconciliation.

The early Christians used a lot of different images, metaphors, to try to capture their experience of the transformation of their lives and of the world by Jesus’ death and resurrection: Redeeming someone, buying them out of slavery. Freeing someone who’s imprisoned. Healing someone hurt, rescuing someone from danger, exonerating someone in a court of law. Cleansing and purifying someone by way of sacrifice, as in the rites of the Temple in Old Testament Judaism. Renewing a broken covenant. Reconciling the parties in a conflicted relationship, or a relationship where the parties have simply drifted apart, lost the mutuality of care, trust, and respect they once had.

Reconciliation is a key concept in Jesus’ life and teaching, as again and again he calls his followers back into a relationship of loving trust with the God who made us. And it’s a key word for the apostle Paul in his understanding of the work of the Church and its people. Jesus came to reconcile humanity to God – and to send us forth to continue the work of reconciliation. That’s how Paul sums up the Gospel, in the second letter to the Corinthians – “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Godself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message and ministry of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, [begging the world to] be reconciled to God.” And the letter to the Colossians today – written perhaps by Paul, perhaps by a disciple of Paul’s – uses that same language: “Through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.”

Reconciliation is one of the core practices that we have named together, as a congregation, as a way we strive to live as disciples of Jesus. In Greek the word is katalasso, roughly translated as, Called to the side of the other. Called from our separateness into solidarity. As disciples of Jesus, we strive to live and act so as to restore unity and love among humans, between humans and God, and between humans and creation. We reconcile both by responding to the needs of our neighbors, through church ministries and everyday acts of mercy; and by working to confront and change the systems of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.

Reconciliation is a powerful concept – and also sometimes a slippery one. We can fall into thinking it means the same thing as niceness. And niceness, as I mentioned in a sermon a few months ago, niceness is not a Christian virtue.

Liturgical scholar Derek Olsen wrote this week, “In this ministry of reconciliation [described in 2 Corinthians], we are not being called to be nice or pleasant, or to smooth things over with those who disagree with us. We are called to work on the reconciliation of humanity with God, and God’s vision of the world that God created… This is a vision that puts the poor, the people at the margins, the “alien in your midst,” … as the central figures for our care and concern… If we are exhorting the Christian faithful to be… reconcilers, then we need to be clear that [the call of the Gospel on us is to work] to reconcile the people and society around us to the vision of the world that God intends.”

Reconciliation, for Christians, doesn’t mean pretending things are fine, or ignoring the ways in which the world around us falls short of God’s intentions for us and for all. There is nothing nice about the cross, about a death like this. But following this King means accepting this as an icon of reconciliation: messy, ugly, painful. Necessary. Holy.

Thought number four… There’s a word in the Colossians text, in verse 19: Fulness. “In Jesus, all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.” It’s easy to read right past it, but it turns out there’s a lot of theology packed into – and flowing out of – that word. Fulness, pleroma in Greek, is used a number of times in the Epistles, the letters of the first Christians – as is its opposite, Kenoo, which means emptiness, inadequacy, incompleteness. Those words, dancing around each other, trace the outline of a theology of the cross: In this moment, Jesus emptied himself (Phil 2:7), to make room for the fulness of God. His weakness makes room for God’s strength, his brokenness opens the way for God to restore and heal. And early Christian leaders and teachers see in this a path of discipleship – they urge one another, especially in times of struggle and fear, to empty themselves. To let God’s fulness work in them. To trust, in the words of Paul, that whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

This idea is mystery and a challenge for me. When something is difficult, I respond by trying to put more of myself into it. And sometimes – I believe this – sometimes the better response would be to put less of myself in. To let my inadequacy, my weakness, my emptiness drive me to a more profound openness to God. To serving God less like an independent contractor. More like an instrument or tool.

Following this King challenges us to find grace, to find hope, even in the moments when we feel like we have nothing. Like we are nothing. Because when we are weak, God is still strong. Now, over the next few weeks, we’ll be revising and refining our church budget for next year, based on the pledges we’ve received. And I would, frankly, prefer to be talking about gracious plenty, than about the opportunities offered by inadequacy. But I’m trying to be faithful, in this as in many things….! Faithful to this King – Jesus, my King. And to the ways of his kingdom, which is so profoundly different from the kingdoms of this world. A kingdom that should give us, as its subjects, a critical eye for earthly leaders. That urges us never to settle for our own salvation. A kingdom in which emptiness can be strength, in which brokenness can reconcile, in which dying can lead to eternal life.

Derek Olsen’s essay may be read in full here: http://www.stbedeproductions.com/?p=3740

Announcements, November 17

THIS WEEKEND & THE WEEK AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, November 18, 6pm: Join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant, 5510 University Ave in Madison.

Build Madison, Saturday, November 19, 11am – ?: Do you like to problem-solve, make stuff, and work with a team? One of Madison’s local maker-spaces (a facility with all kinds of equipment for making stuff) is having a 24 hour build-a-thon and St Dunstan’s has some Advent-themed projects that need making. We are hoping to take a contingent of both adults and kids to be there part of the time and you are welcome to bring your own project as well. People with all types of backgrounds are encouraged to join in, whether you are an artist, tinker, crafter, builder or just willing to try something new. Alex Surasky-Ysasi, a new member who is a designer and engineer, is looking for a few adults and youth to join her – for a few hours, if not the full 24! Check out buildmadison.com for previous years projects. If you interested, talk with Rev. Miranda.

Piece Be with You! Please join us between services at 9:00am on November 20th for a festive, all-parish brunch celebrating the ingathering of our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches and other offerings. Please sign up to bring your favorite pie or quiche. Pre-cut pies with labeled pie servers would be much appreciated.

Sunday school, Sunday, November 20, 10am: This Sunday, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the prophet Jeremiah, while our Elementary classes will explore ideas about Jesus Christ from the letter to the Colossians.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, November 20: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day and on every third Sunday. This fund is a way to quietly help people with direct financial needs, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, November 20, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

Children’s choir rehearsal, Sunday, November 20, 11:30am: The Children’s Choir will gather for rehearsal after the second service. Kids need to be able to read words (but don’t need to know how to read music) and how to focus and learn with a group. Please talk to our Organist & Choir Director, Martin Ganschow, with any questions.

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

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, November 20, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

 Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 23, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Black Friday Craft-In: VOLUNTEERS WANTED, Friday, November 25, 1 – 4pm: This year we’ll host our third annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, helping little kids with simple crafts, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!”, setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates. If you’d like to plan and set up a craft station of your own, let Rev. Miranda know (so we budget table space for you!), and we have some Michael’s gift cards available to help you cover materials expenses. Sign up in the Gathering Area to help out, or talk with Rev. Miranda.

Caroling in 2016: Last year a group of singers from St. Dunstan’s had a wonderful time visiting a few of our members and singing Christmas carols. We’d like to do the same this year. All ages are welcome to participate. Possible dates include Saturday, December 17; Sunday afternoon, December 18; and Friday, December 23. Please sign up and indicate your availability in the Gathering Area, or contact Rev. Miranda.

Thank You Box: Check out the colorful Thank You Box in our Gathering Area. During the month of November, you’re invited to write a note about a person, thing, or event, in our church’s life or beyond, for which you feel grateful. Put your note in the Thank You Box. In December we’ll turn our notes into banners which will hang around the church as a celebration of all the gifts we’ve received from God and one another.

OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE…

Kids’ Advent Fundraiser: Last year the Sunday school kids asked the parish to contribute towards goats for people living in poverty in the developing world, through Episcopal Relief & Development. The parish was generous and we raised enough for four goats! This year we’d like to raise funds to support a schoolchild in Haiti, helping with his or her educational and everyday expenses, through the Haiti Project, an initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. We’ll have a guest speaker on December 4 to tall us more. More information to come!

SHARING CHRISTMAS: There are still a few “ornaments” detailing gift ideas for each member of our adopted families on display in the Gathering Area!  Please choose one or more ornaments, sign your name on the form next to the number indicated on your ornament(s), buy your gift(s), wrap, firmly attach the ornament, and return to church NO LATER than WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7.  Thank you so much for your generous support of this wonderful Middleton Outreach project that makes Christmas brighter for so many!!

Christmas Cards for Jail Inmates: Thanks to all who have contributed cards; we have a good stock now! Our Card-Writing Station is now set up opposite the kitchen. You can take a moment to write a message while at church, or take home a couple of cards and the card-writing guidelines, and write at home. These cards will go to inmates at the Dane County Jail this Christmas, through an initiative of our sister parish Grace Church.

Christmas is a bleak time for these men and women, and even a simple message of kindness can bring some joy and hope. Our goal is to complete at least 100.

NEXT SUNDAY & BEYOND…

First Sunday of Advent All-Ages Worship Sunday, November 27, 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.

Middle School Lunch and Learn, Sunday, November 27, 11:30am-1pm: Rev. Miranda invites the 10-and-up youth of the parish to meet with her for lunch after church once a month. We’ll dig into faith, Scripture, life, and our questions about all three. We’ll wrap up by 1pm, and we can arrange rides home for the kids if that helps with parents’ schedules.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, November 27, 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.

Men’s Book Club Meeting, Saturday, December 3, 10am: The book is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. “Essential. A compelling and damning exploration of the abuse of one of our basic human rights: shelter”. From abandoned slums to shelters, eviction courts to ghettoes, Matthew Desmond spent years living with and recording the stories of those struggling to survive – yet who won’t give up. A work of love, care and humanity, Evicted reminds us why, without a home, nothing else is possible. It is one of the most necessary books of our time. For more information, contact Jim Hindle.

NO 8am service on Christmas Day:  On Sunday, December 25, there will NOT be an 8am service. There will be a simple Eucharist at 10am. Christmas Eve services will be Saturday, December 24, at 3pm and 9pm.

Sermon, Nov. 13

Today’s lessons may be read here. 

How do you know when a story has ended? When it’s over, and everything that’s going to happen has happened, and there’s no more to be told?

Maybe nine months ago at Sandbox, our Thursday evening worshipping community, I shared one of those wonderful stories from Scripture that the lectionary never gives us on a Sunday. It’s a story from the time before King David, told in the first Book of Samuel. The Israelites were at war with the Philistines, their perennial enemies. They suffered a defeat in battle, and the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant, the holy golden chest that contained the stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments. It was their holiest object, a sign of God’s presence with them, and it was at the front with them because they believed it to be an object of great power. And they lose it, in battle.

The Philistines carry it off in triumph to city of Ashdod, and place it in the temple of the god Dagon, one of their gods. They put the Ark at Dagon’s feet, as a sign of their god’s victory over Israel’s God. It’s a terrible moment, a real low point. If the story ended there… it would not be a good ending for Israel or her God. But the story doesn’t end there, with failure and defeat. In the morning, the Dagon statue has fallen over. So they pick it up again, and think nothing of it. But the NEXT morning, Dagon has fallen again – and now both its arms broken off and flung all the way to the threshold of the temple.

And then other things started to happen in Ashdod. People start getting these horrible growths all over their bodies. And there’s also a virtual plague of mice in everyone’s houses and fields, eating everything and pooping everywhere. It sounds funny, but it’s really not – in a subsistence agriculture economy, this is the stuff of famine. Ashdod wants to get rid of the Ark, so the next town over, Gath, says, Send it here. But then the same things start happening in Gath. So they send it on to Ekron, and guess what?…

Then the five lords of the Philistines got together and said, You know what? LET’S GIVE IT BACK. Let’s send it home to the Israelites. And they ask their wise people, what should we do? Should we send an offering to make peace with its God? They answer, Yes. Send the Ark back with five gold tumours – like the growths that appeared on the people – and five gold mice – one for each lord of the Philistines.

So they load up the Ark on a wagon, and put with it five gold mice and five gold tumors, and they hitch two young cows to the wagon, and they send them off, and the cows immediately pull the wagon straight towards the land of Israel, the city of Beth-Shemesh. The people were harvesting there, and saw the Ark coming. They welcomed it with great joy, celebrated and made offerings. That’s where you’d want to end the story, if you’re looking for closure, for just deserts. The people Israel dancing and singing with joy; the Philistines looking on at a distance, relieved to be rid of the thing, and having learned that Israel’s God was serious business…

If you want a tidy ending, stop there. If you go on, another verse, another chapter, the story gets messy again. As stories do – at least, the real ones. At Sandbox I had people make little golden mouse plaques. See, here’s mine. To remind us that the story might not be over yet. When we feel defeated and lost, God might still have some golden mice up God’s sleeve. The story is still moving.

Today’s lessons from the prophet Isaiah and the book of Luke give us two moments – not even chapters, but paragraphs – from another long, sprawling story, one of the central stories of our Scriptures: the story of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was conquered by David, not too long after the story I just told; he brings the Ark there and makes it capital of his kingdom. His son Solomon builds the Temple there. Jerusalem becomes the Great City of Israel, and takes on a symbolic meaning far beyond its reality. It’s a city, a real place with real beauties and real problems; it’s also The City, the religious and political and cultural heart of a people and their faith.

Both Isaiah and the visionary John who wrote the Book of Revelation imagine God’s ultimate salvation and redemption of the world in terms of a vision of a redeemed Jerusalem, a holy city. A City of peace and plenty, of freedom and health. Jerusalem is named over 1000 times in our Bible. Sometimes those writers are talking about the literal place. Sometimes about the symbolic place, the City of God. Sometimes they mean both at once… In the book of Tobit, as in many places in the Bible, the image of the return from exile and rebuilding of Jerusalem is used as shorthand for the redemption of God’s people, the setting-right of all that has gone wrong, the restoration of everything that has been lost. So Jerusalem is Jerusalem, and also often much more than just Jerusalem.

In this short passage from the book of Isaiah, the prophet is looking from one of the bad times towards the good times. These late chapters of Isaiah were probably written around the time of the return from exile, when the people Israel were released to go home by Cyrus, the new emperor of Persia. They had a LOT of rebuilding to do, in every sense; people had been scattered for two generations. But it was a moment of hope and possibility. A few verses before today’s passage, the text describes the destruction and loss that God’s people have lived through: “Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins.”

If you stopped the story then, things would look pretty hopeless. But the story was still moving. That destruction and loss is the context in which the prophet offers this holy vision of the City’s future: “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives only a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and live in them; they shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruit. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”

Five centuries later, Luke’s Gospel brings us Jesus talking about Jerusalem – this time, looking from one of the good times towards a bad time. At this moment, things are superficially fine – the Romans, King Herod, and the chief priests all getting along great, sharing the work of extracting wealth from the people and keeping any eruptions of dissatisfaction under control. Jesus sees how thin and tenuous it is; he sees that it’s not going to hold. How close the people are to the breaking point. He sees things with God’s eyes, yes, but to be honest any perceptive observer could probably have called this.

About thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Israel rebels against Roman rule; they lose. Jerusalem is destroyed, the Temple – the second great Temple, built after Cyrus sent the people home from exile – the Temple is torn down, not one stone left upon another. Luke and the other Gospel writers are writing after those events, which seemed like a terrible and final ending to many people. In the 70s and 80s and 90s, they knew that something would survive, that there was some kind of hope beyond those losses, that God still had some golden mice up God’s sleeve; but they did not know, yet, where it would lead, whether it would last. In the Epistles we hear the voices of the early Christians busting their butts to try to help write that next chapter. To make sure that neither Jesus’ crucifixion, nor Rome’s crushing of Jerusalem, would be the end of God’s people, God’s work in the world, God’s story.

Of course the story of literal Jerusalem goes on – messy and conflicted, beautiful and heart-breaking. And the story of metaphorical Jerusalem… of God’s people and our efforts to fumble our way towards that City of Isaiah’s vision, where no child is born to calamity, where everyone has a home and food – that story goes on, too. It goes on.

My dear ones. The election this week shook the country. Shook many of us, deeply. I don’t believe anyone here feels anything as simple as triumph or joy. Some of you probably feel some relief, because you trust one party’s approach to our country’s problems more than the other, and that party won.

Some of you feel deep, gut-wrenching grief and anger and fear, about what this next chapter in our country’s life will bring. I know that’s what you’re feeling, because I’ve heard from you, over the past few days.

And all of us – I’m just going to say this, because if it’s not true, it should be – all of us are deeply concerned at the widespread and well-documented reports of increased verbal and physical violence against Muslims, Latinos, GLBTQ folks, and others, perpetrated by those who see this election as legitimating hatred. Kindergarteners are bullying other kindergarteners by telling them they’re going to be deported. Young Muslim women are afraid to wear the hijab, the headscarf that is a sign of their devotion to God, for fear of being harassed or worse. A gay Episcopal priest got a note on his windshield calling him “Father Homo” and telling him that Trump will take his marriage away. However you cast your vote, as citizens and as Christians, we cannot tolerate this persecution of our fellow Americans and children of God.

There’s a lot to wonder and worry about, as we look around our country right now. There’s so much we don’t know. We’re still just trying to get our bearings in a changed landscape. Trying to stay connected, and remember to breathe.

There have been so many times in the long story of God’s people when people have thought, This is the end. The end of their people, their nation, their faith; even the end of everything. And there have been significant endings, of course – but none of them have been The End. The End, like the last page of a storybook. We’re not at that page yet. I don’t think we will be, anytime soon.

Please hear me: I’m not saying this election doesn’t matter in the big picture. I’m not saying everything will be OK. This new chapter will make new demands on each of us and all of us. Next week and next month and next year we will keep figuring out how to be the people of the story. People who work and pray for the good of the city where we dwell, faithfully and fiercely. People who stand right where Jesus told us to stand: shoulder to shoulder with those who are threatened or pushed to the margins. People who struggle to love each other and listen to each other, because we cannot afford to write each other off. We cannot.

Right now this is all I really know for sure, all I’m ready to say: This is not The End. The story is still moving. This story, our story, all our stories. The American story. The Christian story. The story of St. Dunstan’s. Still moving, still being told, being made, by our words and our choices, individually and together, and by the God whom we name as the Author of our salvation.

 

Announcements, November 10

THIS SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13…

Children’s choir rehearsal, Sunday, November 13 at 9:05am: The Children’s Choir will gather for rehearsal. Kids need to be able to read words, but don’t need to know how to read music, and how to focus and learn with a group. Please talk to our Organist & Choir Director, Martin Ganschow, with any questions.

Drama of the Book of Tobit, Sunday, November 13, 9:30am: A group of youth and adults prepared a wonderful dramatic rendering of the Book of Tobit for our Summer Bible & Arts Camp in August. This week they’ll perform it again for our congregation! Please come see the performance.

Sunday school, Sunday, November 13, 10am: This Sunday, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the Exile and Return, while our Elementary classes will work with the prophet Isaiah’s vision of joy and restoration.

Christian Formation Committee Meeting, Sunday, November 13, 11:30am: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, especially our Epiphany pageant and study groups for early 2017. All interested folks are welcome to attend and participate.

Thank You Box: Check out the colorful Thank You Box in our Gathering Area. During the month of November, you’re invited to write a note about a person, thing, or event, in our church’s life or beyond, for which you feel grateful. Put your note in the Thank You Box. In December we’ll turn our notes into banners which will hang around the church as a celebration of all the gifts we’ve received from God and one another.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, November 18, 6pm: Join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant, 5510 University Ave in Madison.

Build Madison, Saturday, November 19, 11am – ?: Do you like to problem-solve, make stuff, and work with a team? One of Madison’s local maker-spaces (a facility with all kinds of equipment for making stuff) is having a 24 hour build-a-thon and St Dunstan’s has some Advent-themed projects that need making. We are hoping to take a contingent of both adults and kids to be there part of the time and you are welcome to bring your own project as well. People with all types of backgrounds are encouraged to join in, whether you are an artist, tinker, crafter, builder or just willing to try something new. Alex Surasky-Ysasi, a new member who is a designer and engineer, is looking for a few adults and youth to join her – for a few hours, if not the full 24! Check out buildmadison.com for previous years projects. If you interested talk with Alex or with Rev. Miranda on Sunday.

OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE…

Black Friday Craft-In: VOLUNTEERS WANTED, Friday, November 25, 1 – 4pm: This year we’ll host our third annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, helping little kids with simple crafts, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!”, setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates. If you’d like to plan and set up a craft station of your own, let Rev. Miranda know (so we budget table space for you!), and we have some Michael’s gift cards available to help you cover materials expenses. Sign up in the Gathering Area to help out, or talk with Rev. Miranda.

SHARING CHRISTMAS: It’s time for “SHARING CHRISTMAS”!! The ornaments detailing gift ideas for each member of our adopted families are on display in the Gathering Area! Please choose one or more ornaments, sign your name on the form next to the number indicated on your ornament(s), buy your gift(s), wrap, firmly attach the ornament, and return to church NO LATER than WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7.  Thank you so much for your generous support of this wonderful Middleton Outreach project that makes Christmas brighter for so many!!

Christmas Cards for Jail Inmates: Thanks to all who have contributed cards; we have a good stock now! Our Card-Writing Station is now set up opposite the kitchen. You can take a moment to write a message while at church, or take home a couple of cards and the card-writing guidelines, and write at home. These cards will go to inmates at the Dane County Jail this Christmas, through an initiative of our sister parish Grace Church.

Christmas is a bleak time for these men and women, and even a simple message of kindness can bring some joy and hope. Our goal is to complete at least 100.

NEXT SUNDAY & BEYOND…

Piece Be with You! Please join us between services at 9:00am on November 20th for a festive, all-parish brunch celebrating the ingathering of our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches and other offerings. Please sign up to bring your favorite pie or quiche. Pre-cut pies with labeled pie servers would be much appreciated. Questions? talk with Laura Bloomenkranz or Sharon Bloodgood. Thank you!

Sunday school, Sunday, November 20, 10am: This Sunday, our 3 year olds to kindergarten class will be learning about the prophet Jeremiah, while our Elementary classes will explore ideas about Jesus Christ from the letter to the Colossians.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, November 20: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day and on every third Sunday. This fund is a way to quietly help people with direct financial needs, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, November 20, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

Children’s choir rehearsal, Sunday, November 20, 11:30am: The Children’s Choir will gather for rehearsal after the second service. Kids need to be able to read words, but don’t need to know how to read music, and how to focus and learn with a group. Please talk to our Organist & Choir Director, Martin Ganschow, with any questions.

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

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, November 20, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Thanksgiving Service, Wednesday, November 23, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

NO 8am service on Christmas Day:  On Sunday, December 25, there will NOT be an 8am service. There will be a simple Eucharist at 10am. Christmas Eve services will be Saturday, December 24, at 3pm and 9pm.

Sermon, All Saints Sunday

The Feast of All Saints is one of my favorite feasts of the church’s year. But it also challenges me, every year, to know how to honor and preach the day. Because there’s just a lot going on. In the idiom of writing assignments, a Sunday morning is basically a three-page double-spaced reflection paper, and all the themes and meanings that are packed into this feast day seem like they demand at least an 80-page master’s thesis!… But I promise this will be fewer than 80 pages.

What does this feast ask of us? Well: It asks us to remember. To call to mind, and name together, those holy ones who have gone before us into God’s presence. People who shined the light of God in their time and place; who did justice, and loved mercy, and walked humbly with God; who followed the right, for Jesus’ sake, the whole of their good lives long. As our Old Testament reading, from Ecclesiasticus, points out, some of those are people whose names are known to the church, to the world – people whose witness and impact were such that they’re honored with feasts and icons and shrines. People like our patron saint Dunstan, who’s a pretty obscure saint, yet here we are, still bearing his name and telling his story, ten centuries after his death.

But then, Ecclesiasticus goes on to say, there are those too who are forgotten, or all but forgotten. They may have lived humble lives, but they lived them well. They may have touched few lives, but they touched them for good. We all have some of those names that we hold in our hearts. And a lot of our practices around this feast invite us to honor those people. We light candles for them, and speak their names with love. We bring in photos and mementos for our Remembrance Table – where you can see some of the saints we’ve commended to God from this household of faith in the past year or so: Sybil, Frances, Jerry, Bill, Art. We remember those whose ashes have become part of the soil of our grounds, here, or who have a tree or bush planted in their memory, with the new Memory Tree Plaque in our Gathering Area, and by sending the kids out after church to take flowers to those grandmothers and grandfathers of our church family. In all these ways we practice abiding: honoring the past, telling our family stories, recalling where we came from.

And it’s important to remind ourselves that this is something more mysterious and joyful than remembering the dead. Our beloved dead are alive with God, alive in God. The Communion of Saints, our church teaches us, is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. When we remember the dead we re-member, we put back together something that has been separated: we remind ourselves that we are still and always one body, one family, with those who have gone before.

So, the Feast of All Saints calls us to re-member. And it also calls us to re-commit – to our own call to sainthood. Our text from the letter to the church in Ephesus uses the word “saints” as it’s generally used in the New Testament: to mean all those who strive to follow Jesus, the whole fellowship of believers. Those who have been baptized, and those on the road towards baptism, all of us who have been promised redemption as God’s own people, and called to live as ambassadors of reconciliation.

The beloved hymn “I Sing of the Saints of God” actually captures this really well – with its charming catalog of saints and martyrs: one was a doctor, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast – and its recurring refrain: And I mean to be one too! We know that our sainthood is given by God’s grace, not ours to achieve through our merit – thanks be to God! And at the same time, the gift of grace and the call of the Gospel pull on us, an invisible magnetic field that draws our hearts and lives to point towards mercy and justice.

I mean to be one too! “I mean,” as in, It’s my intention, my desire, my aspiration, to live like the saints we remember and honor: to be patient and brave and true, to love my God so dear, so dear, and let God’s love make me strong. We renew our baptismal vows on All Saints Day – and, some years, we baptize new believers – to hold before ourselves the call of faithful living: praying and worshipping, resisting and repenting, proclaiming, seeking, serving, loving, striving.

On the Feast of All Saints, then, we remember the saints who have gone before us, acknowledge our kinship with them, and affirm our intention to be one too. That is a lot to pack into one Sunday. And yet I don’t feel like any of it can be left out, or even that we could alternate which note we play, each year. Because it runs together – recalling the saints who’ve gone before, and claiming our sainthood. When we get real about what sainthood is, what it’s looked like in the lives of the uncounted millions who’ve walked that road before us, it comforts and encourages, challenges and inspires us.

It’s too easy to think of the saints, the capital-S famous ones or even our family saints, as if they were stained-glass figures, one-dimensional, frozen, idealized, captured in their best, most significant moment. But the saints aren’t, weren’t, otherworldly or perfect. They didn’t live in simpler times. They were a lot like us, which is why we can aspire to be a lot like them. Tobit, an example of faithfulness from before the time of Jesus, shared meals with the poor even when his own family was on the brink of starvation, buried those murdered in the streets, at great personal risk; and his difficulties wore him down so much that on one particularly bad day, he accused his wife of stealing a goat. Saint Theresa of Avila, the famous 16th century nun and theologian, could say lovely inspiring things like, “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; all things are passing; God never changes.” And she is also remembered, one day when her horse threw her into a river, to have said to God, “Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it’s no wonder You have so few!” One of the saints we remember here at St. Dunstan’s is Jonathan Daniels, a martyr of the Civil Rights movement. I love reading his diaries, in which he second-guesses his own motives and struggles with whether what he’s doing really matters.

For me there is very real comfort in looking at these lives, and so many others. I read an article a couple of weeks ago about the role of family stories in building resilience. There’s this body of research that suggests that the children of homes who tell and re-tell their family stories are more emotionally resilient, better able to cope with struggle and change. And in particular, stories that recall that the family, over its generations, has come through both hard times and good times – those stories correlate with the greatest resilience for the current generation. The stories of the saints – alongside the stories of Scripture – are those family stories for the church. They assure us that God’s people have dealt with crankiness and weariness and self-doubt, while managing somehow to stay faithful in times of need and struggle, and grateful in times of plenty and peace, for thousands of years. Their witness can help us have the resilience to do the same, in our time and place.

The resilience or the balance – that’s what the songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen called it, when he wrote about what makes a saint, back in the ‘60s. He wrote, “Contact with [the energy of love] results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence… I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a [person] setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is [a saint’s] glory… Far from flying with the angels, [a saint] traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. [She] can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such [people], such balancing monsters of love.” – Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1966)

I think that kind of resilience or balance is what Jesus is talking about in the first part of today’s Gospel. I’ve read this passage many times, but this year it jumped out at me that Jesus is talking *to his disciples.* In pictures of the Sermon on the Mount, of which this is part, there’s usually a huge crowd. But right here, the text says, He looked up at his disciples. He’s talking to his followers, his friends – people whose stories and struggles he knows. Maybe he’s looking at their faces as he speaks, thinking about how his words might land in each of their hearts. To those in bad times, in poverty, in grief, he speaks assurance and hope. Know that you are in God’s hands, blessed, beloved, and that better is coming, one way or another. And to those in good times, blessed by wealth and ease, he says, Hey, remember that’s just what it is; it doesn’t mean you’re God’s favorite or better than anyone else. Keep yourself grounded in what’s true and real and lasting, because hard times come around for everyone.

To all of his friends gathered around, he says, Our circumstances don’t define us. They influence us, of course. But they don’t get the last word. With God’s help, through the energy of love, you can keep your balance. With God’s help, by the immeasurable greatness of divine power working in and for us, you are resilient enough to withstand the risks of both easy and difficult seasons.

I woke up Wednesday morning this past week feeling like my own resilience and balance were stretched thin. The news just kept being awful, and I was running low on my inner resources. I came to church and lit candles and incense on the little altar. I sat there in the candlelight and prayed through a couple dozen of our Prayer Book collects. I chanted a few psalms. Then I just sat there in the dark for a few moments. And in the dark I heard the voice of Sybil in my memory – Sybil, our beloved deacon, who passed away this spring. I heard Sybil saying, Hopeful.

And then I started thinking about all the saints of this church who have gone on before us in the past year and more, and the witness of their lives for those of us left behind. I need Sybil’s weary and courageous hopefulness. I need Frances’ instant, genuine courtesy to every person I meet. I need Jerry’s determination to find the good in any misfortune. I need Bill’s strategic eye and capacity to see the big picture. I need Art’s gentle and total conviction that turning towards the needs of others is always the best escape from our own anxious preoccupations.

And there’s the witness of the capital-S Saints too – the witness of blessed Dunstan who knew that kings may come and go, but the work of God’s Kingdom always continues. the witness of blessed Francis who believed peace was always possible, even in the depths of division. the witness of blessed Mary, the Mother of God, who disbelieved in her own smallness, youth, powerlessness; who had the audacity to say Yes and become an agent of God’s purposes on earth. These are the saints of years past, whose light still shines to light our way forward. These are the family stories that shape us for resilience. These are the balanced monsters of love who teach us to look for grace even in chaos. And I mean to be one too.