Announcements, February 15

Capital Campaign Survey: Please respond by THIS SUNDAY, February 18! And hearty thanks to all who have already responded. Please continue to hold this process of wondering together in your prayers!

THIS WEEK…

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 17, 10am: Sherman Alexie’s voice is one of remarkable passion; witty, tender, and fierce. The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country’s finest writers. Have a good read.

Sunday School, Sunday, February 18, 10am: This month, our younger Sunday school students will explore some parables of Jesus, while our elementary classes engage the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Flood. Kids ages 3 through 5th grade are welcome to participate! Parents can come to class too if they wish.

Community Pledge Conversation, Feb. 18, 9am: During our parish conversations about a possible capital campaign, members have stated clearly that whatever we do should also serve our neighbors, in response to Jesus’ call. One way to do so is to commit a portion of the funds we raise to the community beyond ourselves. Come hear about a model we might follow and participate in a conversation about what it could look like for St. Dunstan’s. All are welcome!

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, February 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.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 18, 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.

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

Young Adults Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, February 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 and partners welcome too.

Coffee Hosts Needed in March! Please consider being a coffee host. Talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

Virtual Book Group: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is “a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that [the main character] Reverend John Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.” I read it a dozen years ago, and found it beautiful and deeply moving. I’d like to re-read it; will you join me? We’ll read it during Lent, gathering to discuss the book on Facebook and also at least once in person. There are two copies available to borrow from the church library. You can also find used copies online cheaply, or check the library. Look for an invitation to join the Facebook discussion group next week!

Lenten Read: The Wednesday Morning Book Group will be reading The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. The discussion will begin on Wednesday, February 14 at 9:30. If you have questions or would like help obtaining a book, please contact Valerie McAuliffe. It is not necessary to read the book to participate.

THE WEEKS AHEAD….

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, February 23, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Nonno’s Italian Restaurant, 704 South Whitney Way in Madison. For more information, please contact Kathy Whitt or Debra Martinez.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, February 24, 8-10am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am.

Lenten All-Ages Worship, Sunday, February 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.

Learn More about Stacking Pews, Saturday, March 3, 1pm: Our nave seating is in poor condition. As we consider updates and improvements, one possibility is to replace the chairs with portable, stackable pews. We hope to have two sample pews here soon for our consideration. On March 3, a representative of Luke Hughes Co., of London, will visit to tell us more about how this design has worked in other houses of worship, and answer our questions. Any interested members are welcome!

DIOCESAN NEWS…

Camp Webb 2018 (June 17 – 23) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 3 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $400, with a deposit of $100 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible; contact Rev. Miranda for financial assistance. Visit http://www.diomil.org/forming-disciples/children-youth-and-family-ministries/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

Diocesan Leadership Day, 9am – 3pm, February 24, Zion Episcopal Church, Oconomowoc: Come learn about the concept of discernment – seeking God’s guidance in big decisions and daily life. We’ll try out some tools of spiritual discernment for individual use, and for your church community to use together. Please let Rev. Miranda know by Feb. 9 if you’d like to attend; carpooling is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon, Feb. 11

Let us pray in silence.

Amen.

The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you? And Elisha said, Yes, I know; keep silent.

Keep silent.  Another translation says: Hush you.

Why does Elisha hush the other prophets? It seems that Elijah wants to spare Elisha the pain of witnessing his departure, but Elisha is not leaving his side. He hushes the other prophets because they threaten the careful loving lie that Elijah and Elisha are telling each other, on this fateful day: that Elijah is just going on a little errand to Jericho, and Elisha is just coming along for company.

But Elisha also hushes the other prophets because even though they see the truth of the situation, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t understand the weight of the moment. They think they understand; Elijah is famous, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, who challenged kings in the name of God. His loss is significant for everyone. But it’s especially significant for Elisha, for whom Elijah is more than a prophet; for whom he is master, friend, and father figure. With their questions, the prophets of Jericho and Bethel are intruding on heartbreaking and holy ground. They are like every bystander a step or two outside the situation, who only thinks they’re being helpful. I KNOW, says Elisha. Keep silent. Hush you.

The Gospel of the day, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop, contains an admonition to silence too: “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

This call to silence is in keeping with a pattern in the gospel of Mark, which scholars call the Messianic Secret. Jesus often told followers, strangers, even demons, not to talk about him, in all the Gospels but especially in Mark. There are many reasons he might have done so. To avoid being mobbed by people seeking his help. To evade his enemies long enough to complete his work. To let the full meaning of his life and teachings emerge after his death and resurrection, to be understood in light of those events.

But there’s an element of “Hush you!” in today’s Gospel, too. Peter, James and John were confronted with an overwhelming holy vision: their friend and master, transfigured, transformed, ablaze with holy light, conversing with Moses and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophets. And they were terrified, and they did not know what to say.  They do understand the weight of the moment – and it confounds them. The wise person might, therefore, keep silent. But Peter always has an idea or a plan or a question. He comes up with this idea about building three little houses. It’s so off the mark that Yahweh God, the Father, the Source, speaks into the moment to say: THIS IS MY BELOVED SON; LISTEN TO HIM. Hush you.

I recognize myself in Peter, here and elsewhere. My impulse is always to start figuring out how to wrap words and ideas around something. I come by it honestly – my grandmothers both taught writing. My grandfathers were a professor and a preacher. My father is a professor, my mother is a poet and storyteller. I come from word people. I like words. Most of the time, I know what to do with them. My words have served me well, over the years.

But sometimes – I know – sometimes we need to stop talking. Sometimes I need to stop talking.

I’ve learned, over the years, that sometimes silence, presence, simply receiving the moment, is the better path. In silence I can listen and notice. Maybe there’s something I need to hear or receive. But silence is an end in itself, too. It doesn’t always have to a message. Sometimes there’s grace in just ….

{Pause}

Awesome, definition: In popular use: Extremely good or excellent. A more formal definition: Extremely impressive or daunting. Inspiring admiration or apprehension. Origin: Awe plus Some. Meaning, Causing one to be filled with awe.

Awful, definition: Disgusting, horrible, terrible, nasty, vile, repugnant, dreadful. Origin: Awe plus Full. Meaning, Causing one to be filled with awe.

Some things are so big and strange that they break language.

Ineffable, definition:  That which cannot be spoken or captured in words or, That which must not be spoken or captured in words. The unnameable, the unspeakable. That which breaks language, or transcends it, or escapes it.

The philosopher Wittgenstein wrote, What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence. There are things words can’t do.

For God alone my soul in silence waits. (Psalm 62)

A time to keep, and a time to throw away;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.  (Ecclesiastes 3)

Now there was a great wind, but GOD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but GOD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but GOD was not in the fire; and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. (1 Kings 19)

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand. Now the silence, now the peace, now the empty hands uplifted. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. O hush your noise and cease your strife, and hear the angels sing!

The words of the prophets are whispered in the sounds of silence. Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.

Dave Walker is an English church cartoonist.  His cartoons often explain aspects of church life and worship. My all-time favorite is a cartoon called The Liturgical Pause. You can read it here.

{Pause}

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46, verse 10.

I dug into that Hebrew verb, Be still. Raphah. It can mean a lot of things. Relax. Become helpless. Collapse. Drop down. Go limp. Be idle or lazy.  Put something off. Fail. Let it go.

Be still. Hush you.

I read once in some sermon or seasonal reflection that Lent and lento were the same word. Lento is a musical term, from Italian, meaning, Slow. So, Lent is a season for slowing down.

It’s not true. It’s a coincidence. The words have different etymologies, all the way back to Indo-European. Lento comes from a root meaning soft, pliable, flexible. Gracious and pleasant.  Also, Moist. Lent is actually related to Lengthen, and Long. It basically means, Spring – The time when the days are getting longer again. Finally.

And here’s another coincidence: The Lent in siLent is also unrelated.

It’s from an ancient root that means, Still, windless. Quiet. Slow.

Whether there’s a deeply-buried common root back there, or it’s all convergent linguistic evolution, there’s something all these words are clustering around, pointing towards: Long. Slow. Flexible. Gracious.

Still.

Announcements, February 8

Capital Campaign Survey: Please respond by Sunday, February 18! If your household DID NOT receive the survey, by email or on paper, PLEASE let Rev. Miranda know or call the office at 238-2781 and we will find a way to get your input!

THIS WEEK…

Sunday School, Sunday, February 11, 10am: This month, our younger Sunday school students will explore some parables of Jesus, while our elementary classes engage the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Flood. Kids ages 3 through 5th grade are welcome to participate! Parents can come to class too if they wish.

Choosing a Lenten Discipline, Sunday, Feb 11, 9am: Building on the themes of this Sunday’s sermon, we’ll explore how we might choose a Lenten discipline by identifying things in our lives that have more power than they should. Please prepare by reading these essays by UW chaplain and friend of St. Dunstan’s, Father Jonathan Melton:

http://thepatienceoftrees.blogspot.com/2018/01/selling-smartphone-and-rhythms-of.html

Bake Sale for Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 11 – Contributions Welcome!  The Sunday school students of St. Dunstan’s want to sustain our support for Djelene, a student at St. Marc’s School in Jeannette, Haiti. To raise funds for Djelene’s school fees, we are holding a bake sale! Contributions of baked goods are welcome; contact Sarah Errington.  A selection of handmade earrings will also be available on a donation basis. Donations can be made by cash, check, or online. Thanks for your support!

THE WEEKS AHEAD….

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Tuesday, February 13, 5-6:30pm: Great food and fellowship! Join us and bring a friend for a tasty meal. Suggested donation of $5 per adult, $10 per household. Kids eat free. All proceeds go to support the St. Dunstan’s Campership Fund, which helps cover costs for St. Dunstan’s kids to attend Camp Webb, our diocesan summer camp. We’ve got more kids going every year, so please give generously! If you’d like to help out or contribute to the meal, see the signup sheets in the Gathering Area.

Lenten Read: The Wednesday Morning Book Group will be reading The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. The discussion will begin on Wednesday, February 14 at 9:30. If you have questions or would like help obtaining a book, please contact Valerie McAuliffe. It is not necessary to read the book to participate.

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 14. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families. Rev. Miranda will also offer Ashes-to-Go by the main driveway from 7:30 – 8:30am and 5 – 6pm.

Inquirer’s Class and Discernment Group to begin soon! In the weeks ahead, we will begin two new monthly gatherings. One will be an Inquirers’ Class, for those new to the church or seeking to learn more; we will study the Episcopal Church and way of faith though discussion based on short books about aspects of the church such as history, teachings, approach to Scripture, spiritual practices, civic engagement, etc. The other gathering will be a Discernment Group, which will meet monthly for conversation and mutual support focused on discerning where God is leading us in current struggles or choices. If you would like to be part of one (or both) of those gatherings, please let Rev. Miranda know in person, by email at office@stdunstans.com, or by phone at 238-2781. We will try to schedule each group to accommodate those who want to participate.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, February 14, 1:00 – 2:45 pm: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic and anchoress.  Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book and all are welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of each month.  For additional information, contact Susan Fiore.=

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 17, 10am: Sherman Alexi’s voice is one of remarkable passion; witty, tender, and fierce. The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country’s finest writers. Have a good read.

Community Pledge Conversation, Feb. 18, 9am: During our parish conversations about a possible capital campaign, members have stated clearly that whatever we do should also serve our neighbors, in response to Jesus’ call. One way to do so is to commit a portion of the funds we raise to the community beyond ourselves. Come hear about a model we might follow and participate in a conversation about what it could look like for St. Dunstan’s. All are welcome!

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, February 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.

Sunday School, Sunday, February 18, 10am: This month, our younger Sunday school students will explore some parables of Jesus, while our elementary classes engage the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Flood. Kids ages 3 through 5th grade are welcome to participate! Parents can come to class too if they wish.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 18, 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.

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

Young Adults Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, February 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 and partners welcome too.

LOOKING TOWARDS LENT…

Walking the Stations of the Cross in Lent: You are invited to walk and pray the Stations of the Cross in our nave, any time during the season of Lent. Fridays at noon are a traditional time to do so. Call ahead to the church office (238-2781) or check in with Rev. Miranda  to make sure the church is open when you’d like to come, or would like to walk the Stations with others. Our Stations booklet is based on Scripture and readings from Christian tradition.

The Rite of Reconciliation is a simple practice of offering up our sins to God for cleansing and healing. Sin often has to do with habits of mind and action that tend to separate us from God, from one another, and from our truest selves. Most of us can easily name two or three ongoing struggles in our lives – areas where we strive, and sometimes fail, to be healthier and kinder and more ethical people. You may seek the Rite of Reconciliation at any time, but Lent is an appropriate season for self-reflection and penitence. If you would like to experience the ministry of Reconciliation, contact Rev. Miranda to make an appointment.

DIOCESAN NEWS…

Camp Webb 2018 (June 17 – 23) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 3 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $400, with a deposit of $100 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible; contact Rev. Miranda for financial assistance. Visit http://www.diomil.org/forming-disciples/children-youth-and-family-ministries/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

Diocesan Leadership Day, 9am – 3pm, February 24, Zion Episcopal Church, Oconomowoc: Come learn about the concept of discernment – seeking God’s guidance in big decisions and daily life. We’ll try out some tools of spiritual discernment for individual use, and for your church community to use together. Please let Rev. Miranda know by Feb. 9 if you’d like to attend; carpooling is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Dunstan’s Supports Stable Housing for Local Families

It’s widely known that the high price of rent in Dane county leaves many working families one crisis away from eviction, or having to choose between rent and food.  The recommended percentage that families should pay in rent or housing, for a healthy financial balance, is 30% of their income.  For the working poor in Dane county, the percentage they pay ranges from 50 to 70%.   Eviction and people losing their housing is a primary cause of poverty. Losing housing can undo years of small incremental progress towards stability and well-being. Losing housing often means people also lose employment, school, and possessions, and causes added risk to physical health and safety. Lack of housing stability is a key factor disrupting education for kids; even anxiety about possibly losing housing can be a major factor. Housing stabilization is one of the most effective and cost-effective interventions that can help people escape poverty. It is far cheaper and simpler to intervene before a family loses their housing – to keep them in housing – than it is after they have already lost it.

St. Dunstan’s has been supporting stable housing for families associated with Falk Elementary School, our partner school, by administering a fund for eviction prevention. We provide up to $200 to help with rent or security deposits. The school social worker lets us know when a check is needed, and we send it directly to the landlord. The school social worker recently told us, “Our school homelessness rate is truly being impacted by our housing work.” That’s wonderful news!

The Outreach Committee recently committed funds to another opportunity to support housing stability. On Sunday, January 28, Sarah Shatz, who coordinates support for low-income families in Middleton and beyond as part of the Dane County program Joining Forces for Families, visited St. Dunstan’s and told us about a program she’s been overseeing. Last year, Sarah received a grant which allowed her to provide rental assistance of $200 a month, for a full year, to several families. St. Dunstan’s Outreach Committee has decided to commit funds to continue the rent support for one of those households for a second year. Sarah, who is working closely with this household, believes this support will help them build a cushion and have the confidence and security to pursue opportunities that could lead to greater income and stability.

If supporting housing stability is important to you, here are a few ways you can contribute. We are happy to accept donations to the Falk School Eviction Prevention Fund that St. Dunstan’s holds and administers. Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) also does eviction prevention work with clients, and I’m sure gifts would be welcome. Other ideas are welcome!

Sermon, Feb. 4

Ten days from now – a Wednesday – I’ll stand right here and say these words: “Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent … was a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church… I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Self-examination – repentance – self-denial. Penitence and fasting. Notorious sins! These are big, weighty words for a weighty truth: God loves us just the way we are, but God isn’t going to leave us that way. While the life of faith always calls us to seek God’s will for us, Lent is the season in which the Church invites us to reckon with the place of sin in our lives.

Sin. The outline of the faith in the back of the prayer book says, Sin is when we do and say and choose things that distort our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation. I wish they’d added self there, because many of our sins harm ourselves, first and foremost. The Greek word often translated as “sin” in the New Testament means something like, To miss the mark. To fall short. When I talk about sin, I like to offer author Francis Spufford’s alternative term: The Human Propensity to Eff Things Up, or, The HPtFTU.

Contrary to popular belief, Episcopalians actually take sin pretty seriously. You won’t hear a lot of hell and damnation sermons here, true; but every Sunday, our liturgy has us acknowledge that we are sinners, and ask God to forgive us, restore us, help us. And we have this whole season, six weeks, when we try to look frankly at ourselves, and ask, Where is God calling me to amendment of life?

One important tool is taking on a Lenten discipline or fast. A fast means you’re giving something up – not necessarily a food; you can fast from social media, or video games, or whatever. Discipline is a broader term – it could mean giving something up and/or taking on a practice. Either way – fast or discipline – it’s not an end in itself but should serve a purpose: To strengthen you in all goodness, as our prayer of absolution says.

Sometimes a Lenten discipline is a set thing, like giving up sweets for the season. The sugar in your coffee might not be a destructive habit. But you’re changing a small daily practice, taking on a small deprivation, and using that to remind yourself daily of God’s role in your life and your commitment to doing what God asks of you. Think of it as training, of a sort, for following through on larger commitments.

But what I’d like to focus on today are the kinds of Lenten disciplines that are more individual, more particular to your circumstances, your struggles. The kind of disciplines intended to help you come to grips with the things that distort your relationship with God, neighbor, creation, self. And I’ll talk about that through the lens of Paul’s writings in the text we know as First Corinthians – our epistle for the last few weeks.

Today’s passage comes from a chapter that is very specifically about Paul – his call to ministry, and how he chooses to live it out. But he does – parenthetically and provocatively – dip into one of his big themes: Christian freedom. He says he’s not under the Law – meaning, Jewish law. But then he says he IS under the law – God’s law, Christ’s Law. Make up your mind, Paul! Law or no law??

This paradox is a big focus in Paul’s writings: what the ethical and holy life looks like, in the absence of the old Law. That was a contentious question in the early churches. On one side, there was a push for Christians to keep elements of Jewish law. For example, some felt that Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised, and that Christians should keep Jewish food laws. The practices of holiness inherited from Judaism were so integral to some peoples’ sense of what it meant to be God’s holy people that was really hard to set that aside.

At the other end of the spectrum were people who thought that as Christians, ANYTHING GOES. That Jesus’ ministry and teaching began a new era of Christian freedom that transcended the narrow constrains of human morality and decency. Earlier in this letter, in chapter 5, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth because there is someone in the church who has shacked up with his widowed stepmother – and the community is PROUD of it, as a sign of how free and non-judgmental they are. Paul is unimpressed. He says, Our freedom in Christ should not mean that sexual license or drunkenness or greed are to be celebrated as proof of our liberation!

In addition to the legalists and the hedonists, there’s one more camp Paul is worried about – those for whom becoming Christian seems to have made no difference whatsoever. We heard about that a couple of weeks ago, in a portion of chapter 6, about Christians taking each other to court. Paul says, Listen: God appointed us to judge the whole WORLD, and you still get into legal tangles with each other??The other part of that chapter says people shouldn’t be going to prostitutes, because that isn’t showing respect for their own and other’s bodies. Paul’s making the same point with both issues: You shouldn’t do tawdry, soul-staining, hurtful stuff just because it’s normal, because everybody does it. Your life should show that you belong to God.

In this letter, and elsewhere, Paul tries to define an ethic of Christian moral behavior that isn’t legalism – it’s not the old Law of Judaism, or anything like it;

that isn’t “anything goes”; and that still marks the lives of Christians as a people set apart to love and serve. And he does that by developing a kind of Christian situational ethics, based on context and conscience.

There’s a thing he says twice in this letter, a core concept: In chapter 6: “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” And again in chapter 10:   “‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.”

“All things are lawful” – Our translation puts that phrase in quotation marks. Paul is repeating a saying here – and it seems likely that it’s one of his own teachings. He preached a sermon once on how Jesus had abolished the old Law and we are FREE in Christ – and people have taken him a little too literally, and now he define some limits.

“All things are lawful” – this is a core part of the Gospel message: Christianity does not have a holiness code, a set of practices and behaviors proscribed as off-limits, and prescribed as necessary, in order to know you’re right with God. Jesus tells us, Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, and share the Gospel. There are a few other specifics – gather to share Eucharist; feed the hungry – but it’s not a long list. The “rules” of Christianity, while often difficult, are not complicated.

Which is why Paul qualifies the “All things are lawful” teaching: All things are lawful – but not everything is beneficial, good for me or others. All things are lawful – but not all things build up. Not all all things are constructive or healthy.  All things are lawful – but I will not be dominated by anything, and lose my freedom to habit or compulsion.

Liberty in Christ, Christian freedom, comes with the responsibility of Christian discipline. With self-examination, and penitence, and sometimes self-denial. Because the things we choose to do with our freedom can begin to rule us instead of serve us.

Although he was writing nearly 2000 years ago, at the very beginning of the Christian era, I find that Paul puts his finger on something that remains one of the perplexing cores of Christian life. We may all be striving to follow Jesus and live out God’s intentions for us, as we best understand them; but what that looks like in our lives is very individual. There’s not just one template or map. I can listen and learn from the experiences and wisdom of others, but ultimately I have to know my own mind, my own heart. I have to know what in my life is beneficial – or not. What in my life is building up – and what is not. What in my life is dominating me.

In the verses just before today’s Epistle text, Paul gives us an example of a personal discipline in his own life. He’s talking about a hot-button issue of his time: whether traveling preachers and apostles like himself should be financially supported by the churches they visit. And Paul’s answer is, ABSOLUTELY. He calls up examples from Scripture and real life: Do you plant a vineyard and not benefit from what it produces? Do people serve in the military for free? Of course apostles should be compensated for their service.

But then he says: But not me.

Paul worked, everywhere he went, so that he wouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of the churches he visited. He offers this amazing humblebrag – he says, I don’t have any choice about preaching the Gospel; God TOLD me to do that; I get no credit. But I can choose how I do it, and I choose to do it this way: giving up my right for people like YOU, Corinthians, to pay my way.

He doesn’t really explain why, but I can imagine a couple of reasons that seem in keeping with what we know of Paul’s heart. I think he never wants to feel beholden – tempted to soften his message to keep a generous donor happy. And I think he wants to know deep in his heart that he’s doing what he’s doing for the right reason, for love of God, and not because it provides a comfortable living. (Paul would sneer at my benefit and pension package!…)

It would have been fine for Paul to be supported by the churches. Only his enemies would have criticized him for it, and they criticized him anyway.  But this is between Paul and God. And Paul feels in his heart that this a discipline he needs, to keep his motives and his message pure. He’s very clear that this policy isn’t for everyone; but it IS for him. Friend of the parish Jonathan Melton has written an essay about giving up his smartphone, which you’re invited to read this week. In it, he says: Some people can have a healthy relationship with their smartphone. I can’t. Paul says something similar here, in effect: Some apostles can be financially supported by churches and not have it distort or undermine their ministry. I can’t. He feels a temptation, a risk; and he chooses a way of living to keep that temptation at bay. To resist being dominated.

Paul doesn’t have the vocabulary of addiction, but that’s a big part of what he’s talking about in this letter.  Addiction, broadly defined – not just substance abuse, but all the things in our lives where we say, “It’s not that important to me,” or “I could stop anytime I want,” and know we’re lying. The impulses or habits or things in our lives that we feel powerless to change. Some people wrestle with their relationship with food. With online shopping, or social media, or just the act of picking up your smartphone to fill every quiet moment. With an unhealthy relationship. With the adrenaline rush of conflict or danger or outrage. There are so many things that will dominate us, if we let them. If sin is what disrupts love of God, love of neighbor, love of creation, love of self – addictions do that. They become the center of our lives. Or, just as insidiously, the background of our lives, the thing we fall back to whenever we’re not doing something else.

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus casting out some demons. Apparently he did that a lot. There are a couple of ways to make sense of these stories. One is that 1st century Palestinian Jews understood some things we’d call biological illness, as demon possession. So what we might see as a healing, they would see as exorcism. On the other hand: Maybe demons were really around, back then. There are some pretty great demon stories in the Bible.

I am personally agnostic about evil spirits and such. But I know this: Addiction acts a lot like a demon. It makes someone act like something other than their true self. It take away their control over their actions, their lives. It can cause them to endanger themselves. And it’s Jesus’ desire to free us from their grasp.

I’ve learned so much from my recovery community friends, for whom the Twelve Steps are a core spiritual practice. They know that recovery from addiction is ongoing, lifelong work. You don’t quit whatever it is, and just walk away. You have to keep choosing not to be dominated. And you need the help of a higher power, and ideally of an understanding community, to keep making that choice – because it’s hard. But life in recovery is better than life as an addict. Being addicted can feel like freedom, but it’s a lie.

The Invitation to a Holy Lent from the prayer book that I quoted earlier makes mention of “notorious sins” – that always tempts me to giggle. We are all sinners, friends – but if any of you are notorious sinners, I must have missed the headline. Sin usually takes pretty mundane forms: the things in our lives that diminish our capacity for love – given or received; that confuse our purpose, that numb our conscience, that dim our light, which is really God’s light shining through us. If we’re honest with ourselves, if we’re listening to God, we know what those things are. If addiction is too heavy a word, think about your habits instead. Habits of action or of thought.

We need to undertake this work – to approach these heavy words, self-discipline, self-denial – holding firmly in mind that Jesus’ Great Commandment calls us to love ourselves, as well as God and neighbor. Don’t let your self-reflection become a weapon of self-harm. Practice your self-awareness with compassion!

But there is – there has to be – a place in our faith for asking ourselves these powerful questions Paul gives us: What in my life is hurting instead of helping? What in my life is undermining instead of building up? What in my life is dominating me? And for undertaking the work of change. Of recovery. Of liberation.

Lent begins in ten days. Often it sneaks up on me, which means that it probably also sneaks up on most of you. But this year, Paul has given us notice. He’s called us to examine how we’re living our freedom in Christ – and where that freedom may be compromised by the things we allow to have power over us. So I invite you, today, to begin noticing, and reflecting, and praying about taking on a Lenten discipline or fast. Have a real honest conversation with God about something you’d like to do differently – at least a little bit. Lent is a good length; six weeks isn’t an overwhelming amount of time to commit to something, but it’s also long enough to perhaps establish a new habit, or release an old one. Practice self-compassion and set realistic intentions: don’t aim too high and disappoint yourself right away. And remember the wisdom of the recovery community: One day at a time.

I invite you, friends, in the name of the Church, to begin your preparation for the observance of a holy Lent.

 

Announcements, February 1

The Capital Campaign Feasibility Study will be going out on Friday! Please respond and return it by February 18. If your household doesn’t receive an email inviting you to take the survey, please talk to Rev. Miranda or contact the office at (608) 238-2781 or office@stdunstans.com . Mailed (hardcopy) surveys should arrive in the next few days.

Election Results: Thanks to all who attended and participated in our Parish Annual Meeting on January 21! Here are the results of our election of parish officers: Senior Warden: Shirley Laedlein; Junior Warden: Michelle Windle; Vestry: Krissy Mayer, Mary Rowe and Bill Ford; Convention Delegates: Celia Fine, Kate Larson, Sharon Henes, Evy Gildrie-Voyles; Alternate Delegate: Valerie McAuliffe. We thank Lynn Bybee for his service as Vestry member and Junior Warden.

THIS WEEK…

Survival Backpacks: We are collecting items to fill backpacks for homeless high school youth in the Madison school system. If you took a slip from the window display, please bring back your items by this Sunday, February 4! Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson at bonniemagnuson@gmail.com.

Birthday and Anniversary blessings and Healing Prayers will be given this Sunday, February 4, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, February 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  some of the current most needed items: Whole Grains, Pasta; Canned Chicken, Salmon, Sardines; Herbal Tea; Protein Bars;  Nut Butters; Toilet Paper/Paper Towels. Thank you for your generous support!

Falk Friends Pantry Prep, Sunday, February 4, 11:30am: This year we’re partnering with Falk by providing toilet paper, feminine hygiene items, detergent, and other similar items for their pantry. Helpers of all ages are welcome to help pack our Falk Friends Pantry bags after the 10am liturgy!

Bake Sale for Haiti, Sunday, Feb. 11 – Contributions Welcome!  The Sunday school students of St. Dunstan’s want to sustain our support for Djelene, a student at St. Marc’s School in Jeannette, Haiti. To raise funds for Djelene’s school fees, we are holding a bake sale! Contributions of baked goods are welcome; contact Sarah Errington.  A selection of handmade earrings will also be available on a donation basis. Donations can be made by cash, check, or online. Thanks for your support!

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

THE WEEKS AHEAD….

Sunday School, Sunday, February 11, 10am: This month, our younger Sunday school students will explore some parables of Jesus, while our elementary classes engage the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Flood. Kids ages 3 through 5th grade are welcome to participate! Parents can come to class too if they wish.

Choosing a Lenten Discipline, Sunday, Feb 11, 9am: Building on the themes of this Sunday’s sermon, we’ll explore how we might choose a Lenten discipline by identifying things in our lives that have more power than they should. Please prepare by reading these essays by UW chaplain and friend of St. Dunstan’s, Father Jonathan Melton:

http://thepatienceoftrees.blogspot.com/2018/01/selling-smartphone-and-rhythms-of.html

Community Pledge Conversation, Feb. 18, 9am: During our parish conversations about a possible capital campaign, members have stated clearly that whatever we do should also serve our neighbors, in response to Jesus’ call. One way to do so is to commit a portion of the funds we raise to the community beyond ourselves. Come hear about a model we might follow and participate in a conversation about what it could look like for St. Dunstan’s. All are welcome!

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Tuesday, February 13, 5-6:30pm: Great food and fellowship! Join us and bring a friend for a tasty meal. Suggested donation of $5 per adult, $10 per household. Kids eat free. All proceeds go to support the St. Dunstan’s Campership Fund, which helps cover costs for St. Dunstan’s kids to attend Camp Webb, our diocesan summer camp. We’ve got more kids going every year, so please give generously! If you’d like to help out or contribute to the meal, see the signup sheets in the Gathering Area.

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 14. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families. Rev. Miranda will also offer Ashes-to-Go by the main driveway from 7:30 – 8:30am and 5 – 6pm.

Inquirer’s Class and Discernment Group to begin soon! In the weeks ahead, we will begin two new monthly gatherings. One will be an Inquirers’ Class, for those new to the church or seeking to learn more; we will study the Episcopal church and way of faith though discussion based on short books about aspects of the church such as history, teachings, approach to Scripture, spiritual practices, civic engagement, etc. The other gathering will be a Discernment Group, which will meet monthly for conversation and mutual support focused on discerning where God is leading us in current struggles or choices. If you would like to be part of one (or both) of those gatherings, please let Rev. Miranda know in person, by email at office@stdunstans.com, or by phone at 238-2781. We will try to schedule each group to accommodate those who want to participate.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, February 14, 1:00 – 2:45 pm: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic and anchoress.  Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book and all are welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of each month.  For additional information, contact Susan Fiore.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 17, 10am: Sherman Alexi’s voice is one of remarkable passion; witty, tender, and fierce. The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country’s finest writers. Have a good read.

LOOKING TOWARDS LENT…

Walking the Stations of the Cross in Lent: You are invited to walk and pray the Stations of the Cross in our nave, any time during the season of Lent. Fridays at noon are a traditional time to do so. Call ahead to the church office (238-2781) or check in with Rev. Miranda  to make sure the church is open when you’d like to come, or would like to walk the Stations with others. Our Stations booklet is based on Scripture and readings from Christian tradition.

The Rite of Reconciliation is a simple practice of offering up our sins to God for cleansing and healing. Sin often has to do with habits of mind and action that tend to separate us from God, from one another, and from our truest selves. Most of us can easily name two or three ongoing struggles in our lives – areas where we strive, and sometimes fail, to be healthier and kinder and more ethical people. You may seek the Rite of Reconciliation at any time, but Lent is an appropriate season for self-reflection and penitence. If you would like to experience the ministry of Reconciliation, contact Rev. Miranda to make an appointment.

Have you been baptized? The Prayer Book tells us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” From the earliest years of Christianity, the season of Lent (which begins February 10) was when new Christians studied the faith and prepared for baptism at Easter. If you have never been baptized, or aren’t sure, and would like to learn more about this rite, please contact Rev. Miranda at 238-2781.

DIOCESAN NEWS…

Camp Webb 2018 (June 17 – 23) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 3 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $400, with a deposit of $100 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible; contact Rev. Miranda for financial assistance. Visit http://www.diomil.org/forming-disciples/children-youth-and-family-ministries/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

Diocesan Leadership Day, 9am – 3pm, February 24, Zion Episcopal Church, Oconomowoc: Come learn about the concept of discernment – seeking God’s guidance in big decisions and daily life. We’ll try out some tools of spiritual discernment for individual use, and for your church community to use together. Please let Rev. Miranda know by Feb. 9 if you’d like to attend; carpooling is possible.

 

Announcements, January 25

The Capital Campaign Survey Is Coming on February 2! We ask each household in the parish to respond. Responses will go to our partners in this process, the Episcopal Church Foundation, who will use your input to help us understand which parts of the proposed projects are the highest priority for members of the congregation, and what is a realistic goal for fundraising.

The survey will be accompanied by a document summarizing our projects and options, but please take a few moments in the weeks ahead to re-familiarize yourself with plans and details. You can look at the display in the Gathering Area at church, or view the same information on our website: http://stdunstans.com/capital-campaign-possibilities-december-2017/.

THIS WEEK…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, January 26, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Amber Indian Restaurant on 6913 University Avenue in Madison. For more information, please contact Kathy Whitt or Debra Martinez.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 27, 8-10am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am. Contact Evy Gildrie-Voyles for more information.

Housing & Hope, Sunday, January 28, 9am: High rent is a major contributor to poverty and instability for low-income families in Dane County. Come learn about a concrete, focused way to help from our guest speaker, Sarah Shatz, who coordinates support for low-income families in Middleton and beyond as part of Joining Forces for Families

Epiphany Pageant & Candlemas Blessing of the Flashlights, Sunday, January 28: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. We will also celebrate Candlemas with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed!

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, January 28, 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.

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 25 and in March: Please consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee.

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

Get your picture taken for a new photo directory! St. Dunstan’s is a growing parish and putting faces to names can help us get to know each other better. We are putting together a photo directory. Father Tom McAlpine will be available to take photos before and after the 10am liturgy on Sunday, Jan. 21 and 28. If you have a photo from home that you would prefer to use, please email it to Pamela in the office at office@stdunstans.com. Please email your photo in either pdf or jpeg format, and only one photo per household. Thanks so much!

Survival Backpacks: We are collecting items to fill backpacks for homeless high school youth in the Madison school system. They need basic necessities in a simple form that they can carry with them. Please check the window in the Gathering Area for items needed. Take a slip, buy the items, and bring them back by Sunday, February 4. Feel free to take more than one slip if you feel able to meet the need. We will also happily accept donations for the most expensive items; please write “Backpack” on the memo line of a check made out to St. Dunstan’s. Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson. 

Pledge envelopes: If you have had pledge/contribution envelopes in the past or requested envelopes on your pledge card, they will be on the table outside the nave door on Sunday. If you would like envelopes please contact Valerie, treasurer@stdunstans.com.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Birthday and Anniversary blessings and Healing Prayers will be given next Sunday, February 4, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, February 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: Low Sugar/Natural Cereal; Whole Grains: Rice, Quinoa, Barley, Pasta; Canned Chicken, Salmon, Sardines; Herbal Tea; Granola, Trail Mix, Protein Bars; Prepared Meals; Pork & Beans, Baked Beans; Heart Healthy Cooking Oil; Nut Butters; Toilet Paper/Paper Towels. Thank you for your generous support!

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

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 14. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families. Rev. Miranda will also offer Ashes-to-Go by the main driveway from 7:30 – 8:30am and 5 – 6pm.

Camp Webb 2018 (June 17 – 23) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 3 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $400, with a deposit of $100 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible; contact Rev. Miranda for financial assistance.  Visit http://www.diomil.org/forming-disciples/children-youth-and-family-ministries/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, February 14, 1:00 – 2:45 pm: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic and anchoress.  [What’s an anchoress?  In the Middle Ages, certain women and men chose to live a life intensely devoted to prayer permanently enclosed in a small room, called an anchorhold, attached to a parish church.] 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 and all are welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of each month.  For additional information, contact Susan Fiore.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 17, 10am: In these stories, we meet the kind of Native Americans we rarely see in literature – the kind who pay their bills, hold down jobs, and fall in and out of love. A Spokane Indian journalist transplanted from the reservation to the city picks up a hitchhiker, a Lummi boxer looking to take on the toughest Indian in the world; a son waiting for his diabetic father to come home from the hospital, tossing out the Hershey Kisses the father has hidden all over the house; an estranged interracial couple, separated in the midst of a traffic accident who rediscover their love for each other – Sherman Alexi’s voice is one of remarkable passion; witty, tender, and fierce. The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country’s finest writers. Have a good read.

Have you been baptized? The Prayer Book tells us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” From the earliest years of Christianity, the season of Lent (which begins February 10) was when new Christians studied the faith and prepared for baptism at Easter. If you have never been baptized, or aren’t sure, and would like to learn more about this rite, please contact Rev. Miranda at 238-2781.

Diocesan Leadership Day, 9am – 3pm, February 24, Zion Episcopal Church, Oconomowoc: Come learn about the concept of discernment – seeking God’s guidance in big decisions and daily life. We’ll try out some tools of spiritual discernment for individual use, and for your church community to use together. Please let Rev. Miranda know by Feb. 9 if you’d like to attend; carpooling is possible.

 

Sermon, Jan. 21

This is what I’m saying, friends: Our time is short. From now on, married people should not be preoccupied with their partner, family and home. Those who are sad should look beyond their sadness, and those who are happy should look beyond their happiness. Everyone should not be so concerned with how they make or spend money. Those who make use of the world and its opportunities should be like people who are detached from the world. Because this world in its present form is passing away.

That’s today’s Epistle, from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. (1 Cor 7:29-31) A few verses earlier, leading up to this passage, Paul writes, “In view of the impending crisis…”

Those are words you really don’t want to hear from the rector of your church in her annual meeting address: “In view of the impending crisis…”

In preparing sermons, I often use a wonderful webpage called The Text This Week. It compiles and presents commentaries and reflections and sermons and liturgical resources for every reading on every Sunday, following the Revised Common Lectionary. The Text This Week has a long list of commentaries and articles on this text – but not a single sermon. So apparently people have LOTS to say about this passage, but nobody cares to preach on it.

Well. Here goes.

One of the reasons it’s a difficult text to preach is that Paul seems to expect, in this passage, that Jesus will return soon – like, next week soon – so Christians really can detach from this world, because there’s no point in saving for college or setting up autopay on your mortgage.  And we shrug off the passage because, well, Paul was wrong. We’re all still here.

But Biblical theologian Alastair Roberts says that’s missing the point. What Paul says here isn’t that the world is passing away, but that the present form of this world is passing away. The Greek word is “schema”, the shape or appearance of the world as it is. Paul wrote this letter perhaps a decade before the first Jewish revolt against Roman rule, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the great Temple. It was a world-changing event for early Christians – and Paul may well have seen it coming; Jesus certainly did. So: Paul wasn’t wrong. When we stop being 21st-century observers and put ourselves in the shoes of 1st-century Christians experiencing the upheavals of that time: Yeah. The schema was passing away, bigtime. As many, many schemas have passed away in the two millennia since then.

Furthermore, Roberts says, Paul’s point here isn’t just about historical changes and endings. It’s also about theology – how we see the world in light of our understanding of God. You don’t have to believe that the world is literally going to end soon, to see the world through the lens of the expected fulfillment of God’s promise to transform and renew the whole cosmos.

Roberts says that the New Testament expresses the first Christians’ sense of eschatological imminence – the sense that God’s Kingdom is just over the horizon. And that sense arises from the Church’s experience of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The first Christians understood that reality had already been fundamentally transformed by the events of Good Friday and Easter. Roberts writes: “Life after these events is characterized by a radical relativization of the current world order and an intensified sense of its penultimacy.”

Let me try to rephrase that. Christians living after Easter and before the Second Coming should believe and know that the way things are is not the way they are meant to be – or the way they will be when God brings God’s purposes to fulfillment. “Relativization” means being able to see whatever is most familiar and seems most natural to us, as only one option among many, and not necessarily the best.

And the world as it is – even in its best and grandest moments – is not yet what it will be. Penultimate means, Next-to-last. Not final, complete, or ultimate, but whatever comes before the final, the complete, the ultimate. So: Life in the time of the church – 2000 years and counting – is marked by a sense of relativization and penultimacy: a recognition that things are not as God would have them; that we live and die, work and pray, hope and strive, in the crepuscular glimmer of God’s future, just beyond the horizon of our limited sight.

Bringing that lens to this text, Paul’s guidance to the Christians of Corinth doesn’t sound like the rantings of a prophet whose doomsday predictions missed the mark. Paul is reminding the Corinthians not to take the world-as-it-is for granted. To hold it lightly. Everything is provisional, everything is temporary – both the things you hate and the things you love. Don’t take anything too seriously; don’t lose yourself in the preoccupations of everyday life in the here-and-now.

Read in this light, Paul’s words don’t feel distant and irrelevant. They feel like good advice that I don’t really want to take,either as Miranda, a wife and mother and friend and citizen who wants a safe, stable, predictable future for those I love, or as Rev. Miranda, Rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church.

Across mainline Christian denominations right now, the ethos is anxiety bordering on panic. Membership numbers have fallen sharply since their high point in the 1950s – for a variety of big, sweeping historical reasons. Mainline Protestantism’s position of cultural and institutional centrality in American life is long gone. Churches and denominations are struggling to adjust to the changed religious, economic and social landscape, making tough choices about how to use decreasing resources to maintain what they have or to cut their losses and try something new. Look up the current struggle over the Episcopal Church’s budget for a lively case in point. We all know – in our best moments – that the Church and the Gospel will outlive the forms of institutional church that took shape in the mid-20th century. But we live in those forms, and love them, so there is grief and fear and struggle in this season, across American Christianity. A schema is passing away.

But St. Dunstan’s is growing. Slowly, but surely. I don’t know why. I don’t understand it. I’m grateful, and puzzled, and sometimes overwhelmed. But here we are.

During my seven years here, the treasured, committed, active, long-time members of the church have been joined by many treasured, committed, active new members. We’ve reached the point where we actually need to bring some energy and intention to making sure people know each other – that’s the impetus behind the Neighbor Dinners you’ll hear more about later. And though we’ve lost some folks to jobs in other cities or to the nearer presence of God, there continue to be enough of us to sustain this fellowship of faith, with the needed resources of time and skill and heart and, yes, money. For each of the past three years, we’ve modestly expanded our budget, to accommodate needs and areas of growth. The Vestry and the Finance Committee ask for what we think we need, and the congregation steps up. It’s amazing. Sometimes, honestly, it’s a little hard to talk with my clergy colleagues, when my challenges are things like too-small Sunday school classrooms and improving our capacity to integrate new members.

BUT, but, but: Growth doesn’t mean we’re exempt from the changing times. That we get to keep the schema of the present world. At best our current flourishing is a temporary reprieve from having to reckon with the tectonic shifts in American religion;  at worst it may prevent us from seeing and adapting to the ways in which those tremors have already shifted our foundations.

I’m going to resist diving headlong into the sociology of 21st century American Christianity, but here’s an incomplete list of some of the ways that epochal shifts in the cultural and economic landscape have an impact on how we do church.

Let’s start with committees! In 1960 – the boom years for American mainline churches – 70% of American households had a man who worked, and a woman who stayed home. Our images and memories of churches busy day in and day out with committees and guilds and service projects and craft sales reflect that era. Most women didn’t work outside the home; they were, let’s face it, bored and lonely; church was one place to take their energy and skill. Today, over 60% of American households are dual-income households, in which both adults work. What that means for churches is that people have fewer hours to offer to church committees and ministries. People still want to commit their time and skill – but often in more specific, targeted ways.

And people are, simply, tired on the weekends. What’s more, the loss of cultural centrality for Christianity means that sports and other events happen on Sunday mornings now. For folks with kids at home, Saturday and Sunday are a jumble of activities, laundry, and trying to snatch a little rest and togetherness. I get it. I’ve become pretty protective of my Saturdays, because during the school year it is my only day home with my family. So when people whom I know are committed to this church, and love God and love this community, are not here every Sunday – I miss you, but I sympathize. Life is really full, and pretty exhausting.

And that shift in work patterns is just one factor among many. The rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s began an era in which Christianity increasingly associated with hard-line moral conservatism. I know we have members who struggle with toxic Christianity, in its public manifestations or in their own past. Being church in the 21st century means both being inevitably tainted by Christianity’s brand issues, and continuously having to remind ourselves and each other that we follow Jesus, but not in that direction.

Another big shift is in patterns of institutional loyalty and giving. People don’t join and give as a normal, default behavior anymore; a church or nonprofit has to earn peoples’ loyalty and generosity. I think that’s a good change, but it is a change.

And outside of evangelical Christianity – which is having its own struggles right now! – church has really shifted from the center of American life. Many people not only don’t belong to a church, but honestly have no idea what it’s all about, or why anyone would want that.  There’s a tendency to pin that shift on GenX or the Millennials, but it actually started with the Boomers, with the freedom they felt to walk away from inherited norms – including church attendance – and chart their own path in life. The result is that for a huge swath of the American public, we are quaint and peculiar. I recently ate lunch at a restaurant that seemed to be a re-purposed church building – a cute little white country church. You could still see organ pipes up in the loft. You see that a lot – churches that have closed being turned into cafes or condos. But my friend told me, This building is new. This is not a former church; this is a hip restaurant built to look like a former church. That’s where we are in the life of American Christianity, friends.

OH, and ALSO, the fundamental epistemological shift from modernity to postmodernity means that people are no longer certain that there’s any such thing as truth! ….

“In view of the impending crisis…”

We do church – we gather, pray, and sing, welcome, share, and nurture, feed and work and serve – we do church in a new time. In a changed and changing schema. We do church in the shadow of profound change, and profound loss, in the faith landscape of our nation. We are growing here – but even the growth comes with the ache and uncertainty of change. New members bring ideas and energy and heart; but they don’t necessarily want to put their efforts towards maintaining existing structures and habits, extending the past into the future. They didn’t come here to help us maintain the schema. They came here to find a community with whom to follow Jesus.

The gist of it all, friends, is that even though St. Dunstan’s is flourishing right now, if we are wise, we still hear Paul’s call to hold it all lightly. We still live with a sense of relativization and penultimacy. Even the most familiar or most sacred of our acts are experiments, approximations, rough drafts of God’s future. Everything we do is provisional – the things we’ve been doing for decades, or centuries, as much as the things we try for the first time.

This is a terrible Annual Meeting message. Especially for a year when we’re actively talking about a capital campaign. I am supposed to be telling you that this church could be your everlasting monument. That if you endow a brass candlestick, your grandchildren will be able to visit St. Dunstan’s in fifty years and read your name on the plaque. I’m supposed to be telling you that if you commit your time and treasure to this church, it will keep being the exact thing you love right now, forever. This sermon I’m preaching, about how everything is changing and the future is unknowable: this is opposite of the sermon I’m supposed to preach today.

I’m preaching it anyway because I think it’s true, and I don’t want to lie to you. The past half-century has brought epochal changes in American culture, society, economy, and faith. Big stuff has changed, and is changing, and will yet change.

And I’m preaching it anyway because I actually find some freedom and grace in remembering that both the church and the future belong to God. Not to us. There are choices and challenges before us at St. Dunstan’s – the good kind. The choices and challenges of growth; of wisely and lovingly integrating old and new, received and emerging; of having, for the moment, enough, and discerning how to best to use what we have to further God’s purposes among and around us.

This past week at our Vestry meeting, our senior warden Shirley Laedlein read us a prayer which says, in part, “Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us… We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” I like that image of planting seeds, as a metaphor for the work of the church – but, friends, the seed packet is NOT labeled. We do not know what’s going to grow, nor what ecology the young plants will become part of, nor what they’ll have to withstand, nor what they will produce when they mature.  But we ARE planting seeds. And providing light, and water, and good soil. I believe that. And God gives the growth, and blesses the harvest. I believe that too.

May we have the courage and faith to experience provisionality as freedom, and uncertainty as opportunity. To commit our resources and our efforts towards God’s future with hope and trust. And when we witness the schemas of this world passing away, may we lift our eyes to the horizon, to see what holy possibilities are dawning.

Alastair Roberts’ post about this 1 Corinthians text: 

http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/the-politics-of-eschatological-imminence-1-corinthians-729-31/

The full prayer that is the source of the excerpt about seeds:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/prophets-of-a-future-not-our-own.cfm

Announcements, January 18

The Capital Campaign Survey Is Coming on February 2! We ask each household in the parish to respond. Responses will go to our partners in this process, the Episcopal Church Foundation, who will use your input to help us understand which parts of the proposed projects are the highest priority for members of the congregation, and what is a realistic goal for fundraising.

The survey will be accompanied by a document summarizing our projects and options, but please take a few moments in the weeks ahead to re-familiarize yourself with plans and details. You can look at the display in the Gathering Area at church, or view the same information on our website: http://stdunstans.com/capital-campaign-possibilities-december-2017/

THIS WEEK…

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 21, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2018 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend! Child care will be provided during the meeting.

Get your picture taken for a new photo directory! St. Dunstan’s is a growing parish and putting faces to names can help us get to know each other better. We are putting together a photo directory. Father Tom McAlpine will be available to take photos before and after the 10am liturgy on Sunday, Jan. 21 and 28. If you have a photo from home that you would prefer to use, please email it to Pamela in the office at office@stdunstans.com.

Sunday school, Sunday, January 21, 10am: Our younger class will learn about baptism, while our elementary classes continue to explore the theme of being called by God. Sunday school meets during our 10am worship, and kids ages 3 through 5th grade are invited to participate!

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, January 21: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day and on every third Sunday. This fund is a way to quietly help people with direct financial needs, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, January 21, 6pm: Join us for a simple service as the week begins. All are welcome.

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, January 21, 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.

Survival Backpacks: We are collecting items to fill backpacks for homeless high school youth in the Madison school system. They need basic necessities in a simple form that they can carry with them. Please check the window in the Gathering Area for items needed. Take a slip, buy the items, and bring them back by Sunday, February 4. Feel free to take more than one slip if you feel able to meet the need. We will also happily accept donations for the most expensive items; please write “Backpack” on the memo line of a check made out to St. Dunstan’s. Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson. 

Seeking kids who love to read out loud! We are looking for strong readers, kids and youth, who would like to join the group of people – called lectors – who read our Bible readings out loud in church on their assigned Sundays (usually once every few months). We ask kids to sign up WITH a parent or other adult who will be responsible for responding to emails about scheduling, keeping track of the calendar, and printing out readings (sent by email a few days ahead) for the young reader to practice. If you know a kid who’d like to be a lector, or if you ARE a kid who’d like to be a lector, please let us know by talking to Rev. Miranda .

 Pledge envelopes: If you have had pledge/contribution envelopes in the past or requested envelopes on your pledge card, they will be on the table outside the nave door on Sunday. If you would like envelopes please contact Valerie.

The Sandbox Evening Worship, every Thursday at 5:30pm: We gather at 5:30pm for a simple, all-ages Vespers service of candle-lighting, Scripture and prayer. After our prayers, someone shares something: a hands-on project; a favorite song, poem, storybook or image; a practice of prayer; a memory or reflection… there are many options! Afterwards, we eat a simple dinner together (provided, though folks can sign up to bring food if they wish). Our Thursday evenings are a friendly and informal time to build relationships and explore faith. All are welcome.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, January 26, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Amber Indian Restaurant on 6913 University Avenue in Madison. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt or Debra Martinez.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 27, 8-10am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am. Contact Evy Gildrie-Voyles for more information.

Housing & Hope, Sunday, January 28, 9am: High rent is a major contributor to poverty and instability for low-income families in Dane County. Come learn about a concrete, focused way to help from our guest speaker, Sarah Shatz, who coordinates support for low-income families in Middleton and beyond as part of Joining Forces for Families.

Epiphany Pageant & Candlemas Blessing of the Flashlights, Sunday, January 28: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 21. All kids are welcome to participate! We will also celebrate Candlemas with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed!

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, January 28, 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.

Ash Wednesday services will be at noon, 4pm, and 7pm on Wednesday, February 14. The 4pm service is especially intended for kids and families. Rev. Miranda will also offer Ashes to Go by the main driveway from 7:30 – 8:30am and 5 – 6pm.

Have you been baptized? The Prayer Book tells us, “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” From the earliest years of Christianity, the season of Lent (which begins February 10) was when new Christians studied the faith and prepared for baptism at Easter. If you have never been baptized, or aren’t sure, and would like to learn more about this rite, please contact Rev. Miranda at 238-2781.

Diocesan Leadership Day, 9am – 3pm, February 24, Zion Episcopal Church, Oconomowoc: Come learn about the concept of discernment – seeking God’s guidance in big decisions and daily life. We’ll try out some tools of spiritual discernment for individual use, and for your church community to use together. Please let Rev. Miranda know by Feb. 9 if you’d like to attend; carpooling is possible.

 

Sermon, Jan. 14

It’s evening, about 3000 years ago. Before Jesus, before David, before Jerusalem. And Levi, the priest of the temple of God at Shiloh, has gone to bed. Levi is old, and tired, and his sight is going. So he leaves his young assistant, Samuel, to sleep in the temple hall. We don’t know how old Samuel was – old enough to be given some light responsibilities; young enough to confuse his master’s voice with God’s voice. Let’s say he’s about seven – the age we invite kids to start acolyting, here at St. Dunstan’s.

You’ve just heard the story of what happens next; it’s one of my favorites. Samuel is awakened by a voice calling his name: Samuel! Samuel! He runs to his master, Eli, and says, Here I am! But Eli didn’t call him. Eli says, Go back to bed. So Samuel lies down again. And again he hears the voice: Samuel! Samuel! And again he runs to Eli’s bedside: Here I am, for you called me! And Eli says, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Samuel lies down; but the voice calls him yet a third time. SAMUEL! So he goes to Eli, and says, Here I am! You called me! And Eli understands that God is calling to the child. So he says, Go and lie down; if the Voice calls you again, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel goes back to the Temple. He does as Eli instructed – and he becomes a prophet – one who receives God’s words, who knows God’s intentions. Samuel goes on to become one of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history, and the one who anoints the first two kings of Israel.

Samuel was an exceptional figure. But it was the work to which he was called that made him exceptional; not the fact that God spoke to him – God speaks to all of us, though we often don’t hear. Not the fact that God called him to a role in God’s purposes – God calls each of us to such roles. And – this is important – God doesn’t wait till we’re grownups. God doesn’t wait till we have 401(k)s and mortgages, or at least bachelor’s degrees, to start speaking in our hearts.

Three things made it possible for young Samuel to receive and respond to God’s call.  First, Samuel had parents who connected him with a faith community. Read the first chapter of the first book of Samuel sometime, if you don’t know the story of Elkanah and Hannah, Samuel’s parents. What you need to know is that they were both people of deep faith. And they chose to commit their son Samuel to God’s service as an act of gratitude for God’s faithfulness to them, and because they believed that there could be no better place for their son to be than in the temple, learning to love and serve God. (Side note: Samuel went to live at the temple full-time when he was perhaps three years old – please don’t do that with your children, however tempting it may be! We are not staffed for that!)

Second, Samuel had people in the faith community who gave him a meaningful role there. I’ll bet even when he was three, Eli found little jobs for him: Carry the incense – before it’s lighted. Help me finish the holy bread. Hold the dustpan while I sweep the temple every morning. Chant the prayers with me, beginning with the simplest ones. Feed the chickens. (There must have been chickens.) As he grew in knowledge and strength and responsibility, Eli would have given him more to do. That’s something I want to do well here –  have a ladder of responsibility kids can climb, a variety of ways they can use their skills and interests in service to God, our faith community, and our neighbors, as they grow and mature among us.

Third, Samuel had an adult in his faith community who took him seriously when he heard God’s voice. Eli could have said, You’re dreaming; go back to sleep. Eli could have said, I’m the senior priest at this temple; my sons run the show; why would God speak to a seven-year-old?? Eli could have said, What a wild imagination you have; maybe when you’re older, God will choose to speak to you. But Eli said, God is speaking to you, child. Keep listening. Keep listening.

Which leads me to three things can happen, if we choose to raise kids in church. (And raising kids in church is a choice we ALL make, starting, of course, with the parents who deal with shoes and coats and cars and somehow, miraculously, get them here; but from the moment they walk in the door, it’s on all of us.)

First, if we raise kids in church, it’s possible they’ll hear God’s voice. The text of this story says something interesting: “Now, Samuel did not yet know the Lord,” before God called him that night. In the context of Samuel’s vocation as a prophet, I think this means that he hadn’t heard God’s voice directly yet. But it also means something more general. Samuel had been living at the temple for several years, participating in worship, helping out, singing the songs and prayers. I don’t know if they had coloring pages or not. He knew a lot about God, but he didn’t yet know God.

Now, I believe that young children can have experiences of God, and I certainly believe that God speaks to people who haven’t been raised in a faith community (or who were raised in a faith community that did not listen to them). But being immersed in a faithful and loving worshipping community can create the conditions for a child to be able to hear God’s voice, and recognize it, and respond. And to be able to put their experience of God into words, so the Elis in their lives can hear, and affirm, and encourage.

Second, if you raise children in church, it’s possible God will give them a vocation. The church has done a lousy job with the word and concept of “vocation.”It simply means, Something to which you are called. But we’ve treated it as though only clergy and monastics have vocations – only people whose lives are visibly, officially dedicated to church and God. I believe with all my heart that God invites each of us into participation in God’s redemptive work in the world, and that God invites us – calls us – into that work in ways that are grounded in our individual stories, skills, needs, and hopes. I hope for the kids of this church, just as I hope for the youth and the grownups of this church, that we’ll have the capacity and sensitivity and patience and the courage to feel and notice the tug of call, when the holy Spirit of God is inviting us into something, large or small. Again: The reach of God’s voice is not bounded by church. But kids raised in church might be more ready to hear, and to recognize, God’s voice – and to respond with joy and purpose to God’s call.

Third, if you raise children in church, it’s possible God will give them a vocation that makes you uncomfortable. What God has to say to Samuel is not good news for Eli. His sons have been running the temple to serve their own interests instead of God; and Eli knew that, but didn’t stop them. So, in a nutshell, God’s message is that Eli’s era is ending. That natural human hope, that his children and grandchildren will have what he had, will value what he valued, will do what he did – that hope is dashed. Change is on the wind.

This passage gives me a lot of respect for Eli, despite his failures.  He seems to expect bad news; I think he knows this is coming. And he receives it in faith, saying: “God is God; God will do what God pleases. So be it.”

God’s words at work in the hearts and minds of our children may sometimes bring us uncomfortable news – even bad news. We may hear from their lips that the patterns and structures of faith that seem sacred and all-important to us, are incidental and negotiable to God. We may hear from their lips that things we had hoped would last forever, will better serve God’s future in a new form. I’ve had those moments. I expect to have many more. I pray for the grace to say, like Eli: “God is God. So be it.”

Finally, here are three things we can do, to be a church that takes children’s faith seriously. First, we can understand that kids are not short adults.Grownups have learned the cultural cues to show that we are paying respectful attention to whatever is going on: Sitting up straight, looking towards the front, trying to look interested. Kids either haven’t learned that yet – or they have to do it in school  all week, and need a break on the weekends. Some kids sit still just fine; that’s who they are. Some don’t. But every adult who’s spent time around kids knows that just because they are reading, or building with blocks, or coloring, or wandering around, or looking out the window, doesn’t mean they’re not listening.  Those little pitchers pick up a lot. And the rich language and stories and images of our faith can reach and touch them very deeply, finding fertile soil in young hearts and fresh imaginations. I’ve head so many stories about young kids who go home from church and draw pictures or make up songs or act out liturgies or ask deep theological questions – and they’re NOT all my kids. The fact is, it happens all the time. Kids take church, and God, very seriously. Serious just looks different for kids than it does for grownups.

Second, we can understand that kids are, on the other hand, NOT that different from adults. Grownups and kids like a good story well-told, and a song that feels good to sing. Grownups and kids like it when there’s something to engage our senses – sounds, images, smells. Grownups and kids like a balance of routine – things we can learn and internalize and expect – and stuff that’s more flexible and open. Grownups and kids like to have church friends. Look at how Philip gets Nathanael to come meet Jesus, in today’s Gospel: “Come and see!” Being welcomed, and loved, and invited deeper into discipleship by friends and peers is a huge thing at any age. Grownups and kids have questions. What is that thing called, anyway? Does God care when I hurt? How does prayer work, exactly? Does Rev. Miranda really think that bread turns into Jesus? And so on. I was raised Episcopalian; I was at church most Sundays. And there was a ton of stuff I didn’t learn, about the Bible and church, until I went to seminary as part of my preparation to become a priest. So I know we all have questions about what all this means and where it came from and why it matters. And grownups and kids – at least, some of us – listen better when we’re doing something with our hands. Which is why we tend to have coloring pages around.

The third thing we can do to be a church that takes children’s faith seriously is to see the kids as people. I know sometimes they’re just a blur rushing past – but try to pay attention to them as individuals. I have the huge privilege and blessing of getting to know the kids by sharing projects and ministries with them – like pageants, Vacation Bible School, our 4th and 5th grade group the AbominOwls, and so much more. I get to find out about their favorite books and songs, and what they worry about and what they’re really good at, and that they really care about animals or the environment or homeless people, and what their faces look like when they’re really interested in something, and when I ask a question in a children’s sermon, which of them will give the answer I expect and which of them will offer some next-level theological and ethical reflection that makes me have to say, Wow, let’s talk about that later, I have a sermon to finish here.

I guess I’m saying that one more way the kids of St. Dunstan’s are a lot like the grownups of St. Dunstan’s is this: They’re a bunch of really great people who are well worth getting to know. If you’ve got time and interest, there are lots of opportunities to drop in on our Christian formation programs for kids and youth. You can bring a special activity, or be a “second adult”, or help out with seasonal special events. Or you can just be church together. Learn someone’s name. Let them know when they do a good job, acting or acolyting or singing or reading. Tell them which is your favorite tree, out on the grounds, or ask them if they’ve read a good book lately. And watch for our opportunities to be like Eli: to include children in our worship and our ministries, to affirm that God is at work in their hearts and their lives, and to listen when God speaks through them.

6205 University Ave., Madison WI