Sermon, Feb. 17

Is there MORE? 

It’s one of the fundamental questions, isn’t it? I’m not talking about a human More, an earthly More. More Nordstrom Rewards points. More hours at the gym. More take-home pay. No, I mean the big More. The one we can’t see or touch, but wonder about – especially when we feel alone, when we’re grieving, or when we’re overwhelmed by joy, or awe, or gratitude. Is there a Beyond? An After? A Better? Is there More? 

In today’s Epistle, Paul is arguing with the church in Corinth about one piece of the More question – the After. He’s talking about resurrection. Will the dead rise again, in God? Paul is saying, This isn’t just one point on a list of things Christians are supposed to believe. It’s the heart of the thing. Because if there’s no resurrection of the dead – if death is, simply and universally, final – then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then how do we know that he was who he said he was? That his testimony about the nature of God and cosmos and humanity carried any more weight than the preaching of any of the other itinerant preacher weirdos who were wandering Judea in those days? If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. Pointless. Empty. If our hope in Christ is only for this world, this life – then we are of all people the most to be pitied. There IS More, Paul insists. There IS After. 

One thing I find interesting in this passage is how much we have in common with the Corinthian Christians, especially if you read the whole chapter. It’s easy for modern folks to assume people in the past were more credulous, less skeptical. In fact, the Corinthians have same kinds of questions we might. They’ve seen what happens to dead bodies – more than we do. Remember the raising of Lazarus? – “Lord, he’s been in there three days; if we open the tomb, there will be a smell!” 

The idea that anybody comes back was a real stretch. I’m sure they wanted to believe it, just like we do – when we’ve lost a loved one and miss them with heart-rending urgency; when we are overwhelmed by the idea that everything, even the best things, those precious moments of joy and intimacy and awe, will pass away. We want to believe in the After, but it’s hard. Because we can’t see it, touch it. When someone’s gone, most of the time, it feels like they’re just gone. It sounds like for the Corinthians, as for some of us, a Christianity without resurrection, a Christianity of human decency and ethical living, seemed a lot easier to swallow. I get it. 

Paul, however, is not especially sympathetic to this dilemma. He writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” Although he’s trying to mock the question, he doesn’t have any better answers than I do. He says, I dunno! Maybe it’s like a seed! Of, of wheat or something! I’m not a farmer! You sow it in the ground and after a while something else rises up! A new life emerges! Okay? Or maybe we’ll have some whole different kind of body, then – a spiritual body instead of this earthly body, since you can’t expect an earthly body to live in Heaven, a spiritual place. Look. I don’t know, OK? I don’t KNOW. But I believe. I believe. And my believing makes a difference in my life. 

If the dead are not raised, he says, a few verses later, then hey, let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Nothing really matters. Stop worrying an enjoy your life. Instead, says Paul, I put myself in danger every hour. I confront both human and spiritual adversaries. I die every day. Because I believe in the More. 

Is there More? Is there After? Is there Better? 

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ famous teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount – though actually Luke says he’s standing on level ground! In this passage, Jesus is talking about whether this is all there is. What you are, what you have right now – is this it? Or is there more? 

Let’s pause for just a minute on the word “Blessed.” I typed “#Blessed” into Instagram this week, and got over a hundred million results.  A quick perusal of the first hundred showed photos of party dresses, new haircuts, flattering selfies, vacation snapshots, cute kids, and tacos. I mean – sure. But that’s not the kind of Blessed Jesus is talking about here. The Greek word here is makarios – blessed, happy, fortunate. Christians have wrestled with, and leaned on, this Gospel passage for 2000 years because what Jesus is saying is so different from human assumptions about blessedness, or happiness, or good fortune. 

Jesus says, Blessed are you poor; the reign of God is yours. Blessed are you hungry; you will be filled. Blessed are you lamenting; you will laugh. Blessed are you hated and persecuted; you’re in good company. The future tense in these statements is open-ended. Jesus doesn’t say when, or how, people’s reality will shift. But he does say, with complete conviction, that the mess you’re in right now is not all there is for you. 

And he flips it: If you’ve got it great right now, your #blessed lifestyle is also not the end of the story. How terrible for you rich; you’ve already received your good things. How terrible for you who have plenty now; you will be hungry. How terrible for you who laugh – yes, you in the back, says Jesus, I see you laughing! Your time will come to weep. None of us get out of this alive. Unscathed. 

We are so prone, we human beings, to believing that people’s circumstances reflect their worth. We know better, but we fall into it anyway. We fawn over billionaires and criminalize the poor. And worse still, we believe it about ourselves. Our struggles, our failures, our dry times, our self-destructive spirals: in our darkest nights, we believe they’re the whole truth about us. This is it. This is all there is for me. Of me. Jesus says, No. 

Whether Jesus is talking about After, the next life, or More, a new kind of life in this world, or either, or both, Jesus says: The whole truth about you is more than your current circumstances. Good or bad. Poverty, hunger, pain, grief, addiction, illness of body, mind, or spirit; affluence and comfort too – they happen to you, they may become part of you, but they are not all of you. I see you, says Jesus. The whole you. And I tell you: Don’t take Here and Now too seriously. There’s More. 

Is there more? Some people claim to find relief and freedom in the idea that there isn’t. That this is all there is. Generations of Christian leaders are to blame for that, I think – for all the ways the Church has misrepresented what our faith teaches about More, Beyond, and After. I regret it, but here we are. 

In one of my favorite books about faith, Francis Spufford writes about how many non-believers see believers as engaged in a sort of “fluffy pretending” that shuts out the hard realities of life. And he describes a London bus with an ad on it, sponsored by the outspoken New Atheist movement in the UK. The ad on the bus says: “There’s probably no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.” 

He writes, “All right then: Which word here is the questionable one, the aggressive one, the one that parts company with actual recognizable human experience so fast it doesn’t even have time to wave goodbye? It isn’t ‘probably.’ [The] New Atheists aren’t claiming anything outrageous when they say there probably isn’t a God. … It’s as much a guess for them as it is for me.” 

Spufford continues, “No, the word that offends against realism here is enjoy. … Enjoyment is lovely. Enjoyment is great…. But enjoyment is one emotion.” He points out that the texture of our lives is such that sometimes we feel enjoyment, and sometimes we feel other things – “hope, boredom, curiosity, anxiety, irritation, fear,.… Life just isn’t unanimous.”  

And Spufford argues that this idea – that life, liberated from the presumed burdens of religious thinking, is simply to be enjoyed – this bit of “fluffy pretending” is not innocent, but deeply harmful.  He invites the reader to imagine different people watching that bus go by: A woman on her way home to her beloved partner who is all but lost to dementia, her weariness and grief and frustration. A young man gripped by profound congenital disability, fearful that cascading illness may take away the limited capacities he has. A woman in the grip of drug addiction, who recently tried to get clean, and failed, and hates herself. 

What does that bus sign say to them? “There’s probably no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It says, No help is coming. It says, Nobody cares. It says, You’re alone. Spufford writes, “St. Augustine called this kind of thing ‘cruel optimism’ fifteen hundred years ago, and it’s still cruel.” 

In contrast to the superficial cheer offered by the bus sign, Spufford writes, “A consolation you could believe in would be one that … didn’t depend on some more or less tacky fantasy about ourselves… A consolation you could trust would be one that acknowledged the difficult stuff rather than being in flight from it, and then found you grounds for hope in spite of it.”

Spufford goes on to talk about John Lennon, and Mozart, and to put some words around the More as he understands it: “I think the reason reality… is in some ultimate sense merciful…, is that the universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient act of love.” It really is a wonderful book. Let me know if you need me to buy you a copy. 

Is there More? Is there After? Is there Better? We’ll never be sure – not in this life. 

Spufford says, “I don’t know that any of it is true…. It isn’t the kind of thing you can know.” My friend and mentor Brooks Graebner said once, “We suffer from a perceptual deficit that causes us to mistake some of reality for all of reality.” Belief in More isn’t “fluffy pretending,” an escape from gritty reality; it’s a source of purpose and direction, courage and consolation, in the thick of it all. We show up here because we want to believe in the More.  We want to trust in it. And maybe, sometimes, we’ve felt glimmers of it. Seen a flash. Heard a whisper. 

It isn’t the kind of thing you can know – but it is possible to cultivate our openness to the More. Our capacity to feel, see, hear, smell, taste the traces of a Mercy, a Love, a Consolation, a Purpose beyond our daily living.

Beloveds, we are approaching Lent – a season in which Christians have often taken on a spiritual practice to draw us closer to God. Some small everyday commitment, a thing to do or not do, that helps us be more grounded, more mindful. Kinder. Simpler. Slower. 

Look back at our first two readings this morning – our Jeremiah text and our Psalm. There’s a superficial similarity: those trees planted by the water. But the Psalm does this thing that some of the Psalms do: It says that there are wicked people and good people. The good people thrive; the wicked people dry up and blow away. Spufford would say this assertion fails the reality test. 

Whereas what the prophet Jeremiah says is less moral judgment and more statement of fact: If you put your whole trust in human capacity, human strength, human intelligence, you’re going to come up short, sooner or later. Send out your roots towards the living water deep underground, the soil that stays moist even in drought, that will sustain you even in harsh seasons and dry times. You need to trust in something bigger. Something More. Something Beyond. What’s calling you as Lent approaches? Where is God inviting you into More? 

 

Book cited:

Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, Faber and Faber, 2012. All quotations from pages 7 – 20. 

Announcements, February 14

Happy Valentines Day!

THIS WEEK…

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, February 16th, 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months (February 10 & 17). We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

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

Open Door Project Plans: Look for posters around the church building to tell you about our upcoming renovation! Construction is expected to begin after Easter. Talk to Rev. Miranda or any member of the Vestry if you have questions or ideas.

What Gifts Do We Bring? Gift is one theme of Epiphany, and in this season, the people of St. Dunstan’s are invited to speak up about the gifts you bring and the gifts you notice in others in the church community. What are we good at, and what do we love to do? Fill out a yellow or purple slip and put it in the big green present box near the church doors. Our answers will help point us towards new ideas and opportunities in our common life as a church household. (P.S. We will not assign anyone to a ministry based on these slips – PROMISE!)  Please fill out slips by Sunday, February 24!

Looking for Coffee Hosts for March 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

Altar Flowers: March dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Greeting Card Recycling! Do you have old, used greeting cards around that you don’t have the heart to just recycle? Our 4th & 5th Grade group is planning a project using pictures from old cards, and we’ll put them to good use! Bring them in and give them to Miranda or Krissy, or leave them in Miranda’s mailbox. We prefer general or nature- and spring-type images – nothing Christmassy, please!

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, February 22, 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 Cuisine at 6913 University Ave., Middleton. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, Tuesday, March 5, 5:30 – 6:30pm: Tasty food and intergenerational fellowship! We’ll gather at 5:30 with prayer and song, share a meal, and mark the turning season by burying Alleluias. Friends welcome! 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, March 4. 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.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering Wednesday, March 13, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda .

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) 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. 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!

Sermon, Feb. 10

Substitute Old Testament lesson: Tobit 6:1b – 9

The book of Tobit is part of the Apocrypha – a set of books in the Bible that were written later than the rest of the Old Testament, but just before the time of Jesus. Some churches treat them as part of the Old Testament; some don’t use them at all. We Anglicans have treated them as a sort of secondary Scripture, of some historical and theological meaning. Some of us here at St. Dunstan’s know the book of Tobit very well, because it was the core story for our Vacation Bible School back in 2016. We know that Tobit was a pious man, who took sacrifices to the Great Temple in Jerusalem even when all his neighbors had started worshiping other gods. We know that Tobit married a woman named Anna, and they had a son, Tobias. We know that when the Assyrian Army conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, this little family was taken into exile in the city of Nineveh in Assyria. 

It was a terrible time. Tobit’s family and the other Jewish exiles had lost everything, and Nineveh was a violent and heartless city. Often Tobit would find dead bodies in the street – people who had been killed by bandits or died of starvation. If the dead person was one of the people Israel, Tobit would take the body outside the city gates and bury them with prayers, according to the ways of the Jewish people. What he was doing was against the law, and risky; but Tobit was stubborn in offering that final dignity to his kinspeople. As little as his family had, they also gave food and clothing to those in worse circumstances. But then one day, through a tragic accident, Tobit became blind. He could no longer do good for his people, or even care for his own family. Anna had to work, so they could eat. 

In his grief, Tobit became bitter and angry. One day, in desperation, he prayed that God would free him from this life, because death would be better than this suffering: Blessed are You, O God of my ancestors! God, you are righteous and just in all that you do. Please, God, hear my prayer and be merciful to me. Remember me and set me free! 

Then there’s this wonderful split-screen moment, in this 2300-year-old text: JUST AS Tobit is praying for death to free him from suffering, so is a young woman named Sarah. Sarah is distant kin to Tobit; she lives in another city, with her parents. She has been married seven times, but each time, on her wedding night, a demon, Asmodeus, kills her new husband! People blame her for the deaths – and no future seems possible for her, especially in a time when family was a woman’s fulfillment. Sarah prays: God, I turn to you for help! Please hear my prayer and set me free from this terrible life!  

And Tobit’s prayers and Sarah’s prayers land on God’s desk in the same instant -and God says, I have an idea. We can fix both of these situation at once. God sends the Archangel Raphael, in disguise, to set the plan in motion. And… hijinks ensue, with young Tobias and Raphael, under the name Azariah, at the center of it all. I really can’t tell the whole story here but I hope you’ll go read it if you don’t already know it!

There are many Biblical names you might hesitate to bestow, if you actually read the stories attached to the names. But Tobias is not one of them. In the story, Tobias is plucky and good-hearted. He loves his family, but he’s up for adventures out in the world. And with Raphael’s help, he saves his father Tobit; restores the family fortunes; frees Sarah from bondage to the demon, with the help of fish guts; and of course, finds true love. We’re taking liberties with the lectionary this morning; the book of Tobit does not actually appear in the Sunday lectionary – but there IS a suggested Tobit reading in the marriage rite, Tobias and Sarah’s prayer on their wedding night: “Grant that we may find mercy and that we may grow old together.” Naturally, the story culminates with the mysteriously helpful companion Azariah revealing himself as the Archangel Raphael – who tells the family that it is God’s grace that has brought good out of their misfortunes, and charges them with blessing God and doing good for others, their whole lives long. 

I guess you could say the thread connecting the story of Tobit and Tobias with today’s Gospel is: God invites ordinary people on extraordinary journeys. 

In the other three Gospels, Jesus acquires disciples – this set of people who were his friends, followers and students – he acquires disciples by simply inviting people to follow him; and some of them do. It’s only Luke who fills out the story this way: Simon Peter, James and John have been fishing all night; they haven’t caught ANYTHING. The nets are empty. Then Jesus asks Simon to take him in his boat and take him just a little bit out from shore, so he can preach to the people without being crushed by the mob. Pretty clever! 

Simon’s fine with it; it’s not like he has fish to clean! But when Jesus finishes his speech, he has this dumb idea: Put out the nets, see if you catch anything. Simon says: “… If you say so.” And of course the nets come up so full that they’re breaking. Simon calls James and John to bring their boat, but there are so many fish the boats are nearly sinking. And it’s in this moment when it just becomes too much for Simon. He’s heard Jesus preach; he’s seen Jesus heal; and now – these fish – well, it’s terrific, of course, but it’s also almost insulting. Simon is a fisherman. He has a craft. He knows the right season and time of day, the right temperature in the air and color of the water, to maximize his catch; and Jesus comes along and says, You want fish? Here, have some fish. 

And Simon cracks. He falls to his knees among the fish in the bottom of the boat and says, Go away! This is too much for me! I’m a sinner! Which is to say, I’m ordinary! Let me stay ordinary! And Jesus says, Don’t be afraid. You’re coming with me, and you’re going to do new things. 

Don’t be afraid. In Tobit the refrain is, Take courage. People say that to each other over and over again: facing the bitter violence of the times, the uncertainty of the path ahead, demons to be vanquished, healing to be received: Take courage. Don’t be afraid. Such a little thing to say, but somehow it’s enough. Just as Tobias sets out on his journey, Simon, James and John set out on theirs, leaving boats, nets and fish alike on the shore, and following Jesus. 

Simon Peter’s holy adventure doesn’t, as far as we know, lead to true love or wealth. Tradition says he was crucified, like Jesus, his friend and Lord. On the other hand, he could have spent his whole life as a not-very-good fisherman, instead of becoming a revered saint and father of our faith. So. 

God invites ordinary people on extraordinary journeys – and it’s good to have companions on the road. Tobias has Azariah, the mysteriously knowledgeable gentleman with – are those wings, under his cloak? And Tobias and Azariah also have the comfort and companionship of the unnamed dog. 

Jesus’ disciples have each other – and Jesus has them. This is interesting: Luke puts this scene slightly later in his Gospel than the others. In Mark, Matthew and John, Jesus calls disciples to accompany him as soon as he begins his public ministry of preaching and healing. But in Luke, Jesus gives it a go on his own for a little while. Not long; but long enough to travel around a few villages, healing people and casting out demons and proclaiming God’s liberating love. And long enough that he’s starting to struggle with the overwhelming crowds that follow him and cling to him, won’t let him rest, won’t let him move on. 

THEN, already becoming famous, perhaps already becoming exhausted, Jesus calls his first disciples. I don’t know why Luke flips the story this way. Maybe he simply heard that that’s how it happened. But it does make me wonder if even Jesus, the Son of the Living God, fully divine as well as fully human, needed some friends. 

He needed people to walk with on the long dusty roads of Judea. To relax with in the evenings, to laugh over the awkward moments and unpack the hard ones. To tell the crowds to leave him alone, now and then, so he could pray, and sleep, and maybe take a shower. So he asks Peter to join him. And John. And James. And the rest. 

God invites ordinary people on extraordinary journeys – and it’s good to have companions on the road. Today we will  baptize a baby boy named Tobias.  These stories can direct our prayers for Toby, for all the young ones we are raising in this faith community and the not-so-young ones too: May Toby, may all of us, come face to face with something important, something that calls us with urgency; and may we have the courage and curiosity to answer the call. May Toby, may all of us, set our feet to the path on which our own hopes intersect with God’s purposes, for us and for others through us. May Toby, may all of us, have companions for the hard stuff, and the fun stuff too. May we have enough; may we find love; may we be guided by angels in disguise. 

In the book of Tobit, Sarah’s father prays for the young couple with gratitude and hope: ‘Blessed are you, O God, with every pure blessing; let all your chosen ones bless you for ever. Blessed are you because you have made me glad. It has not turned out as I expected, but you have dealt with us according to your great mercy. Blessed are you because you had compassion on these beloved children. Be merciful to them, O Master, and keep them safe; bring their lives to fulfilment in happiness and mercy.’  Amen.

(Tobit 8:15-17)

Announcements, February 8

THIS WEEKEND…

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, 10am: We will celebrate the baptism of Tobias James, son of Kate and Alex.

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months (February 10 & 17). We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Childcare and a simple meal provided. Pick up the essay “Life with our Children” in the Gathering Area to read before we meet, if you’d like!

Outreach Offering: Today you will see a basket with 15 hearts carried to the altar. Each heart represents $100 sent out into the world to help feed, support, and advocate. As part of its work, St. Dunstan’s Outreach Committee commits funds from our parish budget to support the work of organizations near and far that help those in need. At their first meeting of the year, the Committee designated $500 as our annual gift to the bipartisan hunger advocacy group Bread for the World, and $1000 to support Middleton Outreach Ministry and the good work they do in our community.

Open Door Project Plans: Look for posters around the church building to tell you about our upcoming renovation! Construction is expected to begin after Easter. Talk to Rev. Miranda or any member of the Vestry if you have questions or ideas.

What Gifts Do We Bring? Gift is one theme of Epiphany, and in this season, the people of St. Dunstan’s are invited to speak up about the gifts you bring and the gifts you notice in others in the church community. What are we good at, and what do we love to do? Fill out a yellow or purple slip and put it in the big green present box near the church doors. Our answers will help point us towards new ideas and opportunities in our common life as a church household. (P.S. We will not assign anyone to a ministry based on these slips – PROMISE!)  Please fill out slips by Sunday, February 24!

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee.

Altar Flowers: February dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda .

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

Men’s Book Club, February 16th 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, February 22, 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 Cuisine at 6913 University Ave., Middleton. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Epiphany Lessons and Music, Sunday, February 24, 10am: Our service of Lessons and Music will center around the theme of gifts. This will be an all-ages liturgy.

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) 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!

Please Wear Your Nametags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your nametags. If you would like a nametag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.
 
Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

Sermon, Feb. 3

I’d like to ask the kids in the room to listen up. I’m going to read you something, and then I want to know what you think about it. Listen:  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” How does that make you feel? … 

Okay, now I’m going to read you something else. These words come from the great prophet Jeremiah. He says, “The Word of God came to me saying, “Before you were born I set you apart for a special call: I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But GOD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you.”  How does that make you feel? … 

Thank you so much for listening and sharing your thoughts! I’m going to keep talking now, the way that grownups do. Carry on coloring or drawing – I hope you’ll show me your work, later. 

Here’s what I notice about these readings. Paul isn’t actually talking about growing up, here. He’s talking about how we’re only able to see a little bit of God’s greater purposes, and we do not understand the unfolding of the reign of God. So we do best when we simply steer by Love, because that will always lead us true.

Paul is using growing up as a metaphor – saying that now we have a limited, “childlike” understanding of God and the cosmos, but one day we will understand fully – all those great mysteries will be opened to us. So he’s saying some wonderful and important things in this passage. But in the process, he reveals that he thinks kids’ words and thoughts are definitely second-best. I guess he’s forgotten the time when Jesus picked up a little child, and said to his friends, “Listen, unless you all change and become like little children, you’re never going to find your way into the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

On the other hand, we have young Jeremiah. This was our assigned Old Testament lesson today; we shared the Candlemas story instead. But I just told you most of it. Jeremiah was a boy when he was called as a prophet. And he says, God, I don’t know how to talk to important people! I’m just a kid! And God says, Don’t say, I’m just a kid! You can do this. I’ll be with you. 

Our Gospel story is kind of related to that Jeremiah story. Jesus – who is a grownup at this point – is beginning his public ministry. It’s a really important moment. He goes back to his hometown, Nazareth, where he was brought up. He goes to the synagogue, the local house of worship, where people read Scripture and talk about what it means together. And he reads these words from the prophet Isaiah, saying that he has been anointed to begin God’s great work of healing and redemption! And everyone’s staring at him wide-eyed, they’re really impressed; but what are they saying to each other?  “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?”

They like what he’s saying, but they’re having a hard time taking him seriously, because they remember him as a child. They think he’s getting above his raising, for one thing. But also, a lot of people, if they knew someone as a child, have a hard time seeing them as a grown-up. How many of us have gone back to where we came from, one way or another, and found that the older generation there still thinks of us as who we were when we were six or ten or sixteen? They still see you as a child; and they don’t take you seriously, because we don’t take children seriously. 

We have this idea that kids’ words and thoughts are not as good, not as important, not as sophisticated. That grownup ways of doing things as better and more important. Jeremiah thought that. Who told him that kids can’t do God’s work? The grownups in his life, that’s who. And Paul thought it too. “I used to think like a child, but then I grew up and put away childish ways!” And we still think this. Our kids get this message over and over again. I would say that in the 21st century, we take kids more seriously than many previous generations of humanity did – but we still don’t take them all that seriously. If you raised your kids in an earlier generation, you might feel like kids today have the world revolving around them. But I promise you, these kids all know what it feels like to have their words and needs not listened to – not believed – even laughed at – because they’re just kids, and the grownups know better. 

 Paul is right in a way: kids are different from grownups. Kids are not short adults. Kids bring different ideas, perspectives, and needs; and of course kids aren’t all alike – different kids, and different ages of kids, have their own ways of being and thinking and participating. We’ve tried just inviting kids to be part of what the grownups like to do – churches have been trying that for generations, and it doesn’t work terribly well! (A friend once told me, Grownups like to sit around and talk about stuff; they should be in Sunday school. Kids like to march around, play with fire, tell stories, and sing – they should be in church!) 

Kids’ voices, kids’ calls, kids’ prayers, kids’ contributions may be different from those of grownups. It would be silly to expect them to be the same. Of course part of what’s different is that we learn and grow. As we get older, we have life experiences, we meet more kinds of people, we encounter different ideas, we reflect on it all; and our understanding of the world gets bigger and more complex. (Ideally!) But there’s something about the freedom and clarity and playfulness and truth of young minds that don’t have all that grownup stuff muddying them up yet – I think that’s why Jesus told his friends they needed to think more like little kids. 

So: Sure, kids are kids. They haven’t seen or read or done or thought about as much stuff as your average grownup has, yet. And: God can absolutely work in them and through them. God can absolutely strengthen and guide our fellowship of faith, though the presence and ministry of our kids. God can absolutely have a word for us grownup types, though the voices of our children. Liturgical scholar Louis Weil writes this about why kids belong in church: “It is not only that the child changes by being brought into the community of faith, but that the community itself changes as the mystery of another believer’s life unfolds in the context of community.” (Children at Worship, Congregations in Bloom, xi) And Sylvia Mutia-Miller, one of the wisest voices in the Episcopal Church on kids’ belonging in church, says that adults don’t often anticipate mutuality in relationships with kids. 

We expect those relationships to be one directional – grownups helping or teaching kids, and kids receiving. But, she says: The Spirit calls together intergenerational communities because we have gifts for each other. 

I’m not talking about romanticizing or idealizing kids. Yes, they say cute stuff and funny stuff sometimes. But kids’ dignity is important to them; they don’t want to be seen as just cute and funny. I’m talking about hearing and receiving kids’ questions, hopes, ideas, needs, and yes, sometimes, their prophetic words. 

And I’m not talking about privileging kids over adults. I know sometimes it probably feels that way – we are so used to adults being at the center of church life, and kids being off to the side somewhere, that moving kids towards the center – not TO the center, not even close, but closer – moving kids towards the center, naming them as full members of our faith community, can feel like adults are losing something. If you feel that now and then, dear ones, I ask you to try to trust that instead, we are gaining something. And bear in mind that as of right now, I believe *one* of our church committees has a kid member. Nearly every decision made in the life of this parish is made with little or no input from our 18 and younger population. I hope we’ll reexamine that together in the months ahead. Because that is what I’m talking about: Not putting kids and youth at the top of the ladder, but bringing them to their rightful place at the table, alongside the grownups. 

And let me be clear – I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating – that making space for kids and youth to be fully heard and fully included makes more space for many grownups, too. Here are some notable things about kids: Kids are open with their questions; they’re upfront with what they like and what they don’t; if they wonder what we’re doing or why things are the way they are, they’ll speak up about it; they usually let you know when they’re upset, and they bring their whole selves to whatever they do. 

Well: A lot Episcopal churches have a culture in which people don’t ask questions, at least not the real ones; pretend they know what’s going on even if they don’t; sure as heck don’t let people know if they’re upset;  and bring only the respectable, well-dressed, together parts of themselves to church. But kids are not the only ones who sometimes feel like they don’t have much to offer, or that they’re only welcome if they act like everybody else.

So, grownup friends in Christ, what if welcoming and including kids helps us welcome and include each other – and even ourselves! – as people who have questions! As people who have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears!  As people who wonder why things are the way they are! As people who hurt. As people who need to be able to wear their whole selves in public – here, if nowhere else in your life! – within the safety of a community of mutual flourishing and holy friendship, in which together we seek to be transformed and empowered by that Love that is patient and kind; that is never envious, or arrogant, or rude; that does not insist on its own way, and is not irritable or resentful; that never rejoices in another’s failure or misfortune. That Love that bears all things; believes all things;  hopes all things;  endures all things… and never, never ends. 

Announcements, February 1

THIS WEEKEND…

Candlemas, Sunday, February 3: We will honor Candlemas as part of our regular Sunday worship, with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our 10am liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed! We will also have candles available to take home to burn when you feel in need of protection or peace.

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Open Door Project Plans: Look for posters around the church building to tell you about our upcoming renovation! Construction is expected to begin after Easter. Talk to Rev. Miranda or any member of the Vestry if you have questions or ideas.

What Gifts Do We Bring? Gift is one theme of Epiphany, and in this season, the people of St. Dunstan’s are invited to speak up about the gifts you bring and the gifts you notice in others in the church community. What are we good at, and what do we love to do? Fill out a yellow or purple slip and put it in the big green present box near the church doors. Our answers will help point us towards new ideas and opportunities in our common life as a church household. (P.S. We will not assign anyone to a ministry based on these slips – PROMISE!)  Please fill out slips by Sunday, February 24!

Survival Backpacks: There are still a few slips left! 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 10. Feel free to take more than one slip if you feel able to meet the need.  Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson at bonniemagnuson@gmail.com .

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019!Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

Altar Flowers: February dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Childcare and a simple meal provided. Pick up the essay “Life with our Children” in the Gathering Area to read before we meet, if you’d like!

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda .

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) 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!

Men’s Book Club, February 16th 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noha. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Please Wear Your Nametags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your nametags. If you would like a nametag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.

Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

Sabbatical report, January 2019

Prepared for our Parish Annual Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 2019. 

2018 was quite a year, friends. I just want to say a few words about our OTHER big accomplishment of the year, besides a successful capital campaign:  having your rector go on sabbatical, and handling that really well. Other clergy ask me, “How was re-entry?” And I say, “It was amazing! They really did a great job!” And it’s true. There were no hot potatoes that someone was desperate to hand off to me. I was able to take my time getting up to speed and reconnecting. I’m so grateful. 

Special thanks go out to Deanna and Claudia, for working closely with Father Jonathan to keep our liturgical life running smoothly; Sharon, Krissy, and SO many others for planning and leading the many intergenerational renewal programs during my absence; Shirley, Michelle, Val, and Gloria, our wardens & treasurers, for keeping steady hands on the helm, & Sarah Stender, for getting our annual pledge drive off the ground. And to Tom, John, and Laura, for support with pastoral care. I’m always terrified of listing names, for fear I’ll forget someone who did important work. In my defense, in this case, I’m talking about stuff that happened when I was not actually here! But I know so many of you did so much while I was away, to participate in the renewal events and to help keep normal church stuff rolling along. Thank you. 

If you haven’t heard much about what I did or what the parish did, or want a refresher, I commend to you both my report on my sabbatical focused on intergenerational worship, and the report Sharon Henes wrote about the parish’s activities, which are on our website under the “Fellowship & Learning” tab. If reading on the website is a hardship, we can absolutely print them out for you. 

So what next? How will these ideas and directions continue in our parish life? Well, in worship, we’re trying a lot of little things and a few medium-sized things (like the new tables at the front of the church for older kids) to help shift the question, as Caroline Fairless puts it, from “Can the kids sit through this?” to, “How could we do this so it’s engaging and meaningful?” A next step will be gathering some folks to talk about roles in our liturgy. What do people do now as part of our liturgy (like acolytes, ushers, MCs), and are there ways to increase opportunities for participation? The gift-noticing we’re doing this Epiphany may help feed that conversation. 

We are also practicing noticing and reflecting on what happens in worship, via email, after every Sunday morning. Those “What did you notice?” emails go out to people who prepared and led worship, but if you notice something and want to share it, you can always email me. 

Outside of worship, we plan to continue regular intergenerational gatherings, including looking for ways things we already do could be more intentionally intergenerational. And of course, there are much larger questions about what it means to be an intergenerational church. Right now I and others are pretty busy with the final development of renovation plans, but when that eases off a little, it may be time for us to call a working group to assess, reflect, and imagine together. If that’s something you’d like to be part of, talk to me; to senior warden Krissy Mayer; or to Christian Formation coordinator Sharon Henes!

Thank you, each and all!

Miranda+

Announcements, January 24th

THIS WEEK…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, January 25, 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, Corner of Whitney Way and Odana Road in Madison. Please contact Kathy Whitt  for more information or to RSVP.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 26, 8:30-10:30am: 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.

Last Sunday Worship with Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: 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 27, as part of our 10am Last Sunday worship. 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.

Altar Flowers: February dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Candlemas, Sunday, February 3: We will honor Candlemas as part of our regular Sunday worship, with a brief story and candle-lighting prayers at the end of our 10am liturgy. Bring your flashlights and emergency candles from home to be blessed! We will also have candles available to take home to burn when you feel in need of protection or peace.

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Childcare and a simple meal provided. Pick up the essay “Life with our Children” in the Gathering Area to read before we meet, if you’d like!

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee  for more information.

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) 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!

Sacred Site Visits: How Do Other People of Faith Worship? Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s Interfaith Community Building initiative is sponsoring a new program: Sacred Site Visits and Interfaith Fellowship. Throughout 2019, we will offer a series of Sacred Site visits to houses of worship/faith communities (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Unitarian, and others). These visits will include a tour of the worship space and a talk by a faith leader of that community where they will share with us the main teachings of their faith, their holidays, rituals, sacred texts, and worship. In some cases, we will be able to observe their worship services. Participants will be grouped into cohorts of 8 adults, who will share learning and get to know each other throughout the year. If you’d like to participate, please fill out this 2-minute survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/92SVB95

Men’s Book Club, February 16th 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noha. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Please Wear Your Nametags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your nametags. If you would like a nametag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.

Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

When the Diagnosis is Racism: Grace Church is offering a program directed towards church members and intended to ask members of the white community to reflect upon their own experience with racism, to understand the roots of the problems and to consider personal responsibility for finding solutions. Lunch Meetings are scheduled for 4 Sundays: January 20, February 27, March 17 and April 28. Participants will discuss questions about how racism is taught, perpetuated, and addressed.  All ages are welcome with a special invitation to high school students and young adults.  It is their future that is at stake. There is no fee but registration is requested to assure sufficient food is provided. Register by calling Christina at (608) 255-5147 x 24 or email togracechurch@gmail.com

Sermon, Jan. 20

Every year, in preparation for Annual Meeting Sunday, I undertake the daring feat of trying to write something that is both a sermon AND a “state of the parish” address, of sorts. It works better some years than others. Last year the Lectionary handed me a terrific Epistle about holding the present lightly, so that we’re more able to welcome the future. That was easy to preach. 

This year… we have these beautiful texts of reassurance. A prophet tells God’s people in exile, You shall no more be called Forsaken or Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your God shall rejoice over you. The Psalmist sings, How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Paul writes to the church in Corinth to say: God has gifts for each of you, by the power of the Holy Spirit; and those gifts all work together to help the fellowship of the faithful fulfill God’s intentions. And this Gospel – a story about God’s unlimited bounty. 

These are all wonderful words… But I could not find traction to preach about them. Yes, God loves us, and everything will ultimately be fine. I know all that. Most of the time. But, y’all, those words weren’t meeting me where I was. And I try really hard to start my sermons from the place where the texts are speaking truth to me, so that I can speak to you with authenticity. 

And then I read a sermon on this Gospel – by the Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard – that honed in on one of the emotional notes of this Gospel story: Anxiety. Howard begins, “’They have no wine.’ I hear a question in Mary’s voice as she points out to her son Jesus that the wedding guests have run out of wine. I hear a question that I carry deep within myself, a question familiar to many of us:  Will I have enough? Are we running out? Are we rich enough? Safe enough? Good enough? Will we go over the budget?  Can we put dinner on the table and keep the wolf from the door?” (http://day1.org/1679-finding_wild_space)

Think about the steward – the headwaiter – at the beginning of this story. It’s his job to keep food on the trays and wine in the cups. He’s been watching helplessly as the wine supply gets lower and lower. You can’t just TELL people to go home. Maybe they’re running short because Mary’s oldest brought all his weird scruffy friends with him, and boy, can they put it away. 

Regardless: This is a terrible situation for the steward. Any time you’re offering hospitality, you want there to be enough. More than enough: PLENTY. Both so that the guests feel welcomed and enjoy themselves – and so you come off looking good. There’s honor at stake. You don’t want to come up short. People might talk about what lousy hosts you are. People might not come, next time you invite them. People might even go online and write you a bad review. Worst of all, people who need what you offer might look around and think, There’s nothing for me here – and walk back out the door. 

Anxiety: Is there ENOUGH? In that question, this Gospel finally met me where I am. But before I talk about that, let me lay a little church growth theory on you. If you have ever read a book written by a church growth consultant, you’ll find lots of diagrams and charts and magic numbers. I take all that with a substantial grain of salt. But there is something to the notion that a church with fifty regularly-participating households, functions differently from a church with a hundred regularly-participating households. 

The church growth literature has names for churches of different sizes, based on the ways they tend to function. Churches of about our size or somewhat smaller are called pastoral-sized churches. They are fundamentally pastor-centered. People belong because they like the pastor, and they may leave because they don’t like the pastor. People expect to have a direct relationship with the pastor – and the pastor expects that too, expects to know everybody and more or less know what’s going on with everybody.  The pastor is also the information hub: if you want to know what’s going on or who’s doing what, you ask the pastor. Everybody doesn’t know everybody – that would be a family-sized church, the smallest size category – but everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. 

Churches of about our size or somewhat bigger, on the other hand, are called program-sized churches. They have a diversity of church programs, run by staff or volunteers so committed that they function like staff. Program-sized churches are big enough to have multiple social networks within the church. Alice Mann writes, “[The] larger and more diverse membership will contain a ‘critical mass’ of people from several different age and interest groups… This substantial presence of varied populations stimulates creative ministry.” (The In-Between Church, p. 5) And in a program-sized church, people’s primary connection to the church may be through a program or peer groups – rather than the pastor. The pastor is less central to parish activities, and might not know everybody. 

I don’t know about you, but I see elements of each of those categories in our current common life at St. Dunstan’s. The book I just quoted is called “The In-Between Church,” and I think we’re in an in-between zone. I think we have been for several years. In my annual meeting address for January 2013, when I’d been rector here almost exactly two years, I said that St. Dunstan’s was a pastoral-sized parish. Period. I think that was true at the time. I don’t think it’s true anymore. 

Church growth in the 21st century is tricky because the way we used to measure it doesn’t work very well anymore. The standard metric used to be Average Sunday Attendance – ASA.You knew you were growing because your ASA went up by 10, or 50. ASA still tells us something, but it’s less useful as a core metric, because the ways people participate in churches have changed. This is large-scale stuff, not specific to St. Dunstan’s. For many people, regular attendance now means 2 – 3 times a month, which can tilt ASA downward even as new members tilt it upwards, because math. And people are more likely to connect and participate in non-Sunday morning ways, which ASA does not capture. 

Our ASA has gone up somewhat since 2011. But that number doesn’t really reflect how many new people and households have become part of St. Dunstan’s in the past few years. My first year here, one member told me that she’d been here ten years and was still seen as “new.” That same person definitely counts as a long-time member, now. 

Our capital campaign last year, and the resulting renovation that’s going to dominate our life this year, are symptoms of that growth. We might not have ten kids in a Sunday school class EVERY Sunday, but we have ten kids in a Sunday school class SOME Sundays, and we need space – in our classrooms, our gathering area, our kitchen, all over! 

So here’s the thing: This in-between zone is hard. The consultants say so, and I think they’re spot on, because I’ve lived it, both here and elsewhere. I mentioned that St. Dunstan’s was a pastoral-sized parish in my first years here, but five years earlier, parish leaders were preparing for a possible transition to program size. It’s quite common for congregations to plateau, or go up and down in this in-between zone, for a number of years. Because it’s demanding to break through and develop the necessary new patterns and new culture to become stable at a new size.

The in-between zone is also called the stretch zone, because, well, it’s a stretch. In lots of ways. It demands both rethinking and restructuring. It’s the reason a smart pastor – smarter than me, probably – will be cautious about holding up church growth as an unambiguous good, because growth does not feel good to everybody, or all the time. Growth means real changes, both subtle and obvious, and change is demanding. 

In the stretch zone, some things tend to be stretched thin. Gary McIntosh, who’s written about this, says leadership, facilities, and finances can all be stretched.  We’ve got a plan to address the stretch in our facilities – we start knocking holes in the walls right after Easter! – but those other stretches are real, and we’re feeling them. 

Stretches in congregational and ministry leadership happen because there’s more going on, and more people to engage and incorporate. But newer members may not yet feel read to step into ministry or leadership roles, OR may be looking for something else from church than the opportunity to serve on a committee! We end up with a choice between asking the people in leadership already to serve longer and do more; or letting there be vacancies sometimes and seeing what happens. Here’s what that looks like right now: We have a couple of empty slots for our Vestry, our church board. Thing is, we’ve actually had a great Vestry recruitment season. We’ve had terrific conversations with a bunch of people about what it means to serve on vestry, and what we think they’d bring to that work, and a bunch of people said, That sounds great; ask me next year! So rather than twist arms, we’re sitting with some empty spots. And we are not going to try to fill them today.  Our vestry is an amazing body; it does important work and it does it well; and it’s too important for people to make snap decisions about joining it. I hope that a couple of you out there are thinking, Hey, maybe I should give Vestry a try. We want to hear from you! We do need to fill those slots! But we want that to be a process of conversation and discernment, not just a raised hand and a quick vote. We’re in the stretch zone, and we’re feeling it – but we’ll come through it better if we breathe, and trust. God’s right here with us. 

By the same token, stretches in our finances happen because we’re doing more, with more people. We see that in the parts of our budget that increase as we increase: things like kitchen supplies, youth group budget, and photocopying. This year, we’ll be adding some new expenses as we bring our second building back into use, because we need the space. And our diocesan assessment, the portion we give to the larger church, goes up as our budget goes up, just like income taxes. The upshot of all that is that our 2019 budget shows a small deficit – our first deficit budget since 2013. The deficit is around $6000, less than 2% of our total budget. Now, I hasten to say that the vast majority of our regular pledgers and givers have continued to be incredibly generous and faithful in your financial support. Many of you increased your pledges this year, even as you also made commitments to our capital campaign. Your Vestry and your Finance Committee see this small deficit not as a red flag, but as perhaps a symptom of some factors far outside our control, like new tax laws and stock market instability; and we also see it as a – very predictable! – symptom of being in the stretch zone. 

The good news is that our parish financial situation is not dire; we don’t need to panic or make sharp cuts that might starve growing ministries. We often get pledges during the course of the year, as new members decide they want to commit to helping sustain our common life. We commit to be watchful and transparent about our finances this year – as we always are! – and see how things go. We’re in the stretch zone, and we’re feeling it – but we’ll come through it better if we breathe, and trust. God’s right here with us. 

Anxiety – will there be ENOUGH? Stretched leadership and stretched finances demand my attentiveness and my prayers. But I’m not actually anxious about those things. I’ve seen God, and this church, do much bigger miracles before. Where anxiety gets traction for me is whether there’s enough me. While refreshing my memory of the church growth literature, I opened a blog post that began like this: 

“If you are sole pastor and your congregation [is moving towards program size], you probably already feel pretty stretched by:

  • Keeping up with non-crisis visitation and counseling
  • Tracking visitors and incorporating new members
  • Providing leadership for adult classes, groups, and committees
  • Managing clashing expectations [among members]
  • Stepping up to more complex processes for planning and communication.”

https://alban.org/archive/church-growth-shifting-your-leadership-style/

And I thought, Yeah. Pastoring a pastoral-size church is different from pastoring a program-sized church. We’re a little of both right now, and it’s stretching me. I have some learning and growing to do. And some letting go. Y’all did a terrific job caring for each other and making church and deepening relationships during my sabbatical last fall, a wonderful opportunity to discover that St. Dunstan’s is not as pastor-centered as we thought. It gives me so much joy when someone brings me an idea and says, We’d like to do this. OK? Unless there’s serious clash of calendar or theology, I’m going to say, GREAT! What do you need? 

I’ll probably always do a lot because, guys, I like my job, but over the years I’ve been able to move more and more towards doing stuff that’s exciting and rewarding for me, instead of stuff that has to happen because That’s What Churches Do. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for our staff and for the volunteers that function like staff, whose skill and commitment mean we can offer ministries and opportunities far beyond the limits of our budget or your pastor’s time. But it’s true that my role in the parish has changed, and is changing. It’s good. But it’s a stretch, and sometimes I feel it. 

It’s hard for me to release the idea that I’m going to know everybody. What’s going on with your job and your family and your spiritual life. I never really did, but I thought maybe I could; and these days when I look out at all of your faces, I know we’re not that kind of church anymore. I’m not going to be able to have a meaningful coffee date with everyone in the directory on a regular basis. I’m going to have to trust y’all to have meaningful coffee dates with each other. And you do, and I love that so much! 

If you’ve ever seen my desk, you know I’ve got a lot of quotations and prayers posted around it so that when my eyes wander from my computer screen, they land on something helpful. One of them has these words from a mentor, Dwight Zscheile – “Clergypersons must ask themselves, What am I doing that someone else can do, so that I can be freed up to do what God needs me particularly to do in this place?” (People of the Way, p. 124) It’s a heck of a good question, and one that’s particularly important for me to sit with, in this in-between season, this stretch zone. 

Being in-between is uncomfortable for churches. We have two choices, friends: we can lean into the stretch – trust God, trust each other, and see what happens – OR we could stop growing. Show enough inhospitality that new people stop showing up, and ideally start a big fight about something, so that some folks leave and the church can be a more comfortable size again. That’s actually a pretty common path churches take, friends.But it’s not the one I hope we’ll chose together. I hope that when we’re tempted to ask ourselves or one another that anxious question, “Will there be enough?”, we’ll be able to trust in God’s power and God’s abundance. 180 gallons is a LOT of wine, y’all.

In our Gospel story, the steward’s anxiety is relieved; the party is a resounding success. There is enough. Why? Because somebody shared their gifts. Somebody at the party had a skill that could fix the problem. It’s miraculous, because it’s Jesus – but it also happens all the time. Just like in today’s Epistle – Now, there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of activities, but one God who activates them in everyone, as manifestations of the Spirit for the common good. I love the awkward syntax there – the Greek word is energeo, energy! There are many energies among us, all energized by the Spirit of God.

Paul lists some possibilities – miracles, prophesies, wisdom, healing – but I’ve seen some others: To one is given the ability to build a whale out of PVC pipe; to another the willingness to bake cookies for the youth group; to another the skill to keep the white robes white; to yet another the capacity to sort the markers – a Herculean task. 

My trust in our future together is founded on God’s faithfulness and your giftedness.You have all kinds of things you’re good at, or enjoy doing – charisms, gifts given for a purpose, with God as the energizing power. Maybe you can’t name yours yet, and need friends to help. Maybe you know your gifts, but haven’t spotted where they could be useful here – or, like Jesus, you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” In the weeks ahead, as part of our lean into what’s already happening among us, I’m inviting us to reflect on our gifts and skills. This box will be in the Gathering Area – it’s empty, so far! 

Next to it will be these slips. One is for sharing something YOU’RE good at or enjoy doing, that you’d be interested in bringing to our common life here. And one is for naming a gift or skill you see in somebody else here, adults or kids.  Because it’s really important to call forth each other’s gifts. I encourage everyone to take at least one of each, and do some thinking and some noticing in the weeks ahead. When you’ve got something to say, fill them out and put them in the box! I PROMISE you that I am not going to go through this box and assign people to ministries. Pinky swear. But these little slips of paper, taken all together, might point us in some new directions in our common life. Some new ways to use the gifts you bring, for the common good. 

For the common good: Symphero, in Greek – a word that can mean, To carry each other; to endure hard things together; to move forward as one. May it be so. 

Let us pray.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were being cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by the One through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 291)

Announcements, January 17

THIS WEEK…

4th & 5th Grade Group, Friday, January 18, 5:30 – 7:30pm: All kids in 4th & 5th grade are invited to gather for pizza, service activities, and fun. Contact Rev. Miranda with any questions!

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2019 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months (January 13 & 20, February 10 & 17). We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

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

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, January 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.

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 3. Feel free to take more than one slip if you feel able to meet the need.  Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson.

Altar Flowers: January and February dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda or email her at revmiranda@stdunstans.com .

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 26, 8-10:30am: 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.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: 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 20. All kids are welcome to participate!

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Childcare and a simple meal provided.

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

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

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

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) 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!

Sacred Site Visits: How Do Other People of Faith Worship? Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s Interfaith Community Building initiative is sponsoring a new program: Sacred Site Visits and Interfaith Fellowship. Throughout 2019, we will offer a series of Sacred Site visits to houses of worship/faith communities (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Unitarian, and others). These visits will include a tour of the worship space and a talk by a faith leader of that community where they will share with us the main teachings of their faith, their holidays, rituals, sacred texts, and worship. In some cases, we will be able to observe their worship services. Participants will be grouped into cohorts of 8 adults, who will share learning and get to know each other throughout the year. If you’d like to participate, please fill out this 2-minute survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/92SVB95

Men’s Book Club, February 16th 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noha. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Please Wear Your Nametags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your nametags. If you would like a nametag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.

Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

6205 University Ave., Madison WI