Category Archives: Outreach

A reflection on generosity…

By Rev. Miranda, February 2017

I sometimes hear people in our church  wondering if we do enough to live into our mission and intention to be an outreach parish – a parish that strives to serve and advocate for our neighbors in need. It’s always a good question. Clearly the needs are huge, and we should prayerfully check in now and then and ask God and each other and ourselves if there’s a direction in which we’re called to do more, go deeper, or walk more closely with our neighbors.

But it occurred to me recently to wonder if part of the reason we feel like we’re not doing enough is that we don’t notice how much we’re already doing, because it’s so woven into our life together as a parish.

So here’s a quick tally of what we’ve done together, in December and January. (Yes, these are two months in which we do some extra year-end giving; but they’re not by any means extraordinary in the life of our parish.)

  • Fulfilled the Christmas wish lists of five households through MOM’s Sharing Christmas program
  • Filled four backpacks for homeless teens, to be distributed through school social workers via the Transition Education Program
  • Developed a list and shopped for the items to make up fifteen small household medical kits for families of students at Falk School
  • Delivered a batch of grocery bags to Falk School to help families without stable housing eat well over the weekends
  • Sent out three checks to help families of Falk students stay in their housing, through the Eviction Prevention Fund established by our Outreach Committee in coordination with the Falk social worker last fall
  • Sent 100+ Christmas cards to be distributed to people in the Dane County Jail
  • Raised over $500 for a child’s school fees in Haiti, in response to a call from our Sunday school kids
  • Celebrated the almost-but-not-quite-final round of diapers going out to food pantries all over Dane County, thanks to our Diaper Drive
  • Helped several people out with phone bills, car repairs, and rent via the Rector’s Discretionary Fund
  • Gave away over $1500 to support nonprofits that serve our neighbors, by allocating our Outreach budget funds
  • Adopted an annual operating budget for 2017 that has a larger line item for Outreach giving than the budget of our entire diocese
  • And then there’s all the “usual” stuff, like serving at Grace Church and sending groceries over to the MOM food pantry.

And THEN there are all the acts of kindness, mercy, and standing up for others that you all do in your daily lives. I believe – hopefully – that your church community and your faith are resources that help sustain your capacity to see, care, and respond.

The thing that really stands out to me, dear ones, about outreach projects like the MOM Christmas gifts, the items for the backpacks for homeless kids, and the funds raised for Haiti through our bake sale, is how easily they happen. Whoever is extending the invitation barely has to ask, and:  The cookies show up, and the money appears in the basket. The gift tags and the slips that say WARM BLANKET or FLASHLIGHT disappear, and a couple of weeks later the items show up, readily, faithfully. The author of the letter to the Hebrews advises the church, “Provoke one another to good deeds,” but here, very little provoking is necessary. You just do it.

I think we really are a community that holds generosity close to the heart of who we are together. Maybe we don’t always notice it because it’s so central to who we are – the way you don’t think about breathing, most of the time.

And I believe one result of having generosity at the heart of our parish life is that it’s easy for people to bring ideas for ways to be better neighbors to the parish, to find companions and support. Hey, what if we held a basketball tournament to raise money for Briarpatch Youth Services? What if we held a diaper drive, so that a few parents in poverty don’t have to worry about  the cost of diapers on top of everything else? What if we looked for ways to step across the color lines that segregate our community and our daily lives? We listen, and we respond, and we see where it leads us together.

May the Holy Spirit continue to strengthen us that in this, and in all things, we may do God’s will in the service of the kingdom of Christ. Amen.

Miranda+

Sermon, Sept. 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon, May 1

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help! It’s the fifth question of our baptismal covenant, the set of questions we ask one another every time we baptize a new member into the church. These questions ask us, and remind us, how we intend to live as God’s people. And our answer to each one is, I will, with God’s help. Affirming both our commitment … and our need for divine assistance.

Today’s Gospel comes from John’s account of the life of Jesus. Unlike the other Gospels, in John’s version, Jesus visits Jerusalem several times. He’s walking near one of the great gates of the city, past a place where people go seeking healing. Scholars of the ancient world think this was probably a temple to the Greek god Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Asclepius was adopted by the Romans and honored all around the ancient world. His temples were, essentially, some of the world’s first hospitals. They often included a pool, for rituals of cleansing and healing. If this pool in the Gospel were part of a temple of healing, it explains why there were many sick and disabled people around, waiting, hoping, praying that Asclepius and his priests would favor them with restoration and health.

There were stories that this was an especially powerful pool – that from time to time, the waters of the pool would be mysteriously stirred up, perhaps by an unseen angel, and the first person to get into the pool after that magical stirring was practically guaranteed to be healed. Jesus is walking past this place, this pagan temple full of human agony and desperate hope. And his eye falls on one of the people lying there, a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years. Why this man? Who knows? Maybe Jesus just saw in him the potential for health, for faith.

So Jesus speaks to him. He asks, Do you want to be made well? The sick man’s response is interesting. He doesn’t say, Yes, of course I do! Please help me! Instead he explains why the approach he’s already trying hasn’t worked for him yet. “Sir, I don’t have anyone to help me into the pool when it is stirred up, and by the time I can get to it, somebody else has already jumped in and stolen the miracle.” Jesus brushes aside the explanations and excuses. He says, Stand up, take your mat and walk. And the man stands up, and walks.

This man’s illness is an individual situation. Something particular to his body and his life story. But this is also more than just an individual situation. Just like the homeless veteran whose PTSD leaves him muttering in a doorway downtown. Just like the single mom dependent on public assistance who calls to see if I can resolve her delinquent utility bill. Just like the former drug dealer who can’t find honest work because of his record. There are layers and layers of larger systems that have contributed to this individual’s need and misery.

Maybe this man’s illness or disability is just a fact of life. Even today, with all the tools of modern medicine, bodies break. Bodies fail. But there’s more to his situation than illness. He is alone. No one is tending or helping him. He is poor. If he weren’t poor, he wouldn’t be alone. And he is looking for help in the wrong place. This temple to an empty god, which has no power to help him or change his life. But it’s the only place he knows to go, so he goes there. Quite possibly he’s been going there for thirty-eight years.

Jesus, because he is Jesus, just stops by and heals him. Most of the time it’s not that simple for us. I can’t just command health back into somebody like this man. But I, or you, could address the fact that he’s alone. That he’s poor. That he doesn’t have a place to go that would welcome and care for him. It is within our reach, within our power, as citizens of goodwill in a democratic society, to address things like that.

And this brings us to the point where Baptismal Question #5 opens out from Baptismal Question #4. The fourth question, remember, is: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Our faithful response to that question calls us to reach out in kindness to the individual who is suffering, since we know that God can look a whole lot like a human in pain. But the fifth question, today’s question – it asks us, Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being? That is a big ask, folks. Justice and peace among ALL PEOPLES. Dignity for EVERY human being. Phew.

If the fourth question demands our response to suffering, the fifth question demands our curiosity about suffering. It asks us to look at the big picture. The world-system that Jesus came to transform and redeem. Where does it come from? How is it created and perpetuated? Why are things like this? Why can’t they be different? Could we shift our society and systems, in ways that would lower the quota of human suffering, and add to the world’s measure of hope, wholeness, and delight? Where would we start?

Some of you are thinking, right now, There she goes again, telling us to fix the world. Doesn’t she know I already try to help all I can? Doesn’t she know how overwhelming it is? Doesn’t she know that sometimes I just need to watch Seinfeld reruns and forget it all for a while? I do, actually. I really do. Because: me too.

Sometimes – when we’re overwhelmed, weary, ashamed, angry – we struggle with whether our neighbor’s wellbeing is really our responsibility. It would be so great if that person’s misfortune were really their own fault, full stop. No layers of shared social and economic and political systems to muddy the picture. Just one person’s successes or failures. Because then we could still help if we wanted to, but when we don’t, there’s no guilt. He brought it on himself. It’s not my problem.

But as Christians, and as thoughtful people, even though those thoughts and feelings touch us sometimes, we can’t really stay there. We know better. We are all in this together. There is no such thing as other people’s children. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” may be a quotation from the Bible, but the person who says it has just, in fact, murdered his brother, and is not a model for our moral behavior.

We would all very much like it if all the ills of the world were someone else’s fault and responsibility. The sick man’s response to Jesus, that little speech about why he can never get to the pool in time, sounds familiar to me because I hear something a lot like it from nearly everyone who calls the church looking for help. Everyone has their reasons why their life has fallen short of their hopes. I lost my job and my jerk landlord won’t cut me any slack. My daughter is in prison and I’m trying to care for my grandbaby. My food stamps cover one adult and one child, and my son eats like an adult now, so we’re hungry all the time. My mother died out of state and we used our grocery money to go see her, and next month’s rent money for funeral expenses. Our apartment complex has bedbugs and we had to throw away everything we own. The employers in this town are racist and won’t give me work. Everyone has a whole list of reasons and circumstances that explain why they just can’t catch a break. Why they haven’t yet managed to stand up and walk.

Here’s the thing: regardless of whether the details of those particular stories are entirely true, the big story they add up to IS true. It IS true. Like Jesus and his contemporaries, we live in a society of deep, entrenched inequality, that does the bare minimum to care for the poor and vulnerable. If you’re not convinced of that, I invite you to do some research comparing our public systems, our safety net for the poor and sick, and our incarceration rates with those of other developed countries. That’s why even when I’m tired and jaded and skeptical, my capacity to respond clouded by compassion fatigue, I try to help, at least a little. I try at least to offer prayers.

Our texts from the book of Revelation describe John’s vision of the redeemed City, at the end of history, when God has fully restored and renewed our world. That City is clean and bright, shining with the light of God, undimmed by human tears, unmarred by pain or grief. The river of Life flows through it, and the Tree of Life grows in its heart, the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

It is, truly, a beautiful vision – and sometimes the gulf between that holy someday City and the cities of this world feels… paralyzing. It’s enough to make us start to recite our own list of reasons why our lives have fallen short of our hopes. I have to work long hours to pay the mortgage and child care; I just don’t have time to volunteer. My family is going through a rough time and I’m the one holding things together; maybe later I’ll be able to do more for others. There’s so much money in politics, it’s impossible for ordinary people like me to make a difference. I help people all day at work; by the weekend I’m drained, with nothing more to give.

We would all very much like it if the brokenness of the world were someone else’s responsibility. Here’s my good word to you, my sisters and brothers in weariness and perplexity: It is. It is somebody else’s responsibility. The redeemed City is God’s city. We are not going to get there by human efforts. It’s not up to us. The image of that City is not supposed to be like a Pinterest Fail that shames our best endeavors. It’s a vision of God’s intentions for humanity, meant to give us hope and reassurance as we struggle and strive in this world.

It’s not up to us. It’s up to God, and God is already on it. Now, that doesn’t let us off the hook entirely. The Jewish tradition gives us the phrase Tikkun Olam, which means, mending the world – very much what we mean when we talk about reconciling as a core Christian practice. And a great rabbi, Rabbi Tarfon, said this about Tikkun Olam, about the work of mending the world: It is not your obligation to finish the task. But neither are you free to stop the work entirely.

It is not your obligation to finish the task. But neither are you free to stop the work entirely.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – That question can feel as overwhelming as the morning headlines. Like it’s asking us to finish the task. To fix the world. To bring about the redeemed City.

Here’s what I want for you, for us, when we hear that question – I want us to feel our feet on the ground, our community standing shoulder to shoulder, the landscape of our lives stretching out around us. I want this big question to stir up another question inside us: Yes, there’s a lot of brokenness, disorder, injustice and pain. Where can I reach out and touch it? Without even trying? Without leaving the path of my everyday life, without even stretching my arm out all the way? I guarantee you that every single one of us has someplace where we can easily lay hands to the world’s brokenness.

I want this baptismal question to invite us in to the practice of reconciling, to noticing where God is at work in our city, neighborhood, school, workplace, church, family, and joining in what God is doing, wherever the lost are being found, the oppressed are finding justice, the broken are being healed, those in need are finding mercy, those in bondage are finding freedom, and enemies are making peace.

I got about this far in writing my sermon, Thursday morning, and then I went to a forum over at Fountain of Life Church on steps towards greater racial equity in Dane County. The event was a collaboration between three big local anti-racism organizations, Justified Anger, the YWCA, and Race to Equity. And what was striking for me was that those leaders said something a lot like what I just said: Racial disparities and their impact on people of color, and on our community as a whole, are a huge, hard, messy problem. And there’s no master plan to fix it all. There’s no one organization or leader that’s going to give us the perfect 5-step plan to transform Madison into the Redeemed City. Instead, they said, look around your life, your landscape. Get together with your people – your friends, your coworkers, your church folks. Have your own conversations about where you can see and touch the patterns of poverty and inequality in our community. And figure out your role, your call, your work, in common purpose and hope with the work of others across our communities. With the work of God in our communities.

Systemic racism is just one of the shadows that mars Madison, that makes us look less like the redeemed City of John’s vision. It’s just one of the evil powers of this world that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, to borrow words from another part of our baptismal rite. The powers that sicken, impoverish, and isolate people, like that man on the ground in our Gospel story; and that demand our courageous and compassionate response.

I want this great big bold baptismal question to stir up in you the intention and hope that you, YOU, just as you are, can find a way to program or plant or knit or paint or counsel or heal or make music or care for children or report news or call politicians or visit friends or dance or learn or run a business or manage employees or teach or act or administrate or clean or sew or serve on a board or feed people or visit the sick or sell houses or keep cows healthy or solve crimes or go to rallies or write poetry or care for elders or comfort the grieving or catch babies or run a household or take care of animals or write grant proposals or do research or sell insurance or design products in the direction of justice, peace, and human dignity. AMEN.

Sermon, Sept. 20

rogersappreciationWill you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Today’s Gospel lesson is just one of many places in the Gospels where Jesus tells his followers that following his Way is all about servanthood. He says, I didn’t come to be served, but to serve others. He says, Love your neighbor as you love yourself. He says, When you care for the sick, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, it is as if you are caring for me. He says, I have washed your feet as an example to you, that you should serve each other humbly as I have served you. And he says, Whoever wants to be the greatest and the first, must be least and last, and be the servant of all.

He must have been so fed up with them! He’s just been talking about what’s ahead for him, about the road of suffering he must walk. He knows that speaking out against the unjust and cruel political, economic, and religious status quo is going to get him killed. He is bracing himself for it, and trying to prepare his friends. And they are missing the point so, so profoundly. He’s talking about vulnerability and solidarity and sacrifice and they’re arguing amongst themselves about who’s the BEST disciple.  When he asks them what they’re talking about, there’s this … silence. I know that silence. A child might say, “I don’t want to tell you.” So he schools them – again.

In the way of Christ, greatness is found in servanthood, in loving action in response to the needs of another.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? That’s how our church states this aspect of the Way of Jesus, in our baptismal covenant, the set of five questions outlining the life of faith – faithfulness in worship and study, repentance when we fall away, sharing God’s good news, serving and loving our neighbors, and working for a more just and peaceful world.  We join in these vows every time we celebrate a baptism, and we renew them several times every year. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  – and the people say: I will, with God’s help!…. 

Back at the beginning of the month, all Episcopal churches were invited – called, really – to a Sunday of confession, repentance, and commitment to end racism. We were called into this observance – along with other churches and denominations – as a sign of solidarity and support for the African Methodist Episcopal Church nationwide, following the racially-motivated murder of nine people at a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 7; and also as a sign of our shared commitment, as a denomination, to confronting racism in our society, our institutions, and ourselves.

Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Chair of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings, wrote a joint letter to the Episcopal Church, in which they write, “‘The Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant’ [quoting Resolution C019 of the 78th General Convention]…. Racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action is a top priority of the Episcopal Church in the [years ahead].”

Right now, some of you – I won’t guess the percentage are thinking, Oh, no, another racism sermon. Maybe because you think we shouldn’t really be talking about this in church, maybe because you feel like we’ve done enough talking and it’s time to move on to some action. I probably wouldn’t have chosen this topic for this Sunday, this season, on my own. I already postponed it for two weeks; we were asked to observe this Sunday of prayer and repentance on Sunday the 6th. I wanted to get into the new season together; I wanted to find a Gospel lesson that reinforces this call to costly love of neighbor; I wanted to find something fresh to say.

I’ve preached before about why racism is a sin. I think you’ve heard that before, even if you haven’t been around St. Dunstan’s for long. And I’ve preached before about why racism is an urgent issue here in Madison. I think you’ve heard that before, even if you haven’t been around St. Dunstan’s for long.

If you’re waiting for the sermon in which I offer the one neat trick that will eliminate unsightly racism forever,  well, it’s not gonna happen today. Racism is embedded in our institutions and economy, our media and culture, our minds and souls in ways that will take a couple of generations of hard, persistent, broad-based work to undo. I am just informed enough to know how hard this really is, and just faithful enough to believe we’ve got to try anyway. May God empower and encourage us.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Seek and serve…  What makes it hard for us to find Christ in our neighbors, so that we’re moved to respond with loving service?

A big piece of my perspective on anti-racism work comes from my parents. We’re all shaped by our first families. For me, in particular, that includes the fact that my father is a social psychologist. He’s a scientist who studies the way humans think about difference. The ways we form ingroups and outgroups – the ways we stereotype and judge others – all that stuff. I’m not an expert by any means; I’m just related to one. But I can tell you that if you’d like a deeper understanding of the roots and dynamics of racism, the field of social psychology is one  fruitful path to follow.

Social psychologists tell us that there are a lot of ways in which the structures and habits of our brains contribute to the persistence of racism. I want to introduce you to one of them: the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error is our habit of explaining our own behavior by looking at the situation, and explaining other people’s behavior as a result of the kind of person they are.

One writer explains it this way: “When we see someone doing something, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in.” That article is called “Why we don’t give each other a break” – the answer? The Fundamental Attribution Error. Here’s what it looks like in practice. You snap at your child and you think, Phew, that wasn’t my best parenting moment, but I’m under so much stress right now. You might feel guilty, but you give yourself a break. Or if it’s a friend, you might do the same: I know his mom is sick right now; he’s stretched pretty thin. But when you see a stranger snap at her child, you think, What a terrible parent.

AND, if there are stereotypes in the mix as well – if that mom snapping at her child belongs to a group about which you carry some preexisting judgments – then you might go farther. You might go from, What a terrible parent, to, They just don’t care about their children. Why do they have so many kids, anyway? My neighborhood school is full of them, and it’s a real problem for the teachers, because they’re so disruptive.

But what if, what if that mom is not so different from you? What if she’s stretched thin because of job- or family-related stress? What if this is her worst parenting moment of the week? Or what if her circumstances are such that she is stretched that thin all the time? What if your heart, instead of closing in judgment,

could open with compassion? …

The Fundamental Attribution Error, that habit of our lazy brains to go for the simplest explanation, makes it harder for us to see Christ in our neighbor. It literally makes it difficult for me to love my neighbor as myself, because I think about self and neighbor differently. It makes us quick to judge, slow to reflect, empathize, understand. And when it’s compounded by stereotypes – when we have learned, willingly or unwillingly, that such and such a group of people is lazy, dirty, violent, dishonest, incompetent –  then our capacity to recognize God in another person is even more limited. We can’t see the divinity of our neighbor, God’s presence in them, if we can’t even fully see their humanity.

I want to tell you a little bit about one of our neighbors. I’ve changed her name, but I do have her permission to share a little bit of her story. Let’s call her Francine. Francine is an African-American woman in her forties. I’ve known Francine for about six months. I met her when she came to the door of the church, with her husband James, looking for some assistance. They needed help with the room fees for the cheap hotel where they were staying.

While I was talking to the hotel manager, Francine looked around the church a little. She found some of the information pages for our conversations on racism, and I think knowing that we had some awareness of those issues opened her up to telling me her story.  We’ve talked a number of times, over the past months. I’ve helped with hotel room charges, when I can, and sometimes when I can’t. We’ve wept and prayed together. And I’ve listened.

Francine and James had moved to Madison from Milwaukee the previous summer. They’ve now been here well over a year. They have two older sons who’ve graduated from college – Francine is really proud of that; she says, My kids didn’t go to jail; they went to college! They have a daughter who’s a college freshman this year. She wants to get her masters’ degree and be a forensic scientist. And their youngest daughter is starting sixth grade.

Francine has worked as a CNA and wants to go back to school. James is a skilled construction worker. He finds work easily, because he’s good. He’s also veteran. They came to Madison because they were hoping for a better life for their kids. They knew what the opportunities and limitations were in Milwaukee, and they thought they could do better. Better neighborhoods, better schools, a better future for their daughters.

With both Francine and James working, plus his veteran’s benefits, they should be able to afford a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood here. They should be able to live a stable life, and build towards that hopeful future for their family.

But here’s the thing. Madison has a housing crisis. Our occupancy rate is incredibly high, thanks to Epic, the university, and other factors. That means it’s a seller’s market for landlords and property managers.  They can be as demanding and as choosy as they like. And they don’t really have to tell you why they say No. They can just say No. Because you don’t look like the kind of tenant they want.

But they won’t say No right away. They’ll let you fill out an application, first. Did you know that you have to pay a fee to apply for an apartment? $20, $25, $30 per adult. One place Francine had to argue with them not to count her 18-year-old daughter as a third adult, so they’d have to pay another $20.

Francine and James have been seeking housing in Madison for fifteen months. And by seeking I don’t mean making a couple of calls a week. I mean pounding the pavement. Calling every possible lead from Craigslist or the paper. Driving around the city, looking for “For Rent” signs. Filling out application after application. Paying hundreds, thousands of dollars in fees. Meeting with property managers, week after week. Keeping in touch with case managers and counselors. Getting the funds and the references set up, only to get another No. Disrupting James’ work schedule and wages, because landlords have to meet him too.

All of this while living in a hotel room, for $70 a night. Almost twice what their rent would be, if they could get into an apartment.

Sure, they could go to the family homeless shelter in town. But they don’t want to. They tried it out. Francine says it was dirty, unsafe, and divides the family. What would you do?

Sure, they could probably find an apartment in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Their case worker keeps pointing them there. Francine says they were offered one last week. But the place had been trashed by the previous tenants, and there’s no reason to think those landlords will fix anything. Francine and James don’t want to live in poorly-maintained low-rent housing. They can afford a better apartment, in a nicer location, and that’s what they want. What would you do?

The bottom line is, they shouldn’t have to settle. They have work. They have income – though if they could get into housing, it would do a heck of a lot to stabilize their financial situation. They have the support and advocacy of the Veteran’s Affairs folks, earned by James’s service to his country. Francine says, “It’s not like we don’t have means. We HAVE means.” But landlords in Madison have lots of applicants to choose from. And it’s easy NOT to choose a poor black family.

When I realized that I wanted to talk about Francine today, I had forgotten that our Old Testament lesson today is the wonderful description of the Resourceful Woman, from the Book of Proverbs. She’s the ideal wife and mother, working hard for the wellbeing of her family. Always busy, always striving for a safe and prosperous future for her children. It’s like cruel mirror for Francine’s story. That’s just what she is, what she does; and yet, her family is not prospering.

Francine believes, and James believes, that a big part of the reason for all those No answers is racism.

What do those landlords see when they look at Francine? … They see a black woman. She doesn’t have very polished speech. Her clothing and hair aren’t at their best; she looks poor. She gets upset easily, emotional.  She’s demanding – she wants to know, are you going to give my family a chance?

The Fundamental Attribution Error means that people read Francine and make assumptions about who and what she is. When in fact she’s in a situation – a long, grinding, heart-wrenching, exhausting situation – in which any of us would struggle. If I were going through what Francine is going through, I’d be unkempt.

I’d be demanding. I’d be emotional. I’d be roaring my frustration, rage, and grief to the world about a system that won’t let me house my kids.

We have a stereotype, a template, of the Poor Black Family. In the stereotype, there’s no father in the picture. The kids have different daddies. There’s a criminal record or two in the family. Nobody’s pursuing higher education. Nobody’s working a skilled job.  It is easy for the landlords looking at Francine and James to see them through that lens, and assume that’s who they are.

Now listen: I want those landlords, I want all of us, to have a lot more compassion towards families that DO match that profile. I’m not saying it’s OK to shut them out either.

But that’s NOT who Francine and James are. And they still can’t catch a break.

I don’t know how to be a servant to Francine and her family. I don’t have an apartment for them, or a solution. Sometimes I can pay for a night at the hotel from my discretionary fund, thanks to the generosity of this parish; sometimes I can’t.  But at least I see her. I see her dignity and her desperation. And I care. I think that matters to her, even when I have nothing to offer but my prayers.

When I talked to Francine this week to ask if it was OK to tell some of her story, she updated me on their ongoing, disheartening search. She wept. And she wondered, again, why the system seems to want her family – her family, which is ready to make it, to be OK, to get ahead! – why the system keeps seeming to push them down and out. She said, “Why would the world want that? I’ve got a real insight into the world now…”

I’ve got a real insight into the world now…

The Fundamental Attribution Error is fascinating and powerful to understand.

You might find that knowing this about yourself – about how your brain works, left to its own devices – helps you think twice and be more understanding of your annoying co-worker, your surly check-out clerk, your unreliable dogsitter.

It’s my hope that knowing this about ourselves might help us think past our received stereotypes and judgments about our neighbors living in poverty, and especially our poor neighbors of color.

What if we take on the discipline of trying to assume that everyone else’s actions and choices are strongly influenced by their situation and circumstances, just like our own? Then I might think about those circumstances, and how it would feel, and what choices I might make, were I standing in those shoes.

Recognizing her circumstances, hearing her story, I might be more prepared to recognize my neighbor’s humanity. To see her as a sister, to see myself in her.

And recognizing her humanity, I might be able to catch a glimpse of her divinity. Of Christ’s image reflected in her face. Of Christ’s heartbreak and outrage in her tears.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Sermon, Sunday, Sept. 6

This Sunday’s Bible readings may be found here

Happy Lammas!

What is Lammastide? No, it doesn’t have anything to do with those funny long-necked animals you sometimes see hanging out with the sheep or goats in a field by the side of the road…

Lammas is an ancient harvest festival that became a church festival in our mother church, the Church of England. The word means “loaf mass.” It was originally held at the time of year when the first grain ripened enough to be made into fresh loaves of bread, at the end of the summer.

At Lammastide, the people of God offer the first fruits of the growing season to God with thanks for the harvest. It’s a practice grounded in the Hebrew Bible, and followed in various forms by peoples around the world who name the Divine in many different ways. When the harvest comes in, you give some of it back to God. You don’t take it for granted. Nature is uncertain. Life is uncertain. But here we all are again. Thanks be to God.

When you start poking around the Bible to see what it says about bread, you run pretty quickly into the connection between bread and justice – by way of the obvious connection between bread and hunger. Just as surely and persistently as Scripture calls God’s people to offer bread to God, as a sign of thanksgiving; so just as surely and persistently does Scripture call God’s people to share bread with the hungry. Our lesson from Proverbs today puts it plainly: Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

In fact, there’s a strain of thought in the Hebrew Bible that giving to others is actually another way to give to God, in addition to making offerings at the Temple. Maybe even a better way. That idea appears both the books of the Law, laying out God’s ways for God’s people, and in the Prophetic books, in which the prophets call God’s people back to those ways.  It’s even in the Psalms – In Psalm 50, God asks, Do you think I eat the food you offer? If I were hungry, I have all Creation with which to feed myself. Make your offering to me by living justly.

And then there’s James, with his rather pointed counsel to treat people fairly, and never to dishonor or persecute the poor. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting text for Labor Day Weekend, if we hold in mind the origin and intentions of that holiday. Beyond the school supply sales, beyond the last weekend for summer travel,  Labor Day began as a holiday to honor the historic achievements of the Labor movement in its heyday, in advocating for and protecting working people and especially the working poor. Like pushing for the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a limited work week with time for rest and leisure; for minimum wage and overtime laws; for the Occupational Safety and Health Act, better known as OSHA, which holds employers responsible for their workers’ safety; for helping to establish employer-based health insurance; pushing for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protects your job if you have to take time off for a medical or family situation; and helping to end child labor.

People of good faith hold varying views on the labor movement today, but I am very glad to live in a country in which these policies and protections for working people are the law the land, and I’m grateful to those who worked and fought to make them so.

The Bible didn’t envision a democratic society, in which the people can organize to shape the laws that govern their lives. But those who have done that work, in our nation and others, have plenty of Scriptures they can quote – including the letter of James.  Jerry Folk, a Lutheran pastor and scholar who teaches at Edgewood College, has this to say about the witness of James:

“James and many other biblical authors believe that all workers have a God-given right to a just wage, safe and humane working conditions, and time for life with their families and friends; [and] that they have a God-given right to a life of dignity with some measure of comfort and security.”

My first thought on reading that sentence was, Wow, that’s pretty radical; surely he’s putting words in the Bible’s mouth. Then I started thinking about and looking up all the passages in the Bible – especially in the Torah, in the Prophets, the Gospels and, yes, James – that deal with justice, work, rest, human wellbeing, and with the obligations of the wealthy, and of the community as a whole, towards the poor.

And I realized, Nope, Professor Folk is not stretching a point. The Bible, our sacred text, really says that workers should be paid fairly, enough that they don’t go hungry and can care for their families; that work should not become bondage; that workers should have dignity; that everyone is entitled to time for rest; and that those unable to work should be cared for by the community. That is the Bible’s witness about God’s intentions for human society and economy.

James seems to be addressing these matters in a situation in which some Christian communities are treating the rich and the poor differently. There’s an ancient tradition that James may actually be the brother of Jesus – and, honestly, it could be true. There’s a lot here that sounds close to Jesus’ own teachings.

James warns those who are trying to follow Jesus that they must not shame the poor or treat them as less important than the wealthy. He reminds them that God sides with the poor, when the interests of the rich and the poor are at odds:

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Yet you have dishonored the poor… If you show favoritism in this way, you commit sin.” His words echo the Book of Proverbs:  “The LORD pleads the cause [of the poor] and will take from those who take from the poor.”

And James offers these words, which challenge and convict me every time (2:14 – 17):

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not live out that faith in action? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not respond to their needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, not shown in action, is dead.”

In last week’s lesson, the first chapter of James, he writes,  “Be doers of the Word of God, not just hearers.”

What good is your faith if you don’t live it out in action?  What’s the use of your good wishes for those who don’t have enough, those who live with want and worry as constant companions, if you don’t act to improve their circumstances?  Those are questions that haunt my days, my years. It puts me mind of a famous quotation from C.S. Lewis that makes the rounds of the Internet from time to time: “If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity…”

We live in a time of massive and increasing economic inequality in America. By some measures, our country has the greatest income inequality in the developed world. And when we look at wealth instead of income, the disparities are even greater. An article in Scientific American earlier this year reported that the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth of our country, and the bottom 40% of households own just 0.3%.

To some extent, we Americans tolerate this stark inequality because we believe that anyone who works hard can make good. And some do, of course. But we sharply underestimate the barriers and overestimate our society’s capacity for social and economic mobility. Mobility is measurable, just like income and wealth, and America has less, not more, social mobility than other developed nations. 

That’s a really brief snapshot of a huge, messy issue. Google “economic inequality America” to learn more than you want to know.

Massive and increasing economic inequality in America is a fact. How to understand it, and solve it, are issues on which smart and good-hearted people can hold differing views. One way or another, it is already one of the central themes of the year’s political debates.

But while the answers are complex, I believe the question for people of faith is pretty simple:  How do we live as God’s people in the face of these realities?  In the face of a social and economic order that is, from God’s point of view, disordered?

If indeed we accept the Bible as our witness to God’s plans and purposes for humanity, then we have to face the fact that God has told us again and again that the wellbeing of the poor matters. That having people in grinding poverty, hungry, struggling, vulnerable, hopeless, is NOT OK WITH GOD. And we have to come back to James’s words, those words that cling like a burr: what good is your faith if you’re not acting on it?

Just as surely and persistently as Scripture calls God’s people to offer bread to God as a sign of thanksgiving; so just as surely and persistently does Scripture call God’s people to share bread with the hungry.

Our parish is already generous with our charity. But the scope of inequality and need in our nation is such that charity isn’t going to solve it. I’m pretty sure those in our congregation who are most deeply involved with the charitable ministries of our city, like MOM and IHN, would agree. Charity can feed a family for a day or week, but most of the time it can’t prevent the hungry days from rolling around again.

The Biblical call to sharing and generosity is about more than charity. It’s about how we order our common life. Consider an example from the Old Testament, from Leviticus, the Book of the Law of God that tells God’s people the Jews how to live in God’s ways of holiness, mercy and justice. One of the laws of Leviticus is the law of gleaning – an appropriate topic for a harvest festival.

In a nutshell, gleaning means that landowners – the wealthy elite, in that context – weren’t supposed to take everything when they harvested their fields, orchards and vineyards. They were supposed to leave the edges and corners unharvested. Then those without land or work could come and gather from those edges and corners, to feed their families.

The Theology of Work Commentary says, “We might [see] gleaning as an expression of compassion…, but according to Leviticus, allowing others to glean… is the fruit of holiness. We do it because God says, “I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:10). This highlights the distinction between charity and gleaning. In charity, people voluntarily give to others who are in need. This is a good and noble thing to do, but it is not what Leviticus is talking about. Gleaning is a process in which landowners have an obligation to provide poor and marginalized people access to the means of production… and to work it themselves.  Unlike charity, it does not depend on the generosity of landowners. In this sense, it was much more like a tax than a charitable contribution. Also unlike charity, it was not given to the poor…  Through gleaning, the poor earned their living the same way as the landowners did, by working the fields with their own labors. It was simply a command that everyone had a right to access the means of provision created by God.”

The Commentary goes on to note, as I have, that our Biblical models don’t provide easy solutions for our circumstances:   “Certainly Leviticus does not contain a system ready-made for today’s economies.” There aren’t straightforward answers in Scripture to today’s socioeonomic dilemmas, and I won’t pretend that there are.

The people of the Bible didn’t live in a democracy, so we have to do our own work discerning how to participate in civic life as people of faith, and what it looks like to work towards God’s justice in a secular society.

The people of the Bible didn’t live with advanced capitalism. Exploitation of the poor by the rich was a clear and unvarnished reality in those times and places. It’s messier now, with questions about how a business’s profits relate to the wellbeing of its employees, or which poor people we should prioritize in a global economy, and many other complexities and ambiguities.

The people of the Bible lived in a world of rich and poor, starkly defined. Most of us here are more or less middle-class. We know that we are privileged, rich by global standards. But we also don’t feel wealthy or powerful enough to make much difference in the status quo. When the Bible talks about rich and poor, we often don’t know where to find ourselves in those stories and teachings.

In the face of all those questions and uncertainties, here is what we can hold onto, as concrete and crusty as a loaf of good bread. What we do with what we have, matters. What is ours, isn’t really ours in an absolute sense. Whether we were born into it or worked hard for it or a little of both, it comes to us as a resource for our own flourishing, yes, but also for the flourishing of others, and of the whole cosmos. (Did you know that word, cosmos, which means the system, the great big encompassing dynamic whole, that’s the word that’s translated “world” in the New Testament? As in, God sent his Son into the system, not to condemn the system, but that through Him the system might be saved?… That’s a whole nother sermon.)

I’m not just talking money here; we have all kinds of assets, resources, privileges. For example, I suspect that I am comparatively more wealthy in education and institutional position than I am in financial resources. That means that when I’m passionate about something, I may be able to advance it further by committing time and skill than by committing money. You know what your resources, your assets are.

What we do with what we have is one of the themes of our fall season. It’s not a liturgical season, though if it were I suppose green would be the appropriate color! But it’s the season of harvest, so deep deep in the rhythms of the year, it’s a time when we think about bounty, about offering, thanking, giving, sharing. It’s a season when the winter’s hardships loom, so our hearts and minds turn to the needs of those who may go hungry and cold in the months ahead. It’s the final quarter of the fiscal year and time to plan for the next one, so organizations and institutions are soliciting commitments and setting budgets.

In October we’ll have three weeks in a row with invitations to engage with the needs of the wider community – Backpack Snack Packs, Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters, and CROP Walk – we’re calling it the Hunger Weeks. And of course, right after that, we’ll kick off our parish pledge drive, our shared conversation about your choices to use some of your resources to support this church, and about how this church should use its resource to support God’s mission.

What we do with what we have, matters. We often don’t know how best to use our resources to forward God’s dream of an economy of human dignity and wellbeing. But maybe that’s one of the things that church is for.

Maybe it’s through our common prayer, through reading and talking about Scripture together, through shared learning and service, and through our conversations with one another – the kind where we see things the same way but push each other to go deeper, and the kind where we see things differently but discover our underlying shared hopes and fears – Maybe it’s through all that, the substance of our life together as a community of faith, that we’ll find the way to be doers of the Word of God, and not just hearers.

 

Hoops for Housing: Success!

Thanks to all the volunteers, donors, and participants in Saturday’s Hoops for Housing basketball tournament and kids’ fair at Westmoreland Park! We had a great time and raised over $2000 for Briarpatch Youth Services, which serves the needs of homeless teens in Dane County.  Biggest thanks go to the 11-year-old member of our congregation who brought us this idea, told us why it mattered, and led us all along the way to this great event.