Sermon, May 21

smallDunstanClassbookAre you ready for a tour? A tour of the life of St. Dunstan, our patron saint.

It begins at the back of the church, with this stone from Glastonbury Abbey. Glastonbury is a city in the west of England. An abbey is a church that is also a place where monks or nuns live – people who have devoted themselves to religious life and live in a community focused on prayer, study, and shared work.  This stone from the ruins of Glastonbury was a gift to our church by Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the leader of our sister church, the Church of England. He visited Madison and St. Dunstan’s in 1975.

Dunstan was born around the year 909 – more than a thousand years ago! He grew up near Glastonbury and had his first religious training there. At that time the church was in disrepair, because it had been attacked in Viking raids. He dreamed of rebuilding and expanding the church. Later, as an adult, King Edmund made Dunstan Abbot of Glastonbury. In that capacity he raised funds to restore and expand the church and make it more of a center for worship, study, and faithful living. I hope he will watch over us and bless us as we discuss a capital campaign!

God, thank you for Dunstan’s work of building up your church. As we remember your saints, help us to be one too! 

Our next stop is actually in my pocket: two pennies. What do you see?  Do they look the same, or different? … When Dunstan was a child, coins in Britain weren’t all the same.  They might be made of different metals, and be different sizes, and have different images stamped on them. Imagine how hard it would be to buy and sell things, if there were all kinds of different coins around!

Dunstan is remembered for founding many churches and monasteries, but he wasn’t just interested in churches. He believed that healthy churches helped contributed to a healthy, peaceful, fair society. And he spent a lot of his life working with the king – and then the next king, and the next king – to help English society be more healthy, peaceful, and fair.

He pushed for things like a fair justice system, with the same kind of trial for rich and poor, and for the Angles and the Danes, the two groups of people who were living together at that time; a fair system of business that doesn’t allow the wealthy to cheat people; more opportunities for education for ordinary people; for local leaders who weren’t just there to make money for themselves and for whoever put them in power, but who cared about the welfare of their people; and finally, coins that were the same all over the kingdom – because that made it possible for people to buy and sell, fairly and easily, and also because it helped make everyone feel like they were part of the same kingdom, all in this together.

Dunstan lived a long time and served under many kings, some of whom shared his hopes for England, and some who didn’t. But he always did what he could to pursue those hopes for his people.

God, thank you for Dunstan’s work of building up his nation. As we remember your saints, help us to be one too! 

Our next stop is up here at the front of the church.  Dunstan loved music and art and craft, and held them as central parts of the life of the person and community of faith. In Dunstan’s time, all books were handwritten – they didn’t yet have machines to print many copies of a book. Imagine if every book was in somebody else’s handwriting! Some would be easy to read, and some wouldn’t be! Dunstan is especially remembered for bringing to England and establishing a clear, readable and consistent form of handwriting for the books that were being made in England in his time.

At the end of his life, when he retired, he went back to Glastonbury, worked with metal and played his harp. Our church, this church, has always had people who love to make things; I think that’s one of the ways we really are St. Dunstan’s Church!

One of the things Dunstan did as a metalworker was make bells.

He is the patron saint of bell-makers! Would you like to ring this bell? …

God, thank you for Dunstan’s love of beauty, craft, and creativity.  As we remember your saints, help us to be one too! 

Here’s the final stop on our tour: this icon of Dunstan, Archbishop, Monk, and Saint.  What do you see in this picture?… Do you think it’s like the other icons here, or different? …

Artists have made icons of St. Dunstan that look more like these other icons. But a few years ago when I was looking for one, I found this picture instead.

It’s from something called the Glastonbury Classbook, a book from Dunstan’s time – actually sometimes called the Classbook of St. Dunstan. It contained sermons, prayers, and other religious texts, and a few drawings – including this one, which may be a self-portrait by Dunstan. He might have drawn this picture himself – not this one, but the one that this is a photograph of.

Do you see the tiny words over the monk? They say, in Latin, “I ask, merciful Christ, that you protect me, Dunstan; do not permit great storms to swallow me up.”

The Bodleian Library, who holds the Glastonbury Classbook, makes high-quality images of its pages available, so I had this made for us, to be our image of blessed Dunstan. These other pictures put the saint at the center. But in his picture of himself, Dunstan put Jesus at the center.

God, thank you for Dunstan’s life of faithful and loving service to you and your son Jesus Christ. As we remember your saints, help us to be one too!