All posts by Miranda Hassett

Sermon, Dec. 4

The readings for today, the second Sunday in Advent, call us to attend to the relationship between Christians, Jews and Judaism. 

While perhaps not as loaded as Holy Week, Advent and Christmas raise these questions too: do we think Jesus fulfilled Judaism, completely and finally?  If so, do we see Jews as irrelevant, spiritually extinct? And if we don’t think that: Are we using language in church that suggests that we do? 

These questions matter. The consequences range from the kind of causal Christian cultural supremacy that results in public school classrooms being decorated for Christmas – to the kind of violence that means synagogues routinely hire armed guards to watch their doors during worship. And that my rabbi colleagues are still tending to the pastoral needs of families shattered across generations by the experience of the Holocaust. 

Today each of our Scripture readings raise questions of how Christians think about Judaism – in three different ways. We’ll start with our Gospel reading, from Matthew. 

In our 3 year cycle of Sunday Scripture readings, which we share with many churches, we have readings from one primary gospel each year – with chunks of John, the fourth gospel, scattered all around. We just started a new church year on the first Sunday in Advent, last week; and our gospel for this year is Matthew. 

Let me confess right now: Matthew is my least favorite Gospel – in part because of his often violent and frightening language. 

Why is Matthew like this? About thirty years after Jesus’ death, in the year 66, some of the Jews of Judea began to rebel against Roman colonial rule. The rebels never really had a chance against Rome’s military might, and the revolt quickly turned bloody. Rome crushed the rebels and burned Jerusalem. The Great Temple was destroyed. Many people died; many lost everything. 

This earth-shaking event profoundly shaped both Christianity and Judaism, from that moment onward. All the Gospels are marked by it – but perhaps Matthew most of all. His Gospel text boils over at times with his grief and rage. He seems to blame the Jewish leadership for what happened – feeling that it’s their rejection of Jesus that brought down this destruction, rather than the predictable eruption of the tensions inherent in colonial rule always and everywhere.

Turning to today’s passage: Matthew introduces John the Baptist. The Gospels are pretty consistent in their picture of John: A preacher who separated himself from society to live in the wilderness, wearing simple clothes he made himself and eating what he could find, and proclaiming that people need to change their hearts and their lives and turn back towards God and God’s ways – and to be baptized, a ritual washing, in the Jordan River. 

To all that, Matthew adds this angry speech against the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We know this is Matthew, because later, in chapter 12 and again in chapter 23, Matthew’s Jesus says almost the exact same thing, calling groups of Pharisees and Sadducees “brood of vipers” and yelling at them: “How can you speak good things, when you are evil?” And “how can you escape being sentenced to hell?” Those passages are NOT echoed in the other Gospels. 

Who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees? The Pharisees were a reform movement within Judaism at the time of Jesus, focused primarily on the common people. The Sadducees were an elite and privileged group who more or less ran the Great Temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisees and Sadducees would not have been natural friends; I suspect it’s Matthew throwing them together as enemies of Christianity in his eyes. 

Far too much of Matthew’s hatred of these groups seeped into Christianity as a general suspicion and hatred towards Jews – which in turn has spawned unimaginable violence. I read this passage with pain and repentance. 

It’s ours, but it’s not comfortable, and it shouldn’t be. 

Then there’s our Epistle – a portion of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, written in the late 50s. Paul is writing here to the Christians of Rome, who included both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians, and he’s trying to help them respect one another and get along.

Before he became a Christian, Paul was not just any Jew. He had studied Jewish texts and scholarship deeply. He had become a Pharisee, a member of that reform movement that sought to spread more active and heartfelt Jewish practice among the folk of Judea. He was an up and coming young Jewish leader, when Jesus called his name and changed his life on the road to Damascus. 

Scholars have wondered, over the centuries, what to make of the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen, as we learn in the book of Acts. Maybe one of his parents was a Roman. Maybe his family was gifted citizenship, a major privilege, as thanks for service to the Empire. 

Either way, perhaps young Paul threw himself into his Jewish faith as a way to resolve the tensions of divided allegiances, of having ties to both subjects and empire. And perhaps it’s by growing up both Roman and Jew that Paul learned some of the skills of both/and living. Of holding ambiguities within yourself; of finding the value in different worlds and ways – even when they seem at odds. 

That’s the wisdom that Paul brings to this letter to the church in Rome, as he urges Jewish and non-Jewish Christians to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed them. In today’s passage, he is trying to help the Jewish members of the Roman church see that it’s right and joyful! for God’s saving work to extend to non-Jews – without their having to first convert to Judaism. He quotes a series of texts from the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, that mention God’s intentions to also bring Gentiles – the nations, the goyim – into God’s saving purposes. 

A few chapters earlier he was urging Gentiles, in turn, to feel humbled and grateful for being grafted onto the living tree of God’s covenant people, the Jews. 

He concludes this passage with this beautiful prayer for the Roman Christian community in its diversity: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul is dealing here specifically with Jews who have become Christian, like himself. But Paul’s attitude towards Judaism is nuanced and interesting. He knows that he was called to something different – something more; but he honors the beauty and integrity of what he came from. He’d like other Jews to become Christians too, but I think he’d also like to see Christianity stay pretty Jewish. 

It’s complicated! But I do think a truly Pauline Christianity would have a much more open and humble heart towards Judaism than historical Christianity has had. 

For Matthew, Christianity fulfills Jewish faith – and leaves Jews behind. For Paul, it’s less clear: he loves his Jewish heritage and kin, but feels called to a new way of faith beyond Judaism.

Who’s right about God and salvation: Jews or Christians? What if it’s not up to us to decide – or even to know? 

One of the texts Paul quotes is today’s Isaiah passage: “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Back in Lent of this past year, Father Tom McAlpine led us in a study of how Christians read the book of Isaiah. We were looking specifically at a set of texts from much later in Isaiah, known as the Suffering Servant songs. Today’s passage is somewhat different – focusing on a wise and righteous leader who will bring peace to God’s people – but it raises similar questions. 

Historically, the prophet Isaiah and his eighth-century-before-Christ audience probably thought this prophecy was about King Hezekiah of Judah. Hezekiah was a young king who called his people back to exclusive and faithful worship of God.  But it’s the nature of prophetic language not to be fulfilled or exhausted by any given historical figure or event. Hezekiah did big things – but his reign did not usher in a cosmic realm of peace. It’s possible to see elements of a prophecy fulfilled, while other parts still hang in the air, waiting and shining. 

This text is here, in our Advent lectionary, because Christians have assumed for millennia that it’s about Jesus. That he is the “shoot of Jesse” – meaning, a descendant of Israel’s great king David, whose father was named Jesse. 

Now, Matthew and Luke both make a point of the fact that Jesus is born into a family with links to King David. But listen: David lived in Judea a thousand years before Jesus. And he had a lot of kids. By sheer dint of math and time, a heck of a lot of Judeans could have claimed Davidic ancestry by the time Jesus was born. 

It’s so, so hard for us not to read these Old Testament texts backwards from Christianity, as as inevitably and exclusively pointing to Jesus. In Father Tom’s class we kept tripping over that, how deeply-seated our impulse was to read these texts and think: “Well, this is obviously about Jesus; how could it not be? What else could it possibly mean?”

Texts from the Old Testament, and especially from Isaiah, shaped the language and hopes of the Jewish people for centuries. The way they thought and spoke about a coming Messiah, a holy leader sent by God to save and restore God’s people. And these texts likewise shaped the ideas and language of the first Christians, especially those steeped in the Hebrew Bible – like Matthew, like Paul. They used Isaiah and other Hebrew Scriptures to help them make sense of what they had experienced in Jesus’ life and ministry, and in his death and resurrection. 

We think we recognize Jesus in these Old Testament texts because how Christians think and talk about Jesus has been shaped by these Old Testament texts, literally from day one. 

I would rather say that everybody’s right than that everybody’s wrong. And I think that’s more faithful to the mystery of how holy texts can speak and speak again in new times and places. 

This passage is about Hezekiah and it’s about Jesus and it’s about the promised Messiah whom our Jewish siblings still await and it’s about the second coming of Christ that we still await. 

What passages like this tell us about God’s purposes for Israel and for the world can help us understand the person and work of Jesus. We can rightly treasure these texts as Christians. But we need to hold them carefully, with an awareness that they don’t only belong to us. 

At the Beth Israel Center across town, when my friend Betsy’s congregation opens the ark where the scrolls of Scripture are kept, and take out the scroll of the Nevi’im, the Prophets, and remove its silver end caps and its embroidered velvet cover and unroll it on the altar and chant it aloud in Hebrew – Isaiah’s words resonate differently in that space than they do here. 

Not entirely differently, to be sure. But importantly differently. And some of the difference is history and humanity – and some of it is holiness and mystery. 

It’s important for Christians to grapple with the anti-Judaism embedded in our history, our texts, our practices. Good citizenship and good ally-ship are part of our call to love our neighbors and serve the common good. 

But for me there’s something more here too – something a little hard to put my finger on, but I’ll try.

I find a sense of joy and freedom and possibility in the idea that God’s saving purposes are bigger and broader and honestly messier than any human mapping. We can’t pin down the meanings of ancient prophecy, or the mechanics of salvation, to fit within our categories of belonging and belief, doctrine and truth. 

This is one of the fundamental themes of Advent: The God who came among us as Jesus of Nazareth is coming again. 

We are people of expectation.

People called to expect mystery.

To expect disruption. 

To expect redemption. 

To expect, someday, whether in this world or the next, to come face to face with the Living One who both fulfills and transcends all our scriptures and theologies.  

May it be so. Come, Lord Jesus. 

 

Advent Song Cycle, week 4 – Welcome!

The fourth week of Advent, December 18 – 24

This Week’s Song: “Enter, enter, holy pilgrims!”           Traditional

Enter, enter, holy pilgrims! Welcome to my humble home! 

Though ’tis little I can offer, all I have please call your own!

Entren, santo peregrinos, peregrinos! Reciban este rincón. 

Aunque es pobre la morada, la morada, os la doy de corazón. 

 Learn the tune here:

(Note that the English translation of the Spanish words is a little bit different than ours, in this video.) 

About the song

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

– Luke chapter 2, verses 4 – 7

The word posada means inn or lodging, and traditionally posadas are a celebration of the Christmas story. They take place on nine nights from December 16 to 24 and commemorate the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph’s search for a place to stay where Jesus could be born. At the beginning of a posada, people are divided in two groups, the ones “outside” representing Mary and Joseph, and the ones “inside” representing innkeepers.  Sometimes two people dress up to represent Mary and Joseph. Then everyone sings the posada litany/song together, re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search, going back and forth until they are finally “admitted” to an inn. After this tradition, the party proper starts. Posadas parties in Mexico feature hot food and drinks, sweets, music, and piñatas. Throughout Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, churches and communities celebrate these festivities with their traditional, religious elements. Today almost any party held around Christmas is called a posada. Schools often host posadas as end-of-the-year parties for students and teachers.

Source: https://www.journeymexico.com/blog/posadas-in-mexico-christmas-tradition

The Posadas song has verses that go back and forth between the pilgrims and the innkeepers. The first innkeepers are suspicious and don’t want to let in Mary and Joseph. But finally Joseph sings, “My wife, Mary, is the Queen of Heaven, and she is going to be the mother of the Divine Word.” The innkeepers sing back, “Are you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Come in, pilgrims! I didn’t know who you were!” Then everyone sings a welcome song – the song above: “Enter, enter, holy pilgrims! Welcome to my humble home! Though ’tis little I can offer, all I have please call your own!” 

Watch a video of a wonderful storybook about Posadas here: 

(Or go to YouTube and search for “The Night of Las Posadas”.) 

WORD FOR THE WEEK: WELCOME

How to say “Welcome” in American Sign Language… 

The sign “WELCOME” is done by holding one hand out from your body, flat with your palm up, off to the right a bit, and then bringing the hand in toward your torso/belly. 

(Note that this is different from “You’re welcome,” which is a sign some people might know. To say “You’re welcome,” hold your flat hand to your mouth and then drop it down.) 

 

PRAYER PRACTICE for this week…

Christmas and the days before Christmas can be very busy. We may be wrapping things up at work or school, preparing for travel, finishing buying or making gifts, preparing for guests or special events, and much more. Some of those things may be joyful, some may be stressful, some may be both! 

Christmas is a lot of things. It’s a secular holiday as well as a religious holiday. It’s a time when many people have a break from work or school. It’s a time when many folks travel to spend time with family, which may be joyful and/or hard; and when many people are missing loved ones who are not present. There are so many feelings and so many things to do. 

The good news of the Feast of the Nativity, the Feast of the Incarnation (God becoming embodied), is that God is with us in the messiness of our human lives. We are not alone. We are known, loved, held, and accompanied. 

As a prayer practice, take a little time this week to ask yourself or each other what would help you feel ready to receive and celebrate the good news that God is always with us. Maybe it’s a quiet walk around the block (even if there are things to do). Maybe it’s a conversation or reflective time around the Advent wreath one evening. Maybe it’s listening to some favorite music, or reading Scripture or Christmas poetry, to help you hold in your heart what this time means for us as Christians. 

 

HANDS-ON PROJECT: 

When we welcome someone we let them know they are cared for and that they matter. Brainstorm one simple way you can show care to somebody, in the days leading up to Christmas – or in the days after it: remember that Christmas is 12 days long! Here are some ideas. 

  • Send a card, note or friendly email to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while, just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Look at the wish list for a local agency that serves those in need and buy some small items to help them with their mission. 
  • Make or buy a small gift or card for a coworker, classmate, teacher or school staff person, to express gratitude for their place in your life. 

 

SOMETHING TO LEARN…

Why is Advent four weeks long? 

Advent always has four Sundays in it. This year (2022) Advent as long as it can possibly be, since Christmas Day is on a Sunday! 

The Church developed special holy seasons during the first few centuries after the time of Jesus. When Advent (which is based on the Latin word for “Coming”, because Jesus is coming!) was first established, maybe about 1600 years ago, it was the same length as Lent, the season of preparation before Easter. Lent is forty days long, not counting Sundays, based on Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness in the Bible. 

Advent and Lent were both observed as penitential seasons, meaning people would focus on simplifying their lives, repenting and making amends for their sins, and giving to those in need.

Eventually Advent was shortened from about seven weeks to four weeks, and began to become more different from Lent – just as Christmas is very different from Easter. But we still make sure to give to those in need, in this season, and we reflect on the ways the world continues to need God’s presence among us. 

 

RESONATING TEXTS

These texts offers another perspective on welcome. 

Poem: O Sapienta    by Malcolm Guite

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/o-sapientia/

 

Poem: A Tale Begun      by Wislawa Szymborska, 1923 – 2012

This poem uses lots of strange allusions; you don’t have to understand them all to understand and enjoy the poem!

http://inwardboundpoetry.blogspot.com/2007/05/410-tale-begun-wislawa-szymborska.html

 

Poem: Advent Calendar (Rowan Williams, b. 1950)

Rowan Williams: Advent Calendar

Advent Song Cycle, week 3 – Dark

The third week of Advent, December 11 – 17

This Week’s Song: “Honor the Dark”

Lea Morris

Learn this song and the ASL signs that go with it on YouTube:

About the song

Lea Morris (who also performs as LEA) is as Unitarian Universalist songwriter and musician.  This song was composed recently, during the Covid pandemic. This is a great song for this time of year when the nights are getting longer and it may be dark by the time we leave work or school. While we may prefer the light, the dark can also be holy and have gifts for us. 

WORD FOR THE WEEK: DARK

How to say “Dark” in American Sign Language…  If you watch the song video you will see it! 

Hold your arms out to each side with your upper arms a little below your shoulders and your lower arms pointing towards the ceiling, palms flat and towards your face. 

Then swing your lower arms inward so that your flat palms cross each other in front of your face. Your hands end lined up in front of your chest, elbows out. 

The sign expresses not being able to see, as your hands briefly cover your face. 

SOMETHING TO LEARN… What is the solstice? 

We live on the Earth, which goes around the Sun. The Earth also spins as it goes around the sun – each spin is one day and night. The Earth tilts on its axis as it spins, which is why in many parts of the world the days are sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. (There is a belt around the middle of the Earth – the Equator – where days and nights are always about the same length!) 

Every year has two solstices, a day/night when the Earth is tilted as far as it can tilt. In the summer, in the northern hemisphere (the half of the Earth that’s closest to the North Pole; we live in the northern hemisphere) is tilted TOWARDS the sun. That means we have the LONGEST day of the year – the summer solstice – on June 21st. (That’s also the SHORTEST day of the year in Australia!)  In the northern hemisphere, we have the winter solstice – the longest NIGHT of the year – on December 21. It’s coming up, next week! 

Even though it is early in the winter, after the solstice, the nights will start getting a tiny bit shorter – bit by bit – and the days will start getting a tiny bit longer – bit by bit. We can honor the dark, and also be glad to see the light beginning to return.

 

PRAYER PRACTICE for this week…

Take a walk in the dark. 

Walk in a familiar area, like the street or block where you live. Be safe; use a flashlight, or go for a walk when it’s not fully dark yet so that you can see. Wear something light-colored if you are walking where there might be traffic. 

If walking isn’t a good idea for you, you could sit in the dark on your porch or in your home and see what you can notice there. 

If you can find a red flashlight (or tape something transparent and red over a normal flashlight), that can be a good tool for a night walk, because the red light will help your eyes adjust to the dark so you can see better. 

Before you set out, ask God to help you notice the gifts of the dark, and to walk with you. 

What can you see, in the dark? What can you hear? What can you smell? What do you notice that is different from what you notice in the daytime? 

Does it feel different inside of you to walk in the dark? 

At the end of your walk give thanks to God for what you noticed or felt on your walk. You could sing this week’s song, “Honor the dark”!

(The Emily Dickinson poem on the Resonating Texts page goes well with this activity.) 

 

HANDS-ON PROJECT: 

  1. Make a Light & Dark Play area! 

Gather some things that are shiny in interesting ways, or colorful and translucent. Suggestions: colored clear or translucent glass or plastic cups, vases, and so on – even things that look solid may be translucent, meaning light can shine through them; shiny/reflective things – mirrors or an old CD or two. If you have a prism or a crystal paperweight, that might be interesting too!

Arrange everything a table. Find a couple of light sources – a flashlight or phone light, a headlamp or small portable lamp that you can point in a particular direction. Glow sticks could be fun too.

Turn off the lights and use your flashlights or lamps to explore how all those things look when you shine a light on or near them in the dark. Can you cast their shadows on the wall?

2. Learn some winter constellations!

A constellation is a group of stars that people have thought for a long time look like a particular shape or creature.  There are apps and websites that can help you figure out where to look – or Rev. Miranda can send you files for some constellation pages for winter constellations here in the northern hemisphere.

BONUS ACTIVITY: 

Celebrate the Feast of St. Lucy, on December 13! 

St. Lucy was one of the earliest Christian martyrs, meaning someone who died for her Christian faith. Lucy was a young woman who became a Christian. She made a vow that she would never marry, so she could commit her whole life to following Jesus. She was killed for her faith during persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian in the year 304. 

St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated as a festival of lights in many parts of Scandinavia. Traditionally, a young girl will dress in white and wear a wreath with lit candles on her head. (We do not recommend this!) The wreath with candles comes from a story about St. Lucy. During her life it is said that she brought food and blankets to prisoners in a dark underground prison. Because she wanted to use her arms to carry as many supplies as possible, she made a wreath for the top of her head and inserted candles so she wouldn’t have to carry her candle. (Source: https://www.catholicicing.com/st-lucy/) 

The traditional foods for the day are coffee, saffron bread, and ginger cookies. It’s also a traditional time to make gingerbread cookies or houses.

A gory detail: Legend has it that Saint Lucy either plucked out her own eyes to avoid marriage to a pagan, or had her eyes put out by the Emperor Diocletian as part of her martyrdom. Sometimes images of St. Lucy have her holding her own eyeballs on a platter. She is the patron saint of the blind. 

RESONATING TEXTS

These texts offers another perspective on the dark. 

We grow accustomed to the Dark Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark –

When Light is put away –

As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp

To witness her Goodbye –

 

A Moment – We uncertain step

For newness of the night –

Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –

And meet the Road – erect –

 

And so of larger – Darknesses – 

Those Evenings of the Brain – 

When not a Moon disclose a sign – 

Or Star – come out– within –

 

The Bravest – grope a little – 

And sometimes hit a Tree

Directly in the Forehead –

But as they learn to see –

 

Either the Darkness alters – 

Or something in the sight

Adjusts itself to Midnight –

And Life steps almost straight.

 

Ode to Winter – Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales – link here: 

http://beingtransformed-bonnie.blogspot.com/2013/02/winter-poem.html

Cwtsh: Welsh word for a cubbyhole. It also means a hug! 

Hiraeth; a sense of longing for something you cannot find.

Homily, Nov. 27

Gospel text: Matthew 24:23-28

Jesus has just told the disciples that the Great Temple in Jerusalem will be torn down.  And they want to know: what will be the sign that that’s about to happen? How will we know when you’re coming back and it’s the end of the age? Which means, the end of this chapter of the world, and the beginning of God’s time. 

The disciples are jumbling some things together. For the people of Judea, the Great Temple was the most important place to worship God. So even though it had already been destroyed and rebuilt once before, the disciples think that the Temple being destroyed must also be the end of everything. 

It turns out that the Temple WAS destroyed, about 30 years later; but that was not the end of this age of the world.  Lots of things have changed in 2000 years but we’re still living in human time and waiting for God’s time. 

It’s easy for us to look at the big dramatic or scary things happening in the world right now – whenever “right now” happens to be – and think, This is IT. Things can’t possibly go on from here.  Everything has to either COMPLETELY change – or end. 

And so far, over all the centuries people have been thinking that, we’ve been wrong. 

And that’s part of what Jesus is saying here. People are anxious, and don’t know how to understand what’s happening in the world. And there are always going to be people who try to take advantage of other people’s fear and confusion. Who’ll say things like, I know what’s going on! Or, I have the solution!

There’s a sentence in here that isn’t in the assigned text for this Sunday but I included it because I like it:  “Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.” 

Did you know that Jesus said that? Does anyone have that embroidered on a pillow at home? Maybe a tattoo? …

What’s a carcass?

What’s a vulture? …

“Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather” is a true statement. It’s also a metaphor – that means something besides what it says. 

So what’s the carcass and who are the vultures? 

I think the carcass is anything that’s dead or dying in the world as it is. Old ways of being. Things that don’t work anymore. 

And the vultures are the people who think they can get something out of that death, to their advantage. 

I can give you an example. I know a lot of young people, including some in this congregation, who are helping us old people understand that gender is a little more complicated than everybody told us when we were kids.

When I was a kid, your body parts meant you were a boy or a girl, and if you were a boy you got blue shirts with trucks on them, and if you were a girl you got pink with frills, and if any of that didn’t feel right for you, good luck. 

Now we are realizing that there could be a lot more freedom for people to express who they are on the inside. That it’s really not important to have people divided up into Truck people and Pink people. Some old ideas about gender and about what it means to be a person are dying. 

Who are the vultures here, the people trying to take advantage of people who feel confused by all this? I think the vultures are the politicians and media personalities who want to make people feel afraid about those changes. Who say things like “I know what’s going on! I have the solution!” Because they think that people’s fear will give them power. 

A question Jesus has for us in today’s Gospel is: How do we know what voices to trust? When the world seems strange or scary, when it seems like the times are changing so fast, when we feel confused or uncertain or afraid: How do we tell the vultures from the prophets? How do we avoid running after or listening to voices that are just seizing this moment for their own purposes? 

There are a lot of ways to approach that question. But the answer Jesus gives right here in today’s Gospel is: Trust me, and wait for me. You’ll know me when you see me. You’ll recognize my voice when you hear it.  Things may get weird; things may get scary. Don’t be easily shaken or swayed. Wait and trust. 

Advent Song Cycle, Week 2 – REJOICE

The second week of Advent, December 4 – 10

This Week’s Song: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verses 1 & 2    

This song is #56 in our church’s hymnal. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily.

To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

ABOUT THE SONG…

EMMANUEL is a Hebrew name that means, “God with us.” 

This is an old song! The words are based on a poem that might be as much as 1500 years old. The tune is from the 15th century, about 600 years ago. We usually sing this song (and its many verses) spread out on the Sundays of Advent, as we light the Advent candles at church.

The verses of this song are based on the O Antiphons, which are an ancient Christian text, going back perhaps as far as the 500s. They are a series of verses for the days before Christmas, calling on Jesus to come and save us – and using different images from the Bible to describe Jesus, like Wisdom, Key, Dayspring, and so on. They are called the “O Antiphons” because each one starts with the exclamation, O!  There are some O Antiphons in our Advent prayer booklet. 

WORD FOR THE WEEK: REJOICE

How to say “Rejoice” in American Sign Language… Hold your hands in front of your shoulders, palms towards you, fingers together and thumbs up. Then make a circle outward with your hands and bring them back to place, twice.

ASL is an expressive language! Show joy with your movement and your face. 

Note there are several versions of this sign; this one seems to be the most common. Here’s a video!

BONUS ACTIVITY: Celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas!

Santa Claus is based on a saint – a man named Nicholas who was a bishop, a church leader, in a city in Turkey, about 1700 years ago. December 6 is the feast day for Saint Nicholas. One custom is for children to leave out their shoes on the night of December 5 – and find them filled with candy the next morning. Chocolate coins are a good St. Nicholas Day gift – in memory of how St. Nicholas shared coins with those in need! 

Here is the beginning of a story about Nicholas, written by Rev. Miranda’s mother, Pamela Grenfell Smith:

Long before your grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents were born, back when years were counted in only three numbers, in the city of Myra there lived a fine and generous Bishop named Nicholas. He was in charge of every church in Myra – every single one. He lived in a fine house in the nicest part of town, and he never had to worry much about money. When he could not finish his dinner he would say to his cook, “Here, Cook, give these leftovers to some hungry family.” If he had old clothes he would say to his washerwoman, “Here, Washerwoman! I don’t need these things any more. Let them be given to some poor fellow!”

Every year on Easter Sunday a grand procession of deacons, acolytes and torch-bearers paraded out of the great church at the top of the hill and all around the streets of the city. Bishop Nicholas walked at the end of the procession, the position of greatest honor, wearing a splendid cloak of silk brocade and carrying a mighty silver-and-cedarwood staff. On these occasions, if he saw beggars in the streets he would tell his deacons, “Come, brothers, toss those poor souls a coin or two.”

Oh yes, Nicholas lived in comfort and ease, but it was his daily habit to turn his heart and mind towards the great mystery at the center of all things, the mystery that loves us and knows our names. This mystery was working a change in him. As Nicholas sat down to his meat and wine he found himself wondering if anyone in the city of Myra had only a crust of bread for dinner. As he went to sleep in his soft bed with its warm woolen blankets, he wondered if anyone in Myra had to sleep on the hard, cold ground…

To read the rest of the story and learn more about St. Nicholas, go to http://www.baba-yaga.org/Nicholas-A-Garland.pdf . 

SOMETHING TO LEARN… Seeking Joy. 

Joy is a special feeling. The American Psychological Association defines joy as “a feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exaltation of the spirit arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction.” It’s different from happiness, although they are related. The author J.D. Salinger wrote, “The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid.” One of the things that is special about joy is that we can feel joy at the same time as we feel more negative emotions, like grief or pain. 

The author Ingrid Fetell Lee has spent several years investigating joy and where people find joy. Here are some of the kinds of experiences that many people find joyful. Read over the list; does it bring any joyful moments to mind? 

  • Abundance – lushness, multiplicity and variety
  • Freedom – nature, wildness, and open space
  • Harmony – balance, symmetry, and flow 
  • Play – color, bubbles, whimsy
  • Surprise – contrast and novelty
  • Transcendence – elevation and lightness
  • Renewal – blossoming and expansion 

SOURCE: https://badgesforall.org/2020/03/30/the-science-of-joy-and-happiness/

PRAYER PRACTICE for this week…

Naming Joys. 

Joy is holy; it’s something that God wants for us. Noticing where there is joy in our lives can help us feel gratitude – and be more alert to opportunities for joy.  You can reflect on these questions quietly, discuss them with a friend or family member, or write or draw your responses. 

  • What’s a recent joyful moment that comes to mind for you? (Maybe the list above made you think of one!) 
  • Who are the most joyful people in your life? 
  • What activities bring you the most joy?
  • Are there places – in your daily life or in the wider world – that you connect with feelings of joy? 
  • Can you name a big, special joy?
  • How about a little, everyday joy? 

HANDS-ON PROJECT: Plan and do something that gives you joy!

Think of something you would really like to do, either on your own or with your household or a loved one or friend. It could be an outing – or a special treat – or a small project that would feel good to do. Here are some ideas: 

  • Go for a walk in a new neighborhood and look for Christmas lights. Take a canine or human friend with you! 
  • Look for an exhibit in a local museum that catches your attention, or seek out some wonderful art online, and spend time taking it in.
  • Cue up some music that you really enjoy listening to. (Maybe you could share a few favorite songs with a friend, and ask for theirs!) 
  • Make plans with a friend or loved one to play a game, meet for a treat, or do a simple art or craft project together. 
  • Dive into a really good book, TV show, or movie. It’s OK if it’s one you’ve already seen or read, as long as it’s something that gives you joy. 

Make a concrete plan to do something, even if it’s not this week, and try to follow through. 

RESONATING TEXTS

These texts offers another perspective on Advent/Christmas joy. 

Poem: The Glory, by Madeline L’Engle

Poem: Mary’s Dream, by Lucille Clifton

An Orthodox prayer to St. Nicholas

Let us all say: Rejoice, O guardian of the people of Myra,
Their head and honored counsellor, 
The pillar of the church which cannot be shaken.

Rejoice, O light full of brightness, 
That makes the ends of the world shine with brightness. 

Rejoice, O divine delight of the afflicted, 
The fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice.

And now, O all-blessed Nicholas, 
Never cease praying to Christ our God 
For those who honor the festival of your memory with faith and with love. 

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968

Sermon, Nov. 20

Today is Christ the King Sunday. I like to remind people that this is the youngest of our holy days – just a few years short of its hundredth birthday. It was instituted by Pope Pius the 11th in 1925, in the Roman Catholic Church, and spread to other churches from there. It was a direct response to World War I and the horror of seeing Christian citizens of majority Christian nations take up arms and slaughter one another. The holy day was intended as a reminder that for Christians, our primary citizenship is not that of any particular earthly nation, but of the kingdom of God. And as we heard last week, God’s holy realm is a place of peace: they shall not hurt or destroy on all My holy mountain! 

The Gospel lessons for Christ the King Sunday are all chosen to highlight the paradoxical kingship of Christ, so different from the ways we usually see power and dominion exercised in this world. This year’s Christ the King Gospel brings us Jesus hanging on the cross, crucified as a criminal. 

It’s so much the opposite of where a king should be that people are mocking him for it. Because what kind of king gets the death penalty, to die in shame and agony? 

And what kind of Messiah – the long-promised Anointed One whom God will send to execute justice and righteousness in the land, in Jeremiah’s words – what kind of Messiah dies at the hand of the Roman occupying forces, instead of throwing them out and liberating his people? 

It’s always a little startling to read this passage out of context. The Church usually reads about the Crucifixion in the context of Holy Week – on Palm Sunday or Good Friday. But I’ve come to welcome the opportunity to reflect on the scene on its own terms. 

I’m able to notice different things about it when I’m not caught up in the trajectory of the Great Story of Holy Week, and to tune in to details that might bring new understandings, or new questions.

One of the things I think is really important to remind ourselves about, now and then, is that following this King – this one, the one hanging from a cross – should give a certain skepticism, a kind of critical distance, to our views of any human king, or president, principal, mayor, bishop, et cetera. Really, ANY leader – the ones we like as well as the ones we fear. 

On Good Friday afternoon, every year, I invite kids here to walk the Stations of the Cross with me. And when we come to the eleventh Station, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, I tell the kids a really important truth: Sometimes the people in charge are wrong. 

Maybe they’re wrong because of a mistake or a failure. Maybe because their priorities or intentions are not good. Maybe they’re just exhausted or distracted or don’t have all the information they need. 

But one way or another, sometimes, the people in authority – our leaders, teachers, principals, moms and dads, policemen, presidents – can be wrong. 

We all know this is true; it’s just hard to admit to our kids. But it should be easy for us to remember, as Christians. Our God was executed as a criminal. We must be prepared to question our leaders and the structures of power in our time, holding them up to God’s standards of justice and mercy. 

And let it be noted, please, that the leaders in Jesus’ day weren’t just wrong because they condemned and executed Jesus, the Son of God. They were wrong because they perpetuated a system that punished minor crimes with brutal public execution. 

It’s not clear from the text whether the criminals crucified with Jesus were simple burglars or violent bandits. But it is clear in ancient sources that crucifixion was routinely used as the punishment for theft, fraud, and other non-violent crimes, especially when committed by those of low status, the socially and economically vulnerable. 

The criminal justice system in Judea under Roman rule was wrong because it murdered people for minor crimes. The leaders of that time and place were unjust, because they created and reinforced a political and economic status quo that drove people into poverty and desperation, and then punished them harshly when they did the things that poor and desperate people sometimes do. 

If that sounds familiar, it probably should. We execute a lot fewer people than the Romans did, but our criminal justice system routinely destroys lives for trivial reasons.  And our system is most certainly weighted against those with fewer resources and opportunities – as well as against people of color. If you’d like to learn more about all that, Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy is a great place to start. 

Reading this so-familiar story this year, I noticed something I hadn’t thought about before. There are two criminals crucified with Jesus, right? The first one joins in mocking Jesus because everybody says he’s a King and a Messiah, but look at him now! “Come on, Messiah, save us!” 

The second criminal rebukes the first – “We have been condemned justly, and we are getting what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 

I’ve always heard it preached and taught that the first criminal is wrong and the second criminal is right. But you know what? They’re both wrong. 

The second criminal – no: the second person, who has been found guilty of a crime and condemned to death – the second person is wrong about what he deserves. Whatever he did that landed him on a cross at the Place of the Skull, he thinks he’s getting what he has coming to him. That he’s been condemned justly. 

Look: Whether the death penalty is ever justified is something on which people of good conscience can disagree. Though I personally think it’s tough to make the case for it as a Christian, whose God was literally executed by the state. 

But regardless: the second man here is almost certainly not some remorseless brutal killer. Maybe he’s a thief. Maybe he’s a political dissident. Maybe he committed fraud. Maybe he hurt somebody. Maybe he even killed somebody. 

It does not follow that he deserves death. 

And it’s a sign of his bondage to the regime of death that he believes this. And it’s a sign of our imprisonment to that same cruel master that we continue to accept this logic so readily. 

I hope that when this man awakens in Christ’s presence in Paradise, he knows that he did not deserve to die. That his life and worth are so much more than the worst thing he’s ever done.

Did you notice that the word save occurs over and over again in this Gospel passage? Four times – uttered in mockery, each time.  “He saved others; let him save himself is he is the Messiah of God.” “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 

That word “save” – sozo in Greek – it’s the root of the word that the church translates as salvation. This is core vocabulary for the  New Testament. Save: rescue, deliver, free, help, heal, sustain, restore – all of that wrapped up in one word. 

It’s the right word for this moment. But the people taunting him are pointing it in the wrong direction. Jesus will not save himself. The people mocking him think he’s powerless. “Save yourself!” is a joke because how could he? Look at him. 

With the Gospel writers, we know better. We know he has chosen this. Could he have used divine power to step down off the cross? To cast himself into the arms of angels, as Satan tempted him to do, way back at the beginning? Maybe; or maybe he had laid down divine power and protection, as he turned his face towards this moment. 

Regardless, it’s very clear from the Gospel accounts that Jesus chose not to resist this death. Chose, even, to walk towards it. Praying in the Garden, submitting his fears to God’s purposes. Rebuking his disciples for resisting his arrest. Silent when asked to speak in his own defense. As human, and as God, he gave himself over to this. Saving himself was never the point. 

I don’t claim to understand the meaning, the power, of Jesus’ death on the cross. But I accept the mystery that something salvific, something saving, happens here. 

There’s another important word in our Colossians text, in verse 19: Fulness. “In Jesus, all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.” It’s easy to read right past it, but it turns out there’s a lot of theology packed into that word. 

Fulness, pleroma in Greek, is used a number of times in the Epistles, the letters of the first Christians. So is its opposite, Kenoo, which means emptiness, inadequacy, incompleteness. Those words, dancing around each other, trace the outline of a theology of the cross: In this moment, the human part of Jesus empties himself (Phil 2:7), to make room for the fulness of God. His weakness makes room for God’s strength, his brokenness opens the way for God to restore and heal. 

And early Christian leaders and teachers see in this a path of discipleship. They urge one another, especially in times of struggle and fear, to empty themselves. To let God’s fulness work in them. To trust, in the words of Paul, that whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10) 

We heard a hint of this in Jesus’ advice to the disciples in last week’s Gospel: “When you are arrested for your faith, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21)

This idea of self-emptying is mystery and a challenge for me. When something is difficult, I tend to respond by trying to put more of myself into it. But I do believe – despite myself – that sometimes the wiser response would be to put less of myself in. To let my inadequacy, my weakness, my uncertainty drive me to a more profound openness to God. To serving God less like an independent contractor – and more like a musical instrument, or one of the tools I use in my jewelry workshop. 

This is the paradoxical kingship of Jesus, of God on the cross. Following this Christ, serving this King, calls us to carry lightly any earthly loyalties or deferences which may mislead or distort. It calls us to freedom from our bondage to the logic of death and retributive justice. It calls us not to settle for saving ourselves, when others are suffering and struggling. 

And it challenges us to find grace and possibility even in the moments when we feel like we have nothing to offer. For in this Kingdom, emptiness is fulfilled, brokenness can reconcile, and dying can lead to eternal life. 

Advent Song Cycle, Week 1 – WAIT

WAIT 

The first week of Advent, November 27 – December 3

This Week’s Song: “Wait for the Lord”     The Taizé Community

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart! 

Learn it and sing it here!

 

About Taizé

The Taizé Community (pronounced tah-zay) is an order of monks based in eastern France, with a strong devotion to peace and justice through prayer and meditation. The monks come from many different Christian traditions, including both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and from 30 countries around the world. The Taize Community was founded in 1940 by its leader Brother Roger, who died in 2005. 

Today Taizé is one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Each year tens of thousands of pilgrims, many of them youth and young adults, flock to the small village of Taizé to share in the community’s worship and way of life. Young people from every corner of the globe are encouraged to live out the Christian gospel in a spirit of joy, simplicity and reconciliation.

Taizé has spawned a unique style of worship that has become popular in churches and other settings around the world. Taizé music highlights simple phrases, usually lines from the Psalms or other pieces of scripture, repeated over and over again. The repetition is designed to help meditation and prayer. Songs often have text in many different languages, including French, Latin, Spanish, and English. We have sung other several Taizé songs in worship at St. Dunstan’s, such as “Within our darkest night,” “Jesus, remember me,” and “Ubi caritas.” 

(Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/priests/taize_1.shtml) 

WORD FOR THE WEEK: WAIT

How to say “Wait” in American Sign Language… 

The sign for “wait” holds the hands up and off to the side a bit, with palms up; then wiggle the fingers.

You can see the sign by Googling “ASL Wait”, or click this link. 

 

PRAYER PRACTICE for this week…

Practice quiet. You can do this by yourself or together with a family member or friend. 

Sit somewhere comfortable. 

Ask God to help you rest in holy silence. 

Set a timer and try just being quiet for one minute.  (If you feel like you can do more, try two minutes, or three, or five!)

Pay attention to your breath. In… out.

It’s OK if your mind wanders, but when you notice it wandering, try to gently bring your attention back to your breath. In… out. 

When the timer goes off, don’t rush back into normal speed and activity. 

Notice: how did that feel? Would you like to do it again? 

 

HANDS-ON PROJECT: Do a project that involves waiting!

There are so many possibilities!

Paint a picture with watercolors and wait for it to dry. 

Bake cookies and wait for them to cook – and then to cool!

Put vinegar in your teakettle… and wait for it to dissolve the lime. 

Wash your sneakers in the washing machine… then put them near a heating vent to dry out. 

Order a perfect gift for a loved one, then wait for it to arrive.

Some things just take as long as they take! 

 

SOMETHING TO LEARN… Practicing Patience. 

Did you know that patience is a skill that people can practice and build? 

Some ideas to help kids practice patience… 

  • Name the situation and set expectations. It helps to acknowledge that waiting is necessary and, sometimes, hard. Give a concrete sense of how long the wait will be, whether that’s a timer or a calendar page – and if it’s uncertain, talk about why it’s uncertain. 
  • Do something else. Draw a picture, build with Legos, fix a snack.
  • Pretend. Research has shown that kids can handle a difficult task better when they’re pretending to be a favorite character. (Maybe it works with grownups too!) 
  • Brainstorm ways to pass the time. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, could you look for things that are green, or start finding letters of the alphabet? Coming up with ideas for handling the situation is itself a tool for handling the situation. 
  • Work on skills for quieting your body. I love this idea: Lie on your back on the floor or your bed. Put a stuffed animal on your stomach and rock it to sleep with your breaths. Start with 30 seconds of quiet breathing; if that goes well, you can try more next time.

Source: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_your_kids_be_a_little_more_patient

And there are some great tips about practicing patience for grownups here at this link.

 

RESONATING TEXTS

These texts offer some other ways to think about holy waiting. 

Our time is a time of waiting; waiting is its special destiny. And every time is a time of waiting, waiting for the breaking in of eternity. All time runs forward. All time, both history and in personal life, is expectation. Time itself is waiting, waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal. – Theologian Paul Tillich

With inward pain my heartstrings sound,  My soul dissolves away – Dear Sovereign, whirl the seasons round, And bring the promised day. – Early American hymn

Poem: Black Rook in Rainy Weather, Sylvia Plath – click to read

Poem: This is the Dream, Olav Hauge – click to read

Poem: I sing to use the Waiting, Emily Dickinson – click to read

 

Vestry Job Description

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church Job Description: Vestry Member 

Revised 2019

What is a vestry? 

According to the parish by-laws and the National and Diocesan Canons, all Episcopal churches must have some form of vestry. Vestries serve as the governing and legal decision-making body of the parish. More importantly, vestries also serve as the visioning and and goal-setting body of the local parish. In this way, serving on the vestry is different from simply being on a corporate board, or being in a business meeting. Being a member of the vestry is a form of ministry, with a sacred and exciting spiritual component to the work. Vestry members are also close working partners with the clergy team. 

Eligibility for election
Since vestries, in their capacity as governing boards, have fiduciary responsibilities towards congregations, state law often dictates that all members of the vestry must be of legal majority ages. Our church by-laws allow any person 16 years of age or older to serve on the vestry. Vestry members should be active members of the parish, but do not need to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. Election of vestry members occurs at the Parish Annual Meeting. While not technically in our parish by-laws, and while exceptions are always possible, here are some helpful boundaries to keep in mind when considering running for the vestry: 

  • With the exception of the clergy, it is recommended that employees of the congregation should not hold a seat on the vestry. It is also recommended that family members of employees of the congregation should not hold a seat on the vestry. 
  • Clergy family members should not hold a seat on the vestry.
  • Generally speaking, no more than one person from a family should be on the vestry at the same time.

Terms of Office
While the terms of vestry members varies from congregation to congregation, St. Dunstan’s vestry members are elected to serve a three-year term. If for some reason a vestry member is unable to complete their full term, they are expected to notify the Senior Warden within a least one month of the Parish Annual Meeting.

Eligibility for re-election
You may run for two consecutive terms on the vestry (a total of six years). After the second term, you must take a full year off before running for vestry again.  

Qualifications and Gifts

We seek to invite people to serve on the vestry of St. Dunstan’s who… 

  1. Have a love of God and a commitment to following the way of Christ; 
  2. Are a voting member of the parish who has made an annual pledge to support the parish during the current year;
  3. Are active in and knowledgeable (or willing to learn) about the congregation, its programs and governance;
  4. Have strong leadership skills with the ability and willingness to listen, communicate, and cooperate with others;
  5. Are known as someone who is open-minded, approachable, and respected by members of the congregation;
  6. Has a capacity to seek to solve problems and learn from mistakes, recognize accomplishments, and give thanks for those things that build community and further the mission of the Church;
  7. Respect other church leaders and follow the model for decision making outlined in the parish by-laws and Vestry Leadership Covenant (adopted August 2012);
  8. Purposefully strive to be a servant of the people without a need to be the “most important person” or to be the one with the right answers to everything;
  9. Have enthusiasm for this ministry and role. 

Time Commitment:

  1. Monthly vestry meetings to review the life and work of the congregation, plan ahead, anticipate and resolve problems;
  2. Occasional special meetings of the vestry, as required;
  3. Vestry retreat (usually once a year);
  4. Regular attendance at weekly worship services (ideally, the members of the vestry, as a whole, attend or visit all regular services); 
  5. Frequent attendance at congregational events: coffee hours, meals, fundraisers, adult education programs, pastoral services, etc.;
  6. Meetings of a parish ministry committee, if appointed as liaison to that committee; 
  7. Occasional diocesan meetings, as requested;
  8. Annual parish meeting.

Responsibilities of the Vestry

While we acknowledge that no single member of the vestry may be called upon to fulfill all these responsibilities, we aspire to have our Vestry be a body that, as a whole: 

  1. Prays faithfully for the rector, leaders, and members of the congregation and the diocese;
  2. Offers their talents, as appropriate, to support the congregation’s ministry;
  3. Brings the whole self to the table – mind, body, and spirit; 
  4. Risks openness with your ideas, beliefs, concerns and hopes; 
  5. Seeks out ideas and opinions from members of the congregation regarding affairs of the parish; 
  6. Is available to discuss any and all concerns and vestry decisions with members of the congregation in a supportive way, including encouraging complainants to speak directly to those involved (avoiding triangulation) and discussing problems with the rector or wardens; 
  7. Assists in identifying persons for leadership roles, and, in consultation with the rector, invite them to serve in these roles;
  8. Participates in and stays in touch with the work of our ministry committees (e.g. Buildings & Grounds, Finance, Outreach, Liturgy & Worship), and, as needed, assists committee chairs in communicating ministry needs and activities to the vestry;
  9. Pledges financial support early in the annual giving campaign; 
  10. Strive to be active ministers of the Gospel in daily life and work; 
  11. In collaboration with the Junior Warden, Buildings and Grounds Committee, and Parish Administrator, helps ensure that the parish’s facilities and properties are kept in good repair and are sufficiently insured; 
  12. In collaboration with the Finance Committee, assumes fiduciary responsibility for the parish, including the preparation of an annual budget, the approval of expenses over $1000, and regular budgetary monitoring and review. 

If you have any questions about serving on the vestry at all, please feel free to speak with any current member of the vestry at St. Dunstan’s. They would be very happy to help you. Being on the vestry can be an empowering and spiritually deepening experience. If you think God is calling you to this ministry, please consider running for vestry. Your congregation values and needs your leadership and skill!

Advent Song Cycle, Week 0 – PREPARE

As our home-grown Advent resource this season we are offering a Song Cycle – with a song each week, a keyword, and some activity and prayer suggestions. This post is for Week 0, the week BEFORE Advent begins – November 20th through 26th.

This Week’s Word: PREPARE

This Week’s Song: “People, Look East!”

1. People, look East! The time is near of the crowning of the year. 

Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.

People, look East and sing today: Love the Guest is on the way!

Read the whole poem at this link: https://www.yourdailypoem.com/listpoem.jsp?poem_id=2853

Listen and learn the tune here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SPLN1g_ZFY

People, Look East was written by Eleanor Farjeon, who lived from 1881 to 1965, and published in 1928. Farjeon was a British children’s author and poet. She wrote wonderful short stories and poems, and her Christian faith was often part of her work. She also wrote another well-known hymn, “Morning has Broken” (#8 in our Hymnal). 

In this song, Farjeon uses different images to help us think about preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas: Guest, Rose, Bird, Star, Lord. 

Why look East? East is the direction of the rising sun. In the Bible, many texts describe God’s salvation as coming from the East. Many churches face towards the East for this reason. 

WORD FOR THE WEEK: PREPARE 

How to say “Prepare” in ASL:  Hold your hands in front of you, a little to one side, palms facing each other, with some space between them. 

Now, keeping your hands in the same position with facing palms, move them across in front of your body, making a small loop-the-loop as you go. 

Watch the sign here at this link:

SOMETHING TO LEARN… 

Which way is East, at your house? Which was is East, at church? 

Try finding East in other places you often go. 

Notice the sunrise! 

PRAYER PRACTICE for this week…

Clean, tidy, or decorate, prayerfully. Prayer doesn’t have to involve sitting still, or reading the words of a prayer from a book. Washing dishes, clearing a table to make room for your Advent wreath, unboxing seasonal decorations, preparing food for yourself or people you love – all of these can be prayerful acts.

Just turn your heart towards God before you begin, and try to do what you are doing with your full attention, focused on the task and what it means to you. 

HANDS-ON PROJECT: Prepare your Advent wreath!

This is a good week to prepare your Advent wreath, so you are ready for Advent to begin on Sunday the 27th. Maybe you have a wreath already, and you just need to get it out and set it up. Maybe you don’t have one, and you need to get materials from church or shop for some candles you like. We have simple Advent candles, and booklets with Advent prayers to use, available at church. Reach out to Rev. Miranda if you need to pick something up, or have something dropped off! 

The Advent wreath has roots in pre-Christian Europe, when evergreens and candles were symbols of the persistence of life and light through the dark and frozen winter. In the Middle Ages, the custom was Christianized and became a way for families to observe Advent at home. 

An Advent wreath can be as simple as four candles – they don’t even have to match! Pillar, jar, or votive candles work well. Set up your candles/wreath somewhere central in your home, like the center of the table where you usually eat. You can decorate your wreath or candles however you like – evergreen cuttings, pine cones, ribbons, whatever feels pretty and special for the season. Purple and blue are traditional Advent colors, but you don’t have to use them. 

When you sit down for dinner, or at another quiet moment in your evening, light a candle (or two, or three, or four) and spend a moment praying or just enjoying the light. During the first week of Advent (after the first Sunday of Advent), light one candle; after the second Sunday, light two candles, and so on. You may add a fifth candle to light at Christmas. Adding lights week by week, as it grows darker and darker outside, helps us enter into the anticipation of the season. 

RESONATING TEXTS

These texts offer some other ways to think about preparing for Christmas.  Click the links to read the poems and texts! 

What is the crying at Jordan? – by Carol Christopher Drake; Hymn #69 in our hymnal.

Making the House Ready for the Lord (Mary Oliver, 1935 – 2019)

The Guest House,  by Jalaluddin Rumi 

Yes, by William Stafford

Sermon, Nov. 13

Image of the Peaceable Kingdom painted by Edward Hicks. A child sands surrounded by animals, with its arm around a leopard's neck. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent– its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

That’s the end of today’s Isaiah text. By an oddity of the lectionary, in just three weeks we’ll hear something very similar in Isaiah chapter 11, on the second Sunday of Advent: 

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Today’s text, Isaiah 65, is referring back to this part of Isaiah 11. These passages are 54 chapters and perhaps 200 years apart. The original Isaiah was a prophet, someone who speaks God’s words to the people, living in the eighth century before Jesus. Isaiah 11 falls in the midst of prophecies, oracles, about invasion, conquest, destruction and loss – and promises that a faithful remnant of God‘s people will survive and be able to rebuild. 

This famous passage in chapter 11 moves from the historical to the eschatological. Eschatological texts are concerned with the end, or rather the fulfillment, of history. They’re about things that will happened in God’s time, not human time; and by God‘s power, not human power.

Isaiah 65 is alluding back to Isaiah 11, almost as a kind of shorthand –  from a very different historical moment. This writer is often called Second Isaiah or Exilic Isaiah. The consensus of scholars is that there are at least two, maybe three, main voices in the Book of Isaiah – but these later voices are so deeply steeped in the language and vision of First Isaiah that it really is all one book. 

By the time of Isaiah 65, God’s people Israel have been through invasion and conquest, destruction and loss.  Many have been killed; many have been dragged into exile in Babylon. Two generations later, the new boss of the world, Cyrus of Persia, allows them to return to their homeland and even funds their rebuilding.

This period is fascinating to me. The returnees were so full of hope, and of idealized visions of what Judea and Jerusalem were like in their grandparents’ day. But they had to deal with the reality that you can’t just recreate the past – and the past you’re trying to recreate may never have existed anyway. There were conflicting priorities and identity struggles and disappointment and disillusionment. 

Isaiah 65 was probably written when the great Temple in Jerusalem was at least partly rebuilt. God speaks through this prophet to call God’s people to a bigger vision than just getting back to some approximation of what they had before. 

Another text from this part of the book that may be familiar is Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! Nations shall stream to your light, kings to the brightness of your glory!” We often sing this text in the season of Epiphany.  It’s a vision of Jerusalem as much more than the capital of an independent nation, but as the holy heart of the whole world. 

Isaiah 65 pushes this vision even farther into eschatology: God says, For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth! This isn’t just rebuilt Jerusalem, this is cosmically renewed Jerusalem. 

How would this have sounded to the rebuilding generation? Maybe it was a word of comfort: God’s power and God’s faithfulness are equal to the challenges of this time. Maybe it was a word of challenge: God has bigger plans for you than you have for yourselves. Either way, this prophet is intentionally bringing back – and building upon – the vision of Isaiah 11, of a promised realm of peace. Holding up this hopeful image, so that perhaps struggle and disillusionment may alchemize into a new determination to keep on building what is just and good and holy. 

Isaiah 11 is famous for its imagery – often called the Peaceable Kingdom. And it’s associated closely with the work of the artist Edward Hicks. 

Hicks was an American folk painter, and a minister and writer in the Society of Friends – better known as the Quakers. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1780. As a young man he learned the trade of painting coaches – and discovered that he had a knack for artistic or decorative painting as well. 

But at the age of 23 he became a Quaker, and married a Quaker woman. His new faith carried with it a strong commitment to simplicity and plainness in all things. The decorative arts were viewed with suspicion as worldly distractions. 

Though Hicks’ painting business was making good money and helping support his growing family, in 1815 he gave it up and attempted to support his family by farming.  

This was an unmitigated disaster.

In 1816 a friend approached him and convinced him to save his family from starvation by returning to painting. 

Hicks later wrote about this period in his life:  “I quit the only business I understood, and for which I had a capacity, painting, for the business of a farmer, which I did not understand, and for which I had no qualifications whatever. I verily thought then, and still think, farming more consistent with the Christian, and was willing to sacrifice all my fondness for painting. But it would not do, for notwithstanding I worked hard, I went behind hand daily. The cruel moth of usury was eating up my outward garment, soon to expose me a poor naked bankrupt.”

He continues:  “If the Christian world was in the real spirit of Christ, I do not believe there would be such thing as a fine painter in christendom. It appears clearly to me to be one of those trifling, insignificant arts, which has never been of any substantial advantage to mankind [but has been] the inseparable companion of voluptuousness and pride.” 

But at the same time, he admits, “there is something of importance in the example of the primitive Christians… to mind their calling or business, and work with their own hands at such business as they are capable of, avoiding idleness.” (Thanks, Edward, for tying in that difficult Epistle for me…) 

We may not share Hicks’ view of the decorative arts as inconsistent true Christian faithfulness. To a significant degree, Hicks’ Quaker faith was defining itself against our faith heritage as Anglicans, with our worldly fondness for beautiful buildings, stained glass windows, fine wines, and all that sort of thing. 

But I hope we can hear that this was a genuine conflict of conscience for Hicks… and respect his decision to use his God-given gift, rather than starving as a farmer. 

Having, in his own words, “been unsuccessful in every attempt to make an honest an honorable living,” Hicks settles in to be a painter for the remainder of his life. He does a variety of types of decorative painting – signage, landscapes, historical scenes. 

But he also starts creating art that expresses his faith convictions. As a Quaker, Hicks was deeply committed to peace and reconciliation. The Quaker tradition places a strong value on non-violence – and so these Isaiah passages – They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain! – are particularly meaningful. 

In 1820, at the age of 40, Hicks paints his first Peaceable Kingdom painting, an artistic rendering of Isaiah 11. Over the remaining 29 years of his life, he paints 62 versions of this scene. But close observers of his work point out that he wasn’t simply repeating himself. 

Hicks’ early Kingdom paintings had a naïveté and simplicity. Often in the background he would include a stylized depiction of some historical event that seemed to him to be a fulfillment of Quaker ideals about peacemaking – such as William Penn’s treaty with the Lenape tribe. 

However, in the 1820s, there was rising conflict among Quakers in the Northeast, leading to a schism in 1827. Hicks’ older cousin Elias Hicks was one of the core leaders of that struggle. 

This was very painful for Edward Hicks and other Quakers. Their religious movement, with reconciliation and peace as core values, couldn’t even work through its own internal conflicts. It must have felt like a profound failure of faithfulness and witness. 

Holland Cotter, art critic at the New York Times, observes that in this period – from 1827 into the 1830s – Hicks’ kingdom paintings become more expressive and strange. Cotter writes, “Additional children and animals crowd in. The carnivorous beasts — lions, leopards, wolves — grow in size. Where once they had cast their eyes docilely to the ground, they now stare out, alert, aggressive, challenging, even rabidly agitated… Occasionally animals are in conflict. But even when they aren’t, the assemblies have a jumbled, restive feeling. The ground beneath them is eroding…”

But then, Cotter observes, around 1840, when Hicks turned sixty, the mood of the paintings shifts again. Hicks accepts that the ideological battle will remain unresolved; the ideals at the heart of his faith and his life will not be fulfilled in his lifetime, and perhaps not in this world. The animals in his paintings start to look aged and weary. Sadder but wiser, perhaps.

Victoria Emily Jones writes, “Although Edward was initially hopeful about [humankind’s’ ability to establish peace on earth by simply exercising biblical principles, over time he became more and more cynical… The animals in many of his middle- and late-period paintings are tense or exhausted… Hicks wrote later in life that all the intrafaith dissension he witnessed had destroyed his hope of ever seeing established in the here and now a kingdom like the one Isaiah envisioned. But that realization only caused him to cling to Christ all the more tightly.”

Hicks never stopped painting Peaceable Kingdoms, despite struggle and disillusionment. He was still working on his final Peaceable Kingdom painting, a gift for his daughter, when he died in 1849. 

I really love Hicks’ Kingdom paintings. Their strangeness; their simplicity and complexity. The emotions that seem to swim within them – hope, yearning, ambivalence, frustration, a kind of wry humor. 

I wonder how Hicks’ contemporaries – his friends, his enemies – received these images of improbable peace. I wonder how we receive them. Maybe there’s comfort here: God’s power and God’s faithfulness are equal to the challenges of this time. 

Maybe there’s challenge: God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves. 

Either way, Hicks’ art makes him yet another Prophet Isaiah, carrying forward that eschatological vision of a realm of peace. Holding up this hopeful image for a new generation, and generations to come – so that perhaps, again, struggle and disillusionment may alchemize into a new determination to keep building what is just and good and holy. 

 

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hicks

https://artandtheology.org/2016/12/06/the-peaceable-kingdoms-of-edward-hicks/ – Victoria Emily Jones 

https://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/16/arts/art-review-finding-endless-conflict-hidden-in-a-peaceable-kingdom.html – Holland Cotter