All posts by Miranda Hassett

Job posting: Office Coordinator (6 hours/week)

JOB DESCRIPTION, effective 9/15/23

Title:  Office Coordinator

Reports to:       Rector, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church

Hours: 6 hours/week, during business hours. May work all one day (Thursday preferred) or split between two weekdays. Additional compensated hours may be negotiated for peak church holiday seasons or special projects. 

Compensation: $18 – 20/hour, depending on experience and qualifications

Status: Regular Part-time, Non-exempt

Position Summary

Under the supervision of the Rector, the Office Coordinator provides general office support to the parish, staff, congregation and committees, in order to support the ministries and mission of St. Dunstan’s Church. This work includes, but is not limited to: phone and email support, preparing printed materials, communications work, records management, managing the building calendar, and assisting church volunteers. The Office Coordinator will be a resource person for both members and non-members, and a welcoming and responsive presence in our church’s office. 

Essential Duties

Information Management and Communications (50%)

  1. Manage the parish membership database, and produce directories and mailing lists as needed.  
  2. Maintain other parish records, as asked, including financial, diocesan, sacramental, physical plant, and other operational data.
  3. Respond to requests for information and resources via email, telephone, and in-person visits.
  4. Coordinate the parish and building calendars to facilitate use by internal and authorized external groups.
  5. Produce and distribute weekly e-news in email and print versions. 
  6. Assist with managing the church’s online presence (website and social media, online advertising, etc.). 

Administrative Support (30%)

  1. Provide administrative support to vestry or other committees, including: preparing meeting documents or posting minutes; making document copies; etc.  
  2. Maintain a tidy and usable office environment, so that the Treasurer and other volunteers can also use the office. 
  3. Place orders for supplies and equipment as authorized, including potentially researching vendor prices and negotiating costs.
  4. Work with the Treasurer to ensure a smooth process for bill payment and financial record keeping. 
  5. Coordinate with vendors and maintenance staff to address maintenance and repair needs. 
  6. As directed, assist with setup and preparation for special events, and cleanup and re-setting afterwards (within usual hours) 
  7. As directed and as other duties permit, assist with sorting and tidying projects. 
  8. Produce correspondence and other documents, as needed. 
  9. Collaborate with the Rector and committees for seasonal or special mailings. 

Liturgy Support  (20%) 

  1. Assist with proofing worship materials and bulletins as requested. 
  2. Prepare flower donation sign-up sheets, lectionary and ministry schedules, and other supporting documents. 
  3. Send weekly reminders and needed materials to those scheduled to serve in worship.
  4. Provide assistance with tracking the church calendar and planning for church events, as needed.
  5. Schedule instrument maintenance for worship services, in collaboration with the Director of Music Ministry. 

Note:  This description is not intended to include all responsibilities, as additional duties may be assigned and existing duties may be adjusted at any time. 

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities:

  1. Strong writing and grammar skills, including proof-reading.
  2. Proficiency in word processing; familiarity with spreadsheet and database work.  
  3. Demonstrated organizational skills, including calendaring, project coordination, and prioritization.
  4. Ability to effectively manage workload.
  5. Effective communication skills, both verbal and written.
  6. Familiarity with social media or willingness to learn. 
  7. Ability to maintain confidentiality at all times regarding persons and information.
  8. Knowledge of office etiquette and effective liaison skills.
  9. Willingness to accept and serve all who come to St. Dunstan’s. 


  • Minimum 2 years of office experience, including communications and record-keeping, is preferred. 

Sermon, September 17

You can read today’s Scripture lessons here.

This is an important – though difficult – Gospel text!

The parables – these stories Jesus liked to tell – use ordinary, real-world events to invite people to reflect on the way things are – and the way things could be. 

This is one of the parables about the way things are – about human nature. 

The core moment in this parable feels very emotionally real to me: The main character has been let off the hook! He should be relieved, overjoyed, ready to be generous. But in fact, he’s still awash with fear, shame, and an overwhelming sense of scarcity, from this terrifying encounter with the king. 

I like to remind us that the powerful people in Jesus’ parables are not always meant to represent God. 

We shouldn’t recognize God in this king and his cruel actions.

But we may recognize ourselves in the way anxiety and insecurity can make us behave harshly towards others. 

Jesus’ point is: God isn’t like that king – and we shouldn’t be like the enslaved man in the parable. We receive grace; we should extend grace to others. 

Which ties in very nicely with the passage from Romans – one of my favorites, and an important text! The apostle Paul – this tremendously important voice in the early shaping of Christian community and practice – here he insists here that we don’t all have to live out our faith in the exact same way. 

It picks up on what I said last week about how we often have to differentiate between harm and disagreement. Other people doing or liking different things is not an insult to us; it’s just part of being in community and living in society.

A lot of damage can come from misdiagnosing disagreement or even conflict as harm, and vice versa. Treating real harm as mere disagreement can silence those harmed and pressure them to tolerate abuse. 

Treating mere disagreement as harm can rapidly escalate a conflict and create unnecessary division and stress. 

Paul knows all this. That’s why he’s so insistent here: Don’t judge one another for the practices by which you honor God. There are many ways to worship and serve. 

A diversity of practices and pieties within one religion would have been very normal in first-century Judaism, in the context of the first Christians. Maybe the new Christian communities felt like there should be more uniformity in their way of being. 

But Paul – with surprising sociological insight for the first century – says, That’s not a healthy or sustainable way to build communities or institutions. 

This is one of the things that makes historic Christianity not a cult!

A cult is rigid about imposing uniform practice and penalizing those who don’t conform. Paul says: We’re not going to do that. 

These are both important passages! But I’m going to preach on Exodus. We’ve been hearing bits of the story of Moses and God’s people in bondage in Egypt for several weeks now. Here we reach a culminating moment – and the most familiar part of the story: the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. 

Three years ago I heard Ellen Davis speak about this story. Davis is one of the greatest Old Testament scholars of our time; I was lucky enough to take her Old Testament classes in seminary. 

One of her strong convictions as a scholar is that the land – Creation – is a vital partner in God’s relationship, God’s covenants, with humanity. That this shows up in lots and lots of ways in the Old Testament, and that it very much continues to be true for us as Christians today. 

Back in 2020 Ellen was speaking at a gathering for preachers. She told us: You have something distinctive to say to your people about climate change.

And she used the Exodus story as an example to show us how. 

First, she shared her principles for Biblical storytelling – for how to share these sacred stories of our faith ancestors. 

She said: “First, I must tell the story with transparency, opening a window into our moment in history.

Second, I must tell the story in faith, looking for God’s work, specifically God’s work of creation and preservation, and how humans honor that work, or don’t.

Third, I must tell the Scriptural story in hope, in a way that opens out towards the future.

And finally, I must tell the story in love, looking for how God’s love and human love are at work together.”

Transparency – faith – hope – and love. 

You don’t have to remember all that – but I will circle back to it! 

So, let’s look at the Exodus story through those lenses. Exodus means, Going out. There’s a longer story arc here – from Moses’ birth under oppression and genocide, to this moment, and beyond. And then there’s this specific story, the core going-out moment. The saving miracle of divine liberation. 

Davis says: This is a story about power. 

The real power of God, and Pharaoh’s refusal to acknowledge that power. Pharaoh’s reliance on, commitment to, human power. 

Pharaoh – the king of Egypt – is a perfectly-drawn character, a tyrant straight out of central casting. Power-crazed, cruel, heedless of harm to his own people. 

And he is on a collision course with God’s intentions for the world. 

Our Sunday lectionary skips the dramatic escalation of the conflict between God’s power and Pharaoh’s: the ten plagues. 

Through Moses, God sends a series of hardships on the land of Egypt, with the stated purpose of convincing Pharaoh that he should release the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt because their God is stronger than him or his gods. 

And Pharaoh’s people suffer: water turns to blood; frogs invade their homes; dirt turns into lice; gnats swarm everywhere; animals get sick and people develop terrible sores; hail crushes homes and crops, and then locusts devour whatever is left; darkness falls over the entire land for three days.

Again and again, Pharaoh seems to relent – says to Moses, Fine, take your people, go! But then he changes his mind. Why release all these useful slaves? Why admit the supremacy of a greater power? 

And then, finally and terribly, God sends the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn child of every family in Egypt. 

Davis invites us to reflect on how the Bible uses the deaths of children. It is meant to be a shock, an atrocity, as it should be. 

It is meant to jolt us to change of heart, to acting in new ways, as it does for Pharaoh. 

How many children died this week in the floods in Libya, due to the heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Daniel? 

Do the Pharaohs of our age, those holding the greatest earthly power – presidents, judges, CEOs – show any sign of change of heart in response to those deaths – and all the others directly due to extreme weather systems caused by global anthropogenic climate change? 

The experience of suffering plague after plague after plague, yet still, those in power won’t change, won’t yield – we’re living through that, right now. I fear we’ll continue to live through it in the coming years. 

We may rightly judge the powerful of our age by the degree to which they pursue policies that support the health and flourishing of children – all our children, worldwide. 

And, yes, also the health and flourishing of our ecosystems. We must refuse to be pushed to choose between human and planetary wellbeing, between loving babies or trees. 

Davis said, “You have to love both, in ways that are personal, visionary, active, and political.”

So. Pharaoh’s collision course with God culminates here: the Hebrews huddled in terror on the shore of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army approaching, a noisy terror of hooves and chariot wheels and spear points blinding in the sun. Because Pharaoh has – once more – changed his mind. 

But God makes a way where there is no way. The sea opens. The people pass through. And when their enemies follow – undaunted, still, by this amazing manifestation of the power protecting their former slaves – the waters crash down, kill and destroy. 

“Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

Davis said: 

“At the Red Sea, the Israelites move from natural fear – of violence, of death, of loss, of Pharaoh – to fear of the GOD who saves them with awesome power. Fear of God is nothing other than knowing where the real power in the Universe resides, and acting on that knowledge. It’s the opposite of arrogance, of recklessness, moral blindness, of Pharaonic insanity. THIS is the pivotal moment: When Israel ceases to be dominated by natural fear – fear of the tyrant who seems to hold all the cards – to fear of God.”

This brings us back to the first of Davis’ principles of Biblical storytelling: transparency. 

I think of this less like a window and more like an actual transparency, an overlay that lets you align two layers of images to see something new. 

What do we see when we overlay the Exodus story on climate change – or vice versa? 

The trials of climate change are not the plagues of Egypt; they are not sent by God to persuade our leaders to change of heart. 

Rather they are the manifestations of many complex systems becoming increasingly chaotic and destructive, in ways that scientists have warned about for decades now. 

If enough of our leaders, and enough of us, had listened and acted: We could have prevented them. 

If enough of our leaders, and enough of us, listen and act now: We can still mitigate them. 

We may not consciously fear of the pharaohs of our time. But we do live in bondage to them in so many ways, obvious and subtle. 

And we do, I think, live in fear of what it would be like to walk away from the world defined by the current regime of power, as manifest in politics, economics, material production, culture, and so on.

That’s very much part of this Scripture story as well. We’ll see that next week as the Hebrews, free in the wilderness, complain bitterly about being dragged away from the familiar comforts of their enslavement in a life that offered their children no future. 

Here’s one glimpse of what our bondage looks like: 

Many of the products we consume travel to America on huge cargo ships. If global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. 

And here’s the kicker: Over 40% of the cargo of those big ships is… fossil fuels. We consume fuel getting fuel to consume. 

If the developed world switched entirely to renewable energy, ocean shipping would be cut by almost half.

Imagine the cascade of effects if we were to make that change!

Consider the cascade of effects if we don’t. 

Davis concluded her talk with these words: “The time has come for us to cultivate holy fear as the key to our own sanity and to proving a real future for the children. We must summon the strength to feel healthy fear in this generation.” 

Fear of God is nothing other than knowing where the real power in the Universe resides, and acting on that knowledge.

How would we act if we feared God more than we feared our Pharaohs? If our desire for freedom and flourishing was stronger than our investment, our uncomfortable comfort with the status quo, the way things are? … 

That’s where telling the Exodus story with transparency leads us. What about faith, hope, and love? Where’s the faith in this story and our dwelling with it? 

In the Scriptural story, God intervenes in big, bold, dramatic ways to bring God’s people into freedom. But it takes a while, because of human stubbornness, timidity, and limited imagination.  

Not just Pharaoh’s, but Moses and the Hebrews as well. 

There’s an invitation, here, to strive to face these times, our times, with a belief in God’s saving power. That God can act, even here, even now. Is acting, in spite – always – of human stubbornness, timidity, and limited imagination. 

Not an easy faith to hold, perhaps – but we can try, together. 

Where’s the hope in this story? … 

When we look at the long arc of the Exodus story, we can see that right now we’re at a moment of triumph – singing, dancing, rejoicing in the deaths of oppressors. 

Next week we’ll hear complaining instead of singing. Forty full years of wandering and whining follow the miraculous journey through the Red Sea. 

But there are, eventually, new homes and a new way of living for God’s people. Or – rather – for their children and grandchildren. 

I think we all know at some level that the next few of decades are going to be hard, strange, and costly.

Life as we know it is going to change, a lot. Whether because the changing climate forces it upon us – or because we make big changes, together, to mitigate and adapt – or most likely, some combination of the two. 

Life is already changing – faster in some places than others, but unmistakably. 

Maybe we can find some hope in thinking in terms of a new way of life for this generation’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and doing what we can today to journey towards that future. 

Finally: where’s the love in this story? … 

It’s a tough question. I always struggle with the Hebrews’ joy in the death of the Egyptian army and their horses. 

I learned a version of the triumph song in Sunday school as a child: “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea…” 

I loved it. It was fun to sing!

I have not taught it to my children, or yours. 

Most of them wouldn’t like the dead horses.

Some of them wouldn’t like the dead soldiers.

I understand the Hebrews taking joy in the deaths of their oppressors. That is a real way people feel sometimes. 

Elsewhere, the Bible calls us to love our enemies. 

Here, the Biblical text has no sympathy for these dead. 

They’re not even really people, for the story – they’re just symbols of bondage and genocide. But we might wonder: were the soldiers afraid? Did their leaders order them forward? Did they want to run away? Did they have wives and children at home? 

The Exodus is a profoundly important story for the Hebrews, the Israelites, God’s people. A story of God’s faithfulness and saving love, told and re-told for thousands of years.

It’s clear that the people who first experienced the events this story captures, did not care about the suffering of the Egyptians. 

But that doesn’t mean God didn’t care. 

I wonder how God would tell this story. 

Until we have a chance to ask, we are charged with telling it – and looking for how God’s love and human love are at work together. 

In this chapter of the longer story, we see love at work mostly in this fierce push towards freedom. The way love drives us to want better for each other and our children. 

If we turn back just one chapter, to the passage we heard last week, we see God calling God’s people to prepare for this great journey by sharing a special family meal – the first Passover meal. 

I sure hope everybody made sure that the small households and the folks who live alone were invited to somebody’s table as well. 

I love that God told everybody: Feast together. A special feast of

remembering and preparing. God’s love gathering people around a table to share and strengthen human love. 

There’s something so precious about sharing food and fellowship, song and story and laughter. It grounds us in hard times or facing big changes. 

May the many ways we feast together, here, bind us together and prepare us for the challenges and possibilities of our times. Amen. 

Sermon, September 10

Content warning: Later in this sermon, I am going to speak briefly and non-specifically about sexual harassment and family violence. If that might be hard for you to hear, it’s a beautiful day for a walk on the grounds, and I do post my sermons on the website if reading later might be easier. OK? OK. 

Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

This is advice for how to be church together, right along with what we heard last week from the apostle Paul in Romans: weep with those who weep, rejoice with those rejoicing, treat one another with care and respect, and so on. 

Because despite our call to new life in Christ, Jesus knows that sin will continue to be an issue in churches and in the world. 

What do we mean by sin?  

Let me quote a little from Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic. 

He notes that the word sin has been compromised by some combination of church history and modern marketing. 

Looking at the use of the word “sin” in popular culture, he writes, “‘Sin’ … always refers to the pleasurable consumption of something… [and] always encodes a memory of ancient condemnation … Everybody knows, then, that ‘sin’ basically means… ’enjoyable naughtiness.’” 

The church’s historical witness has made people think that when we Christians talk about sin, we mean various forms of indulgence, particularly having to do with food or S-E-X. 

Which is ironic because Jesus himself seemed not particularly bothered about that stuff; he was even accused of being a glutton. 

The sins Jesus got really angry about were things like hypocrisy, the powerful harming the vulnerable, self-righteousness and judgmentalism.  

Stuff that, sadly, churches as institutions have not only tolerated but perpetrated aplenty over two thousand years. 

The corruption of the word sin is why Spufford proposes an alternative term you’ll hear me use now and then: the HPtFtU, or the Human Propensity to Eff things Up. He explains that what he’s talking about here is “our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s.” (29-30)

So. Jesus knows humanity well enough to know that the faith communities he is founding will have to grapple with sin, with the HPtFtU. And this is his recommended process. 

I don’t think this is intended for every place where we fall short of God’s intentions, but for the stuff that comes to the attention of the church because our actions are harming others or ourselves.

This process is not meant as a mandate for policing one another’s behavior. In fact both Jesus and the apostle Paul have a fair bit to say about not to do that. Both are well aware of the profound dangers of self-righteousness and judgmentalism.

It’s very easy to mistake our will for God’s will, or our taste for God’s taste, and to get tangled up about whether something that offends or upsets us is actually therefore sinful. 

It can take some real discernment to tell the difference between harm and ordinary disagreement. We can easily go to war, in churches or elsewhere, because somebody doesn’t like your favorite thing or asked a question about your big idea. 

Sometimes we have to really sit with something – get a good night’s sleep, eat a good meal, talk with a trusted friend, pray – to figure out whether some slight or wound is real harm, or just the low-level friction of living a society – or is even, perhaps, a nudge towards change. 

What if I’m actually the one who caused harm, even unintentionally, and the thing I’m mad about is actually that somebody called me on it!  

Sometimes we have to tolerate and work through that discomfort! 

We all need to learn and grow. That’s just a given. 

But I do not want to diminish how hard it can be to sit in that space and do that work. 

For that matter, it’s hard even when you CAN see and acknowledge that the HPtFtU is clearly at work in some situation. 

I’ve had people tell me that I have caused harm.

I’ve had people call on me as a leader to address someone else’s actions that caused harm.

Neither situation is any fun at all. 

I’ve had all the feelings you’d expect: Defensiveness, anxiety, shame. I’ve thought all the thoughts you’d expect: Was it really that big a deal? Can’t we just let bygones be bygones? This is such a messy situation; it’s not clear exactly what happened; maybe it’s best for everyone just to leave it be. If they really knew me they’d know I didn’t mean it that way. What if this person gets angry? What if this person leaves the church? What if this person gets angry, gathers all their friends, and leaves the church? 

It can be hard and scary to handle this stuff. Which is why Jesus felt the need to say something about it, I think! 

So, how would Jesus’ process work, in an ideal situation? 

First I, as the person affected, go to the perpetrator alone. We’re assuming here that the relationship makes that safe to do. 

I explain, Hey, that thing you said or did hurt me. 

And in the best case scenario they say, Wow, I had no idea, I am really sorry. Help me understand, let me know how I can make it right with you, and I’ll do better next time. 

And that happens, actually! Which is amazing. 

Alternately, they say, How dare you speak to me like that, that’s not what I meant, you’re hurting my feelings. 

And then, says Jesus, you go away and gather a couple of folks who understand the situation. You all go back to the person together and try to help them understand. 

And if that doesn’t work, if the person still just cannot tolerate being asked to re-examine their own words or actions, acknowledge harm and commit to reconciliation and change, then that person should be to you like a Gentile and a tax collector. 

Let me say something important about that phrase. 

A tax collector in Jesus’ time meant someone who collaborated with the Romans, the colonial power dominating Judea and Galilee, to take money from his own people. Tax collectors were hated because they were seen as traitors and predators. 

Three of our Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, show Jesus calling a tax collector to follow him. 

(And people being kind of mad about that.) 

In Matthew’s Gospel, that tax collector is named Matthew, and becomes one of Jesus’ disciples, his inner circle. 

The Gospel of Matthew is called the Gospel of Matthew because the early church believed that that tax collector-turned-Jesus-follower wrote it. Most modern Bible scholars disagree. 

But it’s still very safe to say that for Jesus and for this gospel, being treated as a tax collector might mean that you’re back at square one in terms of faith and discipleship. 

But it does not mean you’re beyond hope or redemption. 

So, that’s how Jesus envisions this process of accountability in churches: a series of conversations seeking repentance and reconciliation. But we all know that there are approximately a zillion ways that situations can be more complicated. Right? 

Which is why this thing Jesus says here about how whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven weighs so heavily for me. Jesus said the same thing a couple of chapters ago, just to Peter; here he’s saying it to all the disciples. It seems important!

This statement is a big part of the Church’s understanding that priests and bishops are given authority to forgive sin on Jesus’ behalf. 

That happens regularly in Sunday worship. But that weekly confession of sin and pronouncing of absolution, even if we enact it thoughtfully and seriously, is kind of like the tooth-brushing of personal repentance and amendment of life. 

You need it; but you also need regular check-ups for your spiritual hygiene, and perhaps recommendations for changes of habit or new tools. 

And we need to seek out care if we start to feel like something is really wrong or causing us pain or difficulty. 

The church expects and at least to some extent trains its priests to have some comfort and competence with the more routine manifestations of the HPtFtU. 

I may need to make a referral or bring in additional expertise if you need a root canal or Invisalign! 

This is an aspect of my vocation that feels weighty at times. But there’s grace, for me, in remembering that it’s about both binding and loosing. There’s the responsibility of calling people – including myself – to self-examination, repentance and ongoing amendment of life, and there’s the joy of being able to proclaim God’s grace and forgiveness. 

So, that’s how some of this works out in parish life. But what about in the larger church? … 

The Episcopal Church has disciplinary rules and processes, called Title IV, that come into play when a member of the clergy is accused of misconduct. 

(We don’t have a similar formal process for laypeople, non-ordained church members – which both makes sense and does not make sense!…) 

It has been interesting dwelling with this Gospel for the past week-plus, because we have a couple of high-profile Title IV situations going on the larger church right now. 

The provisional bishop of two dioceses in Michigan has been accused by his ex-wife and adult sons of a longterm pattern of physical, psychological and verbal abuse against his family. Bishop Singh’s sons are also calling diocesan and Episcopal Church leaders to account for being slow to open a Title IV investigation, and for doing things like minimizing their allegations by calling them “internal family dynamics.” A Title IV investigation is now – belatedly – underway.

Meanwhile, the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, Julia Ayala Harris, sent a letter to the church last week revealing that she has been the complainant in a recent Title IV case. Shortly after she was elected President of the House of Deputies – a tremendously important role in our denomination – at the General Convention in 2022, she was approached by a retired bishop who physically overpowered her and made inappropriate remarks. Ayala Harris filed a Title IV complaint, supported by eyewitnesses to the encounter. However, the church attorney handling the case recently decided not to pursue any form of church discipline for that bishop.

That’s what spurred Ayala Harris to go public with the situation – to tell it to the church, in Jesus’ words. She writes, “My motivation for sharing this story stems from a deep love for our church. It is from this place of profound care and concern that I raise important questions about safety and accountability… If the president-elect of our House and deputy chair of the Legislative Committee on Sexual Harassment… can experience unsafe treatment right at the door of the House of Bishops during the General Convention, then who in our church can truly be safe? If there is no discipline for well-documented violations, then under what circumstances would discipline be imposed?”

It was interesting to observe my own reactions to President Ayala Harris’ letter – which came as as bolt from the blue for most of us. My initial gut reaction was, honestly, discomfort. Boy, she sure is rocking the boat. This seems… unseemly. Indecorous. Attention-seeking. Awkward. I noticed those feelings and thoughts within myself, and I wondered: Is this really how I feel? What I think? Or is this heard the voice of inherited institutional culture and middle-class respectability speaking inside me? … 

Then I watched friends and colleagues in the church whom I deeply respect speaking out in support of Ayala Harris, and joining her call for greater transparency and accountability in our denomination – especially with respect to bishops, who’ve been given a lot of deference and protection over the centuries. 

And I repented of my first gut reaction. 

I’ve spent my whole life in the Episcopal Church, immersed in its culture; and the Episcopal Church has historically handled a lot of unpleasant or hurtful situations through… tactful silence.

I’ve seen how destructive that can be. I believe that transparency and accountability are a better path. But I still need to wrestle with my own inculturation into the church – in the Midwest, which is an added layer! – in an era when you just internalized the impact of that sexist or racist comment, rather than making a fuss. 

When people kept their “internal family dynamics” to themselves instead of making a website. 

When you just avoided the handsy bishop instead of complaining.

Listen, there will continue to be situations that are best handled with a phone call and a few quiet conversations. But that can’t be our only tool.  We have to be willing, as a church, at every level, to take appropriate and proportional action to address harm by and among our leaders and members. 

Because the harm needs to be addressed and also because what credibility, what witness do we have in the world, claiming to be God’s people, if we can’t handle violations of trust and safety better than this? 

I have hope – I really do. There are churches in which a culture of abuse and silence is rooted in their theology. That’s not true for us. I think our theology is pretty good. What’s messed up is our inherited church culture. And we can change that – we are changing it. 

We’ve got a lot of bold voices in our House of Bishops and elsewhere in leadership, formal and informal, at every level, who are calling for more transparency, more courage, more compassionate accountability.

As I’ve worked on this sermon, a line from Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” has been stuck in my head: It’s here we’ve got the range and the machinery for change, and it’s here we’ve got the spiritual thirst. 

I think that’s true about the Episcopal Church. I think we can change – and that most of us want to. 

I think President Ayala Harris means it when she says she’s speaking up because she’s committed to helping our church do this better, going forward.

I think Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop, means it when he says, “For the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of our integrity, and, above all, for the sake of the well-being of every child of God who is a part of this church, we cannot, we must not, and we will not sit idly by when any one is hurt or harmed in our midst,” when he calls on the appropriate church commission to examine and improve these processes, and when he calls on all of us churchwide to commit to this “hard, holy and hopeful work.” 

Churches – like other human organizations – will always have to contend with the human propensity to eff things up. Sin will always be among us. 

To protect one another, to create room for flourishing, to grow in grace together, we have to tend and exercise our individual and collective capacity to handle – not just disagreement, which is hard enough – but harmful words and actions (or inactions) committed by people with whom we share church and community. 

May we – St. Dunstan’s, the Diocese of Milwaukee, the Episcopal Church at large – have the range, the machinery for change, and the spiritual thirst to follow Jesus’ counsel and continue becoming a church that handles these moments with wisdom, care for all involved, the courage of our convictions, and a God-given desire to seek amends and restoration. 



Sources and links: 

An overview (with links to other documents) of President Ayala Harris’ situation:

Bishop Curry’s statement:

Sermon, Sept. 3

Readings for this Sunday are here. 

Today’s reading from the Book of Exodus contains one of the best comedic monologues in Scripture. 

The voice of God, speaking miraculously from a burning bush, says: “I have observed the misery of my people; I have heard their cry; I know their sufferings; I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them; I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians. So, Moses, I’m sending YOU.” 

No wonder poor Moses pushes back! “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, king of Egypt?”

It’s actually a good question; there are excellent reasons for Moses to stay the heck away from Egypt and Pharaoh. 

If you need a refresher on Moses’ story, I heartily recommend watching or re-watching the animated movie Prince of Egypt; it’s very well done, profound and funny. You can stream it online on a bunch of different platforms for $4. 

But let me give you a quick summary – without beautiful animation or catchy songs – now. 

Last week we heard about Moses’ birth, the son of enslaved Hebrews – Jews – in Egypt. Pharaoh had decreed that all baby boys born to the Hebrews should be killed – thrown into the Nile River – out of fear that this enslaved population might become too strong and rebel against their Egyptian overlords. 

Moses’ mother and sister tuck the baby into an improvised boat and hide him in the reeds at the edge of the river; and Pharaoh’s daughter, walking by the river, finds the baby and decides to adopt him and raise him. 

At our Zoom Vespers service last Sunday evening we wondered together about why she might have made that choice.

Did she disagree with her father’s cruel decree? Or was this just the kinder, gentler aspect of genocide: rather than kill the baby, raise him as an Egyptian and hope to overcome his Hebrew birth and background?  – Much like the treatment of Native children in boarding schools in our nation’s history, based on the brutal principal of “Kill the Indian, save the man.” 

Regardless of the reasons, Moses is raised as an Egyptian. But he knows his birth identity, too. It’s complicated!

One day as a young man he’s out in the countryside, seeing his people – the Hebrews – being forced to work as slaves. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. And since nobody is around, he kills the Egyptian – and buries the body in the sand. 

The next day he spots two Hebrews fighting, and rebukes them: “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” One of them responds: “Who put you in charge? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?”

Moses realizes that people know what he did – and perhaps he realizes, too, that he can’t count on solidarity or support from anybody. For the Hebrews, he’s a sellout who thinks he’s better than the rest of them. For the Egyptians, he’s an oddity who can’t be trusted.  And indeed, when Pharaoh hears of the murder, he demands Moses’ death – even if he was raised as his grandson. 

So, Moses runs.  He flees Egypt to a neighboring region, Midian. He meets a nice local girl, Zipporah, and get married.  He names his firstborn son Gershom, meaning, Stranger or exile. Which Moses has been, not just since he fled Egypt, but really since the princess rescued him from among the reeds of the Nile. 

Years pass. Pharaoh dies; another Pharaoh is crowned king. The Israelites, the Hebrews, struggle and suffer, enslaved. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 

And then one day Moses is out with his father-in-law’s herd… and spots flame in the distance. 

From one angle Moses is the perfect person for God to send to Pharaoh. He speaks the language; he knows the ways of the palace and the people. He probably knows the new Pharaoh well. He is at home in that world as much as any Hebrew could ever be.

From another angle this is a terrible idea. Moses is wanted for murder – of an Egyptian. He has proven that you can’t kill the Hebrew and save the child. He’s likely to be recognized, arrested and executed the moment he shows his face.

That’s why Moses initially resists God’s call – and keeps resisting beyond today’s passage. 

What if they don’t believe me? I’m no good at public speaking!

And finally, simply: O God, please send someone else!! 

(To which God says, FINE, your brother Aaron can go with you and help you. Okay? Okay. GO, already!!) 

The moment when God pivots from “I have heard my people’s misery; I am going to save them” to “I’m sending YOU” always makes me laugh because it feels like a very characteristic God move. 

Years ago I read a prayer – intended as a joke – that I think of often: “Use us, O Lord, use your servants… even if only in an advisory capacity.”

We’d quite like to just be advisors to God, right? God, do this! Fix that! That sounds a lot easier than being servants – helpers – collaborators. 

It’s more or less the opposite of the quotation from Saint Teresa of Avila that you may have heard: “Christ has… no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” 

I do actually believe that God – and God in Christ – act directly in this world, not just through us. 

But it’s also very clear that God frequently chooses to act through us – or to give us the opportunity to act on God’s behalf, to further God’s purposes of justice, mercy, reconciliation, healing, liberation, and peace. 

And I’ve got to tell you: this is a real risk of deepening your prayer life, or of hanging around with God in general.

You may have these moments when you place a need or concern or problem before God in prayer and God says, You’re right. That is a problem. You should do something about it. 

Today’s Gospel coming alongside this Exodus text might well increase our reluctance to make ourselves available to God, to help advance God’s agenda. 

Jesus tells his followers, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The idea that advancing God’s plans in the world might occasionally involve facing mortal danger – like Jesus, like Moses – is hardly a reassuring thought. 

I think we can all recognize that circumstances and causes arise where someone might be willing to risk much. 

Maybe we can name, within ourselves, the people or purposes for which we’d put ourselves, lives or livelihood, on the line. 

The fact that some things are important enough to die for is one of Jesus’ core teachings – as well as the fact that such a death may accomplish more than we can imagine. 

But facing or risking death, or even harm or imprisonment, as a routine aspect of Christian life? Hmmm. 

Father John reminded us last week of a quotation from C. S. Lewis: If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

So. If we pray to God about a need or problem, occasionally we may hear God’s response: Good point. Why don’t you do something about that? 

And sometimes what we are asked, invited, called to do may be costly or risky. 

But maybe our passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome brings in a little bit of comfort or reassurance. Because we’re not supposed to do any of this on our own. 

Even Moses gets help with his bold mission from his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam. 

This passage is a continuation of our text from last week. This is what being transformed by God’s work in your heart and life, instead of conforming to the ways of the world, looks like, to the apostle Paul, the author of this letter. 

Hate what’s evil, hold onto what’s good. 

Take good, loving care of one another. 

Show each other respect. 

Be patient when things are hard; persevere in prayer. 

Look to the needs of those who have little, and don’t look down on anybody. Welcome strangers warmly. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

Try to live in harmony with each other, and so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

This bit about being kind to your enemies, because when you do that you’re heaping burning coals on their heads? – Paul is quoting the Book of Proverbs here, a book of the Old Testament that is in part just a collection of proverbs, variously wise, witty, or questionable sayings from the time before Jesus. 

The proverb casts generosity towards an enemy as a win/win situation: it’s holy in the eyes of God AND it will really annoy your enemy! Proverbs can a little sardonic like that. 

I think I see why Paul quotes it here but honestly it undermines his overall message a bit! I’m not sure being kind to your enemy because it will annoy them counts as overcoming evil with good. But… maybe? 

Anyway. Remember, Paul is writing to a group; almost all the “you”s in Paul’s letters are plural. These are instructions on how to be, together, as God’s people; and how to help each other be God’s people. 

On the one hand, that list might feel like it’s asking a lot. On the other hand, they’re really pretty basic guidelines for how to be a community that tries to care for one another and do good for those around them. 

“Basic” doesn’t mean easy; lots of this stuff is pretty hard at times. But we try to do it together. 

When I read this list in Romans, I think it reflects our intentions and aspirations as a church community. And I think we do a lot of this pretty well, much of the time – but not because each of us does it perfectly all the time. It’s cumulative and collective. 

I miss an opportunity to weep with someone who’s weeping, or welcome a stranger, or attend to somebody’s needs. But someone else in the community is paying attention and they step up, or make a connection. It’s not perfect; we miss things. But we sure do better together than I think any of us would on our own. 

I am so grateful for the people in this community and beyond who remind me or inspire me on a regular basis to hate the evil and hold fast to the good; to be patient and prayerful in hard times; to be generous and empathetic; to hold hope. 

Jesus tells his followers to form churches, and Paul spends most of his life trying to help churches figure out how to bear with one another in community, because being a Christian can be tough and it helps to have people who are in it with you. This is one of my core sermons; most of you have heard it before. 

But the point today is that I suspect several, perhaps many, aspects of our common life here at St. Dunstan’s have their origin in some kind of burning bush moment. 

Someone felt sad and worried about the plight of refugees, and God said, why don’t you organize people to buy them groceries?

Somebody carries grief that church wasn’t a welcoming or nurturing place for their kids, and God leads them into becoming an active participant or supporter of children’s and youth ministries. 

Somebody was feeling anguish about climate change, wishing there was something they could do, and God said, Maybe you could help your church install solar panels.

Being Christian in community means that when you have one of those burning bush moments – large or small – 

If you need to test it: is this really God‘s call in my heart or just my own desire?

If you need to feasibility check it: how would this even work? What would I need? What else do I need to know? 

If you need allies and participants to make it happen, a team to share ideas and resources and time – 

Then here we are, your community, in it with you. 

Aaron and Miriam to your Moses. 

So here’s the message of today’s Scriptures, dear ones:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Take care of one another, and face the big stuff boldly. 

Persevere in prayer, hold hope together. 

And keep a keen eye out for talking plants.   

Fall 2023 Calendar

All dates are Sundays unless otherwise indicated. Dates and plans may change; please check weekly announcements for the most up to date information!

Sept 3 – Solar Celebration, 11:30AM (In person, at church) 

Season of Creation begins.

Sept 10 –  Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person). Liturgy Noticing/Wondering Together, 11:30AM (in person) 

Sept 17 – Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person). Tour of the farmhouse on the church’s property, 11:30AM (in person). POSTPONED – watch for a new date!:  LGBTQ+ 101 presentation, 11:30AM (hybrid) 

Wednesday, Sept. 20: Edgewood High School service day at St. Dunstan’s. 

Sept 24 –  All-Ages Worship at 10AM (in person). Refugee resettlement presentation, 11:30AM (hybrid) 

Oct 1 – Feast of St. Francis (observed).  Pet blessings at 9AM on Zoom & 3PM in person.  Fall grounds work day, 11:30AM – 1PM (in person). 

Oct 8 – Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person). New Member’s Class, noon (hybrid.  Learning Ho-Chunk History, 3PM (Zoom).

Oct 15 – Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person). Intergenerational Church wondering session, 11:30AM (hybrid) 

Season of Creation concludes.

Saturday, Oct. 21: Diocesan Convention. 

Oct 22 – Kickoff for fall Giving Campaign. Pie Brunch, 11AM.

Oct 29 – All-Ages Worship at 10AM (in person). Giving Campaign continues. Halloween celebration in Parish Center, 11:30.  

Nov 5 – Feast of All Saints, observed. Giving Campaign continues.  New Member’s Class, noon (hybrid). 

Friday – Sunday, November 10 – 12: EpiscoWisco youth lockin. 

Nov 12 – Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person)

Nov 19 – Giving Campaign Ingathering Sunday. Sunday school meets during 10AM worship (in person). Giving Campaign celebration & Talent Show, 11:00AM (hybrid). 

Nov 26 – Feast of Christ the King. All-Ages Worship at 10AM (in person).

December 3 is the first Sunday in Advent. 

Sermon, July 30

These are some of Jesus’ parables, these little stories he liked to tell, to make people think and wonder. 

Some of his parables are about the kingdom of God. Which didn’t seem to be an ordinary kingdom at all, or a place you could go, but something much more mysterious. Something ordinary abut also strange. Something he could only talk about in stories, like these. 

I have a question. In the story, is it good that the mustard seed grows? 

Okay, what about the yeast? Do you know what yeast is? … 

(Very very tiny fungus!) 

In Jesus’ story, is it good that the yeast grows? … 

Okay. Let me tell you another parable. Jesus tells this one just before the mustard and yeast parables. 

Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like somebody who sows good seed in their field, to grow some grain. But then somebody sows weeds in the field, too. 

When the plants come up, there are grain and weeds all mixed up together! 

The slaves ask the landowner, Should we pull out the weeds? And he says, No; you’ll pull up the grain too, by accident. Let it all grow together. We’ll sort it out at harvest time. 

Here’s my third question. 

Is it good that the weeds grow? … 

What is a weed? … 

A weed isn’t a kind of plant. 

Lots of kinds of plants can be weeds. 

Here is the definition of a weed: 

A weed is a plant that people don’t want, growing where it conflicts with human preferences, needs, or goals. 

Weeds are usually plants that grow fast, and spread fast, and can thrive even when it’s dry, or there’s not good soil, or the environment isn’t great in other ways.

That’s why they’re spreading into places where people don’t want them! 

I’d like to introduce you to a weed. 

This is white sweet clover. 

I picked this a couple of blocks from my house, growing on the side of the road. 

There’s also a big patch of it on the north side of University Avenue, just a block east of here!… 

Sweet clover is originally from Europe. It was brought to America on purpose to be a forage crop – something for cows and other animals to eat. 

But it quickly started growing and spreading on its own. 

Sweet clover grows happily in any open, sunny environment. 

A single plant can create thousands of seeds – which helps it spread very easily! 

The week before last I was on retreat, up at Holy Wisdom Monastery, just up the road. Holy Wisdom has a big piece of land that they are turning back into prairie. 

Before white settlers got to this area and started farming, this area would have been prairie and oak savannah, with scattered oak woodlands. That was the local ecology – with help from Native American land management practices. 

The land around Holy Wisdom was farmland for about a hundred years before the sisters decided to turn it back into prairie, because that would be better for the land. 

When you turn land back into prairie, you don’t just stop planting grain and let things grow. 

A prairie is a kind of ecosystem. There are plants and animals and insects that all connect with each other, to make a healthy, happy prairie. 

To restore a prairie, you plant the kinds of plants that are part of that system. 

And sometimes you have to discourage other plants that don’t belong in that system. 

Not just because they come from someplace else – or because they don’t look as nice as all the prairie wildflowers. 

Those aren’t good reasons, unless there are other reasons too! 

But we might want to get rid of some plants because they can’t be a good part of the prairie system. 

They might choke or shade out the other prairie plants. 

They might steal water or nutrients from the other plants. 

Some plants even make a chemical in the soil that makes it harder for other kinds of plants to grow near them. 

Plus, maybe the prairie animals and bugs don’t like to eat them, because it’s not what they are used to. so if that plant grows too much, it gets hard for the prairie animals and bugs to find food. 

While I was staying at Holy Wisdom with the rest of my group, their prairie ecologist, Amy, gave us a job. She said: When you’re out walking on the prairie, look out for sweet clover.  

When you find it, cut it down or pull it up. 

So, we did. As we walked on the prairie, we kept an eye out. And when we spotted some, we would pull it up, and throw it on the path. 

Why did we pull up the sweet clover instead of letting it grow, like in Jesus’ parable?

Well, it could be a problem to let it grow – mostly because it will make seeds. Sweet clover makes LOTS of seeds – tiny seeds that spread easily on the wind. It even makes two kinds of seeds – seeds that are all ready to grow the next spring, and seeds that won’t start to grow for several years. It has a long term plan! Pretty clever! 

So the reason to pull the sweet clover, in the summer, when the flowers haven’t turned into seeds yet, is that otherwise it will spread those seeds and make more and more sweet clover. 

And all that sweet clover would start to crowd out the prairie plants. 

But here’s the thing. Weeds aren’t evil. It’s complicated! 

What counts as a weed can even depend on the situation.

Sweet clover is classified as an invasive plant in many states. 

But you can still buy it to plant on purpose, to feed your animals! 

Most of the plants we call weeds are plants that are very good at what they do. They are adaptable, resilient, able to thrive in tough circumstances. 

Normally we respect all that! But we don’t respect weeds…

Weeds aren’t all bad. 

They do the same good things that all plants do.

They store carbon from the atmosphere.

They turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. 

They hold down the soil to discourage erosion. 

Some weeds are good for pollinators. Bees like sweet clover, though they also like all the native prairie flowers. 

Some weeds are even good for the soil. 

Sweet clover can help rebuild soil that’s been depleted by agriculture by fixing nitrogen and other good elements in the soil. 

It is better to have weedy land than bare land. 

I think that’s what Jesus is talking about, in this parable. 

It sounds like grain and weeds are totally different things. 

One is good and one is evil. 

And you want one and you don’t want the other one. 

But it’s not really that simple. 

Weeds aren’t all bad. 

And grain isn’t all good; there are things we grow for agriculture that aren’t great for the soil, or the pollinators, and so on. 

Thinking about the specifics of sweet clover as  a weed leads me into this parable in a new way. 

Matthew, our Gospel writer, thinks this is a parable about how those nasty weeds are going to GET WHAT’S COMING TO THEM.

Matthew has seen some very bad things happen, and he is really worried about whether people who do bad things will get punished. That shows up in lots of ways in his Gospel.

But I wonder if what Jesus meant, when he first told this parable, this story, has more to do with the ambiguity of weeds.

The way weeds can be a mix of bad and good, helpful and hurtful. 

After the retreat ended, we all went home – and pretty soon people started posting in our Facebook group: here’s some sweet clover in my yard, or my neighborhood park!

I know it’s a problem on the prairie, but should I pull it up here too? Is it worse – or better – than whatever else is growing here, and will fill in the space if the clover is gone?… 

After doing a little research, my decision is that I will pull sweet clover if I see a little bit growing somewhere by itself, to help discourage it from spreading into a new area. 

But I’m not going to try to wipe it out every time I see it. 

Sweet clover isn’t evil; it isn’t even all bad. 

It does some good things for the environment around it, and some not so good things. Probably like most of us. 

Sometimes after we tell a Godly Play story, we ask: I wonder what this could really be? 

It’s easy for grownup brains to think that in this story, the grain and the weeds are really people. 

That’s what Matthew thinks about this story; he can’t wait for the bad people to get sorted out and thrown into the fire! 

But I wonder. 

In the yeast parable and the mustard seed parable, what Jesus tells us about the Kingdom of God is just that it grows.

In secret, surprising, mysterious ways.

We just need to plant the seeds, or work the yeast into the flour, and trust it. 

Maybe what Jesus wants to say about the grain and the weeds is that sometimes it might seem like something isn’t growing the right way. 

We were trying to start something good and exciting – we wanted to plant a tree, or bake bread, or start a new ministry, or plan a new project at work, or gather people to play a game or make music, or any new, complicated, hopeful, holy project. 

And it might seem along the way like it got messy, and some parts aren’t doing what we wanted, or we don’t like everything that’s happening… 

Maybe when that happens, we just need to be careful, and thoughtful. Is this messy, unwanted part of the picture something that’s really going to be a problem and we need to pull it out now before it spreads its seeds all over? Or is there a chance it has something to contribute to the bigger picture? 

Sometimes we might need to be patient and let everything grow together. The things we want and expect and like, and the things we don’t. 

Because we’re not that good at telling grain from weeds, and we just don’t know how it’s going to turn out… 

How the different pieces are going to interrelate as they grow. 

Humans are not very good at guessing the future. I mean, we brought sweet clover here on purpose!

Is it good that the mustard seed grows? 

Is it good that the yeast grows? 

Is it good that the grain grows?

Is it good that the weeds grow too?… 

Real life is messy! There are not very many situations where something goes exactly as planned, and only good things come out of it. If we can’t deal with a few weeds, we will have a tough time. 

Maybe Jesus’ words for us here are:  Be patient; pay attention; and trust. 

Drama Camp: Thanking our youth leaders…

Dear Isaac, Zoe, Tatum, Linus, and Iona, 

Five years ago I went on sabbatical – a three-month break from working here at St. Dunstan’s – with a special project of learning more about ways to involve kids and youth in church worship, and church life in general. One of my best sources was a friend who was in leadership in a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism in northern California. My friend – James, or Sir Beorn – offered a lot of great ideas and tools for helping kids and youth feel seen, valued, and meaningfully involved. 

One of the ideas he shared that really stuck with me was cultivating a culture of mentorship. There are a few building blocks of that: 

  • There should be lots of ways kids and youth can be involved, depending on age, skill, interest, etc.; 
  • You (kids & youth) should be able to move on to new roles, or add on to a role you already have, and not be stuck with something that’s gotten boring; AND
  • You should have the chance to teach or pass on your skills to others. 

That last one is the part that really caught my attention – and that’s what I mean by a culture of mentorship. Not just adults mentoring kids, though that’s important too, but giving kids and youth a chance to mentor each other. Teaching, leading, skill-sharing is fun and exciting and affirming (and also, yes, sometimes very hard and quite exhausting). And younger kids love learning from older kids; it’s a lot more interesting than learning from adults, and it shows them how they can move into helper and leader roles themselves in time. 

I carried this vision for a culture of mentorship for years without knowing how to implement it. We were busy with a big renovation, and then Covid, and I just couldn’t see what this could look like here, and didn’t have time to reflect on it deeply. 

Then – as we started to plan Drama Camp this year – it just didn’t feel right to invite you all to be participants. I knew you had relevant skills, and even leadership experience, equal or beyond that of many adults involved. So, we asked our older youth: Would you like to be helpers – or even co-leaders – with Drama Camp this year? And you five stepped up and said, Yes. Isaac offered to stage manage our older kids’ play, an adapted version of Androcles and the Lion. Zoe offered to work on props; Tatum said they would work on costumes. Linus and Iona were both willing to be helpers with the younger group, for the week. 

Isaac, Zoe, and Tatum: When we named you as “co-leaders” for the camp, I think we envisioned adults still running things, as usual, with you three stepping in or managing your particular aspects of the production. But then you three really formed a team and started running the whole thing, with the older group – and the adults involved saw that happening and stepped back, joyfully. I didn’t get to see you in action much, since I was working with the younger group, but I did see your intense conversations, before and after each evening of camp, about how things were going and how to handle the next night. I heard from the adults that they didn’t have that much to do, because you all were handling things so well. And I saw the result: a genuinely outstanding performance on Friday evening, after a mad rush of a week. You did wonders and I am so impressed. And I am positive that there are kids who were part of that cast who now have a vision of getting to lead stuff – not just help or even co-lead, but lead – in a few years’ time.  

Linus and Iona: I feel like I owe you an apology; I wish we’d managed to give you more authority, and more to do. In bringing you in as helpers with the kindergarten through 3rd grade group, I think we envisioned you as cat herders, to help manage the group, round up stray goats, and so on. And you are both really good with younger kids, but you’ve got more to offer than that. Over the course of the week – leading games, supporting young actors, eventually running the dress rehearsal – there were many moments when I got to see your skills and your capacity for leadership. You did a LOT last week – the grownups couldn’t have done it without you – but I know you could do much more. 

Having youth in these roles was all new, so of course we learned a lot!  The big, overarching thing I learned was that your collective capacity, skill, and readiness to step up far exceeded what we grownups had imagined or planned for. I am amazed and grateful.

What’s the next step with growing our culture of mentorship, here at St. Dunstan’s? That’s a question I want to keep asking myself. This is something much more nuanced than just “get the youth to do stuff.” Kids and youth are busy, and you all need balance and freedom to choose when and how to be involved, just as much as anybody else. And Drama Camp worked the way it did because you all have interest and skill in that area; it was an effective match. 

I want to be on the lookout for other places where an opportunity or need in the church and its ministries could be a good fit for a youth or kid’s skills and interests. A big learning of last week for me is that when those moments arise, I and other grown-ups involved need to be ready to step back and let the young folks run with something. Because even if that might sometimes mean a change of plan or direction, the many benefits of giving you that authority and space to use your gifts so far outweigh sticking to some grownup’s preconceived plan. 

I’m interested in your thoughts, too. What did you learn, last week? How did it feel? Are there other things you’d like to do, or directions you’d like to explore, in our common life as a church – things that would let you share your gifts and skills, and exercise leadership in ways that feel good and help you grow? I hope others will think about those questions too, as I share this letter with the wider parish. 

Thank you for everything that you poured into Drama Camp, and thank you for being such a vivid example of the words of 1 Timothy in the Bible: “Don’t let anybody look down on you because you are young!”

With love,

Rev. Miranda+

Sermon, July 23

  • Another piece of the Jacob story in the lectionary today
  • Some of our kids have been learning all about Jacob this week at Drama Camp. I’d like to invite any of those kids who want to come up and sit in front and help me tell the story. 
  • I’ve been thinking about how Jacob’s story looks a little like some of the steps of coming to know God, throughout our lives. 
  • Let’s go through the story – and I’ll talk a little along the way about those steps…

First: Jacob is born! Is JUST Jacob born? …

Do the twins like the same things? … 

Do the twins get along? … 

Would you say Jacob was JEALOUS of Esau? Why? … 

What happened one day when Esau was hungry?… 

Then what happened when their father Isaac was very old, and wanted to give his favorite son Esau a special blessing? … 


  • The lesson for today happens while Jacob is running away, after stealing Esau’s blessing.
  • I really like how the lectionary, our calendar of readings, puts this part of the story with Psalm 139. Psalm 139 is one of my favorites; I love how it feels like the poet feels two different things at the same time – grateful that they can’t escape from God, and also frustrated that they can’t escape from God! 
  • Let’s turn back to Jacob.  Jacob has been raised in a faithful family; his parents are both in the habit of speaking to God and listening to God. But as far as we know at this point, Jacob doesn’t have his own relationship with God. It’s just something that’s part of his family life. 
  • Then, during a restless night of sleep while he’s running away from home so his brother won’t kill him, he has a vision of angels – God’s messengers, going up and down between earth and heaven.  A vision that shows him that God is involved in the world.  
  • And God speaks to Jacob, and tells him that God will be with him wherever he goes, and that his story is going to turn out OK. What a good thing to hear at a scary time! 
  • When Jacob wakes up, he says – God is here, right here! And I didn’t even know it! 
  • This is the first step I want to talk about. The moment when someone sees or feels God’s presence. Suddenly God isn’t just something other people talk about; instead Jacob has his own encounter with God. This is so important, and it’s something I hope for, for our young folks and for everyone who’s seeking. 
  • When I call these steps of faith, I don’t mean that they happen once and you move on. I 100% continue to have “God is here and I didn’t even know it!” moments. There was a lot of that in last week’s retreat, for me. I continue to have moments when I need to awaken to the truth that God is present, in a place or a situation or a season.
  • Our reading cuts off but this scene continues with Jacob trying to make a deal with God. Jacob makes a promise: “If God will be with me, and will protect me, and make sure I have food to eat and clothing to wear, and that I eventually am able to go home again, then God will be my God, and I’ll give you, God, one tenth of everything you give me.” 
  • Basically, he says: “If you take care of me, I’ll believe in you, and if things go well for me, I’ll pay you back for helping me.”
  • Do we think this is how God works? …  Can we make deals with God? Can we bribe God into helping us? … 
  • There is a lot that is mysterious about God… and about prayer… and about why good things happen, or bad things. 
    • But I think we can be pretty confident that we can’t make deals with God.
  • But I think this is Step 2 in faith because it’s very normal. Sometimes we forget – or we haven’t learned yet – that God isn’t just like another human being. We can’t bargain with God because we don’t have anything God wants … except to love God back, and you can’t make a bargain with that. 
  • And again, this isn’t a step we move through and leave behind. Let me tell you, as my first-born child prepares to leave home, I am tempted to try to make some bargains with God, for his safety and his joy. 
    • It’s very normal for our prayers sometimes to take this shape… and I know God understands! 
  • Okay.  Back to Jacob.  A bunch more stuff happens to him. He gets married – twice – we’ll share that story next week!
  • He gets a LOT of goats. [ Are Jacob’s goats plain or spotty? …
  • I love that part of the story but we don’t have time to explain it here – ask a kid later!  ]
  • Jacob’s wives have kind of a baby-having contest, and he ends up with a lot of sons. We didn’t cover that in Drama camp because honestly, it’s a little awkward!
  • Then Jacob decides it’s time to go home. He has a big family, he has a big flock of goats, and he needs to get away from his controlling father-in-law… and his brothers-in-law, who are getting cranky about how rich Jacob is getting. 
  • His wives Rachel and Leah are ready to go too.  They feel like their father doesn’t even treat them like family anymore.
  • So one night, in the dark, Jacob rounds up the family and the servants and the goats and other animals and goods, and they set out to head towards Jacob’s home. 
  • There are so many details in this story that I love! Here’s one: Jacob’s father in law Laban has a little household altar with some clay or metal figures of gods on it – the gods Laban worships. Jacob’s wife Rachel steals those god figures, when they leave. It’s not clear why; maybe she wants to have them with her, maybe she’s just mad at her dad. Anyway, Laban chases Jacob and the family, and when he catches up with them, he and Jacob have a big argument. Finally Laban says, Well, at least give me back my god figurines! Jacob says, I don’t have them! Search the camp, we didn’t take them! He doesn’t know that Rachel has them. 
    • So Laban searches the camp. But Rachel hides the gods in a camel saddle, and sits on it, and when her father comes in to search her tent, she says, “Daddy, sorry I’m not getting up, I’m on my period.” And he leaves her alone, and doesn’t find the gods. 
  • Then Jacob and the family continue on, and he sends a Messenger ahead to tell Esau that he’s coming. [What does the Messenger tell him when he returns? … (Esau is coming WITH 400 MEN!) ]
  • Jacob is TERRIFIED.  He sends a gift ahead to try and soften his brother’s heart.  
  • And he prays:  ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”, I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children.”
  • Listen to how Jacob prays here: “I am not worthy.” “Save me, please, for I am afraid.” 
  • There’s no trickery and no bargaining. This is just an honest prayer from the heart, in fear and desperation. 
  • The spiritual writer Ann Lamott says there are three basic kinds of prayer: Help, Thanks, and Wow. This is a pure Help prayer. 
  • And I would call this a significant step for Jacob – Step 3. Because this is a real prayer.  A simple prayer, but an honest prayer. 
  • He knows he’s not bringing anything to the table. This situation is beyond his control. 
  • He just needs to call on somebody bigger and wiser and kinder.
  • This is an important step of faith – when we know or feel that we can just cry out from our hearts, from our fear or need, and ask God to help us. Save me, please. 
  • Let me just point forward really quickly to two more steps of faith that I think are here in Jacob’s story. This same night, something strange happens: a mysterious figure comes out of the darkness and wrestles with Jacob, all night long. 
  • The Biblical text hints that this stranger is somehow God.
  • I would say that wrestling with the mystery of God is a pretty significant step of faith. We can spend a lot of time there; many deeply faithful people have, and do. 
  • And then when Jacob and Esau finally meet – is Esau angry?… No, he just wants to give his brother a big hug, right?
  • And Jacob says to Esau: Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God. 
    • I think that’s one more step of faith: the step where we start to be able to see God in other people. Still knowing that God is mysterious, and transcendent, and ineffable, and all those big words – that God is big and strange and very much not just another human being. 
  • But also, that God is present in this world, and in other people, because God made and loves us.  
  • And that we can seek God, and serve God, through other people. 
    • The place I was on retreat last week, Holy Wisdom, is a religious community based on the teachings of Saint Benedict. Benedictines worship with chairs here and chairs here – facing each other – so they can see each other, and see God present in one another, as they pray. We kind of do that too, on Zoom and in our summer church setup.  
  • So that’s an invitation into the last step of Jacob’s faith journey – being able to begin to see God reflected in other people, as ordinary and imperfect as we are. 

Thank you, kids, for helping tell the story! 

(Depending on time, ask them for their favorite part? Remind them that we’ll act out the wedding scene next week.) 

Thank all those who helped out, supported, prayed for our Drama Camp last week!… 

Sermon, July 9

I don’t do the good thing I want to do, but I do the evil thing that I don’t want to do. 

Who’s been there?… 

Let me offer a little context before we dive in. 

This is the voice of the Apostle Paul. 

Paul was one of the most important leaders in the first generation of Christianity – a teacher, preacher, theologian and founder of churches. Many of his letters are preserved in the Bible – as well as a handful of letters that other people wrote and put his name on, hoping to borrow his authority. 

Romans is one of the longest of Paul’s surviving letters. Unlike the other letters, Paul is writing to a Christian community that doesn’t already know him – the Christian community in Rome, which was basically the capital of the world at the time. The Roman Empire spread across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

It’s going to be a couple of centuries before Christianity is accepted and starts to be a powerful force in Rome, but still, Paul wants to impress the Christian community in Rome. So he’s laying out a lot of his big ideas. 

It’s hard to preach on Romans because the little chunks of ten or fifteen verses that we get in the lectionary are pieces of arguments that are, like, three chapters long, and often somewhat nuanced and complex. A preacher has to contextualize before they can do anything else.

But I think this passage catches our attention even without context. I want to do the right thing, but somehow I don’t. 

I don’t want to do the bad thing, but somehow I do. 

That’s so simple and so real.

But what is Paul saying about this fairly relatable experience?

And why does he keep talking about law, in this passage? … 

In this part of Romans, Paul is exploring the meaning of Jewish law, and how this new Christian faith relates to that older way of understanding what it means to be good and righteous. 

Being a practicing Jew involves observance of the way of life laid out by the commandments and practices of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Modern Jews have a wide range of understandings of what observance looks like. Wrestling with how the commandments apply in new circumstances is a core faith practice, in Judaism! But observance of the Law, one way or another, is just part of what it means to be a Jew. 

Like most of the first generation of Christians, Paul was a Jew before he became a Christian. He was a very serious and faithful Jew – more on that in a moment. 

He is clear that Christianity is a new path of faith that leads away from following the rules of Torah. But he doesn’t want to throw the Law out the window. He believes that the Law is good, and holy – and that for him and others, it was ultimately inadequate, because of this other law – the law of sin – at work within him. 

(It is important to say here that we share the faith of Abraham’s God with a whole lot of Jews who do not find the Law inadequate! I trust that God honors all God’s covenants, and that the call of God through Jesus Christ was for those who needed a new path of faith. Anything else is above my pay grade.)  

Biblical scholars have wondered a lot about what to make of the “I” in this passage – Paul’s use of the first person singular, here. He hasn’t been writing in this voice, much, before chapter 7.

Why does he suddenly seem to be speaking from experience, talking about the deep inner struggles of his heart? 

Well: As a fellow preacher, I definitely think that part of what’s going on here is just a clever rhetorical choice. 

Sometimes people like Paul, and me, use a kind of strategic “I”, where it’s not entirely clear whether we’re actually talking about ourselves or using this “I” to kind of stand for everybody.

To say, “People struggle with sin,” is abstract and boring.

To say, “You struggle with sin,” is scary and blame-y.

To say, “I struggle with sin,” as a preacher or teacher, creates a sense of transparency and vulnerability. And the listener or reader has the freedom to say, “Hey, yeah, I know what that feels like too.” 

But there’s a bigger question at stake here than Paul’s writing style. That’s the question of whether Paul is describing his own ONGOING experience – or what it was like before he became a Christian.

And that’s a big question because Paul himself says, in various places, that once you’ve become a Christian, committed yourself to Christ, then sin no longer has power over you. 

We see it at the end of this passage: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  And he’ll say more in that vein in chapter 8: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” 

He talked about it back in chapter 6, too: “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:6-7, 11-12)

Paul wants to say boldly that through our baptism, Christians are now dead to sin, and freed to live with goodness and grace. 

But: Paul also finds that he has to keep reminding people in his many churches to STOP SINNING. 

Those verses from chapter 6 continue, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” 

And in chapter 8, Paul is also clearly urging Christians to turn away from sinful behavior – a choice they still have to make. 

Let me say a word about how Paul talks about sin here: as a separate force at work inside us. This language feels risky to me – it makes room for someone committing atrocious acts to say, “It’s not ME; it’s the sin!” 

But at the same time, I do understand. There are times when the thing pulling me away from my best intentions does almost feel like a power or being inside me. 

Sin – or as author Francis Spufford renames it, the Human Propensity to Eff Things Up – can take so many forms inside us. 

Our many addictions; our urges and our personal weaknesses; established patterns that we know hurt us rather than helping us but that still, like well-worn ruts in a road, draw us into their path… 

Sometimes we can name these things, hold them at arm’s length, give them a good hard look. 

But that doesn’t instantaneously break their power over us – in us. 

So I do recognize the experience Paul is describing here. 

I don’t do the good thing I want to do, but I do the evil thing that I don’t want to do…. 

I realized this week that Paul has a lot in common with today’s exvangelicals – people who have left evangelical Christianity. 

Paul was formed by a religious culture in which there’s a right way to do every little thing. And now he has converted to a religious culture, a path of faith, that is much more a matter of personal discernment and struggle. 

I’ve had many conversations with people exploring the Episcopal Church after leaving evangelicalism. 

One person told me plainly, I know why I left; but there was some real comfort in feeling like I knew exactly how to be in my marriage, how to raise my kids, what books to buy, what music to listen to, and so on. 

This business of having some core values and hopes, and figuring the rest out from there, can feel chaotic and scary. 

I think that’s right where Paul is. Paul wasn’t just any Jew before he became a Christian. He was a member of a particularly rigorous and prescriptive movement within Judaism. Part of how he feels about the Law, and about his own former life, is that it was really nice to know exactly how to act to be a righteous person. But he also knows deep down that for him, that didn’t make him a good person. It wasn’t salvific – it did not rescue him from himself, the way that Jesus did.

So: He’s a Christian now, and passionately, wholeheartedly so. But he doesn’t find it easy – for himself, or for those he’s teaching and leading. 

The upshot of this passage – of this section of Romans – is that that Paul wants very much to say that we are freed from bondage to sin by our baptism, by our belonging to Jesus. 

But sin, that Human Propensity to Eff things Up, doesn’t just fall away like a shed skin when we become Christians. 

Being freed from bondage to sin doesn’t mean we just walk away. Maybe it just means that now it’s a fair fight. 

We have to keep struggling and keep choosing, day by day, sometimes moment by moment. 

To keep opting for justice, mercy, kindness, healing, liberation, integrity, generosity, joy. 

Maybe the way in which Paul is really speaking from his own heart, his own experience, is in the paradox, the tension, he shows in these chapters – and elsewhere – between his profound sense that his conversion, his becoming a Christian, changed something deep inside him; but that in many ways he is still the same imperfect self, struggling with the same weaknesses. 

As a human being and as a preacher, I do relate to that. I do believe that Jesus made and makes a difference, for me, for the world. God coming among us as a human, God sharing our lives, God dying a human death – and a painful and disgraceful human death, at that – God fighting free of the bondage of death and rising to new life – God in Christ claiming us as his own, forever – all of that matters. It made a difference, in some crucial (crucial, which means, cross-shaped) and fundamental way. 

And: I know – that my personal transformation is incomplete at best… and that in calling others to transformation of life, in my role as a preacher and pastor, I have to be honest about that reality. 

What’s the most important thing to carry away from this text?… 

In one on one conversations, I hear fairly often that people feel unsure, unworthy, like their faith isn’t strong enough to really count. And part of that might be that we think being a real Christian means that you just know the right thing to do, and you do it.

This passage normalizes the fact that that’s not true, and never has been. 

Even as Paul really wants to say look, we are free from bondage to sin! –  he has to acknowledge over and over again that the life of faith involves continuing course corrections, inner struggle, discernment, apology, repentance, making amends, trying to do better next time.

So if anyone has been feeling small or unworthy because they find goodness not to be a straightforward project, I hope this passage – and perhaps this sermon – helps reduce that feeling. 

Struggling sometimes, perhaps often, to know the best path – to make the best choice – to do the best thing, even when you have a clear discernment of what the best thing is – in big things or small – having to do that work is not a failure of faithful life. 

It is faithful life, and always has been.