Bulletin for April 11

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday!

9AM Zoom online gathering:  We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for April 11

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Easter Sermon, April 4

This homily makes reference to the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, which may be read here. 

John Chrysostom was a bishop who lived about 1600 years ago – a rough contemporary of Egeria, as it happens. He was one of the great speakers and writers of the early centuries of Christianity – “Chrysostom” means “golden tongue,” a commentary on his eloquence. This particular text is read every Easter in Orthodox churches. Some non-Orthodox churches have started adding it to our practice as well.

In the first part, Chrysostom is drawing on one of Jesus’ parables – the one where God is the owner of a vineyard, and it’s time for the harvest. And God starts hiring workers – some first thing in the morning, some at noon, some almost at sunset. And at the end of the day they are all paid the usual wage for a day’s work. And the ones who worked all day are a little cranky about it; they feel like they deserved more than those who only worked an hour. But God the Vineyard owner tells them, “Friends, I have done you no wrong.  Are you envious because I am generous?”

Chrysostom takes that parable and playfully re-casts it to talk about arriving at Easter after the disciplines of Lent.

If you’ve been fasting like crazy for the whole 40 days – congratulations! You made it!

If you only tuned in two days ago, and barely know what this is all about: wonderful! Welcome! Easter is for you too!

The reward, the grace, the gift is the same for all: Jesus’ triumph over death and hell, opening for us the way of life and peace. 

Of course that parable isn’t today’s Gospel. Today’s Gospel is the Easter Gospel – Mark’s version. Which has perplexed people for a long time. Mark’s story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ends with what we just heard: “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

Mark’s abrupt ending bothered people, back when the New Testament was first being put together. People kept trying to add on more verses, to make it match the other Gospels. Mark knew about the times when the risen Jesus appeared to his friends; he hints at them elsewhere. But this is where he chose to end his text.

I think there were several reasons for that choice – but one of them is that Mark wanted no human heroes in his Gospel. The brave, loving women, who stayed at the foot of the cross and later came to tend Jesus’ body – now, like their male counterparts earlier in the story, they too are defeated and scattered by fear. 

For Mark, everyone fails, in this story. Everyone except God. But it doesn’t matter. Because God is generous. Did you bail out at the first sign of trouble? Have no fear, God’s mercy is abundant!

Did you follow Jesus to the judgment hall, before denying you knew him? God honors the deed and praises the intention! 

Did you watch at the foot of the cross and go to the tomb early in the morning, before an angel’s words terrified you into silence? No more bewailing your failings;  forgiveness comes from the grave!

Mercy, reassurance, welcome are central to the message of the risen Jesus, as he meets with his friends in the texts we’ll hear in the coming weeks. 

Jesus says: It’s OK. I know it was hard, and frightening. But now it’s time to move forward, together. Because the gift, the grace of the resurrection isn’t only for a select few who earned it. It’s for everybody. No, really: EVERYBODY.

There’s a real sense in which today is both Easter 2020 and Easter 2021. Do you remember people saying, a year ago,  “It will be Easter when we can gather in person again”? Well. Today we will celebrate the Eucharist, with a congregation present, on St. Dunstan’s grounds. Still limited, still distanced, and yet: our first true step towards re-gathering in person. 

I hasten to say that St. Dunstan’s never stopped gathering.  Early on I started using the term “Building Church” to mean the way we worshipped in our nave – because I didn’t want to keep saying “real church”. Zoom church IS real church. But Zoom church has not worked for everybody – just like building church does not work for everybody.  

People’s experiences of the past year have been all over the map. Folks’ needs and struggles have been very different. Some have found all kinds of silver linings. Some have suffered brutal losses. Some were thrown into the depths, alone. Some were overwhelmed; some were numb; some were fine. Some just kept on keeping on. What it felt like for you is real and valid.  What it felt like for others is also real and valid. 

Likewise with people’s faith, in this season. Some continued your faith practices; some deepened them. Some felt pretty adrift from any kind of regular prayer or practice of faith, during this chaotic, lonely, frightening time. Some felt more connected with their church than ever – some felt completely disconnected and alone. 

The congregations on the lawn at St. Dunstan’s today include folks who’ve worshipped together regularly over Zoom, and folks who have never connected with Zoom church – for a variety of reasons, which I hear and understand! They’ll include folks who’ve been members for decades, and folks who are just getting connected – or still figuring out of St. Dunstan’s is their church. 

As we gather, on Zoom and in person, in the weeks and months ahead: I want to invite us to be universally and unconditionally glad to see one another. If you feel tempted to ask, “Why didn’t you come to Zoom Church?”, how about asking, “How was the past year, for you?” If you feel tempted to say, “Have I seen you here before?”, how about saying, “I’m so glad to be here with you!” 

For those who haven’t been able to connect much with online church: please know you were missed, and you matter. You are an essential part of the rebuilding we will do together in the weeks and months ahead. 

Collectively, through ALL our experiences, we’ve learned so much about church and community, commitment and struggle, faith and faithfulness, in the past year. We have so much wondering and listening, experimenting and celebrating to do together, dear ones.  

And so, this Easter, whatever year it is, I say to you: Were you on Zoom every Sunday, and never missed a Compline? Come and celebrate, the feast is for you!

Did you spend fifty hours a week on a screen for work or school, and couldn’t face attending church that way too? God welcomes all with equal joy on this holy feast of feasts! 

Did your kids attend Zoom Sunday school and StoryChurch; did you patiently work through every activity Miranda sent home; or were you just glad to keep them mostly fed and clothed? God gives to the one and gives to the other, honors the deed and praises the intention.

Did you spend the year mastering sourdough or planning the perfect garden? Or did you re-watch The Good Place… three times? You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy, celebrate together! There’s hospitality for all, and to spare.

Have you deepened your life of prayer? Is your commitment to the common good stronger than ever?  Is your great accomplishment that you are still alive today? I am so proud of you, and so is God. 

This Easter morning, Jesus comes to us in the sunlit garden and says: It’s OK.  It’s been hard, and frightening. It still is. But it’s time to move forward, together. 

Because the gift, the grace of this resurrection season isn’t only for people who somehow earned it, by how they spent the past thirteen months. It’s for everybody. 

I’m so glad to be here with you. To have arrived at Easter, with each of you and all of you. I can’t wait to see what we’ll do together, in this resurrection season.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. 

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. 

Good Friday and Easter Sunday Bulletins

Here are the bulletins for our Good Friday and Easter Sunday liturgies. All Zoom services will also have slides that allow you to follow along. For in-person services, printed bulletins will be provided, but you are also welcome to follow along on your device.  (Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil will all have slides to follow, but no prepared bulletin.) 

Good Friday liturgies (12PM & 7PM)

Easter Sunday Zoom Worship, 9AM

Easter Sunday Outdoor Worship, 11AM & 1PM

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Homily, March 28

Today we begin the most important week of the church’s year – Jonathan Melton, friend of St. Dunstan’s, calls it “the Best Week.” It’s demanding and exhausting and I love it. The weeks leading up to it, preparing for it, are always some of the busiest of the year, the longest hours… and that’s OK. Because this is the heart of it all. 

The liturgies, or worship services, of Holy Week go back to the early centuries of Christianity. We have a wonderful description of these liturgies as they were practiced in Jerusalem in the late 300s, thanks to the journal of a traveller named Egeria, an affluent and pious woman who took a journey to the Holy Land.

We learn from Egeria that a procession with palms, on the Sunday before Easter, became a custom early on. Egeria describes the palm procession in Jerusalem delightfully:  “They all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people walking with hymns and antiphons, calling to one another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! And all the children in the neighborhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives.  All, even those of rank, both matrons and men, make the procession on foot in this manner.” 

On Maundy Thursday, the Christians of Jerusalem, 1600 years ago, would gather at a particular cave which was then believed to be the place where Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples. There they would read the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, and sing together until late at night. Early, early in the morning they would walk together in procession – slowly, by candlelight – to the Garden of Gethsemane, where someone would read the Gospel of Jesus’ arrest. Egeria writes, “And when this passage has been read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people, together with weeping, that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city.”

On Good Friday, our liturgies remember and honor Jesus’ death. The basic elements of our Good Friday observance go back to the early church: lessons and prayers, sharing the Passion gospel of St. John, and honoring the cross. In the Jerusalem church in Egeria’s time, they would bring out a piece of wood believed to come from the True Cross, the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Egeria tells us that certain security measures were necessary: “The bishop, as he sits, holds… the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people come one by one and, bowing down, kiss the sacred wood. And because, once, someone is said to have bitten off and stolen some of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded.” 

Our Good Friday liturgies invite us into the grief and shock of Jesus’ friends and followers. So it was in Egeria’s day – she writes, “The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord… suffered those things for us.”

On Saturday night, we gather for one of Christianity’s most ancient liturgies, the Easter Vigil. The liturgy places us in the darkness and uncertainty of awaiting Jesus’ resurrection. We light the new flame of Paschal hope, passing the light from person to person. In candle-lit dimness we hear the stories of God’s faithful love for humanity through the ages. And then we arrive at the holy moment, the once and always moment of resurrection, when Christ burst the bonds of death, freeing all humanity from its tethers once and for all. Egeria assures us that we keep this vigil with nearly two millennia of our forebears – she describes the Christian community in Jerusalem staying up late, sharing sacred stories and songs; baptizing those new to the faith; and sharing the Gospel of the Resurrection. 

Ever since I learned about Egeria’s liturgical travel journal, I’ve loved the fact that we can look back over so many centuries and know that we are doing what our faith-ancestors have done. This year, particularly, it moves me to reflect on the resilience of these faith practices. 

Christians have been doing versions of these liturgies for seventeen, eighteen, nineteen centuries. They’ve survived the rise and fall of empires, a minor ice age, and massive cultural, economic, and technological changes. The observances of Holy Week have been maintained through times of war, of hunger, of natural disaster, of pandemic illness. These practices of holding holy story together and letting it shape us anew – they’ve come through fire and flood to belong to us, right now, along with so many other churches around the world. 

And whatever the next year or the next decade or the next century may bring, I have every confidence that these liturgies will still be held and honored. Not just because of human resilience and determination, though we are a resilient and determined species. But because our God is a God of life. 

Because this central story – the story that love is stronger than death – is a story that the world is always going to need, and God is always going to keep telling it to us… and through us. 

Take a look at the schedule for how we will be honoring Holy Week together in the days ahead. If you haven’t already made decisions about which services to attend, and how, I hope you’ll do so. There are still a few slots for the in-person Palm Procession later today. It overlaps with this service but it’s not entirely the same – and of course the big difference is that it’s in person!… 

If you want to make bread with me, you can meet me on Zoom on Wednesday evening.  Maundy Thursday we’ll gather on Zoom at 6:30; try to be near the end of your evening meal… and if possible, set your table as if you were hosting beloved friends for a special meal!  And have some bread and wine, or equivalents, set aside. You can pick up soap and oil at church for the foot or hand-washing part of that service. 

Our Good Friday liturgies are on Zoom at noon and 7pm, or a kids’ version at 4pm. The church will also be open during the day if you want to come by, pray the Stations, honor the cross, and spend a little time in prayer. 

Holy Saturday morning at 10 there will be a Zoom service. We haven’t done a Holy Saturday service in the past. It’s a liturgy that pauses to dwell with Jesus’ death, Jesus’ absence, and this year we’ll use it as a time of prayer for all the pandemic dead. 

Our All-Ages Easter Vigil will be on Zoom at 7pm. We’ll save most of our Easter celebration for the next day, this year; the Vigil will mostly be a time of sharing holy story. There are also a couple of spots left for a late-night in-person gathering around the fire at church. 

And Easter Sunday we’ll meet on Zoom at 9am for a festive gathering with special Easter music and a Gospel drama prepared by our young folks – then there will be two in-person Eucharists on the grounds at 11am and 1pm. 11am is almost full; 1pm still has plenty of room… 

As we embark on this journey, I pray once more: Holy God, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Bulletin, March 28 – Palm Sunday

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday!

9AM Zoom online gathering:  We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for Palm Sunday

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN… 

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Homily, March 21

What do you hope for?

What do we – as St. Dunstan’s – hope for? 

Jeremiah’s career as a prophet begins with warning people of the coming destruction and calling them to return to God’s ways, as Judea was increasingly threatened by the empire of Babylon.  Then, once the worst has happened – once Judea had been conquered, the Temple destroyed, the people dragged into exile – Jeremiah’s prophetic words and actions turn towards hope. Towards the promise that there is a future beyond this terrible time, this unimaginable loss and dislocation. 

The old covenant – at least, the part that said, “Be faithful to God and you shall live in the land God has given you” – lies shattered among the ruins of Jerusalem. God’s people were faithless, and here is the result. But Jeremiah insists that God’s faithfulness can build a new covenant among those ruins. 

Listen to God’s words to Israel through Jeremiah: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O daughter Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. See, I am going to bring [my people] from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame,  those with child and those in labour, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back… I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow…This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

A prophecy of return, renewal and rebirth. Words of hope beyond terrible loss and suffering…

Today’s Gospel reading marks a pivot point in John’s Gospel. These poor Greeks just want to meet Jesus… But their arrival is a sign, for Jesus, that his hour has come. The mission to the Gentiles is the apostles’ work, not his. It’s time for the story to turn towards the cross. Time for him to complete his work – by dying. 

And so he speaks a little about his death, and about what this next chapter will demand from those who follow him. His soul is troubled; it’s clear he feels the weight of what’s ahead. And yet, there is hope here.  “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it is buried, it may bear much fruit. 

In one of my visits to my office at church a few weeks ago, I rediscovered this book – a theological handbook of Old Testament themes, by Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman is one of the greatest living Old Testament scholars. I used this book to help me think about covenant, as we’ve dwelt with covenant-focused texts in the lectionary this season. And this week I looked up the entry on Hope.

Brueggeman says that for the Old Testament, hope is fundamentally connected with the idea of covenant – and with the very nature of God. “Israel’s hope is based on the character of [God], who utters promises and whose promises Israel has found to be reliable.” 

He continues: “The hope articulated in ancient Israel is not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future; but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in [God’s] promises to Israel. In those promises,…  [God] has sworn to effect futures of well-being that are beyond the present condition of the world, and that cannot, in any credible way, be extrapolated from the present.”

About the prophetic promises, the promises spoken in times of disruption and loss, like Jeremiah’s words of consolation, Brueggeman writes, “The prophetic promises look beyond the present and anticipate a new arrangement of the world ‘in the days to come.’ These promises are not predictions but are rather acts of faithful imagination that dare to anticipate new futures on the basis of what [God] has done in the past.” (Brueggeman, 100-102)

Hope. I’ve been hearing people say: I finally feel hopeful again. Spring is in the air. Vaccination is moving along much faster than it seemed like it would, just a few weeks ago. Emergence, reconnection, recovery seem increasingly possible. 

The hopefulness to which we are called as people of faith is not quite the same as that general ambient optimism. The faithful hope of God’s people is not just that things will improve incrementally from the status quo. Such a hope has a hard time surviving profound disruptions and great losses. 

Our Biblical faith-ancestors show us the kind of resilient and faithful hope that trusts in God’s capacity to create new futures.  This is hope as a conviction that God is at work in history, such that new ways of being are possible which we cannot imagine from where we’re standing in the present. 

God’s people did survive exile and return to their homeland. But it wasn’t just the way it had been before. Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to his grieving friends. But it wasn’t just the way it had been before. The future that is being born right now, for us as Americans, as Wisconsinites, as our individual selves, as the people of St. Dunstan’s, will not be just the way it was before. 

It’s okay to grieve that. In fact, it’s important to make space to grieve what has been lost. 

But it’s also important to hold hope, together.

The holy hope that God is making a new future for us – as Americans, as Wisconsinites, as our individual selves, as the people of St. Dunstan’s – and that we are called as co-creators to join that work. 

Almost exactly a year after we closed our building to public worship, we are starting to make plans – tentative, careful plans – to begin to gather in person once again. There’s always the chance of pulling back if cases start to rise again; and it will be a while yet before we’re gathering indoors comfortably, or singing together on a regular basis. But maybe, just maybe, we are starting to feel a little resonance with Jeremiah’s song of return from exile:  “See, I am going gather them from the farthest parts of the earth; a great company, they shall return; with consolations I will lead them back…”

At the same time, I know that many of us feel like we spent a year confined. Entombed, buried, like the seed in Jesus’ saying. Now, warming weather and spring rains invite new growth…. what will this new seedling look like? What fruit will it eventually bear? 

I want to spend the rest of this time in some shared reflection on a few questions. I can guess at some answers, and I’ve had conversations like this with some groups, like the Vestry.  But I want to hear from this broader group. 

A few notes before we begin: I am going to ask the questions one at a time; please ANSWER them as they are asked, for clarity’s sake. But I’m showing them all to you now in case that helps your thought process. 

You can share a response by unmuting and speaking out loud, or by typing in the chat. If you speak, please keep your remarks brief – one sentence – so that we can share the time well. If you want to write a paragraph in the chat, knock yourself out. :-)

Let’s be intentional about holding this as an open space. We will undoubtedly have some different answers, even some answers that are at odds. That’s not surprising – and it’s OK. Be kind and practice good listening. 

I’m most interested in thoughts about church and faith. But I understand that our lives are all one thing; there aren’t clear lines. Whatever comes to mind for you is fine to share. 

1. What things from the Beforetimes do you suspect (or hope) are gone for good? … 

2. What things from the Beforetimes do you hope to find a way to bring back – or reimagine in some new form? 

3. What new things from this season do you hope to carry forward?…

4. As we look ahead to the next few months: 

– What are you worried about?

– What are you hopeful about?

– What are you curious about? 

Thank you all for this time of wondering. 

There’s no tidy way to wrap all that up. But I believe that shared reflection, and naming our losses, ambivalences, and hopes, will help us with the work of faithful imagination that Brueggeman mentions – and help us discern and discover how God is inviting us to move forward together.

Let us pray. 

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

 

Some things have died.

Some things have been born.

What do we want to resurrect? What do we want to leave behind?

Is there anything that died in this time, that can fertilize new life and growth? 

ALSO USE THIS TIME TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THIS. We are not the same church, not the same group of people, that we were a year ago.

When we can be together in person again, ** remember to be there for the newcomer. ** It will be exciting to see friends from the Beforetimes, whether those you’ve only seen online for months or those you haven’t seen much at all for a year or more. Celebrating being together is right and good! We just also need to make space to welcome and celebrate those who have become part of our fellowship DURING the pandemic, and those who – believe it or not – will find their way to us for the first time in the weeks and months ahead. 

Our yearning to re-connect is natural and lovely. I’m just inviting us to prepare our hearts with joy to welcome new connections, as well.

ALSO NEED TO SAY: There’s a group that has stayed connected and to some extent deepened connection through online worship during this time. 

What do we say when we come back together? …

It’s good to be together; how has it been for you; what are you looking forward to ?… 

There’ll probably be a few months when we’re re-integrating – seeing which of our Zoom church habits become building church habit, and EXPLAINING them, because not everybody was there. 

Invitation to think and talk about what we MISS and DON’T MISS about building church…

And what we want to KEEP or LET GO from Zoom Church. 

“A strong case has been made that a defining mark of a postindustrial, technological world is despair, the inability to trust in any new or good future that is promised and may yet  be given. Insofar as despair marks the current social environment of faith, to that extent hope is a distinctive mark of faith with dangerous and revolutionary social potential.” (Brueggeman, p. 102)

Bulletins, March 21

Here are the bulletins for this Sunday!

9AM Zoom online gathering:  We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin For March 21

Lent Livestream Bulletin March 21

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Jesus Christ is Risen Today Virtual Ensemble Project

We are inviting members and friends of St. Dunstan’s to contribute recordings of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” (Hymnal 1982 #207). Watch the tutorial about how to do it, and then record yourself and send it in.

Tutorial (also available at https://youtu.be/3ymue1ZYGX4, with additional instructions in the video description):

Accompaniment Only (also available at https://youtu.be/tYteB1tLxpQ). Please listen to this track when recording–that’s what will let all the parts synchronize right!

Singers: let’s use the first intro and verse as an instrumental introduction. That’ll mean you’ll start at 0:43.

If you’d like to hear a part separately, the following recordings play through each part once below.

Soprano Practice Track (also available at https://youtu.be/YBTE-c19w6Q):

Alto Practice Track (also available at https://youtu.be/S7ghOhdUetA):

Tenor Practice Track (also available at https://youtu.be/ZFAVsuCZrE0):

Bass Practice Track (also available at https://youtu.be/4v3jt7WsEzw):

If you would like to receive individual coaching or help making your track, please reach out to Deanna () to set up a time over Zoom.

Sermon, March 14

Today our Exodus lesson offers us the Ten Commandments. They break down into basically two chunks. There are the ones that have to do with how this people are supposed to worship and honor God: 

  • No other gods (monotheism)
  • No idols (use of images or statues in worship)
  • Restrictions on use of God’s name, to show respect
  • Sabbath-keeping – a day of rest to honor God

Then there are some commandments that have to do with civic order and ethics within community. 

  • Honor your parents
  • Don’t commit murder
  • Don’t commit adultery 
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t bear false witness 
  • Don’t wish for what isn’t yours

The Ten Commandments are a core text, but there is a whole lot more in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy that lays out how God’s people Israel are called to live – including things like the kosher food rules; leaving the corners of the field un-harvested for the poor; and the jubilee year when people who have lost land and freedom due to poverty are restored. 

The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman writes, “All the commandments given at Sinai, in their rich variation, are taken as a single corpus of obligation for Israel in [agreeing] to be the people of God.” 

The Torah – which means Law or Instruction – lays out Israel’s way of life under the covenant – a way of living distinct from neighboring peoples; a way of purity and of justice. (A side note: The word “Torah” also refers to the first five books of the Bible – Genesis through Deuteronomy, which include a lot of narrative material as well as the content of the Law. )

What is the Christian relationship with Torah law? It’s complicated. As Christians we are not bound by the letter of the Law – the New Testament is clear about that. But we are called by God in Christ to love of God and love of neighbor, and to practicing mercy and justice, as a people set apart for the sake of others. 

Jesus himself says that he came to “fulfill” the Law. (Matt. 5:17)  Brueggeman writes, “We may understand that [Jesus’] work was received as an expression of the Torah’s life-giving power… Christians in the end are, like Jews, about the business of glad obedience to God’s disclosed purposes.” (220)

“God’s disclosed purposes” – I love that phrase.  Disclosed here means revealed – what’s been shown to us, knowing that much remains mysterious. In teaching confirmation classes, I like to ask: What do we know about God’s intentions for the world? What does Scripture tell us about what God wants for us and from us? 

Today’s Gospel brings us one core statement, in these famous words from John’s Jesus – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

(Or in an alternate translation: God didn’t send the Son into the system to condemn the system, but that the system might be saved through him.) 

God’s ULTIMATE disclosed purpose for the world isn’t condemnation or destruction. It’s deliverance, salvation – healing, helping, restoring, redeeming.  And – to circle back to being a blessing – God’s purpose for God’s people is to both receive God’s saving help, and extend it to others. 

It’s in that light that I want to look back at the three Covenant-receivers we’ve met recently: Moses, Abraham, and Noah. 

Let’s start with Moses – who led the people Israel out of bondage in Egypt, to a new home in the Promised Land. But they spent forty years in the wilderness in between! And the people were pretty crabby about it. (In fact, it was BECAUSE of their complaining that God made them spend a full forty years in the wilderness!)

 Along the way, there were many points at which either God or Moses were ready to pull the van over and just get out and start walking. Or… worse. One of those moments comes as Moses is on Mount Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions from God. Meanwhile the people ask Moses’ brother Aaron to give them a new god to worship – and Aaron makes a statue of a golden calf. God is not pleased, and tells Moses: I’m going to destroy this people! Don’t worry, Moses, I’ll make another nation for you… 

But Moses argues with God. Moses reminds God that this people is God’s people, whom God brought out of Egypt; and that it would not reflect well on God if the people are destroyed in the wilderness. Moses also reminds God of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to make their descendants into a great nation. And God… relents. The people Israel get another chance. (And another, and another, after that.)   (Exodus 32)

That story echoes an earlier story which you probably don’t know, because it’s not in the lectionary. It’s a story about Abraham. It’s through Abraham that God first calls a particular people into covenant relationship. (We’re moving backwards through time here – it’s Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph who brings God’s people into Egypt. We have videos about that if you need a refresher!) 

When God first calls Abraham, Abraham’s nephew Lot is living with him. But soon afterwards Abraham and Lot separate; they both have too many flocks and herds to keep traveling together. So Lot heads out and settles in a town called Sodom. 

A few chapters later, three angels visit Abraham and Sarah to tell them that soon they’ll have their long-awaited son.  And as they’re leaving, the angels tell Abraham, We’re going to visit Sodom, and its neighboring town Gomorrah, for we have heard that they are terribly sinful. And if that turns out to be true, God will destroy those cities.

I want to pause and name here that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has long been used as a “text of terror” against LGBTQ+ people. I decry that reading and that usage, and as a church leader I repent of the harm that churches have caused by preaching condemnation. My repentance of that harm is not something I can accomplish in one sermon, but something I’m striving to make part of my life’s work. 

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is difficult for lots of reasons. Let me say one thing clearly: It is not a story of God’s punishment for homosexuality. That is NOT what is happening here. If it would help you to read it and unpack it together, let me know. 

What I want to talk about is what Abraham does after the angels disclose the plan to destroy the cities. Because Abraham – like Moses – tries to talk God out of destruction. Let’s hear their dialogue – straight out of the Bible. 

ABRAHAM:  Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous people within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

GOD:  If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.

ABRAHAM: Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?

GOD:  I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.

ABRAHAM: Suppose forty are found there.

GOD: For the sake of forty I will not do it.

ABRAHAM: Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.

GOD:  I will not do it, if I find thirty there

ABRAHAM:  Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.

GOD: For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.

ABRAHAM:  Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.

GOD: For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.

Alas, God does not find even ten righteous people in the city.  But I love Abraham’s boldness here in bargaining God down towards mercy. It’s a different approach than Moses’ appeal to past covenants and acts of mercy and saving grace. But both Moses and Abraham confront God with one core idea: You’re supposed to be merciful and just. If you do this, are people going to believe that you are what you claim to be? 

And now… let’s look back at Noah, ten generations before Abraham. Genesis 6, verses 12 – 14, 22:  “And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood….’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”

When we read these texts in order, it’s easy NOT to notice that Noah doesn’t argue with God. But when we look back… it should catch our attention. It has caught the attention of Jewish Scripture scholars for many, many generations. There’s a lot in the Talmud and Rabbinic literature reflecting on Noah. 

Some texts argue that Noah tried to convince the people of his generation to repent. In one story, Noah takes a whole fifty years to build the ark, an impressive work slowdown, in the hopes that people will have time to repent and change their hearts and lives. But: No luck. People mock Noah, and refuse to listen to his warnings. So, the flood comes, as promised – as threatened. 

Another story, from a text called the Zohar Hadash, concerns what happened when Noah finally left the Ark, after the flood had destroyed all life on earth, and the waters had finally receded. Noah sees the destruction and begins to weep. He cries out, “Lord of the world, You are merciful; why have You not pitied Your children?”

And God answers, “Foolish shepherd! Now you implore My mercy. Had you done so when I announced to you the Flood, it would not have come to pass. You knew that you would be rescued, and therefore did not care for others; now you pray.”

Okay, Miranda: how is any of this good news? Frankly it’s kind of messed up for God to need humans to talk God out of destroying people – and even more so for God to tell Noah, “Too late – shoulda spoken up sooner!”

I have said before that I’m agnostic about whether God uses natural disasters to punish or discipline God’s people. God made the Earth alive and free, just as God made humans alive and free. And the Earth, alive and free, sometimes does things that are inconvenient or catastrophic for humans. There were certainly big floods in ancient times, as there are now. And the Bible says that Sodom and Gomorrah were built in an area with many tar pits – indications of crude oil beneath the surface. Combined with seismic activity, that could get exciting. I tend to read these stories as people who were growing in relationship with God, trying to make theological sense of current and past events. 

We can’t know, for now, whether conversations like the ones between God and Abraham or Moses ever really happened. But we DO know that they’re here in our holy text.  We know that they tell us something – I think, something pretty important – about our faith-ancestors’ understanding of the relationship between humanity and the Divine. 

Jew and Christian alike receive from Scripture a lot of guidance and instruction – a lot of Torah – about what it looks like to live in God’s ways as God’s people. But right alongside it we also receive the message that what God wants from us is not a meek or passive obedience. This is a relationship with push and pull, a relationship of dynamism and possibility. 

It’s literally RIGHT after Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God that Moses turns around and says to God, more or less: “Hey, what happened to ‘Thou shalt not killl?’”And God doesn’t strike Moses dead. God listens. 

That’s the insight Abraham and Moses found in their long and profound walks with God, that they passed on to their people and that eventually comes to us encoded in these texts:  God likes it when we argue with God. God is the kind of Parent who loves it when her kids can change her mind. God is the kind of Parent who loves it when we collaborate with him on a project. 

And the project is the continued outworking of God’s disclosed purposes for the world, resisting letting anyone be a lost cause or collateral damage, and always pushing wider the circle of mercy and belonging.  

May it be so. 

Bulletins for March 14

Here are the bulletins for this Sunday!

9AM Zoom online gathering:  We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for March 14

Lent Livestream Bulletin for March 14

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

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