Sermon, Nov. 17

They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name…. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

These words of Jesus’ would have been remembered and treasured during the decades that followed, as the first generations of Christians dealt with social and religious ostracism, and then with periods of violent political persecution. Jesus speaks to his disciples about the chaotic times ahead, for them and for their whole nation and people; and he assures them that no matter what happens, even if some of his followers are killed for their faith in him, they will be, in some deeper sense, safe in God’s hands. 

Modern mainline churches don’t talk much about the martyrs – those who have died for their Christian faith. There is a martyr section in the Hymnal – numbers 236 through 241 – but we rarely sing them. The feasts of Stephen, the first martyr, and the Holy Innocents, tend to be tactfully lost in the shuffle after Christmas. (It’s unusual that St. Dunstan’s does sometimes honor the latter.)

But the faithfulness and courage of the martyrs in the face of death was of tremendous importance to our early faith ancestors. Tertulllian, the great 2nd-century Christian writer, declared,“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”Martyrs were remembered and celebrated with stories both inspiring and gruesome. We have a few on the church’s calendar in this season – November 24 is the feast day of Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara of Nicomedia, and Margaret of Antioch. Margaret is my favorite of the three. The was the daughter of a pagan priest, as a baby she was entrusted to the care of a nurse, who happened to be Christian. As she grew up, Margaret became a Christian as well. When this was discovered, she was subjected to many trials of her faith, including being swallowed by the Devil in the form of a dragon. However, the cross she was holding irritated the dragon’s stomach, causing it to explode and freeing Margaret. She was eventually executed for her Christian beliefs. 

There’s another name on our calendar of commemorations this week. Tomorrow is the feast day of Samuel Seabury. Who’s heard of Samuel Seabury?… Who’s heard of him as the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church?… Who’s heard of him as an opponent of Alexander Hamilton?… “Heed not the rabble that scream revolution!”

Seabury’s story is more complicated than the stories of the early martyrs – though it has some moments of drama. He was born in Connecticut in 1729, the son of a priest of the Church of England. He grew up among the educated English upper class of the Colonies, became a priest himself and served parishes in New Jersey and New York

Then there started to be talk, around the Colonies. About no taxation without representation. About liberty. About revolution. Tensions rose between those who named themselves Patriots – those who wanted their own country – and those loyal to the English crown. In 1770 there was a skirmish in Boston which killed five patriots. In 1773 Patriots threw crates of tea into Boston Harbor. 

In 1774, Patriots gathered to set up their own government, forming the first Continental Congress. In April of 1775 came the first real battle of the Revolutionary War, at Lexington and Concord. 

I don’t know how you were taught about the American Revolution. I don’t remember being taught that people were divided. That lots of people thought all this independence nonsense was chaotic, risky, and foolish. That the Continental Congress was controversial; that some people saw it as tyranny. I learned that King George was the tyrant! I certainly don’t remember being taught that the Episcopal Church’s venerated first bishop, Samuel Seabury, fought tooth and nail against our becoming an independent republic. 

The official church biography of Seabury sums it up this way: “During the American Revolution, [Seabury] remained loyal to the British crown and served as a chaplain in the British army.” Well. That’s one way to put it. Another way would be to say that Seabury was vocally, publicly, and fiercely opposed to the Continental Congress, revolution, and independence. Seabury wrote four pamphlets under the pseudonym of “A Westchester Farmer,” making the case to the farmers, merchants, and other ordinary folk of New York – city and state – that this path towards revolution was foolish and dangerous, and would be disastrous to their economic interests. 

The first Letter, published in 1774, begins, “The American Colonies are unhappily involved in a scene of confusion and discord. The bands of civil society are broken; the authority of government weakened, and in some instances taken away: individuals are deprived of their liberty; their property is frequently invaded by violence, and not a single Magistrate has had courage or virtue enough to interpose….” 

Seabury absolutely believed that British rule was best for the colonies. In that first letter, he protests the rampant smuggling of tea to avoid British taxes: “In this trade the laws of our country are trampled upon. The nation [that would be Great Britain] is defrauded of its revenues.” And he concludes his lengthy appeal with some dramatic words about what may lie ahead:  “Think me not too severe. Anarchy and Confusion, Violence and Oppression, distress my country; and I must, and will speak. … Let me intreat you, my Friends, to have nothing to do with these [revolutionaries]…  Peace and quietness suit you best. Confusion, and Discord, and Violence, and War, are sure destruction to the farmer.”

In his third letter, Seabury railed agains the Continental Congress: “[This] Congress… was founded in sedition; its decisions are supported by tyranny… The manner in which [the delegates] were chosen was subversive of all law, and of the very constitution of the province… Liberty under the supreme authority and protection of Great-Britain, is infinitely preferable to slavery under an American Congress.”

Seabury’s letters became a vituperous public debate with an 18-year-old student at King’s College in New York, an eloquent young upstart named Alexander Hamilton, whose writing Seabury describes at one point as “superlatively arrogant and impudent.” If you’re not familiar with the musical “Hamilton,” check out the song “Farmer Refuted” for a musical version of their debate. 

Seabury’s pamphlets were popular, but not popular enough. The revolution was already underway. Seabury had his opportunity to be hated by all. During the war, he was arrested and imprisoned by Patriots; his home was plundered and his children beaten. When the war was over, he lived quietly with a community of other Loyalist sympathizers in New York… until he received word in 1783 that a gathering of priests in Connecticut wanted him to become the first bishop of an independent American branch of the Church of England. There were only fourteen priests in Connecticut at the time – and since it takes bishops to make more priests, and since the Church of England would presumably not be sending them any more priests after the Recent Unpleasantness, they were concerned with the very survival of their way of faith in the new nation. 

Seabury accepted their nomination and traveled to England to seek consecration as a bishop, along with a letter from the group explaining in part, “This part of America is… dismembered from the British Empire; but, notwithstanding the dissolution of our civil connection with the parent state, we still hope to retain the religious polity …. [of] the Church of England.” But despite this appeal, and despite Seabury’s well-documented opposition to the Revolution, the Church of England bishops declined the request. Being consecrated as a Bishop in the Church of England involved an oath of loyalty to the British crown… an oath Seabury, as an American, could not make. However, bishops in the Episcopal Church of Scotland were less concerned with such matters; they consecrated Seabury as bishop on November 14, 1784, 235 years ago last Thursday, and he returned to Connecticut to begin his work. 

Why did Seabury decide to do this? To be a core figure in the founding an independent church, after opposing the founding of an independent nation? Maybe the status associated with being a bishop appealed to him; but I don’t believe he had any illusions that it would be an easy or comfortable life. One of his letters in 1786 complains that he had no settled salary as Bishop of Connecticut, because the populace was so poor in the aftermath of the Revolution. 

I think Seabury must have just loved the church and really wanted to do whatever he could to sustain it and build it. He spent the rest of his life working very hard to do just that. He developed and published the first American liturgy. Between 1791 and 1795, he administered eighteen hundred confirmations. During his eleven years as bishop, he ordained 93 deacons and priests. For much of that time, he was effectively the bishop of all of New England, and traveled the rough roads in all weather to visit churches and clergy in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.

The grueling pace took its toll. On Feb 25, 1796, at the age of 67, Seabury suffered a heart attack and died. Not a dramatic death like those early martyrs. But nonetheless, a life given for the Church and for God’s work in and through the Church. 

What can we take from Seabury’s life? Well, there’s the reminder that if we look back on history, it turns out that it has often felt like civil society, politics, and the Church were in crisis, dying, and/or devolving into chaos. I find something oddly comforting about that. 

Which leads us to a second point to ponder in relation to the complicated witness of blessed Samuel Seabury. In our youth confirmation class this afternoon, we’re going to talk about one of the Big Questions: Why is the world so broken? 

Why are so many things other than how God intends, to the best that we understand God’s intentions? There’s no one easy answer to that question, but there are a lot of hard answers that are interesting and important. And one of them is: People are fearful about change. People are fearful about losing what they’re used to. I think that’s what Jesus is addressing in our Gospel today when he tells the disciples, You’re going to hear about terrible things – wars and earthquakes, famines and plagues and portents. None of that actually means the world is ending. It’s just history. 

Humans scare easy, and once scared, our judgment is lousy. It’s hard for us to see that the things that we’re invested in, the things that seem natural and good and right and proper to us, are often not the end of God’s story for humanity. In his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in 1963, blessed Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that [African-Americans’] great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; … who constantly advises [African-Americans] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”  

I think most of us are glad that the Revolution happened, despite Seabury’s best efforts; that the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, despite the cautions of those white moderates. But if we’re honest, many of us probably have something where we resonate with that anxiety about changes that seem to undermine the very foundations of the world as we know it. Where deep down we’d like to raise our hand and say, Slower, please. Just… a little slower. 

The third thing, the hopeful thing, I think we can receive from blessed Samuel is that he came through what was, for him, a world-shattering change – and he didn’t just survive; he re-oriented his life and ministry towards what God was doing in this new nation, this new reality. Sometimes it’s not your life you’re asked to give, but your living. The drama of martyrdom might be easy compared to living through big change, living FOR change, offering yourself to the new thing God is doing even when you feel deep ambivalence or grief about what is being left behind. 

As far as we know, Seabury’s faith in God never wavered or changed – nor his love for the church. Rather, his faith and commitment held him steady while the world turned upside down around him – so that he eventually found himself working and praying for the welfare of the nation where he dwelt, like it or not.  The official prayer for Samuel Seabury in the Episcopal Church’s calendar of commemorations invites us to give thanks that our church has bishops, and to join with our bishops in proclaiming the Gospel with missionary zeal. Sure! Amen! But I pray, too,  that blessed Samuel’s life, told in its fulness, will help us find courage and purpose in the face of the changes of our season in the life of the world. 

In Seabury’s diary, in an entry written in the last years of his life, he records a prayer he used every day – the prayer of a man who has learned to trust God’s judgment more than his own; a prayer of self-dedication, committing himself to God’s purposes. Let us pray in Samuel Seabury’s words: 

May God Almighty, who has ever been gracious to me, protect me in this journey; dispose my heart to fear and serve him; enable me to do my duty to his Church with uprightness of heart; and bless this ministers and people under my care with his grace and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

A short biography of Seabury from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: 

https://www.episcopalct.org/Customer-Content/www/CMS/files/Archives/Samuel_Seabury_alternative_biography_.pdf

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (find Seabury on November 18): 

https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/21034

Quotations from letters and contemporary documents come from this source:

https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=GQwCAAAAYAAJ&rdid=book-GQwCAAAAYAAJ&rdot=1

“Life and Correspondence of the Right Reverend Samuel Seabury, D.D.: First Bishop of Connecticut, and of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” Eben Edwards Beardsley, published 1881

Read the Farmer letters here:

http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/seabury/farmer/03.html

An overview article, “Reverend Seabury’s Pamphlet War”: 

https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/07/reverend-seaburys-pamphlet-war/

Announcements, November 14

THIS WEEK…

Annual Giving Campaign Dedication Sunday, Nov. 17: We are currently collecting pledge cards from members, to help us plan our church’s 2020 budget. We hope to have all pledges gathered by Sunday, November 17! We’ll celebrate together on Sunday, Nov. 24 with our Pie Brunch at 9am, including blessing our new elevator. See announcement below, and sign up to help out or contribute if you would like!

Outreach Hearts: At St. Dunstan’s we use hearts to represent offerings made by our Outreach Committee to organizations helping those in need locally, nationally, and internationally.   Each heart represents 100 dollars.  These hearts are presented at the offering to remind us that our gifts to others are gifts to God.  In October the outreach committee donated the following:

$500 (5 hearts) to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services

$500 (5 hearts) to GSAFE to help support safer schools for LGBTQ+ youth across Wisconsin

$575 (5 hearts) to MOSES

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months. We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

It’s Pageant Planning Season!  St. Dunstan’s has two winter pageants: The Christmas (Nativity) Pageant, performed on Dec. 24 at 3pm, and the Epiphany Pageant, tentatively planned for Sunday morning, January 27. All kids and youth are welcome to participate! Kids with speaking parts will be asked to attend one or more rehearsals.

Does your child have a special talent to share? If your child has a special skill they’d like to use in one of our performances (like music, stilt-walking, or…?), talk to Rev. Miranda or email her & we’ll see how we can work it in!

Saturday Book Club, November 16, 2019 at 10 am: This month’s book is Manhattan Beach by Jenifer Egan. Getting a hard copy of the book: The Madison Central Library (next door to the Overture Center) has a Book Club section – located on the western end of the second floor. This section contains multiple copies of selected books. The next meeting’s book – Manhattan Beach – is available in this section. If you check it out at the main desk and say it is a Book Club book, they can also give you an extended time to read it.

Vestry Meeting, Wednesday, November 20, 6:45pm: The Vestry is the elected leadership body of our parish. Any members are welcome to attend our meetings, to observe or raise questions or ideas.

Ushers and Altar Guild Members Wanted! Would you like to help out with our Sunday worship? Members of these ministry teams would love to welcome and train you!  What does an USHER do? Give people their bulletin & hymnal(s) on their way into church; count how many people are in church that day; carry bread & wine up to the altar, then circulate the collection plates, before Communion. What does an ALTAR GUILD MEMBER do? Get familiar with and help care for the things we use in our worship (like special cups and plates, napkins and candles); come 20 minutes early and/or stay 20 minutes late to set up for Eucharist or clean up afterwards; sometimes, gather to help decorate the church for special celebrations All kinds of people can do either of these jobs! A kid could sign up with a grownup buddy! Sign up in the Gathering Area or tell Rev. Miranda if you’d like to help out.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, November 22, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Los Gemelos Restaurant at 6713 Odana Road, Madison. On Odana, turn into the parking area immediately west of the paint store, in the area with the Indian restaurant with the blue awning. Then, drive to the back of the building where the sign says Los Gemelos grocery and restaurant. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t! For more information, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Piece Be with You! Fall Giving Campaign Celebration Pie Brunch, November 24, 9:00am: Please join us for a festive, all-parish potluck brunch celebrating our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches, and other offerings. Look for a signup soon, to sign up and bring your favorite pie or quiche. (Precut pies with labeled pie servers appreciated!) Thank you!

Thanksgiving service, Wednesday, November 27, 7pm: There will be a simple Eucharist service on Wednesday evening. All are welcome.

Our annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free all-ages crafting and gift-making event that we open to the wider community, will be Friday, November 29, from 1 – 4pm. If you’d like to help out with hospitality, with a craft station of your own, or as a helper at somebody else’s station, sign up in the Gathering Area or email Rev. Miranda!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering Wednesday, December 11, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Altar Flowers: Fall dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Announcements for E-news: If you have an announcement you would like to see in the weekly e-news or the Sunday News and Notes, we are happy to include it. Send announcements to the office at . We ask that all announcements be submitted by the end of the day on Wednesday, because we prepare the E-news and News & Notes on Thursday morning.  If you have an announcement or event you’d like to share but are uncertain whether it’s appropriate for the e-news, you can send it to Rev. Miranda .

Sermon, Nov. 10

The Jerusalem Temple was the center of the universe. The place where heaven and earth met. Built by the great King Solomon, son of the greatest King, David, to be the very home of God on earth. The place where the holiest object of God’s people, the tablets of the Law, were kept. The place where a person might come to give thanks; to make petition; to seek purification and absolution. 

The Jerusalem Temple was the center of the universe, for the people Israel. And it had been destroyed. Judea, the territory around Jerusalem, had become part of the Assyrian empire in the year 700 before Jesus’ birth – still nominally their own country, but forced to pay tribute and obey the Assyrian rulers. When Babylon arose as the new regional power, Judea got tangled up in a war between Babylon and Egypt, and then became part of Babylon’s growing empire. Judah revolted against Babylon, first in 598 and then again ten years later. Both times, Babylon won; and after the second revolt, in the year 587, they made sure there wouldn’t be a third one. 

The city walls were torn down. The great Temple was shattered and burned, not one stone left upon another. The holy vessels were carried away as spoils of war. Most of the people of Jerusalem and Judea were killed or taken into exile in Babylon.

Then – nearly 70 years later – the exiles are allowed to go home. King Cyrus, the ruler of the NEW regional power, Persia, gives them permission to return and rebuild – even gives them money. Not everyone goes back, of course. The few who still remember Jerusalem in its glory are old now. Mostly it’s the young, the hopeful, the ambitious who return. Drawn by their parents’ and grandparents’ stories of how things used to be, in their own land, with their own great city. They set out, full of energy and purpose.

But when they get there – it’s not what they expected. For one thing, it’s not empty, a blank canvas for their dreams. There are people living in ruined Jerusalem – a mix of their own kin, mostly poor and rural Judeans who moved into what was left of the city after the exiles were taken away, and of other peoples who had moved into the region from elsewhere in the Babylonian empire. And the great Temple, the center of the universe, the place where heaven and earth meet, is … charred rubble. 

The prophet Haggai is among the returnees. His book is short, only two chapters. In the first chapter, God speaks through Haggai to tell the returnees to get busy rebuilding the Temple. In the second chapter, God speaks through Haggai to address the people’s concern and dismay that the new Temple is not as fine and glorious as the old Temple. 

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? Look at it, elders: How does it look to you now? It looks like nothing, right? Yet take courage, Governor Zerubbabel; take courage, High Priest Joshua; take courage, all you people!  Work, for I am with you; my spirit abides among you; fear not.The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. 

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. The returnees build, and the Second Temple arises from the ashes. Is it better, holier, more splendid than the first? It’s hard to say. But it becomes once again the center of Jewish religious life, the heart of a nation and a faith. The place people come to give thanks; to make petition; to seek purification and absolution. For nearly six hundred years. 

Until it’s destroyed. Again. Second verse same as the first. Empire – Rome, this time; occupation; rebellion; crackdown. Fire and death and desecration. There are Roman carvings that show the holy vessels of the Second Temple being carried off as booty by the Romans, just as the vessels of the First Temple were carried off by Babylon. 

About forty years before the Second Temple is destroyed, with the marks of Rome’s cultural, economic, and military domination everywhere you look, and the people resentful and restless, Jesus of Nazareth visits the Great Temple. He spends some time there, teaching and debating with other religious groups. One of those groups is the Sadducees. 

We don’t actually know a lot about the Sadducees. Most of the surviving texts about them were written by their enemies. We know they had close ties to the Temple and its religious practices. We know they were Torah literalists: they didn’t hold with interpretation or tradition, but only followed what is clearly laid out in the Five Books of Moses. Among other things, that meant they didn’t believe in any kind of life after death, since nothing of the sort is mentioned in the Torah. This puts them at odds with both Jesus and with the Pharisees – with whom Jesus actually has a lot in common. 

A few Sadducees approach Jesus with a question. They say: According to the Law of Moses, if a married man dies without having children, it is his brother’s responsibility to marry the widow and have children with her, as a way to give his dead brother a heritage that will live on. They’re not making this up: it’s called levirate marriage.It’s laid out in Deuteronomy, and there’s a memorable story in Genesis about a man who is struck down by God for refusing to impregnate his dead brother’s wife. It’s a central principal of marriage law in Old Testament Judaism, and it’s found in many other cultures around the world. It seems weird to us, but this practice in itself would have been normal for the crowd gathered around Jesus here. 

The Sadducees have an elaborate what-if about levirate marriage and resurrection – which, remember, they think is bunk:  This unfortunate woman is married to seven brothers in a row, and they ALL die without having children with her. Then she dies. In the afterlife, whose wife is she? 

This isn’t a good-faith question – they are trying to trip Jesus up. But it’s also not entirely a bad-faith question. This IS actually how Jews seek out the meaning of Scripture. The Talmud is a body of law, interpretation, commentary and debate that’s core to Jewish teaching, built up over many generations both before and after the time of Jesus. And the Talmud has lots of stuff like this in it: posing hypothetical questions, debating how the Law applies. It’s rich and contentious and wonderful. So, yeah, the Sadducees are poking at Jesus here; but this is also a game which everyone basically enjoys. 

Jesus, as usual in these situations, sidesteps the trap. I think his answer is important in a couple of ways. For one thing, he liberates this poor hypothetical woman. Please note that marriage is fundamentally asymmetrical, in this context: the men marry, the woman is given in marriage. And for the most part, women had to be married to have any social standing or security. What a relief for this woman, to be able to just be herself in the afterlife, rather than having seven immortal husbands, only one of whom actually chose to marry her! 

But this isn’t really a conversation about marriage. That’s missing the point. It’s a conversation about resurrection. It’s a conversation about the scope of reality: Is this IT, or is there More? Is there After? Jesus says: There’s More. There’s After. Because our God is God of the living. 

We don’t know much about the Sadducees because they disappeared from history. Right around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. While the Pharisees, and the Christians, and others, developed new forms of Jewish life and practice and identity, the Sadducees just faded away. It makes sense. If your core identity and practice centers on the Temple and the Temple is gone, what else is there to do? Why go on? Judaism, the faith of Moses, might as well be dead. And they didn’t believe in resurrection. 

But Jesus says: Our God is a God of the living. 

Beloved friends, it would have made all the sense in the world for me to use that Haggai text to preach about our church renovation. To promise renewal and prosperity stretching unbroken into the future, now that the kitchen has decent lighting and we have more than one meeting room. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. 

But I can’t not know the next chapters of that story… the ones where the latter splendor ends up as rubble, too. And I won’t lie to you.  

The second Temple lasted over 500 years, which is a pretty good run. St. Dunstan’s is only 61 years old – and counting. Like those returning to Jerusalem from exile, we, too, have elders among us who remember the glory days – of this church or other churches. St. Dunstan’s is one of many churches planted in the heady ecclesial optimism of the late 1950s, when a population boom combined with a spike in religious engagement, and churches and Sunday school classrooms across America were bursting at the seams.  When people would be turned away from church committees because they were FULL. 

The former splendor of this house – like all those hopeful midcentury church plants – was pretty splendid. Will the latter be even greater? Hard to say. As I often remind you, the landscape of 21st century faith is complex – though not all bad, by any means. Let me be clear: I think we have some splendor ahead of us. God has some next things in mind for St. Dunstan’s. I don’t know what they are yet; but I can feel the space beginning to open. 

It’s easy, in the dust and muddle of the final phases of a major renovation, to be pretty focused on the building – like our faith ancestor Haggai. Some days the best thing I can imagine is for all the mess and chaos to be finished, and for us to settle in to a newer, nicer version of what we already had. But fortunately God’s imagination is bigger than mine. 

Parts of this place really are looking comparatively splendid. But we don’t come to church – we don’t come to Jesus – for splendor. We come to church – we come to Jesus – for life. If the goal were, Make the old thing into a nicer, newer thing, then yay! We did it! (Mostly. And we’ll still be paying for it for a while.) But all that is just the container for what God is doing among us. It’s a safer, cleaner, more comfortable and accessible container now, but it’s still just a container.  

I’d like to stand here and promise you that the latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. But I believe a truer and stronger and more hopeful promise is Jesus’ promise is that our God is the God of the living. A promise we live into not only by sharing worship with our beloved dead – but by trusting in the possibility of a future better and bolder and more beautiful than a freshly re-painted version of the past. 

Take courage, leaders! says the prophet Haggai.Take courage, priests!  Take courage, all you people! Work, for I am with you; my spirit abides among you. Fear not.

Announcements, November 7

THIS WEEK…

Bread for the World Sunday, November 10: Peg and Dan Geisler will share about Bread for the World’s advocacy to reduce hunger in the United States and around the world and how we can be part of it.

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months. We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, November 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

“Responding to Hate,” Tuesday, November 12, 7pm, at the Crossing (1127 University Ave.): We live in a time of increasing division and expression of hate. How do we respond? How do we ‘love our enemies’? Pardeep’s father Satwant Singh Kaleka was murdered by a white supremacist along with five others when their place of worship in was attacked on August 5 2012 in Milwaukee. The shooter was a member of the neo-Nazi skinhead gang Arno had helped to found in 1989. Single parenthood, love for his daughter, and the forgiveness shown by people he once hated helped to change Arno’s world, bringing love for diversity and gratitude for all life after he left hate groups in 1994. Come listen to Pardeep and Arno talk about their friendship and moving past hate. The talk is open to everyone. St. Dunstan’s is proud to co-sponsor this important event.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, November 13, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Ushers and Altar Guild Members Wanted! Would you like to help out with our Sunday worship?  Members of these ministry teams would love to welcome and train you!  What does an USHER do? Give people their bulletin & hymnal(s) on their way into church;  count how many people are in church that day; carry bread & wine up to the altar, then circulate the collection plates, before Communion. What does an ALTAR GUILD MEMBER do? Get familiar with and help care for the things we use in our worship (like special cups and plates, napkins and candles); come 20 minutes early and/or stay 20 minutes late to set up for Eucharist or clean up afterwards; sometimes, gather to help decorate the church for special celebrations All kinds of people can do either of these jobs! A kid could sign up with a grownup buddy! Sign up in the Gathering Area or tell Rev. Miranda if you’d like to help out.

“Big Questions” Adult Confirmation/Inquirer’s Class: Rev. Miranda plans to convene a grown-up parallel to the youth confirmation class currently underway. If you are interested, please contact Rev. Miranda to let her now, and we’ll work on the best time for the group!  

Saturday Book Club, November 16, 2019 at 10 am: This month’s book is Manhattan Beach by Jenifer Egan. Getting a hard copy of the book: The Madison Central Library (next door to the Overture Center) has a Book Club section – located on the western end of the second floor. This section contains multiple copies of selected books. The next meeting’s book – Manhattan Beach – is available in this section. If you check it out at the main desk and say it is a Book Club book, they can also give you an extended time to read it.

Annual Giving Campaign: We are currently collecting pledge cards from members, to help us plan our church’s 2020 budget. If your household has not yet picked up a pledge packet or received one in the mail, pick up a blank packet at church or contact the office (608-238-2781, ). We hope to have all pledges gathered by Sunday, November 17! Need to check last year’s pledge? As you consider your pledge for 2020, if it would help you to know what you pledged last year, contact the office (see above) and Ann will get back to you!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Vestry Meeting, Wednesday, November 20, 6:45pm: The Vestry is the elected leadership body of our parish. Any members are welcome to attend our meetings, to observe or raise questions or ideas.

Piece Be with You! Fall Giving Campaign Celebration Pie Brunch, November 24, 9:00am: Please join us for a festive, all-parish potluck brunch celebrating our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches, and other offerings. Look for a signup soon, to sign up and bring your favorite pie or quiche. (Precut pies with labeled pie servers appreciated!) Thank you!

Our annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free all-ages crafting and gift-making event that we open to the wider community, will be Friday, November 29, from 1 – 4pm. If you’d like to help out with hospitality, with a craft station of your own, or as a helper at somebody else’s station, sign up in the Gathering Area or email Rev. Miranda!

Altar Flowers: Fall dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Sermon, Nov. 3

Today is the feast of All Saints! The Church uses the word “saint” in a couple of different ways. The more common use is to mean somebody who is visibly, obviously living in God’s ways. Somebody who shines God’s light in the world by living a life of justice, compassion, grace, and holiness. A lot of those people are dead – our ancestors in faith who have gone on before us into the nearer presence of God. Some of them are very much alive! You might know people, even people in this room, who meet that description in your eyes! 

The other way we use “saint” is to mean any member of the Christian community. That’s how the earliest Christians used it – like in the letter to the Ephesians, when it says, I pray that God may give you a spirit of wisdom so that the eyes of your heart may be opened to the hope to which Jesus Christ has called you, and to the riches of our glorious inheritance among the saints. Or later when it says that the work of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That’s you! You’re the saints! 

But what does the word mean? Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth this way: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”  “Sanctified” and “saints” are the same word in Greek – you can hear that they’re related even in English. A saint is somebody sanctified, which means: set apart to be holy. And the Greek word for “church” – ekklesia – actually points in the same direction: It means people who are called. Called out from whatever their lives were like without the Gospel; called together to be set apart for holiness, to live lives of justice, compassion, grace, and holiness, for God and for the world.

On All Saints Day we dwell with both of those meanings. We hold in remembrance the extraordinary saints, the ones the church through the ages has named and held up as models for holy living. We remember, too, the departed saints who have formed and inspired us. And we remind ourselves and each other of our own sainthood – that we, too, are set apart for holiness, called to shine God’s light in our time and place. 

Holiness has consequences. It’s not quiet. It’s not just you and God having a little private party. Living as the people God invites us to be makes a difference – in small but important ways; sometimes in big ways. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that it will be hard sometimes. People living lives of holiness may be poor, or hungry, or sad, or hated and persecuted. That’s one reason we need the stories of the extraordinary saints, I think – to show us courage and endurance; 

to show us that faithful lives make a difference. Later we’ll sing a favorite saint song that ends every verse by saying, “I mean to be one too!” That’s kind of an 

English way to say, “I plan to be a saint too!” Let’s say it together: “I mean to be one too!” 

We have been learning about some saints this fall – saints who can help show us what a holy life can look like. Let’s visit them and remind ourselves of their stories. First is blessed Pauli Murray, our saint of Welcoming. 

Pauli was born in North Carolina in 1910. I’m going to tell you a story about Pauli;  there’s a line I’ll need you to say, let’s practice it: “I belong here, and so do the ones coming after me!” Very good! OK, Let’s go. When she was a young woman, Pauli wanted to study the law, so she’d know all about the rules that bind people’s lives, and the best ways to unbind them.And she applied to go to law school. She applied to two schools! And they said, I don’t know, Pauli. You’re a good student. But you’re a woman, and you’re black. We’re not sure you belong here. And Pauli said, “I belong here, and so do the ones coming after me!” She found a law school that would let her study, and eventually she earned THREE law degrees and did really important work studying the laws of segregation.

Later on Pauli got involved with the Civil Rights movement, to get America to treat African-Americans as full and free citizens. And sometimes the men leading that movement would kind of forget about the women. Pauli and other women of the movement would say, Hey, our rights as black women are important too!Some men said, We can’t take on two battles at once; we can talk about women’s rights later. If that’s what you want to talk about, I’m not sure you belong here. And Pauli said, “I belong here, and so do the ones coming after me!” And she was one of the people who founded the National Organization for Women. 

Pauli was an Episcopalian her whole life. And late in life, she heard God was calling her to be a priest. The Episcopal Church had just started to let women be priests. But all of the first group of women priests were white women. She started to feel like God was asking her to be the first black woman priest in the Episcopal Church. At first, people said, I don’t know, Pauli. You’re a black woman, and you’re kind of old, and you don’t always dress or talk the way a woman should dress and talk. But Pauli said, “I belong here, and so do the ones coming after me!” And the church heard her call, and she was ordained a priest. 

May blessed Pauli broaden our welcome! Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

This is Julian of Norwich, our saint of Abiding. The Lady Julian was born about 1342 in northern England.  When she was thirty years old, she became very sick. 

But then she had a series of visions of God and Jesus. Julian survived her illness – and spent the rest of her life reflecting on her visions, writing and sharing about them, and offering spiritual guidance to others. The churches at that time taught people that God was far away, and unfriendly, and mostly interested in punishing people. God showed Julian that God loves us. Everything God does is done in love – and so, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. In one of her holy visions, Julian saw God holding a tiny thing, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, and she heard a voice telling her:  “God made it, God loves it, God keeps it.”

May blessed Julian help us abide in love. Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

This is Richard Hooker, our saint of Wondering. He was born in England in the year 1553, in the early years of the Anglican way of Christianity, the family of churches to which we belong. He helped shape that family of churches.

There were big conflicts about religion in Richard’s time. One big argument was between people who said that ONLY the Bible should guide our worship and our lives of faith.  Let me hear you yell BIBLE!

Then there were people who said, The Church’s leaders have been interpreting the Bible for fifteen hundred years! Their wisdom is what guides us – in the form of Tradition. Let me hear you yell, TRADITION! 

BIBLE! TRADITION! BIBLE! TRADITION! 

WELL, here is where Richard comes in. He said, Our understanding of truth stands on three legs – one is Scripture, the Bible, that tells us the story of God and God’s people. Another thing is Tradition, the wisdom of generations passed down to us. And third thing is Reason: using our minds to think about the Bible and tradition in light of what we know from our lives and our world.  Richard knew things change, and we might come to new understandings in the future! 

Another important thing about our way of being Christian that comes from blessed Richard is that it’s OK to be interested in science and how the universe works! In fact, it’s more than OK, it’s great! Richard lived in a time when science was really beginning to grow. Some religious people were afraid of science; they thought it might draw people away from God. But Richard said, God gave us our 

brains; how could God not want us to use them? All truth is in God, so all truth is precious and worth seeking. 

May blessed Richard encourage our wondering! Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

Here is blessed Francis of Assisi, our saint of Reconciling. There are many stories about Francis but my favorite is the one about the wolf. Who can help me tell it? [Tell wolf story together]

May blessed Francis help us live lives of reconciling love! Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

Here is blessed Harriet Tubman, our saint of Proclaiming. She was born around 1822. Who remembers Harriet’s nickname? … Moses! Moses lived a long, long time ago. His story is in the book of the Bible called Exodus. Moses’ people were enslaved in Egypt. The Egyptians made them work hard, and treated them cruelly. When he was a young man, Moses ran away; but then God told him, You have to go back, and lead your people to freedom. And he did! It was hard, and dangerous, but he did it.

Harriet was like Moses because she was born into slavery. Her people were enslaved here, in our country; they were made to work hard, and treated cruelly. As a young woman, she escaped to freedom. But she could not rest while her people were not free. She dedicated her life to helping other enslaved people escape to places where they could live free. Eventually she helped more than 300 people. It was hard, and dangerous, but she did it.

Her favorite hymn was “Swing low, sweet chariot,” a hymn about being carried away to a better life. Let’s sing: …. 

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home;

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.

May blessed Harriet help us proclaim God’s good news of love and liberation not only with words but with our actions. Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!”

Here is blessed Sophie Scholl. She is our saint of Turning. She was born in 1921 – nearly a hundred years ago – in Germany. She was brave, and smart, and loving, just like all of you. As Sophie grew up, terrible things started to happen in her country. Everybody who didn’t fit a certain idea of what it meant to be German started to be excluded and bullied. Then it got worse: Those people 

were taken away to camps, and many of them were killed. At the same time Germany went to war with its neighbors. There was so much suffering – but nobody dared to stand up to the German leaders, the Nazis. They were too afraid. 

Sophie was the youngest member of a secret group that worked to encourage people to resist the Nazi leaders. They were called the White Rose. They wrote to their fellow German citizens, telling them, Listen to your hearts! You know this is wrong! If we all stand up together, things will have to change! They printed their message on leaflets and sent the everywhere! It was dangerous – the secret police were after them. Sophie could help because they didn’t expect a girl to be part of a resistance group. She looked young and innocent. 

Eventually Sophie and her brother Hans were caught. She died when she was just 21 years old, because of her brave work with the White Rose Society. Remember Jesus’ words in our Gospel today: Blessed are you when people hate you and hurt you for Jesus’ sake. Blessed are those who weep, for they shall have joy. 

May blessed Sophie help our hearts always turn towards what is right. Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

Finally, we come to blessed Nicholas Ferrar, our saint of Making! Nicholas lived in England in the early 1600s – he was born about 50 years after Richard Hooker. After trying out life as a businessman, Nicholas did something new: He started a new kind of religious community, at an old manor house in the countryside. Eventually about 40 people lived there, at Little Gidding, and others visited often. The members of the community gathered to pray together three times a day. In between they did the work of the house, grounds, and meals; studied the Bible, music, and other subjects together; made up plays debating the big issues of the day; cared for the sick of the wider community; and created beauty by making music, writing poetry, and practicing skilled crafts. I especially love that in the community of makers at Little Gidding, they did so many things together – men and women, children and adults, rich and poor. 

May blessed Nicholas inspire us individually and together as people made in the image of our creating God, empowered to make and do, design and imagine, tend and repair. Let’s say together: “I mean to be one too!” …

Now let’s say “I mean to be one too” in a different way by renewing our baptismal vows – the promises we made or that were made for us when we were baptized. 

If you haven’t been baptized yet and you would like to make these promises, let’s talk! 

Announcements, October 31

THIS WEEK…

All Saints’ Day, Sunday, Nov. 3: We will celebrate this holy day with an opportunity to remember the faithful departed; renewal of our baptismal vows; and, at our 10am service, a kids’ saint procession.

Birthday and Anniversary blessings and Healing Prayers will be given this Sunday, November 3, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, November 3: On Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Here are the current top-ten, most needed items: Canned Tomatoes (all types), Baking Supplies (all types), Spices, Herbs, Salt and Pepper, Vinegar (all types), Canned Salmon, Sardines, Mustard and Ketchup, Whole Grains (Barley, Quinoa, Oats,etc.), Heart Healthy Cooking Oil, Hair Care Products for People of Color, Laundry Detergent (Fragrance Free) . Thank you for your generous support!

Remembrance Altar: Consider bringing in a token of one of those saints whom you remember with love and respect. Our Remembrance Altar this year will include a place to hang pictures or notes, and a table where you may place a photo or other memento. Please don’t bring in anything precious or irreplaceable. Bring in items on All Saints Day or anytime in November. On Sunday, November 24, we will commend these faithful departed to Christ our King.

Bite Size Climate, Sunday, November 3, 11:50 – 12:10: Many of us are fearful and sad about climate change and its many impacts.  An important first step towards change is to be informed citizens who understand the issue and can talk about it with others – since we’ll all need to work together for change. This time, we’ll look at myths about climate change. Bite-Sized Climate is a time for adults, kids and youth to spend 20 minutes (we promise!) learning and talking together.  Get a snack at coffee hour, then gather in the meeting room! Our next planned date is December 1st, for a super-sciencey look at climate models.

Buildings & Grounds Meeting, Monday, November 4, 7pm: All interested folks are invited to Buildings & Grounds meetings (usually on first Mondays). We meet to discuss needs and plans, and to share some small tasks around the buildings.

Annual Giving Campaign: We are currently collecting pledge cards from members, to help us plan our church’s 2020 budget. If your household has not yet picked up a pledge packet or received one in the mail, pick up a blank packet at church or contact the office (608-238-2781, ). We hope to have all pledges gathered by Sunday, November 17! Need to check last year’s pledge? As you consider your pledge for 2020, if it would help you to know what you pledged last year, contact the office (see above) and Ann will get back to you!

Giving Campaign Thank-You Notes: Helpers Wanted! In our Giving Campaign survey earlier this fall, several folks said they’d like to help write thank-you notes to those who make annual budgets. Now it’s time to begin! If you would like to help with this ministry of thank-you notes, talk to Rev. Miranda or email her. (Pledge amounts are always kept confidential!)

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, November 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

“Responding to Hate,” Tuesday, November 12, 7pm, at the Crossing (1127 University Ave.): We live in a time of increasing division and expression of hate. How do we respond? How do we ‘love our enemies’? Pardeep’s father Satwant Singh Kaleka was murdered by a white supremacist along with five others when their place of worship in was attacked on August 5 2012 in Milwaukee. The shooter was a member of the neo-Nazi skinhead gang Arno had helped to found in 1989. Single parenthood, love for his daughter, and the forgiveness shown by people he once hated helped to change Arno’s world, bringing love for diversity and gratitude for all life after he left hate groups in 1994. Come listen to Pardeep and Arno talk about their friendship and moving past hate. The talk is open to everyone. St. Dunstan’s is proud to co-sponsor this important event.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, November 13, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Saturday Book Club, November 16, 2019 at 10 am: This month’s book is Manhattan Beach by Jenifer Egan. Getting a hard copy of the book: The Madison Central Library (next door to the Overture Center) has a Book Club section – located on the western end of the second floor. This section contains multiple copies of selected books. The next meeting’s book – Manhattan Beach – is available in this section. If you check it out at the main desk and say it is a Book Club book, they can also give you an extended time to read it.

Piece Be with You! Fall Giving Campaign Celebration Pie Brunch, November 24, 9:00am: Please join us for a festive, all-parish potluck brunch celebrating our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches, and other offerings. Look for a signup soon, to sign up and bring your favorite pie or quiche. (Pre-cut pies with labeled pie servers appreciated!) Thank you!

Our annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free all-ages crafting and gift-making event that we open to the wider community, will be Friday, November 29, from 1 – 4pm. If you’d like to help out with hospitality, with a craft station of your own, or as a helper at somebody else’s station, sign up in the Gathering Area or email Rev. Miranda!

Altar Flowers: Fall dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Announcements, October 24

THIS WEEK…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, October 25, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Los Gemelos Restaurant at 6713 Odana Road, Madison. On Odana, turn into the parking area immediately west of the paint store, in the area with the Indian restaurant with the blue awning. Then, drive to the back of the building where the sign says Los Gemelos grocery and restaurant. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t! For more information, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Last Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, October 27, 10am: Our last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, Oct. 27, 11:30 – 1:00pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 1:00pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

Birthday and Anniversary Blessings and Healing Prayers will be given next Sunday, November 3, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

Cookie Church, 6 – 7pm on Sunday Nights: Cookie Church is simple bedtime church. It is child-centered but not just for kids; we find that youth and grownups like it too! We will share singing, story, Eucharist, and a snack. (Yes, there will be cookies.) We end with bedtime prayers and it’s OK to come in your pajamas! Cookie Church is planned for Sundays in October and November. Sign up in the Gathering Area if you’d like to make a batch of cookies for us one week. We ask for at least 20 cookies, and it’s OK to drop them off Sunday morning (clearly labeled!)

Practicing Holy Living, Fall 2019: A few years ago, St. Dunstan’s identified seven core practices by which we live out our faith in daily life: Welcoming, Abiding, Wondering, Proclaiming, Turning, Reconciling, and Making. (Read more by picking up a leaflet in the Gathering Area!) This autumn, we’re meeting some saints – those who loved and fought, lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew – who embodied each of these practices. We’ll continue on October 27 with Nicholas Ferrar and the practice of Making. Come at 9am to talk about the practice of Making in our lives!

Annual Giving Campaign: We are currently collecting pledge cards from members, to help us plan our church’s 2020 budget. If your household has not yet picked up a pledge packet or received one in the mail, pick up a blank packet at church or contact the office (608-238-2781, ). We hope to have all pledges gathered by Sunday, November 17! Need to check last year’s pledge? As you consider your pledge for 2020, if it would help you to know what you pledged last year, contact the office (see above) and Ann will get back to you!

Giving Campaign Thank-You Notes: Helpers Wanted! In our Giving Campaign survey earlier this fall, several folks said they’d like to help write thank-you notes to those who make annual budgets. Now it’s time to begin! If you would like to help with this ministry of thank-you notes, talk to Rev. Miranda or email her.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

All Saints’ Day, Sunday, Nov. 3: We will celebrate this holy day with an opportunity to remember the faithful departed; renewal of our baptismal vows; and, at our 10am service, a kids’ saint procession.

Remembrance Altar: Consider bringing in a token of one of those saints whom you remember with love and respect. Our Remembrance Altar this year will include a place to hang pictures or notes, and a table where you may place a photo or other memento. Please don’t bring in anything precious or irreplaceable. Bring in items on All Saints Day or anytime in November. On Sunday, November 24, we will commend these faithful departed to Christ our King.

Bite Size Climate, Sunday, November 3, 11:50 – 12:10: Many of us are fearful and sad about climate change and its many impacts.  An important first step towards change is to be informed citizens who understand the issue and can talk about it with others – since we’ll all need to work together for change. This time, we’ll look at myths about climate change. Bite-Sized Climate is a time for adults, kids and youth to spend 20 minutes (we promise!) learning and talking together.  Get a snack at coffee hour, then gather in the meeting room! Our next planned date is December 1st, for a super-sciencey look at climate models.

Buildings & Grounds Meeting, Monday, November 4, 7pm: All interested folks are invited to Buildings & Grounds meetings (usually on first Mondays). We meet to discuss needs and plans, and to share some small tasks around the buildings.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, November 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

“Responding to Hate,” Tuesday, November 12, 7pm, at the Crossing (1127 University Ave.): We live in a time of increasing division and expression of hate. How do we respond? How do we ‘love our enemies’? Pardeep’s father Satwant Singh Kaleka was murdered by a white supremacist along with five others when their place of worship in was attacked on August 5 2012 in Milwaukee. The shooter was a member of the neo-Nazi skinhead gang Arno had helped to found in 1989. Single parenthood, love for his daughter, and the forgiveness shown by people he once hated helped to change Arno’s world, bringing love for diversity and gratitude for all life after he left hate groups in 1994. Come listen to Pardeep and Arno talk about their friendship and moving past hate. The talk is open to everyone. St. Dunstan’s is proud to co-sponsor this important event.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, November 13, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Saturday Book Club, November 16, 2019 at 10 am: This month’s book is Manhattan Beach by Jenifer Egan. Getting a hard copy of the book: The Madison Central Library (next door to the Overture Center) has a Book Club section – located on the western end of the second floor. This section contains multiple copies of selected books. The next meeting’s book – Manhattan Beach – is available in this section. If you check it out at the main desk and say it is a Book Club book, they can also give you an extended time to read it.

Piece Be with You! Fall Giving Campaign Celebration Pie Brunch, November 24, 9:00am: Please join us for a festive, all-parish potluck brunch celebrating our prayers, hopes, and financial pledges for our parish life in the coming year. We will enjoy fellowship, delicious pies, quiches, and other offerings. Look for a signup soon, to sign up and bring your favorite pie or quiche. (Precut pies with labeled pie servers appreciated!) Thank you!

Our annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free all-ages crafting and gift-making event that we open to the wider community, will be Friday, November 29, from 1 – 4pm. If you’d like to help out with hospitality, with a craft station of your own, or as a helper at somebody else’s station, sign up in the Gathering Area or email Rev. Miranda!

Looking for Coffee Hosts! Since our kitchen is ready to use again, there are signup sheets out for coffee hour beginning on October 20th. Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

Altar Flowers: Fall dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Sermon, Oct. 20

Over the past few weeks, we’ve met a saint every Sunday… I mean, in addition to the saints who sit beside you in the pews; these are saints who have already gone on ahead into the nearer presence of God. Each saint’s life and witness, the particular way they shined God’s light in their time and place, reminds us to strive to practice one of the seven Discipleship Practices we discerned together, a few years ago. Blessed Pauli calls us to radical welcome, blessed Julian inspires us to faithful abiding, blessed Richard invites us to holy wondering, blessed Francis urges us to hopeful reconciling, blessed Harriet models courageous proclaiming. 

The practice that comes to us today is the practice of Turning. This is a practice that needs a little explaining; but it might just be the most important one. Here’s some of what we said about it in the document about our practices we developed back in 2016: “We follow the teaching of Jesus Christ by being open to repentance, transformation, and call. The word turning springs from the New Testament word “metanoia,” meaning a change of mind and heart that bears fruit in a changed life… We turn by becoming followers of Jesus, whether that is the ongoing work of a lifetime, the shattering transformation of a moment, or some of each…  We turn by forgiving others, and by recognizing our own need to repent, seek forgiveness and make amends. We turn back towards God when we have turned away, re-orienting ourselves towards what is most important, true, and life-giving…We turn by allowing ourselves to be shaped and guided by grace; by being attentive to the voice of the Spirit, in things great and small… We turn.. by seeking God’s direction in our lives; and by daring to respond to God’s call into new endeavors.” 

I wish I could tell you that I carefully matched saints and practices with the lectionary texts, in planning this out – but I didn’t. However, I got lucky with our 2 Timothy text. Second Timothy is one of two letters written in the name of the apostle Paul, and addressed to his younger friend and fellow church leader, Timothy. Modern Bible scholarship leans toward the opinion that Paul didn’t actually write these letters; they may have been written a few decades after his death, by someone familiar with his life and writings – and perhaps facing a similar situation: imprisoned for his faith, and expecting execution. If this author isn’t Paul, he’s using this frame – Paul writing to Timothy – as a way to urge the church leaders of his time, facing rising persecution and waning interest in Christianity, to hold fast to what they have received and not lose faith. 

“Stay the course” seems like the opposite of  “Turn”. But think about what staying the course – staying faithful to our deepest values and best intentions – actually looks like in practice. Our days and our years are full of course corrections, most tiny, some large, to get back to our intended track: the way we mean to treat our family, friends, neighbors. The way we mean to use our financial resources or our time. The way we mean to care for our bodies, minds, and spirits. The way we mean to participate in the public life of our community and nation. To use a familiar image, think about navigation software: We take wrong turns on a regular basis – and our conscience, God working deep inside us to help us be true to our best intentions, says “Recalculating,” and shows us how we can return to the route. 

The author of 2 Timothy is concerned that younger leaders in the church are becoming discouraged and overwhelmed. You don’t write someone a letter reminding them to keep the faith unless you fear they’re in real danger of walking away. So he urges: Even in the face of suffering, keep using the inner compass of your faith, God’s truth written on your heart, to turn towards true north, trusting in and witnessing to God’s love made known to us in Jesus Christ. 

Turning … metanoia. A change of mind and heart that bears fruit in a changed life.

This is Sophie Scholl. Sophie was born in 1921, in the German city of Forchtenberg. She was raised in the Lutheran church, along with five brothers and sisters – a lively, loving, intellectual family. When Sophie was 11 or 12, Hitler and his Nazi Party began to rise in Germany. At first it was exciting, especially for the children and youth. There was a new sense of hope and pride for their country. Kids could join clubs to celebrate being German. Sophie joined one, and even became a leader – though she was a little troubled that her Jewish friend couldn’t join too. 

Sophie’s father, a sincere Christian and a pacifist, had concerns right from the start; but he would not oppose rising tyranny by being a tyrant. He let his children find their own way – but it was difficult. One evening on a family walk he turned to them and said, “All I want is for you to walk straight and free through life, even when it’s hard.” 

https://timeline.com/sophie-scholl-white-rose-guillotine-6b3901042c98

Sophie’s older brother Hans was the first to become disillusioned. He’d been chosen to attend the 1936 Nuremberg Rally, as a representative of the Hitler Youth – a big honor. But while he was there, he was told that Hitler Youth shouldn’t sing some songs he really loved, because the words or music had been written by Jews. (Later, Hans and friends formed their own youth group that resisted Nazi ideas by singing folk songs of all nations!) Soon after, Sophie was told that her favorite poet, Heinrich Heine, was also off limits because of his Jewish heritage – and she began to question Nazi doctrine, too. 

In 1937 several members of Sophie’s family, including Hans, were arrested and briefly imprisoned for “unapproved activities.” Sophie was arrested too, though she was released immediately because she was only sixteen. Biographer Richard Hanser writes, “There is no way of establishing the precise moment when Sophie Scholl decided to become an overt adversary of the [Nazi] state. Her decision, when it came, doubtless resulted from the accretion of offences, small and large, against her conception of what was right, moral, and decent. But now something decisive had happened. The state had laid its hands on her and her family, and now there was no longer any possibility of reconciling herself to a system that had already begun to alienate her.” (28)

Sophie was turning, from conformity towards justice. From fear towards courage. God was working deep inside her to help her be true to her deepest values and best intentions. She and Hans wondered together why so few Christian leaders stood up to the Nazis. Hans wrote in a letter, “When this terror is over… we will have no answer when we are asked: What did you do about it?”

The fact is, many people were conflicted in Nazi Germany. Many had the same concerns as Sophie and her family. But few stood up. Few pushed back. Fear and complacency overwhelmed their consciences. 

Hans went to the University of Munich, and Sophie followed. There they met a few like-minded students, and one professor who dared to share their views. In the summer of 1942, Hans and some friends started a secret group, called the White Rose Society. They wrote and printed leaflets urging ordinary Germans to resist Nazi ideas – one leaflet said, “We want to try and show [people] that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of the system.” The fourth pamphlet concluded, “We are your bad conscience.” They printed thousands of copies of the leaflets, and secretly sent them all over their city and country. 

When Sophie found out, she was shocked – but then she asked to join them. She knew that because she was a girl, and looked young and innocent, it would be easier for her to sneak around to share the the White Rose pamphlets. Sophie and another female friend bought paper for printing the pamphlets, as well as envelopes and stamps – going to many different stores to avoid suspicion. The group stayed up late at night printing the leaflets. They knew the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, was after them. 

On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie carried the sixth White Rose leaflet to the university campus. Rushing to get all the leaflets out where they might be found before classes began, Sophie tossed some down a staircase into an entrance hall. She was spotted by a janitor who was a loyal Nazi. Sophie and Hans were arrested immedately, and evidence was found that linked them to White Rose. They were tried days later, and quickly condemned to death for being enemies of the government and weakening the nation. Their father had to be dragged out of the courtroom, shouting, “There is a higher justice! They will go down in history!”

Sophie was 21 years old on the day of her execution. Her last words were, “The sun still shines.”

The verses that immediately follow today’s 2 Timothy text read, “As for me, I’m already being poured out like a sacrifice to God, and the time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me.”

I chose Sophie as one of the saints we would meet this fall,  because I wanted to include a young person. To show our kids and youth that their sense of right and wrong, their words and actions, can matter. I didn’t realize, when I chose to tell Sophie’s story, how hard it would be to tell, and perhaps to hear. 

The good news is that few of us are called to Sophie’s path. Few us are called to die for the cause of righteousness.

But all of us are called to turn. To listen to God’s truth written in our hearts, to pay attention to the inner compass deep inside that points us towards true north, and follow where it leads, even when it involves recalculating our route.

I said earlier that turning might be the most important of our seven discipleship practices. In a real sense it’s where the Gospels begin: first John the Baptist, and then Jesus of Nazareth, call people to metanoia. To a change of mind and heart that bears fruit in a changed life. Our capacity to stick with any of the other practices is dependent on our capacity to turn – to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit; to recognize when we are not where we mean to be, where God means for us to be – and to re-orient ourselves towards what is right, true, and life-giving. All I want is for you to walk straight and free through life, even when it’s hard.

Sophie’s story is exceptional – but what made her exceptional is simply that she listened to the voice deep inside her that kept saying, This is wrong. And, like the woman in our Gospel parable, she persisted – even when it seemed like no one was listening. Sometimes when you’re speaking to the powers that be, there is no conscience, no intention to do right, to which you can appeal. Jesus and others sum up the Law of God this way: Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. The judge in this parable doesn’t give a flying fish about God or neighbor. All he cares about is himself. Sometimes the person or system in charge is unjust, plain and simple. 

This parable can tangle people up sometimes because they think God must be like the judge – and that doesn’t work very well. But that’s not where God is in this story. God is the strength and courage, the love and determination that keeps this woman demanding justice, even when she knows perfectly well that this judge doesn’t care about her case. And God is the force that makes the judge relent and do the right thing, if only to get some peace and quiet. 

God is in the capacity of people and systems to change, to be transformed; God is the Source of holy persistence, of faithful courage; God is in the nudge that reminds us of our need to turn, and God is the promise that whatever we face, on the road of justice, mercy, and love, the sun still shines. 

Main source for information about Sophie in this sermon: 

https://timeline.com/sophie-scholl-white-rose-guillotine-6b3901042c98

Some more sites about Sophie: 

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/75-years-ago-hans-sophie-scholl/

https://allthatsinteresting.com/sophie-scholl-hans-scholl-white-rose-movement

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-white-rose-a-lesson-in-dissent

Announcements, October 17

THIS WEEK….

Annual Giving Campaign Kickoff will be Sunday, October 20! At Announcement time, we’ll share a little about our draft budget and hopes for 2020 and beyond, and everyone can pick up a pledge packet. (If you’re not at church, pledge packets will be mailed out on Monday.) We hope to gather all pledges by Dedication Sunday on November 17, and to celebrate together on November 24 (the Sunday before Thanksgiving). Our big goal this year is to collect 90 pledges of financial support to St. Dunstan’s for 2020!

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months. We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

Cookie Church, 6 – 7pm on Sunday Nights: Cookie Church is simple bedtime church. It is child-centered but not just for kids; we find that youth and grownups like it too! We will share singing, story, Eucharist, and a snack. (Yes, there will be cookies.) We end with bedtime prayers and it’s OK to come in your pajamas! Cookie Church is planned for Sundays in October and November, starting October 13. Sign up in the Gathering Area if you’d like to make a batch of cookies for us one week. We ask for at least 20 cookies, and it’s OK to drop them off Sunday morning (clearly labeled!)

Practicing Holy Living, Fall 2019: A few years ago, St. Dunstan’s identified seven core practices by which we live out our faith in daily life: Welcoming, Abiding, Wondering, Proclaiming, Turning, Reconciling, and Making. (Read more by picking up a leaflet in the Gathering Area!) This autumn, we’re meeting some saints – those who loved and fought, lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew – who embodied each of these practices. We’ll continue on October 20 with Sophie Scholl and the practice of Turning. Come at 9am to talk about the practice of Turning in our lives!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, October 25, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Los Gemelos Restaurant at 6713 Odana Road, Madison. On Odana, turn into the parking area immediately west of the paint store, in the area with the Indian restaurant with the blue awning. Then, drive to the back of the building where the sign says Los Gemelos grocery and restaurant. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t! For more information, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Fall Clean-Up,  Sunday, Oct. 27, 11:30 – 1:00pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 1:00pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

Bite Size Climate, Sunday, November 3, 11:50 – 12:10: Many of us are fearful and sad about climate change and its many impacts.  An important first step towards change is to be informed citizens who understand the issue and can talk about it with others – since we’ll all need to work together for change. This time, we’ll look at myths about climate change. Bite-Sized Climate is a time for adults, kids and youth to spend 20 minutes (we promise!) learning and talking together.  Get a snack at coffee hour, then gather in the meeting room! Our next planned date is December 1st, for a super-sciencey look at climate models. 

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, November 13, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition.  We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.”  We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Saturday Book Club, November 16, 2019 at 10 am: This month’s book is Manhattan Beach by Jenifer Egan. Getting a hard copy of the book: The Madison Central Library (next door to the Overture Center) has a Book Club section – located on the western end of the second floor. This section contains multiple copies of selected books. The next meeting’s book – Manhattan Beach – is available in this section. If you check it out at the main desk and say it is a Book Club book, they can also give you an extended time to read it.

Looking for Coffee Hosts! Since our kitchen is ready to use again, there are signup sheets out for coffee hour beginning on October 20th. Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee  for more information.

Altar Flowers: Fall dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

Sermon, Oct. 13

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Does that sound familiar? We say a version of it in our Prayers of the People every week: Work and pray for the good of the city where you dwell, for in its peace we shall find our peace. I’ve heard from folks in the past who assume the “city” in question is Madison, and feel a little offended that we’re leaving out Middleton, Cross Plains, Mount Horeb, Sun Prairie, Black Earth, Verona, and so on. But the city mentioned here, in fact, is Babylon. 

The prophet Jeremiah was born around the year 626 before the birth of Jesus, in a time of instability and threat for Jerusalem and Judea. God called him as a boy to speak God’s words to the nations, and especially to his own nation and its leaders – bringing them the unpopular news that conquest, death and doom are coming. Sure enough, in the year 587, when Jeremiah is around forty years old, the armies of the empire of Babylon march into Judea, killing and destroying as they come. After a long and terrible siege, they conquer the city, and tear down the great Temple. Most of the people of Jerusalem and Judea are killed or exiled. Jeremiah himself ends up in Egypt, dragged along with some nobles fleeing Babylon’s might. 

All that is context for this letter to the exiles, today’s Jeremiah text. You might notice our text skips some verses; that’s just more about when the letter was written and how it was sent. In the verses following our text, Jeremiah speaks for God to say, God’s going to bring you home and restore your nation – but it’s going to be a while. So! Settle in. Build a house! Plant a garden! Make family! Live!  

Last week’s Old Testament text from the book of Lamentations gives us a hint about why this message was needed. The book of Lamentations is exactly what it says on the tin – a book of poetry of grief and loss over the Babylonian conquest. Listen to a few poignant verses:  “Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place… All her people groan as they search for bread; they trade their treasures for food to revive their strength. The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and behold my suffering; my young women and young men have gone into captivity. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death. On the day of the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived; those whom I bore and reared my enemy has destroyed.”  (Lamentations 1, selected verses) 

Jeremiah is speaking to people traumatized, grieving and angry.  And his message, God’s message, is: Choose life. And don’t just survive: Work and pray for Babylon, the capital city of your conquerors. Seek the shalom of Babylon – a wonderful word that combines peace and wellbeing. 

Work and pray for the good fo the city where you dwell. Do Jeremiah’s words speak to us? Many of us have had experiences of otherness or not belonging, minor or major, that have something in common with the Israelites’ experience in Babylon. But few of us probably think of ourselves as exiles, people forced to live among strangers, in a place not our own. 

Yet our Christian ancestors thought of themselves that way – even when living in their hometowns. Their beliefs and practices set them apart, made them not belong. One metaphor they used was that of citizenship, based on Roman citizenship, a distinctive identity that you would carry with you wherever you went, that set you apart and incurred both privileges and obligations. Paul – who was a Roman citizen – writes in the letter to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (3:20). And the letter to the Ephesians says, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and… members of the household of God.” (2:19) So our forbears experienced their faith as a kind of otherness. As making them resident aliens, citizens of another nation – working and praying for the good of the city where they dwelt, but never forgetting that their true identity and loyalty lay elsewhere. 

Then came 1700 years when it was pretty easy to forget. Christianity became the religion of the western world. That marriage of Church, state, and culture that endured so long was called Christendom… and it’s over. I just covered a whole library of historical and sociological literature  in two sentences; take my word for it for now, and let me know if you want to read more.

One of the gifts of Christianity after Christendom is that we have more in common now with our ancestors in faith. When we read in early Christian texts about feeling like outsiders, being seen as strange or dangerous or just eccentric and irrational by our cultured neighbors – well, we can relate. (With the added layer that when Christianity does show up in the public square or the halls of power, it’s often not our Christianity.) So, more than many of the generations in between, we may find some encouragement and direction in the lives of the early Christians, and before them, in the lives of the Jewish exiles. That’s why we use this snippet of Jeremiah in our prayers: Work and pray for the good, the shalom, of the city where you dwell. 

What did that look like, in practice, for God’s people in exile? It looked like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – young Israelite men, educated, probably of elite backgrounds – who were brought into the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, to become pampered symbols of Babylon’s conquest of Judea. Now, King Nebuchadnezzar had a giant golden statue of himself made, and issued this edict: “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” But Jews worship only one god. They will not bow down to false idols, things made by human hands that we give power over ourselves. And people noticed that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not bowing down to the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So they told the king. And King Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage had the three young men flung into a fiery furnace, because they would not worship him as a god. But the flames did not hurt them! When they came out again, the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed. Nebuchadnezzar was amazed and issued a new edict: Blessed be the god of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and let everyone honor their god, who has shown such power in saving them from the fire! 

Daniel, for his part, earned the esteem of Nebuchadnezzar for his wisdom in interpreting dreams. A few years later, after Nebuchadnezzar was dead, his son Belshazzar held a great feast. And under the influence of wine, Belshazzar had the holy vessels from the Great Temple in Jerusalem, that his father’s armies had stolen, brought out, and they drank wine from them. And suddenly, Belshazzar saw a hand appear and begin to write on the wall – mysterious words he could not read. The King was terrified. He called in all his sorcerers and scholars. 

He told them that anyone who could tell him what the writing meant would be dressed in royal purple, with a gold chain around his neck, and be ranked third in the kingdom. But no one could read the writing on the wall. (Yes, this is where that saying comes from.) Then the queen said, Remember that young Judean man who was so good at interpreting your father’s dreams? Perhaps he can help. 

So Daniel was summoned. And the king told him, ‘If you can read this writing, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.’ But Daniel said, O King, keep your gifts! You have exalted yourself agains the Lord of Heaven, the only true God, by drinking wine from the vessels of God’s holy Temple. You worship gods of silver and gold, wood and stone; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored. The writing on the wall is a message from the God of Israel, and this is what it says:  MENE, MENE, TEKEL PARSIN, which means, God has numbered the days of your kingdom.You have been weighed, and found wanting. Your kingdom will be taken from you and divided. Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, and a gold chain put around his neck, and it was decreed that he should rank third in the kingdom. And that very night… King Belshazzar died. 

And then there is Esther, a young Jewish woman who lived a few decades later, a descendant of the exiles. When the Judeans were allowed to return to Jerusalem, fifty years after the Exile, not everyone chose to return. Esther’s family was among those who had followed Jeremiah’s advice so well that they stayed in their new homes. But they were still Jews – set apart by their beliefs and practices, and by their neighbors’ suspicions. By an unlikely series of events, Esther ends up married King Ahasuerus, the local ruler.  The king and the court don’t know that Esther is a Jew. Meanwhile, an adviser to the king, named Haman, has a grudge against Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, because Haman thinks he’s really important… and Mordecai doesn’t. 

So Haman tells the king that these Jews who live in the city – they’re not really just like everybody else. They have different values, a different way of life. They don’t really belong here. Maybe we should throw them out. Maybe we should kill them. 

The king says, Sure, do what you want. Issue an edict in my name: On such and such a day, we’ll get rid of the Jews.

Mordecai sends word to Esther: You have to do something! You have to change the King’s mind! It’s the only hope for your people. Perhaps you were raised to this high position for just such a time as this!

Esther is afraid; this isn’t a warm, chummy marriage – she only sees the king when he sends for her.  But she summons her courage and invites him to dinner. She chooses her moment and makes her case. She reminds the king that Mordecai, her uncle, once uncovered a plot to assassinate him!  The Jews are good citizens, loyal and helpful! She asks him to spare her life, and the lives of all her people. The king reverses his edict, instead protecting the Jews – and Haman is executed. 

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens; work for the welfare of the place where you find yourself… but never forget who, and whose, you are; for you are still God’s people, even in exile. For the three young men, that meant refusing to bow down to the golden idols, those false and empty gods. For Daniel, it meant taking the opportunities that came his way – being honored and esteemed by those in power, but also being ready to tell them the truth, no matter what the cost. For Esther, it meant being bold about using her position and voice, trusting that God had prepared her for such a time as this. 

Daniel and Esther and the others were God’s gift to the places where they lived. The resident alien, the outsider, the person pushed to the margins, a step or two outside of mainstream culture, our accepted norms and shared assumptions – 

Those people often see things a little more clearly. Like the Samaritan in today’s Gospel story. We’ve invited to assume the other nine lepers were Jews. People who had skin diseases were ostracized, cut off from normal social and religious life. It makes sense that misfits from different social backgrounds would hang out together – we’ve all seen those movies. But then the club breaks up: the nine do what Jesus, and their religion, tell them to do – if your leprosy goes away, naturally or miraculously, you’re supposed to go to the priest to be cleared to resume normal life. What they do makes perfect sense to them. But for the Samaritan, that’s not his faith, not his practice. That’s WHY he is the one who says, Heck with the priests; that guy back there – he’s the one who cleansed me! I need to go back and thank him! 

Work and pray for the shalom of the city where you dwell. 

I think there’s real grace in this invitation to be in the world, but not entirely of it. To be present and engaged, while remembering our true loyalties. Seek the welfare of the city where you dwell, be it Madison, Middleton, Fitchburg, Mount Horeb, and so on… but remember that you just live there. Our citizenship is in the Body of Christ – an idea that may be a comfort some days, a challenge on others!  The values and orientations and practices that we carry inside us may put us at odds – at times SHOULD put us at odds – with the world around us, in expected and unexpected ways. 

May we inherit Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s clarity about what’s worthy of our loyalty. May we inherit Daniel’s readiness to speak the unpopular truth. May we inherit Esther’s courage in using whatever measure of privilege, status and connection we may have to speak up for those demonized and in danger. May we work and pray for the good of the city where we dwell… for in its peace we shall find our peace. Amen. 

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