Announcements, January 17

THIS WEEK…

4th & 5th Grade Group, Friday, January 18, 5:30 – 7:30pm: All kids in 4th & 5th grade are invited to gather for pizza, service activities, and fun. Contact Rev. Miranda with any questions!

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2019 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

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 (January 13 & 20, February 10 & 17). 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.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, January 20, 6pm: Join us for a simple service as the week begins. All are welcome.

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, January 20, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Survival Backpacks: We are collecting items to fill backpacks for homeless high school youth in the Madison school system. They need basic necessities in a simple form that they can carry with them. Please check the window in the Gathering Area for items needed. Take a slip, buy the items, and bring them back by Sunday, February 3. Feel free to take more than one slip if you feel able to meet the need.  Thanks for your generosity! Questions? Contact Bonnie Magnuson.

Altar Flowers: January and February 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!

Making Church Connections: In the spirit of Postcard Pals, are there adults who could spare a little time and would like to be friends with one of our elders who don’t get to church often? It might be occasional visits, or it might be calls & cards. If you’d be interested, talk with Rev. Miranda or email her at revmiranda@stdunstans.com .

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 26, 8-10:30am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 20. All kids are welcome to participate!

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 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. Childcare and a simple meal provided.

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee for more information.

Altar Flowers: January and February dates available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35. Write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash, or donate online at donate.stdunstans.com.

Monday Morning Art Group: Each Monday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 an adult group meets in the chapel area to share their creative arts and crafts projects, which might include drawing and painting to needlework.  It’s become a wonderful time to share some of our personal history, or more recent experiences and/or challenges.  Feel free to come along and join us! Because of improper ventilation for toxic materials, we ask that no paint solvents or smelly glues be required during this period.

Spring Youth Retreat: All youth in grades 6 – 9 are invited to our Youth Retreat, which will begin on the evening of Friday, March 1, and run through midday on Sunday, March 3. The retreat will be structured around the spiritual practices known as the Way of Love. It will include fun, reflection, service, and worship.  Link to registration form is below. We suggest a $20 donation per child to help with food and materials costs, but finances should not be a barrier.

Camp Webb 2019 (June 16 – 22) is accepting applications now! Camp Webb is an outdoor ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, for children and youth grades 3 through senior high. It is held at a camp outside Elkhorn, WI. Camp tuition is $400, with a deposit of $100 due at the time of registration. St. Dunstan’s offers $150 in aid to all our campers, with additional assistance possible; contact Rev. Miranda for financial assistance. Visit http://www.diomil.org/forming-disciples/children-youth-and-family-ministries/camp-webb/ for registration forms. Camp Webb IS EXPECTED TO FILL this year, so apply soon!

Sacred Site Visits: How Do Other People of Faith Worship? Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s Interfaith Community Building initiative is sponsoring a new program: Sacred Site Visits and Interfaith Fellowship. Throughout 2019, we will offer a series of Sacred Site visits to houses of worship/faith communities (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Unitarian, and others). These visits will include a tour of the worship space and a talk by a faith leader of that community where they will share with us the main teachings of their faith, their holidays, rituals, sacred texts, and worship. In some cases, we will be able to observe their worship services. Participants will be grouped into cohorts of 8 adults, who will share learning and get to know each other throughout the year. If you’d like to participate, please fill out this 2-minute survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/92SVB95

Men’s Book Club, February 16th 10:00am: This month’s selection is Born a Crime by Trevor Noha. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Please Wear Your Nametags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your nametags. If you would like a nametag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.

Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

Sermon, Jan. 13

Did you notice that today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles felt kind of like one short paragraph cut out of a newspaper story? A tiny slice of events, leaving you wondering how we got here and why it matters? Well – you know me; I always like to give you the whole story.

This story begins with a disciple named Philip. A couple of chapters ago, the Twelve Apostles decided they needed some help. The Christian community was growing. One part of their ministry was sharing food with those in need – and there were arguments about whether food was being distributed fairly. So the Twelve got everyone together and said, “Listen, our mission is too important for us to spend our time waiting tables.” (Chapter 6, verse 2; I wish I was making it up.) So the group selects seven men to be in charge of distributing food: Philip, Stephen, and five others. They are set apart with prayer and the laying on of hands – what we could call ordination. Luke doesn’t use the word, but the Church soon began to name this role as deacon – one ordained to stand where church meets world. 

The deacons were supposed to run the food pantry while the Twelve Apostles focused on the Word of God. But the Holy Spirit had other plans. First, Stephen the deacon, full of grace and power, preaches the Word so well that he gets arrested. At his trial, he gives an inspired account of the Gospel, and is condemned to death by stoning – the first Christian martyr.  A time of fierce persecution of Christians in Jerusalem begins – and another deacon, Philip, flees to Samaria, to proclaim the Gospel there. 

Samaria was a region just north of Judea. Its people, the Samaritans, shared common ancestry and holy texts with the Jews of Judea, but understood and practiced their faith very differently. And by the narcissism of small differences, the Jews of Judea thought very poorly of the Samaritans, and the Samaritans though pretty poorly of the Jews. If you’ve ever heard a sermon or Sunday school lesson on the parable of the Good Samaritan, you’ve heard about all this. That parable comes to us from Luke, who also wrote the book of Acts; Luke was keenly aware of the Samaritans as people his original audience loved to hate, but among whom God was nonetheless at work. 

So Philip preaches about Jesus in Samaria – and people listen eagerly. And by the grace and power of God, amazing things start to happen. Those beset by evil spirits or illness find freedom and health. So there is great joy in the city! And many people believed what Philip told them – the good news that we are not forsaken, that God is with us and for us, and that we know the face of this Presence in Jesus Christ* – many people believed, and were baptized in the name of Jesus. 

Now, in that city was a certain man named Simon. Simon was a Samaritan; and he was a magician. Someone who used trickery, patter and sleight of hand to amaze and confound. Simon has no real power, as Luke sees it; he’s a trickster, a fraud.  The word for “magic” here is just, well, magic – mageia. It’s a form of the same word Matthew uses for the Wise Men who visit the infant Jesus – but while those were noble Eastern astrologer-wizards, Simon is just a commonplace charlatan. 

He’s got a pretty good thing going, before Philip shows up. For a long time he has amazed people with his magic, and they listen to him eagerly, because they believe he has some kind of power. He calls himself Simon the Great, and they swallow it, hook, line, and sinker – they tell each other, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God!”

But Simon doesn’t really have God’s power. Philip does. And Simon can see right away that Philip has him beat.  The crowds turn towards Philip, whose amazing deeds don’t just dazzle their eyes, but restore their hearts. And Simon, too, believes in Philip’s message. He is baptized, and follows Philip around constantly. Luke says, The one who once amazed crowds is now himself amazed by the signs and miracles he observes. And Luke doesn’t say it in so many words, but Simon is probably also closely observing Philip’s technique – trying to figure out how exactly this stranger commands the power to do these things. 

Now, word gets back to the Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem that folks in Samaria are turning to Jesus. And Peter and John, the two great leaders of the early Church, set out for Samaria to see what’s going on. They meet with the Samaritan Christians – and they learn that while many have been baptized in the name of Jesus, they have not yet received the Holy Spirit. Now, this is a bit of an odd thing; generally the Christian Scriptures and the church understand Christian baptism to be all one thing, water and the Holy Spirit together in one sacrament. But in this instance, the Holy Spirit is given in a sort of second baptism. There are various theories to explain the anomaly. Maybe Philip – who, after all, was ordained to hand out bread – hadn’t yet learned the fullness of what he could offer, in baptism. Maybe the gulf between Jews and Samaritans was so great that Peter and John, men of indisputable authority, needed to show up in order to put the stamp of legitimacy on Philip’s mission. 

Regardless: Peter and John see that God is at work here, though Philip. They pray for the new believers, and ask that they may receive the Holy Spirit; then they lay their hands upon them, and the Holy Spirit comes. I wish I knew what that looked like – what that sounded like. Hundreds of people gathered, men, women, and children… did they line up and come before the great Apostles one by one, or did Peter and John walk among them, touching each head with loving intent? And how could they tell that the Spirit was moving among them? Did people weep and sing? Dance and shout? Give and forgive? Fall to their knees under the holy weight of divine belovedness? 

 Whatever happened – it impressed the heck out of Simon. Here, he sees plainly, is true greatness. After things had settled down, when he could approach the Apostles privately, he went up to them and offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that I can lay hands on anyone and they will receive the Holy Spirit.” 

I feel sorry for Simon. He genuinely doesn’t know any better. He’s gotten this far in life through skill, bombast, and luck. In his line of work, you’re always banking on people’s credulity, and always fearful someone will ask the wrong question, or spot you slipping the marked card into the deck. People were not more gullible back in Simon’s time; trickery and fraud were well-known in the ancient world. If you want people to keep dropping coins in your hat, you have to either keep going bigger, or keep moving on before your tricks become old news – or a more impressive act comes to town. Simon knows he’s been bested – and he respects the power he sees at work. As a fake, he’s uniquely qualified to spot what’s real. And it makes perfect sense – from his standpoint – to offer money for access to this power. Magicians today still sell access to the mechanics of their tricks – the ones they’re willing to give away. 

Maybe Philip, who’d gotten to know Simon, would have answered more kindly; but Peter is furious. He says, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the chains of wickedness.’ 

In his anger, Peter shows that he is quite clear about something the church has sometimes forgotten in the subsequent millennia: The Power, the Presence that hovers low over the font in baptism is not ours to command. All we can do is ask nicely – as Peter and John did when they asked the Holy Spirit to come to the new believers of Samaria. Peter tells Simon, This power isn’t OURS. I couldn’t sell it if I wanted to, because I don’t OWN it. 

Poor Simon! He says, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.” Then Peter and John go home, and Philip is called away to the Gaza road, where he will soon meet an Ethiopian court official. We get no resolution to Simon’s story – but I think it points in a hopeful direction. He wants to understand, to become part of what God is doing. I choose to believe that Simon’s heart was changed that day. That he made his fame, eloquence and skill available to God’s purposes from that day forward. That he sought to offer people truth instead of trickery, healing instead of humbug. 

Simon is struggling with a question that Christians still wonder about: What is baptism for? He sees it initially through the limited lens of his livelihood: Wow, this is impressive! This really draws the crowds! And he’s naturally drawn to the idea of *real* supernatural power that can actually change things… It would come in handy to be able to heal people, cast out spirits. You’d be set for life if you could do that, and people would REALLY call you Great. 

The church is prone to a misunderstanding – or limited understanding – similar to Simon’s: Thinking that the divine power present in the sacrament of baptism, the power Simon longs to be able to call or compel, is given for individual benefit – of the one baptized, and/or of the person authorized to offer baptism. 

While Simon longs for true and lasting greatness, we have more modest hopes and expectations of the fruits of this sacrament for the one to be baptized: A profound, mysterious, and indissoluble connection to God; a fundamental membership in Christ’s body the Church, with all rights and privileges appertaining thereunto; the gifts of the Holy Spirit made available as a birthright of faith. These are real and undeniable blessings for the one baptized and their family, and for the church gathered to celebrate and welcome. 

But baptism isn’t just for us. It’s for others – through us. This whole story is set in motion because God’s grace is at work in Samaria through Philip. Through God’s power manifest in his preaching the good news of God’s love made known to us through Jesus Christ; in the driving out of evil spirits, in healing and curing, and in the bubbling up of a great civic joy. Philip’s ministry reminds us that our baptism is about belonging to a power that works through us for good, to save and heal, comfort and encourage, restore and reconcile. He shows us life as a servant of that Power, listening for God’s word and following God’s nudges: Go there. Speak now. Reach out to her. Ask him what he’s reading. 

Baptism is not about a power we can use or direct. It’s about a Power that can direct and use us. 

Dorothea Mae, we baptize you with earnest prayers for your wellbeing and your flourishing. We long for God’s grace to bless and sustain you, as you grow. But we baptize you not for your greatness but for God’s; not for your good only, but for the good of the world God longs to redeem. Dorothea, we name you Gift of God, and we baptize you into a life of availability to larger purposes and greater goods than we can see or imagine. We baptize you to love others in the power of the Spirit, whose gracious Presence in our rite today will do what our words can only invite; and we send you into the world in witness to God’s love. 

Announcements, January 13th

THIS WEEK…

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, January 13: This Sunday, we rejoice to celebrate the baptism of Dorothea Mae Melton, daughter of Jonathan and Rebekah, and sister of Annie and Jude.

Men’s Book Club, January 12th at 10am: ** PLEASE USE THE LOWER LEVEL BACK DOOR! ** Bring your favorite short story!  A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood.

Open Door Project Prep, Saturday, January 12, 1pm: Our renovations will begin after Easter – which means we need to clean out the spaces involved, & make room for the exciting changes ahead! There will be several opportunities in the weeks ahead for sorting, tidying, boxing up, and hauling away. If you enjoy this kind of work, come pitch in! We’ll begin this coming Saturday at 1pm with the Library Classroom.

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 (January 13 & 20, February 10 & 17). 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.

Call for Annual Reports: Every year in December/January, we invite our ministry leaders to submit a paragraph or two about what their ministry is and what they’ve done in the past year. We then compile those reports into an Annual Report, and share it with the congregation in advance of our parish Annual Meeting (9am on Sunday, January 20). If you have something you’d like to share, as a special moment, thanksgiving, or success to share, whether from a particular ministry of just something from the life of this household of faith, you’re welcome to submit it to office@stdunstans.com. The deadline for all Annual Report materials is Monday, January 14.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Sacred Site Visits: How Do Other People of Faith Worship? Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s Interfaith Community Building initiative is sponsoring a new program: Sacred Site Visits and Interfaith Fellowship. Throughout 2019, we will offer a series of Sacred Site visits to houses of worship/faith communities (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Unitarian, and others). These visits will include a tour of the worship space and a talk by a faith leader of that community where they will share with us the main teachings of their faith, their holidays, rituals, sacred texts, and worship. In some cases, we will be able to observe their worship services. Participants will be grouped into cohorts of 8 adults, who will share learning and get to know each other throughout the year. If you’d like to participate, please fill out this 2-minute survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/92SVB95

Vestry Meeting, Wednesday, January 16, 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.

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2019 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 26, 8-10:30am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 20. All kids are welcome to participate!

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Please Wear Your Name Tags: In the interest of getting to know one another and enjoying fellowship together, we encourage you to wear your name tags. If you would like a name tag, there is a signup sheet in the Gathering Space.

Looking for Coffee Hosts for February 2019! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee.

Altar Flowers: January and February dates available! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers. Reserve your special date by writing your dedication on the sign-up sheet. Suggested donation is $35. Write “flowers” on the memo line of your check or on envelope containing cash, or donate online at donate.stdunstans.com.

Sermons are (usually) available on the way into church if you find that it helps you to read along as Rev. Miranda preaches. They’re also available online after church and during the week at www.stdunstans.com.

Sermon, Jan. 6

Today’s Gospel – the Epiphany Gospel – isn’t telling us the full story. It ends on a cheerful note:  The Wise Ones honor the infant Jesus and give him rich and meaningful gifts. Then they return home by another road, evading King Herod’s evil intentions. All’s well that ends well, right? But that’s not actually where this part of the story ends. The story stops here, in our lectionary, because the next part of the story has its own day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, on December 28; and because the church wants the Epiphany story to be a joyful story. To inaugurate this new season with themes of journey and discovery, light and gift. 

But it’s all one story, the Wise Ones and the Holy Innocents; so listen to what happens next, according to Matthew. After the Wise Men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for King Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod… When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was furious, and he sent soldiers and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.’

You may be relieved to know there’s a good chance this didn’t really happen. This King Herod – a different Herod than the one in the Easter stories – did some terrible things, including killing his own grownup children for fear they were plotting against him. But no other ancient text describes an incident like this, with Herod’s soldiers killing children. This is probably a part of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew’s account of Jesus, where Matthew is trying to show us something about Jesus, rather than tell us history as we understand it.

So what is Matthew trying to show us, with this sad, scary story? Well – a couple of things, I think. He wants to show us that God in Jesus Christ didn’t just become human; he became vulnerable. Fragile. At risk. Like any child; and especially like any poor child in a place ruled by oppression. And he wants to show us that Jesus was born to lead people out of oppression – like Moses, the great hero of the Jewish people. This story might remind you of another story, about Moses as a baby. Do you remember it? It begins like this: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, and he said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we….’” Then what happened? … 

So that ancient story about Pharaoh killing all the Israelite babies has a lot in common with this story about Herod and the babies in Bethlehem, doesn’t it?Moses, Israel’s great liberator and prophet, was once a baby who barely escaped the callous, cruel, child-killing politics of his time. And Jesus, our great liberator, prophet, and savior, was once a baby who barely escaped the callous, cruel, child-killing politics of his time. These are both stories about children at risk; about bad and fearful kings; and about brave and loving parents. 

They are also both stories about failure. About communities that failed. Neighbors and bystanders who failed. Leaders who failed. Failure is a harsh word, but think about it: By the time a child’s parent is the only one looking out for its safety, so much has gone wrong.  So many people have stepped back, looked away, chosen not to get involved. If nothing else – if NOTHING else – the whole architecture of our common way of life should protect children and give them the opportunity to grow and flourish. There is ALWAYS a better option than letting the bad guys hurt the children. Even if you feel helpless. Even if it’s dangerous. Whether it’s people in uniforms with swords or guns, or people in suits making decisions in boardrooms or legislative chambers, there is ALWAYS a better option than letting the bad guys hurt the children.

So… We’re baptizing a child, today. One of the church’s greatest occasions; one of my greatest privileges. There’s a lot to say about baptism; and I’ll get to say a little more next week, when we have another one! But as we dwell with the Epiphany Gospel, the whole story – one thing baptism should mean is that we promise never to leave Charlotte alone. We promise never to leave her parents and sister alone. We promise that when this child needs us, we’ll be there, a family of faith. As Gretchen Wolff Pritchard says, We are all the godparents of every child in this church. 

We promise to keep faith with Charlotte. To do all in our power – ALL IN OUR POWER, dear ones! – to support this tiny, adorable person in her life in Christ. That is an easy promise to make when she’s tiny and cute, and the baby-borrowers of the congregation are arm-wrestling each other to hold her. When she so evidently has competent and loving parents who are on the job, and thus doesn’t really need that much from us. It’ll be easy when she’s drawing pictures or singing in children’s choir or toddling down to Sunday school or lisping out a line in a future Christmas pageant. It’s easy to keep our promises to our children, when they’re being photogenic. And quiet. 

It gets harder when our kids ask things of us, need things from us, that stretch us. Things that we have to figure out how to give. When they grow up a little, seven or eight or ten or twelve, and tell us that our answers don’t always intersect with their questions. That they get enough sit-still-be-quiet at school, and need church to be something else, if we really want our shared practice of our faith to feed them. When they tell us that some of what we do is frankly boring.

It gets harder when we recognize that our household of faith includes kids with deeper needs and harder struggles. Kids who need more than a coloring page and a cupcake to feel safe and fed. Kids who might need us to learn something new, to better be their family of faith; kids who might need us to fight for them, someday. 

It gets harder when we realize that our accountability to the children of this faith community includes not only the ones we see every Sunday but the ones we don’t, who nonetheless belong to us. Our youth group, for example, includes kids who rarely or never come to church on Sundays. And they are our kids too. They’ve come under the wing of this parish, they have opted in, and they, too, have a claim on our love and our faithfulness. On our commitment to supporting their life in Christ. 

And it gets harder, dear ones, when our commitment to THESE kids starts to stir up in us a sense of commitment to the wellbeing of ALL kids. When we start to see Felipe and Jakelin, Carmen or Tamir, as our children. When by the perhaps-unwelcome grace of the Holy Spirit, we begin to become unable to step back, look away, choose not to get involved. When we become simply, fundamentally unable to just stand by and let the bad guys hurt the children. 

But this is what we do. We can do hard things, with God’s help. 

Charlotte’s family makes some big promises on her behalf today. To renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness, all the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; to turn to Jesus Christ, follow him and obey him, trusting in his grace and love. Those are big promises indeed. But so are the ones we all make, today, and every time we baptize a new member into Christ’s body the church.

When we commit, with God’s help, to loving our neighbor as ourself, to striving for justice and peace among all people, to respecting the dignity of every human being. And to doing all in our power – ALL IN OUR POWER! – to support Charlotte in her life in Christ.  We promise that when this child needs us, we’ll be there. A big diverse loving family in Christ, complete with fun cousins, wise grandpas, fierce aunties, and all the rest. 

Let’s make those promises today with eyes and hearts open. Committing ourselves to do all in our power to support this little one in her growing, her exploring, her wondering, her seeking and her finding, her struggling and her flourishing. And not Charlotte only but every child we baptize, every child that Christ sets among us as ours to care for and learn from; and not these children only, but every child made in God’s image, born into this hard, beautiful, risky world of ours, as Jesus was, long ago in Bethlehem. 

Announcements, January 3

Eucharist with Holy Baptism, Sunday, January 6: This Sunday, we rejoice to celebrate the baptism of Charlie (Charlotte) Castro, daughter of Chris and Yohanna and sister to Olivia.

Birthday and Anniversary blessings and Healing Prayers will be given this Sunday, January 6, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, January 6: Next 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 chicken, shelf-stable milk, whole grains; salt, pepper, spices; laundry detergent; vanilla or other extracts; low sugar dried/canned fruits; cooking oil; honey; nuts. Thank you for your generous support!

Epiphany Service of Light, Sunday, January 6, 6pm: Join us as we share the story of the Wise Men who came to honor the infant Jesus, and of how the light of Christ has spread through time and space all the way to here and now! All are welcome. Talk to Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes if you’d like to be a reader for this service. Afterwards, we’ll share dessert and some saint-related brainstorming; if you loved SaintFest or have a favorite saint (or five), come join the conversation!

Epiphany Home Blessings (Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, Hot Chocolate, Cookies…):  ‘Immanuel’ (God with us) means that God’s presence and joy can shine in every home. During the Epiphany Season (in 2019, January 6 – March 5) we celebrate this with home blessings. You can mark your own door with blessed chalk, or one of our clergy can visit to do a simple house blessing. If you’d like, you could invite other parishioners, or neighbors and friends, to join you, and make it a seasonal party! Dates when Rev. Miranda, Father Tom or Father John could visit are available below the big calendar in the Gathering Area. Use your imagination; prayerfully discern how you might share the joy, this Epiphany!

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 (January 13 & 20, February 10 & 17). 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.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Open Door Project Prep, Saturday, January 12, 1pm: Our renovations will begin after Easter – which means we need to clean out the spaces involved, & make room for the exciting changes ahead! There will be several opportunities in the weeks ahead for sorting, tidying, boxing up, and hauling away. If you enjoy this kind of work, come pitch in! We’ll begin this coming Saturday at 1pm with the Library Classroom.

Call for Annual Reports: Every year in December/January, we invite our ministry leaders to submit a paragraph or two about what their ministry is and what they’ve done in the past year. We then compile those reports into an Annual Report, and share it with the congregation in advance of our parish Annual Meeting (9am on Sunday, January 20). If you have something you’d like to share, as a special moment, thanksgiving, or success to share, whether from a particular ministry of just something from the life of this household of faith, you’re welcome to submit it to office@stdunstans.com. The deadline for all Annual Report materials is Monday, January 14.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, January 9, 1:00pm: St. Julian’s era was one of turmoil and crisis. Contemporary reports indicate that at least half the population of Norwich died from the Plague; the clergy and undertakers could not keep up with the dead bodies. Meanwhile, disease killed the cattle, and harvests failed. In 1381, when Julian was thirty-nine, people became so desperate they rose up in a revolt, looting the churches and monasteries. In the midst of all this, Julian came to believe unshakably that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Please join us for contemplative prayer and discussion of Julian’s optimistic theology! For more information, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN .

Men’s Book Club, January 12that 10am: Bring your favorite short story!  A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood.

Vestry Meeting, Wednesday, January 16, 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.

Annual Parish Meeting, Sunday, January 20, 9am: Come to hear parish updates, including the 2019 budget, and help elect our parish leaders. All are welcome to attend!

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, January 26, 8-10:30am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world with our resources and our hands. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 20. All kids are welcome to participate!

A Crash Course in Liturgical Space, 9am on February 3, 10, 17 & 24: Come explore what it means to have a place of worship and what our place of worship says about us, in a series of discussions based on the work of liturgical scholar Richard Giles. No homework necessary, and it’s OK if you can’t come to all the sessions. All ages welcome – these conversations would be enriched by some generational breadth!

Christmas Eve Sermon (9pm)

The holy occasion we celebrate tonight has several names:Christmas, from the words Christ plus Mass, or Eucharist. The Feast of the Nativity, from the Latin word nativitas, birth. And the Feast of the Incarnation – from the word Incarnate: to make flesh, to take on a body. That’s my favorite way to name this day, because it says why it matters. It’s not just a birth; it’s not just an occasion for worship; but a world-changing theological event: God became human. 

The Carn- in incarnate is the same word as in chili con carne: Meat. The Feast of the Incarnation: When the God who was before Creation, who encompasses and knows all that is, when that God became meat – in a newborn baby boy, the child of poor and ordinary parents – born in such awkward and inconvenient circumstances that his first cradle is an animal’s feeding trough. 

The poet Amit Majmudar has a wonderful poem called Incarnation that invites us to imagine divinity taking human form in concrete anatomical detail:

“Inheart yourself, immensity. Immarrow, 

Embone, enrib yourself… Enmeat 

Yourself so we can rise onto our feet 

And meet…”

A Lenten hymn from the Orthodox tradition says, “The Unapproachable became human, approachable by all, walking among us, and hearing from all, Alleluia.”

Immensity, eternity, mystery and grace, robed in flesh – the Transcendent and Immortal become finite and tangible. Hail the incarnate Deity! It’s a rich and wonderful paradox to ponder. But … why does it matter? 

Western Christianity has put a lot of emphasis on the cross, on Jesus’ willingness to die to show us the depth of God’s love, as the great redemptive moment in the Christian story. But the Eastern churches, the Orthodox, in wisdom, see the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection all as deeply interconnected. In her book Light upon Light, Sarah Arthur writes, “For Eastern churches, the Incarnation itself is what saves us; the Cross and Resurrection are merely part of a larger whole. When a holy God touched a corrupt humanity, God’s goodness reversed our corruption, restored us to holiness. We were like a basket of rotten apples coming into contact with one good apple: not only did the good apple retain its essential goodness, but it also reversed the decay of all the rest.” (13)

If thinking of humanity as a basket of rotten apples doesn’t sit well with you, some Orthodox theologians say that even if humankind hadn’t fallen so far from God’s dream for us – even if we hadn’t been mired in violence and need – God would STILL have become human, come to live among us – out of love. 

Just to be closer to us. Just to show us how much we matter to the heart of the Divine. Just to remind us that we are made in God’s image, beloved children, always and forever.  The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says, “I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, And this jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood,… Is immortal diamond.” 

One good apple restoring the whole rotten basket… the opposite of what we expect, what we’ve learned from our produce bins. The opposite, too, of so many toxic and fearful theologies, that seek to purify and punish their way to holiness. 

What if we took seriously the idea that holiness is contagious? That divine grace is robust, not fragile? That in this birth on this long-ago night, something was accomplished, something begun, that changed reality – even if the ripples of that great change are still playing out 2000 years later? How would we live if we believed that good is contagious? That love wins? Has already won?

Let me tell you a story. Some of you remember the time of Apartheid, in South Africa. I remember hearing about it as a child and teen. Apartheid was a brutal system of racial segregation, involving minority rule by white South Africans – those of European descent – and sharply limited opportunities for work, freedom of movement, and political participation for black South Africans, those whose ancestors were native to the land. 

A system so unjust cannot last forever. In the 1980s, other nations were increasingly pressuring the South African government to end apartheid, and a growing resistance movement within the country as well. There were bigger and bigger protests – some of them led by the Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, a small, lively man with a ready smile named Desmond Tutu. Tutu was the first black African to hold that role in our sister church in South Africa – likewise the role of Archbishop of Capetown, which he held beginning in 1986.  

The anti-apartheid protests were not welcomed by the government. Police used tear gas, water cannons, and bullets to disperse protesters. Many angry young men were killed in clashes with security forces; Tutu preached at some of their funerals, gathering crowds of thousands. 

In August of 1989, in the face of harsh repression of protests, Tutu announced that he’d hold a church service instead – an Ecumenical Defiance Service, held at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Thousands of South Africans came to sing and pray for justice and freedom – and hundreds of police came too, surrounding the cathedral in a show of military intimidation.

When Archbishop Tutu began to preach, military police entered the cathedral, lining the walls, rifles in hand. I can’t even imagine that – speaking God’s words of hope and liberation, while looking out at armed men full of hate and fear. But Tutu knew that love wins. That holiness and goodness are contagious. At one point in his sermon, he came down from the pulpit and addressed the police directly.

He said, “You are very powerful, but you are not Gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you have already lost” – he tells the men holding big guns – “Since you have already lost, I invite you come and join the winning side. Come join the winning side.” Immediately, the congregation erupted into song and dance.

Tutu was arrested, after church. But he was right about the winning side. By 1992, Apartheid had ended. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president in an election for all South Africans. 

The Feast of the Incarnation: When the God who was before Creation, who encompasses and knows all that is, when that God became flesh in a newborn baby boy. Why does it matter? Because Eternity, Immensity, Mystery, loves us enough to come and meet us – come be meat with us. Incarnate. Because it shows us that we are immortal diamond, and boundlessly beloved. Because it means that even in the face of terrible events and human cruelty, even when things seem most bitter and broken, we can face it with courage, with hope. Because Love wins. Love has already won. 

 

 

Some sources… 

The story about Tutu (with added details from other research): 

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3898

Hopkins’ poem:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44397/that-nature-is-a-heraclitean-fire-and-of-the-comfort-of-the-resurrection 

Orthodox Lenten prayer quoted from here: 

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/taking-the-incarnation-seriously/

Majmudar’s poem and Arthur’s description of Eastern teaching about the Incarnation both come from Arthur’s book Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press, 2014). 

Announcements, December 20

THIS WEEK…

Advent Thursday Supper: You’re invited to gather for a simple meal at 5:30pm on Thursday, December 20. We’ll conclude with simple evening prayers. Soup and bread/crackers provided. All are welcome!

Christmas Flower Dedications: Bring Christmas Cheer to St. Dunstans! Celebrate what’s important to you with a gift that helps us decorate for Christmas and honors a loved one or a special event. Please see the Christmas Flowers sign-up sheets in the Gathering Area. Write “Christmas Flowers” on the memo line of your check or on the envelope containing cash. Suggested donation is $25.

Guest Preacher, Sunday at 10am: We welcome Hal Edmonson as our guest preacher this Sunday. Hal was raised in Madison, a stone’s throw from St. Dunstan’s, and is a postulant for holy orders in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

The Longest Night: A Liturgy of Light in Darkness, Thursday, December 20, 7:00PM: We will gather together out of the darkness of the season for a quiet, meditative worship service. Feel free to invite friends who might appreciate this time set apart to name the darkness in the world and in our lives, and prepare our hearts for the coming of the light of Christ.  Contact Rev. Miranda with any questions. There will be an Advent Dinner at 5:30pm this evening; those who come for dinner are invited to assist with preparing for the liturgy as a practice of prayerful hospitality.

Lighted Labyrinth: A Lighted Labyrinth will be available in the Meeting Room from 4pm till 9pm on Thursday the 20th. Come after work, or before or after the Longest Night service, for a practice of meditative walking.

Caroling, Saturday, December 22: In recent years, a group of singers from St. Dunstan’s has enjoyed visiting a few of our members and singing Christmas carols. We’d like to do the same this year. All ages are welcome to participate. We are still working on the details, but if you would like to help make music OR would appreciate a visit by our carolers, please call 238-2781 or email Rev. Miranda.

Welcome, Hope!  The Van Landingham family recently welcomed baby Hope to their family, and they could use some meals during the month of January as they make the transition to their new family life.  To help with this , go to the St. Dunstan’s website, click on the “Fellowship and Learning” tab, and then click on the the drop down “Sharing Meals”.  This will take you the sign up page.  Questions?  Contact Shirley Laedlein.

Vestry nominations are open! Would you be interested in serving on our vestry, our church’s governing body? Is there someone else you think would be a great candidate? Job descriptions and a box for nominations are in the Gathering Area. Open nominations will run throughout December.  We will be electing two new vestry members in January 2019. Wardens and Diocesan Convention deputies must be elected every year, so candidates for Junior and Senior Warden may also be nominated.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Worship

Christmas Service with Pageant, Monday, December 24, 3pm

Festal Eucharist, Monday, December 24, 9pm

Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, 10am

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, December 28, 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 Taigu, 7610 Elmwood Avenue, in downtown Middleton. Please contact Kathy Whitt  for more information or to RSVP.

You are Invited! December 29th from 1-4pm for a celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of John and Rose Rasmus.  Please no gifts – your participation is gift enough!

Epiphany Service of Light, Sunday, January 6, 6pm: Join us as we share the story of the Wise Men who came to honor the infant Jesus, and of how the light of Christ has spread through time and space all the way to here and now! All are welcome. Talk to Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes if you’d like to be a reader for this service. Afterwards, we’ll share dessert and some saint-related brainstorming; if you loved SaintFest or have a favorite saint (or five), come join the conversation!

Epiphany Home Blessings (Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, Hot Chocolate, Cookies…):  ‘Immanuel’ (God with us) means that God’s presence and joy can shine in every home. During the Epiphany Season (in 2019, January 6 – March 5) we celebrate this with home blessings. You can mark your own door with blessed chalk, or one of our clergy can visit to do a simple house blessing. If you’d like, you could invite other parishioners, or neighbors and friends, to join you, and make it a seasonal party! Dates when Rev. Miranda, Father Tom or Father John could visit are available below the big calendar in the Gathering Area. Use your imagination; prayerfully discern how you might share the joy, this Epiphany!

Call for Annual Reports: Every year in December/January, we invite our ministry leaders to submit a paragraph or two about what their ministry is and what they’ve done in the past year. We then compile those reports into an Annual Report, and share it with the congregation in advance of our parish Annual Meeting (9am on Sunday, January 20). If you have something you’d like to share, as a special moment, thanksgiving, or success to share, whether from a particular ministry of just something from the life of this household of faith, you’re welcome to submit it to office@stdunstans.com. The deadline for all Annual Report materials is Monday, January 14.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, January 9, 1:00pm:       St. Julian’s era was one of turmoil and crisis. Contemporary reports indicate that at least half the population of Norwich died from the Plague; the clergy and undertakers could not keep up with the dead bodies. Meanwhile, disease killed the cattle, and harvests failed. In 1381, when Julian was thirty-nine, people became so desperate they rose up in a revolt, looting the churches and monasteries. In the midst of all this, Julian came to believe unshakably that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Please join us for contemplative prayer and discussion of Julian’s optimistic theology! For more information, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

Men’s Book Club, January 12that 10am: Bring your favorite short story!  A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 21. All kids are welcome to participate!

Taking Communion to the Homebound or Ill: If you or a loved one are unable to get to church and would like someone to visit and bring Communion, contact the office at 238-2781 or office@stdunstans.com and we will ask one of our Lay Eucharistic Visitors to plan a visit.

Sermon, Dec. 16

This morning I’d like to introduce you to Luke. Our Sunday Scripture readings come to us from a cycle of readings shared by many churches, called the Revised Common Lectionary or RCL. It’s a three-year cycle, and each year we mostly use one of the Gospels, the four books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark, and Year C, which we’re three weeks into, is Luke.  (John doesn’t get his own year but we get bits of John throughout the cycle.) 

The Gospels are fascinating in their differences and similarities. Back in seminary, one professor had us read just the first verse of each Gospel – to show that you can get a pretty good sense of their different voices from even that small a sample. Similarly, some of you saw a wonderful proposal from a friend that I shared on Facebook: that churches should have four different Christmas pageants based on what each of the four Gospels say (or don’t say) about the birth of Jesus.

So here’s a quick overview of each Gospel’s voice – and what their Christmas pageant would look like. Mark, the earliest written Gospel, tells you what he’s going to tell you: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1.) Then Mark dives right into John’s preaching at the Jordan. Mark’s Christmas pageant: dead silence, then a ragged man jumping out shouting REPENT! 

Matthew is deeply interested in how Jesus fulfills Jewish history and prophesy. His Gospel begins, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” A Matthew-based pageant would have to start with a historical lecture on every person named in Jesus’ genealogy. John’s gospel begins with theological poetry, beautiful and paradoxical, and pretty much goes on that way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’s Christmas pageant would involve children running around in the dark with glow sticks…

And then we have our friend Luke. Here are the first four verses of Luke’s Gospel: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4) 

Doesn’t that give you a strong sense of personality, right out of the gate?Someone wordy, maybe a little fussy and a little self-important, but also lovable? Luke casts himself as a historian, the one who’s going to actually offer a coherent, clear account of all these important events. Theophilus may have been a real person, but I find it more likely that the name – which means “God-lover” – is kind of a stand-in for anyone seeking God. Perhaps Luke has Gentiles, non-Jews, especially in mind – note that Luke explains Jewish customs, like John’s father Zechariah taking his turn serving in the Temple. 

Unlike the other gospels, Luke has a sequel – the book of Acts, written by the same author, which tells the story of the first Christians after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. From clues in the text, we can tell that Luke was educated and probably a city-dweller – but he also cared deeply for the poor, the sick, and those at the margins, including women. (Somebody a lot like many St Dunstan’s folks, in other words.) There’s even a semi-serious theory that the author we know as Luke may have been a woman. 

The Gospel of Luke was written in the late first century, but used older sources, including the gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels; the Q source, a lost document containing sayings and teachings of Jesus, which Luke and Matthew both used; and what scholars call the “L Source” – which basically means the stuff in Luke that’s not found anywhere else. That includes basically all of the first two chapters of Luke. So Luke’s Christmas pageant would include most of the usual stuff – except the three Kings or wise men; they’re in Matthew. 

Each of the four Gospels has a distinctive voice and particular themes or hallmarks that emerge, as they tell the story of Jesus. One of Luke’s hallmarks is his interest in the intersection of the cosmic and the concrete. The fulfillment of the great prophetic promises in a particular time and place, in the lives of real, ordinary people. Each of the first three chapters of his Gospel begins with anchoring events in history: Luke 1 begins, “In the days of King Herod of Judea…” Luke 2, the beloved Christmas Gospel, names Emperor Augustus and Quirinius, governor of Syria. And Luke 3 starts with another list of officials. This is the opposite of “Once upon a time” or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Luke wants us to know that these were real events that happened at a particular time, in a particular place. 

But the events, to be sure, transcend human history. Alongside his historical bent, Luke is deeply immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures and their promises and prophesies. He’s looking for those big themes of restoration and redemption, liberation and peace, to come to fruition in the concrete here and now. 

Another hallmark of Luke’s account is that the Gospel shows up at the margins, the edges instead of the center. The good news of God’s love gets proclaimed and manifest among the least, last, and lowly. Luke shows us divine grace among the poor, the sick, the powerless and scorned. He expects God to be at work there – both for the good of those at the margins, and also for the greater good of the whole. For Luke, the Gospel, the good news of God’s saving love, is preached to those at the fringes of society – and FROM those fringes, as well. 

The cosmic in the concrete; and the Gospel at the margins. Let’s look at how those hallmarks show up in today’s texts. In today’s liturgy we receive an interrupted chunk of Luke’s text, focused on the figure of John the Baptist. Our Gospel story covers John’s birth, and we read/chanted the Benedictus, Zechariah’s prophetic song of joy for his son. The text concludes, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” 

Then we cut away to the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood, in Luke chapter 2 – then cut back to find John thirty years older and still hanging out in the wilderness. He’s begun to fulfill the mission laid out for him since before his conception, to be the Messenger, the Voice, the Forerunner. As the angel told his father in the temple, promising his birth: “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God, and make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  And as Zechariah sang to his infant son, “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;  for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” 

 

In these texts, do we see the cosmic erupting into the concrete? Absolutely. The concrete jumps off the page in that list of names of public officials: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

In her sermon on this text, Megan Castellan wrote, “For Luke’s early hearers, hearing that list… would have felt like reading the CNN headline crawl for us:  a similar sort of constant bad news, and constant disappointment in the state of things.  Recall that these weren’t popular leaders: Herod was known to be paranoid… and prone to narcissistic rages.  Pilate was fond of violent crackdowns on the local populace. The temple leaders were fine, maybe, but you couldn’t expect much from them.  There was a reason people felt hopeless…  [And] it’s in this specifically hopeless situation that God comes, and says ‘prepare the way.’  Not once upon a time… but into this definite place, populated with these specific broken people, and their problems.”

Luke balances these concrete historical details with rich metaphoric texts that draw on the poetic language of the prophets – specifically the book of Isaiah. Zechariah’s song to his newborn son draws on Isaiah chapter 60, which we sing in Epiphany: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you! For behold, darkness covers the land, deep gloom enshrouds the peoples; but over you the Lord will rise!” For Zechariah, for Luke, the birth of this baby – and of another baby, his cousin – inaugurate the age when these great, ancient promises will be fulfilled. 

And when we turn the corner to John’s adulthood, Luke quotes Isaiah chapter 40. Matthew and Mark both use the same Isaiah text to describe John: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” But Luke extends the quotation: Every valley shall be exalted, the lofty hills brought low; and all flesh shall see God’s redemption! God’s redemption for all people – beginning here, and now, with this ragged man standing beside a muddy river, telling a motley crowd of the desperate and the curious that God is about to do a new thing. 

What about Luke’s other hallmark, the Gospel at the margins? There’s much more of that ahead in Luke; our best example here is in the figure of John himself. Look back at that list of names: Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas – important people, powerful people – but the word of God comes to John, in the wilderness. 

Remember: John comes from a respectable family, probably middle-class by the standards of the time. Zechariah, his father, was part of the hereditary priesthood of the great Temple, established during King David’s reign. And John’s mother was of Aaron’s lineage – Aaron, the brother of Moses, the very first priest of Israel’s God, who served in the tabernacle in the wilderness after God’s people escaped from bondage in Egypt. 

When John’s parents were given the divine message that their son would be a prophet of God’s salvation, they might well have assumed that he would fulfill that vocation within the religious hierarchy, as a priest, like his daddy. I wonder what they thought when instead of fulfilling his birthright by going to seminary and getting ordained and wearing fancy vestments, John, their only child, spends all his time in the rocky Judean desert, wears a camelskin tunic, and eats whatever he can find – wild honey and grasshoppers. I’m sure they treasured his faithfulness to God’s call – but they were probably perplexed and possibly dismayed by the way he lived it out.

John started his life in the center, and chose the margins – walked right out of the machinery, like so many following a holy call, over the millennia. He knows – even as a child, it seems – that the message deep in his bones cannot be spoken from the Temple. His words are wilderness words. The Gospel of the margins. 

When I’m writing a sermon, I try to have some kind of a “So what”. Something that has a chance of reaching this text, this room, this fifteen minutes. What’s the “so what” here, Miranda? Well, we’ll be hearing texts from Luke’s Gospel for a while, nearly a year – and some from Acts as well, in Easter season. So we can remember and notice these hallmarks of Luke’s account, his understanding of what this Jesus thing is all about: the cosmic in the concrete; the Gospel at the margins. It’s worthwhile and rewarding to come to a deeper understanding of the different voices of our four Gospels, and how, together, they give us a rich, complex picture of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. 

It’s worthwhile and rewarding – but it’s not the point. Or at least, it’s a means, not an end. The goal of church is not to make informed readers of Scripture. The goal of church is to make Christians. People who, in the words of one of our Advent prayers, hold the great hope that God’s kingdom of mercy, justice, and love, made known to us through Jesus Christ, shall come on earth; who seek the signs of its dawning, and orient our work and our lives towards that perfect Day. 

The cosmic in the concrete; the Gospel at the margins – Luke makes these things the hallmarks of his Gospel because this is how he has come to understand God. They’re not just things to look for in Luke; they’re things to look for in life. Where are God’s promises coming to fruition today? Where are restoration and redemption, liberation and peace, being born, even among the broken and the hopeless? Where is the Gospel being spoken at the margins today? Who standing far outside the halls of power, speaking God’s hope, God’s love, God’s call to new life? Where is dawn breaking? Even here? Even now? 

Credit to Scott Gunn for the Gospel-specific Christmas pageant idea. 

Megan Castellan’s sermon may be read in full here:

https://redshoesfunnyshirt.com/2018/12/10/whos-who-in-the-ancient-world/

Announcements, December 13

THIS WEEK…

Advent Thursday Suppers: You’re invited to gather for a simple meal at 5:30pm on Thursday, December 13 and 20. We’ll conclude with simple evening prayers. Soup and bread/crackers provided. All are welcome!

Sunday school at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes meet on the second and third Sundays of the month (December 16; January 13 & 20; and so on). We have three classrooms: one for kids ages 3 through kindergarten; one for kids in grades 1 – 3; and one for kids in grades 4 and 5. All kids are welcome to participate; parents can come too!  On Sunday school Sundays, we begin worship together and then send the kids forth to their classrooms; they return to share Eucharist with the full congregation.

Las Posadas Party, Sunday, Dec. 16, 4-6pm: Las Posadas (Spanish for “the inns”) is an Advent celebration practiced in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, revolving around the concept of hospitality. We learn from the Posadas that by welcoming the poor and the needy, we are welcoming Jesus in our midst. We’ll celebrate Posadas with an intergenerational gathering for food, fellowship & fireworks! All are welcome!

Christmas Flower Dedications: Bring Christmas Cheer to St. Dunstans! Celebrate what’s important to you with a gift that helps us decorate for Christmas and honors a loved one or a special event. Please see the  Christmas Flowers sign-up sheets in the Gathering Area. Write “Christmas Flowers” on the memo line of your check or on the envelope containing cash. Suggested donation is $25.

Young Adult Meetup at the Vintage, Sunday, December 16, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too!

The Longest Night: A Liturgy of Light in Darkness, Thursday, December 20, 7:00PM: We will gather together out of the darkness of the season for a quiet, meditative worship service. Feel free to invite friends who might appreciate this time set apart to name the darkness in the world and in our lives, and prepare our hearts for the coming of the light of Christ.  Contact Rev. Miranda with any questions. There will be an Advent Dinner at 5:30pm this evening; those who come for dinner are invited to assist with preparing for the liturgy as a practice of prayerful hospitality.

Lighted Labyrinth: A Lighted Labyrinth will be available in the Meeting Room from 4pm till 9pm on Thursday the 20th. Come after work, or before or after the Longest Night service, for a practice of meditative walking.

Caroling, Saturday, December 22: In recent years, a group of singers from St. Dunstan’s has enjoyed visiting a few of our members and singing Christmas carols. We’d like to do the same this year. All ages are welcome to participate. We are still working on the details, but if you would like to help make music OR would appreciate a visit by our carolers, please call 238-2781 or email Rev. Miranda.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Worship

Christmas Service with Pageant, Monday, December 24, 3pm

Festal Eucharist, Monday, December 24, 9pm

Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, 10am

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

You are Invited! December 29th from 1-4pm for a celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of John and Rose Rasmus.  Please no gifts – your participation is gift enough!

Epiphany Service of Light, Sunday, January 6, 6pm: Join us as we share the story of the Wise Men who came to honor the infant Jesus, and of how the light of Christ has spread through time and space all the way to here and now! All are welcome. We’ll share a light dinner after the service; feel free to bring something to share. Talk to Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes if you’d like to be a reader for this service.

Call for Annual Reports: Every year in December/January, we invite our ministry leaders to submit a paragraph or two about what their ministry is and what they’ve done in the past year. We then compile those reports into an Annual Report, and share it with the congregation in advance of our parish Annual Meeting (9am on Sunday, January 20). If you have something you’d like to share, as a special moment, thanksgiving, or success to share, whether from a particular ministry of just something from the life of this household of faith, you’re welcome to submit it to office@stdunstans.com. The deadline for all Annual Report materials is Monday, January 14.

Vestry nominations are open! Would you be interested in serving on our vestry, our church’s governing body? Is there someone else you think would be a great candidate? Job descriptions and a box for nominations are in the Gathering Area. Open nominations will run throughout December.  We will be electing two new vestry members in January 2019. Wardens and Diocesan Convention deputies must be elected every year, so candidates for Junior and Senior Warden may also be nominated.

Men’s Book Club, January 12that 10am: Bring your favorite short story!  A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood.

Epiphany Pageant, Sunday, January 27: The children of St. Dunstan’s will present a pageant telling the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men on Sunday, January 28. There will be a rehearsal after church on Sunday, January 21. All kids are welcome to participate!

Taking Communion to the Homebound or Ill: If you or a loved one are unable to get to church and would like someone to visit and bring Communion, contact the office at 238-2781 or office@stdunstans.com and we will ask one of our Lay Eucharistic Visitors to plan a visit.

Sermon, Dec. 9

I’m going to explain the shape of the church’s year, and I need a couple of helpers. … See? The church’s seasons make a circle. This circle represents one calendar year. But there are bigger circles too, of course – seasons that come around in our lives, and in the life of the world. Some wise folk say that time is not a circle but a spiral: we move through similar times and seasons, but we’re different each time, because there’s greater movement too; our lives, individually or as a species, are not static, flat. We change; we are different at 50 than we were at 30; we are different in 2018 than we were in 1018. And yet we’re probably less different than we think we are. There are always echoes and resonances; past, present, and future intertwine and tangle. 

For a lot of us, church is probably one of the main places in our lives where we spend time with, you know, old stuff. Stories and symbols and images that are 1000, 2000, 3000 years old. Showing up here is, among other things, a vote that the old stuff still matters somehow, still speaks, still holds truth. (Believe me: There are many people who find this a very odd point of view!)

Fundamentally, of course, we’re here because we believe, or want to believe, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the things he said and did tell the truth about God’s love for humanity. But there are Christians who spend a lot less time with all this old stuff – for whom ancient texts and traditions are much less central to their worship and practice. 

It’s one of the hallmarks of the kind of Christian we are, we Anglicans, shared with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches: we take seriously what we have received from our forebears in faith, all the way back.  We expect the ancient to come alive in the present and guide us into the future. Why? Well – I think often of a study I read a couple of years ago showing that families that tell and re-tell stories of past struggle, survival, and success are more resilient in the face of difficult times in the present. Our ancestors’ perseverance encourages and strengthens us. That’s certainly one of the things we do, as a church family. 

But I believe that the way our sacred past works in us is more than psychological; it’s mystical as well. Sometimes the past simply sings within us, among us.  Sometimes the saints and holy ones stir up in us their courage, compassion, eloquence, endurance, humility, fury. If we believe – or want to believe – that more exists than we can see, measure, or prove, then all the “old stuff” we tend and treasure, our scriptures, songs, habits and symbols, are not just antiques but talismans, objects of power that might suddenly turn out to glow in the presence of evil, or to unlock a hidden door that advances our quest. 

One of the ways we carry the past into the present and future is by naming and celebrating holy days. When we set aside a holy day, we’re saying: This is worth remembering. This is worth passing down. This week, this second week of December, is rich in holy days. Let’s look at them together. 

The first one isn’t ours: Chanukkah, a Jewish festival observed from December 3 through 10, this year. But in a quirk of the lectionary, one of our texts today points towards Channukah: Baruch. The book of Baruch is part of the Apocrypha, books written later than most of the Old Testament, not long before Jesus’ time. They have sort of a “secondary Scripture” status for many Christians, but there’s lots of good stuff in there. Baruch was the assistant of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in Jerusalem in the sixth century before Christ, at the time of the Babylonian conquest. The book of Baruch claims to be the words of Baruch, writing words of rebuke and encouragement to Jews in exile in Babylon. But the book of Baruch actually dates from several centuries later. It’s possible that fragments of older texts were used; but writing texts that borrow and expand the voice of older Scripture texts was common in the centuries just before Jesus’ time, and the book of Baruch fits that pattern. 

Some scholars think that Baruch was actually written around the time of the Maccabean revolt – a military revolt against foreign rule which was also a forceful movement against the encroachment of Greek culture in Judea, and for the return to the old ways of the Jewish people, both cultural and religious. Judas Maccabeus and his guerrilla forces fought back the armies of the Seleucid Empire, ritually cleansed the Great Temple and re-established traditional Jewish worship there. The festival of Chanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple. (The story about the oil came along later.) The message that Baruch might have had for Jews in exile in the 6th century before Christ, would have felt urgent and relevant for Jews in Judea in the second century before Christ: 

Repent! Forsake other gods! Pray for mercy! If you had walked in the way of God, says Baruch, you would be living in peace for ever. Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength; where there is length of days, and life, and peace. 

This nameless second-century author turns to the past to find inspiration for what the present demands, writes this beautiful prophetic poetry that speaks to the people and the times, and attributes it to the long-dead Baruch. Who am I to call it a lie? Prophesy is a mystery, and time is full of tangles and echoes. Sometimes the past sings in us. 

The second feast this week isn’t exactly ours, though maybe it’s becoming more so: the feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Five hundred years ago, just as King Henry VIII was beginning to think about a church independent from Rome, a native Mexican farmer named Juan Deigo was working in a field outside Mexico City, a place called Tepeyac Hill, when he saw a vision of a beautiful young woman who poke to him in his native language, told him that she was the mother of the true God, and asked him to build a church there in her honor. The bishop was skeptical, but the Virgin kept appearing to Juan. Finally, thanks to miracles like the appearance of roses on Tepeyac Hill, Juan Diego’s vision was accepted as a true theophany, an encounter with the divine. Many native Mexicans became Christian because of Maria de Guadalupe – who was THEIR Mary, not a Spanish import, but God’s Mother come to them on their own soil. Over the centuries she has become a powerful symbol of Mexican faith, unity, and freedom. 

Do I believe it? I wouldn’t presume to disbelieve. I put no boundaries on the One called to wrap God in flesh. And why shouldn’t a poor, small-town, brown-skinned person like Mary choose to transcend fifteen hundred years of history to share the grace of her presence with a poor, small-town, brown-skinned person like Juan Diego? Time is flexible, in the domain of faith, of the Divine. The past can manifest in the present, and shape and bless the future. If you’d like to honor the Virgin today, take a rose and place it at her feet sometime during our worship. We have some prayer cards there as well. 

The third feast day this week is ours, though it always sneaks up on me: the feast day of St. Nicholas, a few days ago on the 6th. My strongest association with Nicholas is the cookies my mother used to make, every December. Their base was a wedge of sturdy, not-very-sweet gingerbread; the frosting of Nicholas’ read cope and mitre were colored with beet juice, because my little brother was sensitive to red dye. I loved them, as a child, but I remember friends trying them and being… nonplused. My mother’s Nicholases were more of a grownup cookie – and that fits, because Nicholas is kind of a grownup saint. 

Nicholas was a bishop, in what is now part of Turkey, back in the third century – seventeen hundred years ago. He’s remembered in many stories that are, like my mother’s cookies, nourishing but not particularly sweet. In one story, three boys on a journey stop at an inn. The innkeeper robs them, kills them, chops them up, and puts them in a pickle barrel. Nicholas, stopping by the inn, discerns the boys’ plight and resurrects them. 

In another story, Nicholas, walking the streets of his city by night, hears parents grieving: they are so poor they cannot afford to help their daughter marry, and she is doomed to a life of prostitution. Nicholas tosses a bag of gold coins down the smoke hole in the roof of their humble home – the ancient origin of the presents-down-the-chimney myth. And then there’s the story of the time Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea, the great 3rd-century gathering of church leaders to hammer out what the church actually believed. There was a great debate with a man named Arius and his followers, who thought that Jesus was not fully one with God, not fully divine. It is said that Nicholas was so impatient with Arius’ heretical views that he slapped him – and was sent to Bishop Jail as a result. 

Dead children, vulnerable women, slapping heretics – No wonder we collectively opted for Santa Claus, instead of this cranky bishop whose life and deeds were a little too gritty. But which do we really need – a supernaturally-jolly elf who engages in invasive surveillance and  behavior control, and who replicates the dynamics of capitalism by bringing the best gifts to the most affluent kids? Or a saint, a man of God, who walked the poorest streets of his city, listening to the people’s cries of anguish? Who strove to help women in poverty, children touched by violence; and who stood up fiercely for his convictions? The pile of gifts we’re sending to families served by Middleton Outreach Ministry this year shows that the spirit of Nicholas is at work among us already. May that fierce and compassionate saint continue to inspire our generosity and our courage. 

Time is messy for church folks. Out there the calendar marches onward, linear and one-directional: 2018 will soon give way to 2019, and 2020 after that. A revolt from 2300 years ago – a saint who served his city 1700 years ago – a mother who lived and died 2000 years ago, only to show up on a new continent 500 years ago – it’s all distant past, long dead and dusty. But here, time circles and doubles back. There are echoes, resonances, and sometimes resurrections. What has happened, what is happening, what will happen, tangle and overlap. 

Which brings us to the Magnificat. Mary’s bold song of praise, rightly beloved by generations of Christians: My soul proclaims the greatness of God! My spirit rejoices in God my savior! For You have shown the strength of your arm, you have scattered the proud in their conceit. You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and have lifted up the lowly. Later we’ll sing Rory Cooney’s song based on this text, the Canticle of the Turning, which many of us have come to love in the years we’ve been singing it. In the song, the poet has made God’s actions into future events. That makes sense – since we still wait to see these things finally, fully completed.

But in the Scripture text, Mary doesn’t speak of the future. She uses the present perfect tense: God has filled, has pulled down, has sent away. The tense indicates completion, something already brought to fulfillment.   

Mary wasn’t naive – nor was Luke, who offers us her words. They lived in times more violent, more broken, than ours. These faith-ancestors of ours were under no illusions that God had already fixed the world, once and for all. Yet Luke’s Mary has the audacity to say: God has acted. God’s future is present. Barbara Brown Taylor, writing about the Magnificat, says, “Prophets almost never get their verb tenses straight, because part of their gift is being able to see the world as God sees it – not divided into things that are already over and things that have not happened yet, but as an eternally unfolding mystery that surprises everyone.” (in Home By Another Road) 

What will happen is, somehow, happening now; has, somehow, already happened. Mary sings of a world in which God’s justice already reigns, in which Love has already, finally, won. That’s not the world I see, when I look around. And yet it doesn’t feel to me that Mary is wrong. It feels instead like time folding in on itself, future fulfillment overflowing the past, flooding the present. Time isn’t a line; time isn’t a circle; time is a glorious, complex, mysterious spiraling knot, in which a 2000-year old song strengthens us for the work of this moment, in which saints of old march and pray and struggle and give and sing beside us and within us. 

We spend our days uneasily suspended between God’s promises made and God’s promises kept; in this puzzling difficult unsatisfying in-between time, after the first coming at Bethlehem, before the second coming in glory. That’s the energy behind the most fundamental prayer of Advent, the thing we say again and again and again in these weeks, the prayer that folds time: past, the promised babe, future, the King coming in glory, and now, the urgent holy present; the prayer that gives voice to our yearning and our hope, our disappointment and our faith:  Come, Lord Jesus. O come, o come, Emmanuel, God with us. Come. 

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