Sermon, September 8

That’s a tough Gospel, beloveds. One colleague suggested that preachers should invite people to take a deep breath and hold hands before we read it. Before we proclaim that unless you hate your family and give up everything you own, you can’t be a real disciple.  (This is definitely one of those passages that makes you wonder what people mean when they talk about Christian family values!) 

Sooo let’s unpack these difficult words. Part of what’s going on here is the intersection of two things: Jesus’ tendency to use hyperbole, and where this passage falls in Jesus’ journey to the cross. 

Jesus sometimes uses hyperbole in his teaching – exaggerated statements that are not meant to be taken literally, like, “I’m hungry enough to eat a horse!” Jesus never said that, as far as we know. But he did say that if your eye causes you to sin, you should pluck it out. And he did say that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is ruled by their own wealth to enter the kingdom of Heaven. (That image wasn’t unique to Jesus; the Talmud, a Jewish text from around the same time as the New Testament, talks about an elephant going to though the eye of a needle.) 

People used hyperbole sometimes back then, just as we do now, to get people’s attention and make a strong point. I think it is fair to say that when Jesus says his followers must hate their families, he is using hyperbole. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus scolds people who don’t care for their aging parents as the Law of Moses requires. And even the first Christians didn’t take Jesus’ hard words here literally. In the letters of early Christian leaders we call the Epistles, for example, followers of Jesus are advised to show faithful love towards their spouses and children.

The sharpness of this passage could also come from the fact that it comes at a moment in Jesus’ path when the stakes are rising. Luke 13 tells us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s traveling slowly, stopping in towns and villages to teach and heal; but he is making what he knows will be his final journey. Some sympathetic Pharisees tell him, “Stay away from Jerusalem and the surrounding area; King Herod wants to kill you.” And Jesus says, This is what I’m here to do. 

Jesus is walking towards his death – a brutal, humiliating death. He has every reason to expect to be crucified. That’s what the Romans did to people who caused civic unrest, who stirred people up and caused a ruckus. Crucifixion was a slow, agonizing, public death, intended to demoralize and deter onlookers. Everyone in Jesus’ original audience would have been familiar with these horrors. They would have known how the condemned person would be forced to carry the crossbeam along the road out of the city, to the place of execution, where the upright beams were already fixed in the ground, awaiting the next victim. 

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. A large crowd is following Jesus, as this passage begins. Jesus knows that some of them are just there for the buzz, the excitement, the thrill of the road, the rush of being part of the next big thing. So he’s telling them – warning them:  Listen. This is not a picnic in the park. Stuff is about to get real. Are you sure you’re ready for this?

That’s the purpose of these micro-parables of the builder and the general: Count the cost before you begin. Consider the stakes, and the odds. Consider yourself, your attachments and commitments – home and family, business, plans and possibilities. Are you willing to hold them lightly? Consider all of that – then decide whether to follow Jesus down this road. 

(By the way, I’m pleased to mention that the tower we are building here, for the elevator, IS completed. Thanks for your ongoing gifts to our renovation fund!)

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. This passage is in heavy use in certain corners of Christianity. It has been misused, over the centuries, to normalize suffering and encourage acceptance of oppression: racial injustice or domestic abuse, for example, might be just somebody’s cross to bear. That is emphatically not what Jesus is talking about here. He is talking about choosing a costly walk on the way of Love. 

Suffering doesn’t automatically make you a “good” Christian, and lack of suffering doesn’t automatically make you a “bad” one. But this is true, beloveds: Being a real Christian, being serious about following where Jesus leads, means we have to be prepared for stuff to get hard. For this road, these commitments, to cost us something. 

Here’s the thing, though: Not following this road can be costly, too. I’m not talking about being consigned to hellfire. If you’re looking for a sermon about how people who don’t accept Jesus will burn forever, you are in the wrong church. 

I’m talking about what happens when people stop striving to do justice and love mercy. When people turn their backs on the strangers God calls us to welcome; close the door on the hungry God calls us to feed; dehumanize those in prison, whom God calls us to visit and care for; when people exploit the earth, which God made us to tend with love. Those actions carry their own consequences, sooner or later.  

The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time when those with power among God’s people in the land of Judea had decided, We don’t need God and God’s bossy opinions about how we should live. In the lesson assigned for last week, God speaks through Jeremiah to say, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that made them wander so far? I brought you into a land of plenty, to enjoy its gifts and goodness, but you ruined my land; you disgraced my heritage. Your leaders rebelled against me, Your priests did not seek me. Ask anyone: Has anything this odd ever taken place? Has any other nation ever switched its gods? Yet my people have exchanged their glory for what has no value. My people have committed two crimes: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water; and they have dug wells for themselves, broken wells that can’t hold water.”

In today’s lesson, Jeremiah is saying, Look, you think you’re God’s chosen nation, and that you can do whatever you want because God favors you. But God can choose a new favorite nation anytime. God doesn’t owe you anything; it is the other way around. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches!

The text uses the language of God’s punishment: “Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.”  The idea that God punishes Israel when they turn from God’s ways is an important idea in the Hebrew Scriptures – and I struggle with it, every time it comes around, because it’s at odds with how I understand God’s heart for humanity, through the witness of Jesus. But I don’t think we need the idea of divine punishment to understand what happened to Judea in Jeremiah’s time – any more than we need the idea of divine punishment to understand how our nation and world are suffering the consequences of our collective bad choices today. We have intense and destructive hurricanes in part because we’ve ignored alarms about climate change. We have violent actions in the news far too often because we’ve armed civilians with weapons of war. We have mass incarceration because we’ve criminalized poverty, addiction, and mental illness. The things we tolerate, collectively, become their own punishment. So it was in Jeremiah’s day. 

Jeremiah did not like being a prophet of doom. He was beaten, imprisoned, mocked and derided. He cries out to God: Cursed be the day on which I was born! If Jeremiah had sat down to count the cost of his call to serve God as a prophet, the total would have been astronomical. But Judea needed Jeremiah’s voice, however unwelcome it was. Speaking God’s words to God’s people was Jeremiah’s cross to bear; and he bore it. 

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

Disciple is a word that’s used a lot in some kinds of churches, less so in others. It really just means a student, maybe an apprentice – somebody who’s in the process of becoming a certain kind of person. Our Presiding Bishop has been trying to get Episcopalians to think about discipleship, by talking about the habits of Christian living as a Way of Love. Back in 2016, we did some work here at St. Dunstan’s to name the ways we live our faith in daily life: Welcoming, Abiding, Wondering, Proclaiming, Turning, Reconciling, and Making. It’s a good list; every time I revisit it, I think, These are great! This set of practices is a useful, substantive way to talk about how we live out our faith, in big ways and especially in the small, everyday ways that are actually so important! We should work with this more! 

And yet at the same time I feel in myself a hesitation to cross that Sunday-to-Monday boundary and flat-out tell people, Hey, here are some things you should try to do more. There are lots of reasons that telling people how their faith should shape their daily lives can feel transgressive for people formed by the Episcopal Church. I think maybe the biggest reason is that we all know about other kinds of Christianity that can be specific and intrusive in telling people what their daily lives and intimate relationships should look like. Those kinds of Christianity have hurt some of us. Are, arguably, hurting all of us.

In response, we Episcopal types tend to bend over backwards in the other direction. The church may ask things of you: Make a pledge! Cook a meal! Bring cookies! But, we hasten to say, GOD isn’t asking anything of you. Jesus said to tell you that you’re FINE. 

But here, awkwardly, we have Jesus himself, saying, Take up your cross. This Way, if you take it at all seriously, will make a difference in your life. And sometimes that difference will be joy and hope and strength and possibility. And sometimes that difference will be hard and exhausting and scary and sad. Costly. That’s what it means to be My disciple. 

So this fall we’re going to talk some more about those practices of discipleship we have named together. A year ago, as part of my sabbatical, we visited my friend James, also known as Sir Beorn, a knight in the Society for Creative Anachronism. James has a combat practice ground behind his house, and around it are the shields of various famous knights, each of which represents one of the virtues of chivalry that the people who gather there seek to practice and embody. So taking a cue from Sir Beorn, we will put up images of saints around this space, one saint for each practice. We’ll start next week with blessed Pauli Murray and the practice of Welcoming. And if you’re here at 9am, we’ll talk about the practice together, what it means, when it’s easy, when it’s hard. Because discipleship is hard, and the companionship of trustworthy friends helps a lot. 

Christian essayist John Pavlovitz writes about Christians sometimes trying to dodge our call to discipleship by saying, “It doesn’t matter what I do; God is in control”. He says, “… The truth, Christians friends: is that God is not in control of you. You are in control of you and God is asking you to be goodness and love in a way that tangibly changes the story we all find ourselves in.” May Jesus Christ, who calls us to this work, guide us, protect us, and accompany us on the Way. Amen. 

John Pavlovitz, “Christian, Stop Telling Me God Is In Control,” February 22, 2017, https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/02/22/christian-stop-telling-me-god-is-in-control/

Sermon, Sept. 15

Jesus was traveling through the small towns near Jerusalem, and pausing to teach and heal along the way. One day he was speaking to a large crowd, and all the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. Now, Judea was under Roman rule; both the Roman colonizers, and the local government that collaborated with the Romans, demanded high taxes from the people. Tax collectors were Judeans who worked for that double-layered government, demanding payments from even the poorest, and a little on top for themselves. As for the sinners, who knows? Probably some were people whose personal lives did not meet general moral standards. Others might be petty thieves or general good-for-nothings. None of these characters were probably very welcome in their local synagogue on Saturdays, to hear the Scriptures read and interpreted. But Jesus preaches outdoors, where anybody can listen; so they gather around to see if he has any good news for them. 

Now, there are also some of the self-appointed gatekeepers of righteousness around: some Pharisees, who are part of a religious movement within Judaism to call people back to daily observance of the Old Testament Law; and some scribes or legal experts, who spend their days reading Scripture and debating how it should be understood and applied. And they start grumbling to each other about Jesus: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Judaism has a lot of laws to do with purity and food, so eating with sinners – unclean people – is real gross.) 

So Jesus tells a little story, as he often does. In fact, he tells three stories, though we only get two today. He says, Suppose you had a hundred sheep and you lost one. Wouldn’t you do anything to find the lost one, and bring it home tenderly, and call your friends to share your rejoicing? Or suppose you had ten coins and you lost one. Wouldn’t you light your lamp and sweep the whole house until you found the lost one, and then celebrate with all your friends? In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

The Gospels suggest that a lot of people in Jesus’ time thought there were two kinds of people in the world: righteous people and sinners. It’s the kind of harsh binary thinking to which humans are particularly prone when we are stressed and anxious: In or out. Us or them. Good or bad. But Jesus says, Nope. Nobody is worthless or irredeemable. God doesn’t write anybody off. 

The lost coin and lost sheep stories – and the prodigal son story, which follows them – are pretty familiar to many of us. And rightly so; I think these parables tell us something really important about the heart of God, made known to us through Jesus Christ’s words and witness. But this year I’m especially drawn to the thing that Jesus’ critics say about him: This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Let me tell you another story about a time when Jesus met a sinner. This one is in John’s Gospel. Listen. 

Jesus is preaching in the Great Temple. And some legal experts and Pharisees – the same kinds of folks criticizing Jesus in today’s Gospel – drag this woman forward. They say, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery – having intimate relations with somebody who is not her husband. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this – to throw stones at her until she is dead. What do you say?” They said this to test him. They knew he was unlikely to say the woman should be killed – everybody knew he was a big softie about sinners! But if he went against the clear judgment of the Law of Moses, from the Book of Deuteronomy, then they would have grounds to accuse him of heresy. 

But Jesus didn’t answer right away. Instead he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. They kept questioning him – Should we stone her? What does the Law require, Jesus? And finally he stood up and said, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Then he went back to writing on the ground. 

There was a little silence. Then one of the elders who was standing there, one of the ones who’d been shouting angrily a moment ago – he turned, and left, pushing his way through the crowd. Another followed. The men holding the woman – so many angry hands – first one released its grip, then another. In a moment nobody was holding her. One man awkwardly tried to straighten her dress. One by one, the accusers vanished into the crowd. Finally the woman stood alone before Jesus, in the center of all those people.

Jesus was still writing in the dirt. I can’t tell you how much I love that weird detail. There have been many hypotheses over the centuries about what he might have been writing. One early theory was that he was writing, “Earth accuses earth.” Like, we’re all dirt; why are we wasting time trying to hurt each other? I’ve also heard a modern theory that he was writing, “Where’s the man?”

Now Jesus straightens up and looks at the woman. He says to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?” She says, “No one, sir.” Jesus says, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”

This story is not in our lectionary cycle. I assume that’s because modern Scripture scholarship sees it as sort of quasi-canonical. It appears in the eighth chapter of John, but our earliest and best manuscripts of John’s Gospel don’t include it; it’s first mentioned in a text from the 300s. So it seems like it was added to the Gospel fairly late. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real Jesus story, passed down by another channel and eventually pasted into John’s Gospel. The theologian Jerome, writing in the early 5th century, hypothesized that some men didn’t want this story in the Bible because it might make their wives think it was OK to mess around. Whatever the reason, this story has an ambiguous standing as Scripture, these days. The NRSV, the Bible translation used by most mainline churches, puts double brackets around it: “I dunno about this part.” 

But this story sure sounds like Jesus to me. It is part of *my* Gospel. The people bringing this woman to Jesus believe themselves to be righteous people who have identified a sinner. Jesus’ response breaks open their assumption about the two kinds of people in the world. He asks them to examine their own hearts and lives: Who here has never sinned? Step right up! Grab a rock! And – to their credit – they pause. They reflect. And somebody – bless him – dares to be the first to turn away. To acknowledge that he has no grounds to judge anybody. 

The whole concept of sin, of being a sinner, comes from religion. A sinner is somebody who breaks God’s rules, right? And yet – this whole area of how we think about sin and sinners has long been one of the biggest gulfs between Christ and His Church. The Church, through the ages, has been too wiling to accept and propagate the idea that there are two kinds of people in the world: saints or sinners, in or out, good or bad, us or them. Not only that, the Church, though the ages, has been quite selective in the sins it condemns and penalizes – reserving its harshest judgment for sins of the body and the passions. 

One of my favorite authors, the 20th century British novelist and theologian Dorothy Sayers, wrote about this phenomenon with great insight. She wrote, “Perhaps the bitterest commentary on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word “immorality” has come to mean one thing and one thing only…. A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct – and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man. I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity: ‘I did not know there were seven deadly sins: please tell me the names of the other six.’” 

It’s not that Jesus didn’t call out sin; he definitely did. But he – like the prophets before him – saved his harshest words for the sins of power, avarice, and callouness. The worst he ever says to anyone caught in sexual sin is, Hey, do better next time. 

And – this is really important – he is always, always inviting people to change. Jesus thinks there are two kinds of people in the world, too: People who know that they need to continue the work of turning their hearts and lives towards God; and people who are in denial. Who think they already have it all figured out. 

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. 

Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

The story of this woman, and the men so eager to condemn her, was on my mind because Bryan Stevenson alludes to it in his book Just Mercy, which I read recently, along with some other St. Dunstan’s folk. The book walks you relentlessly through some of the many, many ways our criminal justice system is broken. Pervasive racial bias at every level, every step. Police and DAs willing to collaborate and fabricate evidence to secure a conviction, regardless of guilt. Harsh legislation leading to more and longer prison terms. Lack of compassion for the impact of poverty, trauma, addiction and mental illness in people’s lives – especially in kids’ lives. Late in the book Stevenson wonders, in frustration and grief: “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that we think a thing like that can be right?” (288)

A few pages later, he describes meeting an older African-American woman sitting in the courthouse where he’s just spent a draining day fighting for justice. She tells him that she comes to be present for people who need a kind word or a shoulder to cry on. She tells him, “I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it. All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other… it’s a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.” (308)

Stevenson continues, “Today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even… Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion… We can’t simply watch that happen… We have to be stonecatchers.” 

Stonecatchers. Not stone-throwers. Stone-catchers. People who watch for the moments when someone’s getting ready to throw a metaphorical stone – to attack, scapegoat, blame, diminish somebody because we think they’re Out and we’re In; or more likely because we hope that making them Out will help us feel In. That naming them as Bad will help us feel Good. Catch those stones. Because there is no clear line between sinners and saints, good and bad.  We are all in this together. Stevenson writes, “I do what I do because I’m broken too… Our shared brokenness [connects] us…. Simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” (289-90)

The lost coin, the lost sheep, the condemned woman: all these Gospel stories tell us what Jesus has to say to sinners, to those miserable wretches who fail our tests of morality and righteousness. And what Jesus has to say to sinners is: God is seeking you with urgency and love. I don’t condemn you.  Come, share a meal. Go, and sin no more. 

Sources: 

Some excerpts from Dorothy Sayers on sin: 

http://oafak.com/category/the-other-six-deadly-sins/

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 

Financial update, Sept. 2019

At the end of the summer, our budget continues to look healthy. Overall, our income is above budget, and our expenses are below budget. Some specific expense lines are over budget, but not by large amounts. Some expenses will catch up in the final four months of the year, but we’re entering the fall on a steady financial footing. 

See the table below for an overview of where our income and expenses stand as of the end of August, relative to our budget. Please note that numbers in table are rounded to nearest $100 for ease of browsing. This means columns may not add up exactly in some cases. If you would like to see full financials or have questions about our finances, talk to Rev. Miranda, email , or call the office at 608-238-2781. 

2020 Look-Ahead

We are beginning to think about our 2020 budget. While we’re still working on the numbers, we know that some expense lines are likely to increase. 

  • Since the Parish Center will be coming back to our use (with the Foundry414 church returning as Sunday morning building users), we will be taking on expenses like utilities and cleaning for that building. These costs may be offset by donations from more groups using our new, improved spaces. 
  • Expansion in areas like our youth programs and new worship opportunities like Cookie Church require modest budget increases for things like food and materials. 
  • In addition, we anticipate the usual yearly increases in things like insurance premiums and our Outreach budget line and diocesan giving, which both increase with our annual budget. 

We are always looking for places we can pare back our expenses, as well, to keep our budget in balance and be responsible with the financial resources we share as the people of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church. 

 

2019 Budget

(Numbers rounded to nearest $100)

2019 Budget

2019

Budget though August

2019 Actual through August

INCOME
Feast & Plate 20,000 11,500 15,300
Pledge Payments 270,000 190,000 192,600
Rent & Bldg Use 14,000 9100 9400
Misc Income 3000 1800 2600
Total 307,000 212,400 219,900
EXPENSES
Clergy (incl. salary, pension, insurance) 129,000 88,400 87,200
Lay Staff (Music, Office & Childcare) 34,000 22,800 20,000
Worship 5500 3600 3500
Outreach Budget 20,000 12,000 8800
Formation 5000 3400 3700
Fellowship, Welcome, & Leadership 4900 3000 3000
Bldgs & Grounds

(includes insurance)

52,000 28,700 22,800
Admin & Office 12,200 8700 6700
Diocesan Giving 50,000 33,200 33,200
TOTAL 313,500 203,900 189,000

Announcements, September 12

THIS WEEK….

The Choirs are starting up again! Children’s Choir starts up again on the 15th after church (around 11:45am) and begins its rhythm. Adult Choir has already begun its rhythm, but we’d love to have more voices. If you play an instrument or if making rehearsals is difficult for you, let’s figure something out. Email Deanna for more details.

Sunday School starts Sept. 15! Our Sunday school classes usually meet twice a month; we will meet on Sept. 15 and 22, during our 10am liturgy. Kids ages 3 through 6th grade are welcome to join one of our three classes. Parents are welcome to come too!

Memorial Service for Amanda Woods, Sunday, September 15, 2pm, Grace Episcopal Church: Friends of the Woods family (Karen, Katie Ping, and Danielle) are welcome to attend this memorial service for Amanda. Light refreshments will be served afterwards. Grace Church is on Capitol Square. St. Dunstan’s folk are welcome to leave cars at St. Dunstan’s and carpool downtown.

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 August we donated the following:

$1,000 (10 hearts) to Dane Country Sanctuary Coalition, an organization bringing together congregations and individuals  to provide physical sanctuary and support to our immigrant friends and neighbors who are at risk for deportation

$ 500 (5 hearts) to Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement ministry of the Episcopal church, for support in the welcoming and settling of refugees in the United States of America.

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 begin on September 15 with Pauli Murray, and the practice of Welcoming. Come at 9am to talk about the practice of Welcoming in our lives!

Altar Flowers: September 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!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The Wednesday Morning Book Group is meeting off campus during construction. The location tends to vary. If you are not on the email list and would like to, please call or email Valerie McAuliffe. The group is currently reading The Second Mountain by David Brooks.  You more than welcome.

Grace Shelter for Homeless Men: St.Dunstan’s is continuing our work with Grace Shelter this year.  We will be serving 4 times this year, 9/22, 12/22, 3/22/20 and 6/28/20.   Thank you to all the volunteers to the shelter during the years. Volunteer coordinators are Linda Maier and Evy Gildrie-Voyles.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 25, 9:30am-2pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with a small group of students and help direct them, please talk to Rev. Miranda or email John Ertl . Thanks!

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 27, 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 The Nile Restaurant at 6119 Odana Road, Madison. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt.

Saturday Book Club, September 28 at 10am: A Good American Family by David Maraniss. Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Yet he never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact.

Bite Size Climate, Sunday, Sept. 29, 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. Bite-Sized Climate is a time for adults, kids and youth to spend 20 minutes (we promise!) learning and talking together. We’ll regroup this fall by watching a playful demonstration of the scientific consensus on global warming. Get a snack at coffee hour, then gather in the meeting room!

Green Habits Challenge Badge, July – September 2019: Part of our parish Creation Care Mission Statement invites us to pattern our daily lives as caretakers of Creation. Many of us are trying to make our daily habits “greener”, so let’s try together! Pick up a green leaflet under the big calendar in the Gathering Area or go to stdunstans.com/faith-practices/green-challenge-badge-summer-2019/ to see a list of eleven changes and challenges you could undertake. Complete five by the end of September to earn a badge!

Diocesan Convention: Pre-Convention Meeting, Wednesday, October 2, 7pm, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church: The Pre-Convention meeting will be a preview of any significant matters to come before our Diocesan Convention.  Diocesan Convention will be on Saturday, October 19, at the Madison Marriott West Hotel (in the Greenway Station area), beginning with on-site registration/check-in at 8 am and ending by 5pm.  All are welcome to attend all or part of the convention!

Green Idea Fair, Sunday, October 6: Over the summer we invited one another to try out some new Green Habits, to reduce the environmental impact of our households and our daily lives. The Green Fair is an opportunity to share what has worked for you! We’ll have some tables set out where you can create some form of simple “show and tell” about what you did. We’ll also give out our Green Habit Challenge badges to those who completed 5 tasks from our list, between July and September. If you have something to share at the Fair but can’t attend, talk to Rev. Miranda; we’ll figure it out. Sign up in the Gathering Area to participate!

Blessing of the Animals Service, Sunday, October 6, 3pm: People and creatures are invited to a short service of song, story, and prayer.  Animals should be on a leash or in a carrier. Stuffed animals are welcome as well. Spread the word and invite a friend!

Did you read any good books this summer? We are seeking *brief* book reviews from members and friends of St. Dunstan’s, of all ages. If you’ve read something recently that you think others might enjoy, write up a short review and send it to . Reviews can be just a few sentences (and should not be longer than a short paragraph). Focus on telling us what you liked about the book and why you think others should read it! We’ll publish reviews periodically in our E-news and post them in the gathering area. So, read a good book this summer and tell us all about it!

Announcements, September 5

THIS WEEK….

Game Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 6, 6pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids – all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Festive Coffee Hour, Sunday, September 8: We are still a couple of weeks out from our new kitchen, but we can celebrate the beginning of a new program year anyway! If you’d like, bring a treat to share at our coffee hour after 10am worship on Sunday, September 8. Please bring your treat ready to share; we do not have utensils, trays, etc. available (yet!).

Guests Worshiping With Us, Sunday, September 8, 10am: Some participants in the Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice Sacred Sites program will visit St. Dunstan’s on Sunday, September 8, during 10am worship. The Sacred Sites groups have been visiting faith communities all over Madison to increase interfaith understanding and connectedness; several St. Dunstan’s folks have been participating. Please help welcome our guests!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 1pm 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.

COOKING FOR HEALING HOUSE: Volunteers Wanted! Imagine you have just delivered a baby and your family is homeless. The shelters are only open at night. You are on the street with your newborn and other children for 10 hours a day. You have no safe place for your newborn to sleep. Until recently, Dane County had no place for homeless families to recuperate after medical procedures. Healing House is a new facility that offers 8 beds for people in need of a safe place to heal and recover, with food, medical support, and case management onsite. Healing House residents need meals, and that’s where you come in! We are exploring whether St. Dunstan’s members would like to help with meals at Healing House. The commitment would be one week of dinners for 10-12 people, 3 – 4 times a year. We’re asked to send folks to Healing House to serve the meal three nights during the week, and to simply bring ready-to-serve meals for the rest of the week. Would you like to prepare a meal for Healing House, a few times a year? If you’re interested, please email Rev. Miranda or sign up on the interest sheet in the Gathering Area.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The Choirs are starting up again! Children’s Choir starts up again on the 15th after church (around 11:45am) and begins its rhythm. Adult Choir has already begun its rhythm, but we’d love to have more voices. If you play an instrument or if making rehearsals is difficult for you, let’s figure something out. Email Deanna at for more details.

Sunday School starts Sept. 15! Our Sunday school classes usually meet twice a month; we will meet on Sept. 15 and 22, during our 10am liturgy. Kids ages 3 through 6th grade are welcome to join one of our three classes. Parents are welcome to come too!

Memorial Service for Amanda Woods, Sunday, September 15, 2pm, Grace Episcopal Church: Friends of the Woods family (Karen, Katie Ping, and Danielle) are welcome to attend this memorial service for Amanda. Light refreshments will be served afterwards. Grace Church is on Capitol Square. St. Dunstan’s folk are welcome to leave cars at St. Dunstan’s and carpool downtown.

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 begin on September 15 with Pauli Murray, and the practice of Welcoming. Come at 9am to talk about the practice of Welcoming in our lives!

The Wednesday Morning Book Group is meeting off campus during construction. The location tends to vary. If you are not on the email list and would like to, please call or email Valerie McAuliffe. The group is currently reading The Second Mountain by David Brooks.  You more than welcome.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 25, 9:30am-2pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with a small group of students and help direct them, please talk to Rev. Miranda or email John Ertl. Thanks!

Saturday Book Club, September 28 at 10am: A Good American Family by David Maraniss. Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Yet he never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact.

Green Habits Challenge Badge, July – September 2019: Part of our parish Creation Care Mission Statement invites us to pattern our daily lives as caretakers of Creation. Many of us are trying to make our daily habits “greener”, so let’s try together! Pick up a green leaflet under the big calendar in the Gathering Area or go to stdunstans.com/faith-practices/green-challenge-badge-summer-2019/ to see a list of eleven changes and challenges you could undertake. Complete five by the end of September to earn a badge!

Green Idea Fair, Sunday, October 6: Over the summer we invited one another to try out some new Green Habits, to reduce the environmental impact of our households and our daily lives. The Green Fair is an opportunity to share what has worked for you! We’ll have some tables set out where you can create some form of simple “show and tell” about what you did. We’ll also give out our Green Habit Challenge badges to those who completed 5 tasks from our list, between July and September. If you have something to share at the Fair but can’t attend, talk to Rev. Miranda; we’ll figure it out. Sign up in the Gathering Area to participate!

Blessing of the Animals Service, Sunday, October 6, 3pm: People and creatures are invited to a short service of song, story, and prayer.  Animals should be on a leash or in a carrier. Stuffed animals are welcome as well. Spread the word and invite a friend!

Did you read any good books this summer? We are seeking *brief* book reviews from members and friends of St. Dunstan’s, of all ages. If you’ve read something recently that you think others might enjoy, write up a short review and send it to . Reviews can be just a few sentences (and should not be longer than a short paragraph). Focus on telling us what you liked about the book and why you think others should read it! We’ll publish reviews periodically in our E-news and post them in the gathering area. So, read a good book this summer and tell us all about it!

Announcements, August 29

THIS WEEK….

All-Ages Worship, “Cookie Church” Style, Sunday, Sept. 1, 10AM: Our 10am worship on September 1 will follow the structure of “Cookie Church,” our seasonal evening child-centered worship. Come get a taste of Cookie Church!  Note: This will be more of a departure from normal Sunday worship than our regular monthly All-Ages Worship! Our 8am worship will follow our regular order of service.

Blessing of the Backpacks, Sunday, September 1: Students (and teachers!) of all ages are invited to bring backpacks, laptops, etc., to be blessed in this service, as we pray for our schools and universities. Blessed backpack tags will be available on Sunday, Sept. 8, as well.

Birthday and Anniversary blessings and Healing Prayers will be given this Sunday, September 1, as is our custom on the first Sunday of the month.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, September 1: 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!

Game Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 6, 6pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids – all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Financial Update: As of the end of July, our parish finances look good. Both income and expenses are running very close to budget, and income exceeds expenses. Look for a more detailed overview of our parish finances in September/October. Keeping the everyday finances of a church in good shape during a capital campaign can be a stretch; it says a lot for the generosity and commitment of this community of faith that we are on a solid financial footing.

COOKING FOR HEALING HOUSE: Volunteers Wanted! Imagine you have just delivered a baby and your family is homeless. The shelters are only open at night. You are on the street with your newborn and other children for 10 hours a day. You have no safe place for your newborn to sleep. Until recently, Dane County had no place for homeless families to recuperate after medical procedures. Healing House is a new facility that offers 8 beds for people in need of a safe place to heal and recover, with food, medical support, and case management onsite. Healing House residents need meals, and that’s where you come in! We are exploring whether St. Dunstan’s members would like to help with meals at Healing House. The commitment would be one week of dinners for 10-12 people,  3 – 4 times a year. We’re asked to send folks to Healing House to serve the meal three nights during the week, and to simply bring ready-to-serve meals for the rest of the week. Would you like to prepare a meal for Healing House, a few times a year? If you’re interested, please email Rev. Miranda or sign up on the interest sheet in the Gathering Area.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

The Wednesday Morning Book Group is meeting off campus during construction. The location tends to vary. If you are not on the email list and would like to, please call or email Valerie McAuliffe. The group is currently reading The Second Mountain by David Brooks.  You more than welcome.

Buildings & Grounds Meeting, Monday, August 12, 6 – 8pm: All interested folks are invited to Buildings & Grounds meetings (usually on first Mondays). We usually do small tasks around the building from 6 – 7, then meet to discuss needs & plans at 7pm.

Helpers Needed – Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, September 25, 9:30am-2pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with a small group of students and help direct them, please talk to Rev. Miranda or email John Ertl . Thanks!

Guests Worshiping With Us, Sunday, September 8, 10am: Some participants in the Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice Sacred Sites program will visit St. Dunstan’s on Sunday, September 8, during 10am worship. The Sacred Sites groups have been visiting faith communities all over Madison to increase interfaith understanding and connectedness; several St. Dunstan’s folks have been participating. Please help welcome our guests!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 1pm 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, September 28 at 10am: A Good American Family by David Maraniss. Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Yet he never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact.

Green Habits Challenge Badge, July – September 2019: Part of our parish Creation Care Mission Statement invites us to pattern our daily lives as caretakers of Creation. Many of us are trying to make our daily habits “greener”, so let’s try together! Pick up a green leaflet under the big calendar in the Gathering Area or go to stdunstans.com/faith-practices/green-challenge-badge-summer-2019/ to see a list of eleven changes and challenges you could undertake. Complete five by the end of September to earn a badge!

Announcements, August 22nd

THIS WEEK….

Clergy Presence during Rev. Miranda’s Travel: Rev. Miranda will be away from church August 23-26. Father Tom McAlpine will celebrate and preach on Sunday, August 25. If you need the care or counsel of a priest during Rev. Miranda’s absence, you may reach Father Tom or Father John Rasmus.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, August 23, 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 The Nile Restaurant at 6119 Odana Road, Madison. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Bonnie Magnuson.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, August 24, 8-10:30am: All our welcome to join us as we seek to serve God though supporting with our time, talent, and treasure organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, honoring the overlooked, and welcoming the stranger.

Parade Traffic Reminder for 10AM Worship, Sunday, August 25: Middleton’s annual Good Neighbor Parade will be lining up just west of St. Dunstan’s (and possibly past St. Dunstan’s driveway) for the 12pm parade this Sunday. If the main driveway is blocked, you can always exit by the back gate. (It should be open that morning but is never locked, even if it looks locked.) Please drive slowly and respectfully on Countryside Lane – it is narrow and our neighbors there are used to a quiet street.

A Reminder to Parents & Guardians: Please remind kids to stay clear of construction zones (or keep an eye on kids too young to follow instructions). Normally we are glad that St. Dunstan’s building and grounds are a relatively safe place to roam, but due to the renovation there are numerous not-so-safe areas right now. In particular, kids should not be playing or hanging out unsupervised on the lower level of the main building. Thanks!

Financial Update: As of the end of July, our parish finances look good. Both income and expenses are running very close to budget, and income exceeds expenses. Look for a more detailed overview of our parish finances in September/October. Keeping the everyday finances of a church in good shape during a capital campaign can be a stretch; it says a lot for the generosity and commitment of this community of faith that we are on a solid financial footing.

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

All-Ages Worship, “Cookie Church” Style, Sunday, Sept. 1, 10AM: Our 10am worship on September 1 will follow the structure of “Cookie Church,” our seasonal evening child-centered worship. Come get a taste of Cookie Church!  Note: This will be more of a departure from normal Sunday worship than our regular monthly All-Ages Worship! Our 8am worship will follow our regular order of service.

Blessing of the Backpacks, Sunday, September 1: Students (and teachers!) of all ages are invited to bring backpacks, laptops, etc., to be blessed in this service, as we pray for our schools and universities. Blessed backpack tags will be available on Sunday, Sept. 8, as well.

Game Night at St. Dunstan’s, Friday, September 6, 6pm: Join us for an evening of games for all ages. Friends, partners, kids – all welcome. Bring a snack to share, or come as you are!

Guests Worshiping With Us, Sunday, September 8, 10am: Some participants in the Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice Sacred Sites program will visit St. Dunstan’s on Sunday, September 8, during 10am worship. The Sacred Sites groups have been visiting faith communities all over Madison to increase interfaith understanding and connectedness; several St. Dunstan’s folks have been participating. Please help welcome our guests!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 1pm 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, September 28 at 10am: A Good American Family by David Maraniss. Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Yet he never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact.

Green Habits Challenge Badge, July – September 2019: Part of our parish Creation Care Mission Statement invites us to pattern our daily lives as caretakers of Creation. Many of us are trying to make our daily habits “greener”, so let’s try together! Pick up a green leaflet under the big calendar in the Gathering Area or go to stdunstans.com/faith-practices/green-challenge-badge-summer-2019/ to see a list of eleven changes and challenges you could undertake. Complete five by the end of September to earn a badge!

Announcements, August 15

THIS WEEK….

Just Mercy at St. Dunstan’s If you are the type of reader who enjoys discussing an entire book, please join us on Sunday August 18 at 2:00pm upstairs at Common Ground Cafe (2644 Branch Street, Middleton).  Beverages and food purchased at Common Ground are welcome in the discussion area!  Common Ground has a delicious Sunday Brunch menu, but because the kitchen closes at 2:00pm please submit your brunch order by 1:30pm.  (The coffee area, bakery, and bar remain open after 2:00pm.)  If you prefer discussing a few chapters at a time, please join us upstairs at Common Ground on Wednesday August 21 at 6:30pm, for a discussion of chapters 7-12 in both the adult and young adult book versions.  Salads, burgers, sandwiches, beverages and specials purchased at Common Ground are welcome in the discussion area!

Visit our Evening Church Camp Stick Structure behind the Parish Center! One evening we focused on structure-building, and Dale Sproule led participants in building a beautiful structure under a large tree. We’ll leave it up for a few weeks; visit and enjoy! Please don’t climb it – it’s not built with that kind of strength – and kids should be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Last Chance to Review the Parish Directory Before Publication! To help make sure this new directory is as correct and inclusive as possible, please take a look at the draft copy on the table in the Gathering Space. If corrections to your information are needed, please write them in. If all looks correct, please put a check mark by your name. To be included in the new directory if you are not already listed, please fill out one of the forms.

A Reminder to Parents & Guardians: Please remind kids to stay clear of construction zones (or keep an eye on kids too young to follow instructions). Normally we are glad that St. Dunstan’s building and grounds are a relatively safe place to roam, but due to the renovation there are numerous not-so-safe areas right now. In particular, kids should not be playing or hanging out unsupervised on the lower level of the main building. Thanks!

 

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Clergy Presence during Rev. Miranda’s Travel: Rev. Miranda will be away from church August 14 – 19 and 23-26. Father John Rasmus will celebrate and preach at St. Dunstan’s on Sunday, August 18, and Father Tom McAlpine will celebrate and preach on Sunday, August 25. If you need the care or counsel of a priest during Rev. Miranda’s absence, you may reach Father Tom  or Father John Rasmus.

Youth Group Mission Trip Sharing Reception, Wed., Aug, 21, 7PM: The Youth Group will be hosting a reception on Wednesday, August 21st beginning at 7:00 pm at St Dunstan’s to share their mission trip experiences.  All are invited to come listen to the stories and see the pictures.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, August 23, 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 The Nile Restaurant at 6119 Odana Road, Madison. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Bonnie Magnuson.

Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, August 24, 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.

All-Ages Worship, “Cookie Church” Style, Sunday, Sept. 1, 10AM: Our 10am worship on September 1 will follow the structure of “Cookie Church,” our seasonal evening child-centered worship. Come get a taste of Cookie Church!  Note: This will be more of a departure from normal Sunday worship than our regular monthly All-Ages Worship! Our 8am worship will follow our regular order of service.

Blessing of the Backpacks, Sunday, September 1: Students (and teachers!) of all ages are invited to bring backpacks, laptops, etc., to be blessed in this service, as we pray for our schools and universities. Blessed backpack tags will be available on Sunday, Sept. 8, as well.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 1pm 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, September 28 at 10am: A Good American Family by David Maraniss. Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black company in the Pacific, was spied on by the FBI, named as a communist by an informant, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, fired from his newspaper job, and blacklisted for five years. Yet he never lost faith in America and emerged on the other side with his family and optimism intact.

Green Habits Challenge Badge, July – September 2019: Part of our parish Creation Care Mission Statement invites us to pattern our daily lives as caretakers of Creation. Many of us are trying to make our daily habits “greener”, so let’s try together! Pick up a green leaflet under the big calendar in the Gathering Area or go to stdunstans.com/faith-practices/green-challenge-badge-summer-2019/ to see a list of eleven changes and challenges you could undertake. Complete five by the end of September to earn a badge!

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.

Sunday Papers: For those worshiping with children: We always have copies of The Sunday Paper and The Sunday Paper Jr. for kids to pick up on the way into church (at the prayer desk on the right). The Sunday Paper is based on the lessons for each Sunday. It invites kids to color, draw, read, and wonder. It helps children to acquire a vocabulary of Scriptural images, and to relate the Gospel to the Old Testament, the life of the Church, and their own lives. Adults may find it worth reading too. You are encouraged to check it out!

History & repentance: A 4th of July sermon

The Rev. Miranda Hassett preached this sermon on June 30, 2019. 

Why do we observe the Fourth of July at church?  As a Christian and as a church leader, I’m pretty mindful of the line between my patriotism and my faith, my identity as a citizen and as a baptized follower of Jesus. But praying for our nation and our leaders is in our DNA as Christians in the Anglican tradition. So most years we take the Sunday leading up to Independence Day to pray together for our nation, that it may live up to its boldest ideals and bravest promises. 

There tends to be a lot of talk about freedom at this time of year. It’s a complicated topic, one which we collectively deploy quite selectively. Consider the recent prosecutions of people who leave water in the desert along our borders for migrants who might otherwise die of thirst. People who might well have thought they were free to exercise mercy. 

Our Galatians lesson this morning talks about freedom – Christian freedom. Paul says: Your freedom isn’t to do whatever you want, and it certainly isn’t to hurt others. When Paul is talking about freedom, his point is that the life of faith isn’t about following certain concrete practices and rites, as in Old Testament Judaism. He’s saying that the life of faith is, simply and completely, a life oriented towards loving your neighbor as yourself. And there is a freedom in that, because there are lots of ways to live out love of neighbor. But there’s also commitment in it – an un-freedom of sorts – because if we are in Christ we are NOT free to not care about the wellbeing of others. 

Our freedom in Christ, says Paul, is to strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be people of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So that’s something to carry with you this week as our nation celebrates freedom. 

Another thing that you might hear about a lot this week is history. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is an historical celebration. It is, to be specific, the date in 1776 when the Continental Congress, the governmental body of the original 13 colonies,  approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, agreeing on all the changes and edits they’d been working on for days.

But history, like freedom, is more complicated than we often think. I’ve been reading up lately on local history. Very local history. As in, the history of the ground under our feet right now. 

It’s easy to begin telling the history of this property in 1848. That’s when the Heim brothers, Joseph and Anton, left Bavaria, Germany, following a failed revolution against the oppressive ruling class. Joseph was 30, Anton was 22. Joseph’s wife Theresia traveled with them. Along with many others, they came to the United States and eventually settled in Wisconsin. They bought this land from the U.S. government, and established a farm, building that brick farmhouse in around 1858. 

This whole area was the Heim farm – from Old Middleton Road to the south up to the lakeshore, and some ways to the east and west. Heim Avenue, half a mile east, still bears the family name of our founding family. 

This is how European Americans usually tell the history of our places.  As if it begins when white people show up. But this land had history, and people, before the Heims, before the U.S. government. 

The Ho-Chunk people, known in the 19th century as the Winnebago tribe, lived in this area for thousands of years before they were largely removed to reservations in the mid-19th century.  Their ancestors, a thousand years ago, built the effigy mounds that still dot our landscape, though many have been destroyed. Effigy mounds are earthen structures that make the shape of an animal or symbol – birds, human figures, bears, and, maybe 1500 feet from where I’m standing, a fox. 

Anton’s son Ferdinand grew up in the old farmhouse we call the rectory. He lived from 1865 to 1950 – a lifespan that bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, and saw this area go from woodlands with a few tiny clusters of homes and businesses, to a bustling suburb. In 1937 Ferdinand donated the fox mound to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, to keep it safe for posterity as he was selling off the land around it for development into the neighborhood along Mound Avenue. 

Ferdinand also shared memories of the presence of Winnebago Indians in this area during the early decades of the Heim farm. Apparently the bit of lakeshore right behind those apartments – the Swenson estate, perhaps 2000 feet away – was a very popular camping area.  Ferdinand recalled that anywhere from thirty to fifty natives might camp in the area at a time, living in wigwams and hunting, trapping, and fishing for food. He said, “They were great beggars, stopping at the farm houses at all times for food supplies, and his father [Anton Heim] was obliged to erect rough fences about his hay mows in the Middleton Beach marsh to protect them against the foraging Indian ponies.”

Clearly, the native people who had treated this area as part of their territory – a comfortable spot, a beautiful spot, a sacred spot – for centuries or maybe millennia, were trying to continue doing so, even as European settlers moved in and turned the forests into farmland. And just as clearly, the continued presence of the Natives was a significant annoyance to the settlers. 

The history of how the Ho-Chunk and other local Native groups lost this land is hard to tell. Partly because it’s complicated and partly because it’s heartbreaking.  I’ve been reading about it – the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis; the so-called Black Hawk War and the massacre at Bad Axe; President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830; the decimation of the Ho-Chunk and other Midwestern tribes by contagious diseases brought by European settlers. 

It’s not easy history to know. But I’m glad I know it. It makes my heart heavy, but I prefer it to ignorance. 

In our prayer of confession, when we hold up the evil done on our behalf, the dispossession and decimation of the native peoples of this continent is among those evils. And when we hold up the evils that enslave us, the fact that we live and work on land taken unjustly, and lack the wisdom or the will to make amends, is among those evils. 

I don’t know what amends would look like, in these circumstances. I truly don’t. But I know that the opening words of the Prayer for our Country in the Book of Common Prayer are a lie: “Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage…”

Maybe it was God’s intention, part of the ineffable plan, for the United States of America to come to be. But to claim in our prayers that this land was simply given to us by divine fiat obscures the bloody reality that our ancestors took it, by deception and by violence. 

So, this Sunday, and this Independence Day, let us remember that we are gathered on Ho-Chunk land. Let us celebrate the goodness and grace in our history, while courageously facing the unjust and the bitterly sad. And let us turn to the God who blesses our repentance and helps us to will the good, as we pray. 

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A little further reading: 

https://isthmus.com/news/snapshot/the-story-of-this-land/

Sermon, August 11

Richard Swanson is a Biblical scholar and commentator. I turn to him pretty often for his keen eye and thought-provoking exegesis; if you hear me preach regularly you’ve probably heard me quote him before. He spent the week before last at the Network of Biblical Storyteller’s annual gathering. My mother, who is a Biblical storyteller, was there too, actually. This year the gathering was held in Dayton, Ohio.

In his commentary on this Sunday’s Gospel, Swanson writes about leaving his hotel at 4am last Saturday morning, to catch an early flight – and learning about the tragedy – the atrocity – that had happened just a few hours earlier, and just a mile away. 

Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. 

Swanson writes, “Events like this are sometimes made to dance with texts like the one from Luke 12, and the point is made to be: ‘You could die anytime, so be more religious.’ That is not the point, and it never was. This scene is about the arrival of the Reign of God, and the Reign of God does not come [through events like the violence in Dayton or El Paso or Gilroy or Chicago]. The scene [in this Gospel] focuses on being prepared for action, with lamps lit. The scene urges anticipation and readiness.”

Readiness for what? Not for “dying suddenly and unprepared,” as our prayer book says in the Great Litany. Readiness, rather, for the Reign of God. The Kingdom. Ready to be part of the dawning of God’s new reality. Readiness for what our faith, our conscience, asks of us in the face of violence and apathy. In the face of daily news so far from God’s dream for us. 

I like to take my first look at the upcoming Sunday readings about a week and a half ahead. When I first looked ahead at these lessons, way back on August 1, I thought, Maybe it’s time to talk a little about the prophetic literature. In Ordinary Time – the summer and fall – of this year of our Sunday lectionary cycle, all our Old Testament texts come from the prophets – people who received and spoke God’s word to God’s people in the centuries before Jesus’ birth. 

Speaking for God sounds like an important, celebrated role! It was not. The prophets were charged with telling God’s people – and especially their leaders – where they had gone wrong. Their words were unwelcome, and they often suffered for their calling. 

I was going to preach about how it can be hard to receive the prophetic texts, because we can’t relate to their urgency. We’re tempted to tone-police the prophets – “You just seem so angry. Maybe if you said it a nicer way, people would actually listen to you. Can’t you be more constructive  in your criticism?” And it’s true: Some of these are tough texts to proclaim on a sunny Sunday morning in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin, which VisitMadison.com assures me “consistently ranks as a top community in which to live, work, play, and raise a family.”  

As much as I love and honor the Old Testament, I struggle with the Prophets sometimes – with their fierce and sometimes brutal rhetoric; with their reliance on metaphors we now hear as misogynistic; with their conviction that Israel’s misfortunes are God’s punishment and not simply the natural consequences of complacency and injustice… So, way back on August 1, I started to gather some thoughts on how we can hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people in these challenging texts. 

But between August 1 and August 6, when I began to write this sermon, there was August 3 in El Paso, and August 4 in Dayton. And many political leaders, the people with the responsibility and authority to do something about the disproportionate violence that is America’s tragedy and shame, responded as they did last time, and the time before, and the time before that: by offering thoughts and prayers. 

And suddenly it doesn’t feel so hard to relate to the prophet Isaiah… “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” 

Your hands are full of blood. Stop your empty prayers, and cleanse yourself. 

This week a writer named Chas Gillespie wrote an essay for the online magazine McSweeney’s, with this title, more or less: “God Has Heard Your Thoughts And Prayers And [God] Thinks They Are BS.” The essay begins, “Hi. God here. I am contacting you in response to your prayers regarding the most recent and totally horrific mass shooting in a college/ high school/ elementary school/ bar/ nightclub/ park/ shopping mall/ concert/ movie theater/ parking lot/ church/ mosque/ synagogue. I have listened to your prayers, America, and I have come to the conclusion that they are cowardly, pointless, and shameful… You pray in order not to feel culpable in horrendous acts of violence. You pray in order to feel good. … If you don’t like my tone, it’s called “tough love,” America. You need to change yourself or this will keep happening and it will get worse. You have prayed for answers, and I have given you answers. You have prayed for guidance, and you have ignored it. So why are you still praying?”

Your hands are full of blood. Wash away the evil from among you. 

The kind of prayer that Isaiah and the other prophets condemn is prayer that cries out to God to fix what we’re unwilling to try to fix ourselves – and performative piety as a replacement for action. Like in today’s Psalm, which accuses God’s people of being faithful in sacrificing at the Temple – and nothing else: “O Israel, I will bear witness against you, for I am God, your God. I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me. I will take no bull-calf from your stalls, nor he-goats out of your pens… Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High.”

The psalm echoes these pithy words from the prophet Micah: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?… God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

In our public life, as in the time of the Prophets, prayer can serve as pious deflection of responsibility for the common good. And God, speaking through the prophets, says that God is not especially sympathetic to those kinds of prayers. 

Now, a word in defense of prayer: As my colleague Gary Manning wrote this week, prayer is not nothing. Gary writes, “[In addition to] contacting my elected officials (repeatedly!) and adding my voice to … others who are asking for our leaders to at least begin talking about substantive ways we can… make our society safer, [I also] pray. Not because I’m unwilling to do “real work,” but because I believe prayer is some of the real work I can do.”

Of course prayer is one of our responses to tragedy. I can’t do anything for the most recent victims – or perpetrators – but pray. For mercy. For comfort. For healing. For transformation. Prayer is my first, deep, genuine response to crisis. 

And it’s a relief to know my prayers don’t have to take the form of detailed policy plans. Sometimes our prayers are simply sighs too deep for words, as the apostle Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans. When our hearts and God’s heart are aching together, I believe that’s a kind of prayer; and I believe it matters. 

When we simply hold up our anguish and grief and rage, even our numbness and bitterness, to God – that is prayer. But I find those prayers are not enough, for me…. At best, at best, they allow me to release some of my deep and weary feelings, and leave me empty: Now what? 

What if prayer is not meant simply to empty us, to drain off our worries, griefs and regrets, but also to fill us? To turn back towards our Gospel: What if our prayers could help make us ready? 

There are a lot of hymns in our hymnal that I love deeply, but the single line in our hymnal that I mean the most, every time I sing it, is this line from hymn 594: “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” That line is a prayer, and I pray it often. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. To freeze or shut down. It’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. Resigned. 

Sometimes hopelessness is more comfortable than hope. Andrew Greeley, a sociologist and Roman Catholic priest, wrote in 1973: “Humankind does not object to prophets of doom, for the evidence of doom is all around. We do not protest when religious leaders say there is evil in the world, for the proof of evil is all around. We do not grow angry when it is announced to us that the powers of darkness are making progress on all sides, for we have already noticed that the light is waning….

“No, the kind of leaders we really object to are those who call us to begin over again, who tell us that the light can shine brighter and that the powers of evil can be repelled. Religious and political leaders who preach a message of hope are never very welcome, for they require of us more than cynicism, more than despair, more than resignation. They require effort, activity, fidelity, commitment.” (Father Andrew Greeley, 1973, New York Times)

Effort and activity; fidelity and commitment. Those are hard to muster and hard to maintain when we are sad, afraid, angry, cynical, or just forking EXHAUSTED. One of the things the Bible, our holy book, says over and over again is: Fear not. Take courage. Take heart. I hear the strength of that theme in our Scriptures as meaning that this is one of the things God wants for us, God offers us: Courage, peace, wholeheartedness – to be ready to face what faces us. 

What could it look like to pray for readiness? There are no magic words, no One Cool Trick …  If you pray alone a lot and you feel like that’s not feeding or strengthening you, maybe try praying with friends. Talk to me if you want help gathering a group. If you pray with others a lot, maybe try praying alone more. Find a Scripture or a set prayer that gives words to what’s in your heart and use that – consistently – for a while. Or if you usually pray with other people’s words, try praying with your own words for a while – or with no words. If the only prayer you can find is, Open my heart, use that – it’s as good a prayer as any. Make time and space within yourself for God’s grace to work in you. 

Because prayer is part of the real work we do. Not a replacement for action, but the way we ground and gird ourselves for action. Not a deflection of our responsibly for the common good, our call to love of neighbor; but the way to feel deeply how my neighbor’s struggle touches me, and to know deeply how to respond. 

Because I pray, I cannot be resigned. I cannot accept language that dehumanizes and actions that terrorize my immigrant neighbors. I cannot accept our epidemic of gun violence as normal and inevitable – Wendell Barry writes, “‘Inevitable’ is a word much favored by people in positions of authority who do not wish to think about problems.”

Because I pray, because prayer is not nothing, prayer is not enough. Prayer unsettles me, shakes me loose from resignation and despair; fires me up with the discomfort of hope. Prayer plants deep inside me the foolish conviction that we could yet put our shoulders to the wheel of history and push, all together, kingdom-wards – in the direction of a world in which all God’s children can find safety, kindness, and peace. 

Light your lamps. Dress for action. Stay awake. Swanson writes,  “This is going to be difficult. But it is necessary. The Reign of God is overturning our systems.  Be ready.”

 

 

 

Gillespie’s essay in full: 

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/god-has-heard-your-thoughts-and-prayers-and-he-thinks-they-are-fucking-bullshit

Gary Manning’s essay on prayer:

https://medium.com/@Solwrker/prayer-is-not-nothing-d7a13f79aaff

Swanson’s essay: 

https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2019/08/05/a-provocation-9th-sunday-after-pentecost-proper-14-19-august-11-2019-luke-12-32-40/

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