Sermon, Oct. 11

Last Sunday, we meet Job. He’s a blameless and upright man, who worshipped God faithfully, ran his household well and wisely, and lived with justice and generosity. And he is wealthy and prosperous –  as our story begins, he owns 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and more. He was known as “the greatest of all the people of the east.”

Now, Satan, the Accuser, has been strolling around taking a look at humanity. And God says, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” And Satan says, Well, yeah! Look how good he has it. How long would his piety last if he lost all these good things? And God says, You’re on. But don’t hurt Job himself.

Satan does his worst. On one terrible day, one messenger after another comes to Job. His slaves and oxen are lost to raiders. His camels are seized by an enemy army. His sheep are struck by lighting. And a great wind shakes the house where his sons and daughters are gathered – the roof falls upon them, and all are killed instantly. Job says,  “The Lord gave, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  God is very proud of Job’s pious stoicism, and brags about it to Satan. And Satan says, “Skin for skin! People will tolerate a lot as long as they remain unharmed. Let me afflict Job’s body too, and we’ll see how his piety stands up.” And God says, You’re on. So Satan covers Job’s body with oozing sores.

The book of Job was probably written roughly 500 years before the life of Jesus, by one dominant voice, perhaps weaving together older sources. The author starts with this set-up of a sort of pissing context between Satan and God, then launches into 35 chapters of a profound theological exploration of suffering in the context of faithfulness. It’s an amazing book.

How do I, personally, read the Book of Job as Scripture? I don’t know if there was ever a Job. If there was, this chronicle of his suffering was written long after he lived and died. I do believe, very much, in the wisdom and divine inspiration of this author, this text.  Every time I revisit Job, I find inspiration and delight in the many passages that describe God’s power in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Some of the loveliest nature poetry in the Bible is found in Job. And every time I revisit Job, I am reminded of the wisdom it carries about what to do, and what not to do, in the presence of suffering. Job is a master treatise on that topic.

One way to read the Book of Job is as an extended poetic debate over the idea that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.

We know better, just like the Biblical tradition knew better. But still, so easily, we fall into that way of thinking, when we’re not paying attention, or when we’re anxious or sad or uncomfortable or struggling to make sense of something difficult. Our inner six-year-old wants order and justice and reason. We slip into the Bad Things Happen To Bad People mindset when we blame victims. When we worship and justify the successful. When we feel unworthy of good things that come our way, or try to figure out what we did to deserve the bad stuff. When we tell the person staring tragedy in the face that everything happens for a reason – which when you scrape it down a layer, either means that you had it coming, or that this tragedy is just a blessing you haven’t recognized yet.  Because you are a good person, and bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. We KNOW that’s not the deal – that, rather than an ordered, balanced, cause-and-effect world, we live in a world that is messy, confused, broken.  And yet.

Job stubbornly, angrily, faithfully, refuses this logic, the logic of good following good, bad following bad. He says, again and again: I am a good person, and bad things happened to me. He says, again and again: God is God, God is great, all-powerful and transcendent. I won’t quit God, I’m not abandoning my faith; but I’m also not just going to accept this crap. I have the right to cry out to God in my anger and dismay, even though I don’t expect God to answer.

So all this terrible stuff happens to Job. And some friends hear of his misfortunes, and they travel to come and visit with him, in his time of need. At first they just sit silently with him for seven days. They should have stuck with that approach… because once they start talking, their presence is less helpful.

His friend Eliphaz starts off:  Job, you must have sinned in some way that you didn’t realize, because bad things don’t happen to good people. So these misfortunes are God’s punishment, to set you right again.  He says, “How happy is the one whom God corrects! Therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”  (5:17)  Later in the book his friend Bildad tries another tack: if Job isn’t particularly sinful, then some universal human sinfulness must be to blame. “How can a mortal be righteous before God? If even the stars are not pure in God’s sight, how much less a mortal, who is a maggot, and a human being, who is a worm!…”  (Job 25:5-6)

And Job says, You guys are really crappy friends, and you’re speaking from your own fear and discomfort. “You see my calamity, and are afraid” (6:21).  And also, if God is watching us that closely and judgmentally, and won’t even “let me alone so that I may swallow my spittle,” then I’d rather be dead, thanks. (Job 7:16-19)

Bildad has another explanation to try out: Okay, Job, so you say that YOU’RE righteous. Maybe it was your children who sinned, then, and that’s why God killed them. So your kids were the problem. And since you are a pure and upright person, you’ll be fine. God will restore you. “See, God will not reject the blameless person… he will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy.” (Job 8:20-21)

Now, it’s not necessarily wrong to tell someone that there may be healing and joy beyond their current suffering. But it’s a matter of timing and tone. Bildad is speaking to Job in the absolute depth of his suffering and grief, so his words come across as dismissive. Also Bildad has seriously missed the boat on Job’s grief about his lost children. “They probably weren’t very good children anyway.” Seriously…

Job says, You’re trying so hard to make human sense of this situation, but look, we’re talking about GOD, here. God who alone stretched out the heavens; who made the Great Bear, Orion and the Pleiades; who does magnificent things beyond understanding. Your human moral logic doesn’t apply to God. (chapter 9)

So then Job’s friend Zophar chimes in:  SHAME ON YOU for talking about God like this! God knows best. If you weren’t guilty before, you are now, for being so demanding and presumptuous towards God the Almighty.  Eliphaz chimes in on the same note – he accuses Job of doing away with the fear of God.  “Your own lips testify against you!”  (15:1-6) Both friends are saying, You shouldn’t be talking back to God like this.  You’re just a human. Forget your grievance, and repent.  “Agree with God, and be at peace; in this way good will come to you… [Then] you will pray to him, and he will hear you.” (22:21) “[Then] You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away.” (11:13-16) If you just accept your suffering, everything will be fine. It’s your anger that’s keeping you away from God. Also, says Zophar, WHY ARE YOU SO MAD? (15:12-13) – “Why does your heart carry you away, and why do your eyes flash?”  We’re just trying to help. Jeez, Job, we’re your friends!…

Job is getting PISSED now.  “Look, my eye has seen all this; my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know. I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.  As for you, you whitewash with lies;  all of you are worthless doctors!  If you would only keep silence, that would be your wisdom!…” (chapter 13) “Miserable comforters are you all! Have windy words no limit? or what provokes you to keep on talking?  I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you.” (16:2-3)

Job sees very clearly that his friends – his “friends” – are struggling to make sense of his suffering in ways that will let them hold it at arm’s length. That will let them reassure themselves that Job somehow brought all this upon himself, meaning they don’t have to accept the fear and uncertainty of disordered moral universe.  He nails their lack of empathy with one pithy remark: “Those at ease have contempt for misfortune.”  (12:5) Yeah. That rings true, doesn’t it? Job sees it in his friends’ words and behavior. I see it in all the heartless words words we say and policies we put in place directed at most vulnerable among us. Those at ease have contempt for misfortune.

And Job accuses his so-called friends of misrepresenting God in their efforts to defend God from Job’s anger:  “Will you speak falsely for God?… Do you think God is going to appreciate that? … Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes.” (13:7-9, 12)

Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes. Everything happens for a reason. God doesn’t send us anything we can’t handle. How happy is the one whom God punishes. Humans are maggots; shit happens; just accept it. Don’t let it bother you so much. Everybody has their cross to bear. It’ll make you stronger in the end. Just look on the bright side, shake it off, move on.

Proverbs. Of. Ashes. Empty of compassion or comfort.

Also, says Job, your Good Things Happen To Good People logic is crap because the wicked prosper ALL THE TIME. “Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their houses are safe from fear, and their children dance around.”(21:7, 9, 11).  Job says, Look, what happened to me is not a fluke. Your whole premise is flawed.  All you have to do is look around to see that the idea that good things happen to good people, and bad to bad, is intellectually and morally untenable.

In the course of arguing with his friends’ wrongheaded assurances,  Job has a few unshakeable convictions of his own.

First: there is a God. And God is good, even though God’s goodness may sometimes be too big and slow and mysterious for us to understand.  Job is honest about feeling alone, abandoned, unheard by God: “I cry to you, and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me.” (30:20; see also 21:8-9; 9:11) But Job is certain that God is there, even in the darkness and emptiness.

Second: Job won’t accept the idea that he somehow had this coming – because of secret sins, or unconscious sins, or just general human wormyness.  Job says, I’m a good man. I have lived a righteous, generous life.  “My heart does not reproach me for any of my days” (27:6). I don’t deserve this, and I’m not going to make what happened to my family OK by fitting it into somebody’s comfortable moral scheme.

Third: Job insists that his relationship with God is strong enough that he can cry out to God, protest, and demand an answer.  He says, “I will NOT restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (7:11; 10:2 & elsewhere)

Job wishes for a third party mediator – an umpire, in one verse! – who might help him take his case to God. But there isn’t anyone who can take that role and hold God accountable: “Who can say to God, ‘What are you doing?’” (9:12)

But despite the massive asymmetry of the relationship, Job keeps asking, seeking, demanding an answer.  He says, “Would God, in the greatness of divine power, come down and argue a case with me? No. But he would give heed to me.” (ch 23) He would hear me. That’s all I need. I just want to know that God hears.

The debate between Job and his who-needs-enemies friends rages on until it is suddenly and dramatically ended when God appears, and answers Job. God’s answer is … complicated. It’s full of images of nature and vivid descriptions of monsters. That’s another whole sermon – maybe in another three years.

But God does address Job’s friends and all their “good advice.” God makes Job’s friends apologize for being such jerks and for speaking wrongly about God. God says, Job was right. Job was right to cry out to God in grief and anger. Job was right to insist that God was all-powerful, but – and – that divine order doesn’t conform to our human understandings. Job was right to hold fast to righteousness, even when everything fell apart.

What can we carry away from the Book of Job? For one thing, lots of good advice on how NOT to talk to your friends in hard times. Avoid those platitudes of ashes!  In chapter 30 Job talks about what he did in such situations:  “Did I not weep for those whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?” (30:25) So simple: Just be present to the suffering. Stop trying to distance it or make sense of it,  and share the pain.

For another thing, the book has a clear message on how to to talk to God, in your own hard times. The text stresses that Job was right, all along. He blames God, rages at God for the unfairness and bitter pain of his situation; and his pious friends condemn him for it, but God does not.

He speaks of feeling distant from God, abandoned; he wishes he had never been born, or that he would fall over dead on the spot; and his pious friends condemn him for it, but God does not.

He expresses a confidence in his own righteousness that borders on arrogance, and questions God’s righteousness – I mean, look at the world! – and his pious friends condemn him for speaking in this way, but God does not. God justifies Job.

I think there’s a strange and profound comfort here. There are no easy answers to the why of human suffering. But there is a God who hears. A God who lets us weep and rage and throw things, when that’s what we need to do. A God who, like a loving parent, when we have finally wept ourselves quiet, can gently remind us of the big picture beyond our current distress.

Job trusted in that God, even in grief, even in despair, even in bitter anger.  May we, too, be sustained by such a paradoxical and unshakable trust, in our days of loss and struggle.

Announcements, Oct. 8

THANKS to all our Grounds Helpers! Many hands helped with our Parish Work Day last Sunday, and with overseeing the Edgewood High School volunteers on Wednesday. We got nearly all our tasks completed, which is terrific! Thanks to all who planned, fed, directed, and worked.

THIS WEEKEND… 

Outreach Committee meeting, Saturday, October 10, 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.

THE HUNGER WEEKS: Outreach Hour, Sunday, October 11, 9am: Percy Brown of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District will talk with us about the face of poverty and hunger in Middleton.

Sunday School, Sunday, October 11, 10am: This week our 3-5 year old class will be learning about the Ten Best Ways, while our 6-10 year old class will dig into Jesus’ challenging conversation with a rich young man.

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, October 11, 11:45am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Child care and a simple meal provided.

St. Dunstan’s Finances At a Glance: As we approach our fall Giving Campaign, our church finances should be clear to all members. Take a look at our display in the Gathering Area. More detailed financial reports are available on request.

Sign up for this year’s Parish Talent Show, Sunday, October 25! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged.

THE HUNGER WEEKS: Pledges Wanted for CROP Walk for Hunger, Sunday, October 18: We have a great team gathered for this year’s CROP Walk! All money raised is used to fight hunger and a percentage of the money stays right here in Dane County being distributed to the food pantries. You can write a check to support our walkers, with CROP on the memo line, and put it in the offering plate. Thanks for all your support!

THE WEEK AHEAD… 

Christian Formation Planning Meeting, Wednesday, October 14, 7pm, in the Godly Play classroom downstairs: At this meeting we’ll discuss and plan our formation programs – opportunities to learn and grow in faith and fellowship, for all ages – for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (November through January). If you’d like to be part of the conversation or have an idea you’d like to run with, you are welcome to attend and participate!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, October 14, 7:15 – 9:00pm: A Julian Gathering is open to everyone. They are for all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer, for beginners as well as those already practicing.

An Evening of Storytelling at St. Francis House, Friday, October 16, 7-8:30pm: All friends of the House, our Episcopal campus ministry at UW-Madison, are welcome. Speakers will share memories of St. Francis House over the years, including of our own Father Art Lloyd.

Words in Season, October 17/18: Dear performance and poetry loving members of St. Dunstan’s, join us for a seasonal celebration of words and the spirit. Daniel Hanson and Evy Gildrie-Voyles are gathering a group of all ages to perform poetry relevant to the seasons four times this year. The first will be in October. We will meet on Saturday October 17th at 10am at the Church for a brief rehearsal and perform Oct. 18th in the Gathering space after the 10 o’clock service (roughly 11:15am.) All ages are welcome. No memorizing is necessary.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, October 17, 10am: This month’s book is “The Wright Brothers,” by David McCullough. On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history.

Diocesan Convention, Saturday, October 17, 8am – 4:30pm at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin:  All are welcome to attend all or part of the convention! The morning will be devoted to worship and a presentation focused on taking our Church into the wider community.  The afternoon session will be the ‘business’ session. Visitors are asked to register but there is no charge unless you want to have meals at the convention. To register, fill out and mail in the form located in the Gathering Area or you can register at the convention between 8 and 9am. Also of note, travel-size personal hygiene items will be collected at Convention, to be given out through hospitality ministries around the diocese. For more information on the convention, go to http://www.diomil.org/about-us/diocesan-convention/.

THIS MONTH AT ST. DUNSTAN’S… 

THE HUNGER WEEKS: Bread for the World Sunday, October 18: We are invited to participate in Bread for the Word’s annual Offering of Letters, to advocate to our politicians for programs that will reduce hunger in the United States and around the world. This year’s legislative focus is child hunger, and especially ongoing funding of the WIC program. Letters will be gathered in next Sunday, October 25. Letters, emails and phone calls are all encouraged, so that a strong Christian voice for the hungry is heard in Washington! Come at 9am for a presentation on Bread’s work and a discussion of Christian advocacy in the public square.

Sunday School, Sunday, October 18, 10am: Next week our 3-5 year old class will be learning about the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, while our 6 – 10 year old class will talk about finding greatness in serving others.

Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering, Sunday, October 18: As on every third Sunday, half the cast in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund. This fund is way to quietly help people with direct financial needs, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Evening Eucharist (BCP), Sunday, October 18, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. We use the Book of Common Prayer for this liturgy. Our seasonal worship books are based on the prayerbook, but if you miss actually holding the little red book, you may enjoy attending one of these bimonthly services.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, October 18, 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.

Left Unsaid: Remembering our Beloved Dead at Sandbox Worship, Thursday, October 29, 5:30pm: Maybe there’s something you didn’t have a chance to say. Maybe you thought you’d said it all, but as the years pass, you’ve discovered more. Come for an evening framed in prayer, a space to speak the words you want to say to one of your loved ones who has gone on before, as we anticipate honoring our beloved dead on All Saints Day (Nov. 1).  After worship, we’ll share a simple meal. All are welcome. Questions? Talk with Rev. Miranda or Sharon Henes.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, October 30, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurant and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at the Freehouse Pub, 1902 Parmenter in Middleton.

Black Friday Craft-In, Friday, November 28, 1 – 4pm, St. Dunstan’s Church: Tired of the mall? Make stuff. Give it away. This year we’ll host our second annual Black Friday Craft-In, a free public crafting event. If you’ll be in town and would like to volunteer to help out, please sign up in the Gathering Area. We can use all kinds of volunteers – whether your skill is sewing, woodworking, stamping, paper crafting, smiling at people and saying “Welcome!”, setting up tables, or putting cookies on plates.

IN THE WIDER CHURCH & COMMUNITY… 

Purple Ribbons for Domestic Abuse Awareness Month: The purple ribbons on our altar this month remind us to hold in prayer victims, survivors, and perpetrators of domestic abuse.  To learn more & find out about events this month, explore the website of our local agency, DAIS: abuseintervention.org .

Alleviating Poverty: Who’s Responsible? Great Madison Poverty Forum, Sunday, October 11, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, High Point Church, Micah Center at 7702 Old Sauk Road in Madison: Come and join this two-hour highly interactive forum with diverse leaders from Madison’s faith community. The discussion will include: learning about poverty in Wisconsin, consideration of the theological role of the individual and collective responsibility for alleviating poverty and seeking common ground for solutions. Please RSVP by October 8 at: http://www.wichurches.org/madison-poverty-forum-registration/

Community Panel Discussion, Monday, October 12, 6:30pm, Archer Rooms, Middleton Public Library: In collaboration with UW-Madison’s Go Big Read selection, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, the library will host a community discussion on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Panelists include: Chuck Foulke, City of Middleton Chief of Police; Dr. Ruben Anthony, CEO of Urban League of Greater Madison; Percy Brown, Director of Equity, MCPASD; Dave Mahoney, Dane County Sheriff; Josann Reynolds, Dane County Judge; and a representative from Middleton High School’s Student Voice Union. All are welcome.

Opportunity to serve – Support our local refugee community:  The Recipe Club, sponsored by the Lutheran Social Services (LSS), is an opportunity for refugee women, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, to get out of the house and come together socially with other women, and share recipes of their native dishes. One of the biggest barriers to attendance is transportation. LSS is looking for volunteers who have time available between 9:30 and 11:30 on Friday mornings (just for about 6-8 weeks) that would be willing to pick these women up in their homes and bring them to The Recipe Club, then take them home afterwards. The volunteers would be welcome to stay for the club and learn about the different dishes and cooking techniques the women share, or they could also use the hour to do other things.

Sung Evensong at St. Andrew’s Church, Thursday, October 22, 7pm: St. Andrew invites their fellow Episcopalians to a liturgy of Choral Evensong. The lessons are those appointed for St. James of Jerusalem (Feast Day – October 23).  The chancel choir of St. Andrew’s augmented with friends of choir members will sing.  A small recorder ensemble will provide the prelude and postlude. Come experience the mystery and glories of this cherished Anglican service. A reception will follow the service giving all an opportunity for conversation and connection.

Sermon, Oct. 4

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis turned from his life as a wealthy young man, living in Italy in the early 13th century, to found a monastic order devoted to living simply and prayerfully, and serving the poor. We’ll honor Francis’ memory later at our Blessing of the Animal service, but I’d like to tell you a story about Francis right now.

This is the story of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. The earliest version was recorded not long after Francis’ death. This version comes from the Taming the Wolf Institute, which teaches conflict resolution.

[Read the story here: http://tamingthewolf.com/saint-francis-and-the-wolf/ ]

… I use that story to introduce or re-introduce a word:  stewardship. It’s a word that gets used out there in the world, but we use in the church in some particular ways. In a lot of churches, “stewardship” is kind of a euphemism for asking for money. There are some good reasons for that – it frames the church’s need for financial support from its members in terms of our mindful use of the resources God has given us. But it’s not so good to talk about stewardship as if was only about money, or to use that word to mask our discomfort with talking about money.

When I came here, we had a stewardship committee that ran the annual pledge drive every fall.  And right away, they told me, We don’t like that name. We don’t like the way our church is using “stewardship” as if all it means is people’s financial support for the church. People’s giving to the church is tremendously important – more on that in a few weeks! – but it is absolutely not the only thing we mean by “stewardship.” So we renamed the committee – today we have a Finance Committee and a Giving Campaign Committee.

AND we re-introduced the idea of Stewardship to the congregation. Instead of talking about stewardship only in October and November, when we’re asking for people to pledge their financial support, we should talk about stewardship year round. And instead of only talking about stewardship of money, we started talking about stewardship of all kinds of things. Of our members, your time and skill. Of our grounds and buildings.  Of our own spirits and energy. And more.

We developed a cycle of Stewardship Seasons: in the fall, starting in October, a season of Stewardship of Resources, when we reflect on how we use our material resources – including, but not limited to, money. This is the season for pledging and budgeting; it’s also a time of giving, for our church and for individuals in the holiday season. Come February, we’ll begin the season of Stewardship of Spirit and Space. And the months of June through September are our season of Stewardship of Time and Talent.

So what do we mean by that word?… Stewardship? Stewardship is the understanding that what we do with what we have, matters.  In the Bible, a steward is a high-ranking servant of the household

who manages and oversees things on behalf of the master. Somebody trusted and competent, who can keep things running, meet everyone’s needs, deal with crises. In the second chapter of today’s Epistle, the author of the second letter to the Hebrews points out the authority and power given to human beings… quoting somebody somewhere (I love that – it’s actually Psalm 8)… We are made just a little lower than the angels, and all things on earth are placed under our authority.

And then, before we can get too chuffed about that, the author goes on to hold up Jesus as our model,  who calls into the same kind of wise, loving, self-sacrificial authority by naming us as his brothers and sisters. Stewardship has to do with power, authority, control; but it’s a particular way of exercising power and control,  shaped by Holy Wisdom, driven by holy longing for the flourishing of humanity and creation, and for the reconciliation and restoration of all.

The word reminds us that we are stewards – caretakers, managers – of gifts and assets that come from God and belong to God, who gives them to us in trust, to use and enjoy. The stewardship mindset reminds me that what I casually think of as “mine,” in my personal life as well as my work as rector of a parish, is really ours, and God’s. I’m blessed and privileged to have a role in what it becomes or how it is used.

I think the story of Francis and the wolf is a good story about stewardship because Francis is balancing needs and resources, and finding a healing and sustainable solution for everyone involved.  The people in Gubbio had a problem: a destructive, dangerous, hungry wolf. They had tried using the resources of weaponry, force, and manpower to solve the problem, but that approach had failed. Instead, Francis suggested that they use different resources: their plentiful food, and the resources of community and relationship, to meet the wolf’s needs and change its behavior. It was a fresh approach that took some work to put into place, but the ultimate outcome was much better for everyone than killing the wolf would have been.

If that sounds like a bit of a stretch, maybe it should. I’m trying to stretch our concept of stewardship, our capacity to look at challenges and difficulties as issues of resource use and resource allocation, and to help us think of innovative ways to use our resources to move into fresh and lifegiving ways of being.

So, today, the first Sunday in October, we begin the season of Stewardship of Resources. At the end of the month, on Sunday the 25th, we’ll kick off our Giving Campaign, four weeks in which we are all invited to make a pledge of financial support to the church for next calendar year. Those pledges, taken together, allow your Finance Committee and Vestry to finalize a budget – which is a statement of how we plan to steward the church’s financial resources, in accordance with its needs and its mission.

But these first three weeks of the month we’ll think about stewardship together in a different way, through three weeks of shared reflection on hunger, in our community and beyond.

This Sunday we’ll make our customary first Sunday offering to MOM, Middleton Outreach Ministry. Half of all cash offerings given today, and any checks with MOM on the memo line, will go to MOM’s food pantry, which truly does amazing work addressing hunger in Middleton and far west Madison. And over Coffee Hour, Judy and Sharon will lead folks in packing our Backpack Snack Packs, little bags of kid-friendly food that go home with kids who depend on school food programs, to help prevent hunger on the weekends.

Next Sunday, the 11th, Percy Brown, the Director of Equity and Student Achievement for the Middleton/Cross Plains School System, will be with us to talk about poverty and equity issues in Middleton. On Sunday the 18th, we’ll be invited, as a partner church of the organization Bread for the World, to use the resource of our voices and votes to contact our elected officials to urge budgeting and policies that address the epidemic of child hunger in our nation. And we’ll send out a team of walkers to the Madison-area CROP Walk, to raise awareness and funds for fighting hunger locally and worldwide.

So for these three weeks, our stewardship focus is on how to help support our neighbors who live with need and uncertainty as daily companions – and not just to help meet their needs in the moment, but how to commit our time and voices and resources to building a world – or at least a city – in which no child goes hungry.

And of course today is also our Fall Clean-up Day. We honor St. Francis by blessing our pets later this afternoon; we also honor Francis by tending our grounds. Weeding and pruning, preparing our grounds to sleep for the winter and flourish in the spring. Francis saw God’s grace powerfully present in the natural world and all living things, and felt deeply our kinship, as humans, with all God’s creatures. Pulling a weed, or picking up beer bottles along the road edge, or piling up sticks, might not feel like a profound act of environmental stewardship. But we are living out our mission of creation care in these small acts. We are serving as stewards of this place God has given us. And, as we always do when we get outside and pay attention to the natural world, we rediscover the beauty and integrity of the natural world; we tune in to its patterns and rhythms; and we find fulfillment and delight in working for the health and flourishing of this little garden of God.(And it is ALL a garden of God – even the woods, even the weeds!)

So in this season – in every season, really – we’ll be trying on that idea that one of the things we are called to be, in Christ, is good stewards. Trusted servants who’ve been given authority over certain resources, in our own lives and in our life together as the people of St. Dunstan’s – who’ve been entrusted with the responsibility to use those resources well – to keep the household running, meet everyone’s needs, deal with crises, and cultivate peace and well-being among humans, plants, bunnies and birds, and even ravenous wolves.

Announcements, October 1

Fall Clean-Up,  Sunday, October 4, 11:30 – 2:00pm: After the 10am service, please stay for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 2pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

HUNGER WEEKS: Backpack Snack Pack Prep, Sunday, October 4, 11:30am: The kids and families of St. Dunstan’s are invited to prepare our “Backpack Snack Packs,” to help local school children from low-income households to have nutritious snacks available over the weekend. We’ll meet in the Gathering Area as we kick off the program.

Blessing of the Animals, Sunday, October 4,  4pm: Bring friends of any species to our Blessing of the Animals service!

First Sunday: Birthdays & Anniversaries are honored on the first Sunday of every month. In addition, one of our ministers will offer Healing Prayers for those who wish to receive prayers for themselves or on behalf of others. Finally, every first Sunday, we designate a portion of the cash in our offering plate (and any checks with MOM on the memo line) to Middleton Outreach Ministry, to support their food pantry and its good work fighting hunger in our community.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, October 4, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, October 7, 10am-1:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service. If you would like to work with the students and help direct them, please contact the office at (608) 238-2781.

Diocese of Milwaukee Pre-Convention Gathering, Wednesday, October 7, 7:00pm, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on the east side: Anyone who would like to learn more about the life of our Diocese and the larger church is welcome to attend. To read about Convention and the resolutions to be considered, use this link: http://www.diomil.org/about-us/diocesan-convention/

Outreach Committee meeting, Saturday, October 10, 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.

Sign up for this year’s Parish Talent Show, Sunday, October 25! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged.

THE HUNGER WEEKS, OCTOBER 4 – 18, 2015  In the first weeks of October we are invited to respond to the needs of our neighbors, locally and globally: by packing snacks for hungry kids (Backpack Snack Pack kickoff, October 4); learning more about poverty in Middleton (Outreach Hour, Sunday, October 11); writing letters to our legislators to urge budgeting and policies that address hunger and poverty (Bread for the World Sunday, October 18); and walking to raise money for food programs (CROP Walk, October 18). Participate and support these efforts as you feel moved, as we together strive to follow Jesus who promised to be bread for the world and urged us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Outreach Hour, Sunday, October 11, 9am: Percy Brown of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District will talk with us about the face of poverty and hunger in Middleton, and how we might help Middleton to be more fully the “Good Neighbor City.”

Bread for the World Sunday, October 18: We are invited to participate in Bread for the Word’s annual Offering of Letters, to advocate to our politicians for programs that will reduce hunger in the United States and around the world. This year’s legislative focus is child hunger, and especially ongoing funding of the WIC program. Letters will be gathered in next Sunday, October 25. Letters, emails and phone calls are all encouraged, so that a strong Christian voice for the hungry is heard in Washington! Come at 9am for a presentation on Bread’s work and a discussion of Christian advocacy in the public square.

Walkers & Pledges Wanted for CROP Walk for Hunger, Sunday, October 18: This year’s CROP Walk starts at 12:45 at the First Congregational Church downtown. There are 2 routes – one fairly lengthy that goes over to Lake Mendota and one about a mile that goes around Camp Randall. All money raised is used to fight hunger and a percentage of the money stays right here in Dane County being distributed to the food pantries. Would you like to join our team of walkers and raise money to fight hunger? Sign up in the Gathering Area (remember to give us your T-shirt size!) and take a pledge envelope so you can gather pledges in the weeks ahead.

Helping Francine & Family: Thanks to everyone who’s expressed concern and support for Francine and her family, who were the subject of my sermon on September 20. I am very happy to report that Francine and the family are FINALLY in housing! They are optimistic and looking forward to getting settled. If you’d like to help out, you could pick up a Walmart gift card (Francine’s older daughter works there, so it’s convenient for them to shop there) so they can get some furnishings and household goods, and start making their new home feel like home. You can also make a donation to my Rector’s Discretionary Fund for me to use to help Francine as needed – or to help others who may come along down the road. And please, keep your ears open to the issue of affordable housing in Dane County – we need a LOT more of it. Thanks, everyone! – Rev. Miranda

Purple Ribbons for Domestic Abuse Awareness: The purple ribbons on our altar this month remind us to hold in prayer victims, survivors, and perpetrators of domestic abuse. To learn more, explore the website of our local agency, DAIS: abuseintervention.org

 

Sermon, Sept. 27

The Jewish people, who share our God and our Old Testament, tell the story of Esther every year, at a festival called Purim. It’s an important story for them because they have lived through many times of being persecuted and hated by those in power,  and this is a story about facing a situation like that, and surviving – surviving because both people and God are faithful and loving.

Who here likes stories? …  Do you remember something better if somebody just says it, or if it’s in a story? …  Stories are powerful.Our minds and hearts are wired for story.  All around the world, all throughout time, human beings have talked about what’s important through stories. We tell stories to make each other laugh, or cry. We tell stories about things that everybody experiences, and about exceptional, strange, crazy things that only happen once. We tell stories that are true, and we tell stories that are lies, and stories that are absolutely made-up, but somehow true anyway. We love stories. It’s one of the most important things we do – make and tell and remember and share stories. So when our cycle of Bible readings in church brings us a little snippet of a good story, I like to make sure we hear the whole story!

Why spend time with stories from the Bible? Well, because they’re great. This one has a beautiful brave princess, a King, a good old-fashioned villain who you don’t have to like, and noisemakers! It’s a lot of fun! But we don’t share these stories just because they’re great stories. Stories from the Bible tell us that God is part of our human stories. God is working in the world and in the lives of human beings – extraordinary people and ordinary people too.

But God’s story isn’t just in the Bible; it’s still happening in the world. Does anybody remember this book from our Godly Play classroom? … It’s from a lesson called “The part that hasn’t been written yet.” You spend the year learning some of the great stories of God’s people, and then we remind each other that those stories keep happening, and we are in some of them.

So when we’re hearing a Bible story, one question we can ask ourselves is, How might this story be my story? Am I in this story somewhere? In our Godly Play classroom, one of the questions at the end of each story is, I wonder which part of the story is most about you? That’s a good question to think about – for grownups too!  Here’s a more grownup way to say the same thing, from missional church scholar Alan Roxburgh:  “Where does the biblical imagination give us language to talk about what we are experiencing?” Holy stories can help us make sense of our experiences, and know them as part of God’s unfolding story.

Here’s a little example. There’s a story Jesus tells about a young man who leaves home. He takes his share of his father’s money and he goes off to have a good time. He makes some really bad choices, spends all his money and ends up in trouble. Finally he’s desperate enough to go home to his father, even though he thinks his father will be really angry, might even refuse to call him his son anymore. But when he’s walking up the road to his home, his father sees him and RUNS to meet him. He hugs him – and he’s so glad to have his son back safely that he throws a party! Do you know that story? It’s usually called the Prodigal Son story.

I was talking with a friend recently whose grownup son has been going through some tough times. Things weren’t going well for him. And my friend said, I just need to be the Prodigal Father. I just need to welcome my son back, and celebrate that he is safe, without giving him a hard time about his choices or his failures. That story from the Bible, that story Jesus told, helped my friend know how to be, in this real-life situation. That story gave him guidance and comfort. And it told him that God knows how he feels. God has been there.

I wonder which part of this story is most about you? I hope you’ll think about that question sometimes, and I look forward to hearing your answers.

Announcements, September 24

THIS WEEKEND…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 25, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Dhaba Indian Bistro at 8333 Greenway Blvd. in Madison. 

“What Am I Doing Here?” A Class For Those New to the Episcopal Church, Sunday at 9am, September 27. An exploration of the parts and purpose of our pattern of worship. Questions? Talk with Rev. Miranda.

Last Sunday Worship, Sunday, September 27, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. This Sunday we’ll receive the lively story of Queen Esther and how she saved her people. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, September 27, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal groups of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the gathering area to help out.

Sign Up to help with our Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, October 4, 11:30 – 2:00pm: A list of tasks is posted in the Gathering Area; please sign up for any you’d like to claim! Note: many of these are small tasks, so you could sign up for several, and it’s fun to share work, so consider signing up with a friend, or a stranger who isn’t a friend yet. We will share our meal and our work with our neighbors at Foundry414 Church (formerly Madison Vineyard Church). Please help us beautify our buildings and Grounds and prepare for winter!

 Walkers & Pledges Wanted for CROP Walk for Hunger, Sunday, October 18: This year’s CROP Walk starts at 12:45 at the First Congregational Church downtown. There are 2 routes – one fairly lengthy that goes over to Lake Mendota and one about a mile that goes around Camp Randall. All money raised is used to fight hunger and a percentage of the money stays right here in Dane County being distributed to the food pantries. Would you like to join our team of walkers and raise money to fight hunger? Sign up in the Gathering Area (remember to give us your T-shirt size!) and take a pledge envelope so you can gather pledges in the weeks ahead.

This year’s Parish Talent Show will be Sunday, October 25! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged. Sign up in the Gathering Area as your ideas take shape!

Altar Flowers: October dates are 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).

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

THE HUNGER WEEKS: In the first weeks of October we are invited to respond to the needs of our neighbors, locally and globally: by packing snacks for hungry kids (Backpack Snack Pack kickoff, October 4); writing letters to our legislators to urge budgeting and policies that address hunger and poverty (Bread for the World Sunday, October 11); and walking to raise money for food programs (CROP Walk, October 18). Participate and support these efforts as you feel moved, as we together strive to follow Jesus who promised to be bread for the world and urged us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Outreach Hour, Sunday, October 4, 9am: Percy Brown of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District will talk with us about the face of poverty and hunger in Middleton.

 Backpack Snack Pack Prep, Sunday, October 4, 11:30am: The kids and families of St. Dunstan’s are invited to prepare our “Backpack Snack Packs,” to help local school children from low-income households to have nutritious snacks available over the weekend. The project will be set up in the Gathering Area this Sunday as we kick off the program.

Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, October 4, 11:30 – 2:00pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 2pm, but you can leave anytime you’ve completed your tasks.

 Blessing of the Animals, Sunday, October 4, 4pm: Bring friends of any species to our Blessing of the Animals service! Please take a purple flyer with you and invite a (human) friend.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, October 4: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Groceries are also welcome gifts. The top ten most needed items currently are: sugar, cooking oil, fruit cocktail, canned peaches, canned turkey or chicken, cereal, jelly, diapers sizes 4, 5 & 6, laundry detergent and toothbrushes & toothpaste. Quality bedding items such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels are also always in need. Thank you for all your generous support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, October 4, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Edgewood in the Community, Wednesday, October 7, 10am-1:30pm: Edgewood High School will be sending 20 students to St. Dunstan’s this day to do yard work as part of their community service.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, October 14, 7:15 – 9:00pm: A Julian Gathering is open to everyone and you are welcome at all times. These gatherings are initiated and supported by the Order of Julian of Norwich, www.orderofjulian.org and have the quintessentially Anglican writings of Bl. Mother Julian of Norwich at their core. They are for all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer, for beginners as well as those already practicing. We meet the second Wednesday of each month from 7:15 to 9 PM.

Words in Season: Dear performance and poetry loving members of St. Dunstan’s, join us for a seasonal celebration of words and the spirit. Daniel Hanson and Evy Gildrie-Voyles are gathering a group of all ages to perform poetry relevant to the seasons four times this year. The first will be in October. We will meet on Saturday October 17th at 10am at the Church for a brief rehearsal and perform Oct. 18th in the Gathering space after the 10 o’clock service (roughly 11:15am.) All ages are welcome. No memorizing is necessary.

 Men’s Book Club, Saturday, October 17, 10am: This month’s book is “The Wright Brothers,” by David McCullough. On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? Looks like a good read.

Honoring our Beloved Dead: This year at our All Saints celebration, on Sunday, November 1, we would like to carry flowers out to some of the places on our grounds that are connected with loved ones who have gone before – memorial trees, benches, and so on. Do you have a place that you visit, on our grounds, in connection with a departed loved one? In the weeks ahead, please talk with Rev. Miranda or call the church office and make arrangements to come by and show us the spot, if we don’t already know about it. We hope to have all our significant sites mapped and ready by mid-October.

IN THE WIDER CHURCH…

Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Saint Francis House! Friday, October 16, 7-8:30pm at SFH: All friends of the House, our Episcopal campus ministry at UW-Madison, are welcome to join the celebration. Tours of the newly renovated house will be available Friday. The formal program starts at 7pm. Those folks with a history of St. Francis House are especially welcome to share their memories and stories of the House. 

Diocesan Convention, Saturday, October 17, 8am – 4:30pm at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin:  All are welcome to attend all or part of the convention! The morning will be devoted to worship and a presentation focused on taking our Church into the wider community.  The afternoon session will be the ‘business’ session. Visitors are asked to register but there is no charge unless you want to have meals at the convention. To register, fill out and mail in the form located in the Gathering Area or you can register at the convention between 8 and 9am. Also of note, travel-size personal hygiene items will be collected at Convention, to be given out through hospitality ministries around the diocese. For more information on the convention, go to http://www.diomil.org/about-us/diocesan-convention/.

Sung Evensong at St. Andrew’s Church, Thursday, October 22, 7pm: St. Andrew invites their fellow Episcopalians to a liturgy of Choral Evensong. The lessons are those appointed for St. James of Jerusalem (Feast Day – October 23).  The chancel choir of St. Andrew’s augmented with friends of choir members will sing.  A small recorder ensemble will provide the prelude and postlude. Come experience the mystery and glories of this cherished Anglican service. A reception will follow the service giving all an opportunity for conversation and connection.

 

 

Sermon, Sept. 20

rogersappreciationWill you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Today’s Gospel lesson is just one of many places in the Gospels where Jesus tells his followers that following his Way is all about servanthood. He says, I didn’t come to be served, but to serve others. He says, Love your neighbor as you love yourself. He says, When you care for the sick, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, it is as if you are caring for me. He says, I have washed your feet as an example to you, that you should serve each other humbly as I have served you. And he says, Whoever wants to be the greatest and the first, must be least and last, and be the servant of all.

He must have been so fed up with them! He’s just been talking about what’s ahead for him, about the road of suffering he must walk. He knows that speaking out against the unjust and cruel political, economic, and religious status quo is going to get him killed. He is bracing himself for it, and trying to prepare his friends. And they are missing the point so, so profoundly. He’s talking about vulnerability and solidarity and sacrifice and they’re arguing amongst themselves about who’s the BEST disciple.  When he asks them what they’re talking about, there’s this … silence. I know that silence. A child might say, “I don’t want to tell you.” So he schools them – again.

In the way of Christ, greatness is found in servanthood, in loving action in response to the needs of another.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? That’s how our church states this aspect of the Way of Jesus, in our baptismal covenant, the set of five questions outlining the life of faith – faithfulness in worship and study, repentance when we fall away, sharing God’s good news, serving and loving our neighbors, and working for a more just and peaceful world.  We join in these vows every time we celebrate a baptism, and we renew them several times every year. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  – and the people say: I will, with God’s help!…. 

Back at the beginning of the month, all Episcopal churches were invited – called, really – to a Sunday of confession, repentance, and commitment to end racism. We were called into this observance – along with other churches and denominations – as a sign of solidarity and support for the African Methodist Episcopal Church nationwide, following the racially-motivated murder of nine people at a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 7; and also as a sign of our shared commitment, as a denomination, to confronting racism in our society, our institutions, and ourselves.

Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Chair of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings, wrote a joint letter to the Episcopal Church, in which they write, “‘The Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant’ [quoting Resolution C019 of the 78th General Convention]…. Racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action is a top priority of the Episcopal Church in the [years ahead].”

Right now, some of you – I won’t guess the percentage are thinking, Oh, no, another racism sermon. Maybe because you think we shouldn’t really be talking about this in church, maybe because you feel like we’ve done enough talking and it’s time to move on to some action. I probably wouldn’t have chosen this topic for this Sunday, this season, on my own. I already postponed it for two weeks; we were asked to observe this Sunday of prayer and repentance on Sunday the 6th. I wanted to get into the new season together; I wanted to find a Gospel lesson that reinforces this call to costly love of neighbor; I wanted to find something fresh to say.

I’ve preached before about why racism is a sin. I think you’ve heard that before, even if you haven’t been around St. Dunstan’s for long. And I’ve preached before about why racism is an urgent issue here in Madison. I think you’ve heard that before, even if you haven’t been around St. Dunstan’s for long.

If you’re waiting for the sermon in which I offer the one neat trick that will eliminate unsightly racism forever,  well, it’s not gonna happen today. Racism is embedded in our institutions and economy, our media and culture, our minds and souls in ways that will take a couple of generations of hard, persistent, broad-based work to undo. I am just informed enough to know how hard this really is, and just faithful enough to believe we’ve got to try anyway. May God empower and encourage us.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Seek and serve…  What makes it hard for us to find Christ in our neighbors, so that we’re moved to respond with loving service?

A big piece of my perspective on anti-racism work comes from my parents. We’re all shaped by our first families. For me, in particular, that includes the fact that my father is a social psychologist. He’s a scientist who studies the way humans think about difference. The ways we form ingroups and outgroups – the ways we stereotype and judge others – all that stuff. I’m not an expert by any means; I’m just related to one. But I can tell you that if you’d like a deeper understanding of the roots and dynamics of racism, the field of social psychology is one  fruitful path to follow.

Social psychologists tell us that there are a lot of ways in which the structures and habits of our brains contribute to the persistence of racism. I want to introduce you to one of them: the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error is our habit of explaining our own behavior by looking at the situation, and explaining other people’s behavior as a result of the kind of person they are.

One writer explains it this way: “When we see someone doing something, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in.” That article is called “Why we don’t give each other a break” – the answer? The Fundamental Attribution Error. Here’s what it looks like in practice. You snap at your child and you think, Phew, that wasn’t my best parenting moment, but I’m under so much stress right now. You might feel guilty, but you give yourself a break. Or if it’s a friend, you might do the same: I know his mom is sick right now; he’s stretched pretty thin. But when you see a stranger snap at her child, you think, What a terrible parent.

AND, if there are stereotypes in the mix as well – if that mom snapping at her child belongs to a group about which you carry some preexisting judgments – then you might go farther. You might go from, What a terrible parent, to, They just don’t care about their children. Why do they have so many kids, anyway? My neighborhood school is full of them, and it’s a real problem for the teachers, because they’re so disruptive.

But what if, what if that mom is not so different from you? What if she’s stretched thin because of job- or family-related stress? What if this is her worst parenting moment of the week? Or what if her circumstances are such that she is stretched that thin all the time? What if your heart, instead of closing in judgment,

could open with compassion? …

The Fundamental Attribution Error, that habit of our lazy brains to go for the simplest explanation, makes it harder for us to see Christ in our neighbor. It literally makes it difficult for me to love my neighbor as myself, because I think about self and neighbor differently. It makes us quick to judge, slow to reflect, empathize, understand. And when it’s compounded by stereotypes – when we have learned, willingly or unwillingly, that such and such a group of people is lazy, dirty, violent, dishonest, incompetent –  then our capacity to recognize God in another person is even more limited. We can’t see the divinity of our neighbor, God’s presence in them, if we can’t even fully see their humanity.

I want to tell you a little bit about one of our neighbors. I’ve changed her name, but I do have her permission to share a little bit of her story. Let’s call her Francine. Francine is an African-American woman in her forties. I’ve known Francine for about six months. I met her when she came to the door of the church, with her husband James, looking for some assistance. They needed help with the room fees for the cheap hotel where they were staying.

While I was talking to the hotel manager, Francine looked around the church a little. She found some of the information pages for our conversations on racism, and I think knowing that we had some awareness of those issues opened her up to telling me her story.  We’ve talked a number of times, over the past months. I’ve helped with hotel room charges, when I can, and sometimes when I can’t. We’ve wept and prayed together. And I’ve listened.

Francine and James had moved to Madison from Milwaukee the previous summer. They’ve now been here well over a year. They have two older sons who’ve graduated from college – Francine is really proud of that; she says, My kids didn’t go to jail; they went to college! They have a daughter who’s a college freshman this year. She wants to get her masters’ degree and be a forensic scientist. And their youngest daughter is starting sixth grade.

Francine has worked as a CNA and wants to go back to school. James is a skilled construction worker. He finds work easily, because he’s good. He’s also veteran. They came to Madison because they were hoping for a better life for their kids. They knew what the opportunities and limitations were in Milwaukee, and they thought they could do better. Better neighborhoods, better schools, a better future for their daughters.

With both Francine and James working, plus his veteran’s benefits, they should be able to afford a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood here. They should be able to live a stable life, and build towards that hopeful future for their family.

But here’s the thing. Madison has a housing crisis. Our occupancy rate is incredibly high, thanks to Epic, the university, and other factors. That means it’s a seller’s market for landlords and property managers.  They can be as demanding and as choosy as they like. And they don’t really have to tell you why they say No. They can just say No. Because you don’t look like the kind of tenant they want.

But they won’t say No right away. They’ll let you fill out an application, first. Did you know that you have to pay a fee to apply for an apartment? $20, $25, $30 per adult. One place Francine had to argue with them not to count her 18-year-old daughter as a third adult, so they’d have to pay another $20.

Francine and James have been seeking housing in Madison for fifteen months. And by seeking I don’t mean making a couple of calls a week. I mean pounding the pavement. Calling every possible lead from Craigslist or the paper. Driving around the city, looking for “For Rent” signs. Filling out application after application. Paying hundreds, thousands of dollars in fees. Meeting with property managers, week after week. Keeping in touch with case managers and counselors. Getting the funds and the references set up, only to get another No. Disrupting James’ work schedule and wages, because landlords have to meet him too.

All of this while living in a hotel room, for $70 a night. Almost twice what their rent would be, if they could get into an apartment.

Sure, they could go to the family homeless shelter in town. But they don’t want to. They tried it out. Francine says it was dirty, unsafe, and divides the family. What would you do?

Sure, they could probably find an apartment in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Their case worker keeps pointing them there. Francine says they were offered one last week. But the place had been trashed by the previous tenants, and there’s no reason to think those landlords will fix anything. Francine and James don’t want to live in poorly-maintained low-rent housing. They can afford a better apartment, in a nicer location, and that’s what they want. What would you do?

The bottom line is, they shouldn’t have to settle. They have work. They have income – though if they could get into housing, it would do a heck of a lot to stabilize their financial situation. They have the support and advocacy of the Veteran’s Affairs folks, earned by James’s service to his country. Francine says, “It’s not like we don’t have means. We HAVE means.” But landlords in Madison have lots of applicants to choose from. And it’s easy NOT to choose a poor black family.

When I realized that I wanted to talk about Francine today, I had forgotten that our Old Testament lesson today is the wonderful description of the Resourceful Woman, from the Book of Proverbs. She’s the ideal wife and mother, working hard for the wellbeing of her family. Always busy, always striving for a safe and prosperous future for her children. It’s like cruel mirror for Francine’s story. That’s just what she is, what she does; and yet, her family is not prospering.

Francine believes, and James believes, that a big part of the reason for all those No answers is racism.

What do those landlords see when they look at Francine? … They see a black woman. She doesn’t have very polished speech. Her clothing and hair aren’t at their best; she looks poor. She gets upset easily, emotional.  She’s demanding – she wants to know, are you going to give my family a chance?

The Fundamental Attribution Error means that people read Francine and make assumptions about who and what she is. When in fact she’s in a situation – a long, grinding, heart-wrenching, exhausting situation – in which any of us would struggle. If I were going through what Francine is going through, I’d be unkempt.

I’d be demanding. I’d be emotional. I’d be roaring my frustration, rage, and grief to the world about a system that won’t let me house my kids.

We have a stereotype, a template, of the Poor Black Family. In the stereotype, there’s no father in the picture. The kids have different daddies. There’s a criminal record or two in the family. Nobody’s pursuing higher education. Nobody’s working a skilled job.  It is easy for the landlords looking at Francine and James to see them through that lens, and assume that’s who they are.

Now listen: I want those landlords, I want all of us, to have a lot more compassion towards families that DO match that profile. I’m not saying it’s OK to shut them out either.

But that’s NOT who Francine and James are. And they still can’t catch a break.

I don’t know how to be a servant to Francine and her family. I don’t have an apartment for them, or a solution. Sometimes I can pay for a night at the hotel from my discretionary fund, thanks to the generosity of this parish; sometimes I can’t.  But at least I see her. I see her dignity and her desperation. And I care. I think that matters to her, even when I have nothing to offer but my prayers.

When I talked to Francine this week to ask if it was OK to tell some of her story, she updated me on their ongoing, disheartening search. She wept. And she wondered, again, why the system seems to want her family – her family, which is ready to make it, to be OK, to get ahead! – why the system keeps seeming to push them down and out. She said, “Why would the world want that? I’ve got a real insight into the world now…”

I’ve got a real insight into the world now…

The Fundamental Attribution Error is fascinating and powerful to understand.

You might find that knowing this about yourself – about how your brain works, left to its own devices – helps you think twice and be more understanding of your annoying co-worker, your surly check-out clerk, your unreliable dogsitter.

It’s my hope that knowing this about ourselves might help us think past our received stereotypes and judgments about our neighbors living in poverty, and especially our poor neighbors of color.

What if we take on the discipline of trying to assume that everyone else’s actions and choices are strongly influenced by their situation and circumstances, just like our own? Then I might think about those circumstances, and how it would feel, and what choices I might make, were I standing in those shoes.

Recognizing her circumstances, hearing her story, I might be more prepared to recognize my neighbor’s humanity. To see her as a sister, to see myself in her.

And recognizing her humanity, I might be able to catch a glimpse of her divinity. Of Christ’s image reflected in her face. Of Christ’s heartbreak and outrage in her tears.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Announcements, September 18

SUNDAY…

What Am I Doing Here?” A Class For Those New to the Episcopal Church, Sundays at 9am, Sept. 20, and 27. Join us for an exploration of the parts and purpose of our pattern of worship. Please pick up a copy of the book (“What Am I Doing Here?” – it’s small and blue) in the Gathering Area. Questions? Talk with Rev. Miranda at (608)238-2781.

 Rector’s Discretionary Fund Offering: Half the cash in our collection plate, and any designated checks, will go towards the Rector’s Discretionary Fund this day and on every third Sunday. This fund is one way to serve our neighbors, in the parish and the wider community. Please give generously.

Christian Formation meeting, 11:45am: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, with a special focus on Vacation Bible School. All interested folks are welcome.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, 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.

Evening Eucharist, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins. All are welcome.

Sign Up to help with our Fall Clean-Up, Sunday, October 4, 11:30 – 2:00pm: Wear your work clothes to church and stay after the 10am service for a simple lunch (with an overview of tasks to complete while we’re eating), followed by time to work on our grounds. We’ll wrap up by 2pm. A list of tasks is posted in the Gathering Area; please sign up for any you’d like to claim! Note: many of these are small tasks, so you could sign up for several, and it’s fun to share work, so consider signing up with a friend, or a stranger who isn’t a friend yet. We will share our meal and our work with our neighbors at Foundry414 Church. Please help us beautify our buildings and Grounds and prepare for winter!

Walkers & Pledges Wanted for CROP Walk for Hunger, Sunday, October 18: This year’s CROP Walk starts at 12:45 at the First Congregational Church downtown. There are 2 routes – one fairly lengthy that goes over to Lake Mendota and one about a mile that goes around Camp Randall. All money raised is used to fight hunger and a percentage of the money stays right here in Dane County being distributed to the food pantries. Would you like to join our team of walkers and raise money to fight hunger? Sign up in the Gathering Area (remember to give us your T-shirt size!) and take a pledge envelope so you can gather pledges in the weeks ahead.

Readers Needed! On Sunday, September 27, the lectionary offers us the gift of the Scriptural story of Esther. We need readers to bring some of the characters to life in a dramatic reading: Esther, the King, Mordechai, Haman, and others. A sign-up sheet will be circulated this Sunday, and scripts are available for pickup or by email. Talk with Rev. Miranda with any questions.

Coffee Hour hosts needed for the weeks ahead!  Please consider being a coffee host. Sign-up sheets for upcoming months can be found in the Gathering Area.Thanks for lending a hand!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Last Sunday Worship, Sunday, September 27, 10am: Our Last Sunday worship is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. This Sunday we’ll receive the lively story of Queen Esther and how she saved her people. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

 Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 25, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Dhaba Indian Bistro at 8333 Greenway Blvd. in Madison.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, September 27, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal groups of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the gathering area to help out. 

Blessing of the Animals, Sunday, October 4, 4pm: Bring friends of any species to our Blessing of the Animals service! Please take a purple flyer with you and invite a (human) friend.

Altar Flowers: September & October dates are 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).

This year’s Parish Talent Show will be Sunday, October 25! What will you share? A poem, a song, a dramatic monologue, a dance? A sample of art, craft, tinkering, building, study or science? Group acts are encouraged. Chat with your friends this summer and begin to plan and practice!

Sermon, Sept. 13

wisdom_womanMay God grant me to speak with judgement, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received; For both we and our words are in God’s hand, as are all understanding and skill. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:15-16)

Let’s talk about Wisdom. For what could be a more worthy topic? Wisdom is a breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty. She is intelligent, holy, generous, humane, steadfast, powerful, clear. She passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; and she orders all things well.

That Wisdom hymn that we spoke together – I’m sure I read it in seminary at some point, but it came before my eyes again early this year while the Saint John’s Bible was in residence at the Chazen Museum. That Bible – a contemporary hand-calligraphed and illustrated Bible – includes, among its other amazing images, a beautiful picture of Lady Wisdom, with the wrinkles and kind smile of a beloved elder. My colleague and friend Dorota Pruski, the associate rector at St. Andrew’s, mentioned to me that that image was meaningful to her -so meaningful that she wrote a thesis in seminary about the images and language of Divine Wisdom in Scripture.

I invited her to come and speak about this image and how it touched her heart and her life at our Thursday evening Sandbox Worship, where the heart of our gathering is often somebody’s sharing of a piece of their life or faith journey. Dorota brought us this text, to read and reflect on together. And it blew me away. And when I realized that it was an option in the lectionary in September – today – I thought, I really want to spend more time with this text, and I hope some other folks will fall in love with it too, and find something fresh and joyful here.

So, let’s talk about Wisdom. First, just to get it out of the way, the Bible scholar bit. Like the Song of Solomon, the Wisdom of Solomon is in King Solomon’s voice – it talks about being a king, and about asking God for wisdom, as Solomon did in the court history of the Book of Kings. But this text wasn’t written by Solomon, who lived in the tenth century before Jesus. This is a very late Old Testament text, originally written in Greek. It was most likely written not long before the life of Jesus, or even around the same time – in the late first century before Christ, or the early first century A.D.

The Wisdom of Solomon is very Jewish,  drawing on deep textual traditions throughout the Hebrew Bible of naming and celebrating Divine Wisdom, and personifying Her as a beautiful woman, who invites the seeker to eat at her table and receive her gifts. The Wisdom of Solomon is also very Greek, in its high, almost philosophical language, its sense of the ideal and the abstract, its elevation of wisdom and understanding as the highest of divine qualities.

The text was probably written by a Hellenistic Jew – a pious member of the people Israel who had been educated and steeped in Greek scholarship and thought.  The word it uses for Wisdom is Sophia, but all those feminine pronouns aren’t just a grammatical accident. The text is very clear and intentional in describing Wisdom as a feminine aspect of God. For instance, in chapter 8, just a few verses after the end of this text, it casts Wisdom as a beautiful woman, desirable as a metaphorical bride; and also as a close companion of God and helper in God’s work.

In exploring this image of God’s Wisdom, I’m going to dig into two questions: What is wisdom, and what might it mean to integrate Wisdom into our image of God and our practices of prayer?

So, what is Wisdom? … Well, to begin with, there are different kinds of wisdom. Several places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, a distinction is drawn between divine and earthly wisdom, or the wisdom of the current age.

One of those places is in the letter of James,  in the text that will come to us next week: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

As James describes it, earthly wisdom is tied up with envy, selfishness, pride, ambition. It’s driven by our wants and cravings. We might call it savvy or cunning. It’s the kind of wisdom that knows how to manipulate people and systems to get what you want, to gain or protect advantages for yourself or your group.

In contrast, Divine Wisdom is gentle, generous, pure, merciful, peace-making.   Does James’s list of the qualities of Divine Wisdom remind you of the Wisdom of Solomon? I don’t know whether James knew that text or not, since it’s possible they were written around the same time! But both were drawing on the same Old Testament themes and traditions.

Listen to more of the Wisdom of Solomon, to that text’s description of divine Wisdom:  “For it is God who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;  the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the thoughts of human beings, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots…  (chapter 7)  She teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these. And if anyone longs for wide experience, she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come; she understands turns of speech and the solutions of riddles; she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders and of the outcome of seasons and times.”  (chapter 8) 

Wisdom has to do with understanding the patterns of things, the big picture; the inner meanings and deep purposes; with knowing both self and world. Sometimes Wisdom is found in perspective, looking at the present in light of the past and the future, seeing how a particular thread fits into the great tapestry. Sometimes Wisdom is found in seeing to the true nature of things, telling it like it is, like James’ words on the power of the tongue in today’s Epistle. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it can boast of some large accomplishments. How great a forest may be set ablaze by a small flame!” Truth.

And sometimes Wisdom is found in comprehending how little we know, in making peace with paradox and mystery,  with divine riddles like these: The person who saves their life will lose it, while the person who loses their life for the sake of Christ will save it. And: What good does it do a person to gain the whole world, and lose their soul?

So, what is Wisdom? … It’s hard to define neatly.  And sometimes things that sound wise turn out to be bogus, like, If you live a good and pure life and only eat organic food, nothing bad will ever happen to you.  The Internet, pop culture and advertising firms offer us all sorts of pseudo-wisdom, though once in a while they hit on something true, like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day. But I think often we know wisdom when we see or hear it, and when we’re not sure, we can take James’ advice and look to the fruits. Does this so-called wisdom yield good things? Does it produce mercy, peace, justice, kindness? Or… not? You could take home this text from the Wisdom of Solomon, post it on your fridge or near your desk, refer to it to remind you what divine Wisdom looks like.

Now, having failed to define Wisdom, I’ll move on to the “so what” question. What do we do with this? Why does it matter, beyond appreciating a poetic text? What might it mean to integrate Wisdom into our image of God and our practices of prayer? I have often prayed for wisdom, in the course of my forty years. Here’s the new idea I want to offer to you, and to myself: that we can pray TO Wisdom.

If this image touches you – if you are moved by this vision of a loving and lovely Lady who takes up residence in our souls and strives for order and grace in the world – you can claim this as your image of the Divine. You can pray to her, reflect on her, honor her.  And in doing so, you are not creating a new, prettier, nicer God. You are not departing from the Trinitarian theology, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, taught by our church.  You are simply giving a new, ancient name to the aspect of God better known to us as Jesus Christ.

Okay. Lemme back that up. Throughout Scripture, Wisdom is described as an attribute, an emanation, a companion of God the Father, the Creator and Source. It would be easy to see Wisdom as another name for the Holy Spirit, that breath of the Divine that blows through our world and lives. You’ve already heard me use feminine language for the Spirit – not because I imagine that the Spirit of God is actually a girl, any more than I imagine that God the Father is a boy, but in order to strive for a little complexity and balance in our images and language of the divine.  So it would be easy to identify Wisdom with the Holy Spirit.

But there’s actually a LOT of overlap in Scripture between the way Wisdom is described, and the way Christ is described. If you want a nice chewy beautifully-written thesis to read about it, let me know & I’ll ask Dorota for permission to share her thesis!  I’ll just give you the clearest and best example: the Christological hymn or poem at the beginning of John’s Gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Can you hear the similarities? The Companion of God, the Light from God that shares in God’s work and passes into the world to dwell among humans? It’s even clearer if you read more of the Wisdom of Solomon, which describes Wisdom as God’s presence in the world throughout the history of God’s saving work for humanity, very much the way John describes Jesus, the Christ. If you replaced “Word” with “Wisdom” in John’s hymn, and changed the pronouns, it would sound like another chapter of the Wisdom text. But John used a different Greek term: Logos, Word. Maybe that’s a theological choice: he sees Jesus as the creating and prophetic Word of God, made flesh. Maybe it’s because Logos was a masculine word and let John avoid the messiness of using feminine language for Jesus. Who knows? …

The point is that here and elsewhere, there are close parallels between parts of the New Testament that describe the divine and cosmic nature of Jesus, and the Wisdom language of the Old Testament. And there’s a rich strain in Christian history, theology and liturgy that picks up on that and names Christ as Divine Wisdom. It’s most dominant in the Orthodox Christian tradition, but we have one very familiar example in our hymnal, in an Advent hymn based on a holy poem from the 6th century: O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, that orderest all things mightily… That hymn, that some of us have sung for decades, names Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, as Wisdom – Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in Greek.

And just as you could easily read the first verses of John’s Gospel as a hymn to Wisdom, so you can easily read some of the Wisdom texts as hymns to Jesus Christ.  Consider this passage from chapter 9:  “And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases [God], and were saved by Wisdom.”

Here’s why I think this matters. It matters for some people who’ve never quite found their own way to approach Jesus in prayer. Maybe it’s a gender thing. Maybe the Jesus of the Gospels just doesn’t feel God-dy enough to them. If the image and language of Divine Wisdom opens a door for you which allows you to approach Jesus Christ in a new way, I hope you’ll walk through it, with joy. But naming and claiming Sophia as legitimate holy language matters for all of us, because it helps us have a broader sense of who and what Jesus Christ really is: Both the ragamuffin prophet of Galilee, and the cosmic Christ, present before and after and in and beyond. The divine Logos, yes, the Word that creates life; and the holy Sophia, yes, the Wisdom that orders Creation.

And it offers us, too, a fresh and wider vision of what Christ active in our lives looks like:  a Spirit that is intelligent! holy! generous! humane! free from anxiety!that forms us as friends of God! I talked with the kids a couple of weeks ago about seeing the love in their lives as signs of the presence of God, as manifestations of God’s presence. What about if we think of wisdom the same way? Look for it, note it, honor it, seek it. Wisdom, Sophia, Logos, Christ is calling out to us, asking us to be her guests, her students, her friends.

Vestry & Parish Goals, ’15-’16

Leadership Goals for the Year Ahead, as discerned by the Vestry of St. Dunstan’s at our Workday on May 31, 2015

The Vestry offer these to the parish in the hopes that others will join us in taking on these goals, identifying areas of opportunity or challenge in the life of our parish in relation to these goals, and sharing the work of moving together in these hopeful and holy directions. We expect these goals to guide our work through the spring of 2016, and perhaps beyond.

1. Deepen our mutual life of prayer.

We will look for ways to deepen our life of mutual prayer, and to extend it to the wider community.

Some possibilities for pursuing this goal:

  • explore weekday prayer, in person and/or virtual
  • explore fresh approaches to the prayer list
  • explore seeking prayer requests from neighbors

2. Move some recurring tasks from Work towards Ministry. 

We will give thoughtful attention to some of the areas in our common life where a person or ministry is often recruiting or going short-handed, such as grounds work, coffee hour, Sunday school helpers; and others which may come to our attention. We will explore how to re-engineer the work itself so that perhaps it is less, and simpler; and then how to re-market the tasks as easy-entry, low-commitment ministry opportunities.

These goals are intentionally broad and open-ended. We hope for input, ideas, and help from members of the parish (and beyond!) to help us put them into practice. 

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