Category Archives: Church Seasons & Holy Days

Palm Liturgy, April 5

Here is the sheet to download for our Palm Worship, Sunday at 9:15am. We will also use some of this material at our Palm Sunday Vespers, an evening gathering (6:30pm)  for those who can’t join us in the morning.

Palm Liturgy Page 2020

PREPARE:  Sign or banner (on paper, fabric, whatever) proclaiming what you hope God’s new King will do! (Friend of St. Dunstan’s Father Jonathan Melton shares an idea for making a “palm” sign – this is a great option too; watch his video and follow along here!) You could also cut flowers or small branches to wave. The people of Jerusalem used palms because palms grew there. It’s appropriate to use whatever grows in plenty in your environment!

SERVICES
St. Dunstan’s Palm Procession, Zoom, 9:15AM: We’ll gather for the Palm Gospel & some music before our diocesan liturgy. Bring your Palm Sunday banners, signs, and palms (see below)!

Diocesan Worship with Passion Gospel, 10AM: Follow along on Facebook or Youtube. A link to download the bulletin will be sent out later this week.

St. Dunstan’s Palm Sunday Vespers, Zoom, 6:30PM: A simple evening gathering with sharing of palm banners (for those who couldn’t join the morning “virtual procession”) and time to pray together.

Need Zoom links to join our worship? Email Rev. Miranda at or ask to join our parish Facebook group, St. Dunstan’s MadCity. 

Holy Week Worship, 2020

Next week is Holy Week, the most important week on the Christian calendar! We WILL hold Holy Week services, online. Scroll down for plans and times. Here are some ideas about preparing for Holy Week.

Download a one-page summary of Holy Week services here!

1. Gather and prepare some things to help you participate in our online liturgies. For each service, below, I suggest some items you might gather or prepare. These suggestions are not meant to feel like an assignment or a burden! Rather, I want us all to feel that we can create holy space wherever we are, and know that we are participants in, rather than viewers of, these special liturgies. Here’s the abbreviated list: Banners/signs & boughs; bread, wine or juice; ointment or balm; envelope, paper, & writing utensils; a cross; a special candle; a bowl of water; snacks and treats; bells & noisemakers. See list of liturgies for more detail.

2. Pray the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a practice of prayer that dwells with Jesus’ journey from his sentencing, until his body was laid in the tomb. You could sit in a quiet place and read and pray the Stations, or you might call them up on a smartphone and take them on a walk with you, pausing to read and pray as you move around your neighborhood. There are many online versions of the Stations. Here is the version we have used in recent years. 

3. With younger children, share the whole story. It’s important for younger kids to be reminded of the whole story before we begin Holy Week – so they know that it eventually has a joyful, triumphant ending. That’s more important than ever, this year! Here are some ways to do that:

PALM SUNDAY, APRIL 5

PREPARE:  Sign or banner (on paper, fabric, whatever) proclaiming what you hope God’s new King will do! (Friend of St. Dunstan’s Father Jonathan Melton shares an idea for making a “palm” sign – this is a great option too; watch his video and follow along here!) You could also cut flowers or small branches to wave. The people of Jerusalem used palms because palms grew there. It’s appropriate to use whatever grows in plenty in your environment!

PALM SUNDAY SERVICES
St. Dunstan’s Palm Procession, Zoom, 9:15AM: We’ll gather for the Palm Gospel & some music before our diocesan liturgy. Bring your Palm Sunday banners, signs, and palms (see below)! Join the Zoom gathering anytime after 9am. Check E-news or our St. Dunstan’s MadCity Facebook group for the link.

Diocesan Worship with Passion Gospel, 10AM: Follow along on Facebook or Youtube. A link to download the bulletin will be sent out later this week.

St. Dunstan’s Palm Sunday Vespers, Zoom, 6:30PM: A simple evening gathering with sharing of palm banners (for those who couldn’t join the morning “virtual procession”) and time to pray together. Check E-news or our Facebook group for the link.

HOLY WEEK LITURGIES

Monday – Thursday at noon: YESHUA Reading & discussion: Rev. Miranda invites you to join her as she reads aloud this chapter about Jesus’ life and death, from Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic. Join every day or come when you can. (You don’t need the book to participate.)

MAUNDY THURSDAY, April 9, 6PM
Try to be at the end of your dinner, more or less, at 6pm as we gather online for this service. (But it’s OK if you’re still finishing up!) Consider setting your table nicely and making this a special meal, whatever that means for you right now.  PREPARE:  Please have some bread and some red wine, grape juice, or another special drink set aside on your table, to use in our worship. Please have some ointment or balm for dry skin nearby.*  Please have an envelope (or special box or container), slips of paper that will fit in envelope or container, & writing utensils on hand.

GOOD FRIDAY, April 10, 12PM & 7PM 
PREPARE: Ffind a cross, or make one; it can be as simple as two sticks and some twine.

GOOD FRIDAY STATIONS for KIDS, April 10, 4PM 
Nothing to gather; just join Rev. Miranda on Zoom! 

EASTER VIGIL, Saturday, April 11, 7PM
We are starting our Vigil early this year so that our younger members can join in the sharing of holy stories. The Vigil should be finished by around 8:30PM.  PREPARE: A special candle to light; a bowl of water (maybe a special bowl?); a special place prepared for listening to holy stories (cozy blankets? snacks? A fire in a fireplace?); Alleluia signs or banners; bells & noisemakers (keyrings work well); perhaps some treat foods for a feast.

EASTER SUNDAY, April 12
Diocesan Easter liturgy, 10AM, on Youtube and Facebook.

St. Dunstan’s Easter Sunday online gatherings TBD. What’s important to share with your St. Dunstan’s community that day? Let Rev. Miranda know at 608-469-7085 pr 
Think about doing something on Easter Sunday that gives you joy and leans into the future. Plant something. Make a time capsule. Watch the sun rise, or set. Go someplace with water and celebrate your baptism. Blow some bubbles!

* Ointment or balm: If you don’t have something like that at home or want to make something special for the occasion, it’s easy to make a simple ointment or balm! Take stock of what you have around the house, looking for things like this: olive or almond oil, beeswax (yes, you can melt down bits of a candle); coconut oil; essential oils; calendula, comfrey, or chamomile (yes, you can tear open a tea bag); plantain – not the banana-like thing but a common low-growing plant; Google it & check your yard; shea butter; even an old hand or lip balm can be melted down and made into something new. Then Google around for recipes and ideas.

Christmas Eve, 2019

Merry Christmas! We made it!  All the preparation, all the waiting… it’s finally fulfilled. Christmas is here, and Jesus is born! Joy to the world! Peace on earth!

I wish joy – I wish peace – for every single person here, and all those whom you love. But I know it’s a hopeful wish. If you’re one of the lucky ones, tonight and tomorrow will be a time of goodness and warmth. With family and friends wrapped around you like a cozy blanket, sharing happy memories and making new ones. 

But that’s not what Christmas holds for everyone here. Some of you will be alone. Some of you will be struggling with family dynamics that make you wish you were alone. For some, happy memories cast the shadow of loved ones lost, and good times gone by. Some have to work; not everybody gets Christmas off. Some will just be weary or out of sorts. The gifts we give or receive won’t be quite right. The matching pajamas won’t quite match. Christmas won’t live up to the hype. 

It can be uncomfortable – the gulf between our realities and the Hallmark-movie vision of what Christmas is “supposed” to be. All those words printed in gold foil on Christmas cards: Merry. Peace. Joy. Jolly. Happy. Bright. Fun. Cheer. Social media can make it even harder, because it’s not just the people in the movies and advertisements who seem to be having a perfect Christmas; it’s also our friends and acquaintances. Their smiling pictures can seem so much brighter than our own unfiltered realities. 

Sometimes I wish we could tease apart what we celebrate here at church – the feast of the Nativity, the feast of the Incarnation, in which the only gift that matters is God coming among us as a helpless infant to show the depth of divine love— 

Sometimes I wish we could tease that apart from cultural and capitalist Christmas. 

But I can’t; we can’t. They’re all tangled up together. We’ve all collected a lifetimes’ worth of ideas about how Christmas is supposed to look and feel, sound and taste. We arrive at Dec. 24 laden with memories and expectations. Will the hours and days ahead fulfill our hopes? Will this Christmas be Instagram-happy and Pinterest-perfect? Will it be memorable in a GOOD way? … 

Who here remembers watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?… 

It was a children’s television show, with this man who talked to the TV as if he were talking to a child, and invited us into adventures with his puppet friends. Sing it with me, folks: “Let’s make the most of this beautiful day; since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be my, could you be my, won’t you be my neighbor?” 

I watched some of it, as a child. During my teens and young adulthood, Mr. Rogers was punchline. We made a joke of his weird puppets, his gentle voice and careful words, his cardigans, his deliberateness, his overwhelming kindness. 

But sometime in the past couple of decades, we all started to get it. Maybe it was his death in 2003 that finally made us all re-assess. Maybe it’s the quotations that circulate on Facebook. Maybe the rest of the world just finally caught up with his profound, ahead-of-his-time understanding of kids’ social and emotional needs. Something made us all take a better look and realize that Fred Rogers was the real thing, an honest-to-God saint walking among us, preaching basic human decency on syndicated television.

This year has seen a new biography of Rogers and a movie about him. And some of you may have seen an article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, by writer D. L. Mayfield, reflecting on what Rogers has to offer us this Christmas season. 

Mayfield points out that Rogers wasn’t just nice. He held some deep principles that put him at odds with the society around him, on many occasions. He loved television because of its potential for learning and connection – and was dismayed to see it increasingly used as a tool for marketing, to kids and adults alike. 

Mayfield writes, “[Rogers’ ideology] was a well-thought-out war against a culture that needed kids to feel inadequate to become good consumers.”  Think about it: If you believe you’re OK and you have enough, you won’t whine to your parents about that toy that you NEED, that toy that ALL THE OTHER KIDS are getting; and then how will the toy companies make any money? 

In the early 1970s, when the TV show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was first becoming well known, the Hallmark Company decided to have different celebrities do each of the windows of their flagship store in downtown Manhattan. And they asked Fred Rogers to design one of the windows. 

Now, big, bright, glamorous holiday window displays have been a thing in New York City – and other big cities – for a long time. I haven’t been able to find any pictures from the year Mr. Rogers designed a window, but I found a website that describes some of the “most brilliant” displays this year. Maybe that can set the tone. 

At American Girl New York, a large window is “seriously blinged out” with “200 Swarovski crystal strands and 130 pounds of crystal star dust.” Bergdorf-Goodman’s display “is always opulent and over the top, and 2019 is no exception… Each window depicts an aspect of holiday revelry illustrated in avant-garde opulence. We loved the sequined chess scene and the neon pinball machine!” At Bloomingdale’s, “a touch button… allows visitors to bring a robotic orchestra to life and hear classic Christmas carols… There’s plenty of glitz and glam, and a pretty impressive rocket ship seemingly blasts over your head and onto Lexington Avenue.” At Macy’s, interactive displays allow you to “power a neon light show, scratch a dreaming dog’s nose, drive [a] truck while trying to smash presents in an Asteroid-like video game, and pose for a selfie to see yourself in the windows.” Not gonna lie – the dog sounds awesome. Nordstrom’s holiday decorations are more understated, featuring a mere  “253,000 twinkling lights.” 

Now, that all sounds like a lot of fun to walk around and look at! But maybe all that glitz and glam might make our own lives seem a little… dull and dark? And of course all those stores put on this amazing show because they want you to come in and buy stuff. 

So. Rogers and a friend traveled to New York to scope things out and think about what Rogers would like to do for his window. And after taking a look at that year’s array of star dust and robot orchestras, Rogers went back to his home in Pittsburgh and came up with a design. His window display looked like this: A simple setting – no lights, no fake wrapped gifts. In the center: A small pine tree, the height of a four-year-old child. No ornaments or decorations – just the tree itself, planted in a clear glass Lucite cube so you could see its roots – see that it was real, and alive. And in front of the tree was a sign that said, “I like you just the way you are.”

One of the things Fred Rogers said often, to kids and adults, friends and strangers, speaking or singing: I like you just the way you are. 

D. L. Mayfield writes, “A tree just [a child’s] height, reinforcing the message Rogers most desperately wanted his young neighbors to hear. Working to combat shame, isolation, trauma; working to help build resilience in the lives of kids he could never hope to reach one by one… The small bare tree in the Hallmark store window was a radical gesture designed to expose the hypocrisy of holidays intended to sell products, while centering the emotional well-being of children… It was a countercultural art project in a world of companies that exploited nostalgia for profit. And it was the refusal to accept a world that needed children to feel ashamed of themselves to buy more goods.” 

 

I like you just the way you are. Fred Rogers was, among other things, a Presbyterian minister. His Christian faith was one of the deep roots of his work. I’m sure it’s no accident that these words resonate with the message of the Incarnation. In God becoming human, embodied; the infinite becoming finite, the cosmic becoming specific, the eternal born into time. 

What God says to us by becoming human, by coming to live among us, to share our struggles and triumphs, needs and pleasures, joys and griefs – what God says to us in the Incarnation, to all of us and each of us, by name, is a lot like what Mr. Rogers said, in a song that goes like this:

It’s you I like, it’s not the things you wear,

It’s not the way you do your hair, but it’s you I like.

The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you,

Not the things that hide you; not your toys – they’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like, every part of you.

Your skin, your eyes, your feelings, whether old or new.

I hope that you’ll remember even when you’re feeling blue

That it’s you I like, it’s you yourself, it’s you. It’s you I like.

The Gospel of John says it this way: God so loved the world that God gave Godself to us, not to judge and condemn the world, but to save it. 

To say all that is not to say God doesn’t invite us to change, to renewal, to turning away from some things and towards others. I once heard our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preach that God loves you just the way you are, but God isn’t going to leave you that way. I think about that a lot. The life of faith means opening ourselves, day by day, year by year, to what God wants to do in us and through us. It means making ourselves available to God’s gracious work in our lives, our relationships, our communities, and our world.

But we do not have have our sh*t together before God shows up. God’s longing to be welcomed into our hearts and our lives – God’s grace ready to shine through the cracks in everything – does not need us to be Instagram-happy or Pinterest-perfect. God does not care if our pajamas match. 

God’s birth into the world God made, God’s dawning in our lives, asks us to trust that we are seen and known and cherished. Tells us that God reaches out for us in love and yearning, not in condemnation and shame. 

“Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

I like you just the way you are.

Merry Christmas.

SOURCES:

D.L. Mayfield on Mr. Rogers:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/11/22/mister-rogers-wasnt-just-nice-he-wanted-take-down-consumerism/

Holiday window descriptions taken from this article: 

https://mommypoppins.com/new-york-city-kids/holidays/holiday-windows-walk-2019-midtowns-most-brilliant-holiday-window

Sermon, Dec. 22

I like to remind people, around this time of year, that we have the story of Jesus – his birth, life, teachings, acts, death and resurrection – in four voices, which we call the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is the traditional order, though actually Mark was written first. Our Sunday Gospel readings each year come mostly from one of the four – specifically, Matthew, Mark, and Luke; John is scattered around in pieces for some reason. The Church’s new year is the first Sunday in Advent, so we are just a few weeks into getting re-acquainted with the gospel of Matthew. 

Each Gospel has its own voice, its own lens on the shared story. These authors – writing thirty to sixty years after Jesus’ death – are working with different memories – their own or others’ – of what Jesus did and said. And they have somewhat different understandings of who he was, and what his life, death, and rising meant for the world. 

In each Gospel, you get a sense of its voice and priorities in the very first chapter – and that’s certainly true for Matthew. One of Matthew’s big themes is that Jesus is the completion of the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible. He quotes the prophetic literature often – like the bit of Isaiah in today’s text. He uses these quotations to say, Jesus is the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies. But it’s not just the prophecies: for Matthew, Jesus fulfills and completes all of Jewish history and tradition. That’s obvious in the first seventeen verses of his Gospel – which are printed on the back of your Sunday Supplement, if you’d like to take a look! 

Matthew’s Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus. In first-century Palestine, as in many human cultures, who you are depends a lot on who you come from. In a patriarchal society, that’s generally reckoned by naming fathers and grandfathers and great-great-great-grandfathers. And that’s exactly what Matthew does here. He starts with Abraham – the first Jew, the founder and father of it all, in human terms. And he works his way down through the centuries: Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez, Hezron, AND so on. He keeps going through King David and his lineage, and through the exile and return.

And he ends in verse 17 with some interesting math: By his count, there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to exile, and fourteen generations from exile to Jesus. That might just seem odd to you, but numbers were a big deal in Jewish thought, including interpretation of Scripture. For Matthew, those fourteens are part of his case that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of this history, the Messiah – the Savior sent by God – at whom everything that went before has pointed. 

The Sunday lectionary never gives us these verses, and maybe that’s wise; it does take a little explaining to understand their significance for Matthew. But they are an important preface for the text we do receive today. I said, a minute ago, that in a patriarchal context, like Biblical Judaism, genealogies are generally lists of fathers, grandfathers, and so on. 

But this list… has some grandmothers in it too. Did you notice that? Do you remember them, from meeting them three years ago? Their names are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba – though Matthew calls her the wife of Uriah. 

Tamar is the first of these interesting grandmothers of Jesus. Her story is in the book of Genesis – chapter 38. She married one of the sons of Judah – a great-grandson of Abraham. But her husband dies before they have children. Now, if a man died childless, his brother was supposed to take on his wife and raise children for his dead brother’s sake. But apparently not everybody was on board with this idea.

Judah orders his second son to “perform the duty of a brother-in-law”, but that son, Onan, refuses to give Tamar a child. Then Onan dies too. In classic victim-blaming style, Judah starts to think maybe Tamar is the problem. He tells her, “Go live with your father as a widow until my younger son is old enough to marry,” and sends her away. Now, in this time and place, without a husband and children, Tamar has nothing. No social standing. No security. No future. So. She waits. And waits. And waits. And then she decides to take matters into her own hands. I don’t have time for the full story – it’s Genesis 38; look it up! – but she tricks Judah himself into getting her pregnant – and into admitting that he was wrong in his treatment of her. 

Then there’s Rahab. Her story is in the book of Joshua, chapter 2. The Israelites understand that God has given them a new home, a land of milk and honey. Only trouble is, there are people already living there – Canaanites, whom they’ll have to violently displace. Rahab is a Canaanite, living the city of Jericho. And she practices what is sometimes called the oldest profession. The Israelites send out a couple of spies into Canaan, to figure out how hard it’s going to be to conquer this territory.

The spies go to Jericho and decide to spend a night with Rahab. The local leader hears there are two strangers in town and demands that Rahab present them. But she sends them up on her roof to hide, and tells the men who came to find them, “Oh, yes, they were here, but they just left! If you hurry I bet you can catch them!” Then she goes up on the roof and tells the spies, “Listen: I know that God has given this land to your people. I can feel it. The people of Canaan are terrified. Your God is indeed the Lord of heaven and earth, and we cannot stand against God. So, because I saved you, please save me in turn. When your people come to conquer this city, spare me, and my parents and brothers and sisters and their families. Let us live.”

And the spies agreed. Rahab helped them escape the city – and when Jericho was conquered, she and all her family were saved, and lived among the people Israel from that time forward.  According to Matthew, Rahab marries an Israelite named Salmon. Their son Boaz grows up to marry Ruth – perhaps the best-known of the grandmothers named by Matthew. Ruth, like Rahab, is an outsider who marries into an Israelite family – she’s from the land of Moab. And like Tamar, her first husband dies before they have children. But she’s become so attached to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, that she refuses to go home to her own family. She more or less vows herself to become Naomi’s daughter: Your people shall be my people, and your God my god.  

I love Ruth’s story too – read the book of Ruth! It’s only four chapters long! Spoiler alert: Through the connivance of Naomi, the decency of Boaz, and the grace of God, Ruth becomes a wife and mother – and the grandmother of David. David, the shepherd boy chosen by God to be Israel’s king; David, the poet so in love with God that he danced in the streets; David, the scrappy military leader who led his band of misfits to defeat King Saul; David the ladies’ man, David of the wandering eyes… who’s gazing out his window one morning and spots a beautiful woman, taking a ritual bath on her rooftop, and decides he has to have her. Her name is Bathsheba, and she never has the chance to say no. She gets pregnant with David’s child. Did I mention that she’s married, and her husband, Uriah, is a general in David’s army? David arranges to have him “accidentally” killed in combat. It’s not David’s best chapter. Bathsheba becomes one of David’s wives – and much later, she advocates for David to choose her son Solomon to become king after his death, reminding him:  You owe me. 

These are all amazing stories; it’s painful for me to tell the nutshell versions! But it’s also important to hold them up together, as Matthew does in his genealogy.

He knew all these stories – and he calls them to his readers’ minds intentionally. 

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba: These are women whose histories of sexuality and child-bearing do not meet ideal patriarchal standards. None of them had the life course their parents would have chosen for them. And yet, they all become part of God’s story. 

And not just because they have babies; but because of their insight, their courage, their determination and faithfulness, their refusal to settle. 

Matthew names these women – and their sons – to set the stage for telling us about Mary and her son. Look at verse 16: “… Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” Matthew is saying, YES, this is another irregular hop in the genealogy. YES, this is another place where parentage is not quite as tidy as everybody would like it to be. But it’s not like it’s the first time. This is part of God’s MO. 

And lest we miss the point, Matthew makes it clear that Mary’s pregnancy was awkward. “Mary was found to be with child – pregnant – by the Holy Spirit.” Notice that passive voice – “found to be with child.” This is not a version of the story in which Mary meets an angel, agrees to become the mother of God, and then runs to her friends, family, and fiancé to say, “Hey, everybody! A wonderful thing just happened! God has looked with favor on me, and all generations shall call me blessed!” This is a version in which she keeps it to herself as long as she can, until some nosy neighbor spots the curve of her belly under her robe, and sounds the alarm: A young woman has crossed the line. 

In the year of our Lord 2019, many families would still find it a source of dismay and shame for a daughter to become pregnant without a socially-sanctioned partnership. How much more so, in Mary and Joseph’s time! The consequences for a young woman found pregnant without a man willing to claim the child could range from ostracism to death. No wonder Mary kept her mouth shut. She knew this angel story wasn’t going to convince everybody. And indeed, the person she most needs to believe her – her fiance, Joseph – is not on board. 

In his book Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible!, Jonathan Goldstein re-tells today’s Gospel from Joseph’s point of view. I love how he fleshes out the emotional subtext of the spare Gospel narrative. Listen to Joseph’s words, per Goldstein:  “Being chosen by the Lord is an honor. I’m not saying it’s not… It’s flattering to think that your girlfriend is good enough for God, and on some days I can convince myself well enough that it is an honor indeed, but if the guys at work don’t act like it’s an honor, and none of your friends or family act like it’s an honor, then it doesn’t feel so much like an honor.”… ‘How’s the holy baby?’ Ezekiel, my foreman at work asks me, like, ten times a day, and I have no choice but to bite it. It’s either that or be out of a job…” 

A couple of pages later Joseph describes his own angelic encounter: “Mary had never lied to me before and I knew her heart like I knew my own, but when she told me this business about being visited by an angel, I had an honest-to-God conniption… After a whole night of screaming and crying,… I went outside to try and cool off. Sitting on a tree stump, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and there he was: an angel. The whole bit. Wings and everything, just squatting there….’Are you the one… with Mary?’ I asked, not looking at him. ‘No,’ he said softly. ‘I just came here to tell you that what Mary tells you is the truth.’ ‘This is a lot to digest,’ I said. The angel withdrew his hand from my shoulder and left me sitting there outside my house, digesting until morning.” 

I appreciate that Goldstein’s retelling makes clear that while Joseph agrees to stay with Mary, the angel’s reassurance wouldn’t have made it all fine. Whatever people assumed about Mary’s untimely pregnancy, there would have been winks and sneers and cutting remarks.There would have been a shadow of shame cast over this couple before they even fully began their life together. 

That’s why Matthew reminds us of Jesus’ grandmothers. Reminds us that God’s purposes are bigger than human propriety. That redemption matters more than respectability. Matthew tells us that Joseph is a righteous man – with an ambiguity I suspect is intentional: Joseph’s righteousness is shown by the fact that he doesn’t want to ruin Mary’s life, but it’s the same righteousness that makes him decide he can’t possibly go on with the wedding, either. Pregnant with a mystery baby, she is no longer an appropriate wife for a righteous man. 

Biblical commentator Richard Swanson writes, “The word dikaios, in this scene, means that Joseph has a good name that he will defend any way he can. He has a good reputation…  By putting Mary away quietly, he preserves his good name. He is willing to say publicly (if silently) that HE has had NOTHING to do with making Mary pregnant.  Not a thing. And that leaves Mary alone and exposed, whether he does it publicly or privately.  What a guy.” 

But the angel’s visit calls Joseph to a deeper and truer righteousness: the righteousness of going along with God’s purposes even when it’s confusing and painful. Even though it exposes him to sneers and winks; even though it commits him to a fatherhood that wasn’t his hope or his choice. 

Mary, like Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathsheba, doesn’t have the life most parents would choose for their daughters. Her trajectory from maiden to mother is not clear and tidy. And yet, like those holy grandmothers, she becomes part of God’s story – and so does Joseph, confused, resentful, tender Joseph. 

Matthew is my least favorite Gospel – let me say that right now. There are things I really struggle with about his voice. But I love this first chapter – I love what he does, here.This genealogy is structured and clean; it does what genealogies tend to do: create an artificially tidy picture of family and history. Father begets son, generation succeeds to generation.

But when he names Tamar, and Rahab, and Ruth, and Bathsheba, he reminds us that life and love, family and belonging, respectability and redemption, are not tidy. Indeed, they can be pretty messy. And God shows up in that mess – working, always, through our struggle and confusion, our shame and our yearning, our hurts and our healing, to accomplish holy purposes on earth. 

Amen. 

Sources: 

Swanson’s thoughts on Mary’s pregnancy and Joseph’s reaction: 

https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/a-provocation-fourth-sunday-of-advent/

Jonathan Goldstein, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible!, Riverhead Books, 2009. 

Sermon, Dec. 8

Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the Kingdom of Heaven!

That’s how our Sunday school classes are hearing the message of John the Baptist. A loose translation, but not an unfaithful one. Did you expect him to holler “Repent!”? That’s the more familiar translation for many of us. The Greek word there is “metanoia”, which means, Changing your mind. Reflecting back on things in a way that changes how you move forward. Coming to a new understanding. 

The Scripture in your leaflet this week is a hybrid of our usual Bible translation, the New Revised Standard Version, and David Bentley Hart’s New Testament, which strives to be a fairly direct translation of the Greek. It’s Hart who renders John’s call this way: Change your hearts! And then, to those whom the Baptist suspects of superficial repentance: Bear fruit worthy of a change of heart!

Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the Kingdom of Heaven!

New Testament scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer – who lived downstairs from us when I was in seminary – reminds us that ritual washing, like the baptism of John, was – and is – a practice for non-Jews converting to Judaism. It was a symbolic washing away of the old identity before taking on a new one; a cleansing from past actions that would no longer be part of the new faithful life. A sign of death and rebirth. If that all sounds kind of familiar, it should. 

What was new about John’s practice of baptism, and then Jesus’, and then the church’s, was the assertion that everybody needed it. That’s the context for John’s snark about how being descendants of Abraham – in other words, REAL Jews – doesn’t make you right with God. Everybody needs cleansing. Everybody needs renewal. Everybody needs a change of heart. 

The call to repentance – the call to a changed heart – is a core theme of Advent, this season when we prepare to celebrate God who has come and is coming again. But it’s difficult to reconcile with Advent as we experience it. I learned in my first few years here not to try to schedule much extra stuff at church in December, because people are SO busy. Concerts… Holiday fairs… Work and school deadlines… Family gatherings, and perhaps complex negotiations related to same… Travel plans … Decorations… Baking… Volunteering… and SO much shopping… 

In a wonderful essay about the REAL war on Christmas by the Dean of Yale Divinity School, Andrew McGowan, he points out that Black Friday’s irresistible deals and urgent demands immediately wipes out Thanksgiving – we turn on a dime from giving thanks for all that we have, to a barrage of messages that wDO NOT HAVE ENOUGH, and we need MORE, MORE, MORE. 

So: we have a gulf – at least, many of us do – between the church’s invitation to Advent as a season of quiet, of reflection. Of sober acknowledgment of what is amiss in the world, and our ongoing need for God’s presence among us. A season when the church prays urgently: Come, Lord Jesus! – And the month of December in the world out there. 

Does it help to think of John’s call to a change of heart as a matter of re-orientation? Turning from; turning towards? Recalibrating what we’re doing with our time and energy and resources, to point in the same direction as our inner compass, our deep desires? 

We’re going to try something now – an exercise suggested by David Lose of the website Working Preacher. Does everyone have a piece of paper and a pencil? Good. Now, start making the list of everything you have to do, in the next two weeks plus. What’s on your to-do list between now and Christmas? What are others expecting of you? What are you expecting of yourself? 

You don’t have to turn this in. It’s OK to use abbreviations or keywords, as long as you know what you mean. Take a few minutes with this. It’s OK if you don’t catch everything; some of our lists are long. Stick to one side – if you fill it, you can stop. 

Okay! Let’s take a moment and just breathe through any anxiety that might have stirred up!

Now, here’s the second step. Turn over your page so that list isn’t staring at you. Don’t start writing until I tell you to. 

I want you to daydream about what you want this Christmas to be like. I mean that as broadly as possible. How do you want Christmas to feel in your heart, this year? How do you want it to feel in your home? Among your friends and family? In your community? Our nation? Our world? 

What kind of day do you want to have? How do you want to be, with the people who share your life? What news would you love to wake up to, on Christmas morning?

Now, take up your pencil again. Write a few words or even draw something on the blank side of your paper, to capture some of your hopes for your life and the world this Christmas. This doesn’t have to be comprehensive. Trust what rises to the surface first in your heart. 

Okay! Finish what you’re writing. Look at your page for a minute. Hold that yearning and hope. 

Now, here’s our third step. Turn your paper over, back to your to-do list. I want you to review that list and notice which of the things on THIS side of the paper, point towards things that you wrote down on the OTHER side of the paper. Circle the things that contribute directly to your deep hopes and longings about your life and the world. 

There might be things where you have a choice about how you do them, right?Maybe you could put a star, an asterisk, by those. Like buying a gift for someone you usually exchange gifts with. It could be a hurried resentful “This will do” purchase. Or it could be five minutes’ loving thought about that person and what they enjoy. Or – if there’s no getting the gift right, because sometimes there isn’t – then add some grace to the situation by making the getting of the gift a blessing to somebody. Go to the craft fair at Middleton Outreach Ministry after church today – just for example – and buy something lovingly handmade that will benefit their food pantry! 

I’m going to offer everybody a freebie right now: if “rest” isn’t on your to-do list in some form, please put it there. And circle it. Rest is holy. Literally. It makes us able to discern, to choose, to do well. 

There will be lots of things on your list that are important in the short run, or for purely practical reasons, that don’t really feed into your bigger hopes and dreams. That’s OK. I’m not about to suggest you shouldn’t do those things. I, too, live in the real world. But maybe there are little choices you can make, as you steward your time and energy in these days and weeks. To give a little more of yourself to the things that matter deeply, and a little less of yourself to the things that don’t. 

Because it feels good to give ourselves to things that matter. To lean in to our hopes for our lives and our world. To bear fruit worthy of a changed heart, as the Kingdom of Heaven draws near. 

 

Sources:

Sarah Dylan Breuer on this text: 

https://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2004/11/second_sunday_o.html

Andrew McGowan on the War on Christmas: 

http://abmcg.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-war-on-christmas.html

David Lose on the Advent to-do list exercise:

http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2901

Sermon, Dec. 1

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Chapter seven, verse fourteen, of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  Maybe the King James language is more familiar:  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. When the Gospel writer Matthew quotes this text – already seven hundred years old – in his telling of the birth of Jesus, he adds a translation: Emmanuel, which means, God with us.

Growing up in the Episcopal church, I heard a lot of the prophet Isaiah every Advent and Christmas. Our cycle of readings is heavy on Isaiah this season, and our hymns and prayers – even our Gospel readings – quote Isaiah too. The book of Isaiah is an Old Testament book, one of the books we share with God’s first people, the Jews. The prophesies and events it contains happened hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. But right from the start, followers of Jesus have heard certain texts from Isaiah as pointing towards Jesus. This is most certainly one of them.

We start a new year in church today, and that means we also start a new Gospel. We’ll be primarily reading the Gospel of Matthew in the months ahead – with some chunks of John now and then. One of Matthew’s hallmarks is connecting Jesus to Old Testament texts and traditions. He’s really interested in making the case that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible. And he sometimes stretches a point to get there. Take this text from Isaiah 7. The context here, as you heard in our reading, is that two of Judea’s neighboring countries have ganged up on Judea, and King Ahaz is scared. That information isn’t actually part of the assigned text; the Revised Common Lectionary follows Matthew’s lead in taking this passage out of context.  Anyway: King Ahaz is scared, and God is telling the king, though the prophet Isaiah, to calm down. And God carries the message through three prophetic names. The first is the name of Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub, meaning, A remnant shall remain. God tells Isaiah to take little SJ with him when he goes out to meet the King and tell him that his fears are unfounded.

But Ahaz is still anxious. God says, Ask me for a sign, to prove to you that this is really My word and not just Isaiah telling you what you want to hear. Ahaz says, No, sir, I will not put God to the test. God speaks through Isaiah to say, Oh, for Pete’s sake. HERE’S THE SIGN YOU WON’T ASK FOR. Look: that young woman is pregnant. The son she will bear will be named Emmanuel. And by the time that child is old enough to know the difference between good and bad, he’ll be eating curds and honey – good, rich food that signifies prosperity and stability. 

A few verses later, Isaiah elaborates: “On that day one will keep alive a young cow and two sheep – [such wealth!] – and will eat curds because of the abundance of milk that they give; for everyone that is left in the land shall eat curds and honey.” (By the way, these wouldn’t be Wisconsin-style cheese curds. Probably something more like a thick fresh yoghurt. Still sounds pretty good, especially with honey!)

There’s one more prophetic child name just a few verses later. The news is less good this time: God warns Judea of the rise of the Assyrian Empire, the new great power in the region. Isaiah “goes to” a woman named as the prophetess, apparently his wife – they have so much in common! – and she conceives and has a son. God says, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz (which means, He makes haste to plunder); for before the child knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’, Assyria will be looting your neighboring nations. 

All these names – Shear-jashub, Immanuel, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz – are prophetic signs that indicate God’s intentions for Judea.  The point of little Emmanuel is not that the child himself is someone special. The point is that Judea’s current enemies will be gone within a few years – the time it takes a baby to grow up enough to know bad from good. For Isaiah, the name “Immanuel” is a reassurance that God is with God’s people. It doesn’t mean that the child himself is God. That’s Matthew’s interpretation, woven into the Christmas Gospel and Christian thinking. 

Now, hear me: I’m not saying that Matthew is wrong. Prophetic language is rich and strange, and can carry meaning and truth across centuries and context. It’s reasonable to read Isaiah 7 as a text that casts light on Jesus, as long as we understand that it was not originally, and is not only, a text that casts light on Jesus. 

All that said: Emmanuel isn’t the word I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the word “virgin.” In fact – true confessions – I actually swapped this lesson with the another Isaiah lesson in this season, because I wanted to talk about this now, as we dive into Advent. 

We use this word at least once, often twice, every Sunday – both times talking about Jesus’ mother, Mary. It’s in the Creed – “he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary” – and our autumn Eucharistic prayer contains the same phrase. As we move into Advent and towards Christmas, it’ll show up more and more, in our prayers and hymns. 

And – I gotta tell you – this year, I’m not looking forward to it. In fact, I’m kind of bracing myself. 

Before anybody starts composing angry emails: I am not about to argue that Jesus was not miraculously conceived by the power of God. That’s the witness of both Luke and Matthew. I personally am not especially hung up on whether such a thing is physically possible or not. Compared to rising from the dead, it seems fairly mundane. It’s actually not uncommon in the animal kingdom – Google “parthenogenesis” sometime.

No: It’s not the church’s teaching that troubles me. It’s the church’s language.

I was raised in the Episcopal Church. All this language – “incarnate from the Virgin Mary,” “round yon Virgin,” “Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb” – it was just part of the wallpaper, you know? I don’t think I ever thought about it, just like our kids have probably never really thought about it. The first time I remember examining the phrase was in seminary, when it dawned on me that it’s kind of… weird? interesting? telling? … that this is the one thing we say over and over and over again about Mary. Every time we mention her name. 

We know several things about Mary. God chose her to bear Godself as a human infant. God respected her enough to ask her permission. She was bold enough to say Yes. In the song of faith we call the Magnificat, she celebrates the honor bestowed on her – meek and mild, my butt! She says, God has looked favorably on me! All generations shall call me blessed, for the Holy One has done great things for me! And she continues with this powerful prophetic text that the Church has chanted and sung down through the ages – about the mighty cast down, the hungry fed, the world redeemed. 

She bears her son, names him, loves him, raises him. Celebrates his giftedness. Harangues him into doing miracles at parties. Struggles with his mission; fears for him. Follows him to the cross. Watches him die. Goes on to be one of those who tells his story. 

And, yes, at the moment when the Angel Gabriel invites her into this great, lifelong work, she is a young woman who has not yet experienced physical intimacy.  A virgin. She says so herself in Luke’s Gospel:  “How exactly am I going to get pregnant with this special baby, when I have not done anything that leads to getting pregnant?”

Orthodox Christians call Mary the Theotokos, the God-Bearer. They liken her to the Burning Bush in Exodus, that holds God’s presence and yet is not consumed. That’s a title much more worthy of Mary. But the Western church settled on Virgin. Our faith fathers chose to focus on her mint-condition reproductive system.

Thinking all this through in seminary, it seemed to me to be just one of many ways in which the church needs to reconsider its language. But it has started to actively trouble me now that I’m involved in raising kids – in my home and my church – whom I very much want to have a happy relationship with their own bodies and a healthy capacity for intimacy. 

We tread lightly around the word, in churches like ours. A kid in this church might easily think it just means a young woman – maybe a young man – who hasn’t been married yet. But that’s not how our ancestor churches and some of our sibling churches treat it. And that’s not how popular culture treats it.

Behold, a virgin shall conceive… The Hebrew word in Isaiah’s original text is almah, which just means a young woman of childbearing age. It’s not quite clear from context but it seems that the young woman of Isaiah 7:14 is actually Isaiah’s wife. Emmanuel isn’t even her first child. When Matthew quotes Isaiah, he uses a Greek word – parthenos – that can carry the implication of what we mean by virginity. That comes into Latin – the language of church and Scripture for a thousand years and more – as virgo, the same word as virgin. 

But it isn’t even Bible translation that’s the issue. The Bible says this about Mary twice, once in Matthew, once in Luke. Rather, it was the Church’s choice to exalt and enshrine this focus on one very narrow aspect of Mary’s significance, and tangle it up with policing the behavior of women and girls. Putting on my anthropologist hat for a moment: Virginity is a concept with a lot of cultural weight in highly patriarchal societies, where what matters about a young woman is whether she can bear children that are clearly related to one man. It’s ironic, actually, that the Church managed to make Mary the epitome of purity, when in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph very nearly abandons Mary because he doesn’t know who fathered her child! That shame, that struggle, is part of what Mary agreed to face, when she said Yes to the angel’s request.  

Many of our sibling churches still put a heavy emphasis on virginity for young people. I’m not talking about encouraging kids to wait till you’re ready, be  safe, choose someone you really care about. I’m talking about telling youth groups that a young woman’s purity is like chewing gum. Nobody wants it after it’s already been chewed. There’s a whole movement out there of young adults struggling to recover healthy intimacy after being raised in churches like that. 

And broken, destructive thinking about virginity isn’t just in churches. If you watch ‘80s teen movies, ‘90s TV, or read the comments in many corners of the Internet, you’ll find it there too. In addition to its classic use to police young women, the word is used as an insult against young men – the implication being that they’re unworthy of romantic attention. A teenager might well get the message that girls are bad if they’re not virgins and boys are bad if they are – which is a heck of a double-bind, especially for the straight kids.

Physical intimacy, ideally, is something you explore when you are ready, as a free choice, with joy and curiosity and safety, and with somebody who is just as into you as you are into them. That’s what I want for youth and young adults today. I would like to live in a society where young people are not shamed for being OR not being virgins. And I would like to serve in a church that finds better, richer ways to praise and honor Mary, Theotokos, Prophetess, and Mother of God. 

Even though the lectionary does not get around to her for a couple more weeks, Mary is rightfully a central figure in this season. What I would really like our young people and indeed all of us to hear when we talk about Mary is not that our holiness, our merit, our worthiness, our potential for becoming an agent of God’s work in the world, depends on what we have or have not done with our bodies. What I would like us to hear when we talk about Mary is that each of us, all of us, and maybe especially the young and hopeful and bold among us, can say Yes to God. Can become part of the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes on earth.

So even as we use inherited and often beloved language about Mary in the weeks ahead, I invite you to try on some alternatives, out loud or in your heart. 

Where the Church says Virgin Mary, you might say: Prophet Mary. Mother Mary. Blessed Mary. Gracious Mary. Helper Mary. Chosen Mary. Holy Mary. Wisest Mary. Sorrowing Mary. Loving Mary. God-Bearing Mary, Theotokos.  Ark of the Covenant. Burning Bush. Morning Star. Life-giving Spring. Our Lady of Guidance. Mother of Mercy. Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. Help of the Afflicted. Untier of Knots. Mother of the Disappeared. Refuge of Sinners. Mother of Ransom – Pray for us. Amen. 

Sermon, Nov. 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIBLE! TRADITION! BIBLE! TRADITION! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily, June 9

Today is the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate that the Holy Spirit of God came to the first Christians to comfort and inspire and guide them. 

What is the Holy Spirit? Well, over thousands of years, we have come to know God in different ways. We know God as Creator and Source, Father and Mother of all, the Ancient of Days, Beginning and End, the Silence at the center of things. We know God as Jesus Christ, the Word of God come to earth to dwell among us, Brother, Friend, Teacher, Redeemer and Liberator. And we know God as Holy Spirit, Breath of life, refining Fire, divine Wisdom. We call these the three Persons of the holy and undivided Trinity, the three in one and one in three. 

So the Holy Spirit is one of the ways we know God. We use names for the Spirit like Comforter, Advocate, Dove, Spirit of Truth, Holy Wisdom. We use symbols like wind, water, fire… things that are powerful and important, but that you can’t hold in your hand. 

Did you know you can pray to the different Persons of God? We pray to the Holy Spirit – we call on the Holy Spirit – often in church, when we ask the Spirit to make the water holy for a baptism, or to make the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood for us, at Eucharist. 

But in everyday life, I pray to the Holy Spirit – I call on the Holy Spirit – pretty often too. When I need strength and wisdom for a difficult conversation. When I need my heart to soften towards someone so I can respond to them as Jesus would. When I’m confused or stuck and need insight and direction. When I just need encouragement, in the face of hard stuff. 

We have a big word for asking the Holy Spirit to help us: Invocation. It means to call on something. It’s not like magic in a book; we don’t control the Spirit with our words. But she likes to be invited. We have to make room for her instead of trying to handle it all on our own. We have to open a door inside us, to let her come in and help us. So the Church has always taught God’s people to call on the Spirit… to invoke the Spirit. No magic words, it’s one of the simplest prayers there is: Come, Holy Spirit!

Now we’re going to sing a song that invites the Holy Spirit to come among us as we celebrate today…. 

After the Acts lesson: 

One of my favorite things to do is when I get to spend some time talking about the Bible with kids. I love it; I wish I could do it even more! And I’ve noticed that a question kids often have is: Is this story true? Do you believe this story?

So let’s talk about that for the story of the Tower of Babel. I don’t believe that this happened the way the story says it happened. This is not that kind of story. It’s the kind of story that tells the truth about something big, even though the events of the story might not have happened. 

One thing the story tells the truth about is technology, and the human relationship with technology. Notice that this story is talking about a technological change: People have taken the big step from making bricks out of mud and baking them in the sun, to making bricks out of mud and baking them in a hot oven, which makes them stronger and harder. And it makes new kinds of building possible! (This is a VERY old story, y’all.) 

And the humans in the story think this is their big break.They have it all figured out now; they can be truly great. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” Even though this is a very old story, it sounds familiar. We develop new technologies and we think we can use them to make ourselves great; to come close to God. 

Technology is amazing. Medical and information technology, green technology, and so on, make incredible things possible. But we’re still prone to thinking our technological achievements can make us more than human. And we’re still wrong. That is one truth this story tells. 

Another truth this story tells is about the people who told the story. This is one of the kinds of stories that offers an explanation for why things are the way they are.In this case, the thing it’s explaining is why people speak many different languages (and also have different cultures, ways of dressing, kinds of music and food, and so on). 

The people who first told this story were wondering, Why aren’t we all the same?It must be something God did. God must have given us all these different languages – made it so we can’t understand each other. So in the story, God “confuses” people’s language so they won’t be able to talk to each other: “Therefore the tower was called Babel, because there GOD confused the language of all the earth; and from there GOD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

Do you think the people who first told this story thought it was a good thing, that we have all different languages, or a bad thing? … 

So: This is not a true story about why we speak many languages. It’s more of a wondering story – people trying to explain something that puzzles them. And what it tells us about the people who first told the story is that they didn’t really like having all those different languages. It seemed like a problem, to them. 

We know now that language is one of the things our brains are best at. We are so good at learning language, creating and changing language, using language. It seems to me that the richness of language across humanity, the fact that as a species we are so good at generating and using words, means that this is something God wants for us. That God made us to be a people of many languages.

And the Pentecost story kind of affirms that. In this story, the Holy Spirit acts in a miraculous way to make it so that a whole group of people who speak many different languages, people from FIFTEEN different regions and countries, can all hear the good news of Jesus Christ. 

But pay attention to HOW the miracle happens. The Holy Spirit could have done it any way she wanted. She could have had the apostles preach the Gospel in their own language, and she could have reached into the ears of all those listeners from around the world, and tuned their ears so they miraculously understood the Galilean Aramaic that the apostles were speaking. 

But that’s NOT what she does. Instead, “All of the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” The miracle here is that people are suddenly able to talk to someone else in their language – to do in an instant what would otherwise take years to learn. The miracle, the divine gift, here is not that human language is reunited, all that inconvenient diversity brought back to unity. The divine gift is being able to understand each other within that rich diversity.

Our differences can be confusing and difficult and frustrating. We might still sometimes ask the question this story asks:  Why aren’t we all the same? The answer of the Babel story is, Because we’re broken. Because God punished us with human diversity. 

But the answer of the Pentecost story is, Because it’s beautiful.It doesn’t divide us; it gives us scope for a greater, a deeper togetherness, when we learn to listen and understand and share across our differences of language and culture and experience. May the Spirit of God empower us for that work, and help us delight in the wonder of our diversity. Amen. 

Homily/Drama, April 28

Honoring the second Sunday of Easter as a time to affirm our youth in their wondering and seeking in faith is an idea from John Westerhoff (in Will Our Children Have Faith?, pages 101-102). We decided to try it out! Thanks to the Rev. Thomas McAlpine, the Rev. Jonathan Melton, and other conversation partners in developing these ideas. 

MIRANDA: Friends, today is sometimes called Doubting Thomas Sunday. Because our Gospel is the story about Thomas, one of Jesus’ friends, and how he came to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. We get the same Gospel lesson EVERY year, even though most of our Gospels only come around every three years. It’s like our Lectionary wants to shout at us every year: DO NOT DOUBT BUT BELIEVE!

But what does it mean to doubt?  Is it OK to have questions about faith, and God, and the world? … Of course it is! Is it OK to not understand everything? …  Of course it is! But if we just say, Don’t doubt! It’s bad to doubt! – and don’t talk about what doubt really is… we might all walk around with ideas like this deep down inside:

Hold up signs: I’M A BAD CHRISTIAN, I DON’T BELONG HERE, EVERYBODY ELSE SEEMS TO GET IT; WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?

MIRANDA: So today we’re going to talk about DOUBT. We’ll draw on several Scriptures – they’re on your Sunday Supplement if you want to take a look. What does it mean to doubt? Maybe it means there are things we think we’re supposed to believe – but don’t, really. You might think you’re a Bad Christian because the church teaches that the earth was created in seven days, and that dinosaur fossils are a trick God gave us to test our faith. But you really love science, and you just can’t swallow that.

Well, good news, Bad Christian – you don’t have to! Our church doesn’t teach that the world was created in just seven days. We understand the Creation story as telling us that God is the Source of all things, and that God made all things in love – and that we’re all in this together, humans and animals and plants and oceans and stars. And science is awesome! There are lots and lots and lots of scientists who also believe in God! 

Or you might feel like you Don’t Belong Here because you’ve heard that Jesus had to die on the cross because God was so angry about how bad and sinful humans are. God was so mad that God had to punish somebody, so Jesus took the punishment for us, to protect us from God’s anger. But, man, that story does not make you feel good about God. 

Well, that one is a doozy. It’s tough because some of our prayers could point you in that direction. But good news: Your church does not ask you to believe this! That teaching is called substitutionary atonement. It is just one way – out of many – that Christians have tried to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection. But what Jesus himself says about God is that God is merciful, and loves us, and wants to be close to us.  What a relief – that angry God was pretty scary! 

It’s OK to have questions, and to wrestle with what you think about it all! Let’s hear from someone who knows about wrestling with God. This is a story from the book of Genesis. 

JACOB: Hi, everybody. My name is Jacob. I lived a really long time ago – after Abraham, but before Moses. Is anybody here a twin? … I’m a twin. I was born second, after my brother Esau. In those days, everything went to the oldest son, even if the second son was born five minutes later. I spent my life consumed by envy of my brother. He had everything – including our father’s love. Finally I crossed a line; I did something so bad that I had to run away, or my brother might have killed me.

I spent years away from home. I got married, had children, became rich. But always, I felt the pull of home. And of unfinished business with my brother. Finally I knew it was time to go home. I gathered up my wives and children and servants and flocks, and we set out. As we got close, I was more and more terrified. My parents raised me to love and trust God. But I’d spent so much time trying to take, instead of waiting for God to give. Maybe God was done with me. Maybe I’d already gotten all the good life was going to give me. 

I sent servants on ahead with gifts for my brother – goats and sheep and camels and cattle and donkeys – did I mention I was really rich? And I sent my family off without me, so that if Esau came to kill me, they could get away. And I prayed to God: ‘God, you told me, “Return to you country and your kindred, and I will do you good.” I am not worthy of the steadfast love and faithfulness you have shown to me, all these years. Save me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him!’ 

And then – someone was with me. It was pitch dark; I could not see him. But he seized me, and we began to wrestle. We struggled together all night, until daybreak. As the sky began to lighten, the stranger said, Let me go. But I said, I will not let you go unless you bless me. So the stranger blessed me, and he gave me a new name, Israel, which means: One who wrestles with God. And then the stranger disappeared. But I knew that God had been with me that night. And that day, when I met my brother, I wasn’t afraid anymore. We hugged each other, and cried, and forgave each other. 

MIRANDA: Thank you for sharing your story, Jacob! We also might think it’s Doubt when we don’t have all the answers. When there are things we don’t understand – things in the world or in our lives. Those moments when you have a friend who just found out she’s really sick, and you’re worried for her, and you just don’t understand why people get sick. Why do we have to suffer?

KING DAVID: Oh, I feel you. I remember some times when I really felt like that. 

MIRANDA: King David! My goodness! It’s an honor to meet you. You were the most famous king of Israel, and most of the Psalms were written by you or by musicians in your court.

KING DAVID: True, true.

MIRANDA: You’re telling me you had times when you were overwhelmed by suffering and confusion? But you’re famous for your deep faith. How did you talk to God, in those times? 

KING DAVID: Actually, writing poetry about it was one of the ways I handled it. Here’s a song I wrote during a tough time. You know it as Psalm 102. 

O God, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you! Don’t hide your face from me in the day of my trouble. Turn your ear towards me; when I call, hurry and answer me. For my days drift away like smoke,  and my bones feel as hot as burning coals. My heart feels as dry and brittle as withered grass; I even forget to eat my bread; I am skin and bones. I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and groan; I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top. But you, O God, endure for ever, and your Name from age to age. You will arise and have compassion on your people  – for now is the time to have mercy! 

MIRANDA: Wow. Thank you. I think I should read some more of your poetry. 

KING DAVID [modestly]: I have been told that many people find it consoling. 

MIRANDA: Even in your worst moments, you turned towards God. And you weren’t afraid to tell God about it when you were hurting. So… being sad and fearful and confused, and even angry, is not the same thing as doubting God? 

KING DAVID: Not at all. If I doubted God, why would I cry out to God about my troubles? I trust God. That’s why I can complain.

MIRANDA: Wait. You just said you trust God. Jacob said that too. Don’t you mean, you believe in God? 

KING DAVID: I… don’t understand the question. 

MIRANDA: Well, in modern English, to believe means that you think something is true. Like, Cheetahs are the fastest animals. True or not true? True! Trust is different. Trust means you know that somebody is there for you, you know they are who they claim to be and will keep their commitments. You could say that belief is in your brain, and trust is in your heart – and in your relationship with somebody. 

KING DAVID: Hmmm. I see the problem. In Hebrew, the language I speak, we don’t have this… brain-only belief idea. Where you say “believe” in God, our words mean: trust God, hope in God, rely on God, seek safety in God, commit to God… How can you have a relationship with God, or anybody else, with only your brain? 

MIRANDA: That’s a good question… Thank you, O King! Hmm. But if we shift from thinking about believing in God with our brains… to trusting God with our hearts and our lives… then what do we mean by doubt?

JAMES: May I be of assistance?

MIRANDA: Excuse me – who are you?

JAMES: I am James, the brother of Jesus. I wrote a letter that’s included in the New Testament…. About what it really means to live as a person of faith. 

MIRANDA: Of course! It’s an honor to meet you. 

JAMES: I began that letter by reminding fellow Christians to stay faithful in the face of persecution – and even take joy in suffering for Christ’s sake. I said, If you need wisdom, ask God, who gives us what we need with generosity. And ask in faith, without doubting; for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.The doubter is double-minded and unstable in every way. Double-minded – that’s what I mean by doubt. Split between too many things. Trying to believe two contradictory things at the same time, or believing one thing but acting like you believed something else.

I really started thinking about doubt this way after that time when Jesus called Peter to walk on the water. It worked fine as long as Peter stayed focused on Jesus. But when he started to let his attention wander, he got scared; he lost direction; and he started to sink. Jesus grabbed him, of course – and said, “Why did you doubt?” 

Jesus didn’t mind when we had questions. Sometimes he was annoyed when we didn’t understand – but, to be fair, we were pretty slow on the uptake. He was mostly pretty patient about explaining again, and again, and again. His call on us wasn’t to have it all figured out, but to put our heart into it. To commit. That’s why I think the real meaning of doubt is trying to live by two different, contradictory scripts at the same time. 

MIRANDA: I definitely know what double-mindedness feels like. And that’s probably my biggest struggle with faithful living. I trust in God’s goodness and love. I know God is here among us, right now. But… I get distracted by many things. I get busy. I lose focus and purpose. I get double-minded, and lose my glad singleness of heart. 

But what about Thomas? The one everybody calls Doubting Thomas. That’s why we’re talking about doubt today. What can we learn about doubt from Doubting Thomas? 

THOMAS: Please don’t call me that.

MIRANDA: Oh, hello! Are you… the apostle Thomas? 

THOMAS: Yes, that’s me. 

MIRANDA: Why don’t you tell us your story? 

THOMAS: Well, okay, it’s like this.  Jesus rose from the dead. You know that part, right?  Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen him. But nobody really believed her. [shrugs]

Then one evening most of the old crowd got together. Suddenly Jesus was there among them. He showed them the wounds in his hands and his side – proof that it was really him, not an impostor, not a ghost. They were really happy to see him, of course!

I wasn’t there that night; I was visiting my mother. And when I heard about what happened, I just couldn’t believe it. My heart had been broken by Jesus’ death. I wanted to believe, do you understand? But I was afraid to hope. I told them, “Until I can touch the wounds in his hands, I just can’t believe that he’s alive.”

A week later we were all together, sharing memories. And suddenly – he was there! Jesus! In the room with us! Not an impostor, not a ghost.  And he walked right up to me and held out his hand. It was like he’d heard what I said to the others. He told me, “Here, touch the wound in my hand. Don’t be afraid, Thomas – trust: it’s really me.”

My heart felt like it might burst. I said, “My Lord! My God!” I was so glad to see him – and so grateful that he understood that I couldn’t just rely on second-hand stories. That I needed to see him myself. 

MIRANDA : Thank you for telling your story, Thomas! It reminds me a little bit of my own story. I grew up in church. I was always surrounded by people who believed in God – trusted in God. I heard their stories of times when they’d heard God’s voice or met God, in so many different ways. That was important for me, as I grew up. 

But it was also really important for me to meet God myself. To have my own times when I felt God close by, or heard God’s voice in my heart or in someone else’s words. 

What I’m saying, Thomas, is that what happened for you, and what happened for me, is what I want for all our kids and youth – and grownups, too! We should all have our own meetings with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. And we should be a community where we can tell those stories, and encourage each other – whether we’re wrestling like Jacob, or crying out to God like King David, or feeling double-minded, or seeking a clearer sense of God in our lives. 

Friends, we wonder about God and seek God at every age – but the teenage years are an especially important time for seeking your own understanding of faith and your own experiences of God. So later this morning we are trying out a new custom: of celebrating that we have young people moving into that exciting season, and committing to being their companions on that journey.

For our teens, Friday night youth group is their primary faith community. Some of them also participate in church on Sunday morning – but mostly at the 10am service. But some of you know some of them. And you may find opportunities to know them better, and be one of the faithful grownups in their lives. – faithful both in the sense of having your own faith story and faith questions to share, and faithful in sticking with them through the challenges of young adulthood. 

I ask you to make a commitment to our youth today: to be unafraid of questions; to speak honestly from our own lives and hearts, instead of saying what we think grownups are supposed to say; and to be brave enough to wonder with them. 

And if their questions and their vision stretches or challenges us, we will rise to it; because we love them, and we trust that God is at work in their lives, and, through them, in the life of this church. 

Friends, will we make this commitment to our young people today? 

WE WILL!

MIRANDA: Names, we acknowledge that as you move into young adulthood, you are thinking about what your church and your faith have offered you in new ways. As you think about God and yourself and the world, you’ll probably have new thoughts and new questions. Like Jacob, you may find yourself wrestling with God; like Thomas, you may find that second-hand faith isn’t good enough for you, and seek your own experience of the Divine. We, as your household of faith, affirm this journey and this work.  At your baptisms, your churches promised to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ. Today, that means making space for your maturing, and all that it involves. 

What we ask of you is to trust us as companions on this journey. Trust us with the little questions, the things you think you’re probably already supposed to know. You’d be surprised how many of us wonder, too. Trust us with the big questions, knowing that we have wrestled with them too; and that even though some of those big questions don’t have easy answers, we find purpose and truth here. Seek out friends among the grownups of this household of faith, and call on us for support and wondering together. And if it ever starts to feel like this church is too small for you, I invite you to talk to me or another trusted grownup here; we may be able to show you doors into rooms you didn’t even know about. (Metaphorically speaking!) 

Friends, will you make this commitment today? I invite you respond, We will. 

We will. 

Loving God, we commit all our struggle, our lament, our double-mindedness and our seeking to you, trusting that Scripture, tradition, and community are worthy companions on the way; that God is mystery enough to keep us wondering for a lifetime; and that Jesus Christ is Friend enough to walk with us through this and every season. Amen. 

Announcements, April 18 – Holy Week

HOLY WEEK

Thursday, April 18, 6:00pm: Maundy Thursday Meal & Worship

This is a great liturgy for all ages – it moves from joyful to solemn, with lots of participation and symbolism.  If you wish, bring an offering in coins to remind us of Judas’ betrayal.

Night Watch: From 8:30pm to midnight on Thursday, April 18, following our Maundy Thursday service, and from 6am to noon on Good Friday, April 19, members of St. Dunstan’s will keep vigil of prayer in the church, in pairs. Sign up in the Gathering Area for your desired shift. Talk with Connie Ott with any questions. The church is locked in the evening for safety.

Friday, April 19 – Good Friday.

12pm & 7pm: Formal Good Friday services with Passion Gospel of John

2pm: Stations of the Cross Walk.  Starts at the church; walk will be slightly over a mile.

4pm: Children’s Stations of the Cross

Following the 7pm liturgy, several prayer stations for quiet meditation will be offered.

Saturday, April 20 – 8pm: Great Vigil of Easter

The Easter Vigil is great for older kids who can handle a late night (we wrap up around 10pm). We tell ancient holy stories by firelight, then sing and shout a lot!

Sunday, April 21 – Easter Sunday

An egg hunt for children follows both the 8am & 10am services. At 10am we will celebrate the Rite of Holy Baptism with baby Hope and her family.

Holy Week Offerings

Every year, our Holy Week offerings – gifts given at these particular liturgies – are given to help specific organizations. This year the offerings will be given as follows: 

Maundy Thursday – Briarpatch youth services:  Briarpatch provides resources, emergency shelter, access to restorative justice programs and job trainings to help homeless youth reach safety and success.  

Good Friday – GSAFE – Gay Straight Advocates for Education: GSAFE increases the capacity of LGBTQ+ students, educators and families to create schools in WI where all youth thrive.  

The Easter Vigil – Episcopal Relief and Development: Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with partners almost 40 countries worldwide to address global challenges like poverty, hunger, and disease.

St. Dunstan’s Easter Egg Hunt 2019:  As a response to the call to reduce single-use plastics (which includes trinkets that are only interesting when first found), we’re trying something new with our egg hunt this year. Eggs will contain plastic tokens, which kids are invited to put into one of three jars – for Briarpatch Youth Services, GSAFE, and Episcopal Relief and Development, the same three organizations that will receive our Holy Week special offerings. Kids can choose how to distribute their tokens, and later, St. Dunstan’s will send an additional gift to those organizations based on the kids’ choices. We will also be giving out small goody bags containing a little nut-free candy, stickers, and such. We will have some non-candy bags available upon request. Please talk to Rev. Miranda or Krissy Mayer if you have questions, concerns, or ideas!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

“Why Religion?” Weekly Book Group Discussion, Wednesdays at 9:30am, starting April 24: The Wednesday morning book group is starting a new book, Why Religion, by Elaine Pagels. Quoting a review of the book, “Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century? …This question took on a new urgency for Pagels when dealing with unimaginable loss—the death of her young son, followed a year later by the shocking loss of her husband. Here she interweaves a personal story with the work that she loves, illuminating how, for better and worse, religious traditions have shaped how we understand ourselves” It should be an interesting read. Please feel welcome to join the discussion even if you don’t have the book. The group meets at 9:30 on Wednesday morning in the meeting room at St. Dunstan’s. For more information, you can contact Valerie or Peg Geisler.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, April 26, 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 Village Green at 7508 Hubbard Ave., Middleton. For more information please contact Kathy Whitt.

Last Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, April 28, 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 month we’ll explore the concept of Doubt.

Bite Size Climate, Sunday, April 28, 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. Adults, kids, and youth are all invited to a series of twenty-minute (we promise!) gatherings to watch a short video, talk, and pray together. Over time, we’ll expand our understanding and commitment in bite-sized chunks. We’ll meet in the Meeting Room after 10am worship on Sundays when children’s choir doesn’t meet. May & summer dates TBA!

“The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” Book Group Discussion, Saturday, May 4, 10am: The monthly Saturday morning book group will meet to discuss an award-winning book of science and history, examining the past, present, and future of the Great Lakes. St. Dunstan’s members with an interest in ecology and creation care are invited to join the regular Saturday group to discuss this book. To participate, read The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (Dan Egan, 2017) by May 4! If you’d like to buy the book and cost is a barrier, talk to Rev. Miranda. Please note, the Saturday book group has traditionally been known as the “Men’s Book Group” but it is open to everyone!

Groundbreaking Sunday, 9am, Sunday, May 5: We wondered, planned, raised money, prepared – and now it’s time to begin! The Open Door Project, a major renovation to improve the comfort, safety, beauty, and usability of our church buildings, is about to begin. We will kick it off on Sunday, May 5, with a ceremony between services at 9am, and photo opportunities both between services and after the 10am service. Mark your calendar and plan to attend!

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes usually meet twice a month; we will meet on May 12 and 19th, 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!

Middleton outreach Ministry (MOM) Needs Clothing Donations: Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) has a clothing closet with gently used clothing available at no cost for their clients. Their racks  for infants and toddlers are quite low at this time. During your spring cleaning, if you find any clothing for newborn to 4T that you no longer need please consider bringing them to church and we will deliver them to MOM. Questions? -Connie Ott or Janet Bybee

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES… 

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL 2019: SAVE THE DATES – AUGUST 4 – 8! Plans are just starting to take shape but we expect to spent a lot of time outdoors, and to invite the adults of St. Dunstan’s to join our kids and youth for shared learning and fun, as we did in 2018. Mark your calendars!

Seeking Sponsors for our Kids & Youth: Your $25 sponsorship helps one of the children or youth of St. Dunstan’s attend Camp Webb or our summer youth mission trip. Each shareholder will receive a postcard from one of our kids or youth, during their time at camp or on the youth mission trip. We also plan a late summer social event for kids and sponsors, when kids can share about their trips.  You can contribute with a check in the offering plate with “Camp Sponsorship” on the memo line, or online at donate.stdunstans.com .

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

Women’s Mini-Week, August 8 – 11: The mission of Women’s Mini-Week is to provide an annual retreat event for adult women, offering refuge, friendship, relaxation, and fun. Mini-Week combines opportunities to learn with fellowship, spiritual exploration and delicious food as we invite all women to participate as much or as little as they would like and need. Mini-Week is held at a beautiful lakeside camp in northern Wisconsin. Many members of St. Dunstan’s have attended, planned, and led, over the years. Visit womensminiweek.org to learn more and make Mini-Week part of your summer plans.