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Bulletin for April 11

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday!

9AM Zoom online gathering:  We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for April 11

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Bulletin & Script, Jan. 31

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday’s 9AM Zoom online gathering.   NOTE: We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for January 31

This Sunday we will also receive a Zoom drama of the story of Jonah. If you’d like to follow along with the script, you can do that here.

Jonah Script 

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.

Bulletin, January 17

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday’s 9AM Zoom online gathering.   NOTE: We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin for January 17

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN… 

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window

Sermon, Dec. 20

So let’s talk about today’s Old Testament lesson, from the first book of the prophet Samuel. I’m going to go ahead and say this is the oddest Old Testament lesson in all three years of Advent lessons. The rest are all prophetic texts – about God coming to deliver, redeem, and restore. This is the only narrative text out of twelve. So let’s play “Why is this in the lectionary?”

One superficial reason is that Jesus is of David’s lineage – both by his parentage and in terms of people’s expectations about him. When folks call him “Son of David,” they’re expressing the  hope that Jesus will throw out the Romans and re-establish the kingship in Jerusalem, as in rose-tinted memories of King David’s time 1000 years earlier. 

But then, why THIS story? Why not any other of the many stories about David, Israel’s great long-ago King? And what is even going on here?… 

Let’s revisit what the Ark of God is, because while our Godly Play class covered that recently, the rest of us may be fuzzy on the subject. 

During the wilderness journey after leading God’s people out of bondage in Egypt, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments – the way they are to live as God’s people, under God’s protection. The Commandments are written on tablets of stone by the finger of God. Moses breaks the first set, after discovering that the people have started worshiping a golden calf while he was off on a mountaintop talking with God, but God instructs Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.” (Exodus 34:1)

So those tablets – and eventually, other holy documents and objects – are what’s INSIDE the Ark. The Ark itself is a very special, very holy box, that is made on the wilderness journey – along with a very special, beautiful tent. In Exodus 25, God tells Moses what the Ark should look like: 

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a moulding of gold upon it all round. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on one side of it, and two rings on the other side. You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark…. You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:10-14, 16)

Then they were commanded to make a kind of throne – a “mercy-seat” – with two gold cherubim on top of the ark; and God tells Moses, “There I will meet you, and… from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.”

So: The Ark is the most precious and holy thing the Israelites possess. It stands for God’s living presence among them, and their duty of faithfulness to God. They carry it on their journey; they carry it into battle with them… for example, the enemy city of Jericho is defeated when priests march around it seven times carrying the ark. 

But the Ark is not a weapon of mass destruction. It doesn’t guarantee victory. About twenty years before David became King, the Philistines, a neighboring tribe, were attacking Israel and causing trouble. So the elders of Israel said, “Let’s bring the Ark to the front lines, so that God may come among us and save us from our enemies.” But it didn’t work. There was another battle; Israel lost; thirty thousand soldiers died; and the ark of God was captured. 

I wish I had time to tell you about the ark causing mischief while it’s in enemy hands; read 1 Samuel 5 for that story. Gold mice are involved. So the Philistines give the ark BACK… it ends up in an Israelite town called Kiriath-jearim, and stays there for twenty years. 

Now we are early in the second book of Samuel. After many years of bloody civil war David finally becomes king over all Israel. The FIRST thing David does is claim the city that will become Jerusalem from the Jebusites, who live there. Then, he has a fancy house built for himself, and takes a bunch more wives and concubines – he already has a few. 

And then he decides that what his new capital city really needs is the ark of God. So he takes a group to bring the ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem. It’s an occasion of GREAT celebration: “David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5) UNTIL there’s a sobering moment that reminds the people that the Ark is not to be trifled with. The cart carrying the Ark is going over rough ground and one of the priests tending the ark reaches out his hand to steady it, and falls dead on the spot – for touching the Ark. (Those of us who remember the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, may have some vivid mental images for this story. The Ark’s power to melt Nazis is based on some Biblical precedents.) 

SO David gets jumpy and decides maybe he DOESN’T want the ark around after all. He leaves it in the home of a fellow named Obed-edom, who lives nearby, for three months. But then he hears that things are going really great for Obed-edom with the ark at his house, and David decides to bring it to Jerusalem after all. So they have ANOTHER procession, with trumpets and dancing and celebration, and bring the Ark all the way to Jerusalem this time – to a tent that David has prepared for it.

The ark is used to tents, of course. But Israel doesn’t live in tents anymore. People live in villages, towns, and cities. They’ve ARRIVED. They’ve settled. So it starts to bother David that the ark is in a tent. Which brings us to today’s lesson. “Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’”

Nathan is the prophet of God who succeeds the great prophet Samuel. David doesn’t always like what Nathan has to say, but he trusts him, because he knows Nathan will tell him the truth. But after giving David the OK to build a grand house for the Ark, Nathan has a dream, in which God gives him a word for David. I like what the Message Bible paraphrase does with this passage: 

“Go and tell my servant David: This is God’s word on the matter: You’re going to build a ‘house’ for me to live in? Why, I haven’t lived in a ‘house’ from the time I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt till now. All that time I’ve moved about with nothing but a tent. And in all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders I commanded to shepherd Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’”

God goes on to remind David that God raised him up from being a humble shepherd boy to being King of all Israel. And God explains that actually it’s GOD who is building DAVID a house – giving him the kingship, defeating his enemies, and establishing his lineage so that his son will sit upon his throne after him. 

After Nathan tells him all this, David goes to the ark and prays to God there – a long prayer of praise and gratitude, concluding, “You, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house”… Therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you.” 

It’s hard to tell any of the David stories in isolation because David is such a strong personality. ALL the David stories together tell you a lot about how to read any ONE story. This coming summer, the lectionary will bring us more texts from 1 and 2 Samuel – which might be another reason we get this text this Advent, anticipating those readings – though it’s still weird!

But maybe even if you don’t know David already, you can hear from what I’ve shared that David is a man of ambition – even hubris. His deep and genuine – though complicated – faith in God might be the only curb on his self-esteem. David is a great man, but not consistently a good man. 

When Father John and I were talking through this passage, as we do, Father John recalled a quotation form Mark Twain: “Scripture tells us that God created Man in God’s image, and Man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” David thinks that God is like David. That God wants a fancy house, and power and riches and adulation. And David – let’s be clear – wants the glory of building that house for God. This project would have been partly about honoring God – and partly about honoring David. 

So God is displaying a lot of perceptiveness about David, here. If God allows David to build God a house, David’s sense of being God’s Special Dude might totally overwhelm him. David might really start to think of God as his pet deity, something he owns and commands. 

So God says, Slow your roll, David. Don’t get it twisted. I’m the one building a house here. YOUR house. 

It’s a terrific chapter in the saga of David’s kingship. And… it’s a really interesting story to receive here, today, right before the Gospel of the Annunciation. Of Mary’s Yes to God.

It is Solomon, David’s son, who actually builds the first great Temple in Jerusalem. But Mary, too, is a descendant of David’s lineage who is blessed with the privilege of housing God. Of being the means by which God comes to be housed, to incarnate, to dwell in the very world God created. 

Besides God’s choice about when, where, and how to pitch God’s tent among mortals, God’s rebuke to David has another theme in common with today’s Gospel: God’s refusal to align neatly with human systems of power and status. 

What David is offering and imagining is very commonplace in human history, and very dangerous: God and King as allies, with King in the driver’s seat. History has seen plenty of gods who were bound and beholden to particular human leaders or regimes. Gods used to legitimize the use or abuse of human power. 

The God of Israel – the God we know in Jesus – refuses all such arrangements. Insists on holding rulers accountable to God’s expectations – things like caring for the poor, maintaining a just social and economic order, and tending the land with respect. God says No to David, because God knows David’s rule is shaped by the desire for wealth and status. Mary says Yes to God, because she knows that God’s rule is not. 

The God who comes among us as Jesus Christ is a God who persistently holds the most powerful to account for the well-being of those with the least power. Mary sings that ancient truth in the Magnificat, her hymn of fierce hope about her son, and about what God has done and will do: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

We’ll now receive the Annunciation Gospel, then sing Mary’s song, in a poetic setting written by poet Rory Cooney.

Recipe book!

We usually celebrate the conclusion of the fall Giving Campaign with an all-parish pie brunch. We can’t share food this year but we can share recipes! All through November, people have been sharing recipes for favorite things to cook, bake, or throw together. Now we are bringing them together as a recipe book to share! Click below to download or print for home use. We will also have a limited number of print copies available in the next couple of weeks.

St. Dunstan’s Recipe Book, Fall 2020 (Updated!)

If the recipe book inspires you and you want to share one of your own, send it in to . We can issue an Addendum down the road!

Sermon, August 23

Read this Sunday’s lessons from Exodus and Romans here. 

This text from the beginning of the book of Exodus is full of women quietly working to resist and subvert a cruel and abusive status quo. Let’s see – can we list them all? …. 

– The midwives (more about them in a moment)

– Miriam, Moses’ big sister. Text suggests that her keeping an eye on Moses in the basket – & then approaching the Egyptian princess – is her own initiative. (And we see her boldness later in the story when she’s a grown woman.) 

– Moses’ mother, named Jochebed by tradition – hiding her baby & then finding a way to give him a chance at life while also being able to say truthfully, “Yes, yes, we put him in the Nile”

– Pharaoh’s daughter – her motivations are a little inscrutable. But she certainly knows of her father’s decree of death for the Hebrew babies, and she chooses to ignore it. I wonder if she guessed the baby’s Hebrew nurse was actually his mother. 

I’m not here to idealize women as somehow universally more moral or more righteous – or more sneaky. But there is something we recognize here: something about an overwhelmingly male-dominated system, in which some women find quiet ways to resist, and do what needs doing. 

Now let’s hone in on the midwives – Sifra and Puah. The text calls Shifrah and Puah, the “Hebrew midwives.” That is the simplest translation, but it loses the ambiguity of the Hebrew. It might be better to say “the midwives of the Hebrews,” because it’s not fully clear whether these women were Hebrew or Egyptian. 

They might easily have been Egyptian midwives whose job it was to attend to births among the Hebrew population. Nothing strange about that; we have plenty of white ladies in various helper roles with communities of color in America today. 

There’s been lots of wondering about the midwives over the centuries. I learned, in preparing this sermon, that Jewish commentators have held both views for at least two thousand years. 

I’ve believed for a long time that the midwives are Egyptian. I just think that’s what makes narrative sense. Let me explain why, briefly. 

First, Pharaoh asks them to kill the Hebrew babies. Would Pharaoh be so clueless as to ask that if they were themselves Hebrew? A 16th century rabbi, Don Isaac Abarbanel, wrote, “How could Pharaoh’s mind be confident that Hebrew women would murder their own people’s babies?” It makes much more sense if the midwives were Egyptian, and Pharaoh assumed they would share his point of view – that the Hebrews were threatening outsiders whose lives don’t really matter. 

Second – when Pharaoh calls in the midwives to ask why they’re letting the babies live, both Pharaoh and the midwives speak about the Hebrews – the Israelites – as others, as a “them.” “They give birth before the midwife even arrives!”  And notice how the midwives deflect suspicion by playing into demeaning stereotypes, saying “the Hebrew women are hardy.” “Hardy” doesn’t sound so bad until you think about the contrast with the delicate, refined Egyptian women. And the Hebrew word translated as “hardy,” when used as a noun, means “animals.” Those people – their women are like beasts, they just push out a baby before we can even get there…! What can we do? 

Finally, I think the very fact that this story is HERE indicates that the midwives were Egyptian. “Dog bites man” doesn’t make a headline. Hebrew women helping other Hebrew women, likewise. But “Man bites dog” – Egyptian women helping Hebrew women defy the Egyptian king – THAT’s a story. And it’s a kind of story the Hebrew Bible likes to tell – stories of people outside the covenant, people outside of God’s chosen lineage, who nonetheless honor Israel’s God and act righteously. In one 1000-year-old text, Shifra and Puah are named as Righteous Gentiles. 

(That brings them alongside people like Ida Cook, who worked tirelessly to help Jewish children escape Europe just before the Second World War; I shared her story back in February. Another tale of secret plots to preserve life that rest on the tendency of men in power to underestimate and ignore women.) 

I believe Shifra and Puah were Egyptians, who didn’t go along with their leader and their culture, but saw and did what was right. They weren’t conformed to the world but they were transformed by the renewing of their minds, discerning the will of God. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

In our somewhat abbreviated Sunday gatherings, we’ve skipped a lot of the texts from Romans this summer summer. Paul’s letter to the Romans is frankly ill-suited to the Sunday lectionary. He’s building long, complex arcs of argumentation that don’t break into pieces well. But from chapter 12 onward, Paul is offering advice about living as people of faith in community, and it gets a little easier to receive and understand a piece at a time. 

There aren’t a lot of verses in the Bible that stand well on their own. Generally you need context to know what’s being said. But if you want to memorize this single verse and carry it around inside of you… you could do a lot worse. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

It’s a good verse for the Egyptian midwives. Other Egyptians, and their King, were saying: Look, these Hebrew workers – there are too many of them, and they’re having too many babies. We need their labor, but they’re a threat to our culture and way of life. Let’s make life harder and harder for them; let’s make them struggle, let’s make them afraid, to make sure they don’t overrun us. 

Shifra and Puah didn’t conform to that point of view. They exercised their own judgment, followed their own values.  

One thing I respect about Shifra and Puah is that they knew the difference between what’s legal and what’s right. If you, like me, have been raised in a society where the laws and the rules mostly protect and privilege people like me, it’s easy to be fuzzy on the difference – but it’s pretty important to be prepared to ask ourselves, Is what’s legal, right? And is what’s right, legal? 

Slavery was legal; so was Jim Crow segregation. The Holocaust was legal. Jesus’ execution was legal. Separating infants and toddlers from their parents, indefinitely, at the U.S. border has been legal in the very recent past. Meanwhile, in parts of our nation, people have been prosecuted for feeding the homeless; and for leaving water caches in the desert to help desperate migrants survive.

Legal is not always the same as moral. Legal is not always the same as right. Laws are made by human governments, and human governments get things wrong. 

The text says that Shifrah and Puah went rogue because they feared God. That makes sense for the Biblical text, which is very interested in non-Israelites honoring Israel’s God. But I’m not sure I believe it. 

Egyptians had their own gods, including gods associated with pregnancy and birth. Shifrah and Puah were probably devotees of Taweret, the pregnant hippopotamus-goddess who watched over births, or Meshkenet, who gave strength to women in labor. 

Deaths of mother, baby, or both in childbirth would have been common, as they have been throughout most of human history. To wrest a living baby from the womb was to win a wrestling match with death. 

Midwives are people who deeply respect the birth process and, based on the ones I’ve met, really love babies. To be a midwife is to be on the side of life, in a fundamental way. To be willing to get soaked with blood and amniotic fluid and less mentionable substances, for the sake of bringing forth and preserving life. 

I don’t think Shifrah and Puah broke Pharaoh’s command because they thought the Hebrews had a better God. I think they went rogue for the sake of life. 

And that just happened to align them with God’s purposes – because our God, the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a god of life. 

Where would you be prepared to go rogue for the sake of life? 

The ways our governments, economies and societies deal death are, mostly, more subtle and indirect these days. In Lebanon: Government officials ignored warnings about a stockpile of explosive material in a warehouse for … six years. In our nation: A sluggish and incoherent response to a global pandemic has undoubtedly led to many more deaths than might otherwise have been. In Wisconsin, just this summer, a government committee rejected changes to state rules that would have prohibited the use of conversion therapy by licensed therapists and others.  “Conversion therapy” involves trying to change somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and it’s associated with psychological harm, substance abuse, and worse. 

You probably have your own item you’d put on the list of ways our status quo compromises and damages life – and not only human life, but also creatures and ecosystems. And that brings me to another thing I respect about the midwives: their crystal-clear focus. 

Shifra and Puah had their work, their mission, their cause: Save babies. And when the interests and fears of those in power put pressure on their work, they found ways to keep saving babies.

It’s pretty normal to be overwhelmed, right now. For many of us, even an egregious news story gets kind of a “Huh” reaction at this point. There’s just too much. 

I wonder if there’s something, some hope, some value, some cause, some work, that is as bedrock-solid for you as saving babies was for Shifrah and Puah. I wonder whether God has given you a heart for that hope or value or cause or work … for a reason. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

Where are you prepared to go rogue for the sake of life? 

 

 

A really detailed, interesting investigation of Jewish commentary and translation issues related to the identity of the midwives: 

https://www.thetorah.com/article/the-egyptian-midwives

Bulletin, Sunday July 26

Here is the bulletin for this Sunday’s online gatherings for the people of St. Dunstan’s. It is the same for the 9am gathering and the 6:30pm gathering.   It will print on three sheets of paper, front and back. NOTE: We use slides during worship  that contain most of this information, but some prefer to follow along on paper.

Bulletin, Sunday, July 26

The link for the Zoom gatherings is available in our weekly E-news, in our Facebook group St. Dunstan’s MadCity, or by emailing Rev. Miranda:  .

THREE WAYS TO USE AN ONLINE BULLETIN…

  1. Print it out!

2. Open the bulletin on one device (smartphone or tablet) while joining Zoom worship on another device (tablet or computer).

3. On a computer, open the bulletin in a separate browser window or download and open separately, and view it next to your Zoom window.