Category Archives: Uncategorized

Announcements, January 17

THIS WEEK…

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

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

Sunday School at St. Dunstan’s: Our Sunday school classes for kids meet during 10am worship on the second and third Sundays of most months (January 13 & 20, February 10 & 17). We have three Sunday school classes: for kids age 3 through kindergarten, for grades 1 – 3, and grades 4 – 6. Kids are welcome to try it out at any time, and parents may come along too! If you’d like to get involved, contact Sharon Henes.

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

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

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

Altar Flowers: January and February dates available – sign up at church or by email! Honor a loved one or a special event with altar flowers on a special date! At church, sign up on the clipboard under the big calendar in the Gathering Area, and place a check or cash in an envelope labeled “Flowers” in the offering plate. From home, email office@stdunstans.com with your preferred date and dedication, and make your gift online at donate.stdunstans.com. Thank you for beautifying our worship space!

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

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

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

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

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

Spirituality of Parenting Lunch, Sunday, February 10, 11:30am: All who seek meaning in the journey of parenthood (at any age or stage) are welcome to come for food and conversation. Childcare and a simple meal provided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcements, November 29

THIS WEEK…

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, November 30, 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 Imperial Gardens, 2039 Allen Blvd, Middleton. Please contact Kathy Whitt  or Debra Martinez for more information or to RSVP.

Advent Begins on Sunday, December 2! Advent is the beginning of the church’s new year. Advent candles, prayer booklets, calendars and other materials are available in the Gathering Area! Please take whatever you will use.

Intergenerational Conversations II, Sunday, December 2, 9am:  Continuing the conversation we started in October, please join us to share and learn from others about living and worshipping together across generations. You don’t need to have attended the first discussion to join in. See you at 9am this Sunday! All ages welcome.

Military and College Student Care Packages: The Youth Group is collecting donations during November to be included in care packages for military personnel and college students. There is a list of suggested items by the donation box. If you have a college student or service member who you would like a care package sent to, please provide name and address to Sharon Henes. The youth will be assembling and mailing the care packages the first week of December. Thank you for your support!

Caroling 2018: In recent years, a group of singers from St. Dunstan’s has enjoyed visiting a few of our members and singing Christmas carols. We’d like to do the same this year. All ages are welcome to participate. Date will be determined by folks’ availability. Please sign up and indicate your availability in the Gathering Area, or email Rev. Miranda .

Sharing Christmas 2018: Outreach Committee has chosen Middleton Outreach Ministry’s Sharing Christmas for its giving opportunity. We have 4 families with a total of 19 people this year. The gifts requested are found on the ornament garland on the window in the Gathering Space. Check the ornaments and pick a gift you would like to purchase for one of the family members. Bring it back wrapped with the ornament firmly attached to St. Dunstan’s no later than Sunday, Dec. 9th. The gifts will be taken to the MOM office and the families will pick them up there. After you select an ornament, please write your name on the list to the right of the garland so we know that you have taken that ornament. Questions ? Janet Bybeeor Connie Ott can answer them!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Liturgy Imagining & Planning Meeting, Wednesday, December 5, 7:15pm: Come reflect on our worship and how we could make it more engaging for worshippers of all ages! All interested folks are welcome to attend.

Advent Thursday Suppers: You’re invited to gather for a simple meal at 5:30pm on Thursday, December 6, 13, and 20. We’ll conclude with simple evening prayers. Soup and bread/crackers provided. All are welcome!

Youth Group Babysitting, Saturday, December 8, 9am – 12pm: Drop off your child and go Christmas shopping or just enjoy some quiet time! The St. Dunstan’s Youth Group (with adult supervision) will care for and entertain your kids. Free; any donations will support youth group programming. Thank you!

Madison-Area Julian Gathering,Wednesday, December 12, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: Julian of Norwich was a 15th Century English mystic and anchoress. Little is known about Julian’s life, but she wrote a book, as far as we know the first in English written by a woman, about a series of revelations which opened her to the depths of God’s unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ.  Nearly forgotten for 600 years, Julian’s insights and gentle wisdom are becoming ever more widely known and appreciated.  Thomas Merton called her “the greatest theologian for our time.” Julian prayed often in silence, and at a Julian Gathering we support each other in the practice of contemplative prayer and contemplative spirituality.  They are open to all who want to deepen their life of faith through the practice of contemplative prayer, for beginners as well as those already practicing.  Each meeting includes time for contemplative prayer, fellowship, and reading/discussion of Julian’s book.   We meet the second Wednesday of each month.  For additional information, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon, October 7

Clinging to Control (On Suffering, Entitlement, and Job)

Sunday’s readings. Can I be honest? The book of Job makes me nervous. I don’t like the idea that God would allow suffering in order to win an ill-conceived parlor bet with the devil. What’s the over-under on how long Jonathan would last? (Don’t let the Satan get wind of it!) God takes the over with Job. In a more traditional gambling format, I’d like to think I’d be given a significant point spread to cover, making allowances for the effects of parenting-related sleep deprivation. But then again, Job starts off with ten kids! On just those grounds, Vegas should give me better odds than Job. But I know better. I also know that suffering like Job’s hurts like hell. The sores and potsherds of today’s reading are just the beginning of his pain and the loneliness that comes with it.

Of course, the parlor bet need not be literal. It’s hard to imagine God having anything to win back from the devil, anyway. Instead, the exchange that begins the book of Job serves to identify the central question relevant for all that follows. Disappointingly, the book isn’t primarily interested in why people suffer. Instead, as John Walton observes, the book asks from the divine perspective if there’s such a thing as disinterested righteousness, that is, righteousness that isn’t in it for what I might get out of it; you know, righteousness that has its beginning and roots in God; righteous in which we sometimes by the grace of God find ourselves, like the old hymn says, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

My family and I are Calvin and Hobbes junkies, and there’s a favorite strip in which Calvin asks his teacher, Ms. Wormwood (named after the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters), what guarantee she can give him that the education he’s receiving will set him up for success in life. “Calvin,” she replies, “What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” To which a visibly deflated Calvin despairs, “Well, in that case forget it.”

This strikes me as exactly how most of us imagine life with God and what it’s like. Like Calvin, sure, we might grumble at the elbow grease required of us, but we console and motivate ourselves (or don’t) with assurances of the payoff. As the life of faith goes, what we get out of it will more or less equate to what we put into it. We think.

It’s good news, bad news, right? Bad news, because we’ve got our work cut out for us, good news because at least we are in control of our fates. But it’s exactly that last part – the assumption that deserving is how God relates to God’s children – to which the book of Job makes its singular and strongest objection.

The book of Job means to shatter the idea that certain inputs will result in particular outputs when it comes to matters of faith or, put more crassly, that God is an object for our manipulation, that if you input faith and piety, God will output favor of a particular shape on you. You know the line. It’s the way of thinking that says that if things look grim for you, it’s because you messed up or haven’t prayed hard enough, your faith isn’t great enough. And, lest we dismiss that line of thinking as ridiculous, a few chapters from now, Job’s friends will suggest exactly that, in order to account for his suffering. It’s amazing the stupid things people will say in the attempt to regain control of terrifying things. If you suffer, you have brought it on yourself. If you prosper, you have likewise brought it on yourself. Neither inherently true. The attractiveness of this logic is that it locates you in the driver’s seat of your life. Everything that happens to you becomes a manifestation of your self-expression and unique identity and, along with these, your faith. One challenge to this logic, aside from the way it simultaneously creates a breeding ground for potential self-loathing and unfounded boasting, is that none of us decided to be in the first place, so the process of expressing one’s unique identity becomes a game of catch-up from the get-go.

If people have sometimes made habits of thinking about the life of faith in this way, give x, get y, the bad news is that the situation is not any better outside of, nor is it limited to, the life of faith. Consider the observation of professor Kate Bowler when she writes that

Fairness is one of the most compelling claims of the American Dream, a vision of success propelled by hard work, determination, and maybe the occasional pair of bootstraps. Wherever I have lived in North America, I have been sold a story about an unlimited horizon and the personal characteristics that are required to waltz toward it. It is the language of entitlements. It is the careful math of deserving, meted out painstakingly as my sister and I used to inventory and trade our Halloween candy. In this world, I deserve what I get. I earn my keep and keep my share. In a world of fair, nothing clung to can ever slip away.

In a world of fair, nothing clung to can ever slip away. As everything begins to slip away, this is Job’s dilemma. It is also Kate Bowler’s dilemma: as a newly appointed professor with a husband she loves and just-born child, Kate was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35. She writes

The treatment at Emory begins at the end of October. I am tired most of the time, but I feel driven to catalog everything and wring every bit of time for all it’s worth. I start to write. In bed, in chemo chairs, in waiting rooms, I try to say something about dying in a world where everything happens for a reason. Whenever there is a clarifying moment of grief, I jot it down. And then, in a flurry, I shoot it off to The New York Times, not thinking too much about whether it’s any good, but sending it because I have been infected by the urgency of death. Then an editor there sees it, and puts it on the front page of the Sunday Review. Millions of people read it. Thousands share it and start writing to me. And most begin with the same words, “I’m afraid.” Me too, me too.

“I’m afraid of the loss of my parents,” writes a young man. “I know I will lose them someday soon, and I can’t bear the thought.” “I’m afraid for my son,” says a father from Arkansas. “He has been diagnosed with a brain tumor at forty-four, which would have been devastating enough if he had not already lost his identical twin brother to the same disease a few years ago.” These letters sing with unspeakable love in the face of the Great Separation. Don’t go, don’t go, you anchor my life.

In a world of fair, nothing clung to can ever slip away. Evidently, Job’s, Kate’s, and ours is not a world of fair. And yet God is with us. If it sounds like too much, or not enough, we maybe have a better handle on the disciples’ confusion, disappointment, even anger these last few weeks as Jesus repeatedly predicts his own betrayal, death, and resurrection; his disciples insisting that a future so out of control cannot be saving. Or, maybe more honestly, that a future so out of control is just too scary to follow.  Of course, the news that we do not in a real sense control either God or our lives does not mean the end of our hope, but it does mean the necessity of trust; in a real way, the surrender of certainty creates the possibility of trust.

Which is maybe why Jesus keeps pointing his disciples to children and the poor, human beings beloved of God who do not need to be told that their lives are many times not their own; that they are left to the whims, and at the mercy, of others. As if to sharpen the point of this pencil further, Jesus will next encounter a rich man in search of salvation and, though their exchange, invite the whole Church to surrender whatever may remain of our sense of entitlement and control – for what can the possession of these mean in the hands of those who follow the crucified Christ? – inviting us to forsake our clinging and, with outstretched arms, discover with our lives generosity, trust, and the capacity to be surprised beyond the modest scripting of our imaginations.

After recounting in painful detail letter after letter from strangers happy to explain exactly why she was facing what she was facing, Kate Bowler writes to name the exceptions:

But many people write to me like family. “As a father, I am truly sorry.” “I’m a mother and I wish I could give you a hug right now.” They want to comfort me, but their experiences tell them that life is never fair. “I want you to know how much I’m praying for you and grateful for your faith. I’m sorry that we must say, like Job, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’” Yes, yes, yes. Yet will I trust in Him. I don’t know what the word “trust” means anymore, except there are moments when I realize that it feels a lot like love.

Yet will I trust in Him. I don’t know what the word “trust” means anymore, except there are moments when I realize that it feels a lot like love.

Amen.

Announcements, September 13

THIS WEEKEND…

All Ages Book Group, September 16th at 9:00am: Grab the Wishtree book in the Gathering Space and take home to read.  Join us on the 16th for a discussion of the story.  Wishtree is a wonderful book about community told by a tree named Red!

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

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Calling all Owls! Back to school also means the start of youth group. We are looking for 4th and 5th graders to join us every other Friday night for pizza, sharing and fun activities. Our first gathering will be Friday, Sept 14th from 5:30-7:30. Please direct any questions to Leonora Neville or Krissy Mayer.

Museum Trip, September 22nd at 11:00am: Everyone is invited to learn together at the UW Geology museum on Saturday, September 22nd.  The guided tour begins at 11:00 a.m.  NOTE THE TIME CHANGE!  Please sign up in the Gathering space so we can let the museum know our numbers!  Please contact Sharon if you need/want to car pool.

Inquirers’ Group session 3: Theology, Sunday, September 23, 9am: This group is for those new to the Episcopal Church, as well as long-time members who’d like to learn more. At each session, we’ll discuss a short book, read ahead of time. Our third book is “A Faith for the Future,” by Jesse Zink. Zink unites tradition and contemporary thinking to introduce the essentials of Episcopal theology. What’s the story of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, creation and humanity, baptism, church, Eucharist, mission, and the life after death? Several copies of the book are available for pickup in the Gathering Area, or you can buy it online in print or Kindle editions. It’s OK if you haven’t come to previous sessions. Just read (or skim) the book, come and join in!

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, September 28, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Biaggi’s, 1611 Aspen Commons,Middleton, at Greenway Station. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt or call Debra Martinez.

Election Season Prayers: Praying for our political leaders has always been part of Anglican and Episcopal worship. In past election seasons, we have often included candidates for public office in our prayers in informal ways. This year we are taking on the discipline of praying for this autumn’s elections as part of our weekly Prayers of the People, using language borrowed from some of the prayers for our country in the Book of Common Prayer.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, October 10, 1:00 – 2:45 PM: Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century English mystic whose theology was six hundred years ahead of her time.  She had sixteen revelations of Christ showing her the reciprocal nature of the bond between the soul and God, a bond that is based on love that is tender and co-operative . . . he wants us to be his partners. If that sounds like the relationship with God you long for, join us.  We meet on the second Wednesday of each month.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore, ObJN.

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

Looking for Coffee Hosts for September and October 2018! Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee.

STAFF NEWS…

Clergy Office Hours: If you would like to visit with one of our clergy, they would like to visit with you! Father Jonathan Melton will hold weekly “office hours” on Mondays from 9 – 11am, at the MOKA at 5227 University Ave. Father Tom McAlpine will be available on Thursdays from 1-3pm at the Starbucks at 3515 University Ave. And Father John Rasmus will be at St. Dunstan’s on Thursdays from 9 – 10:30am.

Announcements, April 26

CHECK YOUR MAILBOX!  Invitations to the party to kick off the Open Door Project, our capital campaign, will arrive this week. The party will be on Saturday, May 19, from 4 – 6pm, and everyone who considers St. Dunstan’s their church home is invited! Please RSVP using the enclosed postcards.  We hope to have the whole congregation present as we begin this exciting journey together. Kids are very much welcome. Please note: we will not ask for pledges at this event, but we hope you’re thinking and talking about your household’s readiness and capacity to contribute to the campaign.

We’ll share an evening of food, music, and exploring St. Dunstan’s past, present, and future!

THIS WEEKEND…

Sandbox Worship, Thursday, April 26, 5:30pm: In the Sandbox this week, we will study the Acts lesson for this coming Sunday, then prepare a scripted version of the lesson to use in worship on Sunday. If you would like to read one of the parts and will be at church on Sunday the 29th (either 10am or 8am worship), please come! A light dinner will follow.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, April 27, 6pm: Come join us for good food and good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we’ll be celebrating the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog, at The Imperial Garden at 2039 Allen Blvd., Middleton, just across from St. D’s. For more information, or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt  or  Debra Martinez.

Water is Life, April 27th, 7-9 pm @ St Francis House, 1011 University Ave.: St. Francis House is bringing together interfaith, academic, and Native People’s perspectives to discuss water rights and justice. John Floberg, Episcopal priest and an organizer of Clergy Standing with Standing Rock, comes from North Dakota to St Francis House as a special guest. Join us for his talk, additional perspectives, and a panel discussion to follow. This event is sponsored by St Francis House Student Episcopal Center and the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry; co-sponsored by Pres House, Badger Catholic and His House.

Last Sunday All Ages Worship, April 29, 10am: Our Last Sunday Worship this month will focus on our call to care for God’s creation. This service is intended especially to help kids (and grownups who are new to our pattern of worship) to engage and participate fully. NOTE: Our 8am service always follows our regular order of worship.

Falk Friends Pantry Prep, Sunday, April 29, 11:30am: Helpers of all ages are welcome to help pack our Falk Friends Pantry bags after the 10am liturgy!

Looking for Coffee Hosts May 13 and 27: Consider being a coffee host and talk with Janet Bybee at (608) 836-9755 for more information.

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.

Meal Helpers Needed: New parents Kate and Alex have asked for some meals as they adjust to life with a baby. They will be without “Grandparent help” during the month of May, and would like a couple of meals a week during that time. Shirley Laedlein has created a calendar where every day in May is selected, but would ask that if you sign up, you would spread out the meals to twice a week to cover the whole month rather than clump them up. Alex has a couple of recipe ideas if you don’t know what to make. Shirley will be get those from her, so let her know if you want them. You can access the calendar by going to St. Dunstan’s website, clicking on the Fellowship and Learning tab, and then going to the Sharing Meals tab. Please contact Shirley with any questions. Thanks so much for all you do!

THE WEEKS AHEAD…

Basics of Major Gifts and Tax Law, Sunday, May 6, 9am: John Scherer will offer an overview of some different ways to make major gifts to the church or another beloved organization, and the impact of changes in tax law on charitable gifts.  

Spring Clean-Up Day, Sunday, May 6, 11:30am – 1pm: Join us after the 10am service to enjoy a time of shared work on our beautiful grounds, tidying them up and preparing for the growing season. A list of tasks will be posted in the Gathering Area ahead of time. Wear or bring your scruffy clothes and work gloves. Lunch will be provided!

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

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, May 6: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Ministry’s food pantry. Here are some of the current top-ten, most needed items: Rice, Barley, Quinoa, Oats;  Canned Chicken, Salmon, Sardines, Tuna; Pasta: Penne, Elbow, Bowtie; Canned Veggies: Mixed, Artichokes, Asparagus, Mushrooms; Toilet Paper/Paper Towels; Size 6 Diapers. Thank you for your generous support!

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

Buildings & Grounds Meeting, Monday, May 7, 6pm: Weather permitting, we will gather outside at 6pm for some outdoor tasks, and then meet inside at 7pm to talk about some current projects, needs, and how to tackle them. If you’re interested in helping out with these kinds of tasks but can’t attend this meeting, talk to John Ertl or Jim Whitney, or and we will follow up.

Madison-Area Julian Gathering, Wednesday, May 9, 1:00 – 2:45pm: We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about contemplative spirituality in the Christian tradition. We meet the second Wednesday of the month for a period of contemplative prayer, after which we discuss a reading from Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic who has been called “a theologian for our time.” We would love to have you join us.  If you have questions, contact Susan Fiore.

Ascension Eucharist at The Sandbox, Thursday, May 10, 7pm (TIME CHANGE): A simple Eucharist to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, as the Church honors the story of the risen Jesus saying a final farewell to his friends.

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, May 19, 10am: The book is All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr. “A beautiful story about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure and a German boy, Werner, whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.” Werner grows up enchanted by a crude radio he finds and becomes an expert at fixing these new instruments, a talent that wins him a place in the Hitler Youth and a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. HAVE A GOOD READ

SUMMER…

Our Vacation Bible School this summer will be August 5 – 9! Our VBS meets in the evening – 5:30 to 7:30pm. We’ve got some great ideas cooking up for this year. If you’d like to help out, talk to Sharon Henes.

Women’s Mini Week 2018, “Courageous Women of God!” August 9-12 at Camp Lakotah in Wautoma, WI: Spread the Word, Ladies! You are invited to Women’s Mini Week, beginning at Thursday dinner, August 9th through Sunday brunch, August 12th. For registration materials and to answer questions, go to the website: www.womensminiweek.org or email to womensminiweek@gmail.com.

 

 

Sermon, Dec. 17

Most weeks, I write my sermons in the same coffeeshop, on the same morning. I need the routine. And they make a good bagel sandwich. My particular coffeeshop tends to have the radio on – not loudly, just in the background, so that when I get stuck, or my mind wanders, or a song I especially like comes on, I notice it. This week, I was sitting in my coffeeshop wondering how to start this sermon. I knew I wanted to talk about nostalgia, its attraction and its risks, but I couldn’t find my way in. And then my ear caught the song on the radio – one I know because it’s a favorite of my son’s. It’s called “Stressed Out,” by the band Twenty One Pilots, and the hooky little chorus begins, “Wish I could turn back time to the good old days…”

Wish I could turn back time to the gold old days. There it is. Nostalgia. That’s the heart of it. In the song, a young man remembers his childhood: playing with his brother and bedtime lullabies and not having to make money. But nostalgia is all around us at this time of year – family traditions, grandmother’s recipes, ornaments from decades past, vintage Christmas movies, Charles Dickens and Santa and Bing Crosby on the radio singing, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know…”

I told Deanna, our music minister: We don’t have to choose hymns for Christmas Eve. We sing the same hymns every Christmas Eve. Because that’s what people want: to enter that timeless time when we’re singing Joy to the World and Silent Night and it could be any year, except that we’re older, and some of us are gone. Wish I could turn back time to the good old days. Christmastide is heavy with memory, with longing, with nostalgia.

This passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah comes from a moment when the people of God thought they could turn back time to the good old days. This text – this portion of the Book of Isaiah – was probably written a little over 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Another five hundred years earlier, King David had ruled Israel, an independent kingdom at the height of its power, conquering territory and receiving tribute goods from other nations, wealthy and healthy and strong. David made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom, and his son Solomon built the Great Temple there, the heart of the people’s worship of God. Two hundred years earlier, David’s kingdom had split in two, and the Northern Kingdom had fallen, conquered by the Assyrian Empire. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, somehow avoided that fate, but fell under Assyria’s power, its kings and its wealth under Assyrian control.  And about sixty years earlier, Judah and its capital Jerusalem finally fell to the next great empire, Babylon. Jerusalem’s walls were broken down, and the Temple torn to pieces, its holy vessels carried away as spoils of war. Many, many people died; and many, many more were dragged off into exile in Babylon. Anyone of any status or skill was taken away from their homeland. Only the poorest were left there, among the ruins.

God’s people live in exile. They learn, painfully, that God is with them even when they are far from their homeland and their Temple. But they still long for what they have lost – how could they not? Psalm 137 gives voice to that longing: “By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill…” Wish I could turn back time to the good old days…

And then – wonder of wonders – they have the chance to do it! A new empire conquers Babylon, and their emperor, Cyrus, has a kinder, gentler approach to imperial rule. In the year 538 BCE, Cyrus tells the Judean exiles, Go home. Rebuild your city and your temple. Get back on your feet. Of course, you’ll send us taxes of money and goods, and do what we tell you do – you’re still part of an empire – but you can have your little nation, if it makes you happy and keeps you quiet.

The exiles are SO EXCITED. They can go home! They can rebuild! They can restore Jerusalem, which has only become more beautiful in memory; they can reconstruct the Temple, which shines with gold and holiness and love in the stories of their parents and grandparents.

But of course it’s not that simple. Jerusalem is eventually rebuilt, including the Temple, but it takes a long time, and it’s hard and complicated. The people who were left there during the exile think of this as their land now, and there are tensions between them and the returnees, those coming home from Babylon.  Most the exiles who return are young men, so there ends up being intermarriage with women from other groups, even as the religious leaders are trying to get everyone to be “real Israelites.”

There was a harsh drought at about that time, which compounded the problems of a ruined infrastructure and economy. Attacks by bandits and other tribes were an ongoing challenge while the returnees struggled to complete the city wall. And conflicts developed between factions of leaders with different priorities and visions for the rebuilding process. One source I consulted summed it all up saying, “Feelings of disappointment developed among the returnees.” Wish we could turn back time to the good old days… But we can’t.

The Gospels – the beginning of the Jesus story, whether you start with his birth or his baptism – That’s another moment when people thought they could turn back time. Get back to their glory days. You hear it every time King David is invoked: In Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary: “[Your child] will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” In the shouts of hope when Jesus enters Jerusalem: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  O come, thou branch of Jesse’s tree…! David is remembered as Israel’s great king, Strong and just and holy, called and favored by God. Many, many people followed Jesus, hoped in Jesus, because they wanted him to be a second David. To kick out the Romans and restore Judea as an independent kingdom, with peace and plenty for all.

You can’t blame people for wanting that. Nostalgia is a very understandable emotion. But it’s also toxic.

That insight comes from John Hodgman, a comedian, actor, author, and fake internet judge. Comedians, like anthropologists, spend a lot of time observing human behavior; they just turn it into humor instead of peer-reviewed articles.

And Hodgman’s observations – including years of adjudicating disputes on the Judge John Hodgman podcast – have led him to the conclusion that nostalgia is at best, unproductive; at worst, poisonous. Hodgman says – and I think he’s spot-on – that nostalgia is based on two delusions: That the past was better, and that the past is attainable.

We are prone to the delusion that the past was better than the present for several reasons. Maybe we were kids, in the time we’re remembering, and everything seemed simpler because it was simpler, for us. Or maybe we weren’t even born yet, and all we have of the past are the idealized stories of our parents and grandparents. We idealize the past because memory is selective; the hard stuff and the bad stuff tends to fade. And that’s fine; we should hold and treasure our good memories!  The problem is when we start to take our selective memories of the past as the whole truth about the past. (Even the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes takes a swing at nostalgia: “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10.)

And then there’s the illusion that the past is attainable. That we could, maybe, somehow, turn back time to the good old days, and make everything great again.

Sometimes – in some cases – the past really was better, for a particular group of people. Take the 1950s, an era that is a huge focus for nostalgia in American culture. Sixty years ago – interestingly, about the same gap that separated the Babylonian Exile and the return to Jerusalem. In the 1950s, if you were straight and white and middle-class and moderate in your politics and basically content with dominant gender norms, then things might have been pretty great for you. But there have been massive, irreversible changes in the past sixty years. Women are not going back into the kitchen and nursery. African-Americans are not returning to the exclusions and oppressions of Jim Crow. GLBTQ+ folks are not going back in the closet. And it’s not just social change. The microprocessor and the Internet are not going anywhere. And the massive increase in economic inequality in America, which has polarized and blighted our social landscape over the past half-century, does not seem likely to turn back to 1950s levels anytime soon. Even if the past was better, for some very specific definition of better, we can’t get there from here. The past is not attainable.

Likewise in the time of our text from Isaiah. Before the Exile, life in Jerusalem was good for people of status and wealth. But the poor people who were left among the ruins when Babylon conquered the city – things might have been better for them before the exiles returned and said, Actually, all this land is ours. And for the exiles themselves: Not everybody came back. People made lives for themselves in Babylon, and stayed. Things had changed, as they always do; history moved along, as it always does; the past that some longed to recreate stubbornly stayed past.

Nostalgia tells us that the past was better, and tempts us to believe that we might be able to bring back the past. But that’s an illusion, and sometimes a costly one. You can treasure your memories, you can take what you treasured most about the past, and build it into the present and the future – as the Exiles did, eventually, in the renewed Jerusalem. But you cannot turn back time. If our hope for the future is that it will be exactly like the past, then it’s not really hope; it’s just nostalgia projected forwards. God says, We can do better than that.

The alternative to nostalgia is hope. Hope leans into the future, instead of back toward the past. Hope insists that we can do better, with God’s help. Hope is challenging; we can’t always visualize where it’s leading us. Hope demands our trust, and our labor, while nostalgia just bathes us in comforting, rosy images. There’s a very real sense in which many of us prefer nostalgia. When we’re tired or stressed or sad, maybe most of us prefer nostalgia – time to have a cup of cocoa and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Right now, we are in the midst of the most nostalgic time of year, the weeks approaching Christmas. And yet there’s this provocative irony in the fact that what God is urgently saying to God’s people in our seasonal texts is: Look! I’m doing something new! It’s in Luke’s birth narratives, in Zechariah and Mary’s fierce songs of hope and redemption. It’s in John the Baptist’s proclamation that big change is coming, and everyone had better get ready. It’s in the Book of Revelation:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”

It’s all through Isaiah, the core Old Testament text of Advent: Chapter 65: “I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered!” Chapter 43: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; can’t you see it?” And today’s text, the one that Jesus quotes when he begins his public ministry: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to proclaim a new time, a new season!

This text from Isaiah speaks to the exiles in their disappointment – their grief – that the present refuses to conform to the remembered past. That the good old days remain elusive, illusory. The prophet says to them, with joy and urgency: Return, rebuild, restore, raise up what has been cast down, repair what has been ruined; tut it’s not going to be the way it was. It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be better. You remember Jerusalem before the Conquest as the good old days, but the prophetic books tell a different story: corruption and arrogance, cruelty and licentiousness, hunger and hopelessness. The renewed City that God calls you to build will not have poverty and injustice built into its very foundations. It will be a city of freedom, not bondage;  of gladness, not mourning; of righteousness, instead of robbery and wrongdoing. While nostalgia calls us back, God calls us forward, with the voices of prophets and saints and Jesus himself. God calls us to as people of hope, people whose lives point towards God’s future, which is more just and joyful and true and free than any of our pasts.

Read more on John Hodgman on nostalgia here: 

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2012/11/the-real-john-hodgman-were-not-making-this-up.html

https://medium.com/@pk.patrick.kelly/how-nostalgia-is-tarnishing-the-millennial-generation-41a8c4df133d

Homily, Dec. 10

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verse 7, says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Because there was no place for them in the inn. That detail goes by fast, and it’s so familiar. And we love that the Holy Family ends up in a barn – the image of God Incarnate born among sheep and cattle and donkeys and chickens. If there had been room at the inn, there wouldn’t be ANIMALS in our Nativity scenes!

But this verse – there was no place for them in the inn – It’s an insult. It’s a failure. Hospitality was, and remains, terribly, terribly important in the cultures of the Middle East. And hospitality is a theme throughout scripture – the blessings that come when you practice it; the shame and danger that can follow, when you fail to welcome a guest.

Today we’ve shared a garland of stories of strangers and guests in Scripture, to help us reflect on that detail from the Nativity story: “There was no place for them in the inn.” Later, as a grown man, Jesus says about himself: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) And it’s true even now, at the very beginning of the story: God’s incarnate presence among us begins with closed doors and angry faces. With failed hospitality.

This Advent and Christmas we are exploring together the music and meanings of Las Posadas, a custom found in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world. The word “Posada” means “inn.” Las Posadas is a community acting-out of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Mary and Joseph knock at many doors and are rudely turned away. The asking – and refusing – take the form of a song, sung back and forth between the people participating.  In some versions, the Devil also plays a role, sneering at them and telling them to go away! Watch for that in our Christmas Eve pageant this year! Finally, finally, Mary and Joseph find welcome -a kind person allows them to stay in her barn. There’s a welcome song too:  “Enter, enter, holy pilgrims, holy pilgrims! Welcome to my humble home. Though ’tis little I can offer, I can offer, all I have please call your own.” We’re singing some Las Posadas music today – and we’ll hold our Posadas this Saturday evening at 5pm. I hope you’ll come!

Why are we doing Las Posadas this year? Well, one reason is to broaden our sense of our church and our faith. Midwestern Episcopalians tend to think of both our churches and our tradition as basically Anglo – white, and English in both origin and language. And that’s not true. There are lots of non-Anglo Episcopalians. In particular, Latino and Latina Episcopalians are a vibrant presence in the Episcopal Church. Even in Madison, Wisconsin! It’s been a gift to me as an Anglo to realize that our way of faith is bigger than my cultural experience. I am a cradle Episcopalian, friends, this church’s music and prayers are in my bones; but the Episcopal Church, La Iglesia Episcopal, is not limited to the music and the prayers I already know. The word “familiar” is closely related to the word “family” – but God’s family is bigger than what is familiar to us, and that is a holy and joyful opportunity.

But celebrating the breadth of our way of faith is not the only reason to weave Posadas into our Advent and Christmas this year. Las Posadas is an embodied reflection on hospitality. There are many issues in our civic life right now that hinge on our readiness to open our hearts to one another. And as Christians we cannot in good conscience separate those civic issues from our faith – because our faith’s teaching on hospitality is overwhelmingly clear. One of the strongest ethical mandates of Scripture is: Treat the stranger, the immigrant, the guest, with care and respect; for your people were once strangers too. I don’t know offhand how many times the Bible says that – but it’s a lot. As Christians – as people formed by Scripture – hospitality, welcome, is one of the fundamental ways we are called to engage the world.

Over the past few months, some members of our parish have shared their stories of immigration – their own, or a parent’s or grandparent’s. Those stories – and our own family stories – remind us that our country is overwhelmingly a nation of immigrants. And many of our immigrant ancestors were unwelcome when they first arrived here. They were seen as wretched refuse – tired, poor, exiles and huddled masses. And yet – we have been tempted to close the golden door behind us. To refuse welcome to today’s immigrants who seek to build lives here, for the betterment of both their children and our common good.

Immigrants today have heard the words of the Posadas song, the ones that go with doors slammed shut: We don’t have room for you. We don’t have enough to share. You might be robbers. Go away. This very month, many groups, including faith groups, are urging Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant permanent residency to immigrants brought here illegally as children. Without the Dream Act, people who have lived here since they were two, or four, or seven, people for whom California or North Carolina or Wisconsin is home, face living in shadow, secrecy, and risk.

And all of that, friends, is the second reason we’re trying out the custom of Las Posadas this year. So that we can do something unfamiliar. So that we who are Anglos, in this congregation, can have the immigrant’s experience of wondering if we’re saying the words correctly, if someone’s going to laugh at us. So that we can reflect on how it feels to say, or to hear, Go away! We don’t want you. So that we can remember how it feels to be strangers and outsiders – or notice how it feels, if we’ve never felt it before. So we can be both hosts and guests, and, receiving hospitality, may improve our hospitality, and make us more ready to welcome the holy in the guise of the stranger.

Sermon, Nov. 19

As I’ve wrestled with this parable this week, I keep thinking of the duck-rabbit. You’ve seen it: the classic simple image that could be one thing or could be another thing. Before I name the duck and rabbit I see here, let’s hear the parable again, and let’s make the setting a little more modern:

The CEO of MoneyCorp (note: I made up this name, but of course it turns out there actually is a MoneyCorp somewhere) is going on a business trip, maybe a long one; he needs to oversee operations in China for a while. So he calls in his three vice-presidents. (Of course a vice-president in a company is very different from a slave – but not entirely different. His position, his livelihood, even his future, depend on his boss’s goodwill.) So the three vice-presidents meet with the boss. And he tells the first one, “You’ve been doing good work; while I’m away, you’re in charge of $5 million.” He tells the second one, “You’re really growing into this role; I’m leaving you with $2 million to manage.” And he tells the third one, “…. You get $1 million.” And he leaves.

A long time later, the CEO comes back, and calls in the VPs to settle accounts with them, reclaim the company’s wealth and hear what they did with it. The first one says, “Sir, I used the $5 million to make another $5 million.” The CEO says, “Well done! You can expect a raise, and even more responsibility in the future.” And the second VP said, “Sir, I used the $2 million to make another $2 million.” And the CEO said, “Excellent! You’ll be getting a raise and a promotion too.”

And then the third VP comes forward. He says, “Sir, you left me in charge of $1 million. I know you; I know how you run MoneyCorp. I know that you’re a hard man, and that you’ve gotten wealthy by taking the profit of other people’s work. So when you put me in charge of this money, I locked the check in the drawer of my desk until your return. Here it is. Take it.” And the boss said, “You wicked and lazy man! You knew I was a hard man? You knew I profit off the work of others? Then why didn’t you at least keep the money in an interest-bearing account?! Listen, buddy, this is the way of the world:  Those who have a lot, get more, and those who don’t have much, lose the little they have. If you don’t want to play the game, maybe you don’t belong at MoneyCorp.”

Okay. The duck-rabbit. The rabbit – see the rabbit? – the rabbit is the better-known interpretation of this parable. It’s warm and fuzzy. Kind of. It says, God is our Master, and God gives us resources, and we’re supposed to use those resources to extend our Master’s domain and earn our Master’s approval.

The duck – see the duck? – the duck is loud and awkward and might bite you. The duck says, This Master is a horrible person who embodies the cruel and corrupt systems of this world.

It’s hard to see both the duck and the rabbit at the same time.You kind of have to choose.

Let’s go back to the parable – Matthew’s version, not mine – and see if we can find any clarity on the duck-rabbit issue. The narrative raises a lot of questions. How much is a talent? It’s a large amount of money. Translating it into millions isn’t unreasonable.

How would someone have used money to make money, back in Jesus’ day?Doubling your money always means you’re playing high risks, and sometimes means somebody’s getting cheated. The world of finance and investment was a lot smaller and simpler back then, but there were a couple of ways to win big. One was to put your money into the currency exchange business that happened in the court of the great Temple. The people who set the exchange rate can make sure they get a hefty profit from every transaction. We know how Jesus felt about that business. The other way was essentially high-risk mortgage lending. Historically, most ordinary Judeans were small-scale farmers. By Jesus’ day, many had lost their ancestral land due to poverty, and many more were on the edge of losing their land, due to the heavy taxes Rome demanded. When someone is desperate, you can loan them money at a high interest rate. We know how that usually works out.

As for investing money to earn interest: This parable is literally the only place in the Bible where someone suggests this as a good thing. For the entire Old Testament, taking interest income is proof that you’re an unscrupulous, greedy person. To be clear, I think it’s fine that our church gets interest on our invested funds. But Jesus had very Old Testament ethics about money. So the Master’s eagerness to earn interest is a clue to what Jesus meant by this story.

One more question: Why did the third slave bury the money? I spent a really happy couple of hours this week chasing this question deep into the Talmud. In 70 CE, about forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Great Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, as Roman troops crushed a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule. This was a big event for early Christians; even more so for Jews. What emerged from that great loss was Rabbinic Judaism – a way of being Jewish without the Temple as its center.

During the time of the Temple, there was a whole body of religious teaching about how to apply the laws of the Torah to all kinds of situations. That teaching had been curated and passed down at the Temple, but after the Temple, in the first and second centuries, it gets written down, so that it can circulate and spread among scattered Jewish communities. That’s the set of texts called the Talmud.

And it turns out that in the Talmud, being responsible for someone else’s property was a big legal and ethical issue. There were banks, but banking wasn’t widely accessible, and a lot of people didn’t hold their wealth as money; they had it as wine or grain or oil or sheep. If you had to travel, or if you had more than you could store, you’d leave your stuff with someone else, so it wouldn’t be stolen.  And of course being left in charge of somebody else’s stuff is a temptation. You could drink a couple of barrels of wine, and then when the owner returns, claim that they broke or went sour. So there is a lot of teaching in the Talmud about the moral obligation of looking after someone else’s property. And it turns out that when someone leaves you in charge of some money, burying it is RECOMMENDED by the Talmud. Rabbi Shmuel, who lived in the late 2nd century, said, “There is safety for money only in the ground.”

There’s even a story, kind of a case study, about a man who’s entrusted with some money by a friend. He gives the money to his mother, who puts it in a chest in their house; but a robber steals it. The question is, who is responsible for the loss? – and in the course of the discussion, the text says, Well, the man must not have told his mother that it was somebody else’s money, because if he had, she would have buried it.

Despite all this – and more; I could’t fit all my points into this sermon! – the duck-rabbit won’t fully resolve into a duck. I’ve spent a lot of time with this parable, over the years. And it just keeps being awkwardly both duck and rabbit. At least, that’s true in Matthew’s version. Luke has this story too, but his version is a lot stranger and darker. It’s not in the lectionary, so it’s less familiar. It’s in chapter 19 – check it out later. In Luke’s version, the Master is unambiguously a corrupt and cruel ruler, whose actions echo the acts of the brutal king of Judea who ruled during Jesus’ early childhood. There’s a strong case to be made that Luke records the story as Jesus told it – and that Matthew simplified it because the story made more sense to him as a story about how we should be good productive servants for Jesus.

But even though he stuck some rabbit ears on the story, Matthew retained its fierce heart, its ethical and theological core: that dialogue between the third slave and the master, which is much the same in both Gospels, and which I’m sure is much as Jesus first told it.

‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?… Take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’

Do you know the old joke about the pastor who calls the kids forward for a children’s sermon? And he says, I’m going to describe something, and I want you to guess what it is! It climbs around in the trees… it has a big fluffy tail… and it collects nuts and buries them! And there’s dead silence; the children just stare at him. And he says, “Come on, you must know what it is, speak up!” And finally one child says, “I know the answer must be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”

I feel like that’s what we’ve done with this parable. I’ve read SO many commentaries and sermons on this story. And SO many of them say, “I know the Master must be Jesus, but he sure sounds like a jerk.”

Sometimes a squirrel is a just a squirrel, and a cruel and greedy master isn’t supposed to remind us of God.

Okay. Why does it matter? Duck or rabbit? We’re committing our pledges to the life of this church today. Is it duck church or rabbit church? We’re baptizing a child into the faith and family of Jesus. Is it duck faith or rabbit faith?

The rabbit message – it’s not WRONG. The idea that we should honor what we’ve been given – resources, skills, and yes, talents – and use them, and multiply them, in ways that add to the world’s measure of hope and wholeness and delight – the Gospel says that in lots of places, and I try to live that way, and I think you all do too.

But there’s a sense in which I don’t need church to tell me that.  A capitalist culture tells me to use what I have to get more. Human decency tells me to use what I have to serve others.

What I need to hear from the Bible, from the Church, from Jesus, is that there’s a higher standard and a bigger picture, beyond and above our culture and our systems and our norms. This isn’t a parable about obedience, or resourcefulness, or, God help us, productivity.  This is a story about power and courage. About resistance. Some commentators call this the Parable of the Whistleblower. I like that. The third slave says he was afraid, but there’s nothing cowardly about what he does. He refuses to play the game. And he doesn’t just opt out and vanish; he names the boss to his face as cruel, greedy, and ruthless.

This the duck’s message: When the system is broken, or fixed – it matters to God. When the powerful use their power to benefit themselves – it matters to God. When people just take what they want because nobody dares to stop them – it matters to God.  When “more” drives our common life, instead of better, kinder, fairer – it matters to God. It matters to God so much that God in Christ became the whistleblower, teaching and arguing and healing and dying – and rising – to tell the truth about our human systems of power and gain.

When the culture tells us, The rich and powerful run the show; your best plan is to play the game – when our human decency runs low because we’re tired and jaded and frustrated – then we need duck church, duck faith. We need a community gathered around Christ the Whistleblower, to comfort and encourage us, to connect us and reorient us. May we be both rabbit church and duck church for each other, my dear ones – a church worthy of our gifts, our children, and our hearts.

Sources & Further Reading… 

“Jesus As Archelaus in the Parable of the Pounds,” Brian Schultz, Novum Testamentum, Vol. 49, Fasc. 2 (2007), pp. 105-127

David Lose on Luke’s version of the story:

http://www.davidlose.net/2013/11/luke-19-11-27/

Another sermon on this parable:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/stan-duncan/the-parable-of-the-liferi_b_6164642.html

Explore the Talmud at sefaria.org

The part in question is Section 42 of the Bava Metzia.

https://www.sefaria.org/Bava_Metzia?lang=bi

And here’s a post that summarizes this portion of the Talmud:

https://www.torahinmotion.org/discussions-and-blogs/bava-metzia-42-where-is-my-money

Sermon, Oct. 22

Let me tell you that story again, with a few details filled in. Because it’s a terrific story. The Pharisees are increasingly fed up with Jesus. Their movement taught that the Jewish people should return to to the traditional practices of their faith, following all the commandments, as a way to separate themselves from the unclean pagan ways of the Roman Empire and to earn God’s favor. Sometimes they’re on the same page with Jesus, who also wants ordinary people to feel they can approach God in faith, and has a healthy disdain for Rome and its ways. But Jesus is disturbingly irreverent about the Law and the Commandments. He seems to think that many of them don’t matter at all.

Meanwhile, the Herodians don’t think much of Jesus either. The Herodians would have been folks who were cozy with Herod, the king of Judea – a puppet king, supported by the Roman army, and allowed to have power on condition that he keep his people in line and make sure money keeps flowing from Judea to Rome. These are the people who are managing to get richer under Roman rule, while the rest of Judea gets poorer. Now Jesus has been saying some pretty disrespectful things about leaders who are only concerned with themselves, and he’s stirring up trouble.

The Pharisees and the Herodians don’t get along. The Herodians think the Pharisees are weird fanatics. The Pharisees think the Herodians are self-indulgent sell-outs. But sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend. They’d all like to take Jesus down a peg, and they stumble on a way to do it. They’re going to ask him about a hot-button issue: paying taxes to Rome.

The people of Judea were struggling under the burden of these taxes; they were wildly unpopular. And for the Pharisees and other observant Jews,  there was another problem: Paying taxes meant using Roman coins, which had an image of the Roman Emperor’s head on them, and text that named the Emperor as a god. The Emperor was very definitely NOT a god in the eyes of Jewish people, and these coins were tainted by idolatry. The question the Herodians and Pharisees pose to Jesus is a trap because either answer will get him in trouble with somebody. If he says, NO, we are God’s people and owe nothing to the Emperor, then he’s in trouble with the Romans – and maybe they’ll deal with him. If he says, YES, be a good citizen, pay your taxes, then the common people may turn against him, and the disruptive movement he’s started might lose steam.

Don’t you love their double-edged flattery? “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and you’ll always say what you believe is true no matter what the consequences might be…So tell us, IS IT LAWFUL TO PAY TAXES TO THE EMPEROR, OR NOT?”

Jesus is no fool. He sees the trap clearly, and calls them out: ‘You hypocrites! Show me one of the coins used for the tax.’ Somebody has one in their pocket, and they show him: Look, there’s the Roman emperor, probably Tiberius, with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” Jesus says, So…. Whose head is this, here on the coin? And they say, Um. The Emperor’s. And Jesus says, Okay, well, then, give the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and give God what belongs to God.

It’s such a good answer. He evades their trap by saying in one breath, Sure, pay your taxes, but the Emperor is a fraud. Because a crowd of Jews, no matter how religious they are, all know the answer to what belongs to God: Everything. Everything. Let the Emperor have his little bits of metal. Your lives, your souls, Judea, Rome, the whole wide earth: All God’s. And don’t you forget it.

One of the issues at the heart of this story is what money stands for.Money in itself is just a tool. It’s a way to trade one thing for another thing, at a distance of time or space. For example, money is what allows us to trade a portion of your work for electricity to heat this building. People often misquote Scripture – specifically, the first letter to Timothy – and say, Money is the root of all evil. But what that text actually says is, The love of money is the root, or source, of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from faith and gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble and suffering because they made money their goal and focus.  (1 Tim 6:9-10, Common English Bible, alt.)

Money in and of itself – if such a thing were possible – is pretty straightforward. It’s what money means to us that gets complicated. In this Gospel story, money is tied up with politics, with faith, with social status. That’s all true for us today, too, in various ways. How we feel about wealth, taxes, our community, our nation – all of that is bundled up with how we feel and think and talk about money. Moral assumptions about money, wealth, and poverty are at the root of our national debates over taxes, health care, and so much more. Money is also closely bound to our fears and anxieties. In uncertain times, money stands for security – and lack of money means vulnerability and struggle.

Charles LaFond, an Episcopal priest, writer, and stewardship consultant, says that despite our buying habits and reputation, it’s not true that Americans are greedy. The fact is that we’re overwhelmed and afraid, and consumerism is how we scream. I think he has a point; I know how it feels to read the news, feel my heart sink and my stomach clench, and then see an online ad for a children’s clothing company I like and think, Oh, that sounds like relief….! Let me go look at appliquéd hedgehogs for a while…

We’re coming into the heaviest shopping season of the year – when we all strive for balance between the momentary catharsis of buying a thing, and the longer-term security of clinging to our dollars –  just as St. Dunstan’s and other churches are asking their members to make financial commitments to the church for the year ahead. To give money away, getting little that is tangible in return.

Today we hand out our giving campaign packets. For those who are new to this system: during the fall giving campaign, we ask those who make St. Dunstan’s their faith community to look ahead to the next calendar year, decide how much they’d like to give to the church, and report that number to us. Those numbers – your pledges – are private; only our parish treasurers see them. But we add up all those pledges to give us an estimate of our expected income for the year ahead, which allows us to budget and plan. Nearly 90% of St. Dunstan’s annual budget comes from our members’ pledged giving.

There’s sort of an “Insert inspiring paragraph about where our church is going” slot in my sermon here. But I’m finding that this is a funny year for that kind of thing. In looking ahead to 2018, it feels like there’s simultaneously more and less to talk about, than in other years. More, because we are looking at so many possibilities. We may undertake a capital campaign, to raise funds to improve our main building and more, to better accommodate our ministries and everything else that happens here – or could happen here if we had a bit more elbow room! We will undertake a sabbatical together, using a substantial grant from the Clergy Renewal program to enable me to learn more about including children in worship, and you all to work on building intergenerational friendships. And even aside from those big, special projects, our full seats and full classrooms mean that in the year ahead, we may have to start getting creative about how to accommodate our overflowing life together as a community of faith…!

So there is a lot in the works for 2018. And yet most of it is still unfolding, still subject to our shared discernment and exploration. I can’t draw you a map; this is brand-new territory, friends. It’s not that I and your Vestry and other leaders aren’t thinking about it – we could scatter a handful of ideas and possibilities around, but other possibilities will emerge as we all walk the road together, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There’s so much that is simply still TBD – To Be Discerned, “discerned,” that churchy word for the shared work of wondering together, exploring possibilities, listening to each other and to God, and allowing clarity and direction to emerge.

So while there’s more to say about 2018 than an ordinary year at St. Dunstan’s – it will assuredly not be an ordinary year – there’s also less to say because we still have a lot of discerning to do. (Beginning, in a few weeks, with whether to follow this capital campaign idea another few steps along the road…!)

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God… We actually do need some of the stuff with dead presidents on it, to pay the bills and keep this place running. That’s why we ask for your pledges and gifts. But the reason there’s a church here – a loving, lively, seeking, serving, growing church – is because people are giving God what is God’s.  If we had twice the money but nobody was giving their heart, there’d be nothing here. You are giving yourselves, your time and labor, your skills and gifts, your hearts and spirits, to this church, and to the work God is doing among us and through us here.

In today’s Epistle, Paul names the three great gifts of faith, hope, and love, but he turns them from abstractions into actions – praising the people of the church in Thessaloniki for their acts of faith, their labor of love, and their persistence in hope. Your actions of faith, friends – your work of love – your persistence in hope – that’s why new things are becoming possible here; and indeed why we’re able to keep doing some of the old things with care and faithfulness. That’s why in the face of uncertainties about the season ahead – wonderful, exciting uncertainties, but uncertainties nonetheless – I am not afraid. I’m excited, curious, and joyful, so joyful, about the people with whom I have the privilege to share this journey into God’s future for St. Dunstan’s.

Sermon, July 23

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; * you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,  but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, “I am running away.” “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”

Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream, and I will swim away from you.” “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

If I climb up to heaven, you are there. If I make the grave my bed, you are there also….

Margaret Wise Brown published The Runaway Bunny in 1942. How many people here heard that book in their childhood, or read it to kids in their family? …

How many of you really love it? ….

How many of you find it deeply unsettling? …

I haven’t been able to discover, with some casual poking around, whether Brown was intentionally riffing on Psalm 139 or not.  (If you’d like to look at the Prayer book version of the Psalm, instead of the verse setting we sang, it’s on page 794.)

Regardless of whether Brown intended it or not, the parallel is there. Not just the superficial similarity of content – but Brown nails the emotional ambivalence of being loved so relentlessly. There’s just no other word for it. Relentless.

Some people who find the book – and the Psalm – unsettling do so because it’s grounded in parent images, and their experience of parenting has not been so great. Maybe they were parented by someone whose love was conditional, intermittent, or who didn’t have a lot of capacity for love at all,  in which case these images of relentless love may simply feel unrealistic at a deep level. Maybe they were parented by someone whose love was controlling or manipulative, in which case these images of relentless love might feel realistic in the worst possible way.

People whose experiences of human parenting have been deeply flawed or damaging may find more solace and hope in other ways to imagine God, of which there are many.

But God as the persistent Mama Bunny is emotionally ambivalent even for people like me, who have been loved well by their parents and first family . Accept the premise that the Parent in storybook and psalm is a good parent, who knows and loves the child deeply and desires the child’s wellbeing. This is still a complicated little story.

The child – the bunny and the Psalmist – wants to run away. Seeks distance, space, freedom, autonomy. And the Parent – God, our Mama Bunny – says, Fine. Run. Go where you need to go, do what you need to do. But I’ll be there when you stop running.

The line between reassurance and threat is – very unclear. Our prayer book Psalter renders verse 4 of the Psalm this way: “You press upon me behind and before.” That verb in Hebrew is “besiege.”  Like someone surrounding a city to conquer it.  You besiege me on all sides, God.  No wonder the Psalmist goes on to say, How can I run away from you? Where can I go to escape this Presence, this scrutiny? …

I know that feeling, the hot prickly tight feeling of the push-pull between attachment and autonomy.  I think everyone who’s been either a child or a parent knows that feeling. The feeling when you run to your room and slam the door, and sit in there alternately hating your parents and hoping they’ll come check on you. The feeling when your child runs to their room and slams the door, and you stand there letting your blood pressure come down, remembering to breathe, remembering that the reason that little monster can make you so angry is because you love them so freaking much, and eventually, once you can trust yourself, once you’ve found one true, kind thing to say, you go knock on their door, and ask if you can come in.

It’s hard to know someone that well, as well as you know your child. Your parent. Your spouse. Your sibling or best friend.  It hurts to know and love someone deeply, and see them struggling – dealing with hardship, or making lousy choices. It hurts to know someone so well that you understand exactly why something is so hard for her, exactly why he’s making that particular lousy choice. And yet your love and your understanding can’t always save or spare them. The poignancy, the pathos of those moments, when we’re swamped with pity and fear and even anger for someone we love so much, and cannot save from themselves – that poignancy and pathos is one of our purest glimpses into the heart of God. Who knows each of us that well. Who loves each of us that much.

Being deeply known and deeply loved is a huge blessing, compared to any alternative. But it can feel stifling or overwhelming at times. That’s simply a human truth – and the source of the impulse to escape, in both storybook and psalm. And yet even in the frustration, the door slamming, the running away, there is deep trust. That’s why we can afford to struggle, to push away, to shout anger and defiance. Because we know that parent, that friend, will still love us afterwards.  We know there is something unbreakable there. Something steadfast. Something, yes, relentless.

Bunny and Psalmist both come to some resolution. The Psalmist lands at awe and gratitude, towards a God who knew him even when he was being formed in the womb, who numbered his days before his life began. The bunny ends at resignation, at acceptance: Aw, shucks. The dialogue between mother and child seems to defuse whatever conflict sparked the child’s initial desire to run away. Mother and child are reconciled, and carrots are shared, because the mother’s love was bigger than the child’s anger.

This morning we will baptize baby B, naming her as a member of God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and affirming her as a child of God. B is blessed with a human family that loves her deeply, with parents and brothers and a sister who will always have her back, who will honor her growth and need for self-determination, even as they continue hold her in safety and steadfast love. I hope the church will be another such family for her, and for all the children growing up among us.

But human families and human love are finite and imperfect. Sometimes parents aren’t equipped to love the way a child needs. Sometimes children run farther than a parent can reach.  Sometimes a person goes through a season in life in which it feels like there’s no person that can give them that fierce, trustworthy, unbreakable love we all need. But there is a Love that we will never wear out, never outrun, never outlive. There is a Love that will be the wind that blows us where we need to go, the tree that we fly home to. There’s a Love that is beside us in our darkest nights, That goes before us even into the depths of the grave. That is the Love in whose name we name B today, the Love that will encompass her growing, seeking, and striving,  all the days of her life.