St. Dunstan Day – Patronal Festival Sermon

St. Dunstan Day (celebrated by permission on Sunday after the Ascension, 2015)
St. Dunstan Parish, San Diego, CA      May 17, 2015
The Rev. Robert G. Eaton, Interim Rector


Today is our Patronal Feast Day. We’re talking about our parish Patron Saint, and that is a saint who is considered in the naming of our church to be a defender, a protector, an intercessor closer to heaven than we are in the Whole Communion of Saints.

When the word is used in Spanish, as Patron, it is usually meant to be the same as God-Parent.
So, St Dunstan, you could say, is our God Parent. And when you have someone at that level of prayer and intercession constantly, it should be no surprise spiritually that the parish would take on certain aspects of the life of that saint.

So it is helpful once a year to celebrate the saint, get to know them better, look around and see if there are in fact similarities to be made use of. Like harps, and music in general, especially newly composed music, and silver-smithing, and other metal crafting, and painting, just the arts in general, and a devotion to the Holy Spirit, both in prayer and in being directed, and taking on spritiual warfare boldly, and congregational renewal, and the revival of monasticism, and establishing personal daily discipline in our walk with Christ, and even more so, and appropriately this year with our General Convention about to launch in Utah, a Church-wide revitalization and renewal. Oh, and horseshoes.     I’ll get to that in a minute.
Yes, these are all the symbols of our saint dDnstan.

At the same time we are celebrating the saint, we are also celebrating the congregation for which the saint’s name adorns. It is a time to consider mission and vision of the parish, and get charged up to continue in the same. So the vestry and I will be doing a Mutual Ministry Review at our next meeting. And next week on Pentecost will be a Ministry Fair so you can see what’s happening in our midst in ministry and be encouraged to find the place God has for you.

So there you have it – the Patronal Festival — celebrating the Saint, and lifting up the Mission and Vision of this Church.

Let’s start with Dunstan. You have an insert so you can read more, and I can’t begin to underscore the importance of Archbishop Dunstan to the English Church. So next year, you will need to demand even more.
There are a few highlights that really grab my attention,and so I want to just share some highlights of his life, an amazing God-blessed life, and some implications.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Dunstan’s mother, Cynethryth, [kin-ed-rid], while she was pregnant with the child she would name Dunstan, she is said to have gone to the monastery at Glastonbury to celebrate Candlemas, which is an old name depicting the celebration of blessing candles on Feb 2, which is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple after his birth. As the legend goes she was told about the future saintliness of the child she was carrying while she was there in Glastonbury’s St Mary’s Church . The candles held by the congregation for blessing were suddenly and unexpectedly all blown out. And then all by itself Cynethryth’s candle relit, and no one else’s. Everyone there then lit their candle from this miraculous flame. The message was conveyed that the child would be a minister of eternal light in the church, and specifically, as most prophecies include specifics, this yet unborn child a light to the Church in England.

What a wonderful illustration of how the light of Christ dispels the darkness of the world, and more and more lights, each representing the Light of Christ in each of us expand the light and presence of Christ , pushing away and overcoming the power of the darkness of sin and death, and of the Enemy Satan himself.
This in itself marks the life of Dunstan himself, as his life is entwined with visions, dreams, wisdom, apostolic ministry and reform, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and yes, the running feud with the devil.

You are probably aware of one of Dunstan’s symbols being the long metal-smithing tongs, representing the most famous story of Satan coming to Dunstan at work in the form of a temptress, Dunstan discerning the evil spirit, and grabbing his tongs from the fire, grabs the devil and will not let go, until the devil leaves him.

As Dunstan would later recall and share with those at the Canterbury community who were closest to him, this would not be the only time Dunstan went head to head with Satan, who wanted obviously to undermine Dunstan’s ministry, and the light of Christ shining through him.

Another one of those stories relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door. This is claimed as the origin of the lucky horseshoe found in stables everywhere.  And on belt-buckles..

Those tongs are not the only symbols of Dunstan’s life, thankfully, as the tongs represent a very ugly part of the Christian life as we are ALL in need of being vigilant for the enemy and the enemy’s wiles to take us down, to cause constant temptation, and where we see good Christians fall all the time.

So the Gospel for St Dunstan’s day shares Jesus’ teaching regarding the vigilance of the Christian. Who better than the Holy One who was tempted by the Devil in such powerful ways, and yet did not sin. Be on alert and be watchful, not only for the coming of Jesus since we do not know the hour or the day, but also be prepared for the Enemy, that Thief in the Night who would try to break into your life and steal your faith and .

Like so many stories of those whose lives are prophetically touched to be great in God’s kingdom, Dunstan also had his life and death story, and in his case, it was the turning point at a young age for taking on monastic vows, and giving his whole life – with all of his gifts and talents – for the sake of building up God’s kingdom, which in the 10th century was sorely in need of being built up.
Although raised and taught by Irish monks at the quickly dillapidating Glastonbury Abby (with its tradition of being a resting place of the Great Patrick), Dunstan had no thought of becoming a monk himself; and after a while he went to finish his education as a page at the Court of King Athelstan. They thought he was something of a strange boy, dreamy and gentle, and wonderfully clever at his lessons. The entitled young nobles at the court could not understand him; and some of them took such a dislike to him that they accused him – probably due to his burgeoning abilities in metal crafting, and his willingness to share the words and leadings of the Holy Spirit – accused him to the king of studying witchcraft, and had him banished. As he set out to leave the country they laid wait for him, bound him hand and foot, threw him into a marsh, and pushed him deep into the mud.
He pulled himself out, and went to stay with his kinsman, the Bishop of Winchester. The old Bishop asked him to become a monk, but Dunstan said that he preferred to marry. Soon he became very ill, and was like to die. Then all his old plans faded away from him, and he resolved that, if ever he got well again, he would become a monk. Well, – yes – he got well.
So very soon we find the youth living as a monk in his old home at Glastonbury.
We have to leave behind speaking of quite a few years of the life of Dunstan (and you can read more in the bulletin insert today) to get to the the last chapter of his life when, after he had already been consecrated a bishop, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and served King Edgar as prime minister of the kingdom. And due to the close friendship with the king, and Dunstan’s gift of Wisdom, he functioned as the Kings’ prime minister, and one of England’s best. Under his guidance England became re-united again, and over all the land there was peace and order. Even more, Dunstan set himself to reform the church along with two other primary bishops in England.
In this, Dunstan would make use of his Spritual gifts and his talents to oversee a Church that was filled with the Spirit, singing and making music in worship to the Lord, a church devoted to giving thanks to God the Father at all times and in everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even the Danes, who might have caused much trouble, he conciliated by his wise and just treatment, so that in after years they honored him as one of the greatest saints.
Now the end of his life.
On the vigil of Ascension Day 988, it is recorded that a vision of angels warned he would die in three days. On the feast day itself, Dunstan said Mass and preached three times to the people: at the Gospel, at the benediction, and after the Agnus Dei. In this last address, he announced his impending death and wished his congregation well. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb, then went to his bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning, 19 May, he caused the clergy to assemble. Mass was celebrated in his presence, then he died. Dunstan’s final words are reported to have been, “He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear Him.”

Along with the date of his death 19 May, it is quite valid to celebrate the feast days of our life based on their proximity to Christian feast days. For instance,the granddaughter of Cathy Perkins, whose name is Trinity, will be baptized in two weeks on Trinity Sunday, as well as the Treats new baby on the same day, and personally, that’s the day, Trinity Sunday, I would always celebrate, not just May 31. It is much easier to remember that way.
It would be my strong suggestion for this parish to do the same with St Dunstan’s day, as we are doing today, on the Sunday after Ascension Day, noting the story of his death three days after Ascension 988.
From the Ascension of Jesus with the focus of dispensing every richness and blessing upon those being filled with the Spirit, to Dunstan Day, and the following major feast day, being the Feast of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit himself, on Pentecost,
It makes a nice sandwich of mission and ministry, constantly reminding this parish of what and Who is the source of our power and strength, of our strengths and gifts for the sake of the Gospel. The whole parish would then be in mind of ministry review annually.
To finish on ministry and mission, I will simply point you to the phrase in the bulletin, as we are recovering here the way we express the ministry here: To Encounter, to Receive, to Grow in, to Serve and to Share Jesus Christ.

To his glory. Amen.


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