Thursday, December 5, 2019
6 years ago today I went . I was only going to do it for one week, just to see if I could do it. That week was a miserable week, in which I constantly craved a cheese pizza. I never thought I would make 7 days, much less do it for the rest of my life. Then, on the 7th day, I woke up with no allergies for the first time in my entire life. It was an amazing feeling and, I realize now, a truly life-altering decision. I am grateful I did it. After cancer, years of low immunity, and a lifetime of being sick with severe bouts of the flu, very regular colds, stomach troubles and multiple other ailments, it feels so weirdly strange to feel so good. I know I say it all the time, but I really have never felt better in my life.
Sunday, December 1, 2019
December 1, 2019
+ I have realized this in my life: there are two types of people in the world. There are morning people. And there are people who are not morning people. I don’t know what you would call those people.
I don’t think it comes as surprise to anyone here that I am, very much, a morning person. I love mornings. If you notice, I am often sending out text messages and emails fairly early in the morning. I love getting up early in the morning, and I love getting most of my work done early. I always have. There is nothing like that moment of waking up to a new day. It’s always been special to me. And I think I’m not the only one.
Which is why I love, on this first Sunday of Advent, this theme of waking up. That is what Advent is all about, after all.
Waking up spiritually.
It’s an important theme for us as Christians.
Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading for today, it is time for us to “Keep awake.”
Keep awake, we hear him say. Why? Because something big, something wonderful is about to happen. God is about to draw close to us. The veil between us and God is going to get very thin. And holiness will draw close. It is a time for us to wake from our slumber, from our spiritual sleep, to be awake and aware.
In the reading from his letter to the Romans this morning, we find Paul saying to us: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
We know the time. It is definitely the moment for us to wake from sleep.
Just a bit later Paul gives us another wonderful image, “”…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”
On this First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—there is no better image for us that this.
What a great image for us! We know that feeling. Any time any of us have been through hardship in our lives, any time we have known the dark night of the soul in our lives, we know that true joy that comes in the morning after those dark situations. We know how glorious the light can be in our lives after having lived in spiritual darkness.
On this First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—there is no better image for us that this. This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world. Advent is all about realizing that we are living in that sleepy, fuzzy, half-world. Advent is all about recognizing that we must put aside darkness—spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, personal darkness, anything that separates us from God—and put on light. For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place—that future—that’s kind of out of focus, and to focus ourselves again.
I love the image that Paul puts forth this morning of “putting on the armor of light.” That is perfect, and precisely to the point of what this Advent season is all about. Our job during Advent season is to “put on” the God’s light.
But how do we do this? How do we “put on” light, as though it were some sweatshirt or fancy Sarum blue vestment?
The fact is, we have already put God’s light on. We put on that light on that wonderful day we were baptized. We were clothed in God’s light on that day and we remained clothed in it to this day. This morning, in just a few moments, little Rory will be putting on God’s light when he is washed in the waters of baptism.
Still, even clothed in God’s light as we may be, we still occasionally fail to recognize this wonderful reality in our lives. This moment of spiritual agitation and seeking after something more has been called the “Advent situation” by the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller.
The “Advent situation” is recognizing the reality of our present situation. We are living now—in this present moment. At times this present moment does seem almost surreal. This moment is defined by the trials and frustration and tedium as well as the joys and all the other range of emotions and feelings that living entails.
But, for the most part, we don’t feel like it all “fits” for some reason. It seems like there must be more than just this. Instinctively, spiritually, we yearn for something more, though we aren’t certain exactly what that might be. And that might possibly be the worst part of this situation. We don’t know what it is we want.
The Advent situation of Reginald Fuller reminds us that yes, this is the reality. Yes, we are here. Right now. Right here. In this moment. But we are conditioned by (and for) what comes after this—the age to come.
Many, many times you have heard me share a quote from the great Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said,
“We are not physical beings having spiritual experiences; we are spirits having a physical experience.”
Or as I saw on Facebook recently,
“You’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust, riding on a rock hurtling through space. Fear nothing.”
Baptism—that physical event in which we were spiritually clothed with light, in which we “put” the armor of God’s light—essentially translates us into this Advent situation. And the Baptismal life—a life in which we are constantly reminded that we are clothed with Christ—is one in which we realize that are constantly striving through this physical experience toward our ultimate fulfillment.
We are spirits having this physical experience.
It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the losses, despite all the set-backs and frustrations. And this physical experience is making our spirits stronger.
We should be fully awake for this wonderful experience our spirits are having. We should be sharpening our vision as we proceed so that we can see clearly what was once out of focus.
In this Advent season, in which we are in that transparent, glass-like world, trying to break out, let us turn and look and see who it is there in the future.
Let us look and actually see that that the One who is standing there, the One we have been looking for all along.
That One is the One we have been searching for all along. That One is, in fact, the source of the light with which we have been clothed.
Advent is here.
Night is nearly over.
Day is about dawn.
The One for whom we are longing and searching is just within reach.
Our response to this Advent situation is simply a furtive cry in this blue season.
Come quickly, we are crying. Come to us quickly
Sunday, November 17, 2019
November 17, 2019
Malachi 4.1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19
+ Today, of course, is Stewardship Sunday. Today is the day in which we are asked to take a good, hard look at ourselves. At who we are as this strange, unique, eclectic, eccentric congregation in a hidden, out-of-the-way back corner of Fargo.
Stewardship time is a time for the mirror to be set up and to look. And to realize that we are unique, and eccentric and eclectic.
And…making a difference in the Church, in this world and in our community.
Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of churches out there quite like St. Stephen’s.
We are an amazing place! I think we can say that.
And Stewardship is a time to say one important thing:
Thank you, O God, for leading us here.
Thank you, O God, for what you have done here.
Thank you, O God, for your goodness to us here.
Thank you, O God, for the refuge that we are to people who need a refuge.
Sometimes when we’re in the midst of it all, we don’t realize how amazing these things are. Sometimes we take it all for granted.
But let’s not do that. Let’s not take for granted what has been happening here.
It’s also not a time for us to become complacent. There is still work to do. There is still so much more ministry to do.
What’s even more amazing is that you—the congregation, the ministers of St. Stephen’s—you have truly all stepped up to the plate. You are doing the ministries here. You are the faces, the lives, the real heart of St. Stephen’s. You have taken this Stewardship time seriously. You have taken your “thank you” very seriously.
You have given of yourselves, of your time, of your talents, of your finances, of your very presence this past year. And that is amazing.
And we ask you to do so again this coming year once again.
As we look around at St. Stephen’s, I don’t think we fully realize what has been happening here. But also we need to know that we are more than these walls, than these pews, than these windows, than this tower and bell, than this building.
If we think following Jesus means safely ensconcing ourselves in this church building—and I seriously doubt anyone here this morning thinks that—then we are not really following Jesus.
As we, who are members of St Stephen’s know, following Jesus, means following him out there—out in the field, out on the battlefield.
It means being out there, being a presence out there, being a radical presence out there. It means shaking things up. It means speaking out—respectfully and in love. It means being an example of a follower of Jesus in all we do outside these walls, as well as within. It means giving people a new vision of what the Church really can be.
Although I scoff—and scoff loudly—at the prophets of doom, I can echo to some extent what they are saying.
What we are seeing is the death of the old Church. That Church we all knew 20 years, 30 years ago, fifty years—that Church is dying. And, in many ways, you know what? it should be dying.
That Church that prided itself on its privileged attitude—that Church that believed that all one had to do was come to a building on Sunday morning, and give a bit of money here and there and feel content in doing so, and that was all, without having DO anything—that Church is dying.
That Church that alienated and marginalized women, and LGBTQ+ people and divorced people and anyone else who was not “in”—that Church is almost dead.
That Church that used its position in the world to side with the powerful against the weak and the poor, to condemn and to hurt and to maim—that Church is in its death throes.
And the Church that we, at St. Stephen’s, are—this is the Church of the future.
And I’m sure there are many people out there frightened by that!
We are a Church that finds it vitality and its strength and its purpose and its meaning in its worship of God, in its love of others, in being radical, in being welcoming, in being out there in the midst of it all—that is the Church that is being resurrected from the ashes of the old church.
Just this past Wednesday a young friend of mine came to St. Stephen’s for the first time. He is a college student and musician. And afterward, he told me how amazed he was by our Wednesday night Mass—by that simple Mass and all that incense.
“The respect and dignity you all have in worship and for the Sacrament—that’s amazing. And rare. What you do in the Mass is just different than most churches. And it’s wonderful.”
Remember what Bishop Keith said last Sunday: young people are really looking for true and meaningful worship of a true and living God.
We definitely do that here! We need to be a church that is alive and breathing and moving and changing.
Of course, because it is, our job has doubled. Of course we will continue on as we always have, doing what we’ve always done.
But we will also now have to help bury that old Church. We will have to sing the Requiem for that old Church. We will now have to be the new face, the new attitude to those people who have been hurt or alienated by that old dying Church.
And there are plenty out there.
One of the areas we have really concentrated on in these last years is being a safe place for former Roman Catholics. More half of our church growth here is from the Roman Catholic Church. Remember last Sunday when I asked people who came from the Roman Catholic to raise their hands. It was a sea of hands!
But not just Roman Catholics. There have been people who have been alienated and snubbed by Protestant churches as well. And we have provided a safe—and holy—place for them as well.
And, of course, we always continue to be a safe refuge for LGBTQ+ people who have definitely been on the receiving end of the Church’s abuses over the years.
There are plenty here this morning that have been hurt by the Church. Which is why we are here! We will have to help people change their attitudes about the Church. That mantle is falling upon each of us. And as it does, we realize that the words of this morning’s Gospel are made real in our lives.
To be that new, resurrected Church, we will have to face persecution. We will face people who do not want us—us radicals, us loud-mouths, those of us who make them uncomfortable—they do not want us being that new Church. We will face those people who are angry and uncomfortable over the fact that the old Church is dying.
Bishop Keith last week told us some hard words. The old ways of doing church are just not effective anymore. We will be on the receiving end of the anger of those people who are simply refusing to believe that the old Church is crumbling and dying around them. And…we will have to face ourselves.
And this, I hate to say, is the really hard one.
Looking in the mirror also means seeing ourselves for who we are. We will have to work hard not to destroy ourselves in the process. And that is a real possibility as well.
The old ways of doing things in church are over. And that means the way WE ourselves do things. We must not be like those church members in other churches who sometimes still get stuck in the old ways of doing things as well.
That is NOT the way for the Church to work, because it undermines the work we have to do.
We need to be this new Church.
We need to be a healthy Church
We need to shed our old ways of doing things.
The church of the future is made up of people who step up to the plate and say, “here I am, Lord. I am willing to do it.”
We have our work cut out for us. We do. There’s a lot of work to do.
But, none of that is anything to fear.
Jesus tell us not to be afraid. Nor should any of us.
Not a hair of our head will perish to them, he tells us.
Our words, seemingly falling on deaf ears, our example, seemingly lost to the hustle and bustle of it, will bear fruit.
And God will be with us through it all.
As we look around here, we know—God is here.
God is with us.
That Spirit of our living, breathing God dwells with us. And God is being proclaimed in the message we carry within each of us.
When we welcome people radically, when we embrace those no one else will embrace, when we love those who have been hated, when we are hated for loving those who are hated, we know that all we are doing is bringing the Kingdom of God not only closer, but we are birthing it right here in our midst.
And we have nothing to fear, because, as Jesus says today, “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
When we are hated because we do these radical, incredible things in Jesus’ name, we are, in fact, blessed.
We are blessed, here at St. Stephen’s. And that is what we are thankful for today.
Paul tells in in his letter to the Thessalonians this morning: “do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Those words are our battle cry for our future here at St. Stephen’s. Those words are the motto for the new Church we represent.
Do not be weary in doing what is right.
Yes, I know. We are weary at times. We are tired at times. We have done much work. And there is much work still to do.
But we are doing the work God has given us to do. And we cannot be weary in that work, because we are sustained. We are held up. We are supported by that God who loves and supports us.
But we must keep on doing so with love and humility and grace.
St. Stephen’s is incredible place. We all know it. Others know it.
God knows it.
So, let us be thankful. Let us continue our work—our ministries. And as we do, as we revere God’s Holy Name, see what happens.
The Prophet Malachi is right.
For those of us who continue our work, who continue to revere God’s holy Name, on us that Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.