Sunday, September 8, 2013

16 Pentecost/Dedication Sunday

September 8, 2013

1 Kings 8:22-23,27b-30; Revelation 21:2-7

+ This past week, while reading an amazing biography of the American poet Denise Levertov, I came across this wonderful quote, from another poet, St. John the Cross:

“In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on love alone.”

When I posted that quote on Facebook yesterday, Pastor Paula Mehmel, who has worshipped here many times, commented,

“we will be judged BY love alone.”

I love that!

That quote has been haunting me since I read it. And it certainly has been striking me to my core in these days leading up to our Dedication Sunday celebration.  If this congregation could have a motto for itself, it would be this.

“In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on love alone.”

Because this, throughout all of our 57 year history, is what we are known for at St. Stephen’s.  Love. We are known for the fact that we know, by our words, by our actions, by our faith in God and one another, that it is love that makes the difference. And by love we will, ultimately, be judged.

That’s what the Church—that larger Church—capital “C” Church— should be. But sometimes we forget what the Church should be.  This morning, there are many people here who have been wounded by that Church—the larger Church. I stand before you, having been hurt be the larger Church on more than one occasion. And for those of us who are here, with our wounds still bleeding, it is not an easy thing.

It is not any easy thing to be a part of that Church again. It is not an easy thing to be call one’s self a Christian again. And, speaking for myself, it’s not easy to be a priest—a uniform-wearing representative of that human-run organization that so often forgets about love being its main purpose.

But, we, here at St. Stephen’s, are obviously doing something right, to make better the wrongs that may have been done on a larger scale.  We, at St. Stephen’s, have done a good job I think over these last 57 years of striving to be a positive example of the wider Church and of service to Christ. We have truly become a place of love, of radical acceptance. As God intends the Church to be.

In these last 57 years, this congregation has done some amazing things. It has been first and foremost in the diocese to accepte of women in leadership, when women weren’t in leadership. It was first and foremost in the acceptance of GLBT people, when few churches would acknowledge them, but less than welcome them.

Certainly in the last few years,  certainly St. Stephen’s has done something not many Episcopal Churches are doing. It has grown.  By leaps, and by bounds.

On October 1, I will be commemorating five years as your priest here at St. Stephen’s. I can tell you, they have been the most incredible five years of my life.  Personally, they have been, of course, some very, very hard years. As a priest, they have been years in which I have seen God at work in ways I never have before.  When I first came here, a good Sunday attendance was maybe 25 people. My first Sunday here, there 23 people in this nave. We were averaging about 22 every Sunday. Summers were even more bare bones.  Now, we average about 42 every Sunday (that was throughout this summer—some days were better than others, of course) And that does not include our Wednesday night Mass, in which we average about 8-10 every week.

 In 2008, there were 55 members of this congregation in good standing.  This morning, we will be receiving 11 new members into our family. Earlier this year, in May, we received another 10 new members. And with these new members today, we will have officially surpassed the 150 member mark. (I’m not certain who the 150th member will be this morning.)

 Now I am wary to throw numbers like this around haphazardly.  The Church, as we all know, is much more than just numbers.  However, on occasion, numbers such as this can help us to recognize not only where we have been, but where we are and where we are going.  And, most importantly of all, numbers like this can help us to give the credit where the credit is truly due:  the Holy Spirit. Here. Among us. Growth of this kind can truly be a cause for us to celebrate that Spirit’s Presence among us.  It can help us to realize that this is truly the place in which God’s dwells.

 In our reading from First Kings today, we hear Solomon echoing God’s words, “My name shall be there.”

And in our reading from Revelation, we find the Apostle John  saying:

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

As we look around, we too realize that this is truly the home of O God.  We too are able to exclaim, God’s name dwells here! And by “the home of God”  I don’t mean just this building. After all—God is truly here, with us, in all that we do together.  The name of God is proclaimed in the ministries we do here. In the outreach we do.
In the witness we make in the community of Farg0-Moorhead and in the wider Church. God is here, with us.  God is working through us and in us. Sometimes, when we are in the midst of it all, when we are doing the work, we sometimes miss that perspective.  We miss that sense of holiness and renewal and life that comes bubbling up from a healthy and vital congregation working together. We miss the fact that God truly is here.

So, it is good to stop and listen for a moment. It is good to reorient ourselves.  It is good to refocus and see what ways we can move forward together. It is good to look around and see how God is working through us.
In a few moments, we will recognize and give thanks for now only our new members but for all our members and the many ministries of this church.  Many of the ministries that happen here at St. Stephen’s go on clandestinely.  They go on behind the scenes, in ways most of us (with exception of God) don’t even see and recognize. But that is how God works as well.  God works oftentimes clandestinely, through us and around us.

This morning, however, we are seeing very clearly the ways in which God works not so clandestinely. We see it in the growth of St. Stephen’s.  We see it in the vitality here. We see it in the love here.  But behind all these incredible things happening now, God has also worked slowly and deliberately and seemingly clandestinely throughout the years. And for all of this—the past, the present and the future—we are truly thankful.

God truly is in this place.  This is truly the house of God.  This is the place in which love is proclaimed and acted out.

So, let us rejoice. Let us rejoice in where we have been. Let us rejoice in where we are. Let us rejoice in where we are going. And, in our rejoicing, let us truly be God’s own people. Let us be God’s people in order that we might proclaim, in love, the mighty and merciful acts of Christ, the living and unmovable stone, on whom we find our security and our foundation.   

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