Sunday, September 28, 2014

16 Pentecost

September 28, 2014

Ezekiel 18.1-4;25-32; Matthew 21.23-32

+ This past week, of course, the plaque for the memorial garden we dedicated in
May was finally finished. It will hang on the wall near the circular window on the stairs leading down to the Undercroft. I am proud of our memorial garden and what it will, hopefully, one day be. A resting place.

But I am especially proud of our memorial garden because of something that we, at St. Stephen’s, make sure will happen with it. In our policies for the memorial garden, we make no disctinction about who can be buried there. Some churches state that only members and their families can be buried in their resting places. Nowhere does it say that only St. Stephen’s members can be buried in our memorial garden. And, a clear policy is this one:

 Under no circumstance will anyone be denied burial in the memorial garden due to financial reasons.

This, of course, ties in perfectly to the ministry we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s for years. Something as simple as this policy really does hit home for us.  There are not many places in the Fargo-Moorhead area that allow such an open policy regarding burial.  

Now what few of us know is that, just a few blocks north of this church, there are two cemeteries.  Unless you actually get out of your car and walk into the actual cemeteries you wouldn’t even know they’re there.  And I do invite you to go and visit theses cemeteries.  If you do, you’ll see, in each, a large boulder.

In one cemetery the boulder is inscribed COUNTY CEMETERY #1.  This one is located at the end of Elm Street.  Where the road forks, one to the Country Club and the other to the former Trollwood, right there, on the left fork toward Trollwood, is the cemetery.  You’ve probably driven by it countless times and never had a clue.

County Cemetery #2 is located on the other side of the old Trollwood, just within sight of where the old main stage stood.  Back along the bend in the Red River, there is a stretch of grass and another boulder. This one says COUNTY CEMETERY #2.

A third County Cemetery was located on north Broadway.  In 1984, those graves were moved to Springvale Cemetery, over by Holy Cross Cemetery, near the airport, because they were falling into the Red River through erosion. One of my great-uncles, who died in 1948, is actually buried in that cemetery.

For the most part, many of the graves in Springvale are marked.  But in the first two cemeteries, there are no markers at all.  No individual gravestones mark the graves of the people buried in the first two cemeteries. In fact, if you walked into them, you would have to force your mind to even accept the fact that it is a cemetery.  But there are hundreds of people buried in those graveyards. Hundreds.

These are the forgotten.  These were Fargo’s hidden shame.  Beginning 1899 and going through the 1940s, this where the prostitutes, the gamblers, the robbers were buried.  This is also where all the unwanted babies were buried.  There are lots of stories of unwanted babies being fished out of the Red River in those days.  This is where the bodies of those unnamed babies were buried.

And when one walks in those pauper cemeteries, one must remind themselves of those words we hear from Jesus this morning in our Gospel reading.

“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”

There, in those cemeteries, lie the true inheritors of the Kingdom of God.  Last week in my sermon I quoted the great Reginald Fuller, who said:

“[This] is what God is doing in Jesus’ ministry—giving the tax collectors and prostitutes an equal share with the righteous in the kingdom.”

That—and those words of Jesus we heard in this morning’s Gospel reading—are shocking statements for most of us.  And they should be.  It should shock us and shake us to our core.  It’s a huge statement for him to make. Partly it does because, things haven’t changed all that much: we can grasp the understanding about prostitutes—after all, prostitutes are still looked down upon by our society in our day.

After all, we do still view prostitutes with contempt.  They are another segment of our society that we tend to forget about.  But we really should give them concern.  And I don’t meant from a judgmental point of view.  I mean, we should give them our compassion.  We should be praying for them often.  Because we often hear the horrible stories of what people have to deal with on the streets, not to mention what drove them to the streets.
. But the stories of what keeps them on the streets are just as bad.  And the dangers they face—day and night—are more mind-boggling than anything we can even imagine in our safe, comfortable lives.

Truly prostitutes throughout history have been the real exploited ones.  They are the ones who have lived on the fringes of society.  They are the ones who have lived in the shadows of our respectable societies.  They have lived dangerous, secret lives.  And much of what they’ve had to go through in their lives is known only to God.  They need our prayers.  They need our compassion. They definitely don’t need our exploitation.  They certainly don’t need our judgment.

As uncomfortable as it is for us to confront them and think about them, that is exactly what Jesus is telling us we must do.  Because by going there in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our ministries, we are going where Jesus went.  We are coming alongside people who need our thoughts, our prayers, our ministries.  And rather than using them, rather than continuing the exploitation they have lived with their lives, we need to see them as God sees them.  We see them as children of God, as fellow humans on this haphazard, uncertain journey we are all on together.

And, more importantly, we see in them ourselves. There, but for the grace of God go us.  Had we been born in different circumstances, had life gone wrong for us in certain areas, who are we to say we wouldn’t have been there?  Or who we are to say we wouldn’t be the exploiters?

So we can understand why prostitutes (and tax collectors, who were just as ritually unclean as prostitutes in Jesus’ day) were viewed with such contempt in Jesus’ day.

The point of this morning’s Gospel is this: the Kingdom of God is not what we think it is.  It is not made up of just people like us.  It is, in fact, going to be made up people who maybe never go to church, who may never have gone to church.  It will be made up of those people we might not even notice. It will be made up of those people who are invisible to us. It will be made up of the people we don’t give a second thought to. In our society today we have our own tax collectors.  They are the welfare cases.  They are the homeless.  They are alcoholics and the drug addicts and the drug dealers. They are the lost among us, they are the ones who are trapped in their own sadness and their own loneliness.  They are the gang leaders, they are the rebels.  They are the transgendered.  They are the cross dressers.  They are the ones we call pagan, or non-believer or heretic.  They are the ones we, good Christians that we are, have worked all our lives not to be.

This is what the Kingdom of heaven is going to be like.  It will filled with the people who look up at us from their marginalized place in this society.  It is the ones who today are peeking out at us from the curtains of their isolation and their loneliness.  They are the ones who, in their quiet agony, watch as we drive out of sight from them. They are they inheritors of the kingdom of God and if we think they are not, then we are not listening to what Jesus is saying to us.

When we think about those county cemeteries just a few blocks north of here, we need to realize that had Jesus lived in Fargo, had he lived 1900 years later and had died the disgraceful death he died, that is where he would’ve ended up.  He would have ended up in an unmarked grave in a back field, on the very physical fringes of our city. In fact, he is there.  And in our policy for the memorial garden, we are guaranteeing he will be here among us as well in our memorial garden.  He is wherever the inheritors of his kingdom are.

Those cemeteries and that policy in our memorial garden for me are potent reminders of who inherits.  They are potent reminders to me of who receives true glory in the end. It is these—the forgotten ones, the ones whom only God knows—who are in glory at this moment.   They are the ones that, had life turned out just a bit different for us, would be us.

Of course, we too are the inheritors of the Kingdom, especially when we love fully and completely.  We too are the inheritors when we follow those words of Jesus and strive to live out and do what he commands.  We too are the inheritors when we open our eyes and our minds and our hearts to those around us, whom no one else sees or loves.

So, let us also be inheritors of the Kingdom of God.  Let us love fully and completely as Jesus commands. Let us love our God.  Let us love all those people who come into our lives. Let us look around at those people who share this world with us.  And let us never cast a blind eye on anyone. Let us do as God speaks to us this morning through the prophet Ezekiel: Let us “turn, then, and live.”


Sunday, September 21, 2014

15 Pentecost

September 21, 2014

Matthew 20. 1-16


+ If you’re anything like me—and I hope you’re not like me—who would want to be like me?—one of the biggest complaints, maybe rages is a better word, that I sometimes make at God is this one:

“This is all so unfair!”

Usually I’m raising a fist to the sky when I say it. And yes, I do rage at God sometimes. It’s a spiritually healthy thing to do. And, trust me—God can take our little rages.

But I would say that my most common rage at God is about the unfairness of it all. The unfairness of life. The unfairness of the way things seem to work out sometimes.

After all, we’ve been conditioned, to some extent. Things should be fair. A perfect world would be a fair world.

So, when it seems that God is not fair, we rage. We get angry. God should be on our side on this one. But, it seems, not always is God on our side on some things.  The scale of fairness is not always tipped in our favor.

To put it in the context of our Gospel reading today, I often feel like one of the workers who has been working from the beginning of the work day.  The parable Jesus tells us this morning is, of course, not just a story about vineyard workers.  The story really, for us anyway, is all about that sense of unfairness.

 If you’re anything like me, when you hear today’s Gospel—and you’re honest with yourself—you probably think: “I agree with the workers who have been working all day: It just isn’t fair that these workers hired later should get the same wages.”

It’s not fair that the worker who only works a few hours makes the same wages as one who has worked all day.  Few of us, in our own jobs, would stand for it.  We too would whine and complain. We would strike.  

But the fact is, as we all know by this time, life is not fair.  Each of here this morning has been dealt raw deals in our lives at one point or another.

We have all known what it’s like to not get the fair deal.  We all have felt a sense of unfairness over the raw deals of this life. But, as much as we complain about it, as much as make a big deal of it, we are going to find unfairness in this life.

Of course, our personal lives are one thing.  But the Church—that’s a different thing.  What we find in today’s parable is exactly what many of us have had to deal with in the Church. The story of the parable is that everyone—no matter how long they’ve been laboring—gets an equal share.  And in Jesus’ ministry, that’s exactly what happens as well.

As one of my personal theological heroes, the great Reginald Fuller, once said of this parable: “[This] is what God is doing in Jesus’ ministry—giving the tax collectors and prostitutes an equal share with the righteous in the kingdom.”

The marginalized, the maligned, the social outcast—all of them are granted an equal share.  To me, that sounds like the ministry we are all called to do as followers of Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus is strive to make sure that everyone gets a fair deal, even when we ourselves might not be getting the fair deal.  

And there’s the rub. There’s the key. Being a follower of Jesus means striving to make sure that all of us on this side of the “veil” get an equal share of the Kingdom of God, even if we ourselves might not sometimes.  That is what we do as followers of Jesus and that is what we need to strive to continue to do.

But…it’s more than just striving for an equal share for others.  It also means not doing some things as well.  It means not letting jealousy and bitterness win out.  And that’s probably what we’re going to feel when others get a good deal and we don’t.

Jealousy and envy are horribly corrosive emotions.  They eat and eat away at us until they makes us bitter and angry.  And jealousy is simply not something followers of Jesus should be harboring in their hearts.

Because jealousy can also lead us into a place in which we are not striving for the Kingdom. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are striving, always, again and again, to do the “right thing.”

But when we do, and when we realize that others are not and yet they are still reaping the rewards, we no doubt are going to feel a bit jealous.  We, although few of us would admit it, are often, let’s face it, the “righteous” ones.  We the ones following the rules, we are the ones striving to live our lives as good Christians.

We fast, we say our prayers faithfully, we tithe, we do what we are supposed to do as good Christians.  Striving for the equal share for people, means not allowing ourselves to get frustrated over the fact that those people who do not do those things—especially those people whom we think don’t follow the rules at all, those people who aren’t “righteous” by our standards—also receive an equal share.  It means not obsessing over the fact that, “It’s not fair.” Even when it is unfair.

Because when we do those things, we must ask ourselves a very important question (a question I ask a lot):  why do we do what we do as Christians?  Do we do what we do so we can call ourselves “righteous?”  Do we do what we do as Christians because we believe we’re going to get some reward in the next life?  Do we do what do because we think God is in heaven keeping track of all our good deeds like some celestial Santa Claus?  Do we do what do simply because we think we will get something in return?  Do we do what we do so we can feel good about ourselves at the end of the day?  Or do we do what we do because doing so makes this world a better place?

This is the real key to Jesus’ message to us.  Constantly, Jesus is pushing us and challenging us to be a conduit.  He is trying to convince us that being a Christian means being a conduit for the Kingdom of God. In us, the Kingdom breaks through.  Without us, it simply will not.

We do what we do as Christians because whatever we do is a way in which the barriers that separate us here from God and God’s world is lifted for a brief moment when we do what Jesus tells us to do.  When we live out the Law of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, the “veil” is lifted and when it is lifted, the Kingdom comes flooding into our lives.  It does not matter in the least how long we labor in allowing this divine flood to happen.  The amount of time we put into it doesn’t matter in the least to God, because God’s time is not our time.  Rather, we simply must do what we are called to do when we are called to do it.

Jesus came to bring an equal share to a world that is often a horribly unfair place.  And his command to us is that we also must strive to bring an equal share to this unequal world.  And that is what we’re doing as followers of Jesus.  As we follow Jesus, we do so knowing that we are striving to bring about an equal share in a world that is often unfair.

We do so, knowing that we are sometimes swimming against the tide.  We do so, feeling at times, as though we’re set up to fail. We do so feeling, at times, overwhelmed with the unfairness of it all.  And just when we think the unfairness of this world has won out—in that moment, the Kingdom of God always breaks through to us.  And in that moment, we are the ones who are able to be the conduit through which the God comes.

So, let us continue to do what we are doing as followers of Jesus.  Let us strive to do even better. In everything we do, let us attempt to lift that veil in our lives and by doing so, let us be the conduit through which the Kingdom of God will flood into this unfair world.  And let us do together what Jesus is calling us to do in this world Let us love—fully and completely.  Let us love our God, let us love our selves and let us neighbors as ourselves.

As we all know, it’s important to come here and share the Word and the Eucharist on Sundays.  But we also know that what we share here motivates us to go out into the world and actually “do” our faith.

As followers of Jesus, we are full of hope—a hope given to us by a God who knows our future and who wants only good for us.  Let us go forth with that hope and with a true sense of joy that we are doing what we can to make that future glorious.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

14 Pentecost

HOLY CROSS

September 14, 2014


+ A few weeks ago in my sermon I started my sermon on a, shall we say, dire note. I don’t normally like starting my sermons on a such a note. Dire sermons are not always helpful sermons. But, I said, on that Sunday, that if you come into church and see red paraments—the red altar frontal, the red hangings, the red chasuble—be prepared. We are commemorating something not so pleasant. In that case, I was talking about martyrs.

This morning, we have the red on. No, we’re not commemorating a martyr. But, sadly, we are commemorating something not that pleasant either. This morning we are commemorating probably the one most important symbols of who we are as Christians. We are commemorating the Holy Cross.

My good friend, Father John-Julian of the Episcopal religious order, the Order of Julian or Norwich, writes about this very important feast in his wonderful book, Stars in a Dark World. He writes:

“It is noteworthy, I think, to see that the Church celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross not with the penitential purple of Lent or the mortal black of Good Friday, but with the brilliant passion red of celebration and honor! And the propers of this feast do not dwell on the bloody death of Christ but on rather upon the wonder of the utterly holy [instrument], because the executioner’s instrument has been exalted as the means of the salvation of the world. The salvic resurrection of Christ transformed the gross and ugly Cross of death into the most enduring symbol of life and hope.”

Now, we probably really think about the Cross as an object too often. We find of take it for granted.  We see it every Sunday. We see them on the churches we pass every day.  We probably wear the around our necks or hang them on the walls of our homes.

For us, of course, the Cross is more than just two pieces of wood bound together. For us the Cross is our symbol. And more than that.

We have essentially been branded with the cross.  Each of us were marked by the Cross in our baptism. And as a result, it is ingrained into our very souls.

And we have been told by the One we follow that to truly follow him, we must take up our own cross. Again, not pleasant to do. But it is essential. This symbol of death and degradation has been given to us and we are told to bear it with all the strength and dignity we can muster, just as he did.

I’ve shared this quote with you before, but I love this saying by Blessed Charles Grafton, the former Bishop of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. He said that our job as Christians is to “preach the Cross from the Cross.”

It is not enough for us just to tell others about the Cross. It is not enough to just acknowledge this piece of wood as our symbol. Essentially in bearing the cross, we must realize that we are also bound to the cross, and there we die to our former selves—our egoistical selves, our self-centered selves. And while there, while we hang there with the One we follow, to preach—by example if nothing else. This is what the Cross is to us.

Look at how deceptively simple it is.  It’s simply two pieces, bound together.  For someone who knows nothing about Christianity, for someone who knows nothing about the story, it’s a symbol they might not think much about.  

And yet the Cross is more than just another symbol in our lives. The Cross is what truly defines as Christians. Without it, we would be utterly lost. Without it, our faith as Christians would be essentially powerless. Our hope, our longing, for eternal life, for the destruction of death by Jesus, would never have been accomplished without it. Without it, we would still be digging in our heels in fear over death.

So, yes, the Cross is essential to us as Christians. It is what gives our faith its very essence.  The Cross, as much as it defines us, as much as it is symbol of our faith, is also, sadly, an instrument of torture and death.

To take up a cross means to take up a burden that we must bear, even though we don’t really want it.  To take it up is torturous.  It hurts to take up the Cross. When we think of that last journey Jesus took to the place of the skull, carrying that heavy tree on which he is going to be murdered, it must’ve been more horrible than we can even begin to imagine.  And, without the resurrection, it would have been.

But the fact is, what Jesus is saying to us is: carry your cross now. Carry it with dignity and inner strength.  Because if you carry cross, then you are truly following Me. By carrying our cross, we are following Jesus to the place he leads.  That place, is of course, the joy of Resurrection and Life.

But the road there leads first through the place of the skull.  To face this reality, we find ourselves facing our fear of pain and death.  We sometimes allow ourselves to slip deeply into fear and despair in our lives.

As we all know, fear can be crippling. It can devastate us and drive us to despair.  But, as Father John-Julian says,

“In a sense, the Cross underwent the first transformation of the Resurrection; and that same transformation has been part of the salvation offered by the Crucified and Resurrected One. Pain and death became resurrection and exaltation—and that has never changed. The sign of the Christian’s salvation is not some giddy, mindless, low-cost bliss, but rather an entry into the deeper parts of the reality of pain and death [and I would add, fear], soaked, as was the Holy Cross, with the blood of sacrifice and finally emerged, brought by God on the other side, resurrected, exalted whole, and in heaven.”

If we take the crosses we’ve been given to bear and embrace them, rather than running away from them, we find that fear has no control over us.  

The Cross destroys fear and pain and death.  The Cross shatters pain and death into a million pieces.  And when we do fear, we know we have a place to go to for shelter. When fear encroaches into our lives—when fear comes riding roughshod through our lives—all we have to do is go to the Cross and embrace it.  And there, we will find our fears destroyed.

As Anthony of Padua said: "Extending his arms on the cross like wings, Christ embraces all who come to him sheltering then in his wounds.”

Because of the Cross, we are taken care of.  Because of the Cross, we know, all will be well. The cross Jesus asks us to bear is not a frightening and terrible thing.  It was, at one time.  It was a symbol of defeat and death and pain and torture. It was, for the people of Jesus’s day, what the electric chair or the hangman’s noose or even the lethal injection table is to us this day.  It was, for the people of Jesus’s day, a symbol of ultimate defeat. On it, hung criminals. On it, hung those who, by society’s standards, deserved to hang there. On it hung the blasphemer, the heretic, the agitator.

But now, for us, it is a symbol of strength and joy and unending eternal life.  Through it, we know, we must pass to find true and unending life.  Through the Cross, we must pass to find ourselves, once and for all time, face-to-face with God. 

So, let us notice of this great symbol in our lives. As we drive along, let us notice the crosses on the churches we pass. Let us notice all the crosses that surround us.  When you see the Cross, remember what it means to you.

Look to it for what it is: a symbol of terror and death, but also a symbol of the power of God to overcome terror and death. Let us look at the Cross and, when we see it, let us see it for what it truly is: a triumph over every single fear in our lives.  When we see the crosses in our life, we can look at it and realize it is destroying the fear in our own life.

And more importantly, let us continue to bear those crosses of our life patiently and without fear.  If we do, we too will be following the way of Jesus, and that Way doesn’t end at the Cross. Rather the Way of Jesus—that Way of Life unending, Life Everlasting,--really and truly begins at the Cross.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dedication Sunday

September 7, 2014

Genesis 28.10-17; 1 Peter 2.1-5,9-11


+ We’ve been doing this a lot lately in our sermons. We have been traveling around a lot through time. We went back a few months ago to 1974, to 1964. Well, today, we need to go back too. We’re going back to a bit more stable time—a more innocent time.  Our trip is taking us back 58 years.

It is Sunday morning, September 9, 1956.  On this particular Sunday in 1956, it was truly a different American. The country was caught up in Elvis-mania.  In fact, that very night Elvis would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show—“coast to coast with your favorite host.” The number one song in the country was “Que Sera Sera” by Doris Day.  The number one book in the country that morning was Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. One of the top movies was The Bad Seed withNancy Kelly and Patty McCormack. It was based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, who was from Jamestown, ND.

1956 was an election year.  The current president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would be going up against the Democratic hopeful, Adlai Stevenson, who would lose that November.

But on this morning, the congregation of St. Stephen’s was officially dedicated.  According to the records, there were 51 people at that service. It we think hard enough, we can almost imagine how people looked in church that morning.  The women in hats and skirts, the men in suits and ties. And no doubt it felt like something was truly beginning.

By the end of that year, there would be 51 communicants (39 of whom came from the Cathedral) and a total of 94 baptized members listed.  By 1958, there were 144 baptized members and 45 families and by Jan. 1, 1960, there were a whopping 214 members with 60 families.

Over the years, those numbers just kept going up.  Within ten years, in 1968, the membership reached its number of 243 members.

Now, the story of St. Stephen’s is fascinating.  In these almost 60 years, there have been ebbs and there have been flows.  And throughout those 58 years this seemingly small congregation has been the first do many wonderful things.

+ The first woman Senior Warden in the Diocese.

+ The first woman priest to serve a congregation in the diocese.

+ The first congregation in the diocese to openly and unabashedly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

+ The first to establish a chapter of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

+ The first to have a labyrinth.

Of course, there were hard time too.  I have heard with great sadness the stories of what is called the “Exodus out” in the 1980s.  It is sad to look through the parish records and see those numbers drop and dribble away for various reason throughout the 1980s.

But, here are, back in our own day.  Here we are on this glorious morning in September of 2014.  Here we are, 58 years into our ministry to the Church and the world.  And we have a lot of celebrate this morning. I’ve had to catch myself a few times over these last few years so I do not fall into the trap of taking for granted what God has given us here at St. Stephen’s.

Just six years ago, in 2008, our membership was 55 members, which had remained pretty steady for about ten years previously. But this year, we can rejoice in the fact that we have more members here than we did in 1958.  But we are more than just any of those things.  We are more than just membership numbers.  We are more than just an Average Sunday Attendance (which really has been good, by the way).  We are a congregation that makes a difference.

Now, I know some people have joked about my so-called “cheerleading” of St. Stephen’s.  But I take my job as cheerleader seriously.  I have no problems with boasting about what God has done here.  I have no qualms about boasting about what all of us are doing here at St. Stephen’s.

In our wonderful reading this morning from St. Peter, we find him saying,

“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”

When we look around us this morning, as we celebrate 58 years of ebb and flow in our congregation, we realize that truly we are on the receiving end of a good amount of mercy.  We realize that mercy from God has descended upon us in this moment.  And it is a glorious thing. And, as unbelievable as it might seem at times, we cannot take it for granted.  We must use this opportunity we have been given.  We realize that it is not enough to receive mercy.  We must, in turn, give mercy. And we have done that here.

Now, I know some of us get a little uncomfortable when words like “liberal” or “progressive” are used to describe us. But, I think we should embrace our “progressive” title. Progressive for us means embodying mercy. When we look around us at other congregations, we realize we have something special here.

I hear stories again and again (and all of you have too) of churches that judge, that alienate, that become so caught up in rules and dogmas and following the smallest interpretation of the word of scripture, that they ride rough shod over others.  Many of us were members of those churches before we came to St. Stephen’s. Many of us came here with our bruises, with our scars from those churches. Many of us came from those churches in which they forgot that the Church is not an exclusive country club for the elite few who all look alike, but rather a glorious and wonderful meal at which everyone—no matter who they are or what they or what they’ve done—are welcome.

I think we have done that very well here at St. Stephen’s. To those other churches, we might look like some ship of fools. But to God we are what the Kingdom will be like one day. If you want a glimpse of what awaits us, just look around as this morning. This is that place.

Here, mercy dwells.  Mercy, as we all know, is elusive.  We can’t pin it down.  But we know it when it comes to us.  And we know how to be merciful to others.

The way we properly and truly celebrate 58 years of St. Stephen’s ministry to the Church and the world is by giving thanks for the mercy we have received and are receiving at this moment.  And we turn around and share that mercy with others.  That’s what we’ve been doing here at St. Stephen’s from that very beginning way back in 1956.

We, this morning, are being called to echo what St. Peter said to us in our reading this morning. We, God’s own people, are being called to “proclaim
the mighty acts of [God] who called [us] out of
darkness into [that] marvelous light.”

We proclaim these mighty acts by our own acts.  We proclaim God’s acts through mercy, through ministry, through service to others, through the worship we give here and the outreach we do from here.

I love being the cheerleader for St. Stephen’s.  Because it’s so easy to do.  God is doing wonderful things here through each of us.  Each of us is the conduit through which God’s mercy and love is being manifested.

In our collect for this morning, we prayed to God that “all who seek you here [may] find you, and be filled with your joy and peace…” That prayer is being answered in our very midst today.  And although it may seem unbelievable at times, this is truly how God works in our midst.  God works in our midst by allowing us to be that place in which God is found, a place in which joy and peace and mercy dwell.

So, let us continue to receive God’s mercy and, in turn, give God’s mercy to others.  Let us be a place in which mercy dwells.  Because when we do we will find ourselves, along with those who come to us, echoing the words from our reading from St. Peter this morning,

“once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”