Malachi 4.1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19
+ This past week was…well…it was something. For some, it was a week of victory. For others, it was…a week of devastating loss. And one does not have to look far to see that many, many people in this country are feeling fear and uncertainty about the future. Just take a quick glance at Facebook.
To be brutally honest, I don’t know what to say about any of it. I, like many of you, feel helpless. And that is where most of us are when things happen that affect our future. We feel helpless. We feel as though there is nothing we can do. We feel as though we are at the whim of whatever may happen.
…there are things we CAN do.
We can do what we’ve always done here at St. Stephen’s. We can choose compassion. We can choose selflessness. We can choose personal decency. We can choose to do what we have always done, as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as members of St. Stephen’s. And we will.
In the face of whatever may happen, in the f ace of whatever life or governments or nature may throw at us, we can stand up, we can stand firm and we can not only profess our faith, we can live it out. Bravely and surely. Without fear.
Fear is a potent force right now in our country. In the 60 years of St. Stephen’s ministry, things have come and things have gone. Presidents and governments have come and gone. There have been bleak times and there have been very good times.
I am not going to say to those who have felt fear or anger over the presidential race to buck up, to get over it. That’s not helpful either.
But this is one thing I do know: St. Stephen’s will continue to be a place of openness and acceptance, no matter what. I sent out a message on the morning after the election that I hope you read. If you did not, I am going to read part of it this morning.
No matter what may happen, please be assured: St. Stephen’s will remain a place of safety. It will remain a place in which all will continue to be welcomed and accepted. It will be a place in which the divisions are erased and the love of God and of one another is upheld.
We must continue to strive to uphold this radical inclusiveness. We must strive to be the living, breathing presence of God’s love and acceptance of all. We must strive to be the hands, feet, face and heart of Christ in a world that truly needs Christ’s all-accepting love.
Please pray for our nation. Please pray for our leadership. Please pray for our future. And let us not let our fears and anxieties defeat us.
On this Stewardship Sunday, this is where we are. And today, at our lunch, you will receive pledge cards and time-and-talent sheets. Some of you have asked (and it’s a good question to ask), what is this pledge package we are receiving? I am going to tell you what it is.
Your pledge card is a way for you to say you agree with what we do what here. Your pledge package is a way to say, “I love this place. I love what it stands for. I love its uniqueness. I love that St. Stephen’s has accepted me when I needed acceptance. I love that it accepts others who need acceptance. I love this place so much I am willing to support it with my creativity, my energy and my financial resources.”
Your pledge package is a way for you to say “yes, I will strive in my own way to DO something. To DO something in a place that has been so radically different.”
I don’t think I need to tell anyone here that St. Stephen’s is not your typical Episcopal Church—or your typical church by any definition. We are unique. We are eclectic. We do things a bit different than other churches. That is why you are here. We are welcoming. We are accepting.
But we are not push-overs. We are also very, very strong. And when we stand up for something, we STAND UP.
Yes, we are contemplative. We are prayerful. We love God, we follow Jesus and we embody the Holy Spirit.
We, in the shadows of much larger congregation, might seem to be just a blip. People drive by our church and might not see it. We don’t have a tall steeple. We don’t have fine architecture. We don’t have matching pews.
But…we do have a voice. We do have our integrity. And when we speak out, we speak LOUDLY. And, let me tell you, people hear us. And we change things—or help things change anyway.
For us the Word of God is not something that can be placed in some nice, neat box—it is not something we can gaze at and admire from afar. For us, the Word of God is what we live, what we speak. It comes bubbling up from within us and is lived out in our lives and the ministries we do here.
I have said it before, I will say it again. If you want to see the Episcopal Church of the future—if you want to see the Church, capital C, of the future—you don’t need to go to fancy, massive churches, with lots of glitz and not lots of people. THAT is not the future of the Episcopal Church. What is the future of the Episcopal Church—of the Christian Church? You are. Right here. We are it. We are what it means to be alive and vital as Christians. We are what it means to be all-inclusive, even if means to being inclusive to a fault. We are what it means to accept everyone—gay or straight, black or white or brown or red, woman, man, transgender, Democrat and Republican, agnostic, atheist -- everyone is welcome here and accepted here. And ACCEPTED here.
This is who we are. And in the face of whatever may come, socially, government-wise, if the skies turns dark and the moon falls into the ocean, we will still be who we are and what we are. That is what we pledge to support here.
I hate to be this person to say it, but the reality we can’t do these things without you—without your hands, without financial resources. We can’t do these things without the hard work of all of us. We have prided ourselves over the years in not having to beg for money very often. And we have given much in outreach—to those places that need our help. But we can’t do the things we do—we can’t be who we are—without resources.
I am always struck when I hear the flight attendants tell us before we take off, that we must place the oxygen mask on ourselves first before we do so for our children. That is the exact opposite of what our instinct might tell us. But the fact is this: we can’t help them if we don’t have oxygen. We need those financial resources, we need those hands and hearts and muscles and creativity if we are going to help others. We need your physical presence here on Sundays—and not just when you are scheduled to do a ministry here. To be this unique and amazing place, this place in which radical things happen, in which we love radically and accept radically, in which Jesus’ Holy Spirit now only dwells, but is embodied, we need to be strong at the base.
And we need to not let fear win. Jesus tells us not to be afraid. When we hear of wars and insurrections, Jesus tells us today, do not be terrified.
DO NOT BE TERRIFED.
Not a hair of our head will perish to them, Jesus tells us. By our endurance, we will gain our souls. And, I would add, not only our souls…but the souls of those we encounter. 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 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.”
“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. Those words are the motto for all us at this time in our history.
Do not be weary in doing what is right.
Yes, I know. We are weary. We are tired. 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.
And we cannot be terrified. We are held up. We are supported by that God. But we must keep on doing so with love and humility and grace.
St. Stephen’s is incredible place. We know it. Others know it. God knows it. So, let us be thankful. Let us continue our work—our ministries. Let us give from what we have been given. 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—on US!— that Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. Amen.