Sunday, January 29, 2017

4 Epiphany

January 29, 2017

Annual Meeting

 1 Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

+ Today, of course, is our Annual Meeting. And my sermon on Annual Meeting Sunday is a sort “State of the Union” address.  

I think it is particularly appropriate that we also hear Paul this morning.  And we don’t only hear Paul. This morning, we heard Paul quoting the prophet Jeremiah.  Paul’s quote, that we heard today, is, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  You know Paul was definitely a boastful kind of guy, I think.

The actual quote from Jeremiah is this,

“…let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I take delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9.24).

I’m going to repeat that.

“I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I take delight, says the Lord.”

Now, that could be our motto here at St. Stephen’s on this Annual Meeting Sunday.  But, let’s face it, boasting is not something most of us do well.  Boasting for most of us means being prideful.

But, certainly armed with these scriptures, holding them close, we realize we actually can boast.  Certainly, here at St. Stephen’s, it’s all right that we boast a bit.  We can boast, because we are not boasting in ourselves.  We are not boasting because we think we did any of these great things we have done all by ourselves, in some arrogant way, nor that we are better than anyone else.  We boast because we are joyful God continues to do what God does here.  We boast because we know that God does act with steadfast love, with justice and with righteousness in the earth.

Even if it might not seem like it right at this moment in our world.  And we boast because we are simply trying be the conduits through which God can continue to act in such a way.  We boast in the fact that the work God has called us to do here at St. Stephen’s is the work of steadfast love, justice and righteousness.  We boast because we are able to recognize the blessings of God in our midst.

What we have done and what we continue to do here is a true reason to rejoice.  We rejoice in the blessings God has granted us here. And as we rejoice in these blessings we rejoice too in the ministries we do beyond these walls, as we strive to be conduits of God’s steadfast love, justice and righteousness in our lives and in our community. 

Our job here, in following Jesus, in being conduits of God’s love, in working toward steadfast love, in working for justice, in working for righteousness, it is a nonstop job. Doing so is not easy. Doing so may seem at times like something weirdly absurd.

Why even try? we might ask ourselves, when the world seems to be unraveling around us at times. Doing these doesn’t seem to be making a difference in the face of such overwhelming nastinesss in the world.

I know the feeling. Every single day those moments haunt me as well.  

Our reading from Paul this morning somewhat echoes this absurdity. Paul says that for the Romans of the day, the crucifixion of Jesus seemed like the ultimate failure. For them it was foolishness.

You idiots, they no doubt said. Why worship a failure?

A failed prophet in some conquered province was condemned and tortured and was executed on a cross.

For Jews, this same failed prophet, because he was hung on a cross, was cursed.  According to Judaic Law, anyone hung on a tree was a curse. You couldn’t even touch that person, or tree on which that person hung.  So, to them, it was truly a stumbling block.

Would God work through a curse? They would wonder.  By other people standards, it all seemed absurd or cursed. But for us, who follow Jesus, who know Jesus right now, his death on that cross was not foolish or a curse at all.  It was rather life and glory. What seemed like defeat to others was victory to those who followed Jesus.

We understand this here at St. Stephen’s. We understand what it’s like to see who we are and what we do through the eyes of others.

As I said at Stewardship time, our supposed little church up here in north Fargo should not be what it is—by other people’s standards.  We do not have fancy architecture. Our steeple is not seem for miles.  We are not on some busy thoroughfare that be easily accessed. One must actually seek us out here on this side street in north Fargo. Our pews don’t match. We aren’t fancy. We smell of incense and regular intense worship. By some people’s standards, why would anyone worship here

But…but… we are a spiritual powerhouse! And we make a big difference in the lives of the people who seek us out, who worship here, who benefit from the ministries we do here.  We make a difference in those who find a safe place to know the God of love and acceptance here.

This is an amazing place. But I don’t need to tell you that. You, who are here this morning, you know that.  And you know full well that this is a  great time to be at St. Stephen’s.

This past year, as always, you really just stepped up to the plate, again and again. We have a very solid acolyte corps. We have a great Altar Guild. We have people stepping up to do things like Lectoring and Worship Leader and Eucharistic Visitor and Preaching. We have people working in the gardens and on the maintenance of our building. We have a gorgeous Memorial Garden in which people are buried with dignity and beauty and Christ’s blessing.  We have people helping out in the Pride Parade and Sundaes on Sunday and in ministry in East Africa and in many other areas.
Our liturgical and musical life here at St. Stephen’s rivals that of many cathedrals.  And look at these gorgeous stained glass windows! In the next few months, it is going to look different in here.

And most importantly—most importantly of all—we continue to stand up for the refugee, for the vulnerable, for the marginalized, for those who are being excluded. And let me tell you, there ARE people this morning who are being marginalized and it is us—the followers of Jesus, the Body of Christ in this world—who need to speak out for them!

Yes, this so-called little church in northeast Fargo is a true spiritual power house. There is an abundance of spiritual energy emanating from this place, emanating from the people here, emanating from this altar.  It is an amazing place to be, as we all, this morning, know full well.  This seemingly little congregation in north Fargo continues to be a force to be reckoned with—in our city, in the Diocese, in our country and in the world.

To others, it just doesn’t seem possible. But to us, who are here, who are living our ministries, we know it is true.

But like any State of the Union address, I have to say this as well.  We do still have much more to do.  We have not even begun to exhaust the resources we have here in this congregation.  There is still much more potential.  There are still many opportunities for growth here.  There are still more opportunities to stand up and speak out!  We still have much ministry to do.

And God is calling us.  God is pushing us.  God is moving us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and to further the Kingdom of God in our very midst. God is moving us to work for steadfast love, for justice and for righteousness in an unraveling world.

It is a great time to be here at St. Stephen’s.  As you have heard me say many, many times, things are “popping.”  As someone who hasn’t had a day off in two weeks, I can tell you: things are popping here.  And this outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s love and grace in our congregation should be bringing smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts.

But it should also be bringing a jolt of energy to our feet and hands.  It is not the time to sit back complacently and revel in these blessings.  It is time to share them.  It is time to get up and make sure those channels of the Spirit of Jesus—Jesus, the ultimate Refugee— in our midst remain open and flowing.  It is time to make sure that the flow of the Holy Spirit’s life and love through the conduit of this congregation to others remains unhindered and free.

We proclaim things not because we are bragging.  Rather we boast, in the proper way of boasting, in all that we are doing for God.  And we should be boasting in all that God is doing for us here at St. Stephen’s.

The successes here at St. Stephen’s are not a result of anything any one single person here is doing.  The successes here at St. Stephen’s are a result of we all are doing together. We are all working hard.  We are all stepping up to the plate and making this place a place of holiness, of renewal, of radical hospitality to those who needs radical hospitality.  We together are making this a place in which God’s presence and love can dwell and from which it can emanate.

So, my fellow ministers here at St. Stephen’s, let us boast in a humble and thankful way.  Let us rejoice.   Let us celebrate.  And let us together give thanks to God who is present among us this morning.  Let us give thanks to God, who has come to us as a Spirit of steadfast love and justice and righteousness.  Let us rejoice in the God who is present with us in Jesus, whose Body and Blood we will share at this altar.  And let us celebrate the God who is present in us as a Holy People, blessed and renewed and commissioned to go out to share this blessing and renewal with others.

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