Sunday, September 30, 2018

19 Pentecost

The relics of "St. Incognito" from the book Heavenly Bodies
September 30, 2018

Numbers 11.4-6, 10-16, 24-26; Mark 9:38-50


+ Come, O Holy Spirit, come!
Come as the fire and burn,
Come as the wind and cleanse,
Come as the light and lead.
Increase in us your gifts of grace.
Convict, convert and consecrate us, until we are wholly yours.

Tomorrow is a very momentous day in my life. Ten years ago, on October 1, 2008, I officially became the Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s.  
I am, this morning, very grateful to God for these ten years. They have been wonderful. I’ve said it before. I will say it many times again and again:  I love being the Priest of St. Stephen’s.
But I will say that, on the whole, these past ten years have been difficult years for me personally. In addition to losing both of my parents, I have also had to struggle at times with the larger Church—capital C. And doing so has been unpleasant at times. I’ll get into that in a bit.

First, in this morning’s Gospel, we find one of Jesus’ chosen inner circle coming to him and complaining about someone—an outsider, not one of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers—who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  We don’t know who this person was—we never hear anything more about him. Possibly it was one of those many multitudes of people who were following him around, observing all that he had done. Possibly it was someone who was trying to be like Jesus.  More likely it was a genuine follower of Jesus who simply had not—for whatever reasons—made it into the inner circle of Jesus’ followers.

However, the apostles do not like it. They are threatened by this person—this outsider.  And because he is an outsider, they want it stopped.  So, thinking he will put an end to it, they go to Jesus. You can almost hear them as they whine and complain to him about this supposedly pretentious person.

But Jesus—once again—does not do what they think he will do.  Jesus tells them two things: first

“for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

And the big one—the most obvious one (you would think)—

Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Now, it’s a great story. And we have some very powerful characters in this story. We have, of course, Jesus, who is, as he should be, the center piece of this story. We have these apostles, who complain and whine.

But, the one I want to draw your attention to is that outsider. For the sake of continuing to call him an outsider, let’s just call him another name. Let’s name him Saint Incognito, the wannabe apostle.

Now, I will be honest this morning. It is certainly St. Incognito I feel the closest to in this Gospel story. I relate to him.

Why?

Because I am him.

Yes, I know: I am a uniform wearing ordained minister of the Church. But never once in all of these years I’ve been ordained, have I ever once felt like I’m some part of the inner circle of the Church. I have always felt sort of like St. Incognito, out there on the fringes, following Jesus from afar, trying to be a faithful disciple, but never feeling like I’m one of the “chosen few.” And I know several of you have felt this way too in your journey of following Jesus.

Now, I’ve shared this illustration with you before. But when I was in graduate school the first time, getting my Master of Fine Arts Degree, I wrote my thesis on the two perspectives of literature, in my opinion. All writers have either one of two perspectives to their writing, I argued (and still argue).

Those who are on the “inside” looking “out.”

And those on the “outside” looking “in.”

Perspective is everything in literature. And certainly also in life.

Many of us feel like we’re either on the outside or the inside of life or society or the Church (capital C).  And for me, I have always seen myself on the outside, looking in. St. Incognito is the patron saint of all those outsiders.
Now the apostles say to Jesus, “…we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.”

That may be true. He is not following these apostles. But…he is, it seems, following Jesus in some way. He is aware of Jesus. He is casting out demons in Jesus’ name (and the demons,  very importantly, are actually being cast out, if you notice). He is following Jesus in what he has observed and what he does.
But…he is not following in the way these apostles think he should be following.  He is following from afar.

And as a follower of Jesus, it’s not always a pleasant place to be.  It’s actually a very hard place to be.  It’s hard to follow Jesus under any circumstances. But it is especially hard to follow Jesus when one is not part of the “inner group.” It is hard to follow Jesus from afar. And it’s hard to be one who is shunned by those inner few.

Luckily the one who doesn’t shun St. Incognito in our reading for today is, of course, Jesus. Now, you would think that we—the Church—would have learned from this story. You think we would have been able to have heard this story and realized that, if we are all working together for the same goal—for the furthering of the Kingdom of God in our midst—then, we are all working together in Jesus’ name.

But the fact is, we have not quite “got it.” There are still Christians—ordained and not ordained—who still strut around, proud of the fact that they figured it all out.

We’re right, they say.

We’re orthodox—we’re right thinking.

And everyone else who isn’t…well…here’s the shoulder.

Here’s the backside.

Here’s the shun.

Let’s face it, the Church—capital C—is an imperfect structure.  It has the same faults and failings of all human-run organizations—no matter how blessed it claims to be by God. I will admit one thing to you—and for those of you who have come to know me in these last 10 years at St. Stephen’s, this comes as no great surprise—but, I have a love-hate relationship with the organized Church.

Now, I want to be clear: I truly love the Church. I love serving God’s people within the structure of the Episcopal Church and I definitely love serving here at St. Stephen’s. I love the Church’s traditions.  I love its liturgy.  As I’ve mentioned many times here before you, I love being a priest.

And, on really good days, I am so keenly aware that the Church truly is a family. We are a family that might not always get along with each other, but when it comes right down to it, my hope is we still  do love each other .

And I have never seen that more keenly than here at St. Stephen’s. Certainly, we here, at St. Stephen’s, are very much a  family.

Now I know St. Stephen’s has a reputation. It has a reputation of being an upstart congregation, a congregation that protests, that stands up and says no to injustice and hypocrisy.  It has a reputation of being a thorn in the side of some people.

But even so, I will be just as honest that there are many days in which I find being a member of the Church—capital C— a burden. And being a member of the Church who is often viewed as an outsider of that Church is definitely a burden sometimes.  The Church—as most of us know—can be a fickle place to be at times. It can be a place where people are more interested in rules and dogmas and a right interpretation of scripture and of church law than a place that furthers the love of God and of each other.  It can be a place where people are so caught up in being orthodox, so caught up in being right, in being smart and clever, that they run rough-shod over people who truly need the Church and who truly long for and truly serve God.

Sometimes people are shocked to hear that I—an ordained priest—would even dare profess the hate side of my love-hate relationship with the Church.  And it definitely boggles their minds that I—a collar-wearing priest—would be one of those outside the “inner circle” of the Church.  But not being honest about it only helps perpetuate the hypocrisy the Church so often is accused of.

When I look at the Church at its worse right now I can honestly and clearly hear the voices of those disciples of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel.  I can hear their statement as one of anger and one of frustration and one of jealousy. 

On the other hand, I see people in the Church, at times, as making a real solid effort to be what Jesus wanted it to be.  If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be in the Church.

One aspect of the Church that I have always loved is the belief—and the fact— that there is room here for everyone in the Church—no matter who they are. I feel there is room for people who have differing views in the Church. Not everyone has to agree.  But we all do have to make room for each other here.  
The Church however doesn’t always see itself in such a way.

Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, the government of the Church likes to claim that only it knows who can and who cannot do God’s work in the world. When an upstart—when a person marginalized by society—comes along and tries to do God’s work in Jesus’ name, the Church very often tries to put an end to it.

Look at our recent history in the church.  Forty, fifty years ago, the issue was women. Can women be priests?  A lot of people said, “absolutely not.” And people were mean and petty in their opposition.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, it was ordaining Gay and Lesbian priests.

“This will be the end of the Church,” we heard proclaimed. Like Henny Penny crying out in the children’s story, the sky will. Well, guess what? The sky didn’t fall.  And  the Church hasn’t fallen apart.

We’re still here and, I personally can’t help but believe we’re a much better place for allowing women and LGBTQ people to serve us as priests and deacons and bishops.

As Anglicans, I have loved the fact that there has always been room for everyone. There is room for people who challenge us and provoke us and jar us out of what can very easily devolve into self-righteous complacency and moral pettiness.  

As Scot McNight says in his delightful book, Embraced by Grace:

“In God’s equality, difference is maintained and loved.”

I have said it before and I will say it again:  Who are we to judge who God calls to serve? God decides these things.

Our job as Christians is simply this: we must love each other and do what we can as Christians as followers of Jesus. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel,

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

This Church that I love is a wonderful place to be at times. And I think it is a place from which everyone can benefit. Like those disciples, none of us is perfect. All of us are fractured, sinful people at times.  Because we are fractured sinful people, isn’t it wonderful that we have a place to come to even when we’re fractured and sinful, a place where we are not judged, a place from which we are not shunned or excluded or left feeling like an outsider.  A place where we are welcomed for who and what we are. A place in which there are no more “outsiders” looking “in.” This is the ideal of the Church.

This is the place God intended it be.  It is place in which the Spirit of God rests on its people, just as the Spirit of God rested on those elders in our reading from the Book of Numbers today.  That resting of the Spirit of God is important for us to take note of.  And to be open to right now in our own day.

That Spirit of God puts all of us on common ground.

That Spirit of God makes us all equal.

That Spirit of God eliminates those fringes of society, those marginalized places and makes us all part of the inner circle.

That Spirit of God reminds us that there are no “outsiders” among those on whom that Spirit rests!

We—all of us—are followers of Jesus and Spirit-infused children of a loving, accepting God, no matter who we are.

So remember, the Church is not an exclusive club.  It is not a club for everyone who believes exactly the same thing, doing the same exact thing.  The Church is a place on which God’s loving Spirit rests.

Following Jesus means making room for the person we might not agree with.
Following Jesus means walking alongside someone whom no one else loves or cares for.  Following Jesus means making sure no one is left outside our “inner circle.” Following Jesus means making sure we don’t lose our saltiness, as Jesus tells us today.

We must, as followers of Jesus, be salt of the earth. This is what, I think we are doing here at St. Stephen’s.

All of us, in our own ways, are attempting to follow Jesus here.  The same Spirit which rested on those elders in the desert in the days of Moses rests upon us this morning.  We should rejoice in that fact.

See why I am so grateful on this Sunday. See why I am so grateful on this tenth anniversary of my time with you as your priest.  Together, here, we are doing what we care called to do.

So, let us, together, continue to do just that together.  When we do, it is that we make a real difference in the Church and in this world.  Amen.




Sunday, September 23, 2018

18 Pentecost


September 23, 2018 

Jeremiah 11.18-20; Psalm 54; James 3.13-4,7-8a;

+ I’ve shared this before with you. And I want to preface what I am going to say with a hope that you will not see me as a kind of progressive, Episcopal priest version of  Richard Nixon.

But…I have enemies. There’s just no getting around that fact. There are people in this world who just do not like me. I know that’s hard to believe. Lol.  There are people who point-blank dislike me. Or maybe even hate me.

Sometimes…when one makes stands, who stand firm, or makes comments or takes positions that differ from others, you’re gonna have enemies. Sometimes, just for standing up and saying “no” to people, you are going to have people dislike you. Or sometimes, you just are not able to do for others what they need you to do for them.  And, as a result, they despise you for not being who they need you to be for them.

It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s extremely painful. And sometimes, when those people are people you care for or who were close friends or family, it is even more painful.

But, let me tell you this: we don’t make it through this life without a few enemies, without a few people who just not going to like us.

Now, like Richard Nixon, I actually write their names down. But unlike Nixon I do so not to keep up on them and persecute. I keep a list of my “enemies” so I can pray for them on a regular basis.

Now when I say “pray for them” I sometimes honestly can’t do more than that. Sometimes those people have hurt me enough that I can’t say I pray for really great things to happen to them.

But, I also don’t pray for bad things to happen to those people who I view as my enemy. Do I kind of secretly wish that bad things would happen to them?

Well…


…ok…

…maybe…

…secretly…

 But…more than anything, I just wish they would see the error of their ways, as I perceive it. Which is arrogant of me, I know.   But it’s honest.

Ok, yes, for one or two, maybe I did kind of wish bad things for them. You know, like a canker sore or a stubbed toe or something like that. I don’t wish for illness or death or really bad things to happen to them.  

Enemies in the Bible were dealt with differently, as we no doubt have discovered.  And often times, some harsh language was directed at those people who were considered enemies.

On those occasions, we do sometimes come across language in the Bible that we might find a bit—how shall we say—uncomfortable.  The language is often violent.  It is not the language good Christian people normally use. We get a peek at this language in our scriptures readings for today.

Our reading from the Prophet Jeremiah is a bit harsh, shall we say?

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered.”

For many us, as we hear it, it might give us pause. This is not the kind of behavior we have been taught as followers of Jesus.  After all, as followers of Jesus, we’re taught to love and love fully and completely.  We certainly weren’t taught to pray for God to destroy our enemies, to “cut them off from the land of the living.” And not just destroy our enemies, but our enemy’s children (that whole reference to the fruit of the tree).

We have been taught to pray for our enemies, not pray against them.  None of us would ever even think of praying to God to destroy anyone. I hope!

But the fact is, although we find it hard to admit at times, we do actually think and feel this way.  Even if we might not actually say it, we sometimes secretly wish the worse for those people who have wronged us in whatever way. I like to think that, rather than this being completely negative or wrong, that we should, in fact, be honest about it.  

We sometimes get angry at people.  We sometimes don’t like people.  And sometimes WE are the enemy to other people.

And let’s truly be honest, there are sometimes when we might actually just hate people.  It’s a fact of life—not one we want to readily admit to, but it is there.

Sometimes it is very, very hard to love our enemies.  Sometimes it is probably the hardest thing in the world to pray for people who have hurt us or wronged us.

So, what do we do in those moments when we can’t pray for our enemies—when we can’t forgive?  Well, most of us just simply close up.  We turn that anger inward. We put up a wall and we swallow that anger and we let it fester inside us.  Especially those of us who come from good Scandinavian stock.

We simply aren’t the kind of people who wail and complain about our anger or our losses.  We aren’t ones usually who say, like Jeremiah, “let us cut [that person] off from the land of the living!”

I think we may tend to deny it. And I think we even avoid and deny where the cause of that anger comes from.

Certainly, St. James, in his letter this morning, tries to touch on this when talks about these violent “cravings” which are “at war within us.” It’s not pleasant to think that there is warfare within us. For me, as a somewhat reluctant pacifist sometimes, I do not like admitting that there is often warfare raging within me. But it is sometimes.

So, what about that anger in our relationship to God?  What about that anger when it comes to following Jesus?

Well, again, we probably don’t recognize our anger before God nor do we bring it before God.  We, I think, look at our anger as something outside our following of Jesus. And that is where scriptures of this sort come in.  It is in those moments when we don’t bring our anger and our frustrations before God, that we need those verses like the ones we encounter in today’s readings.

When we look at those poets and writers who wrote these scriptures—when we recognize her or him as a Jew in a time of war or famine—we realize that for them, it was natural to bring everything before God.  

Everything.

Not just the good stuff.  Not just the nice stuff.

But that bad stuff too.

And I think this is the best lesson we can learn from these readings than anything else.

We all have a “shadow side,” shall we say.  I preach about this all the time.  We all have a dark side.  We have a war raging within us at times.  And we need to remember that we cannot hide that “shadow side” of ourselves from God.  Let me tell you, if you have war raging inside you, you definitely cannot hide that from God.

Sometimes this dark self, this war, is something no else has ever seen—not even our spouse or partner.  Maybe it is a side of ourselves we might have not even acknowledged to ourselves.  

It is this part of ourselves that fosters anger and pride and lust.  It is this side of ourselves that may be secretly violent or mean or unduly confrontational and  gossipy.  Sometimes it will never make an appearance.  It stays in the shadows and lingers there.

But sometimes it actually does make itself known.  Sometimes it comes plowing into our lives when we neither expect it nor want it.  And with it comes chaos

As much we try to deny it or ignore it or hide it, the fact is; we can’t hide this dark side from God. It’s incredible really when you think about it: that God, who knows even that shadow side of us—that side of us we might not even fully know ourselves—God who knows us even that completely still loves us and is with us.

Few of us lay that shadow self before God.  But the authors and poets of our scriptures this morning do, in fact bring it ALL out before God.  These poets wail and complain to God and lay bare that shadow side of him or herself.  The poet is blatantly honest before God. Or as St. James advises,

“submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to you.”

When these ugly things crop up in our lives, bring them before God. Let us deal with them in humility before God.

The fact is: sometimes we do secretly wish bad things on our enemies.  Sometimes we do wish God would render evil on those who are evil to us.  Sometimes we do hope that God will completely wipe away those people who hurt us from our lives.

It is in those moments, that it is all right to pray to God in such a way.  Because the fact is—as I hope we’ve all learned by now—just because we pray for it doesn’t mean God is going to grant it.  I say this over and over again: God grants all prayer, correct?

But there are three possible answers to prayer.

Yes.

No.

And not yet.

And if you pray for bad things to happen to your enemies, God is probably gonna answer with a big fat “NO.”

But that doesn’t invalidate the prayer.  God knows what to grant in prayer.  And why.

The important thing here is not what we are praying for.  It is not important that in this Psalm we are praying for God to destroy our enemies.

What is important is that, even in our anger, even in our frustration and our pain, we have submitted to God.  We have come before God as this imperfect person.  We have come to God with a long dark shadow trailing us.

I have heard people say that we shouldn’t read these difficult on Sunday morning because they are “bad theology” or “bad psychology.”  They are neither.  They are actually very good and honest theology and very good and honest psychology.  Take what it is hurting you and bothering you and release it.  Let it out before God.  Be honest with God about these bad things.  Even if your anger is directed at God for whatever reason, be honest with God.  Rail and rant and rave at God in your anger if you have to.  Trust me, God can take it.

But, these scriptures teach us as well that once we have done that—once we have opened ourselves completely to God—once we have revealed our shadows to God—then we must turn to God and turn away from that shadow self.

We must, as St. James says, “resist the Devil.”

This past week, I came across this incredible quote:

“Forgive anyone who has caused you pain or harm. Keep in mind that forgiving is not for others. It is for you. Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is remembering without anger. It frees up your power, heals your body, mind and spirit. Forgiveness opens up a pathway to a new place of peace where you can persist despite what has happened to you.”

The key for me in that quote was, “Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is remembering without anger.”

Hatred and anger and pain are things that, in the long run, hurt us and destroy us.  They make us bitter.  And they hinder our relationship with God and with others.

At some point, as we all know, we must grow beyond whatever anger we might have.  We must not get caught in that self-destructive cycle anger can cause.  We must not allow those negative feelings to make us bitter.

So, when we are faced with these difficult scriptures and we come across those verses that might take by alarm, let us recognize in them what they truly are—honest prayers before God Let these scriptures—these lamenting and angry, as well as the joyful, exultant scriptures—be our voice expressing itself before God.  And in the echo of those words, let us hear God speaking to us in turn.

When we do, we will find ourselves in a holy conversation with God.  And, in that holy conversation, we will find that, even despite that shadow side of ourselves, God, who is Light, who is love, accepts us fully and completely for just who we are.




Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dedication Sunday

September 9, 2018

1 Peter 2.1-5,Matthew 21.12-16

+ Ten years ago next Friday—September 14, 2008—I sat down with the congregation of St. Stephen’s to be interviewed to be their new Priest-in-Charge.

Ten years!

It’s hard to believe.

For a moment, let’s go back 10 years. Let’s go back to 2008. On that Sunday back then, St. Stephen’s looked a bit different. This was the days before our stained glass windows, before our current altar rail, before there were frontals on the altar, before there was a Peace Pole or a Memorial Garden.

On that Sunday, for that congregational meeting, we had 25 people in church, which was just above the Average Sunday Attendance of 24. Our church membership on that Sunday was 55 members.  We actually have well over the total membership number then this morning here in church.

At that meeting, I sat down to answer questions about what I would do as Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s. I remember one of the questions I was asked was:

“Do you call before you make a visit or do you just show up?”

I said, “I always call and make an appointment first.” Which seemed to be the right answer.

At the end of the meeting, I then asked the congregation a question. I asked,

“If you agree to have me, what do you want as a congregation? What are your goals?”

There was some very serious thought before someone offered, “We want to grow.”

And someone else added, “We want families.”

And someone else, “And children.”

And I said, “We all can do those things together.”

I must’ve answered correctly because on September 17, 2008, I was called to be the Priest at St. Stephen’s.  I officially began my duties on October 1, 2008.

Well, here I am, ten years later. It has been an incredible ten years for me.

When I think about where we were and compare it to where we are right now—it’s stunning. We have done some great things together in these ten years!  And, let me tell you, it is against the odds—well, depending on whose odds you might be listening to.

As we hear people go on and on about the demise of the Church, about how churches are dying—and some of them are—we have bucked the odds. 

We have grown.

We have flourished.

And we can continue to do so.

We are this strange, quirky, spiritual lightning bolt of a church that continues to draw people.

And for that we are thankful on this Dedication Sunday.

For us, on this Sunday, we take stock of where we have been and where we are going. And we take stock of what it means to be this congregation. And what it means to love God, to love others and to follow Jesus.

In fact, that following Jesus part of it came up this past week.  

Earlier this past week, our very own Annette Morrow, commenting on a little of weird injustice in the larger Church, asked me, in response to this particular injustice:

WWJD?

Which we all know means, What would Jesus do?

Even though it has become a kind of tired slogan, which we find on bracelets and necklaces, it still is an important question to ask ourselves. What WOULD Jesus do in the face of blatant hypocrisy in the Church and the world?  And most people seem to think they know that answer.

For many people, WWJD means turning the other cheek.

It means being compliant (which, I most certainly do not believe, Jesus would be or do).

For some it means, don’t stir the waters.

For some it means respecting those in authority and sitting quietly in our place.

For some it simply means being a peaceful, loving person. Which is very true. That is what J would D.

And before you think that means he was compliant,  I would like to share this. My cousin David shared this with me this past week:



I want to stress emphatically this morning:

WWJD does not mean being compliant. Not at all.

But, my response to Annette was a bit different. My response to Annette was to reference our Gospel reading for today. Because that also is something J would D.

Sometimes, yes, we turn our cheek. And in doing so we are defiant.

Sometimes we take the shirt off our back and give it the one who asks.

But sometimes…sometimes…we turn over tables and drive moneychangers from the Temple. Sometimes we cry out and name the hypocrites and we call them for what they are. We call them “vipers” and we say “no more!” That also is what J would D. And that is what we are called to do sometimes as well.

And that certainly is what have been called to do sometimes here at St. Stephen’s throughout our history. And that is what we will do again and again. Especially when we see injustice and inequality and hypocrisy.

Now some are made uncomfortable by that.

Good!

We should be uncomfortable about that. We should be uncomfortable about our Gospel reading today. It should make us uncomfortable to see someone—Jesus himself—turning over tables and driving people from the Temple.  That is what it means to follow Jesus.

But, at no point, in our following of Jesus, are we mean to simply lie down and take it. At no point in the gospels are we told to do that. And we at St. Stephen’s will not ever do that. Not while I’m here. And not while many of you are here either.

What matters here is what we do and how we do it and why we do it. What matters here is what are we doing to make this world better to make the Kingdom of God more and more of a reality in this world.

It’s important for us on this Dedication Sunday to be reminded of those things that make us a bit different than other congregations.  I don’t mean that in a smug, self-congratulatory way.  Celebrating our growth and all the things God has granted to us does not allow us to be arrogant or full of ourselves. It is a time to be humble and to humbly thank God for these many, wonderful things.      And it is important to examine ourselves in a humble way, a way in which we all find ourselves grateful to God and to each other for bringing us here, to this place, in this time and in this wonderful, holy moment.

As followers of Jesus, we have found something in this congregation that we haven’t necessarily found elsewhere—at least in this particular way.  For us, who call ourselves members of St. Stephen’s, we know that something unique and wonderful is happening here and has been happening for some time—sixty-two years, in fact.  And all we can do in the face of that happening is give thanks God and to continue to do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. And we do those things well.

For example, our radical hospitality to those who come to us.

Our amazing sense of welcoming all people as beloved and accepted children of God within this congregation—no matter who they are or what they are.

Our commitment to service beyond these walls.

Our commitment to the sacraments and to the Word.

Our strong sense that our collective lives as followers of Jesus are centered on the celebration each week of the Holy Eucharist and the hearing of the Word of God in scripture.

These are all things that make us who we are as a congregation here at St. Stephen’s.  And they are things that, together, are, sadly, rare in many churches.  This is why people are finding us.  This is why people seek us out.

God’s Holy Spirit dwells here. I have heard so many people who come in those doors say to me, “Yes, we feel it! We feel that Spirit dwelling here.” That Spirit of God is here, permeating these pews, these walls, these windows, this altar, but most of all, permeating us.

You and me.

Each one of us.

That Spirit is here dwelling within us.

As we all know—as we all strive and continue to work to make the Kingdom of God a reality in our midst—it is not easy to do anything we have done together as a congregation.   It has not been easy to get to this point in our collective lives here at St. Stephen’s.  There have been set-backs.  There have been trip-ups.  There have been frustrations.  But, that’s all part of the journey.

We, as followers of Jesus and more specifically, as members of St. Stephen’s, are called here to be, in the words of St. Peter from our epistle this morning, “living stones.” We are called to be living stones—living stones that can be built into a true spiritual home, a royal priesthood of not just believers but do-ers.  We are called here at St. Stephen’s to proclaim all that God has done for us here and in our lives.  We, as living stones, are called to be building up a new church.  We are, by our very existence, showing that something is about to change.

The Church—capital C—the larger Church—is changing.  That Church that was a close-minded ivory tower of repressive views regarding such issues as misogyny and homophobia and special privilege, is dying rapidly.  And we all know it.  We are all sensing it.  God is letting us know that a Church built on anything other than love and acceptance is not the Church of God.

Essentially that dying Church turned away from the Gospel of Jesus.  That Church turned away from Jesus, who commanded his followers to love and love radically and to accept and accept radically.

We are the prophets to the larger Church.  We are the ones who are saying, THIS is the future of the Church.  We are the living stones building up that new Church.  We are called to be the Church—a Church in which love and acceptance prevail.  We are called to embody God’s love and acceptance. We are called to follow Jesus, even if that means we turn over tables and call out hypocrites.

This is the Church in which Jesus’ message of love and acceptance is held up and lived out.  This is the Church that is striving pave the way for that Kingdom of God in which radical love and full-acceptance reigns, to break through into our midst

It is not easy to do.  It is daunting.  And it is frightening at times.

But those words of St. Peter are ringing in our ears.

We are God’s people.

We are receiving mercy. And we are in turn are sharing that mercy with others.

So, let us be those living stones building up a  new and powerful church.   Let us, on this Dedication Sunday, do what we have been doing for 62 years.  Let us embody that God whom we love.  Let us continue to spread that Gospel of all-encompassing, all-embracing love and acceptance in all we do here.

The future for us is bright.  It is unlimited.  But we have to make it a reality.  We have to strive forward.  We have to labor on.  We have to break down those barriers of hatred, and fear and isolation and marginalization so that God’s Kingdom can bloom in our midst.

We see it happening, here at St. Stephen’s.  We see what the future of St. Stephen’s and the larger Church really is.  We see it when we live into that calling of Jesus.

So, let us be living, breathing, strong stones. That is the future.  And, let me tell you, it is a glorious one!