November 18, 2018
Daniel 12.1-3; Mark 13:1-8
+ Today is, of course, Stewardship Sunday, as you have heard many times already. And yes, it is a time for us to pray about and ponder and seriously consider giving. That is what the “theme” of stewardship Time is.
It is time to give money. It is time to give of our time and talent and selves. And yes, it’s never exciting for us to think about the fact that we need these things.
We do need money. We need people helping out. And we do need people in general. We need the presence of people in our midst.
After all, we do have much to celebrate here. I don’t think any of us—myself included—can fully appreciate what has happened and what is happening here at St. Stephen’s. We are a unique and amazing congregation. There is no getting around that fact. There are not many places quite like St. Stephen’s. We are eclectic.
We are a bit outside the norm.
I often call our congregation the Island of Misfit Toys.
Most of us have come here from other congregations in which we have experienced some hardship or oppression or some very unchristian-like behavior. For most of us, that is why we are here at St. Stephen’s. Many came here because this is a refuge from the difficulties of other religious communities. And I am very grateful today for us being that place. We are also a place in which people are not only welcomed but included because of who they are.
But being a congregation as we are also means we pay a price for being who we are.
Three years ago at this time when we sought Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, when we said, along with the larger Episcopal Church, that all people have a right to the sacraments including Marriage, we seemed to be alienating ourselves in this diocese. We seemed to be at odds with others, as though we were swimming against the stream. I received a fair of criticism personally for our decision at that time.
How dare you! I was told.
What hubris you and St. Stephen’s have!
This is not the right thing to do, I was told.
We need to be loyal to the Diocese.
Why not just roll over and present out tummies like submissive dogs to those in authority? It’s easier that way. And it avoids conflict!
But…look around us now. Now, as we look about us at the Episcopal Church as a whole and see the battles being waged in places like the Diocese of Albany, we realize (as we knew then) that we weren’t the ones in the wrong.
We were never in the wrong.
We were the ones who were always actually in line with the larger Episcopal Church.
And it is more than obvious that we are now very much part of the norm. Which, I have to admit, is strange to even say. For so long we have not been “in the norm.” We have always been out here, on the fringes, slightly of step with those more traditional congregations who are comfortable when things are safe and normal. It’s almost uncomfortable, dare I say, to be in the norm. To be on the inside looking out for once.
But this is who we are and who we always have been. We are the ones always, it seems, on the forefront. Though, as we all know, sometimes being the ones who are in the forefront of the battle is not a pleasant place to be. Guess who gets shot at first?
Being the mavericks, being the rebels, being the prophets means that we are going to be ostracized. We are going to be mistreated. We are going to shunned and rejected. Even by our friends, by our colleagues, by our fellow followers of Jesus. It shouldn’t be that way. But, sometimes, it just is.
And we have known that here at St. Stephen’s. We have felt that for a long time. Often we have felt that we are alone in our battles. But, we knew, in our core, that were only leading the way, and sometimes doing so means it takes a while for others to catch up.
In that interval, it can be lonely. But we knew. We saw. We believed.
I have asked you many times over the years to trust. Trust me. Trust our leadership. And you know what? You really have. And you can see that we were not led down the wrong path. We were following the right path all along.
In our reading from the book of Daniel we hear,
“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, who those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
We, this congregation, are wise and we have led the way.
This is where we are on this Stewardship Sunday in 2018. When anyone asks me what the “secret” of our success at St. Stephen’s is, I always say, two things.
First, the Holy Spirit. We do need to give credit where credit is due. Without God’s Spirit at work here among us, we would not be where we are and doing what we’re doing.
And second, it is because we welcome and accept radically and we love radically. Now, there are a lot of churches that are “welcoming.” I actually don’t know of very many churches that aren’t “welcoming” in some way. But it’s not enough just to welcome. We must take it one step further. In welcoming, we must include. We must be without judgement in our welcoming and in our including.
This is not rocket science. This is not quantum physics. This is basic Christianity that we are doing here at St. Stephen’s. Basic Christianity, as we live it out here at St. Stephen’s, is nothing more than following Jesus in his commandment to love God and love one another as we love ourselves.
To love God.
And to love others.
Love here means what? It means LOVE. It means treating people well. It means respecting one another. It means not treating some people differently than others just because they are not like us. It’s just that.
It is a matter of living out our Baptismal Covenant. It is a matter of saying that all people deserve the rites of this Church fully and completely.
It is a matter of LOVE.
I know. I preach it all the time. And you’re probably sick of hearing me preaching about love all the time. But…you know what? That’s tough. I’m not gonna stop preaching about love. Because it DOES make a difference.
To love—fully and completely.
To love—radically and inclusively.
I personally don’t see that as all that radical. I see that being as fairly basic.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”
These words of Jesus are especially poignant for us on this particular Sunday, in this chaotic time in which we life, in which there are such deep and real divisions between us. There truly are wars and rumors of wars in this world and in our very lives this morning. Wars here does not only mean battles with guns and missiles. War here means war with our family and friends and fellow believers. War means all those conflicts we are having to endure in our own lives as well..
Jesus uses a very interesting description of these fears and pains—images of war and their rumors. He calls them “birth pangs.”
And I think “pang” is the right word to be using here, for us at this moment.
Yes, it may be painful to be going through what we may be going through as a congregation when we standup for what we believe is right.
It might be frightening when we as individuals stand up for what is right. It may be painful when we are at conflict with those around us. It may be frightening. The future may seem at times bleak. But it is not war. And it is not death throes. It is merely the birth pangs of our continued growth.
Yes, there will be wars and rumors of wars. Yes, there will be moments when church leaders and church attendees will say and do hurtful, war-like things or by their silence perpetuate hurtful, war-like things. There will be moments when even our congregation may go through lean times, when it seems like no cars about what we are doing, when people think we are too extreme and too “out there.” There may be times when people just simply want to avoid that Island of Misfit Toys.
But the words we cling to—that we hold on to and find our strength in to bear those pangs—is in the words “do not be alarmed.”
Do not be alarmed. There is a calmness to Jesus’ words. This is all part of our birth into new life, he is explaining to us. Because in the end, God will always triumph. And God always provides!
If we place our trust—our confidence—in God, we will be all right. Yes, we will suffer birth pangs, but look what comes after them. It is a loving and gracious God who calms our fears amidst calamity and rumors of calamity. Our job is simply to live as fully as we can. Our job is to simply do what we’ve always been doing here at St. Stephen’s. To welcome, to accept, to love. To not judge.
We have this moment. This holy moment was given to us by our loving and gracious God.
This Stewardship Sunday is about us doing our part as a congregation that does the things St. Stephen’s does. Yes, it means giving money to this congregation—it is about something as simple as tithing—of giving that 10% That is important.
It also means giving of our time and energy.
On Stewardship Sunday, we are being asked to serve as well. To serve in love. To serve fully as Jesus calls us to serve and love.
So, let us, on this Stewardship Sunday, continue to do what we’ve been doing. Let us welcome radically and love radically. Let us give of ourselves fully, so that we can serve fully. Let us, in our following of Jesus, continue to strive to be a powerful and visible conduit of the Kingdom of God in our midst. It’s already happening.
In our midst.
It is truly a time in which to be grateful and joyous.
Let us pray
Lord God, surround us with your love. Be present in this congregation of St. Stephen’s as you have been since our beginning. Let us know your presence among us—in the sacrament, in your Word and in those who have gathered here in your name. Let your Spirit be present with us and in all we do. Open our hearts and our minds to the goodness you are doing here through us. And let us respond appropriately. Bless St. Stephen’s with abundance and with the resources needed to do the ministries we do here. Let us, in turn, do good. Let peace reign here with us, even as wars and rumors of wars rage about us. And let your words of assurance to us to not be alarmed calm our hearts and souls so that we can do what you have called us to do. In the name of Jesus your Son, we pray in confidence.