Sunday, September 29, 2019

16 Pentecost


September 29, 2019

Luke 16.19-31


+ I know this might reveal my bizarre side. (We all have a bizarre side, after all) But…I love the parable we heard today. I think I might be one of the very few people who do actually love it. For some, it’s just so weird and…well, bizarre. And it is. But…there’s just so much good stuff, right under the surface of it.

In it, we find Lazarus.  Now, if you notice,  it’s the only time in Jesus’ parables that we find someone given a name—and the name, nonetheless, of one of Jesus’ dearest friends.  In most of Jesus’ parables, the main character is simply referred to as the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.  But here we have Lazarus.  And the name actually carries some meaning.  It means “God has helped me.”

Now the “rich man” in this story is not given a name by Jesus, but tradition has given him the name Dives, or “Rich Man”

Between these two characters we see such a juxtaposition.  We have the worldly man who loves his possessions and is defined by what we owns.  And we have Lazarus, who seems to get sicker and is hungry all the time.

In fact, his name almost seems like a cruel joke.  It doesn’t seem like God has helped Lazarus at all.

The Rich Man sees Lazarus, is aware of Lazarus, but despite his wealth, despite all he has, despite, even his apparent happiness in his life, he can not even deign to give to poor Lazarus a scrap of food from all that he has.

Traditionally of course, we have seen them as a very fat Rich Man, in fine clothing and a haughty look and a skinny, wasted Lazarus, covered in sores, which I think must be fairly accurate to what Jesus hoped to convey.  They are opposite, mirror images of each other.  

But there are some subtle undercurrents to this story.  Lazarus is not without friends or mercy in his life. In fact, it seems that maybe God really IS helping him.  He is not quite the destitute person we think he is.

First of all, we find him laid out by the Rich Man’s gate.  Someone must’ve put him there, in hopes that Rich Man would help him. Someone cared for Lazarus, and that’s important to remember.

Second of all, we find these dogs who came to lick his sores.  The presence of dogs is an interesting one. Are they just wild dogs that roam the streets, or are they the Rich Man’s watch dogs? New Testament theologian Kenneth Bailey has mentioned that dog saliva was believed by people at this time to have curative powers. (We now know that is definitely NOT the case)   So, even the dogs are not necessarily a curse upon Lazarus but a possible blessing in disguise.

Finally, when Lazarus dies, God receives him into paradise. In fact, as we hear, “angels carried him to be with Abraham.”

The Rich Man dies and goes to Hades—or the underworld.  Lazarus goes up, Dives goes down.

While in paradise, while the Rich Man, in the throes of his torment, cries out to him, Lazarus, if you notice, doesn’t ignore him or turn his back on him, despite the fact that the Rich Man did just that to Lazarus.

Lazarus does not even scold him.  It almost seems that Lazarus might almost be willing to go back and tell the Rich Man’s friends if only the gulf between them was not so wide.

There really is a beauty to this story and a lesson for us that is more than just the bad man gets punished while the good man gets rewarded.

But even more so, what we find is that, by the world’s standards, by the standards of those who are defined by the material aspects of this life, Lazarus was the loser before he died and the Rich Man was the winner, even despite his callousness.

And the same could be said of us as well.  It might seem, at moments, as though we are being punished by the things that happen to us.  It is too easy to pound our chests and throw dirt and ashes in the air and to cry out in despair and curse God when bad things happen.  

It is much harder to recognize that while we are there, at the gate outside the Rich Man’s house, lying in the dirt, covered in sores, that there are people who care, that there are gentle, soothing signs of affection, even from dogs.  And it is hard sometimes to see that God too cares.

To return for a moment to the beginning of our sermon and my bizarreness. Last Sunday our very own Jessica and John Anderson went out to visit the newly dedicated Fargo National Cemetery near Harwood. Well, right next door to the new VA Cemetery is Maple Sheyenne Lutheran Cemetery. As many of you know, my family plot is in that cemetery, and it is there that my parents’ ashes lie buried.

Jessica sent me a photo of my own grave while she was there. Yes, as many of you
know, I do have my gravestone made up.  It’s actually the backside of my parents’ gravestone. And it even has a Celtic cross on it. I’m kind of proud of the fact that among all those Swedish Lutherans, there is a Celtic cross on my stone.

But what people who see my gravestone take note of is the epitaph I chose for myself.  It’s actually the final line of a poem I wrote toward the end of my “cancer experience” which felt to me very much like a Lazarus experience.

The poem was written as my father and I were driving to Minot on a particularly cold night in October 2002 shortly after the first snow fall of the year.  We were driving up there for my final interview with the Commission on Ministry before I was ordained to the Diaconate.  As we neared the city and came up over a hill, I could see the city laid out below us.  Above us, the sky had cleared after a particularly gray and gloomy day.  When the clouds had cleared, we could see the stars, which, on that cold night, looked especially crisp and clear.  And in that moment, after all that I had went through with my cancer, I suddenly knew for the first time, that, somehow, everything was going to be fine.   At the end of that poem, I wrote what would become the epitaph on my stone. I wrote in that poem, “Dusk” (I’m not going to inflict the whole poem on you, but it’s in my book, Just Once, which I’m giving away for free):

“…I look up into the sky
and see it—a transformation
so subtle I almost didn’t notice it
as I sit there trembling
behind the tinted windshield.
I say to myself
‘Look! Just look!

Look how the dusk—
full of clouds and gloom—
has dissolved into
multitudes of stars!’”

My epitaph is just that:

Look how the dusk—
full of clouds and gloom—
has dissolved into
multitudes of stars!’”

To some extent, that’s what it’s like to be a Christian.  To some extent, that’s what it’s like: when we think the darkness and the gloom has encroached and has won out, we can look up and see those bright sparks of light and know, somehow, that it’s all going to be all right.

Paradise awaits us.

It is there, just beyond those stars.

That place to which Lazarus was taken by angels awaits us and, for those of us striving and struggling through this life, we can truly cling to that hope.

For those of us still struggling, we can set our eyes on the prize, so to speak and move forward.  We can work toward that place, rather than “diving” like Dives himself, into the pit of destruction he essentially created for himself.

In a real sense, the Rich Man was weighed down by his wealth, especially when he refused to share it, and he ended up wallowing in the mire of his own close-mindedness and self-centeredness.

What happens to this Rich Man? Well, the chickens came home to roost. The rich man, full of hubris and pride, full of arrogance and selfishness and self-centeredness. The rich man, who did not care for the poor, who ignored the needy, who cared only for himself, The rich man who boasted and blew smoke and walked around with his puffed-out chest, The rich man fell, as all such people we find will fall.

Scripture again and again tells us such people will fall. History again and again tells us such people will fall.

The chickens ALWAYS come home to roost.

Let us not be like the rich man.  Let us not follow that slippery, dangerous slope to destruction.

But for those of us who, in the midst of our struggles, can still find those glimmers of light in the midst of the gloom, we are not weighed down.  We are freed in ways we never knew we could be.  We are lifted up and given true freedom.

We are Lazarus.

God truly has helped us.

And we see it most when we recognize those multitudes of light shining brightly in the occasional gloom of our lives.




Sunday, September 22, 2019

15 Pentecost


September 22, 2019

Amos 8.4-7;1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13

+ Today of course is one of those wonderful days. We get to celebrate. We celebrate our new bell tower. We celebrate our new bell—Hildegard. And we get to celebrate Hildegard too.

Here she is—this is her icon, which belongs to Sandy Holbrook. First, about our bell.

Over the past several months, we have heard a lot about our bell. A LOT. Maybe too much (but that’s all right). After all, this is not some frivolous thing we are adding to our church. It is not decoration or some “busy” thing. It is not. Nor is our altar. Not are our stations. Nor is anything else we use for sacred worship. To term these as “busy” is to demean authentic and traditional ways of giving glory to God.   

A bell in a church is a truly holy and beautiful addition.  This bell will be rung joyfully before out Masses and our worship services. It will be rung in celebration after marriages here. It will be tolled solemnly at the burial of our loved ones. And us.

In the Eastern Orthodox church bells are consider “aural (as in audible) ikons.” I like that image very much. What the icon, like this one of St. Hildegard, is to our eyes, so the bell is to our hearing.  So, in a sense, the bell is a singing icon.  It is allows us to glimpse in a very clear and tangible way the holy and mysterious that exists just on the other side of the veil that separates us from God and those who dwell with God.  

And it is no coincidence that the service we just did of blessing, anointing and naming the bell is very similar to the baptismal service.  That, also, is a very Orthodox tradition.

I recently read this account of bells in Russia.

“Up until the Soviet period Moscow was famous for its thousands of bells whose sounds reverberated across the city and far into the country. The Soviets were quite serious in their destruction of church bells and bell ringing was forbidden by law. Thousands of tons of sanctified and chrismated…church bells were destroyed and melted into industrial materials including weapons of war, the reverse of turning swords into plough shears.” http://www.pravmir.com/bells-as-an-orthodox-experience/

Whenever we are tempted to roll our eyes at the ringing of our bell, or whenever we forget the importance of bells in the church and the sound of bells before worship, remember the Christians in Russia for whom these very same issues were seen as threatening to those in authority. May we acknowledge our “singing icon” this bell, Hildegard, is a defiant force in the often defiant presence that is St. Stephen’s.

Just as St. Hildegard herself was a defiant force.   

Now, as you read in the newsletter and have heard me talk about incessantly since, it has long been a Christian tradition to name a bell after a saint. In England, they have named bells after saints since early Christianity. And it very much an Anglican tradition to do. As my seminary, Nashotah House, the bell in the middle of campus which rings the Angelus and calls to prayer is called “Michael” after St. Michael the Archangel.

Well, our new bell, given to us graciously by Dinah Stephens in memory of her children Jada and Scott and her mother Marian, is named, very appropriately Hildegard, after the great St. Hildegard of Bingen. (Or, as Michael Eklund said, “Hildegard of Ringin’”)

St. Hildegard was a German Benedictine nun, a mystic. She was also a great musician, which is also another reason why she is the namesake for our bell.

But the real reasons she was chosen as the patron saint of our bell is because she was quite the force to be reckoned with. And let me tell you, St. Hildegard would’ve loved St. Stephen’s and all it stands for. She would fit in very well here.  Though, to be honest, we probably would’ve gotten a bit frustrated with her at times.

At a time when women were not expected to speak out, to challenge, to stand up—well, Hildegard most definitely did that. She was an Abbess, she was in charge of a large monastery of women, and as such she held a lot of authority. An abbess essentially had as much authority in her monastery as a Bishop had in his diocese.  She even was able to have a crosier—the curved shepherd’s crook—that is normally reserved for a bishop.

And she definitely put Bishops and kings in their place. There is a very famous story that when the emperor, Fredrick Barbarossa supported three of the anti-popes who were ruling in Avignon at that time, she wrote him a letter.

My dear Emperor,

You must take care of how you act.
I see you are acting like a child!!
You live an insane, absurd life before God.
There is still time, before your judgment comes.

Yours truly,
Hildegard.

That is quite the amazing thing for a woman to have done in her day. Even more amazing is that the emperor heeded her letter.  And as a result of that letter, she was invited by the Emperor to hold court in his palace.

By “judgement” here, Hildegard is making one thing clear in her letter. There are consequences to our actions. And God is paying attention.

For us, we could say it in a different way. If you know me for any period of time, you will hear me say one phrase over and over again, at least regarding our actions.  That phrase is  

“The chickens always come home to roost.”

And it’s true.

One of the things so many of us have had to deal with in our lives are people who have not treated us well, who have been horrible to us, who have betrayed us and turned against us.  It’s happened to me, and I know it’s happened to many of you. It is one of the hardest things to have to deal with, especially when it is someone we cared for or loved or respected.  In those instances, let’s face it, sometimes it’s very true.

“The chickens do come home to roost.” 

Or at least, we hope they do.

Essentially what this means is that what goes around, comes around.

We reap what we sow.

There are consequences to our actions.

And I believe that to be very true.

And not just for others, who do those things to us. But for us, as well. When we do something bad, when we treat others badly, when gossip about people, or trash people behind their backs, who disrespect people in any way, we think those things don’t hurt anything. And maybe that’s true. Maybe it will never hurt them. Maybe it will never get back to them.

But, we realize, it always, always hurts us. And when we throw negative things out there, we often have to deal with the unpleasant consequences of those actions. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But there is also a flip side to that. And there is a kind of weird, cosmic justice at work.

Now, for us followers of Jesus, such concepts of “karma” might not make as much sense. But today, we get a sense, in our scriptures readings, of a kind of, dare I say, Christian karma.

Jesus’ comments in today’s Gospel are very difficult for us to wrap our minds around.  But probably the words that speak most clearly to us are those words,

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful in much.”

Essentially, Jesus is telling us this simple fact: what you do matters.  There are consequences to our actions. There are consequences in this world.  And there are consequences in our relation to God.

How we treat each other as followers of Jesus and how we treat others who might not be followers of Jesus. How we treat people who might not have the same color skin as we do, or who are a different gender than us, or how we treat someone who are a different sexual orientation from our own.  What we do to those people who are different than us matters.

It matters to them. And, let me tell you, it definitely matters to God.

We have few options, as followers of Jesus, when it comes to being faithful.

We must be faithful.  Faithful yes in a little way that brings about great faithfulness. So, logic would tell us, any increase of faithfulness will bring about even greater faithfulness.

Faithfulness in this sense means being righteous.  And righteousness means being right before God.

Jesus is saying to us that the consequences are the same if we choose the right path or the wrong path.  A little bit of right, will reap much right.  But  a little bit of wrong, reaps much wrong.

Jesus is not walking that wrong path, and if we are his followers, then we are not following him when we step onto that wrong path.   Wrongfulness is not our purpose as followers of Jesus.  We cannot follow Jesus and willfully—mindfully—practice wrongfulness.  If we do, let me tell you, the chickens come home to roost.

We must strive—again and again—in being faithful.

Faithful to God.

Faithful to one another.

Faithful to those who need us.

Faithful to those who need someone.

Being faithful takes work.

When we see wrong—and we all do see wrong—we see it around us all the time—our job in cultivating faithfulness means counteracting wrongfulness.  If there are actions and reactions to things, our reaction to wrongfulness should be faithfulness and righteousness.

Now that seems hard.  And, you know what, it is.  But it is NOT impossible.   What we do, does matter. It matters to us. And it matters to God. We must strive to be good.  

Look, Hildegard is waving her finger at us. She is saying to us, “Do good! God is watching!”

Those good actions are actions each of us as followers of Jesus are also called to cultivate and live into.

As Christians, we are called to not only to ignore or avoid wrongfulness.  We are called to confront it and to counter it.  Hildegard did it when she wrote Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.  And we too should do it.  We are called to offer faithfulness in the face of wrongfulness.

So, let us do just that in all aspects of our lives.  

Let us be, like our bell, Hildegard, an “aural icon,” a loud, noisy icon, drowning out the forces of wrongfulness in this world.

Let us offer kindness and generosity and hope and truth and forgiveness and  joy and love and goodness, again and again and again whenever we are confronted with all those forces of wrongfulness.  

Let us offer light in the face of darkness.  

Let us strive, again and again, to do good, even in small ways.

For in doing so, we will be faithful in much.

“For surely I will not forget any of their deeds,” God says in our reading from Amos today.

What we do matters. God does not forget the good we do in this world. We should rejoice in that fact.

God does not forget the good we do.   What we do makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

So let us, as faithful followers of Jesus, strive, always to truly “lead a…peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”






Sunday, September 15, 2019

14 Pentecost


Sept. 15, 2019

Luke 15.1-10

+ As most of you know, we have a Wednesday night Mass here at St. Stephen’s at 6:00 pm. For most of those Masses, we usually commemorate a particular saint, or some Christian personage or event.  

We especially commemorate saints of the Episcopal Church. (Yes, there are saints in the Episcopal Church.)

One of those of events we sometimes commemorate is a particular year.
And this morning, we are going to go back to one of those momentous years. We are going back 56 years. We are going to back to 1963.

1963 was a very momentous year. Many, many life-altering events happened in the 1963.

In June of that year, there was the death of Pope John XXIII, who was, of course, very much a pioneer in advocating ecumenical relationships between different Christian denominations.

On August 27, 1963 the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

And today was also a very important day in 1963.  In 1963, September 15 was also a Sunday.

On that Sunday morning, at 10:22 am, 26 Sunday School students were filing down to the basement assembly room of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to hear a sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives.”

In a dressing of the same basement, four girls-- Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all aged 14 and Denise McNair, aged 11, were changing into their choir robes. At that moment—10:22 a.m.— a box of dynamite with a time delay planted  under the steps of the church, near the basement, by four Ku Klux Klan members, exploded. Twenty-two people were injured.  And those four girls in the dressing room were killed when the basement wall fell on them.

Every window in the church was blown out by the blast except one—a stained glass window of Jesus welcoming the little children.

I think it also especially appropriate that yesterday we commemorated the Feast of the Holy Cross. On that day we commemorate the  actual Cross on which Jesus died.

As many of you know, it was nine years ago yesterday that my father died, very suddenly, very expectantly. Many of you have walked with me through these nine very difficult years.  And I am very thankful for the support and the care during that time.

Events like these—like the events of 56 years, like the event for me nine years ago—  drive home for me the fact that the cross is ultimately a symbol of victory.

Yes,  for it to be a symbol of victory, there has to be, sadly, some sense of defeat. There has to be some sense that something was lost. And that in the face of defeat, in the face of loss, in the face of ruin, in the ace of failure, in the face even of death, a victory can still be won.

For us, as followers of Jesus, we are people of the Cross. There’s no way around that fact. We are people of the Cross.  We are people who were not promised a sweet, burden-free lives.

Nowhere in scripture, in our liturgies, in our prayer book, are we promised a life without pain, without trouble, without sorrow. Nowhere are we told we do not have to take up our crosses.  But what we are promised consistently, as followers of Jesus, is ultimate victory.

What we are promised again and again is that suffering and pain and death and tears will all one day end. One day, even the Cross will be defeated.

But life—life in our God of life and love—will never end.  And that even in the face of what seems like defeat and loss, there really is ultimately  victory. For those people affected by that bombing fifty-six years ago this morning, there seemed no victory.

Four little girls lost to hatred and fear seemed like ultimate defeat. But fifty-six years later, we can say that those lives were not lost in vain. Yes, fifty-six years later, we are still dealing with the KKK again, we are still dealing with white supremacists and Nazis and fascists, but we are also here, remembering those girls and we can realize now that those deaths changed things.

People who never really thought about what was happening in this country, in the South, starting thinking about those issues. And people started working to change things. The following July—on July 2, 1964—President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ensuring equal rights of African Americans.

For those who followed Jesus, who betrayed him and saw him killed on that cross, they no doubt saw that death as the ultimate defeat. But here we are, followers of Jesus, today, this morning, giving thanks for the life he has given to all of us on the other side of that cross.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, we find the Pharisees and the scribes thinking Jesus and his followers were foolish. Drinking and eating with sinners seemed like folly. It seemed demeaning and uncouth.

But, by doing so, Jesus showed that sin was not a reason to despair, to beat ourselves up. Even what seems like defeat—a sinner lost to sin—can be a victory when sin is defeated, when wrongs are made right  and relationships are restored.

Our lives as followers of Jesus are a series of failure and victories. We stumble, we fall, we get up and we go forward. That is what our Christian journey is.  Our lives as Christians are filled with moments when it seems that the darkest night will never give way to the dawn.

But Jesus shows us that this dawn is the reality; this is what is real.  That there can be no ultimate defeats in him. Not even death—probably the thing we all fear the most—not even death has ultimate victory over us.

I can tell you that on this morning, when I am still feeling emotionally raw now still nine years after my father’s death, this belief, this reality that Jesus promises us of an end to death (which my father believed), is my ultimate joy. It upholds me and keeps me going. And it should for all of us as well.

Bad things happen.  Horrible, terrible things happen. Yes, there are the KKK and white supremacists and Nazis and hate-mongers marching proudly lately in a way they haven’t in a long time.  But this is not defeat. This is not the end. This is not the period to the sentence of our lives.

As students of history, we know how their stories will end. We know that the KKK and Nazis and fascists and hate-mongers are on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of God.

As followers of Jesus, we are told, again and again, rejoice.  Rejoice in the face of failure and defeat.

To rejoice in the face of defeat is a defiant act. It is an act of rebellion against those dark forces. It is an act of rebellion against white supremacists and Nazis and fascists and hate-mongers.  It is an act of rebellion against the power of failure, of loss, of pain.

So, let us do just that. Let us rejoice.  Let us stand up against those moments in which we have been driven to ground and are left weak and beaten. Let us stand up from them, defiant, confident in the One we follow. Let us stand, when our legs are weak from pain and loss, when our hearts are heavy within us, when we are bleeding in pain and our eyes are filled with tears.  Let us stand up when the forces of evil and hatred and death seemed to have won out.  And when we do, when we rise from those ashes, when we rise above that darkness and stand in that brilliant light, it is then—in that glorious moment—when we will truly and fully live.



Sunday, September 8, 2019

Dedication Sunday


September 8, 2019

1 Kings 8:22-23,27b-30; 

+ This past week, has been an exciting week for us here at St. Stephen’s. Yes, the tower arrived! And, yes, it looks great! See. I told you it would.

Also, today, we are celebrating our Dedication Sunday. We are commemorating 63 years of service to God and others.

We are starting up Children’s Chapel again.

We are blessing backpacks.

And we are blessing this new set of new green paraments and vestments that Jean Sando made.

It’s all very exciting.

And I especially love our scripture readings for today. I love all this talk of a building being God’s house. I think we sometimes forget that fact.

We forget that this is God’s house. God, in a very unique ways, dwells with us here. But this is Sunday is more than all these physical things.  It is about more than just a building, and walls, and a steel tower and vestments and paraments.

It about us being the House of God. It is about us being the tabernacles in which God dwells.  It is about us and our service to God and others.

And you know what it’s really all about.  It is about LOVE.   Yup, it’s gonna be another love sermon.

Years ago, I read an amazing biography of the American poet Denise Levertov, I came across this wonderful quote, from another poet, St. John the Cross:

“In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on love alone.”

Later I heard a friend of mine comment on that quote by saying

 “we will be judged BY love alone.”

I love that!  That quote has been haunting me for years. And it certainly has been striking me to my core in these days leading up to our Dedication Sunday celebration.

If this congregation could have a motto for itself, it would be this.

“In the evening of our lives, we will be judged by love alone.”

Because this, throughout all of our 63 year history, is what we are known for at St. Stephen’s.

Love.

We are known for the fact that we know, by our words, by our actions, by our faith in God and one another, that it is love that makes the difference. And by love we will, ultimately, be judged.  That’s what the Church—that larger Church—capital “C” Church— should be. But sometimes we forget what the Church should be.

This morning, there are many people here who have been wounded by that Church—the larger Church. I stand before you, having been hurt be the larger Church on more than one occasion. And for those of us who are here, with our wounds still bleeding, it is not an easy thing to keep coming back to church sometimes.

It is not any easy thing to be a part of that Church again. It is not an easy thing to call one’s self a Christian again, especially now when it seems so many people have essentially high jacked that name and made it into something ugly and terrible.  And, speaking for myself, it’s not easy to be a priest—a uniform-wearing representative of that human-run organization that so often forgets about love being its main purpose.

But, we, here at St. Stephen’s, are obviously doing something right, to make better the wrongs that may have been done on a larger scale.  We, at St. Stephen’s, (I hope) have done a good job I think over these last 63 years of striving to be a positive example of the wider Church and of service to Christ who, according to Peter’s letter this morning, truly is a “living stone”—the solid foundation from which we grow. We have truly become a place of love, of radical acceptance.  As God intends the Church to be.

In these last 63 years, this congregation has done some amazing things. It has been first and foremost in the acceptance of women in leadership, when women weren’t in leadership.

It was first and foremost in the acceptance of LGBTQ people, when few churches would acknowledge them, much less welcome them and fully include them.  

Certainly in the last few years,  certainly St. Stephen’s has done something not many Episcopal Churches are doing.

It has grown. A LOT!  And that alone is something we should be very grateful to God for on this Dedication Sunday.

On October 1, I will be commemorating eleven years as your priest here at St. Stephen’s. I can tell you, they have been the most incredible eleven years of my life.  Personally, they have been, of course, some very, very hard years. As a priest, they have been years in which I have seen God at work in ways I never have before.

 Seeing all this we need to give the credit where the credit is truly due:

The Holy Spirit.

Here.

Among us.

Growth of this kind can truly be a cause for us to celebrate that Spirit’s Presence among us.  It can help us to realize that this is truly the place in which God’s dwells.

In our reading from First Kings today, we hear Solomon echoing God’s words, 

“My name shall be there.”

God’s Name dwells here.

As we look around, we too realize that this is truly the home of O God. We too are able to exclaim, God’s name dwells here!

And, as I said at the beginning of my sermon, by “the home of God”  I don’t mean just this building. After all—God is truly here, with us, in all that we do together. The name of God is proclaimed in the ministries we do here. In the outreach we do. In the witness we make in the community of Farg0-Moorhead and in the wider Church.

God is here, with us. God is working through us and in us.  Sometimes, when we are in the midst of it all, when we are doing the work, we sometimes miss that perspective. 

We miss that sense of holiness and renewal and life that comes bubbling up from a healthy and vital congregation working together. We miss the fact that God truly is here.

So, it is good to stop and listen for a moment.

It is good to reorient ourselves.

It is good to refocus and see what ways we can move forward together.

It is good to look around and see how God is working through us.

In a few moments, we will recognize and give thanks for now only our new members but for all our members and the many ministries of this church.
Many of the ministries that happen here at St. Stephen’s go on clandestinely. They go on behind the scenes, in ways most of us (with exception of God) don’t even see and recognize. But that is how God works as well. God works oftentimes clandestinely, through us and around us.

This morning, however, we are seeing very clearly the ways in which God works not so clandestinely.

We see it in the growth of St. Stephen’s.

We see it in the vitality here.

We see it in the love here.

We see it in the tangible things, in our altar, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in our scripture readings, in our windows, in the smell of incense in the air, in our service toward each other. In US.

But behind all these incredible things happening now, God has also worked slowly and deliberately and seemingly clandestinely throughout the years. And for all of this—the past, the present and the future—we are truly thankful.

God truly is in this place. This is truly the house of God.

WE truly are the house of God.

This is the place in which love is proclaimed and acted out.

So, let us rejoice. Let us rejoice in where we have been. Let us rejoice in where we are. Let us rejoice in where we are going.

And, in our rejoicing, let us truly be God’s own people. Let us be God’s people in order that we might proclaim, in love, the mighty and merciful acts of Christ, the living and unmovable stone, on whom we find our security and our foundation.