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.   


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