November 17, 2019
Malachi 4.1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19
+ Today, of course, is Stewardship Sunday. Today is the day in which we are asked to take a good, hard look at ourselves. At who we are as this strange, unique, eclectic, eccentric congregation in a hidden, out-of-the-way back corner of Fargo.
Stewardship time is a time for the mirror to be set up and to look. And to realize that we are unique, and eccentric and eclectic.
And…making a difference in the Church, in this world and in our community.
Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of churches out there quite like St. Stephen’s.
We are an amazing place! I think we can say that.
And Stewardship is a time to say one important thing:
Thank you, O God, for leading us here.
Thank you, O God, for what you have done here.
Thank you, O God, for your goodness to us here.
Thank you, O God, for the refuge that we are to people who need a refuge.
Sometimes when we’re in the midst of it all, we don’t realize how amazing these things are. Sometimes we take it all for granted.
But let’s not do that. Let’s not take for granted what has been happening here.
It’s also not a time for us to become complacent. There is still work to do. There is still so much more ministry to do.
What’s even more amazing is that you—the congregation, the ministers of St. Stephen’s—you have truly all stepped up to the plate. You are doing the ministries here. You are the faces, the lives, the real heart of St. Stephen’s. You have taken this Stewardship time seriously. You have taken your “thank you” very seriously.
You have given of yourselves, of your time, of your talents, of your finances, of your very presence this past year. And that is amazing.
And we ask you to do so again this coming year once again.
As we look around at St. Stephen’s, I don’t think we fully realize what has been happening here. But also we need to know that we are more than these walls, than these pews, than these windows, than this tower and bell, than this building.
If we think following Jesus means safely ensconcing ourselves in this church building—and I seriously doubt anyone here this morning thinks that—then we are not really following Jesus.
As we, who are members of St Stephen’s know, following Jesus, means following him out there—out in the field, out on the battlefield.
It means being out there, being a presence out there, being a radical presence out there. It means shaking things up. It means speaking out—respectfully and in love. It means being an example of a follower of Jesus in all we do outside these walls, as well as within. It means giving people a new vision of what the Church really can be.
Although I scoff—and scoff loudly—at the prophets of doom, I can echo to some extent what they are saying.
What we are seeing is the death of the old Church. That Church we all knew 20 years, 30 years ago, fifty years—that Church is dying. And, in many ways, you know what? it should be dying.
That Church that prided itself on its privileged attitude—that Church that believed that all one had to do was come to a building on Sunday morning, and give a bit of money here and there and feel content in doing so, and that was all, without having DO anything—that Church is dying.
That Church that alienated and marginalized women, and LGBTQ+ people and divorced people and anyone else who was not “in”—that Church is almost dead.
That Church that used its position in the world to side with the powerful against the weak and the poor, to condemn and to hurt and to maim—that Church is in its death throes.
And the Church that we, at St. Stephen’s, are—this is the Church of the future.
And I’m sure there are many people out there frightened by that!
We are a Church that finds it vitality and its strength and its purpose and its meaning in its worship of God, in its love of others, in being radical, in being welcoming, in being out there in the midst of it all—that is the Church that is being resurrected from the ashes of the old church.
Just this past Wednesday a young friend of mine came to St. Stephen’s for the first time. He is a college student and musician. And afterward, he told me how amazed he was by our Wednesday night Mass—by that simple Mass and all that incense.
“The respect and dignity you all have in worship and for the Sacrament—that’s amazing. And rare. What you do in the Mass is just different than most churches. And it’s wonderful.”
Remember what Bishop Keith said last Sunday: young people are really looking for true and meaningful worship of a true and living God.
We definitely do that here! We need to be a church that is alive and breathing and moving and changing.
Of course, because it is, our job has doubled. Of course we will continue on as we always have, doing what we’ve always done.
But we will also now have to help bury that old Church. We will have to sing the Requiem for that old Church. We will now have to be the new face, the new attitude to those people who have been hurt or alienated by that old dying Church.
And there are plenty out there.
One of the areas we have really concentrated on in these last years is being a safe place for former Roman Catholics. More half of our church growth here is from the Roman Catholic Church. Remember last Sunday when I asked people who came from the Roman Catholic to raise their hands. It was a sea of hands!
But not just Roman Catholics. There have been people who have been alienated and snubbed by Protestant churches as well. And we have provided a safe—and holy—place for them as well.
And, of course, we always continue to be a safe refuge for LGBTQ+ people who have definitely been on the receiving end of the Church’s abuses over the years.
There are plenty here this morning that have been hurt by the Church. Which is why we are here! We will have to help people change their attitudes about the Church. That mantle is falling upon each of us. And as it does, we realize that the words of this morning’s Gospel are made real in our lives.
To be that new, resurrected Church, we will have to face persecution. We will face people who do not want us—us radicals, us loud-mouths, those of us who make them uncomfortable—they do not want us being that new Church. We will face those people who are angry and uncomfortable over the fact that the old Church is dying.
Bishop Keith last week told us some hard words. The old ways of doing church are just not effective anymore. We will be on the receiving end of the anger of those people who are simply refusing to believe that the old Church is crumbling and dying around them. And…we will have to face ourselves.
And this, I hate to say, is the really hard one.
Looking in the mirror also means seeing ourselves for who we are. We will have to work hard not to destroy ourselves in the process. And that is a real possibility as well.
The old ways of doing things in church are over. And that means the way WE ourselves do things. We must not be like those church members in other churches who sometimes still get stuck in the old ways of doing things as well.
That is NOT the way for the Church to work, because it undermines the work we have to do.
We need to be this new Church.
We need to be a healthy Church
We need to shed our old ways of doing things.
The church of the future is made up of people who step up to the plate and say, “here I am, Lord. I am willing to do it.”
We have our work cut out for us. We do. There’s a lot of work to do.
But, none of that is anything to fear.
Jesus tell us not to be afraid. Nor should any of us.
Not a hair of our head will perish to them, he tells us.
Our words, seemingly falling on deaf ears, our example, seemingly lost to the hustle and bustle of it, will bear fruit.
And God will be with us through it all.
As we look around here, we know—God is here.
God is with us.
That Spirit of our living, breathing God dwells with us. And God is being proclaimed in the message we carry within each of us.
When we welcome people radically, when we embrace those no one else will embrace, when we love those who have been hated, when we are hated for loving those who are hated, we know that all we are doing is bringing the Kingdom of God not only closer, but we are birthing it right here in our midst.
And we have nothing to fear, because, as Jesus says today, “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
When we are hated because we do these radical, incredible things in Jesus’ name, we are, in fact, blessed.
We are blessed, here at St. Stephen’s. And that is what we are thankful for today.
Paul tells in in his letter to the Thessalonians this morning: “do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Those words are our battle cry for our future here at St. Stephen’s. Those words are the motto for the new Church we represent.
Do not be weary in doing what is right.
Yes, I know. We are weary at times. We are tired at times. We have done much work. And there is much work still to do.
But we are doing the work God has given us to do. And we cannot be weary in that work, because we are sustained. We are held up. We are supported by that God who loves and supports us.
But we must keep on doing so with love and humility and grace.
St. Stephen’s is incredible place. We all know it. Others know it.
God knows it.
So, let us be thankful. Let us continue our work—our ministries. And as we do, as we revere God’s Holy Name, see what happens.
The Prophet Malachi is right.
For those of us who continue our work, who continue to revere God’s holy Name, on us that Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.