Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost


May 31, 2020

Acts 2.1-21

+ Well, I had a whole other sermon prepared for today.

Originally, I had planned to say that, on this Pentecost Sunday, we have so much to celebrate.

On Friday, we learned that John Anderson will be ordained to diaconate on June 14—just two weeks from today.

And that is very exciting.

But then, last night, as we all know by now, downtown Fargo erupted in protests.

I could hear the booms from my porch.

Some of you could probably smell the tear gas.

And all of this after peaceful protests earlier in the day that seemed to go well.

And this is where we are this morning.

We are in this strange place.

And we are seeing clearly that what we are now is what we have been for the last few years.

Truly a divided nation.

A nation that is divided and angry and frustrated.

A nation that is struggling.

A nation that is on the verge, at times, of violence.

Even here.

Even in Fargo-Moorhead.

We don’t get to be complacent anymore here.

We don’t get to use our old excuses.

We don’t get to say:

“That stuff is stuff happens elsewhere.”

“That stuff happens in the big city, in Minneapolis, in Chicago, in Atlanta or Los Angeles or New York.”

Not anymore.

It happens here too.

And what do we do when the violence and the anger “out there” start making themselves known “right here?”

We wring our hands.

We gave in to shock and amazement at what is happening in streets that are so familiar to us.

The fact is, on this Pentecost Sunday, in this tumultuous, frightening time, we know what we have to do as followers of Jesus.

We are not to fear.

We are to love.

Love our neighbors, love our sisters and brothers, love those who hurt and who are in pain, who are frustrated and angry.

And we are to be righteously angry.

Angry at the society that has allowed the violence that killed George Lloyd.

Anger at inequality and racism and white supremacy and complacency.  

Angry at an unjust system that continues to allow violence.

Angry at instigators and outside forces and other violent people who come into our community to perpetuate violence.

Angry that we can’t even peacefully protest without outside forces coming in and disrupting our efforts at peace.

 Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, in which we hope and long for the Spirit of our loving God to come to us, to fill us with peace and love, we know that that is now what is filling us today.

But that same Spirit is also the Spirit of a God who hates injustice, who hates violence, who hates racism, who hates when the least of us is struck down and murdered.

That Spirit is also dwelling with us today.

That Spirit has also descened upon today.

And so, what do we do on this Pentecost Sunday?

How do we respond?

We respond the only we know how to respond as followers of Jesus.

We respond with love.

We respond with love in a world that seems to be dominated by hatred and violence.

We respond as the compassionate, loving, peaceful people are as followers of loving, compassionate, peaceful Christ.

We respond by working, in whatever small way we can, to change this world for the better.

We respond by not feeding the flames of anger and violence.

We respond by not perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices.

We respond by recognizing our own prejudices and striving to destroy them form ourselves.

And while the world around us rages, we, commanded by our God to love and to seek peace in this world, do so even as chaos reigns.

We respond by not only speaking out against injustice and violence, but by doing whatever we can in our world.

That is what we do on this Pentecost Sunday, in this divided America, in this city in which violence and fear and anger have touched us.

We, the lovers of justice, the strivers for peace, the workers for inclusion, have much work ahead of us.

And so, let us love and love fully.

Let peace reign within us, even while violence rages about us.

 And let us strive, even in a world that seems so out-of-control, for peace, for equality, for those who have no voice, for those who are abused and neglected and discarded.

Let us love—and love fully.

And when we do, that is when the Spirit of our Loving God is truly present within us.  

Let us pray.

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.


Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

7 Easter/The Sunday after the Ascension


May 24, 2020

Acts 1.6-14; John 17.1-17


+ This time of quarantine and self-isolation during this pandemic seems to be going on and on without end.

Yes, some businesses are open.

Yes, some churches are allowing public worship in their buildings again.

But not us.

And, as he said in my letter this past week, and at my announcement at Wednesday night Mass, we will not.

I had hoped that we could all get together again next Sunday, for the Feast of Pentecost.

Yes, we will still dedicate and bless the plaque of St. Stephen’s next week as planned.

But we will do so virtually.  

In fact, I don’t know when we will meet together again in this building.

And I’m not going to guess yet.

As I have said throughout the entire situation: I do not want Sty. Stephen’s the be responsible for anyone getting sick.

I do not want anyone being exposed to anything here.

I have tried to walk a “middle road” through this very difficult situation.

I have tried to walk between the two extremes of this pandemics—those who say it’s all a hoax, that we don’t need masks, that we must open the doors of the church building, and those who say we should not even do what we are doing now—who think we should be essentially wearing Hazmat suits.

I will continue to follow the CDC guidelines, and the Diocesan regulations and consulting people like our very own Dr. John Baird.

So, for now, we wait.

And we continue to do what we have been doing.

We continue to gather virtually.

We continue to worship together at mass twice a week, virtually.

And we continue to do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

We continue to love and worship God.

And we continue to love and serve others.

And we know that despite the fact that this pandemic continues, Christ is still present with us.

Certainly, from our Gospel reading last week and this week, we find that his Presence has not left us.

He is still present, though just in a different form.

Last week in our Gospel reading we heard that he will be present in the Advocate, the Spirit of God, and this week we hear that he will be present in us, in his disciples who keep his word and continue to do his ministry and be his presence in this world.

We celebrated the eve or Vigil of the Feast of the Ascension here at St. Stephen’s on Wednesday night, as we always do.

(Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension)

And as I said then,  I repeat this morning:

I really love the Feast of the Ascension.

I love all that it represents.

I love that sense of going up.

Of rising.

Of moving upward.

Ascension is, of course, all about rising.

This week, we move slowly away from the Easter season toward Pentecost.

You can almost feel the shift.

For the last several weeks, we have been basking in the afterglow of the resurrected Jesus.

In our Gospel readings, this resurrected Jesus has walked with us, has talked with us, has eaten with us and has led the way for us.

Now, as we hear in our reading from Acts this morning, he has been taken up.

We find a transformation of sorts happening in our relationship with Jesus through these scripture readings.

Our perception of Jesus has changed.

For a moment, we feel his absence.

He is not present with us as he was before—walking and talking and eating with his disciples as he was before his ascension.

But, we realize, we will be given something that will not leave us.

We will be given God’s Spirit, right here with us.

We find that truly this Spirit of God is, in our midst.

Us, right here. Right now.

At Pentecost next week,  we will acutely see the fact that God has truly come among us.

God is here, right now, with us. Even in a pandemic.

No, God is not speaking to us not from a pillar of cloud or fire, not on some shroud-covered mountain, not in visions.

Now God is here, with us, speaking to us as we speak to each other.

At the Ascension, the puzzle pieces really start falling into place.

What seemed so confusing and unreal before is starting to come together.

God is with us and truly loves us.

God dwells in us and through us. 

And next week, one more puzzle piece falls into place when Jesus, in a sense, returns.

Next week, we will celebrate God’s Spirit descending upon and staying with us.

For the moment, though, we are caught in between those two events, trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen.

We are caught between Jesus’ ascent into heaven and the Spirit’s descent to us.

 It is a time for us to pause, to ponder who we are and where are in this place—in this time in which everything seems so spiritually topsy-turvy.

I’m not certain there is a way we can make sense of the Ascension, but what we are faced with is the fact that this in this ascended Jesus, the God of Jesus still acts in our lives.

God acts in us and through us.

I can’t repeat that enough.

The commission that the ascended Jesus gave to the apostles, is still very much our commission as well.

We must love—fully and completely.

Because in loving, we are living.

In loving, we are living fully and completely.

In loving, we are bringing the ascended Christ to others.

And we must go out and live out this commission in the world.

When we do, the ascended Christ is very much acting in the world.

For those first followers of Jesus, it seems like they didn’t have much of a chance to ponder their life-altering experiences.

As soon as one life-altering experience happened, another one came along.

Just when they had experiences Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, they encountered this outpouring of God’ Spirit in their lives.

The waters, it seemed, were kept perpetually stirred.

Nothing was allowed to settle.

That is what ministry is often like.

One day, very early in my career, much earlier than I was ever ordained,  I came to  realize that Ministry is perpetually on-going.

There is never an ending to it.

Even in a pandemic.

It doesn’t matter if my life is falling apart around me, or that I am  tired.

It’s always something.

This past week was a perfect example of that.

One week brings another set of opportunities, set-backs, trip-ups, tediums, frustrations, joys, celebrations.

 Ministry truly is a never-ending roller-coaster ride of emotions and feelings.

These are things those first followers of Jesus no doubt struggled with.

Yet we, like them, are sustained.

We, like them, are upheld.

We, like them, are supported by the God Jesus ascended to, whose work we are doing in this world.

In those moments when our works seems useless, when it seems like we have done no good work, the ascended Jesus still triumphs.

Our job, in this time between Jesus’ departure from us and his return to us, is to simply let him do what he needs to do in this interim.

We need to let the ascended Jesus work in us and through us.

We need to let the God of this ascended Jesus be the end result of our work.

When we wipe our hands as we walk from the grave, lamenting the fact that it seems no one was saved (as the old Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” goes)  we need to realize that, of course, it seems that way as we gaze downward at our hands.

But above us, the Ascension is happening.

Above us, Jesus has risen.

And we are rising with him, even when it seems like we are bogged down in this very earth.

Above us, Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God.

Above us, that place, that God to whom we are ascending, is there.

All we have to do sometimes is look up.

All we have to do is stop gazing at our dirty, callused, over-worked hands—all we have to do is turn from our self-centeredness—and look up.

And there we will see the triumph.

And as we do, we will realize that more were saved than we initially thought.

Someone was saved.

We were saved.

Jesus has ascended.

But he isn’t gone.

He is with us, now even more so than before his ascension.

He is with us in an even more intimate way.

The joy we feel today comes when we let the ascended Jesus do what he needs to do through us.

We are, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “in the world.”

And because we are, we must do the work we are called to do in this world.

So, let us stop gazing upward at that empty sky into which he has ascended.

There is work to do.

Right here.

Right now.

Even in the midst of a pandemic.

Let’s wipe the sun-blindness from our eyes.

Let us turn toward those around us in need.

And let us be Jesus to those who need Jesus.

And there are people who need us to be Jesus for them.

Even in a pandemic.

There are people who need us to be kind and compassionate and full of love.

There are people who need our acceptance and hospitality.

When we love others, when we are Christ to others, when we bring a God of love and acceptance to others, we allow others to rise as well.

We embody and allow the Ascension to continue in this world.

So, let the joy of the ascension live in us and through us and be reflected to others by us.

We will be sanctified in the truth of knowing and living out our lives in the light of the Ascension.

We will rise.

This morning, we have looked up and we have seen it.

We have seen that rising—his rising and our rising—happening above us in beauty and light and joy .

Let us pray.
Holy God, as we proceed through these last days of the Easter season toward the Feast of Pentecost, prepare us for the Holy Spirit. Open our hearts and our minds to an outpouring of your living and life-giving Spirit. We ask this in the holy Name of Jesus. Amen.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

6 Easter


Rogation Sunday
May 17, 2020

John 14.15-21


+ I know this might seem like some other time—some innocent, more normal time—but in 2014 we did something special at our Rogation Blessing.

On that Sunday six years ago—before there were things like Corona Virus and quarantines—we dedicated our Memorial Garden.

Now, I remember when I first introduced this idea at St. Stephen’s about a memorial garden about a year before that.

There was a bit of frowning.

There was a sense of, “Lord, what is he thinking of doing now?”

There was a groan of “Really? A cemetery? Seriously?”

But, look what a blessing that memorial garden has had in our life here at St. Stephen’s.

Thanks to Sandy Holbrook and the gardening committee and all the people who have worked for that garden and all that beautiful landscaping that was done there, it has become a place of beauty.

And in these six years, our memorial garden has become a place of rest for six people—a new stone was just placed there this past week—and a place of consolation for countless others.

Now I don’t think I’m overestimating it when I say it has also become a place of mercy.

We of course have laid people to rest there who had no other place to rest, who were rejected or forgotten.

Why? Why do we do that?

Because that is what we do as Christians.

In our Christian tradition, mercy plays heavily into what we do.

And as a result, there have been, since the early Church, a series of what have been called corporal acts of mercy.

I’ve talked about this many times before.

These corporal acts of mercy are:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbor the harborless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.
We at St. Stephen’s, in the ministry we do as followers of Jesus, have done most of those well.

Including that last one. 

Burying the dead is a corporate act of mercy.

And it is something we have do with our services of burial and in our memorial garden. 

And, it’s appropriate we are doing on this Sunday, Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before the Ascension of Jesus.

In our Gospel reading for today we find Jesus explaining that although he is about to depart from his followers—this coming Thursday we celebrate the feast of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven—he will not leave them alone.

They will be left with the Advocate—the Spirit of Truth.

The Holy Spirit.

He prefaces all of this with those words that quickly get swallowed up by the comments on the Spirit, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And just to remind everyone, that command is, of course, “to love.”

To love God.

And to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This is what it means to be the Church.

To love.

To serve. 


To be merciful.

To be Christ to those who need Christ.


To be a Christ of love and compassion and acceptance.

Without boundaries.

Without discrimination.

Because that is who Christ is to us.

When we forget to be Christ to others, when we fail to do this, we fail to do mercy.

We are doing so this morning.

We are living into our ministry of mercy to others.

Today is, as I’ve said, Rogation Sunday.

Rogation comes from the Latin word “Rogare” which means “to ask.”

Traditionally, on this Sunday, we heard the Gospel in which Jesus said,

"Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you".

Today, with our current lectionary of scripture readings, we actually find him saying, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…”

From a very simple perspective, the thing we are asking today, on this Rogation Sunday, is to be faithful followers of Jesus, thorough our works and acts of mercy.

Now for some of us, this whole idea of Rogation Sunday and the procession that we will soon be making outside at the conclusion of our Eucharist this morning might seem a bit too much.

 The fact is, it is something, very much like burying the dead on the church grounds.

It is very much a part of our Anglican Tradition.

In the 1630s one of heroes (you hear me quote him and reference him often), Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, commended these rogation processions.

He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:

1. A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.

2. Justice in the preservation of boundaries of those fields and properties.

3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.

And 4 (hold on to your seats). Mercie (yes, mercy) , in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of the resources, which at the time is or ought to be used.

In so many ways, that is what we do here and what we continue to do here.

Our memorial garden—this visible sign of the final corporal act of mercy—is a part of this Rogation celebration.

This is where we do our blessing.

We process there and bless the earth and the land there.

We ask God’s blessings on the growth not only of crops and fields.

And we do something also very important there: We thank God today for the growth of our congregation.

We are thanking God for the acts of mercy done to each of us.

And we are asking God to continue to make us Christ to those who need Christ.

As you can see, the rallying themes of this Rogation time are hope and justice and mercy.

As George Herbert reminds us there is always room for charity.

As we process out at the end of the Eucharist today, I ask you to look around the memorial garden.

I ask you to look at the names there.

We know some of them.

Others of them we will never know on this side of veil.

I ask you as you walk about to thank God for them.

I ask you today to thank God for the growth God has granted us at St. Stephen’s

And I ask that you remember Jesus’ call to us, to love him and to keep his commandment of love and mercy.

It is more than just sweet, religious talk.

It is a challenge and a true calling to live out this love in radical ways.

It is a challenge to be merciful.

As we process, as we walk together, let us pay attention to this world around us.

Let us ponder the causes and the effects of what it means to be inter-related—to be dependent upon on each to some extent, as we are on this earth.

We do need each other.

And we do need each other’s love.

And mercy.

We do need that radical love that Jesus commands us to have.

With that love, we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves.

We will show mercy to them.

Our neighbors, of course, are more than just those people who live next door to us.

Our neighbors are all of us, those we do in fact love and those we have difficulty loving.

And our neighbors also include this earth and all the inhabitants of it.

That command of Jesus is to love—to respect—those with whom we live and share this place.

Let this procession today truly be a "living walking" as George Herbert put it.

But let our whole lives as Christians be also a “living walk,” a mindful walk, a walk in which we see the world around with eyes of love and respect and justice and care.

And, most importantly, with eyes of mercy.

Amen.