Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ the King

November 24, 2013

Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43

+ Throughout this past year, at our Wednesday night masses here at St. Stephen’s, we have been commemorating the events of 50 years ago. 1963 was, of course, a very momentous year. We commemorated in June, the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII—a Pope who is still very important to all of us who call ourselves Christian. In August, we commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington. In September, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little girls in their church.

Which, of course, brings us to today. Today, was in 1963, also a Sunday. On this morning in 1963, here at St. Stephen’s, we would of course be worshipping according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And this Sunday, according to the 1928 BCP, was called “The Sunday Next Before Advent.”

Our collect that we prayed this morning, would be the same. Our Old Testament reading would be the same, though our Gospel reading that morning would be from the sixth chapter of John.

And on this “Sunday Next before Advent,” November 24, 1963, at about this exact moment—11:21 a.m.—in the basement of the Dallas Police headquarters, club owner Jack Ruby stepped forward and shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the stomach.

These events that we have been commemorating these last few days have certainly intrigued me.  I, like many of here this morning, was not born yet when these events transpired. But I was raised hearing them in almost apocryphal tones. My mother, of course, was a die-hard Kennedy Democrat and loved John Kennedy deeply.

For many people of her generation, John Kennedy represented hope for the future.  And with his death, many of those hopes were dashed.  As I grew up hearing the stories of this weekend in 1963 or from the Presidency of John Kennedy, none of it sounded like an American president.  Our appreciation for President John F. Kennedy and an administration that was often nicknamed Camelot, was certainly on the level of what one felt for a well-loved monarch.

 I was discussing this with a dear friend this past week. In the course of our conversation, I also said, “You know, Christianity is not a democracy. It is a monarchy.”

My friend was appalled.

“How can you say that,” she said.

I can say it because we follow a king and our job is essentially to expand that monarch’s kingdom.  My friend thought was horrible. But, that is what we are called to do as Christians.

And if we doubt that in any way, we are reminded of it no uncertain terms on this Sunday, in which we commemorate Jesus as King.  This is Christ the King Sunday.

Now, for us, good democratic Americans who love our freedom from such archaic forms of government as a monarchy, this no doubt sits wrong with many of us. But, I have to say to you what I said to my friend: just relax.

What we’re talking about when we discuss Jesus as King is simply making Christ as first and foremost in our lives.  For us, followers of his, he is not just some figurehead, nor is he a despotic ruler who tells us what to do and we do it blindly.  Jesus the King is truly a humble and loving King, who is also the Shepherd—the ultimate servant leader, shall we say?—who rules not above us or over us, but beside us.  And who invites us, his followers, to be co-inheritors of his Kingdom.

Christ the King is the King and Shepherd who has come to us wherever we may be and is with us.  But, this King also makes clear to us that our job, as inheritors of that Kingdom isn’t just sit smugly by. Our job as inheritors is to allow that Kingdom to be present here, in our midst, again and again, through our ministries.  And that is the real point of this Christ the King Sunday.  And because he comes to us as one of us, because he is the true servant leader, it is easy for those who do not recognize that royalty personified to degrade that role.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, we find that title of King being used in a derogatory way.  The King of the Jews, as Jesus is called today in our Gospel reading, is meant to be a demeaning title.  It is a way to mock him.  Those taunting people did not recognize the royalty present within Jesus.  Rather they saw him as a little man with thoughts of grandeur.

But what we know and celebrate on this Christ the King Sunday is that, yes, he is  King.  And his Kingdom—that Kingdom that we, as his followers are called to bring forth into this world, is not a kingdom of the privileged. It is a kingdom of the outcasts, the marginalized, the downtrodden. It is a kingdom of those people, uplifted by their King.

As the Anglican theologian Reginald Fullers says,

“It is not just an abstract idea; it involves the doctrines of creation, redemption and reconciliation of the universe, and of the Church as the sphere in which his reign is already acknowledged and proclaimed.”

It is a celebration of not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is and will be.  It is a celebration of the fact that, although it seems, at times, as though this Kingdom of God is not triumphant, at times it seems, in fact, to have failed miserably, we know that ultimately, in all that we do, in our ministries, it does break through into this world again and again. And it triumphs, again and again.   

We—the inheritors of that Kingdom—are the ones who birth that Kingdom. We bring that Kingdom into our midst whenever we love radically, we welcome radically, we serve radically in the Name of Jesus.  That’s why we celebrate this incredible day on this last Sunday before Advent begins.

Advent, after all, is that time for us to look toward the future, and to hope. It is a time for us to gaze into the dark and the haze and all that lies before us and to see that it is not all bleak, it is not all frightening and scary, but that, in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light.  This Sunday and the season we are about to enter, is all about the future and hope.

On Friday, I posted this quote from John F. Kennedy;

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future.”

Those words speak loud and clear to us 50 years later. And they speak loud and clear to us, followers of our King, as we look forward into our own future.  We, on this Christ the King Sunday, are looking forward into the darkness of the future and eternity,  and we are seeing the rays of light shining through to us.  For us, as follower of Jesus the King, as inheritors of that Kingdom , it is a hope. It is a time to remind ourselves that we must continue on in bringing about that Kingdom of God into our midst.

So, let us rejoice on this Christ the King Sunday.  Let us move forward into our future together.  Let go together into that future with confidence and joy and gladness at all the blessings we have been given and that we are able to give to others.  And let us to do all that we do, as Paul tells us today in his letter to the Colossians, “made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power…”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

26 Pentecost

Stewardship Sunday

November 17, 2013

Malachi 4.1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19

+ I do have to admit. I’m always uncomfortable at Stewardship time. I’m uncomfortable because essentially, Stewardship time is a time for us to hear the State of the Union address from your priest. You get it this time, and you get it again in January at our Annual Meeting. I’m uncomfortable doing that. I’m uncomfortable because, as my mother would always say to me, “Don’t count your blessings.”

I never understood that saying. Why shouldn’t we count our blessings? By counting our blessings, aren’t we just being thankful for them? Aren’t we taking account of the many wonderful things God is doing for us?

So, yes, I am, on this Stewardship Sunday, sort of counting the many blessings we have had here at St. Stephen’s.  And I am doing so with a grateful and humble gratitude to God for all these things.  

As we look back over this past year of 2013 at St. Stephen’s, there’s no denying it: it was an amazing year. There was a lot of work done. We all should be feeling not only exhausted after this past year. We should also feel exhilarated.

+ Two New members Sundays, 30 new members, seven baptism, five weddings, eight funerals (but only one was a member of our congregation—and not an active member at that).
+ Our Average Sunday membership, which at one time was about 22, never dipped below 30 once this year, even during the summer.  In fact, the average Sunday attendance has been about 50.

And even this church building is a bit different than it was last year.
+ Beautiful new glass doors into the nave.
+ Beautiful new glass doors in the undercroft.
+ New carpet in the Undercroft.
+ New round tables.
+ New landscaping outside.
+ Beautiful gardens around the church.
2+  new pianos

And ministry has just flourished.
+ A new corps of acolytes, readers, worship leaders,
+ Our continued presence at Pride Weekend.
+ A record number for Sundaes on Sunday
+ The Fiber Arts Festival
+ Every week on Sundays and Wednesdays, beautiful, meaningful liturgies.
+ And incredible music every Sunday, as well as many Wednesdays.
+ We have had an incredible Senior Warden and an incredible Junior Warden, an incredible Vestry, an incredible organist and musician, an incredible congregation of people doing ministry.

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 take for granted what has been happening here. As tired and exhausted as we might be, it not time for us to rest. 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 given of yourselves, of your time, of your talents, of your finances, of your very presence this past year.

And that is amazing. As we look around at St. Stephen’s, I don’t think we fully realize what has been happening here. When we look at the growth, at the vitality that has been in this congregation in these past few years, it is amazing. While so many prophets of doom out there talk about how the Church is dying, how congregations are failing, how we need to start living in survival mode, we are dealing with things like considering a second Sunday liturgy. We are dealing with issues like parking and Children’s Chapel and how to be even more welcoming to people. We are looking at ways to improve our church building.

But we are more than these walls, than these pews, 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. It means giving people a new vision of what the Church is.
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 gays, 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.

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.

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 the Church. And there are plenty out there.

There are plenty here this morning who 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. 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 that the new Church is made up of people like us.

But, none of that is anything to fear. Jesus tell us not to be afraid of them. 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. We are tired.  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. But we must keep on doing so with love and humility and grace.

St. Stephen’s is incredible place. We 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. Amen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stewardship Letter

 November 11, 2013
Feast of St. Martin of Tours

Dear members and friends of St. Stephen’s,

Stewardship time is upon us. This is always an exciting time for us at St. Stephen’s. It is a time for us talk about money, our place in the congregation, the many ministries we do and to celebrate who we are as a congregation.

We certainly have much to celebrate! This past year has been a very busy one. We have continued our many ministries of radical love, radical acceptance and radical welcoming to those in our community. And many people have responded to that outreach. We have welcomed 30 new members to our fold in 2013 over two New Member Sundays (a third New Member Sunday is scheduled for December 15 when Bishop Michael Smith visits us; that day we will also celebrate at least three confirmation and two receptions). Our congregation has grown from 55 members in 2008, to almost 150 members this year! That is incredible! And it is an amazing sign of God’s presence in our midst, in our many ministries, and in all that we do here.

During this Stewardship time, we of course give thanks for all these wonderful things. We also look forward to our future: our financial future and the futures of  the ministries God has called each of us to both within our congregation and in the larger community.

Stewardship is also about presence. One of the ways in which we can most easily and visibly contribute to Stewardship at St. Stephen’s is by our very presence on a regular basis at the Sunday morning celebration of the Holy Eucharist or on Wednesday evenings.

Attendance is not only about what each of us needs, it also what the larger congregation needs. We essentially need each other. We need the presence and proximity of each other. I recently came across this interesting take on church attendance, which I have paraphrased and adapted to us at St. Stephen’s:
The writer of Hebrews challenges us with convicting words, “Let us not give up meeting together…but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).  It is important for us to think about how important our presence is in church on Sundays or Wednesdays. When one is not here:
-          The body of the congregation is incomplete
-          Our voice is not heard in the worship and singing of the saints
-          We cannot actively serve others who may need our gifts
-          We miss out on receiving the Word of God in a preaching format
-          We miss out on corporate prayer
-          We miss out on fellowship with our friends and others at the church
-          We miss opportunities to share our own struggles with others who can help us  
-          We miss out on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the spiritual benefits that go with regular Holy Communion.

My intent in sharing this is not to make anyone feel guilty. As you have heard me say many times, I do not take attendance at the door. I also understand that many people cannot attend due to illness or other circumstances in their lives. My intent is simply to remind us that when we pledge to St. Stephen’s we pledge of our money, we pledge of our talent, we pledge of the gifts we have received and are willing to share with others, we pledge of our expertise in certain areas of our lives, and we pledge of our very presence.

So, please do give. Give of your time and your presence. Give from the abundance that God has granted to you. And share of yourself in what ministries God has called you to here at St. Stephen’s

Your presence is also requested this coming Sunday November 17. On that day, we will gather together for our Pledge Sunday. The Vestry will host a lunch for us after our 11:00 celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Pledge Cards and Time and Talent sheets will be handed out as well.

In preparation for this special Sunday, I invite all of you to take time to reflect and to pray about your own stewardship. What talents can we offer to make St. Stephen’s a church that can reach out in love, compassion and radical acceptance to others? What material resources can we give to help maintain the ministries we do here?

As we continue our journey together, we look forward in hope and joy at the many incredible potentials that await us at St. Stephen’s.

Finally, please know of my gratitude in serving all of you as your priest. I feel blessed more and more each day for being here. Know that I pray for each of you by name in the course of a week in my daily prayers. I ask your continued prayers for me as well.

- peace,

Fr. Jamie A. Parsley

Sunday, November 10, 2013

25 Pentecost

November 10, 2013

Luke 20.27-38

+ Lately, I have been in some strange mood. Well, stranger mood than usual.  Anyway, I have been downsizing considerably lately. I realized one day that I had too many books. It’s a good problem to have, I know.  But I realized I need to start going through and cutting back. I sometimes do this.

I start feeling at times before I do downsizing as though I am some kind of hoarder.  I just have more books than I will ever read or re-read. It’s a good problem.

Well, some of the books I ended up shedding were some of those theologians I was reared on.  I have, as of this morning, commended them to a very safe home—to very own Cathy McMullen.

One of the theologians I have commended to Cathy is a theologian who captured my imagination in my twenties—John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  One of the first books of his I read in my twenties was called Resurrection: Myth or Reality? I don’t think I’m giving the end away by saying that Bishop Spong’s answer to that question was: Myth.

Bishop Spong believed that there was no resurrection—rather that whatever resurrection one believed in was purely metaphorical.  Yes, Jesus died on the cross.  Yes, he lives on among those of who believe in him. But there was no bodily resurrection.

In fact, in this book, Spong asserts his belief that Jesus’ body was probably taken down from the cross and given to the dogs to feed on. The tomb is empty, Spong said. But not because of any supernatural events. The tomb is empty and Jesus is not here because he was never there in the first place.

Certainly the Sadducees in our Gospel reading today viewed the Resurrection of the body in a similar way. Now, to give them credit, the Sadducees were smooth and they were smart. They knew how to present a sly argument without being blatant. And they did believe that by bringing up the resurrection, they would show Jesus to be the fool and the charlatan.

For the Sadducees, the resurrection of the body was a fairy tale.  It was something gullible people hoped in. It was absurd and ridiculous.

I’m not, of course, saying Bishop Spong sees it as absurd and ridiculous. He does not. But he does not see it as a litmus test for our faith in Christ.

But there are some circles in the Church, for whom belief in the Resurrection is a litmus test for one’s orthodoxy. I know of a former parishioner who later joined the Eastern Orthodox Church over his belief in the Resurrection.  He refused to receive Communion from priests whom he knew did not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, one of the first questions he would ask a new priest when he would meet them is: So what do you believe regarding the Resurrection? I luckily passed that test, but many other priests did not.

So, what do we believe about the resurrection? Certainly we profess our collective faith in this every Sunday in the Creed. But have we really thought about it?

Well, of course,  one of the best places to look when we are our examining our faith is, of course, our trust Catechism, found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer. So, let’s take a looksee at what the Prayer Book says about the resurrection. If you will take your Prayer books and turn to page 862. There we find that question:

What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?
The answer:
We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.

I love that definition of resurrection. God will raise us up in the fullness of our being, that we live with Christ and the saints. I think the imagery of that sort is beautiful and at least helps us to wrap our minds around the resurrection.  But I also believe that our understanding of such things allows for a certain freedom of movement.

I often use the image of jazz to explain what it is we believe. In jazz, there is a certain musical structure one has to abide by. There’s a frame work, shall we say.  Within that framework, a jazz musician has the freedom to do many things. But they still have to stay within that basic framework.

I feel the same way about our faith as Christians. The Creeds, scripture, even a definition from our Catechism such as this helps form that very basic framework.

But, when we start becoming too specific, we start losing something of the beauty of our faith.  We lose the purity and the poetry of our faith.  When we start trying to examine too closely how the resurrection will happen and when it will happen and how a pile of bones or cremated remains or a body destroyed in the sea can be resurrected into another body, we find ourselves derailed.

What we do know, however is that what the resurrection promises is raising up in the fullness of our being.  The whole basis of what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel, in this discourse on marriage, is that the resurrection is , as the great theologian Reginald Fuller said, not “a prolongation of our present life, but a new mode of existence.”
 We will still be us, it seems from what Jesus is saying, but we will be living into that fullness of our being—with a different understanding of what it means to be alive.  Issues like marriage will no longer be an issue.

Now some of us might despair at that fact.  We want to know that when we awake into the fullness of our being, into that resurrected life, we will have our families there, our spouses and our loved ones. I have no doubt that our loved ones will be there, but it seems that it will be different. We will have a truly fulfilled and complete relationship with all of our loved ones, and also with those who we may not have loved.

What this leads us to is, at the same time, a glimpse of the freedom that we will gain at the resurrection. Just as some things such as marriage will no longer be an issue, all those other issue we are dealing with now in our lives and in the church will also no longer be with us. The issues that divide us as a church, as a community—issues of sexuality or differing religious views or race or culture, will all be done away with at the resurrection.

And these bodies too will be done away with as well.  These bodies that will fail us and betray us—these bodies that will die on us and be buried or be burned will no longer be a part of who we are anymore. We will, at the resurrection, be made whole and complete and perfect, in Christ, who is perfect.

The reason we know this is because the God we serve—the God we have gathered together to worship this morning, is not a God of the dying bodies we have with us now. The God we serve and worship is a God of the living.  When Jesus identifies God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, he is saying that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive and that their God is the God of the living—the God of us who, because of Christ, will not die.

So, Resurrection is important to us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Resurrection is so important to us, despite what the Sadducees in our midst tell us. Resurrection is essential to our faith, because in it we have met and faced death. Death no longer has control over it. It longer has any power in our lives. The power and strength of death has been defeated in the resurrection. In the resurrection, we have the almost audacious ability to say, at the grave, that power-packed word of life: Alleluia.

So, let us ignore the Sadducees in our midst—those glitzy, smooth voices of supposed reason that lull us into believing that the resurrection is a fantasy. Resist any voices that wrestle hope away from us. Because it is our faith in the resurrection that will truly sustain us in those moments of doubt and despair, in those moments when death and darkness seem to have won out, when our hope has waned.  For our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Our God is a God of life.   And only in life can we fully and truly serve our living God.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints Sunday

November 3, 2013
Ephesians 1.11-23

+ There are sometimes, in my job, when all I seem to do to is field questions from people. Normally, as some of you might know firsthand, I can handle so many in a certain period of times. Nothing makes me more impatient at times.

But, for the most part, I really don’t mind questions, as long as they are well-intended questions. In fact, as long as they’re valid questions, I actually enjoy answering questions.

Well, yesterday I got one of those questions I actually enjoy getting. But the person asking was very apprehensive. A regular parishioner here  very apprehensively asked this question,

Why pray for the dead, as they have lived their lives in this world and will reap due payment in the afterlife? How will my prayers help them after the fact?

It was a great and, dare I say, a very timely question, certainly at this time in the Church Year in which we commemorate both the saints of God, and pray and remember all those who have died.

Yes, like the Roman Catholic Church, we do pray for our dead as Episcopalians.  You will hear us as Episcopalians make a petition when someone dies that you won’t hear in the Lutheran Church, or the Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church. When someone dies, you will hear me say, “I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of…”

Praying in such a way for people who have passed has always been a part of our Anglican tradition, and will, no doubt, continue to be a part of our tradition.  And I can tell you, I  like that idea of praying for those who have died.

But we don’t pray for people have died for the same reasons Roman Catholics do. In other words, we don’t pray to free them from purgatory, as though our prayers could somehow change God’s mind.  Rather, we pray for our deceased loved ones in the same way we pray for our living loved ones. We pray for them to connect, through God, with them.

Actually, that answer falls a bit flat. Let’s hear what the Book of Common Prayer says about it. And, yes, the Book of Common Prayer addresses this issue directly.  I am going to have you pick up your Prayer Books and look in the back, to the Catechism. There, on page 862 you get the very important question:

Why do we pray for the dead?

The answer (and it’s very good answer): We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.

That is a great answer. We pray that those who have chosen God will grow in God’s love.  So, essentially, just because we die, It does not seem to mean that we stop growing in God’s love and presence.  I think that is wonderful and beautiful. And certainly worthy of our prayers.

But even more so than this definition, I think that, because we are uncertain of exactly what happens to us when we die, there is nothing wrong with praying for those who have crossed into that mystery we call “the nearer Presence of God.” After all, they are still our family and friends. They are still part of who we are.

Now, I know that this idea of praying for those who have died  makes some of us very uncomfortable. And I understand why. I understand that it flies in the face of our more Protestant upbringings. This is exactly what the other Reformers rebelled against and freed us from. But, even they never did away with this wonderful All Saints Feast we are celebrating this morning.

This morning we are commemorating and remembering those people in our lives who have helped us, in various way, to know God. As you probably have guessed from the week-long commemoration we have made here at St. Stephen’s regarding the Feast of All Saints, I really do love this feast.  With the death of many of my own loved ones in these last few years, this Feast has taken on particular significance for me. What this feast shows me is what you have heard me preach in many funeral sermons again and again.

I truly, without a doubt, believe that what separates those of us who are alive here on earth, from those who are now in the “nearer presence of God” is truly a very thin one. And to commemorate them and to remember them is a good thing for all us.

Now, I do understand, as I said before, that all this talk of saints makes some of us more “Protestant minded” a bit uncomfortable.  But…I do want us to think long and hard about the saints we have known in our lives. And we have all known saints in our lives.

We have known those people who have shown us, by their example, by their good, that God works through us.  And I want us to at least realize that God still works through us even after we have departed from this mortal coil. Ministry in one form or the other, can continue, even following our deaths.

Hopefully, we can still, even after our deaths, do good and work toward furthering the Kingdom of God by the example we have left behind. For me, the saints—those people who have gone before us—aren’t gone. They haven’t just disappeared. They haven’t just floated away and dissipated like clouds out of our midst. No, rather they are here with us, still.  They join with us, just as the angels do, when we celebrate the Eucharist.

For, especially in the Eucharist, we find that “veil” lifted for a moment. In this Eucharist that we celebrate together at this altar, we find the divisions that separate us are gone. We see how thin that veil truly is.  We see that death truly does not have ultimate power over us.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard stories from one priest or layperson or the other who have said they have experienced, especially during the Eucharist, the presence, in a sometimes nearly empty church, of the multitude of saints, gathered together to worship. That is the way Holy Communion should be.  It’s not just us, gathered here at the altar.  It’s the Communion of all the saints.

In fact, before we sing that glorious hymn, “Holy, Holy Holy” during the Eucharistic rite, you hear me say, “with angels and saints and all the company of heaven we sing this hymn of praise.” That isn’t just sweet, poetic language. It’s what we believe and hope in.

In these last few years, after losing so many people in my family and among close friends, I think I have felt their presence most keenly, at times, here at this altar when we are gathered together for the Eucharist then at any other time.  I have felt them here with us.  And in those moments when I have, I know in ways I never have before, how thin that veil is between us and “them.”

You can see why I love this feast. It not only gives us consolation in this moment, separated as we are from our loved ones, but it also gives us hope.  We know, in moments like this, where we are headed.  We know what awaits us.

No, we don’t know it in detail.  We’re not saying there are streets paved in gold or puffy white clouds with chubby little baby angels floating around. We don’t have a clear vision of that place.

But we do sense it. We do feel it. We know it’s there, just beyond our vision, just out of reach and out of focus. And “they” are all there, waiting for us. They—all the angels, all the saints, all our departed loved ones.

So, this morning—and always—we should rejoice in this fellowship we have with them. We should rejoice as the saints we are and we should rejoice with the saints that have gone before us.

In our collect this morning, we prayed that “we may come to those ineffably joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you.”

Those ineffably joys await us.  They are there, just on the other side of that thin veil.  And if we are only patient, we too, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians this morning, will obtain that inheritance that they have gained and we will live with them in that place of unimaginable joy and light.


7 Easter/The Sunday after the Ascension

  May 21, 2023   Acts 1.6-14; John 17.1-17     + As many of you know, these last five years have been hard years for this old prie...