Sunday, November 29, 2015

1 Advent

November 29, 2015

Luke 21.25-36
+ OK. I know.  I feel horrible over the fact that I have already set up my 1956 aluminum Christmas tree up at the Rectory All my Anglo-Catholic guilt is eating away at me.  But, I did it because I’m hosting a Rectory Advent/Christmas party on Friday.

Still, I feel like a hypocrite.  How many times have I stood at this pulpit and railed against the evils of secular Christmas?  I should feel guilty.

After all…it is not Christmas yet.  In fact, it won’t be the Christmas season, for us anyway, for another three weeks or so.  Christmas for us as liturgical Christians, doesn’t begin until Christmas Eve.  So, yes I feel guilty. But I’ll forgive myself…

For now, however, we are in this anticipatory season of Advent. Anticipation is a very good word to sum up what Advent is.  We are anticipating. We are anxiously expecting something. And in that way, I think Advent represents our own spiritual lives in some ways. We are, after all, a people anticipating something. Sometimes we might not know exactly what it is we are anticipating. We maybe can’t name it, or identify it, but we know—deep inside us—that something—something BIG—is about to happen. We know that something big is about to happen, involving God in some way. And we know that when it happens, we will be changed. Life will never be the same again. Our world as we know it—our very lives—will be turned around by this “God event.” It will be cataclysmic.

What I find so interesting about the apocalyptic literature we hear this morning in our scripture readings is that we find anticipation and expectation for this final apocalypse. And that anticipation and expectation is a good and glorious thing, I think. That is what this season of Advent is all about. It is about anticipation and expectation being a wonderful thing in and of itself. Because by watching and praying in holy expectation, we grow in holiness. We recognize that despite the doom and gloom some people preach when it comes to prophecies, doom and gloom doesn’t hold sway over us as Christians.

Still, despite this view, we are a people living, at times, in the dark doom and gloom of life. In Advent, we recognize that darkness we all collectively live in without Christ. But we realize that darkness doesn’t hold sway. Darkness is easily done away with by light. And so, in Advent, we are anticipating something more—we are all looking forward into the gloom and what do we see there? We see the first flickers of light. And even with those first, faint glimmers of lights, darkness already starts losing its strength. We see the first glow of what awaits us—there, just ahead of us.

That light that is about to burst into our lives is, of course, Christ’s Light. The Light that came to us—that is coming to us—is the sign that the King of God is drawing near, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, is near. It is near.

Yes, we are, at times, stuck in the doom and gloom of this life. But, we can take comfort today in one thing: as frightening as our life may be, as terrible as life may seem some times and as uncertain as our future may be, what Advent shows us more than anything is this: we already know the end of the story. We might not know what awaits us tomorrow or next week.  We might not know what setbacks or rewards will come to us in the weeks to come, but in the long run, we know how our story as followers of Jesus ends. Jesus has told us that we might not know when it will happen, but the end will be a good ending for those of us who hope and expect it. God has promised that, in the end, there will be joy and happiness and peace. In this time of anticipation—in this time in which we are waiting and watching—we can take hope.

To watch means more than just to look around us. It means to be attentive. It means, we must pay attention. It means waiting, with held breath, for the Kingdom of God to break upon us.

So, yes, Advent is a time of waiting and it is this waiting—this expectant anticipation—that is so very important in our spiritual lives. Advent is a time of hope and longing. It is a time for us to wake up from our slumbering complacency. It is a time to wake up and to watch. The kingdom of God is near. And we should rejoice in that fact.

In preparation for Advent, I have been re-reading some of those poets and writers that inspired me many years—way back when I was a teenager. I’ve been re-reading Kierkegaard and Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal.

One of the poets/theologians that I have been re-reading intensely lately is the
German Protestant theologian and poet, Dorothee Soelle.  If you do not known Solle, read her. She is incredible and important.  When I was in high school, I first read her book, Of War and Love, which blew me away.

But a poem of hers that I have loved deeply and that I have been re-worked as a poet myself is her poem, “Credo.” I was going to just quote a part of the poem here, but it’s just so wonderful, I actually have share it in full.  This is the poem as I have adapted it:  


by Dorothee Soelle
(adapted by Jamie Parsley)  
I believe in a God
who created earth
as something to be molded
and formed
and tried,
who rules not by laws
written in stone
with no real consequences
nor with distinction  between those
who have and those who have not
experts or idiots
those who dominate and those who are dominated

I believe in a God
who demands that creation
protests and questions God,
and who works to change
the failures of creation
by any means.

I believe in Jesus
who, as “someone who could do nothing”
as we all are
worked to change every injustice
against God and humanity.
In him, I can now see
how limited we are,
how ignorant we can be,
how uncreative we have been,
how everything attempted
falls short
when we do not do as he did.

There is not a day
in which I do not fear
he died for nothing.
Nothing sickens me more
than the thought
that he lies at this moment
dead and buried
in our ornate churches,
that we have failed him
and his revolution
because we feared instead
those self-absorbed authorities
who dominate and oppress.

I believe in a Christ
who is not dead
but who lives
and is resurrected in us
and in the flame of freedom
that burns away
prejudice and presumption,
crippling fear and destroying hatred.
I believe in his ongoing revolution
and the reign of peace and justice that will follow.

I believe in a Spirit
who came to us with Jesus,
and with all those
with whom we share
this place of tears
and hunger
and violence
and darkness—
this city of God—
this earth.

I believe in peace
which can only be created
with the hands of justice.
I believe in a life of meaning and purpose
for all creation.
And I believe
beyond all doubt
in God’s future world
of love and peace.

Yes, we do live in “this place of tears/and hunger/and violence/and darkness—/this city of God—/this earth.” But we are hoping, in this Advent season, for “God’s future world/of love and peace.” It is near.  The Kingdom of God—with its incredible revolution—is so close to breaking through to us that we can almost feel it ready to shatter into our lives.

So, in this anticipation, let us be prepared.  Let us watch.  Christ has come to us and is leading us forward.  Christ—the dazzling Light—is burning away the fog of our tears and hunger and violence and is showing us a way through the darkness that sometimes seems to encroach upon us.  We need to look anxiously for that light and, when it comes, we need to be prepared to share it with others, because is telling us that the God’s future world is breaking through to us.   This is the true message of Advent.

As hectic as this season is going to get, as you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the sensory overload we’ll all be experiencing through this season, remember, Watch.  Take time, be silent and just watch.  For this anticipation—this expectant and patient watching of ours—is merely a pathway on which the Light of Christ can come to burn away the darkness in our lives.    

Friday, November 27, 2015

Skinny Bastard book

Two years ago today I bought the book Skinny Bastard by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. It was an important moment in my life, because it was just what I needed at that time to kick me in the butt to finally go vegan about a week later. It wasn't an easy transition, but I sure am grateful for it. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015


With the Duchess, who made me an incredible vegan Thanksgiving meal. I'm so thankful FOR her. 

Thanksgiving Eve Mass at St. Stephen's

Look at this motley liturgical crew getting ready for the thanksgiving Eve Mass at St. Stephen's last night 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King

November 22, 2015

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37

+ As you have probably guessed: It’s one of those special Sundays in the liturgical year, as you maybe can tell all ready. Today, of course, is Christ the King Sunday.  It is the End of one Church Year—Year B.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent and Church Year C begins.  So, it’s kind of like New Year’s, almost a month early.

You can just feel it. Something is just…happening.  Advent, that time of preparation for Christmas, is about to happen.

I wish I had a dollar for every person who says to me: I LOVE Advent. Because I would be making money from myself as well.

 I LOVE Advent too.  I’m not a big Christmas fan—sorry to say that—but I am HUGE Advent fan.  Advent is, of course, the season of anticipation—of longing.  And dare I say, maybe a fair share of healthy impatience. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I am an impatient person—as anyone who has worked with me for any period of time knows.

Certainly, we, as followers of Jesus, might get a bit impatient about that for which we are longing.  Our journey as followers of Jesus, is filled with anticipation and longing.  We know, as we make this journey through life, that there is an end to our journey.  We know there is a goal.  But we might not always be aware of what that goal is or even why we’re journeying toward it.

But today, Christ the King Sunday, we get a little glimpse of that goal. We get to get an idea of what it is we are anticipating. We get a glimpse of the THE END of the story. We are invited, on this Sunday, to see this King coming to us on clouds, and on wheels of burning fire. I, for one, love the drama and the splendor of such an image.

In our readings today—especially our readings from the Prophet Daniel and Revelation, we too, with Daniel and the Apostle John, get a glimpse of what it is we are hoping for, what we are striving for.  We see a glimpse of the One we, as Christians, recognize as Christ—that Alpha and Omega—that Beginning and End—that One coming to us on the clouds.

But the Christ we see in our own collective vision this morning is not the humble carpenter, the amazing miracle worker, or the innocent newborn baby we are anticipating in a month’s time.  The Christ we encounter today is the traditional Cosmic Christ—this Christ who is limitless, who is all-powerful, who transcends time and place.  This Christ is the God who comes to as incarnational force—comes to us with a face like our face.  The Christ we encounter this morning is coming to us on clouds, yes, but he also comes to us while standing in the shadow of the Cross—an about-to-be condemned criminal—engaging in a conversation with Pontius Pilate about who he is.  The Christ we encounter today is crowned, yes—but he is crowned with thorns.

In this past week, we have heard a bit about condemned people. There is no way we can escape all the talk of refugees. We have heard all the debates this past w eek about whether or not we should accept Syrian refugees or turn them away. We know where the governor of North Dakota stands on this issue, sadly.  And even more sadly, so much of these debates are based in fear.

There has been much fear-mongering in the air. And, as we know, fear-mongering

is not an option for us as Christians. FEAR is not an option for as a Christians. And when it comes to refugees, we need to remember. This King we celebrate today—this King crowned as he is with a crown of thorns—he too was also a refugee. He too, with his family, escaped blood-thirsty soldiers and another despotic king who tried to kill him.  He too lived in a world of terror and fear, where fear and terror were daily realities in his life.  This is the Christ we encounter as well today.

The Christ we encounter today is Christ our King, Christ our Priest, Christ our ultimate Ideal. But he is also the one that some would also judge as Christ the Rebel, Christ the Misfit, Christ the Refugee, Christ the Failure.  And this is a very real part of our message on Christ the King Sunday.

In the midst of the brokenness of Christ, he is truly victorious. And because he is, we too, even despite our brokenness, despite our rebelliousness, despite our failures, we too will ultimately triumph in Christ.

The King we encounter on this Sunday, the King that awaits us at the end of our days, is not a despotic king.  The King that we encounter today is not a King who rules with an iron fist and makes life under his reign oppressive.  This King is not some stern Judge, waiting to condemn us to hell for what we’ve done or not done or for who we are.

But at the same time the King we honor today is not a figurehead or a soft and ineffective ruler.  Rather, the King we encounter today is truly the One we are following, the One who leads us and guides us and guards us.  This King does not allow us to have fear as an option in our lives.  The King we encounter today is the refugee, the misfit, the rebel, the outcast, the marginalized one, who has triumphed and who commands us to welcome and love all those who are marginalized and fleeing and living with terror and fear in their own lives.  And his Kingdom, that we anticipate, is our ultimate home.

No one is a refugee in that Kingdom

We are all—all of us, every single one of us, no matter who we are—, at this moment, citizens of that Kingdom.  That Kingdom is the place wherein each of belongs, ultimately.

You have heard me say it many, many sermons that our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus, is to make that Kingdom a reality.  You hear me often talking about the Kingdom breaking through into our midst.  That’s not just fancy, poetic talk from the pulpit.  It is something I believe in deeply. The Kingdom—that place toward which we are all headed—is not only some far-off Land in some far-away sky we will eventually get to when we die. It is a reality—right here, right now.  That Kingdom is the place which breaks into this world whenever we live out that command of Jesus to love God and to love one another.  

When we act in love toward one another, the Kingdom of God is present among us. Again, this is not some difficult theological concept to grasp.  It is simply something we do as followers of Jesus.

When we love, Christ’s true home is made here, with us, in the midst of our love.  A kingdom of harmony and peace and love become a reality, when we sow seeds of harmony and peace and love. And, in that moment when the Kingdom breaks through to us, here and now, we get to see what awaits us in our personal and collective End. As we prepare for this END—and we should always be preparing for the END—we should rejoice in this King, who is the ruler of our true home.  And we should rejoice in the fact that, in the end, all of us will be received by that King into that Kingdom he promises to us, that we catch glimpses of, here in this place, when we act and serve each other out of love for one another. The Kingdom is here, with us, right now.  It is here, in the love we share and in the ministries we do.

So, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us ponder the End, but let us remember that the End is not a terrible thing.  The End is, in fact, that very Kingdom that we have seen in our midst already. For us the End is that Kingdom—a Kingdom wherein there is a King who rules out of love and concern for us.

“I am the Alpha—the beginning—and the Omega—the End,” he says to us.

But in our End, we truly do find our beginning.

“To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I have to admit: I kinda like this photo from the story about Adolf Scott in last week's Fargo Forum. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Working lunch

Lunch Cajun Cafe in Fargo with Michelle Gelinske Patnode to discuss music for the staged reading of my one-act play, "The Bishop Comes For A Visit," on Dec. 10 at the Spirit Room. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Blondie "Heart of Glass"

The very first album I ever bought was “Parallel Lines” by Blondie (circa 1978) because I loved the song “Heart of Glass” so much. I was about 8 years old and, although I really hated disco, this song transcended disco or anything else that was being played at that time. A few years later, I would buy the B-52s “Wild Planet” after seeing them on Saturday Night Live (I was blown away by their beehive wigs), and Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” after hearing the song “Transmission” and realizing it was so incredibly different and bizarre. Finding and listening to my own music was a wonderfully liberating (and safe) act of defiance. And my gauge for knowing what kind of music to listen to was easy: I knew that whenever my ACDC/ Meatloaf-loving half-brother deemed a song or artist “shit,” it was definitely going to be something I would love.

Stewardship Letter

November 17, 2015
St. Hugh of Lincoln

Dear St. Stephen’s family,

It is that time of the year once again—Stewardship time. And it is a very important and vital time for us at St. Stephen’s. I know some people might groan whenever we start talking about issues like pledges and offerings and money. But Stewardship, as you have heard from our Senior Warden, Leo Wilking, and our treasurer, Sandy Holbrook, is a time for us to pray about and consider the many ways St. Stephen’s has been an important part of each of our lives. It is also a time for us ponder how we can respond to the many ways St. Stephen’s has been a part of our lives.

Stewardship of our money, time, talents and presence at St. Stephen’s takes place in many ways:

+ Attendance. This one seems obvious, but it is good to remind ourselves that our actual presence at worship at St. Stephen’s is so vital to our congregation. Each person among us matters. It is so important to have our congregation actually in attendance on a regular basis. This can also be a very important part of stewardship—the stewardship of our actual physical presence at worship on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.

+ Pledges. We are praying and hoping that we will be able to get 50 pledges  this year. With the amazing growth have had over this past year, 50 pledges is certainly not an unreasonable goal. After prayer and reflection, please fill out a pledge card, even if your pledge is a small amount. Every pledge matters.

+ Tithing. The standard of tithing is that we give 10% of our income. For some this is a very difficult thing to do. For others, this is not. Please consider working toward a tithe of 10% as your monetary goal.

+ Ministry. Ministry is so much more than the work the priest does. Ministry is the work we all do together to further the kingdom of God. As lofty as that may sound, a variety of ministries helps accomplish this goal. On a practical level, there are of course the visible ministries at St. Stephen’s, such as acolyting, lecturing and worship leader. Other ministries include altar guild and children’s chapel leaders and helpers. Of course music is a very vital and important ministry. But there are also so many ministries that go on behind the scenes, that few people even know about: cleaning, gardening, maintenance.

+ Artistic expression. On our website, we find a wonderful description of who we are at St. Stephen’s: “St Stephen’s is a growing community of artists, poets, musicians, professionals, writers, students and searchers for God.” One of the ways we can contributed of ourselves is through our talents. Maybe we are painters or sculptors or poets or musicians. These are also ways that we can contribute and make St. Stephen’s a beautiful place.

We have so much to be thankful for at St. Stephen’s. It is an exciting time for us. New people are finding a home and a family at St. Stephen’s. joining with those of who are have been here for many years. Those of us who have been here for years are finding ourselves renewed and recharged, as well as confronted with all the changes and challenges of a growing congregation. And all of us, together, are doing ministry in whatever ways we can.

All that is happening here at St. Stephen’s is something to celebrate! This is a time in which we should be giving thanks to God for this church home, this church family and these opportunities to do the ministry of loving God and one another in worship and service.

In these next few weeks, pledge cards and time and talent sheets will be arriving by mail. If you have not received your pledge package, please ask me at church and I will make sure you get one. Once your receive it, please prayerfully fill it out.

On Sunday, December 6, we will be celebrating our pledge in-gathering, when people may bring their pledges and offer them to God.

This Stewardship time is  an opportunity to celebrate these blessings God has granted to us. It is the time in which we take a good, long look at ourselves as a congregation and what we are doing in our own lives to help St. Stephen’s live even further into this growth and life we are celebrating.

More than anything, know how grateful and humbled I am to be serving you. I am truly blessed by God to be serving a congregation that is excited about what it is doing, that is renewed by its energy and committed to its following of Jesus. Thank you for all you have given to me.

Fr. Jamie+

Sunday, November 15, 2015

25 Pentecost

Stewardship Sunday

November 15, 2015

Mark 13:1-8

+ Today is, of course, Stewardship Sunday, as you have heard many times already. In these past few weeks you have heard our Senior Warden, Leo Wilking, speak and last week, you heard our treasurer, Sandy Holbrook, speak about how important this time is for us as a congregation.

Yes, it is a time for us to give. It is time to give money. It is time to give of our time and talent and selves.  Now, I will say this about Stewardship time: what I’ve come to enjoy about Stewardship is the fact that it is a time to celebrate St. Stephen’s.  

One of my many duties as Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s is to be a kind of cheerleader for the congregation.  And I love doing just that.  And we do have much to celebrate here.

I don’t think any of us—myself included—can fully appreciate what is happening here at St. Stephen’s.  We are currently experiencing a time of now only of growth but also of transition. We have seen several families leave this past year—the Ranneys, the Kurkis—due to jobs taking them away from Fargo, but we’ve also had many people came into our church this past year. We have a lot of deaths of long-time members this year. But we have also had strong and committed people who have joined us and stepped up to the plate.

For me, as your priest, my job has definitely increased considerably. I remember when I first came here, I was told by our previous priest as well as others: it’s just a nice, laid-back job. Nothing really happens during the week. Not so anymore. Literally, every day, from morning to late at night, there is something going on. I almost never have a full day off.  There are crises and joys and sorrows and broken relationships and celebrations happening all the time. And with social media, it is happening right now, all the time. And it’s wonderful. And exhausting. And mind-boggling. All at once.

And now, just when we thought maybe things can settle into place, we face a crossroads in our congregation. This past Thursday, Leo and I met with the Bishop to discuss Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight or the DEPO process for our congregation. We discussed the option of how we may implement a new Bishop to look out over our congregation, while still remaining an active and vital congregation within the Diocese.

This is a very important step for us. I don’t think I can stress that enough. It is a very, very important step for us.  Our deciding whether or not to accept Bishop Smith’s offer of DEPO is a huge move on our part and a very loud statement.  And many of support it And some of us do not.

This is where we are on this Stewardship Sunday in 2015. It is an incredibly important time in our history. And we are facing it not with fear and trepidation. We are facing it not with bitterness and anger and pettiness.  But we are facing it in celebration.  We are celebrating our growth.  We are celebrating an incredibly bright future.  We are celebrating who we are as a fully-inclusive, fully-welcoming church.  And we are celebrating what God is doing through us.

When anyone asks me what the “secret” of our success at St. Stephen’s is, I always say, two things.  First, the Holy Spirit. We do need to give credit where credit is due. Without God’s Spirit at work here among us, we would not be where we are and doing what we’re doing.

And second, it is because we welcome and accept radically and we love radically. Now, people—people in the CHURCH—are shocked by that.  And, to be honest, I am shocked that people in the Church are shocked by that.

This is not rocket science.  This is not quantum physics.  This is basic Christianity that we are doing here at St. Stephen’s. Basic Christianity, as we live it out here at St. Stephen’s, is nothing more than following Jesus in his commandment to love God and love one another as we love ourselves.  It’s just that.

The night before our meeting with the Bishop many of us here gathered for our regular Wednesday night Eucharist.  During that liturgy, we prayed for a man none of us knew. We prayed for a man about whom we knew nothing, except his name.

Adolf Scott.

But on Wednesday, we gave Adolf Scott a Requiem Mass, as we would anyone else who needed a burial service. Afterward, we processed out into the cold and dark, and we buried his urn in our memorial garden.  And there his ashes are, this morning. In our midst. Buried like any of us. With respect.  And dignity.  The same respect and dignity God felt for him. The same respect and dignity, somewhere along the way, he did not received receive elsewhere.

Of course, that simple act—that act that is no different than any other acts we do as a congregation here—attracted some notice shall we say. And the feedback on what we did on Wednesday night was loud and clear.

“This is what the church SHOULD doing.”

“You are all an example of Christ in the flesh.”

“This one of the kindest things I’ve seen in a long time.”

Those were from people who never stepped foot inside this church.

This is what happens when we do what we do as a congregation. We did not bury Adolf Scott because of the press. We did not do this to get a pat on the back by others—or even by people within our own midst (because no matter what we do sometimes, that pat won’t come)

In my sermon that night, I said, “We do these acts not because we think they’ll get us in the good graces of God, or provide us with an easy ticket to heaven. We do them, because doing them brings about good in this world. And when good comes into this world, we believe God is present.”
In many ways, Adolf Scott represents all of those people who have come through those doors, seeking shelter, seeking refuge, seeking solace.

And we have done just that, at St. Stephen’s. We continue to do just that. The whole reason we are considering the DEPO process is because we have lived that out as a congregation. This DEPO process is not an issue of the Bishop and me not getting along with each other.  Actually do get along on a personal level. This is not a personal argument between us and authority. This not about us being rebels. And this is not just a matter of sexuality either.

It is a matter of equality and justice.  It is matter of us doing what we are called to do.

Make no mistake about it: this process is about us as a congregation putting our money our mouths are. It is about us being the open and welcoming congregation we have always been, without impediment. It is a matter of us being able to say that we truly respect the worth and dignity of all people, no matter who they are. It is a matter of living out our Baptismal Covenant.  It is a matter of saying that all people deserve the rites of this Church fully and completely.

It is a matter of love.  To love—fully and completely.  To love—radically and inclusively.

Here, at St. Stephen’s it is not a matter of politics (we don’t care what political party you belong to—we really don’t), or how you dress (the only one who is expected to dress up here is me—and that’s my own expectation more than anything), or the way you talk (or don’t talk), or what your sexual orientation is, or whatever.

It’s just a matter of coming here.  Of being here.  And of being with us here.  And being here as one of us.  I personally don’t see that as all that radical.  I see that being as fairly basic.

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying ominously, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”

These words of Jesus are especially poignant for us on this particular Sunday, in these days after the terrorist attack on Paris, especially.  There truly are wars and rumors of wars in this world this morning.  Jesus uses a very interesting description of these fears and pains—images of war and their rumors.  He calls them “birth pangs.”

And I think “pang” is the right word to be using here, for us at this moment.  Yes, it may be painful to be going through what we may be going through as a congregation in the near future. It may be frightening. The future may seem  at times bleak.  But it is not war. And it is not death throes.  It is merely the birth pangs of our continued growth.

Those of us who are here—who have experienced pain inflicted on us by the Church, who have been on the receiving end of those church people who believe we don’t belong—we know this feeling. Jesus uses the right image here to describe what we are going through now and in the future.  Yes, there will be wars and rumors of wars.  Yes, there will be moments when church leaders and church attendees will say and do hurtful, war-like things or by their silence perpetuate hurtful, war-like things.

But the words we cling to—that we hold on to and find our strength in to bear those pangs—is in the words “do not be alarmed.”

Do not be alarmed.

There is a calmness to his words. This is all part of our birth into new life, he is explaining to us. As you have heard me say many, many times from this pulpit: The Church is changing.  Some say the Church is dying. I can tell you, it most definitely is not. This Church is just going through major birth pangs.

But that is not something over which to despair.  Rather, be assured.  Take comfort.  Yes, we are going through the pangs, but once we have weathered these pains, once we have gone through them, we will have something precious in our midst. We will be a Church more along the lines of what Jesus intended the Church to be—a place in which everyone, no matter who they are or what they are is not only welcomed, but loved.  Loved, fully and completely.  Accepted fully and completely. And treated equally.  And this is why we do not have to be alarmed.

If we allow these fears to reign in our lives, if we allow the pain and bitterness to triumph, then we all lose.  If we live with our pangs and do not outlive them, then the words of Jesus to us—those words of “do not be alarmed”—are in vain. Why?  Because in the end, God will always triumph.  If we place our trust—our confidence—in God, we will be all right.

Yes, we will suffer birth pangs, but look what comes after them.  It is a loving and gracious God who calms our fears amidst calamity and rumors of calamity.  Our job is simply to live as fully as we can.  Our job is to simply do what we’ve always been doing here at St. Stephen’s.  To welcome, to accept, to love. To not judge.  

We have this moment.  This holy moment was given to us by our loving and gracious God.  We must live it without fear or malice.  We must live it fully and completely. And we must be a part of it.

This Stewardship Sunday is about us doing our part as a congregation that does the things St. Stephen’s does. Yes, it means giving money to this congregation—the tithe that Sandy talked about last week.  Striving to give our 10%.  It also means giving of our time and energy. I preached a few Sundays ago about how there seem to be two types of Christians—those who believe the Church is here to serve them, and those who believe the Church is a place in which they can serve.

On Stewardship Sunday, we are being asked to serve as well.  To serve in love. To serve fully as Jesus calls us to serve and love.

So, let us do just that.  Let us live this moment fully.  Let us LOVE boldly.
 And let us serve.

In the near future, we are probably going to hear people say: There’s St. Stephen’s again.  There they are, that rebellious church that keeps pushing the boundaries.

So be it.  We ARE pushing the boundaries.  We are pushing the boundaries of love and acceptance.  We are pushing the boundaries of justice and equality. We are pushing those boundaries so that the Kingdom of God can exist among us in some way.  We are pushing the boundaries of what the Church should be and could be.  And we are all doing it together—not just here in church on Sundays or Wednesdays, but in the very lives we are living in the world throughout the rest of our week, in how we are standing up and speaking out for justice and equality for all people.

So, let us, on this Stewardship Sunday, continue to do what we’ve been doing.  Let us welcome radically and love radically.  To give of ourselves fully, so that we can serve fully.  Let us, in our following of Jesus, continue to strive to be a powerful and visible conduit of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

It’s already happening.  Right now.  Right here.  In our midst.  There’s nothing to be alarmed about.  Rather, it is truly a time in which to be grateful and joyous.

Let us pray
Lord Christ, surround us with your love. Be present in this congregation of St. Stephen’s as you have been since our beginning. Let us know your presence among us—in the sacrament, in your Word and in those who have gathered here in your name. Let your Spirit be present with us and in all we do. Open our hearts and our minds to the goodness you are doing here through us. And let us respond appropriately. Bless St. Stephen’s with abundance and with the resources needed to do the ministries we do here.  Let us, in turn, do good. Let peace reign here with us, even as wars and rumors of wars rage about us. And let your words of assurance to us to not be alarmed calm our hearts and souls so that we can do what you have called us to do.  In your name, we pray in confidence.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fargo Forum article about Adolf Scott's committal

‘Ashes to ashes’: Fargo church buries unknown urn

  at 6:00 a.m.

FARGO – The air was thick with the sweet scent of incense at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church as the parishioners gathered to bury a brother they know only by name.
"Adolf Scott" is what it says on the label at the bottom of an ornate black urn that someone found in July at a north-end apartment building not far from the church.
No one has come to claim the ashes, and the coroner has been unable to locate his next of kin.
"We don't know where he was born, where he died, what kind of life he lived; we do not know if he was a good person or a terrible person," the Rev. Jamie Parsley told the congregation. "Ultimately, tonight, none of that matters. What matters, tonight, is that we are welcoming him here into our midst. We're providing him with some dignity in his death."
Parishioners prayed and called him "Brother Adolf" as the burial rites instructed. Parsley, the priest-in-charge at the church, then led them out into the churchyard to bury him in the memorial garden.
A strange find
Scott might have died recently, or he might have died a century ago.
"In an urn, (ashes) last forever," said Cass County Coroner John Baird.
And a portion of the ashes appear to be missing, but it's also possible that Scott died as a baby, or that his ashes were shared among family members, Baird said.
When Parsley heard about the urn, he offered to bury it in the church's new memorial garden.
"One of the things we envisioned from day one was we would also be able to provide burial for the ashes of others," he said. "It's just a privilege for us to give him a place."
Parsley is willing to return the ashes if an owner claims them, but this could mark the end of a saga that began four months ago at Edgewood Court Apartments, 3301 Broadway.
On July 22, resident manager Paula Schmidt heard from several tenants that an urn was on top of the mailboxes, and she brought it inside. Typically, her residents know to visit the office when they've lost something, but no one came.
She called Fargo police five days later and gave them the urn, then put up signs in the building's entrances. Again, no response, which surprised Schmidt.
"If it was my loved one, their ashes, I definitely would be looking around if I lost it," she said Wednesday. "If you did leave something like that, wouldn't you want to pick it up?"
Maybe it was dropped off by a person driving by, she suggested, but the incident still puzzles her.
"That's probably the strangest thing that's happened to me since I've managed," said Schmidt, who's been managing apartments for 25 years.
Mystery man
Police handed the urn off to the Cass County Coroner's Office, which attempted to find records of the deceased Adolf Scott or his family. No luck.
Deputy Coroner Kriste Ross determined there were 147 Adolf Scotts, living and dead, in the United States. But when she called the departments of vital statistics, which track births and deaths, in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Winnipeg, "none had Adolf Scotts who were deceased," she said.
She checked the Cass County registries dating back to 1935, but discovered no Adolf Scott has lived here in the past 80 years. She also called all of the local funeral homes, "and nobody had handled those remains," she said.
It was a tedious process that took weeks, but what frustrates Ross most is "that (the ashes) are abandoned, for one, and then not being able to find the person or people who they belong to."
'Dust to dust'
In the dark churchyard, Parsley knelt on the ground as he carefully placed the urn in a hole next to a stone cross.
"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," he said and tossed a handful of dirt over the urn.
The parishioners followed as they helped bury Scott near the ashes of other parishioners.
Schmidt expressed relief that the church agreed to the burial.
"When somebody has died, you need to hold it in honor and respect," she said. "And I was kind of wondering what they were going to end up doing with it, but I'm so thankful that somebody agreed to do that."

3 Pentecost

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