Sunday, June 27, 2021

5 Pentecost

 June 27, 2021

Mark 5.21-43

+ If you’re anything like me—and I know some of you are on this one—you know how awful being impatient can be.

We want certain things—and we want them NOW.

Not tomorrow.

Not in some vague future.


And it no doubt drives those of around us crazy.

But I am impatient.

I want to be doing certain things.

And I have never liked waiting.

Waiting is one of the worst things I can imagine.

Many years ago, I studied a famous play by Jean-Paul Sartre called No Exit.

I’m not going to go into the whole plot of the play, but the essence is this.

Three damned souls arrive in hell, expecting torture and fire and unending pain.

Instead, they’re brought into a plain room.

And they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

There’s more to the play than this, but essentially, it’s about hell being simply a waiting room in which one waits and waits and waits.

To me, that play has always been terrifying.

I understand it.

I get it.


That’s what hell would be like (if I believed in hell)

Impatient as I am, ultimately I know that waiting and being patient is a good thing sometimes.

I’ll give you an example.

If you have lost anyone, due to death especially, but also due to divorce or any other type of separation, you are going to mourn.

Mourning is a terrible thing.

It is something none of us want to go through.

It is so deeply and unrelently painful.

And the pain doesn’t seem to go away.

For any of us who goes through it, we have all come to  that moment when we simply want to be done with mourning.

We want to be past it.

We want to escape this thing that we simply cannot escape.

We feel trapped by it—walled in on all sides by it.

 So, we want to be done with it all and move on.

We realize that death and mourning and grief are all part of our own experience of hell here on earth.

Because, right there, right then, in the midst of it all—it’s truly the most terrible thing.

In fact, it’s very much like Sartre’s hell.

We want to be done with mourning and sadness and all that goes along with losing someone we love.

The fact is, as much as we want that—it doesn’t work this way.

We can’t rush these things.

Things happen in their due course.

Not OUR course.

Not MY course!

But the proper course.

God works in God’s own time.

Now I know that sounds like a platitude.

And I know that those sound like empty words when we are in midst of our own personal hell.

But it really does work that way.

And this is probably the most difficult thing for us.

Because we don’t see things the way God sees things.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote that classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, used the analogy of a carpet.

There are two sides of a carpet.

There is the top side of the carpet, where everything is beautiful and orderly.

The top side of carpet is that way the carpet should be seen.

But there’s also the underside of the carpet.

On the underside of the carpet, we see the stray strands of yarn, the ugly dried glue, a distorted view of what the carpet actually is.

While we are here, we are living on the underside of the carpet—the carpet being our life and the world.

It often feels like things don’t make sense.

It’s because we’re seeing it from this undersided view.

But God sees things from the upperside of the carpet.

And one day, we too will see our lives from that perspective as well.

And somehow, in some way, it will all make sense.

I truly believe that!

But the key is: we need to be patient.

 Impatience is present in our Gospel reading for today, but in a more subtle way.

Our reading from the Gospel today also teaches us an important reflection on our own impatience and waiting, and also about how the hell of death is ultimately defeated.

We have two things going on.

We have Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, who has lost his daughter, even though he doesn’t know it yet.

The hell of death has drawn close to Jairus.

While Jairus is pleading with Jesus to heal his daughter, we encounter this unnamed woman who has been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years—twelve years!—is desperate.

This so-called unnamed woman actually, according to tradition, has a name.


And she is, it is believed, to be the same woman we encounter whenever we do the Stations of the Cross.

At Station #6, she is the one who wipes the face of Jesus as he carries his cross toward Golgotha.

So, Veronica is impatient.

She wants healing.

I can tell you in all honesty that as I read and reflected and lived with this Gospel reading this past week,  I could relate.  

I can relate to Jairus, who is being touched with the darkness of death in his life.

And when I read of the woman with a hemorrhage grasping at the hem of Jesus’ garment, I could certainly empathize with her impatience and her grasping.

Many of us have known the anguish of Jairus.

We have known the anguish and pain of watching someone we love die.

And many of us know the pain and impatience of Veronica.

We often find ourselves bleeding deeply inside—and I don’t mean just physically but emotionally and psychologically too—with no possible hope for relief.

For us, as we relate, that “bleeding” might not be an actual bleeding, but a bleeding of our spirit, of our hopes and dreams, of a deep emotional or spiritual wound that just won’t heal, or just our grief and sadness, which, let me tell you, can also “bleed” away at us.  

And when we’ve been desperate, when we find ourselves so impatient, so in need of a change, we find ourselves clutching at anything—at any little thing.

We clutch even for a fringe of the prayer shawl of the One whom God sends to us in those dark moments.

When we do, we find, strangely, God’s healing.

And in this story of Jarius’ daughter, I too felt that moment in which I felt separated from the loved ones in my life—by death, yes, of course.

But also when I felt that a distance was caused by estrangement or anger.

And when I have begged for healing for them and for myself, it has often come.

I have shared with you before the pain of the estranged relationship I had with my sister, how for years we had little or nothing to do with each other, due to what we later realized were outside, nefarious forces in the guise of “family.”

But someone, in God’s own time, after years of praying about that relationship, it was healed.

It was truly a miracle in my life.

And I am very grateful for it.

But it came in God’s own time.

Not in mine.

It is a matter of simply  sometimes waiting.

For Jairus, he didn’t have to wait long.

For the woman, it took twelve years.

But in both cases, it came.

Still, I admit, I continue to be impatient.

I probably will always be inpatient.

But even now, even when the pain of mourning comes back, when I truly mourn still, after many years for loved ones I’ve lost, in the midst of it all, I can hear those words that truly do comfort me:

 “Why do you make a commotion and weep? Your loved one is not dead but only sleeping.”

Resurrection comes in many forms in our lives and if we wait them out these moments will happen.

And not all impatience is bad.

It is all right to be impatient—righteously impatient—for justice, for the right thing to be done.

It is all right to be impatient for injustice and lying and deceit to be brought to light and be revealed.

And dealt with.

It is all right to be impatient for the right thing to be done in this world.

But we cannot let our impatience get in the way of seeing that  miracles continue to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

I know, because I have seen it again and again and, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others.

We know that in God, we find our greatest consolation.

Our God of justice and compassion and love will provide and will win out ultimately over the forces of darkness that seem, at times, to prevail in our lives.  

Knowing that, reminding ourselves of all that, we are able to be strengthened and sustained and rejuvenated.

We are able to face whatever life may throw at us with hope and defiance and, sometimes, even joy.

We are not in Sartre’s hell.

Trust me.

We’re not.

At some point, the doors of what seems like that eternal waiting room will be opened.

And we will be called forward.

And all will be well.

That is what scripture and our faith in God tell us again and again.

That is how God works in this world and in our lives.

So, let us cling to this hope and find true strength in it.

True strength to get us through those impatient moments in our lives when we want darkness and death and injustice and pain behind us.  

Let us be truly patient for our God.  

If we do, those words of Jesus to the woman today will be words directed to us as well:

“your faith has made you well;

go in peace;

be healed.”




Let us pray.

Holy God, the God of life, we are impatient. We are impatient for so much in this life. We are impatient for an end to suffering and injustice and pain. We are impatient for all things to be restored to fullness and goodness. But mostly we are impatient for your presence in our midst, for your blessings and your joy. Help us to be patient, and in our patience, help us to be aware of the needs of those around us who also, in their impatience, are need of love and care. In Jesus’s Name, we pray.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

4 Pentecost

 June 20, 2021

 Job 38.1-11; Mark 4.35-41

 + Well, today, June 20th, is a big anniversary for anyone who has lived in this area for any period of time.

 It was on this day, 64 years ago on June 20, 1957, that a tornado struck Fargo and killed 12 people.

 As many of you know, I wrote a book about that event, which published back in 2010.

 The book is entitled Fargo, 1957.

 It was just reprinted on Friday.

 And later today I was supposed to read at Broadway Plaza for an anniversary event, but it was postponed due to the rain.

 I wrote that book because my mother’s cousin and her husband died as a result of that tornado.

 Don Titgen, my mother’s cousin’s husband, died in the actual tornado on that day in 1957

 And Betty Titgen, my mom’s cousin, died in January 1960 after being in a coma from the time of the tornado until her death.


I ended up doing research on the lives of the twelve recognized victims of the tornado, as well as the life of Dick Shaw, who was the young man in the famous photo carrying the body of a six-year-old victim of the tornado, who ended up dying twelve years later tragically.

 I also interviewed Mercedes Erickson.

 She was the mother of the six children who died that day.

 That day was also Mercedes’ 36 birthday.

 Today would’ve been her 100th birthday.

 The kids didn’t leave the house as the tornado was coming because they had just made a birthday cake for her and wanted to surprise her as she came home from work that day.

 For Mercedes, she lived with a pain few of us know, for the rest of her life.

 That book affected me for a long time.

 I struggled for quite awhile both as I was writing that book and afterward to make sense of this event.

 As a Christian, as a priest, I had to ask myself: why?

 Why did this happen?

 Why did this happen to these people?

 These people were people just like you and me.

 They woke up that morning—to a hot, June Thursday morning in Fargo, North Dakota—just like any other day.

 And then, a storm came and uprooted their entire lives in a matter of moments.

 As I pondered our reading from the Gospel of Mark, I found myself  re-examining the events of June, 20, 1957 and thought about the storms in my own life in the light of that scripture.

 We all have them.

 We all have our own storms in this life.

 We all have our own chaos.

 And they are disruptive.

 And they can be destructive.

 Certainly our own Deacon John, whose first ordination anniversary we are celebrating today, can tell us about storms.

 I remember very clearly the first time he visited St. Stephen’s 7 or 8 years ago.

 He had been battered by some storms in his life—storms created by the Church and by life and in general.

 And he came here looking for a safe harbor from those storms.

 And because he did, we are grateful today.

 We all benefitted from being a safe haven from the storms of this life for John, and hopefully for many others.

 So, the question to ask of ourselves this morning is: What is God saying to us when the storms invade our lives?

 What do we do in the windstorms of our lives, when we feel battered and beaten and bashed?

 Well, as I have been pondering on that Gospel reading and on that book I wrote all that times ago, one glaring, honest reality of my life came forth:

 Although we can’t control the storms of our lives, we can control how we react to them.

 We can’t control ill fortunes, or sickness, or old age or accident.

 We can’t control tornados, and the loss of loved ones, or pandemics or the weather.

 But we can control our reaction to those things.

  So, when we hear scriptures like this today, as we experience our own storms in our lives, what do we do?

 How do we respond?

 Do we let the winds blow, let the chaos rage?

 Or do we, in those moments, calm ourselves and listen?

 Do we strain against the wind of the storm and listen to hear the Voice of God?

 The fact is, if you do so, trust me: we will hear God’s voice.

 If we turn our spiritual ears toward God, we will hear God, even in those storms in our lives.

 When bad things happen in our lives, we ask, Why do bad things happen to those of us who are faithful to God?

 We have all asked this question in life.

 Why do bad things happen to good people, to people who are faithful and loving and good?

 Why do bad things happen to us, who strive in our own ways to be    good and loving and faithful?

 Why do our lives get turned upside down sometimes?

 We want answers when we shout our angry questions of unfairness into the storm, our fist raised.

 But, sometimes the voice from the wind—as we shake with fear or anger (or both) and hold on for dear life during those frightening storms—asks us a question in return:

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 That is the voice of Jesus, answering us in the storm.

 Why fear the whirlwinds and all that they unleash upon us?

 Have we no faith?

 Again and again through the scriptures God commands us, in various voices, “do not be afraid.”

 “Do not be afraid.”

 And still we fear.

 And our fear causes anger.

 And our fear causes more storms, more chaos.

 But the message is that although the storms of our lives will rage around us, when we stop fearing, those storms are quieted.

 Because sometimes the voice that comes out of the storms of our lives is not asking a question of us.

 Sometimes the voice that comes out of the storms of our lives commands,

 “Peace! Be Still!”


 “Be still!”

 In that calm stillness, we feel God’s Presence most fully and completely.

 As disoriented as we might be from being buffeted by the storm, that stillness can almost be as disorienting as the storms themselves.

 Still, in it, we find Jesus, calm and collected, awaiting us to have faith, to shed our fears and to allow the all-powerful and all-loving God of Jesus to still the storms of our lives.

 So, in those moments when we stir up the forces of our anger, when the whirlwinds rage, when the storms come up, when the skies turn dark and ominous, when fear begins lurking at our doors and anger jostles us around, let us strain toward that Voice that asks us,

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 Do not fear, God is saying to us again and again.

 Do not fear what life or death or storms can throw at us.

 Have faith.

 God is more powerful than death or storms.

 Our God is a God of life and peace.

 God loves us.

 God loves each us fully and completely.

 God will not leave alone even in the storms of our lives.

 And the storms will not prevail.

 In the end, the storms don’t win.

 The storms are only temporary.

 But God’s love, the life we find with God, that is unending.

 In midst of even the worst whirlwinds of our lives, there is a stillness dwelling in its core.

 “In the time of my favor I heard you,” God says to us in our reading from Paul this morning. “And in the day of trouble I helped you.”

 God always helps us in our trouble.

 And knowing that we realize that above every storm, above every tornado, there is a Light that is about to shine through.

 And is then than we can live!

 And flourish!

 See! we hear Paul saying today in his letter,

 See, now is the acceptable time;

 see, now is the day of [our] salvation! 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

3 Pentecost


June 13, 2021


Ezekiel 17.22-24; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34

 + One of the things we priests encounter on a regular basis are people who tell us about why they don’t attend church anymore.

 In fact, that’s very common.

 Invariably, whenever I do a wedding, as I did last night, or a funeral and sit with people afterward at the receptions, people get to feeling a bit guilty and start telling me why they don’t attend Church.

 Or I’ve been getting a lot of people telling me in these post-pandemic months why their haven’t attended.

 Which is all good.

 I like hearing those stories.

 For the most part.

 They’re important for all of us to hear on occasion.

 And one of the most common reasons, I’ve found, is that, oftentimes, it is not issues of their belief in God, or in anything spiritual that causes them to stop attending.

 In fact, I very rarely ever hear someone say they stopped attending church because of God.

 The number one reason?

 The Church itself.

 Capital C.

 The oppressiveness of the Church.

 The actions of the Church.

 The close-mindedness and the restrictions of the Church and, more especially, those agents of the Church who feel that their duty is is to uphold he institutions of the Church over the care of those who attend the Church.

 (Those agents are the same ones who, it seems, forgets that WE are the church).

 And even then, it’s not big things that do.

 It’s not giant things that drive people away from Church.

 It’s sometimes small things.

 A comment made at coffee hour.

 A seemingly innocent critique.

 A tsk of the tongue.

 Or a tone in the voice.

 A shake of a finger from a priest or a bishop from a pulpit.

 I hope I haven’t been guilty of that.

 I don’t have to tell anyone here this morning:  small things do matter when it comes to the Church, to our faith in God.

 Jesus definitely understood this.

 In our Gospel reading is Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to the smallest thing they could’ve understood.

 A mustard seed.

 A small, simple mustard seed.

 Something they no doubt knew.

 And something they no doubt gave little thought to. But it was with this simple image—this simple symbol—that Jesus makes clear to those listening that little things do matter.

 And we, as followers of Jesus, need to take heed of that.

 Little things DO matter.

 Because little things can unleash BIG things.

 Even the smallest action on our part can bring forth the kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

 But those small actions—those little seeds that we sow in our lives—can also bring about not only God’s kingdom but the exact opposite.

 Our smallest bad actions, can, destroy.

 Our actions can destroy the kingdom in our midst and drive us further away from God.

 Any of us who do ministry on a regular basis know this keenly.

 You will hear me say this again and again to anyone who wants to do ministry: be careful about those small actions.

 You’ve heard me say: when it comes to dealing with people in the church, use VELVET GLOVES.

 Be sensitive to others.

 Those small words or actions.

 Those little criticisms of people who are volunteering.

 Those little snips and moments of impatience.

 That impatient tone in a voice.

 Those moments of frustration at someone who doesn’t quite “get it” or who simply can’t do it.

 “Use velvet gloves all the time,” I say, and I mean it.

 None of us can afford to lose anyone from the church, no matter how big the church might be.

 Even one lost person is a huge loss to all of us.

 I cannot tell you how many times I hear stories about clergy or lay leaders who said or did one thing wrong and it literally destroyed a person’s faith.

 I’m sure almost everyone here this morning has either experienced a situation like this first hand with a priest or pastor or even a lay person in a leadership position in the church.

 Or if not you, you have known someone close who has.

 A good friend of mine who doesn’t attend church anymore shared this story with me once.

 This person was very active in her parish (this wasn't St. Stephen's mind you), especially when her kids were young.

 She was active on the altar guild, in Sunday School, helped organize the annual parish rummage sale, but especially liked to help out in the kitchen.

 She and another parishioner decided one day to volunteer to thoroughly clean the church kitchen, from top to bottom.

 After a whole day of hard work, they stood back t5o survey the work they did and admired the “spic and span” kitchen.

 It was at that moment that one of the matriarchs of the parish happened to enter the kitchen.

 She proceeded to carefully examine the newly cleaned kitchen.

 Finally, she humphed and, as she exited the kitchen, she loudly proclaimed, “Well, your ‘spic and span’ kitchen isn’t very “spic and span!’”

 That was all it took.

 Within a year of that comment neither of those women, both of whom were invaluable workers in that parish, were attending church anymore.

 And not just them.

 But their children too.

 Luckily, I still have contact with them both.

 I have performed weddings and baptisms for those now-grown kids.

 But those families are not attending church anywhere this morning.

 And probably never will.

 Now, sometimes remarks by priests or lay people are innocent comments.

 There may have been no bad intention involved.

 But one wrong comment—one wrong action—a cold shoulder or an exhausted roll of the eyes or a scolding or the tone of a voice—the fact that a priest did not visit us when were in the hospital or said something that we took the wrong way—is all it takes when a person is in need to turn that person once and for all away from the church and, possibly, from God.

 That mustard seed all of a sudden takes on a whole other meaning in a case like this.

 What grows from a small seed like this is a flowering tree of hurt and despair and anger and bitterness.

 So, it is true.

 Those seeds we sow do make a huge difference in the world.

 Please, please, please, strive hard in your lives not to be the matriarch in that story.

 Strive hard not be that kind of Church to people.

 Strive hard to guard your actions and comments, to guard your tone and the way your respond to others.

 Because, I’ll be honest: I have done it as well.

 I have made some stupid comment in a joking manner that was taken out of context.

 You know me.

 I have a big mouth and a biting wit.

 And sometimes things I have said have been taken out of context and used against me.

 I remember one time, when I was a new priest, when I made a joking comment to a dear parishioner and she began to cry.

 I apologized and felt truly terrible for even doing it.

 Luckily, she stayed.

 And we can joke about it to this day.

 On another occasion, I remember an instance where one of our former Senior Warden and I were having an exchange by text.

 I can’t remember the exact situation, but she took something I said as a severe criticism of her and was deeply hurt.

 Again, luckily, I caught it quickly, and called her immediately and we realized that conveying things like tone and emotions through text messaging is often difficult.

 And she is still here with us as well.

 And we also can joke about it.

 But, more often than not, people don’t stay.

 And I regret those instances. Deeply.

 The loss of any one of us is a HUGE loss.

 The loss of any one of you is a HUGE loss.

 And it would hurt me deeply to know that I have wronged any of you in any way.

 See, those mustard seeds in our lives are important.

 We get to make the choice.

 We can sow seeds of goodness and graciousness—seeds of the Gospel.

 We can sow the seeds of God’s kingdom.

 Or we can sow the seeds of discontent.

 We can, through our actions, sow the weeds and thistles that will kill off the harvest.

 These past several years—and especially over this last pandemic year—you have heard me preach ad nauseum about change in the church.

 Well, I am clear when I say that the most substantial changes we can make in the church are not always the BIG ones.

 Oftentimes, the most radical changes we can make are in the little things we do—the things we think are not important.

 We forget about how important the small things in life are—and more importantly we forget how important the small things in life are to God.

 God does take notice of the small things.

 We have often heard the term “the devil is in the details.”

 But I can’t help but believe that it is truly God who is in the details.

 God works just as mightily through the small things of life as through the large.

 This is what Jesus is telling us this morning in this parable.

 So, let us take notice of those small things.

 It is there we will find our faith—our God.

 It from that small place—those tentative attempts at growth—that God’s kingdom flourishes in our lives.

 So, let us be mindful of those smallest seeds we sow in our lives as followers of Jesus.

 Let us remind ourselves that sometimes what they produce can either be a wonderful and glorious tree or a painful, hurtful weed.

 Let us sow God’s love from the smallest ounce of faith.

 Let us truly further the kingdom of God’s love in whatever seemingly small ways we can.

 Let us pray.

 Loving God, help to truly see how important the small things are in our lives and in the lives of those who share this lie with us. Help to sow seeds of love and hope and goodness in this world, and by doing so, may those seeds bring forth your Kingdom of total and inclusive love in this world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.   


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...