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.   


Sunday, June 6, 2021

2 Pentecost/Corpus Christi Sunday

June 6, 2021

 Mark 3.20-35


+ On June 18, I will commemorate the first anniversary of my brother, Jason’s death.


As many of you who know me well, know that I have been quite honest about the bizarre, not always pleasant relationship I had with my siblings. Actually half-siblings.


And of my siblings, my relationship with Jason was…complex to say the least.


We were the closest in age.


He was 10 years older than me.


So, as you can imagine, we had a complicated, often unpleasant, relationship with each other.


Still, the death of a sibling, even one you may not be close with, is a hard to thing to

Jason Gould with his half-brother, the future Fr. Jamie, 1970



And Jason’s death, I will be honest, jarred me.


It was a hard one.


Now, something good came out of it.


My sister Michelle and I ended up reconciling after many years.


And I am very grateful for my relationship with my sister.


And, as I said, I will be remembering the first anniversary of my brother Jason’s death with deep sadness.


Sadness that we were not able to have a better relationship.


Sadness over the years were lost.


Sadness over the fact that there simply are situations in which reconciliation is not possible.


So, when I hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus saying,


“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.”


I really understand it.


It is a statement that resonates with me.


And I am able to fully understand it.


Now for Mary, his mother, and to his brothers and sisters, it was no doubt a jarring statement.


But, I’ve always loved that scripture for a probably not so nice of a reason.


Many of us know full-well that family is not always those who share our genetics with us.


Family is often those we chose as family.


The Church reminds us of this again and again.


Those of us who follow Jesus, who are the sisters and brothers of Jesus, we are also sisters and brothers to each other, are, hence, family.


It is true of our church and it is true of our own community here at St. Stephen’s.


What does it mean to do the will of God?


Do I honestly need to even ask this this morning?


We know what doing the will of God is.


It’s peached and lived out in this church every single day.


Doing the will of God is loving—radically and fully and completely.


Doing the will of God is accepting all people radically and completely.


Doing the will of God is being radically and fully inclusive.


Doing the will of God is doing things that others say shouldn’t (or can’t) be done.


Essentially, it is being a family to those who need families.


That is what the Church does best.


Certainly, when we look around us here at St. Stephen’s, we do understand what a family is, and what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading for today.


Yes, we are an eclectic, eccentric bunch of people.


That may truly be THE understatement of understatements.


But, when we look around, we also realize we’re very much a family.


Now, by that I don’t mean we’re all happy and nice with each other.


When we get this kind of variety together in one place, there are going to be differences.


There are going to be people (or priests, or deacons) who drive us crazy.


But, in the end, we always come together and do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.


Of course, one of the things we endure in our lives is Christians are other Christians-Christians who delight in embracing a false Christianity==a Christianity that is at direct odds with all that the Jewish, Middle Easter Jesus taught and professed.


Jesus, I hate to break the news to you, was not white, was not American and would have major issues with almost everything people who claim he was hold dear.


We have to deal with Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians who tell us we’re not “real” Christians because of the stances we make, because of the people we choose to include in our church.


Because we don’t exclude the people those denominations think Christians should exclude.


On this Corpus Christi Sunday, we remind ourselves that we don’t deny people the Body and blood of Jesus here just because they think differently, or believe differently than us.


After all, we are not the special “keepers” of the Body and Blood of Jesus.


And the Church is not some exclusive country club made up of only “good” people, who all follow the rules perfectly.


The Church is a hospital for all of us who fail, and sometimes fail miserably.


And the altar is a table to which ALL are invited, not just those who have followed all the rules and believe all the right things.


Often those same churches are committing some serious infractions themselves, they like to look for the slivers in others eyes without seeing the great big old log in their own as they bow down to the idolatrous Jesus they have formed in their own image and cow tailing to the insidious heresy of Nationalism.


Well, as I say quite often, the Jesus I follow is not that idolatrous Jesus.


I do not follow a white, blond, American  Jesus.


The Jesus I follow was not a Christian.


The Jesus I follow was a kosher-keeping Jewish, Middle Eastern man who was murdered by a government that claimed it was the most powerful nation on the world and worshipped its leader as a god.  


And that the people he included were the same people the religious authorities of his day said should be excluded.


We, here at St. Stephen’s, are the one who shrug our shoulders at those in authority who tell us we shouldn’t do what we have done here.


We are the ones who snub our noses at those other denominations who exclude people from their church, who exclude people from Jesus’ altar, who exclude people from the Church.


We are the ones who include everyone at this altar because we know it is not our exclusive altar, it is not MY exclusive altar—it Jesus’ altar, it is Jesus’ table.


And no one is excluded from that table.

No one is excluded from Jesus' Body and Blood.


We are the ones who, back in the early 1970s, gave women a place in leadership when others said that can’t be done.


We are the ones who say again and again that peace is always an option and that justice is a Christian obligation even while wars and rumors of wars raged around us.


We are the ones who welcome all people in these doors in the name of Christ, receiving them as Christ and including them as one of us.


We are the ones who enthusiastically welcomed gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual queer people to this altar for decades.


We are the ones united under the overarching love and acceptance of God to include all people here, because we are a family under the overarching love of God.


We are the ones who stand up and say we cannot abide when those in  authority tell us we cannot do this or that.


We are the ones who, on good days and bad, who in the face of life’s storms or in the sunshine of our youth, who even at the grave, are able to rejoice and sing and say, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”


We are the ones who gather here, at this altar—at Jesus’ altar—again and again, to break bread with each other, to share the Body and Blood of Christ, and to then go out into the world to share Christ with others.


This is what it means to do the will of God.


And by doing this, we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus.


And sisters and brothers to each other as well.


As you hear me say, again and again, especially in the wake of this pandemic, the church is changing.


If you want to see the Church of the future, this is it!


It is a church filled with music and poetry and art, but it is a church centered squarely on God and God’s Christ.


It is a Church supported by the saints, both those who are alive and present right here, and those who, like my brother Jason, are singing their praises this morning in the Presence of the Lamb.


It is a Church that is radically different and yet radically the same.


“Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?” we are being asked today.


We are!


We are being Jesus’ sisters and brothers in this world by doing what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.  


So, let us be the siblings of Jesus in this world.


Let us reflect God’s Light and Love to others.


Let us, as Jesus’ siblings, shine!


Shine in all we say and do.


Shine in conveying the Light of God’s love and acceptance to all.


Today and always, let us SHINE!  


Let us pray.


Loving God, help us as we seek to do your will and be the sisters and brothers of mothers of Jesus to those who need sisters and brothers and mothers in this world. Help us love fully, welcome radically and shine brightly with your Light. In Jesus’s name, we pray. Amen.