Sunday, November 14, 2021

25 Pentecost

 


November 14, 2021

Daniel 12.1-3; Mark 13:1-8

  

+ Today is, of course, Stewardship Sunday, as you have heard many times already.

 

And yes, it is a time for us to pray about and ponder and seriously consider giving.

 

That is what the “theme” of Stewardship Time is.

 

Giving.

 

It is time to give money.

 

It is time to give of our time and talent and selves.

 

And yes, it’s never exciting for us to think about the fact that we need these things.

 

We do need money.

 

We need people helping out—stepping up to the plate.

 

And we do need people in general.

 

We need the presence of people in our midst. In the pews.

 

After all, we do have much to celebrate here.

 

I don’t think any of us—myself included—can fully appreciate what has happened and what is happening here at St. Stephen’s. Even now. Even as we struggle through the end of the pandmeic.

 

We are a unique and amazing congregation.

 

There is no getting around that fact.

 

There are not many places quite like St. Stephen’s.

 

We are eclectic.

 

We are a bit outside the norm.

 

I often call our congregation the Island of Misfit Toys.


 

Because, let’s face it—we are!

 

Most of us have come here from other congregations in which we have experienced some hardship or oppression or some very unchristian-like behavior.

 

For most of us, that is why we are here at St. Stephen’s.

 

Many came here because this is a refuge from the difficulties of other religious communities.

 

And I am very grateful today for us being that place.

 

We are also a place in which people are not only welcomed but included because of who they are.

 

This is who we are and who we always have been.

 

We are the ones always, it seems, on the forefront.

 

We were on the forefront of women being fully included in the Church back in the 1970s—the first parish in this diocese to have women Lay Readers, women wardens, women acolytes and w0men clergy.

 

We were on the forefront of the LGBTQ+ movement, being the first to welcome and include queer people, to marry queer people, to fight for the ordination of queer people. (Sadly, we didn’t win some of those battles at the time)

 

And we are still on the forefront.

 

We are on the forefront of liturgical reform.

 

We are the first parish in this diocese to be officially granted permission to use gender-neutral language in our liturgy in reference to God.

 

 (even though we had been doing at our Wednesday night Mass for twelve years).  

 

For some that might not seem very important, or even all that radical.

 

But it is.

 

It is important to see that to move forward we sometimes have to change the way we speak about God, that we need to recognize that male-only references to God are not only theologically incorrect, but painful to many people in our pews.

 

This is who St. Stephen’s has always been.

 

But, as we all know, sometimes being the ones who are in the forefront of the battle is not a pleasant place to be.

 

Guess who gets shot at first?

 

Being the mavericks, being the rebels, being the prophets means that we are going to be ostracized.

 

We are going to be mistreated.

 

We are going to shunned and rejected.

 

Even by our friends, by our colleagues, by our fellow followers of Jesus.

 

It shouldn’t be that way.

 

But, sometimes, it just is.

 

And we have known that here at St. Stephen’s.

 

And that is why we are working so hard for reconciliation with a diocese that often turned its back on us.

 

Often we have felt that we are alone in our battles.

 

But, we knew, in our core, that we were only leading the way, and sometimes doing so means it takes a while for others to catch up.

 

In that interval, it can be lonely.

 

But we knew.

 

We saw.

 

We believed.

 

 I have asked you many times over the years to trust.

 

Trust me.

 

Trust our leadership.

 

And you know what?

 

You really have.

 

And you can see that we were not led down the wrong path.

 

We were following the right path all along.

 

That is why we need this Stewardship time.

 

It is a time for us to look long and hard at what it means to be a part of our parish of St. Stephen’s.

 

It means supporting it with our financial resources, so we can continue to stand up, to speak out, to be the place we have always been.

 

For some that means tithing—giving from the 10% of one’s income.

 

For others it means giving from what you can give.

 

But it is knowing full well that we can’t do these things—like being a vital, vibrant and outspoken parish in this community, in the Church and the world especially in the days that are to come following this pandemic, without financial resources.

 

We as a parish need to be prepared for serving a post-pandemic world, whatever that might be.

 

But it means more than that to.

 

It means giving of our time and our talents.

 

It means that we don’t just get to sit on our hands and let others do the work.

 

Or just let Fr. Jamie do the work.

 

It means we also stand up and speak out.

 

It means we also roll up our sleeves and make sure the day-to-day stuff still happens.

 

It means even...(hint, hunt) learning how to work the Livestream so it’s not only Fr, Jamie doing it all the time????

 

It means serving as an acolyte, or on altar guild, or in coffee hour, or singing as cantor, or playing music with James, or finding ways to make the church beautiful.

 

It means giving of our artistic talents.

 

Or it means being a loud and proud representative of St. Stephen’s in the community and the world.

 

It means serving on our annual Pride in the Park, or speaking out against unfair treatment of refugees, or protesting racists and white supremacists.

 

It means going to the mosque and help clean up after hate crimes are committed against our Muslim sisters and brothers.

Because all of that is who we are too.

 

And have always been.

 

In our reading from the book of Daniel we hear,

 

“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

 

We, this congregation, are wise and we have led the way.

 

This is where we are on this Stewardship Sunday in 2021.

 

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, there are a lot of churches that are “welcoming.”

 

I actually don’t know of very many churches that aren’t “welcoming” in some way.

 

But it’s not enough just to welcome.

 

We must take it one step further.

 

In welcoming, we must include.

 

We must be without judgement in our welcoming and in our including.

 

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.

 

To love God.

 

And to love others.

 

Love here means what?

 

It means treating people well.

 

It means respecting one another.

 

It means not treating some people differently than others just because they are not like us.

 

It’s just that.

 

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.

 

I know. I preach it all the time. And you’re probably sick of hearing me preaching about love all the time. But…you know what?

 

That’s tough.

 

You knew what you were getting when you hired me.

 

I’m not gonna stop preaching about love.

 

Because it DOES make a difference.

 

To love—fully and completely.

 

To love—radically and inclusively.

 

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, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”

 

These words of Jesus are especially poignant for us on this particular Sunday, as we find our selves still living with a pandemic that’s should be behind us.

 

But the pandemic IS coming to an end.

 

And we need to be prepared for a post-pandemic world that looks different than the world we knew before the pandemic.

 

There is a lot of talk about people not coming back to church.

 

In fact, I hear stories of congregations that are truly struggling right now, that are truly despairing over their losses.

 

We, luckily, have not had that issue.

 

Nobody has left us.

 

And we still have new people coming, new people joining, new people wanting to be a part of this amazing place we are here.

 

We are still doing baptism and weddings and welcoming new members.

 

But the warm bodies in the pews are not what they were before the pandemic.

 

And for some people that is a reason to despair.

 

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 when we face an uncertain future and when we stand up for what we believe is right.

 

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.

 

It is change.

 

As I said, we continue to have new members and new faces in our pews.

 

We continue to grow.

 

So, yes there will be wars and rumors of wars.

 

There may be moments when even our congregation may seem to be going through lean times.

 

It sure felt like that in April 2020!

 

There may be times when people just simply want to avoid that Island of Misfit Toys.

 

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 Jesus’ words.

 

This is all part of our birth into new life, he is explaining to us.

 

Because in the end, God will always triumph.

 

And God always provides!

 

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.

 

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—it is about something as simple as tithing—of giving that 10%

 

Or whatever we can give.

 

That is important.

 

It also means giving of our time and energy.

 

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, on this Stewardship Sunday, continue to do what we’ve been doing.

 

 Let us welcome radically and love radically.

 

Let us 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.

 

It is truly a time in which to be grateful and joyous.

 

Let us pray

Lord God, 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 the name of Jesus your Son, we pray in confidence. Amen.

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