Thursday, December 26, 2019

Join us this week at St. Stephen’s

Sunday December 29  1 Christmas
11:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
Coffee Hour following

Wednesday January 1   Holy Name of Jesus
6:00 p.m. – Mass of the New Year
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/ preacher
Incense will be offered at this Mass
Supper afterward at a local restaurant

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas at St. Stephen's

Tuesday December 24  - Christmas Eve
7:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Wednesday December 25    Nativity of Our Lord
10:00 am—Holy Eucharist
Thursday December 26 St. Stephen
6:00 pm - Holy Eucharist

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon by Sandy Holbrook

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year A
December 22, 2013

A few days before Christmas a woman woke up one morning and told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” “Oh,” her husband replied, “you’ll know the day after tomorrow.” The next morning, she turned to her husband again and said she had the same dream, and received the same reply. On the third morning, the woman woke up, smiled at her husband and said: “I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” He just smiled back, saying: “You’ll know tonight.” That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to her. She opened it with delight and anticipation. Inside she found—a book!  It’s title: The Meaning of Dreams.
Anticipation/expectation – they are certainly one of the Advent themes leading us to our Christmas expectations as Christians:  not only for the birth of the baby Jesus but also for the second coming of Christ.  BUT, in a culture that has been anticipating Christmas since early fall – almost exclusively for consumer exploitation, a culture that mostly skips the Advent season – in such a culture I suspect most of us have also developed some very earthly expectations, too:  maybe about gatherings of family and friends, travel, special meals or even gifts. 
BUT, whether our expectations are formed by our faith or our culture, they are often interrupted by UNexpected events or circumstances.   Most often those unexpected things derail our plans—sometimes in dramatic ways and sometimes simply causing frustration or disappointment (remember the woman who expected a pearl necklace).  When I had a minor collision in my car this past week, my careful plans for the following few days of Christmas preparations took a nosedive.  When my granddaughter learned that the baby whose upcoming arrival we are all eagerly anticipating is breach, her plans for a normal delivery shifted quickly.   The unexpected is, in fact, part of life:  the suddenly malfunctioning dishwasher or clothes dryer, a slip on the ice and a broken bone, the possibilities are endless, and we’ve all experienced some of them.
Another source of the UNexpected comes in our dreams as our gospel lesson today illustrates.  This particular reading is itself unexpected in that Joseph – NOT Mary - is the main character on this 4th Sunday in Advent.  Matthew is the only gospel writer to tell us much of anything about Joseph.  For the most part, Joseph is - well, just Joseph - Mary’s escort on the way to Bethlehem, her fiancé, and eventually Jesus’ step- father.   But in today’s gospel story Joseph is center stage, the main character.  And we learn that Joseph’s expectations of traditional engagement and marriage have been seriously disrupted by the fact that his intended wife is not only UNexpectedly but mysteriously pregnant.  Clearly this unexpected development is more than just annoying or frustrating!
Pregnancies outside of marriage are not uncommon in our time.  But in Joseph’s world, social convention and norms dictated that a righteous man would publicly break his engagement to a woman who became pregnant and by that action expose her to harsh criticism and treatment that would make her – at best - a social outcast.  In earlier times, Mary would, by law, have faced stoning and death.   But Joseph demonstrates that he is not only a “righteous” man (as Matthew describes him), but also a compassionate and caring one so he plans to “dismiss” Mary quietly in order to avoid exposing her to public disgrace.  Joseph not only experiences an interruption of his expectations, he responds in a culturally UNexpected way.
AND then - Joseph has a dream.  As we know from our own experiences, dreams themselves are mostly UNexpected, and their substance is often puzzling and even unsettling as Joseph’s must have been for him.  Yet his response to the unexpected dream reveals his faithfulness and openness to God’s direction.  Joseph willingly trusts God’s instruction to “not be afraid to take Mary as his wife” – even when that meant blatantly rejecting the social expectations and demands of his time.  Joseph was not only righteous and compassionate and caring; Joseph was deeply faithful; he trusted God’s UNexpected intervention in his life despite the challenges it created.  Joseph’s trust and faithfulness model for us – as people of faith – a way to consider our own life’s unexpected twists and turns. 
As we end the season of Advent and live into Christmas, this reading about Joseph, including his dream and his response to it, remind us of what we know but often ignore or forget (maybe even doubt):  God comes into the world and into our lives – yours and mine (not just in someone else’s) at UNexpected times and in UNexpected ways.  We have NO idea about all the possible ways and all the possible times – that is the nature of the UNexpected.    And, held between God’s incarnation as the sweet baby Jesus and God’s second coming are the minute-to-minute, day-to-day ways, the opportunities, to acknowledge and experience God’s continuing incarnation in and among us nowif we can trust in that UNexpected presence, live life with expectation and awareness that God IS present in people, circumstances, places even where we are most likely to assume God is NOT.   Such trusting grows out of our faith –just as Joseph’s trust in his dream as God’s communication came from his faith.   Our challenge is to trust in God’s ongoing and very REAL presence no matter how UNexpected or how simple.  Example:  slow driver
So here’s the take-away from today’s gospel:  God will break into our lives, our world, ourselves but we may miss God’s presence because it IS often UNexpected.  Our job as people of faith is to be like Joseph:  to trust, to be open, receptive to all the ways that God will be present, ways that are most likely to be unusual, challenging (think Joseph’s dream), perhaps even demanding AND God may arrive in very mundane and simple ways like that driver I encountered.  As the story I told at the beginning today illustrates, we need to avoid expecting a necklace so we can appreciate the book.
My prayer for each of us is that, during the coming Christmas season (remember there are 12 days!), we will – grounded in our faith - experience God with us in some new and UNexpected way.  O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Join us this week at St. Stephen’s

Sunday December 22 4 Advent 
11:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/Sandy Holbrook, preacher
James Mackay, music
Children’s Chapel
Coffee Hour following

CHRISTMAS at St. Stephen’s

Tuesday December 24 Christmas Eve 
7:00 p.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/ preacher
James Mackay, music

Wednesday December 25 Christmas 
10:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/ preacher
James Mackay, music

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sermon by Dan Rice

Thomas: An Advent Homily

Dan Rice
John 20:24-29

I want to thank our Rector, Jamie, for placing me third in this series of
Advent homilies after Jean Sando and Amy Phillips. If you heard either of
their homilies, you know why I feel like the swine before whom the pearls
were spread! They are a tough act to follow!

Each of us was able to select a person or topic to address
and mine is the Disciple Thomas.
I must say at the outset that as I was working on this homily
today, the debate over the Impeachment of the President was
unfolding in the Congress. I tried to listen to the debate but
just couldn’t. It was too frustrating, even maddening for me
to tolerate but I will say more about why that was the case
later in this homily. It is important to note as we gather here
tonight in Christian worship, this is a historic moment for
our nation.
Of the original 12 Disciples, only a few are well known by most believers.
Of course, there is Peter, the Rock, upon whom the Church was built.
Peter the rock! The Catholics claim he was the first pope, which would be
news to him.
And there is John, the beloved! John must have been a kind, sweet sort of
guy, someone everyone liked. Some think that John was Jesus’ favorite
And then there is Judas Iscariot, the traitor, the turncoat. The Apostle
everyone loves to hate. Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Judas is

the villain, the disciple easily tempted by money and power, the one who
becomes disillusioned.
Everyone with a Sunday School education knows about these Disciples.
And then there is Thomas, “doubting Thomas,” the skeptic, the nay-sayer.
Thomas is commonly regarded as the Disciple most lacking in faith,
although in second place after Judas. Thomas is sometimes portrayed by
sermonizers as a blustering and arrogant contrarian.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We need to take a closer look at this story that comes near the end of the
Gospel of John.
The New Testament scholar Raymond Brown has argued that the problem
being addressed by the Gospel of John, the Gospel that was written last, is
that those who witnessed the life of Jesus are all dying off or have already
died. The fledgling church is facing a crisis because it will no longer be
able to rely on the eye-witnesses who were alive and could attest to what
actually took place during the life of Jesus.
This story about Thomas is found only in the Gospel of John.
At this point in the Gospel narrative, the risen Jesus has appeared to Mary
Magdalene. She reported her experience to the disciples, but the Gospel
is silent about whether they believed her. Perhaps there was some male
chauvinism at work here!
Next, the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples who were gathered in a
room with the door locked. But for some reason, Thomas was not present.
When the disciples told Thomas about the visitation by the risen Jesus,
Thomas utters his demand that until he places his finger in the nail print of
Jesus’ hands and his hand in Jesus’s side, he will not believe.
Eight days later, Jesus appears again to the disciples and this time Thomas
is present. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds but simply by seeing
Jesus, Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God!”

We all know the response of Jesus, “Have you believed because you have
seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”
In these words, all of us who come thereafter are given the assurance that
even though we have not seen the risen Lord, we will be blessed by our
Mary Magdalene had the benefit of seeing the risen Lord and she believed.
All the other disciples had the benefit of seeing the risen Lord and they
Once Thomas saw the risen Lord, without touching his wounds, he
So, Thomas was a believer! Upon seeing the risen Lord, just as the other
disciples, he believed.
I suggest we stop calling him Doubting Thomas. Thomas was simply the
last disciple to see and believe.
While working on this homily, I reviewed Elaine Pagels’ book, The
Gnostic Gospels, and learned there is a tradition within the Eastern
Church that holds Thomas in high regard as he was the Disciple who was
sent to take the Gospel message to India.
Thomas may just be the right Disciple for our time.


Advent in 2019 is a time when our country faces a crisis of belief. The
crisis in belief is that many of our fellow citizens no longer believe in the
truth or care about the truth.
They doubt the truth of events that are factually provable.
On the other hand, they believe what they are told by a pathological liar.

I am alarmed by everyone who has taken on this cloak of denial but I am
especially disturbed by our fellow Christians who have chosen to deny the
I hold those in the community of faith to a higher standard.
In a time when the Christian Church in our country is on the decline, when
people are rejecting organized religion at alarming rates, a large segment
of those who identify as Christians have misplaced their faith in someone
who is faithless.
They believe in someone who is unbelievable.
They trust in someone who is untrustworthy.
And by so doing, they bring ridicule and scorn on the very faith they claim
to cherish, the Christian Faith.
For me, this is about more than Donald Trump. It is a crisis of truth within
the Christian community.
What are the limits of what one can believe and still call one’s self a
As Christians, we have faced this question before in our collective history.
From the time of the founding of our country, we avoided dealing with the
issue of slavery. It caught up to us by the middle of the nineteenth
The question hotly debated in the church was could one believe in the
institution of slavery and still be a Christian? Many Christians pointed
out that slavery is sanctioned in the Bible, as it certainly is. The Apostle
Paul either accepted or condoned slavery, at least as I understand his
writings. In the Gospel reading for tonight (not the text for this homily) a
slave is mentioned.

Our nation was torn apart by this question, families turned against one
another. More Americans were killed in our Civil War than in all our
other wars combined.
There were those who stood up and said, there are some things that are
incompatible with being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and slavery is
one of them.
I am not suggesting we engage in another Civil War but I am saying that
there are times when people in the Christian community need to stand up
and say, “This is not acceptable for those who follow Jesus Christ!”
I am distressed by the harm that many of our fellow Christians are
permitting or condoning to so many people; to refugees, children, the
hungry, the poor, transgender people, people of color, women. People’s
careers and reputations are being ruined. People’s lives are being
I am filled with fear and dread at the harm being done to our planet; our
home, our only home and the home of future generations, if there are to be
future generations. I fear for my grandchildren and great grandchildren.
What kind of world will we leave them?
Recently I saw a book titled, “There is no Planet B.” (A play on “plan B.”)
To be fair, there are some leaders in the Evangelical community who are
framing the Christian faith in terms of stewardship of the earth.
And I am heartened by the courageous statements by the Episcopal House
of Bishops on the issue of climate change and many other crucial issues of
our time. Thank God for them!
In Germany in 1934 the Confessing Church was formed to resist the
efforts by the Nazi party to centralize and control the churches in
Germany. Should we be thinking about forming a Confessing Church
Movement in the United States, especially if the country continues in the
direction favored by those I have been addressing. 2020 may be the year

when we find out how far segments of the church will be dragged away
from the truth of the Gospel.


Which brings me back to Advent, if you are still with me. You have
probably been wondering how this all relates to Advent.
Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. The scripture lessons we read
and the hymns we sing during this liturgical season evoke these deep
Here in North Dakota even the weather conspires in creating the mood for
Advent is a time of yearning.
This Advent in the year of Our Lord 2019 this is how I am feeling and, I
hope with your agreement, we can say that:
We yearn for One who will save us from corruption, greed, self-serving,
and the false.
We yearn for One who will save us from tawdry, crude, and debased
politicians who have betrayed the public trust.
We yearn for One who will save us from falsehood, shallowness, and
spiritual emptiness.
We yearn for One who embodies the truth, the way and the life.
We yearn for One who embraced pain, suffering and even death in an act
of self-sacrifice.
The truth is, we yearn for One who can save us from ourselves.

With apologies to Charles Wesley, I want to end with a stanza of one of
his hymns, by changing one word.
Come thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our TRUTH in thee!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Join us this week at St. Stephen’s

Sunday December 15  3 Advent/Gaudete
11:00 a.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
Children’s Chapel
Coffee Hour following
12:00 pm - Greening of St. Stephen’s
12:45 – Vestry

Wednesday December 18
6:00 p.m. – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/ Dan Rice, preacher
James Mackay, music
Supper afterward at a local restaurant

Homily for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Sermon December 11, 2019 Our Lady of Guadalupe

Amy Phillips

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you oh Queen of Peace, Mother of the Poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In his book of theological reflections on the Guadalupe story, Dr. Maxwell E. Johnson, an ELCA minister and professor of liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame, comments that “The Virgin of Guadalupe is a narrative, an image, and a devotion…” (p. 19). This observation is the organizing frame for my reflections – and conveniently has 3 points.

As a narrative, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been told for over 450 years and has become a part of the religious and cultural consciousness of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and many others around the world.
In the event you need a refresher on the story, I am happy to provide it. I will be attempting to use Nahuatl and Spanish words out of respect for the characters in the story.

The place is central Mexico. The year is 1531 -- only 10 years after Hernan Cortes (the Spanish adventurer and conquistador) invaded Mexico and subjugated the indigenous Mexica (or Aztec) people, and only 7 years after the arrival of the first Spanish Franciscan missionaries. By 1531 the Spanish had been undertaking the work of converting tens of thousands of indigenous Mexican people to Christianity.

According to tradition, in the early morning hours of December 9, 1531, one Mexica convert, a devout and humble man in his mid-40s by the name of Cuauhtlatoátzin, or Juan Diego, left his dwelling in the village of Cuautitlán on his way to the Franciscan mission in the town of Tlateloco (near Mexico City).
As he passed by a hill called Tepeyac he heard music. He looked up the hill, and saw a lady surrounded by glowing lights the color of the rainbow. She spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl, and identified herself as the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of Great Truth, Téotl. She asked him to tell the Catholic bishop Juan Zumárraga, to build a shrine to her on this hill where people could come to receive hope and solace from her. (and by the way, this is the first Marian apparition recognized by the Vatican, significantly predating Our lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima).

Juan reported his experience to the bishop, but the bishop didn’t believe him and sent him away. As Juan Diego was returning to his home, he again encountered Mary on Tepeyac hill and announced the failure of his mission, saying that “in reality I am one of those campesinos, a piece of rope, a small ladder, the excrement of people, [and you are sending me to a place where I do not belong].” Mary insisted that he was whom she wanted for the task and she sent him back to the bishop.

Again the bishop was not inclined to believe Juan Diego’s story but asked for proof that Mary had appeared to him. Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac and, encountering Mary, reported the bishop's request for a sign; she agreed to provide one on the following day, December 11.

On December 11, however, Juan Diego's uncle fell ill and Juan Diego needed to attend to him all day. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, the uncle’s condition had deteriorated and Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear his uncle's confession and minister to him on his death-bed. 

In order to avoid being delayed by Mary and embarrassed at having failed to meet her the previous day as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but Mary intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and Mary gently chided him for not having appealed to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, she asked: "¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?" ("Am I not here, I who am your mother?").

She assured him that his uncle had now recovered and she told him to collect flowers growing nearby. Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom and using his open cloak as a sack he returned to Mary. She re-arranged the flowers in his cloak and told him to take them to the bishop. On seeing the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his cloak, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the cloak an imprint of the Virgin's image. The bishop fell to his knees in adoration and immediately ordered that a church be built on Tepeyac Hill in honor of Mary.

According to the story, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life in a hut next to the church built in honor of Mary.

Juan Diego was beatified on May 6, 1990 and canonized on July 31, 2002, by Pope John Paul II. His feast day was yesterday, December 9 -- three days before Our Lady of Guadalupe's Feast day, December 12.

I turn now to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak – this is what you see on the prayer card. It is an ubiquitous image in the western hemisphere and is rich in indigenous symbolism. In fact, Mary appeared to Juan Diego on the very site of an ancient sanctuary to Tonantzín, a Mexica, or Aztec mother goddess.

Looking at the image, and some of this may be difficult to see, Mary’s rose-tinted, flowery tunic symbolizes the earth and also indicates that she is royalty since only Mexica emperors wore cloaks of that color.

The black ribbon around Mary’s waist shows that she is expecting a child. For the Mexica, the trapezoid-shaped ends of the ribbon also represented the end of one cycle and the birth of a new era.

The only four-petaled flower on Mary’s tunic appears over her womb. The four-petaled jasmine represents the Mexica’s highest deity, Ometéotl.

The Virgin stands on a crescent moon. The Nahuatl word for Mexico, “Metz-xic-co,” means “in the center of the moon.” The moon also symbolizes the Mexica moon god, fertility, birth and life.

An angel with eagle’s wings appears below Mary’s feet. According to Mexica belief, an eagle delivered the hearts and the blood of sacrificial victims to the gods.

Our lady of Guadalupe, particularly with the use of her image, is the subject of much devotion. Millions of people visit the Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico on and around her feast day. She is appealed to as a mother who can support, help, and protect. She is seen as a source of healing and miracles. She is viewed as uniquely and personally Mexican, an image which binds a nation together, but who resonates especially with indigenous peoples since she appeared as a brown-skinned woman speaking Nahuatl to an indigenous peasant. She is on calendars, lottery tickets, phone cards, and tattooed on the backs of gang members and prisoners. During the Mexican revolution, Emiliano Zapata and other fighters carried her image into battle, and her image was also used by Cesar Chavez during the Mexican-American civil rights movement. She is a particularly accessible and powerful source of hope for poor, oppressed, or marginalized people. When I think of her influence and importance I am awed by her power.

But where the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe touches me most is in the moment when Juan Diego attempts to evade her out of embarrassment and because he was in a hurry, and she effectively, “cuts him off at the pass.”
But she isn’t stern or disciplinary or disappointed. She “gently chides” him and reminds him that she is his mother and she is there with him. In other words, she is telling him “don’t feel bad, it’s ok, I love you.” At least that’s my interpretation of her words.

How powerful those words must have been for “a campesino, a piece of rope, a small ladder, the excrement of people.” And how powerful and empowering they must still be for those who are made to feel that way.

They are also powerful words for me because they remind me of my human mother, the unconditional love she had for me -- even when I ignored her or didn’t come through for her. And how she is still here with me, she who is my mother. And the words also remind me of the mother of us all who is always with us, loving us, even in the moments when we have failed in the tasks she requires of us.

If you can see it, feel free to read along while I read the prayer on the back of the prayer card:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer me. Amen

Johnson, M. E. (2002). The virgin of Guadalupe. Theological reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran liturgist. MD: Rowman &Littlefield.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe”
“Unveiling the image’s hidden meaning”
“Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful symbol of Mexican identity”

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Fr. Jamie is installed at St. Stephen's 6th Rector

It was a truly beautiful and moving morning at St. Stephen’s as Fr. Jamie was installed at the 6th Rector of St. Stephen’s, welcomed Stephanie. Megan and Caleb as new members, as we renewed out baptismal vows, got  sprinkled with holy water and celebrated Holy Eucharist together. Plus the congregation gave Fr. Jamie a very wonderful 50th birthday celebration. He also received a biretta and afterward we had cake shaped like a biretta, plus biretta-shaped cupcakes. Most of all, we celebrated St. Stephen’s. Thank you, everyone!

Caleb, Megan, Fr. Jamie and Stephanie

Fr. Jamie kneels during his installation to pray

Fr. Jamie kneeling as Senior Warden Steve Bolduc leads the Installation

Steve Bolduc presents Fr. Jamie with his Biretta

Fr. Jamie's point seems more emphatic while wearing a biretta

Fr. Jamie adjusting his new biretta

The vegan chocolate cake and cupcakes in the shape of birettas

Kristofer and Fr. Jamie posing for a biretta selfie

Biretta cupcakes

Fr. Jamie and his cool vegan biretta cake

Fr. Jamie welcoming new members Stephanie, Megan and Caleb

Fr. Jamie and Donna processing to the baptismal font

Fr. Jamie heading to the font

Fr. Jamie filling the font with water

Fr. Jamie blesses the congregation with holy water following their reaffirmation of baptismal vows

Funny hat day at St. Stephen's