This is a close proximity to a sermon I preached on the Feast of Stephen without notes... It mentions liturgy, or moreover the place of liturgy, a bit...
A friend of mine, a middle aged gay man, grew up Roman Catholic but now is an Episcopalian. On occasion he is asked “Why did you leave the Roman Catholic Church?”. His usual response is “I did not leave the Roman Catholic Church, it left me”.
Today on the feast of Stephen, the day after Christmas, we the church, the religious institution, is confronted with the problem of leaving God, leaving God’s people, by refusing to stay with them.
Stephen is considered one of the first deacons. The early Christians had set aside their individual fortunes to make sure that everyone in the community had food and necessary care. A group of individuals, including Stephen, were given the job of making sure that these goods were distributed fairly.
The interesting note is that all the members of Stephen’s group appear to not be Jewish but Greek. That the problem they were fixing was that the Greek members of the early church were initially being neglected and needed to be fully included. The church had to leave its place of being a group of Jews following the Rabbi Jesus and become a multi-ethnic community. God had moved beyond the bounds of Judaism, the people of God had moved beyond the bounds of the Jewish Nation, the church had to keep up.
This was in fact what Stephen preached, that God was not limited to the Temple and thus that God’s people cannot be limited to worshiping God in the Temple. That God was not limited to the mindset of Judaism but had moved us to something new with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Temple and the old mindset must now be left behind us as we move forward with God and recognize God outside of those places.
It is too easy for us to limit God within our own Temples, a way of worship that we feel is “correct”, and our own mindsets, a way of thinking that we feel is “right”. Too easy for us to refuse to listen when a person comes to us and says “I am finding God here” and “When I think about God this is what comes to mind”. Too easy to stop seeking a deeper relationship with God and instead rest on our laurels. Too easy to stone someone else instead of change ourselves.
I love the liturgy of the church and I love the Anglican mindset but I must constantly remember that God works outside of both of those places. If I do not remain open to listening to where people are saying they are finding God in the world and how they are now thinking about God I will leave God and the people of God as they go about the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the hear and now.
This is what Saul had to do. On this day we see him standing with the cloaks as he watches Stephen murdered. In a little over a decade he will be preaching the message of Stephen’s sermon to the entire Mediterranean ensuring that the Gospel is heard well outside the Jewish world.
Some of us are prepared to risk preaching God’s revelation even when it upsets the religious institution and society. Some of us are only ready to watch and consider before preaching. The important thing is that none of us pick up stones.
Otherwise we will soon be surrounded by people who answer the question “Why did you leave the Church?” who will respond “I did not leave the church the church left me.”. And they will be right and the God made incarnate in Jesus Christ who is forever doing greater things through the Holy Spirit will be with them and be rather curious as to why we are not.