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The First Sunday in Lent

Mar 10, 2019

By

Preparing for Lent, I read a compelling article in The Christian Century, in which a Congregational minister describes his life changing experience with an app on his smartphone. Called WeCroak, the app sends a text message to the phone five times daily. The texts arrive at random moments, but they always say the same thing. Don’t forget, you’re going to die. Matt Fitzgerald says the app made him a better parent, a better pastor, and helped him set aside some long-term grief. Through the app, he learned that happiness can be willed and sustained through practice, and that joy, like Christ, arrives on its own terms. After six months, the pastor turned his faith toward Jesus in a new way. Because although the app continues to remind him that death is inevitable, he also keeps in mind that by grace we shall rise again.

My first thought: What a brilliant Lenten exercise! My second thought: WeCroak is not a good title for a Lenten sermon when we are sleep deprived by Daylight Saving Time.

We come this week to the season of Lent. If we did a word association, how might you describe the Christian approach to the season? We are dust. We are worms. We are miserable sinners. We are unworthy. Some people describe Lent in competitive terms: forty days to feel more wretched than thou. (cf Jay Sidebotham) May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace. How can this season be a blessing? In what way can all our Lenten exercises lead us to new life?

We always have the opportunity to choose to dwell in place of stagnation or death, or to find new life. What I love about Lent is its invitation to consider what is most important in my faith life.
Our scripture lessons today paint a picture of what it may look like to live in the presence of grace.

Deuteronomy speaks of grace as a collective experience. Although the Book of Deuteronomy is presented as a single sermon delivered by Moses, it is probably a collection of laws and exhortations that grew over a period of about 150 years. Today’s reading is the conclusion of the covenant laws that comprise the heart of the book. The offerings given in thanksgiving for the providence of God are not given to support the Temple but to nurture those who are landless and thus lack self-sufficiency. Those who have been blessed by the new life in the Promised Land share with those who have no resources. The action of the entire community testifies to God’s faithful deliverance to new life and provision. The story is not of individuals but of an entire community who dwell in the blessing of the Holy One.

Paul focuses more on the working of grace in individuals, although he emphasizes the connection between us that derives from Christ. When he writes to the little Christian community in Rome, Paul admonishes them to remember that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek with respect to salvation. Neither our ethnic nor religious background can be used as an excuse for exclusion from the grace and salvation of God. Paul criticizes those who absolutize observance of the Law as the source of righteousness, echoing the message of the prophet Joel (2.32) when he says that salvation belongs to all who call on the name of the Lord. Understanding Jesus’ work and following his teaching are life-giving for all who want to live in harmony with God’s will.

Our gospel lesson teaches that evil, which undermines our spiritual life, often derives from our inclination to walk away from the primary relationship that identifies us. Underlying the dialogue between Satan and Jesus are two competing stories of what brings us life. The Adversary offers the deceptive story of life rooted in the Ego: self-indulgence (make yourself bread from stones), self-aggrandizement (all the nations of the world will belong to you), and self-serving religious identity (the son of God could jump from the top of the temple). Jesus responds with scripture quotations that show his awareness that genuine life and identity are rooted in God. He knows that life is more than food, true worship and service are not about us, and that disciples trust God, instead of testing God. The story Jesus offers is rooted in a narrative about the grace of God, which supersedes Self, and offers new life, eternal glory, and divine identity.

The teaching we can receive from these lessons might go beyond the usual early Lenten sermon about avoiding temptation and submitting to the will of God.

We are under assault every blessed day. Every day we are barraged with messages that seek to tell us that we are not enough, that we are defective, that we are generally unlovable in our natural state. We are too wrinkled or too pimply, too fat or insufficiently muscular, need to get a “better” wardrobe, car, or diploma. And the gospel teaches us that nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that we are deeply, foundationally, entirely loved by God, in our natural condition, which is to say in our imperfection, with our physical and spiritual limitations, our inclination toward doing the wrong or foolish thing, and our built-in obsolescence. We are precious treasures in the eyes of God, infinitely beloved. God’s love for each of us is unconditional and not based on what we do or how we appear.

The Lenten exercise of repentance – our turning back toward God – is more about remembering our identity than it is about just avoiding temptation. And please do not hear this as an endorsement of sin or of avoiding responsibility. The point is that when we are able to remember who and whose we are, we are less likely to be attracted to behaviors which are destructive of our relationship with God and one another. What we do can be based on the love of God, which we can come to know by practice.

As a group of people who come together in community to follow Jesus – and yes, to be a Christian we are supposed to be in a community and not solitary practitioners of the faith – we must be both conscious and intentional about working together. Our collective action reflects our identity. As an Episcopal parish, we exert significant energy on group activities. In addition to our corporate worship and our time in fellowship (both good things), we spend time and energy in the service of others. Those who serve meals at Downtown Daily Bread, those who spend a night at the Safe Haven shelter, those who bring in food and personal care items for the needy: you are all serving those who lack resources.

If you haven’t been able or inclined to participate in these ministries, there are opportunities in the near future. Read your bulletin to find them.

As individuals who want to build a relationship with God, we can be intentional about learning the ways of God. The groups which gather to pray (Wednesday at 5.30) and study the Bible (Monday evenings), or which will be examining the Episcopal tradition (Sundays after church) or building the Beloved Community (Wednesday evenings in Lent) are seeking to learn about life with God in the center. There is always room for more people. Feeling shy? Pray the Stations of the Cross or walk with labyrinth after church (instruction booklets in the basket in front of church). Too busy with the family? Take home the family devotional from the back of the church.
We are nearly at the end of winter. I encourage you to embrace Lent as a season for seeking grace. Practice diligently the art of turning to God with some glance or phrase of love and trust at spare moments in the day (Evelyn Underhill). Do not allow this moment of spiritual growth to get away from you. Do something to build that relationship! By grace we shall rise again.


This sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Amy Welin at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral on March 10, 2019, for the First Sunday in Lent. The lessons for the day, which can be found at this link, are:

  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm 91:1-2,9-16
  • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Luke 4:1-13

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Serve in WorshipAcolyte

Acolytes carry the cross and torches at processions and help the priest prepare for Holy Communion. This ministry is ideal for youth (grades 7 and up), and is also open to adults. A brief training session is offered to help you learn the job. Acolytes are scheduled on a rotating basis.

Clergy & StaffAmy Welin

Dean | Email: adwelin@ststep.org

The Very Rev. Dr. Amy D. Welin has been serving as the Dean of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral since August 2017.

Prior to her priestly ordination, Amy worked as an instructor of medieval and world history, an insurance claims processor, and a pastoral associate in a large mid-western church. Before accepting the call  of the Cathedral Church of St. Stephen in Harrisburg, she served a variety of parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, as a member of the Standing Committee and the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral.

One of the founding members of the Episcopal Clergy Association in Connecticut (ConnECA), and a prior board member of the Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations (NECA), Amy devotes her energy to issues of clergy and parish wellness.

Married to Greg Welin, who is also an Episcopal priest, and mother of four young adults, Amy likes to garden and practice yoga in her free time.

Clergy & StaffCindy Harbert

Administrator | Email: charbert@ststep.org

Cindy Coombs Harbert joined the staff at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in 2017.  Most of Cindy’s professional career has been centered around non-profit administration.  Cindy holds a BA in social work and education from West Virginia Wesleyan College and has completed graduate coursework in counseling at Messiah University. The mother of two adult children, she enjoys traveling, volunteering in the community, watching field hockey, and exploring new places that she hasn’t visited before.

Clergy & StaffFred Miller

Canon Pastor

The Rev. Canon Fred Miller began on staff as Canon Pastor for spiritual care July 2020.

Fred is a MDIV graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School with graduate studies in Congregational Development at Seabury Western Seminary, and marriage and family counseling at Trinity Counseling Center, Princeton. He served 4 parishes in New Jersey before coming to Central PA at All Saints’, Hershey. After receiving certification with the Interim Ministry Network he served in NJ, & Kansas, before returning to this diocese, working in Altoona, State College & Williamsport. Serving with the YWCA as a volunteer, retired Red Cross volunteer and as a previous College Chaplain in two states has opened the possibilities of living into the Episcopal Church becoming a bridge to interfaith relations.

Married to Kris with whom we proudly share three children, now grown. Fred enjoys outdoor activities, simple meals, and quiet conversation.

Clergy & StaffGene Schofield

Parish Nurse

Gene was born and grew up on family farm in MN. After getting her Bachelor’s degree in nursing, she worked at a Navy hospital where she met and married her husband, Mike. The mother of 4 (Kirsten died of CP complications at age 40) she keeps busy with her children, her 9 grandchildren and her great-granddaughter. Gene returned to work in nursing after her children were in middle school with her last position being a Hospice nurse until her retirement in 2008. Gene is available to assist the newly diagnosed, helps with securing durable medical equipment and checks in with those on our prayer list on a weekly basis.

Serve in WorshipGreeter

Greeters are the public face of the Cathedral on Sunday mornings. Our greeting team welcomes guests and members alike, and helps guests find a seat and matches them up with a member to assist them in the service.

Clergy & StaffJordan Markham

Director of Music

Jordan R. Markham studied at The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University and Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. He is a classically-trained lyric-baritone, pianist, organist, and conductor, having previously studied under the Grammy-winning baritone, William Sharp and soprano Susan Solomon Beckley of Bucknell University. For two years he was a professional chorister at The Washington National Cathedral, and was a paid chorister and soloist in The Handel Choir of Baltimore. While with the Handel Choir, he sang the tenor solo role of Apollo in Handel’s Semele, the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (both with full orchestra), and the tenor solo in Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in The Lamb. Prior to this, he sang the baritone solo in Rossini’s  Petite Messe Solennelle with the Peabody Singers and most recently has been heard singing the baritone solo in The Seven Last Words Of Christ by Theodore Dubois, accompanied by a full orchestra.

Throughout the past decade, Mr. Markham has performed at The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy Games. He has also sung at Carnegie Hall, The Boston Symphony Hall, and the Jackie Gleason Theatre. He has been active in the musical theatre scene for over a decade directing, accompanying, and acting in theaters throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. Mr. Markham has most recently been seen in South Pacific with The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, as “Jimmy” in Reefer Madness, “Peter” in Bare: A Pop Opera, and as “Chip” in The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee, for which he was also the music director and whose cast received a nomination by Broadway World for Best Ensemble. He has also performed onstage with the Peabody Opera in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and  Cosi fan tutte, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen.

Mr. Markham is currently the Artistic Director and Conductor of The Central Pennsylvania Womyn’s Chorus, and a co-founding member of Allegro con Fuoco, a keyboard duo with Tyler A. Canonico, and proudly serves as the Director of Music and Organist at St Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Serve in WorshipLay Eucharistic Minister

Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) assist the clergy at the altar by distributing Holy Communion to members of the congregation. LEMs are scheduled based on their availability to serve one or more Sundays each month. This ministry is open to all baptized and confirmed members of the church, after attending two hours of training and receiving a license from the Bishop of Central Pennsylvania.

Serve in WorshipLay Worship Leader

Do you have an interest in leading prayer and worship services that do not require ordained clergy? By receiving a license as a Lay Worship Leader from the Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, you will be able to lead the congregation in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and other prayer services. This ministry requires significant study and preparation, and is open to all baptized and confirmed members of the church. 

Serve in WorshipLector

Lectors proclaim the Word of God by reading from the Old Testament and the New Testament during worship services. Lectors are scheduled based on their availability. All interested persons are eligible to become lectors by attending a 30-minute orientation session.

Clergy & StaffMicalagh Moritz

Director of Formation for Young Adults and Youth

In 2021, Micalagh transitioned into the role of Director of Youth & Young Adult Formation. She previously served as the Sycamore House Program Director, starting in 2017. She has over 15 years of experience in various community nonprofits in Harrisburg, Belize, and Washington, DC.

She majored in Human Development & Family Science in college, and continued on to receive her Masters in Social Work. She has a counseling and therapy background, which is applicable to many areas of life-both on the job and off. She has worked with youth and young adults in many different settings, including through Harrisburg-based after-school programs, through the Sycamore House, as Director of a study abroad program in Belize, and through teaching college courses locally.

She is passionate about helping to create healing spaces for people to grow and learn, exploring the intersections of faith and justice, and building bridges between people of various backgrounds. She is also passionate about spiritual formation as an integral part of building community.

Micalagh lives in Harrisburg and can often be found riding her bike up Riverfront Park, in a local café, or walking to Broad Street Market. She is married to Joshua Moritz, a middle school Case Manager and farmer at heart, and they have 2 children who attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. 

Clergy & StaffMichael Frascella

Facilities Manager

Michael Frascella has served as our part-time Facilities Manager for several years.  He works diligently to see that our campus stays beautiful, our buildings are problem-free, and that there are inviting and welcoming spaces for all who enter our doors.  Michael is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral and is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of 4. 

Clergy & StaffMichael Nailor

Deacon

Michael was born and raised in Mechanicsburg, PA as a member of First Evangelical United Brethren (United Methodist) where he was active throughout childhood and as a young adult.  He came to the Episcopal Church while he was in college at the University of Pennsylvania.  The pioneering women of the “Philadelphia Eleven” had just been irregularly ordained and the church was struggling with the role of women in leadership. Michael was drawn to a church that was willing to deal with – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – the important social justice issues of the day. 

Agreeing to disagree but still staying in communion around the Holy Table appealed to this English teacher and debate coach throughout his 41-year career in education.  Michael serves the Diocese of Central PA as a deacon at St. Stephen’s Cathedral as he has since his ordination in 2018. He also works at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Serve in WorshipPrayer Leader

Prayer Leaders lead the Prayers of the People during worship services. Prayers are led from among the congregation, with prayer leaders adding a prayer of their own choosing to reflect the needs of the moment. All persons are eligible for this ministry — a brief orientation session is available to help prepare you for leading prayers.

Service OpportunitiesArtsFest

Downtown Harrisburg

Artsfest is always held the weekend of Memorial Day, Saturday through Monday, with St. Stephen’s members serving hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones and beverages, while tours of the Cathedral are offered along with free organ concerts every hour. The profits from our ArtsFest work are all dedicated to a selection of service groups in the city.

Service OpportunitiesCommon Ground Cafe

Allison Hill - Harrisburg

When is a breakfast more than just a meal? When it is a community center, a kids’ craft session, a book nook for adults, a reading program and book giveaway for children, an opportunity for family members and neighbors to visit in a warm, welcoming place.

Please join the volunteers and community members who make all of this happen on the last Saturday of every month at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg at 1508 Market St. We serve about 250 people at each breakfast, so we need cooks, waiters, greeters, coffee servers, readers, a set up crew, dishwashers, piano players, and anyone who just wants the best breakfast in town!

Service OpportunitiesDowntown Daily Bread

Downtown Harrisburg

Downtown Daily Bread is a soup kitchen located at the Pine Street Presbyterian Church. Their mission is to provide services for the homeless & feed the hungry (40,000 meals/year) 7 days a week including weekends & holidays. On the first Sunday of every other month from approximately noon until 2 p.m., St. Stephen’s serves the food trays and then helps clean up afterward.

Service OpportunitiesLittle Free Food Pantry

Jessica McClard launched the grassroots mini pantry movement on May 2016 in Fayetteville, AR, when she planted the Little Free Pantry Pilot, a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time no questions asked.

Service OpportunitiesRMMS

We participate in an organized program to support and encourage refugees hoping to make the U.S. their home.

Service OpportunitiesSt. Barnabas Children's Ministry

Uptown Harrisburg

St. Barnabas was founded by our own Bishop Charlie McNutt and Bishop Guy Edmiston from the Lower Susquehanna Synod. Located in Uptown Harrisburg, St. Barnabas offers children ages 7 – 12 an 8-week summer day camp. A variety of experiences allow spiritual, emotional, physical, educational & social growth. St. Stephen’s provides food for the children, along with volunteers to prepare, serve and clean up.

Service OpportunitiesSusquehanna Harbor Safe Haven

Uptown Harrisburg

Operated by the ecumenical group Christian Churches United, Susquehanna Harbor is a residence for homeless men. St. Stephen’s, along with other churches and service groups, is responsible for staffing the 25-unit overnight shelter several weeks each year.

Clergy & StaffStuart Scarborough

Property Manager

Rev. Stuart Scarborough, Deacon, joined St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral part-time as a Property Manager after migrating northward from the Diocese of Maryland when his wife, Rev. Anjel Scarborough, was called to be Rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hershey. Prior to relocating, Stuart spent 13 years managing facilities, including three years as Facilities Operations Director for St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parish Day School in Ellicott City, MD and, before that, ten years as Director of Operations at the Claggett Center, Maryland’s Diocesan conference, retreat and camp center in Adamstown, MD. Prior to this, Stuart, who has a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Tech, worked for 20+ years in manufacturing. Stuart and Anjel have two adult children; Martin, who lives in Cockeysville, MD and Erin, who lives in Newark, DE.

As Property Manager, Stuart will oversee the care and maintenance of all the Cathedral buildings and property. In addition to this part-time role, Stuart is also serving part-time as Property Manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. In this role, Stuart will look after all buildings and properties that are owned by the Diocese, but are not parishes. Further, Stuart has been assigned as Deacon to Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church in Camp Hill.

Serve in WorshipTechnical Guild

Are you looking for a behind-the-scenes way to get involved? Consider joining our technical crew and learning to operate our sound and light systems. Sound and Light Technicians facilitate worship services by ensuring that sound levels and amplification are appropriate, and that lighting is used to highlight the liturgical action. Some training is required.

Serve in WorshipUsher

One of the primary functions of an usher is to guide guests and members to various parts of the Cathedral (restrooms, parlors, nursery, etc.) and to assist with any special needs (e.g. wheelchair access). Ushers are also trained to summon help in the case of any emergencies.