Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 Corinthians 6:11-20
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Let’s talk about sex.
It’s not often that I start a sermon with a title of a song by Salt-N-Pepa, but I do so to break the ice a little as it is just as uncomfortable for me to talk to you about sex as it is for you to hear me talk about it. Broadly speaking, in The Episcopal Church, we tend not to talk about sexual ethics in church, especially from the pulpit. But frankly, sex is part of the human experience, and it is so powerful that beyond our bodies, it is intertwined with our emotions as well as our souls.
We are not the first Christians to grapple with how our faith affects our sexual behavior. In the epistle lesson, we hear St. Paul chide the Christians living at Corinth for their sexual immorality. In Paul’s day, Corinth was a Roman colony in modern-day Greece. Most maritime trade between Rome and modern-day Turkey passed through this port city, making it both powerful and wealthy. As a seaport, it had its share of prostitutes, and the multitude of foreign religions present brought with it a multitude of religious viewpoints on sex.
Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians who they are in Christ: “you were washed,” he says, “you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” This is the lens through which we should see the rest of the passage, which is only tangentially about sex.
Scholars believe that the Corinthian church used this as a slogan: “All things are lawful for me,” and that they were using the freedom given to them by God at baptism to justify sleeping with prostitutes and promiscuity in general. Paul doesn’t discredit their slogan, but clarifies that just because we’ve been set free in Christ, that doesn’t mean that life is a free for all. In other words, just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.
He continues by addressing another slogan of the Corinthian Church: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” which they were apparently using to say something like, “Our bodies are made for sex, so we’ll have sex with whomever we wish.” He makes an analogy suggesting that the relationship between stomachs and food is comparable to the relationship between the Lord and our bodies. That is, the intimate, indwelling relationship of food to the stomach points to a similarly intimate and indwelling relationship between Lord and human bodies. In fact, this intimacy between the Lord and our bodies is so strong – so deep – that it’s like the physical intimacy experienced in marriage when the two become one flesh. And not only is it a physical, bodily intimacy, he says “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” He continues with this connection between the spirit and the flesh when he tells the Corinthians that their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 
Because we were washed and sanctified and justified by God in Christ, because our Lord came to redeem us as whole human beings – our spirits and our bodies, because we were created in God’s image, we should use the freedom we’ve been given to treat the other person we want to have sex with as if they are loved by God just as much as we are. Our bodies are not our own but are a gift from God and a part of Christ’s body. Therefore, our sexual behavior can glorify or dishonor God. Fornication – whether it be sex with a prostitute, or being promiscuous – is wrong, not because it is a naughty thing to do and it makes God mad, but because it is physical without a spiritual union. It dishonors God because it dishonors the dignity of the other person who was made in the image of God just as you were.
Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wraps all of this up more explicitly when he says, “All things are permitted, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permitted, but not all things edify. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.”
Let us give thanks to God for washing, sanctifying, and justifying us in Christ. Let us give thanks for the freedom we’ve been given as Christians. And let us ask him for the grace to glorify him with our souls and bodies, and value others above ourselves in everything that we do, including in our sexual behavior. Amen.
 This silly introduction is not of my own creation! Thanks to Fathers Jacob Smith and Aaron Zimmerman for their podcast on today’s lections (see Same Old Song, accessed January 16, 2021).
 Melanie Howard, Working Preacher, accessed January 16, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-1-corinthians-612-20-5
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 258.
 1 Corinthians 10:23-24.
First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 10, 2021
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The summer after my junior year of high school, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed suddenly in a car accident in Paris at the age of 36. I didn’t know much about the British Royal Family, but was fascinated that the death of a former princess affected so many around the world with such profound, public grief. I was so fascinated that I decided to wake up to watch her funeral at 3:00 a.m, and what I saw in terms of pageantry and ritual marked the beginning of a love affair with the British Royal Family, both in terms of church and state.
One of the first things I came across in my many hours of reading on the subject was the fact that members of the Royal Family are baptized not with tap water, but with water from the Jordan River, the same river in which our Lord was baptized. This river is about 150 miles long, and forms the western border of modern-day Jordan, and the eastern border of parts of Israel, and of the Palestinian West Bank. It was a dirty river back then, as it is today, filled with mud and sediment. All those who came to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan knew just how special this place was: it was here that their ancestors entered into the Promised Land when its waters were miraculously parted by God. After their time as slaves in Egypt, they had spent 40 years roaming about the wilderness, the very same wilderness not far from the Jordan River in which John the Baptist appeared before Jesus’s baptism.
The wilderness was a place of awful hardship for the Hebrews. Food and water were scarce. They got so hungry, in fact, that they longed to be slaves again in Egypt, for at least there they’d be fed. This is also the same wilderness where Jesus was thrown by the spirit to be tempted by the Devil for forty days before the beginning of his public ministry. In the three temptations of Christ, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Satan seeks to dissuade Jesus from being a Messiah of self-sacrifice, but to be to a Messiah of power. He says, "in this period of "wilderness"… Jesus is exposed to danger and is assaulted by the temptation and seduction of the Evil One, who proposes a different messianic path to him, far from God's plan because it passes through power, success and domination rather than the total gift of himself on the Cross. This is the alternative: a messianism of power, of success, or a messianism of love, of the gift of self.”
I’m not sure about you, but I feel like I’m living in the wilderness right now. I’m hungry, not for food and water, but for sharing a long meal with all those I miss and can’t spend time with because of the pandemic. I honestly feel like I’m being tempted much more than usual. The promise of power, success, and domination seems much more tantalizing than giving myself wholly and entirely as Jesus did on the cross. The persistent, systemic racism in our country is really getting me down. Seeing a Confederate flag in the Capitol building, after the initial shock and fury, made me literally cry out loud, “How long, O Lord?”
In the midst of their horrible, seemingly never-ending journey in the wilderness, God provided the Hebrews manna in the desert for food. So too God provides for our needs in this wilderness. But more importantly, Jesus’s baptism reminds us that the wilderness doesn’t last forever. When he comes up out of the water, God opens up the heavens and reveals to all that Jesus is his Son. God anoints Jesus with the Spirit, recalling to mind God’s anointing of the Hebrew prophets of old. The Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Just as God delivered the Hebrews from their misery in the wilderness by a miraculous crossing of the River Jordan, so too He will deliver us from sin and death in the new exodus of salvation in Jesus Christ. Today, the Church remembers with joy the transformation of our Lord in the dirty water of an old river. We remember that day when God chose to publicly identify with sinful human beings like you and me. We remember that day when all of John the Baptist’s proclaiming of the coming of the kingdom came to fruition when the Spirit of God descended from heaven like a dove upon the One who was so long expected.
In the Baptism of our Lord, just as the Hebrews experienced their freedom at the end of their long journey from slavery, so too do we see the beginning of the freedom from sin and death and suffering promised to us. Let us this day reaffirm our deep and abiding hope that God will bring us safely out of this valley of tears to a land flowing with milk and honey, where racism and the coronavirus are no more, and where, with all the saints, we may enter into the everlasting heritage of his sons and daughters. Amen.
 “General Audience". Vatican. February 2, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
Second Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 3, 2020
In today’s epistle lesson, we hear the beginning of the letter St. Paul wrote from prison to the church at Ephesus. This lesson is packed full of praise and hope using language one commentator described as “the excess of the language of worship.” The reading we heard in English included multiple sentences ending with periods, but the first twelve verses of the original Greek consist of one long sentence of praise.
The first few verses are all about blessing and grace. It opens, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” And we hear that Christ has lavished on us the riches of his grace. According to our Catechism, “grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” Grace is unearned and undeserved.
One of the foundational spiritual problems in the Christian life is the lack of fortitude needed to believe that God actually loves you as much as the he says he does. This results in being unable to receive God’s unearned and undeserved grace. The truth of the matter is that God loves you. God loves you. He loves you with all of your warts and blemishes, with all of your insecurities and tendencies to sin. He loves…you.
Paul offers us today a counter to the world’s understanding of “worth.” Christian self-worth doesn’t come from within, nor is it affected by your behavior, nor is it related to whatever sins you are prone to do over and over again throughout your life. Christian self-worth is found in believing that you are unconditionally loved by God. In other words, in baptism, our old self dies, and the new self is an entirely new identity: the newly baptized person is God’s beloved.
Paul then moves from a focus on us to a focus on the world. He says that Jesus Christ is God’s “plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God didn’t send Jesus at Christmas to reconcile humanity alone to himself, he sent Jesus to reconcile all of creation to himself. Furthermore, he didn’t send Jesus to save our merely our souls, he sent Jesus to save all of us – body, soul, and spirit. When we were baptized, we agreed to join with God in reconciling the whole world to God through Christ. God doesn’t need us, he’s reconciling the world to himself with or without us. We made the choice to join him in this work at our baptism – but we sometimes forget our baptismal promises. We sometimes pay too much attention to what that dead, old carcass – our old self – has to say from the grave – that we are not worthy of God’s love, that we are tarnished or stained because of our past, that we are better off living for ourselves than for others.
Friends, God loves you just as you are. And he’s ready to give you the grace you need to do this redemptive work in the world that God has called you to do.
In the last section of this passage, we see a glimpse at what life looks like for those who know and believe they’re loved and blessed. These people have received an inheritance so that they might live for the praise of his glory. For Paul, the “glory of God” is “the weight and gravitas of the presence of God. Those who embrace the fact they’re beloved of God recognize God’s presence within and around them. It’s as if they exist partially in this world with all its pain and suffering and misguided values of power and wealth, and partially in that other world where kindness, mercy, and blessing, and grace are in abundance – a world where “there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all [the] saints.” Not only can they operate in both worlds, they do everything they can to make this world like the other world. Those who believe they are loved by God put others before themselves, work to make right those things that are wrong, and to share God’s love and mercy with those around them.
Friends, God loves you. God loves you just as you are. Your worth isn’t found in what you do, it’s found in who you are. No matter what lies the Devil may say about you – no matter what lies you are tempted to believe about yourself – you are God’s beloved.
In a moment, we will all put on our baptismal identity once again by acknowledging before God and this community that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We will confess our sins and receive God’s unfailing and unconditional forgiveness in the absolution. And then, we move to that time in the service where we will experience what our burial liturgy calls a foretaste of God’s heavenly banquet – The Holy Communion. In the consecrated bread and the wine, God offers us the most tangible glimpse of the other world that we have. When we approach the Sacrament firm in our belief that God loves us for who we are, we are open and receptive to receive the riches of his grace. This food for the journey will then give us the strength and courage we need to recognize God’s presence around us, and then to join with God in expanding his kingdom here on earth, one day at a time. Amen.
 Throughout history, the assumed author was Saint Paul himself, but most scholars today, for various reasons, believe that Ephesians was written by a Jewish-Christian admirer of Paul who sought to apply Paul’s thought to the situation of the church of his own day. See Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Phebe Perkins, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 2010, 2052.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 3 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 230.
 The three-fold outline comes from Bartlett 230-235.
 Verse 3.
 BCP 858.
 Bartlett 234.
 Verses 9-10.
 Bartlett 235.
 BCP 483.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
25 December 2020
There’s been quite a shift from last night to this morning. Last night, our gaze was focused on a baby lying in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. This morning, we behold a grand cosmic vision – the creation of the world by the Word of God, the Logos. Yet both scenes are about the same person – Jesus Christ. He is both the vulnerable little infant born to Mary and the all-mighty author and sustainer of the universe. In the mystery of the Incarnation, the divine and human come together.
A lot of ink has been spilled over interpreting what we’ve just read in the Gospel of John. The fact that among the Four Gospels, it’s the only one that is given a fancy title, the Prolegomena or the Prologue, should give us some idea of how theologically significant it is. During the Seasons of Advent and Christmas at St. Mary’s, we conclude every Daily Mass with the reading of the Prologue.
The idea that Jesus is the Word of God, the Logos, is not easy to understand. As one biblical scholar defines it, the Logos is “the logic that permeates and structures the universe, the divine reason that orders and gives meaning to all that is.” Try explaining that at a cocktail party. We’re dealing with abstract Greek philosophy here.
But, the fact is, we don’t have to understand the complex meaning behind the Logos to know God. Our faith is not based on grasping the nature of the divine reason or logic behind the universe. We can leave that to the theologians. Our Christian faith rests on the statement at the end of today’s reading: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). When we come to this sentence in praying the Angelus, we genuflect to express our deep reverence. In Jesus Christ, God became human. The Word became flesh. God became one of us and entered our world. Hence, God is not just an abstract, transcendent concept – someone up there beyond our comprehension. We can now know God through Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus telling his disciples: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). Jesus is the incarnation and revelation of God.
John, like the other Gospels, is an account of how Jesus, the Word made flesh, lived among the people of Palestine two thousand years ago. The Gospels describe and explain how Jesus revealed God through his teachings and ministry. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, and we wait for his coming in glory and power at the end of time. But we also believe that the body of Jesus continues to be present here on earth. The Incarnation was not a one-time event that ended two thousand years ago. It is ongoing. Jesus lives among us.
To go back to the statement “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” the term that we translate as “live” is in the Greek actually “tabernacle” or “tent.” So a more literal translation would be “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” or “pitched a tent among us.” Interestingly, we use the word tabernacle to refer to the box that contains the reserved host, the Body of Christ. So Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is present with us now in the tabernacle, and he will be present as we come up for Holy Eucharist. In the bread and wine of Communion, Christ will come to us in flesh and blood.
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” I just heard it on the radio this morning on my drive from home to church. I have come to especially appreciate the refrain: “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.” I know that I am not alone in having experienced loss during the Season of Christmas. My mother died eight years ago around this time of the year. This season has never been the same since. But when I sing or hear this carol, I am reminded that Jesus came to give us comfort and joy. That thought consoles me and lifts my spirits.
This year Christmas is not the same for any of us. COVID has wreaked havoc in our lives. We have all suffered losses. Yet, Christmas reminds us that God is not deaf to our cries of pain and suffering. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us to share our human lot and to give us hope and strength. This year, not all of us will be able to find comfort and joy in the presence of our family and friends. But we can all find comfort and joy in the presence of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, who comes to us today as a baby in the manger and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Merry Christmas!
 Judith Jones, “Commentary on John 1:1-14,” Working Preacher.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2020
Dear friends, unto us is born this day a Savior. Therefore let us rejoice and be glad. There is no place for sadness among those who celebrate the birth of Life itself. For on this day, Life came to us dying creatures to take away the sting of death, and to bring the bright promise of eternal joy. No one is excluded from sharing in this great gladness. For all of us rejoice for the same reason: Jesus, the destroyer of sin and death, because he finds none of us free from condemnation, comes to set all of us free. Rejoice, O saint, for you draw nearer to your crown! Rejoice, O sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon!
That is an excerpt is from what is by far my favorite Christmas sermon, preached by Leo the Great, a fifth century Italian bishop. It has always brought me such joy, year after year. But this year, I read it through a different lens. Like all of you, my life has changed significantly since March when the pandemic began. Beyond seeing some of you from time to time with masks on from a safe distance, Jay and I have generally stayed home. This pandemic has been cruel, not only in stealing away our loved ones such as Dcn. Gerry, but in forcing us to isolate ourselves from our friends and family. As sad and depressing as this year has been for me, I can’t imagine what it has been like for those like my grandmother who have literally been alone for most of the pandemic.
This year, when I read that old sermon by Leo the Great, I really wasn’t in the mood to rejoice and be glad.
This year, when I re-read Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ, it wasn’t the latter half of the story with the all the joy – the part with the multitude of the heavenly host praising God – that caught my attention. It was the beginning of the story, with seemingly mundane details about a census. The emperor of the Roman Empire, whose name was Augustus, published a decree requiring that everyone in the Empire be registered as part of the census. The name of the local governor is given, as well as the names of several cities – Nazareth in Galilee, Bethlehem, etc. These were actual people in history, and places you can go visit to this day.
Likewise, the Christmas Proclamation that we heard chanted before Mass captivated me with its poetic dating of the birth of Christ from nine different events. It situates the Incarnation within the context of salvation history, making reference not only to biblical events but also to the secular histories of the Greek and Roman worlds.
The specific time and place where Jesus was born was, quite frankly, a very dark period of human history. We can think of the Roman emperor the Dark Emperor in Star Wars, with Quirinius the governor as Darth Vader. Jesus was born into what you and I would call a police state that tortured people and denied most people basic human rights. It was brutal unless you were a wealthy, male, Roman citizen. The Jewish people suffered greatly under the heavy hand of Roman rule, and the trip that Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had to make from Nazareth to Bethlehem was arduous and fraught with danger and fear. Jesus was born into a world covered by a great cloud of darkness.
On the one hand, it makes no sense that the God of the universe would enter into our world by such ordinary means in such an awful place and time. St. Leo the Great’s sermon helps us here. He continues, “For the time has come when the fulness of time draws near, fixed by the unsearchable wisdom of God, when the Son of God took upon him the nature of humanity, that he might reconcile it to its Maker. The time has come when the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which has been his means of his victory.”
Jesus took upon himself our very nature in time and history so that he could reconcile us to his Father – to begin to undo the damage done when our first parents chose to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in that garden so long ago. The ordinary, mundaneness of it all is why Christmas isn’t a fairy tale. It is only because God chose to enter our world in history on a specific date, with other people who lived, and in places we can go visit that any of this makes sense at all. It is only after the ordinary details placing this story in its historical context that we hear the extraordinary story of the birth of Christ.
This Christmas, you and I live in a world covered by a great cloud of darkness as we are in many respects at the worst point yet of this pandemic. Just as he met Mary and Joseph in their suffering and hardships on this day so long ago, God meets us here, at [TIME] on Christmas Eve in the year 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. The extraordinary birth of Christ in all of its mundaneness gives us every reason, no matter our mood, to “rejoice and be glad. There is no place for sadness among those who celebrate the birth of Life itself. For on this day, Life came to us dying creatures to take away the sting of death, and to bring the bright promise of eternal joy. No one is excluded from sharing in this great gladness. For all of us rejoice for the same reason: Jesus, the destroyer of sin and death, because he finds none of us free from condemnation, comes to set all of us free. Rejoice, O saint, for you draw nearer to your crown! Rejoice, O sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon!”
 Leo the Great, Sermo 1 de Nativiate Domini, slightly altered by me.
 https://www.ncregister.com/blog/how-to-understand-the-christmas-proclamation. Accessed 12/23/2020
 Leo the Great, Sermo 1 de Nativiate Domini, slightly altered by me.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 December 2020
Today’s sermon is the fourth and last in an Advent series on the Four Last Things. The first three were on Death, Judgment, and Heaven. And today I have the pleasant task of preaching on Hell. Needless to say, I haven’t been in a very festive holiday mood the past few days as I’ve been contemplating hell to prepare for the sermon.
I know that some of you were raised in traditions that preached a lot about hell and damnation. I’ve heard horror stories about how some churches have traumatized people with the threat of hell for their sins or for their theological views or for their sexual orientation. There are many wounded souls out there. In terms of my own personal background, I was raised in mainline denominations that were at the opposite extreme. We didn’t talk at all about hell, and our conception of God was rather warm and fuzzy.
So where do we Episcopalians, or more specifically Anglo-Catholics, stand on the issue of hell? Well, as with most theological issues, we have a broad spectrum of views in the Church and a great deal of room to believe what you choose. Some Episcopalians subscribe to the traditional conception of hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked. There are others who reject the idea of hell altogether as incongruent with a loving God. What I would like to do today is to share with you what Scripture and tradition have to say about hell – a kind of history of hell, if you will, and engage in some reflections with you about the doctrine of hell.
The ancient Hebrews believed that the dead went to a place called Sheol, also called the “Pit,” the “grave,” and Abbadon. In the Old Testament, Sheol forms part of a three-tiered conception of the universe with heaven above, earth below, and Sheol under the ground. It was a dark and dreary place where all the dead descended regardless of whether they were good or bad. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the Jewish diaspora, the term that was used to translate Sheol was Hades, the underworld of the dead in Greek mythology.
When we come to the Gospels, we have the term Gehenna that is translated as hell in English. Jesus speaks of Gehenna as the “hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22, 18:9) or the “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). He also speaks of “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). Gehenna or hell is a place of judgment and condemnation, where the unrighteous go to be punished.
Recall Jesus’ parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus.” Lazarus is a poor man who suffered from hunger and deprivation outside the house of the rich man, but, in death, he is carried by the angels to eternal bliss in the bosom of Abraham. On the other hand, the rich man, who, in life, had shown no compassion to Lazarus, is sent in death to hell where he suffers in agony amidst the flames (Luke 16:19-31).
Christianity is not alone in having a place of punishment for the wicked. Most of the world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, have their equivalents of our hell. It seems to be almost a universal desire that there should be moral reckoning in the afterlife. In a moral universe, if there is no justice here on earth, surely there has to be justice in the life to come. For instance, it doesn’t make sense that the perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity can live to a ripe old age while the millions of innocent victims suffer torment and slaughter at their hands. Where is the justice?
One of the commonly held beliefs about hell in Christianity is that it is a place of eternal torment, that there is no end to the punishment for the wicked. But when we look further at Scripture as well as the tradition of the Church, there seems to be the hope of redemption even for those condemned to hell. In the Apostle’s Creed, which we proclaim at Daily Mass, and in the Athanasian Creed, we find the statement that Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell” (p.53). So, according to this phrase, during the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, his spirit was in hell. And what did he do there? According to I Peter, Jesus “went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (I Peter 3:19-20) and that the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead (I Peter 4:6). There are also similar references in the Old Testament – for instance, Psalm 49:15: “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”
Based on such passages from Scripture as well as the Creeds, a doctrine developed in the early Church, known as the Harrowing of Hell. The term “to harrow” is synonymous with “to descend” – so the “Descent into Hell” – but in Old and Middle English, it also has the sense of making a raid or incursion. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this doctrine was expressed through beautiful religious art, such as the one on the cover of today’s service leaflet. It is a painting by the fifteenth-century artist Fra Angelico. I especially like the way it visualizes Christ’s descent into hell as a kind of raid. He’s carrying a military banner, trampling on the devils, and providing safe passage to the captive souls.
Dear friends, we are drawing ever closer to the coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. During the Season of Advent, as we wait and prepare for his coming, one of our rituals is to light the candles on the Advent wreath. And during Daily Mass, we have been concluding the service with the reading of the Prologue to the Gospel of John, which speaks of Jesus as the “light of all people,” the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by the darkness (John 1:4-5). There is much darkness in the world today – the suffering and death caused by COVID, racial injustice, political turmoil, poverty, crime. But no matter how dark it gets around us, the light of Christ will shine through. Indeed, that “light of all people” will penetrate even the darkness of hell itself.
 The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 835-836.
Advent III, 2020
The Rev’d Isaac Petty
St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City
I’ve seen a lot more death in recent weeks than I had anticipated seeing at this point in my life. I suppose it’s odd, being the son of a funeral home owner, that I have not been confronted with so much death before. However, I now find myself in patient rooms as they take their final breath, a holy moment that is accompanied by many emotions and family concerns.
Saint Luke’s Hospital began, to overly simplify the history, out of the ministry of this parish nearly 140 years ago. I now serve there as a chaplain intern, and one of the kinds of visits I have all-too-frequently is pastoral care at the time of death or when care is withdrawn. Because of the pandemic, Covid-related deaths only add to the number of calls we receive and, being where we are culturally, a question both dying patients and their family members ask is to inquire about the nature of Heaven or to assure them of their heavenly destination.
Fr. Charles spoke two weeks ago about death among the four Last Things in this Advent sermon series (with Judgment last week, Heaven today, and Hell next week). The recording of Fr. Charles’ sermon on death is out online, so I won’t rehearse what he said here, except to remind us that Christians have already died with Christ in baptism. Fr. Charles also referenced one of the prayers in our prayer book for use at the Commemoration of the Dead, which reads “life is changed, not ended;” and it continues, “when our mortal body doth lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens” (BCP 349).
Discussions of Heaven aren’t reserved for the time of death. In fact, heaven isn’t about us and our destinies so much as it’s about the will of the Maker of heaven and earth. Now, I do not claim to understand the architectural details of Heaven, and I truly don’t intend to turn this nave into a lecture hall, but I do intend to share what I think is compelling reason for us to start talking about heaven in our everyday life. Heaven is not about death, but it truly is about life.
Scripture offers many different images for describing heaven and many books on many bookshelves are filled with speculations and interpretations. Put most simply, a common theme in the Bible is that heaven is God’s space, where everything is ordered according to God’s will. Heaven is filled with God’s holiness, which leads to several images, such as heaven being filled with light, the shining glory of God; and picturesque streets of gold, to show the richness of God’s royal kingdom; and depictions that it is filled with angels, whose job is eternally praising God. All of these depictions give us some idea of the kind of space God inhabits – one where everything is glorifying God and enjoying God forever, to paraphrase the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Our own Catechism teaches us that heaven is eternal life, and specifically the eternal life in which we enjoy God (BCP 862). You know, Jesus talked about eternal life. In one of the most commonly known verses of Scripture, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3.16 NRSV). Jesus immediately follows this line with a discussion of light entering the world but humanity choosing darkness. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus concludes with Jesus saying “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3.21 NRSV). Deacon Isaac, what does all of this have to do with heaven? Good question! You see God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1.5), and we understand heaven to be filled with God’s light. But, thankfully, that light does not just stay in heaven.
Appropriate for Advent, we are concluding the daily, Low Masses here at St. Mary’s by reading the beginning of John’s Gospel, including some of the verses in the Gospel I just proclaimed. This section of Scripture tells of the true light, coming into the world, to enlighten others. Likewise, the Creed we will say in a moment reminds us that Christ “came down from heaven.” Christ brought that heavenly light into the world and, as St Matthew tells us, he proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven had come near.
Heaven and Earth are as different as night and day, quite literally, and yet heaven comes to earth. God’s light shines when heaven and earth overlap. Heaven may be a separate dimension that breaks into earth, our space. Heaven’s light, with its clean, pure, and loving reality becomes visible, even in our dark and sin-filled world, because of Christ’s presence. The work of Christ that began at his incarnation continues by the Spirit in the work of the Church as we await his coming again. At Christ’s impending return from Heaven, which we are especially mindful of during Advent, heaven and earth will be made anew, into one space, where nothing and no one is outside of the will of God, in which God is all-in-all, and all of creation is filled with God’s light. Heaven-on-earth is eternally filled with life and the glory of God.
When someone on their deathbed asks me about going to heaven, I don’t often have the time to talk through four hours through a theology of the afterlife, but I feel comfortable talking about the joys of heaven that await them, because heaven comes to earth, and at the resurrection of the dead, heaven and earth will be one and all made anew. The Kingdom of Heaven will be the dominion into which the dead in Christ shall rise. As the Creed reminds us, not only did Christ ascend in heaven after his resurrection, but “he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; [his] kingdom shall have no end.”
The Good News for today is that we don’t have to wait for the day of the resurrection of the dead to experience heaven on earth. When the will of God is done, through glorifying God in the Church or by proclaiming the justice of God’s reign in the middle of an unjust society, we are catching glimpses of heaven coming to earth.
In a few moments, after the bread and wine have been consecrated, we will join our voices in praying the prayer Our Lord taught us, asking for Our Father’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Those gathered here will then commune with one another and the faithful from every age as we feast on Christ, who comes from Heaven and gives us that “grace and heavenly benediction” for which we pray. Those joining online will pray, too, for that spiritual communion, wherein God’s heavenly grace may be apparent as you prayerfully join in God’s ever-present embrace and see the glimpses of heaven made available to you where you are. May we all continue to grow in God’s “love and service” as we become “partakers in [that] heavenly kingdom.” Amen.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 6, 2020
On this second Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves in week two of four in what is the closest thing to a “sermon series” that you’ll get at St. Mary’s. We are looking at the Four Last Things of Advent. We began with death last week, judgement this week, and then heaven and hell.
Specifically, the final judgment that we say we believe in when we say the Nicene Creed, “and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the [living] and the dead.”
We are given a vivid picture of this final judgment the old Latin hymn Dies Irae, arguably the most important hymn ever written in the West. This 13th century hymn was originally composed for the season of Advent, but ultimately became associated with funerals. It begins heavy and somber: “Day of wrath, O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophet’s warning, heaven and earth in ashes burning.” This is what the Day of Judgment will be like, when God’s wrath will be poured out upon all injustice and unrepented sin. As crazy as it sounds, the Church teaches us that the bodies of the dead will rise from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet, and they, along with all of creation, will answer to Jesus, the Judge and Lord of all. On this terrible day, we will all be judged according to our deeds. When we face our Lord and Judge, we will be exposed before he whom this hymn calls “the King of tremendous majesty.” We won’t be able to hide our sinfulness, or our past, or our fears – all will be laid bare.
Back in my Southern Baptist days, we talked and thought a lot about heaven and hell and things eternal, and the fear that the Day of Judgment evoked in me led to lots of guilt and shame. I lived in that guilt-laden world for far too many years. So hear me when I say that the Church’s call for us to reflect on the Day of Judgment isn’t a call to wallow about in fear and guilt.
It is a call to prepare. Despite the Christmas lights and consumerism going on in the world around us, the Church calls us to keep awake and prepare for the coming of Christ in the manager at Christmas, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, and at the last day.
It’s a call to judge ourselves, lest we be judged by the Lord. It’s a call to examine our lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments and acknowledge our sins before Almighty God with full purpose of amendment of life. It’s a call to heed the words of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight in our hearts, and turn from the selfish and sinful devices and desires of our own hearts. Advent is a call to wake up from our spiritual haziness and fatigue and prepare the way for our Savior.
But beware of the risk of thinking that Advent means that we are called to clean ourselves up, or somehow by our own strength work our way to God. For judgment – whether it be our own self-judgment of our lives, or God’s judging of us at the last day – judgment leads to mercy. For the God who mercifully redeems us is the same God who judges us. And he uses the same means to both judge and save us: his unconditional love. God’s love has both effects – first judgment, then mercy. Advent isn’t about us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and being good enough to deserve God’s love, it’s about putting ourselves in a position – by prayer, fasting and repentance – by watching and waiting – to receive the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Austin Farrer (Fare-er), a priest of the Church of England who died in the 1960’s and, ironically, came from the Baptist tradition, tells us how love leads to both judgment and mercy in his book “The Crown of the Year”. He says,
"Advent brings Christmas, judgement runs out into mercy. For the God who saves us and the God who judges us is one God. We are not, even, condemned by his severity and redeemed by his compassion; what judges us is what redeems us, the love of God. What is it that will break our hearts on judgment day? Is it not the vision, suddenly unrolled, of how he has loved the friends we have neglected, of how he has loved us, and how we have not loved him in return; how, when we came before his altar, he gave us himself, and we gave him half-penitences, or resolutions too weak to commit our wills? But while love thus judges us by being what it is, the same love redeems us by effecting what it does. Love shares flesh and blood with us in this present world, that the eyes which look us through at last may find in us a better substance than our vanity.
"Advent is a coming, not our coming to God, but his to us. We cannot come to God, he is beyond our reach; but he can come to us, for we are not beneath his mercy. Even in another life, as St. John sees it in his vision, we do not rise to God, but he descends to us, and dwells humanly among human creatures in the glorious man Jesus Christ. And that will be his last coming; so we shall be his people, and he everlastingly our God, our God-with-us, our Emmanuel. He will so come, but he is come already, he comes always: in our fellow Christian, in his Word, invisibly in our souls, more visibly in this sacrament. Opening ourselves to him, we call him in: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord: O come, Emmanuel."
 BCP 328.
 Pope, "Sing the Dies Irae at My Funeral - A Meditation on a Lost Treasure," Community in Mission, June 10, 2015, accessed December 4, 2020 http://blog.adw.org/2011/11/sing-the-dies-irae-at-my-funeral-a-meditation-on-a-lost-treasure/.
 Christopher Webber, Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2002), 2-3.
The First Sunday of Advent – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 29, 2020
The Church begins its new year today on the First Sunday of Advent, not with the joyful carols we already hear at Costco or the holly and the ivy or egg nog, but with death.
I’ve been reminded of death a lot lately, not only because of the countless deaths from COVID-19, but because we recently converted the front half of St. Margaret’s Chapel downstairs into an office for me. If you haven’t been downstairs to see the chapel, please let me know – I’d love to show it to you. You can see what the back half looks like on the front cover of your service leaflet. Since 2014 or 2015, St. Margaret’s Chapel has been a mortuary, or requiem chapel, with a columbarium behind the glass door on the left for our beloved deceased. Each time I enter my office, I make a solemn bow toward the consecrated altar that is permanently draped in black, the liturgical color of death.
Sounds morbid to you? Well, in a way, it is. And such is our entrance into this new church year. For centuries, the Church used Advent not only to prepare for Christ’s coming in the manager, but also his coming again at the Last Day. This has traditionally been done by preachers examining what theologians call “The Four Last Things” on the four Sundays preceding Christmas: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
Death is not something we talk a lot about in our culture, or even in church. Most people go to great lengths to avoid death at certain points in their lives. Yet there is no escaping death – we all know that each of us, one day, will die.
Those of us who follow Christ have already died, not physically, but spiritually in the waters of baptism. We followed Our Lord right on over the edge of life itself into his death, and by dying with him, we also are raised with him to newness of life. For death itself was transformed by Christ, having endured it in an act of total and free submission to the will of his Father. Jesus’s obedience transformed the curse of death into a blessing. This transformed view of death is expressed beautifully in our funeral liturgy: “For to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body doth lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”
This doesn’t mean that we are free from the pains of sin and suffering in our world right now. It means that “the essential bridge of death has already been crossed. We do not wait to “cross over the Jordan” or to “fly away” to heaven when we die. Rather, we are already living the resurrection life. Yes, the promise of the resurrection of the dead gives us hope for the future, but this resurrection from the dead is the state in which all of the baptized are already living – here and now. By our baptism, we are called to take concrete actions in our daily lives to care for the orphan and the stranger, to feed the poor, and to love our neighbors as ourselves now, not later.
And yet, the fulness of this resurrection life we live is not yet fully realized. We continue to live in a world rife with discrimination, division based on economic status, persecution, and poverty. When will it all be made right? When Christ returns again with power and great glory, an event we call the “Second Coming” which we profess in the words of the Nicene Creed when we say, “he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” It is only then that Christ’s victory over sin and death will be fully realized.
Advent calls each of us to remember that we have already died with Christ in our baptism, and that we’ve already been given the grace we need to live out the resurrection life in our acts of charity, justice, and peace. But also, the Church calls us to be mindful of our end. In other words, we are to “keep awake.”
Keep awake, for death could come for you tomorrow, or Christ could return without any notice. Keep awake, for you do not know when you will die, nor do you know when Christ will come “with clouds descending.” Jesus’s call to “keep awake” goes beyond keeping our physical eyes open, it is a call to actually lose sleep as we are living out our baptism day in and day out. It is a call to vigilance – to mental, physical and spiritual rigor, despite the side effects that occur when we don’t get enough sleep. It is a call to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light.
I’ve told some of you this story, but I am deeply reminded of one of our parishioners who died just a little over two years ago. His name was David Higdon, and he came to St. Mary’s a year before that after a friend of mine who is a psychologist recommended that he give us a try. He had been in prison, and had been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for years, though he was in remission. After his first visit, I went to coffee with him, and he adamantly told me that he wanted to get right with God, and to reconcile with those he had hurt throughout his life. Despite being introverted and quiet, David hung around at coffee hour and got to know a few folks, and joined the adult confirmation class. He was confirmed along with Raja Reed, John Stanks, Chris McQueeny, and others in April 2018. His cancer returned soon thereafter, and now-Deacon Lynda, Raja and I looked after him, taking him communion from time to time. On Thursday, November 8th, I received a phone call at the bank from a nurse at Truman Hospital who told me that David had gone downhill over the past week, and that she didn’t expect him to live more than a few hours. I was shocked as he hadn’t told any of us that he had been readmitted to the hospital. I was fortunate in that my boss at the bank was an Episcopalian, and she immediately told me to go. We got an early snow that year, as when I went outside to jump on one of those motorized scooters downtown, it was snowing pretty hard. By the time I got to the hospital, he was not conscious, and his nurse and I sat with him for a couple of hours as he died.
At first, I was frustrated that David hadn’t told any of us at St. Mary’s how bad his cancer had become. If he’d only made us aware, I could have taken communion to him to prepare him one last time for that great wedding feast in heaven. But in retrospect, I can see now that David heard Christ’s call to keep awake when he first came to St. Mary’s, ironically during the season of Advent. He spent his last year living out his baptism with rigor, not knowing the day or the hour of the Lord’s coming or of his own end.
When I enter my office downstairs, I bow at the consecrated altar draped in black, and I give thanks for the life of David Higdon whose final resting place is right there in the columbarium. For it is through David that God taught me what it means to “keep awake.”
Friends, as we begin this powerful season of preparation, let us be mindful of our end, both at our baptism, and at the end of our earthly life. Let us remember the death that we died in our baptism, and let us keep our own future death ever before us. Will you pray with me?
O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers and mothers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our God; and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1006-1009.
 1979 BCP, p. 349.
 Hannah Bowman: https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2019/12/02/advent-the-four-last-things-death/
 1979 BCP, p. 328, with the word “living” used in place of the word “quick,” as in Rite II.
 Hymn #57, The Hymnal 1982. Words: Charles Wesley.
 Courtney Buggs: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-1324-37-5
 1979 BCP, p. 489, attributed to Bishop Jeremy Taylor, slightly modified.
Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 22, 2020
Today the Church commemorates the Feast of Christ the King. As we prayed in our opening Collect, we praise and worship Jesus Christ as “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the church year, drawing a parallel with the end of time, the last days, when Christ will come in all his power and glory.
Although the feast is relatively recent compared to other feasts that have been around for centuries, it is firmly rooted in Scripture. In today’s Epistle, we read that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-23). And in today’s Gospel, we read: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:31-32).
In the Orthodox Church, this vision of the exalted Jesus has expressed itself down through the ages in the iconography of Christos Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) or Christ Almighty. We have an example on the cover of today’s service leaflet: the mosaic of Christos Pantocrator from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church is built over what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. With the Christos Pantocrator on the ceiling of this church, we see a colossal, regal Jesus set against a gold background and surrounded by a celestial court of angels and saints. Jesus is the enthroned king of heaven and earth, looking down on the faithful.
For some of us today, we may not be entirely comfortable with calling Jesus king. It certainly doesn’t figure as prominently in Protestant theology as it does in Roman Catholic or Orthodox. There are plenty of Roman churches named Christ the King, including the one here in Kansas City on 85th and Wornall Road. But how many Protestant churches do you know that are named Christ the King? I don’t think there are many Episcopal Churches with that name either, Anglo-Catholic or otherwise.
Another reason why Christ the King may not sit too well with us is because the title of “king” may go against our modern, democratic sensibilities. “King” can be seen as an anachronism, outdated and irrelevant, belonging to less enlightened periods of absolute rule and authoritarianism. Our nation, after all, was born in rebellion against the tyranny of King George III.
But, on the other hand, there may be others who don’t mind the royal language at all – and even like it. The Episcopal Church, with her origins in England, is full of Anglophiles, including those who love the British monarchy, especially good Queen Elizabeth II. I won’t mention names, but I think there may even be clergy at St. Mary’s who fall in this category – and who this past week celebrated the seventy-third wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But even apart from the Anglophiles in our midst, judging by the popularity of British royal gossip in the American press, we haven’t entirely severed our emotional ties to the monarchy in the old country. We love the pageantry, the glamor, and the rich traditions.
Whatever our attitudes toward the term “king” may be, the message about Jesus in Scripture and in today’s feast day is clear. There is no power or authority in all the world greater than Jesus. He is all-mighty, all-powerful, sovereign over heaven and earth. He is God Incarnate. And Christ’s kingdom is eternal. His reign will have no end.
If we might extend the royal metaphor a bit, if Jesus is king, then what does that make us, his followers? At the most basic level, we are subjects of his kingdom, enjoying the benefits and privileges of Christ’s reign. But Scripture tells us that we are more than mere subjects. Christ calls us as his disciples to a more active and significant role. He calls us to proclaim and to help build his kingdom on earth.
Just as a traditional king would have officials, called ministers, to help him rule, Jesus calls us to be his ministers in the kingdom. Interestingly, the term “minister” has both this secular and religious meaning. So just as there are different ministries in a royal government, such as ministry of state, ministry of the treasury, and so on, we, too, have various ministries in the Church. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the many different types of ministry and service in the Church – apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers (I Corinthians 12:28). Some are called to preach. Some are called to be prophetic voices, working for peace and justice in the world. Some are called to teach. Some are called to heal the broken in body, mind, or spirit. Some are called to be ordained, as our own Deacon Lynda Hurt and Deacon Isaac Petty were this past Monday. Some are called to leadership and service as lay people.
We have a variety of callings defined by our God-given gifts, talents, and passions. But we also share a common calling. In today’s Gospel, Christ calls all of us to care for those who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison (Matthew 25: 35-45). When we serve the most vulnerable among us, we are serving Christ in them. And it is for these acts of love and compassion for which we will ultimately be judged.
Dear friends, on this Feast of Christ the King, we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of our lives and Lord of all Creation. And as Christ’s followers, we are his ministers, representatives of his Kingdom in the world. We have been called to be his apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. And we have gathered this morning to renew our vows to the Lord and to be refreshed, nourished, and empowered in Word and Sacrament. And at the conclusion of our service today, as we head back to our daily lives, we will be reminded by our newly ordained deacon what is our sacred task this week as Christ’s ministers: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
 The exception seems to be Lutheran churches, quite a number of which have the name Christ the King.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!