All Saints Day
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 3, 2019
In our first lesson, we hear the prophet Daniel recount a fantastical dream he had. Well, we heard the beginning of the dream in which four great beasts rise out of the sea. But then the lectionary skips 12 verses. In those verses, there are descriptions not only of the four beasts and their terrifying power, but ten horns arising from the fourth beast, with an eleventh horn with human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly. In response to this last beast with its mouthy eleventh horn, the Ancient One kills the beast and deprives the other three of their power. Then, “one like a human being” comes down from heaven on the clouds to reign on behalf of the Ancient One.
The lectionary then picks back up and we hear the heavenly attendant’s interpretation of the dream. The four beasts represent four kings or kingdoms, but in the end, the “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom.”
Who are these holy ones?
The book of Daniel was likely written sometime in the 2nd Century BC during the reign of Greek Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, under whose rule the Hebrew people suffered persecution and martyrdom. Up to this point in Hebrew literature, the word we translate as “holy ones” was used exclusively for divine beings and angels, never human beings. The holy ones in this passage are granted dominion over the kingdom that had already been granted to “the one like a human being” in verse 13. Later in Daniel, this “one like a human being” is identified as Michael the Archangel, the head of God’s heavenly army. Thus, this story originally referred to the divine army gaining control over the cosmic forces of evil and chaos. However, “holy ones” was interpreted by the Jewish Rabbinic tradition as referring to the Jews who were persecuted by the Greek Emperor Antiochus, and then later, even more broadly, as a reference to righteous humans sanctified after death. These “holy ones” are wise and pious men and women, who will suffer persecution, be purified, and awake to everlasting life, where they will possess God’s kingdom.
A couple of centuries later, the early Christians began commemorating the anniversary of those who were martyred for the faith. As persecution became more widespread, the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. And so, the Church appointed a common day for all the martyrs as early as 373 AD. A few centuries later, the feast was broadened to include all saints as well as martyrs.
We continue to celebrate all the saints on this day so many years later. The “holy ones” we remember today, like those in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, are those who contended long for their Savior’s honor…those who appear like stars…who stand before God’s throne wearing a golden crown and praising loud their heavenly King, as we will sing in today’s closing hymn. In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to all of the baptized, but from the very beginning, some Christians began to be recognized for their holiness and sanctity, and the word saint in English is now more closely associated with them. Today’s feast isn’t commemorating or remembering all Christians throughout time – that’s All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints Day. No, today, we celebrate the saints – the “holy ones” – who lived out a heroic faith that has been recognized by the wider Christian community over time.
These heroes of the faith encourage us to keep running with perseverance the race set before us. We don’t worship them in the way we worship God, but we certainly honor them for their holiness which sprang from the grace given to them by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Daniel was given a vision in his day when the empire that ruled over the Jewish people persecuted them to the point that they rebelled against the Emperor and ultimately prevailed, a rebellion we call the Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following this great victory. In fact, this dream can be seen as a dystopian story not unlike the Handmaid’s Tale or the Hunger Games. Like Daniel, we live in a time when the empires of the day exalt injustice and hatred, and pay little attention to the poor, the sick, and the needy. As in Daniel’s day, the beasts with terrifying power seem to rise up out of the sea, threatening to overcome us.
The feast of All Saints reminds us that that the divine army will ultimately win the battle against evil and chaos. But more importantly, on All Saints Day, we are spurred on to a greater holiness by those who, even when they were with us on earth, were not with us in reality, for their minds were focused on God. “They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven. They were strangers and sojourners” here just as the Jews were under the rule of Antiochus. “Strangers to the world, their whole heart was absorbed in the things of heaven…They longed for the beauty of heaven, its mansions and dwellings, its choirs and hymns, its feasts and its eternal blessedness.” The saints, by God’s grace, sought after these things, and by God’s grace, they attained them. “Their striving was rewarded by admission to the heavenly bridal chamber. Because they labored, now they exult. Because they were not negligent, they now rejoice.”
Friends, let us give thanks to Almighty God for the lives of the saints, and spurred on by their heroic devotion to Jesus, let us “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
 Much of this paragraph is from Wendland, Kristin J. “Commentary on Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 by Kristin J. Wendland.” Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Commentary. Working Preacher. Accessed November 2, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4271.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Pr., 2010), 223.
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1248.
 Much of this paragraph from Bartlett 223.
 The Hymnal 1982: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (1985: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), 286.
 The quotes in this paragraph are from a sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (d. sometime after 700 AD) as printed Maxwell E. Johnson, Benedictine Daily Prayer: a Short Breviary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 2184.
 Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV).
Pentecost XX Proper XXV
October 27, 2019
The Rev’d Charles Everson, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
There are some general stereotypes about birth order that tend to be true across the board. The first-born child tends to be a responsible overachiever, while the second-born is often rebellious, seeking attention in colorful ways. In my own house, growing up, these stereotypes were certainly true. I was the eldest child: very responsible and studious, always wanting to be seen doing what is right. My younger sister Carri always got in trouble and had a hard time finding her place in life. I was the goodie two shoes who went to church every Sunday and participated in religious clubs at school and of course abstained from alcohol and anything else that might be naughty. One incident sort of sums my sister’s relationship with the church at the time. She had my mom drop her and her best friend off at the church for an all-night lock in with the youth group. Later, it was discovered that my mom dropped them off just in time for her boyfriend to pick them up and scurry away from the church before the doors got locked. I, on the other hand, was well-known in our high school for being a spiritual leader, leading bible studies and Christian rallies for all the world to see.
When I read through today’s gospel reading, I couldn’t help but self-identify with the Pharisee. The Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders of the day who emphasized the importance of obeying the law of Moses. They paid careful attention to things like rituals for cleansing one’s body and one’s cookware that were done as an attempt to encounter God in the everyday doldrums of life. The Pharisees were very concerned about how others perceived them and made every attempt to look pious and righteous before others. On the other hand, the tax collectors in the Roman Empire were part of a corrupt system full of dishonesty and greed. They weren’t the accounting-types that work at the IRS, but were rather the scum of the earth, lining their own pockets with whatever they could collect above and beyond their contractual obligation with the government.
My senior year in high school, I had a side job in the afternoon in the school office. My duties included answering the phone and helping with attendance records. My sister didn’t always adhere to the school’s attendance policies. When she skipped class, you can guess what happened: I caught wind the same day, and before she got home, my parents already knew. Yeah, I was that guy: I was the tattle tale. I’ll always remember the time my sister got so frustrated with me that she yelled, “Chuck, why do you have to be so darned good!” I wish I could say that I tattled on her to keep her safe or for the wider good, but deep down, I was self-righteous and cared far too much about how other people perceived me.
In this parable, when the Pharisee prays, he thanks God that he isn’t like the other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like the tax-collector. In his prayer, the Pharisee reminds the Lord that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all his income. In short, he thanks God that he’s so amazing. The tax-collector beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee doesn’t ask God for anything because he trusted in himself that he was righteous, while the tax-collector begged for God’s mercy for he knows who he is: a horrible human being who can’t possibly be good enough on his own.
Everyone thinks that the Kingdom of God includes the Pharisees but excludes the tax-collectors, but today, Jesus is saying, “No, let me tell you what the Kingdom of God is really like.” In God’s kingdom, the tax-collector is in and the Pharisee is out. In the last verse, he tells us that the tax-collector went home justified – unburdened – vindicated – in a restored relationship with God. For the tax-collector knows who he is: he knows that he has no righteousness on which to stand except for the righteousness given to him by God.
Jesus isn’t telling us to shed our arrogance and be as humble as we can be, and that if we do that, all will be well, and we’ll inherit eternal life. The point is that the tax-collector acknowledges that he really a horrible human being. And thanks be to God, God loves horrible human beings! Jesus is telling you and me today that, despite what I thought in high school, thinking that we are holy and studious and righteous means that we are deceived and don’t acknowledge who and what we are: horrible, awful people in need of God’s grace!
My sister’s life took a different turn after high school. She’s married to a lawyer and works as a pharmacist, and they have 3 beautiful girls (all about to hit the teenage years…God help her.). And she and her family are members of Grace Episcopal Church in Ottawa and her husband serves on the vestry. For my part, I’ve loosened up quite a bit after having been put in my place multiple times throughout my adult life. My fault in high school was that like the Pharisee had written off the tax-collector, I had labeled my sister as a heathen, when in fact, she was thoroughly and completely loved by God. Rather than focusing on others’ faults and sins, and trying to decide who is in God’s Kingdom and who is out, God is calling us to speak only of our own brokenness, and to rely solely on His unconditional mercy and grace to make us whole again, as when the world was new.
The Rev'd Dr. Sean C. Kim, SCP
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 October 2019
Today we commemorate St. Luke the Evangelist. We know him best as the author of the third Gospel. He also wrote the Book of Acts. In addition to being a writer, Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul on some of his missionary journeys. Paul calls Luke his “fellow worker” (Philemon 24), and, as we read in today’s Epistle, during Paul’s time in prison, Luke is his sole faithful companion (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul also identifies Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossian 4:14). Luke has thus become the patron saint of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.
St. Luke the evangelist and physician holds special significance for us at St. Mary’s. Luke is what we call our Proto-Patron or First Patron. As many of you are aware, before we were St. Mary’s Church, we were St. Luke’s Church. So St. Luke was our original Patron, the saint for whom the church was named, the saint who protects us and intercedes for us before God. St. Luke’s Church was established in 1854 in Kansas City, the first Episcopal parish in what was back then a frontier trading town. The first building was located at 8th and Walnut in the downtown area, but then later, Mary Troost, a major benefactor of the church, donated land at 13th and Holmes for a new building with the condition that the church change its name and patronage to St. Mary. The current building in which we worship was completed in 1887.
Our spiritual forebears at St. Luke’s Church laid out a powerful vision not only for their own faith community but for the city as a whole. In response to the educational needs of the early settlers, the church ran schools for boys and girls in the downtown area, and it reached out to the working poor, providing hunger relief in the West Bottoms. Moreover, faithful to the legacy of their patron, St. Luke the physician, the church started a hospital. In 1882, the Rev. Henry Jardine, the rector, gathered a group of businessmen to discuss the need for medical care in the growing city. This led to the establishment of All Saints Hospital, which later changed its name to St. Luke’s Hospital. Today the Saint Luke’s Health System has grown to be a major hospital for the region. Kansas City’s only locally owned, not-for-profit health system, Saint Luke’s continues to be a faith-based hospital, with oversight by the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri. The bishop serves as chair of the board of directors. Some of you may have noticed that one of our stained-glass windows is dedicated to St. Luke’s Hospital. It’s the one back in the corner by the spiral staircase. The reason we have that is because our church began the hospital.
By laying down the foundations for the Saint Luke’s Health System, our forebears were carrying on a rich tradition of healing ministry in the Christian Church. The history of healing in our faith, of course, goes all the way back to Jesus himself. Healing was central to his ministry. As we read in the Gospels, Jesus healed the blind, the lame, the lepers; he treated all sorts of diseases and conditions. Subsequently, for over two millennia, Christians have continued Jesus’ work of healing. In the Middle Ages in Europe, medical care lay primarily in the hands of monks and nuns. The early hospitals were the ministry of religious communities, dedicated to the care of the sick and dying. Then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Protestant medical missionaries spread modern, Western-style medicine all around the world. Considering this legacy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the roots of modern medical care are in the Christian Church.
If you would please indulge me for a moment, I would like to share with you some personal experiences of how my own life has intersected with the history of healing in the Christian Church. I’ve mentioned before that I was born in Korea, but the hospital where I was born, in Seoul, South Korea, was called Severance Hospital. No, Severance is not a Korean name. Louis H. Severance was an American businessman, one of the founders of Standard Oil. Severance also happened to be a devout Presbyterian, so when some pioneer Presbyterian missionaries in the 1880s proposed plans to build Korea’s first modern, Western-style hospital, Severance generously provided the funding. One of the reasons I was born at Severance was my father was a medical student there for a couple of years. He ended up switching to business, though. He was doing fine until he had to dissect cadavers, and he quickly decided that medicine was not his calling. Later in life, he hoped that one of my siblings or I would become a doctor, but, contrary to stereotypes about Asians being good in science, none of us were particularly good at it nor were we interested in a science-related career. I’m not good in math either. We did, however, manage to get a doctor in the family through marriage. My sister married a physician; my brother-in-law is a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City.
The next chapter in my experience of the Church’s healing mission took place in 2009, when I joined my fellow parishioners back then at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City for a week-long trip to Haiti. We were there about a month before the great earthquake. It was surreal to see in the media the images of the destruction and ruin. St. Andrew’s sponsors a birthing center – what the Haitians call a maison de naissance, a birthing home – in a remote, mountainous area of the island nation. Established by Dr. Stan Shaffer and Dr. Kathy Shaffer, parishioners at St. Andrew’s – Dr. Stan Shaffer used to serve at St. Luke’s, the birthing center has saved the lives of countless mothers and babies who would otherwise have died without the proper medical care and education. St. Andrew’s is not alone in its healing ministry in Haiti. The country is filled with clinics and hospitals sponsored by American churches.
The third and final story that I would like to share with you brings us back to Saint Luke’s Hospital. A couple of years ago, I served as a hospital chaplain at Saint Luke’s Hospital as part of my pastoral training. As some of you know, our Postulant for Holy Orders, Lynda Hurt, soon to be deacon, did the same program this past summer. And I think that Lynda would agree with me on this. When I first began the program, I thought that I would learn exactly what to say and what to do when visiting the sick, the dying, and their families. But contrary to expectation, that’s not what I learned. In fact, the most important lesson that I learned was how to provide a caring presence. In other words, our physical presence, the companionship we provide – being there to listen or to simply sit together – is what is most important. The details of what we say or do ultimately don’t matter much. A caring presence, on the other hand, has the power to heal.
When I look back on those dark moments in my own life when I have been broken in body, mind, or spirit, I think of the people who were there for me – family, friends, clergy, fellow church members. And the older I become and the less reliable my memory becomes, I tend to forget what they said to me in those difficult situations. But I will never forget their presence. Nor will I forget the reflection of God’s love on their faces.
Not all of us are called to be doctors, nurses, medical missionaries, or hospital chaplains. All of us are, however, called to be healers. Following the examples of Jesus Our Lord and our Proto-Patron St. Luke, we are called to pray for the healing of those around us who are broken in body, mind, or spirit. We are called to provide a caring presence. When we do, we will find that Jesus himself will be there with us.
 St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (www.stmaryskcmo.org/our-history.html)
 Saint Luke’s Health System (https://www.saintlukeskc.org/history)
St. Francis Day
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 6, 2016
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus at the beginning of Matthew chapter 11, which we heard part of today: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
It is no surprise that John sent them to ask this, for the great judgment he had announced hadn’t come about, the corrupt were still in power, and John was suffering in prison.
Jesus tells them to tell John what they had seen and heard: the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor receiving good news. While this isn’t the mighty judgement John had envisioned, these were surely signs that the kingdom of God was drawing near.
Fr. Sean and I just returned last night from a week in southern Arizona at a clergy conference entitled “At the Border of Holiness.” On the first day of the conference, we visited St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona just a few miles from the southern US border and heard three powerful presentations.
The first was from Mother Alison Lee, priest-in-charge at St. Andrews, who described the clinic that parish runs for children living in Mexico who cannot afford the specialized medical care they need. We heard about children with cleft palates healed by the loving volunteer services of the doctors, and kids whose vision is so bad that they can’t see more than three feet in front of them receiving glasses for the first time. We heard story after story of the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the poor receiving good news. What hope!
But then, the Anglican Bishop of Western Mexico detailed for us via a translator the stark reality of why people are risking their lives to flee Mexico to come to the United States. Listening to the murder rates, the stories of hidden graves filled with chopped up body parts, and those who were essentially enslaved by local oligarchs and drug traffickers was eye opening to me to say the least. Though I’d heard of folks dying trying to cross the border in the past, hearing all of this helped me to understand why people would risk death or imprisonment to make the dangerous trek to “our great country.”
After the presentations, we all loaded the bus and proceeded to the southern border. In typical form, I was alternating between chatting with my buddy sitting next to me and messing around with Facebook on my phone, so I wasn’t really paying attention to world around me. But then I looked up to the left and was completely overcome with emotion upon seeing a huge, imposing wall adorned with the type of round strands of razor wire you’d see at a prison. I’d seen such things on TV and online, but never in person, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep sadness and shame. Shame that this was the first thing that these desperate people see when arriving at our front door looking to escape misery and death.
One of the deacons from St. Andrews explained the history of how the wall came to be. The portion of the wall that runs between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico was built back in the 1990’s, though the razor wire has been added more recently. Until about a year ago, priests from both sides of the border would say Mass frequently next to the wall, and separated family members would gather on the other side. They would pass communion between the slats and also use the opportunity to hold hands with their loved ones. They would do this despite the risk of cutting themselves on the razor wire, but in the last year, metal mesh had been added to the lower part of the wall to prevent something as small as a communion host from being passed through. My sadness turned to anger, and my stomach turned upside down. I felt a sense of desperation wash over me and the hope that I’d encountered at the presentation about the medical clinic was nowhere to be found. My God, this is what we’ve become, I thought.
As John’s disciples said, “Jesus, are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” Lord, where are you in all of this? Why is there still so much suffering? How can you tolerate this sort of cruelty?
We then gathered on the north side of a makeshift altar facing the wall, and as Mother Alison began to celebrate Mass, which she offered for those who had died trying to cross the border, I began to see a glimpse of hope once again. For in the Eucharist, the love of God literally comes to earth. Love and compassion and peace breaks into our world, and the great border between God and man crashes down for a sweet moment and we are given a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth. In the Eucharist, we are given hope – even a promise – that all will be made right and the world will be restored to how it was in the Garden of Eden before sin and suffering and death erected the borders that divide man from God and nation from nation.
After Mass, we milled around for a bit, most of us somewhat dazed and confused, processing all that was happening. As I was looking at the wall, it suddenly hit me that the razor wire was only on the US side. Prisons use razor wire to keep prisoners inside from escaping. It made me wonder if we, in our attempts to keep people out, had created a prison for ourselves and become those we thought we were avoiding: selfish people willing to go to any length to make things better for ourselves at the cost of those who are suffering the most. Filled with the hope given to me in the bread and the wine, I realized that I was angry. Angry mainly at myself for not doing enough to address this awful injustice.
Now, I hope you don’t hear this as a sermon about partisan politics. As I mentioned, the portion of the wall that we witnessed was built in the 1990’s, not recently. Political decisions from both sides of the aisle over many years have contributed to the situation in which we find ourselves today. And likewise, I hope you don’t expect me to have political answers on how we can fix all of this, because I don’t. But hear me, friends: the gospel of Jesus Christ is inherently political. Those who originally heard today’s gospel reading were suffering under religious oppression from the Pharisees on the one hand, and from persecution under the Roman imperial system on the other in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the lowly. It was from unjust political systems like these that Jesus Christ came to set us free.
This is the context in which Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Greek word “rest” in the New Testament functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and made whole again as it was in the Garden. In promising us “rest,” Jesus promises abundant life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing.
Jesus also tell us to take his yoke upon us. The yoke was a symbol of burden bearing, oppression, and subjugation. Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen when they were to pull something extremely heavy. What is the yoke Jesus offers? We might infer from the text that it is his teaching, his way of discipleship, which is not burdensome but life-giving. He invites the weary to learn from him, for he is not a tyrant who lords it over us, but is "gentle and humble in heart." His yoke is easy and his burden is light. To take his yoke upon oneself is to be yoked to the One in whom God's kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion is breaking into this world, and to find the rest for which the soul longs.
In this great feast that we will celebrate in a moment, we will experience a foretaste of this heavenly rest that Jesus promises us. It doesn’t matter the emotions we feel, or whether the altar party gets all of the motions and choreography exactly right. In this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the love of God will break into our world whether we like it or not, and we will see a glimpse of what the world will be like one day when all will be made right and every wall that divides us will crash to the ground. During the Eucharistic prayer, when we offer and present our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God, we will offer your burdens up to Jesus. And as you receive the host in your hands or on your tongue – when the blood of our Lord touches your lips – you will receive rest and refreshment for your weary soul.
But know that the rest you receive comes with a cost. Know that receiving our Lord’s body and blood means that you’re yoking yourself to the One who loves everyone unconditionally…to the One who gives the blind sight, makes the lame walk, cleanses the leper, raises the dead, and gives good news to the poor. Know that you’re committing to join with the Holy Spirit in helping the lowly, the outcast, the poor, even the children from Mexico who don’t have basic health care. Know that you’re committing yourselves to be heralds of God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
29 September 2019
Click here for the audio recording of this sermon.
We Christians believe that Jesus is our source and guide to matters of the spirit. He teaches us how to pray, how to worship God, how to live out the life of faith. But when we turn to the Gospels, we find that for a spiritual leader, it’s surprising how often Jesus talks about money. Of the thirty-eight parables that he preached, including today’s story from Luke, sixteen of them deal with money. And, believe it or not, one out of every ten verses in the Gospels touches on money in some way. So why the attention on money?
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the rich man who lives it up, wearing the finest clothes and eating the best food. And right on his doorstep is the beggar Lazarus, who would have been happy even with the rich man’s table scraps. Both men die. While Lazarus is carried up by the angels to be with Abraham, the rich man ends up in Hades. The two men’s fortunes are reversed in the afterlife. Now Lazarus is the one who enjoys the comforts, while the rich man suffers in agony and torment. The rich man appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that he can warn them. He doesn’t want his five brothers, who are leading the same lifestyle, to join him in Hades. Abraham replies that they have already received the message through Moses and the prophets. And since they haven’t heeded the message from Moses and the prophets, why would they listen to Lazarus?
Like most parables, Jesus does not explain the meaning of this story. But it’s not difficult to interpret what that would be in this case. Money gets in the way of faith. Money can even drag us down to hell. Jesus tells this parable in the context of a dispute with the Pharisees, identified a few verses before as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Today’s Epistle reading from I Timothy issues a stern warning against the “lovers of money”: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (I Timothy 6:10). The pursuit of wealth and status is fraught with all sorts of temptations and dangers that can lead us to stray away from God and from our neighbor. People lie, cheat, and kill for money.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he repeatedly attacks the wealthy while holding up the poor. In his very first sermon, Jesus declares that he has been anointed by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And in the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20-24). It is clear that the poor occupy a special and privileged place in Jesus’ ministry, while the wealthy are warned about the perils of their status. But then this begs the question: what can the wealthy do to be saved? What can they do to avoid the fate of the rich man in today’s parable? It seems unfair that an entire class be condemned without some means of redemption. Isn’t Jesus’ message of salvation for all people?
One option for the wealthy is to give it all up and join the poor. And this is, in fact, the message that Jesus has for some of his followers. When a rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. The young man sadly turns away. Jesus then makes the colorful and well-known comment that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:18-26). But many others do respond to Jesus’ call to give up everything and follow him. Throughout Christian history, we have many examples of those who have believed that to follow Christ is to take a vow of poverty. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, was born into wealth, but he gave it all up to become a monk and take a vow of povertyt. And he required all those who joined the Franciscan order to do the same.
But what about for us today? Whether we are rich, middle-class, or whatever socioeconomic status, giving up everything we own is not a viable option. Moreover, if all Christians were to do this, there would be dire consequences for the Church. For one, we would not be able to worship in such a beautiful space as this church or enjoy the sublime music of our choir. Nor could we support any of our ministries. The fact is, Christianity as an institution would not survive if all the believers were to take a vow of poverty. We would follow the fate of the Shakers. They were once a thriving Christian group, but because of their vow of celibacy, they are now on the verge of extinction. A collective vow of poverty would have a similar effect. It is simply not sustainable for an institution.
Nor is it what Christ expects of us. While many of Jesus’ disciples and followers led lives of poverty, others maintained their wealth and used it to support Jesus’ ministry. We read in the Gospels of his well-to-do followers – tax collectors and the like – who hosted Jesus in their homes. And in the early Church, it was in the homes of the wealthy that the first communities of believers met to worship. Yesterday was the feast day of St. Paula on the church calendar. Paula was born in the fourth century into one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in Rome, and she used her vast resources to set up monasteries and convents, and to support the poor. I bring up St. Paula and these other examples not as a way to rationalize our wealth and possessions, but rather to point out that there are different ways of using our resources for the work of the Church in the world. There is no set formula for everyone. Some do give it all up. Other tithe ten percent of their income. Still others give as they are able. It is ultimately up to us to discern individually with our conscience what God is calling us to do with our money. I didn’t intend this to be a sermon on stewardship – it’s a bit early for that, but it looks like it’s turning into one.
Returning to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, let us pose a hypothetical question. What if Abraham had consented to the rich man’s request that he send Lazarus to his brothers? What would be Lazarus’s message? For one, he would inform them that their brother is in Hades for being a pig. But what else? I believe that Lazarus would tell them to open their eyes to the poor in their midst, to have compassion, to be generous, to share what they have. This is what the rich man failed to do.
St. Mary’s has a long tradition of serving the poor, whom our Lord Jesus held up as the object of his special care and concern. And soon we will renew and expand our commitment to the poor through the work of the Social Justice Committee. As we begin this new chapter in our church, let us pray for wisdom and discernment as we seek to make the best use of our God-given resources – our money, our talents, our time. And however we individually respond to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, let compassion and generosity be our common guide.
 “Statistic: Jesus’ Teaching on Money,” Christianity Today, 2019 (https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1996/december/410.html).
 Lois Malcolm, “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31,” Working Preacher (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1784).
First Things First: Inclusive Prayers for God’s Mission
1 Timothy 2.1-7
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get first things first. That’s the introduction to the letter-full of instructions coming to Timothy, as we heard in today’s Epistle reading. Because we’ve since heard a Gospel passage that confuses the snot of out me and the Epistle lection was only a few verses, I think it’s worth re-reading at this point.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
What we didn’t hear in today’s lesson was the preface that told Timothy the following instructions would help get his church in order so it can be about God’s mission in the world. As such, it starts by reminding Timothy of putting first things first.
To get the church in order and start with the matter of utmost importance, which is prayer. Paul gets directly to the point: the Christian life together has to be grounded in prayer. Because this letter cuts to the chase, so will I: in order for the church to live out its vocation in the world – its calling to proclaim God’s salvation to all peoples – the church must pray for everyone, as Jesus mediates salvation to all of humanity.
Perhaps you’re all more sanctified than I am, or maybe you’ve never had this experience, but imagine with me, if you will, that reaction some of us who drive have when we’re in traffic. You know the one – when you just want to honk your horn with the rudest honk imaginable or maybe wave a particularly angry hand gesture in another driver’s general direction. Maybe it’s 5:47pm on a Thursday, you’re rushing home, and someone is holding up traffic on 31st trying to turn left onto Broadway and you see, as clearly as they surely do, the long sign that says no left turn from 7am-9am and from 4pm-6pm Monday to Friday except holidays, though busses are exempt – yet it’s 5:47pm, it’s not a holiday, and their Prius in no way could be mistaken for a bus, but nevertheless they’re holding you up and trying to turn left anyway. At least twice this week I just had to say out loud “that beloved child of God has probably had a hard day” in order to keep my threads of sanctification held together.
Oh, if it were only that simple to live a life of Christian holiness. If all we had to do would be to recognize a common humanity – the leveling of the playing field. While that’s not all the Christian life encompasses, it’s certainly a necessary first step. We, every human to ever exist, are all in need of God’s salvation. We are all recipients of the grace Christ mediates to us.
In Timothy’s day and place, Christians were persecuted. They didn’t fit into the Gentile society of the day because they had a different Lord than the Emperor. They didn’t fit in with the tolerated Jews because they claimed that Messiah had already come. They were a minority voice, and they were killed for it. They couldn’t live out their Christian life because they would be plowed down by the ruling powers. With Timothy’s church needing a firmer structure to withstand these physical attacks over spiritual matters, he’s instructed in this letter that the first step to ordering a church is to pray, and to pray for everyone, even the ones who are attacking – even the governing officials who are literally ordering for them to be killed.
While I don’t know of contemporary American governmental leaders explicitly ordering the killing of any class or group of people, I think it’s possible to read current events and find that politicians of every rank are continuing to enact injustices in society that keep the playing field out of balance, in favor for some groups over others. I’m not talking about an attack on Christians here, but on a number of the races and classes and groups of persons who are not part of the powerful majority yet are just as much children of God as the rest. Each and every week – as we will in just a few moments – when we pray for some leaders by name and then generally for all who are in places of authority, I have to intentionally remind myself that these fellow humans are just as needy for God’s grace as I am myself. Thankfully, now that I’ve been named a Postulant, I’m listed in the prayers by name for our community to pray for my continual growth in both knowledge and holiness of life.
As this letter to Timothy attests, God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v4 NRSV). And there, in putting his thumb on the very heartbeat of God, Paul shows the foundation of the Church as being a place that offers every person ample opportunity to have their life transformed in the knowledge and love of God. That, my friends, is the mission of the church. As Christ “gave himself [as] a ransom for all” (v6 NRSV) and therefore mediates grace between the fullness of God and all of humanity, so should the Church, the Body of Christ, be the people who embrace all of humanity as an offering back to God. In doing so, the Church mirrors back God’s desire for all to know salvation.
What happens when we recognize the common need for salvation for each person? What would the church look like every week we sat down the aisle from the person who ticks us off in traffic or who votes to enact an unfair law? What if, when we prayed for everyone, we truly meant every single person? Our narrow-mindedness in such a polarized society might, just maybe, be broadened if we prayed every single day for that person that we just can’t stand. Think about it: what if we looked at someone who we thought was the vilest human being and remembered that Christ the mediator is offering them the same grace he is offering to each of us? It’s hard to wish damnation on someone who is seen as a fellow child of God. Put in a much better way, Saint John Chrysostom wrote this: “No one can feel hatred towards those for whom they pray.”
Have you ever met an angry nun? From time to time, I go visit the Benedictine Sisters up in Atchison, Kansas. These holy ladies, like most monastic communities, are always praying. They intentionally start each day by recognizing the presence of Christ in each other and in visitors who come to them. They are also some of the most peaceful bunch, even as a group who speaks truth to power in matters of societal injustice. Yet, if any group lives “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity,” it’s them. Does that mean they don’t have disagreements? Not at all! But they ways in which they handle their problems starts with the recognition that each person in the dispute has the light of Christ in her. From that grounding, built on their shared prayer life, they can find charitable ways of moving forward.
While God’s salvation is offered to every person, and the church is called to pray for and with everyone, the grace Christ mediates does not force uniformity; rather, it calls for unity. Unity assumes that persons with vastly different perspectives can each have space to respond to the unique ways in which Christ’s grace is poured upon them. While God’s grace is universal, we each come to know it in particular ways.
In bringing many voices together of every perspective in prayer for each and every person, the church is transformed. We are bonded together in the unity for which Christ prayed. In our mutual humility under the grace-dealing work of Christ, we grow in holiness of life and, from that holy habitation, can structure our church and respond to the injustices of the world in well-rounded, wholistic, prayer-borne ways.
First things first: prayer unites us. We in The Episcopal Church pray from a prayerbook that is common to all and yet uniquely understood by each one. We pray for justice and inclusion, salvation and sanctification, redemption and restoration. Together, in our shared life, may we continue to recognize that our prayers together for the sake of the whole world not only change us as individuals, but they lay the foundation for our life together to enact the very will of God in our own day. By praying for everyone, we are starting our work of participating in God’s mission of salvation. Our prayers unite us in God’s universal mission for “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For ‘there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.’” May we continue to pray for all people, all of humanity, who benefits from Christ’s work of salvation; and may we do so recognizing that God equally wants each person to know and accept the grace that is being offered. May our church, in so doing, be found in the middle of the will of God. Amen.
 Probably a pseudepigraphal character claiming to be Paul.
Proper 19, Year C – Luke 15:1-10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 15, 2019
When I was a kid, my music and television habits were heavily influenced by my parents. I grew up listening the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and the like. And I grew up watching movies like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Arthur, and TV series like Married with Children, and my favorite, Cheers. For those who are young enough not to have experienced this classic TV show, it’s about a bar in Boston called Cheers where folks gather to unwind and interact with friends. Its theme song is famous not only because of the catchy tune, but because it names a longing that every person has:
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
That’s the kind of place Cheers was in this show. A place where people could be real and share food and drink with others, no matter their station in life. In today’s gospel reading, it’s not difficult to imagine Jesus in such a place, eating and drinking with anyone, much to the chagrin of the proper and pure. St. Luke tells us that that Jesus is eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners” while the “Pharisees and scribes” are grumbling about the fact that he welcomes – that he even seeks out these sinners. In response to their grumbling, he tells the Pharisees and scribes three parables, two of which we heard today.
The first is the parable of the lost sheep. He asks these religious leaders, “Which of you would leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” I’m a city boy and have no experience with sheep, but this shepherd doesn’t sound very responsible to me. What about the 99 sheep left in the wilderness? Who will take care of them? These are questions I’m sure the Pharisees asked themselves upon hearing this parable, but perhaps like the Pharisees, I was initially as dense as they were. The utter ridiculousness of what the shepherd does is an important part of the story. He is so focused on the lost sheep that he not only throws caution to the wind, he risks his livelihood by leaving his flock unattended. And when he finds the lost sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and comes home rejoicing and calling in all the neighbors and friends to throw a huge party to celebrate the one who was lost and is now found. He ends by telling them, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The second parable is similar. Instead of a shepherd, Jesus talks of a woman with 10 silver coins. What woman, were she to lose one of them, doesn’t light a lamp, or sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And then once she finds it, what woman wouldn’t call her friends and neighbors together and have a party in celebration for find it? He ends this story like the first by saying, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
I’ve often heard this passage preached like this: you and I are sinners, and Jesus cares so much for sinners that he relentlessly seeks us and rejoices when we are finally found. We should therefore repent and return to the Lord. While that’s not a bad sermon, today’s message wasn’t addressed to the sinners and tax collectors. These parables were addressed to the religious insiders of the day – the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus isn’t trying to get them to identify themselves as one who is lost and needs to be found. Jesus is trying to get them to learn to rejoice! Both of these parables end by calling friends and neighbors together to rejoice and celebrate. Jesus’s focus isn’t on the lost that are found by God, it’s on the rejoicing that happens when the lost one is found!
When the religious people of the day grumble about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners – when they grumble about Jesus’s radical hospitality – he responds by telling them that they should celebrate when God goes after the sinner who is lost and rescues them. Yes, salvation is about being rescued, but it’s even more about being drawn into the eternal party. When you see Jesus seeking the lost, when you see him dining with the worst of the worst, the appropriate response isn’t grumbling or jealousy or judging – it’s rejoicing! That’s what repentance looks like for the Pharisees and scribes as well as for you and me: when faced with God seeking out those who don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car or smell funny or drive us bonkers – when God seeks them out and finds them, we are called to turn from judgement and grumbling to radical hospitality at a fabulous party!
Throughout his life, Jesus was repeatedly criticized for spending time with notorious sinners and outcasts. He’s inviting us today to join him by spending time doing the same. He’s inviting us to eat and drink with those around us in our lives, perhaps in a context like Cheers. For like you and me, everyone has a deep longing to spend time with others who know that their troubles are the same as ours…a place where everybody knows our name. A place where we feel welcome. Nowhere in this text or elsewhere in Luke’s gospel do we see Jesus commenting on the sinners’ behavior. He eats and celebrates with them. He identifies with them and genuinely cares for them. Yes, he wants to rejoice even more when the sinner repents, but he doesn’t get them to repent by judging their sinful behavior, he gets them to repent by spending time with them. By sharing life with them over time.
For the Pharisees and for all of us, the question is, “Who are you ready to party with?” If the answer is “I don’t party,” or “I don’t party with those people,” then we’ve missed the point entirely. Friends, God is inviting us today to join in the eternal party! He’s inviting us to practice generous hospitality with people from every walk of life. And he’s inviting us to rejoice with Him every time he finds someone who is lost.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary.(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 68.
 Ibid 72.
Proper 18, Year C – Luke 14:25-33
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
September 8, 2016
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
We are used to hearing Jesus tell us in the gospels to love. I’m not sure about you, it is always tough for me to hear Jesus say these words: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” This is a really difficult thing for us to hear, for Jesus is telling us that in order to follow him, we must distance ourselves in some way from those to whom we are naturally closest and most loyal.
Jesus’s command to hate our family members is analogous to his next statement: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciples.”
The cross wasn’t a cute piece of jewelry made of gold or silver that people wore around their necks. To those who heard Jesus say this, the cross was a tree on which people were executed by crucifixion. A piece of jewelry didn’t come into their minds. Rather, an instrument of death.
And then, as if the command to carry around an instrument of death were not enough, Jesus tells them that none of them can be his disciples unless they give up all their possessions.
Is he actually telling us to hate those with whom we are the closest? Is he telling us to physically carry a cross? To literally sell everything we own?
While his may be speaking in hyperbole, his ultimate message isn’t much easier to hear. In order to be his disciple of Jesus Christ, you must die. And that, friends, is what Christianity is. An invitation to die. To die to our own desires, to die to the need to be praised for our good works, to die to the need for our outward piety to be seen by others. To be a disciple of Jesus, our loyalty to Him comes before our loyalty to anything else in life whether that’s our family, political party of preference, our country, our parish church, and even our spouse.
This sounds pretty straightforward, but the waters can get muddied. What should you do when my extended family plans an event at the same time an important church event is already planned? What happens when you’re on vacation with friends and you know you need to go to church but hesitate because you know your fellow travelers are atheists? What do you do when someone you know is in need asks you for money, but you know that you’re already going to have a hard time making your mortgage payment this month?
I’m going to be honest with you all about something I’ve struggled with my whole adult life. I struggle with daily prayer. Many mornings (maybe most morning), I’d rather read a few more articles in the New York Times than pray Morning Prayer. Or get a head start on my emails for the day. Or whatever. I mean, I’ve spent enough time in intentional prayer to know in my head that I’ll be happier if I pray instead, and that loyalty to Jesus demands that I do it, but the struggle is real.
In your life, where do your loyalties and priorities come into conflict with Jesus’s call to take up your cross?
No matter how literally we take Jesus when he says to hate our family, carry our cross, and sell our possessions, God is calling us today to die to ourselves and live for Him. He’s calling us to make the choice that we made (or that was made on our behalf) at our baptism today and every day.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Each and every day, each and every moment, we must learn to give up our things, our need to acquire more things, our yearning for success, our petty jealousies, our demeaning stereotypes of each other, our prejudices and hatreds. For these things distract us from devoting all that we have and all that we are to the One who went all the way to the cross for our sake.
Why should we do this? Is following Christ worth the cost? The choir sang this bit from the psalter:
Lord, thou hast searched me out, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine up-rising; thou understandest my thoughts long before. Thou art about my path, and about my bed, and spiest out all my ways. For lo, there is not a word in my tongue, but thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether.
The Lord knows all that there is to know about me, even my desires, and to sum it up, I am a sinner through and through. I am not worthy to gather up the crumbs under God’s table. No matter how hard I try to clean myself up…no matter hard I try, I simply can’t make myself worthy in God’s sight.
But thanks be to God, his property – his character – is always to have mercy. God loves us to much that he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. And despite my sinfulness, despite your sinfulness, he wants to know that he loves us and to experience that love.
And so, we are called to die. Daily. By choosing to die to self and follow Christ, we follow him to his death. But by following him to his death, we are raised with him to newness of life.
Jesus’s message may seem negative and even depressive, but I truly believe that taking up your cross and following Christ is worth the cost. It isn’t just my head that tells me that I’ll be happier when I choose to pray over just about anything else, it’s my heart. Moment by moment, with each choice to follow Christ, God transforms me little by little into Christ’s likeness…into the image of God seen in our forebears Adam and Eve, before we were marred by sin and death. Each daily choice to follow Christ gives me the strength and courage to look outside of myself and turn my attention to the needs of those around me even when I don’t want to.
I already see so many signs that you all are denying yourselves and taking up your cross daily. I see the fruits of discipleship in the hard work of the reception committee to make our coffee hour as hospitable as possible, and in the folks handing out food to the homeless at Downtown Outreach, and in your generous stewardship in giving the first fruits of your money back to God in the offering plate, and in the sharing of your musical gifts to lead us in worship. And I see this in the little things like the unnamed saint who handwashes and irons all of our communion linins week after week. These signs of self-denial give me hope and encouragement in my own spiritual journey.
Today, as we begin our program year, I invite you to look inward and ask yourself, “What is one area of my life where am I see a conflict of loyalties? What is God asking me to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel?”
Friends, I wouldn’t ask you to make this costly choice without making every attempt to make the same choice myself. Christianity isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s costly and difficult.
By giving up all for Jesus, we get to experience unconditional love and grace that is almost unimaginable. And by giving up all for Jesus, God gives us everything we need to share that love with a lost and broken world that so desperately needs it. Amen.
Fr. Sean Kim
August 25, 2019
An audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She has spent those long years bent over and unable to stand up straight. When Jesus sees her in the synagogue, he interrupts his teaching to call her over to him. He lays his hands on her, and she is healed. The woman stands up straight and begins to praise God for the miracle.
The healing of the crippled woman is one of many healing stories in the Gospels. Part of the reason why Jesus attracts such large crowds wherever he goes is because of his reputation as a divine healer, a miracle-worker. I don’t know about you, but I personally struggle with the healing stories. Every time I hear a healing story, I ask myself: Why don’t these healings occur today? Why aren’t the people that I pray for cured miraculously?
If I were a Presbyterian, I could provide a clear answer to this problem, but as an Episcopalian, as is usually the case with theological issues, I’m not so sure. As many of you know, I come from a Presbyterian background, and I know that my lingering Calvinist attachments have been of some concern to Fr. Charles. But I actually think there may be some other closet Calvinists in our midst. The official Calvinist theological position on miraculous healing is that such acts stopped or ceased with the age of the apostles. The technical term for this is cessationism – from the word cease. According to this doctrine, all miracles, including divine healings, are believed to have ceased with the age of the apostles two thousand years ago. In other words, Jesus and the apostles had the power of divine healing. We do not. The story goes that some people came up to John Calvin with a challenge. They told Calvin that the Roman Catholic priests were performing great miracles among the people And they dared Calvin to perform even greater miracles as proof that he was right and that the Roman Catholics were wrong. Calvin’s response: “I will not perform any miracles for you. The age of miracles ceased with the apostles. The miracles were necessary only to establish the foundations of the church. But since that time, the power to perform miracles no longer exists.” Many Presbyterians, as well as many other Protestants today, are cessationists. They believe that miracles existed back in Jesus’ day, but not now.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, we have Pentecostals and other charismatics who firmly believe in divine healing and other gifts of the Spirit. Some of you may have seen such claims of healings, what we used to call “faith healings,” on television or in person. The Pentecostals and charismatics reject the idea that miracles are limited to the apostolic age, and they believe that we, too, have the power to perform the same miracles.
When we turn to the Roman Catholics, we also find a spectrum of views on divine or miraculous healing. On the one hand, we have such phenomena as Our Lady of Lourdes. Countless pilgrims travel to Lourdes, France, to be miraculously cured by the healing waters, and there are many testimonies of healing. Yet, at the same time, the Roman Catholics also have a tradition of seeing illness and suffering as a virtue. Many of the saints who are venerated contracted devastating, debilitating diseases, and many died young, but their suffering is seen as part of their imitation of Christ.
Confused? So what should we believe about divine healing? What do we make of the healing stories in the Gospels? What is it that we pray for when we pray for healing? There is no clear answer to these questions in Scripture or tradition. But I would like to share with you some personal reflections on these questions. Going back to my Calvinist, cessationist background, I’ve come across some awkward situations in my ministry when it comes to pastoral care. Our Postulant for Holy Orders, Lynda Hurt, has just completed her training for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Saint Luke’s Hospital, where she served as a hospital chaplain. I did my CPE training a couple of summers ago. One day, I was called to the bedside of a dying man. His family had just decided to take him off life support, and he had just minutes to live. The man was surrounded by his wife and three adult children. One of the children, his youngest son, was very distraught, and seeing me in my clerical collar, he cried out: “Do something! Heal him!” I was caught off guard, to say the least, and before I realized what was coming out of my mouth, I blurted out: “But I’m not a Pentecostal.” Fortunately, the family did not kick me out of the room, and I was able to minister to them without any more embarrassing incidents.
As you can tell from this story, divine, miraculous healing has not been a part of my personal experience. My father died of ALS, and my maternal grandfather and mother both died of Alzheimer’s. In spite of all the fervent prayers that we offered up, they suffered terribly and died. Actually, in the case of my grandfather, my grandmother tried to cure him by calling in a Pentecostal healer to our house, but the only thing the healer managed to do was frighten my grandfather with her loud prayers and yelling.
So both my theological and personal background predispose me against believing in divine healing. I know of many Episcopal clergy who have had extraordinary miraculous experiences. I am not one of them. Yet, at the same time, I cannot subscribe anymore to the doctrine of cessationism, at least in its strict form. Medical science has changed dramatically over the years. We no longer believe, as we used to, that the body and mind are separate, and that healing involves only fixing the body. Today we have alternative medicines as well as music therapy, pet therapy, and a host of other ways to address illness. The logic behind all this is that the mind – and spirit – have a profound impact on the body. Healing is no longer just a clinical process treating the body; healing is holistic – it involves the whole person. You have probably heard of studies that show that people of faith live longer lives. So there’s an element of the unknown – mystery – behind healing and health. Then, who am I to deny that miracles can happen? Who am I to deny the countless testimonies of those who have been healed through the power of prayer? Divine healing may not be a part of my personal experience, but it is an integral part of the faith for many of our fellow Christians, perhaps some of you here this morning. We believe in an Almighty God, who can do anything God wills, and the very act of prayer is a request for divine, supernatural intervention. God can heal through natural or supernatural means. It is not for us to limit what God can do. When we pray to God for healing, we open ourselves up to the possibility of divine action.
In our prayer to the Virgin Mary, the Salve Regina, we speak of life as a vale or valley of tears – a beautiful, poetic expression of the trials and tribulations of life. Who is immune from sickness, accidents, and ultimately death? Life is filled with brokenness. But we need not despair. We have the promise of hope and healing in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician. As the crippled woman came to him two thousand years ago, let us also come to Jesus and pray for the healing of our whole selves – body, mind, and spirit.
St. Mary the Virgin
August 18, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
On Wednesday evenings, we have Evening Prayer here in the church, and inevitably, a group goes out to have a bite to eat and perhaps a drink or two. Depending on who goes, we occasionally end up talking about the liturgy in ways that 99% of the planet think are…well…a bit much. I always invite my husband Jay to come eat with us, and while he comes from time to time, I don’t blame him for yawning internally when we start debating whether we’re supposed to turn to the left or the right at the altar and how to properly hold our funny hats.
Likewise, I’m sure that most people (including most of you holy and pious men and women) would yawn and perhaps take a nap were the preacher to get into the nitty gritty’s of the theological implications of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s death. I mean, the details surrounding Mary’s death have been debated from time immemorial, especially since the Protestant Reformation. The name of today’s feast itself is controversial: the Eastern Church calls it “The Dormition [or falling asleep] of Mary” while the Roman Catholic Church calls it the Assumption of Mary. We Episcopalians, as we so often do, have chosen to be vague and simply call it “The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.” The commonality across all of these is that today, we are commemorating her death.
What do we know of Mary’s death? Nothing from Scripture. But there’s plenty of pious legend surrounding her death from the earliest days of the Church. One account has to do with Mary’s girdle, and by girdle, I don’t mean the modern elasticized garment, I mean a cloth braided belt with a knot at the end, similar to this one. In this account, Mary’s body was assumed into heaven in the presence of all of the apostles except for Thomas who was off in India. Later, when the others told him what happened, he doubted and didn’t believe them, just as he hadn’t believed them earlier when they told him they’d seen Jesus after his resurrection. So Mary appeared to Thomas individually and dropped the girdle she wore at her Assumption down onto him to give him physical proof, just as Jesus had done when he invited Thomas to touch his wounds. Thomas saw and touched the girdle and believed. This apocryphal story presents Mary’s assumption into heaven as a mirroring of Jesus’s resurrection, which leads us to our epistle lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
The Church at Corinth was comprised mainly of Greek Christians, and the Greeks tended to think that the spirit was more important than the body. Some of this way of thinking had come into the Corinthian church, leading some to deny Jesus’s bodily resurrection. St. Paul didn’t mince words earlier in chapter 15 when he said, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Paul says, “No.” Christ’s bodily resurrection not only happened, it’s essential to our faith. Death came from the Adam, the first human being who chose to be disobedient to God, and so the resurrection of the dead also comes from a human being, but this time, from one who committed no sin, Jesus Christ. Not only did was Christ raised from the dead, he will come again to hand over the kingdom to his Father, and to finally destroy evil and death. The destruction of evil and death by Christ at the last day will finally establish the Kingdom of God in its entirety, whereas now, we only experience it imperfectly. Just as Jesus has already entered into his kingdom through his resurrection, so too will we who follow him and enter the kingdom through a resurrection like his. Paul calls Jesus the first fruits of the dead, and links our resurrection to his. He was the first to be raised up, and we will follow.
And that, my friends, is the foundation of today’s feast. The Blessed Mother was not divine, she was a human being like you and me. And like us, her entry into God’s kingdom depends on Jesus’ resurrection. You and I have to wait until the Second Coming of Christ for our bodies to be raised, but Tradition says that Mary didn’t need to wait until the last day. As she was the first disciple of her Son – the first person to say “Yes” to his call – she is the first human being to follow her son in his resurrection. Her risen body is with Jesus’ risen body awaiting that day when all will be made right. Mary’s glory is a foretaste of our glory. Christ’s resurrection leads the way to our resurrection, and as our Blessed Mother was raised, so too will we be raised at the last day.
What will life be like when our bodies are raised, and God creates the new heavens and the new earth? In her song in the gospel of Luke, Mary tells us that in God’s kingdom, things are very, very different. Unlike our world, it’s not the powerful on their thrones, or the proud, or the rich who will be extolled and given a place of special honor. It’s the lowly, the humble, and the poor. In God’s kingdom, the first will be last, and the last will be first. Status won’t be measured by wealth and pride and fancy titles, but by humility, tenderness, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
While we have to wait until the last day to experience God’s kingdom in its fulness, in a moment, we will pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” as our Lord taught us. When we pray these words, we’re asking God to bring the values of his heavenly kingdom here to earth. To disrupt the value systems of this world. To bring heaven to earth. And we’re asking him to use us to accomplish this.
What does this look like for us at a parish church under the patronage of St. Mary in Kansas City in the year 2019?
Friends, we are called to proclaim the life, death, and yes…bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. There is an unfortunate tendency amongst a subset of clergy in the Episcopal Church to say things like, “I believe in spiritual resurrection, but it doesn’t really matter if Jesus’s body rose from the dead.” Or, even worse, “Dead people don’t come back to life. If you believe in science, you can’t possibly believe in the resurrection.” Hear what Saint Paul saith: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Like Mary, we are called to live out the incarnation of her Son by proclaiming the coming of His kingdom. And like Mary, we are not to live our lives thinking that this future kingdom of God is something we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for, it began to break into our world on that first Christmas night. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are telling God and ourselves that we’re willing to forsake our own devices and desires and say yes to God. And praying the Lord’s Prayer means that we’re willing to trust that the Holy Spirit will give us everything we need to fill the hungry with good things and lift up the lowly.
St. Mary’s has a long history of feeding the hungry in our area via the food pantry and hot meal – a good and holy thing – but it is time that we intentionally discern how God is calling us to serve the least of these in Kansas City. To that end, our newly formed Social Justice Committee has met a couple of times and meets again in a few weeks. They’re exploring how we might engage in important issues such as prison ministry, racial reconciliation, LGBT rights, economic injustice, immigration issues, and so on. Please pray for them as they discern how God is leading our parish family to cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly in Kansas City and beyond. And then when their program is published, please pray about how God may be calling you to get involved.
Maybe next year for Mary Day, I’ll bore you to tears with the nitty gritty about whether Mary’s assumption was before or after her death and why that matters theologically. But for now, friends, let us follow the good example of the Blessed Virgin Mary in saying yes to her Son and boldly proclaiming God’s kingdom to a lost and broken world. And let us join with Christians throughout all generations in calling her blessed.
 1 Cor 15:12-14.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!